As poets, many of us are skeptical of editors. They have the power to reject or accept our poems and even edit them, and what do they know? Those of us who are visual poets are even more skeptical. Will the editor preserve the text we created? Even if we’re careful to send a .pdf or .jpg, will they resize it or alter it and print it in a way that doesn’t correspond to how we think it should look? Will an editor know how to look at a visual poem, much less reproduce it?
The new Collected Eigner (eds. Faville and Grenier, Stanford UP) has drummed up some pretty passionate feelings from Steve Fama and I would like to respond, albeit not on his blog (on which the argument is a bit heated for my taste).
Grenier held a series of lecture at Buffalo when I was an undergraduate (late 90s) and spoke about both his own handwriting work (its aesthetic based in part on Eigner’s handwriting as his palsy worsened) and the layout of the Green Integer Eigner publications, which until the Collected are what we Eigner fans have had.
Grenier edited readiness / enough / depends / on too, and as in the Collected the poems are standardized– they do not look exactly like the drafts Eigner prepared. In an age where printing pictures is the same price as printing text, we have been lucky to get some poetry published in facsimile editions that show exactly what the author did to the page. But what the author did to the page is often what the author considered to be a “draft” that would later get cleaned up for publication, and this is the case with Eigner’s poems (according, convincingly, to Grenier, with whom he was close).
Not only did Eigner consider poems like this (thx SF) to be drafts, but Eigner’s physical limitations caused him to make orthographic and spatial anomalies that he did not consider to be part of the work. The “cleaned up” version is actually what Eigner would have preferred to be published, but activities like typing in the dark with palsied hands do not necessarily allow “clean” draft copies.
Although there is something to be said for having access to drafts– Dickinson’s handwritten, spatially encoded papers or Eigner’s scrawl-appended, river-like trails down typewritten pages– and certainly a facsimile edition of Eigner’s would be welcome to many fans and scholars, there is also something to be said for having a clean, readable, bound copy of a book that is sensitively edited by scholars and friends who know that what the author intended is not always congruent with what appears on the page. I, for one, intend to buy, read and thoroughly enjoy the Collected Eigner … when I have $140 to spare.