Thursday, September 29

collection, recollection, and collation

{ the following blogpost has been excerpted and revised from the reflection chunk of my third bibliography assignment--tracing seven printed versions of a certain poem and collating any variance between them. you might find this all very fascinating, or you might not. }

when E. E. Cummings came to mind as a potential subject for our collation assignment, I anticipated finding a really unique, oddly set poem to work with, in order to explore how different editors and publishers handled the strangeness of this poet's work. unfortunately, most of the really interestingly set Cummings poems were a little too short or a little too scarce to be of much use. “you shall above all things be glad and young” is relatively normal-looking, for Cummings, so I wasn't able to see how any really unconventional poetic forms translated from version to version. but even still, I think that because Cummings's poems do tend to be so unexpected and don't always follow traditional forms, his editors have needed to pay closer attention and go to greater lengths to set them precisely as Cummings wanted them set, weirdness and all. whatever the poet's intent behind the odd layout of his poems, that intent seems to have carried enough power to keep later collections of his poems very consistent with original versions, despite the challenges of arranging them exactly right.

originally, “you shall above all things be glad and young” was published in 1938 in E. E. Cummings' Collected Poems and was later included in several different collections. because most copies of this poem share a common (and fairly recent) copy-text, they seem very stable, with practically no variance whatsoever. I did notice differences in how the title is displayed, depending on the layout and design of the book overall. aside from the titles, I found no other differences between my chosen copy-text and each of the other print versions I was working with. the single web-version I looked at had one stray space between words where the print copies did not, and it also displayed a handful of lines in italics or bold, presumably for emphasis.

it surprised me to see just how often some of these poems were reproduced in different collections. and in most of the versions I looked at, there were no explanations or clues to the editors' reasons for republishing Cummings' work at all. I had to wonder what would prompt George James Firmage or anyone else to put together a new and different arrangement of these poems. how did they decide which to include, and what kinds of outside factors influenced those decisions?

I used to think that editing merely involved the fixing of errors and preparation of a text before it got published--something almost superficial, like the “polishing, or purification, of an existing text” that Shillingsberg explains in his chapter on Critical Editions. I'm realizing now that editing can be a hundred other things. an editor can be just as involved with the creation of a text (or collection of texts) as any author--just in a different way.


three small related asides:

I found this recording of the poet himself reading aloud "somewhere i have never travelled,"

when I read Cummings, I do not read him so calmly. it's almost strange to hear such frolicking lines read in such traditional tones.

this woman has one of E. E. Cummings' poems hanging on her living room wall, which is cool.

I've just finished (for fun and not for bibliography class), the Firmage edition of Cummings' 73 poems. these were unearthed and published posthumously. poem 4, SONG, is one of the loveliest, and here is just the very first stanza.
but we've the may
(for you are in love
and i am)to sing,
my darling:
you'll have to go find the collection yourself to read the rest. and when you do, try reading all his poems out loud, and fast. that's the best way to experience the giddy rush of unpuzzling them for the first time.


Janeheiress said...

What's your philosophy of capitalization?

amelia said...

well, i have a pretty flexible deal with capitals. my main philosophy is grounded in something an old professor of mine, dr. ryan moeller, once said (you can read more about rylish if you like: ):

"i don't like capitals because they take control of emphasis and spatial design, when the beginnings of sentences and proper nouns are not necessarily where i want to place emphasis."

so in my posts, i'll generally capitalize names and places and nothing else. the rest of the time... it depends on the context. i tend to get pretty lazy about it unless i'm writing something formal.