Saturday, January 31, 2009

I read a piece that Gerald Burns presented to the Charles Olson Society (from the minutes thereof: 8/95), to wit: “Maximus Betrayed”. he pretty well excoriates George Butterick, for poor scholarship, poor proofreading, etc. Burns’ criticism unleashes some emotions for me. I went thru hero worship with Olson, whose example meant so much to me. and Butterick, who did so much to bring O to the public, earned 2ndary hero status. but I have grown out of slavish respect. I recognize that Olson had his weaknesses and errors.

O was goofy. he envisioned a community of scholars, best of the best, and tried to entice the historian Carl Sauer, among others, to join. Sauer was too practical for such visions and demurred. Olson was wack, and that is both precious and something to be wary of.

one should remember that Olson was a scholar, but his aims were poetic. those who followed him were of the same vision. presenting a definitive text cannot proceed by such impetus, however.

so O had his acolytes, and Butterick was one of them. Butterick’s dedication was admirable, but was he a rigourous scholar? Burns argues effectively that Butterick was not. Burns has a prickly surety not unlike Dahlberg’s, and I can see that his rigour is well-earned. Butterick, on the other hand, and not surprisingly, is an enthusiast.

the idea of a definitive text presents a set of accepted terms and procedures, like that the last change that a writer makes is the definitive one. we know that both Whitman and Wordsworth reworked their work as time went on, and perhaps not for the better. a public sense could be said to have intruded on their artistic decisions. those changes are definitive, but one might prefer the earlier expressions over the redactions. Butterick’s decisions were not always rigourous.

my emotion here rides on wanting to agree with Butterick, but I see Burns’ point. and please, do we need this singular ownership? Dickinson is sadly trapped by that walled garden in Cambridge, and you can think of myriad other artists monopolized by the whosis with the rights.

papers of mine are housed and available at Ohio State University. yes, that is a weird thing to consider, imagining the future and who might be interested.

when I worked on typewriter, I would retype successive drafts, often for the most minor of changes. I developed the habit of numbering and dating the drafts, but that rigour only put the lie to consistency. there was all that work that preceded the decision to date everything, and there were the times when I neglected to follow my rules.

the computer complicates the situation. every time I hit ctrl-s, a draft is created and another is annihilated. I could go to the trouble of saving each ‘finished’ draft but I don’t, for obvious reasons. those annihilated texts still exist, in some quantum way.

it is difficult to get my mind around definitive. when I make changes, even of sloppy typos, I have the feeling that I make a new poem not change the old one. there is this sense of fluidity in the process. I occasionally make odd errors, like writing which when I clearly meant with. I could and sometimes do stay with the oddity but usually make the correction as quickly as I repair hte.

I read of the debate concerning the last lines of Keats’ Grecian Urn. the wording is fine but exactly what the punctuation should be creates a significant change in meaning. as readers, we create meaning, as much thru our misapprehensions as our care. the possibilities that arise thru this muddle of punctuation resolves in the idea of a poem’s manyness. poetry is not statement.

a definitive text is an effort to agree. in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom is credited with the unlikely chest measurement of 29”. a so called definitive edition of Ulysses came out in the 90s that was supposed to fix all the many errors that entered the text via confused compositor and such. according to Guy Davenport, as many errors as were corrected in that edition were added. we as human beings will err.

an ownership has taken place with Olson, as it has with others. this ownership becomes a slavish reliance. text disappears into mythos. Butterick was obviously energized by Olson. you can see it in his own odd and eccentric Collected Poems. I was so pleased to come upon Butterick’s collected, because it showed him defining space that was his own, not just working Olson’s farm. Butterick’s collected seems incomplete, and not just because he died young. one sees points of interest for him, but it feels as if he never developed the comprehensive vision of his own work that he had with Olson’s. that is, he gave more time to his work with Olson than he did with his own work.

when one looks at the works that Butterick edited one is aware of Butterick expressing himself. one sees an area being protected. I understand that urge, but readers must do their best to ignore such defenses.

the Authors are in eternity, fair enough. editors are still here on earth. I do not want to lionize anymore, not Olson, not Butterick. I just want to continue digging around in the rubble.