Saturday, September 23, 2006

More Moore

In a rare venture into the local megabooks, I picked up a remaindered copy of Grace Schulman's edition of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, 2003), & was reminded why I didn't buy this book, after reading a passel o' reviews, when it came out, or even afterwards when it hit paperback.

Confession #1: I love Moore, early & late, high modernist & cranky retro. Confession #2: I've always been a little put off by how enthusiastically MM has been embraced by the poetry establishment, in ways that they've embraced no-one else of her generation except Stevens. This latest edition, for instance, includes blurbs from Stanley Kunitz, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Lowell – & Schulman herself, poetry editor of the Nation & former director of the 92nd Street Y, does not exactly move in the same poetry circles I like to imagine myself.

In theory, this edition is a great idea. As well all know, MM severely edited the work included in her Complete Poems (1967), leaving out lots of stuff, arranging things in non-chronological order, & including unfamiliar versions of poems that were already famous. ("Poetry" is the great example – "I too dislike it" etc.) Schulman's idea is solid: to present an edition of all the poems MM wrote, in chronological order. Period. So far so good. The problem is that MM often produced multiple versions of the same poem, & sometimes the earlier versions are arguably more interesting than the later. (Again, cf. "Poetry.")

Schulman, were she a conscientious textual editor, would have 3 options:
1) present all the poems in their latest, last versions, grounding that choice on the old saw of authorial intention; this is what MM wanted at the end, this is what you get.

2) same as (1), except including all the earlier versions in the notes – a "variorum" edition, in other words (certainly the most useful version for pointy-headed scholarly types)

3) same as (1), & including earlier versions of particular interest – the longer versions of "Poetry," for instance, in the notes; sort of a "demi-variorum"
Schulman has opted for none of the above, to my despair (not to say disgust). Instead, she gives us all available poems (and there's much, much more here than in the Complete Poems, for which I thank her), but she gives them in versions chosen – you guessed it – by Schulman. "Whenever possible," she writes in the Intro, "I used the Complete Poems... In many cases, I used versions that I liked from earlier editions and/or literary journals, aware that she [MM] changed her work continually." I'm even more taken aback by Schulman's note preceding MM's own "Notes" to the poems: "Change was a constant in all of Marianne Moore's work. The notes were altered as radically as the poems, and changes occur even when a poem's text does not change. Rather than reprinting each note faithfully [isn't this what an editor does?], which might confuse more than enlighten [whom?], I offer a partial view of the author's notes as they are found in all of her editions." [indeed]

Clearly, what's at work here is Viking's unwillingness to spring for a true variorum, which would probably run to over 1000 pages. It's the reader's loss. But in case the reader has begun to worry about putting her- or himself into the hands of a possibly capricious editor so fully, Schulman spends a good deal of time in her Intro telling us what chums she & MM were (MM was at GS's wedding, etc.). All very well & good, & I'll do my best to savor the texts of poems I haven't already read, even tho I have little idea of what I might be missing. But for the earlier stuff, I think I'll turn to a real edition – Robin Schultze's Becoming Marianne Moore: Early Poems, 1907-1924 (U California P, 2002), & look forward to the day – I hope I live so long – when the rest comes out of copyright.
After a hair-raising hour at Room to Go Kids, we did it: we ordered THE bunkbed. The bunkbed with the fairy-tale castle. The bunkbed with the slide. Next step is to apply for frequent flier miles at the emergency room. (Tho I guess it can't be much more dangerous than Daphne's bungee-jumps out of her crib this past week.)


Jessica Smith said...

damn, that is the coolest bed EVER. geez! they didn't make 'em like that when i was little. i'd have never grown up!

you'll have to tell me which moore poems are essential reading for my orals, dear.

Alex Davis said...

I have to agree with you, Mark, about the Penguin/Viking edition of Moore. There's a characteristically searching review of said edition by Fiona Green in the TLS (23rd Jan, 2004), which is well worth a look.