Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stardust / The Historical Record

Stardust. What's not to like? Stunning visual effects; Claire Danes transformed over the years since the last thing I saw her in – Romeo + Juliet – into a grown-up actor more lambently beautiful for her utter lack of conventional beauty, & able to turn in a convincing imitation of Gwyneth Paltrow; Michelle Pfeiffer reprising her role in Witches of Eastwick & Peter O'Toole his in Caligula; Robert DeNiro as a cross-dressing, can-can-dancing aerial pirate. The Princess Bride on special effects steroids. Yes, as we're told, a great "date film."

An exercise in both nostalgia & "world elsewhere" wish-fulfillment. Tristan makes it to the way interesting fantasy realm of Stormhold, defeats the witches & the ineffectual but nasty princes, gets the girl – a "star" in every sense – & discovers to boot (in a Shakespearean Romance-like turn) that he's the heir to the throne.

But what's he left behind? Nothing more onerous or constraining that a filmmaker's fantasy of a turn-of-the-century English agrarian town, a kind of Shire, where his object object of desire has the hots for the local Flashman (closeted, we learn). The contemporary fairy-tale, in which not merely the realm of faery but the realm of "reality" has been emptied of all true discomfort or social conflict. At least the dire film version of CS Lewis's dire Christian screed The Lion etc. had the decent idea of showing its children in flight from the Blitz.
The splendid British poet & bookdealer Peter Riley posts the following on the UK Poetry Listserv under the title "The Historical Record (I hope he doesn't mind me copying him):
After a small amount of rather scrappy research, I am beginning to think that possibly all or most of the poetry books published by print-on-demand presses since about 2000, are not getting into the copyright libraries. (It is a statutory obligation for all publishers to deliver six free copies of all books on publication to the British Library, [the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales, and the Oxford, Cambridge, & Trinity College libraries]).

It's difficult to be certain because it can take libraries a long time to get a book catalogued and sometimes some (e.g. poetry) items are classed as "secondary" and do not show in the main catalogue . But I've looked for about 25 books published between 1999 and 2002 in the on-line catalogue of Cambridge University Library and I've only found two of them. The books not there included two entitled "Collected Poems". For comparison I looked up five books published by Carcanet post 2002, and they were all there.

I tried to compare this with the British Library, and they do seem to have more, but their on-line catalogue is such hell I had to abandon the search.

I find this rather worrying. They really should be there, it is the historical record of our activity. The print-on-demand "boom" has been in many ways a saviour of the situation for poets, able at last to get real books out without submitting themselves to the "big" publishing machine. But many of these books are probably produced in small quantities and the copyright system is some kind of guarantee that they won't disappear for ever. I know from my experience as a bookseller that it is quite possible for a book published in, say, 1870 in several hundred copies, to have vanished without trace by 1990.
There's a similar provision in place under US copyright law, tho many of us seem unaware of its provision requiring that two copies of each book published in the US be deposited with the Library of Congress. And while Riley speaks of the print-on-demand phenomenon, I think this is a problem endemic to all small press publishing. A spotcheck reveals no copies of Jessica Smith's Organic Furniture Cellar, nor of Henry Gould's most recent books, nor of either of the two excellent Cultural Society books – Zach Barocas's Among Other Things and Joel Bettridge's That Abrupt Here – but their holdings of Bruce Andrews's books seem remarkably spotty, as well (at least four titles missing, including I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up), & Tina Darragh has published far more than the three titles they hold.

Perhaps the LOC is a kind of time-capsule, a last-ditch stand against oblivion. But I wonder that we aren't taking more care of our legacy in the alt-poetry world. Send your books to the Library of Congress; make your university (or public) library order your books, & books by the poets you admire; donate your books to collections that ought to have them (Buffalo, San Diego, etc.).


Ed said...

yes, simple to copyright..
just rec'd mine for

if book has been "published".. that is you've got 150 (?) of them printed and one or more has been sold/distributed
you need to send L of C 2 copies and $35 and form.. (I usually use Short Form TX)
if book is not yet "published" you send 1ne copy, $35 and form (SF TX

all the info (and the forms that you can print out are at Library of Congress site:

or, as I have frequently done (11 times) just gone down to the Library and picked the form up.. a fun place to visit.. lots of things on display.

of course I am only 15 mins or so from there...

and, neat that everything in D.C. (museums, galleries, etc) are free!

I've been here since 1941. ... JEEZE. Ed Baker

Steven Fama said...

Probably yes copies of all published books should be sent to the Library of Congress. But remember Alexandria. Placing copies in multiple libraries is probably best. Maybe a few will last the ages in them, until the paper falls apart, is burn, or de-acquistioned.

FYI, 20 other libraries are listed on WorldCat as having copies of Organic Furniture Cellar.