Thursday, August 19, 2010

Granite Pail textualities

One of the great services Cid Corman (1924-2004) rendered to American letters – beside his own poetry, his translations, and his visionary editing of Origin – was his championing of Lorine Niedecker's poetry. She appeared frequently in Origin, and after her death – she had named Corman her literary executor – he edited a posthumous volume of uncollected verse, Blue Chicory (Elizabeth Press, 1976). There were, I gather (I've never actually seen a copy of the volume), serious textual problems with Blue Chicory; Corman printed a number of poems there from his transcriptions of a recording of Niedecker reading, rather than from her own typescripts.

Much better is the 1985 selection Corman made for North Point Press, The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. I've owned that book for almost a quarter-century, and have read it many, many times. Textually, it's quite solid (as opposed to the train-wreck of Robert Bertholf's From This Condensary: The Complete Writing of Lorine Niedecker [Jargon, 1985], a volume whose textual notes are largely incomprehensible & which is riddled with flaws – among them the inclusion of an LZ poem that Bertholf found among LN's papers & printed as hers); more importantly, it's a good selection, displaying both Niedecker's exquisite talent for the short poem and her more ambitious mid-length sequences.

Somehow I never got around to buying the revised edition of The Granite Pail that Jonathan Greene's Gnomon Press issued in 1995. And of course, after Jenny Penberthy's exemplary edition of Niedecker's Collected Works came out from U California in 2002 – an edition that's everything From This Condensary isn't, in terms of textual fidelity and user-friendliness – and, for that matter, in completeness – it somehow seemed beside the point.

But now that I've got a copy of the 1995 Granite Pail (which I'll call "GP2" for short) beside the 1985 Granite Pail ("GP1"), there's no way someone as anal-compulsive as me could resist a textual comparison of the two volumes. Changes are few. There are six additional poems in GP2, added Corman implies at readers' request. There is one typo corrected ("name" for "mane" – see "Three Americans" – GP1, p. 102 & GP2, p. 120). And then there's this characteristic revision. In GP1, we read the poem "Laundromat" (91):
Once again a public wedding
a casual, sudsy
social affair
at the tubs

After all, ecstacy
can't be constant
Let's call this "Laundromat 1." In GP2 (105) we read another version, which we can call "Laundromat 2":
Casual, sudsy
social love
at the tubs

After all, ecstacy
can't be constant
An amusing wee poem about marriage, love, & the perennial necessity of doing laundry, sharpened to my ear by Niedecker's omission of the first line's explicitness ("a public wedding") & sneaking companionate marriage back into the poem's second line ("social love" for "social affair").

But why, thought I, did Corman print one version in 1985 and another in 1995? His goal, he notes in the prefatory material to the collection, was to present LN's "latest judgment" on each poem. So, diving into Penberthy's textual notes, I unravel this:

In October 1964 LN sent Corman a single-copy holograph collection entitled "HOMEMADE POEMS," which included "Laundromat 1." Two months later, as a Christmas gift, she sent LZ & Jonathan Williams a pair of similarly hand-made books (their contents roughly the same), entitled "HANDMADE POEMS," each of which included "Laundromat 2." So LN revised the poem between October & December 1964, and sent the revised version to LZ & Williams.

She also sent this revised version ("Laundromat 2") to Corman for publication in Origin in July 1966. But when it came time to edit Blue Chicory (1976, remember, after Niedecker's death), for some reason Corman reverted to "Laundromat 1," the earlier version he'd received in "HOMEMADE POEMS." And when it came time to assemble The Granite Pail (GP1, that is) in 1985, Corman used as copy text not the "latest" version of the poem, which he himself had published in Origin, but the earlier version, as preserved in Blue Chicory.

That minor glitch, I'm happy to say, is fixed in GP2. I'm not yet sure what to make of the book's typography & design. As big a fan as I am of David Bullen (he did The Poem of a Life, after all), I think his cover work for GP1 is atrocious. GP2 is at least palatable, if not inspiring. But I'm very much wedded to the miniscule typography of GP1; the poems seem to float on the pages like island, demanding microscopic attention. That's all swept away in GP2, which is set in a far larger typeface. I wonder – the generation of readers coming to LN by way of The Granite Pail – how different is their experience of the poetry from that of my generation, coming to it by way of a rather different Granite Pail?


Don Share said...

Yo, Mark, any thoughts re T&G: the Collected Poems 1936-1966 pub. by J. Wms.; or the 1968 Fulcrum collected, My Life by Water??

GP is so.. lovely and readable. The Penberthy oughta be the go-to volume, yet GP is my fave!

Don Share said...

P.S. I know, all the answers are in J.P.'s edition, c.f.:

Ed Baker said...

this 2003 The Lorine Niedecker 100th

the last time visit we had with Cid...

Ed Baker said...


here is that photo:

Ed Baker said...

I realize now that I should not have drooped out of grad-school!

here, last attempt:

Jeremiah said...

"Laundromat 2" is sharper, but the timing is better in #1. #1 is a three breath poem, I think (or feel?) there's more humor in the first version.