Tuesday, April 12, 2016

12 april 2016

Hannah Sullivan's book The Work of Revision (did I mention how generally excellent it is?) captured a long-held desire of mine to think about and perhaps theorize the process of revision. I'm certainly planning on mining its bibliography.

But thinking about revision sent me to an alas as-yet-not-properly examined shopping bag of books I picked up over the New Year's holiday in Sarasota and Sanibel, and digging out a collection edited by Judith Kennedy, Victorian Authors and Their Works: Revision Motivations and Modes (Ohio University Press, 1991). It has essays—unfortunately brief ones—on a variety of important writers of the period, from Carlyle to Conrad. So I read Kennedy's introduction, and a couple of the essays.

Or I should say Kennedy's "Preface," for it's not really long enough or searching enough to be a proper introduction. She nods towards what she calls a "recent surge of interest" in textual scholarship, then gives a too-hasty overview of the shift from Greg-Bowers methodology to the "social text" thought of McGann and Shillingsburg. It's way too hasty—undigested even—and pales beside the careful, scrupulous, and inventive way Sullivan dovetails an account of that same shift with a description of attitudes towards revision in her own first chapter.

Only two chapters of Kennedy's collection actually read. Susan Shatto provides a quick-n-nasty overview of how Tennyson composed Maud (desultorily, for himself, then finishing when there was the prospect of a publication contract and money). Fred Kaplan tells again the story of John Stuart Mill's maid accidentally burning the manuscript of Part I of Carlyle's French Revolution, and of Carlyle having to compose the whole thing over again. What's striking is that a very few scraps (all burnt around the edges) of that first manuscript have survived, and their words seems to be pretty much precisely duplicated in the book as Carlyle actually (re)wrote it. Did he treasure up those scraps of prose, incorporating them into his new text when he got to the right place? Or Carlyle (as Kaplan tends to think) simply have such a retentive and capacious memory that he was able to largely reconstruct the whole book as he originally wrote it?


Peter O'Leary's The Sampo, now read (slowly, with feeling), is magnificent. It makes me wonder if there isn't (or shouldn't be) some movement back towards outright narrative among the few poets I follow and value.

Monday, April 11, 2016

11 april 2016

It's been ages; no excuses, though this has been a wearying semester, punctuated with some fine conference visits and some good music. I've resolved to begin writing in this space again.

First, a bit of self-promotion:

Mentioned earlier on this blog, but as yet unlinked (I think), I have two recently published books:

Intricate Thicket: Reading Late Modernist Poetries is out from the University of Alabama Press; it collects essays and long-form reviews that I've written over the past 15 years or more. I'm rather proud of many of the pieces here.

Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy and the World's Pain is out from McFarland; it's a rather lighter affair, falling somewhere between fanboy-enthusiasm and real live criticism. But it is frankly the most comprehensive book on Moorcock out there, so if you're a fan you really ought to buy it.


What I've been reading lately, and what I'm reading:

Just finished a third go-through of Geoffrey Hill's Selected Poems (Yale, 2006). I've been forcing my graduate creative writing students to work through this one over the course of the semester, just to give them a taste of late high modernism and high formalism (and frankly, because I love Hill's work). It's weird to work with a selection, rather than the single volumes I usually teach out of; I'm always trying to lay my finger on a particular poem or section of a longer thing, only to find that it hasn't been included. And I note how the volume tapers off towards the end—Scenes from Comus and Without Title are only very scantily represented—as if to catch breath before the grand explosion of work that Hill's released over the past decade—the last 1/3 or so of Broken Hierarchies, the vast 2013 collected poems.

The Kalevala, in its 1907 Kirby translation, despite the Hiawatha-meter into which the translator has predictably cast it, is highly readable indeed. I'm not sure whether the book wouldn't have moldered indefinitely on my shelves if I hadn't taken it down to gear up for a serious plunge into Peter O'Leary's fantastic recasting of portions, now available from the Cultural Society as The Sampo. This one is not to be missed: all of O'Leary's characteristic energy and verbal invention, in the service of high fantasy. Or—to call it what it is—sword and sorcery!

Hannah Sullivan's The Work of Revision (Harvard, 2013) is a pretty splendid piece of criticism. I confess to reading fewer books of criticism these days than I did, say, two decades ago. But I was pleasantly surprised over the summer by books by Brian Reed, Chris Nealon, and Gordon Teskey, and since have found myself reacquiring the taste. (Part of it, I think, is getting my own two books out the door, and being able as it were to take a breath.) Sullivan's book is for the most part gracefully written and more importantly just generally smart. She takes all that we already knew about writers' revisionary processes (both pre- and post-publication) and sorts it into a general theory of the cultural importance of revising, reaching a kind of apotheosis in the Creative Writing Industry's making revision a kind of index of "real" writing. Which is, as she points out, an inheritance of high modernism, a way of thinking that would have been utterly alien to the Romantics. Her book is chock full of insights in particular authors, and does a really fine job of taxonomizing various types of revision.

As usual, I'm dipping into and digging into various slim volumes of contemporary verse. I hope to begin noting them in depth—as I hope to be updating the blog at rather more decent intervals.