American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘George F. Butterick

Notes for a Library of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry (part one)

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From Collecting Everyman's Library

Image from Collecting Everyman's Library (click for link)

In almost all instances, we encounter the writing of a long-dead poet in a volume of collected or selected works, or in an anthology. The individual books making up a writer’s career tend to slip out of the frame of readerly attention, gathering dust in a public library or secondhand bookshop. With some poets, of course, the individual books, or a few of them, remain ubiquitous long after they go out of print. But even when we decide to read those poets, we tend to set aside the multiple “slim volumes” for a more comprehensive or more judiciously chosen selection.

Image courtesy the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department (click for more information)

Image from the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department (click for link to larger view)

The pattern is different with novelists. With them, individual titles predominate and omnibus collections are less appealing. If I am going to read Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, I would rather pick out one novel and finish it, and then pick out another if I like the first; the entire series would be premature. And I would not want a book of excerpts either. An abridged novel does not appeal to me, and chapters are rarely self-sufficient almost never. Short stories are another matter. As with books of poetry, the volumes in which they originally appeared can be dismantled and rearranged to make bigger or littler collections, and that is just fine.  The difference is largely a matter of how novels are read, as distinct from stories and poems: the former from front to back, the latter two in hops, skips, and jumps. One commits to a novel. With stories and poems one flips randomly in search of something interesting. And when that is the case, you may as well maximize your chances by choosing the biggest book around, or at least by choosing a book where somebody else has done some sifting before you. One wants it all or one wants the best. The individual book seems, in comparison, merely random. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ben Friedlander

May 14, 2009 at 3:42 am