Sunday, September 16, 2007

Till the Rivers all run dry!

I'm truly glad that Kenneth Koch's complete poems have been compiled in large and fairly handy twin tomes now: the collected poems has been out for a while, and now we're getting the collected long poems. But almost every volume as separately published had a lovely Larry Rivers cover, all now I suppose about to fade out as the big books replace them. A pity. (You can't even see the older covers on Amazon anymore!) So much is lost in these huge books: Lowell's "collected" left out the Notebook editions (Notebook 1967-68 is out of print, even though it's different from its expanded successor, and from the later History). Marianne Moore's so-called collected didn't even retain the order of each jewel-like publication, let alone the many fascinating variants (though some of the latter were haphazardly included in an unhandy appendix), Bishop's collected poems left out the prose bits interleaved with the verse in Questions of Travel, a book inexplicably out of print. Larkin's poems lose something by being shoveled into a collected, when you consider the brevity of each actual book (the sizes of which you cannot imagine a contemporary poet, used to the contest length of 48-64 pp., to entertain).

The price we pay for convenience, I guess, or marketing. But I hate it when big books drive smaller distinct ones into extinction. The trajectory of a life's work is not what it looks like in these slabs, grateful though I am to have them, and to see them given attention with relative excitement by their publishers.

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