Tag Archives: edgar allen poe and the juke-box

Drafts, notes and poems.

Yesterday the multi-talented Zachary Bos sent me two pdfs, one of a Geoffrey Hill pamphlet entitled ‘Preghiere’ which was published in 1964 and the other of ‘The Kensington Mass’ by David Jones which was published in 1975, a year after Jones’ death.

With regard to the second of these the publishers (Agenda Editions) explain that this is an unfinished draft of a poem that Jones had been working on until his death. The text of the book consists of a tentative draft of part of the poem together with fragments from Jones’ handwritten notes which have been collated by Rene Hague who also provides some explanation. Jones’ notes are reproduced at the end of the book.

I have mixed feelings about reading material that may not have been intended for publication. In general I think I’m against it because we don’t know if those poets would have wanted their drafts to be read by others and doing so can feel a little bit grubby and intrusive.

The above purist stance falls apart when we come to specific examples- ‘Edgar Allen Poe and the Jukebox’ is a collection of Elizabeth Bishop’s “uncollected poems, drafts and fragments” which contains 16 drafts of ‘One Art’ thus giving the reader the privilege of seeing a truly great talent at work. To those of us that might feel queasy about this kind of prying, the blurb quotes John Ashbery- “For those who love Elizabeth Bishop, there can never be enough of her writing. The arrival of this trove of manuscripts is therefore a stupendous event.” So, one justification would appear to be that it’s okay if the poet didn’t publish that much stuff during his or her lifetime. The counter argument goes that Bishop was meticulous about deciding what could be (by her very high standards) published and what couldn’t which is why a relatively small amount was made public.

Paul Celan presents a different kind of problem. James K Lyon’s “Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: an Unresolved Conversation 1951-70” which (among other things) makes extensive use of Celan’s marginalia in books by Heidegger in order to examine the relationship between the two. As a fan of all things Celan, I should be delighted by this but it turns out to be far too speculative:

During his intense reading of Wrong Paths in 1953, a passage on the nature of poetic language in the essay “What Are Poets For?” prompted Celan to enter double lines and write the word language [Sprache] in the margin. The passage reads, “Being, as itself, marks off its domain, which is measured (temnein, tempus) by Being’s being present in the word. Language is the domain (templum), viz. the house of Being . . . [the] temple of Being” (Das Sein durchmisst es selbst als seinen Bezirk, der dadurch bezirkt wird [temnein, tempus], dass es im Wort west. Die Sprache ist der Bezirk [templum], d.h. das Haus des Seins . . . [der] Tempel des Seins, G 5:310). In connecting humankind’s dwelling in the temple of Being with the poet’s role as a seer in that temple, Heidegger made an allegorical move that must have appealed to Celan’s belief in writing poetry as a higher calling.

Only a few days after finishing Wrong Paths, Celan again encountered the image of language as the temple or house of Being in Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, where it occurs in at least nine passages. His underlining of several of
those passages suggests that they caught the poet’s attention and probably left a trace in a poem he wrote soon after reading A Letter on Humanism.

This is from p32 but the whole book is peppered with ‘must haves’ and ‘probablys’ which doesn’t inspire confidence. The other reasonably obvious point to make is that underlining can signify a whole range of things as can making a double line in the margin. Most of us who make these kind of marks know that they have a wide range of meanings and connotations, as a mark to return to to reconsider/evaluate, as a mark of approval, as a mark of something that seems important or as something to denote disagreement or condemnation etc etc.

There’s also the voyeuristic/intrusive element in this. It is very, very unlikely that Celan made these marks in the knowledge that they would be scrutinised and made the subject of a book. What we know of his widow, Giselle, it is very unlikely that she would have given permission for an exercise of this kind. The other issue that I have with Lyons is that he makes a number of assumptions about the meeting between Celan and Heidegger at Todtnauberg when the fact is that we will never know what took place.

I also have Pierre Joris’ magnificent translation for Celan’s notes and drafts for The Meridian Address which continues to absorb me – I’ve written about it several times because I think it gives us a deeper insight into his poetics. The only moment of voyeuristic grubbiness has been felt when he equates Sophie Goll with Goebbels. The other redeeming aspects are that Giselle gave permission for poetry to be published after his death and that Celan retained these notes even though he no longer had need of them- he committed suicide over 9 years after the Address was made. The German editors have provided notes to explain some of the references but these don’t make the leap in speculation so there aren’t any must haves or probablys. For example, there is a lengthy citation for a French phrase used by Celan that identifies the source that Celan alludes and the version that was in his poession. There’s also a short entry on Kropotkin that identifies his anarchism and one oh his works- the editors do not then suggest that Celan was also an anarchist because that would be a probably.

Rene Hague was Jones’ greatest friend and would not have participated in the publication of ‘The Kensington Mass’ if he felt that this was in any way contrary to what his friend would have wished. His explanatory notes are a delight and I think this is an example of the right mix of respect and judgement that these situations require:

Our inclination will be to include as much as possible; but we have, unfortunately, to remember that David’s method was the exact opposite. We may comfort ourselves, however, by remembering, too, that little or nothing (I believe) was destroyed, and work which had been put on one side (e.g. Balaam’s Ass) would later be reinstated.

Hague goes into detail as to his reasons for ordering the drafts in this way but the drafts themselves are also included so we can follow the way these decisions have been made.

Given that Jones is one of the great modernists, as with Bishop, anything that adds to the sparse work that we have has got to be important, especially when compiled out of friendship and affection.