When Ruth Panofsky first asked me to create a comparative document of editorial changes to various published versions of the poems of Miriam Waddington, it didn’t sound like something that would take too long. As an experienced editor and poet in my own right, the project sounded both fascinating and right up my alley. So I said yes.
There was an existing bibliography listing all of Waddington’s poems published in literary journals almost to the end of her career—all 360 of them. Okay, so she was prolific, but the project still seemed doable. While a few poems were only published once, so no comparison was required, others were published half-a-dozen times or more. That’s a lot of poems to analyze! Sometimes the variations were minor, but other times whole stanzas were added or missing. Of course, it’s impossible to deconstruct which changes were Waddington’s and which might have been introduced by an editor implementing stylistic preferences (e.g., Canadian or American spelling), so everything was included.
As a GA, I was grateful for the support of undergrad research assistants to help track down all the published versions of each poem, as well as some other arduous tasks. After a lot of interlibrary loan requests and time, not to mention finding a few errors in the bibliography, we collected quite a pile of paper. Trying to keep everything carefully numbered and compiled was a bit of a challenge, but as long as I proceeded in an orderly fashion, it all made sense.
Then, as I was working my way through this enormous pile of paper, it occurred to me that perhaps some of Waddington’s poems had not seen initial publication in literary journals. While the bibliography I was using was generally reliable, it only listed the poems that had first appeared in journals. What if some of her work didn’t see the light of day until it was published in a poetry collection, in book form? What if it had seen subsequent publication in which editorial variations appeared? This thought sent me looking through the tables of contents of her collections. And yes, I was right! A further 194 poems had been published in collections first!
Oh. That meant that the initial daunting task of comparing the various published versions of 360 poems had grown to 554 poems. It only made sense to compile a secondary bibliography. When I went through the final poetry manuscript to ensure that my new bibliography was complete and accurate, I discovered I’d missed a lot on the first pass. I also discovered that many poems had changed titles; what I thought was a new and different poem was actually the same poem by a different name. So while some poems were missing altogether, others had been duplicated.
It’s taken a team of people working on this, with Ruth at the helm, but now we’re putting the finishing touches on the comparative document. There are still a couple of minor pieces missing (interlibrary loans have been amazing, but not quite perfect), and I’m sorting the comparative document into the same order as the poetry manuscript to make the digital apparatus optimally user friendly. While I go through, I’m also constantly checking and rechecking, looking for a perfection I know will never be complete. Although I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this project and I’ve given it my best, any editor knows that there’s no such thing as total perfection.
I have just submitted my report on a very valuable experience supervising Emliy Ballantyne as my research assistant in the Digital Page project, so I thought it might be appropriate to say a few words about thoughts and feelings that arose as I was doing so.
I have been involved in textual editing for about 30 years now, and there is no doubt in my mind that the project I am currently involved in, a digital edition of the Collected Works of P.K. Page, is the most exciting of my career, to a large extend owing to the support of EMiC. EMiC has, of course, provided much desired funding for the project — the RAship is a case in point — but much more important is the sense of community it has fostered, through institutes, conferences, this web site, and also by generating an exciting buzz in the world of scholarly editing in Canada that has simply not been there before. At Trent we are particularly fortunate to have several faculty members involved in editing various volumes of the Collected Works as well as a group of outstanding students enrolled in our Public Texts MA program and a recently announced SSHRC postdoc — congratulations to Michele Rackham! The lonely task of the textual editor has never seemed less lonely. I have been particularly inspired and moved by the many gifted and accomplished young people who have been attending DEMiC in Victoria and TEMiC in Trent, as well as the recent conference on Editorial Problems in Toronto, and it has been a real privilege to have been involved in teaching TEMiC along with Dean. When EMiC has run its course, part of its legacy, I am sure, will be a body of texts edited to the highest possible scholarly standards. But equally important will be a community of scholars at all stages of development who will have done great work together and will continue to do and to inspire great work in the future. Sorry if this comes across as a gush, but it is a gush from the heart. In future blogs I will be much more technological and theoretical and philosophical, but I did want to testify to how important EMiC has been to me.
My edition of Eli Mandel’s selected poems, From Room to Room: The Poetry of Eli Mandel, was published in January 2011 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Since this was my first editing experience and the project that got me affiliated with EMiC, I thought I would spend a few minutes writing a postmortem about it to share with other EMiC members.
The idea that got me started on the project was one that I’m sure many of you share: many of Canada’s prominent and seminal modernists have disappeared from both public and critical view over the past couple of decades; as editors we have both the opportunity and responsibility to bring some of these unsung figures back into print. I became acutely aware of Eli Mandel as part of this faded contingent when in 2008 David Carpenter asked me to write an article on Mandel (and a few of his contemporaries) for his forthcoming Literary History of Saskatchewan. When I looked around for critical material, there was almost nothing on Mandel published since 1992. All of his original monographs were out of print, and there were precious few inclusions of his work in recent anthologies.
Having had little prior experience with Mandel’s poetry—none of his work turned up on any of the courses I took in ten years of undergraduate and graduate studies, and his work is excluded from most of the teaching anthologies I have used since—I set about getting to know Mandel’s work as thoroughly as possible. Luckily, Andrew Stubbs’s and Judy Chapman’s excellent two-volume collection, The Other Harmony: The Collected Poems of Eli Mandel (2000), gave me access to virtually every poem he published, and a good many previously unpublished ones.
Knowing a little about Mandel’s reputation as a poets’ poet and having read a few of his brilliantly lucid critical essays over the years, I was actually put off a little when I started reading the poems. Many, on first or second reading, struck me as lacking in rhythm, fragmentary, pointlessly complicated, and allusive to the point of impenetrability. Heck, even Northrop Frye, the man who made Blake’s “fearful symmetry” crystal clear, admitted to finding Mandel “difficult to follow” when he reviewed the early poems in Trio (1954) in University of Toronto Quarterly. Slightly daunted but admittedly inspired by the prospect of a paid commissioned article (thanks Dave!), I stuck with Mandel’s work over a winter and spring, finding more and more ways to unravel its mysteries.
Thanks to perseverance, frequent dips into Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, Christopher Smart, George Steiner, the Hebrew Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the I-CHING, and—as I’m reluctant to admit—Wikipedia (perhaps the only place one can find a synopsis of the operating capacity of an Indian-made 1980s-model Zenith 148 personal computer—an item crucial to one of Mandel’s late works) , I was able to make better sense of poems. What had seemed impenetrable at first gradually became interesting and, ultimately, fascinating. By the time it came to write the article for Dave’s book, in late 2009, I had enough command of Mandel’s complex vision to write about it competently, if not as thoroughly as I would have liked. The experience left me convinced that I should do something about getting Mandel’s work back into print in a form where new readers can discover it.
Luckily, an opportunity to join EMiC arose around the same time, and as Dean Irvine was kind enough to put me in touch with Neil Besner, General Editor of the Laurier Poetry Series, I soon had an avenue to get my Mandel project on the go. The question of copyright was soon settled when Ann Mandel, Eli’s widow and executor, responded enthusiastically to the idea of a new edition of selected poems. I was able also to enlist the contribution of Andrew Stubbs, the one bona fide Mandel expert in Canada, by commissioning him to write the Afterword to the volume.
What at first seemed a simple task of choosing and assembling poems (thanks to Mandel’s stewardship of his own work during his lifetime and Stubbs and Chapman’s attention to it after), became more complicated when I found that Mandel had approved several different published versions of some of his poems. Further, there were discrepancies in some of the first editions of his work, such as the poem “signs” which appears in the table of contents of Out of Place (1977) but on the relevant page lacks a title and appears to be the second half of a preceding poem called “the return” (this glitch tripped up even Stubbs and Chapman, who unwittingly repeated the error in The Other Harmony). What was needed was access to Mandel’s manuscripts, which were in Manitoba (I was in Montreal) and where as a busy teacher on a LTA salary I could ill-afford to go at the time.
Fortunately, help arrived in the form of Melanie Dennis Unrau, a doctoral student at U. Winnipeg who won an EMiC and SSHRC sponsored RAship under the supervision of Neil Besner. Assigned to the Mandel project by Neil, Melanie was able to visit the Mandel Fonds at U. Manitoba, dig out the manuscripts and galleys of the poems that had textual variants and problems, and scan them for me into PDF documents. Sure enough, “signs” was a separate poem from “the return,” variations in other poems could be assessed, and the Mandel volume gained an added dimension of textual reliability (thanks Melanie!).
Things were quite simple from then on. I wrote the introduction in a flurry of several days, finally confident in my assessment of Mandel’s unique and multifaceted poetic vision. The Laurier Press, who proved immensely helpful and professional throughout the process, set about the process of wrangling the often typographically idiosyncratic poems onto the page. They even acquired the rights from a European art museum to my “dream” cover for the volume: a reproduction of Henry Fuseli’s neo-gothic masterpiece, “The Nightmare,” one of the inspirations for Mandel’s early monograph Fuseli Poems (1960) and the surrealistic imagery of other early work.
The book, as I said, came out officially in January (although actually in late December, proof that Laurier folks keep their presses well-oiled). And I can safely say that, in terms of my role in bringing an important and relatively unsung poet back into public view (Eli Mandel on Amazon – now that’s progress!), I’m glad to have done something useful with my new-found editing skills. Now I’m hooked.
A day late and a blogger short…
A blogger (bloggist?) I am not. A doctoral student with a deadline—that’s me. This is not going to be a well-wrought, lengthy treatise. Instead, it is going to be a quick [read short] thought. I’m going to embrace the cursory (this sounds somewhat compelling, or at least it might…I haven’t read all the way to the end). So, please allow me think as I type: though set in electro-stone this is still and always a draft. OK? OK, we’ve agreed. Good. Onward.
While I’ve been involved with EMiC from its beginning, I’ve recently taken a break. I think the break lasted for six months or thereabouts. No scanning, no tei, no collation of variants, no writing of textual or explanatory notes, no reading in the realm of textual studies, no attending meetings…like, nothing. I’ve forgotten my passwords that might give me access to various editorial wonders. I needed the break. The break started when I submitted a MS of This Time a Better Earth to the director and general editor of U of Ottawa P’s Canadian Literature Collection, who also happens to be my doctoral supervisor. And that is just it. It is this tension (and hopefully balance) that exists between scholarly editor and doctoral student that I’d like to write about here… more than write, I think I would like to advocate for the tension/balance in this short “thinking-through-typing” thing (with some reservations…always…with some reservations).
Now near the end of the long haul, I am starting to realize just how long a haul it has been. My seven-year-old niece recently looked at me quizzically and asked if I was still in school. “Yep,” was my simple reply. The quizzical look shifted to one of horror and astonishment: “WHAT GRADE ARE YOU IN?” Twenty-three. That’s right, grade twenty-three. But here is the thing: editing gave me a reprieve. Wrapped up in the institutional mechanisms of a doctoral programme, my perspective was narrowing…the work of putting together a scholarly edition gave reprieve from the effects of what I sometimes think of as the concentric circles of schooling—of specialization. Having a good grasp on one area is all fine and good, but I know that I’m also a bit of a generalist. This predicament may well be unique to me, but something makes me think not. In addition, I’ve talked to many doctoral students who have found it difficult to not to take lengthy breaks between accomplishments (coursework, comps [sometimes 2 or 3 sets], and dissertation). The question (I guess): is a change as good as a break?
In retrospect, I DO remember having a plan when I started my doctoral studies: finish coursework and my qualification exams, then take a step back from jumping through those institutional hoops (17 graduate courses in four years left me a bit harried) and then take the time to jump through hoops of some other kind. Namely, edit a scholarly edition and get some articles out there. And then, after all that, then, write that little thing called a dissertation. Oh yeah, I remember now, that thing I did the planning for years ago while I was in an MA programme.
The plan worked, at least for the most part. I was able to take my leave from things. I was able to switch it up while still being productive. My scholarly research is not like my scholarly editing and the differences kept me out of the doldrums. The trick, methinks, is not to let editorial projects get too big (should doctoral students start career-length projects when the current climate leaves us unsure of careers?) When I sent away my edited MS I knew that I wouldn’t have to look at it for months. That, let me tell you, was a good feeling. And now completing my dissertation has 93.48% of my attention (did you know that 47.34% of statistics are made up on the spot?).
Obviously, I’ve rejoined the editorial fold here at Dalhousie. I’ve written a post for the blog. I’ve even started attending our group meetings again. I’m also back to work on the edition of Livesay’s Right Hand Left Hand…but I’m not getting carried away… I’ve got a dissertation to finish…
My work on a critical edition of Miriam Waddington’s collected poetry continues.
My draft manuscript includes all previously published poems and I am now working on Waddington’s previously unpublished poems. Melissa Dalgleish has joined the project as Research Assistant and is helping with this stage of the project. Currently, she is comparing photocopies of manuscript and typescript poems (the originals are housed in the Miriam Waddington fonds at Library and Archives Canada) with the draft manuscript to determine whether any of the material was actually published. I will be making a final research trip to LAC at the end of March 2011 to collect the remaining unpublished material for further comparison.
Concurrently, I am working on the apparatus (both print and digital) that will complete my edition. Presently, I am rereading the poems with a view to annotation. I am also finalizing the choice of supplementary texts that will form the digital apparatus. The data base of revisions, prepared by Catherine Jenkins, is nearly complete.
I hope, over the course of this Spring and Summer, to complete my work on this project, which is scheduled for publication in 2012 by University of Ottawa Press. I hope my edition will unveil the depth and range of Miriam Waddington’s poetry and introduce her work to a new generation of readers.