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This item is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

Ed Dorn's Collected Poems were launched at the London Review of Books Bookshop on 29 November 2012. Introducing the event, Iain Sinclair compared the chunky demy-octavo omnium gatherum, which exceeds 1000 pages, to a trunk found at a railway left luggage office, inside which the reader discovers every limb and fragment of a victim, carefully packed together. Nothing is missing except the poet himself. Later he likened such a Collected to a directory, comprehensive and indicative but not quite what it purports to be. The occasion of each separate publication, the collaborations, the smell of the mimeograph fluid, of the woody paper of the pamphlet, the plasticated binding of an early collection, and all the fading and nuanced colours of covers and jackets, autographs and annotations, resolved in a brick from which process, context and contingency had been drained. The whole is valuable, but represents rather less than the sum of the parts.

The film-maker Colin Still organised the Dorn event in such a way as to bring back to contemporary readers some of those lost contexts. Gordon Brotherston, who worked with Dorn, read with feeling their reinventions of an Aztec priest's voice responding to the conquerors. What elaborate collaboration poetry can entail: history, disparate American and British voices, translation, present occasions bringing a remote past into focus; the participation of audience in the creative conception... How remote the 2012 audience was from those that first heard Dorn and Brotherston perform. Tom Raworth's precisely timed three-minute tribute will be published in PN Review 210. He remarked, 'That Carcanet should publish the Collected Poems is to their credit: but it shows the sad state of literary publishing in the United States that one of its major modern poets and satirists should be collected outside its borders'...

Elaine Feinstein read 'Thesis' with her usual heart-stopping pace and clarity. Tom Pickard, both a friend and an invention of Dorn's, touched the same quick. Justin Katko, who helped Jennifer Dorn edit the book, Nicholas Johnson who has published Dorn, and John Hall, an old friend, contributed, and finally, movingly, Jennifer Dorn herself. The bookshop was full, with people outside in the street and the courtyard; there was more than an echo of the excitement of those poetry occasions that redefined the audiences of the 1960s and 1970s, when poetry and 'the urgent, insurgent now' reconnected.

The context for this event was a great bookshop, anachronistic in the range of publications it carries, in the quality of its poetry bays, and in its congeniality. The evening's conversation turned to ebooks and the rebellion of some poets against them. In an ebook culture how would the design and production values of the little presses, the varieties of fixed format, the processes of presentation which are the creative context for some innovative writers, be replicated and survive? Given the narrow concentration of distribution channels, would poetry find its own creative spaces within ebook culture, or was the 'occasional' space of the broadsheet, pamphlet and other ephemeral print formats gone forever?

If a substantial collected poems is likened to a trunk with a dismembered body inside, what metaphor is suitable for the ebook of such a trunk, taking the reader even further from the original pages and their contexts? Poetry is a medium resistant to ebook. Some poets refuse to allow their poems to be included in ebook anthologies, on the grounds that there is no way of preserving lineation or indentation apart from publishing the poems inflexibly, as static image rather than text. Traffic in poetry ebooks is growing, but no entirely satisfactory solution has yet been found. Conventional poets writing in lines up to pentameter length with standard indents are relatively safe, but those whose poems attempt a longer line or negotiate with the space around the words are imperilled by a technology devised to hand over responsibility for the visual aspects of text to the reader, within certain clearly defined parameters. For iPhones, trimeter is the ideal measure, anything longer tending to mutate; on the iPad, held sideways, a hexameter has been known to survive...

This item is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

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