Saturday, December 03, 2011
Dove: Digging Deeper
I've been reading further on Rita Dove's decision to exclude Ginsberg and Kerouac from the new Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Verse and I've unearthed a couple of interesting details. First this old quote from Dove, which demonstrates she has no particular prejudice towards Ginsberg (I'd never heard of her before I read about the anthology, so what did I know?):
Allen Ginsberg's importance was in its twilight for so many years that it took his death to bring it to the front page. He electrified an entire world! And he continues to do so! There are generations who stumble across HOWL and find it speaks to them. Yet it takes a tragedy to make people notice. http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/dove/dove-interview.html
Dove says in her introduction, apparently, that she couldn't afford to blow her whole budget on hefty permission fees from copyright owners. I don't know if she refers specifically to HarperCollins and Rupert Murdoch (I am so out of the political loop in literary matters I didn't know they were owned by the liberal's own antichrist Rupert Murdoch), but I suppose the inference is there even if the declaration isn't. So, then, she simply couldn't afford Ginsberg.
That's a credible argument. Perhaps, then, Dove's mistake was tactical rather than political, in that she has included in her anthology a whole lot of people who could have been excluded so that the most significant American poet of the 1950s - in cultural as well as literary terms - didn't have to be. And if it was a question of late negotiation with HarperCollins when most of the money had already been spent, the same applies. It's bad housekeeping. Blaming the capitalist monster Murdoch and the devils of the Ginsberg estate might be fun but it's too easy.
And I still wonder what really motivated Dove's selections for the book. While including four of her own poems, Dove excludes Sylvia Plath too, and Plath's poetry is taught in every university from here to the other side of Mars. I don't like it personally but even a pig-headed bastard like me has to admit it's technically brilliant. Is Plath owned by the horned Australian one also? Most of the stuff I've read seems to indicate that Dove just hates her poetry, which is fair enough, but not a good basis for the editing of a poetry anthology.
As for Kerouac...well, some of the reviews of the anthology have been kind about his writing while discussing its absence from the book, but prejudice against him is so deep-rooted in 'respectable' circles an editor who could afford to buy Manhattan probably wouldn't include him. The professor of American Literature at Northampton University described Jack's Essentials of Spontaneous Prose as 'hippie shit' in a lecture only last year. I forced him to admit he was wrong in a private discussion in his office a few days later, but I'm sure his submission was only made to prevent me from breaking the furniture.