Following up from a previous “Round-Up” – Rita Dove and the saga of the Ginsberg Penguin omission
Here’s Rita Dove being interviewed by Jericho Brown on the blog of The Best American Poetry. The full interview (wide-ranging and revealing, the trials and tribulations of the anthologist – not to mention the joys and delights too), may be read here.
Here’s the Ginsberg-pertinent section:
“Jericho Brown: “In the introduction’s epilogue, you lament Penguin’s budget not being enough to secure the rights to publish “poems by Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath (and none by Sterling Brown)…” How do you think Ginsberg would react to this if he bothered to come back from the dead?
Rita Dove: With regard to Ginsberg’s possible reaction, I can only quote from my introduction to the anthology: “I wish I could have asked Allen Ginsberg myself, whom I’d met late in his life and come to know as a magnanimous man, what he thought of this; a New Millennium “Howl” might have resulted”.
The saga of permission fees (sic) is the only deeply sad experience of compiling this anthology. Although there were many heart-breaking decisions – poems that I loved for personal reasons that I had to acknowledge as sentimental, flawed, or simply their author’s one-shot wonder – nothing shook my belief in the goodness of human beings like trying to secure the rights to reprint these three authors and by extension other poets controlled by the same publishing house [HarperCollins]. I relate the whole sordid tale in the most recent issue of AWP’s “The Writer’s Chronicle” (December 2011). The negotiations broke down at the eleventh hour – literally, the day before the anthology went to press..HarperCollins had demanded that either I agree to their fees for Plath, Ginsberg, Brown and their other – still living – poets, or I would get none of them – not a one. Penguin made a counter-offer, involving fewer poems by Plath and Ginsberg but meeting Harper’s high per-line demands for both, and assuring them that no other poet’s permissions fees were higher. HarperCollins rejected Penguin’s counter-offer for two reasons: a) my and Penguin’s cost-conscious decision not to include as many poems as had been in my original permissions-fee inquiry, and b) our refusal to pay line fees for their living poets that went well above those for other living poets in the anthology – not only because the budget didn’t stretch any further, but foremost because that would have violated agreements with other publishers who had granted Penguin reprint rights at affordable fees for their living poets, under the condition that such savings would not be used to satisfy higher demands from other houses – it’s called in the business a “favored nations” condition. The HarperCollins permissions manager, who knew that the book was going into production on February 18, abruptly and summarily withdrew all the contracts under consideration the afternoon before, February 17, and disappeared on vacation the next day. As if he tried to torpedo the entire project, for whatever reason…makes one suspicious, doesn’t it?”
Yes it does. We at the Ginsberg Project are obviously concerned. We’ll look into, and report more on, this in the coming days.
“For some Allen Ginsberg, at the heart of the last century, is the man who started it all. He was the one who made poetry thrilling, who made it vital, who made it something that the young wanted to engage with, who used it as a weapon of resistance that had authorities rushing to investigate and ban him – the man who made poetry so bloody appealing and made it so easy to get on board..” So begins poet Peter Finch‘s assessment (he goes on to consider notions of spontaneity and editorial revision) in his note “First Words Best Words” (yes, echoing Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche‘s – and Allen’s – famous “first thought, best thought” adage). The full piece (another “blog” piece) may be accessed here.
Ed Sanders’ “Fug You; An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs and Counterculture in the Lower East Side” has just been published. An excerpt from the opening chapter (“In the fall of 1963 Allen Ginsberg mailed me a poem called “The Change”… ) appears on PopMatters and may be accessed here.
And speaking of bookstores, we note, as indeed have many, the passing of legendary Parisian Anglophone bookstore-owner, George Whitman, the irascible and beloved maestro of Shakespeare & Company, 98 years old, he died in his apartment above the store this past Wednesday, signaling, it has to be said, the end of an era. Catherine Bremer’s Reuters note on him is here, Marlise Simons’ New York Times obituary notice here. Other notices to follow.