Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Top Soil and Red Ink

Raymond Meeks
"January 9, 2008 2:14 p.m."
Gelatin-silver print

I edit compulsively, reflexively.

Reading a recent issue of The New Yorker, I came upon a poem by W.S. Merwin, entitled "Near Field." In it, I found much that I liked...and much I felt unnecessary, even distracting.

Last night, as I prepared to toss the issue into my recycling bin, I revisited my edit. Ridiculous though it may be to flense the words of another, I do find my version more dream-like and ambiguous, and therefore more haunting.

Every writer or poet needs an editor; keep the red pen handy.

"Near Field"

This is not something new or kept secret
the tilled ground unsown in late spring
the dead are not separate from the living
each has one foot in the unknown
and cannot speak for the other

the field tells none of its turned story
it lies under its low cloud like a waiting river
the dead made this out of their hunger
out of what they had been told
out of
the pains and shadows
and bowels of animals
out of turning and
coming back singing
about another time

-W.S. Merwin (edited by Christopher Reiger)

Photo credit: Raymond Meeks photograph ripped from Candace Dwan Gallery site


andiscandis said...

Editing for Sierra has become super not fun. (Go ahead and edit that one.) Why are environmentalists such drama queens? Honest to Jeebus, I called off an engagement once and it was less emotional.

ginna said...

You know, I heard Merwin read in Vancouver in 2005. And sure, he had to go head to head with Anne Carson, but (blasphemy! blasphemy!) I really didn't think he was all that great.

I like your edit. But I also didn't bother to read the original.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Hmm..yes, the people I know who actually edit - for pay or in a more professional capacity than I - often tell me that most writers are egomaniacs. No surprise there, really, but I'm sorry that you have to struggle with both egos and ecos. I'll stick to editing people who don't talk back. ;)


Yeah, I haven't been that impressed with his work, generally.

Anonymous said...

Arrogance is displayed in assuming to pare away subtleties of Merwin's (or any author's) devising. It only shows work of a sparce and fettered academic mind. Bill Merwin hates restraints of academia.

Hungry Hyaena said...


I have a sparse and fettered mind, then!

Seriously, though, to suggest that a reader is not allowed to glean what he or she will and disregard the rest is to treat works of art as gospel, text unassailable and uninterpretable.

True, you're presented with what the artist creates, but the reader can do with it what he likes. If you fundamentally disagree with that statement, I'd argue that it is you who have retreated into the hallowed halls of the academy, while the rest of us play with samples and remixes, plugging into the contemporary world and making of it what we will.

Thanks for reading, in any case.