George Oppen: New Collected Poems.
Edited by Michael Davidson
New Directions paperback with CD
422 pages. 2008
In this re-edited version of Oppen’s 1975 Collected Poems editor Michael Davidson adds 60 previously unpublished poems, most from the 1950s through the 1970s.
The previously unpublished poems come from Oppen’s manuscripts and working papers. Davidson says that, although this edition may include a bit more of the unpolished material than Oppen would have liked, he justifies these inclusions by considering the way Oppen composed; his “tendency to embed poems in the midst of a kind of textual rubble.”
So we benefit from Davidson’s archaeological digs. He worked to respect the integrity of Oppen’s compositional standards by including “poems that he worked on over a period of time, or which elucidate other published poems.” Sixty pages of notes provide additional substance and texture to this edition.
Much of Oppen’s writing is dark. You see that not only while reading but while listening to the readings on the accompanying CD. In these readings recorded in San Francisco, New York, and London, one hears a voice that is disillusioned, perhaps tired, but committed to grappling with personal and collective experience through art. In fact, Davidson says his editorial decisions were inspired in part by Oppen’s remark that poems are forged out of social and familial forces beyond the aesthetic: He was shaped by working as a manual laborer, raising a family, the Depression, the threat of Fascism, and Communist Party activism.