This past March Pif‘s editors discussed running an Out-of-Print Books Issue. I said, “Wait a minute. Don’t books go out-of-print for a reason? Doesn’t all of a poet’s best work end up in a volume under a title that begins with Collected, or Selected, or if they’re really good, The Complete?”
I held onto these reservations until remembering that Andrew Hudgins’ Saints and Strangers, a book I truly love, is out-of-print. Then I recalled Lucie Brock-Broido campaigning for Thomas James’ Letters to a Stranger to return to print. I started asking around, and Xerox copies of James’ book and Jack Gilbert’s Monolithos found their way into my possession. Books by Eleanor Ross Taylor, C.D. Wright, and Lynda Hull were lent to me as well.
Then, in April, I heard Yusef Komunyakaa’s keynote address on poetry at the Millennial Gathering of the Writers of the New South. He mentioned Faulkner’s early efforts at writing poetry and suggested, had Faulkner continued, he would have become one of the genre’s modern masters. My search for Faulkner’s poetry by chance led me to a friend who owned a copy of Vision in Spring.
Why many of these poems were out-of-print was bewildering. I was enjoying these new finds and was thrilled to be resurrecting them. At that point, it seemed I only needed to select the best poems from the volumes I’d gathered.
I had to think again.
Gilbert is a recluse living in Greece. His publishing house has no agent listed for him, only the name of a Greek town. Who knows when and if he’ll receive our letter asking for reprint permission? And we never received a response from the estate of Thomas James. Apparently, many folks are content to let sleeping books fall into a permanent state of yesterday’s dream. In the end, the only responses were from Wright’s publisher and Faulkner’s estate.
In general, the poor or momentary quality of a book is usually why it doesn’t return to print. Many books, however, are out-of-print because the author or his estate’s executor is difficult for the publishing world to deal with. And a few are out-of-print by shear happenstance.
This issue’s two poems fall into the latter category and rightly should be back in print. For instance, when I got into the thick of Vision in Spring, I was immediately taken with “Love Song,” struck by its obvious echoes of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Perhaps you will conclude that Faulkner’s “Love Song” is a cheap imitation of Eliot’s, but keep in mind that we’ve had more than a half century to assimilate Eliot. Faulkner first encountered Eliot’s poem in all its revolutionary freshness, a state of mind difficult to imagine in a world that has television advertisements freely quoting lines from Prufrock. He had no idea this poem would become a staple of the canon, and his youthful literary instincts are telling of his future writing. Poems like this hold a particular interest to serious literary audiences and should be kept in print.