Monday, September 2, 2013

Urdang Again

So it turns out I have one more mid-sized blog post before the longish one that I should wrap up tonight.  Then I have one (on Shakespeare actually) that will probably percolate for a while (and may have to be broken up into sub-posts).  However, my main focus will be on more traditional forms of creative writing for a while.

Anyway, I have gradually been collecting various poetry collections by Contance Urdang.  I talk a bit about her in this post, though it turns out I was not quite as clear as I could be what she actually published.

The individual volumes are:
Charades and Celebrations, October House (1965)
The Picnic in the Cemetery Braziller (1975)
The Lone Woman and Others, University of Pittsburgh Press (1980)
Only the World, University of Pittsburgh Press (1983)
Alternative Lives, University of Pittsburgh Press (1990)

Oddly, the back cover of Alternative Lives says she has 8 volumes of poetry out, but I cannot find any evidence of this (maybe they accidentally added in the various novellas she published).  As Urdang died in 1996, presumably she had quite a few uncollected poems in literary magazines (and possibly a really obscure under-the-radar chapbook).

I have been rereading the first section of Only the World, which is mostly about travel and tourism.  I am really liking them (see here and here), and I found the last one ("The Wish to Settle Down") aptly described my life (well, aside from the fact that it would never cross my mind to live on a farm -- I probably would rather be dead).  (The shock of discovery can be so electric for better and worse...)  I'll go ahead and close this post with that poem.

However, I am also enjoying The Lone Woman and Others a bit more than I did the first time around (granted, I had just been skimming this at the library, while preoccupied with other things).  This collection seems to come out of a feminist perspective, but not a shrill one, if that makes sense (see here and here).  I'm picking up some echoes of Anne Sexton (a poet I really adore) and even a few fragments of Plath.

I really do think Urdang ought to be better known.  It does seem that her collections are available in one form or another, but she deserves at least a Selected or better yet a Collected Poems, especially if it could gather up the poems she wrote after 1990.

The problem is: who should do this?  Her husband, Donald Finkel, probably tried, but apparently didn't make any headway before his own death in 2008.  The University of Pittsburgh Press is the logical publisher, but they seem to have deleted her from their catalog.  Washington University in St. Louis (where she and Finkel taught) doesn't have an academic press, and the Urdang collection in their library (which would be a useful starting place) seems to stop short at 1983, so doesn't have the later material (or at least it isn't catalogued).  So unfortunately, there are no logical candidates for an editor or a publisher.  I suppose a dedicated internet campaign might help, but I am feeling too lazy to start one.  (However, if I do make any headway on my transportation anthology and make contacts among editors and agents, I will at least mention this.)

What I will also do is offer up two ideas to enterprizing grad. students, who should feel free to run with them -- and thus build the publicity it would take to get Urdang back into the canon (if she ever was there in the first place) and back into print in a more substantial way.  First, a detailed comparison of Jane Kenyon and Constance Urdang in their poetic outlook and output and even literary reputation.  The second idea is for a more ambitious book on married poets (called Poetic Couplings?) where the three main cases would be Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall and then Constance Urdang and Donald Finkel.

One short side note is that in the course of looking for potential Urdang chapbooks, I came across two Canadian poets that I had never heard of previously: Ken Norris and George Stanley.  I'm still interested in poetry (and am still looking for poems on transportation though not as compulsively as before) and it is so much less overwhelming to read (and review) now that my time feels pinched by Proust.  My guess is the only way I will complete the 7th Canadian Challenge is by sprinkling in a few books by Canadian poets, so I have placed them on hold at the library.  I am particularly intrigued by Stanley's collection titled Vancouver.  This seems to have beaten W.H. New's YVR by about 4 years, but is quite obscure, even when compared to YVR.  I'll definitely be checking this out in the near term.

I have many things to do today, so I will have to wrap this up.  As promised, I will end with another poem from Only the World.

The Wish to Settle Down

And some journey not as pilgrims, but are carried along
On an endless conveyor belt, crisscrossing their lives
Without a stopping-place, like the Flying Dutchman
Traversing the ocean of sky, or the Wandering Jew
Forever on the move, their destiny
A series of provincial capitals;
In one they think maybe they’ll settle down,
Buy a geranium for the window sill,
Join AA, study French, lose weight,
Compare notes on the weather with the neighbors;
But something intervenes, it won’t work out.
Weary of moving, once more they move on
To try a foreign city or a farm,
Their only resting place the final one.

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