Tuesday 22 December 2009

Editorial dilemmas

A forthcoming Five Leaves' poetry anthology has to lose some material, because of the cost of republishing rights. Famous dead writers often seem the greediest. We have often winced at paying out to a wealthy estate run by a great niece or nephew of someone long dead, at the literal expense of paying some tyro poet starving in her garret. Anybody publishing DH Lawrence in the past had to pay out to the wealthy sons of the man DHL widow married after his death. There's plenty such examples of the undeserving and unrelated benefiting from the 70 years people's work remains in copyright after their death. But if you need the material, what can you do?

In this case we had to decide from among a group of living and dead poets which included one who was an anti-Semite, a Rexist, an admirer of Italian Fascism, an elitist and, according to one of the editorial team, "a baleful influence on British poetry for too long. Also a dull poet." Another editor, Jewish, disagreed that he should be excluded because he was an anti-Semite (the poem in question was not anti-Semitic) quoting in support that Daniel Barenboim can conduct Wagner, so chuck him out for poetic or financial reasons (and we did) but not on grounds of alleged anti-Semitism.

Should we always just go by the work, not the person? And what if the poet under discussion had been living? We would never - I imagine - publish the work of a living fascist supporter, even if they could turn out the most excellent sonnet. What if they were a wife-beater? A charlatan? A vivesector? A homophobe?

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