Saturday, 26 April 2008

Yet more typescripts

It must be three, if not four weeks now that I have been wading through the innumerable pages of typescripts in the Gurney archive, discovering their groupings and provenance, but the end is now in sight! There is a small bundle of pages left to be sorted, but nearly all of the TSS are sorted, filed and, increasingly, a temporary catalogue of the new locations has been produced (the collection is still open to public access during cataloguing, so paper trails have to be maintained where it has been necessary to reorganise materials).

The Blunden typescript has been a wonderful find, allowing, for instance, the identification of the missing poem in the set of poems from January 1925, 'To Hawthornden' - now therefore complete.

One small matter to be resolved as yet surrounds a little blue notebook used by Gurney during a walking tour with John Haines in August 1919 (although Leonard Clark dates it more broadly 1919-22). The notebook is not in the archive (nor is it in the Haines archive, which is being catalogued at the Gloucestershire Archives at the moment) and there is some conflicting evidence amongst the typescript transcriptions of the volume. Joy Finzi later (1950s) noted on some of the typescripts which manuscript source they came from. This is sometimes confusing as she has written this on typescripts that are transcriptions of variants of the poem from a different source to the one she annotates. In the case of the Haines book, there is also an index to a typescript of the volume, probably made by Joy, which doesn't include some of the poems she has annotated as being from the volume. Some of these are on quite different papers and one questions whether they were in fact from the source. There are two gaps in the extant 'Blue book' typescript, and hopefully the coming week will see a resolution of this, and the final identification of the remaining TSS. Some of Joy Finzi's annotations and approximations in the archive prove accurate; others can be misleading. Some poems she has noted as being 'written at Dartford' (viz. after December 1922). However, a number of these are found to belong to the black notebook sent to Edward Marsh (founder/editor of the Georgian Poetry volumes (Poetry Bookshop, 1911-22)) earlier in that year.

During the latter part of this week I have begun to read through the poems written in 1926. This was Gurney's fourth year in the mental hospital, and he was nearing the end of his creative career, ceasing to write music in 1927 (or at least, this is the last extant music ms) and poetry apparently a few years later. I have found myself to be startled by this poetry: Gurney's early work came during the war, and these works formed the only two volumes of poetry published in his lifetime. '80 Poems or So' and, in particular, 'Rewards of Wonder', mark his true maturity as a poet, but these still evoke a rather parochial frame of reference (dare one say), with Gloucestershire, London and the war featuring heavily. His prolific output of 1925 is full of memory and contains much homage-making/paeans to the Americas and American poets (quite obsessively so when one considers some of the unpublished collections such as 'Poems in Praise of Poets' and 'Poems to the States'). However, 1926 seems to bring a marked change in his poetry: he leaves his parochial reference points and obsessions in the background and writes poetry that is timeless and universal - perhaps influenced by his interest at that time in northern European epics, such as the 'Kalevala'. One can't help thinking that, for this reason, these c.200 poems are some of Gurney's most important work. He has become overarchingly relevant, and achieved his ideal of producing art worthy of, and perhaps as enduring as that of the Elizabethans.

Some will probably argue differently.

Monday, 7 April 2008

More typescripts and Edmund Blunden

Since returning to the archive after a brief break over Easter I have resumed wok on the typescripts.  One of the frustrations of the archive is that, when compiling his 1954 Hutchinson collection of poems, Edmund Blunden sifted through typescripts and removed what he wanted, making a note on the title pages of those poems he had taken.  A few of these typescripts would be the only source for some of poems in the archive, but they aren't to be found amongst the folders of typescripts.  

During the collation of the set of typescripts identified by George Walter as being the volume '80 Poems or So' I was interested to see that some of the missing typescripts in the double set (a carbon copy having been made by the typist) appeared in Blunden in different versions.  Since one copy of the double set was given to Gurney, many of which were revised or corrected, I had thought that Blunden had perhaps removed that revised version.  This spurred me on to try and locate the original typescript submitted by Blunden to Hutchinson, in the hope that I could confirm whether or not this could be the case.  

Hutchinson is now part of Random House, and so I made a telephone call to their office and spoke to the archives department (who were glad to receive a phone call - apparently an unusual occurrence!).  The assistant archivist was enormously helpful, and although they couldn't immediately be sure of finding it, various avenues of enquiry were launched.  

Returning to the archive today, I was looking through the stack with my supervisor and co-editor, Tim Kendall.  One of the boxes opened at random was one containing correspondence regarding Leonard Clark's 1973 edition of Gurney's poems, labelled 'Leonard Clark Bequest'. Previously I had found in this collection three bundles of typescripts which were those prepared for his book, and I had taken these hoping that it might yield the missing typescripts. When today Tim Kendall plucked a similar typescript out of the collection I presumed it to be another working copy.  However, back in the office a brief inspection revealed it to be the Blunden, containing many of the missing typescripts!  Unfortunately, not all were there, as he also removed a number of poems that didn't make it into the collection.  These may be in the Blunden collections in Columbia, Iowa, Texas or Worcester College Oxford -- or maybe not. The afternoon was spent making a careful note of the contents of the bundle and, after a brief telephone call to one of the Trustees confirming that it was right to do so, returning the typescripts to their rightful place for the first time since May 1951.  Alas, the typescripts from '80 Poems or So' I thought might be those containing Gurney's manuscript revisions were not those I hoped for, so the question of which version of the poems are the latter remains to be resolved.  

I feel sorry to have bothered the archivists at Random House, but the correspondence between publisher and editor may be of interest, should one be allowed to see it.