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University Press Unfair to Opus



A few observations on statements by Melinda T. Koyanis, Copyright-and-Permissions Manager of the Harvard Press ("Hot Type," Chronicle of Higher Education, November 17). Koyanis asserts that "authorizing" an anthology such as my Poetic Work of Emily Dickinson, a text "based on one person's variant typographic interpretation of the poetry, aimed at a general reader, was not in the best interest of preserving or presenting the integrity of the Dickinson work."

While Koyanis uses my way of characterizing my project--a typographic interpretation--she neglects to apply its sense consistently. Harvard's forthcoming variorum typographic text is also based on "one person's" (Ralph Franklin's) construal of the holographs and related material. Moreover, to describe my version of selected poems as a variant typographic interpretation implies that it is somehow a deviation from a standard or authoritative typographic interpretation of Dickinson's work. The point of producing my collection was to offer a more satisfactory printed rendering of selected poems than is found in the currently standard typographic versions produced by Thomas H. Johnson.

If Koyanis is suggesting that my collection is a variant of some authoritative printed anthology, she is mistaken because none exists. The typography of Poetic Work is my construal in that medium of Dickinson's poesis based on my own handwritten interpretations of photographic facsimiles and, in some instances, the original manuscripts. (Neither the principle of selection in Poetic Work nor my approach to the problem of representing the poetry in print for the general reader was derived from any particular typographic edition. And I made no photocopies of any source materials.) Koyanis' statement could even give the impression that the Harvard Press is unwarrantably endeavoring to establish that my text is a variant of the as-yet incomplete and unpublished Franklin variorum text.

Also worth remarking is Koyanis clause, "aimed at a general reader." The Introduction to my Poetic Work of Emily Dickinson explicitly states that the collection was prepared with the non-specialist in mind. The Harvard Press's copyright-and-permissions manager suggest that this purpose is a principal reason why a text such as mine is "not in the best interest of preserving or presenting the integrity of the Dickinson work." But what can Koyanis mean by the "integrity of the Dickinson work"? My Introduction details a notion of "poetic work" as an open-ended process that one widely respected Dickinson scholar has seen as grounds for reconceiving various ideas of "the Dickinson work."

Does "integrity" here refer to the entire corpus of the poet's verse? If so, why does the Harvard Press regularly grant permission for both facsimile reproductions and alternatively cast typographic contruals of discrete words, lines and poems? And, assuming that some definitive notion exists as to the nature of "the Dickinson Work," who has the right to decide for everyone else in what its integrity consists?

Furthermore, what exactly is in need of being preserved? Repositories such as the Houghton and Boston Public libraries preserve the integrity of Dickinson manuscripts, but are they responsible as well for "protectively" limiting the (physically non-invasive) interpretation of that material? As for "presenting" Dickinson's work, any presentational rendering beyond the actual physical display of the manuscripts and their facsimiles is, in the nature of the case, an interpretation, and as such open (like my printed rendering. Todd and Higginson's Johnson's, and Franklin's) to critique and even to being discredited.

A most troubling element of Koyanis' statement is the implied attitude toward the general reader. The idea seems to be that any print version of Dickinson poems designed--like "Final Harvest?" --with the non-specialist in mind threatens the integrity of the poet's work.

Also of concern is Koyanis' response to the Chronde's query as to whether it turned down my project in part because of the variorum edition that Ralph Franklin is preparing for them. Koyanis asserts that the Harvard Press declined my request because my next amounts merely to "another variant of the typography. The question is," she declares, "How many competing versions do you want?" The typography? Dickinson handwrote her poetry--resisted the printing of verse as editors oversaw it in her day. The growing consensus among scholars in our day is that not only does not authoritative typographic text of Dickinson poems exist, but that no definitive typographic edition is possible.

One final point: who is Melinda T. Koyanis (or the Harvard Press, for that matter) to decide the issue of the number of competing printed versions of Emily Dickinson's poetry? Since when has a copyright-and-permission manager or a university press the right to determine universal standards and rules governing such competition among interpretations? A copyright attorney with whom I consulted noted that while the Harvard University Press can decline to give permissions for whatever reasons it pleases, it does not follow that the Press has the authority to interfere with the publication of alternative typographic interpretations of Dickinson's verse. Phillip Stanbovsky,   Associate Professor of English   Albertus Magrites College

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