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Textual/Authorial Variants

Cogswell was an inveterate scribbler. He wrote poems in longhand, often in disjointed pieces, then typed them for editors. He never composed on the typewriter, and never made the transition to a computer. His fonds contains myriad examples of longhand scraps of poems written on envelopes, recycled pages, napkins, and other media that were close at hand (cigarette packages, grocery bags, student exams, and even, in one case, a prayer card). He also, especially when retired, wrote poems in letters to colleagues and friends. Most of those first drafts show evidence of emendations, whether to correct or improve. Further emendations are apparent when comparing longhand drafts with final typed drafts sent to magazine and journal editors, but much less so when comparing poems published in magazines and journals to poems published in collections, and poems then republished in selected and collected works. Cogswell’s method of composition was therefore open until his poems were published. After that point, he generally left his work alone. Thus, comparing versions of poems published does not provide much insight into his textual poetics. What it does reveal is the extent to which form dictated his composition. Most of the (few) changes he made to poems after publication were done to tighten metres and smooth pacing.

As a result, I have not identified variants in this collection because his practice does not warrant it. Rather, beyond what I have already said about choosing the lyrical over the speculative, I have made selections on the following basis:

• Poems were selected only from published volumes that bear Cogswell’s name.

• Within that body of public work, the pre-1980 poems I selected were taken from A Long Apprenticeship: The Collected Poems of Fred Cogswell (1980). Since that was the definitive collection of its time, and Cogswell was both editor and publisher, it is reasonable to assume that the textual version of each poem in it was his final choice. The few pre-1980 poems that were published after A Long Apprenticeship (for example, from Ghosts, “T.V. Watcher,” “Immortal Plowman,” and “Love”) bear this out. Changes are inconsequential.

• Since Borealis has denied permission to reprint Cogswell’s post-1983 work, I can only list the forty titles that I would have included had they agreed to grant permission. Those titles and the Borealis volumes from which they come are listed at the end of the first selection of his poems, and they are my selection of his best and most representative work of the latter half of his career. Had Borealis granted reprint permission, those poems would have appeared.


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