Eliot and Pound – The secrets To The Editing Process

OK, so I am a useless Annie and have not posted for over a month and I feel strangely guilty about it. I shouldn’t really,  after all I don’t know many of the thousands of readers who have been diligently logging onto the site. I have even had people emailing me, asking if I had died!!!

So, here I am, ready to try and write something so the site doesn’t end up being like an empty room where the only indication anyone was ever present is the fact the kettle still feels warm to the touch!

What have I been doing? Well, writing of course and editing and generally sitting at a computer for ten plus hours a day. Am I still in love with the written word? Can I get back to you on that one please?

Still, while I have been scribbling away on other projects and watching the numbers of visitors fall like a stone I have been thinking about editing and editors.  Why do we need them? Do they actually have a purpose?

As I was musing, I listened to a radio programme about The Wasteland by TS Eliot. Before a reading of the poem, poets discussed the importance of the work and generally contextualised it. The piece was interesting as it reviewed  the role of Ezra Pound, who played such a seminal role in editing, shaping and transforming the poem until it become the work we admire so much today.

Pound was quite critical of the poem, not because of what it meant or the beliefs it purported and its neo-Christian hope but he offered advice about its style. For example if you are going to write couplets similar to Pope then why bother, ‘since Pope had written the couplets more effectively and Joyce the defaction’ what was the point of doing it all over again?

An editor often has a dispassionate but informed view; one writer I know talks about ‘getting into the head of the character’ and that’s necessary of course in fiction, but sometimes it can skew perspective and woe betide anyone who falls in love with their main character!

Handling constructive criticism can be very difficult and takes a deep breath and the kind of preparation George VIth made before any public speech (with plenty of bad language). An incisive comment or edit can really sharpen a piece, make it more pertinent. It’s interesting to note The Wasteland was not constructed in its final form but was reconstructed or reconceived from the ‘wreckage’ of the original ideas.

Apparently, ‘Pound and Eliot worked on the poem page by page, piecemeal, not trying to salvage a structure but to reclaim the authentic lines and passages from the contrived. Marjorie Perloff states, ‘one might argue that Pound’s excisions and revisions made Eliot’s central themes and symbols more prominent …..buried as they were under the weight of..satirical intrusions.

Eliot said: 

I have sometimes tried to perform the same sort of maieutic task; and I know that one of the temptations against which I have to be on guard, is trying to re-write somebody’s poem in the way that I should have written it myself if I had wanted to write that poem. Pound never did that: he tried first to understand what one was attempting to do, and then tried to help one do it in one’s own way.’

That surely has to summarise what a good editor can do for a piece of work, whatever genre it might be? We can all become completely carried away with our topic or purpose and sometimes it does require another eye to pull us up sharp; we just have to learn to accept help rather than dismiss it. That, of course is another skill entirely.

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