Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Anthologies Feature—Issue 38, February 2014)

Pierre Joris
Thoughts on Anthology-making

Making an anthology is...

1)...something like the two oldest paleo-job functions bundled into one: hunting & gathering.

2)...a communal affair, a working with others, there will be many authors in the book, there should be several doing the hunting & gathering. All my anthologies have had 2 authors (re that word, see #3). Which allows me to stay true to my Deleuzian sense of the right number being n-1 (always subtract the unit, the single from the multiple). The multiplicity both inside & outside, the work gathered & those who do the gathering. To characterize this double authorship of all “my” anthologies I would like to deturn the opening line of Deleuze/Guattari’s Rhizome: “The two of us wrote [insert title] together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.”

3)...an undertaking for which I prefer the “author” moniker to the usual one of “editor.” I certainly have a strong sense that an anthology is a book I (or we) make, author, write with the help of the work of others. Jerome Rothenberg likes to use Robert Duncan’s term & call an anthology a “grand collage.” I have written elsewhere how collage/montage is the single truly new technique of 20C art. In that sense I view my anthologies as being one of the modes of expression an author has today. That much “editorial” work goes into the finishing stages of an anthology goes without saying, just as it goes into polishing, reworking, rewriting any king of literary work.

4)...is inventing a cure for the novel. Except for the traditional periods of learning (from childhood through higher education) when there was pleasure & use in reading through the literary genre of the novel (from Karl May’s Reiseerzählungen to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake & beyond) I’ve always preferred to read poetry, essays, history, science, newspapers, documents, etc. Why invent characters & stories that no matter how amazing, awesome & weird, are never an actual match for, at best a close imitation of, the real world out there? Thinking back on this right now, I realize that if the first book I tried to read was a novel — which I quickly put down for about 15 years before finishing it (Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, if you need to know) — the first books I stayed with were versions of anthologies, even if they gathered fictional narratives: Gustav Schwab’s Die Schönsten Sagen des Klassischen Altertums, Wilhelm Hauff’s Märchen, & a series of books that collected fairy tales from every part of the world, 365 of them in all, thus one for each day of the year. Making an anthology for me is thus inventing a cure for the novel (maybe because I never really wanted or was able to write one?) & a way of creating a work that contains any number — by definition a rather large number — of characters & their actions, i.e. their writings, all real, the characters & their work, all coming together to create a new work, a new assemblage that is as real as they are, if different.

5)...a most pleasurable affair as far as the hunt is concerned — because anthology- making is the perfect excuse to spend days, weeks, months, years, reading & reading & reading. & when not reading, traveling, calling people up, writing letters, sending emails, meeting people, breakfasting & lunching & dining with my co-author(s), talking into the night about the objects of the hunt — creating yet another community that links countries, continents, the dead & the live.

6)...coming home after a successful hunt & gathering the materials into shapes that make sense & are informative. Too often when the job is considered an “editor”’s the two lazy orderings are the alphabetic or the birth-date based. “Line’em up & get’em ready,” as William Burroughs used to put it. The anthology-author’s job is to find other sense-making, or more sense-making orderings towards the grand collage. As an “editor,” one is tempted to pick the best, greatest “masterpiece-ish” poems by a set of preferred poets & be done with it. But much 20C work & beyond, was critical of the very idea of the single “masterpiece” & often consciously worked at undermining such a concept & the attitudes towards art it entailed. So the need is to find a form that is accurate to the poetics of the moment one anthologizes. & more & more...

7)...questioning how — for international anthologies, which is what I have always been involved with — to present foreign work in translations that not simply “english” the work, or “americanize” it, i.e. pre-chew it to fit the taste of current American literary paradigms (no matter how excellent & avant-garde these may be for the local production), thus eliminating the foreign fibers, the indigestible cultural differences, the little bones that if left in may stick in our American throats. I have written elsewhere on this in relation to ongoing investigations & questionings also proposed by Ammiel Alcalay.

8)...creating contexts — via commentaries &/or whole subsections of various texts not necessarily of a specifically literary nature — so that this necessary job does not fall to the (always somewhat blinkered) authors’ introduction. The poetics of those gathered should be stated as much as possible in their own words, & only minimally in anglo-lit-crit intro-jargon.

9)...also a matter of dross. In my experience often a good 50% of anthology-making time is spent on dreary “editorial” matters, such as securing publication & translation rights, often from foreign publishers whose idea of America is as a very dollar-rich & culture-poor country & thus try to extort phenomenal sums of money for poems they hold copyright on. The anthologist’s other nightmares: widows & widowers, grand-children & distant only-surviving-cousins. Correspondence with such can exceed the number of pages the author in question is allocated in the book. The hunting hypothesis from #1 will surface in the anthologist’s psyche from time to time concerning these vexations, suggesting curare-tipped arrows to replace a 27th email... A strange inverse problem is the recent tendency of publishers to have on-line clearing houses for publication rights where you have to buy the rights instantly via credit-card. This means however that no human interface is available, no discussion possible, thus no adjustment for the kind of publisher (small independent / non-profit University press / bigger commercial) who will bring out the book.

10)...when all is said & done, for me, the process & the result has always been a pleasure, a privilege, a joy: a book I have co-authored that proposes a community of (not necessarily like-minded) people many of whom could never have met in real life, many of whom I could never have met, but who can now talk to each other & to you across all kind of borders, across space & time. Making an anthology is not unlike preparing a major meal, a stew with a multiplicity of ingredients that have to be gathered in situ, prepared separately & each according to its own mode, then assembled & enhanced with a range of spices that will bring out the specific textures of the individual ingredients. It’s simmered for as long as necessary in the biggest pot in the kitchen — which means there have to be many guests around the table, as many as the house can hold. Thus...

11)...Anthology, n.: a search-&-don’t-destroy mission; a chase & a potlatch; a circumambulation & a mawqif; a nomadic journey & its resting places; an intimate conversation & a multiverse. Syn.: the Grand Collage of human culture.


Besides books of poetry, essays & translations, Pierre Joris has co-authored the following anthologies:

Matières d’Angleterre (Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poésie Anglaise) (with Paul Buck), In’Hui Editions, Amiens, 1984.

Poésie Internationale : Anthologie (with Jean Portante), Editions Guy Binsfeld, Luxembourg 1987.

Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry. Volume 1: From Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude, (With Jerome Rothenberg) 1995. Volume 2: From Post-War to Millennium, (With Jerome Rothenberg) 1998.

Poems for the Millennium: Volume 4: The University of California Book of North African Literature. (With Habib Tengour) 2012.


Talvera: A Millennium of Occitan Literature, (With Nicole Peyrafitte).