Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Fury of Inadequate Proofreading: A verse meditation on the persistence of error

Typos are the gnats and horseflies of blogging.  Once detected they can easily be swatted away or squashed. Fresh swarms always hover nearby, but vigilance can forestall them, and those that get through the defenses can quickly be removed.  More indelible are typos in printed books. Everyone has found them, but as an inveterate reader of poetry books, I rarely see such smudges on their pages. This one is the most glaring I've ever come across: In The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, the most famous poem of Richard Eberhart, "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment," is included. The original ends with this  poignant stanza: "Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill / Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall / But they are gone to early death, who late in school / Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl." As printed in this handsome book, however, the last word has become "paw." The anthology is nearly 20 years  old, and maybe the blatant mistake was fixed in subsequent printings. But, given the way most people read anthologies, it was not until yesterday that I read the much-anthologized poem in the Columbia volume. Something about this flub sticks in the craw, inspiring the following response.
Richard Eberhart (1904-2005)


O stay the hand (or paw) that would impart
Mistaken clutching in the final line
To young men's learning, far exceeding mine,
Before war shattered their distinctions fine
And gross, evoked by Eberhart,

A poet who lived a hundred years and wrote
Nothing better, more furious and free
In savaging mankind's stupidity.
But in Columbia's anthology
It ends one letter shy, a broken note.

The pivoted bar, engaging with a wheel
That's toothed so as to stop or further motion
Has vanished just as sure as their devotion
To what they felt as duty in an ocean
Of destruction claiming all they knew as real.

The pawl they studied here's a hairy paw.
Who thought that "Fury" had a silly end?
What student proofing galleys failed to mend
The flaw? Or editor to be the poet's friend?
Man's bent toward error — what the poet saw.