George Oppen, p.1

A Selection from "Daybooks" One, Two and Three
from The Working Papers of George Oppen
Edited and with an introduction by Stephen Cope


The George Oppen archive, housed in The Archive for New Poetry at Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego, consists of thousands of pages of Oppen's published and previously unpublished writings. These writings vary in kind from letters (both completed letters and drafts, both sent and unsent), drafts of poems (again, both completed and abandoned), reading notes, writing notes, and that which comprises the bulk of the collection: what has commonly been referred to as Oppen's "Daybooks" or "Working Papers." What follows in a transcribed selection from those papers--the fifth such selection to have been published to date.

There are reasons why this material deserves to see the light of day that are self-evident, perhaps, to students and scholars of Oppen's work, but perhaps a bit less so to the general solicitor. In the first case, these papers—exceeding in volume Oppen's publications (both the poems and the posthumously published letters)—grant access to the thought of a poet who was perhaps the least public of all of his peers. At a time when essays, manifestos, and critical reviews seemed part and parcel of a poet's vocation, Oppen stood apart from other members of his generation in that his justifications and defenses of his poetics remained for the most part private, circulated in letters to a close coterie of poets, friends, and relatives (occasional interviews, a single essay, and scant reviews mark his public presence outside of poetry). In a very elementary sense, then, the primary impetus behind this selection is to broaden the range of material available to Oppen's readers—scholarly or otherwise—and to offer a broader context within which to consider his previously published works.

These papers, however, need not be considered solely, nor even primarily, a supplemental body of work, secondary to Oppen's poetry and thus of merely tangential interest. Instead, these pages, like the poems themselves, are products of an ongoing process of thought that, although part philosophy, part poetics, part politics, part metaphysics, and part theology (the list could go on) pays no final allegiance to any one particular discourse, nor any single definitive genre. Fragmentary in form and often in theme, these papers, taken as a whole, are akin to such works as Simone Weil's journals, Novalis's "Fragments," or some of Wittgenstein's meditations (among many similar works). One might say that the documents offered here display the work of Oppen the thinker as well as Oppen the poet (an artificial distinction in itself); they bear forth the aphoristic statements in which that thinking finds rest, as well as the restless process by which those statements are achieved. I would invite a reading, then, that approaches this material not as an introduction to Oppen's poems, nor as a reservoir of secondary material through which to read Oppen's oeuvre. Instead, I would suggest a reading based on the recognition of these papers as a body of work justified in and of itself, and ultimately not subsumed into Oppen's previously published canon. <...>