Book Collecting Guide


Why collect original poetry publications, or any first editions for that matter? If you accept literature as an art form, and the process of creative writing, then the explanation is simple.

Artists, in whatever medium, produce their first original of any given piece of art after working through a series of sketches, drawings, and trial plans. For a painter it may be in preparation of an oil painting or a watercolor. A fiber artist may be composing a geometric arrangement, and a sculptor may be planning a statue in clay or bronze. The author, on the other hand, may control the development of a manuscript in the form of a hand written document on a yellow legal pad, or perhaps a handtyped draft annotated throughout with marginal notes in pencil or ink. Indeed, today for many authors, a manuscript might be shaped by using an electronic tool such as a word processor or computer. By any of these means for the “author artist,” the finished manuscript is the author’s original creation and it is from this creation that the first publication is made possible. The first edition may be a finely printed and bound limited issue carrying the signature of the author artist on the colophon page. Or, it may be a simply produced publication in paper wraps.

on the edge

By whatever means, it still represents the first form of the artwork to meet the public’s eye. And is therefore the first public representation of the author’s creative work. This representation of the author’s artistic contribution to the collection of contemporary literature is the brick and mortar of the record of our civilization and is worth collecting and preserving. It is through all forms of artwork that the life of mankind is exemplified and recorded for the study of those who follow. It is through the preservation of paintings and illustrations, musical compositions, and the record of printed literature that we leave the footprint of our time and culture.

What better way than through the public and private collectors of our time to organize and assemble these contemporary treasures, and to assume the important role of caretaker. I am often asked, as no doubt other book dealers are in their field of speciality, “What should I buy?” “Who should I collect?” “What’s the best selling title, or poet, on your shelf?” There are probably hundreds of “right answers” for each question for different reasons, and for different times. I generally encourage collectors to build around their own personal tastes and interests, rather than being influenced by who’s hot at any particular moment.

Author collections are just as popular in poetry as in fiction and other prose. Likewise, fields or groups of poets can provide collecting guidelines. A poetry collection could be based around the “Beat” poets, and would therefore probably include the works of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso, Bob Kaufman (credited with coining the term “Beatnik”), Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and Diane DiPrima, among many others associated with the Beat movement.

Other influences of modern poetry for the collector could include the Black Mountain Poets, such as Charles Olson, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley, or the New York Poets, such as John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara. There have been fine collections of modern poetry based regionally and examples of this can be found in Edward Field’s A Geography of Poets (New York: Bantam, 1979).It should be well understood that many poets fall into overlapping areas, and most often such ’schools’ of poets are loose generalizations at best. Indeed, many poets shun being grouped and labeled--and for good, respectful reasons.