May Swenson’s elegy for Martin Luther King cast as a set of beatitudes and collected in Iconographs is marked by the traces of the peculiarities of composition by typewriter. The word “blessed” occurs often but it is marked with an apostrophe above the second “e”. This is accomplished by backspacing and almost impossible to reproduce in a world of computer keyboarding and even with features of Unicode there is no guarantee of success for composite overlay characters may not display properly in a browser. And even the editor of the Collected Poems, Langdon Hammer, alters the typography to an acute accent over the “e”. But it could go the grave way and give “blessèd” as in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Blessèd Damozel”.
I think there is something to be said about trying to preserve Swenson’s visual detail as it appears in the 1970 publication by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Why? Because that return via backspace to either crown the “e” with an apostrophe or to place below the apostrophe an “e” is a physical trace of the returns that the the poem itself tropes upon as the slave claims freedom and the gyres of history whirl through each individual life. For example,
Blessed the neck
of the black man made
muscular by the weight of
the yoke made proud
bursting the lynch rope.
True to the nature of Iconographs the typewriter leaves us with a more home made experience than the typeset. And hand crafting has its importance.
And so for day 316