Processional, the sunny side, part 1

Remarks on the Text

John Charlot

The Jean Charlot Collection contains a large number of manuscripts and typescripts of Jean Charlot’s poems. The following is a first attempt to establish a sequence for those texts.[1] I divide the sequence into nine stages.

The first is the original composition of the poems. Charlot would apparently use any paper that was handy. He wrote poems on the sheets used for his grade-school notes (in fact, probably composed the poems while the class was in progress!), copied a number of poems onto different sheets, ripped sheets out of carnets or cahiers of various sizes, used his father’s stationery, and so on. I have not found evidence that he dedicated a cahier exclusively to the first composition of poetry; the carnets that appear to be such are in fact collections of copies of poems written earlier. In sum, Charlot was already following his later practice with notebooks of using them for his various activities and then separating their elements later by project.

The second stage is the rewriting of those first compositions. This also seems to have been done on loose and heterogeneous sheets. Charlot could continue working on poems long after their composition. He noted that in 1925 he retouched a war poem of March 12, 1918. He made small changes while poems were being typed in the 1930s. But such changes seem to have been done only when he picked up the poems for some other purpose; that is, he was not working continually on his poems.

In the third stage, Charlot copied the poems into notebooks, indicating that he felt the poems had reached their final form. In fact, he could make changes in them later, in some poems more than others. But this stage is important for text editing, as the version of the poems sometimes seems the best: worked over from the original inspiration but without later fiddling when he was out of the mood. A clear example of such a set of copies is the Red-Line Notebook, which contains very good texts. Other examples are the Carnet La Grâce and the Manuscrit Brun, which contain groups of similar poems. Exceptionally, Psychoplastie, a long poem, was copied by hand with formatting that indicates that Charlot was designing it to be published as a small book.

At this stage and probably earlier, manuscripts were discarded, so we do not have a complete set. Why were some manuscripts saved? Some may have been kept for sentimental reasons, like his school papers and his journal with the art poems written during World War I. Other manuscripts may have been saved because they were on sheets or in notebooks that contained drawings or simply because they were lost among his papers. In any case, the saving and discarding of manuscripts seems not to have been systematic.

Overlapping the third stage is the fourth: the early collections of his poems. Charlot seems to have done this at various times; for instance, the same poem can be numbered differently at different times, and arabic or roman numerals can be used. Similarly, there are lists of poems made at various times. These can be used to identify poems that have not survived (I have not attempted to do this). The long list in the Cahier Violet has roman numerals. I have not tried to date or reconstruct these collections. However, there is evidence that some poems were typed up at Poissy, perhaps before Charlot left for his service in World War I (see D’Autre Poèmes 1911–1922: Les astres d’or). A carbon copy of Ce monde-cy n’est pas tel un branchaige of November 1914, could be the surviving piece from that typing (D’Autre Poèmes 1911–1922). These early collections all seem to date before 1921, when Charlot left for Mexico. Some arranging of the poems was attempted in these collections as they do not always follow chronological order.

The fifth stage is when Charlot wrote clean copies of large collections of poems and had two of them typed in New York City during the 1930s (on the packet of one set of typing, he gives two addresses there). He may have been prompted to do this by his new friendship with Paul Claudel. Charlot arranged these poems in sets by years: 1912–1914, ending with his return from Fribourg at the beginning of World War I; 1914–1916; 1917–1920, which he called Période Militaire; 1920–1924, which he called Civil.Paris.Mexico; 1925; and 1926–1928. The first two collections—1912–1914 and 1914–1916—and the last two—1925 and 1926–1928––survive in manuscript, clean copies in pencil with some work on the poems. The sheets were originally in a large notebook, but the cover has been removed. This clean copy seems to have been made preparatory to typing. They were not, however, typed up in the 1930s, but while I was working with Charlot in the early 1970s. The two other collections–– Période Militaire and Civil.Paris.Mexico–– were, however, typed, and, with a few possible exceptions, the manuscripts were apparently discarded. Some of the earlier versions of these poems survive in earlier manuscripts. Further manuscripts were probably discarded after the clean copy was made, because not all the poems can be found in manuscript.

The 1930s typing of the Période Militaire was done twice, and there are slight differences between the versions. Also several poems were added at the beginning of one set of typing, and the manuscript of the Góngora translation was inserted, in all likelihood, at the appropriate place (now in Poèmes Choisis par Jean Charlot). The typescript with pencil annotations may be the earlier one (it changes some of the punctuation), and the second typing may have introduced errors. The typist seems to have known some French because possible corrections and queries have been placed in parentheses. Charlot added dates and notes in pencil to some of the poems. At least one carbon was made.

Charlot’s collection of his poems in New York City is important among other reasons because he took the occasion to reconstitute some of the poems from memory and recorded fragments of poems he could not remember in their entirety. These fragments usually consist of striking phrases. But the principles of his selection of poems for inclusion are hard to identify. He left out poems that seem to be as good as those selected (his unselected poems comprise our D’Autre Poèmes 1911-1922). He also omitted some of his most important poems: D’un Art Pauvre (perhaps because it had already been published in La Gilde), the Sonnet du 2ème cannonier, a poem done in the argot of the poilu,[2] and the Poèmes Ecphrastiques 1918 his best poems and selected them for publication in Mele.

The sixth stage is the publication of a number of poems in Mele, a literary journal founded and edited by Charlot’s friend, Stefan Baciu. Charlot was delighted as he wrote to Anita Brenner (May 12, 1967): “I am being discovered as a poet. Poetry I wrote when I was 17 is being published in 67, fifty years later!” Charlot had already published theatre in Mele, and I believe he was stimulated in his poetry by his contact with Stefan and Mira Baciu, both poets (when I myself started writing poetry, Charlot told me he thought it was because I had been working with his own poems). From August 1966 to March 1978, Charlot published a selection of his poems, an indication of which ones he considered best. Unfortunately, the text is often very poor, containing numerous typographical errors. Since no typescripts for Mele have survived, I cannot say whether these mistakes are to be blamed on Charlot or Baciu, who may simply have photocopied the typescripts Charlot gave him. These texts should not be reproduced as a final edition, although certain aspects of them, such as the separation into lines, must be taken into account. As a favor to Baciu, Charlot also made a number of translations into French or Hawaiian from other languages; Baciu liked to honor poets by asking his friends to translate their works into several languages.

The seventh stage is my own work on the poems in the early 1970s, while I was assisting Charlot with his papers. Charlot gave me his untyped and typed collections from the 1930s as well as the earlier manuscript materials. We started to type the four untyped collections and also the uncollected materials and important variants of the collected poems. The uncollected works seem to have been grouped into two sets, one beginning in 1918 and the other in 1911, the former found pretty much together and the latter simply a loose collection of sheets that we assembled (now combined into D’Autre Poèmes 1911-1922).

Mrs. Edward Stasack did most of the typing, which was then checked by me, by my then wife Dominique de Mahuet, and as much as possible by Charlot himself. I decided to type the poems exactly as they appeared on the page, with spacings, lines, misspellings, etc., in order to get an exact copy of the manuscript itself. So we did no editing at that stage and even discouraged Charlot from making corrections and changes on those typings! The typing of that period thus reproduces the manuscripts as much as possible.

I obtained some information on the poems from Charlot in our tape-recorded interviews, and he put some information down on paper, and provided more for the editing. We tried to keep clear what came from him and what came from any editing we might have done.

This worked stopped when I left for Sâmoa in 1972. I left behind some typescripts of poems that needed to be checked along with requests for information, but Charlot stopped work on this project when I left. All the materials remained unused––except for their possible use in Mele––until I returned to the work in the fall of 1996, which began the eighth stage of the project. All typed texts were entered into the computer, and the information found on different manuscripts and typescripts was consolidated. Provisional editing of some of the main poems was done, for instance, the correction of obvious typographical errors. However, these texts were kept basically intact as a record of the manuscripts, and regularization of the text was left to the final editing. That editing, the ninth stage, was done under the expert direction of Professor Marie-José Fassiotto, Professor of French at the University of Hawai`i. The principles of this editing are discussed below.

The poems composed for Picture Book (1933 and 1973) and Picture Book II (1974) form a special problem. Jean Charlot originally planned to write his own captions for the first Picture Book, but then asked Paul Claudel to write them. Lynton Kistler told me that at the time, he had preferred Charlot’s. In his preface to the miniature republication of 1973, Kistler gave as its raison-d’être his desire to see those original inscriptions published. When Charlot accepted the 1973 project, he found the French and English inscriptions he had written at the time of the original publication. A list of these items contains numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 29, 30, 31, 32. These were in a two-page manuscript, in which the inscriptions were numbered from one to eight; that is, before the establishment of the final plan of Picture Book. I was working with Charlot at the time and supervised a typescript of this manuscript. Charlot also looked into his diary and found numbers 8 and 11. The rest he composed in French and English for the occasion. Typescripts and manuscripts exist with different stages of that composition. A final typescript was produced of both the English and the French inscriptions. In the end, Kistler published only the English, with some minor changes from the typescript, not the French. This was a disappointment to Charlot. Charlot also composed some couplets for Picture Book II (1974), which were not used in the book, but were published in Mele.

The present publication is intended as a reading rather than a variorum edition (the materials for such an edition have, however, been assembled). When poems exist in several versions, the final ones have been chosen, with major variants footnoted. In several cases, one or more whole variant versions have been provided.

The editing problems of Charlot’s poems begin with the words. Charlot had problems with spelling and apparently did not work with a dictionary (he sometimes tried our different forms of a word in the margin). For instance, he tended to use the circumflex accent where it was not necessary or when another was required. He regularly terminated with an –s the second person singular imperatives of the –er verbs, thereby turning them into the present second person singular. Almost all of these spelling errors can be corrected without difficulty, although several introduce problems of rhythm or questions about sense. Such corrections have been made silently; only problematic ones are noted.

Especially important, because of his wide reading in French literature from its vernacular beginnings, Charlot used an unusually rich vocabulary, and many of the words do not appear in the standard dictionaries. He also used medieval French words and archaic spellings, like quant for quand, which we have tried to verify and preserve. Indeed, we were able to verify most of Charlot’s nonstandard usages in specialized dictionaries. Charlot also coined words and reconstructed words that are used in common expressions but not independently of them.

There are cases of grammatical mistakes, some surprising, such as those of gender. Most of these can be corrected without damage to the poem, while others would change the rime or the rhythm. Again, only problematical corrections have been noted.

The largest number of variations occur in punctuation and capitalization. That Charlot varied his punctuation shows that he did not consider it unchangeable or always essential for his meaning. We have made our choices silently.

[ 1 ] For a study of the poems themselves, see chapter 4 of my Jean Charlot: Life and Work.

[ 2 ] All in Poèmes Choisis par Jean Charlot. Compare Verlaine’s poems in argot: Paul Verlaine, Œuvres Poétiques Complètes (Y.-G. Dantec and Jacques Borel, eds.), Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1962: 295 f., 299 ff. See also Apollinaire, Œuvres Poétiques (Marcel Adéma and Michel Décaudin, eds.), Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1965: 408.