The Hidden Poems of Samuel Pepys: 1669, and what’s next for the erasure project

Download The Hidden Poems of Samuel Pepys, 1669 (PDF)

Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth 12:12 (KJV)

You know I had to shout-out my favorite Biblical curmudgeon in the post title for my erasure of Pepys’ final diary entry.

Nine and a half years ago when I started making erasure poems from each entry in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, there was no way I even wanted to think about ever reaching the finish line, but here I am: elated that I’m done, and eager to begin the revision process.

I promise I’m not going to go full Tom Phillips—he of A Humument fame—and continue to make new erasures from the same text forever, but I feel I do owe it to the project to re-do the first couple of years’ worth, before I really knew what I was doing, and then generate PDFs for the first four years. Vols. 5-10 are complete. When all that’s done, presuming I don’t burn out first, I’ll see about pulling together a volume of selected poems from the project. (The PDFs will always be free.) If you’re a small or boutique publisher and that sounds like something you might be interested in, let me know. My expectation is to self-publish, since it’s easier and I get to control everything and keep the minuscule profits, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

Thanks to everyone who’s offered support or encouragement over the years, and thanks to the readers of Via Negativa for not all cancelling their subscriptions over the unrelenting onslaught of erasure poems. Thanks most of all then to my co-blogger Luisa Igloria, whose daily poems here not only gave me the freedom to embark on such a niche project, knowing that readers would still have at least one solid daily poem to read, but were also a hell of an inspiration generally.

I’m also deeply indebted to Project Gutenberg and to Phil Gyford, the tech geek and Pepys enthusiast behind the online Diary edition I used. Being able to copy and paste each entry into an electronic document was key to my process, which involved lots of highlighting and drafting in Open Office, then pasting a final draft into WordPress and using HTML to handle the presentation. The active community of annotators on Phil’s website helped bring the text to life in a way no printed volume ever could.

This was important to me since the original impetus behind the erasure project was to do a deep read of a crucial text in the development of blog-like literature in the West. (The Japanese, of course, have been writing literary diaries for more than a millennium.) With all due respect to Phillips and some of the other elders of the genre, I don’t hold with treating a text simply as raw material to be exploited—even when the author is, let’s be honest, a sexual predator and a major architect of the British colonial system. The gray-out approach to erasure poetry, which I first saw Jen Bervin use with Nets, her erasure of Shakespeare’s sonnets, is not only more respectful to the text than blackout or complete removal (literal erasure), but is also I think much more appealing to readers. I remember my dad remarking, early on, how much he enjoyed being able to read Pepys’ text and see where I’d gotten words from.

For now, the plan is to take a hiatus from this project—maybe for as little as a week, or maybe as much as six months, but no longer than that, I hope. I rather doubt that anyone is going to suffer from Pepys erasure withdrawal in the meantime, but if so, they can find links to the PDFs for everything from 1664 onward in the introductory paragraph to the erasure project’s section of this website. Download, print, share, adapt, rewrite, erase! Have at it.

2 Replies to “The Hidden Poems of Samuel Pepys: 1669, and what’s next for the erasure project”

  1. Huge congratulations, Dave! I have enjoyed your erasures so much, reading them pretty much daily for a few years. In fact I was more interested in this project of yours than in Moving Poems in my early days with videopoetry. My reading of the erasures has been more intermittent since withdrawing a lot from the digital world for reasons of my own health. But what a massive undertaking and a brilliant achievement this project from you has been. Congratulations once more!

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