It is very strange that a poet whose key work lies in three rather short volumes should have caused such difficulties for his editors and such controversy among his readers. But the readers pay him the tribute of a sort of possessiveness and concern: they want their poet to look his best. And it’s hard for a poet to look good in his Collected Poems, if by “collected” we mean anything like “complete.” Most poets’ collected works will include things that would make the author cringe. Presented in untidied form, such gatherings remind me of nothing so much as those yard sales characteristic of recession America, in which families set out on their front lawns the contents of their closets and dens—the Frisbees, the old scooters, the clothes neither wanted nor needed, the dreadful joke presents—all in the hope of raising a little cash. Painters are known to curate their oeuvre by means of occasional bonfires of botched canvases, and experience has taught us that the better the painter, the better advised he is to stand over that bonfire and make quite sure that what he wants burnt does indeed go up in smoke, and is not squirreled away by his admirers and assistants, whether through misguided motives of preserving the legacy, or by the thought of providing for their old age.
more from James Fenton at Threepenny Review here.