Finally received my copy of The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, and boy, was it ever worth the wait. At 728 [redacted]-edited pages and well over seven-hundred poems, it’s a monster of a collection. Toss in the great design and layout courtesy of Jim Keegan, the fine workmanship of the Smythe-sewn signatures, and the inclusion of Steve Eng’s classic essay on Howard’s poetry as the book’s introduction, and we finally have the definitive one-volume, casebound edition of REH’s verse that we have been waiting decades for.
I was over at Donald Sidney-Fryer’s a few nights back and presented him with a copy of this book, and he was rapturous over it. He especially appreciated that the print was easy to read and didn’t engage in any of the stylistic oddities that plague so many poetry books, where they print the poems in italic or fill the pages with illustrations and faux-illuminated borders. With this book you get just the poems, presented simply but elegantly, making it easy to read and reference. Don also liked the cover, considering that photo of a young Howard in fighting trim his favorite surviving image of the Bard from Cross Plains.
I don’t envy the task that Rob had of categorizing everything. There are some very polished poems in the “Dialect & Doggerel” section that probably should be in their own category (I’m thinking here of boxing poems such as the moving “Kid Lavigne is Dead”), but the idea was to follow the same divisions that Eng used in his essay (a piece which is still the very best of its type twenty years after it was written), and that strategy works really well. To have a volume like this that us eminently suitable for handing to some newbie to Howard’s verse without any excuses, fronted by that great essay, is a godsend. I’ll be dipping into this for Howardian poetry fixes whenever I can. It’s a book that is so big and so entertaining, I don’t ever think I’ll reach the point where I’ve bled it dry of inspiration and wonders.
Everyone involved with this project deserves our highest praise. I only wish that right under the “Edited by [redacted]” and before the “Introduction by Steve Eng,” it would have included “Poems collected by Glenn Lord” to honor all of the early ground work he did digging up caches of long-lost REH verse around the country in various attics and boxes. If he hadn’t done that throughout the fifties and sixties, much of what we have would have been permanently lost. He of course gets the usual shout-out in the Acknowledgments, but his contribution is so gargantuan that it is deserving of being listed on the title-page, I think.
God, Steve Tompkins would have adored this book.