A Note from Beth Adams
I was surprised when Nic Sebastian asked me to consider editing this collection of poems because we were fairly recent online acquaintances who didn’t have a long familiarity with one another’s work. Most of our prior exchanges hadn’t even been about poems, specifically, but about various models of poetry publishing.
Nic’s request, though, mentioned that she’d been reading the blog posts I had written during Lent and Holy Week of 2011, and that she felt I might be the right person to edit her new collection, “Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine.” I told her I’d be glad to take a look at the manuscript. She sent it, and after the first reading I understood why she had sensed we might be a good fit. I admired the poems and liked the chapbook as she had conceived it, and felt an immediate affinity both with the voice behind the poems and the via negativa approach to spirituality they expressed. I wrote back and said yes, telling Nic I wished I could publish the chapbook myself at Phoenicia! Now it remained to see how we could work together.
Nic’s poems were, I felt, very close to being finished. I went through the manuscript and jotted down notes in the margins, noting weak words and phrases, endings I felt could be improved, a few structural changes. We arranged a time for a phone conference, and I suggested that we go through one poem together and see how it felt before tackling the whole manuscript. Nic was not only receptive to my approach but grateful for this level of engagement and completely serious about working further. We ended up going through the entire manuscript in detail during that session.
In a few days she sent back a revised manuscript; she had responded to almost all the suggestions, and, on reflection, held firm in a few places — which was fine. After reading her revisions to one poem we had discussed at length, I decided I had been wrong and that the original version was stronger, so we reinstated it. One poem was dropped after attempts at revision, and a new one added — a poem that ended up being one of the strongest in the collection. We went through one more round of small revisions, and were done. It was a remarkably efficient process, marked by seriousness and mutual respect.
I was impressed throughout by how well Nic knew her work and herself. When I asked, “why this particular word,” or “what exactly were you trying to express here” or “I’m not sure about this repetition, what do you think?” she had an answer; she knew what she was doing and reaching for. I also tried to give clear reasons for my own reservations and suggestions. Because of this, it became quite easy to make decisions about improvements. Some were obvious. Others, much more subjective. But because neither one of us was digging in, we never got to an impasse; we listened, knowing that the shared goal was to make the chapbook as good as it could be. I strongly believe that the editor’s role should, in the end, appear as transparent as possible, and that a successful project is one which not only reflects the author’s original vision and voice, but concentrates it.
But that’s only one side of the story.
When we create, I think we all long for the close reading, the deeply attentive listener or viewer. Making our work public is an act of courage, risking not only dismissal or rejection, but also intimacy. Editing, by its very nature, requires an intimate engagement with the text, closer perhaps than anyone’s but the author. I see that intimacy as both a responsibility and a great privilege.
I’m changed each time I enter deeply into the words and world of other writers who have asked me to edit their work. Certain phrases and ideas enter me, and they stay. In one of my favorite poems in this collection, Nic asks, “how have you sharpened/into this thin bright hook/pulling me after you still/as though you were some great moon and I/some helpless tide.” This stunning image speaks equally to me about the pull of the divine, and the pull of the creative impulse, two forces not so separate as they may seem.
Montreal, June 4, 2011
Elizabeth Adams is a writer, editor, publisher, and graphic designer. She is a founder and co-managing editor of qarrtsiluni online literary magazine, and the founder, editor and publisher at Phoenicia Publishing. Beth’s blog, The Cassandra Pages, has considered questions of culture, arts&letters, nature, and spirit since 2003. Her writing about spirituality has appeared in venues from The Witness to Tikkun, and in 2006 her book, Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson, was published by Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY.) A graduate of Cornell University and longtime resident of Vermont, Beth now lives in Montreal.