A Note from Nic Sebastian
These poems were written mostly during NaPoWriMo this year. I started the month out rather flippantly, deciding I would write ‘prayers and charms’ in April. But the poems overtook me and within a week I knew they were neither prayers nor charms, but distilled questions that had been forming over the past year. A hectic year. In addition to several professional and personal watershed events, those months witnessed the hard work and excitement of founding Whale Sound and Voice Alpha and the culmination of my long collaboration with Jill Alexander Essbaum, who so generously edited my first collection under the nanopress model. Busy, productive, whirling months. Months that had no silence or stillness in them. As I wrote these poems, I knew I was sick for silence and stillness. I knew I had to slow down and go inward. Responding, the poems wrote themselves, almost; ordered themselves, almost. Not providing answers, but asking questions, and sketching out the beginnings of a map for the way ahead.
When they were done – and I knew just when they were done – I felt I must ask Beth Adams before anyone else to consider editing these poems, for a number of connected reasons. I was familiar with Beth’s fine editing work as co-editor of qarrtsiluni and as publisher at Phoenicia Publishing. But I know the work of many fine editors and that wasn’t enough in itself. I had been posting the poems to a public blog I had created for NaPo, but after about a week I switched the blog to ‘private’, because I just wasn’t sure where the poems were going and I felt way too involved. Beth had seen a few of the early drafts and emailed me asking how to access the blog. I explained to her what happened and why I had closed the blog. She knew exactly what I meant and said: “Yes, that happens sometimes, doesn’t it, and the journey turns out to be more important than what we thought we were creating.” This was all happening in the Easter season and all the lovely roiling tension of that season was breaking out all over the blogosphere. Beth then wrote two Easter blog posts – here and here – that seemed to incorporate everything I was feeling just then. Her worldview struck me as doctrinally expert and focused, while embracing much much more than doctrine – widening to the social, the political, the cultural, to definitions of beauty and deep appreciation of other doctrine. Her perspective saw the importance of identifying the patterns and common goals that unite religious impulses and allow them both to transcend and return to themselves, the richer for it. I loved the generosity of her vision and was frankly elated when she said ‘yes.’
Our editing process was as serious and productive and as mutual as Beth described. I can’t say enough about the value to a poet of being competently edited. It’s an intensive learning experience, as much about actively listening – to yourself, to the editor – as it is about you being serious about clearly articulating and defending your own poetics and your own vision. The Dark And Like A Web manuscript was immeasurably improved and made more itself by Beth’s editing. I’ll forever be grateful to Beth for her patience, sensitivity and her superlative editor’s sense – for really making me think seriously and creatively about what I am doing as a poet, and why.
I have written extensively about the nanopress model elsewhere. I continue to believe it is a logical and viable next step for poetry publication in our age. I wanted, with this project, to show that it can work as well for a chapbook-length manuscript as it can for a full-length manuscript.
As for the press name – why Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress? Everything I have written about here – the poems, Beth, me, the editing process and Easter – constitute this nanopress, and we had to find a name that encompassed the whole adventure. Given our common Anglican experience, I had the idea of going through the Collects, Epistles and Gospels in the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer to find a name. There are myriad wonderful potential names in that text, but it didn’t take us long to agree on Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress, from Luke 24:42 – one of the Easter readings.