Here are some process notes from the poet and the editor:
Heather’s experience: I have the habit of tinkering with poems for decades. The poems in Handmade Boats have been in metamorphosis for some time. All that is to say that working back and forth with Nic Sebastian as we did the final shaping of Handmade Boats for Whale Sound was both pleasurable and surprising, because the poems underwent subtle new transformations that I didn’t anticipate.
When I sat down at my desk each morning with a cup of tea, I looked forward to the penetrating questions I’d find in my email inbox. I’d tinker, she’d question, and we’d continue taking turns like that as we fine-tuned the pages. She tucked into the work with such insight it felt as if she was inside the poems with me. At moments, it seemed like we were in one of those plexiglass aquarium tubes where people can walk through and watch hammerhead sharks swimming overhead and on all sides. While I am used to being in the imaginative space of the poem by myself as I watch blue whales and toucans darting past, I don’t know that I’ve ever been in that artistic flow with another person.
As the narrative arc of the chapbook fell into place, the different poems’ narrators began to speak in chorus. I am in love with characters of Handmade Boats–the bagpiper, the bartender and the rubber boot man; I am close to the woman stranded on an island, the girl trapped in the ‘Automat’ and the women bathing in the mineral pools. The characters make up a small town now, a town filled with mythological figures and edged in wilderness.
Listening to the recordings of the poetry is a rare treat for me. The vocal performance reveals the everyday music that exists in our speaking life. Exploring the collection with Nic Sebastian as she gave her skillful voicing to the poems was like participating in a thrilling old-fashioned radio-theater program.
Nic’s experience: I knew as soon as I started reading her chapbook manuscript that Heather’s would be Whale Sound’s first audio chapbook. Knew it with my body rather than my head – with a visceral, physical reaction that I’m sure is familiar to every editor. A reaction based purely and immediately on the words and images presented – before I began to intellectualize about the ideas and themes that ran in her work.
There were basic initial things I knew easily and right away about the manuscript with just eyes & brain: the core work was solid and beautiful, and all that was required to tighten the poems up was the tweaking of a few words or lines here and there, the elimination of a stanza or two.
The deeper story that connected them I did not – could not – know until I had voiced the poems. Very early on, I made draft recordings – nothing good enough to share with Heather, but enough to get me into the skin of the poems (or get the poems into the skin of me). It was making these recordings, and listening to them, that brought me information, not just about the actual sound of the poems and their rhythm, but also about the bigger story – the emotional journey on record, the cross-tracking and cross-hitting themes and memes running through the poems. This in turn gave me very specific ideas about poem order, poem inclusion and poem titling.
It sounds like hocus-pocus, but this really was substantive information voice brought to the process for me. At one point, Heather suggested adding three new poems to the group and asked whether I thought they would work in the group. I said (feeling very lame in my response) that they looked like good additions on the face of it, but I could not really tell until I had voiced the poems. And when I did, I knew quite certainly – and quickly – that two were good additions, while the third was best left to another collection.
I’ve said previously that voice is an organ of investigation – a sense like touch or sight that brings you information – and believe that all the more strongly after this experience.
I’ve loved working with Heather – much enjoyed her maturity and range as an artist, her openness as a human being and the vibrant exchanges we have had as author and editor – and am honored to have had even a small role in bringing these wonderful poems of hers to a wider audience. Thank you, Heather!