So wonderful to announce the second nanopress project – Dark And Like A Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine. 15 poems – a chapbook-length publication. Available in multiple formats, some free – website, downloadable text & audio, e-reader version, print version & CD edition. I have a lot more to write about this project, but for this post will just excerpt below the project’s ‘Note from the Editor’ (the amazing Beth Adams!) and my own note below it. The inspiring cover art for this project is by Steven DaLuz. Together, we and this all make up the Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress – I so love that name! (Background on nanopress publishing here.)
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
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.