Nic Sebastian's new chapbook, Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine, edited by yours truly, has just been published under the Nanopress model that Nic invented. Under this type of publishing, the author partners with an editor to work closely on the manuscript until it is ready for self-publication. The book is then made available in various forms, including an online edition with all the poems in written and audio form, an e-book, a free .pdf download, and an inexpensive print edition and audio CD sold at cost through Lulu. The goal of nanopress publishing is primarily to get the poems into the hands (and ears) of as many readers as possible -- and of course it helps if the author (and editor) have established online presences and the ability to self-publish a quality book in all these forms. What I'm doing at Phoenicia Publishing is, of course, different, and, like the authors I work with, our goals are somewhat different too. I was glad to participate in this project with Nic. As in my work with Dave Bonta and all the wonderful writers at qarrtsiluni, I think we all need to cooperate and experiment with various forms of publishing in a new environment, and to use the web and new technologies creatively for the benefit of both writers and readers.
When Nic first asked me to edit these poems, I was excited because they spoke to me personally, and were already close to being ready for publication. Actually, I would have been happy to publish the chapbook at Phoenicia. These are "via negativa" poems, looking at the divine obliquely, and through obscurity -- and that makes sense to me. The book includes process notes from both Nic and me, and an explanation of how we came up with "Broiled Fish and Honeycomb Nanopress." Here's just one of many favorite poems from the collection, but I urge you to read the whole chapbook, where a greater meaning emerges as one poem and one experience is followed by another.
the girl and the hours
the girl lives in an iron shack
her homeland is red
it is dry the passing of the first hour is rich
blue salt, the second
the girl pulls up
a rough wooden chair
in hot wind
she observes the sleek hours
passing in single file before her
on a catwalk
one is smoking vermillion
another dream black and muscled
dark whale song
the striding hours are elegant
they have a fine sense of color
and they are not afraid
the girl watches deeply
under constant sun, never feels
she is alone
This was an interesting project for me as an independent editor with no real stake in the final product other than trying to help make the book as good as it could be. As each project does, I felt like it taught me a lot and moved me forward in my understanding of what we're doing as writers and editors -- and I tried to talk about that in my editor's note, part of which appears below:
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."