A few months ago, I talked about exploring and Finding your Niche in the editor world. One of those very niches that I stumbled into was editing for Poetry.
Poetry is a very unique form of writing and with that incredible depth and variety comes a world of different types of editing that can be done. Editing poetry means that sometimes, you have to have such a technical understanding of language and words, that you know when to ignore all the rules and embrace the intent of the poem and poet.
Whereas some poems have very specific rules that the poet follows, other free verse poetry can not only ignore the rules but often the poets are encouraged to step as far away from them as they can. The trick here for an Editor is that in a single book you can find a blend of structured, free verse, and avant-garde poems. The question, then, is how one customizes the edit to the poetry in the book.
As a poet, myself, I admit that I am one of “those poets” who bounces around between genres and styles. I don’t limit myself, and for the most part that is a strength in my life as a poet. As an editor of poetry and poetry books, I approach the relationship between myself, the editor, and my client, as a partnership. This editor/author partnership is even more true for editing poetry than other manuscripts.
In order to serve your client well as their editor, you have to get to know them, learn from them what they want with the book as a whole. This understanding of continuity and message is not much different than that which you need for any manuscript that you are editing. With a book of poetry or even a poem, however, you need to understand not only the overall picture but also each individual poem. Most poetry books contain somewhere between 25-60 poems in them. Often part of my job is to let my client know if things flow well, if the poems all fit together and sometimes, even to help them figure out what a theme might be for them (depending upon the stage of the manuscript when I see it.)
You also, need take each poem and look at it critically to decide just how much of it you are going to hold to standard grammar rules. Poetry can often be perfection WITHOUT punctuation, or with limited punctuation. You could easily have several poems that have no poetry, or like E. E. Cummings, be all lowercase, and then in other poems in the same book, you’ll have poems aking to Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
When working on poetry, you must understand what the poet is trying to achieve. I find I talk more to my Poetry clients even more than I do my Academic clients. Each experience that I have with a client is incredibly rewarding because of this.
Also, Poets really do prefer to have someone well versed in poetry editing their manuscripts. If you think about it, though, that’s not as strange as it seems. Academics want people to edit their work who have experience in their field, or with the Style Guide that they use. Just so, Poets need to know that the person editing their manuscripts understand the world in which they live, and the impermanence of poetry, of the moment in which a poem was written.
Are you a poet? Have you ever had someone edit your poetry? What are some of the things you experience?