Poetry as an Editing Niche

Poetry as an Editing Niche

A few months ago, I talked about exploring and Finding your Niche in the editing world. One of those very niches that I stumbled into was editing for Poetry.

Poetry is a unique form of writing. With that incredible depth and variety comes a world of different types of editing required to produce and publish poetry successfully. Editing poetry means that you must have such a technical understanding of language and words and how to manipulate them. You need to know when to ignore all the rules. Embrace the intent of the poem and poet.

Whereas some poems have precise rules that the poet follows, other free verse poetry can ignore the rules. Often, the poets are encouraged to step as far away from them as they can. The trick here for an editor is that you can find a blend of structured, free verse, and avant-garde poems in a single book. 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.

To serve your client well as their editor, you must get to know them, learn from them what they want with the book. This understanding of continuity and message is not much different from what you need for any manuscript you are editing. With a book of poetry or even a poem, however, you need to understand the overall picture and each poem. Most poetry books contain somewhere between 25-60 poems. 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 to take each poem and look at it critically to decide just how much of it you will 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 punctuation, or like E. E. Cummings, be all lowercase, and then in other poems in the same book, you’ll have poems asking 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 to my Academic clients. Each experience that I have with a client is gratifying because of this.

Also, poets 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 with experience in their field or with the Style Guide they use. Just so, poets need to know that the person editing their manuscripts understands the world in which they live. There is an impermanence to poetry, and that magic sometimes needs the rules to bend.

Are you a poet? Have you ever had someone edit your poetry? What are some of the things you experience?

Galen

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