Friday, January 29, 2010


Serendipity -- that's truly a hallmark of my favorite poetry projects, including poetry-editing projects. Ekleksographia--that very kewl exercise in "asymmetrical publishing"--had been asking me for a while to guest-edit an issue. I admit to continuously ducking their request because, really, over the past year or so I just felt fresh out of fresh ideas. And it showed. My first two ideas for guest-editing an issue got 3 poets interested. Hah. Then, I thought of an issue devoted to Poet-Editors and in less than a month received enough contributions from 43 POET-EDITORS to put together an issue. Who'da thunk. FORTY-THREE VERY BUSY POET-EDITORS! And it wasn't even my first choice of a theme-idea.

Well, so watch for it. And since I just finished a first draft of my Editor's Introduction, I'ma gonna blog-file it here -- which means you 9 billion Peeps get to benefit as well from the luminosity ever-emanating from this blog. That's right!

I've been an editor for as long as I've been a poet, which results partly from the round-about way into which I became a poet. At age 35, I switched "careers" from finance to poetry, which is also to say I never formally studied poetry. What I know about poetry-writing, I mostly gleaned from reading poetry. And editing: at age 35, feeling I was starting anew when I’d already gone through several professions, I was in a hurry to write well (whatever that meant) and one way to do that was asking admired poets how they came to write specific poems. I think it was 1996 when I thought of the idea of finding an admired poem, asking its author for early drafts so I can see how the poem evolved into its "final" form, then interviewing the poet about the process of making that poem.

My first such "poetry-in-progress" article was on Arthur Sze, a last-minute article idea I conceived to fill some pages in the (now-defunct) The Asian Pacific American Journal (APA Journal) where I was volunteering in New York in the late 1990s. Perhaps I'd always had good instincts, though, because the idea came up as a result of our receiving a review copy (it was sent in manuscript form, versus book form) of Archipelago (Copper Canyon Press, 1995). I'd never heard of Arthur Sze, but admired the title poem "Archipelago”—even as I couldn't really articulate then why I loved it so much. So, thinking It never hurts to ask, I telephoned Arthur at his home in New Mexico and, much to my surprise, he agreed to talk to me—and discuss specifically the nuts and bolts of how he came to write "Archipelago." The article itself became "hot" as, almost immediately after my phone call, Arthur began receiving all sorts of national poetry awards which brought attention, not just to him but later to my article.

The article was published in The APA Journal and sparked a widely enthusiastic response. Separate from Arthur's prominence, readers were delighted/astounded/intrigued by its poetry-in-progress approach. In each article, I went through a specific poem and asked questions about its making, from the standard "what inspired the poem" questions to why a line break was chosen here or a word was changed there. Featuring early drafts of the same poem allowed readers to see how the poem evolved as it was written and then edited by its author. After the article on Arthur Sze, I was asked to do more such poetry-in-progress articles. Shortly thereafter, those articles became collected (even as I was rushing to do the last four or so) into my first U.S.-published book, BLACK LIGHTNING: Poetry in Progress (Asian American Writers Workshop / later distributed by Temple University Press, 1998). The book, which received early and needed support through a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation, came to number 15 poets. While a group of 15 cannot be considered "representative" of Asian American poetry, the group nonetheless represents a variety of aesthetic styles (a deliberate result as I did not want an Asian American poetry project to abide by certain issues in the "poetry world" that often results in aesthetic cliques). BLACK LIGHTNING's poets are Meena Alexander, Indran Amirthanayagam, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Luis Cabalquinto, Marilyn Chin, Sesshu Foster, Jessica Hagedorn, Kimiko Hahn, Garrett Hongo, Li-Young Lee, Tan Lin, Timothy Liu, David Mura, Arthur Sze (who also provides an introductory essay) and John Yau.

BLACK LIGHTNING remains my favorite editing projects, partly because it also reflects what I like about my favorite editing projects—that it came about through serendipity as well as organically from an audience's desire for its concept (rather than that it's a book I needed to pitch to readers); that it is hybrid in form (it's an anthology but I didn't just edit it but also wrote its articles); that it was unique and possibly a first of its type (it's certainly the first ever poetry-in-progress anthology on Asian American poets); and that the entirety of its experience was just replete with positive energy (other worthwhile editing projects will have periods of angst, problems, etc. but I never found this to be the case with BLACK LIGHTNING). But perhaps the reason I most favor BLACK LIGHTNING is that all of the poets (most of whom I’d not met before doing the project) showed me (parts of) their best selves—they were not just generous but very tender with my ignorance as regards poetry. I started the first article when I was barely a year into writing poems and so my inexperience was obvious. But I believe my love was also evident, and to that love, everyone responded carefully and often lovingly.

Since BLACK LIGHTNING, I came to co-edit The APA Journal, edit or co-edit six poetry/literary anthologies, conceptualize three other anthologies that would be edited by other poet-editors, edit two single-poet collections, edit special themed issues for a variety of literary journals, and currently edit what is the most fun poetry review party online, GALATEA RESURRECTS. As publisher of Meritage Press, I’ve also been editing poetry collections and literary/performing arts anthologies since 2001. I wouldn't have continued as an editor if the experience didn't provide so much personal satisfaction even as the results advocated on behalf of literature—and, thus, I come to Ekleksographia's Special Issue Focused on Poet-Editors. I wanted to do this issue because I wanted to know a little bit about the types of minds who would (care to) edit. And I also wanted to do this issue because poets who care to work as editors often do not get the following two words which I now publicly state: THANK YOU.

I asked several admired contemporary poet-editors the question, "What is your favorite editing project?" Then I asked for 1-2 some samples of their works (mostly, though not all, poems). I thought to offer a combination of editing views and the poet-editors' writings so that a reader can see the type of work generated by poet-editors who presumably learn from editing others. Well, as it turns out, in my read anyway, any such relationship is not particularly clear (reflecting the editing process’ occupational hazard of not always manifesting original intention)—but hopefully you'll still enjoy the sample writings. As you can see in the above, I've also answered the same question.

I'm grateful to the 43 poet-editors who've taken the time to respond to my query. I chose to contact experienced poet-editors as well as poets just beginning their editing forays. Their responses show a diverse social/aesthetic/political approach to editing, ranging over Joi Barrios’ historic street theater’-influenced anthology in support of a labor picketline that would become the first book of the "flash publication series" published by the the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines; Ivy Alvarez conceptualizing a chap anthology based on David Lynch films; Ana Božičević co-curating the Stain of Poetry reading series in Brooklyn; hearing from Garrett Caples as the newest editor at the renowned City Lights in San Francisco; Elaine Equi’s witty editing of “greeting card” poems addressing such holidays as Easter, Elvis Week, the Veneralia and the Bride of Frankenstein’s Birthday; Crg Hill’s co-editing (with Nikos Vassilakis) the ambitious “The Lastvispo Anthology”, an international compilation of visual poetry; Aileen Ibardaloza's "ploughing" through history by editing bibliographies; Vincent Katz's organization of an exhibition on Black Mountain College; avant-garde writer-composer-visual artist Jukka-Pekka Kervinen’s use of e-technology to facilitate collaborative publishing efforts with other poets; Timothy Liu's meditation on "The Masterpiece"; Joey Madia's editing of the new genre "Euphiction" which marries musical inspiration with the written word; catching Patrick Rosal just as this "aging b-boy" embarks on his first editing project; Guillermo Parra's translations of Venezuelan surrealist poet Juan Sánchez Peláez; Ernesto Priego's memory of his first editing experience involving a horror comics fanzine; Barbara Jane Reyes' affectionate recollections of editing a fledgling literary review in college; Chris Rizzo's educational history of editing broadsides and chaps through Anchorite Press; Mark Young's useful history-by-letters (rather, emails) nuts-and-bolts editing process for the creation of Leads by the late and beloved Rochelle Ratner (and through which I get a belated kiss whose desire I'd not known of until I came to edit this issue); among many--many!--others.

I'd also like to note Burt Kimmelman's very special contribution: a three-part section that offers his loving memory of having edited William Bronk, and how the experience led him to delve deeply into Bronk's correspondences with Charles Olson (Bronk's "(for now) complete correspondence" with Olson is also featured) and Robert Meyer ("a school teacher living in the Bronx whom Bronk had met in his travels, and who proved to be a suitable and intellectually worthy interlocutor for Bronk over the course of many years"). Burt's experience shows just how editing can contribute to the poet's own development in luminous ways. A luminosity akin to the poem after which I titled my first anthology and editing project:

Black Lightning
By Arthur Sze

A blind girl
stares at me,
then types out ten lines
in Braille.

The air has a scent
of sandalwood and
arsenic; a night-blooming cereus
blooms on a dark path.

I look at the
short and long flow
of the lines:
and guess at garlic,
the sun, a silver desert rain,
and palms.

Or is it simply
about hands, a river of light,
the ear of a snail,
or rags?

And, stunned, I feel
the nerves of my hand flashing
in the dark, feel
the world as black

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