What do poetry editors do with all their time?
In a conversation I’m picturing, an imaginary American novelist named Pat is having drinks with a poet who is also the editor of some sort of poetry journal.
This poet is named Kendall:
Pat: Does it ever happen that someone gives you a poem for your magazine, and you do a bunch of line edits?
Kendall: I loved your last book, but no.
P: What if you thought it would be better for the poem?
K: Not sure what that means.
This gender-neutral hypothetical illustrates the differing senses of the term “edit” within the respective spheres of verse and prose, or, let’s just say, poetry and fiction. I want to focus on the inaction that seems associated with the editing of poetry: If poetry editors seldom alter the work they publish, what is it they are doing? How can we square this inaction with endeavor?
One way, of course, is to view poetry editing as a form of curation. Much as curation requires that one think about a situation and a spectator, poetry editing is frequently concerned with the ordering of poems within a journal or other volume (or site) and the ways in which the journal or work can be circulated, rather than with a possible need to “perfect”—à la the workshop—a given poem. If the staidness of the museum is also lurking here, it will be up to us to decide whether we are imprisoning, petrifying, defending, or exposing the work for good, and whether we really want to be doing any of these things. As curator Maria Lind writes, “. . . art itself is perhaps what is least standardized, demanding the most ‘tailor-made’ care. . . .”
At the same time, one can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be more fashionable to eliminate the hint of lyricism that might be present in a conversation that includes the verb “care.” To this end, I am also up for discovering an analogue for contemporary poetry editing in conceptualist strategies, what is now sometimes referred to as conceptual writing.