Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Anthologies Feature—Issue 38, February 2014)

Laynie Browne
Editorial Impulse and Collaboration: Investigation as Commons

Editorial impulse derives at times from vantage, standing in a certain place and time and noting a lack, a call to fill in gaps or correct what one notes as a mis-seeing of others. Who is included in a moment, and who is left unrepresented? This is a question which impelled me to map an alternate of constellations in the hope that others would begin to trace their own, in the hope that gazing carefully at such a wealth of talent each reader would begin to ask which writers light their particular map of affinities.

At other times editorial impulse derives from questions about form and choices writers make based upon the continued evolution their work. What is required in order to sustain a vibrant life in writing decade after decade? For some, shifts in form, genre, or how they conceive of their writing provide significant passage. How is it that the writing of one book may enable the writing of another? What is the conversation writers have with themselves in writing a body of work in which texts speak to each other, and teach or propel the writer along from one book to the next?

The impulse to immerse oneself in the words and thoughts of others is akin to finding novel ways to read, write, exchange thoughts and create new homes for text as it emerges. I began the project, I’ll Drown My Book as the result of what I perceived as a lack of representation of women particularly at the stage of anthologizing, however the project grew tremendously from that initial moment into something I could not have imagined at the outset. One of the best aspects of this project was working with co-editors Caroline Bergvall, Teresa Carmody & Vanessa Place. Each of us brought very different perspectives to the project and these varied approaches enriched the book. Reading widely and corresponding with so many amazing writers was a great pleasure. A few editorial concerns specific to this project that we all shared were to make the book multi-genre (poetry, prose, visual text etc.), to include work from many countries (the anthology includes work from ten) and to include work both from established and emerging writers. What we hoped to accomplish was to put forth exciting Conceptual Writing by women and to begin a conversation which allowed a multitude of possibilities for the form. We wanted to create a space for women to speak about how they conceived of the aesthetic. For this reason the anthology includes statements from contributors on process. Because I generally approach poetry without the desire to codify or privilege one particular aesthetic over any other I had a somewhat unique perspective. I love the work in the anthology and there is, additionally, so much writing by women which I love which was not included because my interests are much wider than the particular focus for that book. That aspect of the project was challenging. To create an anthology is to create a finite collection of work which is ultimately imperfect.

One of the things I learned while editing I’ll Drown My Book was a novel approach to raising funds to promote the book. I matched a small grant to bring a few writers to a reading by working with the wonderful organization Casa Libre and by selling my artwork for donations to help cover the writers travel costs. After that experience I was inspired to sell several of my mixed media collage pieces to raise funds for literary organizations. Les Figues Press launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure funds for publication of the book. The Poetry Center at University of Arizona offered to host an event as did the Kelly Writer’s House at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I was impressed by the generosity demonstrated in the process by everyone involved. My co-editors launched many other events for the book.

During the editing of I’ll Drown My Book I was faced with the terribly sad loss of a dear friend, the poet Stacy Doris, whose work is included in the anthology. I sought a way to represent her work at a reading for the book, very soon after her passing. A recording of her reading her work was played at the event in Tucson. The moment was difficult because it was both a public celebration and a private moment of grieving. At another event for the book I was deeply moved by a performance of Stacy’s work by poet Kristin Prevallet. The event was at AWP in Chicago and took place in a beautiful jewel box theater. Kristin used the space to project, perform, and incant Stacy’s work from several different levels of the space including the stage, and balcony as well as within the audience in attendance. When she finished everyone in the room was breathless.

In all of the performances for the book contributors were asked to read from their own work, and also from the work of another contributor. This performance created an immediate and vibrant relationship between the writer’s work, and the work chosen by each reader which reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s statement that by putting any two words next to each other a relationship is created. The correspondence between the two pieces, both in resemblance and in difference, creates a third piece which projects that relation. One could viscerally note the connection between the writers whether it be in contrast or humor or annunciation, and something beyond the obvious admiration became visible, a thread, what it means to take another’s words in one’s mouth, to say them aloud, as opposed to reading solely to oneself, in a book. These forms become visible and audible hopefully mobilizing more readership, more writing, more projects which bring individual voices into a shared space. Editorial impulse is an attempt to experience that in body as well as on the page. I seek to link bodies in time and text, to create an ambience of intimacy, to remember that poetry is awake and alive and exists in everyone participating. At its best moments editorial impulse staves isolation and reminds me that writers or “we” or “everyone” are our greatest assets, meaning to say that relationships created and sustained through writing community and all acts related to writing are essential to its continuance. Editorial work can create a commons for the growth of such community. This is always my hope as an editor. We come together and investigate because we seek to be in each other’s company, in collaboration, process, celebration, loss and within the unknown.

I came to my current editorial project through an obsession with form. For years, while reading novels written by poets I wondered about the “poet’s novel.” In my head the project began with reading, and with a possible course I might teach. I wanted to collect the insights of other interested readers. And while this is an anthology of prose (essays on novels by poets) I am very interested in what happens when divisions between genres become illusory or disappear. In other words, I am enamored with form and also insist on drawing no lines between genres. Maybe that is why I am so intrigued by works which could be called “poetry” or “prose.” Works which don’t fall neatly into categories are often ignored because we have not yet found useful ways to discuss them. My hope is that poets will not shy away from writing on work which is difficult to categorize. Poets have no problem writing work which is nearly impossible to categorize, so why not be equally fearless when it comes to commentary? Why not be equally artful? I began this project with questions such as, for what reasons do poets turn to prose? Ultimately I am interested in interrogating form as a living medium and an evolving series of structures. I have learned, thus far, that the reasons for turning to prose are various, and I am now enmeshed in the process of trying to articulate these motives or engines which embody the form. In brief summary, I can say that impulses include the following: a fascination with the verse novel, manipulations and mash-ups of various prose fiction genres (such as detective novel, cowboy novel, etc.), explorations of the lyric in prose, extensions of prose poem form, varieties of portraiture, works which travel and cross vast distances and therefore require the capaciousness of the novel, and finally, attraction to novel forms of bildungsroman. Each essay contains one or more of the following: historical or biographical context or motivations for the text, relation of the novel to the body of poetry the writer has created, close readings and writerly perspective on the form, notes on influences, source material and process, and much more than I can summarize in a brief space. There is more to say but I will conclude my comments on this book in process here by saying that this project thus far has been a terrifically enlivening experiment in gathering incomparable texts, and has given a form and shape to my reading for which I am grateful and which I could not have fathomed in any other circumstance. To everyone involved in the project I owe many thanks for insight, advice, writing and conversation throughout.

Overall the highlight of editorial work, beyond holding a book in one’s hand and the gratitude one receives for one’s efforts, is the ongoing and continuous conversation. Creating a meeting place, through correspondence, on the page, and in person, creates a space for exchange of thought and a space to explore questions such as: is there such a thing as “Conceptual Writing” or “the Poet’s Novel”? If so, what might they look like? Two things remain most immediate to me, the dialogue which brings writers together to share a wealth of perspectives and camaraderie, as well as a prescribed mode for dwelling within text. In a way similar to teaching, editing obliges one to read with a particular and concentrated intent. The influence of culled and collected text is well articulated by Nicole Brossard who writes in her first novel A Book, “Experiencing words: living for a while in their wake.” Editorial impulse is a form of tracing and inhabiting the many wakes created by intersecting and colliding assemblages of texts.

Works Cited

Brossard, Nicole, Blue Books, “A Book,” trans. Larry Shouldice (Ontario: Coach House Books, 2003), 65.