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Alayna Munce: The Editing Conversation

For this poetry editor at Brick Books - herself a bestselling writer - the best editing happens in the glow of a good conversation.  

For me, editing is at its best when it's intimate, a conversation. A writer should feel an editor crouching beside her in her own particularity, trying to get a look along her sightline. Borrowing from Stan Dragland, one of the founders of Brick Books, I would, however, say that the editor should be the manuscript's best friend, not necessarily the poet's - though happily the two can, and often do, coincide. A good friendship will strip you of self-doubt, will help you inhabit your own deviations and eccentricities with confidence and style. 

I remember being at the Banff Centre Writing Studio and learning to recognize when other poets were walking the halls with a certain spring in their step after they'd had an editing session with Don McKay, Brick's other founder. We called it the "Don Glow." Ah, we'd say, you've been to see Don. It didn't mean the person's ego had been inflated. It meant their work had been seen; the seeds of their vision, however nascent, had been spotted and encouraged. It was the glow of a good conversation.

Editing-as-conversation is also the best answer to the question people always ask me when they find out I'm an editor, and that I edit poetry. How do you edit poetry

I love editing poetry - it's like walking a tightrope or taming a lion: you have to know what you're doing, be disciplined and focused, but you have to also have a mind that's willing to run off and join the circus. In the fall I did a copyediting job on a book of poetry I really admire - a freewheeling, spitfiring, restless book. The book constantly joined words into neologisms, sometimes with hyphens, sometimes not. The punctuation was sometimes conventional, sometimes not, falling off in places that often felt intuitively right, and that occasionally didn't. I involved the author's substantive editor in the conversation, and proposed that we stick as much as possible to conventional rules of punctuation and hyphenation, and that we articulate together rules for deviation. The editor suggested (a little laterally but very acutely) that we allow deviations when the poems, content-wise, seemed like they were arriving at a moment of "defibrillation." Suddenly, with the word "defibrillation" as a tool, it became easy to spot the instances where letting go of the rules made sense, and the manuscript began to walk as sure-footedly as it deserved to. It clearly had its own internal language and laws and logic; you could trust it. 

Alayna Munce's poetry and prose have appeared in magazines and literary journals across the country. In 2004 she was featured in the anthology Breathing Fire 2: Canada's New Poets, and her first novel, When I Was Young and in My Prime, appeared on the national bestseller list for Canadian fiction, on CBC Radio's Between the Covers, and was nominated for a Trillium Book Award. Alayna is an editor and production manager for Brick Books and is currently working on a novel.

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