Monday, February 5, 2007

Copyediting poems

For some reason it was extremely difficult for me to copyedit the poem handed out in class. I am pretty sure the writer was not a native speaker of English. But even if he was, and even if the poem had made more sense, I think I still would have had a hard time copyediting the poem. I feel that each word and punctuation mark (or lack thereof) is very sensitive in a poem. I have been asked to translate Korean poems into English and I just can't seem to do it because the translation will never carry the exact feeling/meaning as the original poem. I guess that's the same way I feel about copyediting a poem. Although the poem handed out in class was an unusual case, I feel reluctant to alter any part of a poem because even an incorrect spelling might be intentional. But I guess we can always query the writer. I was wondering though, if we were working for a journal like Manoa, are there certain copyeditors who are assigned to copyediting certain genres or are all copyeditors expected to copyedit all the works to be published?


Pat said...

Only a few people in the MANOA office do copyediting, though anyone on the staff may suggest a change. Right now, we are reading the Word proofs for our India-Pakistan issue, and when we meet together as a group next week, each person will be able to bring up the questions, comments, etc., that he or she had about each piece. I'll bring these proofs in on Friday so that you can all see what they look like.

Poetry is especially difficult to copyedit, for the reasons you stated. One member of the staff, Lisa Ottiger, did an excellent job of editing some translations of Rabindranath Tagore's work (an Indian poet, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature). Her edited versions were sent to the translators, who included a relative of Tagore's, and the printed versions appeared in vol. 10, no. 1, of MANOA.

Some years ago, we published a two-part symposium on the subject of poetry translations, and a few years ago, the symposium appeared in book form from Copper Canyon Press, one of the best (some say the best) small presses in the country. I'll let you borrow the book, Chi; I think you will find on nearly every page something to ponder.

Ritchie Mae said...

(Q1) Does the copyeditor decide where line breaks would be more effective?

For example,

"A menu is written on
neon pink, neon yellow, neon green"

but this would be more effective

"A menu is written on neon
pink, neon yellow, neon green"

(Q2) Also, some poets like to leave out words, such as "an" or "the," which would typically be found in prose but not poetry. Would a copyeditor add the "an" and "the," or just leave it alone?

Jill said...

I don't think copyeditors should change line breaks. That's def. an aesthetics call, one that the poet should make or an editor/ translation editor, not a copyeditor.

Pat said...

Copyeditors can make suggestions. When you worked on the exercise involving the letter and poem, you had many ideas, I'm sure, about ways in which the poem could be improved. I said in class that only poets can copyedit poems, but that was an exaggeration meant to underscore the importance of having skills in addition to copyediting ones.

As Ryan pointed out in an earlier post, diction is one of the key issues in the poem. Determining which words fall in which diction categories—and suggesting ways to narrow large gaps in categories—is something that a skilled, experienced copyeditor can do.

I'll try to get Frank Stewart to join us this Friday; I'm sure he can shed more light on the subject.