How did you feel when you were waiting to hear about your submission?
There were actually two very different waiting periods in this process. When I arrived in May 2011, I researched various publishers operating in the UK, and Nine Arches Press really caught my attention for the quality of their books and independent spirit. I sent a copy of my chapbook, which had just been published in the US, to Jane Commane. I didn’t hear back, so I didn’t know that I was waiting for anything at that point. I simply went about the business of getting to know poets in the UK, trying to find my place and my people.
Flash forward to January 2014, when Jane pops up in my email inbox. It turns out the work I sent her had been, in her words, “troubling” her from a bureau drawer she would occasionally dip into off and on for nearly three years. She had been following my other work as well with interest, and wanted to know if I had a manuscript. Well, the answer to that is always, “Yes”, followed by a furious period of paper shuffling and self-tormenting doubt. I sent her the manuscript I had been working on during my time living in and near London, and then the real waiting began.
There’s nothing more unnerving than someone who used to be a fan deciding that they don’t like your newer work. Jane had clearly become a fan. And so, that (thankfully brief) wait was agonising in one sense. Yet I had also managed to find my footing in the UK much more by then, and so in another sense it was another part of my exploring what’s possible in this brave new world I found myself washed up in. Of course, I tell myself that now–but the elation, confirmation, and indeed relief that came with her saying “yes” tells another story.
What was the editorial process like and how long did it take to complete?
We set in that summer, and the book came out at the end of April. So, there was a sense of time–to get to know one another, to get to know what the book wanted to become. That is a tremendous luxury in a poetry marketplace that increasingly forces editors into the role of “gatekeeper” rather than a true collaborator in service to the best interest of the work. Jane was the latter, and I am convinced that her time and care made it a better book.
What input and advice did Jane give to you?
Jane gave me the advice of a reader-fan who wanted the book to be the best it could for both our sakes. Reviewers are a different animal, and reviews often tell more about the reviewer than the work. So, to really get inside the mind of a reader who is coming from a fundamental stance of believing in you and your work–well, that’s invaluable input to the creative process.
After Jane agreed to work with me, she asked for more work written around the manuscript, and I gladly supplied at least half as much again in material for us to work with. That made it easier to relinquish certain poems from the original manuscript in favour of others, to sort of sculpt it both additively and by subtraction. I realise I am not being terribly specific about the advice she gave, but partly that is because Jane had a way of making her suggestions seem like ones I had thought of myself–or, even better, the slap on the forehead of “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”
We cut. We rearranged. Pagination brought new elements to light, as longer poems flowed on to subsequent pages, and the page as a unit gave us a new lens to look through. It was collaborative, and revelatory, and in the end Jane held my hand and helped me to kill a few darlings that I wouldn’t have executed if left to my own devices–because I had reached a point of darling-killing fatigue when preparing the initial manuscript. She helped me pull the trigger.
What was it like to hold your book for the first time?
It was surreal. Nine Arches Press is based in Rugby, and I live in North Hertfordshire. I had just come back from working in London when I got the text from Jane that the book had come back from the printers. So we split the geographical difference, as we did before during the editing process, and met in Milton Keynes. It was evening, so the only place that was open was a chain coffee store inside the mall. I felt like I was back in Orange County, California–land of glassed-in mannequins.
All that receded into the background when she put the book in my hand. Aspects I couldn’t deduce from the PDF proofs, like the way poems began to converse across facing pages, quickly made it feel real, almost alive. Above all, there was as sense of rightness–about the process, and about the product, that went beyond the weight of paper and ink in hand. I suppose it must have felt a bit like sending one’s child out in the world, to find their way. The book had graduated. It was a proud parent moment.
How many readings have you given since its publication?
I gave three readings in the ten days following the book’s official publication, starting in a tiny village in Shropshire, and ending at Walt Whitman’s Birthplace in New York. It was great to read receptive audiences, and a pleasure to read from a real book–and such an attractive and well-produced one at that. I also have several readings coming up later this year, including an event in London combining poetry and jazz that sounds really exciting.
Finally, what are you working on now?
I am fumbling around in the dark with a torch, which is what I tend to do most of the time anyway. I’m writing as often as I can, balancing the support of this book with the creation of the next, and really at the moment just drawing breath. Thanks for asking, and I hope your readers have enjoyed this peek into the book-making process (or at least my peculiar version of it).
Photo by Valerie Kampmeier
Robert Peake is a British-American poet living near London. His full-length collection The Knowledge is now available from Nine Arches Press. His previous short collections include The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013) and Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011).
Since relocating to England with his wife, Valerie and cat, Miranda in 2011, Robert has given a variety of readings in the UK. He also created the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series to bring poets from both sides of the Atlantic together for live online poetry readings.