report on Letters - the AWP panel Oct 18, 2008 17:24:34 GMT 2
Post by moira on Oct 18, 2008 17:24:34 GMT 2
Letters and the AWP Panel Report
Here at last is a report on the Febraury 1 2008 AWP Panel "Letters to the World: Creating a Collaborative Anthology in Cyberspace"--part transcript, part notes, part summary--as collected from the participants. I've highlighted the names of wompos, poems read, and references to womp and Red Hen press. The panel members included Annie Finch, Kate Gale, Rosemary Starace, Lesley Wheeler, Ann Fisher-Wirth, D'Arcy Randall and myself. I've pasted the document below, but would be happy to send a word attachment to anyone who backchannels me. I don't think the listserv will take an attachment.
Although it's been nearly six weeks since we gave this panel, I note that Wompos who were not at AWP are just beginning to recieve their books. I hope that these panel notes will be a welcome accompaniment to your shiny new book.
Letters to the World: Creating a Collaborative Anthology in Cyberspace
AWP Panel, 1 February 2008, 9-10:15
New York Hilton
Order of Speaking:
Ann Hostetler (organizer and moderator and editorial team member)
Annie Finch (Wompo Listserv owner)
Lesley Wheeler (co-editor of the volume and editorial team member)
Ann Fisher-Wirth (editorial team member)
D’Arcy Randall (editorial team member, author of Intro)
Rosemary Starace (co-editor of the volume and editorial team member)
Kate Gale (publisher)
Intro: Ann Hostetler
Good Morning and welcome to the panel, Letters to the World: Creating a Collaborative Anthology in Cyberspace.
My name is Ann Hostetler. I teach English and serve as Department Head at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, and I’m one of the 15 members of the Editorial Team that shaped and produced Letters to the World. The purpose of this panel is to celebrate the publication of this beautiful anthology [holds up gorgeous brand new book] and to share its unique editorial concept. We hope that our experiences in creating this anthology entirely through feminist Internet collaboration from contributors whose common meeting point was the Women’s Poetry Listserv aka Wom-po will be useful to those who want to explore the potential of the Internet as a way of bringing new combinations of voices together and to those who are interested in the impact of new technologies on writing and publishing.
Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv is a collection of poems from 259 contributors from New York to New Zealand. A volunteer editorial team formed of Wom-po Listserv members collaborated on all phases of the project, from soliciting contributions to editing, arranging, proofreading, finalizing the manuscript, and writing the Introduction and Afterword. One of the unique features of the anthology is the 26 mini-essays interspersed among the poems and written by members of the Wom-po Listserv that provide a taste of the cyber-discourse that gave rise to the anthology.
This panel features the listserv originator and owner, poet and scholar Annie Finch, who wrote the preface for the volume, and Kate Gale, Managing Editor of Red Hen Press, who published the anthology. Without the Wompo Listserv environment, this anthology would never have been created, and we are grateful to Annie Finch for her leadership in starting it just over ten years ago. The book would also not have found such a beautiful embodiment without Red Hen Press, and we are also grateful to Kate Gale for believing in the project and giving it a publishing home. The beauty of the finished volume is also due to Wompo and Editorial Team Member Margo Berdeshevsky, who designed the cover and is here from Paris to celebrate the release of this book as well as her own volume of poetry, But a Passage in the Wilderness, which can also be found at the Red Hen table this weekend.
The other members of the panel represent the volume’s editorial team. A word about the editorial structure will hopefully clarify their roles. The anthology was created by a 15-personal editorial team, but three persons arose from the 15-person editorial group to take the major leadership in the project. Moira Richards, from South Africa, initiated the idea and collected all of the submissions. Moira is not with us today, but the volume’s other two co-editors, Rosemary Starace and Lesley Wheeler, are here. Two others in addition to myself represent the editorial team: Ann Fisher-Wirth and D’Arcy Randall, who wrote the introduction.
Each member of the panel will tell you briefly why they volunteered to be part of the project and will then focus on their particular contribution to the publishing effort. The members of the editorial team will also read a poem they’ve chosen from the anthology to give you something of its flavor and what it’s really all about the poems.
As the editor of another first–of-its kind anthology in a more traditional format, A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry, published by University of Iowa Press, I was drawn to this project because of its collaborative nature and because of its innovative structure. As a relatively new member of the Wom-po Listserv (I joined in 2003), I was naturally interested in reading poetry by other listserv participants. I was also intrigued by the potential the project had to offer a new editing and publishing model based on internet access and collaboration, combining the resources of cyberspace with the permanence of traditional book publication. As human collaborations are notoriously fraught with conflict, I was curious to find out whether a consensus-based, feminist, self-organizing, yet editorially shaped internet collaboration in a listserv environment could celebrate an eclectic array of poems while achieving quality and attaining coherence. I think it has!
At first I was mostly a spectator and proofreader, but as time passed I became committed to and invested in the project primarily because of the intelligent and passionate messages of the other women involved in the project. A few times I caught my breath, fearing that the ideal would never come to pass. But the perseverance of this group through the publishing process, its vagaries, small disagreements, miscommunications, structural issues, massive amounts of proofing, collecting, checking, arranging all on volunteer time in otherwise tremendously busy lives--has produced a gorgeous book that I want to read and reread. I regard this as nothing short of a miracle.
Ann H reads: “possibilities of poetry, upon her death,” by Evie Shockley, a poem to a foremother, Gwendolyn Brooks, in honor of a Wompo tradition of posting on the women poets who have come before and inspired us.
Ann Hostetler [See introduction in Ann’son appears in her introductory talk.]
Annie Finch is the originator and owner of the Women’s Poetry Listserv. Her books of poetry include Eve, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, and Calendars. Her poetry has been widely featured in venues including Voice of America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Def Poetry Jam. She has also published translations of poetry and six books of poetics, most recently the anthology An Exaltation of Forms, and the essay collection The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self. She is Professor of English and Director of the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine.
Lesley Wheeler: Co-editor of Letters to the World, is the author of a chapbook book of poems, Scholarship Girl, which she will be signing at the Finishing Line table at 4:00 today. Her most recent scholarly book, Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present, is forthcoming this spring from Cornell Univ. Press. She is a Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA where she is also Department Head.
Ann Fisher-Wirth: Member of the Editorial Team of Letters to the World. Her books of poems are Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003) and Five Terraces (Wind Publications, 2005). She has also published two chapbooks and an academic book, William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature. Professor of English at the University of Mississippi, she has had senior Fulbrights to Switzerland and Sweden, and has served as President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. Recently she has joined the adjunct faculty for the brand new low residency MFA at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.
D’Arcy Randall: Member of the Editorial Team of Letters to the World, and author of its Introduction. She is an editor and writer who teaches at University of Texas in Austin. She is also one of the earlier members of Wom-po. She spent 10 years in Australia, where she served as fiction editor at University of Queensland Press. Later, when she moved to Austin, she founded Borderlands Texas Poetry Review.
Rosemary Starace: Co-editor of Letters to the World, is a writer and visual artist. Her poetry has been published in Orion and elsewhere; her visual work was most recently shown at Simon’s Rock College of Bard. After years in New York publishing she now works as an independent editor, and teacher of art and creative process. Her essays on art and process, reviews, and feature articles regularly appeared in publications in the Berkshires of Massachusetts where she lives.
Kate Gale: Kate Gale is managing editor of Red Hen Press, editor of Los Angeles Review, and President of the American Composer’s forum. She is a poet and librettist whose most recent book, Mating Season was published by Tupelo Press. She has written the libretto for Rio de Sangre with composer Don Davis and Paradises Lost with Stephen Taylor.
Annie: [The following summary of her longer informal talk was offered by Annie.]
Annie gave a basic history of the list, and then said, "I started Wompo mainly because I wanted to hear women's voices discussing poetry. I had no idea what those voices would say. I have heard and learned so many new ways of thinking about poetry from the list. And this anthology is no exception." She read “Isn’t it Enough” by Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi.
Lesley: Reads: Mendi Lewis Obadike, “Strut”
1. How I came to the project:
· I spoke about my own background in collaboration as scholar writing about collaborative poetry, and as a poet coauthoring poetic sequences
· I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about editingbut had no idea how big or complex it would get, and no intention of playing a major role in what became a book.
2. How it started:
· Moira Richards started the idea in the fall of 2005 of collecting a poem from each willing wompo and assembling them into a self-published book; some poets said they might like help selecting poems, and I volunteered to be one of those advisers.
· That winter, another volunteer adviser, Eloise Klein Healy, brought the project to Kate Gale’s attention, and she offered to publish the book, which took the project to a completely different plane.
3. Our process:
· Moi continued to be the clear leader for many months; she organized the group we came to call “Team Editorial,” made to-do lists, communicated with RH over contracts, structured us into sub-groups. She also set the tone, which was always about consensus rather than hierarchy; she just refused to be the editor in a traditional way, for ethical, feminist reasons.
· Moi set up a separate email list for the volunteer editors, and as the process stretched on, leadership became much more fluid. Moi’s in a different hemisphere than the rest of us, and all of us have different kinds of lives, so our schedules were never in sync, but in some ways that was an advantage.
· No one in the group had a fixed role: people stepped up for various jobs according to their time, inclination, and expertise.
· If Moi initiated the process, Rosemary more than anyone else brought it to closure; she was the keeper of the ms, tracked its evolution, and even became a list-maker like Moi, making sure, for instance, that every part of the ms was proofed by at least 2 people.
4. Shaping the book:
· Deciding how to shape the book was one of our earliest puzzles, one we debated in the winter of 2006: How should we order the poems? What other apparatus do we need? What should we do about the title?
· We decided fairly quickly that organizing the poems by theme, geography, generation, or some other means would be too trickyesthetically and maybe even politically. Alphabetical was the way to go, but we didn’t want the book to be one overwhelming block of randomly assorted poems. I also knew as someone who teaches feminist poetry that the book would be more useful to me if it framed the poems with lots of information about the list as a community.
· Annie signed up quickly to write a brief preface; we began searching for someone to write an introduction that would contain a history of the list. We also decided that the framing material should come from many perspectives, like the poems themselves, so we eventually solicited a wide range of brief essays to punctuate the poems at regular intervalsjust a paragraph or two from each person on their perceptions of Wom-po as a community, and how that community affects their practice as poets and readers.
· Only late in the process did we realize that we needed an afterword to describe the unique collaborative process of the book, and Rosemary, Moi, and I wrote that together, passing the document around electronically, each amplifying or smoothing out what the previous person had written.
· The poems were proofed but NOT substantially edited. The essays WERE selected and edited as well as proofed. We turned down a few that didn’t fit the criteriathe main one was that the essay had to concern the list as a community, not just poetry more generally. We corresponded heavily with some writers about the wording, content, length, and accuracy of their contributions.
· These aspects of working on book were some of the most rewarding for me personally: the substantive editing of the framing texts, and the surprisingly easy, seamless coauthorship of the Afterword.
Ann Fisher-Wirth: Reads: Cati Porter's poem , “Pomegranate: Juiced.”
[Ann pointed out that she first saw the poem when Cati submitted it to the Wom-Po workshop (and that workshops are one nice spin-off from the main list). She also said that part of the reason she chose this poem to read is that it reminds us that though men are mostly not part of the Wom-Po list, the list in no way excludes them from our lives.]
This is one of the first opportunities I've had to work collaboratively with other women. When I was in high school and college, way too many girls and young women felt they could either be loved or be smart; partly for that reason, my friends tended to be guys. And all the way through graduate school, all but two of my teachers were men. Plus I'm a bit of a loner-that is, a loner when I'm not busy being a professor, wife, and mother of five. I signed on to the project because I was curious, and because a couple of years ago I made a vow to myself to say yes, whenever possible, to the adventures life would bring me. I thought a Wom-po anthology would be interesting, beautiful, fun, and a great way for us all to get to know each other’s work even better. I played several roles in the editorial process, none of them central but all of them rather time-consuming and very rewarding. Mostly, I took part in whatever on-line discussion was underway over the course of the two years in which we worked on this anthology. I also served as one of two poets people could query if they wanted advice as to which of their poems to include, and several people took advantage of this possibility. Eventually, when the time came, I volunteered to be a copy editor and was assigned a section of the manuscript to read. However, I quickly became enchanted and ended up proofing and reading the whole thing. Later, as galleys came in, I reproofed and reread – and then again reproofed and reread – and at one point near the end, became so addled with the proliferation of documents that I made extensive comments correcting errors on a version of the manuscript that had already been surpassed. Sometimes I think my main role was to confuse everybody! But as I turned page after page, read poem after poem, my conviction kept growing: This manuscript is varied, intense, lively, moving, and really good!
I've loved having a voice and playing a part in the creation of Letters to the World-and in some ways I think it has been easier that those of us in the editorial group mostly didn't know each other when the project began. Perhaps that has made it possible for all of us to focus on the project, our mutual commitment, and yet for each of us to retain a degree of solitude-which, I think, writers tend to treasure. Now I would like to introduce D’Arcy Randall, who wrote the Introduction to Letters to the World, and give the rest of the time to her.
I had been a longterm member of Wompo and was happy to contribute to the anthology, but I joined this editorial group later. Lesley invited me to write the introduction in February 2006, a few months after the team started work. This was good timing because AWP was going to be in my hometown of Austin, Texas that March, so I was able to meet Lesley and a few other members of the team. I also got to interview Annie very briefly about the origins of Wompo. I researched and wrote the introduction over the next several months, and finally had a draft ready by the northern summer. Then I joined the online editorial discussion, which changed everything. I had been a book
editor for many years, commissioned and edited many introductions, and written a few myself. When I used to commission introductions, I'd first send the writer the book manuscript, she'd send back the introduction, we'd discuss revisions, and later
I sent her proofs to correct. It was a nicely contained job. That was not the case with this introduction! I had several discussions with several members of the editorial team, and I never knew when someone would want me to make a change. But in the process I
got drawn into the collective and stayed, hoping to be useful, mostly because I was excited about the book and was having fun.
It was odd writing an introduction for a poetry anthology that wasn't "edited" in a conventional way. I knew it would be a great place to present a brief history of Wompo and the wild genesis of the anthology itself, but I couldn't discuss selection criteria because there were none! We had chosen our own poems to contribute. On the other hand, the essays that Rosemary and Lesley had solicited reflected aspects of the listserv culture, so they provided a useful focus for discussing both Wompo and the anthology contents. The number and variety of the poems were too overwhelming to put into neat categories, so I didn't even try that. The process of writing about the poems was
weirdly passive: I simply let the poems wash over me, then waited for the patterns to take shape. I picked a few of those patterns and wrote about them: There were many poems on women's spirituality, poems written in the tradition of a "foremother," poems reflecting on the devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. There were several ekphrastic poems, and I would like to read one of them, Rachel Dacus's "Femme au Chapeau," which was the first poem submitted to the blog.
Rosemary: Reads: Erin Shannon Hollowell's poem, “Practice.”
1. How and why I got involved in the project; my background:
*The challenge of this particular project: how to create an excellent book from an editorial standpoint while reflecting--in both the process and the product--the egalitarian, inclusive nature of Wom-po membership and the Internet in general.
*I hoped that this egalitarian book could embody a convincing alternative to certain perspectives, practices and conditions that disempower poets and limit their opportunities.
*strong interest in the process of collaboration, especially feminist ones, from previous experience with collaborations that worked and some that self-destructed. Also had experience in publishing and book production, though was most attracted by the editorial challenges and to the possibility of expanding my circle of poetry friends and colleagues.
*had no idea it would take this long or be so personally involving
General and philosophical comments on internet collaboration and feminist consensus process:
2. How the internet helped and hindered our transactions and our communication:
*Our editorial group email list gave us not only a centralized discussion forum but an archive of all communications which we relied on for information and clarification.
*This central forum allowed us to come to the table when we had time, rather than at a prescribed moment. Some guidelines on internet projects I've seen recommend setting up times for everyone to virtually come together, but I'm not sure this would have benefited us. The flexibility helped each of us, I think, to maintain such a long and demanding commitment.
*Not meeting face to face, and having to write all our communications allowed for thoughtful reflection and increased civility when dealing with complex or heated issues. Quoting Louisa Howerow, one of our editorial team: "the Internet, [can be] a boon to collaboration; given the right participants, it allows for a certain paradoxical closeness in spite of the distance. When disagreement or concerns arise we can leave the "table" to rethink. . . . In a face-to-face group . . . Those who are vocal tend to dominate. Some dominate merely by force of personality. In Internet interactions, where all the participants are [as] comfortable with the written word [as we were], everyone has an opportunity to speak."
*The flip side of this was the considerable amount of time it could take for people to weigh in, given that we were spread out across three continents. It could take a couple of days to discuss even minor points or make even noncontroversial decisions. Also, sometimes the posts did not arrive in the order they were sent, making it hard to know who was responding to what.
3. What was feminist about our process:
*Helen Caferty and Jeanette Clausen in their essay, "What's Feminist about It? Reflections on Collaboration in Editing and Writing," reflect on whether feminist collaborations share distinctions which set them apart from other forms of collaboration: ". . . [W]e believe that feminist collaboration does not 'just happen,' but is constructed with varying success through conscious and unconscious choices affirming the feminist politics of inclusion, power sharing, egalitarianism, consensus and trust in the context of shared feminist commitments." (From Common Ground: Feminist Collaboration in the Academy, edited by Elizabeth G. Peck and JoAnna Stephens Mink. [1997, p. 83]).
4. Issues in feminist and consensus-based collaborations:
*Although no one was ever assigned a role or a task in our group, and though roles shifted over time, we found that there were still certain central roles that needed to be filled. We needed to be clear who was doing what. There had to be someone keeping track of manuscript versions, another handling communications from contributors, another checking for consistency in style and in format. Likewise, someone had to sum things up periodically, make lists, and figure out what tasks needed to be done so that others could step forward to do them.
*We started out with an unspoken rule of openness and transparency that became ever more important and defined as we worked through our many logistical and editorial issues. Though we communicated privately with each other about certain tasks, or perhaps to share private feelings or misgivings, we did not form factions, make back-room deals or alliances. The private communication-- in my experience-- functioned as a sounding board, a testing ground for ideas, and provided personal support. All major decisions were made together and virtually all discussion leading to them was conducted on the forum. Looking back, this was absolutely essential in keeping us connected, together, and focused on our shared original goals.
*No group can ever hope for unanimity on every issue. We strove for unity instead. We never voted on anything. If even one person was not comfortable with an action or decision we kept talking until we all felt heard and generally OK about moving forward. This is difficult. It takes time, tremendous patience, and faith in both the people involved and the principles of consensus. This is often the place where collaborations break down. People either dig into a position, give up their position but hold resentment, or step outside of the group and act unilaterally. We encountered some of this and it became passionate and even unruly at times. The email lag helped here, and we just kept going back to the principles. It was useful to overtly remind ourselves of them.
*Ours was an extremely successful collaboration, both in terms of the process and the product. We were perhaps merely lucky to work through the issues that confronted us, but as we looked back on our process recently I think we concluded that devotion and trust were both operative and instrumental.
*A kind of practical trust had to develop first: we had to get to know each other and start to understand how each person operated. Eventually our underlying devotion to this project and the ideals that supported it became obvious, and I came to feel I could depend on it. We were pushed by conflicts and difficulties and the sheer labor we faced into clearly articulating (to ourselves and each other) what our ideals and guiding principles were.
At one point, there came a leap, and it was in realizing that our movement forward absolutely depended on an absolute trust in everyone's good intentions, dedication, reliability, creativity and general brilliance. For me it was a stunning, concrete example of a lovely but often abstract spiritual principle: that we human beings really do come shining forth in an atmosphere of high regard and openness. It's a case of positive self-fulfilling prophecy. I certainly felt that attitude at work in our group and helping me.
Kate Gale: Reads: Peggy Shumaker's poem, Walker Lake.
[The following synopsis of her longer informal talk was submitted by Kate Gale]
It was a joy to finally meet the WOMPOS. For Red Hen this was a huge
project, but Moi was fabulous to work with. Once a project like this goes
to a press, it is no longer a consensus project, but an anthology where the
publisher works with one editor, in this case, Moira. We are delighted with the project.
I especially want to thank Kate Gale, Mark Cull and Red Hen Press, because I don’t know of any other publishers who would have taken on working with a collaborative editorial group with a project like this. Kate’s faith in the project, and the hard work of Red Hen Press, enabled us to translate the excitement of the list into the object we hold in our hands.