What Do Poetry Editors Do?

April 17, 2023

A to do list on a clipboard. Photo by MART  PRODUCTION on Pexels.com
“To Do” on lined paper

I was browsing through some of the most asked questions about poetry editing recently, and this one came up: What do poetry editors do?

A fair question.

I’ve discussed it a bit before, but more in context of editing poetry vs. editing prose, so I thought it would be worth looking at again.

So what do we do?

Well, it depends on the type of editing required. And the smaller the scale, the more outright edits we’re likely to make or suggest.

Developmental editing, the big-picture level, deals largely with suggestions and questions. At this stage, I look at elements like overall imagery, rhythm (ex. whether or not one is needed, if the one that’s present is working, etc.), rhyme and patterns, and overarching concepts like plot if there is one, or the idea conveyed. I’ll look at those and I’ll see if they’re working. If they aren’t, I’ll point it out and say why it’s not working, and give a suggestion or two to consider.

If it is working, but it’s not working as well as it could, I’ll ask questions that hopefully inspire my client to enhance what they already have. For instance, if there’s a piece of imagery in one line that actually works incredibly well with the whole poem, which has little imagery overall, I might ask: “how can this be integrated into the whole poem? How does it relate to this concept? How can you evoke more with it to heighten readers’ experiences?” And so on.

Essentially, I help tease my client’s brain at this point. I also point out what’s working well, so they know what to focus on and what strengths they could pull from to enhance/rewrite what they already have.

(This is what I imagine my clients look like at this stage of the game.)

Then we move on to copy/line edits, where I’ll make more concrete suggestions. While some editors working on fiction might make an adjustment directly in the text for their client to see, I won’t (unless it’s a correction, not a suggestion). Instead, I’ll point out the line and leave a comment explaining why it could use some tweaks and provide an example. That example is meant more as a spring board than an exact replacement (though clients are certainly welcome to use my exact suggestion). Things I’ll look at include smaller-scale imagery, word choice, the flow of lines and ideas that were missed in developmental editing, as well as standard things like clarity, conciseness, and correctness.

Once again, it’s all about teasing out the best of the poem from what we’re already working with. Poems are so personal more often than not, and it should come from the poet’s mind. I’m just here to help guide you along to make it smoother and more engaging for your readers 😊

Proofreading is rather standard across the board, though I might ask more questions about punctuation than when proofreading something that isn’t poetry.

Finally, some poetry editors help with poem organization. What does that entail?

I read the whole collection, front to back, and then help my client put the poems in an order that makes sense. I’ll talk to them about themes and the messages they want to convey. Often, poems come to me with some semblance of order – chronological, already divided into sections and themes, that sort of thing. But not always. I go back and forth with my client to figure out what story they want to tell and we find the best way to tell it so readers are left satisfied after they read the last poem!

So there you have it – this is what a poetry editor does. A TL;DR version? Poetry editors collaborate closely with clients to tease out what the poet has already built.

Yes, sometimes that leads to complete rewrites. But those rewrites stem from questions the poet might never have contemplated had an editor not asked them – and it leads to the poet realizing the poem they thought they wanted to tell wasn’t quite the right one.

One of my favourite things about this job is seeing how poets take my questions and suggestions and run with them, returning with something that has extra heart and soul and love poured into it. It’s so satisfying, and I always feel so proud of my clients for taking their work that extra step!

If you’d like to work with me to do just that for your poetry, head over to my contact page 😊 I’d be happy to work with you!

Published by Kaila Desjardins

Freelance editor, fiction writer, proud nerd.

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