Share this post!
“I have to understand an author’s personal poetics and find a way to let it emerge clearly to the reader. Readers will follow all kinds of weirdness if you give them clear pathways.”
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Peter Midgley, an editor and writer from Edmonton. I write. I edit. Not necessarily in that order.
Take us through a day in your life.
A day in my life is quite boring: I divide my day among various task related to editing and writing and try to carve out some personal time daily. The last item seems to elude me most often.
Can you give us a brief overview of the different types of editing you engage in?
I do substantive editing, copy editing and line editing, as well as proofreading. I edit all types of work—from creative writing to scholarly works. I particularly enjoy working closely with authors to develop their works (substantive edits) and to polish writing at a sentence level (line editing). The one area where I have established a niche is that I edit poetry, which many editors shy away from.
How is editing poetry different from other content you edit. What do you enjoy most about it?
The same basic rules of editing—clarity, concision, accuracy—are as applicable to poetry as to any other genre, but the key question is: What is poetry? There is no single satisfactory answer, and that is what terrifies most editors. Definitions differ or are vague and have shifted over millennia. Some poetry adheres to formal rules; other forms defy categorization. Poetry also dabbles in metaphor, which can be daunting to pin down. Yet these are precisely the aspects of the genre that excite me. I have to remain vigilant, always looking for the underlying logic of a poem to figure out how its metaphors work, or to see what traditions and influences are relevant. I have to understand an author’s personal poetics and find a way to let it emerge clearly to the reader. Readers will follow all kinds of weirdness if you give them clear pathways.
Tell us one thing about editing poetry that people would be surprised to know.
Poetry is not a catch-all label for any form of writing that is difficult to define.
How has the pandemic changed your job?
I’ve worked from home for large stretches of my life, so in a practical sense, not much. What has changed is that people are more comfortable using online communication. The people who employ me as a freelance editor have been affected deeply by the (hopefully temporary) closure of live performance venues, cuts to funding, delays in publishing schedules, etc. It is going to take time for participants in this sector to recover. The irony is of course that the pandemic has also underscored how essential the arts are to our sanity.
What is one Alberta poetry book that everyone should read, not including your own?
I don’t believe anyone “should” read anything. Just read. Read widely, locally.
What’s a question you wish people would ask you about your work?
Why do editors need to be seen and heard? The traditional perception is that an editor’s work should be invisible, yet history tells us that editors have made incisive changes to books for as long they have existed. Hiding an editor’s work undervalues their labour and feeds the misconception that an editor’s contribution to a book is peripheral. It is not. Editors need to advocate loudly and visibly for the importance of what they do.
How do you organize your personal library?
By pile. The books I’m actively working with pile up on my desk and get stacked in piles on the edges of other bookshelves at the end of the day, or as I shift focus. There they mould or grow tentacles. Dictionaries and writing manuals are always within arm’s reach.
Do you see any exciting developments happening in the future of publishing?
Many. The pandemic has crystallized the importance of local independent booksellers and of micro-publishers that attend to the reading needs of localized communities better than large conglomerates can—I think of Laberinto Press , which has tapped into a very active local community of writers who write in heritage languages. Small publishers continue to do exciting things because they are nimbler and can respond to local demands quicker, and in ways that larger publishers can’t or don’t want to risk. Self-publishing, too, has come a long way from the early days. Acknowledging the role editors play more openly, and employing them, will ensure the viability of these shifts.
Publishing remains white, although a spate of recent appointments at larger publishing houses and some agencies in Canada has at shown some movement towards diversity. It’s long overdue, but nowhere near enough. Alberta publishing remains disturbingly white and exclusive, despite having the most rapidly diversifying readership in the country. As long as entrenched hiring practices continue to privilege white people, and granting opportunities and infrastructure supports are disadvantageous for emerging publishers, things will not shift. There is a lot of advocacy still needed to shift deep systemic biases in publishing, but the glimmers of change nationally are exciting. The recent emergence of an Indigenous Editors association is transformative, as is the continued successes of Indigenous-owned publishers like Eschia. Alberta needs to step up and support houses like Red Barn Books (who won emerging publisher of the year in 2020) so they can flourish
What’s your educational background and did it help you get to where you are today?
My PhD compares literature in Afrikaans, English, and isiXhosa, I also have an Honours degree in Afrikaans and Dutch literature, and a BA with a major in Legal Theory and a minor in Latin. This formal education has helped me read widely and in multiple languages, which means I draw from many knowledge bases. But that’s book learning. Editing is a trade as much as it is a profession, and I have benefitted from the tutelage of several fine editors, among them the ones who guided me at the start of my career: Theresa Papenfus, Annari van der Merwe, and Francis Galloway. Having them walk me through the finer points of editing and handing down their knowledge has educated me in ways no amount of formal training can.