I’ve been asked a number of times to describe the best part of my job as an editor. My answer: discovery. What I love about being an editor is also what I love about being a reader–finding an author who has written something wonderful, something that shifts the way I look at the world, the people in it, my place in it, the words that I use to talk about it. I have very fond memories of reading, for the first time, authors who would go on to becoming lifelong companions–Steinbeck, Atwood, Moore. Discovering their books for the first time was a delicious experience. Not only did I love what I read, but I knew that there was more to come.
As an editor, finding a true gem in the submissions pile is a thrill. And I experienced that thrill when I first read Pilgrims: A Love Story by T.J. Beitelman. Pilgrims was an entry in the Spring, 2008 Black River Chapbook Competition. It was clear after a few pages of reading that this manuscript was going to be a top contender. By the time I finished reading, I had a very strong sense that I had found the winner. We finished reading all of the submissions to the competition and shortly thereafter contacted TJ to let him know that he’d won.
But Pilgrims was just the beginning. In 2010, Black Lawrence Press accepted In Order to Form a More Perfect Union, TJ’s full-length poetry collection. There are many things that I love about this collection, but I will borrow a line from Maurice Manning’s blurb to summarize: “The reach of this exuberant and anguished book is potent, and made more so by the force of restraint.” In short, the magic was still there. And then some.
But this would not be the last time the work of TJ Beitelman would hit me in the heartbone. After we accepted Union, TJ sent us a novel he’d be working on. John the Revelator took over my world as I read. It’s due out next year, so stay tuned. Then, just last week, I read Americana, TJ’s most recent chapbook. I’ll leave you with this, one of the poems from the new collection, which I accepted for publication mere hours after reading. But first, I’d like to return to that question about the best part of my job. The best part is discovering authors like TJ Beitelman who wow me from the beginning and keep returning with more and even better work.
Executive Editor, Black Lawrence Press
AN AUBADE FOR THE AFRICAN QUEEN AND ITS BIG BANG
Rose: I’m all turned around Charlie—which way is the east shore?
Charlie: The way we’re swimming old girl!
Had I not been zooming through the Cosmos,
as yet unfettered by material forms, I could
have told Bogey: It’s always the detonators
that take some doing. Everything’s a powder
keg: a ratty vessel taking on water or a thimble-
sized universe. No matter—it’s all waiting
to combust. The trick is the tinder. The spark.
The thing that transforms potential to kinetic.
Could be, yes, cartridges, nails, boxes of soft
wood—a makeshift torpedo at the water line.
But why think small? After all, something
touched off the exponential cosmic explosion
we’re swimming through. What’re the odds
it was a broken boat, floating in wait? Billions
and billions to one. It had to be something
like a Rose: sharp-tongued, chiseled, gorgeous
with a dirty face, obvious in her catholic charms.
In the face of such a face, even Kaiser’s doomed
navy men would freely choose to do the deed,
dutifully pledge to let no man put it asunder,
even as the impregnable world they know erupts.