Never Too Late to Edit?

This morning I plucked from the library Mary Ruefle’s collection of lectures on poetry, Madness, Rack, and Honey. I trundled it off to brunch with me and prepared to enjoy this book that I’ve longed to read for some time now. And now was that time made real, thanks to our inter-library loan system. (Ironically, the book reached me in Broomfield, CO as I was packing to go to the cabin in Red Feather Lakes, and the book came from the Poudre River Public Library District, which may well include Red Feather. Meant to be, eh?) One of the first things I noticed was that she now teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College, my graduate school. She did not teach there in the dark ages when I was a student, more’s the pity. I like her style and the deep ways she thinks about poetry.

The second thing I noticed was a slip of paper, about 5×7, tucked into the front of the book. It said, “Please read the second paragraph on page 124 as follows:” And what followed was a longish paragraph. An errata sheet! I didn’t think anyone did that any more in the age of digital editing, et cetera. What could be so wrong as to go to the trouble of having someone Wave Books insert that half sheet of paper? Well, she was right, as the paragraph in question was scrambled. Part of a sentence was out of sequence and would have stopped the reader in her tracks, like seeing a coyote on the sidewalk, a bug in the lemonade, a hundred dollar bill blowing in the wind. Yes, that startling. But someone caught it and fixed it, perhaps as great cost. Anyone who has ever published a book knows the gut-punch of finding, too late, an egregious error. It’s a lesson in humility and all of us should take note. Perfection is most often beyond us, but we owe it to our readers to shoot for accuracy, a flow of words that does not trip us or cause confusion. It is never, apparently, too late to correct a flawed manuscript.

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