Raymond Carver, Gordon Lish, and i

Emphasis on the humble lower-case . . . .

Raymond Carver: the kindest cut ,” by Gaby Wood at the guardian.co.uk/The Observer, is a piece on the late author Raymond Carver, on the advent of the publication of his short story collection Beginners. It focuses upon Carver’s professional and personal relationship with his long-time editor Gordon Lish, who nurtured Carver and his writing–though, as the article illuminates, the word nurture may be not quite adequate. With its publication overseen by Carver’s wife, the poet Tess Gallagher, Beginners is the original manuscript form of Carver’s break-through collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love sans Lish’s title change and Lish’s redactions. It’s an interesting look at the close and sometimes tricky relationship between a dedicated editor and a passionate author.

I’m not that familiar with Carver and his writing, but many, many and many moons ago, yours truly had a teensy-weensy passing encounter or three with Lish, when he was editing the avant garde literary magazine The Quarterly (no relation to the subsequent publication of the same name). Lish published a teensy-weensy poem (I think it was about six lines) of mine; he accepted it for publication on condition that I do the (really rather small but not insignificant) revisions he penned in on the manuscript I submitted; he crossed out the original title, pulling a new title from a phrase I used in the poem, and made one or two other tiny changes. Later Lish accepted another poem of mine for publication, but sadly The Quarterly folded before it got published.

But it’s not this little encounter that I remember most vividly. That came earlier, when I got back a rejection slip from The Quarterly personally signed and literally perfumed by Lish. Perhaps it was an accident that the slip got doused with reeking Lilac Water (or whatever it was); or perhaps he did it purposefully to drop a hint. Anyway, it’s probably the oddest and most memorable rejection of my writing from a lit mag I’ve ever experienced.

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