Thursday, 31 May 2012

Poetry Review: a guest at the feast

I’ll be guest-editing the autumn issue of Poetry Review, the journal of the Poetry Society in London – following the summer issue edited by George Szirtes, out in June, and preceding the winter issue, to be edited by Bernardine Evaristo.

Guest editing: entrance and exit, skipping the whole business of proposing a manifesto and then having to stick to that for years, more. (Should we have guest prime ministers? Guest football managers?) As a guest, it’s not for me to knock down load-bearing walls or turn the back bedroom into a jacuzzi, but I can perhaps rearrange the furniture a little. For anyone interested in whether the autumn issue will have a theme or a slant or an angle, I’ll just mention than when, a couple of years ago, in conversation with a TS Eliot shortlisted poet, I referred to Dalkey Archive (‘one of the best little publishers in the world’: Lezard, Guardian) and she said ‘Who?’, my heart sank. She, if she’d mentioned a particular singer to me and I’d blanked, might have had the same reaction. None of us knows it all, none of us can even keep track. But as well as poetry there is prose and art and film and music and theatre going on out there, and while some poets are deeply interested in other art forms, and may even work in them, I do often suspect that many never raise their eyes from poetry books. With the result that the poetry world can feel like a ghetto. I’d like to relax a few border controls.

Today I went into the office, and brought home a sackful of poems. So many. This editoring thing is an honour, I knew that, and I intend it to be a pleasure, but only as I start reading do I realise how humbling, I think that’s the word, it will be. There are good poems, plenty of those, and some that are more than good.* More intriguingly, among a batch of half a dozen so-sos there may be one that surprises (and this is one of the things magazines, as opposed to books, are for: little gems, and never mind the rest of the work, the oeuvre). Even in a poem that doesn’t work as a whole (difficult, hugely so; why else would we be bothering) there is often a line, a turn of the words, that takes me aback.

* Who’s saying so? Well, in this case, me. It is, for the next several weeks, my job. For the first time, ever, I am being paid to exercise judgement. I bear in mind, always, the words of a minor character in War and Peace: ‘Where there is judgement, there is always injustice.’ We take that on board, we live with it. ‘You just do the best you can’ – that’s a quote from a piece on editing that featured in the first draft of this post, which was attempting to answer the question ‘What does an editor do?’, but it strayed off-track so I’ll keep it for the next post.


cwardpoet said...

Sounds like you have an exciting time ahead, Charles. You never know what gem might be unearthed.

I look forward to reading what you've unearthed in the autumn.



BB said...

Terrific post. I'm going to (try and) remember "Where there is judgement, there is always injustice."

What took me aback was "the first draft of this post": 1) does this mean you draft your posts, on a separate support, and transfer the post to the blog; and 2) isn't this against the unwritten laws of blogging, spontaneity, first thought, best thought and all that (even if you then tweak the blog)?

Anyway, look forward to reading the first draft, and hearing more about the trials and tribulations of editing.