They WILL get lost if you let them. Some of them may have gone into my paper bin yesterday. Why?
I've been tidying. The debris and clutter of papers that builds up round here is astonishing! Every three or four years something has to be done or you wouldn't get in the door.
Imagine me sitting on the carpet surrounded by cards, photographs, sheets of paper, prints, drawings, poems, letters. It's lovely in a way but in another intensely panic-inducing.
What do you keep? What do you discard? How do you file them all?
I try to file HappenStance correspondence by year – for posterity or something. It goes in plastic wallets that eventually find their way into the roof in boxes. I'm not sure why, to be honest, but it seems a good idea to keep records, just in case. Fragments shored against something.
And yet, I end up throwing masses of it away. When the lovely card from MS arrived, I knew who MS was, of course. But that was a couple of years ago. Maybe even longer. Now I have no idea.
The sweet letter from Tony isn't dated, and I know (or have known) five Tonys. Which one, and when?
And, most importantly, what about the poems?
All sorts of people send me poems. Not just for feedback during the reading windows, but at other times for other reasons. When my sister was dying, numerous people sent me poems (written in not dissimilar circumstances) as a form of empathy or consolation. So of course, I kept them.
But I was in chaos at that time. I just piled stuff up. When things arrived signed by Sarah, (I know nine Sarahs) I wailed 'Which one?' and then stopped thinking about it because other things took over. I know several Susannas, lots of Stephens, Davids, Emmas and Johns, a number of Jameses, Michaels, Martins and Jennys. HappenStance alone has had, so far, nearly 900 subscribers, and that's without other friends and acquaintances.
When my mother had Alzheimers and she couldn't remember who her correspondents were, I learned how important it was to write on cards not only the first name, but the second (in brackets) and possibly 'your niece' as an explanation. But I don't have Alzheimers (yet) and it's just as bad!
On the HappenStance submissions page, it reminds people (twice, because I've just doubled the instruction) to put their name and address on every poem sheet. But many people either don't read this, or ignore it. In the 2017 December reading window I had more unnamed poems than ever before and found myself wearily scribbling in pencil, again and again and again, 'put your name and address on each poem sheet'.
There is only one of you. You know who you are. You write to me with an SAE (though many people forget this too) so you know I know to whom the poems should be returned. Why would you need to put your name and address on each individual sheet?
Because the individual sheets may not stay with your envelope. Because if I particularly like one, I might lift it out to show someone or to copy out. Or I might just drop the whole shebang while having a bad cracking-up day. Poems get separated from their poem-set. They get separated from their authors. If the author's name and address is on the poem, it's no big deal. But often it is not. Trust me, often it is not.
You may think it is poet novices who forget to identify themselves. Not so. Often it is the most experienced, widely published poets. Often it is my friends!
Yesterday I found poems in all shapes and sizes that I had kept over the years. Many, of course, had identifiers, or signatures in handwriting I know well. But some had no identifier whatsoever. Once I knew precisely who sent them. Now I have no idea. Some of them were even laminated!
If they're sent electronically, it's even worse. I file them in a digital folder – maybe under Submissions, or Poems of Friends, and at the time I know who they came from. But later, years later, opening up a Word or text document with no identifier – who wrote it? Where did it come from?
People worry about copyright theft – and yet they don't identify their work....On good days, when people send me poems electronically with no identifier, I add one – put a header or footer in for them. So some days I remember but haply may forget.
So – is a small habit to get into but a good one. Put your name – and an address if possible – somewhere on your sheets of poems. Create a footer and put details in there so it's neatly out of the way but easy to find when needed.
Your poems are important to you, or why would you write them? And having written them, why would you disown them?