The reading window here closed two weeks ago now, though it took a while to recover. There were 147 sets of poems in all. Thank you to all the poets who trusted me with their work. I know it must be scary to send them, especially for the first time.
I had more envelopes this time round than I could cope with. However, the process of reading and actively responding continues to interest me very much. What is this thing we are all absorbed in? What are people writing about, and why? One thing is clear to me: it is not done lightly. When people write something they call a 'poem', it matters to them, more than ordinarily.
At the same time, it is an unavoidable fact that editors have a love/hate relationship with poetic texts because of over-exposure. There is a point at which you think you can't bear to look at another one – ever. And then a poem breaks through, because a few – always a few – are magical. Or sometimes it is just one line, or one stanza, that does the trick. This moment makes it all worthwhile.
In between, undiluted poetry can, after three weeks or so, make a person crabbit, as we say in Scotland. Particularly crabbit about ubiquitous semi-colons and certain recurring forms. Thankfully, nobody sends me villanelles or sestinas these days, but I'm afraid I have become allergic to instruction poems too. For example, here's Neil Gaiman – he's famous enough not to mind taking pot-shots from me. His 'Instructions' begin:
Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
Say 'please' before you open the latch,
walk down the path.
This has only one effect on me. I want to shout: No, I won't!
Other recurring features are herons, allotments and migrants. I shift uncomfortably when I meet the words 'heft' and now (a new one) 'atop'.
One interesting issue is the poem formatted for an A4 page. Most of us word-process and print our work on standard A4 pages, but books and magazines (with notable exceptions like Poetry London, Artemis and The Rialto) use something closer to A5. Sometimes poets design an extraordinary piece – visually designed rather like a poster, with some lines right-justified, some left, some dotted around in the middle. It might even be a concrete poem – something in the shape of a bee-hive, for example – and the shape takes up the whole A4 sheet. But because I publish books and pamphlets, what I see immediately is something that won't fit on one of my pages. Whether or not it fits on one of 'my' pages does not, of course, matter in the greater scheme of things, but being aware of the factor does. It's important to consider where and how these poems are designed to be read: are they hoping to find a home in an A4 magazine, or will they be posters, tea-towels – or what? I am really not being rude. I think poems on tea-towels are a great idea (depending on the poem).
I scribble a lot on people's poems in pencil. During this 'window' I wrote many times: 'Writing simply is the hardest thing'. Often it occurs to me that people are afraid to write plainly, in case it wouldn't be a poem at all. But then, it might. And sometimes, it is.