On editing

What on earth possessed me to start my own blog (Clear Poetry)? Who am I anyway, to set myself up as some high-and-mighty poetry editor, imbuing myself with God-like powers over other poets?

I’m no King of the Castle – let’s get that straight from the start. I enjoyed English at school enough to pursue it through A-Level and on to a degree. I read a lot of poetry – but nothing more recent than Larkin, Heaney and Hughes. All through my late teens and early twenties I kept a notebook and scribbled poems daily. And then, around about 1998, I stopped. Why?

I found happiness.

Yuck. Saccharine. But true. Because up until the point that I met my wife, writing poetry (and to a certain extent, reading it) had come to symbolise mopery. I’d sit there, in my single bed, wide awake at 4am with an Otis Redding album for company, and boo-hoo-hoo it all out on to the page. I don’t know where those notebooks are now, but I suspect there’s nothing in them worth revisiting.

So I was happy, and in love, and I had no need of poetry in my life. I merrily tripped along, bought a house, got married, had children and then, in October 2012, my mum died. She’d always encourage my writing and while I was busy being an utter knob to everyone in the months after she passed away, I gradually realised that (gulp) There Is No Time Like The Present.

So I started twiddling away. I wrote a short story and a few poems. I joined ABC Tales which was a great way to show my work to people.

Then I spotted Jo Bell’s famous Tweet and I joined 52, which has opened all kinds of doors to me.

By the end of the year I had seen other 52ers starting their own blogs, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I particularly liked the way that by following a WordPress blog, new posts are delivered to you and I found myself reading (for instance) The Stare’s Nest every morning in my five minute walk from the car to the office.

If you’re busy in your work and home life those few moments of down time become very precious, and I envisaged setting something similar up. I floated the idea on 52’s Facebook group and, true to form, the idea was warmly received.

So I started fiddling about with WordPress and I was amazed how simple it was to set up a fairly professional-looking website. Next came the name, which was suggested by Kevin Reid, who runs the splendid Nutshells and Nuggets and was a mainstay of 52.

I slotted together a very simple holding page, explaining what Clear Poetry was going to do, and invited people to submit. And they did. Quite a lot of them.

The worst part of it is sending rejections, especially when I’ve quite liked a poet’s style but for whatever reason the poems don’t quite feel right, either for the blog itself in terms of their clarity, or perhaps they need further revision or workshopping.

The best part is sending acceptances, and reading poets’ replies. Every poet likes an acceptance – it shouldn’t be the be all and end all of what we do, but it’s a pretty good yardstick. Sometimes I take every poem a poet’s submitted – why not? It’s not like I don’t have the space.

But the funny thing I’ve found so far is that choosing the material is like picking songs for a mixtape. Obviously in this case people are sending me their work whereas a mixtape will involve me hunched over a CD/mp3 collection agonising over how populist a choice I can get away with but…stay with me.

The blog is about my personal taste. My choice. I’m quite clear that just because I don’t want to publish a poet’s work it’s (not neccessarily) the case that I am pronouncing their work as balderdash. I pick poems that speak to me, and which I think will resonate with others, especially those for whom poetry has always seemed like a load of old cobblers. I want people to be able to read Clear Poetry on the train, in their lunch break, having a fag outside work or even just lounging in their slippers of an evening. I want the poems to fit around their lives but also to mean something to them.

And so far it’s working out. People are being very generous of their praise for the poems, and fantastic poems arrive in my inbox on a daily basis.

Long may it continue.

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