Selecting Ten Poems about Journeys
Monday 26th September 2022
John Foggin, Guest Editor
It’s an odd self-absorbed world, the world of those of us who write poems, constantly sending poems out to scores of small publishers in the hope of seeing them in print, or entering competitions in the hope of having a pamphlet published. And once our poems are in print, they’re not ‘out there’ until someone buys them, so some of us spend a fair amount of time in self-publicity on social media, or trying to get a gig at a poetry reading, where, with a bit of luck, we’ll sell some stuff.
Imagine, if you will, the unalloyed joy of opening an email asking if you’d be interested in “editing a pamphlet of ten poems on the theme of Journeys”. Which is what happened to me. O frabjous day!! Of course I would.
And how hard could it be, this labour of love? Journeys as quests, as pilgrimages. Journeys as exile, journeys as explorations. Journeys as reckless adventure, journeys as jaunts. Journeys as allegory or metaphor. Journeys to the moon or journeys to the centre of the earth. No end to the choice.
Which very shortly gives you pause. Because the obvious point about writing about journeys is that much of it is in prose (like The Hobbit, say), and the obvious poems are long. Really long (like The Odyssey, say). You check out the constraints of a Candlestick Press booklet, and learn that the maximum number of lines on a page is about 32. Oh…and they don’t like more than one poem to take two pages.
Anything else? Well, we’re looking for a mix of contemporary, established and older poems, and as far as possible a gender balance in the choice of authors. Oh, and poems from a range of cultures, as far as possible.
And, of course, a variety of voices, a range of light and shade. Let’s add a self-imposed criterion… I want to choose or find poems that will surprise, poems the reader might not otherwise come across. That said, we want one or two familiar old friends, too.
So, off we go, treasure hunting, rummaging through memories, shelves of books, virtual shelves via Google. You make a list of possibles, prune it down to a longlist, and then a shortlist, and finally ten poems that seem to fit the bill. You read them aloud. They belong together! So you send them off to those lovely folk at Candlestick.
It’s a learning curve.
I’ve edited collections before, but always ones of previously unpublished work. No one ever told me about copyright. One poem I had set my heart on had copyright problems. Another was too expensive (who knew). And then there was a favourite that was just too bleak.
Back to the drawing board. The whole thing will need rebalancing. In the course of this you find new treasures. And surprise, surprise. The later version is better in every way.
How hard could it be, a labour of love? Harder than I thought. And worth every minute. I’ve learned a lot.
We were delighted that John was able to select the poems for this title shortly before his death in January 2023. He describes the project as a “labour of love” and we feel very lucky to have this beautiful pamphlet as our own reminder of a very special man.