4 minutes reading time (703 words)


The number of poetry submissions has vastly exceeded all previous reading months. Help!

It’s interesting and it’s difficult. I read each one, each poem, carefully, even if it’s apparent from page two that it’s not a go-er. Then I read them again and scribble pencil notes on the pages. Then I write a letter or card to the poet trying to explain my response.

I wish I could, with my own poems, see immediately how the real poem begins at line 6, or the last line needs to go. I would be a better poet if I could.

I’m interested in the person behind the poems. Perhaps that’s why I do this. I think it’s teaching me something, though I’m never quite sure what. When I find out, perhaps I’ll stop.

I’m already over-committed this year. I’ve taken on more publications than I can cope with, in terms of time and actually money too. While I was away on holiday in the first few days of the month, I resolved not to let it get out of hand in 2012.

However, my schedule for next year is already intimidating, which means I’m looking at 2013. And what I hope, each time I open another envelope, is that there’ll be good reasons to knock back the submission. Yes, I love it, but yes, I’m crumbling.

Generally, reading poetry submissions is just like reading books of poetry. By and large, you like a poem here and there, or you think they’re well made but not to your taste. Then one comes along and knocks your socks off – but that’s rare. If I knew what it was, what the secret thing was that makes this happen, I would tell you. “If I could tell you, I would let you know,” as R D Laing, who knocked my socks off once, says, though I think he was quoting Auden.

There was one like this yesterday. I’ve been doing about seven a day, which is incredibly hard work – the hardest unpaid work I’ve ever done, bar none. Officially, I only give detailed feedback to HappenStance subscribers, who with their annual £7.50 keep the press afloat, but unofficially I do it for nearly everybody, hoping wistfully they’ll at least buy something afterwards, maybe subscribe. They probably won’t – not after they’ve read my comments on their syntax.

Meanwhile, we have two men (family members) upstairs flooring the roof. Somehow we have to create more space for the files and archives and boxes of STUFF that are taking over the whole house. It’s completely out of hand. I wish I was worth half as much as Wendy Cope.

However, before they started work in the roof, we had to bring down all the boxes that were already up there. The dust! In our bedroom, the spare bedroom and my study, everything’s stacked with STUFF, dusty stuff – the sort of stuff you daren’t start looking at because it’s your diary from 1972 and you’ll get dragged in. I’m typing in a little space in the middle of STUFF.

The door to my study is open because it won’t shut now. So over my shoulder I can see the silver extending ladder with red feet that stretches up into the loft space, the hot little loft space in which Graham and Mike have been coughing, hammering and working away. They haven’t arrived yet but they’ll be here any moment. Then I’m off to the conservatory, where I’ll sit and read in the dry corner, contemplating the row of bowls set out to catch the drips from the leaks. It’s very upmarket here, you know. I haven’t done any ironing for ten days, my hair’s a mess. Who cares? July rain gleaming on the leaves, pattering on the glass:

.......Elephants get sprayed with it
.......Scotch is made with it
.......I like that stuff

as Adrian Mitchell said. Even tortured by poetry and dust, it’s all part of the same stuff, the stuff of living and being rained on. I can hear his voice through the rain, old man rhythm:

.......Well, I like that stuff
.......Yes I like that stuff”
.......The earth
.......Is made of earth
.......And I like that stuff


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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

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