Our thanks to the artists who have so generously contributed their work to the covers of The Interpreter's House.
Issue 54 CLAIRE HARPER http://www.claireinthestudio.com/
Issue 55 ROBBIE PORTER http://www.robbieporter.co.uk/
‘Quoth The Undertones: Little baby baby, what can I do?/ You know you drive me crazy when I’m looking at you/ The Summer’s really here and it’s time to come out/ Time to discover what fun is about/ Here comes the Summer.
And here, too, comes a bumper competition issue, bursting forth with the choicest fruit from poetry’s hedge. Go on: dive in with gusto, feel the juice running down your arms and chops, be kids again, let the hills be blue-remembered. If only for now. Here, also, comes my twelfth issue as editor and the point at which I cue up my final year in charge of The Interpreter’s House. More of that later but, for now, let us bask in the glow of those hills and the quality of the contributors herein, both our competition winners and those in the main body of Issue 65. Of the competition, our judge Niall Campbell had this to say:
“Judging the competition was a real privilege. I was struck by the quality as well as the variety of work. When the doorbell rang – and the postman handed over the packaged 800-900 poems – for a moment it felt like a daunting experience. However, sitting down to start reading, I found that poem, on poem, on poem, welcomed me in to its little, self-contained world. Also, in poem, on poem, on poem, I found something that impressed or moved or startled. It was a rewarding, challenging process to whittle it down – but I think these selected poems in particular, either in their scale or their intimacy, have something that I wanted to celebrate. I hope you enjoy them.”
Sentiments which I can only echo. I certainly enjoyed reading this year’s crop of winners and we
thank Niall for doing such a good job in adjudicating Open House 2017. Ah, competitions, the subject seems ever near, these days. A fellow editor recently sought my views on them for an entertaining and instructive magazine supplement which addressed the topic. Having been asked to give my opinions as a poet only, I trotted out my usual melange of scepticism and sardonic humour aware of the contradictory nature of my position, given my parallel role as an editor. For, my critical views on the warping effect of ‘set-piece’ competition culture in determining poetry’s worth do run somewhat counter to my genuine gratitude for the benevolent windfalls they provide small journals like this, particularly those – like TIH – which depend upon the income they generate in order to continue year-on-year. As the current caretaker of The Interpreter’s House, then, may I take this opportunity to thank everyone who paid their money and entered this year’s competition. Thank you for helping, along with our lovely subscribers, to keep the bank balance at a level whereby we can contemplate another year in rude good health. This is something I will be particularly evangelical about leading up to next year’s competition, since I’d like to hand over the keys to the House while it is in the finest of fettle.
In a moment of glorious serendipity, I opened my diary this morning to find that its quote for the day was this, from Mark Twain: ‘Only kings, presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial “we”’. And perhaps this is the best way to reintroduce the subject of my last year in charge here. For, if anyone is tempted to view the editor’s role as being, in anyway, presidential or regal, let me disabuse you. In Twain’s taxonomy, the editor is much closer to the tapeworm end of things. When I took over from the lovely Simon Curtis, I told him I would fill the role for 5 years and 15 issues before handing it on to someone else. That seemed like a realistic time frame within which to ‘do my bit’ for the poetry community while stamping a distinctive identity upon the magazine. I think that editors can overstay their usefulness at magazines, so moving on was never not on my agenda. In many a beleaguered moment, I have wished I’d said 3 years instead of 5. Overall, though, I’m very glad I took it on for the longer term. It was very important to me to walk away having created a reasonable body of work and, where possible, boosted the status of the magazine. All other considerations were to do with the conscientious performance of editorial duties and these were founded upon several guiding principles: I would never publish my own work (other than editorial copy and reviews of others’ work) nor would I put future TIH editors in the awkward position of having to deal with later submissions from myself, we would try to turn around all work within 6-8 weeks after closure of each submission window, we would ask all contributors to ‘sit out’ the next three issues so as to avoid any sense of a coterie, and we would try to deal with everyone equitably and respectfully.
The publication of Issue 65 was always going to be the moment when I set the clock ticking on MEXIT, my own Article 50 invoked when I put out the general call to parties interested in approaching TIH with a view to convincing us the magazine would be in safe hands if the gig was got. That day has come. So, let me tell you what I am looking for, my reasons amounting to no more than a prerogative I’ve earned through the hard work involved in running a journal. Firstly, this is one for the sappers not for the subalterns. Ideally, I would like the magazine to go to someone who could legitimately claim to be working class and state-schooled, by whatever measure those terms have meaning these days. This is not an absolute but I would respectfully request that you think twice before applying if you were educated privately, at a Grammar School, or at either Oxford or Cambridge universities. I have nothing whatsoever against any of these life journeys but, by any reasonable measure, you are, already, massively over-represented in UK culture. It would be good to restore a scintilla of balance, or at least try. I’d also encourage emerging, rather than ‘established’ talents, since it would be nice to give someone a boost in return for all the hard work you’re going to have to put in. However, the best person is the best person and when you are identified I’d like you to come on board for issues 67 and 68, so as to get a feel for the magazine and know something about what is required in the day-to- day running of it. Don’t worry, there will be the odd day when it might not even cross your mind (about three per year, I’d say). Generally, though, anyone with a modicum of common sense, some talent for literature, a degree of emotional intelligence and the willingness to put in hundreds of unpaid hours as a tapeworm in poetry’s body politic is encouraged to apply. The ability to be dogged, pernickety, thick-skinned, systematic and fair-minded is also a huge bonus to an editor. As is the ability to admit when you’ve got it wrong. And I’ll here admit that I haven’t always got ‘it’ right, because, frankly, ‘it’ is just too big to get right all the time. I look forward to hearing from anyone who thinks they may have these skills and are crazy enough to give it a go. Above all, I’m looking for someone who never forgets that it is a huge privilege to be a poetry editor, even in the (thankfully rare) moments when some mean-spirited or just plain crazy punter is trying to spoil your day.
Finally, it feels good to be closing this editorial with a celebration rather than valediction. The poet, publisher, jazz trumpeter/ cornet player, author and academic John Lucas celebrates his 80th birthday soon and we’d like to take this opportunity to wish him many happy returns. John is a tremendous and knowledgeable force for good in British culture and the sort of role model I think we need more of in these times. I might have added another adjective there but John, as my editor at Shoestring, would discourage such frippery and he is wise. He is also the only person I know who, when I mentioned my regard for the minor Great War poet Rickword, could respond with, ‘Oh Edgell, yes, he used to come and stop with us’. There will be fuller and more worthy appreciations of the great man elsewhere but I could not let this moment pass without us sending him our heartfelt best wishes. John, may you continue to use the editorial ‘we’ for many years to come. And that is from tapeworm to president.