From poet, to editor

Whisky, therapy, and the privilege of reading your work. A fantastic new editorial, by guest editor, Jonah Corren.

Having done rather a lot of submitting poems to journals over the last six months, (as many of us have, at least according to all the rejections I received featuring the phrase ‘overwhelming number of submissions’) I was delighted, and perhaps even more surprised, to receive an email from Helen asking if I’d guest-edit the next issue of Seek with her. As it happened, I had already seen her announce the imminent opening of their submissions on Twitter, and had been very much expecting to send something in myself. To suddenly be thrust into the opposite position, therefore, was a little disorienting, but, honestly, extremely therapeutic. Seriously, I’d recommend it. The old adage that writing is ‘cheaper than therapy’ is, after all, rather turned on its head when the rejections start pouring into your inbox. Not to mention that we could all use some extra endorphins to get us through this grease-fire of a year. I’ve taken up whisky.

It was, of course, with a long, laboured swig that we were forced not to publish some of the excellent work we received. There were some pieces that just needed a last edit, or some that didn’t quite chime with our vision for the issue, and choosing not to publish is certainly the hardest job an editor has. The opportunity to read said work was, nonetheless, a real privilege.

The four pieces you’ll read in this issue were chosen, quite simply, because they blew us away. ‘Sallyanne Rock’s ‘fold/unfold’ was one of the first I read, and I instantly knew we simply had to publish it. Roger Robinson said recently of his TS Eliot-prize winning collection that his poems were designed to ‘help people to practice empathy’, and ‘fold/unfold’ does this effortlessly, filling the reader with images of someone whose identity remains entirely translucent, then, emptying them completely. ‘Slow News Day’ by Victoria Richards, conversely, remonstrates societal apathy in devastating couplets, laying images on the page in black and white, letting them speak for themselves, daring us to actually listen.

Where Victoria’s poem is stark and uncompromising, ‘Signs Of Life’ scatters images to the wind, leaving the reader to piece the narrator’s senses together themselves. Niamh Haran here marries abstract small-town details with something painful and deeply physical, and the result absorbs your attention completely. ‘Stratigraphic Time’ shares this sense of bringing the reader into a world that is unfamiliar and disorienting, but does so by skipping through prehistoric ages like pebbles across a stream. R.M. Francis uses the poem’s brief lines to demonstrates the swiftness of change, and conjures geological features simply by naming them.

The choice to only publish a small handful of poems per issue, whilst painful in its necessitating turning away lots of great work, is, I think, ultimately an extremely rewarding exercise. I hope, as we have, you’ll take this opportunity to read and reread each of the four poems published here, finding new ways to do so each time, fixating on new details, uncovering new meanings.

September

In the space of ten minutes, no less than seven craneflies
scamper through our windows, out of the rich autumn dark,
and onto the walls and ceiling of the eggshell kitchen.

All legs and wings they spasm in flight, hugging
the surfaces like a covert magnet in a magic trick,
driven to frenzy by the mere exertion of still being alive.

In the morning, I see a tangle of limbs crushed
into the cream carpet, and almost drown another
in the shower. I try my best to scoop the crazed thing

out of the window, but as soon as I open my palm,
it turns tail and makes a beeline for the shower again.
Ah well. When your lifespan barely stretches a fortnight,

there’s no sense in doing anything remotely rational.

by Jonah Corren

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