For the current editorial team, the experience of putting together Poetry London 100 has been exciting and humbling in equal measure. There’s something arbitrary about participating in such a milestone – a happy accident of timing, though you’d be kidding yourself if you thought the occasion belonged to you alone. To help us get a better sense of our history, we tried to speak to as many former editors of the magazine as possible, in the hope that they would share their memories of working here. The response has been humbling in its own right, with many PL stalwarts dusting off their old copies of the mag and reflecting on their time in the magazine’s hot seats. That plural is entirely intentional, by the way: from its earliest days, Poetry London has been, by design, a team effort, aspiring to a collective ethos that has survived across the magazine’s several incarnations.
The story begins in 1988, with the founder of Poetry London Newsletter, Leon Cych. Leon’s impact and vision were vast and largely underrated – not, it should be said, by those who worked with him – so it is one of the perks of this anniversary to be able to pay proper tribute to that. The rest of the reflections follow in order of the contributor’s earliest editorial appointment at Poetry London, and taken together we think that they amount to a fascinating repository of institutional memory. By publishing them here, we hope that they will serve as a resource for anyone seeking to understand the evolution of Poetry London.
For a full editorial roll-call, check out the print issue of PL100.
Founder and Editor 1988-1989, Co-Editor 1990-1995
Poetry is a long fuse lit from a distance of decades. And so it is with Poetry London, which started life as Poetry London Newsletter (PLN) in 1988 and has now reached one hundred issues.
I founded and nurtured the magazine through twenty-four issues over eight years. A lot of the poetry in the late ’80s was male and Oxbridge; I was the first-generation child of two immigrant families, had been to a polytechnic, and wasn’t getting very far cracking into the gates of mainstream book publishing, despite some early successes in magazines… so in a fit of pique I decided to start my own publication.
PLN was an educational project at first. With Pascale Petit as co-founder I wanted to establish a magazine that reflected the makeup of ethnic diversity in London in the latter quarter of thetwentieth century, despite the number of Dead White Males gracing the early covers!
At the time, I was a teacher in inner-London primary schools, and noticed that poetry publishing houses and magazines didn’t reflect the diversity seen in the capital’s school children. In 1988, writing in the London Review of Books, Martin Lightfoot pointed out: ‘A recent language survey conducted by the ILEA Research and Statistics Group produced the figure that there are a total of 131 native languages other than English spoken by ILEA pupils.’ The original Poetry London was a magazine founded in the 1940s by the Tamil poet Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu, eventually morphing into an international publication titled Poetry London and New York. I added the ‘newsletter’ to our title to avoid any initial copyright issues.
PLN started out as a photocopied ‘how to’ guide, setting up a poetry group and writing class and also a listings magazine of all the poetry events and evening/adult-ed classes in the thirty-three boroughs of the capital at the time – it is now an interesting historical document from that viewpoint alone. It soon evolved to publish poetry, reviews, competitions (advertised via postcards stuck in tobacconists’ windows), a letters and gossip page, and a comprehensive listing of all the small press publications sent to us every four months.
I used computers to produce the magazine from the outset, and it went from a photocopied dotmatrix printout on an Amstrad PCW to quite a glossy publication in the course of eight years. In that time more editors came on board: initially my co-founding editor Pascale Petit, then Moniza Alvi, Katherine Gallagher and Peter Daniels. It was also one of the very first poetry mags on the internet – I was living in Fitzrovia in 1994 and was among the first customers of Easynet, operating from the Cyberia cafe – so it seemed a natural extension for a networking publication to embrace this new tech. I remember clearly taking the then-head of the Poetry Society to listen to an audio file of Seamus Heaney at the cafe.
Eventually I handed the whole thing over to Pascale Petit and Tamar Yoseloff in 1996. By that time I was thoroughly burned out; the sheer burden of the making of the thing – years of typesetting at 3 o’clock in the morning after an eighty-hour week teaching – had taken its toll.
A lot of my friends from that time are now shades and I never submitted another set of poems to a publisher but I have, since, begun to write again and was mentioned in this year’s National Poetry Competition. Yet I’m happiest on the fringes of culture, designing and building yet another small poetry press, called Majuscule.
I’m very proud of what Poetry London has become and I look forward to seeing it evolve further into the twenty-first century.
Co-Editor 1990-1995, Poetry Editor 1996-2004
I joined Poetry London in 1989, as poetry editor along with Moniza Alvi, and altogether worked at the magazine for sixteen years. Back then, it was a stapled and photocopied newsletter. I remember photocopiers breaking down, us circling trestle tables collating endless pages. Moniza and I decided to publish as many poems by women as by men. We co-wrote our (first?) editorial announcing this aim and revealing our quick survey of the male to female ratio in other magazines, which were heavily male dominated. When Moniza left the team, others joined, and although I was in charge of the poetry section, we’d have meetings for everyone to have a say and react to each submission, usually preceded by a convivial lunch.
Eventually I took sole charge of the poems. We already received vast amounts of submissions but I did solicit as well, particularly wanting to attract poetry from other cultures and in translation. I had noticed that British poetry tended to be monocultural in outlook, that immigrant poets were enlivening that canon. At that time too, I was invited to attend international literary festivals abroad, and this was a way to explore a broader range of poetries. I was also touring in the US and started publishing Americans, as well as Australians and poets from Latin America.
Certain scenes stand out from my long stint as poetry editor. The one that first comes to mind is writing my editorial ‘New Bearings from the Gulf of Mexico’ (Spring 2004 issue) in a hotel in Tampico, Mexico, while grackles played clownish games outside my window among the palms. I was there to read from my second collection The Zoo Father, and made new friends and contacts, which would lead to Mexican poetry being published in that issue, along with Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who was among the guests. Later, Valerie Mejer, a gifted young Mexican poet and translator, introduced me to the work of the extraordinary Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, and Poetry London published a long extract from his epic INRI – how can I forget that incantatory ship sailing in the Atacama Desert, rained upon by Pinochet’s victims?
I have fond memories of key production moments too – receiving proof corrections from Sharon Olds, how she’d changed every line-break and tense, most conjunctions, and how much more dynamic the new version was. Another insight into poets’ self-editing techniques came from Selima Hill. She must have just entered her current compressed mode, because three long poems came back as three- or five-liners. I studied them and saw how she’d scrapped anything that wasn’t high-voltage. Another highlight was being one of the first, or maybe even the first, to publish Daljit Nagra. Going right back, to the turn of the century, and social soirées of the magazine, I can remember when we used to host special guests from abroad in Tamar Yoseloff’s office – Kwame Dawes, whose Forward prize-winning Progeny of Air I’d recently rave-reviewed in the magazine, and the leading African poet Niyi Osundare, who we’d also just published.
Poetry London Newsletter, as it was called in the earliest stage, brought news, and very soon it was itself news; respected, and even indispensable to the poetry scene in London and beyond. There was so much happening, and starting to happen, that was important in poetry in the UK in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and a publication was needed to nourish, as well as to reflect, the changes that were taking place, and to bring the disparate poetry worlds together. Leon Cych had the vision to realise this, and the artistic discernment, technical and practical ability to set Poetry London in motion. When Pascale and I joined Leon as editors in 1990 the magazine began to publish poetry, a section which soon expanded.
From the early issues the publication was characterised by inclusivity, liveliness and quality, and had a very contemporary flavour. Glancing through the listings in the 1988 first issue, I note the Afro-Caribbean / Asian Reference Library, housed in the Harlesden Library in the borough of Brent, the Gay Authors’ Workshop in WC1, the Silver Moon feminist bookshop in Charing Cross Road, and Skoob Books in Holborn which was well-stocked with contemporary poetry. Such ventures were gaining central importance and the poetry map of London and of the UK needed drawing. At Poetry London we were fired up to take a lead role. It wasn’t just a worthy publication, however. The tone of the editorials was witty as well as astute. A 1990 editorial announced wryly that PC (Political Correctness) was the NBT (New Big Thing) and observed: ‘The male Oxbridge hegemony does really seem to be going down the tubes, there are newer, brighter “multi-cultural” voices starting to emerge from a variety of backgrounds and provinces.’
Coinciding fortuitously with my period of co-editing Poetry London, was the time in my own writing when I was beginning to focus on the Pakistani side of my background. Growing up in Hertfordshire as a child of racially mixed parentage in the 1950s and 60s there had been a certain amount of racial invisibility as well as prejudice. Diverse backgrounds were not usually explored or celebrated, at school, for example. This invisibility and institutional prejudice, or at the least, lack of awareness, was reflected in the domain of UK poetry. There were exceptions, but tokenism was rife, as if a small number of Black writers, for example, might represent all, and the complexity of people’s backgrounds (and foregrounds) was largely unacknowledged.
I was delighted when in spring 1991 we received in our submissions for Poetry London poems from Reyahn King. ‘From Leytonstone’ began:
Salaams to all our beloved cousins. In the front room is a Kaaba with cerise tassels on rosy-leafed wallpaper. English guests receive tea with the framed dried dahlias hanging precise.
The poem continued ‘Aunty still takes hot milk / in her tea and these kids who watch ‘Top of the Pops’ on Thursday / still learn to cook Halal.’ This seemed wondrous to me in its cultural juxtapositions, its authenticity and detail. As if looking into an enlarging mirror, I was able to see the different, yet comparable, aspects of my own family background which had for me something of the fantastical.
In current times I might, in my curiosity, have googled Reyahn King to see if I could find out more about her background. Of course, this wasn’t possible in 1991, before the days of the Web and the explosion of the availability of information. We were delighted to publish ‘From Leytonstone’ in Poetry London, to know that such writing was ‘out there’, ripe for discovery. In that same issue we featured the Nigerian poet Niyi Osundare’s ‘those who praise the knife’, a visionary poem of protest with the refrain: ‘They who praise the prowess of the knife / Let them mind the courage of the yam’. The magazine’s terrain was rapidly expanding. Another poet we published at that time who was of importance to me was Penelope Shuttle. Her imaginative, refreshing, often celebratory poetry had been an inspiration when I started writing in the 1980s and there were few women poet role models. We featuredher poem ‘Big Cat’ with its reverberating conclusion ‘Then the lovers come. / Then sleep purrs in their throats / like a big cat guessing names.’
As editors, we were all three of us involved in various aspects of putting the publication together, from collating and stapling the pages to writing reviews. My rereading tells me that our reviewing style was bold, as well as judicious. We said exactly what we thought. At the same time, however, we also showed awareness that this was a time of change and of transition and that open-mindedness was required. Poetry in translation, for instance, or poetry with its roots in traditions other than that of ‘English Literature’ might well not conform to expectation. While some of the translated poetry seemed more easily exported than others there was the need for critical reorientation. Reviewing in January 1992, for instance, three publications from the Chingford-based Forest Books in their ‘UNESCO Library of World Poetry’ series, I noted: ‘The available range is widened by these unfamiliar voices which are often directly emotional and lyrical.’ This suggests that emotion and lyricism were distinctly on ration in much of the British poetry I was reading at that time. On the Iranian Shadab Vajdi’s Closed Circuit (translated by L Khonji, 1991), I commented: ‘The Western reader who looks for freshness of imagery will usually be disappointed and miss the significant stylistic features of Persian poetry set against change and political devastation.’ The experience of reviewing Vajdi, the Korean poet Ku Sang’s inventive, metaphysical Wastelands ofFire (translated by Anthony Teague, 1989), and an excellent anthology Poetry from Bengal (translated by Ron D K Banerjee, 1991), enlarged the poetry-writing mind.
I was also enthusiastic to review later in that year the sensuous, cadenced poetry written in English by Sujata Bhatt (‘born in India, educated in the United States and now lives in Bremen’) and Debjani Chatterjee’s poems which resonated with courage in the face of cultural alienation. Chatterjee, also born in India had lived in Japan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Egypt and Morocco and, eventually, England. While Monkey Shadows (1991) was Bhatt’s second collection from Carcanet, Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry was included, with that of John Lyons, Cheryl Martin and Lemn Sissay in the brilliantly titled The Sun Rises in the North (Smith/Doorstop, 1991). I wrote of Bhatt and Chatterjee: ‘A long way from British insularity, they make legends from their own lives.’ UK poetry was being slowly, but profoundly, shaken by such writers.
Immersion in those times involved the magazine and its readers looking to the future. As early as January ’89 the Blather (gossip) column included: ‘Mick Kinshott has written in to suggest that it’s about time we moved beyond nature poetry into green poetry.’ In 1991 Katherine Gallagher, reviewing New Women Poets (1990), commented ‘women have exciting new territories to map as the Bloodaxe book shows’. The very early years give some intimation of the magazine we now have, though as editors then, we could hardly have foreseen the distinguished international publication it would become. Constants have included the emphasis on quality, and the spacious showcasing of poetry across a stylistic range. Poetry London has more than retained that sense of being in the vanguard.
Co-Editor 1992-1995, Promotions Editor 1996-1998
I am no longer in contact with Leon Cych, but feel we owe him much for his vision and hard work in founding an ace poetry magazine for London, a poetry news and listings quarterly. He claimed it to be ‘the only publication in London to list every poetry event in the capital each quarter, plus listings of specialist libraries, workshops, evening classes borough by borough; also with articles on grant funding, resources, writing groups’. As he said with classic flourish: ‘What other magazine updates all the above and publishes the best in contemporary poetry and reviews?’ With this, he invited would-be subscribers to obtain a back-issue for 35p or else take a year’s subscription for a mere £4 for 4 issues.
Poetry London Newsletter, or PLN as it became known, was soon in demand. Among poets, its reputation spread as a magazine that was innovatory, less starchy than existing ones – even slightly anti-establishment, with an aim to put London poetry on the map, here and abroad. It became a magazine to get into.
Nevertheless, the work entailed in producing PLN was piling up. Indeed, when we look at the sheer range of Poetry London today – from distribution to editors to trustees – we can marvel at how far it’s come. However, even by April 1990 the workload was enormous, and it wasn’t surprising to see that two issues later, in the editorial for the autumn 1990 issue, Leon Cych announced the appointment of two new editors, Moniza Alvi and Pascale Petit. Leon’s PLN, 28 Clacton Road, London E17 had become a poetry-hive, also encouraging poetry news and gossip in his Blather column.
As an Australian poet who’d arrived in London from France in 1979, and had had my second full collection published in 1989 with Forest Books, PLN’s welcoming contemporary multicultural style was very attractive, and it became increasingly emblematic of London’s growing diversity, events and international programmes. Translation was encouraged. Multi-ethnicity also showed itself in the poems and books sent in for review. Among my very happy memories of this time are the regular editorial meetings at Clacton Road where we opened the mail, discussed the latest poems sent in, and decided their fate. Similarly, we looked at books sent in for review and made selections. It was a marvellous team effort.
In 1996 I became PLN Promotions Editor, which included aspects of PLN distribution, by hand, to a few big bookstores, along with organising launches at various venues such as the Old Operating Theatre and Waterstones. Around this time, our production values became more sophisticated, but it was still a newsletter-cum-magazine. Later, in 1999, Scott Verner would arrive as Reviews Editor. With his American editing expertise and ideas, he had an enormous effect, not least in his suggestion that the magazine’s title should be changed to Poetry London and printed in a more modern format, not much different from what it is today. Before then I had started thinking of leaving, and one afternoon in 1998 while we were putting the subscribers’ magazines into their envelopes for posting, I announced that the next issue would be my last. I had loved my time working with the PLN /Poetry London team and share pride in what the magazine has become.
Co-Editor 1994-1995, Listings Editor 1996-1999, Production Editor 1999-2000
Not only Poetry London but the whole poetry environment has changed in the two decades since my own time at the magazine – or newsletter, as it was.
Moniza Alvi asked if I would like to join Poetry London Newsletter in 1993, when the group of editors chose poems to go alongside the news and listings. Being then a librarian and indexer, I felt the listings needed better organisation, and Leon obtained a grant from London Arts Board to pay me as Listings Editor. Meanwhile the group process was cumbersome, so Pascale became sole poetry editor. The newsletter was moving into what became Poetry London, with a major lift when Tamar Yoseloff was reviews editor and arranged a redesign by Vici MacDonald. The growing work of editing, production, storage and mailouts had to happen somewhere. I handled subscriptions and general correspondence as well as listings, and my flat was being taken over; simultaneously, my neighbour Mimi Khalvati housed the new Poetry School in her flat, and we both needed that to change. I knew the Walthamstow Quakers had office space in their new building, so we shared it. The magazine needed funds to pay the rent, so we started the competition.
Listings were organised by London boroughs because in the early 1990s most creative writing was in borough adult education – now disappeared. The number of poetry events and other listables altogether is far more than I could have kept up with, and of course the internet has made paper listings obsolete. When I left to concentrate on a poetry MA at Sheffield Hallam, there were still only a handful of such courses. Now our former office-mates the Poetry School offer one, and Poetry London has developed from a flimsy but informative newsletter to one of the most respected magazines.
Co-Editor 1995, Reviews Editor 1996
In 1995, Poetry London still carried the word ‘Newsletter’ in small block letters below its masthead, but it was slowly shedding its DIY broadsheet look as it expanded to include more poems and reviews. The editors back then were Leon Cych, Pascale Petit, Peter Daniels, Katherine Gallagher and myself, although Leon was departing just as I was arriving. It took some time for us to establish individual roles, so we’d hold interminable meetings in which we’d argue the merits or failings of each and every submitted poem, and poems were accepted by majority vote. We finally decided to make Pascale the dedicated Poetry Editor – I became Reviews Editor and Peter became Listings Editor. Katherine was the Promotions Editor, and in those early days, she used to go around the bookshops with a huge sack of magazines to peddle direct to the buyers. What we really wanted was proper distribution – we were told by Central Books they’d consider taking us on if we did something about our fairly basic design. So we hired Vici MacDonald to revamp the magazine. Her covers, illustrated interpretations of our featured poem for each issue, are still my favourites. In my time, we regularly published Mimi Khalvati, Jane Duran, Ruth Padel, Penelope Shuttle, Maurice Riordan, Pauline Stainer and Ruth Valentine, and ‘newer’ poets such as Clare Pollard, Paul Farley and Matthew Caley. By the end of the nineties, ‘Newsletter’ disappeared entirely.
Assistant Poetry Editor 2001-2013, Poetry Co-Editor 2014-2019
In the early days when I joined Poetry London in 2001, it was principally to help the Poetry Editor, Pascale Petit, deal with ‘the slush pile’. By this time it was becoming clear that the magazine was attracting, frequently from unknown names, poems that seemed to be pulling away from the mainstream of British poetry, a powerful undercurrent more representative of a younger generation, of women, of cross-cultural diversity, fed partly by new poetry in translation, partly by a form of modernism developing in the US that was more influenced by European poetry than the restricted brand of modernism to be found here. These were poems that were startlingly strange and fresh, with a quality of ‘beyondness’ about them that made us want to keep returning to them again and again. It was clear that something different was going on that stood in sharp contrast to the empirical, the ironic, the intellectual and the well-behaved traditions of British poetry we were familiar with. Why was it called ‘the slush pile’? There was nothing to match the excitement of discovering someone whose name was unknown. Going out on a limb, we began to give a third of the poetry pages to poets yet to publish a first collection. New poets began to be featured amongst the better known names in the line-up of readings launching each issue. These were the poems that ten years or so later Tim Dooley and I, as editors of The Best of Poetry London anthology, had to seek permission to republish from Faber or Bloodaxe or Random House.
But this was only half the story. Revisiting my first editorial for PL in 2003, I found a quotation from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – which now strikes me as an apt reference point for that diabolical intercourse between two worlds: the world of poetry and the infernal zones of commerce: the funding, marketing and administration necessary to any magazine’s basic survival. Blake, on his journey through ‘a printing house in Hell’, finds dragon-men, snakes decorating chambers with gold and precious stones, lions on fire, eagles with feathers of air and eagle men, only to discover that all of these vivid energies end up on pages trapped in the hands of weak-minded editors and publishers deluding themselves about their own power. But rather than persisting in this vein of pleasurable paranoia, Blake reframes the argument between writers and publishers by saying ‘One portion of being is the Prolific and the other the Devouring. To the Devourer it seems as if the producer was in his chains[…] But the Prolific would cease to be prolific unless the Devourer as a sea received the excess of his delights’. I would say now that Poetry London has been such a Devourer, and the shining sea of successive editors I worked with – when after Pascale came Maurice, and Maurice was succeeded by Colette, Colette by Ahren – has always been spread wide open to an excess of delights.
Reviews Editor 2008-2016
It was some time in 1988, during a pause in the monthly workshops that took place in Robert Greacen’s flat in Pembridge Gardens that Leon Cych told me about his plans for a new publication: Poetry London Newsletter. Its primary purpose would be to publicise the grass roots organisations across the city that were bringing poets together, but it might move on to review small press publications and, if it grew, might become a place where those poets could publish. If conditions were right, the ‘newsletter’ element might wither away and the new publication evolve into a full-blown ‘little magazine’ to rival its 1940s namesake. It was twenty years later that I joined Poetry London as reviews editor.
By then it was a thriving tri-annual publication aiming for an international reach while remaining in touch with a lively local base. We had a small office space inside the Poetry School’s premises in Lambeth Walk and magazine launches at Foyles in Oxford Street. When Maurice Riordan was Poetry Editor, the magazine had registered as a charity and gained regular Arts Council funding. Poetry London’s co-editor, Martha Kapos, would lead the editorial team in continuing to secure that funding throughout the following decade. A defining strength of Poetry London had been that it was run by a team. I was lucky to work with Colette Bryce and Ahren Warner (each of whom brought their own nuance to the role of Poetry Editor) as well as Maurice and Martha during my decade at the magazine. And beyond our editorial group were (among others) our administrator Daniela Paolucci, digital editors Alex Pryce and Jess Chandler, our production editor Martin Parker and a gifted team of trustees whose clear thinking often fed productively into our work.
When I applied to join Poetry London my stated aims for the reviews pages were ‘diversity, authority and vitality’. Under Pascale Petit’s editorship in the 1990s, the magazine had expanded the opportunities for publication of poems by women and people of colour, but reviewing (as elsewhere) had tended to lag behind and I hoped to address that. In the late 2000s, the dominant generation (my own) both in publishing new writing and reviewing it, was an ageing one. I felt there was a pressing need to find younger voices (and new patterns of thought) to revitalise the magazine’s prose and to move beyond the ossifying division of labels like ‘mainstream’, ‘innovative’ and ‘performance’.
I was helped in achieving some of this by the expansion of poetry publishing taking place at the time. Beyond Bloodaxe, Carcanet and the commercial brands, newer publishers like Shearsman, Salt, Penned in the Margins and Nine Arches – not to mention the thriving chapbook sector – were giving opportunities to an exciting range of new talents. I’m pleased looking back to have brought poets as varied and interesting as Luke Kennard, Helen Mort, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Claire Trévien, Claire Crowther, Kayo Chingonyi, Katy Evans-Bush, Declan Ryan and Jane Yeh to the review pages, while still being able to attract more experienced figures such as Peter Porter, Fred D’Aguiar, Alison Brackenbury, Martyn Crucefix, Drew Milne, Hilary Davies and Bernard O’Donoghue to write for us. It was a busy time. An enjoyable and productive one too.
Poetry Editor 2013-2018
Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of my time as Poetry Editor at Poetry London was one of my early launches – either 2013, or 2014 – when the magazine still launched each issue on the fifth floor of the Southbank Centre. I had invited both David Harsent – one of the grandees of British poetry, by any measure – and a relatively young Rachael Allen, still four or five years off publishing her wonderful debut collection, Kingdomland.
As is the etiquette with these things, I’d asked Rachael to read before David, and – sitting next to Harsent – I could feel the concentration and absolute, visceral engagement with which he was listening to Rachael read her work. I can’t remember his exact words, but I do remember David taking the stage after Rachael and really quite sincerely declaring how difficult it was going to be to follow the reading he had just witnessed.
In a way, that was always the magic of Poetry London – as much when, years before I edited the magazine, I was asked to read alongside Julia Copus – and it’s not really that thing that so many of us (rightly) focus on – i.e. giving space and a platform to new voices – but really a broader and more profound contribution to the ecosystem, the very horizons, of poetry.
David learned as much from that experience as Rachael got from performing. The whole time I was editing the magazine, and before or after as a reader, this conversation (whether at launch, or more widely in publication) between generations, between radically different poetic schools, between poets of diverse backgrounds, coming together and making poetry *better*, improving the art of poetry, via a collective expansion of what it is about, how it can be made, and what it can do, has always been – for me, at least – both the essential service the magazine offers, and a service it offers at the most accomplished level.
Long may it continue.
Reviews Editor 2017
Reviewing is a tricky business. I remember having a conversation with Emily Berry about its complex logistics the first time I was in the green room at Kings Place, as we had both taken up editorships around the same time. As a launch venue Kings Place enjoyably amped up the melodrama of poetry events with its Phantom of the Opera-like billowing backstage curtains and long-suffering attendants with headsets nudging this anxious editor on stage. Editing a magazine, as many people will know, is replete with small dramas, its editors a company of players. I would giggle with Ahren – whose deadpan was as fierce as his critical judgement – about the number of times the production process was described as ‘critical’ as the opening night of a print deadline approached, and whether it would ever become terminal.
In my home office the floorspace was covered by interconnected piles of books from publishers (taxonomized into many shades of ‘maybe’) that I couldn’t bring myself to dismantle, nor quite make room for in the magazine. But with the physical realisation of each issue there was an aptness fostered between the contributors. It was a space in which Nisha Ramayya dextrously reworked Sandeep Parmar’s vital examination of lyric and race – the latter originally commissioned expertly by Sarah Howe – to make, with Bhanu Kapil, an inter-issue dialogue that later became Threads. I was frequently amazed by the ability of reviewers not only to reflect on books of poems, but on the world those poems alter. When Sophie Robinson spoke to CA Conrad about making space or Andy Spragg and Andrea Brady discussed radical tenderness in the review pages the result was tantamount to a kind of poetic care in the face of global catastrophe. A critical (never terminal) form of company akin to shelter, like that made by the PoLo cast – Ahren, Martha, Jess, Daniela – I shared my tenure with.