Interview with Poetry Editor Martha Sprackland

PL: Martha, this is your first issue as editor of the magazine. How did you approach selecting poems for the issue?

MS: A combination of things, for this first go. I launched myself into the submissions pile, for one, gathering a little stack of ‘possibles’ as the weeks went on. I also asked the Poetry Society to encourage their past Foyle Young Poets to submit things for me to read; and I emailed a handful of other poets whose work I really admire, in the hope that they might send something I could add to my reading pile. I wanted this issue to showcase my taste – I hope it does – to give people an idea of the kind of thing I’d like to find myself reading. Right at the end of the process, when were about to typeset the issue, we opened to online submissions for the first time, and one of the very first things I read through the Submittable portal was superb – I took it straight away.

PL: A number of clear themes emerge in the issue, some of which you discuss in your editorial. Did you set out to choose poems with a focus on environmental issues, or did this just emerge as a shared concern?

MS: I didn’t set out to make the issue themed, no – though I knew that I wanted to commission Karen Solie to explore the topic in her essay. I can’t help but feel that the themes that I did start to see come through naturally – climate catastrophe, dreams and nightmares, parenthood and responsibility, strange weather, illnesses and uncertainty – caught my eye and ear because those are exactly the things with which I feel preoccupied (what the world feels preoccupied with at the moment, perhaps). I know it’s been said elsewhere, and in greater depth, but climate catastrophe is the issue at hand, our primary concern, our greatest threat – so it’s no surprise that I find myself reading through that same lens.

I think I’m interested in poems about dreams, as a corollary of that; in dreaming, we can play out the possibilities – in nightmares, we see the world burn; in other, more playful sorts of dreaming, we can imagine a world of averted catastrophe. It could be deterrent, warning, incentive, a source of ideas. It’s not enough to dream, of course.

PL: The issue contains a number of poems in translation, and you have chosen to include the poems in their original languages too. Why do you feel that this is important?

MS: Well, we are an international magazine. I think of the number of poets, and readers of poetry, who might think and speak and write in another language, or more than one. This issue has poems in Galician, Bulgarian, Russian and Romanian – none are languages I speak, exactly, though the Galician I could make out, but I find great enjoyment in seeing the facing-page original versions, of comparing the shape of the page, the lines, patterns in punctuation. We should suppose that a portion of our readership does read poems in these languages, and in others we’ll represent in future issues, and I like to imagine their pleasure at finding this additional interest in our pages.

I like to hear from a plurality of voices. I think work in translation is very important, bringing poems in other languages to those who can only read in English, but I also think it can be important to hear the original, to show the working, almost, rather than assume the authority of the English. The poem has two lives, now, and I’m interested in both of them.

PL: Can you tell us about some of the poets published in Poetry London for the first time in this issue?

I’m particularly glad to have Mukahang Limbu’s ‘Golden Shovel’ – I’d been watching and admiring Mukahang’s work over the past year, as I saw his poems emerging from his work with Kate Clanchy. He won the Out-Spoken Prize this year, and is clearly a wonderful poet already, questions of his age aside!