I’m pleased to be able to publish the first in a series of interviews with poets who are also editors. I thought it would be doubly interesting to ask people who wear two hats about their experience of editing and how it might impact upon their writing.
Martin Malone is a UK based poet whose work has won prizes including the Wivenhoe Prize, the Straid Poetry Award and the Mirehouse Poetry Prize. His second collection, Cur, is due from Shoestring Press in October. Martin is currently undertaking practice-led research for a Ph.D in Poetry at Sheffield University and is editor of The Interpreter’s House poetry journal.
Hi Martin. thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’d like to ask you about your editorship of the Interpreter’s House. You’ve done a great job of modernising the magazine in terms of its appearance and the giving it a stronger internet presence. Your acceptance and even rejection letters are mentioned in glowing terms on social media due to their often encouraging nature. Of course the old Interpreter’s House had an established reputation for quality of design and content, but I’d like to congratulate you on keeping these qualities while moving things forward.
Ta very much Roy. Truthfully, we were passed on a fine magazine with a sound infrastructure but no digital footprint. Much of the headway we’ve made, then, was merely capitalising upon a bit of an open goal in this respect. I can’t praise enough the founding editor, Merryn Williams, and my predecessor, Simon Curtis, for handing on to us such a lovely magazine in the first place. Maybe we’ve just reaped a generational benefit somewhat. However, I’m delighted to hear that people have ‘got’ where it is we’re coming from with regard to the way we hope to conduct ourselves. You can’t always get it right and mistakes are made but, overall, we simply try to treat people with respect and sensitivity. It’s not complicated. And we’re only temporary custodians of the magazine, after all. We ignore the fact, but humanity is a commonwealth and we do well to remember that.
I wonder if you’ve found the editorship to be beneficial to your own poetry and if so in what way.
Hm. I’m struggling to think of many tangible benefits to my own writing, if I’m honest. That’s not being grumpy it’s just the way it is. The editorship benefits me indirectly in other ways, I suppose. With over a thousand poems per issue to read, editing benefits your reading whilst stealing time from your writing. No complaints: the gig was a genuine attempt to give something back to the poetry community. I cite the great poet Jazzy B at this point: “Be objective, be selective, be an asset to the collective”: a perfect mantra for editors everywhere. Ultimately, I try to keep my editorship of TIH and my poetorship of Martin Malone as separate as possible, for ethical reasons more than anything else.
I know that you are studying for a PHD and have other commitments. How do you manage to keep all these balls in the air?
I’m not sure I do. Not sure at all, Roy. For much of the time I wander round in a state of mild to extreme panic that I’ve set myself an impossible equation of time and space. However, I am someone who may function more productively as a busy man. I guess there’ll be a reckoning when I graduate on time or not. I do know that putting together and locking down a new issue is absolutely compulsive and has taken precious time away from my Ph.D. But there are always subsidiary benefits to these things and nothing is wasted in the grand scheme of things. I know I am grateful to my Deputy Editor, Charles Lauder, for taking some of the weight from my shoulders; particularly of late, when we’ve become victims of our own success to some extent. The thought of doing everything on my own these days is inconceivable and, anyway, I like working as part of a team.
Do you time aside for the different tasks?
I guess I do, though I’m not particularly methodical on a day-to-day basis. Because of wee Fionn, I‘ve re-orientated my working week to mean Thursday through Sunday, with other days being the hold-steady ones. If I can attend to stuff whilst being mauled and snottered on, I do it: things like magazine record-keeping and admin (which is surprisingly time-consuming), online MOOCs that are relevant to my research, snatches of reading and editing etc. You’ll notice I’ve not put ‘writing’ there. I do have my very first Arvon week coming up, however. There I shall sup the tears of angels and glut my heart on ichor.
Any advice for would be editors?
Advice for would-be editors would be to not do it. And, if after deciding that, you still do it then you’ve got yourself an editorship. I took on the gig for 5 years – sometimes wish I’d said three – and I think that’s about right at one journal. Otherwise, it becomes too much a part of you, as an individual, and the publication struggles to grow as a result. I’m actually looking forward to handing TIH on to the next custodian(s) to see where they’ll take it (NOTE: the privately-educated and Oxbridge graduates need not apply, UK culture suffers from an overabundance of you already). Also I’m looking forward to having the chance to simply look back over my 15 issues, as a punter rather than someone fretting over it all.
My niece is studying at Oxford but she wasn’t privately educated so maybe you could make an exception if she was interested. Where do you find the beautiful covers?
The beautiful covers are entirely the work of Jenn Shaw who has a great eye and knows where to look for good artists. It is she who should get the credit for this. We started off with the punchy print graphic approach and after a few issues decided that this would be the overall design aesthetic.
I’ve always wanted to produce something that is beautiful and objectively desirable in itself; something collectible and an artwork when assembled together. We’re hoping to hold an exhibition of all the cover artists at the end of my tenure: find a gallery somewhere and celebrate their very great contribution to the project. I confess, after reading my way through everything and assembling each issue’s writing, my big thrill is when the printer proof arrives and I get to see the artwork.
Could you tell me a little about your new collection?
‘Cur’ is what American college bands would call my ‘sophomore’ effort. In some ways, it is Part 2 of ‘The Waiting Hillside’ but hopefully more sharply-written. I’m a great believer in being true to the arc of time which produced a particular phase of writing, and not being afraid to stand by that. I like to encounter artists who are uneven and follow their own blues; rather than sitting and sitting on stuff with one eye on the career-defining statement or prize-winning tome. I’ve nothing against folks who do, mind. Good luck to them. But there’s something a bit sterile about the exercise. As the long-forgotten post-Augustan satirist Charles Churchill said of Pope: “E’en excellence unvaried, tedious grows.” It’s why my brain acknowledges the superiority of Echo & The Bunnymen’s recorded output but my heart loves Pete Wylie’s flawed genius more. I’ve gotten off the point haven’t I?
I think you may have honed it a little. The point that is. Where was I- oh yes, what are the main themes of your collection ? Sex and death?
Love and loss, love and loss, love and loss. With lots of sex, art and landscapes, then an unexpected child to close. Fairly standard stuff.
How does it differ from your first book?
Better sex, bigger losses, bigger gains. I guess it’s more out in the world than the first book. I’d not been writing poetry for long when ‘The Waiting Hillside’ came out, so whatever good energies flow through that book are less tutored than those I hope are being channelled through ‘Cur’. As I say, it’s a sort of Part 2 in that there’s still a lot of ‘I’ in it. The wonderful thing about my current work-in-progress, however, is that there is very little me in it, which is very liberating. But ‘Cur’ is a point on a growth curve that I stand by and know will remain a personal favourite.
It’s good to hear that you are moving on but seem happy with what you have captured. It seems to me that might possibly the best way for any artist to feel.
What attracted you to Shoestring Press as a publisher?
I trust John Lucas implicitly. He is one of the genuine forces of light and a deep but un-showy intellect on a British poetry scene which surprises me, at times, with its lack of those qualities. John’s sort of what I hope to represent in the long-term. It helps that Shoestring is a rightfully respected imprint and does its business on the shake of a hand. I like that a lot. Also, Roy, when I saw the lovely artefact that is your own first collection, I knew that I’d have another beautifully-produced book. That too, is important.
I think you’ve just articulated exactly how I feel about John Lucas and Shoestring. How have you found the editorial process?
Good moment to ask, since I got home from a hard week yesterday to find John’s unflinching (and, frankly, illegible) pencilization* of my manuscript. From what I’ve so far managed to decipher, I’ve been utterly shocked by just how random and sloppy one can be over a body of work with which one has become, perhaps, over-familiar. John suggestions are sharp-eyed, shrewd and carry the heft of his knowledge and experience. This is no place for an over-abundance of personal ego at this stage, not if you’re serious about your writing. Every writer should love being edited and I’m no exception.
In general, the editorial stage is one of my favourite moments; since a new pair of eyes can utterly revivify your own take on a manuscript: poems you’d thought grown cold can be suddenly brought back to life in strange and fascinating ways by the lightest of editorial touches. A single new, dropped or changed word can virtually create a whole new poem. As a rule I’ve always cut it 80:20 in favour of adopting whatever changes a good editor suggests. And it never results in anything less than a better poem or manuscript. I was lucky enough to have Paul Batchelor edit my first collection and I saw then how important the process is. So, I’m already enjoying working my way through John’s suggested ch-ch-ch-changes as I turn and face the strain.
*A sort of constructive assassination by fault-finding and suggestion.
I’m a big fan of Paul Batchelor’s work. I have to agree with your comments on John’s style and your attitude to the process is close to my own. It’s good to hear such a positive take on being edited. When is the collection due?
I learn that it’s to come out in October. Get in!
Thank you Martin. May your time run wild in a million streets and may none of them be dead ends.