In his 2009 Lecture for The Poetry Society, the late Charles Simic presents a scene in which he is carrying groceries from his car when he is suddenly stunned by a phone call offering him the American Laureateship. ‘No way’, he thinks, for all the reasons we might imagine, before being talked into accepting. Though I do not claim a weighty similarity here, I am starting to comprehend the shudder of responsibility. The phone call offering the editorship of The Poetry Review came just as I sat down with a friend in a pub, and I have to admit that while my mouth was saying yes, the rest of me was wondering what I was getting myself into.
Later in the same lecture, Simic speaks of a history of competing factions, disagreement and conflicting attitudes within the poetry community – and these probably have to persist in any healthy art form. The challenge, the ‘responsibility’, in the context of this job, is that it’s not enough to blindly act on one’s own poetic interests, there is instead a need to honour (and hopefully do justice to) a broader church of poetics. I’m paraphrasing Don Paterson here, in his conversation within these pages with Gboyega Odubanjo.
Here’s a soothing thought: since there is no singular way good poetry takes place, no monolithic standard by which it can be measured, then no individual can be reasonably expected to offer a definitive account