Editing the “Welcome to Leicester” Poetry Anthology

Ideally all submitted poems would have been typed with the title, not all in capitals, at the top of the page, any dedications or epigraphs under the title, the poem and the poet’s name at the end, with any explanatory notes following the poet’s name, and sent by email to the correct email address. However, we considered poems that were handwritten, posted or, in one case, sent as an image despite not being a concrete poem or requiring a special layout. (It’s fine sending an image as a guide to layout, but the poem also needs to be provided as text: if you make work for editors, you’re setting up your poems to be rejected.) And even poems sent to the wrong email address.

No poem was rejected or ignored because it wasn’t in an ideal format. All poems were either typed (if send by post) or reformatted (if emailed) into a standard font so we could focus on the poem.

I have previously co-edited an anthology, “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015), edited a posthumously published collection, Paul Lee’s “Us: who made History” (Original Plus, 2012), and have many years’ reviewing experience so can recognise a poem longer than 40 lines without having to do a line count. Poems with a line length significantly over 40 lines were rejected. Poems with line-lengths between 40-50 lines were looked at to see if they could be easily edited to the right length. We were being generous: other editors wouldn’t have bothered and competition administrators would have automatically disqualified these poems.

Surprisingly we did receive a handful of poems that weren’t about Leicester. These and the 50+ line poems were the only automatic rejections (we did write to poets and suggest they substitute alternative poems although we were not obliged to.)

We weren’t looking for a pre-determined number of poems. We were looking to put at least one poem from every poet forward for consideration (not necessarily acceptance.)

The selection process was simple. Once typed or reformatted into a standard font (if necessary), every poem was printed. We met periodically and read each poem from the page and aloud. Each poem was placed into either a rejection pile or a maybe pile. We weren’t making firm decisions at this stage.

Some of the maybes weren’t perfect poems. We were prepared to consider good ideas that weren’t fully realised poems yet. In some cases we wrote back to the poet to ask them to consider our suggested edits, in other cases we decided to wait to the typesetting stage. We didn’t expect poets to automatically rewrite their poem to our suggestions. We did expect poets to look at our suggestions, think about what their intentions for the poem were and edit the areas we thought were weakening the poem. Most did have another look at their poem and resubmitted a new version. Some poems were edited for context too: in an anthology about Leicester, setting and explanatory lines weren’t needed as they would be in a collection without a specific geographical setting.

When we had a substantial number of poems, I started spreading poems in the maybe pile out on a table and grouping poems that worked together into a flexible order. We didn’t group poems by theme because some themes attracted a few poems which didn’t necessarily work together, other themes only had one poem and some poems would have fitted under more than one theme. I also periodically went through the rejection pile to see if any could be slotted into the emerging anthology, even though on first reading we’d put them aside.

There were one of three reasons for rejecting a poem

  1. It was a brilliant stand alone poem that didn’t slot into the anthology.
  2. The poem was a collection of notes for a poem, sometimes driven by a rhyme scheme, often including cliches, and not yet an actual poem.
  3. It failed the “do I recognise it?” test.

Most poems that failed the “do I recognise it?” test did so because they used generic descriptions and the resulting poem could have been located anywhere in the country. A list of children’s activities in a park is great for a tourist brochure but too vague for a poem. If your poem’s narrator is walking down a street of terraced houses, he could be in Nottingham. If your poem’s narrator is walking down a street of terraced houses where four are named after Disraeli’s novels, then he’s on St Peter’s Road in Leicester. Just one or two telling details can transform a poem’s sense of place.

Typesetting is underway. The anthology had been growing organically since the beginning of June and needed to be thinned down. We wanted to ensure each poem was carrying a message or telling a story and didn’t duplicate another. Some good poems were taken out, not because there was anything wrong with them as stand alone poems, but because they didn’t quite fit in the anthology.

Poets who have submitted poems have been notified of the outcome individually.

Top Tips for submitting poems to anthologies

  • Read the guidelines
  • If the  anthology is on a theme, submit poems on that theme no matter how obscure or tenuous. Poems that cannot be linked to the theme, cannot be considered.
  • Avoid generic, off-the-peg descriptions. Vagueness is fine if your poem’s narrator is struggling with language, struggling to recall a memory or you are presenting a series of clues for the reader. But avoid any phrasing that wouldn’t sound out of place in a marketing brochure.
  • Check you’ve read the guidelines.
  • Look at the presentation of your poem. Is it typed in a standard font and laid out the way you want it on the page? Always send the poem as text but accompany it with the image if you have a concrete poem or non standard layout.
  • Have you read the guidelines yet?
  • Have you written a poem or notes for a poem? First ideas often feel stunning, brilliant and original, but first drafts are rarely stunning, brilliant and original.
  • Check line-length. There is a default 40 line length (that’s lines of text, not including stanza breaks or titles) because that usually offers enough room for a poem and, where the number of pages is finite, offers the maximum opportunity for a variety of poets and poems. If everyone offered 400 line poems, there would be less opportunity for variety.
  • You have read the guidelines haven’t you?
  • Check you’re using the right email address. When submissions are sent to the right address, the editor can simply hit ‘reply’. If they’re sent to the wrong email address, which might be on a different email client/server, then the editor either has to copy and paste the reply email address or forward the submission to right address. That might not take long if you’re only forwarding one or two emails but when you’re up against a deadline and have a day-job, these irritations can lead to rejection.
  • Don’t create work for an editor: if you make it easy for an editor to reject your work, they will.
  • Those guidelines: you’ve read them, right?

“Nothing Short of Dying” Erik Storey (Simon and Schuster) – book review

Nothing Short of DyingClyde Barr is an ex-Marine, sometime mercenary and former hunter/tracker in the African bush, camping in the Colorado wilderness after his ‘sensible’ sisters refused to meet him. He gets a phone call from his ‘wild’ sister, Jen, begging him to get her out. The call is ended by her captor before Barr can establish her location. The only glimmer of hope is that his sister is being used by her captor so Barr has a small window of chance to find her.

His first port of call is an old school friend, now married to Barr’s high school sweetheart, who reluctantly agrees to put him in touch with a local drug dealer who might shed light on Jen’s whereabouts. The local drug dealer points him in the direction of a bar nominally run by a small time dealer who likes to talk big but actually run by a barmaid, Allie, working what shifts she can to help with her mother’s medical bills. Allie’s seen Jen and offers to help Barr. The bar owner has a big brother, Alvis, who’s a bigger dealer with a slick drug operation based in the Colorado mountains. Jen had started working as a cleaner in a government owned building with a chemical store and it’s thought that’s what Alvis wants her to help gain him access to. Barr and Allie have to shake off a DEA team before they meet up with a former acquaintance of his to track down Alvis’s location.

In flashbacks, readers get Barr’s background: his alcoholic mother and succession of abusive boyfriends, one of whom helped himself to Jen. Barr and Jen relied on each other to survive the abuse, which is why he’s prepared to go to such life-threatening lengths to rescue her now. Barr’s escape was via the Marines. Jen drifted in to drugs and was trying to get clean, using her cleaning job to restart her life when her path crossed Alvis’s.

Initially he thinks Allie is just along for the ride. But learns that her life’s reached a dead end. Toughened by caring, bringing herself up and bar work, she proves a useful side-kick. Although neither of them realise that their initial rescue of a drugged Jen was perhaps a little too easy.

Betrayed by his old acquaintance, the two have to regroup, restrategise and figure out how to rescue Jen a second time. Alvis ups the ante by threatening Barr’s other sisters and families. It’s not an idle threat: Alvis has both means and motive to see it through. Can they commit and carry out a second rescue and protect Barr’s family? Barr’s prepared to put his life on the line, but will Allie see it through?

Barr’s credible: drawing on local and foreign experience, military-trained strength and it’s clear he understands the situation. His isolation makes him reluctant to ask assistance from anyone he doesn’t know. He trusts Allie when she shows she’s capable, tough and packed with resilience. His shoulders are broad enough to carry a series. Female characters aren’t sidelined or boxed into feisty/pretty roles. Allie is allowed a vulnerable side. Jen spends most of the novel out on drugs but, when she’s awake, she’s aware, lacks self-pity and doesn’t make additional demands on her brother.

Erik Storey is firmly in control of both plot and character. Background information is filtered through on a need-to-know basis and flashbacks temper the action, giving variations in pacing. Gripping fight scenes are counterpointed by some credible tenderness. Allie helps humanise Barr. He may be strong and fit but he also tires and makes mistakes. He shows he wants to be a big brother to Jen but isn’t a superhero.

“Exclamation Marx!” Neil Laurenson (Silhouette Press) – book review

Exclamation Marx - COVERGood light verse is hard to do. Tragedy is easier to write and individual experiences have a wider resonance with audiences. However, individual senses of humour don’t always have a greater resonance. A joke that leaves one person rolling on the floor with laughter can leave a neighbour stony-faced. A poem that follows the structure of a joke, leading to a punchline in the final couplet, doesn’t always reward re-reading once the punchline is known. One or two here suffer that issue. The successful poems are ones where careful though has been given to structure and content. In “Shrinking of Shrugs” (the small, fine jackets designed to warm shoulders left bare by a sleeveless or strapless evening dress, rather than the act of shrugging something off),

“This is my favourite shrug, which is kept this size
With an easy read of the label. And please do not let me
See you washing this one. You could do it quite easily
If you bothered to read the label. The label
is sewn on the inside, which anyone can see
.                         If they use their eyes.

And this you can see is a lecture. The purpose of this
Lecture is to save our marriage. I can slide this ring
Rapidly off and on my finger: I call this
Easing the ring. And rapidly off and on, off and on,
Depending on whether you are shrinking and ruining my clothes.
.                      I call it easing the ring.”

The use of Henry Reed’s “Naming of Parts” as a template may ruffle some feathers, but the structure keeps the poem moving forward and increases the sense of jeopardy. The lightly sarcastic tone is perfectly judged. There’s a careful use of structure in “Perfect Miming”

“Bad start: the microphone’s broken.
He’s so softly spoken
That people have thought he was miming
This is dreadful timing.

There’s a good crowd – about 20,
Which experience tells him is plenty
But the chances of hearing him
Are very, very, very slim.

At the end, everyone claps
And he wonders if perhaps
He should abandon the spoken word
And perfect his talent for being unheard.”

The couplets seem to escalate towards disaster but third stanza subverts the first two, suggesting success and a new direction. Like all the poems in “Exclamation Marx!” it lends itself to being read aloud and would work in performance. The pamphlet is the right length for exploring humour. A fuller collection would need some variation in tone and maybe a few ‘straight’ poems to add balance.

“Exclamation Marx!” is available from Silhouette Press.

Resident Poetry Night, Leicester Writes @ Bru

Hamza Bodhaniya from Bru gave a brief welcome and said the cafe were happy to support literature events. Farhana Shaikh, of Dahlia Publishing, talked about the poetry commission she had organised where the commissioned poet was to write a sequence of five poems inspired by a residency at Bru that would be published and performed during the Leicester Writes Festival. She had been very impressed by the quality of applications and had been pleased to announce Jayne Stanton as Bru’s resident poet.

The cafe, however, is a noisy venue: customer chatter and kitchen noise drifted from downstairs and background music (presumably to muffle/mask crockery and cutlery clatter) was turned down but still audible. Bru is also all hard surfaces with no carpet or soft wallpaper to absorb sounds, noise echoes and rebounds. So a microphone was necessary for performers and the audience have to work at listening.

Jayne explained her poems had arisen from a combination of observations whilst visiting Bru and some online research. She’d focused on the area from the Railway Station and the Clocktower, because the most direct route takes you past Bru. Her first poem, “Time Traveller” was based on the statue of Thomas Cook by the station. “No Fixed Abode” mentions homelessness in the city and how these problems aren’t simply solved by opening empty houses. Some of the characters she met near Bru provided inspiration, one being Maria who sold copies of “The Big Issue” which provided the poem with its title. “Money Talks” looks at the changes in Gallowtree Gate, one of the main shopping areas, particularly after Highcross shopping mall opened. Her fifth residency poem, “Street” was inspired by watching people in Granby Street outside Bru where “a balloon holds its breath.” Then Leicester City Football Club won the premiership so Jayne was asked to write a bonus poem capturing the mood of the city. “The Art of Winning” was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Art of Losing”.

Rhetoric Literary Society took to the stage starting with the Guy in the Green Beret, aka Boston ‘The Orator’ Williams who was too shy to give his name this evening, who read “Common Practice” where “words swarm and worm their way into structure” and “Oh Ye Purveyor of Fine Lies” after the audience suggested the EU Referendum as a theme. He confessed to struggling to concentrate when one of his favourite songs was played as background music. “Mind Time” asked “why can’t we enjoy the present for a bit?” which was followed by a satire on the stop and search practices which profile potential offenders based on lazy, racist stereotyping, and ended with the line “I killed the stereotype/ and I dare you to take me away.”

DTP Haughton began with “Rae Town” about whether the place where he was born would remember and honour him in due course, “Am I not Jamaican enough? A little too English?/ I wonder if my name will be remembered.” “Rae Town” was followed by “Too Red”, “Perfect Teeth” – self-deprecatingly “I never had perfect teeth…” so perhaps he is a “little too English”. DTP finished with a poem about keeping up with the Joneses which might be titled “Badges”.

A open mic session rounded off the evening. Jayne Stanton’s calm, measured delivery contrasted with the enthusiastic energy of the Rhetoric Literary Society but all read quality poems that were prepared to look at their subjects with compassion and acute observation.

Tips for Reading to an Audience

Lost and Found Short Story anthology from Dahlia Press book coverRecently I attended Voiced at the Exchange in Leicester and the launch for “Lost and Found: Stories from Home” at the same venue.

“Voiced” was an evening of poetry, spoken word and music as part of several events for Refugee Week in Leicester. I was among the contributors reading poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems of those seeking refuge”.

The latter was for a launch of anthology published by Dahlia Publishing where some of the contributors, including me, read from their short stories.

The tips below are not directed at any of the performers at either of the above events.

Tips for Reading to an Audience

Rehearse

Know how much time you have to read (ask the organisers if they don’t tell you), select the material you are going to read and time your reading, including any introductions.

Once you know how you are going to fill your allocated time slot, practise reading. You don’t have to learn your material by heart, but get a feel for the pace of your reading and where you can breathe without interrupting the flow.

Staging

You may not know how the stage will be set up until you are at the venue. The stage may simply be a space at the front of the room rather than a raised platform. Think about how the audience will see you: you’ll probably find yourself standing. There may be a microphone. There may be a table or lectern, if so, ensure these do not become barriers between you and the audience. Put the table to one side (do not sit on a chair behind it. Make sure the highest point of the lectern is lower than your chin. Some of your audience may need to lipread. If the lectern is too high, the words will bounce off the lectern back at you instead of out to your audience.

If there is a microphone, use it. You might think you have a loud voice, but the person at the back may still struggle to hear you over traffic, fidgeting or noise from nearby rooms. This might mean the inconvenience of adjusting the mic stand height but it’s worth doing. Do ask the organiser if you’re unsure of how to adjust the mic – it’s not in their interests to have performers who can’t be heard or embarrassed by a stand that won’t adjust.

Reading

Whether you read from paper, a book or a mobile device such as a table or phone will be down to personal preference. Make sure there is a good contrast between text colour and background – what looked OK in broad daylight might be difficult in a dimly-lit venue – and check the font is large enough. Ensure that you can scroll or turn pages easily.

When reading, avoid covering your mouth. It may be tempting to hold your book or device in front of you and hide behind it, but your audience came to hear you read.

Even if you don’t feel it, try to stand confidently. If you hunch over or lean on the lectern, you might find it difficult to breathe or project your voice. If you look tense and nervous, your audience will feel tense and nervous. If you appear relaxed and in control, your audience will mirror you.

Introductions

As a general rule, the briefer the better. It may be that you need to explain your story or poem is set in a historical period or in the future or you might need to mention your narrator is nothing like you or that your story or poem is set in a particular location. It’s not worth explaining your poem is a sonnet or a concrete poem in the shape of a butterfly: your audience can’t see it.

Do mention the title of your piece. “This story is about x,” or “This poem is set in the 18th century,” isn’t going to help your audience find it afterwards.

Do try and look up occasionally at your audience. It lets them know you’ve not forgotten them.

Wrapping Up

If you are reading several poems do say “This is my last one” or “I’m going to finish with…” or some variant because it signals to the organisers or audience that you are about to finish.

Do thank your audience – a simple “Thank you” is good. This is often taken as a signal for applause.

Don’t hurry off the stage area but don’t outstay your welcome either. If the event is running on time or is ahead of time, then a measured stroll is fine. If the event is running late, don’t make it later by hanging around.

Don’t leave the venue immediately. Unless there is a compelling reason, e.g. public transport timetables, stay until the end of the event, especially if you are one of several people reading. If you do need to leave sooner, make sure the organiser knows.

If you don’t stay and listen to other readers, they won’t be inclined to stay and listen to you if you find yourself reading a similar, subsequent event.

If you show your audience and other performers respect and courtesy, you will earn respect and courtesy from them.

“Urban Myths and Legends” The Emma Press – poetry review

Urban Myths and LegendsThe editors Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright wanted to find poems that “shared Ovid’s glee in storytelling” looking for transformations and gripping ideas. Some poems take their inspiration more directly from “Metamorphosis” than others and some hint at fairytales – a glass slipper, a rose briar – while others create their own myths. Some transformations are dramatic, as in Pam Thompson’s “My People”

“… those who lived near the canal
grew scales

and those who lived on the tops
grew furs to keep out biting winds

and some sprouted wings
to hunt for food

or so my mother told me
before her toes pitched her

into a middle kingdom
of sloughed-off skins
and reheated dinners.”

Other transformations are less dramatic, in Deborah Alma’s “My Brown-Eyed Girl”

“my sister and I discovered
that she’d always coveted
my grey-green eyes
and I, hers of golden brown,
and Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes
was never personal enough.

So we swapped, we popped out
our eyeballs, slipped them
into our mouths to moisten them
before slotting into familial sockets.
Then we sat down with a nice pot of tea,
lemon drizzle cake
and little chance of rejection…”

The contrast between “grey-green” and “golden brown” follows the line of desire; “grey” suggestive of boredom and “golden” suggestive of reward or treasure. The routine detail of tea with cake acts as a anchor and keeps the poem from veering off into fantasy. It also resists the temptation to fork off into a nightmare. Other poems take on the personification of an inanimate object, for example in Jon Stone’s “Yardang”

“…Out it came, a tortile bolt
of drunkard wind – dying to screw
and strew, to chew and chisel bone
or stone, to shave down to a hump
each stump. Now I’m a blasted dune,
the scoundrel’s plaything. Now I drift,
as darkly as the shifting coast,
from one form to some other, strand
by strand, flayed to my filament,
while on its high and singing wire
the mad sylph speaks its only like.
My faltering’s its favourite band,
my knots its little coterie.
The coward wind is changing me.”

The yardang projects its reinventions on the wind it blames for whittling it into shape and toying with it: an unreliable narrator but a likable one. “Urban Myths and Legends” feels like a city walk along a street with varied architecture, some buildings ornately constructed, some classical and modern with clean lines, each a marriage of form and function; each worth stopping to study while a gentle wind whispers of history, suggestive fantasy and magic realism along a street worth return visits.

“Urban Myths and Legends” is available from The Emma Press

Poems still sought for Welcome to Leicester

Deadline for submissions of poems on the theme of messages or stories about the city of Leicester is 15 July 2016.

Submissions can be made by email: poetry@leicesterwrites.co.uk or post and we can accept previously published poems.

Poets themselves do not have to be from Leicester

You could live in Leicester, work in Leicester, have family in Leicester, have visited Leicester, be that person in Timbuktu who decided to support Leicester City instead of Manchester United or be the Martian who tripped over Curiosity, the Mars Rover developed at Leicester University, and decided to find out more. Your poem can be set in the past, present or future providing it’s recognisably set in Leicester. It’s the poem that is the primary focus. Full submission guidelines are here.

We have not yet made any final decisions

We will not make any final decisions until after the closing date when we have received all the poems. Please don’t ask us for a decision before the closing date because we cannot give one.

The poems that make it into the anthology will be a) poems that follow the guidelines and b) poems that want to share their discovery with the reader. I am prepared to make suggested edits to poems, but taking your epic magnum opus and distilling it into 40 lines is not editing. It would be me writing your poem for you. Despite many years of publication, I have plenty of my own poems to write so don’t have time to write yours as well.

Editing an anthology is not a simple case of selecting the best work

That might seem counterintuitive, but we want poems that will read well alongside each other, poems that illustrate all aspects of Leicester as well as each individual poem being the best it can be.

Occasionally a brilliant poem will only work if it stands alone in the spotlight, like a mirrorball. On a stage with others, its light falls in shadow or those polished, reflective surfaces rebuff engagement. We would like poems that can reach out, share their story and engage with readers.

Tips for giving your poem the best chance of being selected:

Check your Poem Conforms to the Guidelines

This shouldn’t need saying. The guidelines are not rules to be broken but a sensible way of giving each poem a level playing field. From experience, I can tell whether your poem is longer than 40 lines by looking at it. Your poem could be handwritten or in a fancy font, but every poem is typed or reformatted in a standard font before it’s read.

Check your Poem is on the Theme

Your poem about Gotham might be marvellous, but unless you relocate Wayne Mansion to Leicester castle and the batcave to under the Soar, we can’t use it.

Presentation Matters

This isn’t about whether your poem is typed or not (we will accept handwritten entries), but whether you’ve given thought to how your poem looks on the page. Is there an inexplicable fifth line in the third stanza of your ballad? Is there a good reason for centring your text rather than using a left hand margin? Would your poem about leaves falling on New Walk benefit from being leaf-shaped?

A pastel text colour on a pale background isn’t easy to read, neither is a neon font on a neon page; there needs to be a contrast between colours and it’s best to stick to black on white. Crumpled, coffee-stained paper suggests you’re not bothered, so why should we be?

Is this your Best Poem?

Did you dash down your first thoughts about Leicester, group them into stanzas and think “That will do?”

Did you notice the cliches in your second stanza?

Have you used generic or specific phrasing? ‘Yellow’ covers everything from neon highlighters to primroses. ‘Blue’ could be sky to sapphire. Which shade did you mean?

Is your description detailed? Every Street got its name because taxi drivers were supposed to be able to take you to every street in Leicester from that spot. However, if every street in your poem looks exactly the same, how can a taxi driver tell where they are?

How many times have you referred to Leicester in your poem? In the context of an anthology of poems about Leicester, the word is getting a little tired.

Does your poem say something new? Leicester is newsworthy: the discovery of DNA fingerprinting, uncovering Richard III’s bones, winning the Premiership, but I’ve read the news. Your poem needs to find something new to say, a different angle, a personal reaction (without cliches), some gem of information that wasn’t in the news. Poems can pick up a small detail and amplify it. We’ve had poems about Leicester’s win. But no one’s submitted a poem about Jamie Vardy’s TV rocking on its stand when his party erupted in celebration.

Read it aloud. Poems work both read silently from the page and read aloud. Some poets record and playback their readings to hear how the poem sounds. Reading aloud also helps you pick up awkward line breaks, sound patterns, obvious rhymes and that tongue twister in stanza four. Ambrose and I are reading poems silently and reading them aloud as part of our selection process and we have no bias towards page or stage.

Put it aside for a while and come back and read both silently from the page and aloud. A break can give you a fresh perspective.

Titles matter. Our anthology won’t work if the contents list 80 poems titled ‘Leicester’. What title would grab a reader to read your poem first?

When you think you can’t make any more improvements, send it in before 16 July.

We will accept emails date and time stamped before midnight on 15 July. We will accept postal submissions providing the postmark is dated 15 July or earlier.

We will not accept any submissions dated 16 July or later.

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