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?

One Response to “Editing the “Welcome to Leicester” Poetry Anthology”

  1. Welcome to Leicester poems on air | Jayne Stanton POETRY Says:

    […] Emma Lee has written about editing the anthology on her blog here. […]

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