Let me start with an exception. I know a copy-editor who spends several hours a week editing/proofreading a poet’s work. The author is prolific and his output, though irregular, is prodigious. He writes in a regular form with a fixed rhyming structure and produces a straightforward narrative. Very rare, as anyone who reads contemporary poetry will testify.
It is unusual for copy-editors and proofreaders to get work from poets, but this arrangement works well because the editor respects the integrity of the poet; each knows his job and his boundaries.
Any editorial work on creative writing, whether novels or poetry, is difficult. Egos are at their most raw. True proofreading is not so bad where you are simply looking for obvious oversights or typos, but once you enter the lion’s den of editing the trouble may begin. You really have to learn the limits of intervention and match your approach to each author. Our proofreading and copy-editing courses help you with this and I shall be focusing on this area in future posts.
What is Poetry?
When I was twelve I was set this question in a school English exam. I’m sure I rambled and flannelled my way to a sort of answer (no change there then, Richard, some may say). But there isn’t one. You might as well try to define love or hate or, indeed, a sentence.
A big debate has centred on the form poetry, or a poem, takes. Much contemporary poetry is formless. It does not have the structure which was learned so assiduously by the old guard.
Much of Clive James’s wonderful Poetry Notebook is concerned with this debate. But, for the most part it is a personal record of his thoughts about poetry over a fifty year span in which he has written much and read more.
The value of the book for me is that it has become a wake up call. Wake up to all the poets I have not read or have ignored for years. As many know, Clive is ill but carries on writing. He has entertained and stimulated me and many like me for more years than we want to admit. And this book is really the icing on the James Christmas cake. It is Clive James. Of course, Keats said all there is to say about all that really matters in the Odes and in the equation of truth and beauty. Clive spends a couple of hundred pages telling us why. If you enjoy poetry and ever wondered why, it’s a book to be read.
Here are some of the poets Clive James has inspired me to revisit or turn to for the first time.
Peter Porter (only a little, and not for years)
Robert Frost (put off by the agriculture, but must try harder)
Richard Wilbur (hardly read any: shame on me)
Stephen Edgar (ditto)
There are more, but that’s enough for now. Heartfelt thanks, Clive.