One for the Road, ed. Helen Mort & Stuart Maconie (Smith/Doorstop 2017)
I always feel lucky when I have a poem accepted. I saw my good friend (and good poet) John Foggin on Saturday and he reminded me about how surprised I was when I had my first pamphlet published. I was a winner of the Poetry Business pamphlet competition in 2011. The pamphlet, Breathing Through Our Bones, came out about six months later, in 2012. So, you’d think I’d have had enough time to get used to the idea!
In truth, I still have days when I question how and why my work has made it into print. It’s the writer’s equivalent of impostor syndrome, that difficulty in internalizing achievements, of thinking it’s more down to luck and timing, rather than effort and talent. What has this got to do with One for the Road? Well, last year a poem of mine was selected for this lovely anthology. I was excited at the time, then the anthology took a while to be published, and I put it to the back of my mind. However, when I received my copy last month, the surge of excitement came back. I have to say it was also accompanied by a strange feeling of anxiety; when I looked at the contents page, there were so many poets listed that I admire, that I had that feeling of being an impostor again. Fortunately, I have managed to cultivate an inner voice that kicks in and says ‘get over yourself’! I’m delighted to be in this book, and in the company of so many fine poets (I’m not going to name them – the list would be too long). What’s amazing is the sheer variety of pub-inspired poems the editors, Helen Mort and Stuart Maconie have pulled together. The book is divided into sections, but there’s never a sense of one poem being like another, even though the poems are loosely grouped by theme. The poems feel fresh and alive from start to finish. Take this image from the end of Simon Armitage’s ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’:
hammers a coin of the realm
into a turnip
into your head.’
or just the title of Catherine Smith’s ‘The Set of Optics You Wouldn’t Let me Buy in Portobello Market, September 1984’. I won’t go on; it would be more satisfying for you to buy the anthology and read it for yourself.
And as for being an impostor. Well, I’ve come to realise that there’s a lot of space in poetry but it’s not always helpful to try and position yourself within it (and therefore spend time wondering how far from the centre you are and whether you’re brushing against success by accident rather than design). What’s more important is the writing itself. By this I mean the actual act of writing. The satisfaction of poetry, for me, is in the doing. The buzz of publication is wonderful, but ultimately, it’s short-lived. To anyone reading this who has similar fears, I’d say, just put aside any doubts you have and just do it. No one can be an impostor if they’re actually doing the writing!