' ... the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at'
(T S Eliot Four Quartets: Burnt Norton)
The poems were the same - I felt that they were all clamouring Look at me! They were like the flowers in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, 'all shouting together' until the air seemed full of their voices.
How to choose? I felt honoured and a little daunted to be asked to be the guest poetry editor of a respected literary magazine. Four large envelopes (total weight just under two pounds) thumped through the letter box.
What to consider? Basically two things - form and content. This could be subdivided into sound, rhythm, rhyme (if used), imagery, language, tone, mood, feeling - I could go on and on (line breaks, visual shape, factual correctness etc etc). I was sounding like an English teacher and still the flowers were clamouring for attention.
I gave all the poems a preliminary first reading. At this early stage there were three poems that made a strong impression on me. I marked them with a star. I gave another three a cross as rejects. But I wanted to avoid (to mix my metaphors) a sheep and goats approach. I was looking for poems that managed to rise above the others and that rise is not always apparent at first reading.
The vast majority of the poems were of an acceptably high standard (the flowers were blowing in the breeze - Choose me! they cried).
A second read-through of the poems. This time I asked myself: would I miss the poem if it wasn't there? Would poetry be slightly impoverished if this poem didn't exist? Would the poem slive (another mixed metaphor here) into my affections like a stray animal? However good the technique there is a subjective element to selecting poems. I wrote brief comments on the poems as if I was workshopping them. By the end of the second reading I was up to ten definite poems. But I needed 17 to 20 poems and five reserves.
A third reading found me putting question marks on quite a few poems (maybes), but at the end I had sorted the pages into the requisite number of poems. Then I made a quick fourth reading to makes sure I hadn't missed any of the best roses.
It was time to peel off the post-it notes that had kept the poems anonymous. To my surprise I'd twice chosen two poems by the same writer and once chosen three (by someone whose name was completely new to me).
I didn't want duplicates and certainly not a triplicate - it's hard enough to get poems published and I wanted to give as many people as possible the chance. Back to the possibles. They were all good poems - it was hard to choose. The deciding factor in the end was the theme of the poems - I wanted variety. Finally I had the right number of poems.
Sorry, roses, I couldn't choose all of you. But you are still beautiful.