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This item is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

IN AN AGE THAT INSISTS on transparency in judgement and selection, the back-room of poetry has become a dark place. Accountability is called for, but often the accountants are hidden from sight. Their effects are not recognised as effects, the marks and bruises they leave are powdered and rouged over.

Looking back even twenty years, the culture of reception for poetry was critical. Publishers promoted their writers as best they could, if anything was newsworthy in the work or the life it was magnified and made into a story. But what mattered was the reviewer making the case for or against a new book, engaging with it, arguing, exemplifying. Enough evidence was in a good review for attentive readers to judge for themselves – to judge the judges, as it were. Letters to the editor often contested a disagreeable review (as in the letter that follows this editorial). Dialogue was never far away. Critics might argue with one another, and their arguments engage wider concerns: formal, thematic, political.

Nowadays the political may be at work out of sight, the reader unaware of it. Editors engage with the language of writers, suggesting, retracting, worrying at a work until it is as good as they and the author collaboratively can make. This collaboration is creative. Some editors listen to new writing with a different kind of hearing. One contributor to these pages told us that the editor of a major poetry journal required him to change the word ‘deafness’ to ‘silence’ in a poem. The editor was concerned ...

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