October 3, 2013

Snakeskin 201 is now online, and a very good issue it is, too, if I may say so. Snakeskin is lucky in its contributors these days.

Some of the poems raise a question that often bothers me as an editor – the matter of footnotes and explanations.

Often poems compress their language and their argument so that they are not immediately clear without explanation. Sometimes I’ve rejected poems submitted because I didn’t understand them at all (and sometimes I’ve asked the poet for an explanation, and haven’t understood the explanation.

I’m not very happy about supplying footnotes to poems, though I have done occasionally, but I think they tend to be distracting. Often I try to make an illustration do the work of a footnote – as with Ken Head’s poem about Heptonstall in the current issue. A photo of Plath’s grave tells the reader what the poem is about, without, I hope, making those who would anyway have got the reference feel condescended to. Snakeskin is sent quite a few poems about or referring to artworks or buildings.  Whenever I can I include a picture of the artwork, to make the poem clear to readers who don’t know it.

Seth Braver’s poem Circulation raises more of a problem. Seth explained to me:

A few words on the formal constraints of “Circulation”: besides the rhyme scheme and Fibonacci-based syllable count (1,1,2,3,5,8), five words are common to all stanzas: heart, beat, heel, toe, and muffled.

Should I have appended this as a note to the poem?  I finally decided that if I had done, people would read the poem as an exercise, and not as a poem.  Anyway, those who pondered the poem would have noticed these patterns at work (though not all would have recognised the Fibonacci sequence). Now I’m having second thoughts, but maybe this blog post will suffice.

Annie Fisher’s For You who did not go to Waterrow is different. It is a poem based on a personal experience, and unless you realise why she is talking to people who did not go on a walk, and why she is riffing off Dylan Thomas, the poem would be puzzling. So in this case I thought a headnote was needed. In any case, it gave me a chance to link to Helena Nelson’s Happenstance blog post about her Arvon weekend.

My general principle, though, is not to have anything on the page that will distract from the poem itself. That’s why I don’t include poet bios. I realised that when I looked at ezines, I often looked at the bios before I looked at the poems. occasionally the bio prejudiced me against the poem. Sometimes it was more interesting than the poem. In either case, it was a distraction. I try to follow the motto: Let the poem be the star.


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