Poetry News

"Everyone is their own blindspot" when it comes to picking new talent

By Harriet Staff

Poet and editor Don Paterson talks to The Guardian about why it's necessary to publish and create awards for new poetry like the Picador Prize, awarded to Richard Meier this year. The legwork involved in uncovering these talents is only half the battle. The network of poets is so tight that it doesn't take much for one to get noticed and referred through the system of other poets until you show up on an editor or publisher's periphery.

But in my own experience, poetic talent generally doesn't make itself known either through agents, or through the efforts of the poets themselves: mostly you become aware of it by the stir the poems themselves create. So well-connected is the community of poets that you're never more than two or three degrees of separation from Seamus Heaney. For a real new talent, even one casual appearance at the most obscure local workshop, or a single poem posted online, or sent to another poet, will be enough to link it to this network; you really have to work at being a recluse of a rare and dedicated variety to avoid being on the radar.

New media tools and blogs have helped a great deal, too, though Paterson does bemoan the "too many anonymous others which resemble farty wee boys' gang-huts, and where membership is conditional on hating the right people." Highlighting blogs and publishers that he considers "responsible and informative" in promoting new work, Paterson considers the Picador Prize an extension of the exposure process the network is already facilitating.

All the best efforts of other poets, however, can do little to sway an editor who's too caught up in his own aesthetics or taste to give the new guys a chance, and this is where Paterson and his colleagues come in, taking great pains to do away with rigged selections, egos, and seemingly objective but diluted consensus-by-committee.

Well – with the best will in the world, there's always a danger that an editor will end up with a list that reflects only their own narrow predilections, even though we're all convinced we're exercising our infinitely rich taste and discrimination. Everyone is their own blindspot. As the years go by, you take more and more advice from those whose opinion you trust (especially younger poets and critics; any middle-aged editor who doesn't talk to poets in their 20s about the contemporaries they're reading is in danger of publishing only young poets who sound like the now-middle-aged ones they grew up with).

Originally Published: January 21st, 2011