Interview with Lisa Gorton, editor of The Best Australian Poems 2013What was the selection process like for The Best Australians Poems 2013?
There are 130 poems in this anthology, selected from several thousand that I read—poems discovered in online and paper journals, newspapers, books and submissions. The process brought home to me the work of those poetry editors and independent publishers who make a place for poetry in Australia—work that forms the basis for an anthology of this kind. I tried to choose poetry in different styles, written out of different ideas of what poetry should be and do, mostly because I think no style or coterie invalidates the rest. Also, I wanted the anthology to offer a sense of what is happening in Australian poetry now. From one August to the next I read all the poems I could, wherever I could find them, amassing over that time a long shortlist. Though it might sound conciliatory, I was struck by the variety and interest of Australian poetry. By September I had a shortlist of perhaps 400 poems that I read and reread. Finally, I chose ones that kept a memorable strangeness on each rereading. Doubtless there were poems that I missed or undervalued, choosing so few poems from so many. That built some anxiety into the process.
Do you have any favourites among the poems in this year's collection?
Not really. Perhaps that will come. It is still strange and good to see the poems together, suddenly a book—poems that for a year have been moving singly through stacks of paper in my study. At the moment I like how the poems work together, as if arguing with each other.
What do you hope people take away with them after reading this collection?
I hope that people will want to read it again. I hope that they will search out the work of poets whose poems they enjoy in this collection. I also hope that people will see that Australian poetry is only unprofitable in one sense.
What are your top five tips for aspiring poets?
I don’t know. I think most poets are aspiring poets, really. Perhaps it’s helpful to relinquish the idea that other poets are finding it simple? The question makes me think of a John Forbes poem, ‘Lessons for Young Poets’, which starts: “it’s important to be major/ but not to be/ too cute about it”. I recommend reading that poem. In fact, I recommend reading widely in Australian poetry, narrowness of taste being no guarantee of originality. Also, though it hardly amounts to advice, I have found that the single sustaining thing is the pleasure of writing the poems, the sense of life that writing poems gives. There is not much else to aspire to, really. Those with a will to power should probably not make poetry their vocation. To quote Forbes again: “if it’s pitiful to waste your time, weeping/ at the margins of your life, is it better// not to give a shit? Still, invented necessity/ has its compensations …” (‘On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme’).
The Best Australian Poems 2013 is available now in print and ebook.
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