Making the ‘difficult second album issue’

Anna and I were very excited about being lead editors on the second issue, but we were nervous – we had a lot to live up to after all. It wasn’t as if we were the only ones choosing which poetry and prose went into the journal – this is always done by the whole editorial team, but we were responsible for the articles, the editorial, and the general layout of the magazine. What was scary was how quickly time zoomed past. We had both commissioned articles, but the turnaround time was too short (we realise now that we need to commission 3-6 months in advance) and unfortunately neither of the authors were able to deliver in the end. Luckily about midway through the editorial process we had a premonition that this might happen, so both Anna and I had written back-up articles.

We started having regular editorial meetings not long after issue one hit the shops, but the real work for us began once all the content had been selected. I remember one meeting in particular – a long afternoon fuelled by olives and tea – where my entire living room floor was covered in bits of paper (I wish that I had taken a photo!) as we tried to decide on the running order. It seemed to us that the best way to decide an order was to have the selections physically printed out so that we could see how they worked side by side. Deciding the order wasn’t easy. Each piece had to work with the pieces either side of it, and the artwork had to fit in with the written pieces too. We wanted links between the pieces, but we didn’t want them to be too obvious. What we were aiming for was a sort of progression, or subtle echoes if that makes any sense. We also didn’t want the last pieces in the journal to feel tacked on because, almost inevitably, when putting together a journal or a collection of poems, on the first few runs you are left with poems that don’t quite seem to fit anywhere. It’s rather like trying to fit an octopus into a string bag − you don’t want any legs left hanging out.

After a couple of run-throughs we decided to come at it from a different angle. We knew what we wanted the first and last pieces to be by then, and we knew that we wanted Chris Ogden’s poem “Pinship” for the back cover, and from there an order slowly began to emerge. It was a democratic process – if one of us suggested something we both had to agree it – the other could veto by saying things like “too obvious”, “this one needs something more subtle next to it” or “no those two don’t work together” etc. Eventually we found a coherent order that we were both happy with, one that felt like a logical progression to us, and that hopefully takes the reader on some kind of journey as they read the book. We liked the idea of concluding with ideas of journey and leaving. To begin with we were worried that it might seem a little obvious but Petra Kamula’s poem “After a Lover Leaves” seemed like a beautiful and poignant ending – especially as we hope that issue 2 of Lighthouse will leave the reader wanting a little more.

Editorial was the thing that Anna and I found most difficult. We spent weeks bouncing ideas around, but couldn’t come up with anything that either of us was happy with. I read the editorial in a lot of different journals to try and get a sense of what editorial is for. Most editors seem to use it as a way of justifying their editorial choices, and some had written mini essays on a particular aspect of poetry – most of these left me cold, and Anna felt the same. We knew what we didn’t want to do, but that hadn’t brought us any closer to deciding what we did want to do. The editorial I had enjoyed most was in Nathan Hamilton’s Dear World and Everyone in it, which is written as a series of letters to various people in the poetry world. I had also recently written a poem that was a series of extracts from letters, and I quite liked the idea of writing the editorial as a series of letters or emails where Anna and I could explore our ideas of what editorial is or should be. We kept coming back to this idea and we decided to give it a go – although we had no idea whether it would work. I kicked off our correspondence and so a back and forth of ideas began. It was fun to do and it was playful, but it was a risk and we had no idea when we started whether it worked successfully as an editorial piece. In the end though, it worked surprisingly well, and we were both rather pleased by the end piece. It does stray into silliness, but I think it manages to retain a serious edge. It explores the idea of what editorial is or should be, and also talks about the flavour or feel of the work chosen for issue two without giving a blow by blow, poem by poem account of why we chose each particular piece.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say how much I enjoyed working with Anna. We didn’t argue or even have a minor fall out – in fact it was a surprisingly easy process over all. In fact we would have written this piece as a series of emails, but Anna is taking a well-earned holiday. She might write something on her return.