The Editor Regrets

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Suddenly, out of the blue, one morning in December 1965, a letter arrived on the delightfully old-fashioned headed notepaper of the Poetry Society (‘Patron, Sir Compton Mackenzie, LL.D., F.R.S.L., President, Professor Nevill Coghill, M.A., F.R.S.L.’), written, but not signed, by Robert Armstrong, Secretary and Treasurer.

John Smith, it said, had decided that a four-year stint as Editor of the Poetry Review was ‘about enough’. He and Armstrong had undertaken ‘an intimate review’ of the situation, and were now writing to ask whether I might care to take on the job.

I think it was John – a poet and literary agent – who had actually put my name forward. I’d corresponded with him for about fifteen years, first from Cornwall as an admirer of his poetry, and had known him personally in London for five or six; we had much the same view of contemporary poets and poetry, and I suppose it wasn’t altogether surprising that he suggested me.

It would, I thought, be rather interesting to see what I could do with the Review. I’d seen it, off and on, since the mid-’50s. It was published by the Poetry Society and supported by the money they raised from their examinations in verse-speaking. These had been set up, or at least the basic textbook in verse-speaking had been written, by Wallace Nichols, himself a bad stammerer who nevertheless spoke verse impeccably (and wearing another hat wrote the adventures of a Roman slave detective for the London Mystery Magazine). Wallace lived just outside Penzance in the Elizabethan wing of a mansion occupied by His Honour Judge Scobell Armstrong, an eccentric who once ordered the defendant in a court case to pay costs in frogs.

I’d begun occasionally to contribute poems and reviews myself, which were sympathetically accepted by John. But editing it? I didn’t hesitate nearly long enough. I didn’t realize, for instance, that the then Council of the Poetry Society looked on the magazine as a

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About the contributor

Derek Parker later edited The Author for eighteen years; he now lives in Sydney. His biography of Voltaire was published in January, and he has just completed a biography of the Countess of Strathmore, great-great-great-great-grandmother of the Queen, to be published next year.

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