Fiona Sampson, editor of Poem, was appointed a Member of the British Empire in the 2017 New Year’s Honours list, for her services to literature and the literary community. In the first of two interviews, she tells us more about Poem, and offers her advice to aspiring poets who want to get published.
What distinguishes Poem from similar publications in the field?
Poem is the only UK poetry magazine with a straightforwardly international remit. There are magazines that concentrate on poetry in translation, or poetry from the Arab world, or world poetry. There are also poetry editors who from time to time aim to place UK poetry in a slightly more international context. But this international context often turns out to be substantially North American. Only Poem has a straightforward interest in bringing world poetry, regardless of language or region, into dialogue with UK poetry (in all the languages in which that is written). We do so because we believe in the importance of literary curiosity and literary appetite, and in parity between language cultures.
What approach do you take in selecting the work that appears in Poem?
I’ve over a dozen years’ experience as an editor-in-chief of literary periodicals, and I also serve on a number of editorial boards. But first of all I am, and have always been, a poet and writer: which means that I edit for literary merit and interest. I edit for our readers, not for our writers.
Are there any challenges in maintaining the international scope of Poem? For example, is it difficult to maintain the authenticity of poems when translated?
Authenticity isn’t a problem – except that sometimes things are a bit too authentic, as when a translation comes in that’s done by someone who doesn’t write in English. English is a nuanced, living, pliable language, and needs to be used to at least fluent conversational level before you can expect to make sense in it – even let the ghost of the original poem through.
What advice would you give to aspiring poets looking to progress their career in the field?
Read, read, read. And then write, write, write. Of course you need to live a little too – but you’ll do that anyway.
Fiona Sampson MBE is published in thirty-seven languages and has received international prizes in the US, India, Macedonia and Bosnia. A Fellow and Council member of the Royal Society of Literature, she’s published twenty-seven books, received the Newdigate Prize, a Cholmondeley award and numerous awards from national Arts Councils, the Society of Authors, PBS, and twice been shortlisted for both T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes. Her new books are Lyric Cousins (EUP), The Catch (Penguin) and Limestone Country (Little Toller, May 2017).