I’ve just finished my official Spread the Word mentorship (if such a word exists) of Cityread‘s Young Writer in Residence 2013, Jay Bernard. Jay is primarily a poet – and a very good one at that – and I’m neither a poet nor an editor of poetry. I’m much more comfortable when sentences follow each other in an orderly and linear fashion. But apparently Jay specifically wanted an editor rather than a poet, and I didn’t need to be an editor of poetry. I just needed to be an editor, full stop.
And what Jay really needed was someone to hold her to account. So we plotted a timetable to confer structure on the amorphous business of her writing. Jay is a last-minuter by nature, but she’s a woman of her word, and bang on schedule – though in the dead of night when I was asleep and Jay was still at her desk – an email would come through with a new chunk of words, just as she’d promised.
Of course we talked about those words, too, and from my perspective it wasn’t just a case of setting deadlines and expecting them to be met. I attempted to give her a sense of her readers (and especially of new readers she should be reaching out to) and how to keep them very much in mind and on her side. Writers and their words are all very well, but both need readers. And of course poets really do need readers, and could do with a lot more of them.
But our deadlines – mine to set; hers to meet – were what really made the mentorship a worthwhile endeavour. And now, unofficially but just as authoritatively, we’ll continue. We have three more dates in our diaries, and Jay knows exactly what she’s doing and when. And meanwhile I’m feeling moved to sing both the praises of Jay’s work (her long poem about the severed heads of London Bridge will be ready and published very soon) and of those ill-named, oft-maligned and rather dreaded things called deadlines.