Poetry Review was founded in 1912. Its first editor was Harold Monro who, in refusing the editorship of the Poetry Society's in-house Poetical Gazette and holding out instead for editorial independence, set the standard for today's journal. Published by the Society and sharing its aim of "helping poets and poetry thrive in Britain today" – a declaration of intent towards all schools and groups of poetry, not merely the fashionable or metropolitan – PR nevertheless comes with that independent room for manoeuvre which is essential if it's to achieve a literary project. Or, to put this in other ways, if it's to be a good read; a protagonist in contemporary poetic practice; an indispensable vade mecum and a marketplace for poetry and poets.
The Gazette was a members' magazine, full of news and listings. In 1916, when William Galloway Kyle took over as editor at Poetry Review, these functions were subsumed into the Review. Kyle was the Poetry Society's founder and Director until his death in 1967 at ninety-two; his editorship lasted for a correspondingly substantial thirty-one years, during which the journal expanded its circulation, found wealthy patrons and established a tradition of interest in American verse. It could also be criminally meretricious. Browsing green-bound volumes for the period to 1947 in the Society's offices, it's hard to find a poet you've heard of, or a critique inspiring full confidence. Happily, Muriel Spark (1947-9) broke this spell and, with the exception of an editorship-by-committee (1952-62), the journal resumed the task Monro had set for it. Since the '70s, well-known editors and poet-editors succeed each other – Adrian Henri, Martin Booth, Anthony Rudolf, Eric Mottram, Edwin Brock, Harry Chambers, Douglas Dunn, Roger Garfitt, Andrew Motion, Mick Imlah – up to those whose versions of the Review I already had on my own shelf at home before taking over: Peter Forbes (1985-2002) and, most recently, Robert Potts and David Herd.
It's a distinguished, though clearly somewhat masculine, list. Each name on it (including guest editors') suggests a distinctive approach, an individual poetic perspective. There are lots of fingers on pulses. If Poetry Review were to lose this kind of topicality, it would become merely part of the literary-critical furniture. Nor, on the other hand, can it operate like a little magazine, fostering fierce partisanship and the kind of exaggerated allegiances which enable groups of poets to withstand the artic blast of the sideline.
And yet of course you are partisan. As a reader, as an editor (who is a certain kind of reader, maybe not Ideal-ised, but certainly an attentive one), you do want certain things from the poems (and the critical reception of those poems) you come across. I am, for example, somewhat uncomfortable with cults and the status of effective unreadability they confer on their objects. I mistrust homogeneity. I've an appetite for the collisions, rather than collusions, of international writing: internationalism is one of Poetry Review's longest traditions. In a Britain where even the arts establishment can look shifty when it comes to poetry, where access to contemporary poets in libraries and on syllabuses is increasingly rationed, Poetry Review - whose readers and subscribers include not only individuals with absolute poetic commitment but those for whom it's their only contact with what's going on - has a robustly colourful role to play in presenting the best of poetry today, in cajoling poets into particular forms of writing, and in nursing contemporary poetry-critical discourse. There may be easier jobs. Few offer such peculiarly sweet rewards.