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Thinking through language: Editing poetry in Eureka Street

  • 02 February 2022
I was invited to read the poetry at Eureka Street by Morag Fraser, sometime in the mists. She shouted me coffee at the Chinese place across Victoria Street from the magazine’s Richmond offices. That was nearly twenty years ago. As we crunched on fortune cookies, she popped the question. The messages were auspicious. I’ve been editing poetry at Eureka Street ever since and have only chosen to let go of the job this summer because it’s time. It’s time for someone else to have a go. It’s time for me to make a change and create space for other creative activities, my own and others.  

The pay is atrocious but the hours are short. You have to want to do it, and reading original poetry, of every kind, is my idea of fun. Sunday afternoons have been the time to read new words by people I’ve never met. The majority of them, anyway. I welcomed every kind of poetry and every kind of poet. For this reason, Eureka Street is immensely catholic in its representation of new work, both from Australia and Outside Over There.

The first big change from those days is paper. Poems carefully typed and folded arrived, usually with the ominous stamped self-addressed envelope, dutifully devised for the author’s ultimate joy or woe. Stacks of poems rose on all sides as I listened internally to their variable effects, before one or two beauties went their way into next month’s issue. Like many, I continue to wonder if the screen is any substitute for the intimate experience of absorbing a poetic work set out spaciously on the page. I am also thankful for small mercies, like having poetry at all.  

Digital, with its interminable reliance on documents that don’t always open, changed the paper chase into an email trail. The piles became files. Some may lament the fact that digital has removed us even further from the spoken word than print. There are times when the sheer volume of information tests the patience, leaving the editor longing for a human voice. The editor has to make do with his or her own. Digital has certainly increased the leisureliness with which we access poetry, given we don’t have to go anywhere to find it.

Peter Porter, a poet well-known to Eureka Street, once said that poetry exists in tension between the pub and the university. He could mean bohemia and academe,