03 May 2007


Yesterday, we had our Western Women's Writing meeting, and I was supposed to have Poetrix ready to proof. I had done all the typesetting of the poems but hadn't actually got around to laying them out properly, and had set aside the morning to do that. All very well, but then my parents showed up unexpectedly -- and I felt rude telling them that sorry, I couldn't entertain them because I had work to do. That's the perennial problem in working from home: people expect you are available for whatever it is they want. Anyway, I did feel rude, but did it anyway. That's part of professionalism really, isn't it? That work hours have to be work hours. Discipline. Bum on seat. All of that. Trouble was that the dog was so excited to see them that she then proceeded to vomit all over the carpet in the study. Nice. Reminder to self: don't leave things till the last minute because stuff happens.

So, I got onto the layout. Poetrix is a smallish magazine -- we have thirty-two pages of poems, including one poem from a group member. Occasionally, we'll go to thirty-six pages if we're really pushed for space (ie if I cannot possibly make it fit), but we prefer not to do this. And it's an extra four pages because we're A5 size, so one sheet of A4 gets folded in half which gives four extra pages (back and front).

So first I look at how many pages I have, and I had nearly forty, so had to start thinking about doubling up poems. I use WordPerfect to do the layout. I won't start ranting about how much I love this program here, or I'll never talk about layout. So my next step is to use a two-page view, and just get an overall feel for how long the poems are. Depending on how many pages I have, the organisation of the poems can be a simple process of just jamming a short one or two at the end of one or two long ones, or it can be a complex mathematical procedure where I have to count lines to jostle things to fit.

My next step is to choose the opening and closing poems. The opening poem should be really strong. It may not necessarily be the strongest or best, but should be one of the best. One limiting factor is that it can't run for more than a page. In the last two issues I've chosen poems that have a strong visual image -- this was particularly important last time because I had to rotate the text ninety degrees to fit it on the page. I did this by doing it as a text box and making the box invisible. The lines were far too long to fit on the page and couldn't be broken because it was a shape poem. Anyway, it wouldn't have looked good facing text going the other way, and page 1 is the only one that has a blank verso (left hand page). And it was a terrific poem anyway -- very strong.

The end poem also needs to be one of the best because it leaves the reader with their final impression of the collection. So I'm looking for something that ends well, and leaves the reader thinking.

Then the fun begins. Poems that spill over a page have to be on facing pages; if they run to three then they should start on a recto (right hand page), so that they end on facing pages. It's interesting when we have themes come through -- and they seem to in each issue -- for example, this issue has three poems on Japan, all by different poets. Why Japan? I don't know. Sometimes it's good to sit themed things together, but sometimes it isn't. If there's a run of six or so poems on death, for example, the reader might get bogged down in bleakness. A really strong poem might overshadow another poem with a similar subject. Some poems complement each other. It's an interesting process -- one sometimes dictated by the space considerations and poem lengths.

It's an interesting process -- sometimes time-consuming, sometimes frustrating (that poem that's just one line too long, and then I have to start thinking about how much to carry over), but it's something I always enjoy.

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