5 Minute Interview with Susannah Herbert

5 Minute Interview with Susannah Herbert

Susannah Herbert is the director of Forward Arts Foundation, a charity which celebrates poetry through National Poetry Day and the Forward Prizes for Poetry. It’s also responsible for the annual Forward Book of Poetry, which contains a selection of the best poems of the year and is essential reading for all who need to keep an eye on new writing.

For 25 years she was a journalist: her posts included Londoner’s Diary Editor of the Evening Standard, Paris Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, and Literary Editor of The Sunday Times.  She works in Somerset House and lives in Hammersmith.

Twitter: @susannahherbert

What was the last book you read?
Sophie Herxheimer’s Your Candle Accompanies The Sun (Henningham Family Press), which intersperses Emily Dickinson poems with Sophie’s glorious collages and poetry. My 13 year old daughter has stolen it to make her own version, chopping up magazines for poems. As an ex-journo I approve.

How did you buy it?
Online, after seeing the collages on Instagram.

What’s next on your reading list?
The poetry books that are coming in for the Forward Prizes: I slip one into my pocket most evenings to read on the tube. The most poetic tube station is Oval: it’s got a book exchange.

What do you like about your job?
Matching up the right person with the right poem. It’s hard to love “poetry” in the abstract – it’s like trying to love “humanity”. Everyone needs somewhere to start. Ask a friend to read The Loch Ness Monster’s Song by Edwin Morgan. Aloud.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out in publishing today?
Reading’s not enough. You have to listen and see. Go to live literature events in unlikely places: its both sobering and refreshing to see spoken word fans treat books as “merch”. There are many potential readers who don’t buy books from booksellers, but they will buy books that crop up in the places they like to go.

Which is your favourite bookshop or e-bookstore and why?
Poetry Book Society. So much more than an e-bookstore for poetry lovers, a source of recommendations and knowledgeable enthusiasm, a community, an advocate for publications that bricks-and-mortar bookstores rarely stock, for example… gorgeous poetry pamphlets.

Go on, let us know your musical guilty pleasure.
Pink Martini. Classical, pop, jazz, all swooshed up together and performed by the kind of super-cheesy orchestra that belongs in a Wes Anderson movie. Songs about little tomatoes, often in French. Or being dumped, in Russian.

Which great novel have you tried to read but failed?
Don de Lillo, Underworld. (Life is too short to care about the fate of a baseball.)

What TV series are you obsessing over right now?
Andrew Graham Dixon’s Art, Passion and Power: The Story of the Royal Collection. I wish I could put him in my pocket and take him out whenever I’m looking at a picture.

What is the silliest thing you have on your desk?
At home, an indignant cat. At work, a heap of hand-drawn invoices from artist-poets. (Just too beautiful to file away.)


Interested in poetry? Learn more about the poetry offering at The London Book Fair 2018 here.

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