From 1961 until his death on February 14th 2001, Alan was to remain the exemplary editor of London Magazine.
During those years, when I was busy trying to write poetry, and sending off submissions to various editors of poetry magazines, I yearned to be able to write something that Ross might accept. It was a longed-for but unimaginable dream.
But I slowly had the odd poem accepted by Derwent May at The Listener, (1969), and by Michael Ivens for Twentieth Century; Graham Ackroyd for Nineties Poetry and Les Murray for Quadrant along with countless rejection slips ! Most editors kept submissions for quite a considerable time, too. I once sent a poem to the New Statesman, and Anthony Thwaite returned it saying ‘sorry that I’ve kept it so long’.
Over the years, I would send poems to Ross, and, astonishingly, he would send them back ‘by return of post’. This was the pre-digital age – before ‘Word’ and ‘Docx’.; and he was probably the only editor who did this! He would also enclose a colourful ‘post-it’ note with a very courteous and useful comment, such as:
‘Not quite for us now, but very nice to read. Such a recapturing of pleasure and enthusiasm’ AR.
After rejections from Poetry London, Poetry Review and Rialto, I gave up sending my poems to magazines.
However, after a trip to Barrow, in Alaska, in 1998, I came back with renewed inspiration, and some new poems.
I found the courage to submit once again to Alan Ross.
To my delight, they appealed to him, and he very kindly made some excellent editorial suggestions. The multi- coloured post-it notes contained useful suggestions and encouragement this time.
‘End of the Road’ the best but weakens in line 4. Trans-coastal better than bi – try and make it perfect’ AR
I tried for perfection, and he wrote back:
‘Nearly a v.effective poem’.
‘We’ll take End, and if you can improve the last line of Arctic – a bit awkward, I think. Your poems are vivid and real, but I think tend to the jerky and elliptical. Thanks for sub.’ AR
Finally, the deal was closed. Alan took 5 poems. And I received this letter from him.
‘Arctic’ reads well now. Did you go, or is it imaginary? A lifetime ago I was in the Arctic in a minesweeper called ‘Harrier’ ( see overleaf) . Someone sent me the photocopy last week.
Can you send me a few lines about your past and present?
And, a day before my 51st birthday – 22/9/01, he wrote:
‘Thanks for the poems. We’ll try and use them all together’.
They were published in the last two editions before Alan died. Feb/March and April/May 2001.
I think that the cheque Alan sent me must’ve sadly been one of the last that he wrote.
After Alan’s death I sent a copy of my volume of poems ‘The Appropriate Country’ to Alan’s partner, Jane Nye. She sent me a lovely letter, and told me that Alan had really liked my poem ‘End of the Road’, and had given it to her to read. She also mentioned Alan’s love of Sussex ( where I have lived for 40- odd years), Alan’s love of cricket at Eastbourne, and walks around Alfriston, Cuckmere and Clayton, and his schooldays at Ardingly.
Jane also invited me to Alan’s Memorial Service at St Paul’s, Covent Garden at 11 am on
Tuesday 30th October 2001, which I attended.
It was a poignant and stylish event, with Harold Pinter, Charles Osborne and William Boyd, among others, all contributing eulogies to Alan’s life and career.
I am so glad that I persisted in sending poems to Alan. He was a true mentor – and just the kind of engaged editor all poets dream of encountering. Over the thirty or so years that I submitted MSS, he always responded immediately and with great gusto.
I came across a ‘with compliments’ slip that he sent me c. 1985 recently, and it read as follows:
‘I thought these very promising, the last one specially – but a bit Eliotish and literary, and I think they need compressing more. But please send again’ AR.
I’m so glad that I did.