Letter to a Young Editor
I think it’s about balance. What you planned versus the unexpected – the discovery. The importance of individual versus what emerges in between. Each piece poised against the issue it helps bring to life, each issue against the magazine they all-too-quickly become, each magazine against the world they create and are created by. And you (yes, you – all that you are, your ideas and tastes and curiosities and obsessions) in balance with the other editors, readers, possible (hopeful) audiences. It’s about that electric, that live stillness. It’s all about balance.
There’s gonna to be some teetering. Oh yes – a little of that cartoon arm-flailing. God knows, I’ve done a bit in the years – can it really be six? – since finding myself perched on the, dare I say, cliff-edge of The Scores. (For anyone who doesn’t know, the Scores is the name for the bluff overlooking the sea in St Andrews – I’m being witty, see?).
You learn balance from a book (I know, I know, I should really be talking up the importance of book learning), from calculations, or watching others. And even when you’ve struck a balance hundreds of times before, the hundred-and-first still takes its own careful negotiation of space, weight, air.
Since I first became editor-in-chief in 2016, I have always imagined The Scores somewhere to learn to create that dynamic, electric, crackling balance. A little precarious, sure, but with advisors and institutional support and supremely accomplished peers and, yes, me and Rosa too, to steady you.
To be fair to you young editors I’ve been so privileged to work with over these past years – I refuse to accept it’s been six! – you’ve hardly needed steadying. Together, you’ve published astonishing Special Features, highlighting urgent work by writers of Arab heritage, writers for whom English is not their first language, and, as in this current issue, Disabled writers. You’ve published mind-expanding Letters to Young Poets. You’ve published winners and shortlistees for TS Eliot Awards, Forward Prizes, Griffin Prizes, National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, Kingsley Tufts Awards, Pushcart Prizes. More importantly, you’ve discovered and celebrated writers whose work was then little known, and in doing so helped make readers sit up and take note. I you all, like I do, feel a thrill every time you open a book to find the words ‘The Scores’ in the acknowledgements section.
But it’s all about balance. Between what you’ve done and what you mean to do; between past accomplishments and the possibilities that the future might offer up. Apparently – I still don’t believe it – it’s been six years now that I’ve been wobbling here on this proverbial windy cliff-edge. Trying, along with all you young editors – friends – to strike that perfect balance. I don’t know if it exists, that perfect balance. But it’s steadying to think of all you luminous future editors of The Scores, always here, overlooking the North Sea from St Andrews, trying to strike it.
For me though, after six years on the cliff edge, the water is looking mighty fine and, though it isn’t May (a little joke for you St Andreans), I’m about ready for my belated May Dip.
So now, just before I pop on my swimsuit, my waterwings, let me just say:
Dearest editors, keep trying to find that balance. Not for the fame or the money or the accolades (psst: there are none!), not for the impact, the numbers of readers (there’s no controlling that). Do it for that feeling when you, for a split second, find it. That still point between the wild everything, that second of electric motionlessness when you’ve managed to bring something new, something necessary, into being. That balance. Do you feel it?
As for me, I’ll be cheering from the water!
With love ever,
Patrick James Errington is a poet, translator, academic, and, yes, editor. Having worked in editorial capacities for The Columbia Journal and The New Yorker, he began editing The Scores at the invitation of Don Paterson in 2015, serving as Editor-in-Chief until 2021.