Even after almost 30 years, I am still grateful and delighted on a daily basis that I get to make and publish poetry books with brilliant, inspiring poets and editors.
At Macmillan Children’s Books we currently publish around ten poetry titles a year – we publish titles for moments and events, like International Women’s Day, the Football World Cup and Remembrance Day, books that will particularly be enjoyed in schools and big gift books for Christmas.
I am lucky enough to get sent a lot of ideas for poetry collections, and I love talking to poets about them and exploring how we might be able to publish in the best way. There is a kind of publishing magic that happens when just the right theme is matched with the perfect angle or twist. I have published at least 20 books of football poems, 10 books of Christmas poems and 30 books of school poems, but it is the extra something, the hook that a poet or anthologist brings that makes all the difference, to ensure that we are not walking over the same ground again and again. It means that I can sell the idea to our in house teams, so that they can sell the idea to bookshops and in turn the retailers can sell them to customers. It is that magic that makes children choose them.
I love this poem which is by Paul Cookson and features in School Trips:
Short Visit, Long Stay
The school trip was a special occasion
But we never reached our destination
Instead of the Zoo
I was locked in the loo
On an M62 Service Station.
Once we have our idea and the book is acquired the anthologist contacts a wide group of poets, shares the concept with them and asks for submissions. For a 60 poem collection an anthologist will usually send me around 80 poems to look at. I love reading these manuscripts – every anthologist has a particular style or voice that comes through in the story they tell with the poems. Some manuscripts are perfect, but mostly they take a bit of tweaking as we try different running orders and call in a few more poems to fill any gaps. Anthologists weave their books together with great skill, and sometimes that might mean leaving out some beautiful pieces that don’t quite fit and instead searching out pieces that chime in the right way. We may have to reshuffle a book to keep it within its permissions budget and last-minute changes can often lead to stunning new discoveries.
Some books evolve dramatically – Chris Riddell’s Poems to Save the World With started off as a hymn to the environment and kindness in a strange post-Brexit world, but then Covid happened mid-edit and it became about hope, consolation. It includes this beautiful poem by Nikita Gill:
And maybe it is easier to learn kindness in these times.
When the whole world is like a small child with a fever,
trying her very best to make herself feel better.
Maybe we find our unity in the near-losing of everything.
Where we have no choice but to depend upon each other.
This is what it takes to realise we are in this together.
A man helps someone he dislikes because they are in danger.
A neighbour delivers groceries to everyone ill on her street.
Old friends forgive each other and stop acting like they are strangers.
Maybe this time, this is what the revolution looks like.
People helping each other despite their differences.
Understanding truly, that without the aid of others,
we would be all alone in this.
Pick up an anthology today – see the world from different perspectives and from different periods of history, meet some new poets, listen to the anthologist’s voice singing, bookmark a favourite and send one to a friend.
Gaby Morgan is an Editorial Director at Macmillan Children’s Books and proud curator of the Macmillan Children’s Poetry List. She has compiled many bestselling anthologies including Read Me and Laugh: A Funny Poem for Every Day of the Year, Poems from the First World War, Poems for Love, Fairy Poems – which was short-listed for the CLPE Award – and A Year of Scottish Poems.