Working The Night Shift

Article Image The Night Shift began with two ideas that went bump in the night; first, my own dream of a collection of poems set at night (I had already edited an anthology of poems about bats, On a Bat's Wing) and, second, Five Leaves publisher Ross Bradshaw's long-term plan to publish an anthology of poems about the world of work. A team of three editors was then given the job of scouring shelves, following up their particular interests - the natural world at night (my own area), the work world (Andy Croft) and everything in between (Jenny Swann). We pooled passions and prejudices, hunting for goodies in the canon of night poetry and found it was a setting for poetry like no other. John Humphrys, who has spent half a lifetime gleaning first-hand experience of working the night shift, set the scene for the anthology with his superb Foreword and then off we went. While night waitresses washed floors, nightingales sang in trees and lit windows in suburbia revealed mothers and fathers up with their babies for the 3.00 am feed.

The Night Shift came together out of a wealth of writing - English, American and in translation French and Hungarian. Anthologists are de facto judges in a competition where the winner is the reader in the bookshop. We were after the lively, the readable, the provoking - mingling the well known (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Arnold, Auden, de la Mare, Duffy) with the not so well or unknown - (Espada, Kelly, Routh, Rawling, Hadari, Wardle).

More than fifty poets were joyous, celebratory, despairing and metaphysical. The empty spaces of the night were not vacant; they teemed with noise and happenings. Over time , the north-bound steam engine climbed the gradient; a carriage rattled over Westminster Bridge; watchmen drank tea; and a poet slept in an orchard a few days before his execution. Many songs and many darknesses came together in a place the three editors knew was worth experiencing. Simon Armitage in ‘Night Shift' reminded us of "...this space we have worked for and paid for / we have found ourselves, but lost each other."

Only temporarily - as we pursued our separate tastes to put them together in this three-part anthology.

Michael Baron


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