Edward Doegar on ‘I never thought it would come to this’

from I Never Thought It Would Come To This by Jamie George. Series of twenty oil & screenprint works on paper, mounted on aluminium, each 32 x 25 cm. © The artist, jamiegeorge.net

The title of this sequence, ‘I never thought it would come to this’, in a sense describes my own surprise at the finished poems. The poems printed in The Poetry Review are the last four of twenty, which were written so that the stanzas might be arranged in any order. When submitting the poems to the magazine, I asked the editor – if she chose to accept them – to arrange them as she preferred. When Emily Berry agreed to publish them and sent them back in her chosen order to check that I was happy to proceed, the effect was unnerving. Even though I’d expected to be surprised – had engineered it in some sense – I was struck by how little of my original intention the final poems retained whilst still, somehow, being the poems I’d written. It turns out I had also meant what Emily had found the poems to mean. When writing them I knew there were too many permutations for me to actively anticipate, but there were few enough to make me feel as if I could. That balance was why I’d settled on five stanza breaks per poem – this offered me the sense of being in control even as I lurched out of it. But while I was surprised by the final arrangement, I was pleased too. It reminds me of James Merrill’s response to a magazine’s request for his thoughts on ‘the meaning of life’ – he responded warily: ‘As a poet I know how words, even those words brought together under laboratory conditions, breed meanings not intended by the author’, but conceded, ‘The resulting surprise needn’t be a nasty one.’

But however much the title of the sequence suits my own experience, it actually derives from a set of prints made by the artist Jamie George. In 2020 he produced a series twenty oil and screenprint works on paper, mounted on aluminium called I Never Thought It Would Come To This, each measuring 32 x 25 cm. When he began working on the series he was staying at a print residency in Athens and during this time we corresponded, exchanging letters discussing processes of aleatory composition and decomposition. The works in his series are one-off prints whose recurring motifs are generated from templates which deteriorate markedly through each instance of the printing process. Writing my poems, I used the prints as a tangential spur or point of departure for each number in the sequence. When I submitted them for publication, I sent Emily the accompanying image along with the unordered text, which I asked her to consider or ignore as she preferred. So the images may or may not have influenced her arrangement of poems, I don’t know.

Edward Doegar’s poems from ‘I never thought it would come to this’ are published in the autumn 2021 issue of The Poetry Review, Vol. 111, No. 3