1. Magma 58 launches in London and Edinburgh

    Written by Laurie Smith — April 14, 2014 12:31

    Magma has launched for the first time in two venues. After many years at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, through the sterling support of Anne-Marie Fyfe, we are now holding launches in London and another part of the country convenient for more poets in the issue.  Our new London venue is the London Review Bookshop and, as over a quarter of the poets in Magma 58 live in Scotland and the very North of England, we launched in Edinburgh too.

    The LRB was packed out with poets, their friends and Magma readers. Nineteen contributors read two or three of their poems in Magma’s tradition of giving equal space for poets in all stages of their career – newcomers to the poetry scene, poets with their first pamphlet and poets with several collections.


    Jacqueline Saphra

    The theme of Magma 58 is ‘the music of words’ and we were delighted to hear some of the amazing poems and poets this inspired: Wendy Klein’s dance-of-death; Sally Festing’s Norfolk dialect; Isobel Dixon’s beautiful elegy; Paul Stephenson’s beetroot-paean to Lord Sugar; Daniel Roy Connelly over from Rome for the occasion; Alex Bell’s very hot sonnet; the intensely musical poems of our Selected poet, Geraldine Clarkson; and many more.


    G Clarkson

    Our special guest was Simon Armitage who had been interviewed about his new translation of the mediaeval poem, Pearl, in Magma 58.  Pearl is about the death of a young daughter and Simon talked movingly about the experience of translating it, as a father himself and as a poet who had written about the killing of a girl (Black Roses) and worked with the parents of Madeleine McCann. As he read from it, a 14th century poem suddenly felt very real.

    Simon Armitage photo 4

    The interval followed, giving a chance for more drinks and networking, and when the evening finished just after 9pm, many of the audience repaired to the Pizza Express in the next street to continue the conversation.

    Our Edinburgh launch was very different – in the main bar of a large pub in the University district with a stage and lights, intriguingly called The Blind Poet.  The evening was arranged by Magma’s reviews editor, Rob A Mackenzie, who lives just outside Edinburgh and hosted the evening jointly with me.  Ten contributors from Scotland and Northern England read two or three poems including Seth Crook all the way from the Isle of Mull, together with Geraldine Clarkson by invitation as Magma 58’s Selected poet.

    We were joined by four guest poets who had contributed to the Personal anthologies article in Magma 58: John Glenday, Helena Nelson, Kona Macphee and Andrew Philip.  They each read and talked about the favourite poem in the article and then some of their own poems.  Helena (who also runs Happenstance Press) spoke illuminatingly about Gerard Manley Hopkins and the evening ended stirringly with Kona singing unaccompanied at the editor’s request, as she had at the Magma 53 launch in June 2012.

    This wasn’t quite the only music in the evening – strains of a tango class upstairs could be heard from time to time – but it sent us out feeling that if Magma can move and entertain 60 people in an Edinburgh pub (including regulars who stayed) we’re on the right track to reach all parts of the UK.

    Many thanks from my co-editor Richard Morris and me to the LRB staff who made the evening such a success; to the staff of the Blind Poet who were so welcoming; and to all the Magma team, especially Jon Sayers who liaised with the LRB and came to Edinburgh too.

  2. There are not many books of poetry that can be classified as genuinely original and large in scope; even among the disputed ground of ‘innovative writing’ there is little that is truly groundbreaking. Reading The Last Wolf of Scotland, however, I feel that I may have found just that sort of book.

    First of all, though, nothing is completely original. This sequence of poems, centring around the story of Robert MacGee’s scalping but ranging over both the American and Scottish landscape, and spanning both 19th century and contemporary time-zones, bears some comparison with Edwin Morgan’s early work and that of Barry MacSweeney in its scope. Basil Bunting and WS Graham are behind this work too. It mixes Scots words with English, with glossaries at the end of each poem that almost read as part of the work, and drags a lot of symbolism in its wake.

  3. Angela Cleland’s second collection shows up that ever-present, subtle gap between the way a book is marketed and the different pleasure it yields. The publisher’s blurb for Room of Thieves flags up the poetry’s quirkiness: ‘a six toed cat skeleton, a lesson in boxing technique and a poem in the shape of a phallus’. But the poems that draw most attention to themselves in this book are the poems least worthy of attention. ‘Jab’, the instructive opening of Cleland’s boxing sequence, is a piece where the scaffolding intrudes on the execution. As for the phallus poem, the less said about its concretism the better, but form does little for content. The strength of Cleland’s supple, deft writing lies in more understated poems, moments when she acknowledges the ambiguity of her enterprise: how – to follow the boxing metaphors that run through the collection – with every hit “your blow could absorb like melt water/ into the padding of your opponent’s gloves.” (from ‘Cross’).

    In ‘Brinacory’, a wistful excavation of a place that is ‘pure island’, Cleland describes the “glamorous/ shadow” of a crag. This is a book full of glamorous shadows, the poems dense with powerfully reimagined histories, conveyed with a subtle and precise wit. Cleland is a shrewd observer of threat, from the “panic-plated” train carriage of ‘Abduction’ to the disassembled and reassembled neighbourhood of ‘The Suburbs’ (“how could I never have realised / we owned so many ticking things?”). Cleland mines the imaginative possibilities of every subject, whether she’s describing routes to immortality or a glimpse of two young bucks.

  4. Call for Contributions – Magma 60 on the theme of ‘Freedom’.

    Written by Rob Mackenzie at March 3, 2014 18:12

    We are delighted to be editing Magma 60, for which the theme is ‘freedom’. It is very much a theme for our times. Many of the freedoms we enjoy today have not been easily won and we might feel some are under serious threat.

    We want poems that touch in some way on personal or political freedom or how those interact. We’d also like to see poems that walk the tightrope between freedom and form.

  5. Magma 58 launches in London and Edinburgh

    Written by Laurie Smith at February 27, 2014 16:15

    For the first time the new issue of Magma will have two launches. The first is on Friday 7th March at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL (very near the British Museum) beginning at 7pm. Our main guest poet is Simon Armitage who will read from his ongoing translation of Pearl which he talks about in Magma 58, as well as other poems, and he will sign copies of his books. And as usual at Magma launches, many of the poets in Magma 58 will read two of their poems.

    Admission is free for everyone. Drinks will be available with donations requested for wine.

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