1. Blog Review 39: Geoff Sawers Reviews the 2014 Faber New Poets Pamphlets

    Written by Geoff Sawers — January 27, 2015 9:19

    There are four pamphlets in 2014′s Faber New Poets series:
    9: Rachael Allen
    10: Will Burns
    11: Zaffar Kunial
    12: Declan Ryan

    Sixteen pages is quite a slender space in which to make your mark, but Rachael Allen gives us, in effect, two separate sequences, as her pamphlet interleaves found language/trash-culture prose poems with a set of childhood memory/Cornish landscapes. All offer quite static images; no movement is attempted, and the relationship between the two sequences isn’t clear, as they bleed at times into each other, leaving a giddy, slightly seasick, sugar-rush feeling in the mind. But she has a rich vocabulary, and in the tightest of the poems (‘Kingdomland’ and ‘Old Fears Are Still Valid’ stand out) strong, compelling imagery.

    Fish garble in the filaments of rope,
    whacking metronomic
    with their unblinking dial eyes

    (from ‘Early Harbour)

    It’s intriguing, if oddly incomplete. This is probably deliberate, and it’s good that she avoids neat conclusions; I’d like to see how it develops with more space.

    Zaffar Kunial’s collection stands out from the pile. He is soft-voiced and assured; it is quite hard to catch hold of individual lines and hold them up because the work isn’t immediately dazzling, but it’s full and rich, and repays repeated readings. He has an obvious joy in the play of words that catches the eye, whether it comes in an off-rhymed sonnet, or a compressed, rhythmic nature poem (‘Butterfly Soup’) or one of the looser meditations on the cracks and trails of language that shift back and forth between English and other languages, or unnamed dialects thereof, between Grasmere and Kashmir.

    This poem begins with the image of skate tracks on the frozen Windermere:

    To cut across the —
    of a star
    . I’ve scored that place because shadow
    first held sway. And wrongly, as light can’t cast
    dark. Next up, the star’s image would land where
    his skate passed. Then the curt Latin, at last:
    reflex. Fitting the foot.

    (from ‘Placeholder’)

    Kunial’s patient dissection here of the art of writing, though he quotes Heaney, reminds me more of Tony Harrison. It’s possible that most reviewers will note his day job (“full-time ‘Creative Writer’ for Hallmark Cards”); I wanted at first to avoid that, largely because the only poem that refers to it (‘On The Brief’) is the only weak poem in the set. But perhaps it’s unavoidable; it’s all underpinned by a careful craft and even when the rhythms are broken, they never spill, they keep a gentle lilt. ‘Spider Trees, Pakistan’ begins with a line about English mists; moves on to the floods in Sindh and ends with the lines

    …racking my brain for lines to catch how they carry
    the gravities of home. Worlds I can’t marry.

    He might be surprised how well he has.

    I’ll discuss Will Burns and Declan Ryan together. They are different from each other, and I hope I’m not doing them an injustice. Burns’s is an art that sets itself to pick something special out of the mundane: “Down/ to the angles of the earth itself, the nature/ of your work and all other men.” This is from one his strongest poems, ‘Guy’. It ends:

    To feel all that was certain cut and run
    under the folding steel,
    like garden birds that scatter
    from a bird of prey.

    Other poems, however, are less dynamic, or start with a strong image and then drift out of focus. Declan Ryan too is ploughing a curiously old-fashioned path, in a way, with narrative poems that have a clear subject and are certainly well-crafted. The heart of his collection is a powerful long poem called ‘The Range’, a bitter and claustrophobic lament for a rural Irish family. It stands well on its own, with nods to ballad form, yet always staying just the right side of kailyard pathos. A lot of poets whose work can get dragged down or bogged down in the prosaic could learn from it. In the lines “There were robins, for death, and blackbirds./ They are for resignation. You died at home,/ light as a bird, bald as a young, blind bird”, for instance, the thrice-repeated ‘bird’ could so easily be clunky, yet works with the alliteration like a hammer-blow.

    Will Burns at his best does something quite like this: he has a memorable description of black-headed gulls in a “wheeling pattern that/ left the field as bleak as bone,” but elsewhere there are lines not nearly so taut, or line-breaks that seem to dissipate the tension they were building up to little effect. Ryan is not absolutely free of such touches, but at his best, he reaches higher. See for instance the line almost at the end of ‘The Range’, “I could not live where the young leave before the old” in which the half-rhyme of ‘live’ and ‘leave’ seems to invite you to switch the words around. The two related meanings flicker together, and it sets the poem up for the punch in its final line. Similar alliterations and short lines lend a stately glow to his closing poem ‘Trinity Hospital’ too:

    Just after rain,
    sunlight stood between us
    like a whitewashed wall
    […]
    [I] will be delivered through orange groves
    to you, the white church of my days.

    Geoff Sawers
    Geoff Sawers (b.1966) is a poet, historian and lettering artist. He learnt Welsh in the pubs of Swansea and consequently can be understood only by a handful of sympathetic listeners

    faber pamphlets 2014

    The four pamphlets are published by Faber, £5 each.
    9: Rachael Allen
    10: Will Burns
    11: Zaffar Kunial
    12: Declan Ryan

    (to read previous Magma blog reviews, please click on the ‘reviews’ tag immediately below)

  2. The Magma Poetry Competition 2014/15 closes at midnight TONIGHT

    Written by Wes Brown at January 19, 2015 12:33

    This is your last chance to enter the Magma Poetry Competition 2014/15!

    Magma’s Poetry Competition has two contests, one for short poems of up to 10 lines, and one for poems of 11 to 50 lines. Poems of 11 to 50 lines will be judged by Jo Shapcott for the Judge’s Prize. Poems of up to 10 lines will be entered for the Editors’ Prize and, reflecting Magma’s unique rotating editorship, will be judged by a panel of Magma editors.

  3. If you still need an extra push to enter the 2014/15 Magma Poetry Competition, then poet Christine Webb has written a specially commissioned poem on the scary theme of deadlines to help you beat 19th January!

    Christine Webb’s first collection, After Babel, was published in 2004 by Peterloo Poets, and her second, Catching Your Breath, in 2011 by Cinnamon Press. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies: you can read Form in Magma 57.

  4. For many of us, a deadline is what’s needed to kick-start creativity. This is certainly true for Paul Stephenson, who won the Editors’ Prize in the Magma Poetry Competition 2012/2013 for his poem, The Pull.

    The Editors’ Prize is unique as the only short poem prize running in the UK with a four figure winning prize. Paul took time out to speak to Magma about how a deadline spurred him to enter his winning poem.

  5. Magma 60: The Newcastle Launch

    Written by Rob Mackenzie at December 16, 2014 8:32

    Newcastle’s Lit & Phil isn’t easy to describe. It’s a beautiful building that harbours expansive rooms, mezzanines, corridors and hideaways, bookshelves against every wall packed with books. The photos below will give a flavour but I’d advise anyone to check out the Lit and Phil for themselves if they are ever in Newcastle. The readings were exceptional. The poets each read a few poems of their own and one written by someone else on the Magma 60 theme of freedom, and these choices proved distinctive and exciting. Here are the readers in order with a very short extract from their Magma 60 poem:

    Tony Williams was MC for the first half and read a few sentences from W.H. Auden’s introduction to the anthology ‘Poems of Freedom’ (Victor Gollancz, 1938)

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