1. Magma 60: The Newcastle Launch

    Written by Rob Mackenzie — 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)


    “Great claims have been made for poets as a social force: they have been called the critics of life, the trumpets that sing men to battle, the unacknowledged legislators of the world. On the other hand they have been accused of being introverted neurotics who find in infantile word-play an escape from the serious duties of adult life, the irresponsible fiddlers deserting a Rome in flames.” (W.H. Auden)

    Peter Armstrong chose a poem by Australian, James W. Baxter, as his ‘poem of freedom’ after reading his own work, which doesn’t shirk from tackling big themes of death, time, mortality

    Peter Armstrong

    “What foresight or what irony
    settled you on this high plot,
    barely soil for burial…”
    ['At the Grave of Beveridge']

    Tessa Berring’s three poems included two decapitations and she also read Francis Ponge’s marvellous ‘The Mollusc’

    Tessa Berring

    “The first thing I did
    to the figure

    Magma board member, Ian McEwen, read Dan O’Brien’s poem from Magma 60, ‘The War Reporter Paul Watson Has the Time’


    “Got an email from the interpreter
    I helped escape from Kandahar. The dead
    are Sayed’s sister and sister-in-law
    and the sisters’ babies…”
    ['The War Reporter Paul Watson Has the Time']

    Marjorie Lotfi Gill’s poems were themed around war, conflict and escape, and she read a poem by Adrienne Rich. It’s just struck me that she was reading her Magma 60 poem about fleeing from Tehran the day before the airports closed, exactly on the 36th anniversary!

    Marjorie Lotfi Gill

    “Kamran, almost eleven       already tall       beside her
               knows they       aren’t coming back”
    ['To the Airport' (Tehran, December 11th, 1978)]

    James McGonigal found a way of reading his Magma 60 poem by using flash cards (you need to see the poem to understand why that was necessary) and finished his set with a poem by Edwin Morgan.

    James McGonigal

    The fat o the land

             la rd
    ['The Scottish Referendum Considered as a Correction Mark in the History of these Isles']

    After the break Rob A. Mackenzie took over as MC


    First up in the second half was Janette Ayachi who had dressed for the night, her diction as rich as the finest fabric

    Janette Ayachi

    “At my wardrobe doors I toss clothes like shadows from trains
    that marauder off track to swallow the moon whole…”
    ['Dressing for the Night']

    Carole Bromley made people laugh with her poems, which also had a serious side, and she chose a poem by Colette Bryce

    Carole Bromley

    “you in your Armani suit. You saw me alright.
    I haven’t changed that much in twenty years
    though you have, Eddie. You have.”
    [Oberon's Cloak']

    Finally, there was Sean O’Brien, whose prose article in Magma 60 is stimulating and provocative, part of Magma’s ‘National Conversation (on Poetry)’ of which more will be said in the new year. Sean read from his forthcoming collection. ‘The Beautiful Librarians’, which ought to be good based on what he read on this evening

    Sean O'Brien 3

    And – to my delight – he also read Zbigniew Herbert’s The Envoy of Mr Cogito, a phenomenal poem!

    Thanks to the Lit & Phil, to the readers and to the audience for making it such a special night in Newcastle. Details of how to get hold of a copy of Magma 60 (single copies or through subscription) can be found at this link.

  2. Magma 60 Launches: from London to Newcastle

    Written by Rob Mackenzie at December 11, 2014 12:53

    Tonight (Thurs 11 December 2014) is the Newcastle launch of Magma 60. If you’re in the vicinity, do come along to the Lit & Phil (23 Westgate Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear NE1 1SE) at 7pm for a sterling line-up (free of charge). Our main guest reader is Sean O’Brien, whose Magma 60 prose article ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ is a provocative, stimulating examination of the responsibilities people have to poetry and language. Reading alongside him will be Magma 60 contributors Peter Armstrong, Janette Ayachi, Tessa Berring, Carole Bromley, Marjorie Lotfi Gill and James McGonigal, who will each read three poems and a poem by someone else on the theme of freedom. So brave the hostile weather! It will be worth it.

    The London launch on 28 November at the LRB Bookshop was terrific and showcased the immense talent within the covers of the issue. The venue was relaxed and convivial and the audience seemed to enjoy the readings if comments afterwards are anything to go by. Here are photographs of a selection of the readers below.

  3. Blog Review 38: Tim Cumming Reviews ‘The Stairwell’ by Michael Longley

    Written by Tim Cumming at December 3, 2014 8:41

    Here are the names of some of the flowers of Carrigskeewaun – sandwort, saxifrage, asphodel; and here are some of its songbirds – red bunting, blackcaps, chiffchaffs, a wren, “its tumultuous/ Aria in C or/ Whatever the key/ In which God exists”.

    In Longley country, the small forms of the world spread and grow from book to book. His poems are miniatures with big dimensions, nests of small ephemera with long shadows and persistent themes, though they can also be decorative, lovely to hear and to look at, and even if slight, riveted with perfectly placed detail. Longley’s art and craft is an exact science with tangible effects.

  4. Dan O’Brien on The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats

    Written by Dan O'Brien at December 2, 2014 10:58

    American poet and playwright Dan O’Brien recently won the 2014 Troubadour International Poetry Prize, 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for War Reporter. You can read two new poems by O’Brien in Magma 60. 

    Exclusively for Magma, he considers the issue’s theme of freedom as it relates to a famous poem by W.B. Yeats.

  5. Magma 60 and its launch events in London and Newcastle

    Written by Rob A Mackenzie at November 21, 2014 18:00

    Freedom is a word so big, or so close to us, that perhaps we don’t even see it. Certainly the poems that arrived in response to our call for poems on the theme of ‘Freedom’ were so various that often we couldn’t decide if a poem was supposed to address the theme at all. But the best of them enacted, across the gamut of political, personal, geographical and cultural life, the human freedom of the careful and electric word.

    The prose pieces consider freedom from a range of viewpoints. Sean O’Brien’s piece, for Magma’s National Conversation project, reminds us that freedom entails responsibility. This year’s Forward Prize winner Kei Miller considers freedom and travel. Gwen Adshead discusses how Larkin was able to express the unsayable. Tishani Doshi, in dialogue with Elizabeth Bishop, has an urge “to engrave the words on cages”. And Matthew Sweeney remembers the great constraining freedom of collaborating with the late John Hartley Williams. We are also pleased to offer work by this year’s Eric Gregory Award winners and a fine batch of poems by Jos Smith for our regular ‘selected’ feature.

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