Bones & Breath is the name of a book by the Scottish poet Alexander (‘Sandy’) Hutchison, published by Salt. It won the Saltire Award for Best Scottish Poetry Collection, 2014. Sandy died in November 2015. The title poem has the poet as a bird “barely out/ of the nest”:
eyes and wings;
The bones light,
my breath light.
There is something wonderful about that image, which encapsulates both extreme fragility and surging power, the risk and emotional charge of words attempting flight. We would like to read poems that have the solidity and vulnerability of bones, the vitality and contingency of every breath. You can write about bones. You can write about breath. You can write about both. Or you can use the phrase to inspire poems that seem to be about neither. As ever, we’re also happy to receive off-theme poems.
We don’t want to be too prescriptive. Breath can be spirit. It can be necessity. Denise Levertov said that a line of poetry was a kind of breath. Bones can be dead and find themselves roused, as in Ezekiel, chapter 37 (“Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live”).
This sense of divine (re)creation is balanced by our knowledge of the inevitable end, our sense of mortality. In another poem, ‘Everything’, Sandy wrote, “Everything is racing/ Everything is vanishing/ Everything is hosted/ Everything is vanishing”.
Serious poems are fine, but please try not to be dreary. In ‘Dream Song 30’, John Berryman speaks of Henry, his alter ego:
Collating bones: I would have liked to do.
Henry would have been hot at that.
I missed his profession.
The black comedy ensures this poem never becomes ponderous, despite its theme of mortality. Breath can burst, like laughter. So, breathe in. Get those skeletons dancing! You are bones & breath, words that try “eyes and wings;/ try air”.
Rob A. Mackenzie and A.B. Jackson
editors, Magma 67
Submissions can be made from Wednesday 1st June until midnight on Sunday 31st July. Details of how to submit poems can be found on our Contributions Page.