1. Magma at Winchester Poetry Festival 2016

    Written by Nick Sunderland at 2:37 pm

    Between the 7th and 9th October, Magma was proud to attend the Winchester Poetry Festival and get involved with a wide range of really great events, readings and lectures.

    Jo Shapcott and Things Being Various

    Jon Sayers, hosted another episode of ‘Things Being Various’, an illuminating one on one conversation with prizewinning poet Jo Shapcott. The format of the event was a detailed look at Jo’s inspiration and writing practices through the medium of a series of beloved objects – a wonderful biographical collection of keepsakes from Jo’s life and career.

    From a small piece of the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage (Jo worked as an Arts administrator there early in her career) and a marvellous Victorian book of random scientific ephemera called ‘Science Siftings’ (an article in which inspired the poem ‘Electroplating the Baby’) to a 1950s Italian phrase book (inspiration for ‘Phrase Book’) and a set of beautiful handcrafted head scarves made for Jo by the artist Susie Freeman (creator of Cradle to Grave in the British Museum) to wear following chemotherapy treatment.

    Each object painted an intimate portrait of Jo’s journey as a poet and a person and let the audience in on a trove of trade secrets that lie behind her craft and feed her curiosity.

    During the conversation Jon described Magma as a magazine for established and emerging poets to which Jo responded “I always hope to be emerging.”


    The Ultimate Dear John Letter

    As part of the event we also ran a pop-up poetry competition to coincide with one of the major themes of the festival – John Keats and the impact and poetic achievements he made during the eight weeks he spent there in 1819. Keats described Winchester as ‘the pleasantest town I ever was in.’

    Festivalgoers were invited to pen an original poem entitled ‘Dear John’ on beautiful handcrafted Georgian manuscript paper (check out the pics). The creative brief – a poem-letter on any subject, as long as it was addressed to Mr Keats.

    With a multitude of entries, the Magma team whittled down three winning entries worthy of a little prize and publication on Magmapoetry.com

    We hope you enjoy them as much as we did judging and congratulations again to William, Amanda and Kate for such wonderful off the cuff compositions!


    First Prize

    Dear John

    I stood this morning where once you did
    To ford your river in bare feet. You can’t. The Itchen’s bridged.
    It’s conduited with concrete, steel, in shadows deep
    Its murmurs lost. Its constant roar would make you weep.
    So, reined in, I paused, gazing at the flow below
    Once briefly yours, now ours to briefly know.
    Outraged, your spirit came and called above the din
    “Are we poets to be stopped from boldly entering in?”
    John, I took my trousers off and waded in bare-thighed
    But then! Oh no! A dog, its owner horrified.
    Relax! England, modest still, averts her eye.
    It was the dog that stared, its mistress walked on by.
    Cupping my fingers to our river’s ancient cold
    I tossed its water to the light and found pure gold.

    William Horwood

    William Horwood

    Second Prize

    Dear John

    I think it important
    to thank you for all I’ve learned
    by watching you when I was pretending
    to busy myself outside your window
    (I would pick about the gravel,
    you’d be head cocked, bright eyed
    at the glass) You let me
    take part in your existence
    Just that little shift
    I owe mine of course to you
    your friend and passer-by

    Kate Miller

    Kate Miller

    Third Prize

    Dear John

    Come on. Tell me, how did it all go wrong?
    You saw the slick ripe corn on St Giles Hill
    slashed by scythes.  You smelled the sweat and pit-dry stalks,
    listened to the songs of a hard day’s work. But…
    that labourer sitting ‘careless on the granary floor’
    tweaked bile in your gut, for he couldn’t afford
    the corn he’d cut.  Now the multi-storey
    covers that field with its snake-rind canisters and
    pick’n’mix retail, and the tricks of the day are Flex
    at £7.20 filled with the songs of tripwire clauses, hard
    on the ear and fighting the fast-flow dissonance of debt.
    A dynasty upon dynasty of rotation. Tell me, John,
    How did it all go wrong?

    Amanda Oosthuizen

    Amanda Oosthuizen

  2. After Memorial, her rendering of military deaths in Homer’s Iliad, Alice Oswald’s seventh collection returns mostly to poems about the natural world.  Traditionally poems have described nature either as evidence of God’s handiwork or as a comfort or inspiration for mankind.  This tradition was refashioned by Hughes who celebrated the mindless forces of nature and is further re-presented by Oswald in what I will call neo-animist terms – nature can be seen and responded to as living in a non-scientific and also non-religious sense.  This is established in the book’s first poem, A Short Story of Falling, which describes rain’s effect on leaves and flowers, continuing: if only I a passerby could pass as clear as water through a plume of grass to find the sunlight hidden at the tip turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip then I might know like water how to balance the weight of hope against the light of patience… This isn’t pathetic fallacy in the traditional sense – that inanimate substances can share or express human feelings – but rather that nature, if looked at aright, can reflect our deepest desires and fears.  Oswald sometimes addresses us like a prophetess or sybil: May I shuffle forward and tell you the two-minute life of rain starting right now lips open and lidless-cold all-seeing gaze… (Vertigo) or as a storyteller enacting her subject matter:             I’m going to flicker for a moment and tell you the tale of a shadow that falls at dusk… (Shadow) or to set up a mystery:             This is what happened the dead were settling in under their mud roof and something was shuffling overhead             it was a badger treading on the thin partition… (Body) In every case the poem develops into a meditation on the life of nature and sometimes on death (a rotting swan, a dead badger, dying flies) with an intensity of focus and originality of language like no other poet writing today or ever.  For example, to read “I have been leaning here a long time hunched / under the bone lintel of my stare / with the whole sky / dropped and rippling through my eye” (Looking Down) is to see seeing in a new way.

    Some poems may be new departures: Fox suggests a feminist response to Hughes’s The Thought-Fox – vixen speaking to another mother rather than dog-fox inspiring self-absorbed male poet; the 15-line Slowed-Down Blackbird strikes me as a wry response to Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird; and Aside, a lovely description of the four-year-old Oswald hiding in a laurel bush and becoming absorbed by its spirit, has a distant echo of Edward Thomas’s Old Man.

  3. Cain, Luke Kennard’s sixth collection, could be described as the poetry collection equivalent of a concept album, and as such it risks disappearing down the rabbit hole of its own conceptualised universe. Does it emerge? Yes and no.

    In the interests of brevity, here’s (most of) the blurb which does an excellent job of summarising the Big Idea:

  4. 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”: Heart brims and spills.

    Words try eyes and wings; try air.

  5. Jane Bonnyman’s first pamphlet, An Ember from the Fire: Poems on the Life of Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson, is a gothic wonder of a book, an adventurous, swashbuckling exploration of an extraordinary life. The pamphlet opens as the heroine travels from Indianapolis to California (her daughter in tow) to meet up with her first husband who is hoping to cash in on the gold rush. It covers Fanny’s scandalous divorce, her meeting with Robert Louis Stevenson, his death, and her quiet retirement in her own small Eden. The life expounded here is startling and vivid (it is difficult for me to believe that no one has written a collection about this subject this before) and luckily the writing lives up to the challenge, sheathing those good bones in appropriate flesh.

    The first poem, ‘Dawn’ traces Fanny’s journey across America in pursuit of her treasure-hunting husband. A taut, precise poem, it perfectly encapsulates the triumph of hope (in the guise of will) over the conventional stagnation of death. It begins with a description of seemingly-inescapable desolation: Among stagnant pools where dead fish float and coconut leaves drift over rotting flesh like helpless souls, and feverish women lie curled in hammocks chattering to revenants of their lost men Across this landscape, Fanny strides armoured with her purpose. She wills her way through the land of death, like a heroine from one of her future-husband’s books: she buys liquor, hot coffee for her daughter, finds a guide, three mules and a road that leads beyond the cemetery to Panama City ‘Dawn’ is structured in two evenly-divided parts; there are nine lines for death, and nine for forced rebirth. Not a word is wasted. The effect of reading this poem is very much like inhaling the first breathless fifty pages of an adventure novel, when the story first starts to get really good.

  6. Magma 64 Launch on the theme of ‘Risk’

    Written by Wes Brown at 12:12 pm

    The launch of Magma 64 will take place on the 24th of March, 7pm at The London Review Book Shop. Formed around the theme risk, we were delighted with the huge variety of poems that we received. Risks in every form, size and daring, cunning, moving shape. The challenge we had was weighing every one. To see if the risks paid off, to see if after all, the poem was worth writing.

    The event will feature readings from contributors to the issue and a guest performance from Philip Gross. Tickets are free but booking is essential. Click here to reserve your place.

  7. The rise of Poetry Film much like music videos and Fashion films, breathes contemporary life into work.

    Poesie D’alphaville by Paul Eluard is a timeless expression of love, Mathis Sananes directed with his team of Tara Trangmar (producer) and Eric Gonzalez Garcia (DOP). The short film is narrated by Yohan Agelou to bringtender visuals to this celebrated work. Combining poetry, music and motion picture, the project focuses on bridging three contemporary relationships with an eternally relevant text.

  8. Magma Competition celebratory evening at Keats House

    Written by Lisa Kelly at 12:10 pm

    The winners and special mentions of the Magma Poetry Competitions – for the Judge’s Prize and the Editors’ Prize – will be reading their poems at Keats House in Hampstead on Friday 11th March at 7pm, and you can buy your £5 ticket here or pay on the door and join us for a wonderful night of winning poems and a reading by Daljit Nagra, as well as some sparkling refreshments to celebrate.

    For the Judge’s Prize judged by Daljit Nagra:

  9. Peel & Portion

    Written by Lisa Kelly at 11:04 am

    Magma’s third National Conversation Event: Peel & Portion organised by board members John Canfield and Ella Frears opened up a fascinating discussion about the poetic process and different attitudes to drafting, editing and when a poem is considered finished.

    Poets Kathryn Marris, SJ Fowler and Rebecca Perry in conversation with Patrick Davidson Roberts revealed their individual approaches and showed examples of their poems that had gone through several drafting stages, sometimes spanning years.

  10. “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”, were allegedly the last words of the Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean, and anyone who has tried to stand on a stage and make people laugh will know what he means. But what about on the page?

    The late James Tate said “I love my funny poems, but I’d rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that’s the best.”

  • Views expressed on this blog are those of the individual authors -- Magma seeks to present a range of views, not a single Magma view.
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