1. 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.

    Kathryn Marris

    Kathryn revealed that she writes her poetry straight to computer and believes that typing on a keyboard as much as using pen and paper develops neural pathways to the poem.

    “I don’t like writing by hand anymore. You can’t tell how long a line is and can only hear it. Visually it is very helpful to type directly onto a laptop and see how the lines relate to each other.”

    Titles are not a problem.

    “I get the title immediately and it normally sticks. It’s an inspirational thing and not something I worry about.”

    A poem may begin in its life in free verse but may suggest form during a redraft. As an American, Kathryn enjoys using form to look back at traditions of English poetry for the dynamic it gives her poetry.

    “Forms can offer a power of directions for poems. They can be great for the imagination. Every form suggests some different intellectual impulse.”

    The poem Will You Be My Friend, Kate Moss? is in blank verse and iambic pentameter.

    “Some choices are made for the rhythm. It has a ditzy voice that’s not mine. The poem became more and more fictional as it goes along. None of the facts were true. A ditzy American thing in an American metre. I got the humour to where it wanted to be.”

    Sometimes it is easier to see the direction a poem might take if it is not your own.

    “As a teacher, I may say to a poet, ‘this poem wants to be a sonnet’, but it took ten years before the poem Demon became a sonnet. It shows you can write a poem after 13 years of failing with it.”

    Sometimes a particular line or passage can be enough to make you persist with a poem.

    The first line in Demon, ‘Good news, said the doctor. It’s a demon,’ had this effect on Kathryn, who started the poem in 2002, revisited it over the years and finished it in 2015.

    “Something charmed me in the first line,” and sticking with a poem but leaving it alone for a while can help with editing by giving the poet fresh eyes.

    “Enough time had passed to become my own reader.”

    SJ Fowler

    Steven said that people associate his work with the experimental or the avant-garde and his approach to drafting is thought-provoking.

    He says there are seismic questions about drafting and it is important to establish why you are drafting, and to question assumed ideas about what drafting means.

    Moving from a creative idea to creative choices to what ends up in print “is almost always instinct,” said Steven and that instinct is contingent on thousands of factors, many of which, including mood are beyond the poet’s control.

    “The traditional notion of a poet is a theological notion to knock out golden words. My mode is a democratic process for people to pick up or not,” said Steven whose practice includes a range of ideas and his drafting process is not done with the aim of reader acceptance, which is not a radical idea in the art world.

    His process also accounts for the reader because every poem is understood uniquely.

    “All language is new when subjectively finished by the reader who brings new notions to what they read on the page.”

    Steven’s impetus is not to create new insights but to create an experience.

    “Everything we do and write is built through the experiences we have. A small change to a Shakespeare text would make it my own.”

    The emphasis on the reader to engage and complete the poem.

    Drafting and editing is not focused on a retrospective justification, where “we look back at a decision made in a moment and assign meanings”.

    Steven doesn’t overly-focus on individual poem titles, but “goes really mad over collection titles as they are symbolic of whole periods in my life”.

    Rebecca Perry

    Rebecca normally writes straight to her laptop but her poem Dear Stegosaurus began in a workshop so began its life on paper.

    “I write very quickly and change around one word.”

    If she is struggling with a title, Rebecca will open the Bible and put her finger on the page at random. If she is not happy with a title immediately, she said she will “probably never be happy with the title”.

    Her poems make room for the reader.

    “I care about presenting a piece of language that creates space for people to finish it off.”

    The element of freshness and a sense of a poem being alien to its creator is important.

    “Nothing pleases me more than coming back to a poem which feels like I didn’t write it.”

    Clarity is not an overriding obsession for Rebecca.

    “I enjoy things that are obtuse because life is obtuse and confusing. Gut reaction is more valid than an intellectual understanding.”

    She said her reading affects her writing and she will turn to collections by favourite poets for inspiration.

    When she is struggling with a poem she finds it is often the beginning or the ending.

    Her views on workshops are they can work at certain times, but not always.

    “80% of my poems were workshopped to death. I took them into the Poetry School class and it was really helpful in lots of ways, but for the last chunk of Beauty/Beauty I needed to be by myself completely. The last five poems no-one had anything to do with.”

    She is not an obsessive re-drafter.

    “I’m more of a lay it down and leave it person than a refining person, which is the opposite of the perception of what a poet should do. I work hard at the beginning but I don’t pick at it. It can just make it worse, like picking at makeup.”

    Layout can change with re-drafting. Poem in which the girl has no door on her mouth “moved from a sprawl to a poem with more white space.”


  2. “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.”

  3. I’ve now been reading Transparencies, on and off, for almost two years. This is a good period of time over which to think about a collection that works across Gaelic and English as well as seeming to span at least one lifetime of experience.

    Bateman made her name as a poet in Gaelic, though not as a native speaker. This is her first largely English collection. In Transparencies, some poems (though only twelve in a collection of sixty-four) are presented bilingually with the Gaelic originals on the verso, the poet’s own translations into English on the recto. The other poems appear in their sole English form. I know not one word of Gaelic and yet the Gaelic poems surprised and delighted me each time I encountered them. I was enchanted by looking at this strange rich language, full of consonantal clusters. I kept trying to lay the English over the Gaelic, or vice versa – one way in which the title of the collection began to work its charm.

  4. What makes for a competition-winning poem?

    Written by Wes Brown at 2:03 pm


    On a cold January night, we were joined by Dominic Bury, Linda Black, Paul Stephenson and Geraldine Clarkson for a Magma event at The Torriano Meeting House to hear prize winning poems performed and to ask the poets about their approach to competitions and how they decide which poems to enter: whether they think it’s down to luck, persistence, talent, or a combination of all three. Indeed, is there such a thing as a competition-winning poem?

  5. National Conversation Event: Peel & Portion

    Written by admin at 10:22 am

    Peel & Portion is a discussion with a varied group of leading poets about their poetic process with particular focus on their drafting process, exploring a poem’s origins, the changes it goes through, and at what point it is considered finished.

    We’re very excited to have SJ Fowler, Kathryn Maris and Rebecca Perry, three exciting and varied poets with very different aesthetics and processes.

  6. Magma Poetry Competition Event

    Written by Wes Brown at 12:55 pm

    Come along and hear some past Magma Poetry Competition winners, including Geraldine Clarkson, Paul Stephenson, Linda Black and Magma’s very own Dominic Bury at our pre-deadline Poetry Competition Event on Friday 8 January at 7.30. You’ll get a chance to ask the poets about their approach to competitions and how they decide which poems to enter: whether they think it’s down to luck, persistence, talent or a combination of all three. Indeed, is there such a thing as a competition poem? Find out more by joining us at the Torriano Meeting House, 99 Torriano Avenue, London, NW5 2RX. Free refreshments. Click here to book your place.

  7. Poet Cheryl Moskowitz provides the third tweet for Magma’s #The 12 Competition Tweets of Christmas campaign which we are running to inspire you to enter the competition before the 18 January deadline. ‘Your write poems about what/you feel deepest and hardest’ are words from ‘Johnny’s Poem’ by Canadian poet, Alden Nolan Cheryl says: “These words are always what I think of when am writing poetry myself or encouraging others to write. The best poems for me manage to achieve some new kind of knowing or understanding of something we might think we already know and can offer a different way of seeing ourselves and the world. ‘Poetry is life distilled’ says Pulitzer prize winning American teacher and poet Gwendolyn Brooks. In these overwhelming times, we need that kind of distillation more than ever. Cheryl won a special mention (and £15 prize) in the Magma Poetry Competition 2013 Editors’ Prize for ‘Saudade’, which was printed in Magma 58.  Click here to find out more about the Magma Poetry Competition 2015/16.


  8. We’re launching the latest edition of Magma, Magma 63, Friday October 30 at the London Review Bookshop (14, Bury Place, WC1A 2JL). The theme of Magma 63 is ‘Conversation’.

    There will be readings from our guest poets Jane Draycott and Daljit Nagra as well as a selection of other poets featured in the edition. Doors open at 6.30pm, readings begin at 7pm.

  9. Simon Barraclough has been, for the past year, Poet in Residence at Mullard Space Science Laboratory. Barraclough remarks that his path there began with a fortuitous reading in 2013, but also long ago as a child looking up at the dark West Yorkshire night sky. His third collection, Sunspots, reflects this deep and pervasive interest in the cosmos, but more specifically, in our very own local star, the Sun itself.

    I come to Barraclough’s collection with profound interest in how science and poetry can interact, specifically astronomical and physical science. Barraclough does an excellent job of “circling” the sun in different ways, using each poem as a way of examining some facet, or “Sunspot.” His knowledge of Sun-science comes through in his application of scientific concepts and language, and his poems reveal the nature of the Sun via its interaction with us and with the broader universe. This is a cosmic long view of a book.

  10. Call for Contributions – Magma 65 on the theme of ‘Revolution’

    Written by Laurie Smith and Jane R Rogers at 9:55 am

    Might we be entering another revolutionary period?  Are the signs here?  Can we see revolution in the power of social media, the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the creation of the UK Women’s Equality Party by Sandi Toksvig, Scotland’s possible independence, Europe closing its borders, the realisation of climate change…?

    Perhaps the problem of being in the middle of a revolution is that we can’t really see it. The various revolutions in 50s/60s USA – anti-draft, Civil Rights, early feminism, gay rights – were made visible by poets like Bob Dylan, the confessional poets (Lowell, Berryman, Jarrell, Plath, Sexton) and the Beats. Are you one of the poets we can turn to now? Can you illuminate the changes occurring under our very noses?