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. 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.

  4. Following the success of the inaugural Winchester Poetry Festival, we asked poets, performers, organisers, attendees and Magma team members for their highlight of the weekend and to share an individual moment that might have gone hidden or unseen. Check back over the coming days to read more highlights, and, if you attended or have something to say, feel free to share and discuss your experiences in the comments section below. (Hover over the images to see the captions.) 


  5. A new kind of poetry?

    Written by Laurie Smith at 1:23 pm

    A hundred years ago Ezra Pound was busy creating modern poetry in London.  He helped Yeats to write more directly and more symbolically, then set about “breaking the pentameter” by following T E Hulme and others to create imagism and, a bit later, vorticism.  He recognised the originality of Eliot, Joyce and Lawrence and published the first two, worked with William Carlos Williams (a friend from university) and as Foreign Editor of Poetry (Chicago), permanently influenced the writing of Marianne Moore, E E Cummings and Wallace Stevens.  In less than ten years, poetry had changed unrecognisably through the work of a small group of very different people who saw the need for change.

    I’m wondering whether poetry is due for another radical change, perhaps starting in cities like London again.  It’s fascinating how English poetry changes by conforming to or reacting against the dominant language mode – printed prose – often under the influence of ideas from France.  The growth of regular newspapers and journals in the late 17th century, written in correct ‘classical’ style, led to a century of tightly metric, tightly rhymed verse dominated by the heroic couplet, a ‘classical’ import from France.  Eventually Wordworth and Coleridge led a reaction against this, complexly inspired by the French Revolution, but the formality of Victorian prose squeezed the life out most of the century’s English poetry – French symbolism didn’t take hold here and two of the three great radical poets (Hopkins and Emily Dickinson; the third is Whitman) were unpublished in their lifetimes.

  6. ‘fine black thread still crimped from the strain and snap when it broke and he got away.’ – from The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop

    Magma 59 is being edited by Roberta James with Alex Pryce and we are inviting poems on the theme of ‘breaks’.   We want to explore how one word that can be understood in so many ways can set free your creative ideas and inspire a diverse range of the best poetry.

  7. Call for submissions for Magma 58: The Music of Words

    Written by Laurie Smith at 5:48 pm

    We want to explore the music of poetry – not necessarily poetry about music as in Magma 53, but music within poetry. We would like to receive poems where the meaning is expressed or strengthened by the sound of the words – perhaps going beyond sound effects like alliteration and onomatopoeia to the wider organisation of a series of sounds and thus their flow : features such as rhythm, pulse, pitch, tonality, articulation, dynamics and mood, all of which can express meaning. And we’re very much aware that poetry, like music, can be harmonious, dissonant or both!

    A recent example of music within poetry is Paul Stephenson’s The Pull which won Magma’s short poem competition last year:

  8. Machi Tawara at Ledbury Festival – Sunday 14th July

    Written by Mark McGuinness at 1:48 pm

    If you’re heading to the Ledbury Poetry Festival this weekend you have a very rare opportunity to hear a reading by one of Japan’s most celebrated poets.

    Machi Tawara’s first book of poems, Salad Anniversary (1987), combined the classical tanka form with the subject of a modern love affair. It became a sensation, selling over 2.5 million copies; the ‘salad phenomenon’ in Japanese culture was comparable to the ‘bananamania’ that followed the publication of the first novel by Tawara’s contemporary Banana Yoshimoto.

  9. TS Eliot Prize Shortlist 2012

    Written by Rob Mackenzie at 6:36 pm

    The shortlist for this year’s TS Eliot Award has recently been announced. All of us at Magma are delighted to see that our Magma Competition judge, Gillian Clarke, has been shortlisted for her collection, Ice (Carcenet). “In Ice Gillian Clarke turns to the real winters of 2009 and 2010. In their extremity they redefined all the seasons for her. Nature asserted itself and renewed the environment for the imagination… She lives with the planet, its seasons and creatures, in a joyful, anxious communion.” We’d like to congratulate Gillian and to extend our best wishes to all the shortlisted authors.

    The four Poetry Book Society Choices, along with six other collections selected by judges Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Longley and David Morley, make up the complete shortlist, which is as follows:

  10. On Cynicism

    Written by Jon Stone at 11:00 am

    I’d like to say a few words about a subject I don’t often see explored in writing on contemporary poetry, in the hope that perhaps some of the sentiments expressed will chime with others. This year I was lucky enough to win a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award. I was drinking with the other winners in a pub after a reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, and the topic of the selection process came up. There was an almost unanimous agreement that each owed their success to the anonymous judging process. Although I didn’t instigate it (if anything, I was playing devil’s advocate), I find myself in line with the general sentiment. I might occasionally entertain the idea that now, after scoring a PBS recommendation and appearing in several anthologies, there’s a chance my name could somehow worm its way quietly into the hindbrain of a key decision maker or two, but the fact is that apart from the Gregory, the only other major prizes in which I’ve placed have been the two National Poetry Competitions – also judged anonymously.

    It’s not that there’s flagrant nepotism in poetry (although some may disagree with that). It’s that our sense of poetic taste – just like our literal sense of taste – is informed by a variety of factors and contexts. You’ve heard the expression ‘my ears pricked up’. In the case of poetry, this seems particularly apposite – the idea that on noticing a particular name, one that carries connotations of prestige or prodigiousness, the ear – that organ especially employed in the judgement of a piece – becomes suddenly extra-sensitive. The anticipation of excellence then plays a part in the fulfilment of the promise.

  • 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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