1. The Final Front Ear

    Written by Ian McEwen at 11:57 am


    How many ears does Mr Spock have?


    The left, the right and the final front.

    Maybe working on Magma 57 has addled my brain, but the old playground joke seems to me about the best summary of the role of shape/space in poetry.

    In an early version of the editorial for the magazine I tried to list the ways poets had ‘used’ shape in the issue. Certainly visual effects in poems are sometimes indices of some other property the poet is seeking – timing the breath, semantic emphasis, making equivalences/non-equivalences more explicit and so on. The eye is often engaged to guide the ear and/or the voice and/or the train of thought. (In the course of proof corrections several poets have explained to me their thinking behind some of the arrangements and they are at least as various as this – though the poem always gets the final word.)

    There is at least one reason why such a list can never be satisfactory. Invention is inexhaustible – poets will find new ways of writing beyond the confines of any fixed list of technique. That’s to be expected. However the more I tried to complete my list the more obvious it became that there was something faulty with my presumptions.

    Anne Berkeley’s snail poem, to take one example, didn’t just delight me, but brought smiles to all the team in our final editorial meeting. (The poem is titled ‘Helix aspersa’ and you will find it on page 10 of your copy!) There are several ways I could suggest this poem ‘uses’ its shape, which both recalls the silhouette of the snail and highlights the poem’s formal properties. I would also say that it also makes a kind of slow expansive gesture (and gesture is integral to forming both thought and feeling). Yet the whole idea of poet as ‘user’ of the poem to manipulate something falls short of what we see in even such a simple (can we say ‘light’ without it sounding pejorative?) example.

    A poem is space and words and and and…it is an object that celebrates being here, in front of us. The materiality of a poem is of its essence and to always insist that these properties are ‘used’ for something else forces us to step aside from the poem itself – perhaps too often the pit that lit. crit. leads us into. It is surprising how often I come across people who report that the academic study of literature turned them off poetry. When some wag comes up with a list of 340 possible allusions in a J H Prynne poem I myself feel somewhat turned off: but then the poem still sounds great, still moves in the way that an intellect moves, still occupies a piece of the world (and possibly that ‘340 allusions’ is an intended reductio ad absurdum of some of the literary world?).

    Poetry does not like conclusions, so I hesitate to give one, but please engage all your ‘ears’ to enjoy the poems in Magma 57 – the left, the right, the final front of the eyes, and all those other ways I cannot list – to engage with and enjoy these new things in the world.


  2. On Free Verse 2013: The Poetry Book Fair

    Written by Chrissy Williams at 2:10 pm

    It’s been over a week since 700 poetry lovers — almost twice as many as last year — walked through the door of Conway Hall for the Poetry Book Fair. We had 56 publishers exhibiting their works, along with the Poetry Library, the Poetry School and the Poetry Society — as much contemporary UK poetry as we were able to cram into one room. There were free readings every half an hour, and the entire exhausting and exhilarating day (and night) ran smoothly thanks to our small but wonderful army of volunteers. I am still in recovery.

    Feedback we’ve had so far includes words like “buzz”, “bustling” and “exciting”. I remember looking up from the admin into the hall around lunchtime, and it was perhaps the first time I registered how busy it was. I had a feeling of — not sure quite what? happiness? relief? — perhaps a general gladness that it had all come together, that the room was full of people enthusiastically reading, talking about, buying and supporting contemporary poetry.

  3. Magma’s 2012 poetry competition is OPEN FOR ENTRIES

    Written by Mary Tymkow at 10:00 am

    The entry period for both the Judge’s Prize for poems of 11 to 80 lines, and the Magma Editors’ Prize for poems of up to 10 lines is OPEN and runs until 16 December. Hurry and send us your poems!

    All the information about both contests as well as how to enter online or by post, plus the full Rules can be found here

  4. Magma 54 launches at the Troubadour

    Written by Laurie Smith at 12:55 pm

    Another packed evening as well over 100 poets and friends met at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, on 19 November to launch Magma 54. The Troubadour’s famous cellar was full as the editors, Cherry Smyth and Judy Brown, each hosted half the evening. Each poet read two poems – one from Magma and another – which gave great pace and variety. Everyone published in an issue of Magma is invited to read at the launch if there’s space and poets come from all over the country. Many have told us this is the first time they have read to a large audience and they enjoy appearing in the same line-up as some well-known poets.

    Cherry started her half with strong readings by Martin Kratz (Manchester) and Anna Kisby (Brighton).

  5. Launch of Magma 51

    Written by Jacqueline Saphra at 9:00 am

    What an evening it was. A cold night, a packed house, and the utterly complementary talents of Pascale Petit and Selima Hill as our guest readers.

    We were also fortunate to host a large number of contributors, many of whom had travelled some distance – from Sweden, Switzerland, Brussels and even California.

  6. Finding a voice: influences of the past and present

    Written by Angela Kirby at 10:00 am

    The richest events occur in us long before the soul perceives them. And, when we begin to open our eyes to the visible, we have long since committed ourselves to the invisible. Gabriele D’Annunzio Poets are often advised to  ‘find a voice.’ This voice can only come,  I think, from the unique past and terroir of the poet.  In his essay, ‘Something to Write Home About’, Seamus Heaney describes growing up in Ireland between the Catholic and the Protestant communities, between a railway and a road, between the sound of a trotting horse and that of a shunting engine, between a variety of accents and dialects. One of the dialect words which lodged in his memory from that past was ‘hoke’.

    ‘The word means to root about and delve into and forage for and dig around, and that is precisely the kind of thing a poem does so well. A poem gets its nose to the ground and follows a trail and hokes its way by instinct to the real centre of what concerns it.’

  7. Can writing short poems make us better poets?

    Written by Laurie Smith at 3:46 pm

    Karen McCarthy Woolf’s point about short poems not winning competitions makes me ask, why not?  Do judges somehow feel short-changed, reckoning that poets don’t put as much work into writing a short poem as a long one?  I don’t think this is true – a short poem where every word counts is just as likely to have uncertainties, weaknesses that need working on as a .longer poem.  But I suspect it’s what most judges feel deep down and it’s a prejudice that will continue.  In this case Magma’s new poetry competition is long overdue, joining the Plough Poetry Prize with a competition which poems up to 10 lines will definitely win.

    I’ve been trying to think what makes a really short poem good and, at first, there seems no answer – great short poems are as varied as longer ones.  When the Magma team decided on the 10 line limit, we thought of some famous short poems – Blake’s The Sick Rose, Wordsworth’s A slumber did my spirit seal, Herrick’s Upon Julia’s Clothes which Eavan Boland had written brilliantly about in Magma 48.  And we could all think of very short poems in recent collections which we’d enjoyed, though they tended to be exceptions among longer poems or arranged in sequences.