Magma seeks to bring you the unexpected, partly by a different person editing each issue, either one of ourselves or an occasional guest editor. You might think this means simply the passive coincidence of differing tastes. Not a bit of it. The editors field their choice to our Board, mostly practising poets, for discussion. The editors take the final decision, otherwise Magma would become a monotonous soup of compromises. But we argue about the choice and in so doing learn from each other. For example, we all like poems in a contemporary idiom, but some of us are more sympathetic than others to poems that do not conform to it. I myself feel that the idiom itself is becoming constrictive and we need to make room for what lies outside it. So you will find here a couple of poems which a colleague
described rather dismissively as poems of ‘plangent regret’ and one or two more which may offend against some contemporary dictum. Conversely there were poems which I and my fellow editor withdrew after discussion. So Magma and its readers gain from what amounts to a perpetual seminar.
Another source of unexpectedness is the always enlivening variety of what comes in. The last time I edited Magma (Magma 38) we had several good poems on political matters – I wish we always had as many. This time there were quite a few on what at seemed rather depressing subjects – separation, ageing, death. Then I realised the poems did not leave me depressed. I remembered Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful villanelle One Art. It starts “The art of losing is not hard to master… loss is no disaster.” Loss is made light of. But the meaning changes as the poem goes along and real losses accumulate, till in the last lines we reach “The art of losing’s not too hard to master / though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.” Write it – meaning acknowledge it, face up to it. But also write it – meaning that to write such things is a way of surviving them, of mastering them. As a reader, one feels for the misfortune and is sustained by the strength.
Our prose sets out to be as unexpected as our poetry. In this issue some of it is linked by a theme – the relationship of matters that lie outside our poetry to the poetry itself. Moniza Alvi writes on subject matter and Michael Symmons Roberts on research, and my own piece touches on poetry in relation to politics. We have two pieces on translating foreign poetry into our own language, one from Allen Prowle as our Poetry in Practice feature and one a review by Mick Delap.
We want Magma to be a forum for debate, not just among ourselves but one where you can join us. We have comprehensively redesigned our website www.magmapoetry.com, including a blog for such debate, and this is where you can also receive the latest news and views. We look forward to hearing from you.