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W H Auden wrote of the poem, “Here is a verbal contraption. How does it work?” We were fascinated by the idea that the poem is a kind of machine, at least for the purposes of its construction, and yet that it is much more – that it could be said to have a soul. And this distinction is equally of interest to us when writ large: the differences between mechanistic accounts of ourselves and our world, on the one hand, and faith, consciousness, or other more soul-oriented approaches on the other.

We asked our contributors to help us to create a contraption, Magma 55, from as many component parts as they could muster. As they arrived, we kicked wheels, pulled levers, pressed buttons and ran diagnostic code. Of course, we ourselves were also looking to be moved. There were sometimes malfunctions, it has to be said; and one or two error codes came up. But, by and large, there was a cumulative whirring and, to our delight, a serendipitous machine came into being: a harmonious inter-working of devices that were never designed to function together. Best of all, we found that the contraption had a life of its own.

The poems formed themselves into clusters. First, there are varied takes on the distinction between the natural and the artificial, of how we experience nature and merge it with machines from bells to binoculars. Then come machines for play and machines for work. Dream machines, and machines that appear in nightmares. An ATM receipt and other tokens that lead us to someone in particular. Telephones and other modes of connection. Ticking machines. Flying machines. The city as a machine we walk through. Sea-going machinery. The poem as an apparatus that questions and dissects. Last but not least: the fundamental machinery of our biological make-up and that of our material world. Computer science also appears through the issue: from a curtal sonnet that plays with the idea of recursion – a system of self-reference which is at the heart of theories of computation – through the appearance of Alan Turing, that great pioneer of the subject, to a poem that exploits legal jargon in a form which is based on software.

As for our prose, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, selects Coleridge in our guest choice. Michael Symmons Roberts writes in honour of John Berryman as his Presiding Spirit, and discusses psalms. In Poetry in Practice, Mimi Khalvati looks for the true spirit of the poem via form and intuition. Kwame Dawes discusses the role of faith in his writing. And well-known poets from Emily Berry to Jacob Sam La-Rose discuss the relationships between machinery and the imagination.

We hope you will enjoy reading Magma 55 as much as we have enjoyed constructing it, and that you will find soul in this machine.


Lydia Harris If You were the Boat at Tufter
Kayo Chingonyi Martins Corner
James Grabill Blind Spot
Maria McMillan The baby is on the radio
Nancy Ann Miller Olivetti
Maitreyabandhu Lady with a Chaffinch


Machinery and the Imagination: Tim Kindberg asks poets about the relationship between the two Do new technologies and multimedia forms affect how we exercise our imaginations when writing and reading poetry? Tim Kindberg delved into this aspect of the soul and the machine by asking some well-known poets for their views. A poem is “a small (or large) machine made out of words”, according to William Carlos Williams. And…
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