We look forward to meeting your ugly babies, was our call for submissions and you must have heard us because on opening Submittable we were greeted with over 4,000 of your strangest, most beguiling children. With so many poems and so little space, this issue could have gone in a variety of directions but in the end we took the poems that caught us on a visceral level – those that served an emotional thump to the gut, those that felt the most urgent or raw – but also those which refused to settle on any one tone or single emotional landscape. We took the poems which sought to trouble and astonish, perhaps even change their readers.
We’re still not sure what a Changeling is, but we do know that we are all subject to great change throughout our lives and that trauma can be the engine for this. In Rebecca Perry’s essay The Blade of the Leaf, the child, disgusted and afraid of death, first seen by “the side of the pool, lifting out the drowning insects,” vibrates near to the image of Judith, a young woman forced by terrible circumstance to seduce and murder Holofernes. Small botanical and entomological traumas give way to almost unimaginable ones.
Judith is a changeling, her life forever altered by the events of one night in Holofernes’ tent. But in Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith Slaying Holofernes, so carefully and lovingly rendered by Perry’s prose, she is too busy actually doing the work of cutting, of decapitation, of retaliation to notice this seismic shift.
Change comes upon us insidiously, perhaps even without warning – like the shift from childhood to coming-of-age terror in Hannah Lowe’s terrifying poem Mrs Vanuka, “Dirty. Dirty. Now let’s see you spit”; or the overwhelmingly tragic signs of abuse subtly expressed in Alice Hiller’s on the glass shelf as the child’s gaze becomes overtly sexualised; or the crafted violence of Ben Bransfield’s A Rag Man where the linguistic brutality of the anagram skilfully hints at the litany of horrors that have occurred “in the mist”, “in the van”.
But in true changeling style (i.e. refusing to resolve or rest) sometimes violence bleeds into eroticism. From the teenager refused his antlers in ‘Kostya Tsolákis’ Ovid-esque poem who witnesses the other boys with their, “pulled-up shirts/ exposing lean, winter-pale/ waists, sweating/ bodies and antlers/ intertwined”, to the child in Maurice Riordan’s #poorme whose nightmarish youth, “crucifixion of pigs, the beheading of a goose,/ the execution of the show-horses under the linden” is somewhat alleviated by a quixotic and random encounter with a porn mag.
Of course poets are changelings too, conjuring change on the page and in the reader through linguistic ritual, through metaphor and through the subtle repetition of incantation. And this heady sense of magic pervades the issue, poems become spells become poems – and words become the “bones we boiled” in Warren Czapa’s Changeling Verse Carved in a Tree or “fur in the wound/ A reddening/ The dart” in Lavinia Singer’s lycanthropic Hunter’s Moon. And CAConrad teaches us how to change not just the linguistic landscape but topography itself in their US-American Crystal Grid, A (Soma)tic Poetry Ritual. “I sit on top of the buried copper container of crystals in Omaha”, they write, attempting to heal a triangle of American soil infected with the “military industrial complex”, its ability to “kill and thieve”.
“If you take your tongue to it you may be able to unlock something”, writes Rebecca Tamás in her defiant spell for a siege but quite what is it that needs unlocking? Is it the siege of winter or even of our childhood, as implied in Tamás’ mystical poem? Or is it our interior selves, besieged like Judith’s village, by the violence and trauma of our everyday lives, described so vividly in this issue’s poems? Or it is something darker and more embedded, perhaps the ‘changeling ice baby inside us’, as posited by Emily Berry in her inspired and clarifying essay where childhood trauma either takes the form of a frozen changeling left for us by the hooded goblins or “the most real thing . . . ever felt”, the refiguring of which might just lead to the freeing of our imaginations!
To these questions of unlocking, of fundamental change, we have no obvious or precise solutions for you. Instead we present this issue – this changeling – in answer. We hope you love it as much as we do.
Ella Frears & Richard Scott, Editors, Magma 73
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