It is a special kind of joy to devote a whole issue of a mainstream UK poetry magazine to collaborative poetry.
Collaborations can be vanguards of new poetic forms; hive-minded, symbiotic, experimental and downright radical works of art we said in the call out, as the UK officially left the EU, back before Covid (can you remember that?). Over two tumultuous months, submissions flowed in from poets, artists and musicians responding to what was unfolding in their lives with honesty and resourcefulness. People exchanging words, sounds and imaginings across boundaries, languages and cultures. Many contributors to the issue told us that they were excited by the opportunity to submit their work to a magazine that was actively interested in collaboration. In other cases, poets who had not collaborated before were inspired to work together specifically to contribute, and many are now working on extended versions. We read varied voices and techniques, some presented as a call and response, others where the poets become one voice. Now it all comes together in print, with an online extension for our film and audio selections.
You’ll read work that faces outwards, looks beyond the treacherous present “throwing imaginary nets round other boys / in cardboard helmets” or invites us to “undo pointlessness” and “turn gossip into acts of love”. Or draws us out into shifting landscapes with “ghosts in the air” and “horses in the church / their teeth clamped to pews”. Multi-vocal work traces the “intimate geography” of pavements. Poems walk readers out beyond themselves, past what we have lost, to remind us that we have also rallied, cared for and rescued each other. You’ll read work that turns you inwards, such as an intimate symbiosis of poet, medicine and photographer, or experimental female voices redefining grammar to a shape that speaks to knee rather than breast. Women press themselves into the vital life-force of soil to emerge with the knowledge that “soil is a Cinderella environmental issue”. These are poems that “feed you with three fingers you’ve kissed” and contain a new sensitivity to our interdependence and interconnectedness.
There is also levity in the face of official incompetence, while for some writers, the “emphasis is on the whimper” or being “trapped in the amber of the moment”. Counterpoint this with a Welsh roar which diarises perfectly that early-pandemic chaos or let yourself throw the stress of privation and sickness into fantasy with a brilliant, Gotham style lockdown.
Having edited the issue, we now think that the most exciting collaborations may come from writers open enough to be challenged by the other, whilst flexible enough to offer productive resistance without snapping. In some cases, while poets had clearly enjoyed themselves in the process of collaborating, it was difficult for a reader (or, at least, these two readers) to find a route in. Too often, it seemed to us, a lack of strenuous editing meant their poems stalled at the enjoying ourselves stage. For the standout pieces, poets adroitly edited works that could not have been written without ‘the other’.
M78 seeks to draw attention to the whole ecosystem of collaboration. Our interviewees are practitioners who collaborate directly with others but also play significant roles in supporting collaboration between other poets. SJ Fowler tries “to re-understand what a poetry community is and how a poet can work” through his series of live collaborative events. The Outposted Project and Places of Poetry open innovative national spaces for reflection typified by selected poet Marvin Thompson’s excoriating Triptych. Should you have the good fortune to participate in one of kin’d & kin’d’s radically thoughtful ecopoetic workshops, you may leave your ‘lyric I’ behind forever.
We hope that M78 will bolster collaboration in the UK poetry landscape, both in terms of more poets choosing to work together in new and different ways, and in terms of more magazines and publishers finding a space for collaborative poetry
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