Call for Submission – Magma 83, Solitude
Closing date: 30 November 2021
The submissions window for ‘Solitude’ is open from 1st – 30th November 2021. Editors, Isabelle Baafi, Ilya Kaminsky and Lisa Kelly, welcome poems that have not been previously published, either in print or online.
Up to 4 poems may be sent via Submittable, or by post if you live in the UK. Postal submissions are not acknowledged until a decision is made.
“In perfect solitude, there’s fire”, writes Grace Schulman in her poem, ‘American Solitude’. But how can we understand the bounds and power of solitude, and what is this alchemical fire of which Schulman speaks? In fact – considering the last two-ish years of social distancing, lockdowns, and (for some) self-isolation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic – to what extent is our global society seeking solitude, and to what extent are we trying to escape it? What tension is birthed when solitude shifts from a seclusion chosen freely to a confinement on which our lives depend? For this issue of Magma, we are seeking poems which explore our ever-changing understanding and experiences of solitude, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic.
But it’s not just the dangers of proximity, and our newfound reliance on digital communication, that we’re interested in. We encourage you to think about solitude in all its forms – whether foetuses in the womb, tourists travelling solo, or communities cut off by blockades, secession, natural disasters, and so on. We welcome submissions that grapple with the geographical concepts of isolation and how they have shaped geopolitical activities and interventions.
Prefacing Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Man-Moth’ is the following epigraph: “Man-Moth: Newspaper misprint for ‘mammoth.’” The poem – about a hybrid humanoid living underground, who “pays his rare, although occasional visits to the surface” – is born from a misprint, a mistake; perhaps due to an original mishearing. How do our incongruences in understanding isolate us, and where do such difficulties lead? The wry humour in the epigraph somehow accentuates the pathos of Man-Moth – like the Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, who did not ask to be created. The Man-Moth feels compelled to scale facades, despite his nerves, his trembling, his dragging shadow. His predicament is unique, but it resonates with those of us who have sat facing the wrong way on the speeding train of life, who dare not look out the window in case they succumb to “the unbroken draught of poison” running alongside our routines – whether that poison be addiction, obsession, or trauma. The Man-Moth’s eye is “all dark pupil”, and his only possession is “one tear” – which, when handed over, is “pure enough to drink”. However, he will only share it “if you watch” him; only if and when social convention dictates that he must participate in such interactions, rather than doing what feels natural to him (swallowing his own tears). This final redemptive image is one that asks us to consider the price and stigma of solitude.
In ‘Bryant Park at Dusk’, the poet Geoffrey Brock wrote that “Loneliness is a genuine poverty.” But where does solitude end and loneliness begin? Whilst being alone may seem dreary to the extroverted, for those who gain energy from being alone, it is a catalyst for adventure and renewed self-discovery, as in Robert Duncan’s ‘Childhood Retreat’:
—-And solitude, a wild solitude
—-’s reveald, fearfully, high I’d climb
—-into the shaking uncertainties,
—-part out of longing, part daring my self,
—-part to see that
—-widening of the world
Marianne Moore wrote that “The cure for loneliness is solitude”. But what does it mean to seek one’s own company? What revelations, transformations, perils, and madness lie waiting in that quietude? Think about hermits, prophets, mystics, and monks; the antisocial, the recluse, the freelancer; the alternative lifestyles that embrace solitude as a well of discovery, “a quiet patina/ that both absorbs and reflects/ like a valuable instrument” (‘Solitude’). Remember Virginia Woolf’s insistence that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. Consider the art of Edward Hopper, whose isolated figures haunt American metropolises and the hollow promise of “E pluribus unum”. Think about the break ups that offer bittersweet independence; the creatures who hobble away quietly to die; the discomfiting experience of returning from death or sleep, only to realise that the world has kept turning in your absence. Not all solitude is fun or easily won, even when it is by choice. We invite you to weigh these uneasy points of tension, and to unearth the aspects that defy easy articulation.
Moreover, solitary confinement, ostracization, banishment, political exile, or being ignored and bullied are not individual choices; they are extreme punishments. What is the weight of such solitude on the mind? How do such restrictive spaces surround and entrap? Where are the glimmers of hope, or the corners of darkest shadow? Throughout poetry’s history, solitude has been blamed for – or credited with – our anthropomorphic tendencies, our desperate quests for connection, our outlandish and hysterical outbursts. What else is weighing in the balance? What does it mean when our belonging is conditional: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you;/ Weep, and you weep alone” (‘Solitude’).
Whether the lifelong solitude of an only child, or the lonely grief of the bereaved, solitude has an inextricable bearing on our engagement with the world. Meanwhile, mental health services on a global scale remain starkly underfunded, meaning that the impact of solitude is still not fully understood, and its negative effects not adequately addressed – even though it can lead to despair, and even (when combined with other toxic ideologies) serious harm to the individual and society at large. How much more can we achieve if we feel connected and empowered to work together? Conversely, what happens when communities – both local and international – become insular and neglect their responsibilities as citizens of the world, in the face of unprecedented threats from climate change, and political and religious intolerance?
The Solitude issue looks for poems that speak to the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of this theme. It will be published during the ongoing pandemic, which has forced us all to reconsider the importance of community and the nature of connection.