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[SUBMISSIONS NOW CLOSED] Call for submissions for Magma 57: The Shape of the Poem

Poetry is a shaping of words and that shape can often be seen on the page. At the most basic level, lines that turn before they reach the margin are an early cue for us to treat text as poem. In Magma 57 we are particularly interested in poems that possess shapeliness; poems that look interesting on the page; poems whose appearance is integrated with their form and content; shape as key to timing, meaning and music.

Seamus Heaney has spoken of the sonnet form as a body, with a waist and a need for the right number of limbs in order to function. That kind of shapeliness is not obvious in the layout of text (although perhaps readers can register a block of fourteen lines as a single gestalt, just as we recognise 🙂 as a face). So we certainly do not insist on unconventional layouts, unconventional layouts, in fact

we                                                             do                                                NoT wa

NT             the kind of                        poe                        try

That  s c a t    t    e    r    s  i  t s       elf r and      om   ly

in the vague

hope                                                 of adding interest to prose observations. On the other hand unconventional layouts which serve formal and poetic purposes are welcomed. Reflexive poems that muse on their own shape will have to be best-in-class to be admitted!

We hope to see some unashamedly concrete poetry. We hope to see some beautiful formal verse in stanzas of unequal lines – think Donne (‘The Message’ or ‘The Triple Fool’ for example) or George Herbert’s ‘Easter Wings’. We hope to see some dramatic use of the page. We hope to see many things we have never imagined.

As usual we’ll choose many of the poems for the magazine without particular regard to our theme, just because we admire them as poems – although perhaps this theme is hard to escape: even (especially?) prose poetry talks through its distinctive visual form, the body evident on the page.

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. This is a great Idea, love it, I love using the Rictameter which has an excellent shape, but this form requires rhyming, does Magma print such forms if rhymed.

  2. Yes Stephen we certainly are happy to print rhymed poems. The reason the count of rhymes in the magazine is modest is that well-constructed rhymed verse is rare in the submissions pile too (if my last turn in the editorial team is anything to go by).

  3. I should like to send you a poem in the shape of a tree, and there is no way this will work in the body of an email. May I please send it as an attachment? I have other shape poems, for which the same thing applies.

    I so agree that a poem should look good on the page – how often do we see lines squashed together any old how – which immediately causes me to turn away without reading. I use 1.15 spacing, which puts a little air around the words.

  4. Viv – I am resigned to opening a lot of attachments on this issue! I’m also resigned to the fact that treating poems well in the magazine will be space hungry and we’ll probably have room for fewer of them. (and yes I normally overlead all of my poems).

    Harry – Thomas certainly had a great visual sense – how beautiful ‘Fern Hill’ is on the page and what about ‘Vision and Prayer’? Keats’ odes and songs have a look that leads you through them. So shapeliness does not equal ‘concrete’ in my mind ….though I obviously have a softer spot for full-on concrete work than you do!

  5. George Herbert’s poem Angel Wings (1633) is beautifully shaped, like wings, and Dylan Thomas’s collection Deaths and Entrances contains many shaped poems. e.g. Poem in October, Love in the Asylum, Vision and Prayer, Holy Spring and, of course, Fern Hill. The monk, Dom Sylvester Houédard produced fascinating concrete poems as did his friend Edwin Morgan

  6. This sounds very exciting. I have recently written a piece which I believe to be concrete poetry for my assignment on an MA in Creative Writing and when writing up the commentary I began to consider exploring it more. I like the way in which space can be used to highlight specific words or lines. There is a Japanese term for this which I will look up but it refers to ‘space on the page’ being as important as words.
    A modern example of concrete poetry is ‘Starlings’ by Ann Rouse, take a look.
    Raine Geoghegan

  7. Some of the best concrete poetry is being produced as vispo these days, using desktop publishers and the like. So are you open to jpegs, different fonts, colour? Vispo, concrete minimalism using large size font etc? You’ve opened up a world of wonder!

  8. George – if you click on the navigation in the header where it says ‘contributions’ general instructions are there. So, simply send your submission to – for this issue we accept that there will be a higher than usual count of poems that will have to be viewed as attachments! The contribution window is open from now until 30th June, but we won’t sit on early contributions unless they are under serious consideration for publication.

  9. How about this? Just trying!


    The joy and boy of the bouncing
    Belly of ballyhoo, bursting of seams
    And dreams blown on exploding breath
    Into a mixture of rollicking
    Rainbows and stars and fairs
    Of music, with no cares
    And no heads to ache.
    O the hearts hallelujahs make
    Men free and alive and long after
    Chuckle the echoes of their laughter—

    Harry Haines.

  10. Hi Harry,

    I’m not going to start commenting on poems on this thread or it would never stop. If you want to submit to the magazine the address to use is But if I was going to comment I’d say it was going great for me until the grammatical inversion of the last line.

  11. And while I’m here:

    I’ve just come across a very interesting book which says a lot that I agree with about visual form, Graphic Poetics by Richard Blandford (Bloomsbury 2012).

  12. Well Ian, I’m puzzled why you found the last line of my poem ‘Laughter’ a grammatical inversion. That poem was in my book ‘For you and you’ and praised extensively by Professor Weis at the U.C.L and by Dr John Astill a retired consultant psychiatrist with high literary and grammatical skills. But if that is your take on it, so be it.

  13. Steven Nelson – sorry I missed replying to your questions (for some reason I don’t always see these comments come up in the order in which they are posted). The short answer is please send us anything – it should be up to us to find means of getting good work to an audience. The longer and less philosophical answer is that, of course, some work may not be possible to reproduce in the printed magazine for technical reasons (and we can’t afford colour on the inside pages). However Magma also has a regular poetry Newsletter with over 1000 subscribers and we have tried to provide added value links and downloads through it that complement magazine content. Also remember Magma is now available in a Kindle edition – anything designed with Kindle in mind would be very interesting!

  14. Hi Ian,

    I work with handmade paper, letterpress and transfer to make visual poetry pieces, I am interested in concept and process and most of the pieces I make involve text inside and on the back of the paper that cannot be seen, as well as on the surface. I plan to submit some photos that I hope could be considered and would work well enough as images in print. However I also know that you have cover artwork, and wondered if you accept separate submissions (in colour) for that?

  15. Harry…. So your poem was praised by a retired consultant psychiatrist eh?

    Well in that case Magma would be stark raving mad to publish it! My extensive personal experience of psychiatrists is that they are nowhere near as clever as their immense egos and the strings of letters after their names imply. This chap is no exception.

    Keep taking the tablets! 😉

    As for Kathryn’s friend’s effort; it’s a concrete poem alright, but one that hasn’t set properly and requires a large dose of levelling compound in order to give it any stability as a credible piece of creative writing. 🙂

  16. Ian,
    What a great idea for an issue! I am currently working on something to submit, and wondered if you could post some dimensions onto this blog? I do have a material copy of Magma to measure up and ascertain a rough idea of the material page, however, I’d love to have the dimensions of the text/image/item box you use to input poems at design-stage. Thanks ever so much. Penny

  17. Penny/Sarah

    Sorry I have not checked this page for a while. Sarah- we can get most things that can be .pdfs into the magazine – but please note that internally printing is B & W only. We are really a text-based publication. In fact the next issue (56) features an exciting redesign and covers are likely to be photo-based in future. However, we do have a clear concept for the kind of image we are looking for – perhaps wait until M56 comes out and see what we mean?

    Penny the magazine page is 210 x 210. We mainly assemble the pages from pdf (and send authors pdf proofs) – however as above the design is changing from M56 – out July 1st. At the moment I am not sure I can give you any better details as the elves are even now at work in the basement turning concept into real stuff!

  18. …and while I’m here. The poems are flowing in fast as we approach the end of the submission window.

    What I have seen too much of: descriptions of an onion vaguely word-arted into the shape of an onion. NO NO NO!

    What I still have not seen at all: a poem in modern diction using sophisticated formal stanza shapes to forward its argument…..has nobody read Donne?

  19. Ian,

    Can you tell mewhen the actual submission final date is?

    Yes, I have read Donne, quite a lot. Not only because I believe anyone writing poetry can only learn by reading quality of whatever age, but because I just love good poetry – as much as really bad poetry can make me feel actually physically sick.

    It so happens that I’m enjoying a little trip inside Quiller-Couch’s verse 1250 – 1918, and have just passed by Donne and the other metaphysicals. It reminded me how good some of them were. Donne himself in ‘The Sun Rising’ is I think a more abstract example of what you talk about, but the length of the lines has obviously had a great deal of consideration – there is a regular and repeated pattern in the middle of the stanza, he appears to be moving the focus inward and outward and inward again. While ‘A nocturnal..’ actually has something of the shape of a candle on the page.

    Marvell’s ‘Coy Mistress’ and ‘The Garden’ are both well enough known to need little comment. Worth noting though for the former he chose a continuous stream of poetry, flowing like a single thought; while for the latter he has very regular, and almost exactly matched stanzas which do not have a line length beyond a certain maximum and minimum – like the ordered garden (and Gardener) he writes about.

    And Abraham Cowley, a recent re-discovery, his wit, and more than just wit an obviously pretty raucous sense of fun which shows through his Anacreontics, ‘The Swallow’ where he accuses a poor little bird of waking him up from a ‘dream that ne’er must equall’d be’ and says whatever beauty the birdsong can give him isn’t damned enough for what the bird stole. I must apologise for tripping on a bit, but it’s not often I get a chance to discuss a bit of po’try with an author I respect as you.

    And in case, you forgot what I was asking about it was about the final date for submissions?


  20. the red coat
    was hiding
    under layers,
    but i saw it.
    red it is, worn, shabby.

    a friend you say.

    lining cream silk crumple.
    the label
    harris tweed,
    heather washed,
    as old.

    the back a thin satin sash
    to tie.
    oh lovely coat
    i love you.
    away for coffee
    a biscuit.
    back to the red coat,
    tried it, and looked daft in it,
    and imagined how it would be
    hungry i would wear it,
    run on the moor, windy,
    a cotton dress beneath,
    grubby knees,

    old boots, and wrap it round me.
    night garden, pyjamas,
    and the red coat looking
    at the moon
    slight smell of camphor,
    and lavender,
    un threading,
    pockets with notes,
    and hankies
    and all well, all well.
    men will sing with three voices,
    and dance in their suits,
    and i will be headlost, and dizzy.
    leaving the coat
    to bathe in pools
    of light, under green,
    dripping back into
    the coat , red coat.
    they say i said too much about the coat last night,
    and did I look daft, and i will never buy it
    but it is already mine,
    headed forever, calling it to at will

    red coat.
    i will say more, and more, red coat.
    I love you red coat.


  21. Well, I just submitted some poems I thought were for ‘the shape of the poem theme’, and the email that came back told me that I had submitted for the music-themed issue. I must confess I am a bit baffled: the closing date for Magma 57 in the magazine says 30 June 2013, BUT, in the next column under ‘Contributing to Magma’, it says ‘Deadlines are the end of February, end of July and end of October’. I gather the end of June date is the correct one, and I looked in the wrong place, but you must admit the information is contradictory! Shame my poems are now on the wrong theme. 🙁

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