This year Magma Poetry was lucky enough to be running a workshop at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. This was appropriately titled ‘Writing Poetry’ and we shared it with Don Paterson, who has just won this year’s Forward Prize for his collection, ‘Rain’.
Don spent two fascinating hours at the workshop taking questions and talking about the English language lyric poem, and covered large areas of poetic ground, offering us his take on prosody, metre, phonetics and even managing to squeeze in a brief sentence or two on the subject of metaphor.
I’m pleased to say he is writing a book about poetry – publication date still up for grabs – so that those who haven’t had a chance to hear some of his insights will be able to read about them – eventually. Those who have been lucky enough to hear Don talk about poetry will know that it’s partly his particularly original turn of phrase that is illuminating; for example, the idea that most poetry that uses iambic pentameter is ‘magnetised’ to the metre or a sonnet is just a ‘wee black square’ on a white page.
I offered the participants a chance to become editors for an hour so, putting into practice some of Don’s insights and suggestions. Split into small groups, they were invited to select which of three very different poems by dead poets (selected so that there was no danger of offending the living) they would choose.
They pursued this task with enormous gusto and there was a wide range of opinions, all of them justifiable, which I’m delighted to say proved the point I was trying to make. Poetry, like all art forms, is a hugely subjective business, and once a poem has reached a certain benchmark of quality (also a subjective matter, I know), selection becomes a matter of the editor’s personal taste. This is where Magma has the edge. A rotating editorship means that the flavour of each issue will be different and if one editor returns your poetry, the next one may publish it. Keep sending it in!