Welcome to our blog on Magma’s Climate Change Issue. We’ll be posting every week or two between now and March. We’ll write about the background to the magazine, the editing experience, events etc, and introduce a few guest contributions.
Magma 72 started on Hampstead Heath, on a sunny day in summer 2017. Lisa Kelly, Susannah Hart and I had been for a swim in the Ladies’ Pond and were walking back down the hill into London. I remarked that there isn’t enough climate change poetry around and what there is doesn’t get much notice. Lisa, quick as a flash, said Why don’t you edit a Magma issue?
It took 15 months from idea to publication… This blog post is about some of the things I/we learned along the way.
– The most important, first and best thing I did was find co-editors. In the autumn I asked eco-farmer and interdisciplinary artist and poet Eileen Pun to join me. We didn’t know each other and she was very forgiving of my out-of-the-blue approach. In a long, long talk on Skype, during which we shared enthusiasms and exchanged ideas, we agreed to give it a go. Usually Magma has a pair of editors but following a (possibly beer-fuelled) conversation in the pub at Poetry in Aldeburgh, birder and poet Matt Howard came on board too to help deliver a collaboration with conservation scientists at Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI).
– It’s never too early to start work on an Arts Council (ACE) bid; we knew it would take a long time and it took even longer. With Eileen living and working on an eco-farm in Italy and Matt based in Norwich, we did our planning by email and Skype while I put together a budget, a timetable and a bid for the <£15k category.
– Asking ACE for advice along the way is worthwhile; they were very responsive. Advice included that we should plan for robust partnerships, and explain from first principles why poetry magazines matter.
– ACE’s selection process seems fair but contains a strong element of chance. I think this is how it works: each week a panel of two people, rotating membership, with expertise on any area ACE funds or in support areas (e.g. accounts), assesses applications against the week’s budget. If your week has a small budget or the (say) ballet and finance experts aren’t excited by your poetry project…
– Our worst moment was when ACE turned down our bid. How could we go ahead with the collaboration without support? What would be the impact on Magma?
– Don’t give up. We understood that we could reapply more or less straight away, asking for a few thousand pounds less, so a frantic week or two later we did, cutting travel, venue and other costs. And we got funded.
– Working out our thinking for the Climate Change Issue was crucial – to understand where each other was coming from, as a background for later selection of content, and to communicate with possible partners and contributors. The vehicle for this was our call for submissions, see here. My thinking was much enriched by Eileen’s and Matt’s perspectives.
– We didn’t plan for the unexpected… of course that’s impossible… my mother died suddenly in December in the middle of intensive planning for ACE and CCI, so this year’s been full of the emotional and practical consequences. Matt had a lot going on all year, at work and outside it. Eileen was living off-grid up a hill in south Italy, subject to heat, floods, laptop battery life, a wild-boar-imposed curfew (not wanting to meet one walking home in the dark after internet sessions in the village) and the demands of the olive harvest.
– Reading 2,000 poems was both absorbing and a challenge. We’ve written about the poems themselves in our editorial, see here. I had the easiest time reading, part of it on the Greek island of Evia in a heatwave, staying in an old house (no wifi) between a mountain and the sea; most days I went into the local town to sit in a near-empty air-conditioned bar at siesta time, consuming their delicious beetroot smoothies and gazing at the mulberry trees on the seafront whenever the words on my laptop became meaningless. We each marked up poems we liked for the other two to look at and eventually got to a longlist of around 80. Eileen, Matt and I met all together for the first time in real life in late July, to go through our choices with the Magma editorial board.
– Style guides come in useful; otherwise you get half a dozen prose pieces each with their own use of single/double inverted commas, italics etc for quotes and titles.
– Poem-choosing excitement was followed by realising how much there was still to do: let all the poets know, discuss editing a few poems, order them all (by instinct rather than logic), edit the prose pieces we’d commissioned, talk with poets doing the collaboration, jointly write the editorial, chase delayed contributions, choose a cover photo, agree the cover text… Everything had to be ready for the typesetter by end August. Then we had several rounds of proofs – needed partly because of Magma’s square shape, which accommodates some poems beautifully but others not. Would they all fit? A spreadsheet template with page numbers helps a bit, but only a proper flatplan would solve the problem. And there were unglamorous and time-consuming tasks, e.g. compiling a long table of contributors with contact details, who needs to be paid, etc.
– Signing-off-proofs excitement was followed by realising we must plan our autumn launches, fast. We’d booked a London venue and got a slot at Poetry in Aldeburgh; we had to decide on format, work out how much we could pay readers, publicise the readings, sort out an Eventbrite page, think ahead to our event at Cambridge Conservation Initiative in January… But the choosing of readers to bring the magazine to life was a delight, one reward for our earlier work.
– Discussions with the printer went to the wire. It’s thanks to Eileen’s persistence that Magma 72 looks the way it does. See her piece on the inside back cover. She’s going to blog about the financial and cultural challenges of producing an environmentally responsible magazine on a small budget.
– It was all worthwhile! At the end of October, a year after we started work, M72 came back from the printers. It looked so lovely. We felt very proud of all the work inside, and even prouder when we launched the magazine at Poetry in Aldeburgh. Although ours was the final event before the after-party, lots of people came to hear Polly Atkin and James Goodman read – both committed environmentalists and thinkers about poetry and climate change.
– Poetry festivals take much of the work out of a launch. They provide the venue, sound, publicity, ticketing and probably some of the finance. So the main effort went into our London launch…
– The Exmouth Market Centre is an excellent poetry venue. It’s good value, accessible (except the loos aren’t wheelchair-accessible) and a lovely place to have a party: cabaret-style tables, candles, red curtains and sparkly lights, a small stage with proper sound and lighting, a bar (which you populate with drink yourself) and helpful managers. We were thrilled to hear the readers read poems we’d looked at from all angles, positioned in the magazine, proofread… Each one had found itself a voice inside my head, but of course the poets’ own voices were different.
– Don’t lose sight of commitments to ACE or other partners or funders, e.g. monitoring, feedback etc. I plunged into Surveymonkey for the first time on the morning of the London launch, to make a survey for that evening.
– ACE small grants support isn’t enough to pay guest editors for their work, at market rates. The heroic amount of time Eileen and Matt spent on the magazine far exceeded the hours we could pay them for.
– Use whatever help you can get. We relied on the Magma team for advice / encouragement and specialist support. Production manager Benedict Newbery produced an early plan with key dates. This was my most-consulted document, on which we based our own editorial timetable. David Floyd, the treasurer, gave advice / approval on finance questions and managed the invoices. Lisa, Magma’s chair, was hugely supportive of our desire to make the issue environmentally friendly. Stav Poleg posted everything on the website. Alastair Gavin, our administrator, did Eventbrite ticketing, the sound for our November launch and much else. He and Helen Nicholson managed distribution. Rob Mackenzie commissioned and edited the reviews. And there’s more – a small magazine’s hinterland is large, from accounts and subscriptions to marketing and governance.
Now I’m wondering what we haven’t learned yet, that we should have… And we haven’t finished yet.
On Monday 21 January 2019 there’ll be a reading in Cambridge with Kathleen Jamie and Magma collaborator John Kinsella, with Jos Smith and Claudine Toutoungi who also did the collaboration. At the Cambridge Conservation Initiative HQ in the David Attenborough Building, Downing Street. 6.30 for 7pm. Book (free) places on Eventbrite, here.
And we’ll be at StAnza, the international festival in St Andrews, 6-10 March 2019: for Meet the Artist with some of the poets in M72; a digital installation of poems and images from the magazine on the Byre Theatre wall; a Magma stall at the book fair; and a panel on poetry and climate change. The programme is here and booking opens in January.