Having nearly emerged from the other side of co-editing the Deaf Issue, Magma 69, I would like to share a few thoughts on how it works at Magma and our plans.
First, it is an immense privilege to edit an issue of Magma, but it is also an immense challenge. Board members are not paid for their time, and editing is an intensive process. The joy of discovering a brilliant new voice is easily matched by administrative tedium – dealing with an email deluge, authorising payment of invoices, double checking with venues that the mic works etc. etc. Many Magma editors are one-time-onlys because they realise that making sure their issue is the best it can be, eats into time that they could be writing poetry and getting their own work recognised, and earning a living.
This is my second-time round. I co-edited the Conversation Issue, Magma 63, and post-publication, I felt like how I feel now – ‘Never again!’ I know that feeling won’t last and in a couple of years there will be another theme that I feel as passionate about as the Deaf Issue.
That is, if Magma is still here. Things are changing on the poetry landscape. More and more poetry is moving online and less and less people are willing to pay for a magazine subscription. Magma is not alone. Many magazines are chasing Arts Council England (ACE) funding or sponsors. The Deaf Issue managed to secure ACE funding for which we are immensely grateful, but it was a long process, with no guarantee of a positive outcome and not one I am desperate to undertake again in a hurry.
Here are some startling figures – or perhaps not depending on how well you know the poetry scene: over 3,000 poems are submitted by people who wish to be in Magma every issue. A fraction of that figure wants to buy it. Checking the Twitter feed, we currently have 22.9k followers. Maybe someone with much better business acumen than I could suggest a way of converting all this interest into financial stability – if you are that person, please step forward and join the board. Seriously. Approach me at a Magma event and you have my good ear.
Another thing that is changing is that people increasingly expect to be paid for their work. Fair enough. The problem is if the board was paid for all the time it collectively works for Magma, it would be declaring bankruptcy within 48 hours.
For our time, we have the real pleasure in creating a magazine that continues to offer brilliant, contemporary poetry, and be part of an institution that is a major stepping stone for many poets in their careers.
We look equally kindly on contributions from poets who have never been published as we do on submissions from famous names. One of my bugbears is well-known poets who think that they can submit mediocre work to Magma and expect to be published.
Going forward, we are keen to introduce more guest editors and diverse voices. The reason is two-fold. We do not have the capacity within our pool of board members to keep up with the volume of work editing involves along with all the other tasks we are doing from finance to managing the database; and secondly, we are excited about offering the opportunity to edit to poets who are passionate about a theme, or want the experience that editing a major poetry magazine offers. That is the beauty of Magma – it is not limited in its scope or its ability to diversify. It is however limited if subscriptions fall. The same is true for other great magazines, such as PN Review, Ambit, The Rialto, Tears in the Fence, Prole and South Bank Poetry. I’m sure you are mentally adding many more to this list.
Do your bit and subscribe, or else soon there will be less places to submit to. And then where would we be?