Following on from the lively discussion about what kind of poetry reviews readers want, I thought I would take the opportunity, in my capacity as Magma’s Reviews Editor, to explain our own policy on reviews — and to invite you to comment.
Magma has always reviewed poetry collections. These days we receive over 300 books and pamphlets a year and, as we’re limited to about 12 books/pamphlets per issue (so 36 maximum a year), most don’t make it. Because of this, we’ve started online reviews in the Magma Newsletter and this will greatly increase the number of books/pamphlets we can review.
In each issue of Magma we review a range of collections, from the latest by well-known poets to debuts. Each review will usually include this kind of range because we think it’s important that newcomers are treated with the same detail and thoughtfulness as established poets. For this reason, reviews are normally 1500 words for three books/pamphlets allowing 500 words for each – more than many other magazines allow – so debuts and pamphlets can be reviewed at length if the reviewer wishes.
Of course, we could review more books/pamphlets more briefly, losing depth and detail but including more titles. We would be interested to know what you think about this.
If possible, we review poets who have had poems in Magma several times. And we don’t review books by dead poets, believing the living need our help more. The occasional exceptions are new translations of major works of the past, such as Don Paterson’s and Martyn Crucefix’s versions of Rilke in Magma 37.
I propose the books and pamphlets for review, but they have to be agreed by the issue’s editor, and the same goes for the choice of reviewers. Obviously I offer reviewers books/pamphlets I think will interest them. I hope they will enjoy them too because enjoyment leads to positive reviewing, but poetry is very personal and there’s no way of knowing whether a reviewer will like a particular book.
The most important thing is that our reviewers are free to write what they think. They are never given any kind of ‘steer’ and what they write is edited only for length or clarity. Their opinions stand, which I guess is the only way reviews can maintain credibility.
Blog posts have raised the question of influence: do reviewers give favourable reviews to poets they know (scratch my back…) and to poets in positions of influence so as not to harm their own prospects? At Magma reviewers aren’t asked to review books by poets I think they know and, anyway, are expected to decline to review friends.
There are two particular problems. The first is reviewing poets who are not only famous but have a great deal of influence in the UK poetry world. This arose in Magma 39 with reviews of books by Fiona Sampson, editor of Poetry Review, and Mimi Khalvati, founder of the Poetry School. How to find a reviewer uninfluenced by these poets’ eminence? The solution was to send the books to Hannah Salt, an experienced teacher and writer about past and present British poetry, but located for some years in Austria and uninfluenced by reputations. Her review was independent and, as it turned out, controversial.
The second problem is when members of the Magma Board publish. Their books/pamphlets (so far) have been reviewed by reviewers who didn’t know they were Board members and, like all other reviews, were published without amendment. If it became difficult to find a sufficiently independent reviewer, I would send the book abroad. With email there’s no reason, of course, why a reviewer shouldn’t live anywhere in the world so long as they have current knowledge of British poetry.
What Do You Think of Magma’s Reviews?
What do you think of the reviews published in Magma?
Would you prefer us to review more titles — which would mean we couldn’t discuss individual titles in such depth?
Or are you happy with our current policy? i.e. Reviewing fewer titles in greater depth in the magazine, with supplementary reviews in the Newsletter .
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