I’m thrilled to be editing Magma 45, and have decided to ask for poems on the theme of ‘Telling Stories.’
As a poet who has written plays, as well as a screenplay that never got made (a rom-com about a psychic that I still feel would have been a surefire hit…) I’m currently very interested in the way we tell stories through poems – cuts, flashbacks, unreliable narrators, twists. Many playwrights believe in cutting everything that doesn’t drive the story forward, and, though poetry has always been more tolerant of digression, it is always interesting to think about what we should include (and edit out) of our tales. For example, should poetic scenes obey the screenwriting adage: ‘arrive late, leave early’?
The theme also comes out of my own obsessions at the moment. I’m currently deeply into folk music – particularly ballads and the strange, subversive tales they tell. I’ve been listening to Fairport Convention and new-folk songbirds like Laura Marling, digging out my dog-eared Collected Yeats, and discovering the wonderful world of the Child and Border ballads. This has led me to write ‘cover versions’ of old poems such as ‘Twa Corbies’ and ‘Reynardine’, and liberally raid what Larkin rather dismissively called ‘the myth-kitty’ to rediscover stories of Zennor mermaids, malevolent faeries, werefoxes and witchcraft. I’d love to read your own attempts to engage with these ancient, oral traditions.
Finally, I’ve also chosen the theme because I feel too much contemporary poetry is self-indulgent – concentrating on self-expression to the point where it forgets it has an audience. I feel strongly that, even if our subject matter is deeply personal, we should always be aware we have responsibilities to our reader – to give them everything they need to understand the poem; to entertain; to tell them something new. Great storytellers know how to keep us engaged, leaving space for the reader to make their own interpretations – as my favourite philosopher, Hannah Arendt, said: “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
So the search begins for sparkling anecdotes and tall tales… Only remember the sign pinned above Anne Sexton’s desk: WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T BE BORING.
The deadline for submissions is 15 July. ‘Off theme’ poems will also be considered. Please see the Contributions page for details of how to submit your poems.