1. Magma 54 launches at the Troubadour

    Written by Laurie Smith at 12:55 pm

    Another packed evening as well over 100 poets and friends met at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, on 19 November to launch Magma 54. The Troubadour’s famous cellar was full as the editors, Cherry Smyth and Judy Brown, each hosted half the evening. Each poet read two poems – one from Magma and another – which gave great pace and variety. Everyone published in an issue of Magma is invited to read at the launch if there’s space and poets come from all over the country. Many have told us this is the first time they have read to a large audience and they enjoy appearing in the same line-up as some well-known poets.

    Cherry started her half with strong readings by Martin Kratz (Manchester) and Anna Kisby (Brighton).

    She introduced poets from Aberystwyth and Cardiff as well as the London area and they were joined by Mark Waldron whose latest book is The Itchy Sea (Salt).

    and Patrick Brandon – The Republic of Linen (Bloodaxe) The first half ended with Sean Borodale reading his poem in Magma and several poems from Bee Journal (Jonathan Cape) link which is shortlisted for this year’s T S Eliot Prize.. The quiet intensity of his reading made us understand why the judges had chosen his book.

    Just before Sean read, I spoke a bit as Magma’s Chair about the next two issues in February and June, and reminded everyone about our competition – closing date 16th December.

    Judy’s half began with Tim Cumming whose latest collection is The Rapture (Salt) and Simon McCormack, Magma 54’s Showcase poet. It included a stunning reading by Kiran Millward Hargrave of her poem about the Emperor Tiberius and an urbane performance by South Bank editor, Peter Ebsworth.

    We then had powerful readings by five of this year’s Gregory Award winners – all seven have poems in Magma 54 – including tours-de-force by Phoebe Power [video] and Jon Stone [video]. The evening ended with the much-loved Maurice Riordan reading his new poem in Magma and three others.

    We staggered out into the Earls Court night knowing we’d heard many great poems from rising talents as well as the already famous.

  2. On Cynicism

    Written by Jon Stone at 11:00 am

    I’d like to say a few words about a subject I don’t often see explored in writing on contemporary poetry, in the hope that perhaps some of the sentiments expressed will chime with others. This year I was lucky enough to win a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award. I was drinking with the other winners in a pub after a reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, and the topic of the selection process came up. There was an almost unanimous agreement that each owed their success to the anonymous judging process. Although I didn’t instigate it (if anything, I was playing devil’s advocate), I find myself in line with the general sentiment. I might occasionally entertain the idea that now, after scoring a PBS recommendation and appearing in several anthologies, there’s a chance my name could somehow worm its way quietly into the hindbrain of a key decision maker or two, but the fact is that apart from the Gregory, the only other major prizes in which I’ve placed have been the two National Poetry Competitions – also judged anonymously.

    It’s not that there’s flagrant nepotism in poetry (although some may disagree with that). It’s that our sense of poetic taste – just like our literal sense of taste – is informed by a variety of factors and contexts. You’ve heard the expression ‘my ears pricked up’. In the case of poetry, this seems particularly apposite – the idea that on noticing a particular name, one that carries connotations of prestige or prodigiousness, the ear – that organ especially employed in the judgement of a piece – becomes suddenly extra-sensitive. The anticipation of excellence then plays a part in the fulfilment of the promise.

  3. Magma’s Early Days

    Written by Helen Nicholson at 11:53 pm

    I’ve been around Magma since before it was Magma, a name chosen “to suggest the molten core within the world, hidden as deep feelings are and showing itself in unpredictable movements, tremors, lava flows, eruptions”.  Magma began not so much as an eruption but as a slow burn.

    It must have been in the summer of 1992 when Laurie Smith and several of his City Lit poetry class decided we wanted to carry on reading and discussing our poems after the end of a shorter-than-usual summer term. So, we spent the summer bringing bottles and poems to a different flat or house each week. I remember helping wash up in the small kitchen of a flat in a Vauxhall and feeling enormously excited about the idea of starting a poetry magazine called Urban Fox.