Tuesday 29 April 2014

What makes for a great poetry magazine?

This is the question I was pondering while reading the latest issue of New Walk (Nº8) last night.

First off, there's the role of the editor (Rory Waterman, Nick Everett and Libby Peake in this case). A decent analogy is with a commercial agent. Mediocre ones just offer loads of decent products to the buyer/reader, hoping that one or two might hit the mark. Good ones, meanwhile, help the buyer/reader to focus by following clear personal criteria and making an excellent, subjective pre-selection. This filtering doesn't mean that choice or taste are limited, rather that surprises are positive.

Secondly, I love encountering the combination of fresh work by poets I recognise alongside verse from names I've never seen before. Again, those commercial agents/editors are enabling the buyer/reader to make discoveries. Poetry magazines should feel sparklingly new, an exciting snapshot of the moment, never a two-year-old backlog.

In New Walk 8 there were pieces from Dan Wyke and Fiona Moore. I've previously enjoyed books by both these poets, so it was intriguing to get a hint of where they are heading at the moment.

At the same time, a new name caught my eye, just like Hannah Lowe's verse in The Rialto a few years ago or Stephen Payne's work in an early issue of New Walk. On this occasion, I loved James Davey's two poems. They were packed with textured yet restrained language that was cleverly yoked to its content and narrative drive. I'll be looking out for more of his writing from now on. Now that's what makes for a great poetry magazine!

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Richie McCaffery's forthcoming first full collection

June will see the publication of Richie McCaffery's first full collection, titled Cairn (Nine Arches Press). I've been looking forward to this book all year!

McCaffery's work first came to my attention via his first pamphlet, Spinning Plates (HappenStance Press, 2012), and my initial excellent impression has been reinforced by the poetry he's published in numerous journals since then. This is verse that's not afraid to take the chewy morsels of Ian Hamilton's influence and tenderise them in a contemporary idiom that's all McCaffery's own.

I'll be reviewing Cairn on Rogue Strands in due course. However, I recommend you visit the Nine Arches blog for the moment, where there are currently selected poems from the collection to whet your appetite.

Monday 14 April 2014

Spreading the word

Last night's HappenStance reading at the Torriano was a lovely event: the chance to read and listen to terrific poetry in a supportive atmosphere, surrounded by other poets who were on a similar wavelength.

However, the last few weeks, involving trade fairs and tastings, have also been at least as rewarding in poetic terms. Every time a customer, a wine merchant or a sommelier carried off a copy of Tasting Notes to read at home, there was the feeling that my pamphlet was succeeding in one of its key aims: to get non-poetry readers to enjoy contemporary verse.

Just as Clare Best managed with her 2009 HappenStance pamphlet, Treasure Ground, which made its way round farmers' markets, we must find ways to attract new readers to poetry. And that doesn't entail dumbing anything down!

Friday 11 April 2014

The Torriano on Sunday

This coming Sunday will see a night of HappenStance at the Torriano Meeting House, in Kentish Town in London. Starting at 7.30p.m., 25 poets will track the publisher's chronology via snippets from their HappenStance books.

I didn't think I'd manage to make it along, but circumstances and family commitments have unexpectedly worked out to enable me to join the ranks of the readers. I hope to see you there!