Magma 74 – Poetry Gets Down to Work

Magma 74We may be knee-deep in the holiday season, but Magma’s summer issue gets to the heart of what everyday life so often boils down to – work. The getting of it. The losing of it. The joys. The frustrations. The politics.

It’s a truly memorable issue, put together by editors Benedict Newbery and Pauline Sewards with an eye for wit, as well as grit. The cover image by Joff Winterhart is spot on.

Poets published in issue 74 include:  Anne Berkeley, Claire Booker, Kate Bingham, Alison Brackenbury, Carole Bromley, Fiona Cartwright, Emma Danes, Caroline Davies, Terence Dooley, Duncan Forbes, Owen Gallagher, Anne Hay, Robin Houghton, Angela Howarth, Ewan John, Lorraine Mariner, Fokkina McDonald, Martin Rieser, Anne Ryland, Jayne Stanton, Paul Stephenson and Angela Topping.

Magma (Work) launch 2 (2)From posties, haymakers, turnip-pullers and stone masons, to tea ladies, celebrity-minders, university lecturers, ventriloquists and new mums – so many takes on what makes work, work. How to survive it. Why we do it. What it’s like when it stops.

“Work should be every bit as universal a theme as love” says Jane Commane in her feature article ‘Ideas Above Your Station’. “And yet too often it remains the unspoken, unsung business of our days.”

As part of Magma’s regular slot, Tim Wells responds to Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poem Inglan is a Bitch, with his own specially commissioned poem no escaping it – read with absolute verve and conviction at the Magma 74 London launch at Exmouth Market last month (see below). Magma (Work) launch

It was lovely to be one of the 23 contributors performing on such a glitzy stage. Stand-out readings included the flamboyant Stuart Charlesworth, the sinister tones of Graham Buchan, and a brilliant sestina by Rachel Bower. There was even a surprise guest spot for Hilaire whose joint collection with Joolz Sparkes is reviewed in this issue.

If you entered Magma’s 2018/19 poetry competition, you’ll be interested to read the winning entries – Judge’s Prize: Fuck/Boys by Inua Ellams; Stillborn by Rowena Warwick; Hangover by Ben Strak. Editors’ Prize: A Strange Boulder by Derek Hughes; Entertaining Sammy Davis Jnr in St Ives, 1962 by Kathy Pimlott; Lanterns by Katie Hale.

Magma (74)_0002Tom Sastry is the featured poet in the current issue. His first full collection (A Man’s House Catches Fire) will be published by Nine Arches Press in October. There are fascinating articles relating to poetry, work and class by Louisa Adjoa Parker, Jane Commane and Fran Lock, and the usual meaty, thought-inducing reviews section.

To order a copy of Magma (issue 74) or to find out how to submit to Magma 76 (closing date 31st August, theme Resistencia) check out the website at: Magma

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Celebrating Change – When Poetry Packs a Punch

A project underway in Middlesbrough is working with local people and the wider literary community to harness the power of poetry for creating social and political change.

It’s a year-long digital storytelling project, funded by Arts Council England and led by film-maker Laura Degnan and poet Kirsten Luckins.

images59ORYF4GLast month, guest editor Amy Kinsman selected my poem about a refugee seeking asylum via the Channel Tunnel and published it on the Celebrating Change website. You can find it under their recent posts (June 14th), or read it here: Abdul Haroun Almost Medals at Dover 

If you’ve written a poem that tackles injustice, inspired perhaps by people striving to create a better world, you might be interested to know that Celebrating Change are looking for poems on a rolling basis. canva-females-gathering-on-road-for-demonstrations-MADOYVgN2Gw[1]

Here’s the gen:

“Please send poems (no longer than 40 lines) and stories (no longer than 750 words) as attachments to celebratingchange2017@gmail.com. We are happy to accept previously published work, just tell us where and when it first appeared so we can acknowledge.

csd-2735009__340[2]Please also include a short biog (50 words) and links to your blog, website or audio/video channel. A good photo of you, or a photo taken by you that we can use to illustrate the poem would be super for the Insta feed.

Our overarching theme is ‘change’ – guest editors will be more specific. Because this is a digital storytelling project, we like poems that tell a story in some way.”

To enjoy poems already live on the site, including work by Ian Badcoe, Claire Booker, Jane Burn, Sara Hirsch and Marylin Longstaff, check out: Celebrating Change

 

Frogmore Press celebrates Moon Landings

Pale Fire front cover (1)Fifty years ago this month, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and uttered his now infamous phrase: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As poets, we continue to be awed, fascinated and drawn into the orbit of our nearest planet.

To celebrate all things lunar, The Frogmore Press have published an anthology of contemporary poetry entitled Pale Fire and packed it with work by more than sixty poets,  including Clare Best, Sharon Black, Robin Bolam, Claire Booker, Maggie Butt, Maggie Harris, Seema Kapila, Jane Lovell, Martin Malone, Jessica Mookherjee, Fiona Moore, Grace Nichols, Zel Norwood, Jeremy Page, Cheryl Pearson,  John Rice, Myra Schneider, Peter Stewart, Janet Sutherland, Kay Syrad, George Szirtes and Mark Urbanowicz.

Pale MoonThe anthology fascinates with its wide-ranging styles and content. Star of the show (no pun intended) is the moon, which sails through the many stories and emotions contained within these poems. Sometimes it’s a “pale orange egg”, or a “ferrier of calm”, or “an astonished semibreve”, or “a factory light burning on the top floor”. Sometimes it’s benign, sometimes threatening, sometimes plain funny. Never is it boring!

Pale Fire is the brainchild of editor Alexandra Loske and includes a series of exquisite illustrations of the moon by Sussex-based painter Fergus Hare (www.fergushare.net). 

Moon anthology 4The book was launched last month at Fitzroy House – a gem of a gothic-revival building in Lewes, East Sussex. Not only did the audience get a chance to enjoy (I hope!) hearing a bunch of us read our poems, but they were also treated to an exhibition of drawings, etchings, paintings and sculpture inspired by the moon which had been curated around this amazing circular room. Moon Anthology 2

“Seeing the moon’s desolate landscape up-close may to some initially have felt like a visual disappointment,” writes Alexandra Loske. “But the magnitude of this human achievement and its impact on our culture and psyche cannot be underestimated.”

Pale Fire is testimony to the poetic impact of the moon. The anthology is available from The Frogmore Press price £10.

For more information go to: Frogmore Press

Orbis #187 – ooh, la, la, it’s Sylvia Plath!

Orbis (issue 187)It’s a real treat to be in Orbis again. I love how editor Carole Baldock creates a sense of community through opportunities for feedback (a Readers’ Award – with cash prizes and a Reader’s Response on a topic of choice). Whether you’re a poet or a subscriber (or both) you’re instantly part of the conversation.

This latest issue contains poetry by Faye Boland, Claire Booker, Patricia Brody, Laura Chalar, Philip Dunkerley, Victoria Gatehouse, David Lukens, Jenna Plewes, Sue Spiers, Paul Stephenson, Jules Whiting and Rodney Wood among many others, together with a generous feature spot of work by Denise McSheeny.

There’s also a fascinating article by Paul Stephenson on comedic effect in the poetry of Sylvia Plath. Mission impossible, surely? Yet he offers a robust set of arguments, starting with a quote from South African poet Finuala Dowling: “It’s not a fashionable thing to say in an age of gravitas, but I believe that wit is the quintessential poetic craft. The truly witty poet . . . feels life’s pain, but anaesthetises it temporarily with irony, absurdity or sheer bravado.”

Paul highlights specific poems to show that “Plath’s humour comes precisely from the tragi-comic. That is to say, the tragi-comedy of the individual in her self-absorbed and confessional plight – for love and life.

“Plath is a satirical chronicler of her adopted country. We watch [her] deal the blows, the sharp-tongued wit in the verbal bullying and lexical assaults on those who inflict pain on her: father; husband; community; society at large. Comedy lies in the futility of her painful posturing.”

This issue also contains book reviews, competition alerts, prose by Charlotte Gringrass, Denise McSheehy and Jenna Plewes, and a Reader’s Response on gender equality in literature.

To buy a copy of Oribis (issue 187) or to submit your own work, check out the website at this link: Orbis

400 years of women’s lives in poetry thanks to London Undercurrents

DwjEU33XcAALU3F[1]My review of Hilaire and Joolz Sparkes’ fascinating debut collection ‘London Undercurrents’ is now live on Ink, Sweat and Tears‘ review pages.

Congratulations to both poets for their lively handling of the subject and to Holland Park Press for creating such a lovely looking book.

It delves with great energy and dexterity into the lives of London’s unsung heroines of the past four hundred years. Quite unputtable down!

If you’d like to read my review then please visit the following link: Ink Sweat and Tears

Go buy the book at: Holland Park Press

Stand – Indonesia: Special Edition

Stand Vol 17 (1)Poetry is a powerful way to connect with another culture. Succinct, deeply felt, immediate – poems reveal new ways of looking, the heart of a people.

Following my experiences in Bangladesh (see previous post), I’m now delighting in Stand’s  snapshot of poets from the world’s fourth most populous nation, Indonesia.

According to a fascinating article by John H. McGlynn, “poetry is arguably the most essential of all the Indonesian literary genres, enjoying as it does a status far above that of even the novel.”

Stand Vol 17 (1)_0003The literary traditions of the Malay language (mother of Indonesian) go back to at least 400 AD, and there are exquisite palm-leaf manuscripts in the shape of fans to prove this. The transformation of Malay into ‘Indonesian’, first  proposed in 1928 by members of the Youth Congress, accomplished linguistic unity in a country where more than 600 languages are still spoken today. Stand Vol 17 (1)_0004

So, it’s a great honour to have two of my own poems published in this issue, alongside other anglophone poets, including Shanta Acharya, Richard Aronowitz, Claire Crowther, Ian Harker, Keith J. Hutson, Sonia Jarema, John McCullogh, Jo-ann Mort and Pat Winslow.

The contributions from Indonesia in this issue are a hard act to follow – bold and daring, and particularly engaging in their commitment to powerful emotion and a strong sense of the absurd. The Indonesian poets include Mario Lawi (tans. John H McGlynn), Warih Wisatsana (trans. C W Watson), M. Aan Mansur (trans. John H McGlynn), and Avianti Armand (trans. John H McGlynn). 

And Stand also includes short pieces of prose from both UK/USA based writers and Indonesian writers, together with reviews of Donald Levering’s ‘Previous Lives’ by David Latane, and Ken Smith’s Collected Poems by  N.S. Thompson.

To buy a copy of Stand Volume 17(1) or to submit work to the magazine, visit: www.standmagazine.org

Dhaka International Poetry Summit 2019

 

51385231_10157207771404052_2042701151945621504_o[1] - Copy (2)Bangladesh is a country that shed blood for its language and where poetry is deeply rooted in its sense of nationhood. So it was with some awe that I flew into Dhaka airport to join six other international poets as guests of the Dhaka International Poetry Summit. 609A3515

Where to begin? Over five action-packed days, we performed at 8 different poetry events, met some wonderful Bangladeshi poets, as well as poets from all corners of Asia including Nepal, Shri Lanka, Turkey and India. We were treated like royalty wherever we went.

Notre Dame University of DhakaBeing a poet in Bangladesh is something on a par with being a rock star. I’ve lost count of the number of selfie’s I appear in! It was heartening the way young people were interested in what we had to say. We performed at the English Club at Notre Dame University, took part in an informal seminar at Jahangir Nagar University where students shared their work with us, and a formal performance and seminar at The Independent University of Dhaka in front of the Vice Chancellor. 51098424_1184261445074429_7495139761732976640_n[1]

20190202_124552Every morning, Summit organiser and fellow poet, Aminur Rahman, brought us copies of The Dhaka Tribune, The Independent and other Bengali newspapers, which invariably contained news and feature articles on our progress. The Summit made it onto the news bulletins of 7 television stations, and we were individually interviewed by two other stations. Yes, this was media heaven!

51140331_10157212788274052_7079170181955584000_o[1]My fellow invitees were a great bunch of performers. Between them they have serious form at international poetry events . Annabel Villar and Julio Pavanetti are Uruguyan poets, run a poetry festival in Benidorm, and read their work in the beautiful language of Castille. Dr Ali Al-Shalah runs the Babylon Poetry Festival in Iraq and performed his poems in Arabic and German. 51107091_10157207774134052_7666569438572838912_o[1]

609A3087Kama Sywor Kamanda is from the Congo, and gave hugely powerful renditions of his work in French, his mother tongue.   It was fascinating to hear Dr Tianxin Cai perform his work in Mandarin, as well as in English. P1390281He’s a prolific and much translated poet, and also a professor of Mathematics at Hangzou University. Last but not least, we enjoyed the verbal magic of Malim Ghozali PK in Malay who is a novelist, and essayist as well as poet. 609A3176

IMG_20190203_060654474 (1)We spent hours in the rollercoaster that is Dhaka traffic, travelling between venues – our driver expertly avoided rickshaws, tuctucs, buses of venerable age, kamakazi pedestrians, and street traders plying their wares from car to car. IMG_20190202_050850407 (1)

IMG_20190201_075541296_HDR (1)In between gigs, we had time to visit some of the highlights of the city, including a 300 year old Hindu temple, the Lalbagh Fort with its exotic gardens, and the National Memorial where we laid a wreath to the memory of the 3 million people who died in the war for independence from Pakistan. 20190130_095838

 

We got to perform at the the equivalent of London’s Poetry Café (Kobita Bangla) where it was good to meet and hear some women Bangladeshi poets – still rather a scarcity in the main programme.

IMG_20190130_115333552 (1)More delights were in store for us at the Bangladesh Academy of Fine and Performing Arts where each of us had had one poem chosen by the artist Maksadul Absan, out of which he created his own visual interpretations. The exhibition of 15 poetry paintings was stunning, and will be on show for the coming month.

There is also a beautiful anthology – Poetry & Painting – which contains reproductions of each painting with its poem alongside. Dhaka publications_0006

Dhaka publications_0005Where there are poets, naturally there must be books! A total of four publications bearing our work were launched during the summit. The Dhaka Anthology of World Poetry 2019, edited by Aminur Rahman and Bilkis Mansoor, is a 175 page hardback containing poems by 66 contemporary world poets from 34 countries and five continents. It was launched from a podium of wonderful white, fragrant flowers and the chief guest was the Minister for Information, Mr H E Hasan Mahmud MP. He formally awarded us with the Kathak Literary Award for services to world literature – endowing us with a medal and a beautifully crafted statuette.20190131_190315

Dhaka publications_0004Later in the week, we performed at the launch of Bangladesh’s premier poetry magazine, Kabikantha, which has been on the scene since 1956. It was such an honour to have a poem (in translation) alongside important Bengali poets.

The fourth and final publication, which contains four poems each in Bengali translation,  gave me plenty of fun, trying to work out which of the poems was which – essential to know, as we read our poems in mother tongue and then Aminur Rahman read his translations of them. Eventually, line-breaks gave the game away!

IMG_20190201_051852952 (1)Perhaps the highlight of the whole five days was performing at the National Poetry Festival during the month-long Ekushey Book Fair. It was held in an open air auditorium (at a pleasant 27 degrees Centigrade with the monsoon still a month off, perfect weather) under a beautifully decorated awning. We took off our shoes and sat on the platform awaiting our turn, as one by one, poets were invited to the rostrum to perform. Plenty of time to bond with poets, exchange cards and learn a little about their countries. We even managed to snatch a photo of female poets from three continents – Asia (Nepal, Malaysia), South America (Uruguay) and Europe (UK). Pushpa Khanal, me, Annabel Villar and PK's wife

20190201_122659Hospitality was so generous, that one day we enjoyed breakfast, mid morning tiffin, lunch, afternoon tea and two dinners. Well, it would have seemed ungrateful to decline!

Bangla CafeDhaka publications_0003It was inspiring and instructive to listen and read (in translation) the work of our Bangladeshi colleagues who performed alongside us. These included Aminur Rahman, Asad Chowdhury, Habibullah Sirajee, Hayat Saif, Jahidul Huq, Maksudul Ahsan, Mohammad Nurul Huda and Mustafa Pasha.

609A3219Poetry in Bangladesh is not afraid to express big emotions or call for action on the part of the listener. It feels more tied in with the life of social and political change than perhaps is poetry in the UK. At Kabita Bangla an entire collection was launched the night we were there of poetry concerned with the Rohynga refugees.

P1400602The International Poets Summit was truly an extraordinary experience – proof that when people come together to share their aspirations, their experiences of life and their poetry, we do truly become one world. with Nikita Tahsin

My grateful thanks to Aminur Rahman and Bilkis Mansoor for inviting me to the Summit, for the wonderful care they took over every little detail, and to my fellow poets, both international and Bangladeshi, for their energy, their talent and their enthusiasm. Friendships that I hope will last and grow. The poetry world is truly one large family.