Poetry - UK Poetry Magazines
These are my thoughts on some of the poetry magazines I've subscribed to over the years. They are informed of course by prejudice, bile and in some cases gratitude.
Acumen is one of the most popular British poetry magazines. It is regarded as a good outlet for beginners, although they wouldn't touch my stuff. Perhaps that's one reason I stopped subscribing.
Another reason was the January 2002 issue, which was devoted to poems about the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. No subject should be off-bounds to poetry, of course, but dedicating a whole issue to a single news item, however momentous, seemed to me obvious and rather self-indulgent. Patricia Oxley's precious editorial blathered on about the sudden "need for public poetry" and poets being "the unacknowledged critics of the time", as though creative writing were really some kind of heroic mission rather than the cosy pastime of withdrawn egomaniacs.
Not that this would have mattered if the issue had been full of poignant masterpieces. The fact is that many, if not most, of the poems wouldn't have got a look-in in a magazine applying standards of quality rather than subject matter.
This magazine's selling point is that all submissions must be anonymous. The quality of the poetry is reasonable (well, I would say that since I've been in it twice), it's very nicely designed and produced (in pocket-book size), and edited with enthusiasm and intelligence by writer Mike Stocks and his editorial team.
By the editor's account, Anon is doing well in terms of both subscriptions and submissions - it seems to have tapped into a gap in the market. It will be interesting to see how many known poets submit to it: one suspects that few successful writers are humble enough to put their abilities, unaided by reputation, to the test.
NOTE: This review is for the old Envoi and will be updated shortly for the new magazine, which is under new editorship.Envoi rather has the air of an old gits' magazine: it's been around since 1957 and its readership seems to be largely retired. But it prints some quality work, and I like its unpretentiousness: it values whimsy and offbeat lyricism over gloomy introspection and portentousness. It has the unusual editorial policy of publishing several poems by each contributor, which makes getting poems into it difficult but also allows the reader to form opinions about poets rather than just poems.
Envoi also has thoughtful review pages. My main gripe about it is its rather amateurish presentation - editor Roger Elkin would do well to employ a young whippersnapper who knows Photoshop to produce colourful laminated covers like Acumen, which isn't a better magazine but looks as though it ought to be.
Because he needs at least four or five pieces per poet, Elkin frequently asks for poems he likes to be resubmitted with new work. This may be flattering, but think carefully before complying: if you've already sent your best efforts, hastily-written new pieces are unlikely to have any more success. I have been disappointed in this regard and, judging from irritable readers' letters, I'm not the only one.
The Frogmore Papers
Another magazine with flimsy card covers, whose production values don't do its content justice. Editor Jeremy Page looks for lively, original work and fills two thinnish magazines a year with it. The Frogmore Papers is adventurous without being pretentious, direct without being dumb, and like The Rialto brings together established names with completely new ones.
Other Poetry is a long-standing, middle-ranking magazine with above-average production values. The editors' choices are competent and their taste tends to the conservative.
Poetry London is one of the half-dozen most prestigious poetry magazines in the UK. Judging by the contributors' lists, it's impossible to get into if you aren't already known on the 'scene' and have a couple of collections behind you. This is a rather safe policy for an established magazine, but I suppose it guarantees good circulation figures. In fact, the best things about it are its thorough reviews and, if you live in London, the exhaustive listings section.
A fairly long-standing magazine - medium-ranking in the prestige stakes. Can't think of much to say about it really.
Poetry Now is not like other UK poetry magazines. It includes photographs, uses four typefaces per page and contains sections called things like 'Expressions: Religious Verse'. It is, above all, a magazine for people who don't like poetry to talk down to them. And it is hugely popular - allegedly the most-read poetry journal in the UK (and, be warned, with submission response times to match).
There is something admirable in Poetry Now's life-affirming brio, its lack of rancour towards the more highbrow press, and its giving voice to the direct, unambitious poetry that most people write and most magazines don't publish.
After three years of relative dynamism under the stewardship of Robert Potts and David Herd, Poetry Review is now back to its dreary old self. New editor Fiona Sampson has reverted to the safeness and cronyism that characterised Peter Forbes' interminable editorship during the 1990s, more concerned not to upset her poet friends with rejections than to look for anything new or original from as yet unheard voices. So if you're familiar with the UK poetry world, you'll recognise almost every name that appears in its pages. Don't imagine, unknown poet, that your submitted masterpiece will even be read.
The reviews remain pretentious and bland (even Herd and Potts had difficulty spicing these up - almost all reviewers are also poets and so the whole thing is basically a back-scratching exercise), and to be honest the magazine's main selling point now is the high quality of its paper.
The organ of the little known, Wiltshire-based Ligden Poetry Society, Pulsar claims to have 300 subscribers. Whether this includes the many libraries, publishers and higher education colleges that are gifted with free (and presumably unsolicited) copies, I don't know.
Anyhow, it's a likeable, unpretentious little magazine. Editor David Pike says he prefers 'hard-hitting work', but in fact the poems he chooses tend towards the traditional and the lyrical. Many contributors are from overseas; very few are known names.
Not a prestige magazine, but apparently they receive loads of submissions, so getting in is still an achievement. A good bet for first-timers.
The Rialto is a bridge (as it were) between the amateur and the 'professional' poetry scenes in the UK. Editor Michael Mackmin does a good job of balancing work by established poets (recently, Simon Armitage, Les Murray, Selima Hill) with poems by unknown and up-and-coming writers. The 'names' guarantee The Rialto credibility and a wide readership, while the newer poets bring a freshness that can sometimes be missing from top-end publications like Poetry Review. (I assume that the established writers' work is solicited but still: at least they oblige.)
The Rialto receives colossal numbers of submissions, so (i) don't get your hopes up and (ii) expect a LONG wait (4 months or more) for your work to be returned. Despite the size of his postbag, to Mackmin's credit he annotates his rejection slips with helpful comments ranging in tone from the tactful to the encouraging.
The high point of my poetic "career" thus far has been getting a poem in The Rialto. Realistically, it's the best that anyone who's not on the "circuit" can aspire to, especially since the reversion to boring type of Poetry Review.
A well-produced magazine, now edited by Michael Laskey after the sad death of his co-editor Roy Blackman, who committed suicide early in 2003. Nostalgia and human relations seem to be the overriding subject matter of the poems, and the favoured style is conversational rather than lyrical; to be honest, I've read little in it that has struck me as really original. That said, it's a popular magazine without pretentions to sophistication, and judging by the obscurity of most of its contributors, looks favourably on first-timers. Submissions are usually replied to within two weeks - possibly a record in the famously slow world of small magazine publishing.
Sadly, Thumbscrew ceased publication in 2002, after eight years' existence as the self-styled thorn in the side of the poetry establishment. Based at Bristol University, it was an intelligent and provocative journal that lampooned mercilessly every poet and magazine it considered flash, phoney or dull. If sometimes its reviews and editorials descended into gratuitous invective, criticising poets for their dress sense or their looks rather than their poetry, nevertheless it fulfilled a valuable role in shouting out very loudly whenever it felt the emperor had no clothes.
If you've ever felt alone in thinking much contemporary poetry a load of tripe, get hold of some back issues of Thumbscrew and restore your critical self-confidence.