It’s partly just me being selfish, but I’m slightly gutted that I arrived on the poetry scene (have I arrived? or am I about to? I’m not really sure…) and, unless I’d been precociously intelligent, by extension on planet earth, too late to enjoy a subscription to Tim Kendall’s wonderful magazine, Thumbscrew.
The mag ran from 1994 until (from what I can gather) 2002, and in that time carved itself a niche in publishing often excellent and sometimes refreshingly unusual and off-kilter poetry, but most of all, in mocking the hype, soundbytes and absurdities that often surround poetry, poets and their reputations / egos. I’ve been reading the issues uploaded on the wonderful resource that is poetrymagazines.org.uk recently, and absolutely love what must have once been the near-legendary ‘Odds and Ends’ section. Here’s a smattering of pieces drawn from it:
Beware the Blurb
“Vendler is arguing for a depoliticisation of [North] that robs it of much of its power to provoke as well as merely to reassure; and it is a measure of Heaney’s stature that he thrives on being read in just such a provoked or provocative way” (David Wheatley, TES, 20 November 1998).
“It is a measure of Heaney’s stature that he thrives on being read in such a provocative way” (blurb, paperback edition of Helen Vendler’s Seamus Heaney).
Don’t Forget your Gaviscon
Always keen to prove its intellectual credentials, the Poetry Society has devised a new gimmick. For just £17.50, you can book a meal in their café, cooked by a “seriously good poet”. Michael Donaghy cooks Mexican, Sarah Maguire cooks French, Mimi Khalvati cooks Iranian. There is an additional charge for stopping the chefs reading their poems.
Say No to Strangers
The Poetry Society Website offers good advice for inviting poets to your school. (The best advice, you’d have thought, would be not to invite them at all.) Poets, it proclaims, “are not to be left alone with groups of children”. “Ask if your poet is insured”. “Our advice to poets would be to refuse to take any unsupervised session, as we would not be able to support them adequately if a case were brought against them for anything that took place in that situation”. The risks are obvious: if left unsupervised, the poets might start reading their “poems” to impressionable youngsters.
The letters section, as you might imagine given the above, was equally lively and entertaining.
So my question is this: what has rushed in to fill Thumbscrew’s gap since it folded nearly six years ago? What magazine is cutting poetic ‘gods’, ridiculous book blurbs and the flexing of egos down to size these days? Only a small press magazine could get away with such hilarious, semi-serious banter and discussion (that is, as much as I enjoy the publication, I don’t think Poetry Review’s letters pages or wide and varied readership would quite suit it!) The blogs and forums do a good job of poking fun where and when it’s needed, I suppose, but it’d be nice to see a mag capable of balancing good poetry (Thumbscrew published plenty of that, including Muldoon, Greenlaw, Harsent and Redgrove) with intelligent humour and deft severity in its reviews, features (read this one on Armitage's poetic career) and other prose.
Well, I live in hope. In the meantime, why not wander along and read the archived Thumbscrew issues on poetrymagazines.org? Link’s here.