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By Way Of An Update

A few things have appeared online and dropped through the letterbox of late.

The first is the new issue of Magma, No.40, which is edited by Roddy Lumsden and one of the strongest and most exciting to date. Its focus, quite accidentally down to the 'fine poems starting to appear from so many young writers' received in submission for the issue, is on young poets, featuring an interview with the likes of Foyles Young Poet of the Year winner Richard O'Brien and tall-lighthouse poet Jay Bernard, as well as poems from a wide range of impressive young writers, and more established talents such as Ros Barber, Claire Crowther and Sarah Wardle.

It's well worth a read, with particular highlights including Mark Waldron's 'I called the plumber...' (that rare beast: the successful funny poem) and Tony Williams's richly descriptive 'Argument About the Definition of Red'. And Eloise Stonborough, a young Oxford poet and blogger, has an excellent piece, 'Jet Lag', in deft rhyming couplets. There's also Nick Laird's poem-homage to Louis MacNeice, and book reviews by Rob Mackenzie and Katy Evans Bush.

In fact, I've a spare copy of the issue for a lucky reader, but there's a catch. I need a good, new poem to feature next month on the Facebook Poetry Group: the growing, global gathering for poets ranging from high school students to professional prize-winning writers, founded by Canadian London-based poet Todd Swift.

Group is here:

So if you're a poet with, say, a few magazine appearances or any prizes / other successes under your belt, send me a poem and bio info to my email address (on my profile page) and I'll post the issue out to you as payment for featuring the poem, if selected.

In other news, my critical perspective of Maurice Riordan's work, Faber poet and editor of Poetry London, is now up on the British Council's Contemporary Writers site.


Rachel Fox said…
That's the second time I've heard that recently...'that rare beast - the successful funny poem'. I'd say if you're not seeing and hearing good funny poems then you're just reading the wrong magazines and hanging round with the wrong people!
Also there are lots of 'unsuccessful' serious poems but no-one seems to mind them getting published all the time...I guess one person's 'successful' is another's ...sedative?
Ben Wilkinson said…
Well, when I said 'the successful funny poem', what I meant was the successful funny poem that also has a seriousness and intellectual edge to it. Otherwise, yes, I have read plenty of successful funny poems, but they often seem to be in it for laughs and little else.

I wouldn't say that 'unsuccessful' serious poems are published 'all the time', though: inevitably, only so many very good poems are published each year (less than appear in magazines, that is) but, as you suggest, all these things come down to a matter of taste in the end.

Also, a thought: isn't poetry's purpose (if you'll allow me to be so pompous in assuming that there is an overarching, if not totally all encompassing, one) to shake up our preconceptions, offer us new perspectives and make us vulnerable to realigning our thoughts about the world around us?

If so, then a not-so-great serious poem will achieve this on at least some level, whereas a not-so-great funny poem (being all humour and no substance) will fail to engage us in this way. And in failing to engage us in this way, such a poem would fail as poetry, amounting to little more than a decent joke or comedy routine.
Rachel Fox said…
I think we may have to agree to disagree about all that!
Is humour itself not a substance of some sort anyway? I do agree with all that preconceptions shaking stuff but do not think non-funny writing necessarily tackles such matters better than funny. There is usually more than meets the eye to most funny things but for some reason with poetry the funnier writing is almost automatically presumed to be inferior. I don't think this helps poetry one bit personally.
Ben Wilkinson said…
Yes, but humour itself isn't very substantial without any serious artistic intentions behind it: it's just a crowd-pleasing effect.

So I'd say that funny writing with such intentions has as much chance as 'serious' writing at tackling the big philosophical and existential questions, issues etc. but from much of what I've read, 'serious' poems hit the mark more frequently than funny poems.

But then again this comes down to the poetry I've read and, regarding the contemporary scene, the books I buy and the magazines I subscribe to. And of course, what I prefer: poetry pleasing that 'mysterious something which has to be pleased', as I think Larkin once said. But I find it hard to believe that tons of thoughtful, meaningful humorous poetry has somehow escaped me: perhaps it's just more of a challenge for most poets to get 'funny' right, and that's why less of 'em crop up in print.

But on the subject of v good funny poems that are really effective and harbour a serious intent, I read Muldoon's 'Cuba' again the other day in a writing class and was floored. Incredible stuff.
Rachel Fox said…
On crowd-pleasing...I'd say most of us are trying to please crowds more often than we might think...even if the crowds in question are quite small and only made up of people pretty much like ourselves (at times).
I looked at that poem you mentioned. It may be good...but is it funny? Maybe humour is the most personal taste of all.

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