Poetry Matters

Poetry London started life back in 1988 as Poetry London Newsletter, produced with the aid of an Amstrad PCW and intermittent access to a photocopier. It was a project born of enthusiasm by a group of poets interested in creating a space where readings could be publicized and new poetry enjoyed. 2013 marks twenty-five years of publication and plans are afoot to mark the anniversary. As part of those plans we are pleased to welcome back Pascale Petit as judge of this year’s competition. Pascale’s contribution to Poetry London has been immense: she was a founding editor and helped to guide the magazine through fifteen years of development, during which time it evolved towards the international poetry journal it is today. The poetry editorship was taken forward by Maurice Riordan in 2005, and working alongside both (and currently) has been editor Martha Kapos, whose long-term commitment to the organization has been central to its survival.

At the age of 25, Poetry London may consider itself a grown-up publication, and certainly much has changed since those early stapled editions. In the past few years alone, in an uncertain climate, we have managed to oversee a redesign of our covers, inside pages and website, and a necessary upgrade of our technological capabilities. Poetry London is independent and continues to rely upon the dedication of a small team of people, nearly all of them writers, to whom poetry matters, and to whom ensuring that there are places for poetry to thrive, matters deeply. It moves forward with the support of an international community of poets, critics, our subscribers and readers, and the audiences who join us in London for our bustling launch events. Most of all, now as in 1988, it depends on the poets who trust us to read their submitted work and to publish some of it on occasion: these range from writers with established reputations, to the new and young poets, taking the art forward, whose work generally occupies a third of our pages.

The poems in this spring issue are full of stories, beginning with Ian Duhig’s retelling of a magical encounter in Franz Kafka’s life. Another of Duhig’s poems ‘Dependant’, in memory of Manuel Bravo who died after being denied asylum in Leeds, evokes Tony Harrison’s famous poem about language, class and identity ‘Them and [uz]’. ‘When I came to this land of [uz] I learned its languages, / its poetry…’ (Duhig p3). Them and [uz] is a phrase with renewed resonance in 2013, as austerity measures start to bite and the case for the arts, particularly in the regions, is having to be asserted once again. Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre has highlighted the urgent risk to small and regional arts organizations: ‘I don’t want the chancellor clawing back a tiny handful of hundreds of millions from an arts budget that will make no difference to him but will make the most enormous difference to organizations that might close down for the want of £20,000.’

Another poet of the north, Sean O’Brien, contributes new work to this issue, coinciding with the publication of his Collected Poems which draws from a writing life spanning forty years. In O’Brien’s poetry, ideas of Englishness, and re-imaginings of the post-industrial northern landscape, have been central. Elsewhere, Henry Shukman’s narrative poem ‘The Golden Dragon’ recounts a Jewish family’s story of migration (reminding us of contemporary migrants like Bravo) – a tale narrated in the cafés of Soho. Just starting out on her publishing career is Helen Mort, another poet, incidentally, with roots in the north of England – see her poem ‘Oldham’s Burning Sands’.

This is my final issue as Poetry Editor, a role I have greatly enjoyed over the past four years. Martha Kapos will edit the poems for the next issue, and Tim Dooley will continue to steer the reviews and features side of the magazine. A new poetry editor will be in post for the autumn. Poetry London, meanwhile, enters its second quarter century of publication. With your continued support may it go from strength to strength.