I can still remember the excitement of holding my first copy of Poetry London. It was the Autumn 2004 issue featuring Peter Redgrove on the cover, which I purchased only weeks after I first moved to the UK. I can still see Redgrove’s eyes staring back at me under those bushy, horned eyebrows, his chin softly resting on his fingers. I had just matriculated at university, and although I fancied myself well-read, I hadn’t read any Redgrove before, but those poems in Poetry London made me see the error of my ways. The same issue also introduced me to the work of Colette Bryce, who was about to make waves with her second collection – and who would later edit this magazine (2009–2013) – and Daljit Nagra, who’d just published his debut pamphlet. On infrequent trips to London I would always make sure I’d stop by the large Waterstones on Gower Street to pick up the latest issue. Reading Poetry London in those formative years felt like an essential part of my education, and when I was hired to run the magazine almost two decades later, I was determined to uphold that legacy: to remind its readers what made our elder guardians of the art so great in the first place while remaining one of the first ports of call for major emerging talent.

It would be wonderful to tell you that I spent much of my three years at the head of the magazine revelling in my good fortune, immersed in the best that contemporary poetry had to offer, and while some of that did happen, unsurprisingly for someone hired in 2020, the most important part of my job was simply to ensure that the magazine survived the pandemic, increasing government cuts, and the wholesale collapse of bookshop sales, among other assorted financial obstacles. I’m happy to say that the magazine’s finances are in rude health and the funds I raised during my tenure will see Poetry London comfortably to its 40th birthday four years from now.

It could easily have gone the other way, and as I mentioned in one of my earlier editorials, the past few years have seen too many good magazines disappear from the scene, including Ambit and The White Review, and that was precisely why we decided to use our good fortune to double down on everything that has made Poetry London stand out over the past thirty-six years. Its poetry prize is rightly among the most famed in the UK, and for a good reason: it has launched some of the brightest stars in living memory, and to honour that legacy and build upon it, we launched the new pamphlet prize, which attracted hundreds of entries in its inaugural edition last year when it was judged by Jay Bernard. While independent poetry publishing in London suffered devastating blows, we decided to start Poetry London Editions, and I’ll be staying on as an editor for that project following my departure in March. I have no doubt that whoever succeeds me (interviews are ongoing as I write this) will likewise make sure that Poetry London keeps going far beyond its 40th birthday and I wish them all the best with that difficult task. Poetry magazines aren’t supposed to last this long, and I hope that Poetry London’s defiance of that rule will continue for generations to come.

I leave this post grateful for the opportunity to have edited this magazine, and yet distraught over the state of our world and the sanity of our public culture. If, as June Jordan once put it, ‘Palestine is a moral litmus test for the world’, then we have squarely failed that test as a species. The massacre in Gaza, now in its fifth month, has claimed close to 30,000 Palestinian lives in what has essentially become this century’s most gruesome act of collective punishment, and merely the latest chapter in the West’s long war on the Middle East, which has killed and displaced millions.

That war is gruesome and that hideous violence is committed on all sides of any conflict should be common knowledge to us all, but what I have found deeply concerning is the way that the Western media and its artistic institutions have been systemically censoring, harassing and firing pro-Palestinian artists and individuals merely for speaking their minds, or for taking such objectively neutral stances as calling for ceasefires, or for the immediate delivery of critically needed aid.

Not only must we watch powerlessly as this genocide unfolds, but we must do so in silence. Is any of this truly surprising? No, and this is hardly the first time that this has happened. Long before Palestinian militias murdered innocent civilians and Israeli armed forces deployed their might to kill thirty Palestinians for every Israeli life claimed, arts organisations have long practiced the balancing act of preaching wokeness out of one corner of their mouths while whispering sweet nothings to moneyed war-mongering interests out of the other.

In the UK, the past few years have seen organisations like the London Book Fair and Poetry Book Society cosy up to dictatorial regimes that commit human rights abuses, while English PEN forge partnerships with countries that imprison and harass PEN members. All in a day’s work for them, because it’s all about the money. Cold hard cash. Autocrats, dictators and other assorted bastards have deep pockets, after all.

To date, I have read a nauseating number of petitions and letters that either begin or end with the following statement: ‘as artists, we cannot remain silent’.
But we do, don’t we, and we’ve become quite good at it. Remember that the next time you see a poet prattle on about decency and morality while accepting prizes from such and such institutions and being honoured by such and such governments. To these lost souls, I say mend your ways, to our readers I say it’s been an honour.

Peace out.

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Spring 2024

Issue 107

The Spring 2024 issue features work by Mona Kareem, as translated by Sara Elkamel, as well as new poems by Mary Ruefle, Paul Muldoon, Khaled Mattawa, Marilyn Chin, Maria Stepanova, Timothy Donnelly, B.K. Fischer, Katie Peterson, Kimiko Hahn, and John Kinsella, among many others. This is André Naffis-Sahely’s final issue as poetry editor and it includes a valedictory editorial. Also featured are translations from Arabic, French, Hindi, Macedonian and Russian, as well as ‘House of Feels’, a craft essay by Dana Levin on sublimating pain through poetry, while Isabelle Baafi interviews Terrance Hayes and Tim Z. Hernandez.

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