UK Poetry Magazine's National Conversation Failure.

Magma poetry magazine is a UK Arts Council subsidised publication that bills itself 'one of Britain’s leading poetry magazines', claiming it is 'more than a magazine, but 'a community of people, open to everyone passionate about celebrating a wide mix of poetry.'

This year it is undertaking what it calls a 'National Conversation'  'designed to provoke thought, ignite debate and encourage all of us to move deeper into the art form.'

However on Magma's Facebook page, that consists of little more than the odd link to articles elsewhere, and which, accepting on face value its claim of promoting healthy robust 'national conversation' and debate, should welcome contrary opinions; this response to a link posted there yesterday (6 July 2015) to a pdf article from the current Poetry Review issue (Summer 2005) by Jack Underwood on Jennifer L Knox, was immediately hidden from public view, and, rather than being deleted, was made visible only to my Desmond Swords and All Ireland Poetry Slam Facebook accounts.

Interesting because it reveals the mentality of whoever's editing the Magma Facebook page. Rather than delete the comment and be upfront and honest about their editorial practice and where they really stand on those that take a contrary position, they attempted to give the impression to me that the comment was publicly visible, in keeping with their much publicised National Conversation, which the non-exclusionary and inclusive language blurbing the ethos of it ostensibly claims to be all about.

I only discovered this after writing and publishing the comment, by using another Facebook account I use for the uncovering of such social-media duplicity by those claiming they're all about fostering freely expressed dialogue and critical conversation, when they are clearly not.


I am not a huge fan of either poets' writing, because I think that the language of their 'poems' is very overrated and much closer to that found in quirky narrative prose anecdotes with the odd poetic flourish. Reliant wholly on that irony of speaking tone that can only be written by the very young unable to recognise that 'ironic voice' alone does not transmute the pedestrian prose it is speaking into some sort of high-poetic intelligent comedy-magic on the page just because a few people bray loudly at their own in-jokes.

That we're encouraged to believe, by a few well placed editors and their supporters, as having a cutting-edge conceptual pedigree wholly new and exciting to the English line. Don't read the words literally, we are urged, but think of them as being really great ironically rendered poetry arising out from some kind of deeply intellectual and experimentally innovative literary play by England's finest new poetry custodians being all very American.

Championed and peddled by a handful of editors as the latest seismic innovation in post-pomo English poetry that has escaped its factional British Poetry Revival antecedent and is now an inclusive come all ye mainstream variety of the New. But of course is really reliant on little else but a sub-Monty Pythonesque crazee narrative tone and shock-value voice that is all very middle-class and connects with very few readers, but a handful of smugly self-congratulatory nerds and geeks who find this sort of thing funny.

Underwood quotes extensively from Knox, but in my ear it all sounds very anti-intellectual, depressingly childish and banal. This line being pretty much standard fare: “Hey check out that dog’s ass wow that dog’s ass is hot that dog’s got a hot dog ass I want squeeze that dog’s ass like a ball but a hot ball a hot ass ball.”

Underwood's stuff is little better. Slowly enunciated prose anecdotes that rely on the ubiquitous and wholly unearned i-know-better-than-you-because-i-speak-with-a-posh-accent, Oxbreligious intonation, by a self-congratulatory pleased-with-itself middle-class English voice in print through the vagaries of passing literary fashion and a small micro-scene of hipsters and expensive editorial blurbing, that, I am certain, will be assessed in the not too distant future for the somewhat, only in my own opinion, over-praised and unremarkable pedestrian language it really is when stripped of the inessential background po-biz noise blurbing how great it all is, and left on the page to speak for itself.

What i find interesting structurally, in a general sense, is the disconnect between poetry and prose in contemporary English poetry culture. We are given the impression anything goes and it is a great time to be an independent experimental crazee doing your own thing, but as soon as you become satirical about it in spontaneous critical conversation, most of the self-declared crazees suddenly become very precious and straight squares, making it plain that there's an acutely conservative and exclusionary agenda in operation behind the tenor of inclusion and social revolution that the rhetorical surface of the critical language surrounding this 'new' poetry ostensibly suggests.

One in which coteries and bands of poet-friends are ruthlessly not engaging in real debate or critical conversation, but communicating, in the main, in a Facebook micro-bubble language in which brevity and witty one liners are the norm, and those keen to test ideas by live conversational print, are very much in a minority and not at all encouraged to speak. With any of this kind of new experimental creative-critical spontaneous prose writing comedically deleted and blocked from the social-media pages claiming to advocate conversation and contemporary critical debate. Not for the language itself being inappropriate or offensive in any way, but purely for speaking honestly in a voice trained not by a process of seeking validation from publishers, but by the act of just doing it, critical prose, anywhere there's a free online page and an audience.

Finding one's long-term literary faith by continual free-writing practise and the methodical study of bardic tradition and its fourteen year poet-training curriculum, rather than the Tudor poet-courtier model, in which knowing your place in a pecking order and prize-culture is the paradigm most cleave to from the very beginning to the very end of our writing journeys. Rather than developing and evolving over years of practise, our authority on the page reliant solely on the approval of one or two of the dreaded pasha Poetry Editors.

A majority of whom were unable to embrace the online revolution because it undermined their own roles of being the gate-keepers of 'good' poetry. That can only ever be the opinion of a person, expressed in varying degrees of eloquence and relevance. If, for example, a voice were to appear on the majority of social-media pages claiming they promote conversation and debate, The Poetry Society being the most obvious one, speaking the hot ass argot and sweary fuck off blah blah blah that Underwood finds so titillating in poetry, that voice would be deleted for being offensive; yet somehow the same banality in this prose-as-poetry, is lauded.

This article is also published on the Irish Poetry Blog