Sunday, July 16, 2006

What a Poetry Magazine Needs to do to Survive

If you haven't seen it, the estimable Michael Schmidt writes about PN Review being 30 years old, and how it lasted so long. In truth, not the most illuminating of articles. Like a lot of the poetry scene it seems to be tilting at windmills that only other branches of the poetry scene can see. "Anglo-American and European modernisms and their legacies are to be valued and taken to heart, and the postmodern condition is not to be seen as inescapable" is his conclusion at the magazine's value and agenda, and I can't disagree with that, but mainly because I don't really know what he means by it! His comment on Poetry Review, which "might be thought (erroneously, it seems to me) to have a duty to be a magazine of record" sets up an argument that I'm not sure anyone's making - that in the brackets he repudiates, though I like the idea of a "history of taste" seen through its varied editors. Poetry Review is sometimes the Newcastle United of poetry magazines, never sure whether it wants a dour traditionalist keeping the dressing room in line - and never winning anything - or a risktaking libero who'll upset the directors - and never win anything. All I can say, is that if you ever come across PN Review you'll come away with something, and the new website looks good. 30 years for any literary endeavour is worth celebrating, though I can't help think that whilst PN Review was opening its doors, a number of "poets" - Mark E. Smith, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto etc. - were watching the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Recent magazines are not really mentioned; and so many have fallen by the wayside over the last few years, from an exhausted Angel Exhaust, through Prop and Brando's Hat, through Thumbscrew, that it's hard to see without London Magazine-Ambit-Agenda-PN Review-Poetry Review there'd even be a poetry magazine scene. Yet, the Rialto still goes about its own quiet businesses, and smaller, more locally based zines proliferate. Best place to start is the Poetry Library - currently closed for refurbishment, but still there in cyberspace. Is it just me, or has the gloss worn off poetry a little? I don't see quite the same "hype", and that's probably for the best. But since the surfeit of millennial anthologies there's been nothing for the casual or interested reader to use as a roadmap through contemporary poetry.

3 comments:

Katy Evans-Bush said...

You're right - I didn't feel very illuminated by that editorial. He's certainly right to feel pleased, though; PN Review and Carcanet are both pretty indispensable, especially with places like Faber and Cape seemingly getting more and more timid.

I do find that the PN Review tone can sometimes feel a bit - shall we say - rarified, so that one almost has to crane one's neck to read it - but setting the bar so high is probably why it's still here.

I also couldn't help noticing a sort of a - well - complete and total lack of women in the editorial mythologising, this issue... In poetic content it's 2 men to each woman, and in critical content it's 17-2 men writers and only a single female subject - Carol Rumens, who also has poetry in.

I'm not going to check back issues as I don't really want to get on this hobby horse! But I did notice it.

Michael Schmidt is reading next Thursday, btw, at the Oxfam shop in Marylebone Hight St.

Bournemouth Runner said...

He's always worth hearing - is he reading poetry or talking about it? I missed a recent poetry reading he did in Manchester. He's usually v. supportive of female writers/critics, so might just be a glitch.

Katy Evans-Bush said...

He's reading. There are eight poets reading that night, including an American poet called Alfred Corn who is really interesting.

I'm not really worrying about the glitch! I was just refreshed to be able to spout off a little!