I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of poetry lately. How much does poetry matter, how much can poetry matter, in the face of a global pandemic? And that’s not in some plinthic notion of importance. Some higher plane. Some ‘poetry matters now more than ever blah blah blah’. I’m just thinking pure and simple, looking around at my life, my small rented bedroom, my bookshelf, my empty London side street.
Because poetry will still be here when this pandemic is over. Just as poetry will still be here 100 years from now when we are all gone, when some new poet, old or young, is scratching together an editorial on a Saturday morning, happily exhausted.
But how much does poetry matter right now? And, maybe more pertinently, how, or in which ways, does poetry matter? How can it, when so many people are dying? When so many people are losing loved ones?
It’s a strange thing promoting poetry at the moment. Are we supposed to act like everything’s normal? Are we supposed to stop out of respect? Do we have some kind of responsibility to fulfil? If so, what is it? What can a lit mag offer? We don’t get paid for what we do, so we can’t offer money, but what can we do to help?
So, having lived with the poems in Issue 3 of bath magg over a sustained period of months, the best I can do is ask: how have they helped me?
Two things come to mind (the lit mag has many more attributes than these, I’m being reductive, but you know, Coronavirus):
Empathy and Community.
 Poetry as Empathy
Part of me wants to say Poetry as Escapism here, but I don’t think stepping into a poem is ever escapism, no matter how different the world of the poem is to the one I inhabit on a daily basis, no matter how difficult my world feels.
I think reading a poem is an exercise in empathy: inhabiting a different perspective, a different life or place. I don’t read poetry to escape into that world, I read it to live there for as long as I stay on the page.
When I go back to my ‘normal’ life, I’m changed by the knowledge I’ve gained about what it’s like to be a different consciousness, inhabit a different perspective. I think this is one of the deep, deep values of poetry, pandemic or no: the affecting change it offers, its relief, its weight.
In her generous interview, Jennifer Lee Tsai, our feature poet for Issue 3, talks about homelands, real or imagined, in relation to her parents, who emigrated to the UK from China: ‘my pamphlet Kismet explores the interplay between ideas of homelands, whether they are real or imagined, and how that relates to a sense of belonging/distance, exile and estrangment. What is lost and gained in migration to a different country from the one that someone is born in?’
Jennifer’s comments speak to the idea of poems as departures but also as arrivals, as ways of remembering, finding, discovering. Poems as lives, skins you can slip on easy as a glove, until all of a sudden you’re not watching another episode of Tiger King but inhabiting a kind of love which is ‘not the first thing you remember’, a kind of love which ‘runs from bees’, which ‘wears a high viz jacket, waves semaphore flags’, a love which is ‘the first clap in a sustained standing ovation following an amateur production of Cats’ (of course it is!) as Rowena Cooper’s ‘This love’ so stunningly conjures and sings.
Katie Hale’s ‘My mother Visits Neodesha’ wills the reader on with subtle verbs and calls to action: ‘Hear their decades of rust and whisper / look see who has finally come’. These verbs become directions, a map we must follow, steppingstones of sorts. Vital ingredients for new experience.
Arji Manuelpillai’s ‘nominated for a BAME prize’ is at one moment darkly insightful and hilarious, the next poignant and moving and prophetic. In five tiny stanzas the poem stitches a multitude of tones: ‘it’s always in capitals / like someone is shouting it’, ‘tomorrow when I meet my family / I shall tell them I was loved’. A real emotional ride. A poem which will make you cry and laugh.
Christine Roseeta Walker’s startling image of caught crabs that ‘watch the sky from the bottom / of a drum’ transported me to the town of Negril in Jamaica where the poet grew up. This image followed me around for weeks. Such an arresting way of looking. A perspective I had never imagined, but one I could totally imagine. Like an old friend I had never met before.
 Poetry as Community
Issue 3 of bath magg features 22 poets. 22 people. 22 lives. Many of which might not have crossed paths without this issue. To imagine the magazine as a room might sound silly at first, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. bath magg is, as poetry should be, a shared space, a conversation, a party of voices where readers and writers alike can share air, rub shoulders.
Right now I’m imagining the magazine as a high school disco: glitter ball, stage with a DJ, maybe a lopsided banner, squeaky floor, plastic cups of orange squash, triangle sandwiches, crisps, bowl of fruit no one’s touched, the poets all in conversation, huddled like an island in the middle of the hall, leaning in, bobbing awkwardly to ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, readers turning up through a door off to the left, tentative at first, as we all are, maybe alone or maybe with a friend, but here to stay, for a minute or an hour or a day, here to return again, to find new joys in the work, have new conversations, to forget, but also to remember.
Joe Carrick-Varty, on behalf of the editorial team