It’s twelve months since I wrote my last editorial for bath magg. For me, December is always a rough month for any writing activity. Even after taking industrial quantities of Vitamin D, the days are so dark and my Seasonal Affective Disorder so strong that sometimes it’s like trying to write through soup or milky PVA glue.
Last year, the writing process was made all the worse by the frustrating General Election results here in the UK. This winter might have seen happier results across the pond in the US, but I can’t say that they’ve made me feel much better. For me, this year has been all about structural revelations. Throughout 2020, the acute crises I’ve faced have had their roots in deeply complex, interrelated and ongoing currents of power and control. However, putting together issue five of bath magg, it has struck me that poetry is a form that is particularly suited to grappling with this interrelation of the immediate moment and its broader contexts. This is certainly the case with our feature poet for this issue, Ellen Hinsey. Ellen is the author of eight books of poetry, essays, dialogues and translation. A former Berlin Prize fellow and recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award, Ellen is passionate about the ethical possibilities of poetry when it is used as a form of critical inquiry.
‘Underlying my work’, Ellen states in her generous feature interview, ‘is the belief that our only hope is a constant reckoning with our nature.’ This spirit of ‘reckoning’ suffuses all of Ellen’s writing and is particularly evident in her bath magg poems. Her first published pieces since 2018’s Poetry Book Society Choice The Illegal Age, the poems grapple with the inescapability and inadequacy of language. ‘Why does it seem language has now been occupied…?’ the speaker asks in ‘Enquiry’. The only possible answer, it seems, is to pay close attention to how ‘the alphabet has been burned’, the act of observing the ashes perhaps fashioning a new vocabulary and grammar for what might come next.
All of the poems that made it into issue five of bath magg are interested in testing the limits of language, form and representation. In her ‘four apocalypse sonnets’, Samantha Walton imagines the deformations that are necessary to make the sonnet form capable of responding to the climate crisis. I can’t help but agree with her poem’s speaker when they insist ‘the thing is to be stag moss / burnt saxifrage / light dappling on earth’. Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s fantastic poem also uses innovative formal strategies to enact the ubiquity of ‘[white] noise’ that is present ‘even when we said we were / alone even when we swore that we could not hear it.’ Careful attention to voice and tone play a major role in Safia Khan’s ‘On Placement’, the poem masterfully juxtaposing day-to-day hospital life with the ghosts that bloom ‘like spring mist / through my stethoscope’. A medical student as well as a poet, this was Khan’s first time submitting to a literary magazine.
bath magg itself has undergone a formal transformation for issue five as we are now inviting contributors to record themselves reading their poems. This aural dimension has added a whole new layer of richness and texture to the magazine. For example, in ‘ancestry’ by Amaan Hyder, the poet’s voice recording introduces novel patterns of rhythm and pace that work in counterpoint to the text’s pared back punctuation and regular short lines. In Jinhao Xie’s ‘I wake up & see a girl in the mirror’, the live reading lends the poem an additional element of intimacy that speaks deeply to its consideration of interior landscapes.
I’m grateful to everyone who has submitted to, will read or has otherwise supported issue five of bath magg. In this difficult year, it’s been particularly lovely to have my colleagues Gboyega and Joe to talk to via Zoom about all things poetry. Here’s hoping that in 2021 we might be able to do so in person.
Mariah Whelan, on behalf of the editorial team