The year is on the turn. As I write this, an insistent grey drizzle is falling on my office window. It’s only 3pm but already I’ve had to switch on a lamp to read at my desk. I’ve always found the last few weeks of a year difficult. Days swallowed up by dark nights; the steady march of the calendar seeming to lose its legs as we lurch, frighteningly unstoppable, over the edge into a new year.
I mention all this gloom because over the past few months, editing bath magg has been a re-education in the power of a poem to illuminate. We read more than 150 poems to produce Issue 2, many engaging with challenging subjects: politics, climate change, painful relationships. In each I was struck by the act of faith that is a poem. To write about the world with its horrors and joys alike, is hard. To take on that responsibility and offer it to a reader seems to me inherently hopeful, a way of keeping faith with our world.
The idea of a poem as an act of faith is certainly born out in the poems by Ilya Kaminsky, Shara Lessley and Maya C. Popa that serve as this issue’s feature.
In Kaminsky’s ‘In a Time of Peace’, a speaker watches as a boy is shot dead by police. Later, the same voice considers the joy of a summer salad. The latter image is not, I think, a consolation but part of the poem’s deep commitment to faithfully looking at and being in the world.
Lessley’s ‘In Jordan’s Northernmost Province’ is similarly committed to the responsibility of gaze. The poem watches the work of the Middle East’s first all-female demining team, interrogating our relationship with violence.
For Popa, language itself is a source of faith for how ‘it moves through us and changes us.’ In her wonderful interview she describes her own creative obligation, her own imperative to simultaneously engage with ‘despair’ but also ‘hope.’
As well as Kaminsky, Lessley and Popa, we are thrilled to publish the work of 32 poets in Issue 2. I know I can speak for my co-editor Joe Carrick-Varty when I say this issue feels like a real step in a journey.
Chiming with the theme of violence and history are Kimberly Campanello and Julie Morrissy. Campanello’s iterative project MOTHERBABYHOME uses experimental modes to excavate the past. Morrissey’s work fuses lyric sequence and docupoetry to explore gender in Irish law and history.
History takes on domestic significance in Chen Chen’s ‘Year’s End’ where a speaker sits watching an ancestor making omelettes out of shadow: ‘am I in a sense your // shadow, or are you somehow mine?’
A bright beam of attention is also evident in John McCullough’s intimate portrait of Brighton with its salt that ‘rushes into my nostrils with the tang / of frying crêpes, bass from the last gay club // that’s not part of a hotel.’
In addition to these established names, bath magg is once again home to a family of poets yet to publish a first collection.
Maryam Hessavi’s ‘Swimming’ is a masterclass in repetition, its cool-toned ending bristling with quiet ferocity: ‘it’s so obvious to hope the sun is out … to hope … while you tread and / quiver home. It’s so obvious for a woman / to do this.’
Eve Esfandiari-Denney’s ‘From the Sunny Hospital Room’ rings with a kind of unblinking veracity: ‘I watch TV while I die and the radio’s on.’
There’s also ‘Poetry is Useless’ by Mukahang Limbu, a form-bending monologue in which the reader is commanded to ‘dive into a poem naked / to find clothes too loose / to fit’. Limbu is 18.
In these days of midwinter darkness and post-election gloom, editing bath magg has been a re-education in the power of a poem to illuminate. I hope that you, our readers, will get as much from this issue as I have. After all, is a poem really ever complete until it finds its readers? I, for one, am inclined to agree with Shara Lessley in her generous and insightful interview: ‘the lyric isn’t a song sung by a solitary author, but a collaborative act that continues long after the poet steps away from the page.’
Mariah Whelan, on behalf of the editorial team