My sister Caitlin recently baked me a rhubarb cake. Plastered across the cake in massive pink buttercream letters were the words ASK MORE. This was my first time eating rhubarb-flavoured cake. And yes, it was delicious.
I’m sure you’ve all had amazing cake experiences. Cakes can be bad, cakes can be mediocre, but cakes can also be exceptional and this particular cake was so good it comprised two main description-worthy pillars of experience:
1, reading the words ASK MORE and knowing they were written (piped I think is the right verb) by someone I love more than anyone else in the world, and 2, biting into said cake, said words, and tasting (for the first time!) the flavour of rhubarb in cake form.
You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about cake.
It’s safe to say I, like the majority of people on planet earth, have not been feeling too great of late.
But cake (like poetry) has the power to renew.
Accompanying Caitlin’s rhubarb cake was a note with a series of questions scribbled in pink felt tip: ‘How did that make you feel? Crunchy or smooth? Wanna talk about it? Want some of my cake? Have you ever not wanted to get out of bed in the morning? Would you like to dance with me?’
We sat on the sofa and asked each other these questions. Then we asked more questions. Then we ate cake.
It’s strange how good it feels to be asked things, and, conversely (and perhaps more importantly), how good it feels to ask other people things. Think question as hug in language form.
Because to ask a question is to make oneself vulnerable, to admit ignorance, but it’s also to elicit dialogue, to offer voice, to listen. When we ask a question we open ourselves up, we open others up also – and a connection is made. Poetry, in its truest form, does this. Poems can roam, they can seek, they can admit unknowing. And I am always suspicious of a poem that purports to know exactly what the fuck is going on.
Right, now onto the rhubarb.
You know when you experience something for the first time? The acute awareness that happens? All those rooms you didn’t know existed?
When I watch April rain falling on my empty London side street, yes, I am watching rain like I have watched rain a thousand times before, but I am also watching it fall at this angle, in this light, in this moment for the first time, as Mona Arshi, our feature poet for Issue 6 says in her generous interview. Speaking about rain in her poems, Arshi says: ‘there is an estrangement of the word ‘rain’ itself as it appears quite unexpectedly and the rain often comes at the end of poems or lines as if there’s a kind of release, or like the lyric latch is opened.’
I love that. The lyric latch is opened. And we breathe again.
In ‘Arrivals’, one of Arshi’s three stunning poems that comprise this Issue’s feature, the poet asks us to look and look again as ‘the dead…arrive…the untidy dead…the perfumed dead’. But it’s the following question (and rain) that renders something gleaned: ‘on that long road / the rain spitting from // a sideways direction why should there / not be rain // by and by and why shouldn’t / birds still // stamp for worms’. Here rain takes on the act of seeking, of insisting, of witnessing and carrying oneself forward. As Arshi so poignantly says: ‘Rain can also signify renewal or resetting of something can’t it? But I also wonder, is it acting as a sort of conduit or portal too in the poems?’
bath magg 6 glitters with renewal.
Whether it’s the name that ‘shines / as if new, as if rain got lost in the shape of someone’ in Amy Acre’s wonderous ‘Finding Out You’re Dead by Walking Past Your Grave’.
Whether it’s Leo Boix’s astonishing ‘Doppelgänger’ and its ‘world of the open, no doors.’
Or Emily Blewitt’s ever-lifting kitchen nightscape: ‘you pace the wreck / of our kitchen / and point / out the stars.’
Or Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa’s equally arresting and moving ‘I Tied My Teeth To My Feet & Ate My Own Testament’ in which a kind of growing in reverse occurs, rebirth in the form of reclamation of selfhood: ‘even my family never knew which way to bury me’.
I’m thinking also of the window someone has cut in the town in Helen Tookey’s ‘Under the Lightship’, ‘regilding the world’.
And Chris Tse’s ‘I am everyone’s gay BFF and I’ve earned unfettered access to all your ruby slippers’ and the post-storm outfit it wears: ‘I’ve survived a tornado and have the shoes to prove it.’
And finally I’m thinking of Petra White’s ‘Journal in October’ which offers us nothing less than a new day:
So night gently takes day,
and puts it in nana’s garden
that she might send it back watered.
To think of bath magg as a waterhole. To imagine that readers might arrive in need of nourishment. And leave feeling, perhaps, if not better (whatever better means), at least held, for a second or a minute.
I hope the poems in bath magg 6 offer some nourishment for you, dear reader. And I hope they continue to do so, as you return and find newness, freshness in these morsels.
I’ll end with Caitlin’s questions:
How did that make you feel? Crunchy or smooth? Wanna talk about it? Want some of my cake? Have you ever not wanted to get out of bed in the morning? Would you like to dance with me?
Joe Carrick-Varty, on behalf of the editorial team