This issue marks the end of our third year as a magazine. Hence, I have been reflecting on that time. We set up with the ambition of publishing exciting long poems and essays that enhance our understanding of long poems and sequences, to help poets to develop their skills with longer work and reward diligent readers with work that repays their efforts. Though I say so myself, I think we have not done too badly with that ambition so far.
It is great to be kicking-off with Mimi Khalvati’s poem ‘River Sounding’, as the history of the magazine is strongly linked to a workshop group that Mimi used to run on Long Poems. History is the resonant theme throughout this issue. All of the thirteen poems we are publishing explore history in some way. Perhaps through family history, those personal narratives that shape us. Irene Hossack, Chris McCabe, Jude Rosen, Graham Mort, Claudiu Komartin and to an extent, Mimi, all explore their family stories in their poems.
Local history or histories of place or community also feature – in Mimi’s poem, Komartin’s, Mike Bannister’s Hebridean sequence and Steve Sawyer’s poem, which contemplates Sheffield and its central library.
The history of ideas (Spinoza’s) is addressed, experimentally, by John Mateer. The historic developments of poetry itself, that shape how we read it, feature in Karen Holmberg’s piece, which explores the impact on her of reading Hopkins, during a difficult time in her life.
The ‘Grand Narratives’ of war and political displacement are explored through the lens of micro-history by both Derrick Porter and Matt Salyer. Meryl Pugh explores pre-history and takes a new spin on the old Welsh myth of Rhiannon.
These themes relate to our essay this month, which is by me – on the links between history and poetry. It is a bit of an obsession of mine, as I read and write both history and poetry texts. One of my favourite historians, Carlo Ginzburg, has compared historians to judges – saying that it is our responsibility to select and present the evidence of history to the reader.
Ginzburg pioneered micro-history, a form that takes something small – such as the local or an object, and demonstrates its meaning in the wider context. Good poems do that and as such are kinds of micro-history. Good poems, like historians and judges, present the reader with evidence. Usually presented as ‘facts’, some literal perhaps, others may tell us how a thing can be sensed or heard or how it appears. The poem’s evidence will be oral and aural as well as read.
This issue will be my last for the time being. I am stepping back into an advisory capacity to concentrate on two projects – firstly my PhD, which you will not be surprised to learn is on the relationship between poetry and history, and secondly ELLF (The East London Library Festival) a new literature festival for East London that will be launched in September this year. I will continue to participate in the Long Poem Community and hope to see you all out there – somewhere.