The Rialto No.93 is out in the world. Storm Ciara is bustling about making working in the garden unattractive, so here I am sat down to celebrate the new issue. It is actually just a rather wet and windy day here but the weather forecasters seem to have been infected with the tendency to hyperbole which runs through Social Media and into our culture – everything is either a sizzling triumph or a chilling disaster – so episodes of rough weather have names. Alas this last sentence tells you I’m not as young as I once was.
Where was I? No.93. Neither Nick nor I ever dare open the fresh issues of the magazine when they appear from the printer. That’s because we dread finding mistakes. And we know that poets, as soon as they find them will let us know that we’ve made them. Just as we know that we will both, by heaven knows what sure instinct, open the magazine on a page with a typo. Which is what happened now when I opened the magazine to pick out poems to write about.
But please let me commend to you without hesitation many things that you’ll find between the superlatively beautiful covers that Nick has created. From page 27 to page 38 you will find poems from our last Pamphlet Competition, by poets from Richard Scott’s shortlist – Nicola Bray, Claire Collison, Kat Dixon, and eight others (including the wonderful Selima Hill). When I was reading through the pamphlets to make this selection I did think any one of them could have been the winner: and I commend the names to any publisher of pamphlets who is better resourced financially than we are at present. Our winner, Anita Pati’s Dodo Provocateur, is published, as many of you who have bought it know. More of that later, and more about the new Pamphlet Competition (though full details are on page 64 of 93).
What next? Helena Goddard’s ‘Alas! Mrs Clitheroe, I Am Sorry You Are So Wilful’ is one of the most skilful poems I’ve read in a long time. In five slim six line stanzas Helena presents us with an example of the cruelty humans will inflict on one another because of disagreements about Belief. After she has been pressed to death Mrs Clitheroe’s hands are cut of and preserved as relics of her martyrdom. The poem’s last stanza astonished me with the way it brings the impact of the story out from the bleakness of the narrative into the feeling world of the poet as a child.
Her bloodless hand spoke to me
from its glass dome in the gulp
of my first school pilgrimage:
I gripped my tube of sweets tight
in my pocket; then there was
a field, sandwiches, cricket.
Love the use of the word ‘gulp’. Of poets completely new to me I’d like to mention Vicky Morris, Cat Turhan, Bonnie Hancell, and Daniel Phelps. The last named works as a plasterer, and one of his poems celebrates that craft and its practitioners. Silly to try to make a list really because as soon as I’ve done it I remember James Goodman’s poem ‘Address’, which is an address to Adders Hill and adders in general and fun as well as being clever. The first of its seventeen lines is ‘We raise a glass to Adder Hill where in the upswing of the year’ and its last line is ‘In the upswing of the year, we raise a glass to Adder Hill’; in between, at line twelve there’s ‘and raise a glass to Adder Hill’. I like poetry tricks like that, when they are carried along amongst such riches as,
‘I say, your hammer is an adder, your gun an adder, your boots are tall adders!
And all the adders shuffle sacks of sand around the hill, and we drink to them,’
‘their hill wide/ thrive and the sprawl of their embroidery, and their stretched armada.’
There is of course much more in the new issue. Where else, I’m tempted to say, will you find a poetry magazine which starts with five new poems by Hannah Lowe, has five pages of Annemarie Austin in the middle, and ends with two translations of Batsheva Dori-Carlier plus the original Hebrew versions?
Previous Pamphlet Winner
So, Anita’s pamphlet: as you know this was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award. We all had a supper in the august surroundings of the British Library, and Anita and the other finalists read from their pamphlets. Then the various awards were announced, and, alas, Dodo didn’t win. I’d say a scandalous misjudgement, but, in those immortal words, ‘He would say that wouldn’t he?’ Looking at Anita’s title poem, I’ll try to say why I think hers is such an original talent. Here is the title poem.
Europeans hunted you mercilessly
because you beakies wouldn’t be doves or albatross.
Those whitish irises probably grotted and balled and seized,
black undertail coverts jutting at strumpet-starved sailors,
marooned on Mauritius, exotic, just not Bideford, Perth or Poole.
Why gobble pebbles big as nutmegs to temper your guts,
and prove fresh meat for rusky sailors, declaring you foul?
‘Belly and breast pleasant enough in flavour,’ they said.
If only they’d waited a few decades later before they snuffed you
forever, for being cloven-footed, turkey! You know,
you and your bulging brethren could have been common as peacocks,
not stuffed through your hooks in old Copenhagen or folded in sketchbooks.
Mauritian Martha, who froze your fruity body in gin?
Now of the Marthas exists only bitty skin, you pigeons.
Very successful title: I doubt anyone ever thought of juxtaposing those two words before. The first function of a title is to make you want to continue reading – this one does that for me. The second function is to give some idea of what the work is (even ‘Sonnet xxiv’ does this). So, ‘Dodo,’ the well known extinct bird, in fact the byword for extinction, ‘dead as a dodo’. And ‘Provocateur’? An ‘agent provocateur,’ traditionally, is a person who inveigles another into an act which is going to end with their being identified as criminal or rebellious. But recently, possibly starting with the celebrated lingerie company (Agent Provocateur), the word has become part of the apparatus of burlesque – ‘raucous debauchery and provocative fun’. Quite a mixture.
From the first of its fourteen lines this poem is addressed to the dodos, ‘beakies’ (much as a traditional sonnet might address a beloved), though they have, by the penultimate line become ‘Mauritian Marthas’. Martha (died 1914) was the name of the last passenger pigeon, heroine of another extinction story. This kind of inclusivity is part of the brilliance of the poem: another part is the athleticism of the language, the way it jumps and bounces, – ‘black undertail coverts jutting at strumpet-starved sailors’, or, ‘Why gobble pebbles big as nutmegs to temper your guts?’ ‘Strumpet’ by the way is not out of place, the Dodo was discovered on Mauritius, by Dutch mariners, in 1598, and it was extinct within seventy years, the word belongs to those years. If you wonder what the Dutch were doing in the Indian Ocean don’t forget that what is now Indonesia was for a while the Dutch East Indies.
‘Dodo’ is a very serious poem, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that it must have been fun to write. I think a big part of the excitement comes from the plethora of verbs – lots of action. There are plenty of poetry things going on too, alliteration, rhyme – ‘snuffed’, ‘stuffed’, ‘hooks’ ‘sketchbooks’, ‘old’, ‘folded’, ‘in’, ‘gin’, ‘skin’; lovely phrases like ‘bulging brethren’ and ‘bitty skin’. Then there’s the wonderful invention of the missed agribusiness future with dodo as an alternative to turkey (lines 9-11). I think the poem is remarkable for its jumps and juxtapositions: a poetry of the unexpected.
A few notes that may help your enjoyment. ‘Beakies’: for a long time, although there were sketches and paintings, the only surviving parts of actual dodos were a few beaks (one of which was in Copenhagen). ‘Doves or albatross’: there was doubt as to how to classify the dodo – eventually solved by the decision that they were related to pigeons (hence the poetic licence for the connection to Martha). ‘Gobble pebbles’: many birds need grit or stones in their gizzards to aid digestion. ‘Gin’: alcohol, including gin, was frequently used to preserve natural history specimens.
This is inference only, there’s no direct evidence in the poem, but I strongly suspect that Anita’s fierce opening line, ‘Europeans hunted you mercilessly,’ and the violence of ‘grotted and balled and seized’ in the next line, mean that the poem is not just about the extinction of birds. Much of the known, and probably unknown, history of the oddly named homo sapiens is about our ruthless way with one another and our fellow life-forms. However it is the legacy of the colonialism of us Europeans (and of our descendants in America and elsewhere) that we must address. Europeans in recent history have been very zealous in their interpretation of Genesis 1:28 and have tended to include in amongst the ‘every living thing’ over which they are given ‘dominion’ other peoples who don’t share their skin colour or beliefs.
You can buy copies of Dodo Provocateur from the Shop on our website. You can also buy copies of The Rialto 93 from the website. If you become a new subscriber to the magazine we will send you 93 free, and your subscription (3 issues) will start with 94. Single copies of the magazine are £9 whereas a subscription is £25. Bargain!! And there are discounted rates if you are on a low income and live in the UK.
You can come to the FreeVerse Poetry Book and Magazine Fair this Saturday (February 22nd at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL, nearest tube is Holborn). That is if you are in London or nearby. The Rialto has booked a space at the fair, so, with a fair wind etc., I’ll be there selling books, pamphlets and magazines. Thanks by the way to The Poetry Society who are organising this event. There will be Readings and Workshops too…
New Pamphlet Competition
We are running a new Pamphlet Competition. Full details on the back page of R93 and on the website. You can enter the competition via the website or you can post us paper submissions. A pamphlet is an excellent thing for a poet. It gives you something to sell at readings as you build your career and is a handy introduction to send to publishers. The Rialto doesn’t publish many pamphlets but several of our poets have migrated to mainstream publishers – Hannah Lowe, Richard Scott, Lorraine Mariner, Laura Scott, and Richard Lambert. (To enter or find out more click here).
Nature and Place Poetry Competition
And we have another of our Nature and Place Competitions in progress. Cash prizes, but also the wonderful additional prize of a walk with the celebrated nature writer Mark Cocker. The prizewinning poems will be published in the magazine and the winners will also read, with our this year’s judge Pascale Petit, in Cambridge at the headquarters of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). The CCI, together with the RSPB and BirdLife International are our associates in this adventure. Please note that we welcome all kinds of nature poems. (Again to enter or find out a bit more please click here)
We have, since the publication of R93, had emails asking when Submittable will be open for submissions to the magazine. If I say the first week of March that will mean we are committed to making that happen. We do also accept postal submissions, with the traditional s.s.a.e. Several of the poems in the current issue arrived this way, and there were a number of shortlisted entries to the last pamphlet competition that came through the letter box. Postal address is c/o 74 Britannia Road, Norwich, NR1 4HS, UK.
Price changes have had to happen. The UK subscription has gone up by £1 (and we have kept the Low Income option at the same price as before). The significant increases have been for Overseas Subscriptions. We’ve been subsidising these for years and, particularly without grant support cannot continue to do so. We’ve also increased the subscription rate for institutions – we are now more in line with other magazines.
We have re-applied for Lottery Funding. We hope, when this succeeds, to be more effective in reading and returning your work and getting the magazine published at more sensible intervals. Thanks for your patience. I also need to apologise to Claire Collison for consistently omitting the ‘i’ in her first name. And to Cat Turhan for the typo in the fifth couplet of her poem.