‘I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausages and haddock by writing them down.’ Virginia Woolf
The closing date for the competition is rushing towards us. Please let us have your entries!
Here’s an extract from the Editor’s page of the new issue (R 95).
‘We are currently (I’m writing this in the first week of February) accepting entries for our Nature and Place Poetry Competition. All I’ve seen so far is poem titles on Submittable, intriguing, tempting, promising delight. I’m hoping you will be reading this before we reach the competition’s closing date and that I can inspire you to take part in this festival of poems which, though it is often critical of us as a species, is always based in a celebration of life.’
The new issue is expected from the printer on February 24th. We will get it posted out to subscribers as soon as we can but please be aware that the pandemic has resulted in staff shortages in the English mail services which may slow your poetry up.
Submissions are being read for 96. Please note that all submissions still awaiting reading, both those on Submittable and postal ones, will be considered for the new issue. However if you have not yet sent us poems please read Degna’s blog, which you can find on the website and which will also be in issue 95. Thank you.
The Lockdown Winter issue (No. 95)  of The Rialto is currently being printed. There are some specifically Covid poems in it, but not, given the dominance the subject has in News Media (eclipsing both Brexit and Trump), that many. One of them, which is perhaps only an obliquely Covid poem given the rumour of currently increased alcohol consumption, is Ramona Herdman’s ‘The One Day Plan’. Though come to think of it that could be a useful recipe for lockdown life. Anyway Ramona’s poem had me reaching for Google to confirm the meaning of a poetry word that I hadn’t used in a while, ‘Anacreontics.’
I do particularly enjoy poems that give great value in a small space, that ‘whumpf!’ of fireworks in the heart. There are two very good ones in this issue, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Sonnet for Darren’, and, even shorter, Emily Wills’ ‘Not Dead but Sleeping’. Emily, whose work we’ve supported for a long time, is a very good poet. She has four poems in this issue, any one of which should tempt a major publisher into offering her a contract.
Ann and I tend to look at one another when we see/hear a person apologising for being ‘emotional’ on the telly. The opportunities to experience varieties of feelings, to learn what they are and how to engage with them are surely a major selling point for visitors to this planet. A pity to waste the price of the ticket and become scared to name them. Poetry can help. There are plenty of poems in this issue happy to grapple with major points of contact in human life, such things as birth and death and love (sometimes all three in one poem). Maintaining awareness that contact, with one another, with our environment, with our feelings and thoughts and curiosities, is what we are here for, has to be a big part of the purpose of poetry. So it turns out that this issue of the magazine is entirely about Covid, because contact is what, currently, we have to be sensible and avoid.
The back pages, from 46 to 61, are occupied by a selection of, all previously unpublished, poems by the shortlisted poets in our last Pamphlet Competition. The winners are in their pamphlets (Selima Hill’s Fridge and Simon Maddrell’s Queerfella) and we, and they, would like you to buy these and see for yourselves how come they won. However the standard of entries was high and, given that one of the reasons for starting The Rialto in the first place was to provide a market place for poets, I decided to give space to the other poet’s on Will Harris’ shortlist.
Oh and I have been wondering whether to give an advisory note for readers whose faith in humanity might be on the wobble. We have a very dystopian poem in the issue. It’s called ‘Bonfires’ and is a tour de force, but you might not enjoy it if your inner compass twirls towards the essential goodness of humans.
Oh and there’s a new, important, poem by Anita Pati in the issue.
And again. Please get hold of a copy and read it!
Selima Hill Fridge Simon Maddrell  Queerfella
Readers of these Newsletters, occasional blogs on the website and the From the Editor pages in the magazines will know that I tend to speak about the relationship, in a poem, between what is said and the how of the saying.  And that as a reader I like to be excited by both these aspects. However I find, to my surprise, that I’m more interested in writing about what these two pamphlets say than in the how bit. I’m coming to the conclusion that this might be because the writing skills are very fine, so skilful and practiced as to focus my attention exclusively onto what the poet wants to say. Or, alternatively, they may be social documents of very real interest.
Selima Hill has been writing and publishing for a long time. If you don’t know her writing here’s a quick sample from the pamphlet.
Standing in the presence of my father,
I feel as uneasy as a child
standing in a field full of fridges
with all the doors torn off
and I can see
all exactly the same,
lying on their sides,
with perfect ponytails.
Selima Hill, Fridge, page 15.
Line by line precision and each line so self-contained; poems one sentence long, punctuated by the line endings or by carefully placed commas; a capacity for turning the reader’s head inside out (pleasure in doing so); conversational tone; poems that achieve what they set out to do. In this case explain clearly what the child experiences from the ‘presence’ (a word that’s repeated), and giving a good account of what ‘uneasy’ might mean. Look at how shiny and new the word ‘torn’ becomes. If you want to be literary the ‘field full’ takes poetry back to Piers Plowman and the ‘feir feld full of folk’. But I see that I’m straying from my theme.
It could be possible to make a case for the 23 poems of the pamphlet to be parts of a single poem. Certainly there are three dominant characters – the poet/narrator, a mother, a father, and a collection of others, some named ( ‘Babs’ and the ‘Goose’) others identified by initials (J.J., My friend H. etc.,). And the poems are pre-occupied with grief, loss and death.
Selima is a few years younger than me, but old enough to reach the age when knowing several dead people becomes more usual (and some of them will be suicides). When I was training to become a therapist/counsellor the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was much talked about, and her useful normalisation of conversations about death and grief became part of the counsellor’s toolkit. In particular we liked her list of ‘stages’ ( denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), and they became something of an orthodoxy that had to be ‘worked through’ in the proper order. I think Fridge a very useful antidote to the industrialisation of grief.
The poems both mourn and challenge the idea of mourning. They don’t shy at difficult questions, both the ‘why do I feel?’ and the ‘why don’t I feel?’ Above all they are full of life.
‘Maybe I should give it a try.
maybe I should take chance and go for it,
weep, wail,
see what happens next….’  (page 27)
‘she had had it up to here,
she was indecent,
she was doomed,
she never got the hang of it,
and now it’s time to grieve….’ (page 20/21)
people die,
they tell me,
so get used to it,
though how to do that
no one seems to know….’ (page 22)
‘she’s bit the dust,
there’s only me,
fidgeting about… (page 28)
For many the existence of  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s paradigm (aka ‘Road Map’) will be a potent comforter, but for many others the poetry of ‘unacceptable’ feelings that Selima gives us may bring sweeter relief – licence to have your own feelings in your own time. There are too many ‘shoulds’ associated with grief and grieving, the most obvious being the ‘should’ of ‘being over it’.
Our other pamphlet is Simon Maddrell’s Queerfella, which Simon himself describes as ‘a journey from shame to unashamed.’ There are still many communities and families where a child who is gay or queer will have to struggle with shame, with being ‘unacceptable’, with the knowledge that their self-knowledge will bring intolerance down upon them. This pamphlet, though strongly personal, is also a comment on the social history of the last sixty or seventy years.
The poetry is once again very clear and direct, wearing it’s skill lightly. Here’s a poem.
Father’s vice-like grip on
my chin combing straight my sad
parting & licking his middle-finger
to rub that smudge
where I was christened
Father’s vice-like grip on
my youth hiding semen-stained
sheets after nights of
Rorschach-blot awakenings
OK Smiler, stay still!
Simon Maddrell, Queerfella, page 14
Two stanzas (one five, one four lines) and a single line conclusion, short lines punctuated by line endings, the stanzas tied in by a repeated first line and the repeated ‘my’ in lines 2 and 7. Two line end rhymes and several internal rhymes, of which I particularly like ‘chin combing’ and ‘rub smudge’. Very accessible vocabulary. ‘Rorschach-blot’ was/is a psychological test kit – you say what you see in the ten blots presented: I’d still like to know what the Guy’s Hospital Child Psychology folks made of my twelve year old self when I identified one blot as a headless ballerina. Literary note: ‘my sad/parting’(line 2/3), which is delicious, can’t stop reminding me of Thom Gunn’s title ‘My Sad Captains’.
We do know from page 12 in the pamphlet that ‘Mum walked out on Dad that January’. This continuity helps build the sense that the pamphlet is not a random ‘my best poems’ selection, but a carefully ordered, carefully crafted, sequence. But there’s no getting away from the poignancy of the poem; the father taking on the role of principal carer, the impossibility of discussing, as a teenager, your wet dreams – especially so in a family with a faith background. The poem is an accurate and appealing evocation of the feeling life in the family.
As in Fridge there are recurring characters, the poet/narrator, mother, father, other kids, family members, Kamil (a lover) and other partners. And the central theme is the growth and development of the poet/narrator’s knowledge of who they are.
‘That morning will never slip.
I know where I stood on
those painted lines, kids
circling, shrieking Quentin!
Queer!’             (page 13)
‘After I told her, she said
anyway, there’s one at work
and he’s alright really.     (page 18)
‘I fancy men, I fuck
men, I fuck with men’   (page 24)
‘why did I say
I’m a poet rather than
which way
I prefer to do it.’  (page 26)
I think it’s important to say that although the poet/narrator identifies as Queer these poems  may resonate with any reader who grew up feeling ‘different’ or ‘not seen’ – they certainly do for me.
These pamphlets are £6.00 each and are available from the website shop.
The next issue of The Rialto will be produced with Degna Stone as the Managing Editor. This is a key part of our new Lottery Funded Project. It means that Degna will be shaping the contents and structure of the issue, as well as organising a launch event.
Recent issues, which you will have noticed have had considerable (and gratefully acknowledged) input from Edward and Degna and Will, have had something of the quality of an anthology of our individual concepts of what makes a good poem. Their participation has meant that we have attracted work from poets who might well not have thought of sending work to a magazine that was ‘just’ being edited by an ageing product of the mid last century. We’ve published some lovely issues and some seriously great poetry. But working closely together has grown in me a strong curiosity to know what kind of poetry magazine they would produce on their own. I entirely trust their judgement, and I am entirely happy with the fact that this may differ from mine. I anticipate that we will have some very interesting issues of the magazine.
Degna has written a short piece introducing her editorship, which you can read as a blog on the website or in the back pages of Rialto 95. We will be reading all the poems sent in, both on Submittable and the paper submissions, and as always the first requisite will be excellent poetry. But Degna has announced that, although this will not be a themed issue as such, there are certain themes that interest her. In particular:
‘What I am definitely interested in is the intersection between poetry and performance. When I first started out I was as much in thrall to the performance of poetry as I was to the reading and writing of it. I think, no scratch that, I know that the page/stage divide in poetry is a myth and I want to pack this next issue with as many poets who write to perform as possible. I know there are loads of you out there’.
Oh and just so you know this is not some kind of covert announcement about retirement.
This will be happening. Full details in the near future.
Michael Mackmin