Monday, 28 September 2015

The Brontes in Halifax


The first book to bear the family name of Bronte was printed in Halifax - the Reverend Patrick Bronte’s Cottage Poems, published in 1811.

My food is but spare, begins The Cottager’s Hymn,

And humble my cot,

Yet Jesus dwells there

And blesses my lot.

Such is the theme and style of the poetry. In the introduction, Patrick is forthright in his explanations of its purpose: Cottage Poems … is chiefly designed for the lower classes of society … For the convenience of the unlearned and poor, the Author has not written much… has aimed at simplicity, plainness, and perspicity, both in manner and style. The poems are fairly simple, their arguments easy to grasp, perhaps na├»ve in parts, yet coloured by a personalised conviction:

Though thinly I'm clad,

And tempests oft roll,

He's raiment, and bread,

And drink to my soul.

The Reverend, having travelled from Ireland to Shropshire and eventually to Yorkshire, was an accomplished writer, being the author of a great many letters to, among other papers, The Leeds Mercury, in which he wrote earnestly on subjects such as education, labour rights and the need for decent housing, and in his poetry he just as zealously rebuked the slipping standards of society, material greed and vain hopes - comparing the latter to spiders’ webs blown apart by winds.  

In 1810 came his first poetry publication, a poem composed and published in a newspaper while he was living in Dewsbury, near Bradford, where he worked as a curate.  In keeping with its author’s firm belief in Christian modesty, Winter Evening Thoughts, appeared anonymously, but its vivid depictions of the lives of the poor are clearly intended to make an impact:

Where blinking embers scarcely glow,

And rushlight only serves to show

What well may move the deepest sigh,

And force a tear from pity's eye.

You there may see a meagre pair,

Worn out with labour, grief and care.

A year later, and now happy to gain recognition for his writing, Bronte produced his Cottage Poems, written in his leisure hours while pursuing his duties as a curate, and including a re-written version of his earlier published piece.  In a newspaper advertisement he delightedly described how When released from his clerical avocations, the Author was occupied in writing ... from morning till noon, and from noon till night, his employment was full of real, indescribable pleasure such as he could wish to taste as long as he lives.
"Indescribable pleasure" seems almost anathema to such a straight-laced man of traditional values, whose advice to a younger man urged restraint, forbearance and a plea to 

Remember still to fear the Lord,

To live, as well as preach, His word,
And wield the Gospel's two-edged sword,

(Epistle To A Young Clergyman)

Religion, clearly, formed the chief concern in Patrick Bronte’s view of life, and his political beliefs were accordingly built around this central anchor.  While instrumental in the installation of a new irrigation system designed for healthy drinking, he also worked as a school examiner, organised the building of a Sunday School, and felt it his duty to inculcate his Christianity into the young. His most overtly political poem, Epistle to the Labouring Poor, begins, much like Shelley’s Song To The Men of England, with a descriptive overview of the poem’s collective subjects, as defined by their daily work: 

All you who turn the sturdy soil 

or ply the loom with daily toil 

And lowly on through life turmoil 

For scanty fare

but there are few further similarities with Shelley’s impassioned plea for Revolution. Instead of encouraging the workers to "forge arms", he urges them to attend to his advice, which is, he assures us, 

freely penned, devoid of art,

In homely style, '

Tis meant to ward off Satan's dart,

And show his guile. 

The general message of the ensuing poem is that those labouring to make money for those in all the pomp of wealth and pride should realise that the rich are rarely happy anyway, for the more they get the more they want. The poet ends by reminding the lumpen-proletariat that though you dwell in cots obscure, All guilty, ragged, hungry, poor, their lot is actually a good one, since the love of God can be counted on throughout the years of hardship.

 The focus on patient endurance chimes with the writing of his wife - in 1812, Patrick married Maria Branwell, a Cornish lady who met him on a visit North, and whose sole published work was to be a pamphlet mirroring many of her husband’s attitudes, entitled The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns. Against the flaming backdrop of the Luddite riots, the turmoil of Revolutionary Europe, and the fight for Catholic Emancipation - a cause to which the Anglican was sympathetic as his letters to the papers show - it is perhaps not surprising that this compassionate, yet nonetheless characteristically cautious and unobtrusive man might take a somewhat more guarded approach to politics than young radicals such as Shelley.  Although supporting industrial legislation aimed at stemming the exploitation of the infant poor, and educational schemes designed to boost the chances of their betterment, the churchman was less concerned with ameliorative assaults on poverty, than with encouraging his readers to accept their lot, at least in the short term, and see their suffering in the context of faith:

Christ says to all with sin oppressed,

'Come here, and taste of heavenly rest,

Receive Me as your friendly guest

Into your cots;

In Me you shall be rich and blest,

Though mean your lots.

And yet, not all of the clergyman’s poetry was dominated by piety, at least not overtly. The poet who describes almost threateningly how 

God in thunder spoke

His fiery Law, whilst curling smoke,

In terror fierce, from Sinai broke,

Midst raging flame!

Could also celebrate the wonders of the natural world:

Throughout the cloudless sky

Of light unsullied blue,

The larks their matins raised,

Whilst on my dizzy view,

Like dusky motes,

They winged their way

Till vanished in

The blaze of day.

The linnets sweetly sang

On every fragrant thorn,

Whilst from the tangled wood

The blackbirds hailed the morn;

For the most part, though, Patrick Bronte was a poet concerned with temperance and self-restraint:

And dress nor slovenly nor gay,

Nor sternly act; nor trifling play;

Still keep the golden middle way

Whate'er betide you;

And ne'er through giddy pleasures stray,

Though fools deride you.

It is difficult to imagine Patrick’s son Branwell, known for his sociable, pleasure-seeking lifestyle, conforming to these puritanical suggestions.  Branwell’s tragic life was cut short after several torrid years struggling with illnesses, thanks to which he eventually succumbed to opium, a substance that, along with his addictive need for alcohol, battered him both physically and mentally. One of the happier periods of the young man’s life, though, came in the early 1840’s, when he lived and worked as a railway clerk first at Sowerby Bridge, and then at Luddenden.  In The Brontes, Juliet Barker writes how the chief merit of his new job was his proximity to the literary, artistic and musical circles of Halifax, a town long renowned for its culture.  John Frobisher, the organist at Halifax Parish Church, was a prolific organizer of concerts … there were regular, if bizarre, lectures in the town and, in December, a newly refurbished and reorganized Halifax Theatre opened …

As for his father before him, Halifax proved a significant place for Branwell Bronte, but his presence in the area was preceded by that of his sister Emily, whose experiences were somewhat different.

My sister Emily, wrote Charlotte Bronte to her friend Ellen Nussey in September 1838, is gone into a situation in a large school of nearly forty pupils, near Halifax.This school, presided over by the sister of a Halifax banker, was Law Hill, Southoworam, a girls’ school which opened in 1825 on the site of a former warehouse.  Emily Bronte, aged nineteen, arrived at Law Hill to work in a senior capacity, replacing the sister of its Headmistress, who had helped in the running of the school but had left to marry.  It was to be a most fortuitous appointment.

Law Hill, writes Juliet Barker, stands in glorious isolation high on a hillside with panoramic views across miles of open moor and farmland. From Southworam can be seen the famous Shibden Hall - home of 18th Century gardener and diarist Anne Lister.  Halifax lies directly below, and in 1838 would have spread out like a chequer-board of Yorkshire stone buildings, viewable from some of the higher outposts along the hills which climb its edges, far enough away not to clog the moorland air with soot or fumes, but near enough to give the school’s pupils - and by extension their teachers such as Emily - an enviable proximity to exhibitions and museums. Rich on the spoils of their industries, the powerful families of Halifax enjoyed the good life, and unlike bigger Northern industrial epicentres, the town did not grow into a combustive glut of over-crowded slum lands and smog-swaddled squalor. Juliet Barker refers to it as the wealthy and cultured town of Halifax,and points out that Halifax attracted eminent musicians from all over Europe. In terms of location, therefore, Law Hill had everything to please Emily.

Elizabeth Patchett was in charge of the school, and by all accounts controlled it with a rod of iron.  Someone living near the school is reported to have said she was "stately and austere … she knew how to keep things in order," but this orderliness did little for the spirit of the poetic Emily, who told her sister Charlotte in a letter that the school’s regime involved hard labour from six in the morning until near eleven at night, with only one half hour of exercise in between.  It is scarcely to be wondered at, then, that she remained in post for only around six months, returning to Haworth the following spring.  
Yet whatever the hardships of the job and culture at Law Hill, the period spent there appears to have had an inestimably positive effect on Emily Bronte’s writing.  For a start, several poems were composed which offer stirring insights into their writer’s mind, as well as demonstrating an acute proficiency of style. In The Bluebell, the poet sets the stage with scenes as cold as the climate, metaphorical and physical, in which she found herself at Law Hill:

The trees are bare, the sun is cold;

And seldom, seldom seen;

The heavens have lost their zone of gold

The earth its robe of green;

And ice upon the glancing stream

Has cast its sombre shade

And distant hills and valleys seem

In frozen mist arrayed


How do I yearn, how do I pine

For the time of flowers to come,

And turn me from that fading shine

To mourn the fields of home


And elsewhere we find a longing for the onset of the spring, 

Where the lark - the wild sky-lark was filling

Every breast with delight like its own.

In the very grip of winter, on the 12th of January 1839, when she would have been in the midst of her work at Law Hill, Emily Bronte composed the following, one of the starkest and most bitingly detailed of her poems thus far, blending the fairytales of "Gondal" - the mythic land of fantasy narratives concocted between the poet and her sisters and brother as children - with richly Gothic undertones:


THE night was dark, yet winter breathed 

With softened sighs on Gondal's shore; 

And though its wind repining grieved, 

It chained the snow-swollen streams no more. 

How deep into the wilderness 

My horse had strayed, I cannot say; 

But neither morsel nor caress 

Would urge him farther on the way. 

So loosening from his neck the rein, 

I set my worn companion free, 

And billowy hill and boundless plain 

Full soon divided him from me. 

The sullen clouds lay all unbroken 

And blackening round the horizon drear, 

But still they gave no certain token 

Of heavy rain or tempest near

I paused, confounded and distracted, 

Down in the heath my limbs I threw; 

But wilder as I longed for rest, 

More wakeful heart and eyelids grew. 

It was about the middle night 

And under such a starless dome, 

When gliding from the mountains height, 

I saw a shadowy spirit come. 

Her wavy hair on her shoulders bare, 

It shone like soft clouds round the moon; 

Her noiseless feet, like melting sleet, 

Gleamed white a moment, then were gone. 

What seek you now on this bleak moor brow, 

Where wanders that form from heaven descending?

' It was thus I said as her graceful head 

The spirit above my couch was bending. 

This is my home where whirlwinds blow, 

Where snowdrifts round my path are swelling; 

'Tis many a year, 'tis long ago, 

Since I beheld another dwelling. 

When thick and fast the smothering blast 

I’ve welcomed the winter on the plain, 

If my cheek grew pale in its loudest gale, 

May I never tread the hills again. 

The shepherd had died on the mountain-side, 

But my ready aid was near him then; 

I led him back o'er the hidden track 

And gave him to his native glen. 

' When tempests roar on the lonely shore 

I light my beacon with seaweeds dry, 

And it flings its fire through the darkness dire 

And gladdens the sailor's hopeless eye. 

' And the sea-birds noisy I love to keep, 

Their timid forms to guard from harm; 

I have a spell, and they know it well, 

And I save them with a powerful charm. 

' Thy own good steed on his friendless bed 

A few hours since you left to die; 

But I knelt by his side and the saddle untied, 

And life returned to his glazing eye. 

To a silent home thy feet may come, 

And years may follow of toilsome pain; 

But yet I swear by that burning tear, 

The loved shall meet on its hearth again.'

Sprites, the ghostly, the undead, convey semblances of hope, familiarity, reunion. One thinks of the multitude of graves at Haworth, of the snowdrifts and impenetrable moors, witness to a thousand generations, the poet’s "native glen," laid out like a memory beyond the hills of Halifax.  Up at Southowram, even on a summer’s day the winds and rain can make one feel detached from the metropolis below, as if perched upon some island in the sea. Almost two centuries ago, this element of seclusion must have been yet more pronounced, intensifying loneliness and sequestering the author in a distant, unforgiving world, cut off from everyday society. In such environments, the imagination might run wild.  In her 1986 book about Patrick Bronte’s extraordinary children, Joan Rees comments on the Walker family - erstwhile owners of the Law Hill building - and their adopted nephew, Jack Sharp, whose family dynamics provided her with the bare bones of the plot she was later to expand on with such consumate skill in Wuthering Heights. 

Tired, ill, and taking few happy memories, Emily Bronte was to leave Halifax in the spring of 1839, going home to Haworth, where she recuperated, undertook the management of the parsonage, and, after months of creative inactivity, began once more to write.  

The time at Law Hill was short-lived and for the most part hardly happy. Yet, imprinted on her mind,  it provided Emily Bronte with a building block for something neither she, nor her family, could ever have expected.  Almost as if the experiment at Southworam had never happened, it was to the safety, the security, the oddly sanctifying wildernesses of Haworth that she returned to refuge, consigning Law Hill, its school and people, to the past.  Yet  some years later, Charlotte Bronte was to promote the creation of  a story rooted in the wild moors of the North of England composed by her sister, "a homebred country girl". The lonely days on the snow-choked lanes and wintry hills which survey the outskirts of Halifax, the very town from which the phenomenal Bronte family’s first literary mark was made in the form of the unsophisticated but impassioned poetry of an idealistic clergyman more than thirty years previously, had finally come to roost. In December 1847, Wuthering Heights was published.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Poetry Magazines - A Personal Reflection (Sept 15)

There is a distinguished history of poetry magazines in England, which have brought pleasure to numberless readers. In one sense, poetry magazines are part of a long chain of innovation which arguably began with the radical essayists and pamphleteering poets of bygone centuries, and in their different ways, the magazines of the last hundred or so years have had considerable influence, from the pre-War formal compendiums, to scholarly anthologies such as The English Society's Modern Poetry, and Poems of Today, which provided platforms for experimental voices such as ASJ Tessimond, Dorothy Wellesley and Ruth Pitter, through the avant-garde mags of the 60's and the fiercely independent Littack - bullishly edited by a young William Oxley - to the politically charged DIY culture of the 80's, the emergence of sophisticated international journals, and the jostling for prominence between print and e-zine publications today.

My own association with poetry magazines begins around the turn of the Millennium. Home after an ill-fated few months studying English in Huddersfield, I headed to the library and turned as millions had before to the Bible of aspiring poets, The Writers' and Artists' Handbook. The book fed me page after page of potential addresses to which my naive poems, scribbled in tatty notebooks and bashed out in my bedroom on an electronic typewriter, might be sent, and as I journeyed through the rainy lanes and avenues to photocopy my poems at a newsagents and post them off, it was to journals such as Outposts, The Interpreters House and The London Review of Books to which I would entrust them. I lacked the cash to purchase any of these titles, and my submissions were always returned with polite rejections - or not returned at all.

Over the following couple of years, busy working in Mental Health, I had little time for literary aspirations, and attempts at being published were largely kicked into the long grass - give or take the occasional rejection (These seem very old fashioned: what are you READING?!)

The early 2000's, though, was a period when British poetry magazines enjoyed a renaissance, and in the summer of 2002, now working with homeless people in west London, and subsisting in a draughty east-end flat, I began sending work out again - this time armed not only with the Yearbook, but with a fat, bright yellow book I had come across on a late night shopping trip to the Charring Cross Road Borders. Edited by Barry Turner, The Writer's Handbook was an earthier entity than the W and A, and instead of lengthy sermon-style columns, was arranged in snappy lists according to genre. It is thanks to The Writer's Handbook that I first learned about magazines such as Iota, Smoke and Tears in the Fence.

In September, a letter arrived from Bonita Hall, editor of The Black Rose, and was quickly blu-tacked on my wall as a memento of my first acceptance. The Black Rose was a stylish softback, A-4 and sleeved in felty green, published in Loughton, Essex. Bonita had selected my poem The Gypsy's Farewell, which would appear in my collection Random Journeys (The Unpretentious Arts 2014), to be published in The Black Rose the following February. This was followed by inclusions in the newly devised Decanto - a glossy booklet of mystical and spiritual poetry, published in rural East Sussex and edited by Lisa Stewart, herself the author of some fine Gothic poetry, which she wrote under the pen name of Elise. The booklets featured Italianate-style cover art, reviews and interviews, and the debut edition contained a profile of Shelley. 

Unruffled by my darkening of its doors, Decanto appears to be going from strength to strength, and is introduced on the website for Masque Publishing (Lisa Stewart's press, which prints the magazine) as an independent, totally self-funded poetry magazine, who wish to offer poets the freedom to write in whatever style they wish.

Undoubtedly, had such liberal editorial policies not existed, I would have struggled even more than all poets inevitably do when making those first in-roads on the quest of publication.

These early acceptances from places like Decanto were important milestones as they helped me foster confidence, while opening my eyes to the styles and voices of almost limitless numbers of other, better poets - the list of whom grew rapidly as I began to delve further into the plethora of poetry magazines on offer - a dazzling array of attractive, affordable publications. These included writers whose works continue to interest and at times delight me - such as Liz Atkin, Miriam Darlington, and Lynne Wycherley - poets I may never have come across, or would have taken many more years to discover, if not for such splendid entities as Awen, Iota, Other Poetry, Parameter, (a print zine, despite its internet-implying name), The Journal, The New Writer and Quattrocento - an elaborate, double-sleeved quarterly produced in Wales whose theme and decor were inspired by 15th Century Italian art.

Poet in the Round was an altogether different animal - one of the few poetry journals that managed to appear in A4 size without seeming cumbersome or cheaply made. On the contrary, this elegant, occasional feast of poetry and pictures was lovingly wrought by Olivia Mannion-Daniels and featured impressionistic black and white illustrations accompanying the poems, which tended on the atmospheric and surreal often printed in concrete style and, as when this happens in Burnside, in a way that mirrored the ethereal or dreamlike nature of the words and concepts.

During the mid 2000's, I racked up a sizeable collection of small magazines, established pen-friendships with editors and with poets whose writing I first found within them, and built up a regularity of submissions, rejections and occasional acceptances. Looking back at the styles of poetry prevalent in those days, there seems to have been a reasonably equal balance between the descriptive and declarative, the rural and the urban, the witty and the grim. One theme highly noticeable was the Iraq War and its offshoots - almost always in opposition, or drawing to mind the loss of life. Other than this fairly pivotal issue, the richness of the poetry magazines during that decade must surely be in no small way attributed to their thematic diversity. Emboldened by this blank canvas atmosphere, I found myself trying my luck with more established, larger journals, as well as the highly experimental, and even one or two which could afford to pay their poets, which ultimately meant widening my scope in the direction of three magazines in particular. The first with which I was to have any success in terms of placing work to be published, was Birmingham's Obsessed with Pipework, an eclectic little bundle of top quality poetry.

OWP was edited by Charles Johnson, a somewhat elusive, intriguing poet whose characteristically minimalist, at times dark, poetry is represented only by a few slim volumes, and whose editorial policy traversed the spectrum: edgy, erratic, sometimes surreal - all these words might apply to the poetry he chose for his lo-fi, stapled editions of Obsessed with Pipework. Spring 2004 featured a startling poem by Cheshire-based Pat Winslow - Man Carrying a Pig, inspired by the Peter Coker painting of the same name. Coker's picture shows a smudge-faced man in butcher's smock, with an abnormally sized hand, trying to uphold or maybe lift a pig hanging from a hook. He is recalled in the poem by his apron glowing with blood, and the scene is compared to

the moment when a dancer

hoists his partner onto his shoulder,

this is more about him than her.

A "vegetarian" since the age of 16, I had around this time grown lazier in my resolve, and in my twelve hour stints on psychiatric wards, where the only food available was that served to patients from a penny-pinching catering firm, I had begun to allow certain morsels of meat to pass my lips. As might be expected of one of Jewish background, I had rarely tasted pig skin, but this powerful poem - like Liz Atkin's Tongues - pulled me up and forced me to review my blase outlook on eating dead animals, hitting me hard with unflinching, punishing truths, as when Pat gruesomely tells us, A murderer loves his victim eyes closed. It was genuinely life-changing - among the main triggers for my renewed abstention from dead flesh.

Pipework introduced me also to such powrful poets as Geraldine Green, Jessica Harman, Rhiannon Hooson, Rowena Hulton, Ruth Smith and Louis Bourgeois. In those days, wanting to somehow pepper up my letters with something that might cause an editor to remember me, I would habitually add a short note to my submissions saying such pedestrian things as "I would love to learn more about the magazine," or, in the case of Obsessed with Pipework, enquiring after the meaning of the name. To this last question, Johnson told me that he "may touch upon the title in a future issue."

Rejections came in thick and fast from OWP, and Johnson proved a fastidious editor - paying close attention to my poems, rebuking me for casual mistakes or sloppy grammar, and remarking of my six-poem sequence Dream Sequence, composed around this time, that he was "dissatisfied" - it hinted but never went anywhere, the different dreams were neither sufficiently autobiographical, nor so strongly focused on their subjects as to detract from an authorial clunkiness. Exactly the kind of constructive criticism that is helpful to a poet. I followed his advice, and a decade later Dream Sequence was published as a print copy.

Finally, I hit the jackpot with OWP. In a handwritten note from August 04, I note with a smile his typical hard-to-please, bathetic congratulations: Thanks for persisting with us, he says in loopy purple - and after an almost grudging acknowledgement that the poem he chose to print was "good", he goes on to list his thoughts on the three unsuccessful poems I submitted in its company: interesting (underlined), okay, and for the final poem a simple, unequivocal no!

Vegetability, which appeared in Obsessed with Pipework 31 (summer 2005) is as yet unpublished elsewhere, but I hope to find it a suitable home in a future collection. Suffice to say, though, that visions of trees as wicked stepfathers and reincarnated Hippopotomai seemed to fit the bill for OWP. Though Charles Johnson never did enlighten me on the origins of his magazine's improbable name.

Acumen is of course one of the strongest and best established poetry magazines in existence, and its editor Patricia Oxley is well known for her broad-church policy. Patricia Oxley is not herself a poet, but her husband William, with whom I established a brief but very helpful correspondence some years ago, is a well regarded man of letters: a poetic agitator and innovator, a rebel who became an unlikely traditionalist, a champion of free expression, and to date the only English poet to have given a reading in Kathmandu. In the 1970's, Oxley had been a contrary figure, who having begun his own output with fairly unthreatening works, used the small press and magazine scene to champion what he saw as the outsiders of poetry - his self-produced magazine Littack ("Literature-Attack") gaining fame (and infamy) far and wide. "This magazine is pleased to acknowledge the NON-ASSISTANCE of the Arts Council," its header would proclaim, with Oxley arguing that accepting money from State-sponsored bodies would leave any artist to some extent dependent on, and in consequence an agent of, that State. Littack aimed to do away with outmoded forms and concepts, and to lionize the confrontational or strange. At the same time, he refuted - and refutes - the wilful ignorance of poets who ignore the heritage of poetry, and the time-honoured and long-crafted forms and metres of former generations - whether or not they choose to use them. On his website Lynx, Douglas Clark recalls how Oxley was notorious for his controversial and anarchic editing of his 70's magazine ... he is somewhat shunned by the London Poetry establishment. Himself shunning genres he considered bordering on irrelevant, such as the Martian Poets ("poetry reduced entirely to metaphor"), realism ("a celebration of the obvious") and most political poetry ("a second rate subject given first rate treatment"), his Littack endeavour was a seminal episode in the history of English poetry magazines, and is still fairly available via sources such as ebay. It is fair to say that Acumen, in which the poems are selected entirely by his wife, could hardly have been more different.

I had several poems in Acumen, and one of them was Closing Quarter. I will republish the poem in full below, because for me it represents the kind of personal triumph that can be gained by patiently ploughing on with magazine submissions. The poem was originally written in the autumn of 2001, when I was composing the earliest of my Little Creatures poems, but remained unpublished and difficult to place. It had been scribbled down one evening while sitting with my family eating tea with some soap opera or another in the background, and hovered around in my consciousness the whole of the following year - somehow surviving in a small, bedraggled notebook.

One evening in late 2002, working in a hostel for the homeless on a terraced street near Wormwood Scrubs, I returned to the poem. It was bitter cold, and I sat in the office during a break from my duties, which usually consisted of lengthy discussions and debates with residents on subjects ranging from pop music to politics - and indeed poetry. I rewrote the poem as it then stood. Inwardly pining for home turf, my loneliness seemed to crystallise into the line which floated into my head, like a leaf sailing to the ground in autumn wind. But it was, I knew, a Northern wind that I was thinking of, it was the Northern winter, and the North, that rattled through my memories on that dark, chill night. Miles from home, amid the crowded maze of London, it was the poem's Northern origins, then that supplied the missing link, the line - as hard as any northern winter - that completed the puzzle. As such, the poem was newly finished, and again did the rounds of submissions for more than two years, eventually being accepted in the summer of 2005. It appeared in Acumen that September, and was featured on their website in November as one of their Poems of the Month.


Watching stray leaves fall,
sliced yesterdays buffeted by wind
hard as any Northern winter
to die upon a concrete bed;

the true spirit of late autumn:
farewells to days deceased,
pondering next year under smoky sky
curling thickly through the alleyways and fields.

Other Poetry was the first magazine to pay me for my poetry, in late 2005, and this seemed a vindication, as we headed into the second half of a decade whose exciting literary scene showed no sign of fading. Many of the other magazines I read during the 2000's, including the Welsh periodicals Planet and Seventh Quarry, the incredibly helpful The New Writer and the Liverpudlian Smoke - in which avant-garde or even erotic line drawings accompanied some of the poems - played important parts in my writing and reading development, occasionally publishing my efforts. Another tool at my disposal would be Light's List of Literary Magazines, brainchild of retired scientist John Light. Joseph Hemming's Dial 174 was a jamboree of cluttered pages - poetry which ran the gauntlet of amateurish greetings-card style to the confrontational and advanced, essays on environmentalism, and photographs of Joseph's cat lounging on his desk.

Inevitably, the width of my perusals narrowed over time, as the necessities of choosing small numbers to regularly read were imposed by time and finance - but in any case, as the decade neared expiry, I was beginning to find that the anticipation which greeted me on unveiling some new arrival on the scene, was fading. While the established magazines still flourished, depressing numbers came coated in Arts-Councilized respectability - and the poetry within them was often predictable, or even dull. A lot of the poems finding favour at this time, as mentioned earlier, related to continuing hostilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and other troublespots. Sometimes these veered towards the lazy, with limericks and silly rhymes about Blair and Bush that failed to centralize their authors' ire on any specific target, or to honour the subject's importance with suitable seriousness.  Instead, they were trotted out dutifully - hackneyed rhymes of "Tony" with "phoney" and "baloney," together with a predictability which no doubt sat well with the consciences of those who wrote, and many who would read, these polemical bulletins, but which did nothing, in a poetic sense, to stimulate debate, breathe new ideas, or even pay significant homage to older ones.

Many of my former favourites began to topple into nonexistence. I remember certain magazines being subject to continual price rises, due not to proprietorial greed but the simple problem of rises in the price of paper. As letters pages, and even sometimes editorials, became more and more predictably full of complaints about the lack of inclusivity in poetry - the general implication being that, as poets, we were failing to do our jobs unless the work we produced was as commercial as possible (and presumably helped increase the marketability of their struggling publications) - so, I felt, did the general sway of poetry magazines grow increasingly social and politically minded. It seemed an insoluble problem - on the one hand, editors and correspondents proclaimed "the poetry scene" was too elitist, and failing to attract a wider audience; on the other, it was said that many editors lacked the risk-taking nerve to publish the unfashionable or cerebral.

I recall with sadness the lamentably short lifespan of Ely's Inclement (whose editor Michelle Foster would send xmas cards to all published by the magazine that year), the perfect-bound, bookish Seam and Smiths Knoll, and to a beautiful entity that glimmered for brief moments before fizzling into the ether - the West Midlands quarterly Amber Silhouettes, published by Vicky Stevens.

Like so many of the former friends described above, all traces of Amber Silhouettes evade pursuit. However, this all-but forgotten gem gathered up for me my first encounters with the sublime poetry of Vivien Steels, which is widely available online, and the enchanting retrospection of Mervyn Linford - described in the magazine as a "romantic renaissance poet." Indeed, trends such as Neo-Romantic, Pagan, Gothic and spiritualist poetry by such that by Pauline Charlton seemed to drip from the pages of the magazine and small press market in those days - Upon Night's Pewter Wings; Beneath Orion's Shadow; I am a captured, spellbound, enchanted thing!

The highlight of Amber Silhouettes, though, was the inclusion of the editor's own poetry - simply crafted haiku sparing in their detail but rich in empathy and feeling:

On bonfire night

The stars play hide and seek

Behind smoky clouds

and the startlingly simple Bombs, following the Madrid suicide bombing in March 2004:



Cries tears of blood.

At the time of writing, the future still looks bright for poetry publications that have weathered the storms of the financial crash, recession, and the ebb and flow of poetry's popularity. Undoubtedly, a challenge remains in the form of online zines, but personally (and as perhaps evidenced by the existence of this site!) I have never seen a reason to abandon one in favour of the other. Online publications provide an instantaneous proximity to poems, but for as long as they are printed I will always seek magazines of poetry as a means of discovering new poets, for something to read on the train or on a lunch break, or to become lost in on a rainy afternoon. Nothing quite comes close to the peculiar intimacy offered by a poetry journal - be it a newspaper sized pull-out, a hard-spined anthology style compendium, or a stapled A-5 chapbook that will slot into a pocket. Perhaps there will never again be a poetry magazine "scene," but the poetry magazines in print today are as innovative and rewarding as ever, parts of a rich tapestry of literary heritage stretching hundreds of years, and integral to our reading, understanding, and love, of poetry.

September 2015.

Caterpillar Poetry: An Introduction

Caterpillar Poetry is a small publishing venture based near Sowerby Bridge in the Calder Valley, Yorks, devised and facilitated by myself, Simon Zonenblick, which aims to publish limited edition poetry collections.
I launched the press in the spring of 2013, with the publication of my own debut collection - Little Creatures: Poems of Insects, Small Mammals and Micro-organisms -  and am thrilled to announce that this autumn Caterpillar Poetry will be publishing Nuala Fagan's Not All Birdsong, the second collection from the talented Nuala, who is an Irish poet living in Halifax.

For news and excerpts of both of these collections, please keep an eye out for this blog! Over the coming weeks I will be filling it up with essays, reviews, videos, photographs, links - and of course with poetry. Caterpillar Poetry will be publishing several collections from poets local to this region, and from further afield, as well as possible anthologies, during the next six to twelve months, and holding poetry evenings, readings and stalls. Caterpillar Poetry does not charge for publishing, submissions, editorial services - or any element of the process whatsoever. Indeed, profits will be shared with the authors, who will of course also receive an agreed quantity of copies for their own use. Caterpillar Poetry will also promote the books and support the poet through all aspects of publication.
If you would like to submit work for future consideration, to learn more about the project, or simply to have a chat about poetry, please email
 Re material published or quoted on this blog: copyrights belong to their respective owners. Images are copyright Simon Zonenblick unless otherwise stated; those not copyright SZ have been sourced and are publicly accessible on the Internet. In the event that there is still a problem or error with copyrighted material, the break of the copyright is unintentional and noncommercial and the material will be removed immediately upon presented proof.

Simon Zonenblick, September 2015