What are poetry magazines for? ‘It’s hard to see how a little poetry
magazine can make anything happen except satisfy the reclusive vanity
of the editor and the poets,’ says Nicholas Bielby in Issue 81 – not perhaps
without a tinge of editorial Weltschmerz. He is right, but provocative,
as he then goes on to say that poetry widens human empathy, which in
turn makes the world safer. I commend the full article to you, but his 400
words didn’t leave him space to say that there is more to it than that.
The small poetry magazine – a meme roughly contemporaneous with
modernity – is a literary coalface bringing new poets to engaged readers,
ahead of the more risk-averse big publishers. Almost every nineteenthand
twentieth-century poet, whose articulations of humanity’s deepest
existential concerns are now part of our linguistic bedrock, was first
welcomed by small magazines. We unpaid editors are miners or – to use
a less Orwellian image – midwives, assisting the birth of resilient poems.
Some arrive perfect; others need a sponge and resuscitation. Live readings
are another route to audiences, but while performance poets can revise
and improvise, page poets must commit to the idea of a definitive text
– one which, as Emily Dickinson understood, can thrive without them.
Proliferating digital media, however, mean every magazine must
evolve to survive. The relative merits of books and e-media are well
rehearsed but seem especially relevant to poetry. To experience print
on a page differs experientially, and hence poetically, from reading a
screen: the fact that in a book a poem exists in the same tangible,
stable, detached physical state as it was written and first read is part
of the poetry – that link back to previous centuries part of its affect.
Since its foundation in 1973 Pennine Platform has accrued what in
marketing terms amounts to brand equity: a loyal readership not only
from the Pennine region of northern England but with subscribers,
contributors and benefactors in Europe, North America, India and the
Antipodes. Its pages represent a much broader cultural mix than the
title Pennine Platform might suggest but are inevitably shaped by the
submissions received. Andy and I aim to develop this brand equity to
attract new readers, contributors and subscribers, without alienating
those it has. That is our aim, anyway. The Weltschmerz may come later.