Old Poetry Magazines

Recently I have been involved in attempts to de-clutter the loft, and have been bringing down boxes of books to look through. It was a rather sobering experience to discover a box of old poetry magazines, some of which have ceased publication or are under newer editors, others have ceased altogether. These were magazines I used to avidly study in the hope of being admitted through their hallowed portals into the world of publication. Now they are covered with a faint grit of plaster dust. Some I got into, some I never did, but I am only keeping the ones which have meaning for me. Or to put it another way, issues I got my poems into.

Looking through them, several things struck me. One was the quality of the publications, which has improved massively since the days when magazines had to be typed up rather than word processed, and standard of paper and binding used is now closer to book quality, compared to some of these very basic stapled pamphlet style books, probably done on a photocopier, though Ambit (one I never cracked), Stand (only got in for the first time last year) and Other Poetry (which I eventually reviewed for as well as having poems in lots of issues)  are rather glossy and professional-looking. I do have a fondness for the simpler designs, done on a budget by someone who clearly loved what they were doing but had no funding. The glossies, however, were the more prestigious ones. Orbis was the first magazine to publish my work after my self-appointed apprenticeship of a decade, and in those days, they even paid!



Another thing was the names of the successful poets. Many have disappeared without trace, who may have stopped writing altogether; others were being published all that time ago and are still writing now, such as Pippa Little, Roger Elkin, Jonathan Davidson, Katharine Gallagher and Philip Gross. This also applies to me. Others went on to become favourite poets of mine, like Jeni Couzyn and Elma Mitchell. Some of these poets I really liked have died and their work all but forgotten, casualties of changing fashion and the fact they are not here to promote their work: Dannie Abse, Geoffrey Holloway, Ken Smith, Evangeline Paterson – all fine poets. I wonder what happened to Lisa St Aubin de Terran after George Macbeth (another fine forgotten) died. There are plenty of poems here by people I never heard of again.

Flicking through these once so familiar publications from the 1980s made me realise, above all, that they are ephemeral. It is barely relevant now who was published in them and who isn’t. Poetry magazines come and go, they are of their time and showcase new work that might not even make it into the poet’s collections. They are try-outs like open floor nights. Of course we all try to gather lists of excellent magazines who have taken our work, but eventually they only exist in bibliographies.

Nowadays many magazines are on line, either in addition to or instead of print magazines. The content can be viewed as long as the website remains live. Print journals often seem more prestigious, but online has a wider reach and a greater chance of longevity. That’s a valuable lesson.

Another valuable lesson concerns rejections. In 20 or 30 years, you will no longer care whether or not you got into a particular magazine or not. Success and failure will mean the same thing, when these old magazines are archived if they are lucky and pulped if they are not. It’s a sobering thought.




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16 responses to “Old Poetry Magazines

  1. Tony Noon

    This certainly struck a chord with me . Whilst there is no doubting the immediacy and reach of digital media , I still get a thrill from publishing work in a book or magazine I can hold in my hands. I have relished the occasions when an anthology containing a poem of mine turns up in a charity shop or car boot sale at opposite ends of the country. There is something organic for me in the idea that my work may languish on bookshelves or in the attics of other poets for many years only to discover new opportunities to see during periodic bouts of decluttering as you describe.
    As I say above, we can’t ignore the new media but I remember reading a few years ago that the pace of change has already rendered some early digital work inaccessible as modern computer equipment simply cannot understand earlier versions of the languages /programmes they were typed in …

    • You understand exactly the horns of the dilemma. I make sure I submit to both print and online magazines, but my main priority is yo finalise my poems in my own collections. Thanks to the ISBN system and registration with the British Library, at least they might survive to be read in the uncertain future.

  2. mavisgulliver

    Excellent article, Angela. I’m going through the same process. You’re right, it can be somewhat sobering but life moves on and the more I jettison, the lighter I feel. I think we all have to be responsible for our own clutter. I feel it’s grossly unfair to leave it for our children to sort out.

    • Exactly why we are doing it, and to make our own lives easier too. We have had to clear out several relatives houses and it’s difficult work. We don’t want our kids to have to tackle it.

  3. Yup, totally agree. having recently moved, down-sized in fact I have been through a similar process. So good to de-clutter, (Marie Kondo is the guru here!) although a still have a way to go…as for magazines, yes. I remember when it seemed so important (in my world) how many O’levels I had…! The perspective of time alters all that. I enjoy the fresh gathering of new work in magazines, a snapshot of the zeitigeist. But hate how we are so caught up in this society’s success/failure circus. Look at tv – everything is competition now, baking cakes, throwing pots, dancing, singing…

    • I completely agree on several counts, Firstly, yes, Marie Kondo is a wonderful guru, her ideas revolutionised my de-cluttering process and I am finding it mush easier to let go of things I don’t love or need.
      You are also right about poetry magazines: they are indeed a snapshot. I was really interested to see how many poets have been getting their poems into magazines for over 30 years though. I am in it for the long game myself and am always hoping to write that one brilliant poem that will endure.
      I hate that success/failure circus you mention but when I feel despairing about it, I read Anne Stevenson’s poem on the subject and that teaches me to rebalance. It’s writing good poems that matters and always trying to quietly improve and develop. Good poetry takes time to write and is not slave to fashion.

  4. Carolyn Richardson

    Gosh! You’ve been busy. Maybe you could keep the old journals for your estate. Assume that someone will need your compile your works and you should think about sending/giving them to an University. Let’s be honest, you are an important North West poet.

    So…….. Keep the stuff that’s important to you and make notes for your curator in order for them to make sense of your ideas on your collection.

    Just an idea! I’m sure that some enterprise student will get their PhD out of discussing your importance to poetry in English on the whole.

    Have fun!

    Carolyn xxx

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Oh don’t worry, Carolyn. I am only giving away the ones I didn’t get into. I have my archive all safe against the day they are needed, but it’s a GREAT idea to make notes to go with them, so that they are saved from the bonfire of vanities.

    • Thant’s a great idea, our children would have no idea of their imortance

  5. zaroffblog

    very cool

  6. Very true conclusion but still have a yen for those magazines. Roger Elkin was the first to publish my poetry and proved a helpful editor and mentor. Miss being in touch with him as well as others you mention

  7. mavisgulliver

    Being halfway though a house move we are going through the same process. I miss so many of those old magazines – especially Purple Patch and Geoff Stevens.

  8. Yes, there were so many good magazines, and they were stocked in bookshops too! Before the days when bookshops were homogenised. I love the independent bookshops we have today though. And so many magazines on line make it free to read them. Wider exposure, though less money.
    Good luck with your relocation.