Summer 2014 Editorial
Poetry Wales in its 50th year
Perhaps the very first book of poetry I picked up and couldn’t stop reading was The Virago Book of Love Poetry. It belonged to my mother and still sits amongst an almost entirely dark green bookshelf – the result of nearly ten years she spent only reading books by women, previously overlooked and dismissed, and which thanks to presses like Virago were suddenly being made available to readers like her. This evening I picked it up again, wondering what it might contain. First of all a surprise – that despite the mass market appeal of this book it is full of the most diverse poetry from different countries, centuries and stylistic approaches; it ‘ignores boundaries’. If it was published today it would still be radical. That love poetry can be and was written by women all down the centuries, that a book can span the poetry ‘camps’ and easily accommodate works in translation and poems by women of all cultural backgrounds. That could still make news today. The book was edited by Wendy Mulford who I must commend twenty-four years later. Perhaps I’m a bit late?
But something I’ve learned of late is that whatever you’re trying to do, chances are someone has done something at least a bit similar before you. Why re-invent the wheel? Or perhaps the real question is: why do we forget the achievements gone before in a rush to be innovative, put our ideas out there? In taking on this editorship I was well aware of the achievements that have gone before – this is Poetry Wales’s 50th volume, its 50th year in the world. It has supported emerging poets like myself and helped bring much groundbreaking poetry to the fore, it has been outspoken politically, brought to light poetry from around the world and established Wales’s contemporary poets on the international scene.
I am delighted to include in this issue a poem from Jack Mapanje whose work was first featured in these pages in 1988 when he was a political prisoner in Malawi. And you will also find a comic panel on the back page from Chrissy Williams’s exploration of how poetry and comics can come together. This is a new generation for the magazine. But just how new is it? To be the new blood, to be the vanguard, to blaze a trail – this never happens in isolation. We are always linked to our influences, our contexts, our history. And as readers we all begin somewhere, vulnerable, uninterested. Something happens – in a library, in a mass market anthology, standing at someone else’s bookshelf. We are all linked by our different senses of home, our gwlad, our peers. In this context of intersecting generations, I have asked two poets from Wales – Steven Hitchins and Siân Melangell Dafydd – to write about their influences. Who or what got them writing, what sparked their interest in poetry? Do they believe in influence at all? It’s a series that will continue throughout the 50th volume with other new poets adding their pieces to a map of intergenerational relationships, camaraderie and poetic influence.
So Poetry Wales begins a new half-century, but it is not alone out there on the prom in the storm, we have a strong community and a history. In simple terms the magazine has celebrated intelligent critical debate and mind-blowing poetry in all its diversity and it’s this I hope to continue doing with my own newness, my own slant – coming as I do from the X/Y generation, generation me as we are sometimes called, we almost-digital-natives. Wherever home is, I feel gifted to be playing a part in continuing the Poetry Wales community. Long may it live and long may it include you, reader.