I always enjoy the post coming when there’s a literary magazine or a poetry pamphlet that someone has sent, instead of bills, bills and more bills. This week, 2 copies of Mistress Quickly’s Bed Issue 5 arrived, which Joseph Robert and I have been busy reading. I’ve had an enjoyable commute the past few days perusing the poems, short fiction and entertaining reviews. Of course, the editorial at the start always amuses me; a dialogue between editors Alan Dent and Nancy Frost that in this issue makes a fun compare-contrast between poetry and politics – appropriate for today since it’s election day. Who are you voting for, people in Britain?
Dent and Frost raise an interesting point asking how many poets would make great sacrifices for truth, and again in one of their reviews on page 66, they revisit this thought by mentioning that ‘most of our “leading” poets come from well-heeled circumstances and a large proportion were privately educated’. I know that if you browse in the poetry section of any major bookstore (which is often a lonely bookshelf, stuck in the corner away from the popular kids in the playground: best-sellers and fiction A-Z) you’ll find all the big usual names who have been published by Bloodaxe and a few others – often there won’t be any Indie publishers, or other small press publishers represented. I can’t say much for the background of these ‘big’ poets – personally I’m not into biographies of writers, other than reading a graphic novel version of James Joyce’s life recently – so I wouldn’t know if they’re from upper-class backgrounds, or salt of the earth. My thoughts however, are that all of these poets have been around for decades and made their mark at a time when the publishing climate was looking a lot healthier (no lonely, poor-nourished poetry bookshelves in shops back then, methinks). Furthermore, they got where they are by ‘playing it safe’.
What is safe? I reckon any of the following constitutes safe: childhood memories, coming-of-age, poems about seasons, or your pets, or a golden bygone era, blah-de-blah, etc, etc. Does anyone out there really want to read that sort of stuff? Anyway, back to the Editorial by Dent and Frost – I agree that it seems on the surface that there aren’t many poets who would make ‘sacrifices for truth’ but my opinion is this; perhaps those lesser-known poets are out there, doing their thing, but without life-jackets on, their ‘truth’ is getting swamped by all the greedy rubber-ring clad ‘leading’ poets who are hogging the scene and won’t let the new generation ‘float’. To sum up, I agree with the editors who say there isn’t a ‘contemporary British poet who would spend twenty years in prison for justice’ because ‘contemporary’ to me means all those ‘big’ leading poets who write about ‘safe’ topics, not the Indie or performance poets out there who dare to say something more real!
The poetry in Issue 5 makes for a great, contentious read. As a result, I like more poems in Mistress Quickly’s Bed than in any other current print magazine out there! If it doesn’t make you think, then what’s the point? Too many of us have become the kind of people who would happily go through life with blinkers on. Is that living? I call that existing. Worms exist too – and they have their uses. They feed hungry birds!
‘War on terror’ by Zekria Ibrahimi is one of my favourites. It is ‘easy’ to think of war as being something that happens in a far off place and won’t ever affect our lives, so let’s put on the telly and pretend it doesn’t exist – but what good is ‘easy’ for anything? ‘Easy’ is to read in the papers about all those people getting killed in one of those ‘far off places’ but if you close your eyes, it’ll all go away. If we can’t even expand our own thought-processes, then are we living or are we existing? It’s kind of like how children overcome their fear of monsters in the dark too… although if it happens on your doorstep, it’s another matter. It’s outrageous, it’s barbaric. Yes it is – on whatever side of the world it happens! And fighting is also, unfortunately, part of human nature. Whether it’s a tussle between two toddlers (down the local pub, lol!) or a strategic military fight, it’s still a war.
Another poem I like is ‘Primates’ by Mark Ward. Six men finding amusement in their own incompetence, behaving like apes and making a mockery of a job that could potentially endanger others, let alone themselves. In the last stanza, the men go their separate ways ‘to breathe, to take stock – to clean his pants and be human’. Great poem, but personally I think that performing such tasks does not define us as human – a cat is good at cleaning itself too. Our ability to challenge our own world view makes us human. Lack of self-awareness harks back to my earlier notion of worms!
Issue 5 is a brain-stimulating, cog-turning read that sparks a bit of Socratic questioning. Mistress Quickly’s Bed will get you out of bed and brewing a nice mug of coffee to wake up the old noggin. Bring on the caffeine!
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