The Poetry Magazine – An endangered species? By John Webber
One of the poetry magazines I subscribe to dropped through my letterbox yesterday morning and I was soon reading, over my tea and toast, the editorial. I always expect pleas from the editor to renew my subscription, but this time there was an alarming list of some of the magazines which have recently died simply due to lack of funds. Poetry magazines have notoriously small circulations and most have to rely on revenue from other activities to supplement their subscription income which alone is not enough to keep them alive. Despite this many do manage to keep going and survive for many years on a shoestring, always hoping that the undoubted interest in poetry will one day manifest itself in people actually reading more than they currently do.
With specific regard to the UK there are still a lot of publications with a broad and varied range of editorial requirements. Some are very literary and inclined to be snobbish about who they publish, but most are open to new poets and are willing to publish them if the work fits in with their particular style; this in turn makes them a good and worthwhile read. For many years these small magazines have formed the backbone of poetry publication and have given new writers the confidence and support they need to find their way into more substantial print. If they continue to disappear at the rate that they seem to have been doing recently the main route to publication for aspiring poets will be gone altogether.
I cannot ignore the explosion of poetry on the web of course, given that this article is being written for ABCtales. It’s my opinion at the moment that it will be some while before the worlds of traditional print and the new web medium cross over. It could be argued that poetry on the web is much more democratic and in one sense gives poetry as a form of human expression more validity (and certainly more ubiquity). But it must be recognised that most magazine editors also have poetry’s interests very much at heart. They cannot publish everything so choices have to be made. It is part of the poet’s job to seek out likely avenues for their own work and with ability and perseverance a space will be found.
So then, this is a plea to readers and writers alike to help support, if they are able, one of the mainstays of our poetry heritage. As I said, there are still plenty of magazines to choose from at the moment. Start with a few back issues, which are normally cheaper than the current one, until you find one that suits you - then subscribe! Submit your work, enter their competitions, send in your letters – it could be the start of something big! Each time a magazine dies then so does a little part of poetry and our opportunity to publish our own work and read other peoples. Let’s not let it happen.