Wet Grain is a print magazine for new poetry in English. Past contributors have included Cecilia Woloch, Niall Campbell, Sylee Gore, Alec Finlay, and Tessa Berring. You’ll find copies in independent bookshops and libraries in the UK and filmed readings from each issue online.
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Nasim Luczaj and Patrick Romero McCafferty
Our submission window having closed in late January, these poems surface in a tenser, more acutely violent world than the one in which they were conceived and written. They now read presciently, as poetry will. Looking out onto their dangerous streets, we find violence in the image, the line and the break, with an apparentness now inevitable: the houses flank each other flank the cemetery laid out like a spiderweb we know this from the plans I know this from the satellite eye overlooking the dead (‘December 23rd, (Tătăraşi)’ Jeremy Allan Hawkins) Alongside representations of its effects, we find enquiries into violence’s essential nature. ‘The Future Has To Be Shoved Out the Way,’ Tessa Berring tells us, ‘So We Can Get Past.’ What is so important, the poem asks, that we deny ourselves that hopeful, capital ‘F’ Future? Violence, Berring suggests, is something we inflict on the future; the self-important ‘We’ prioritising the present at the cost of possibility. The wish to deal with violence might be attributed to the assuredness the poems in this issue share, perhaps against odds. Deft arrows, they know where they’re going, or compel us to think so as they take us with them: ‘let me offer a version of yourself,’ writes Ken Cockburn in ‘Berlin Version,’ – ‘the local colour I’ll let you supply.’ The poem’s steering address validates private, imagined versions of what we go through. Rather than insisting on sublimation, the speakers in these poems emphasise the small fruit yielded by our own agency – our walks and sacrifices, or the observations we choose to nourish. There’s a wakeful honesty in this, whether hard-won or not even a matter of choice. Many of the poems – Bob Beagrie’s ‘Hogtenburg,’ Desree’s ‘On going to Anguilla to bury my Grandad,’ or Charles Lang’s ‘New Shoes,’ for example – take on the function of the snapshot, while others use the specificity of the diarist - a documentary first person, dates and place names for titles, gesturing to a world outside themselves. In Silas Curtis’ ‘Untitled,’ that world encroaches on the act of writing the poem; In Jeremy Hawkins’s ‘December 23rd (Tătăraşi),’ it is waymarked by sites imbued with collective grief. Here and throughout, the attitude of nondeception and willingness to face necessity – whether material, political, or psychological – inevitably shines through, often to a chillingly down-to-earth effect. Still, moments of remarkable empathy and generosity of spirit emerge. Bartering for her life, the incarcerated speaker in Carine Topal’s ‘There’s Still the Fruit’ calls her abusive captor ‘kind, with skin much like my own; with yellow hair like the faraway fields I passed as father rode us out of town.’ This all to suggest that a poem might reach us as a spark, sometimes nosediving down to burn through our nice clothing, the sense of world we’ve been enveloped in; dissolving some patch of illusion we’d never have noticed otherwise. In Cecilia Woloch’s ‘Reign of Embers,’ a young terrorist screams ‘Even in your dreams, you won’t be safe,’ reminding us of the perenni- al need to reckon with the ideals that keep us safe while others suffer. The first instalments of the sequence, published in The American Journal of Poetry and awarded the Pushcart Prize in 2017, opens with an epigraph from Bertold Brecht: ‘In the dark time will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing about the dark time’. The poems gathered here make song precisely out of the light and shade of our shared terrain, roaming for answers in the face of uncertainty. This search need be no contradiction to their assuredness. Some of this issue’s poems probe our connection to the past and the effort it takes to preserve that past. David Ross Linklater’s ‘Field Language’ finds gen- erational forgetting in the transience of farm labour. Like mallet blows, the linguistic labour of the recent past ‘was not nothing;’ to hear the past speaking to us requires a commitment to renewal and continuous (for- malised) restating or ‘tying the field anew to its boundaries.’ In Tawona Sithole’s ‘Rukweza Farmer,’ it’s actually the process of revision that can be harnessed to enrich the mundane pragmatism of the present and mobilise creativity. Pasichigare, ancestral wisdom, is the wildness to the present’s tameness; unconstrained, made so by erasure and adaptation; colouring rather than informing through the beauty of the music and oral storytelling that channel it. The idea of reworking past events is succinctly put by Tessa Berring in her note to Ken Cockburn’s ‘Berlin Version,’ when she writes that ‘a poem can unpin history.’ By offering a version centered on what almost took place, what was wished for but not manifested in word or action, we find that the poem can open up new ways for relating it going forward. These poems make their claim on language and experience while keeping room for everything else that goes on outside them. Room can always be made in, and for, poetry. Etymology attests: ‘poetry’ comes from making, and a ‘stanza’ is a room. A poet makes room, a space safe or sacred, contemplative or rupturing. Here we find it can be a space of play, and therefore innocent. Through the contributions of Hawkins, Topal, Woloch, and Alan Spence, childhood comes to stand for what is pliant, despite the structures of modern life: what is playful, innocent, fragile to corruption, rooting into these structures. And, as Hannah George reminds us, ‘roots can fracture concrete.’ June 2022