The Journal

So long as the submissions keep coming with luck I’ll be putting #56 The Journal in the post some time in March.

Actually it’d be #66 were I to take into account the first 10 issues of what was then The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry. But as by the time I got to issue 10 I’d run out of Scandinavian material in translation, so a rethink had been required.

Why Anglo-Scandinavian? Most, if not all, changes to English language poetry has come from beyond the English language. One has only to look at the names of the various forms – sestina, sonnet, villanelle, cinquain… And that’s just the European influences. Then there’s haiku, tanka and all the far East rest that had such a 20thC influence on the likes of WH Auden, William Carlos Williams and Stephen Spender. Indeed I doubt that there has ever been an English original form – as the English language evolved so did it borrow from old Norse, Celtic storytelling, alliteration…. Even now some poets are attempting Welsh englyns  in the English language.

I couldn’t in the 1990s however see what culture was that radically different, or find any culture that the English language hadn’t already stolen from. South American magic realism was probably English literature’s most recent influence. DH Lawrence made great use of that in his writing. And then I visited my friend in Sweden and attitudes to pretty much everything there were so very different to free-market Britain, and I thought that, as Scandinavia had been consistently socialist for the last 50 years, it must have created  a different poetry.

Looking back I don’t think it has, or no more so that the variety of forms here now in the UK. There were poets I was pleased to discover – Marianne Larsen, Olav Hauge, Halldis Moren Vesaas, Tomas Tranströmer of course, and Lennart Sjörgen. And to begin with Anne Born and Robin Fulton kept me well supplied with translations alongside random English language poets. But Anne and Robin each had their own enthusiasms and I didn’t want to keep filling the magazine with the same Scandinavian poets.

Having decided that I could no longer call the magazine Scandinavian in any way I took a year out while I looked around for another format. The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry had been A5 perfect bound. The size had been limiting; and I was impressed at the time by Derrick Woolf’s Poetry Quarterly Review‘s A4 stapled layout. Also River King Poetry Supplement (USA) broadsheet’s newsprint reinforced for me the ephemeral nature of most poetry publishing. At the time though I found newsprint difficult to get hold of here. So The Journal emerged newborn in 2001 with 40 pages 100gsm A4, and has been evolving ever since, a good third of the magazine now taken over with reviews and pretty much each issue with some work in translation. Just lately I’ve been blessed with translator Laura Chalar in Uruguay’s enthusiasm for Spanish language poetry. I’m also pleased to report that poetry in newsprint survives courtesy of Ireland’s Skylight 47 and Cumbria’s The Fire Crane.

And somewhere in amongst all that, following a couple of enquiries, I began publishing Original Plus collections, switched later to chapbooks. The intention then, and still is, to give poets something to sell at readings, or to build a reading round. I am no businessman and never expected to make it a profitable enterprise. And because I have funded everything myself – out of my earnings as a nursing assistant, now out of my state pension, plus the few royalties I have occasionally been paid, leaving my accounts all lumped together and difficult to separate out I’ve never found myself or The Journal or Original Plus eligible for any arts grants.

Something else I’d like to report is the co-operative nature of small press publishing. Like mine most magazines are one-man/one-woman enterprises. But there’s no sense of competition. I have received so much help and advice from other editors and publishers, which has probably been – aside from publishing some wonderful poets and reviewers – the most uplifting aspect of these many years, like them, labouring away in rooms on their own.

– Sam Smith, Editor, The Journal

Check out the latest issue here.

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