“Here are words. You might like to read them”

So – you read poetry, you write poetry, you acquire poetry magazines. Mostly because they’re good to read. Occasionally because your work is being published in one and you get sent a free copy. The photo below shows a random sample, rounded up from the book shelves in our living room. From top left, they are:-

  1. Issue 4: Winter 2016/2017 of The Poets’ Republic
  2. Issue 33: Spring 2017 of Northwords Now
  3. Issue 2 of Spam
  4. Issues 14: Autumn 2016 and 15: Spring 2017 of Gutter
  5. Issue 1: Error of 404 Ink
  6. Volume 1, Issue 3: Summer 2016 of Raum


What I was thinking, when I sat down to write this post, was that I could write something about the design of these various magazines/journals. There are some obvious differences:- Three of them (Gutter, Raum, Northwords Now) go for a cooler, more contemplative design – lots of white, plenty of room for the type and main image/graphics to breathe. None of them would look particularly out of place alongside a copy of Frieze magazine, in some art gallery bookshop.

The other three go with more of what I’d call a ‘cut and paste’/Jamie Reid aesthetic – though, obviously, the effects are all realised digitally, rather than being the product of actual cutting and actual copydexing. (Eddie Gibbons, in particular, has done some lovely work on the Poets’ Republic cover, remixing Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting “Liberty Leading the People”).

So, which is better? Dunno. Does it matter? Well, maybe. After all (as this article says), we are predominantly visual creatures, and books (or journals) whose covers draw our attention, will create an expectation that excites us, and suggest a certain quality of writing.

For me, there’s something charming about Denise Bonetti (and others’) frenetic visual mash-ups for Spam that I don’t get from the self-consciously tasteful graphic abstractions on the covers of Gutter. I’m not saying the one’s better than the other. I am saying, I respond to one more positively than then other. (For me, the two Gutter covers might as well be blank/white for all the impact they have.)

It’s probably my age – I’m old enough to remember the days when the editors of magazines like Boy’s Own had to get their Mum to take their copy to work and type it up for them. So, I get nostalgic when I see things that remind me of Sniffin’ Glue style DIY punk aesthetics. (Am now vaguely concerned that saying, “I like this stuff because I’m old” may come across as a bit of a backhanded compliment. But only vaguely.)

What matters, in the end, is whether there are good poems in each of them. And there are. So, this isn’t the Peter Saville/Mark Farrow vs Jamie Reid, good design/bad design, lip-sync battle I thought it would be when I sat down to write this article.

What it is is, perhaps, a bit of a statement of the obvious and a reassertion of the old adage, not to judge a book (or a poetry magazine) by its cover. They come in different shapes and sizes. That’s fine. Some of them will tick all of the right boxes, in the eyes of budding Paula Scher‘s everywhere. Some of them will make old farts like me chuckle. That’s fine also. Some of them, like the 404 Ink cover, just get on with the job of announcing, “Here are words. You might like to read them”, and will (mostly) leave it at that. The important thing, is just to pick them up and have a read.