It’s a privilege to gather work for the second issue of PUSH. I hope you find it as full and as engaging and surprising as I do. This issue presents poems from the ‘tritorial’ project, in which fourteen of the current Squad elected to take part. These grew out of last winter’s poetry sessions, where some remarkable new work was produced (if I say so myself). With so much promising writing, we realised there was scope to take the poems further; and since there were pockets of Squad writers in various parts of the North, it made sense to meet in small groups – groups of three, we decided.
Thus the ‘tritorial’ was born: somewhere between an editorial session (such as regularly happens with our authors at Smith/Doorstop) and a tutorial (as in a university seminar group). Each of the three poets would share work in advance among themselves and meet with me to discuss a portfolio of six poems each. Further interim writing and reading tasks were followed by another round of meetings. In the meetings we discussed process as much as product – ie we revised individual poems (allowing the poems to be the best they could be, without turning them into somebody else’s poems) – but always with a view to exploring the principles and strategies that would help us to go on to write and revise new poems. I mention this because one of the most striking features of the tritorials was how quickly people grasped ideas and how willing they were to let theory become practice in their work. I was also particularly impressed by the warmth and genuine interest the groups had for each other’s writing. Which is not always the case in writing workshops.
In any event, one outcome of the tritorials is the work in this PUSH. It is as varied and still somehow as coherent as the groups themselves. What a range there is: you would probably expect domestic and family pieces – which are a staple of contemporary poetry (though these are fresher than most and always engaging) – but also we find a translation from the Spanish and, particularly unexpected, a poem actually written half in French; and there is a different sort of translation in the form of science fiction. We also get to visit Mexico, Mount Etna and Rotherham. The varieties of approach and tone reflect the different interests and outlook of the authors at this stage in their writing careers. One or two poems are so brilliantly performancy that they stand and deliver all on their own. But every one of the poems here reads well, I think, even the ones that look most definitely written for the page – and indeed some of these are arguably the most ‘spoken’ in being the most lyrical. Lyric poems, monologues, formal poems, very visual pieces – whichever they are, it’s interesting that all of the poems are textured in their language and often have music in that texture. Which is to say that though the poems are often humming with or at any rate built of ideas, they are first and foremost made out of language as patterns of sound – and though many of the poems are shot through with really telling observation, for the most part the pieces here are written as much with the ear as the eye.
What else can I tell you to prepare you for this feast of reading? To look out maybe for Sylvia Plath and Mervyn Peake, and for the cats and for roasted chickens. It’s interesting how obliquely myth is made use of and the supernatural. It’s not often these days we hear of Girl Guides (and never of ‘the known stars’ variety), and I was glad to hear about the woman who married a mountain, and the river who came to dinner. Well, I could and perhaps should name-check all of the poems – I do really like all of the work here – poems which make an immediate impact I think but which bear second and third readings and indeed are better the more often you read them (especially out loud).
There is genuine achievement here and perhaps more importantly there is a great deal of promise – it is always exciting to read poems which are good in themselves but which also incidentally carry a freight of what that writer is about to do, is learning how to do. Even so, I hope you agree that the poems in PUSH Three are a genuine pleasure in themselves, just as they stand, here and now.
Peter Sansom, November 2013