The work in this section derives, directly or indirectly, from a symposium held at the University of Reading in July 2019. The symposium centred upon the theme ‘Our Poetry, Our Needs’, and included collaboration between IPSI, the University of Reading’s ‘Creativity’ group, and the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre.
At a difficult and divided moment in the UK, it is not surprising that a thread through the discussions at the event, and subsequently through the contributions here, is provided by the ‘need’ for poetry itself to be defended: as a form of resistance to circumstance, and as a means of retaining relations to the world. As Peter Robinson establishes in his artist’s statement, there is particular urgency in the way poems ‘express relationship, and the need to sustain relationship, even when the circumstances — be they time, distance, interpersonal dynamics, politics or geography — threaten to weaken or break such connections’.
There is relish in the pieces published in this issue for the ways that poetry can offer truths and substantial consolation by displaying its fragility and fictiveness, also its flimsiness (the ‘Laths’ of Steven Matthews’ poem and commentary). Yet it does this through its complexity, too, as Lesley Saunders argues: ‘the poem itself is not primarily for the expression of … emotion, but, … for something more complex, subtle and self-reflexive’. Poetry both speaks, and watches itself speaking in necessary ways.
Poetry can find in formal or technical limitation a means to overcome the incapacities and parochialisms imposed by the moment. Susie Campbell’s piece on contemporary ‘small’ prose poetry illuminates the ways in which form has a vital role to play in the defence which poetry mounts: ‘It takes a lot of its “safety” from its literal constriction: its small size and its containment between wide white margins’. But ‘safety’ is, in itself, deceptive, since, despite its brevity, this kind of writing cannot help ‘gesturing to all that is lost and absent through its very attempt at containment’. Whole arcs of grief and bereavement are traceable from this brief moment, or, as Jack Thacker contends: ‘Death must be carried,’ and poetry offers a particularly concentrated possibility for ‘bearing’ that load.
These are issues of intonation and lineation, the breaking of the banal by restructuring representations until they ‘fit’ and sound differently, but in ways that are never ultimately fixable. As Kate Behrens maintains, the best poems are those where language and syntax are unresolved, where ‘some elements can flicker between interpretations, which seems most true to life’: it is in that flickering that we come into relationship with poems. Poetry harbours guilt and obscurities the better to display the ways by which exculpation might occur. As Ian House argues here, something of the excitement of ‘writing a poem is of having no complete idea of what one’s trying to say.’ As part of living in a world where so much is simply said without regard for its sense or senselessness, this access to unconscious sources and motivations is, in itself, liberating.
We trust that there is much to enjoy in the variations included here on the issue’s main theme. We have certainly enjoyed putting this group of poems, reflections, and observations together, and are grateful to our contributors, and to the Axon editors, for the opportunity to present this number.