Friday, 31 October 2014

The Rialto issue 81: poets on reading to write

The new Rialto’s out..  and now I want to mention everything it contains, so will open it at random.  On page 43: a terrific poem by Roy Marshall – one of those poems which makes such an impact at first reading that when you read it again, the shadow of that first time is still there.  It’s called ‘Carrying the Arrest Bleep’.  On page 42: John Prior’s ‘At the Level Crossing’, whose central image is so striking that level crossings may never look or feel the same again.   

Other things: Chrissy Williams on stingrays and, separately, the gift wrap of LOVE; Nick Makoha and Dan O’Brien on aspects of war; Camino-Victoria Garcia on Serco vans; and a water poem from Clare Best that reflects in more ways than you’d think possible (weirdly difficult to proofread, I hardly dare look at it).  Kjell Espmark’s graveyard voices summon a ghostly Bach, in Swedish and in Robin Fulton Macpherson’s translation; Emily Wills is on the receiving end of a complaint, but death and her mother get in the way; Michael Laskey encounters an excruciating word.   

There’s something we haven’t done before, too.  Our feature this time is about reading to write.  Here’s our introduction:

We asked over thirty Rialto contributors past and present a question: Which poet(s) do you read, in order to write?  (And why – if you have any idea why?)  For example, if you went off to a desert island for 6 months to write, and could only take a handful of books, what would you take to help the writing?  If your answer’s ‘no-one’, ‘someone different every time’, or ‘I keep my mind empty of all previous poetry in order to storm the next frontier’, that’s also interesting, so please tell us.

We wanted to know because this is rather mysterious.  Read-in-order-to-write poets aren’t necessarily the same as favourites or influences, or may be a sub-set of those.  The link between input and output, so to speak, may not be clear. 

There was a tremendous response – replies full of interest psychologically as well as poetically. They reveal a wide range of approaches, and the richness and diversity of sources people go back to.  Contributions appear roughly in the order they arrived, on time for our tight deadline despite holidays, writing retreats and work crises. 

Our respondents range from Lorraine Mariner to Pascale Petit, David Morley to Jon Stone, Liz Berry to Dan O’Brien, Nick Makoha to Fran Lock.  Many of them do read to write but each one differently, and some more deliberately than others. 

A common theme is poets at a distance – dead poets (mostly 20th century), American poets, non-English language poets.  Some names come up several times, not necessarily the ones you’d expect.  The reasons for people’s choices are fascinating. 

A few respondents describe what happens when reading turns into writing. There are stings and kicks, and Christina Dunhill gets “a physical response like a click”.  And birds: Luke Yates is a regurgitating owl, Emily Wills a magpie anxious in the presence of strange objects.  A couple of people say that reading gives them permission to write.  Some read to read, and are equally interesting about this. 

Everyone writes so well and with such enthusiasm, in our mean allowance of 100(ish) words – a fascinating cross-section of contemporary reading/writing practices.

And they were all so generous, to do this for us – and so efficient, meeting our less-than-a-fortnight deadline despite all the conflicting ones of daily life.

If you want to know who helps Hannah Lowe get into narrative vein, which foreign language poet Kim Moore has five different translations of, how Niall Campbell moves physically from writing to reading and back again, which book gets Mimi Khalvati into a dream state, who loves reading poets he’s taught, which poet likes Herodotus and Groucho Marx and which the Flora Britannica, then… you can find the new issue of The Rialto here.


  1. It is a great issue. Brimming with talent. Just received it and can´t put it down!

  2. Dear Fiona

    To continue with the bird imagery, I would probably be a magpie or a robin. As for poetry influences, well, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Coventry Patmore usually do it for me!

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

  3. Dear Fiona

    If you'll permit me a small plug, my latest volume: 'The Book Of Irregular Sonnets' is now available from for only £7.00!

    Best wishes from Simon