Labours of love……….and a Polished gem [12] Martin Malone

collage 2

Five years ago, or thereabouts, I had no real idea that poetry magazines existed….or at the most, the kind of awareness you might have of magazine for computer buffs, or amateur photographers, or rockclimbers, or for people who breed whippets, or walk around the countryside with broken up-and-over shotguns. I certainly had no idea just how many there were, and how important they were in the lives of people who wrote poems, and with whom I gradually became friends.

Gradually, it has been borne in on me, not least via my addiction to Facebook, that for so many poets out there, submitting to, and being accepted by, these journals and magazines is a pretty big deal. I’m embarassed to recall that the first poems of mine to appear in one of these magazines, was in The North. Embarassed, because I didn’t formally submit them. I’d written one of them very fast in response to a Poetry Business workshop task. It was about my first really really serious girlfriend. Somehow, the Blackpool Pleasure beach (where I’ve never been) found its way in there, as did Marlene Dietrich. I love these writing tasks. Peter Sansom asked me if he might consider it for The North, it would be nice if I had one or two others for their consideration. When Big Dipper, and  Achnacloich were printed in The North [48] I was unprepared for the congratulations that I got from my Poetry Business mates and I was surprised that it seemed to be a pretty big deal. I know better now, as the polite ‘thank you for letting us read your poems but this isn’t precisely what were looking for at the moment and please continue to send us your poems for further responses not unlike this one’ letters and emails continue to pile up. What I also know better now is the sheer amount of slog is involved for the hardy, selfless souls who labour away at the business they believe in: the business of providing a platform for poems they think should be heard.

Not long afterwards, I met Martin Malone at a Writing Day. He’d not long taken over the running of the estimable The interpreter’s house. I’d had a recommendation of it from my friend Wendy Klein, who said I should seriously think of sending in poems, and that Martin was an editor who gave serious attention to every submission. Which turned out to be true. Anyway, that day I bought my first poetry magazine, from Martin: The interpreter’s house [54]. I read it right through on the Supertram on my way to pick up my car by Meadowhall. And  I found myself reading all sorts of folk I knew and liked. Carole Bromley, Wendy Klein, Kim Moore (a review!), Wendy Pratt. And others who, one way or another, I’ve come to know via blogs and Facebook: Josephine Corcoran, Hilda Sheehan and David Tait among them. At which point I determined to actually submit to submitting, and sent some off to Martin. Lo and behold, in Issue 56, there were two poems of mine. A heady affair. It filled me with a false confidence. Why, I thought, this is a breeze! Thankfully, I’ve learned better….a sadder and a wiser man. So many Ancient Mariner reminders. On the plus side, I’ve got to become familiar with the processes of several magazines. I like Magma  enormously; I have conceived a particular affection for Brett Evans and for Prole. I will get a poem in Butcher’s Dog if it kills me…I really really like the shape of it, the artwork of the covers. But, at the end of the day The interpreter’s house will always be the first I submitted to.

three covers for the cobweb

I like its totally distinctive covers, of which Martin says, in an interview with Roy Marshall:

The beautiful covers are entirely the work of Jenn Shaw who has a great eye and knows where to look for good artists. It is she who should get the credit for this. We started off with the punchy print graphic approach and after a few issues decided that this would be the overall design aesthetic.

Just like Prole it’s an instantly recognisable brand. You know where you are. You know you’re in safe hands. The other thing I like apart from its consistently high standards and its eclecticism is the way the poets appear alphabetically. Simply because I can quickly find the ones I know. And then I can go back to the beginning (or the end…just to be fair to poets like Martin Zarrop) and read through, steadily, backwards or forwards, accordingly.

And so it is, on a day I did not expect to be writing a cobweb strand, but to be wandering about on Skye, just introducing my guest poet, Martin Malone is a real consolation for missing a holiday. Here he is. He’s actually quite terse when he’s aked to write about himself.

Born in County Durham, Martin Malone now lives in Scotland. He has published two poetry collections: The Waiting Hillside (Templar, 2011) and Cur (Shoestring, 2015). An Honorary Research Fellow in Creative Writing at Aberdeen University, he is currently studying for a Ph.D in poetry at Sheffield University. He edits The Interpreter’s House poetry journal.

Blimey. You could spend a good deal of time speculating about the subtexts and backstories of all this. You could write a book. What he doesn’t say is just how much of himself he puts into all this. I can feel exhausted, charting his progress around the country, setting up launches of each edition of The Interpreter’s house, judging poetry competitions like The Havant, working on a Ph.D, and, praise the lord, writing poetry, putting together collections, getting them published, reading at yet more launches. I’ll put the full details of his two collections at the end, but to whet your appetites, here’s what they look like. And very handsome, too.


CUR cover Hi-res jpeg (1)

They couldn’t be more different could they? The tender colours of the first. The film noir quality of the second, which puts me in mind of Vernon Scannell’s poem about the cat : there’ll be no place to hide when all sides split / and a big black cat strides out of it. I’m much taken by the way the frame of the cover can’t contain the dog, the way it puts the viewer inside, looking out. It’s not comforting to wonder why we’re looking out from groundlevel. I don’t know whose graphics these are; I’m still waiting for my copy to thud through the letterbox. But it’s an artist who has sensed Martin Malone’s absorption in visual arts (including his huge enthusiasm for the work of Eric Ravillious….which he shares with Robert Macfarlane. Martin was accidentally responsible for sending me out to find out much more about both of them. Thanks.). At which point, I think it’s high time we had some of his poems.

The first one I’ve chosen from those he sent reminds me of his link with Ravillious, quintessentially the artist of the rare and luminous light of the chalk Downs, those images with the transparency of  a fine textured porcelain.


Anything from a polecat to a dryad
could be stepping from this wood
into Tuesday light but it is you,
ten years back down the Ridgeway path.
Hitching up those jeans, you reach to take
my hand, palm off doubt, knuckle faith
onto ringless fingers. This isn’t you
– this feral stuff – low impulse being
more my thing but that day you push me
up against a tree as old as Silbury.
We emerge from the thicket-gloom aglow
with escape and getting away with it;
it an as yet indeterminate: some fuzzy
co-ordinate on a half-sketched map.

Today I stick to the downland track
that skirts the spot, though stop to look.
Anything from a polecat to a dryad
could be stepping from the wood
into this light but it was you,
among the things I could not see.

‘Low impulse being more my thing’ ? I’d say this poem that makes me doubt the truth of that. What makes me attend is the way the numinous and magical are rooted in the specific..the precision and layered-ness of ringless fingers, and the brisk textures of knuckle, thicket, stick, skirts in a by a tree place as old as Silbury. Tough and tender at once. Lovely.

The next poem certainly looks different, being one of a series of prose poems, and feels harder, but it has a shared concern for the way the past lives in the present and demands our attention. Or, at least, it’s a poem that demands we attend.

10. School Run

If you’ve a minute, tweet this: the car-struck badger you’ve driven past these last two weeks, pikelhaube snout irate in death, body bloating with fetid air, hind-legs rigid in surrender. Kamerad, emptied of essence, this is the boy from your home village; that snotty kid with a terrier whose Dad liked a drink, the one who pissed himself when Miss Manning caught him with a rat in his desk. Him: always the last to put up his hand, always unlucky in love. His losing streak continued over here and now that’s him rotting away to your left, hung on the brambles of a B-Road: a passing stain in no man’s land, fuel for the coming spring. He’ll walk no more on Cotswold.

(First published in Blackbox Manifold)

I like the way the title wrong-footed me.I like the disingenuous conversational opening. I especially like that last sentence: He’ll walk no more on Cotswold, It has the resonance of an Anglo-Saxon eulogy for a dead hero. I think Steve Ely would recognise the impulse. Read it aloud.

Finally, something that gives you a flavour of the emotional range you can expect from Martin Malone…this one’s apparently a down-to-earth sort of anecdote. Maybe I shoulkd confess that it grabbed me because it made remember Popsie; she was a pitman’s wife, one of the many who worked at the college I went to in Durham in the 60’s. She was a ‘bedder’. Unbelievably, we undergraduates had women who came in each morning and cleaned our nasty rooms and made our beds, and talked to us as though we were their sons. I used to go down to the butcher’s in Durham market place on a Friday and buy minced beef pies for the bedders on our ‘wing’ at Hatfield; in return, they made me tea that turned my teeth to teak and made me explode with sugar-rush. And Popsie would lend me her wrestling magazines..another of those arcane publications, not unlike poetry magazines, in the passions they aroused in their masonic readership. Thanks for reminding me of that, Martin.

Lords of the ring

Now that was a world order Aunt Norah
could understand: fat lads and uncles tucked
into spandex, proving nimble with Saturdays.
While East and West faced off, the big boys
got to grips in some grunting town hall.

Warrenpoint and moonwalks were nothing to her,
so long as Dickie Davies rolled up
with his Mallen streak and kipper tie;
glint in his eye and ‘tache well-groomed.
He can light up any room, that lad, said
she on her knees beside the grate.

Giant Haystacks got her riled when, behind
the referee’s back, he leathered Leon Arras
the Man from Paris, though that was nothing
to her scorn for Harvey Smith or the way
Pat Roach knocked out The Nature Boy.

While ‘77 was The Pistols and Jubilee,
for me it was the sight of Norah
tearing raw meat from the telly as
Big Daddy unmasked Kendo Nagasaki:
Do him Shirley! He’s a nasty bugger!

What she liked was how Les Kellett always
seemed out-on-his-feet but managed to win,
the way Catweazle tickled Mick McManus
into submission and a distant sadness
in the lost blue eyes of Jackie Pallo.

It’s the lost blue eyes of jackie Pallo that turns me back to reconsider what I just read. Makes me think, too, of the world that my friend Keith Hutson is exploring in a sequence of sonnets…the world of music-hall comedians at the end of their careers. Vanishing worlds, if not quite vanished. Maybe there’s a sonnet sequence buried deep in Kent Walton’s world of Saturday afternoon grappling fans.

In his interview for Roy Marshall’s blog, Martinn was aked this question:

I wonder if you’ve found the editorship to be beneficial to your own poetry and if so in what way.
Hm. I’m struggling to think of many tangible benefits to my own writing, if I’m honest. That’s not being grumpy it’s just the way it is. The editorship benefits me indirectly in other ways, I suppose. With over a thousand poems per issue to read, editing benefits your reading whilst stealing time from your writing.
Any advice for would be editors?
Advice for would-be editors would be to not do it. And, if after deciding that, you still do it then you’ve got yourself an editorship. I took on the gig for 5 years – sometimes wish I’d said three – and I think that’s about right at one journal. Otherwise, it becomes too much a part of you, as an individual, and the publication struggles to grow as a result.

So, let’s say thank you, Martin Malone, for not taking the advice that, in hindsight, you’d give to would-be editors, and thank you for sharing your poems. It’s made our Sunday afternoon special. It’s certainly made mine special.

You’ll be wanting to read more of Martin’s work, and you may also want to know what else he told Roy Marshall. So, notebooks out. I’ve told you before. I don’t do handouts.

The waiting hillside [Templar Poetry 2011 ] £8.99

(I should have checked with Martin. When I looked it up it  seems that , via Amazon at least, it’s only available 2nd hand. Boo!)

Cur : [Shoestring Press 2015] £10.00

Right, next week, since I was expecting to have a two week break away from wifi, I shall be posting something shorter and utterly self-indulgent. Now then; that’ll be a first.

12 thoughts on “Labours of love……….and a Polished gem [12] Martin Malone

  1. What a piece of writing! The illumination of contrasts in the artwork and the poems, the build up of background and subtle incorporation of your own poetry magazine and student stories, the giving of credit where it is due, the careful and considered and concisely articulated evaluation of the poems, the absolute nailing of Martin’s particular blend elusiveness and intimacy, his modesty, hardness, and it’s opposite. The sense of anticipation that you built before the first poem was delivered and then it delivered. Oh, yes. And the ref to Malone’s excellent interview with Marshall interview. Thank you


  2. For the record, Norah was a collier’s wife too. Uncle Kit was one of the last of the Blackhall miners to work with pit ponies. And early memory of mine being a visit with him when he’d retired, to see his old pony, also retired, munching away in a field beside the just-closed colliery. Norah’s still with us. Deaf as a post but gallus, as they say up here.


  3. Martin Malone and John Foggin – what a formidable pair! Muscular writing from both guest poet and poet blogger. I can hear both your voices, clear as day.
    Thanks, John 🙂


    1. I think there’s much much more to be said, Wendy. It’s easy enough to write a few comments about poems that have been chosen for you. A collection’s a different thing altogether. I’ll look forward to your review. Who’s it for?


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