5 Poets in Iota

5 Poets in Iota

Iota is published three times a year, and is now in its third decade of publication. The editorial team is based at the University of Gloucestershire, and all submissions are read anonymously. Submissions are invited from around the world, and there is the customary international poetry competition.

Many of the poets featured have won local or national awards, and the magazine has interviews that place the contributors’ work in context. Generous space is also given to reviews of recent poetry collections: a most welcome feature.

It may seem churlish to ignore work by poets winning prestigious prizes, but I have chosen a few poems here that appeal more – probably because they’re intelligently structured – and passed over a good many others by better-known names that seem rather flat and predictable. Iota is no doubt improving,  and now attracting the better poets, if not yet their better work.

Howard Wright lectures in Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Ulster, in Belfast, and his first collection, King of Country, is in preparation at Blackstaff Press. The excerpt from Cornmarket can be read here:

Three sections are showcased,  and all are strongly visual, with a detached and threatening viewpoint achieved through original metaphors and similes. The first section starts with:

High Street glows through the haze,
the city printing itself on the smoke.

And concludes with:

so grandly stated the original frontage
brims like a glass of stout.

I’ll give the second section in toto as it shows the width of reference, and the sly humour that’s possible with the approach:

Swirls of starlings, a banner made
from collective instinct. Short-term memory
as a long-term goal. Gulls attack the beerguts
of taxi-touts, and politicians run about
like ducks in thunder, policies
as radical as a hole in the ground.
The culture of drink narrows
pavements and spills untamed
women into the gutter.

We still have the tipsy women in the third section, ending with the pun of ‘destroying themselves’:

their petticoat outskirts slipping over
stubble fields like waves over sand
continually destroying themselves.

Katrina Porteous, the poet and historian, has many publications to her name. She has been Writer-in-Residence in the Shetland Islands and at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, has written many long poems for BBC Radio, and is President of the Northumbrian Language Society. Her excerpt is from the Wund an’ the Wetter, published by the Iron Press in 1999, can be read here:

It’s a retrospect, a looking back on a hard and largely vanished way of life. The fifty line section ends with:

The whuppin’s an’ leashin’s aback a the waa’ –
By, lad, she’s a reight taggarine-man’s haal!
An’ it’s nae bother – it’s naen
T’ shut the door on yon.
Put oot the light. Forgit the nyems,
We’ll nivvor be wantin’ them things ageyn –
It’s come wi’ the wund an’ gan wi’ the wetter –
We’ll noe be needin’ ’em noo…

Poems in dialect are taxing to read, but here have the tang of live speech. A full glossary is given: whuppins = fastenings, leashin’s = lashings, taggarine man = tinker.

Christopher James has won the Bridport and Ledbury poetry prizes, received an Eric Gregory Award, and published his first collection with the Ragged Raven Press. He won the 2009 National Poetry Competition. His Returning can be read here:

It’s a simple, descriptive piece, with the strangeness of returning to somewhere after a holiday well evoked by appeals to our senses. It starts with:

We return in the dark like cat burglars
swallowing the echo of our own footsteps.
Green jewels blink on the garden wall.
The night is enlarged by a single click of the lock.

The ‘we’ are described, with the children asleep. We look round the house, lock the car, and glance at the house opposite, which lies even further back in time:

Across the road, I see a curtain twitch.
The Victorians are asleep in their beds;
their children are at the window watching us.

Alan Jude Moore hails from Dublin, and his work has also been published in Italian and Russian. His collections – Black State Cars (2004) and Lost Republics (2008) – have been brought out by Salmon Poetry. Concrete can be read at:

The poem is the most ambitious of the poems here – though possibly not the most successful – and mixes tourist experiences, historical reflections and an empathy with suffering humanity dressed up in a droll humour. It starts:

The invention of concrete was I imagine
greeted with dismay by slaves;

Who do not welcome it, since it deprives them of an occupation:

The invention of slaves was I imagine
greeted with satisfaction by masters of industry.
They found structures created more quickly
than before and towards a greater state
we may all be indentured

Which were more effective than science or religion. We pass on to Ephesus with their crowds of tourists, each speaking their barely understood languages and then – it’s a dream sequence now – drift on to Piraeus, the Pantheon and palace, until on reflection we realize these are also communications of a kind:

We have sat without a sound
behind the walls of the basilica
and contemplated our next move.

From concrete steps we jump
out to surf the ether past Pantheon and palazzo;
these paving slabs,
these arches,
these remnants of communication

left behind us.
Faint footprints drying out in the sun.

But not necessarily ones we can read:

understand there are languages
we do not know.

I rarely mention translations, as one has to know the source language to judge their success, but here I’ll end with Thomas Land’s rendering of the Deluge by Tamás Emöd (1888-1938). Emöd was a Jewish-Hungarian poet, playwright and theatre director, whose dates tell us what little we need to know. The poem is at:

The holocaust is personified as the deluge, which indeed it was, and I quote from second section of Message in a bottle. The language is rather apocalyptic, but I suspect is more convincing in the original:

We say our last farewells before the night covers us
while helplessly waving our fog lamps over the flood

as we signal to the offspring of tomorrow,
we the galley slaves of the present, the ship and the oars

whose festive garlands have been torn away,
we sad and sensitive souls of this brutal age

who have foretold the worst and seen it all
who had screamed out in fear before we fell,

the children born with lust for mirth and sunshine
before the depth of hell roared over us:

before our plight sinks into blind oblivion,
I send you these lines, the final news of our lives.

The poem or section ends on a message of hope, or at least justification for writing, which is to bear witness:

Allow me to make a gift in return.
Take this book, before I pass on.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *