6 Poets in The Interpreter’s House

6 Poets in The Interpreter’s House

The Interpreter’s House has been going for close on twenty years now, by no means making it an old-timer but still something commendable, requiring time, energy and commitment. The venture started life in 1996 as a Bedfordshire magazine, and indeed the title comes from ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ –  ‘the house of the Interpreter; at whose door he should knock; and he would show him excellent things’. The editor Merryn Williams looks for “the union of simplicity and mystery which makes writing memorable”

The editor goes on to say:

We’ve included some extremely distinguished poets (Dannie Abse, Alan Brownjohn, David Constantine, Sophie Hannah, Sheenagh Pugh, Carole Satyamurti, Vernon Scannell, R.S. Thomas), and work first published in THE INTERPRETER’S HOUSE has appeared in the last three Forward Books of Poetry.


I believe that modern poetry has drifted dangerously far from the common reader and admire work which is technically accomplished, has powerful images, and appears to mean something. I am always trying to make the magazine better and always glad to hear from writers I have not encountered before.

Which no one would want to quarrel with, but – and here’s your author’s party pooper – I don’t think the magazine is too good at present. I’d suggest that about a third of poetry magazines listed on well-known third-party sites are typified by material that is kindest to ignore, and these I do indeed pass over in silence. There are also prestigious magazines that provide nothing free online, and these ‘best of breed’ are also not reviewed here. I’ve learned not to trust their self-advertising, and don’t have the funds to subscribe on the off-chance. They’re also far too well known, of course, to need any notice from me.

That leaves magazines like The Frogmore Papers and The Interpreter’s House, which have good things occasionally but not enough to make a cover to cover perusal an enjoyable read. They just about squeak into the ‘also to be noticed’ category. We begin with C.J. Allens’s A Guided Tour of the Air Museum. Mr Allens has been a prize-winner in many competitions, and his latest collection is/was ‘How Copenhagen Ended’, published by the Leafe Press in 2003. The poem can be read at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=15646
It’s a commentary on a tour of an imaginary museum that features bottles of air from various historical period. We start with London:

Here is the yellow air of London
in the nineteenth century, smelling
of gin and orphans and axle-grease.

And then pass to Umbria, Brooklyn, Georgian drawing rooms, Vermeer, Napoleon, the Titanic  and the turn of the previous century. The writing is deft, amusing and competent, but perhaps, as the poems remarks in ending, amounting to only a little joke:

That concludes our tour.
Be careful as you leave,
not to inhale the gift shop.
Just my little joke, ladies and gentlemen.
Please remember your guide.

Giles Goodland works for the Oxford University Press, and his Back Home won joint second-prize in the magazine’s annual competition. It can be read at:

It’s difficult to quote from because written in a continuous stream of consciousness mode, but starts promisingly with:

I get back home late with the definite
feeling of a cold climbing in through
my throat and waiting for me to sleep
and my two-year-old tugging my leg
because he’s afraid to be on his own

And continues with its reminiscences, looking after the children, reflecting on the past:

                 Twenty-five years
since our father died and here we are,
still children, sheltering in a long shadow
and I don’t really care but I do care it’s
just I don’t have time to think it,

And finally, after further bruising and tiring encounters with memories, the speaker takes him or herself off to bed:

until sleep crawls in like a dark animal and
leaves the shape of what is left, what has left.

Victoria Lawless’s 3 am can be read at:
http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=16637It’s a nightmare, or something worse, that starts (and ends) with:

He is waiting for me
at the bottom of my garden,

Who ‘he’ is we don’t quite learn, though, after some lyrical passages, the phantom appears more threatening than ever:

I heard their stems snap,
the rip of petals.

He is raking the earth
with his long bony fingers,
grinding the heels
of his black boots into graves

Waiting for me
at the bottom of my garden

Walter Nash’s Selby is much more in the real world. The poem can be at:

and we learn immediately:

We called him Selby, not
after that Yorkshire mining town, although
God knows, he was a grimy beggar, but
because, poor chap, he was so plainly past
his sell-by date.

And later that Selby is, or in fact was a cat:

Then went to be put down,
abstracted to the past, a scheme devised
more for our civil comfort than his own.

That brave, chirpy note works well in describing our whiskered friend, but the tone is uncertain, alternating between stoic indifference and sentimentality,  so that the ending doesn’t round the piece off sufficiently (not to mention the unwanted alliteration on ‘st’.)

So with all things beyond their sell-by date;
so with all lives outcast, outworn, despised,
by the Lord given, stifled by the State.

Valerie Clarke’s The New Incumbent (http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=16517) is a truly resplendent being, who wins over Miss Lewis:

who was always in and out
with the secateurs. ‘I like the crimson ones best’,
he intoned in his fur-trimmed voice.

But a good deal closer to the devil than priest.

Then came a series of accidents – young Murphy,
Mrs O’Donnell, Tom, the gravedigger, drowned
in one of his own waterlogged holes.

It’s an entertaining, mischievous piece that ends evocatively:

Was it the candles made his teeth gleam like relics,
refusing all invitations, and him after six months
still lacking a housekeeper?

Sheila Hillier’s  Border Crossing quotes from Rilke’s 4th Duino Elegy, which is probably unwise if a similar magnificence isn’t forthcoming. The poem is at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=16528
We leave a train at night, at the border crossing and trudge out across the snow into a new country. Or possibly it’s dream.

I must get down from the night train,
desert the dreaming coach, let the curtains remain
brushing heated windows, and set out on foot
printing the snow beneath my shiny boot.

But more probably the lover’s domain:

This is the border and your country’s edge.

Or both. There is a dream-like quality to the travel, and to the ending:

No, wait. What if it proves impossible for us?
Reflecting, you might just buzz
security, phone someone in authority
on a hotline. I’ll be handed to the military.
What’s done can be undone; our past can change.


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