On Smiths Knoll

Yesterday was a good day and a sad say. A good day because Smiths Knoll, the poetry magazine edited by Joanna Cutts and Michael Laskey, arrived on my doormat. A sad day because, after twenty-one years, yesterday’s issue, number 50, will be its last. (It is a cracker by the way, full to bursting with energy and life.)

I had seen the notice on the Smiths Knoll website warning that this day would come. As always, however, when the fact of the matter finally dawns, it is still a shock. I do not think I would be writing in the way that I write now, with a sense of an audience and someone looking over my shoulder at what I do, without it. Smiths Knoll belongs to a tiny handful of poetry magazines I still subscribe and look forward to. In more ways than I can possibly do justice to here, it has saved my life on countless occasions.

I’m not sure when I first heard about Smiths Knoll. I seem to remember a flyer falling out of another magazine I was subscribing to, promising something along the lines of being open to poems from ‘new voices’. The implied message was that it did not care about reputations or schools. I thought, This is the mag for me. That must have been sometime around 1991, because issue 1 followed not long after that. Barring two issues in the early twenties I have every other issue, the nearest to a full set of anything I have ever owned and ever will own.

The two things I love (I’m not ready to use the past tense yet) about Smiths Knoll are the discoveries of new poets and the careful attention of the editors.

It would be invidious to name names, but my sense of what is going on out there and who is doing it has been incomparably enriched  by reading this poetry magazine. Some, over the years, have become friends in that actual sense of meeting and getting to know them. It sounds amazing to need to say this, but I have found that they are real humans, with lives, just like me, and that is mostly what we talk about when we get together, once a century if I am lucky. This number is outweighed by those I have not met but whose poems I (still) look forward to and am excited by. Smiths Knoll is not a dating website, but lifelong friendships can be struck up in this way, all started by seeing a name in print and sending them a congratulatory email or note. I will never cease being grateful to the editors for this.

The tradition of close reading and intelligent editing is the magazine’s other great strength. When I began sending Roy Blackman and Michael Laskey, the magazine’s first editors, my poems I do not think, in honesty, that I was ready for the level of attention and care that the poems received. Written in longhand in beautiful cursive script, in black ink, their notes on the poems would be clipped to the drafts I had sent them, usually within a couple of weeks of sending them out. (I believe Smiths Knoll is the most exemplary poetry magazine in the world in this regard.)

Their comments were detailed, direct, honest and logical. I remember they cut down one early poem I sent them by close to three pages. For ten minutes I looked at their letter speechlessly, then did what they suggested. I have never stopped being grateful to them since. (I’m still working through some of Michael’s comments on a draft of something I sent in the mid-nineties. I wonder where I will send it.)

All of this amounts to nothing less than the creating and sustaining of a very healthy culture, in this case in the domain of poetry. Anyone who has had any experience of starting something -a blog, a band, a journal- from scratch will know that it takes time to find, cultivate and then challenge your audience. The marvel of Smiths Knoll is that it seemed to arrive fully formed and functioning from Day 1, with a sense of what it wanted to do and how it was going to do it. This is rare in most fields, not least in poetry, and rarer still that it achieved (I will permit the past tense at this point) its vision with humanity, warmth, humour and above all kindness.

We will not see another like it.

You can read Michael Laskey: My Hero here

You can read Lifesaving Poems: Michael Laskey’s ‘Bike’ here

20 comments

  1. David Belbin

    Well said, Anthony. Our copy of the last issue is downstairs, waiting to be savoured. I had a poem in, I think, issue 3, twenty years ago. Turned out to be my last published poem (I decided not to compete against the poet I live with, who was rather irritated that I, a casual scribbler, had a poem in a mag that she hadn’t got into, though she rectified that last year). And my experience was the same – the poem came back with some helpful points and questions that helped me clarify what needed doing, and when I sent it back, Michael suggested changing the title to one that made the context clearer, and published it in the next issue. I can only think of one other magazine (Ambit, in the days when JG Ballard took an active role in fiction editing) that has given me such helpful advice. It’ll be badly missed.

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi David and thank you so much for commenting. I do think exemplary is the word. They are the unacknowledged legislators of the poetry world in my book, and not praised enough for it.
      As ever with best wishes
      Anthony

      Like

  2. Fiona Moore

    When someone told me at the Poetry Book Fair the news about Smiths Knoll, I didn’t believe it… as if I was being told a planet was leaving the sky. Thank you for this lovely piece.

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Dear Fiona
      Thanks so much for commenting on this piece. I felt it needed saying. SK was/is a lifesaver to me. I love your Displacement blog by the way and have linked it to this page.
      As ever with good wishes
      Anthony

      Like

      • Fiona Moore

        Anthony – I’m updating my blog links and would like to add yours, but I can’t work out how to link it so that your latest piece turns up, can’t find a blog tab on your website. Each of the posts seems to be on its own. Am I being very stupid? All the best, and thanks! Fiona

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      • Anthony Wilson

        Dear Fiona

        Thank you so much for this. I rate Displacement very highly and have linked it on my site as you can see. I’m not a Blogspot user so am not really sure how it works for that system, but I have grabbed the feed for my site for you so you can put a link on yours if you would like to (I’d be honoured). It ishttps://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/feed/ or if that does not work, try http://feeds.feedburner.com/anthonywilsonpoetry/kBbt?format=xml

        Or you could try adding the web address : http://www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com

        The link to the Smiths Knoll piece ishttps://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/2012/10/28/on-smiths-knoll/-which you get just by clicking on each title.

        I hope this is useful to you. With thanks and best wishes Anthony Anthony Wilson

        http://www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com

        Riddance, my new book of poems, is now available. You can buy it on my website.

        >________________________________

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  3. selfportraitwithoutbreasts

    I very much enjoyed reading your tribute to Smiths Knoll, Anthony, and thank you for it. I subscribed from 2002 and when Roy Blackman accepted a poem it was my first to be published, so I had a very special affection for the magazine. They gave me so much encouragement. I kept the first cheque they sent me and still have it pinned to the wall by my desk, though the ink is faded!
    Very best to you
    Clare

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Dear Clare I am so pleased you saw and liked this. Thank you for commenting. Michael and Roy and subsequently Joanna have been the most enormous encouragement to me over the years. I felt it needed saying, paying that debt of gratitude. With thanks and good wishes as ever Anthony

      Anthony Wilson

      http://www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com

      Riddance, my new book of poems, is now available. You can buy it on my website.

      >________________________________

      Like

  4. Pingback: Smiths Knoll | Roy Marshall, Poet
  5. cliffyates

    Nice post Anthony, and right on. Smiths Knoll was exemplary in so many ways. Great to see your poem ‘Laugh’ in there, too.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Cliff, as always, you are kind. You beat me to it in fact. Your poem stopped me breathing. Then brought it back again as I laughed. Marvellous piece of writing. I have been thinking of you a lot recently. XX Anthony

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  6. Stephen Bone

    Thank you Anthony for your piece on Smiths Knoll.
    Michael and Joanna and Roy always knew when I was singing in tune
    and when I wasn’t. I shall miss their yellow paper and their invaluable
    guidance. They made me feel looked after. Thank you.

    Like

  7. Pingback: A triptych of poetry blogs | Poetgal

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