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This Week's Editorial: 4/12/20

This week's editorial is written by Maggie Sawkins:

The poet John Burnside said, "Poetry renews and deepens the gift that most surely makes us human: the imagination. And that is as essential to public as it is to private life, because the more imaginative we are, the more compassionate we become – and that, surely, is the highest virtue of all."

One of the reasons I first turned to the written word was because I've always found it difficult to identify feelings. Writing poetry has helped me to do that. I believe that the first step to understanding others is to get in touch with all aspects of ourselves – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. One of the poems I've kept from my school days is this one, written one winter as I sat on a stony beach in Portsmouth:

Sitting out on the borderland

I'm a pebble without a shore

I'm a night without a whisper

I'm a room without a door.

But the stars are in my pocket

and the moon is in my head

I'm a book of many poems

that's afraid of being read.

Though I didn't know it at the time, I was using metaphor to say the unsayable: I was lonely, and the reason I was lonely was because I found it difficult to express myself through the normal channel of speech. A couple of years later I was sent to see a psychologist. During our second meeting the doctor announced that he couldn't help me if I wouldn't speak to him. I didn't go back after that, but I did continue to write poems.

My first love, however, was reading and for every word that I've written there must be a thousand more that I've read. In an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times, Barack Obama spoke of how reading fiction helped him to become a more compassionate president:

"Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country. I found myself better able to imagine what's going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction."

One of the things that propels me to write well is the belief that out there somewhere there's a pair of small ears waiting to listen. The theme of silence is something I often return to. When I thought about chancing some new poems with One Hand Clapping it was the phrase from the well-known koan that attracted me. I once read that the value of meditating on a koan is to help one realise the limits of logic. Nevertheless, I like to think that the sound of one hand clapping is silence. And it's that silence we need to bring as readers, listeners and viewers if we are fully to inhabit the lives of others.

The current edition features work by Charles Shaar Murray, Pema Chödrön, J.D. Salinger, Katie Donovan, Mary Ford Neal, Stephen Boyce, Aretha Franklin, Steve Shepherd, Amy Soricelli, Han Sungpil, Sue Spiers, Simon Belshaw, Noah Rasheta, Brandon Robshaw, Rob Miles, Elizabeth Pierson, Patrick Roberts, Cliff Yates, Martin Hughes, Siân Thomas, Alison Lock, Susan Darlington and Franca Mancinelli (translated by John Tayor). I suggest that you give yourself the space to listen to them all.

Maggie Sawkins lives in Portsmouth and delivers creative writing projects in community settings. Her live literature production "Zones of Avoidance" won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Her most recent poetry collection, Many Skies Have Fallen, is published by Wild Mouse Press. You can find her here:

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