top of page

This Week's Editorial: 5/2/21

This week's editorial is written by Jo Balmer:

In the dark winter days of childhood there was always one morning I looked forward to far more than any other. It was usually Thursday, sometimes frustratingly delayed to Friday, when, slipped like a secret gift between the pages of my parents' daily newspaper, my own journal of choice arrived. And, however wet or cold, whichever double science was time-tabled in for later at school, its thin, inky pages eased the melancholy of sunless bus journeys or rain-shuttered lunchtimes. First of all there were comics – The Dandy or The Beano soon giving way to Bunty or Diana – followed by the more educational Look and Learn. As teenage years arrived, the photo stories and problem pages of Jackie were shelved for the more sophisticated fashion features of 19, while the pop of Fab 208 was replaced by the (would-be) cool of New Musical Express.

Even then, what appealed most about these publications was their eclectic range. Girls' school stories jostled for space with photos of pop star crushes. The battle of Thermopylae was re-enacted alongside the struggles of the suffragette campaigns, if both recast in cartoon form. Musings on music, make-up (and making up) or midi versus mini skirt lengths all promised a bold, better world to come, just teetering on the brink. Above all, every week, familiar pleasures were anticipated and new discoveries devoured.

Remarkably, there was poetry too. Pictorial stories recounting Wordsworth's schooldays vied for space with the spinsterhood of Emily Dickinson. Perhaps even more implausibly, I first came across the verse of Sappho in the pages of Look and Learn (feature series: "The Great Greek Story-Tellers" ). Later on, poring over the lyrics of Bowie's "Life on Mars" or attempting in vain to decipher the meandering references of Patti Smith's epic "Land" provided an early introduction to critical analysis. And so we all learnt not just who we might be but how what we read or looked at or listened to could make us so.

Such pleasures are not over. Today, rather than the odd eighty minutes lost to impenetrable physics or Latin Unseens, we might be more concerned about the weeks and months slipping away to an endless winter lockdown but there is still a regular treat to lighten the gloom. Every fortnight, on alternate Friday mornings, the latest edition of Alan Humm's expertly-curated online magazine One Hand Clapping drops into inboxes or pops up on social media posts, bursting with fresh delights: photography, art, music, commentary and, of course, poetry. And unlike my one-dimensional childhood journals, it has the advantage of appearing online, taking up the challenge of the medium's additional possibilities of film and sound.

This week is no different. There is, as usual, a broad range of poets: Michael Schmidt and Will Eaves, along with Ruth Taafe, Steve Kronen, Hélène Demetriades, Agnes Marton, Paul O'Prey, Oz Hardwick, David Lee Sirois, Frank Dullaghan, Christina M. Rau, Alice Seville, Angela France, Catherine Gander, Amy Soricelli and Stephen Boyce. There are translations by Ian Heffernan and paintings by Hego; there is doo wop by The Dells and a beautiful composition by John Cooney, as well as Brandon Robson and Noah Rasheta's regular features on etymology and Buddhism, respectively. Lastly there is an essay – more of a meditation, really – by Alice Willits.

All of which proves that what makes a good journal is not just its contributions but its mix. Known and unknown. Free and formal. Sound and vision. That poetry is vital to our well-being, as fundamental as music. That visual art heals the soul in ways we might not have fully understood before our galleries were closed. And if the days of steam-soaked school bus rides might be long-past, on an overcast lockdown February morning, with One Hand Clapping's poetry chiming in our hearts and its playlists in our ears, we can all still believe that the future is waiting, wide open, just a little way ahead.

Josephine Balmer is a poet and classical translator. Her translations of Sappho have been continuously in print since 1984 and in 1989 were shortlisted for the inaugural US Lambda Literary Awards. In 2018, they were reissued in an expanded edition to include newly-discovered fragments (Bloodaxe Books). Her recent collection, The Paths of Survival (Shearsman), was shortlisted for the 2017 London Hellenic Prize. Other works include Letting Go (Agenda Editions, 2017), The Word for Sorrow (Salt, 2007), Chasing Catullus (Bloodaxe, 2004), Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate (Bloodaxe, 2004) and Classical Women Poets (Bloodaxe, 1996). She has also published a study of classical translation and versioning, Piecing Together the Fragments (OUP, 2013).

bottom of page