Issue 3


Bristol figures in this issue not only as the place where Raceme is conceived and compiled, and where some of its authors live, but as a kind of character in its own right, with, as Peter Robinson writes, ‘its mute memorials’ that are ‘passed by, noticed, missed’. The poems about the city, by several different authors, all touch into the historical strata of events more or less forgotten in the daily thrum but present still if you scratch the surface, or delve beneath it.

Wherever we live we place our steps mostly unwittingly on the back of the past, since the present, after all, is where we have to live. But it is a fascinating undertaking, and one perhaps very close to the delvings of poetry, to reconnect with the undertow – all the more powerful because invisible - of a reality that continues to exist for us only if we recreate it in the imagination. Penelope Shuttle, in her conversation with Alyson Hallett, speaks of a poetic process that resembles this – ‘poetry that goes behind the scenery, behind the appearance of things to see what’s there’.

These underdepths may well be an uncomfortable place to explore, full of potent surprises and alarms. Walking over the fields near Bristol only today, one of the editors found his path taking him through the collapsed ruins of an old mental hospital, which canny developers are in the process of obliterating and turning into homes for the well-heeled. It was a strange, discomforting sight: great piles of rubble, the sagging structures of a place where human misery once found habitation, stood cheek by jowl with spanking new developments. The place was Barrow (the subject of a poem by David Whitwell in this issue). And the sight of it seemed to beg the question about how we honour and mourn the past while living on hopefully into a different future. Living in many different realities at once is something, it seems, that poetry can cultivate: bringing past and future into touch with each other, it can connect diverse regions of the psyche to deepen and energise the rational mind - gathering us back, as Paul Matthews puts it, into a ‘primal attention’. Poetry so often lives from surprising juxtapositions which enlarge us by eliciting our efforts to reconcile them. No doubt we should be wary of making too great a claim for the art, but imaginative reconciliation is not a bad thing to practise in the world we find around us at present.