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  • Writer's pictureMatthew M C Smith

Sending Magic to the Bough

Updated: Mar 3

Since starting Black Bough Poetry in 2018, our message in submission periods has been consistent. As a home to 21st century imagist poetry (with our own spin), we consistently request poems that feel fresh, inventive, metaphorical, condensed and focus on imagery in poetry, rather than direct, literal expression. First and foremost, we look for particularly poetic work, poems that are free-verse, ones not tied to, or constrained by, form or rhyme, where poets can challenge themselves to the max. Ezra Pound's 'In a Station of the Metro' (1912) is the most frequently quoted imagist poem.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.

followed by T.E. Hulme's nigh on perfect 'Autumn' (1908)

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—

I walked abroad,

And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge

Like a red-faced farmer.

I did not stop to speak, but nodded,

And round about were the wistful stars

With white faces like town children.

T.E. Hulme

This is by American poet, Amy Lowell, who admittedly was a much wordier imagist. Consider how visual and descriptive this poem is but I think Pound would have wanted to pare this right down:

A Fairy Tale (An extract)

On winter nights beside the nursery fire

We read the fairy tale, while glowing coals

Builded its pictures. There before our eyes

We saw the vaulted hall of traceried stone

Uprear itself, the distant ceiling hung

With pendent stalactites like frozen vines;

And all along the walls at intervals,

Curled upwards into pillars, roses climbed,

And ramped and were confined, and clustered leaves

Divided where there peered a laughing face.

The foliage seemed to rustle in the wind,

A silent murmur, carved in still, gray stone.

High pointed windows pierced the southern wall

Whence proud escutcheons flung prismatic fires

To stain the tessellated marble floor

With pools of red, and quivering green, and blue;

Amy Lowell

At Black Bough, we want startling poems which leave readers/ listeners catching their breath, arrested by evocative work where they feel they have been taken on an immersive, multi-sensory experience.

We're inspired by the early modernist movement, 'imagism', as exemplified by poets, such as T.E. Hulme, H.D., Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington and Amy Lowell. These poets were, of course, not the first to have such an intense focus on imagery, but they are recognised as starting an influential, modern movement that was an antidote to the excessive verbiage, the floweriness, the ponderous rhetoric of many of the Victorian and Georgian poets. Pound's idea of the imagist potential to 'make it new' stands resonantly today. Why would any poet want to rehash cliched expression, go over the same well-worn ground and not push themselves to innovate.

A mistake poets sometimes make is to send us micropoems thinking that this is what we want. Yes, we love short, loaded poems but if they are rhetorical and epigrammatic, non-imagist, this is not what we look for.

What we wouldn't publish:

'I don't get on with my boyfriend. I want another cup of tea. Carpe Diem. Hasta La Vista'

(by A.N. Other)

Sorry but this is very boring and easy to write. Not our kind of thing.

'I hate the Tories. They make up stories. Piss off Boris Johnson' (Jane Doe)

We avoid rhyming poems. This poem speaks a truth but it's literal and obvious - not our kind of thing.

'My heart is like a lonely cloud and a bright daffodil. I hunker down under grey quilts of cloud'

(Joe Bloggs)

No, you're ripping off Wordsworth and this is super-cliched poety language. Shape up!

The kind of poems we look for:

Petals of your fingers around mine; Hibiscus closing around moonlight.

('Newborn' by Briony Collins, published in our first edition)


Every petal on their skin a mouth

for the light, digesting the sun

to make it sweet, make it edible.

Alchemy at work in the slender bones

slipping from dresses, print by print;

lawns showered by the tattering silks,

the scatter of magnolia feathers.

The trial of the bloom begins.

Reward us for the rains, for the heat.

(Mark Antony Owen, published in our third edition 'Yolk')

Pound described the movement's focus on the image, which presents "an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” One of the aspects some poets struggle with in our submissions is focusing on imagist poetry which has a dynamic intellectual and emotional effect on the reader or listener. Most writers can present images - think of William Carlos William's plum and wheelbarrow poems - direct, enjoyable, ultra simplistic - but we feel that the sophisticated weave of a poem can represent the height of the craft and the ability of the poem to present a distinct perspective, to feel unique, to make the seemingly familiar, unfamiliar. This is known as defamiliarisation, where poetry can disrupt and alter our perceptions through strangeness. This recalls Arthur Rimbaud's notion of his own poetry being a "derangement of the senses".

Arthur Rimbaud

Imagism is a broad church and there are contradictions and tensions in this movement, as with any. Despite its modernity many of the founders like H.D. and Pound had a focus on resurrecting myths. When you read an H.D. poem you could be forgiven for thinking that some of her poems are Sappho's, such is the focus on Greek myth. Ezra Pound was interested in Chinese poetry and produced creative translations of Chinese poets, with a strong focus on the poem as a series of visual snapshots. Many of the Black Bough published poets are interested in myth and tradition but ensure that their poems are tight, have a modern feel and have their own poetic gravitas.

What do we want? When you submit to Black Bough Poetry, we look for poems that are imaginative, quirky, strange - that extend the idea of imagism past direct presentation of the image and poetic precision to develop their own magic - unexpected shifts in the poem, inversion, unusual and unexpected syntax, experiments in sound patterning, exciting wordplay. To be able to do this, poets should read widely, including contemporary poetry. There's nothing wrong with being stuck on reading Tennyson, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes, Eliot, or Sylvia Plath, these poets are incredibly enriching. But why not keep up with modern poets like Ankh Spice (check out The Water Engine), John McCullough (Reckless Paper Birds is a favourite), Briony Collins (Check out Blame it One Me) and Mark Antony Owen (the Subruria project is phenomenal)? And make sure your reading is enriched by picking up a Black Bough edition. I'll leave you with 'Baltic Amber' by Ankh Spice:

Baltic Amber

44 million years, sphered warm in my palm

all the tastings of long-gone light

eaten into yourself by leaves

your blood, honey

your feet, divining water

your crown, greened

by a young and frivolous sun

with all the time in the world

to play a forest down to its glow.

(From Black Bough's Deep Time 2)

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