Review by Robert Selby
It’s been a good couple of years for poetry on the web: 2014 saw the launch of Prac Crit, an innovative thrice-yearly journal dedicated to the close reading of individual poems complemented by interviews with the poets, and which this year became the first ever online journal to publish a work (Melissa Lee-Houghton’s ‘i am very precious’) subsequently shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem; 2015 saw the launch of Declan Ryan’s Wild Court, an illustrated, rolling journal of essays and opinion pieces on poetry driven by the enthusiasms of its invited contributors, rather than focused solely on work that is contemporary or high-profile.
Now this autumn has seen the launch of The Scores , a biannual online poetry journal not dissimilar in some ways to Wild Court: both are based in university English departments (the former at St Andrews, the latter at King’s College London); both boast an extensive advisory board of literary heavyweights (including Robert Crawford, Kathleen Jamie and Don Paterson for The Scores, and Lavinia Greenlaw, Ruth Padel, and – as a patron – Jo Shapcott for Wild Court); and both are named after streets near their respective departments.
But while Wild Court is essays – though it does currently offer poems by, among others, Eduardo C Corral and Caught by the River’s very own Will Burns – The Scores is very much poems. Its inaugural issue features poems by some 31 poets, and four more writing in, or translating from, other languages. Top of the contents list is erstwhile St Andrews writer-in-residence Karen Solie, the Canadian poet whose star in the UK is very much in the ascendant (Prac Crit also featured Solie earlier this year). Solie’s next collection The Caiplie Caves is named after a cave system on the Fife coast, and her poem ‘Sauchope Links Caravan Park’ is leaden-skied bathos (“Gulls up at dawn with swords and shields, / if dawn only in low season, in the week / we can afford…”) delivered with her signature precision and flair.
What may really ‘drive traffic’ to The Scores (other than imprecise Google searches on Saturday afternoons?) is its ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ series. In his foreword to issue one, Paterson states the journal’s intention that this series will “grow to become a valuable library of advice from notable practitioners of our (sometimes) tortured art”. Clive James kicks things off superbly with a characteristically funny-sad, forthright essay:
The editor’s position is a practical one: he or she is more concerned with printing something attractive to read than with helping to decide starting positions in the world-historical struggle towards immortality. You should have the same priorities.
The clean, easy-on-the-eye design of The Scores and the readability of its inaugural content show that its editors, like those of Prac Crit and Wild Court, are very much followers of James’s dictum.