Poetry for green lefts

March 11, 1998

Red Lamp
40 pp., $5
Write for subscription details to 39 Norfolk Ave, Islington 2296

Review by Al McCall

After putting in more than two years as the one, the official, no-correspondence-will-be-entered-into Green Left Weekly poetry editor, I am pleased to announce that I no longer have the job. That occupation has gone to another.

I am now free to apologise to all those poets whose poetry did not run in this paper in my time as editor. I am now also free to offer some commentary on the state of contemporary run-of-the-mill left/green poetry.

As a rule of thumb, much poetry is written with the best of all possible intentions. A paper such as this one receives submissions from a wide range of people who feel that their frustration and outrage can best be expressed in poetic form.

Unfortunately, most of these people write in isolation, penning an impulse and then sending it off hoping to receive confirmation of how well they've fulfilled the exercise by reading their completed work in the next edition.

These folk are overwhelmingly greenies or lefties who write poetry, not poets who are green lefts. This is a pity, because practising poets usually do a better job at their writing than this other kind. As for Green Left itself, while we see our role as one of fostering the development of a person's outlook, we don't insist it be generated in verse.

For those who are keen on such a quest, help is at hand. Red Lamp is a new journal dedicated to fostering precisely the sort of poetry GLW loves to publish.

Red Lamp believes that poetry overwhelmingly needs to have a social function.

This mission has already led to two editions of this Newcastle-based journal, two editions in which the quality of the poetry has been excellent.

Because this is no ordinary poetry journal, all the poems printed — despite their varying techniques — are related by subject matter. This is perhaps where Red Lamp stands out, almost uniquely, as a publishing venture.

It calls itself "a magazine of realist, socialist and humanitarian poetry" and is careful to define just exactly what poetry it seeks to publish under such a bold heading:

"Humanitarian poetry is poetry that has a regard for the united interests of all mankind and not just to oneself ... Realist poetry is poetry which has the tendency to face facts and deal with things as they really are. Realist poetry is poetry of the non-escapist kind. Socialist poetry is directed towards the abolition of the private profit system ..."

Hardly the gist of mainstream commercial publications, nor one likely to warrant a government handout. But for the rest of us, we are indeed fortunate that Red Lamp's editor, Brad Evans, has tackled such a venture and has managed to bring it off with such success.

Many poets published here will be familiar to Green Left Weekly readers (Brandon Astor Jones and Denis Kevans, for example), but most won't be. Exploring the range and commitment of this form of poetry is precisely what Red Lamp offers the keen reader. The thrill is in recognising how well so many poets go about their task.

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