Sheet Music: Sing in the new year with Agenda

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The Independent Culture

Song is an integral part of the new issue of Agenda poetry magazine, entitled "Sheet Music". The attractive cover illustration of a musical stave by the artist and composer Nancy Wynne-Jones introduces and unites poets who all have unique pulses and tunes. They come mainly from Ireland and the UK, but there are also voices from Australia, New Zealand and St Lucia. This issue also celebrates the work of the meditative American poet Wallace Stevens, who sings distinctively about song, and wanted poetry to restore health, offer consolation, and mitigate poverty of spirit and unhappiness.

In her introduction, Patricia McCarthy, the editor of Agenda, discusses the strong influence of song on poets. Steven O'Brien's prose piece on "Songs and Dreams as Sources of Poetry" shows how his own poetry has been shaped by the singing of national songs of deportees and emigrants in Irish pubs.

He quotes the poet Eavan Boland, who showed how the dispossessed Irish nation became "freighted with invention" in songs and ballads, memorable for their wonderful but terrible "makeshift angers", and often written within sight of the gibbet. McCarthy herself recalls the "black steps" of the Gregorian Chant she learnt to sight-read at school, and tea with the grandchildren of the famous tenor John McCormack, whose voice rang out from a crackling record on a gramophone.

The reader, too, is included in the overall music, justly defined as both a creator and critic who often carries the melody of the poem in his/her head and releases it "into the world's echo-chamber". The "blurring of roles" between writers, readers and critics leads the editor to stress that, in this age of theories of theories and hermetic academic jargon, it is the centrality of the text that Agenda continues to promote in essays that tempt readers to search out the text concerned, and to make its music their own.

In this issue of the magazine there is also a rich diversity of original poems and sequences of poems, and translations from Turkish by Ruth Christie, from Greek by Timothy Adès, and from French by William Oxley. New work comes from Eavan Boland, John Fuller, John Deane, John Kinsella, Clive Wilmer, Peter Dale, Harry Guest, Michael Hamburger, Alison Brackenbury, Mimi Khalvati and Susan Wicks, as well as fresh voices such as the chosen "Young Broadsheet Poet", Simon Pomery. Further young Broadsheet poets and artists can be viewed on Agenda's website:

To be at the cutting-edge of poetry that rises above the mundane and can even, perhaps, "help people to live their lives", take out a subscription to this Arts Council-funded journal, which is going from strength to strength as a crucial part of the national literary archive.

Subscription rates (four issues = one volume): £28 (£22 OAPs/students), or £35 libraries and institutions. For overseas rates, visit or phone 01435 873703. Cheques to: The Wheelwrights, Fletching Street, Mayfield, East Sussex TN20 6TL. Visa and Mastercard accepted. The single 'Sheet Music' issue is £9 from the same address