Popshot #4 – The Modern Living Issue

-Reviewed by Lucy Ayrton

‘The Modern Living Issue’ is the fourth edition of Popshot, a magazine showcasing poetry and illustration, whose stated aim is to ‘hoodwink poetry back from the clammy hands of school anthologies and funeral readings.’ This laudable aim was only partially achieved. While, for instance, a sonnet about the X Factor neatly updates a well loved, well studied form to tell a very modern tale, in the main there was little new poetic ground broken in this collection. It’s true that I wouldn’t read a poem featuring a Prince Albert at a funeral, but I feel there needs to be more on offer than a cheeky penis joke if you’re going to lay claim to reviving the poetic form.

Popshot is, however, a seriously beautiful object. It is brilliant to see a magazine giving poetry and visual art equal weight and respect, and the layout is as excellent as you would expect from a magazine showcasing illustration alongside poetry – each page is more eye-strokingly beautiful than the one before. Each poem has an illustration commissioned from a different illustrator to accompany it, which makes every spread feel like a complete entity in its own right. I would be very interested perhaps to see a few done the other way around, with poems inspired by the illustrations.

The content was nicely balanced, with twenty poets, twenty illustrators and three interviews. Interviews were interesting and thorough; I especially enjoyed the one with Luke Wright, which I felt really captured the start of a successful career, a particularly interesting slant for the magazine’s readership, which is presumably heavy on aspiring poets. The illustrations were also excellent – there were a few that weren’t to my taste but all of them reflected the feel of their poem accurately.

The poetry itself was more variable. I really loved the wistfulness of ‘X Factor Sonnet’ by Jacqueline Saphra, and her image of the ‘sofa public, fingers kissing power keys’ was beautifully evocative. ‘MDMA’ by Daniel Sluman and ‘Never Again’ by Bob Beagrie were also finely crafted poems that answered the theme of Modern Living and accurately captured a moment. Some of the other poems, however, felt underworked and were less engaging. Also, while I would never condone censorship, I found the editorial decision to open with a poem lamenting the fate of ‘modern man, whose role has been defined by the recognition of women’s rights’ paired with an illustration of a threateningly gaping mouth/vagina unnecessarily provocative at best and thoughtlessly alienating at worst. The disclaimer on the back cover that the contributors’ interpretations are theirs alone and not the magazine’s – ‘Popshot is merely the vessel, not the cargo’ – was further irritating. Editorial control and selection of content is what defines a magazine, surely. Otherwise, you just have a paper internet.

Popshot’s editorial voice is too present throughout, and has a patronising tone. Every poem is followed by a one line explanation, which I feel the pieces shouldn’t and don’t need and sucks the poetry out of the poems a little. I also bristled at the editorial, which informed me that I must give the magazine the time and attention it was due – really, I’m all in favour of respecting the form, but being told to sit still and be quiet does hit the “sullen schoolgirl” button in my brain rather. Similarly, being told that they should find a poem funny will never add to the reader’s enjoyment and will often reduce it.

Essentially, Popshot has absolutely nailed its visual style, but, while there was some great poetry in the issue, some of the substance grated.