by Nicole O'Driscoll
So the aim of my reviews is to give writing.ie readers an idea of what each magazine is about, and what kind of poetry they typically publish. To do this, I’ll review not just the magazine but some of the poetry it contains too – this will give you an idea of whether your submission is likely to end up in the editor’s rejection pile simply because it doesn’t fit their criteria. Newer magazines seem to take more liberties with publishing more experimental styles of poetry, while longer-standing magazines can have that long-standing reputation to maintain.
For anyone who watches ‘The Apprentice’ it might seem that the meaning of the noun ‘acumen’ has been virtually annihilated by the steady stream of would-be Sugar-ites desperate to big up their ‘business acumen.’ But if there’s one thing that poets love, it’s to take a word back to its root meaning and to choose from whichever incarnation along the way that best fits that particular line.
Such is the case with Acumen, which describes itself as a ‘literary journal,’ though is weighted more in favour of poetry than prose. This might be because of its link with the Torbay Festival of Poetry, organised by the journal’s general editor, Patricia Oxley. So does the magazine have it? Acumen, that is? It does, and in more than one way. It certainly looks for literary confidence and stylistic ability in the poetry that it publishes, but that is not to say that it does not make discerning judgements in favour of new poetry and unpublished poets. In fact, it takes a certain responsibility as a literary journal to publish a limited number of pamphlets each year of contributors who, Patricia Oxley tells me, have been regularly published in Acumen and ‘are worthy of a start on the ladder of publication.’ It is important to bear in mind though that this is by invite only – poets and writers are not encouraged to request that Acumen publish their work.
The 25th anniversary of Acumen in 2010 was marked with an anthology entitled ‘The First Sixty,’ a selection of poetry from the first sixty issues of the journal. Looking through the list of authors (including some very well-known names such as Ruth Padel and U.A. Fanthorpe) there appears to be a fairly even 50-50 ratio of male to female poets. Some issues might fall on one side of the gender divide or the other, but Patricia Oxley feels ‘that this averages out around 50-50 over a year. The journal is lauded by reviewers and critics for its ‘independence’ and ‘opposite of academic’ stance that can do a far more inclusive job than academe of taking quality poetry seriously.
So what else can we expect from it? Something remarkable about Acumen is that it is perfectly paced to provide a satisfying read that one can relish over the four months until the next edition, but that can also be read in one sitting. Despite online journalism and e-booking, we can still find more books, newspapers and magazines teetering in piles around our house for us to finish them off and stack them, shelve them or recycle them. Acumen contains a perfect balance of poems that are loosely grouped around a theme, punctuated by essays, reviews and interviews that engage and challenge our expectations of literature. This is a serious literary journal with a prestigious reputation for pushing poetry and short prose brilliant, sustaining art forms that can be subversive, devastating or exhilarating, but always illuminating. The insight associated with ‘acumen’ comes as much from the published writing itself as it does from the production team behind the journal, all guardians of good judgement.