I’m not going to lie and try and say that I wasn’t very excited about this issue. If you’ve been reading this magazine for a while, you might’ve noticed that I’m a bit of a history buff. I sat down several times with the best intentions of writing something quite lengthy about the history of Jerusalem, because it appears gloriously in my most favoured period of history: the High Medieval Period. I knew that if I could just convey my aching enthusiasm for the period, then I could write something pretty special.
As it turned out, time and my own enthusiasm were against me. After the first attempt, I looked at what I’d written and realised that I’d waxed lyrical about the subject, but singly failed to get to the point. It’s one of the pit-falls of all writers, so I put it to one side for a couple of weeks and tried again. The next attempt was much the same, but this time I’d fluffed the tone as well. You might wonder at this stage exactly where this is all heading, but the point is more about writing in general.
Any fool can sit down and write a few thousand words about their favourite subject, but it is the skill of the writer to write about any subject and make it so that a fool can feel passionate about it. My mistake was letting my enthusiasm get in the way of the writing.
In broad terms, I think this reflects the whole point of HCE. I struggled and slogged it out and eventually came out with something I hadn’t really intended. I don’t think the article I wrote came out badly, but I would’ve abandoned it if it weren’t for the fact that HCE was creeping up like a literate predator. The fact that we have themes for the magazine is not especially unusual and the themes we select are not alway especially challenging, but it is the writing to task which is key.
As soon as Jerusalem was announced as an issue theme, several regular contributors put their hands up and said ‘I’m not touching that one!’ as if the (sorry) sacred cowish nature of Jerusalem had some sort of taboo around it. Further investigation revealed that it was in fact the way in which we had phrased the debate that had deterred them. Some felt that not openly and immediately acknowledging that Jerusalem is in internationally unrecognised occupied territory and not internationally acknowledged as the capitol of Israel was to tacitly agree with the actions of the Israeli state.
Equally, there were some sympathetic to Israell’s position. After all, Israel belonged to the Jews before the Arabs, right? Well, this fallacy aside, few would deny the right of Jewish people to a place to live in security and comfort. As usual, it is the Simpsons who summarise the issue best. Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed, an aggressive Israeli tour guide, asks of the Americans present:
What? Israeli people are pushy? How about you experience a few genocides and see how laid back you are. We were banished from Spain. Thrown out of there. They allow everyone in Spain. But for us, Jews, no flamenco, get out. I’m pushy? Please. You stay there surrounded by your great enemy Canada. Try sitting here for two months, then we’ll see who’s pushy.
(Anyone who’s been to Jerusalem would probably recognise the tone.)
Now, onto the magazine itself. Firstly, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our new Poetry Editor, Christine Fears. She comes highly recommended and has impeccable credentials (Cambridge University, no less), so we’re all very happy to welcome her to the team. She’s your first port of call for questions about poems, poems about poems and articles about poems, although you can still use the submit@[et.c] email address for poetry if you want to. Hopefully she’ll share some of her many pearls of wisdom in an article or two sometime soon. If you’d also like to be involved in HCE, you know where to find us. You’d be most welcome, as there are always roles to fill.
As for actual content, well, not surprisingly, a lot of it has a Blakean feel to it. There are several reimaginings of the poem more familiar to most as the lyrics for the popular hymn Jerusalem, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all late Victorian bombast (or mocking late Victorian bombast, for that matter). Kudos to our very own Jodie Carpenter, who knocked out an article and a story for this issue, both of excellent quality. John Kitchen is there with his column , as usual, so don’t miss out on that. Be sure to read Atma Singh’s poems, because they’re really very good, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? Oh, and have a look at the covers: both designed by illustrator Rachael Sanders.
Also, we had another vote for the next issue and the Idiots Issue was selected. I’ll be especially looking for someone to write about the change in etymology for words like ‘idiot’, so email me if you’re up for it.
And finally, buy a t-shirt. If you’re reading the magazine and haven’t bought a t shirt, well, that’s basically stealing, isn’t it?