The Music Issue – and Thoughts on Frames of Reference

May 1, 2023

Many thanks to Jessy Randall and Dan Shapiro for guest-editing our May Music issue.

Jessy has been guest-editing issues for a long while now. Hunt through the Snakeskin archive and you’ll find some – the Alphabetical Issue, for example, or the Monsters one.

I like occasionally turning over the zine to someone else, because I am aware that as an editor I have prejudices and preferences – and there is a danger of being predictable, getting in a rut.

Jessy has an aesthetic that is different from mine, and she finds different sources of poetry.

This is particularly true of the Music issue. I have never taken much interest in pop music later than Harry Roy and his Orchestra, so many of Jessy’s choices were puzzling to me. In fact, there is one group of very short pieces, by Nate Logan, that I find quite impenetrable, though I suppose they mean a good deal to fans of pop. I’ll take Jessy’s word for it, anyway.

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‘Thoughts of a Robot’

March 31, 2023

You may have noticed that one poem in this month’s Snakeskin has an unusual author. The sonnet ‘Thoughts of a Robot’ was composed by the Artificial Intelligence chatbot, GTP-3.

This nifty program works by accesssing a vast store of written material, to come up with text that satisfies a user’s demands. It will be a godsend to cheats and lazy students. I set it a typical GCSE English Literature essay question to write, and it came up with a response that was at least a grade B.

It is particularly good at composing texts in genres that are traditionally composed of clichés. Management speak, or wellness advice, or pornography, or church sermons. I see the complete automation of these genres as inevitable over the next couple of decades.

But what about poetry, that most human of literary genres?

I did a few test runs. Ask the program to ‘Write a poem’ on a certain subject, and it will almost certainly come up with couplets in iambic tetrameter. Sometimes these are neat, and at other times clunky as clunky. It does better when asked to write in a different metre, to produce a sonnet or villanelle, for example. Like many poets, it writes better when given a challenge.

Given a cliché subject it comes up with pure Hallmark Cards rhyming; I asked for a poem about mothers:

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The archives are back

March 12, 2023

Last June Snakeskin suffered a catastrophe (A tedious one – our internet provider went bust, and we had to relocate our files.) Emergency efforts got the zine up and running again on a new server, and with a much more reliable company. we hope.

But we only went as far as putting up the basic files and most recent issues. The archive of past numbers were not so easy to automatically replace.

And your editor does have a tendency to idleness…

So a thank you to those who have kept nagging me, asking where the back issues are. Finally, last week, I took a day at it, and got almost everything back in place, more or less. There are still a couple of issues proving recalcitrant, but I’m working on them.

And the job I have been putting off proved an unmitigated pleasure, as I reminded myself of the sheer riches of Snakeskin‘s back catalogue. Twenty-seven years of verse, from I can’t begin to compute how many poets. There were treasures here that I had quite forgotten. There were even poems of my own that had completely slipped my memory (and not bad ones either, though I say it myself.)

Anyway, this is an invitation to visit and dip into the archive. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Poets’ Corner

March 5, 2023

A friend of mine was waxing angry about the heavy fee charged by Westminster Abbey to non-worshippers who just wanted to look at monuments like Chaucer’s tomb in Poets’ Corner. Realising he had a point, but not quite sharing the full extent of his indignation, I wrote this:

I went to bed, aggrieved about the shabby
And money-grubbing policies of the Abbey.
My hope had been to mourn at Chaucer’s tomb,
But that’s reserved, it seems, for folks to whom
Some twenty-seven pounds is but a trifle.
I swore, and walked, and never got an eyeful
Of that sad monument. So I went home
And drank my cocoa, and took down the tome
Of Chaucer’s works, and pottered off to bed,
And opened up the book, and happily read,
Until the text slipped strangely into dreams
All tangled up in sweet Chaucerian themes.
For Kinghts and Squires displayed chivalric arts,
And wives took baths, and millers laughed at farts,
And someone unctuously tried to sell me pardons
For my outburst at the Abbey. My spirit hardens
And I cried out: ‘Were Chaucer here around,
I’d tell him what I think! Twenty seven pound!’

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Music for Maytime

March 2, 2023

A reminder that May Snakeskin will be a special issue devoted to the theme of music. It will be guest-edited by Jessy Randall and Daniel M. Shapiro. They explain:

We want poems about pop music, R&B, punk, classical, ska, reggae, glitch hop, trance, the violin lessons your grandma paid for, the time you auditioned for Pippin, the air guitar contest your friend convinced you to enter, choir practice at church, family singalongs, watching Solid Gold on TV… (Note: one of the two of us wanted to limit the theme to stage musicals, so keep that in mind – seriously, send poems about stage musicals. Please!)
Send up to five poems to and Put your poems in the body of the email, please – no attachments (unless it’s a visual poem or something that needs special formatting). Simultaneous submissions are fine. The deadline is March 15, and you can expect a response by early April.

Meanwhile, poems are also requested (any subject, any style, but nothing too tedious, please) for April Snakeskin – to be sent to the usual address.

Tristan Moss’s ‘The Cold War’

August 21, 2022

Here’s a short poem of Tristan Moss’s that I like very much:

The Sea

After my father died,
I’d hear a phrase
or notice a walk
And think of him.

It was like
hearing a gull
in a landlocked place.

This condenses a lot of the qualities of Tristan’s best poetry into a small space. It is about what he has noticed; it has a striking comparison, and it has a last line that makes you think: ‘Yes, that’s exactly right – and I’d never have thought of that.

It is also, like many of the poems in his new pamphlet A Cold War, about his parents, and sometimes painful memories. Many of the twenty-odd poems in this pamphlet gives us a glimpse of their lives, their conflicts, and what they meant to the poet. The reader can jigsaw these into a bigger picture.

The pamphlet is published by Lapwing, and can be bought from their site (Click here.)

An interview with Tristan can be found here.

His poems have often appeared in Snakeskin, of course, including this one, which is also in the pamphlet, and is a nexample of how so many of his poems go beyond the clever to speak of something tender and true.:

One of my Mother’s Last Meals

I threw away the loose
browning leaves and eased
apart the fresh interlocking
ones from the lettuce’s heart,
rinsed them under the tap
and dressed with oil and white
wine vinegar. And was surprised
but happy that while we talked
about when she was young
and I was a boy, she finished
them all.

A poem from Ukraine

June 2, 2022

Snakeskin receives poems from all over the world, and this month we were sent a batch from Vyacheslav Konoval, who explains:

I am a resident of Kyiv. 
Ukraine is a war-standing with Russian occupants.
I have written the poems. I would like to share it with You.

The poems were not selected for June Snakeskin, but I thought that I would share one here with you:

Occupier, You are a weak ignoramus!

Occupier, You are a weak ignoramus,
You can’t take freedom away from the people.
Without chivalry will not become famous,
in the looting feeling the smell of fecal.

Occupier, bastard,
You rape the flowering of Ukrainian women,
beastly and perverted Your look on Your face plastered,
the war grabbed all bravery and good man.

Occupiers, run away,
there is still time,
Armed Forces of Ukraine
will cook from Russians the lime.

In case you haven’t noticed…

June 2, 2022

Snakeskin is back in business, with the June issue now online, and bulging with poems…

124.Voices for Ukraine

May 1, 2022

Each month Bruce Bentzman offers Snakeskin an essay about events in his life. There is no May issue of Snakeskin, but he has sent us this account of a memorable concert in Cardiff – so here it is.

There is nothing I need to repeat here about the unfolding history of Russia invading Ukraine. It is covered everywhere in the news. President Vladimir Putin has brought 20th century war and genocide into 21st century Europe, where we should know better, when we should have read our histories.

I noticed the blue posters appearing in The Hayes. “Voices for Ukraine” the posters announced. “An afternoon with stars of the opera world.” There was a long list of talent, and a notice: “All proceeds to the DEC Ukraine Appeal”.

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Back again

April 23, 2022

Crisis over – mostly.

Snakeskin has a new webspace provider afte the death of Extendnet. The current issue is back online, plus a very skeletal selection of other files.

Over the next week or so we shall be reassembling the whole archive of twenty-six years of poetry. But as I said earlier, there will be no May issue.

This sort of thing has happened before during our long history. It’s deeply annoying, but is part of the digital life. We’re sort of used to it.

Our correspondent Bruce Bentzman is among those annoyed that there will be no May issue. He has an essay lined up for us, and it is a topical one. So we’ve decided that, instead of keeping it till June, we shall publish it as a post in this blog towards the end of the month. Look out for it.