waves and murmurs february 2009


I love poetry. Poetry has made me sit still at the top of a tree and breathe deep, feeling the world spinning and knowing that nothing I could ever read again could be so true. Poetry has made my heart hurt and my tongue and teeth shout in joy. But for a long, long time, all the words that did that were written long, long ago.

I came to the conclusion some years back that poetry’s been in neutral for the better part of half a century. Since the Moderns died. You know—Pound, Auden, Yeats, Eliot, those guys. And yes, I know how it sounds. And yes, I know for sure that there are exceptions. A few good poets exist in any age. But poetic movements? For most of the twentieth century, they’ve been isolated, irrelevant, stillborn, academic, obscure, erudite. For ordinary people almost everywhere, poetry  was as good as dead.

For me, the same was the case. I love poetry, but I didn’t love much of the new stuff I read. “Read contemporary poets” they told me, and I tried. And tried. And tried. But at the back of my mind were the echoes of Yeats and Eliot and Auden, of Brathwaite, of early Senior, of Walcott here and there, and I will admit that what I was reading bored me stiff. I was beginning to believe that that nothing new would ever move me the old way again.

Until now.

Editing tongues of the ocean has given the wonder back.

I don’t think it’s just the journal. I think it’s the time. I think that we’re (unwittingly?) in the midst of a global literary revolution, a new golden age of literature made possible by a new and radical mode of communication a.k.a.  the internet.

There are more poets and poems around today, more performance, more readings, more journals, more discussions, more focus on metre and rhyme, on rhythm and pattern, on discipline and review and revision and critique, than I ever remember existing before. It’s in the public domain. It’s on the streets! It’s democratic, and it’s global. Poets are talking to one another from India, South Africa, the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, Singapore, Australia, the USA, and the Caribbean, and they’re talking about words.

And there’s really good stuff out there that might never find its way between the covers of the Big Books at all.

tongues of the ocean had its genesis in the idea that all this energy deserves a channel to show it off, to focus itself, to hone and test and polish itself. And what better channel than a good old-fashioned journal, albeit in a different, more dynamic, interactive form?

Because even though there was death in the old publication model, which was controlled by gatekeepers who determined taste and aesthetic and movement without real reference to or connection with the ordinary, there’s still validity in the practice of peer review. There’s validity to the publication process. There’s something to be learned by submitting your work to an editor or two and having it accepted, or not. There’s something to be learned by the reading and weighing of work for the purpose of publishing a journal! There’s a discipline and a dialogue and a plugging-in that makes us all bigger.

So: welcome to tongues of the ocean. We had a ball putting it together. We hope it does just a little justice to all the talent and the exciting writing out there.

And as for me: while reading the submissions for tongues of the ocean, I rediscovered poems that made me sit still, breathe deep, made my head hurt and my tongue and teeth shout for joy.

Nicolette Bethel
February 2009


  1. Bravo, Nicolette and everyone responsible… I applaud you.

  2. Thank you, Suzanne, and thanks for stopping by. We update every Sunday during the issue period (this current one will end mid-late August) and then start again for the next issue (our third’s due out on October 4, 2009). Subscribe to our RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just check back every Sunday!


Comments are closed.