The Lit Mag Graveyard: Smiths Knoll

The Lit Mag Graveyard: Smiths Knoll

Smiths Knoll was by no means a short-lived literary magazine. Over the course of twenty-one years it put out fifty issues, each one lovingly curated and presented with care, attention and genuine enthusiasm by its editors (Joanna Cutts, Michael Laskey and the late Roy Blackman).

To have adapted to the arrival of the internet age without ever comprising on quality is remarkable enough, but one of the things which crops up again and again in remembrances of Smiths Knoll is the gentle, earnest, personable nature of its editors. Contributors noted the close attention paid to each and every submission, and their willingness to offer detailed (often hand-written) notes even on some pieces they did not publish.

This personal approach was something that was baked right into Smiths Knolls’s ethos. In a piece on the Poetry Library website, Michael Laskey recalls their commitment to respond swiftly, not to stockpile accepted pieces, and to offer a quick turnaround and constructive feedback on pieces that interested them. This kind of generous, constructive, human editorial process seems, in a modern light, like an artefact from a bygone but golden age.

No record of this magazine would be complete without recalling the wonderful story behind the name. Smith’s Knoll was, at the time of the magazine’s founding, a lightship moored off the coast of East Anglia – a landmark that cropped up regularly in the mystical litany of the shipping forecast, the prominence of which the editors thought might offer a little in the way of free advertising.

The idea of a guiding light cutting through the darkness is apt enough, but “Smiths Knoll” also calls to mind another idea: that of a grassy hill or other high place where smiths – those dedicated to forging things of use and beauty – might meet. That is very much what it was: a meeting place for minds, and a showcase for brilliant work, whether it was by brand new or long-established poets.

Inclusive, discerning, and genuinely caring, Smiths Knoll is fondly remembered even to this day by readers, poets, and anyone involved in the poetry scene. Although the traces of it online are mostly buried, you can still find some issues archived on the Poetry Library website – traces of a grand and long-standing institution of poetry that ceased publication what seems like a lifetime ago.