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Literary Criticism: Books

British Poetry Magazines 1914-2000, (co-written with David Miller), London: British Library, 2006

From The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory:

"[…] We want to draw attention to David Miller and Richard Price's extremely valuable compilation British Poetry Magazines, 1914–2000: A History and Bibliography of ‘Little Magazines’. This hugely useful anthology bears out our earlier remarks about the concern in contemporary scholarship with book history and material practices. It lists all the ‘little magazines’ that the authors have been able to find (given the obscurity of these productions, it's possible some have still managed to escape their beady eyes), offers synopses of their primary concerns, provides information about their key contributors, and indicates which libraries in the United Kingdom have major holdings of them. This book will be a crucial resource for anybody working on twentieth-century poetry as well as on modernism, and although this bibliography is principally devoted to poetry magazines, there is understandably a good deal of overlap between their interest in poetry and numerous other issues. Listed here are pretty much all of the ‘little magazines’ in which any scholar of modernism might be interested, as well as all those that he or she may not yet have encountered. Debates about how ‘little magazines’ can or should be defined are ongoing, and in their brief introduction to this volume Miller and Price offer their own contribution, adumbrating approximately twelve interlinked definitions (pp. ix–xi), all of which indicate that the concept was and is an extraordinarily labile one. At the simplest level, ‘little magazines’ are important because ‘they represent the ongoing, contemporary presentation and dissemination of the most innovative and exploratory writing of the day’ (p. xiii).

The notion of ‘the day’ is very much to the purpose in this context. For while some of these productions ran for several years and became so well established that their status as ‘little magazines’ is perhaps questionable, others really were ephemeral, in some cases lasting for one issue before they disappeared forever. Some ‘little magazines’ were very tightly focused, promulgating a particular aesthetic or political line, while others were ragbag collections of wildly disparate writings. Some were programmatic, as in the case of Hugh MacDiarmid, for example, who tried in various formats to radicalise ‘Scottish culture and politics and to assemble and encourage the writers of "the Scottish Renaissance"’ (p. 3), while others proselytised on behalf of particular ideas, such as Social Credit, for example. Miller and Price also point out that the issue of how and where ‘little magazines’ were published and distributed is an important one. In some cases—for example Collett's and the Left Book Club—bookshops ran their own publication operations and functioned as outlets for particular magazines. In other cases—an example of what might today be called ‘vanity publishing’—writers and artists found ways to print their work that bypassed established publishing houses and normal retail outlets. As might be expected, London dominated ‘little magazine’ publishing in the years 1914–1939: 117 titles were published there (approximately half of the total figure); 17 were produced in Dublin, a fraction more than in Oxford and Cambridge (14 each); while Edinburgh, ‘arguably a publishing giant in the nineteenth century, could not muster 10% of London's output in the 1914–1939 period’ (p. 7), and the best work in Scotland came from the regions (Montrose, Dundee) or even, in the case of Edwin Muir's The European Quarterly, appeared in London. Commenting on the vast amount of work disseminated by these magazines, Miller and Price suggest it shows that Britain wasn't a ‘provincial backwater’ but was a thriving literary culture, which was in touch with the most innovative work being done on the continent. Two obvious examples of such links concern the promulgation in various ‘little magazines’ of Surrealism in the 1930s and the New Apocalypse poets in the 1940s.

British Poetry Magazines is intended above all to be a resource for research, but it raises all sorts of questions about the means and modes of publication, about the places in which modernism thrived (or did not), about the functioning of literary markets and their sheer multiplicity, about readerships, about the physical formats of ‘little magazines’ and how they could be turned into aesthetic objects, about ongoing literary debates, and about what were perceived by their contributors to be the key issues of the day. Thus inasmuch as ‘little magazines’ almost always exist to assert difference of some kind, whether this be from some preceding ‘"norm", "centre", or "establishment"’ (p. x), they can be seen as participating in the creation of counter-public spheres, although the predominance of London mentioned above suggests that the metropolitan ‘centre’ was to a great extent the place where most such initiatives occurred. Cultural power might have been contested within the metropolis (different modernist and avant-garde groups duking it out) but the power of the metropolis was often (but not always) left unchallenged."

And from The Year's Work in English Studies:

"Investigative work on the function and importance of ‘little magazines’ has been another growth area in the past decade or so, and David Miller and Richard Price's British Poetry Magazines 1914–2000: A History and Bibliography of ‘Little Magazines’ is one of the major recent projects in this area. This substantial volume is mainly a bibliographical resource which puts conveniently on record the basic facts about twentieth-century poetry magazines, many of which were disproportionately short-lived and restricted in circulation in comparison to their influence and historical importance. Part of the British Library's definition of a ‘little magazine’ is that the term is used ‘to suggest a literary magazine, usually produced without concern for immediate commercial gain’, though perhaps this is more often the result than the intention of such enterprises. The vast time-span covered is divided into five chronological chapters, numbered A to E, the first covering 1914–1930, and the last 1976–2000, and the three in between dealing with the 1940s, 1950s and a ‘long 1960s’. Each of these chapters has its own introduction, drawing attention to salient features of the period, such as the growth of the international concrete poetry movement and the resurgence of modernism in the 1960s. Sometimes the ‘crossed’ allegiances are surprising—the modernist-leaning Agenda, for instance, tended to be hostile to Black Mountain poetics, and it was Ian Hamilton's usually more conservative journal The Review which had a highly significant Black Mountain special issue, guest-edited by Charles Tomlinson, with contributions from all the major Black Mountaineers. Editors of particular note are commented upon in each of these introductory chapters, and specific attention is given in each one to activity in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. The scholarly apparatus is innovative and substantial, and includes a ‘Timeline’, giving notable small-magazine events year by year; a geographical index, in which you can see at a glance all the entries for well-known poetry ‘hot-spots’ like Belfast, Liverpool, Hull, and so on, but also those for ‘cooler’ places, like Colchester, Largs and West Kirby. There is also a subject index, a name index, and a title index. The entry on each magazine lists editors and place(s) of publication, gives an account of the journal's history, allegiances and development, and lists the copyright and similar libraries which hold copies, giving catalogue references where possible. Sometimes little is possible—for instance, there are ‘no holdings known’ of Bleeding Cheek ‘[Brighton, 1999?]’, which was (or is) ‘a dynamic zine forum for the Young Blood Poets’. This volume is a major research tool which all university libraries ought to possess."

The Star You Steer By: Basil Bunting and British Modernism, (co-edited with James McGonigal), Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000

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The English modernist Bunting receives critical attention from Philip Hobsbaum, Roy Fisher, Gael Turnbull, Harry Gilonis, Parvin Loloi and Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Williams and others. Many letters by the poet are also published for the first time. As well as co-editing, Price contributes an essay on Bunting and patronage.

"Warm feeling pervades these essays, yet narrowly partisan evaluations are avoided, and this balanced varied collection forms a significant addition to a body of critical work that remains incommensurate to Bunting's achievement... The enthusiasms and discontents, incisive judgements and alert observations found here are in themselves sufficient justification for this book." Julian Cowley, Modern Language Review

La nouvelle alliance: influences francophones sur la littérature écossaise moderne (co-edited with David Kinloch), Grenoble: Ellug, 2000

The topics covered by the various contributors include: Hugh MacDiarmid's debt to Paul Valéry; Proust's influence on Neil Gunn (this is Price's contribution); the relations between Ian Hamilton Finlay and the French Revolution; the translation into Scots of the work of the Quebec dramatist Michel Tremblay; the intertextual contribution of Zola to the work of James Kelman; Frank Kuppner; the career of the Scottish-French poet Kenneth White; and the French presence in recent Scottish fiction including that of Alasdair Gray, Ronald Frame, Janice Galloway and A.L. Kennedy. An appendix provides an extensive list of French translations of Scottish literature published during the 20th century.

The Fabulous Matter of Fact: The Poetics of Neil M. Gunn, Edinburgh University Press, 1991

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An introduction to the novels of Neil M. Gunn.


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