Sunday, May 6, 2012

Some reflections on little magazines

A little magazine in English, called the little magazine (that's the name of the magazine – in little letters with no capitals!), I came across at the Vijayawada Book Festival in January 2005 made me think about the history of the little magazine movement. I put down in my diary the information I had collected as well as my thoughts on the subject. I chanced upon the notes this morning while looking for something else, and it was a pleasure to read the diary entry seven years after it had been recorded.

The term "little magazine" can be applied to a range of different publications, but it is often used with reference to literary magazines which carry serious writings.  The writings are usually avant-garde and non-commercial and may not be acceptable to mainstream publications either because they deviate from the established moral or aesthetic norms, or because the writers are little known.

The aim of the earliest little magazines published in the late nineteenth century was to establish a literary movement.  In the twentieth century, the little magazine became a fixture in the cultural and political life of several nations, especially, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.  The first three decades of the century saw two kinds of little magazines – those which laid emphasis on literary and aesthetic form and theory, and left-wing magazines.  To the former belong Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, edited by Harriet Monroe and Ezra Pound; Others, edited by Margaret Anderson; and Dial, edited by Marianne Moore.  The most significant of the proletarian or left-wing magazines was The Masses, published from New York.

The little magazines published since the 1940s have been supported and sustained by writers in academic circles.  Two of the most noteworthy examples are The Kenyon Review, founded by John Crowe Ransom in 1939, and Scrutiny, edited by FR Leavis.

Several famous writers have had their first publication in little magazines.  The list includes T S Eliot, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce.  Joyce's Ulysses had its first US printing in The Little Review, after which the magazine was completely broke!

How is the Indian little magazine scene?  In the last quarter of the twentieth century, hundreds of little magazines were being brought out in different languages.  Printed on the cheapest possible paper, on presses run by printer's devils, they were a real eye-sore.  While most of them have disappeared for want of readership, some still survive.  They not only survive but have taken an attractive form, thanks to the institutional support they receive from some publishers.  I have watched with amazement the evolution of Kanaiyazhi, a little magazine in Tamil to which I was a subscriber for two-and-a-half decades and an occasional contributor.  I no longer subscribe to it, having switched my loyalty to two other little magazines, Subhamangala, which was wound up a few years ago when its editor, Komal Swaminathan died, and Kalachuvadu, published from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu, but Kanaiyazhi is so attractive in its modern avatar that it doesn't look a little magazine at all!

The little magazine I came across at the book festival is very well produced with a variety of engaging features and is edited with great competence by Antara Dev Sen, formerly Senior Editor with the Hindustan Times.

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