The life of ‘little magazines’ john rylands library special collections blog electricity symbols worksheet

This extract is from the article ‘trad/ kin kon: the Poetry Magazine Scene’ which can be found in volume 1, number 3 of little magazine Ikon. Ikon was an experimental poetry magazine founded and published at the University of Leeds Student Union from 1964 to 1966 by editor Cavan McCarthy. Unfortunately, only four issues of Ikon were published, but Volume 1, number 3 was collected by British concrete poet and monk dom sylvester houédard (known as dsh). It was a special issue dedicated to concrete poetry and featured some of dsh’s typestracts.

McCarthy’s article explores the relationship between concrete poetry and its gathering momentum as an avant-garde poetry movement through the format and distribution of little magazines. McCarthy describes little magazines as a ‘workshop’ for early or mid-career writers or artists to push the boundaries of poetry, playing around with form, structure and content without being conscious of pleasing a corporate money-driven publisher. dsh contributed many of his typestracts to little magazines which acted as an arena for his experimentation with the forms and structures of printed poetry on his Olivetti typewriter. He submitted his work to little magazines in Britain, America and numerous countries in Europe which widened his readership and built strong pen-pal relationships with concrete poets worldwide. These little magazines raised the early literary and artistic status of the contributors (many went on to become significant writers) and celebrated the ground-breaking differences that concrete poetry had to traditional forms of poetry.

I have found many letters inside little magazines from editors containing desperate pleas for more subscriptions or donations from their readers to ensure the survival of their publications. Their futures were never certain, publishing one issue at a time, always conscious of their budget but wanting to sustain their literary ‘workshop’. Many of the little magazines didn’t last for many issues, like Ikon and its four issues, however, they served a great purpose in the world of literature in 1960s Britain. The literary communities built from the distribution of little magazines allowed exchange of various literary and artistic ideas, consequently exposing political and social values and trends of the time thus rendering them important documents of history.

From working with the collection of little magazines found in the dom sylvester houédard Book Collection, I have come across little magazines of all shapes and sizes. Some are more DIY than others, for example: Manifold edited by Rich Vera is held together by staples with a hand-drawn typeface and cover. Notebook 1, edited by Dana Atchley consists of submissions of original poetry, art and prose kept together in a ring binder folder; as opposed to more established, better funded little magazines like Panache, a 176-page book which has a hand-bound spine and looks apologetically more professional. The magazines are typically made from cheap, easily sourced material that isn’t designed to be very durable, giving them their ephemeral nature. Editors, writers and artists were great innovators in finding and using whatever material they had to hand to create such intellectual and artistic publications which could be mass produced and easily distributed on a tight budget.