Infinite riches in little rooms
By MICHAEL CAINES
You’re probably asking yourself – and if not now, maybe you will later, as you dawdle down the street, enjoying the warm weather (I’m assuming too much about you, I know) – what the devil’s going on with the little/literary magazines of this world? Should you be reading one? Are there new ones worth a first look or old ones worth a second?
Here's how I'd answer such questions, in the form of my own notes from happily reading some of the recent issues of various magazines that have caught my eye. . . .
Out of desperation or pride, the London Magazine clings to the notion that venerability is its strongest selling point. “First published in 1732”, proclaims the front cover. The eighteenth-century London Magazine has a few things in common with the current version, although the original was a vehicle for anti-Tory sentiment and ceased publication in 1785. Its modern counterpart began in 1954 under the editorship of John Lehmann, although it is indelibly Alan Ross with whom many will associate the name. It is now owned by a Tory, but is apparently more “eclectic” in its coverage.
The April/May 2015 issue has an elegiac side: Grevel Lindop mourns the passing of the “age of letter-writing” (“Future biographers will have a problem”); a series called “My London” continues with Suzi Feay’s imagined dividing of the city after a break-up (“Soho’s streets we must re-order / I’ll take Berwick, Greek and Wardour”). And then there’s Edward Lucie-Smith, on fine ranting form, writing about the “demise of art criticism”, and an encounter with a publisher who wants him and his co-author to do all the work, “without a cent of investment on their part”. More generally, Lucie-Smith suggests, the web is partly responsible for the decline of the expensive art book. "The Demise of Art Criticism" can be read for free on the London Magazine website.
Now might be a good time to turn back, if you have a copy, to the Spring 2015 issue of the Dublin Review, and Ian Sansom’s diary for 2014, “Crying into the Emulsion”. Partly for the amusing notes on the writing life – the early rising to write two novels in twelve months, the familiar faces at a London book launch (“Craig Raine, Christopher Reid, weird people from the TLS, young fat ugly men, young slim good-looking women . . .”) – but also for the September 19 entry, in the wake of the Scottish referendum: “over breakfast my wife . . . explains to me some of the possible implications for Northern Ireland, and next year’s UK general election: rise of minority parties, UKIP, et cetera, another coalition government dominated by the Tories. Multiple versions of awfulness”.
Out of Dublin also comes The Stinging Fly, on a mission “to seek out, publish and promote the very best new Irish and international writing”. There are some splendid examples of the Fly succeeding in this mission in their Spring 2015 issue (as there are in Colin Barrett's Fly-supported, award-winning story collection Young Skins), which includes Colm Breathnach’s “Muirdhreach” (“Seascape”, presented in facing-page Irish and Marit Howard’s English translation) and Nicole Flattery’s debut, “Hump” (“The men continued to stare at me like I was an item of significant interest”), which reads to me like Grace Paley stuck in an office (and an office romance barely worthy of the name). The issue opens with Sara Baume’s “Eat or Be Eaten: An incomplete survey of literary dogs”. The survivalist's challenge in the title comes from Jack London: “he didn’t dare rose-tint the base preoccupations of his beast characters, instead celebrating their beast qualities over and above their propensity to be humanlike”. And Baume, whose first novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a “Dog Book”, is well-placed to appreciate the unsentimental side of White Fang: “I spend significantly more time with animals than I do with people”.
Two more (for now), and then I’m done. Shooter Literary Magazine is a biannual (not biennial), edited by Melanie White. It takes printed form safe in the knowledge that, as one wise man of the wired-up world acknowledged, “extraordinary content is going to stay in the print domain”. For me, the extraordinary high point of Shooter’s Winter 2015 issue is Corey Pein’s “Women and Children First”, perhaps because, reading the magazine straight through rather than dropping in here and there, I imagine it sounds a note of non-fiction authenticity after two (perfectly effective) short stories and a poem. It’s one of those pieces that begins quietly, with a “routine”: the author, a journalist, cycling over from the office of a Santa Fe newspaper to the courthouse. For a couple of years, Pein concentrates on reading the files marked “CV” (civil lawsuits) and “CR” (criminal complaints). Then he starts in on the files pertaining to acts of domestic violence. “I figured the best thing that could happen to most of the people I read about in the DV files was that I never saw their names again.”
Open the thick Lent 2015 volume of the Cambridge Literary Review at random and you might come across an item excluded from the contents list. “The Gissing Link” ends: “Will you select the contemporary popular novel that was the purpose of your visit? If so, turn to page 163. If you think you would do better to select something impressive and improving – possibly even scientific – turn to page 102”. I don’t know if this is the first time a journal has come laced with a “Choose Your Own Adventure”, but Rosie Šnajdr’s take on the genre suits this rabbit hole of an issue very well: this is the children’s issue (actually vol. V, no. 8/9; Lent, 2015). It also includes the “absurdist and imagist clusters” of Chris McCabe’s poems for his son Pavel, with drawings by Sophie Herxheimer; Juliet Dusinberre on Arthur Ransome, setting out on a “new tack”; and Nicholas Clark’s tour of Eric Carle’s library in Northampton, Massachusetts, where the creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar kept, among other things, eight books about Pablo Picasso and six about Paul Klee.