This post is the second in a series brought to you by Susan Barribeau and Oliver Bendorf. Catch up on Part One here.
In a move I’m cribbing from Derrida, let us not start at the beginning, nor with George Plimpton or Jayne Marek or Jerome Rothenberg or even Felix Pollak, but rather at the word ‘magazine’: 1. denoting a storehouse or repository, and closely allied uses. 2. A place where good are kept in store, a warehouse or depot. Here’s the Duke of Marlborough in 1704, in a letter: “The two days we have been here has been spent in endeavoring to make a magazine of corn in this town, that we might not want bread.”
(One more thing I know about little magazines: we who spend a lot of time working with them begin to see everything as a possible little magazine title. Duke Review: A Magazine of Corn.)
Fig. 3: What’s a magazine? Watercolor by Oliver Bendorf.
But there are more definitions, of course: 5. In literary use or rhetorically: a store or repertoire (of resources, ideas, rhetorical weapons, etc.). Here’s B. Jonson in 1600, using the word in that way: “What more than heauenly pulchritude is this? What Magazine, or treasurie of blisse?” Are we getting warmer? I’ll keep going. 6a. A book providing information on a specified subject or for a specified group of people. 6b. A periodical publication containing articles by various writers; esp. one with stories, articles on general subjects, etc., and illustrated with pictures, or a similar publication prepared for special-interest readership.
Okay. Sounds pretty good.
But what about “little”?
For a word that seems so simple, the OED lists many a definition, only one of which refers explicitly to material objects. To begin: 1. The opposite of great or much.
2. Of material objects, portions of space, etc.: Small in size, not large or big. Enter here Portia in The Merchant of Venice: “By my troth Nerrissa, my little body is awearie of this great world.” And this next one: 3. Used to convey an implication of endearment or depreciation, or of tender feeling on the part of the speaker. Take Shelley: “My dear sweet master, My darling little Cyclops.”
Fig. 4: “Little” as tender feeling on the part of the speaker. Watercolor by Oliver Bendorf.
Little tender magazines, indeed. And perhaps also “little” as in intimate: think here of Swift’s name for the kind of baby-talk he used with ‘Stella’: “Do you know that every syllable I write I hold my lips just for all the world as if I were talking in our own little language?” What is that urge, to call something private “little”? As if to distinguish it from the world-at-large? H.G. Wells says of the matter, “The first thing two lovers set about doing is… to devise a little language of their own.”
Or, maybe, the first thing two poets set about doing is… to devise a little magazine of their own.
4. Of collective unities: Having few members, inhabitants, etc.; small in number. In Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, he writes, “What little town by river or sea shore… Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?” 5. Of immaterial things, considered in respect of their quantity, length in series, etc. Dickens: “Tiny Tim… had a plaintive little voice, and sang it very well indeed.” 6. Of dimension, distance, or period of time: Short. From Shakespeare’s Tempest, “Our little life Is rounded with a sleepe.”
Here, definitions turn from the esoteric toward the trivializing: Now often idiomatically in somewhat playful use, indicating some feeling of amusement on the part of the speaker. F. Anstey has a classic example: “How long do you mean to carry on this little game?” Not of great importance or interest; trifling, trivial. Macauley: “Every little discontent appears to him to portend a revolution.” Of persons: not distinguished, inferior in rank or condition. The little people. The 99%. Here’s Defoe, pamphleteer and spy: “Like me, he came from little at first.” Scarce. In the words of Wordsworth, “God help me for my little wit!”
Stay tuned— in our next post for this series, we’ll ask the little magazines themselves some questions, and try to accurately transcribe their answers.
This post is the first in a series brought to you by Susan Barribeau and Oliver Bendorf. We’ll be rolling it out on the blog on a regular basis.
Here is what I know about little magazines: whatever they are, they are alive and well. I know this because they arrive to Memorial Library by the dozens each week. Every Tuesday, I collect a cart of them and off we go to Special Collections.
When I’m done stamping, bar-coding, and checking them in, these new arrivals wait, snugly and climate-controlled, for a user to fill out a small slip of paper requesting to see them in the Reading Room. It could be decades. It could be never. It could be a day.
Fig. 1: Little magazines en route to Special Collections at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Watercolor and ink by Oliver Bendorf.
Here is what else I know about little magazines: they’re not easy to define. They’re sort of like literary journals, and certainly the collection includes many of what we would call literary journals, but it’s not as simple as conflating them. They’re sort of like zines, but not exactly. Sort of like artist’s books, but also not exactly.
My supervisor at the library, Humanities Librarian Susan Barribeau, is the purchaser for the collection; she’s the one who taught me the word “jobby”: it’s a portmanteau of “job” and “hobby,” and both Susan and I have jobbies working with the little magazines.
Fig. 2: Collection manager Susan Barribeau. The artist wishes to state that the leftward smudge on Susan’s mouth is his fault and not an accurate representation. Watercolor and ink by Oliver Bendorf.
When I ask Susan how she defines little magazines, she says, “I was afraid of this question.” And then she says: “I try to go by the collection development policy.” So perhaps little magazines march along to the poet Dean Young’s edict: “We certainly weren’t put on earth to explain ourselves.” But if little magazines won’t explain themselves, who will?
As it turns out, many have tried. We have been researching these various attempts throughout literary history to define little magazines, with a special focus on a question we keep coming back to: What’s “little” about little magazines? Stay tuned as we search far and wide for the answer.
Even though it is on temporary hiatus, we want to give a signal boost to CLMP’s “Lit Mag Adoption” program that enables teachers and students to subscribe (at a discount) to participating lit mags for use in the classroom. Check out the link, and don’t miss the essays from Kimiko Hahn, David Lynn, and Carolyn Kuebler, on using little magazines in the classroom.
This just in!
Cimarron Review 187, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review 40, River Styx 91/92, Cutbank 78, Mid-American Review v. 34, no. 2, and Mississippi Review v. 42, no. 1-2.
This Just In: McSweeney’s no. 46, “Thirteen Crime Stories from Latin America”; Modern Poetry in Translation, 2014 no. 1; Ninth Letter, v. 11, no. 1.
Two of our favorite things: comics and vintage luggage.
Left: Descant 164 (that’s the Toronto Descant, not the Fort Worth, TX, Descant, though both arrived today!). Right: Conjunctions 62.
Anaïs Nin in a letter to Felix Pollak, 24 January 1955.
Miracle, F. B. (1991). The Correspondence of Felix Pollak and Anaïs Nin. Wisconsin Academy Review: A Journal of Wisconsin Culture, 37(2), 9-13.
Happy 100th issue to Zyzzyva!
If your latest issue doesn’t feature scantily clad men on the cover, you’re doing it wrong? Here’s Bayou Magazine issue 59, and The Missouri Review v. 37, no. 1. PS: We’re kidding about that last part. You’re doing everything right. Keep it up. We are all so proud of you.