Little Magazines

Relentless Yawp

Where's the fuss about the death of literary mags?

Book Cover Though I grew up in Chicago reading the Sun-Times and the Daily News from a precociously early age (and thus claim a historical interest), I haven't decided yet whether the fulminating about the rapidly thinning forest of daily newspapers is misguided nostalgia, crass self-interest (yes, there is also enlightened self-interest), or just a subject to fill the rapacious needs of a nonstop news cycle. Personally, I think the verbiage and ballyhoo would be better spent preserving and nurturing magazines--and I am not talking about those shopping catalogs masquerading as something more. You know which ones I mean.

Happily, there are always those quixotic sorts who keep the torch lit, illuminating ideas and stories overshadowed by the relentless yawp of the so-called mainstream media. A Public Space, out of the writers' paradise of Brooklyn, N.Y., fits that bill nicely. The latest edition features David Shields, T.C. Boyle, and Richard Powers along with poetry by Derek Walcott, Idra Novey, Eric Pankey, Ron Padgett, Mary Jo Bang, and of course the proverbial "more."

And for those of you who share my concern about the deforestation of little magazines, A Public Space's web site makes mention of the demise of Triquarterly magazine, callously shuttered by its sponsor, Northwestern University, and in a stroke that exhibits why we need such institutions reprises first editor Charles Newman's foreword to Triquarterly's first issue in 1964:
There are two kinds of magazines--those which fascinate with nouns, and those which delight in verbs. The former are more proper: dealing modestly with time and life, they assert rather than explain; to sell things, they name things. The latter, more common, more active, tend to make a statement, ask a question, give a command. Their tenses are generally more progressive and less tangible. This is a perfect situation for dialectic, but there isn't one. It is not at all as simple as that. This accounts for the ambiguity of the title--Tri-Quarterly. We read it as an adverb--a modified occurrence, in which action and naming are indivisible. It may tell place, sense, manner, frequency, degree, direction. Yes and no are also adverbs...

Our task is to assemble. Literary reviews provide no more viable standards than I.Q. tests or annual income. They are simply another alternative; an attempt to bind temperament and action through language. Without resorting to epilogues or manifestoes, we want to embellish those proper nouns and common verbs which have made our culture too often a vehicle for minor aspirations and mock debate. It will be a modern enterprise, perhaps embarrassingly so, in that we are justified by little save our own potential. We're getting dressed up to celebrate the fact we're still looking.
Right on with the "Right On."
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