Little Magazines

Edited by Nick Sturm

Introduction: Deep Immersion in the Little Mags

Nick Sturm

“Key to a Savage Sideshow”: The Magazines of the Occult School of Boston

David Grundy

Hardbound Idiom: Convergences in Umbra Vol. I, No. I, 1963

Iris Cushing

Asterisms Among the Magazines

Edric Mesmer

New York City Poetics and the Idea of the Mimeograph Revolution: Reflections on Teaching

Rona Cran

Poets, Companions, Guides (& Authenticity)

Rosa Campbell

Duende: The Real Heart of What’s Going On

Shannon Tharp

An Elegy for Jimmy & Lucy’s House of “K” (1984–1989)

Daniel Scott Snelson

Trafficked! Indian-American little magazine networks and the Arvind Krishna Mehrotra / Howard McCord correspondence

Laetitia Zecchini

“We refused to stop publishing Cuban artists”

Joseph Fritsch

Ondobondo‘s Visual Publics: Small Print Culture in Papua New Guinea

Marlo Starr

Interview with Susan Sherman

Stephanie Anderson

“Fuck It Let’s Do it, Despite the Odds” — A Very Eclectic Survey and Some Thoughts on Contemporary Magazines

Sophie Seita

Pod45 Episode 13: Little Magazines

Post45 Contemporaries Editorial Team


This cluster emerged from two broad, reciprocal realizations about the study of little magazines: that post-1945 literary studies and periodical studies are largely not in dialogue, and that periodical studies as such is dominated by modern/modernist periodical studies. To put it another way, contemporary literary scholarship has been slow to absorb the basic precept of periodical studies as a subdiscipline, that periodicals like little magazines can and should be studied as a primary subject rather than as simply one type of evidence. Additionally, if we're going to urge the field forward, it's crucial to acknowledge that periodical studies has been mostly the study of periodicals and periodical print cultures, literary or otherwise, from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth-century. What this means is that the rapid expansion of periodical forms in the 1960s associated with avant-garde writing communities, the New Left, and underground newspapers to list only a few examples has not been the subject of sustained research either within the field of literary studies generally or periodical studies specifically. As Sophie Seita writes in Provisional Avant-Gardes: Little Magazine Communities from Dada to Digital, "avant-garde little magazines after 1960 remain rarely studied despite the concept of the avant-garde continuing to have contemporary critical purchase."1 The same is true beyond the label avant-garde. Few, it seems, are talking about post-1960 little magazines.

I'm being a little hyperbolic to make a big point. It is true that post-1960 little magazines have increasingly become the subject of literary scholarship, including recent work by Seita, Daniel Kane, and Kinohi Nishikawa. Undergirding this work is the encyclopedic text A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980, edited by Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips and published in 1998, which is the defining resource for scholars interested in studying little magazines and small presses from this era. Twenty-five years after its publication, and now with an expanding digital supplement, From A Secret Location, it is still an indispensable and almost talismanic book among the circle of researchers who know it well. This cluster certainly wouldn't exist without it, evidenced by it being the most cited source among the essays collected here. The book's introduction, "A Little History of the Mimeograph Revolution," was the first attempt to offer a comprehensive overview of the small presses and little magazines that emerged in the wake of Donald Allen's The New American Poetry. Taken as a whole, A Secret Location showed not only that a print culture associated with postwar American avant-garde poetry exists, but that this print culture has an enduring aesthetic, cultural, political, and historical value.

Still, work about post-1960 little magazines is minimal compared to the overwhelming amount of scholarship in the form of books, articles, edited collections, and grant-funded digitization projects focused on modern periodicals and modernist little magazines. One could argue that the study of post-1960 periodicals has been deferred by this institutional focus on modernism, a trend reinforced by the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, established in 2010, which focuses on "periodicals published roughly in the period from 1880 to 1950," including "[d]aily newspapers, weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, and irregularly published little magazines."2 Few of the articles in JMPS treat periodicals at the end of this chronological focus, suggesting little to no continuity between the modernity being investigated in JMPS and the periodical print cultures that follow. Similarly, a quick survey of American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism, founded in 1991 and which invites scholarship on any type of American periodical in all periods, shows that most published articles focus on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. At the same time, recent special issues and forums on Black periodical studies, feminist periodical studies, and comics include the journal's first sustained engagements with post-1960 mediums, though none of these examples treat little magazines. When we put aside work on modernist periodicals, it starts to look like there is a little magazine-shaped hole in periodical studies.

This absence has a critical history. A narrative about modernist little magazines began to coalesce in the 1940s and '50s that gave the medium a legible scholarly and institutional value. The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography, edited by Frederick Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn Ulrich and published in 1946, documented the role of little magazines in European and American modernisms, bringing into view "a group of magazines which have lived a kind of private life of their own on the margins of culture."3 These little magazines, the editors note, "neither courted the plaudits of conventional critics nor concerned themselves over the efforts of scholars to find them or librarians to collect them."4 By the late 1950s, thanks in part to the bibliographic "order and pattern" created by Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich's text, the first institutional collection of little magazines was assembled by curator Felix Pollak at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Between 1960 and 1963, Pollak published widely about the Martin Sukov Collection of Little Magazines (now known as the Little Magazine Collection), writing enthusiastically that such an archival resource offers scholars and students access to "the vials and test tubes for vital literary experimentation."5 "A study of the various movements of twentieth-century literature to date is impossible without them," Pollak argues.6 "They are the source materials, the matrixes."7 Pollak's endorsement of these as-yet understudied primary sources comes, however, with an important caveat about the value of new iterations of the medium: "Whether future literary historians will be able to say the same of the little magazines of the second half of our century is at least doubtful."8

What I want to argue here if only briefly is that discourses such as Pollak's, which did much to render modernist little magazines as studyable objects, did so at the expense of post-1960 little magazines. It is easy to recognize the establishment of an archival collection like the one Pollak oversaw, whose original range runs from "the Yellow Book (1895) to the current (1958) issue of Nimrod," as an institutional architecture for the midcentury production of a canonical modernism.9 Pollak contrasts the "fever and excitement of the twenties, the little magazines' era of greatness" with a contemporary landscape in which "[t]here are more little magazines published today than ever, but they tend towards insipidness and show a rather limited pattern of types."10 Other little magazine commentators echoed Pollak's skepticism about shifts in the medium, often faulting "the bearded bards of the beats" for the decline.11 Though the new poetry's "effect on reinvigorating the little magazine movement should not be ignored," writes Warren French, avant-garde periodicals of the late 1950s like Big Table, Yugen, and Evergreen Review would have no lasting impact if they continued to be vehicles for such "appalling naivete."12 The increased use of mimeograph machines to produce literary periodicals, soon to be described as the "mimeograph revolution," seemed to distance the little magazines associated with that countercultural banner even further from their modernist predecessors. These divisions in the study of the medium when a magazine was published, how it was published, and if the poetry in it has an established and legible critical purchase are still maintained, if with slightly different contours and in less overtly ideological ways, in our current scholarly ecosystems.

Gathering the work of a dozen early career researchers and writers, this cluster is a first attempt at accounting for the range of new interests, enthusiasms, and access points offered by the study of post-1960 little magazines. These mediums remain a mostly untapped trove of primary sources for arguments about and histories of twentieth-century literature and culture, and it is exciting to see these contributors' work side-by-side giving shape to those narratives. For instance, David Grundy's essay on the magazines of the Occult School of Boston begins in the mid-1950s, a transitional moment in the history of the medium, and carries forward a story about how a community of radical queer poets created an underground print culture in which poetry and gay liberation are enmeshed. This sense of the little magazine as evidence of a writing community, which appears again in Iris Cushing's essay on the first issue of Umbra from 1963, is central to this cluster. If little magazines have most often appeared in scholarship as montage-like lists of titles where any one magazine is rarely described, Cushing's attentive exploration of a single issue of Umbra shows that actually reading these magazines, hovering over them, and lingering in the specific associations they are evidence of allows for vividly renewed literary histories.

The way little magazines as a medium put poems and poets into circulation in an aesthetic community and among readers or not, as Edric Mesmer explores here is also an important part of this cluster. Mesmer's essay is an excerpt from his recent "An Imaginary Cartography of Constellations & Cloud Forms," a pamphlet in the incredible Among the Neighbors series "dedicated to the study of little magazines from 1940 and after" that is edited by Mesmer in his position as Poetry Cataloguer in the Poetry Collection of the University at Buffalo Libraries Special Collection. Anyone interested in further work on little magazines and small press print cultures should seek out copies from Mesmer's bibliographic series.

Writing about teaching with little magazines and citing the Among the Neighbors pamphlet "Teaching the Little Magazine" by Michael Leong Rona Cran describes how her students' encounters with the names of unfamiliar poets in contributor lists led to "realizing that names produced certain forms of visibility." The limit of that visibility is the subject of Rosa Campbell's essay about the one-shot New York School magazine Poet's Home Companion. Writing about the gendering of labor and innovation in the New York School, Campbell records what it looks like to come across a poet erased from the narratives of literary historyand then to find that erasure extended in nearly every direction. That supposedly ephemeral sources like little magazines offer these openings to describe unremembered writers is powerful evidence of the medium's ability to contest canonical narratives.

Like Campbell, Shannon Tharp and Danny Snelson encounter little magazines in the first-person as material opportunities to trace literary narratives that are as personal as they are critical, as situated in place as they are transferred into the digital. Like Mesmer, Tharp is a librarian, and her essay on the literary and cultural geographies of the New Mexico-based magazine Duende records the often unseen and unacknowledged role of librarians as scholars, which a librarian always is, in the study of little magazines. Writing into the associative networks generated by these primary sources, Snelson's essay describes the process and stakes of the digitization of little magazines as they circulate in ways that are both scholarly and intimate, generative and elegiac. What is ostensibly an essay about the magazine Jimmy & Lucy's House of "K" becomes a beautifully layered record of the ways that research produces affective proximities to new sources, other lives.

How a magazine might lead to or be a kind of correspondence, a medium that establishes a connection across peoples, histories, and borders, surfaces in other ways in the essays here by Laetitia Zecchini, Joseph Fritsch, and Marlo Starr, all of whom take up periodicals outside the United States. Zecchini's ongoing correspondence with the Indian poet and little magazine editor Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, editor in the 1960s of damn you: a magazine of the arts and ezra, leads to her understanding of how Mehrotra's correspondence with American poet Howard McCord offers a way into studying magazines as a material medium for world literature at the margins. Like Zecchini, Fritsch describes a movement across Cold War geopolitical and aesthetic boundaries in his close reading of two issues of El Corno Emplumado largely dedicated to Cuban poets, describing how these magazines function as "a bibliography-in-waiting" for ongoing scholarship on little magazines as "world forms," to borrow Eric Bulson's phrase.13 Starr's essay on the "visual publics" of Ondobondo similarly looks to a little magazine as a medium for tracing an emerging postcolonial print culture, in this case in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s. Attention to the visual aesthetics of a little magazine like Ondobondo, Starr suggests, is vital for adding to the established scholarly discourse about postcolonial literature in the Pacific.

Finally, Stephanie Anderson and Sophie Seita bring us directly into correspondence with the editors of little magazines from the 1960s to the present. Anderson, who has compiled an indispensable set of interviews with postwar women poet-publishers, here shares her interview with IKON editor Susan Sherman who narrates over two decades of little magazine publishing between New York City's East Village and Cuba. Describing her friendship with Margaret Randall of El Corno Emplumado, Anderson's interview with Sherman echoes directly with Fritsch's essay while also raising many of the questions about race, gender, and sexuality that run throughout the cluster. Seita's choral interview with editors of contemporary little magazines in the UK, "Fuck it Let's Do it, Despite the Odds," brings this cluster completely to the present, presenting an array of voices in response to a set of survey questions about publishing little magazines. Seita's ability to coax so many continuities between contemporary and historical sources, one of the touchstones of her work on the medium, shows how active and urgent the study of post-1960 periodicals is to little magazines now.

The bookseller Richard Aaron, a primary figure in building one of the most complete collections of twentieth-century little magazines (now housed at Emory University's Rose Library as the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library), once said to me, "I do not believe that poetry can be well taught or attended to without deep immersion in the little mags."14 I hope this cluster will serve as an immersive resource for more writers and researchers interested in little magazines and periodicals, and that these essays will instigate new conversations about how we approach, write with, and teach these incredible primary sources.

Nick Sturm is a Lecturer in English at Georgia State University and Visiting Faculty in Creative Writing at Emory University. He is editor of Early Works by Alice Notley (Fonograf Editions), co-editor of Get the Money!: Collected Prose, 1961-1983 by Ted Berrigan (City Lights), and author of the bibliographic pamphlet Published at The Poetry Project for the Among the Neighbors series. More information about his research and teaching can be found at


  1. Sophie Seita, Provisional Avant-Gardes: Little Magazine Communities from Dada to Digital (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019), 11.[]
  2. See "Description" for Journal of Modern Periodical Studies,[]
  3. Frederick Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn Ulrich, "Preface." The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946), v.[]
  4. Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich, “Preface,” v.[]
  5. Felix Pollack, "Library of Little Mags," Library Journal 85, no. 16 (1960): 3030.[]
  6. Felix Pollack, "Landing in Little MagazinesCapturing (?) A Trend," Arizona Quarterly 19, no. 2 (Summer 1963): 103.[]
  7. Felix Pollack, "The World of the Little Magazines," Arts in Society (Spring-Summer 1963): 55.[]
  8. "Landing in Little Magazines," 103.[]
  9. "Library of Little Mags," 3029.[]
  10. "Landing in Little Magazines," 103.[]
  11. "Landing in Little Magazines," 104.[]
  12. Warren French, "The Little Magazines in the Fifties," College English 22, no. 8 (May 1961): 550.[]
  13. See Little Magazine, World Form by Eric Bulson (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2017).[]
  14. Richard Aaron, email message to author, December 16, 2020.[]

Past clusters