Friday, November 3, 2017


From time to time on the blog I've dealt with anthologies taken from, and individual issues of, little magazines, those magazines devoted to literature (including criticism) and often politics and other matters of social import, but particularly those most devoted to fiction...and this week, a brief run through some of my favorites among the current and departed little magazines...not an exhaustive list by any means, either...and for the moment leaving aside such wonderful specialized little magazines as Whispers, Hardboiled, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, or Paradox (or Paramour).

Boulevard, edited by Richard Burgin

Beyond the usually lovely and surreal/fantastic covers of this magazine usually lies an engaging mix of good fiction, essays and poetry, albeit in the last issues I've read (and it's been a couple of years, as I was buying this one at Borders, and have been meaning to get a subscription, but I mean to do many things) there was an ongoing problem with proofreading that really needed addressing. Nonetheless, one of the liveliest of the little magazines on the surviving newsstands, and worth seeking out and sampling. (1985-date)

The Ontario Review, formerly edited by Raymond J. Smith, with Joyce Carol Oates

Produced by the husband and wife team of Smith and Oates, where Smith was allowed to engage in literature in a way (it sometimes seemed) where perhaps both would feel less uncomfortable than if Smith attempted to launch his own writing career (and the comparisons and complications that might ensue), the magazine, which ran from 1974 to 2008 and ended with Smith's death, was clearly a model for Boulevard and not a few others, usually including a portfolio of photography or other visual art in an issue along with the fiction, poetry and essays. It felt a bit more tucked-in than Boulevard usually does, a bit more polished, and the tone (even given Oates's input and presence in both magazines...Richard Burgin would also frequently contribute to OR) was perhaps a bit lighter, less sardonic on balance. And the issues were slimmer (without being the very quick read an issue of Poetry might be). 

Conjunctions, edited by Bradford Morrow

Another entry in the closely-related magazines sweepstakes, Conjunctions has been known to run both Oates and Burgin contributions, with an even wider range than the previous two, as Conjunctions is both a bug-crusher of a magazine, and has a commitment to theme issues, and not infrequently guest editors to go along with those themes (Peter Straub's issue #39, "The New Wave Fabulists" was a fantastic collection in at least two senses, as appears to be guest co-editor Elizabeth Hand's more recent "Other Aliens," which I've known about but haven't obtained yet). Despite the imposing size of each issue, a certain playfulness is often detectable, such as it probably being no coincidence that issue 69, pictured above, is themed for the consideration of our bodies.  (1981-date)

Black Clock formerly edited by Steve Erickson
If any of these magazines can lay claim to have been most indicative of what was New and Fresh in literary culture, Black Clock was probably that magazine, a certain sense of nervous energy was sparked by each issue as it came out, even given that many of the contributors might well appear in certainly the other magazines cited here, and other well-established littles and fellow-travelers such as Harper's or The New Yorker. Issue #10 was a Noir issue, but that kind of playing around in various territories that The Hudson Review preferred to ignore was perhaps part of what alienated Black Clock from its parent institution, Cal Arts (though one might well wonder why). Ran from 2004-2016.

Though if any magazine had been strangled in its bed, not really crib, by the university it was associated with, Northwestern's bad faith with TriQuarterly is a particularly galling example, after it had proven itself one of the most adventurous, innovative, influential and interesting of the little magazines in the latter 1960s and '70s ,after refocusing itself from being solely a student/faculty-contributions campus magazine. Featuring some adventure fiction in issue 47, above, western fiction in 48 and science fiction in 49 was too much for some stuffed-shirt subscribers and/or alums of Northwestern to bear, and so the editorial staff  that had worked with Charles Newman, the original architect of the 1964 transition to a magazine of wide appeal, was purged in 1980-81, including Robert Onopa and Elliott Anderson, and while the magazine continued for three more decades as a print magazine before being forced to go web-only, and has published some good fiction, it never again had the vigor nor luster of the first decade and a half of international publishing. (1958-64 a campus magazine; 1964-2010 as a general-interest magazine; 2010-date as a student-edited webzine).

And, almost of course, since it usually wasn't the best but was usually among the best, and most reliably engaging during founding co-editor George Plimpton's extended run with the magazine and for most of the time since, The Paris Review. I've been unwilling to pay $20 per issue for the magazine of late (a mental block, perhaps), but in its more reasonably-priced years, and as edited by Plimpton, Brigid Hughes (who ably, briefly succeeded Plimpton upon his death, but was dumped in favor of the rather inept Philip Gourevitch, and decamped to her own rather good, a bit more Harper's-like, magazine A Public Space by 2006) and Lorin Stein, it has been a benign and easily-spotted, much-felt contributor to the public culture...never as dull as The New Yorker often was in the 1970s, for example, and frequently publishing impressive new writers as well as old lions.

For more of today's books and more, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


Walker Martin said...

This is a good selection of quality little magazines. I read and collect all of them except for BLACK CLOCK, which I'm not familiar with and ONTARIO REVIEW which I need to start collecting. I have all the BOULEVARD back issues, mostly found on The PARIS REVIEW and TRI QUARTERLY back issues I managed to get from the publisher a long time ago. I have most of the CONJUNCTIONS but I'm often baffled by the avant garde style of some of the stories. I have to read through some more of the issues.

Good post Todd. This is a subject that we need to discuss more often.

Todd Mason said...

I predict you both will and won't like BLACK CLOCK fiction and more, Walker, as you pass from page to page, but it was a handsome magazine, even more so than, say, ZOETROPE ALL-STORY remains. I think you will like ONTARIO REVIEW a lot...and the bonus of fine fantasy stories by Melissa Hardy and others there won't hurt your feelings, I suspect.

Rather a quick and very partial survey, but deadlines were definitely upon me, after I did some book-box relocation and shelving over the past week to such an extent that I was wiped out yesterday, and glad I was doing mostly lighter straightening when not dispensing candy on All Hallows.


George said...

I read TRIQUARTLY, THE PARIS REVIEW, and ONTARIO REVIEW on a regular basis. Once in a while, I'd pick up a copy of CONJUNCTIONS. Never saw BLACK CLOCK or A PUBLIC SPACE. Love the covers you chose!

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, George! BLACK CLOCK and A PUBLIC SPACE are the new kids in this pack, and A PUBLIC SPACE is ongoing, though I think they've made a mistake in going over to solid color/no image covers. So on the few remaining newsstands that carry magazines beyond the biggest sellers, they're more easy to miss.