Making it New Edinburgh Review

James Campbell recalls the perennial re-making of New Edinburgh Review

The post of editor of the New Edinburgh Review was advertised in the weekly university newspaper, The Student, in May 1978. The NER, a journal of quarterly publication, could be seen as The Student in grown-up form. The two publications shared the offices of Edinburgh University Student Publications Board (EUSPB) but lived separate lives. Although published and administered by EUSPB, the NER occupied a territory bounded on the one side by the London weeklies, such as the New Statesman, and on the other by quasi-academic periodicals like Critical Quarterly, with an outlook on sociology and what would soon be known as cultural studies. Contributors to the early issues wrote for little or no payment. Some were based in university departments and the specialist coloration they lent to the journal was apt to depend on who was in charge of the NER at the time.

Feb/Mar 1971

The editor of the NER for the past several numbers had been Owen Dudley Edwards, an unavoidable presence around the campus, possessed of formidable erudition and a fluent way of expounding it in an Irish accent. Although a tenured employee of the History department, he was an influential member of the Student Publications Board, which did not insist that its members be students.

NER was based at No 1 Buccleuch Place, just along the street from No 18, where the original Edinburgh Review had been founded in 1802 by Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Francis Horner and Henry Brougham. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, it was the most influential journal of literary criticism, political opinion, philosophy and scientific discovery in Britain. Street association apart, however, the inferred relationship between the two magazines was dubious, to say the least. Nos 1 and 18 Buccleuch Place were separated by 150 yards of granite cobblestones and 150 years of intellectual thought. Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review was in part the inspiration for Byron’s satirical poem “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”, and the most severe of those disdained and feared reviewers was Jeffrey himself, at whose hands Byron had lately suffered. Jeffrey retired in 1829.

The New Edinburgh Review first appeared 140 years later, in February 1969, and settled into quarterly publication. The editor was David Cubitt. For the third issue, November 1969, readers paid two shillings, with an apology for the rise from one and sixpence for the previous issue. A post-graduate student at the university, Cubitt was unable to resist the editor’s perennial temptation to print a few of his own poems. The November 1969 editorial made a reasonable plea for good, clear style: “Scottish writers sometimes betray a tendency to look more at themselves writing Scottishly than at themselves writing properly, and decline into a species of high-class provincial tartanry.” Twenty or more years on, that “properly”, opposed as it is to “Scottishly”, would curdle any attempt at reasonable debate.

No 31 (February 1976), edited by H. M. Drucker and R. A. McAllister

The editorship changed so frequently that the calendar year bridging November 1969 and November 1970 saw three: Cubitt, Julian Pollock and Brian Torode, not to mention an editorial consultant, two editorial advisors, a poetry editor, an editorial board of seven, and a design team of three. The main drawback to this fast-changing cast and catalogue of contents was that the average reader had no idea what the magazine stood for. But by 1975 the NER had taken a stance, and it was nothing if not determined. The sitting editor, C.K. Maisels, had few reservations about presenting himself as a political extremist who had got his hands on a ream of paper, a printer and a bunch of useful idiots.

In his “Working Class Consciousness and Culture” issue, which by deduction we can identify as the last of 1974 (Maisels did away with issue numbers, dates, detailed tables of contents and contributor information, as if holdovers from a decadent era), he printed the lyrics to four songs composed by himself, complete with sheet music. “Meunier” is addressed to the Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier, whose bronze statuette, “Woodcutter”, illustrated one of the songs:

True worker Constantin, my comrade in arms
you have shown us the workers just as they are
and you’ve looked right into them and better by far
you have seen in their minds just what could be . . . .

No art for pure art’s sake in factory and mine . . .
art for the workers is what art’s for.

In applying for the editorship, I wrote a short outline of my aims, should I be appointed. My membership of EUSPB, 1976-78, had hardly been illustrious, but it had given me familiarity with the inside of 1 Buccleuch Place, including the table at which I would be interviewed, and with some of the people who would be asking the questions. My slim literary portfolio, consisting largely of reviews of art exhibitions for The Student and my profile of Alexander Trocchi for Glasgow University Magazine (GUM), had recently been abetted by a first-person “casual” published in the New Statesman, involving modern art and an imaginary identification with Norman Mailer; by a lengthy Paris Review-style interview with the novelist John Fowles; and by some poems in decent Scottish magazines.

On the afternoon of June 16, I took my turn at being questioned by the panel. What would I do with the New Edinburgh Review, if successful in gaining the editorship? Well, first, ditch the thematic programme, based largely on left-wing ideology. It curtailed the general interest of the magazine; it gave the contents an off-puttingly academic character. The three issues published previous to “Working Class Consciousness and Culture” had been devoted to the letters of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, and had gained more attention than other issues of the magazine. Such concerns were beyond my purview, though worthy in themselves and clearly of interest to a niche readership. I nevertheless held to the belief that it was the wrong direction for a magazine like the New Edinburgh Review to take. Clichés such as “fallen into the clutches of” are best avoided by writers committed to “writing properly”, to borrow the phrase from that early editorial. But it was obvious to an impartial reader of back issues in bulk that since the early Cubbitt–Pollock–Torode productions – concerned largely with the social sciences but eager to give space to the arts as well – the NER had been directed by one set of ideologues after another. Wasn’t the NER sheltering under the Arts Council’s literary magazine budget?

I would introduce fiction into the NER, and bring back poetry which had been there at the start but had been dispensed of by the Maisels faction, with its banalities such as “art for the workers is what art’s for”. The magazine had at different times boasted the services of two distinguished poets as poetry editors, Robin Fulton and Robert Garioch. Some issues had one or other listed on the masthead, but no poems. Prolific writers of short stories were all around us – George Mackay Brown, Ron Butlin, Iain Crichton Smith, Alan Spence, James Kelman – and they would surely be willing to take advantage of this new outlet, once made aware of it (they were). The same went for poets. As for general features, while I intended to pay attention to Scottish affairs and to the unavoidable question of independence from Westminster, I saw no sense in the editor’s outlook meeting a portcullis at Carlisle. Scottish authors within reach of Buccleuch Place were capable of writing about a variety of subjects, were they not? If one wished to claim collegiateship with Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review, then this was the area in which to attempt it. The interview over, I returned to my flat in Forrest Road. Before the afternoon was out, I answered a knock at the door from one of the interviewers. The job was mine.

Issue 40-41 (Spring/Summer 1978), the final number edited by Owen Dudley Edwards and Rory Knight Bruce prior to Campbell’s tenure

Remuneration for the post as editor of the New Edinburgh Review came in the form of a stipend of £250 per quarterly issue, not much on which to support a restless nature. I took a job as a driver for Edinburgh Social Services, Transport Department. It was varied and enjoyable work, reasonably paid, with overtime possibilities. Specific driving duties changed from day to day, but the irregular structure meant that I was usually able to call at Buccleuch Place during a convenient interval, to see if the in-tray contained any responses to letters of solicitation, or to place others hastily written the night before in the out-tray. One day, the reply from Rome to a polite request to Muriel Spark for a short story, the next from George Mackay Brown in Orkney, in search of a story or poem. Spark: “If I have something in the way of a story in the future, I’ll remember you.” Alas, she never did have anything to spare. Mackay Brown: “I am glad you are to publish stories. There is too much lit. crit. and dissecting of books in so many of our magazines. Stories, if they’re good enough, go on for ever. I enclose ORPHEUS WITH HIS LUTE. I hope it will be suitable.”  It was, and it went into my second issue (Winter 1978). Mackay Brown proved to be an unfailingly generous contributor, never omitting to append a kindly note in his attractive hand to each submission (“Have a good Christmas and a prosperous New Year”). Douglas Dunn and Iain Crichton Smith were willing supporters, too. Crichton Smith’s poems arrived on scraps of paper torn from larger sheets. Some were called just “Poem” or “Old Woman”. He also took on book reviews, in the course of writing which his shaky typewriter keys sent red letters shooting into the otherwise black type, at times below and at others above the level. Occasionally the letters of a word, or a whole line, ran down in a slope towards the right-hand margin. A flurry of Biro marks would be added later by hand. Norman MacCaig sent a sheaf of poems accompanied not by the traditional stamped addressed envelope but a handwritten note: “Here are some poems. If they are any good, print them. If not, put them in the bin.”

Neal Ascherson, Allan Massie, Naomi Mitchison, Edwin Morgan and Peter Porter all contributed willingly and often. The Daiches family did, too: David Daiches, his daughter Jenni Calder and her husband Angus. I received a letter from Kathleen Jamie – “I am a sixteen-year-old poet” – and published one of her earliest poems. All were Scottish writers or had a base in Scotland (Porter was a popular writer-in-residence at the university at the time). Within days of succeeding to the editorship, I wrote to Hugh MacDiarmid and received a charming reply, dated July 9, 1978. He had been in and out of hospital, was “still very ill and unlikely to improve … But while I cannot send you a poem / poems as you so kindly invite, I’ll send you something as soon as I can and have anything I think worthwhile to send. With best wishes for the NER and hopes for good results from opening its pages to poetry.” The open-handedness of these eminent figures – partly in reaction to the opening up of a new literary platform which showed signs of seriousness; partly, no doubt, in response to ingenuous youth – was a lesson in literary community that was worth cherishing and preserving.

Requests for contributions were not restricted to Scottish-based writers. My magazine was to be un magasin, a shop, offering as wide a variety of goods as economically feasible to interested customers. The model I had outlined to the interview panel was something like that of the New Statesman of the time: general articles on a variety of political and cultural affairs in the front half – with an emphasis on the latter – followed by book reviews of a comparable range at the rear. Art and performance reviews were excluded only because quarterly publication would render them out of date before they appeared. One feature of the design arrangement of the NER was to have a single-page piece at the back to close the issue – a “casual”, distinct in tone from most of what had preceded it. When the Summer 1979 number was approaching a state of readiness, I still lacked something for this spot. The lead article was a post-mortem analysis of the failure of the nationalist movement to gain a sufficient majority in favour of Scottish devolution in the referendum of March that year. The author was Tom Nairn, whose sole issue as editor of the magazine, “The English Nation”, I had used while sitting before the interviewing panel as an example of precisely what I did not want for the future. But I had thrilled to Nairn’s acute and occasionally acerbic writing at other times, and was pleased when he rang up to offer “After the Referendum”. The piece was too long, as he acknowledged, and when I asked him to make it shorter, he smiled shyly and said he preferred to leave that job to me. “Editors are usually better at cutting the fat from writers’ pieces than the writers themselves.”

Nairn was a legendary figure in the left-wing intellectual sphere of the day, and I was glad to have “Tom Nairn: After the Referendum” on the cover in the wake of the event itself. From the opposite bank of the red and blue river running through the nation – a far less fashionable place to be among the country’s intelligentsia – Allan Massie wrote about John Buchan’s “other hero”, Richard Hannay, concentrating on the third of the five Hannay novels, Mr Standfast. There is a reference to red Clydeside in the story, but presented here with the distinctly un-Nairnian suggestion that “there’s a wholesome dampness about the tinder on Clydeside”. We had a short story by Iain Crichton Smith, “The Snow”, and a pair of articles about the respective southsides of Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the review section, Edwin Morgan wrote about Douglas Dunn’s prosodic virtues and sentimental vices (“‘Grudge’ is a recurring word”), and the filmmaker Murray Grigor – another one-time-only NER editor – discussed the pioneer of Scottish documentary film, John Grierson.

But I still had nothing for that back page. Then I dipped into an old bag of tricks and came up with a surprise. The piece was called “M.O.B.”, and the latest contributor to the NER was William Burroughs, the author of the novels Junkie and Naked Lunch, and co-inventor of the cut-up technique. It had been published before – but published by me, in Glasgow University Magazine, or GUM, in which I had had a hand in the early 70s, even though not a student at the university. The photostatted typescript had been given to me in London by Burroughs’s old sidekick, Alexander Trocchi, when I had interviewed him at home for GUM. The encounter had resulted in my first proper publication, and the longest piece written about Trocchi to date (GUM, February 1973). When I asked if he had something he could let me have for our magazine, he regretted having to say no. Instead, he handed over this short piece by Burroughs, with his big, confiding smile, and the simplest of instructions: “Ring Bill. Tell him I said to call. He’ll say yes.” He gave me the telephone number of Burroughs’s apartment in Duke Street St James, near Piccadilly. I did call and he did say yes. Now “M.O.B.” was making the 45-mile journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

I resigned from the New Edinburgh Review in 1982, having produced fifteen issues and, I’m confident in saying, having been the first editor in its twenty-three years of publication to date to try to give the job the commitment it deserved. The last of my productions, Winter 1982, contains articles by Douglas Dunn (on a reissue of Edwin Muir’s book Scott and Scotland), Edwin Morgan on the poetry of Peter Porter, Jenni Calder on setting up the Royal Scottish Museum, and Aiden Higgins (“Meeting Mr Beckett”). Among the reviewers were Stewart Conn and Gerald Mangan. Correspondence with those writers and others – Ascherson, James Baldwin, Angus Calder, Donald Campbell, Giles Gordon, Naomi Mitchison, Alan Spence, Ted Whitehead (the playwright E. A. Whitehead) – was tidied away in folders in a cupboard at Buccleuch Place. Most of the letters, naturally, were addressed to the editor. I would like to have tidied them away in a cupboard in my flat in Forrest Road but was informed that they did not belong to me. They were the property of the NER or, more broadly, EUSPB.

This was correct procedure. I nevertheless kept back some typescripts, such as James Baldwin’s of his essay “Of the Sorrow Songs”, together with a few brief notes he had sent me regarding it. The two handwritten letters from MacDiarmid I had taken home and saw little point in restoring to the official folders, wherever they were. Recently, I came across a typescript of George Mackay Brown’s story “The Day of the Ox”, which I had tucked into a book and forgotten about. Douglas Dunn usually wrote to my home address, mixing magazine business with personal news and comment. Did his letters belong to EUSPB? I had little trouble deciding they did not. There are other scraps of correspondence and manuscript, including – literally a scrap – a poem by Crichton Smith. They are kept in my desk in a torn A4 envelope with “NER stuff” pencilled on the front.

It is not much of an archive, but it is now all that exists. Some years after leaving I asked about acquiring a few copies of the Autumn 1979 issue, with Baldwin’s essay, and was told that almost everything had “gone missing” during a move in the mid-80s. By then, EUSPB had become Polygon, soon to be expanded to embrace Birlinn. The New Edinburgh Review of No 1 Buccleuch Place had reverted to calling itself Edinburgh Review, and was now housed at No 48 The Pleasance. “And how is Lord Jeffrey?” Gore Vidal had teasingly asked me in the Assembly Rooms at the 1980 Edinburgh Writers’ Conference. I was no longer the one to say.

James Campbell was born in Glasgow. Between 1978 and 1982 he was editor of The New Edinburgh Review. Among his books are Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and others on the Left Bank, and This Is the Beat Generation. As ‘J.C.’, he wrote the NB column on the back page of the Times Literary Supplement from 1997 until 2020. His critically acclaimed biography of James Baldwin, Talking at the Gates, was reissued by Polygon in February 2021, and Just Go Down to the Road, a ‘memoir of trouble and travel’, followed in 2022.

Help Wanted: Magazine Memories

A new magazines exhibition at Edinburgh Central Library was an ideal opportunity to introduce our next project

The library’s excellent collection of post-1960s magazines was the theme of a short talk by Scott Hames. Around 30 magazine fans — and magazine editors — braved the summer showers and received a free print copy of FLYTE.

Audience questions centred on changing media/political contexts in Scotland, and  the attraction of long-form print journalism for younger writers today. Very many thanks to Iain Duffus of ECL for the invitation, and to everyone who signed up for this enjoyable session.

Our next project: magazine memories

Exploring the legacy of these magazines, and what younger generations can learn from them, is a key focus of our next SMN project.

To anyone likely to be reading the SMN blog:

We’d love your help with a new magazine project we’re developing now, intended to creatively capture your magazine memories.

Archived magazines only tell us so much – we also need to hear the stories and impressions of people connected to them.

So if you were involved with a Scottish magazine published in the 1970s-90s – whether as a reader, subscriber, contributor, artist, or editor – we’d love to hear from you.

Guided by the input and ideas of magazine veterans, we’d like to produce a scrapbook magazine that documents some of your memories, highlights and reflections.

If you’d like to be involved, please contact!

Situating Scottish feminist magazines: the 1990s

Rachael Alexander and Charlotte Lauder on the blind-spots and possibilities of researching feminist print

Interest in feminist magazines is on the rise.  From projects grounded in academia, like the British Library’s digitised archive of Spare Rib magazine, to representations in popular culture, like Ms. magazine in the TV series Mrs. America (2020), feminist magazines have arguably never been more visible.  Yet in our research, we have been struck by the lack of sustained attention to Scottish feminist magazines and periodicals.  Aside from some valuable mentions, in particular from Esther Breitenbach and Sarah Brown, they seem to have been largely overlooked.  In this blog post, we look to question some of the reasons for this seeming absence of interest.

In our earlier blog, we looked at Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint and the 1970s–80s, and here we’ll think a little more about Harpies & Quines and the 1990s. Harpies & Quines was established in 1992 and, while short-lived, it is a fascinating title. We’ll consider why Harpies & Quines – like other Scottish feminist magazines – has been overlooked, and what it can contribute our understandings of the Scottish publishing landscape and feminist publishing more broadly.

Perhaps we should begin with an acknowledgement that some (or, more accurately, many) magazines will most likely always be overlooked.  Scholars working in the broad field of periodical studies frequently confront the fact that issues, titles, and whole genres must be left out – given the vast quantity of magazine material and the sheer scale of the archive.  For example, in his introduction to the Routledge Companion to the British and North American Literary Magazine (2022), Tim Lanzendörfer includes a final section titled ‘The essays not in this volume’ as a way ‘to briefly acknowledge […] this Companion’s limitations’ (5).  Maybe, like the magazines Lanzendörfer lists, Scottish feminist magazines have simply been left on the side-line.  But this seems surprising, particularly when we consider the aforementioned attention being dedicated to feminist magazines from elsewhere, like Spare Rib and Ms.


Of course, Spare Rib and Ms. were bigger publications in almost every respect.  Being aimed at British and American women, respectively, they addressed a far larger readership than Harpies & Quines, for example.  Harpies & Quines also had far less funding; it was started in 1992 with subscriptions, donations, a small Community Enterprise Strathclyde grant, and £3,000 from Lesley Riddoch’s mother, Helen Riddoch.  Ms., on the other hand, had $20,000 of seed money from Katherine Graham of the Washington Post and by 1972 Warner Communications invested $1 million into the magazine.[1]  Spare Rib started with £2,500, a fact noted in their 20th anniversary issue, published in July 1992.  (£2,500 in 1972 would be worth roughly ten times that sum today.) In that same issue, the collective commented that ‘To launch a magazine like Spare Rib from scratch in 1992 would cost at least £500,000.’  These disparities in financing have a clear impact on the materiality of the magazines; the size, the number of features and articles, and the paper quality, which have perhaps made them more attractive objects of study and attention.  Ms. and Spare Rib also had significantly longer lives than Harpies & Quines, a fact not unconnected from their greater financing.  Spare Rib ran from 1972 to 1993 and Ms. from 1971 with an incarnation still in print today, while Harpies lasted only two years.  But we only need to look at the significant academic attention dedicated to modernist little magazines of the 1920s – characterised by tiny circulations and brief publication periods – to see that circulation and longevity do not directly correlate with levels of interest.[2]

Scottish feminist magazines are by no means the only overlooked English language feminist magazines of the 1960s to 1990s that are gradually gaining attention.[3]  In her recent book on the Canadian Branching Out (1973-1980) – Feminist Acts: Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism (2019) – Tessa Jordan notes that the magazine had ‘completely fallen out of the historical record’ (xxix).[4]  Indeed, many of Jordan’s comments on the aims and objectives of Branching Out bear resemblance to those of Harpies & Quines.  Jordan notes the collective’s commitment ‘to producing a national magazine that challenged not only the male-dominated mainstream press but also American cultural imperialism’ (xx).  Harpies & Quines did not, it likely goes without saying, seek to challenge American cultural imperialism.  But the collective did position themselves against the macho Scottish media scene and the London-centric publishing sphere.

The methods used by the Harpies collective, however, diverged somewhat from Branching Out.  It set itself against the daily and weekly Scottish newspapers in its emphasis on women’s writing, like all feminist magazines, but also frequently lampooned (mostly) male journalists in regular features like ‘Wanker of the Month’.  It also positioned itself against conventional women’s magazines in tongue-in-cheek features like ‘How to Read Cosmopolitan and Still be a Feminist’ (December 1993/January 1994, 26).  And it emphasised throughout a particularly Scottish focus, combining its feminism with constructions of Scottish identity.  And again against south-of-the-border publications like Spare Rib, by arguing they were of minimal relevance ‘for anyone living north of the Watford gap’.  These characteristics and how Harpies & Quines, and Scottish feminist magazines more broadly, carved out a space in the publishing landscape are a particularly aspect of interest for us in our research.  Indeed, we argue that this is one of the reasons why growing attention to them is long overdue and one of many ways in which they have much to tell us about Scottish periodical culture.

We want to pause here to consider one additional reason for the relative lack of attention to these magazines: the challenges of conducting research on cultural artefacts and publishing ventures which are well remembered and often held dear by those involved in their creation.  This can be a daunting prospect and raises ethical questions and considerations that do not come into the frame when considering, say, a magazine published in the early twentieth century.  The magazines we focus on were produced in living memory – like Ms. and Spare Rib.  But Scottish feminist magazines have comparatively little in the way of archival records.  Therefore, there is a significant reliance on approaches drawn from oral history, meaning researchers rely heavily on producers and readers who are willing to talk to them.  As has been well-documented by feminist oral historians, this is not only a practical challenge but a significant responsibility.  But the value of these perspectives, the opportunity to speak to those involved in the production of these titles or the readers who engaged with them has been thoroughly demonstrated.  Feminist oral history projects like the ground-breaking Sisterhood and After project, led by Margaretta Jolly with the archive held at the British Library, show what can be gained from such work and provide a valuable blueprint for future research.

In our conversations with a few of the women who have contributed to Scottish feminist magazines – like Esther Breitenbach, Lesley Riddoch and Libby Brooks – we’ve seen how much these magazines meant and still mean to the women involved.[5]  But we’ve also gained a sense of how little we know about these titles and their origins, and how the material that exists in the pages of the magazines only tells part of what these publications meant for feminism in Scotland in the 1970s to 1990s.  In continuing our research, we hope to deepen our understanding of these magazines, the collectives that produced them, and their place in the broader publishing and print culture.

Dr Rachael Alexander is based at the University of Strathclyde and is the author of Imagining Gender, Nation and Consumerism in Magazines of the 1920s (2021). Her research focuses on constructions of gender in twentieth-century periodicals and print cultures, in Scotland, Britain, the US, Canada and Scotland.

Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland researching Scottish magazine culture from 1870 to 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland.



[1] Amy Erdman Farrell provides an excellent summary of this in her book Yours in Sisterhood (1990).

[2] There are many fantastic books on little magazines, such as Mark S. Morrisson’s The Public Face of Modernism (2001) and Eric Boulson’s Little Magazine, World Form (2016), and broader digitisation projects, such as the Modernist Journals Project (

[3] We add the caveat of English language here, in keeping with Lanzendörfer’s candour, to acknowledge the limitations of our own research.

[4] Some digitised issues of Branching Out can be found at the Rise Up! feminist archive:

[5] You can listen to our discussion with Esther Breitenbach here:


Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.

Richie McCaffery on the most beguiling and enduring poetry magazine of the early 1960s.

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. (1962-7) is one of the pre-eminent international and avant-garde literary magazines of the 1960s. The creation of Scottish concrete poet Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), its fugitive lifespan belies that fact that it managed to run for 25 issues in just five years, a feat of remarkable creative industry. More than a poetry magazine, POTH was, in Mark Sladen’s words, a ‘cross-pollination of art and literature’. It is now highly collectable, and many important libraries have only incomplete sets. Its great desirability is testament to the continuing relevance of the magazine, its relatively small distribution and its comparative fragility.

Early issues were a single sheet of paper, folded in two to give four pages of poems and illustrations, with later issues being printed on glossy paper and sometimes running to as many as twelve pages. There are no editorials – surprisingly, given the editor’s vociferous letters to friends, foes and the press. Instead, the very aesthetic of the publication and its wide-ranging roster of contributors became the manifesto. Early issues look very similar, spare and elegant, black and white with four pages of poems, later issues being visually more ambitious, the cover art changing each time.

In nearly fifteen years of book collecting, I have managed to assemble a tatty harlequin set of seven numbers of POTH. Inside my copy of issue five is a letter from Jessie McGuffie (co-founder with Finlay of the Wild Hawthorn Press in 1961) to the playwright W. Gordon Smith (1920-1996) saying that the poem ‘Poem’ on page one was ‘sent specially to us by e e cummings just before he died’. That is an amazing coup, to host the last poem published in a major poet’s lifetime. In the poem cummings imagines himself as a young boy looking out of the window at the ‘gold’ of a ‘november sunset’:

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)


In their study of British Poetry Magazines: 1914-2000, David Miller and Richard Price describe POTH as ‘at turns interested in sound, visual, futurist, objectivist, concrete and minimalist poetry, not to mention art and photography’. Though wholly his creation, Finlay never treated the magazine simply as a platform for his own work. The bold syncretism of POTH must have been a fillip in early 1960s Edinburgh, not to mention an irritant to more narrowly nationalist members of the Hugh MacDiarmid set. It’s clear that Finlay did not actively discriminate against members of the Scottish Renaissance, happily publishing the likes of Helen B. Cruickshank, Hamish Maclaren, George Mackay Brown and his friend Edwin Morgan (through whom Finlay was first introduced to concrete poetry). Indeed, some of his choices are quirkily traditional in such a pioneering magazine (for instance, featuring of poems by the archetypal fin-de-siecle poet Fr. John Gray in issue nine). Edwin Morgan argues that POTH was looking for ‘connections between […] different categories’ as part of a drive to ‘surprise and stimulate’. Others treated POTH as provocation.

Opposition to Finlay and POTH was a minority sport fronted by MacDiarmid and his most fanatical acolytes, Sydney Goodsir Smith and Douglas Young. The main diatribe is MacDiarmid’s own pamphlet The Ugly Birds Without Wings (Allan Donaldson, 1962), published when only a few issues of POTH had appeared. It is a gratuitously mean-spirited attack on a youthful culture trying to do something novel and for themselves, dismissing them as nothing more than ‘teddyboy poetasters’ (an outdated insult even at the time).

Younger Scottish writers are disparaged as ‘the little men, the hopeless mediocrities, ganging up against their betters’ and Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press is deliberately mis-labelled as the ‘Wild Flounder Press’. MacDiarmid denigrates the editor and his followers as ‘jeunes refuses’ (‘recalcitrant youth’), in much the same spirit as he had attacked entrenched attitudes in his own Contemporary Scottish Studies back in 1926.  Much of MacDiarmid’s argument gets sucked into irrelevant territory, muddying the waters by comparing young poets to pop singers. In truth the two poets had a good deal in common, and began as friends (MacDiarmid was best man at Finlay’s wedding). Both were fixedly taken up with ‘the global range and multiplicity of [their] own contacts with foreign writers’, in MacDiarmid’s phrase. We might even detect a faint homage to the older poet in POTH. Duncan Glen suggests that Finlay was not after praise or approval but rather wanted to shake things up – we might recall MacDiarmid’s self-description as the ‘cat-fish that vitalises the other torpid denizens of the aquarium’ – and that he ended the magazine when he became disillusioned with mainstream acceptance of concrete poetry.

POTH put out its last issue in 1967, nearly 55 years ago. The last issue was dedicated to ‘one-word poems’ and was a masterclass in how to put emphasis on one word through a clever title:

‘The Man with Seagulls’

     –     Ploughman

‘The Friend of the Dove in the Doorways of Bread’

     –     Child

(both by George Mackay Brown)

During the evanescent course of its life POTH published a wealth of writers of international stature. There is no organ to match it in Scotland other than Alex Neish’s Sidewalk (1960) and Bill McArthur’s Cleft (1963-4) both of which died after two issues (while retailing for much more than the 9d of POTH while still appealing to students). No other journal in Scotland can boast e e cummings, Pablo Neruda, Theodore Enslin, Lorine Niedecker, Ernst Jandl and many more as willing contributors. In Edwin Morgan’s requiem for POTH (published in Wood Notes Wild) he asserted that ‘good or bad, convincing or irritating, it [POTH] will be missed’. The magazine’s title is drawn from Robert Creeley’s 1959 poem ‘Please’, itself a plea for a space for consideration:

This is a poem about a horse that got tired.
Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.
I want to go home.
I want you to go home.

So Finlay’s horse got tired in time, tired of carrying a heavy load of something outré and new. But even Creeley’s poem calls for a homecoming. Isn’t the pull of origins rather odd when you’re trying to blaze a new trail? I don’t think so. Like MacDiarmid before him, Finlay was trying to widen the scope of internationalist writers like himself, to find a home in the wide-open world.

Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).

The Free-Winged Eagle

Josie Giles on an anarchist newspaper from Orkney, and why it was “not absurd but inevitable”

In the spring of 1979, the Free-Winged Eagle landed on the shelves of Orkney newsagents – or, at least, on three of them. Others refused to stock it. The front cover of the inaugural issue proclaimed that the magazine was for “the only cull worth having – for an autonomous Orkney, based on self-managed collectivism, individual freedom, solidarity and fun!”

The magazine, Orkney’s premier and only anarchist periodical, was published by Stuart Christie’s Cienfuegos Press, a publisher and distributor based in Sanday. Christie, known for his attempt to assassinate Franco as a teenager, had moved to Orkney following his acquittal of involvement in the Angry Brigade bombings, partly on the advice of a Special Branch officer who advised he was not safe in London. Most of the articles in the paper were written and edited anonymously, though I am informed by local sources that Ross Macgilchrist, lighthousekeeper and anarchist, was author of more than those for which he is named.[*]

The opening issue included a biography of Ricardo Flores Magon, an essay by Esther Breitenbach on the oppression of women by the Calvinist church, a case for organic farming, and a call to hit back against the police as a politicised force against working class organisation, as well as cartoons and reviews. The style mixes punk and academic analysis, political rhetoric and speculative theology, with plenty of humour.  The back page of the first edition includes reviews of the Orkney West Mainland Goat Society Journal (“very informative”) and the Kirkwallian (“very progressive by school standards”).

The majority of the pages, though, were dedicated to the anti-nuclear movement in Orkney. In 1976, the South of Scotland Electricity Board sought permission to carry out exploratory drilling of uranium deposits on and around the cliffs of Yesnaby, north of Stromness. With the opening of the Flotta oil terminal in 1977, Orkney was becoming a major energy extraction site for the British economy. The North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board, the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the European Commission all supported the proposal, but it immediately faced mass local opposition.

The Free-Winged Eagle’s protest against the proposed uranium mine is less well-known now than that of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, later Master of the Queen’s Music, whose piano and voice composition the Yellow Cake Revue debuted at the 1980 St Magnus Festival, including the now much-played interlude Farewell to Stromness. The anti-nuclear movement prompted an extraordinary alliance between local radicals, prominent artists (including George Mackay Brown, whose 1972 Greenvoe was a similarly anguished cry in the face of the oil industry), farmers, teachers and councillors – a cohesive political alliance rarely if ever seen in Orkney since.

The Free-Winged Eagle sought to seize the anti-nuclear moment to radicalise local activists and propagandise for wider anarchist causes. Later issues covered Indigenous resistance to American nuclear testing and the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, likely to receive significant local sympathy and understanding. An advert for An Phoblacht / Republican News (“Orkney movement? For news of the IRISH MOVEMENT, subscribe to…”) alongside a translated article from Combat Breton pushed the island envelope a little further, but editorials against the Orkney seal cull were met with local fury. As for an advert for books published by Paladin Press including Home Workshop Guns for Defense and Resistance and CIA Methods for Explosives Preparation, printed under the headline “NO URANIUM” and with a cartoon of a Viking thinking “I don’t know much about dynamite, but I’d use it”? – well, I can only speculate how many orders were placed. In the end, faced with near-unanimous and highly vocal and mobilised local opposition, the mining plans folded without the need for force, to the relief of many and, perhaps, the disappointment of a few.

Another aim of the magazine, allied with the mission of the press, was to link the wider Scottish and international radical scenes with political movements in Orkney, bridging urban/rural divides as it hoped to build local alliances. The magazine carried adverts for Black Flag (also co-founded by Christie) and the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal, alongside reprints from various anarchist periodicals. Its vast ambitions are best indicated by a final advert: “Orkney publishing group urgently requires about 18,000 people to fill a variety of posts. […] No qualifications required. No payment will be available but job satisfaction guaranteed.” 18,000 was the entire population of Orkney at the time.

To the relief of a few and the disappointment of many, the magazine closed in the January 1981 edition, priced at 20p. I believe this was the fifth, though a complete run is hard to track down: the National Library of Scotland has only three, and the eccentric numbering obscures the British Library holdings. “Just think – in 20 years time copies of our issue number one might be considered a rare piece of Orkney ephemera, changing hands at prices up to £30!” The author’s foresight is close to perfect: this is the price I paid for copies of three issues in 2020. Two can be viewed for free at the Internet Archive, courtesy of Glasgow’s Spirit of Revolt, a vast and essential repository of Scottish radical culture.

That sincere irony is key to understanding the magazine. The Free-Winged Eagle is never unaware of the absurdity and grandiosity of its position, or its mixed reception in Orkney. The magazine is aware, too, of how people outwith Orkney would perceive an anarchist newspaper published in a rural island community. Its short run, however, is a document of a particular political moment in which the Free-Winged Eagle was not absurd but inevitable: a necessary outcome of a popular, multi-faction alliance against internationally-supported, ecologically-ruinous extractive industry. Orkney was and is a centre of energy production, a keystone in the UK’s energy economy, and contemporary conflicts with the Crown Estate over seabed rights for fishing and marine energy carry echoes of the Yesnaby campaign. The Free-Winged Eagle was shorter-lived than many periodicals produced in Edinburgh’s or Glasgow’s radical scenes, but longer-lived than many others, and the movement it sprang from is strong in local memory.

When the magazine was published, the white-tailed eagle from which it took its name, and which is seen breaking its chains with its beak in the magazine’s logo, was extinct in Scotland. The first successful reintroduction was in Rum in 1975, and the first successful breeding in Mull in 1985. In 2018, for the first time in 145 years, white-tailed eagle chicks hatched in Orkney, in the hills of Hoy.

Josie Giles is a writer and performer from Orkney, and her most recent book is Deep Wheel Orcadia: A Novel.

[*]CORRECTION: The first three issues of the Free-Winged Eagle were not distributed or published by Cienfuegos Press, but rather simply used Over-the-Water as a correspondence address for practical reasons. The paper was originally published and edited independently by Ross Macgilchrist, before being passed to Stuart Christie and Colin Badminton, who ran it for two further issues before closing. Many thanks to Ross Macgilchrist for this correction.

Duncan Glen and Akros

Richie McCaffery introduces a key editor and poetry magazine of the 1960s-80s.

The magazine and imprint Akros began in late 1965, when the first issue, a small yellow journal, emerged from Bishopbriggs. (Its maker, Duncan Glen, soon left for more congenial work in Preston.) From its inception, Glen as editor, typesetter and designer knew exactly what he wanted his distinctive creation to be. These early issues were hand-stitched by Glen’s wife Margaret at the kitchen table, as were the limited-edition pamphlets Akros also issued, bringing forgotten poems by Hugh MacDiarmid to a new audience. As Akros gained momentum over the years, the visual appeal and ambition of the journal noticeably increased. It’s worth noting that Glen eventually became a professor in Visual Communication at Nottingham Trent University and was an authority on type-setting, fonts and print design. These skills are evident in back issues of Akros with striking covers and sometimes polychromatic pages made up from different coloured sheets of paper (and Glen occasionally used different materials like sugar paper which add something to the haptic experience of reading a magazine).


The contents of Akros issue 1 show an emphasis on Scottish writers, though not exclusively so. There is work from the old guard – Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig and Robert Garioch – as well as up-and-coming Alan Bold, Rory Watson and James Rankin. This was going to be a magazine where writers young and old were welcome. Akros was open to submissions, not a clique, but certainly heavily male-centric. But Glen was not always so: see his continued support of Tessa Ransford, Margaret Gillies Brown or publishing Cheryl Fullon’s first pamphlet.

The first Akros editorial strikes a similar querulous note as Edwin Morgan in his well-known essay ‘The Beatnik in the Kailyard’ (1962, in New Saltire 3), lamenting the lack of support for grass-roots Scottish writers and poets in their own country. In Glen’s words:

Of course the stock answer to suggestions for publishing Scottish poetry is that it does not sell, but it is strange that while the American and English houses that publish Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, W S Graham, Tom Scott, etc, etc. remain healthy the Scottish houses are falling, one by one, to English and American take-over bids.

We’ve heard this fighting rhetoric before, from dozens of flash-in-the-pan little magazines, but what makes Akros remarkable is its longevity.  It ran for 51 issues, from 1965 to 1983 and managed to publish myriad poets and writers, often long before they’d made a name for themselves. Surprisingly, some of the younger writers he championed felt an oedipal animus towards the older Glen, as if they had outgrown him and his worth, or Glen had somehow become marginalised and irrelevant. Tom Hubbard recalls: ‘a former protégé told him: “I shall always be grateful to you for printing my early poems but we have to crush you”’.

After winding up Akros in 1984, Glen went on to publish another literary journal, Zed2O from 1991 until 2008, the year of his death. The new title carried on very much like Akros though not quite as impactful and aesthetically not as recognisably sui generis. One of the reasons for the relatively long life of Akros is that, although Glen moved to Preston, he remained devoted to the cause of Scottish writing in all its forms and struck upon the idea of ‘themed’ issues. This strategy has clearly had an influence on successive Scottish magazines, such as Joy Hendry’s Chapman and Gerry Cambridge’s The Dark Horse (1995-present), which is also immaculately designed. I don’t possess a complete run of Akros but from the copies I have, there are special issues dedicated to long poems, Edwin Muir, Sydney Goodsir Smith, MacDiarmid, MacCaig, American Poetry, Gaelic Poetry and, perhaps most desirable of all Glen’s issues, the March 1972 ‘Visual Issue’, focussing on Concrete Poetry and featuring Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, Edwin Morgan and Herbert Spencer. It’s this eclecticism that helped keep Akros vital and exciting.

We need to remember that Glen’s position as an editor of a poetry journal, a largely Scottish poetry journal, was an inherently embattled one. He is to be praised for his restraint in many debates and allowing the work of others speak for itself, as in the ‘Visual Issue’. However, Glen does sometimes get carried away into garrulity and polemics. For instance, an excerpt from the editorial to issue 3 (April 1967):

We are also pressured into the social use of “proper” language and thus we have the attempted linguistic castration of the vast majority of the Scottish people as they are forced (by communal, social authoritarianism) towards abandoning their virile, natural-to-them Scots and towards attempting proper “received” English.

This drags on for ten pages, and the fiery hectoring tone is straight out of a MacDiarmid essay from the 1920s or 1930s, though this is in 1977 and Glen is most likely preaching to the converted. Glen’s editorials are often entertaining and informative but as the 1970s wore on, he felt that his own writing was being eclipsed. He increasingly gave space in Akros to his own poetry and (laudatory) criticism of it. Like the ‘aggressively minor’ poet and bookman John Gawsworth, his main genius was as an editor, talent-spotter (‘animateur’ in Tom Hubbard’s lexicon), advocate and publisher of the overlooked. Into the 1970s and 1980s, Glen continued to publish and promote his own work and even published a somewhat boastful autobiography, The Autobiography of a Poet (Ramsay Head Press, 1986). Even his friend Alan Bold titled his withering review of the book ‘A Surfeit of Self-Satisfaction’.

Glen’s major achievement will always be Akros. It is without doubt one of the major Scottish magazines of its time, and really gained momentum in the 1970s. Glen’s winning formula was to opt for special issues and themes, promoting young but promising writers but also putting equal value on a culture of criticism. Even a quick glance at the reviews section of the magazine is not for the faint-hearted – this is not the sort of tepid, anodyne criticism we’re used to today, but rigorous and at times scathing peer feedback. Here, for instance, is Tom Scott on the Scottish poetry scene of the early 1970s:

[…] Let us turn instead to what we have. Well, we have talent: it’s not the lack of talent that’s wrong with the present scene, but some ghastly spiritual malaise; lack of enterprise, daring, passion, the ardour of youth’s mad assault on the absolute, the aspiring eye and vigilant heart of the poetic pioneers who face the vast forests of the inarticulate not with scalpels and penknives but with two-headed axes, two-man saws, climbing-irons and bulldozers. Instead of lumberjacks we have sparetime wood-carvers, knick-knackers, hobbyists, Sunday-afternoon pastimers, the foreign-office-by-day-holy-office-by-nighters, the craze-starters, fashion-mongers, would-be gauleiters, doodlers, the poetastinacademics, the wide boys, the Establishment bum-suckers, and all the rest of them. (Akros 16 / April 1971, p. 52)

His work on the reappraisal of MacDiarmid is naturally one of the lodestars of Akros but as much as Glen had one foot in the past, and was reverential about his elders, his work significantly contributed to the efflorescence of print and literary culture in Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s.

In a 2006 interview with Walter Perrie and John Herdman (both writers published early on by Akros), Glen expressed frustration that academics and careerists overshadow the tradition of criticism and publishing in Scotland by acting as arbiters of taste and gatekeepers. For Glen, editorial opinions are important and need to be more inclusive and idealist, rather than following brute market trends of what sells and what doesn’t. His triumph as an editor was to put aside his own ideology – that of Scottish nationalism – and publish writers, such as Alan Jackson, who had opposing views to his own. There is an all-embracing magnanimity to Glen’s role as an editor at Akros and this deserves to be mentioned more often and remembered. He also deserves praise as one of the most active champions of MacDiarmid’s work when it was in the doldrums; the 1960s saw a new flourishing of interest in his poetry, a much-needed rediscovery and recalibration. To finish, I’ll quote Glen quoting in turn the Irish poet John Hewitt: ‘if you cannot get a civilisation which is rooted in the local and in the parochial, you don’t have a civilisation’. With Akros Glen added hugely to Scottish culture.

Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).

Calgacus: A Scottish Left?

Rory Scothorne explores a path-breaking radical magazine of the 1970s,  a Highland ‘vehicle for a revolutionary Scottish Gramscianism’

“Vietnam: Victory to the NLF”, proclaimed the second issue of Calgacus magazine, published in Summer 1975 shortly after the Viet Cong’s capture of Saigon. Page 48 was surprisingly low billing, however, for the long-awaited conclusion of the Vietnamese liberation struggle that had animated and helped to transform radical politics across the western world. Calgacus reflected that transformation, albeit in a uniquely Scottish form.

The magazine’s editor, helming a rather prestigious editorial committee, was the 29-year-old teacher and journalist Ray Burnett, who produced the three issues of Calgacus – two in 1975, one in early 1976 – from his home in Wester Ross before the magazine fizzled out of existence. Burnett had spent the late 1960s on a Forrest Gump-like tour of radical flashpoints. Not only had been on the frontline of the famous anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London in March 1968, when 246 protesters were arrested amidst clashes with police, he was also present at the Battle of the Bogside in Derry the following year, when fighting between unionist marchers and predominantly Catholic locals led to days of police violence followed by British Army intervention.

These were battles between great powers and plucky underdogs, and Calgacus sought to articulate a distinctive Scottish radicalism within that global tradition of resistance. It was named after the first-century Caledonian chieftain who challenged Roman invasion, to whom Tacitus attributed the famous anti-imperialist speech that was quoted in each issue of the magazine:

We, the last men on earth, the last of the free, have been shielded till today by the very remoteness and seclusion for which we are famed. We have enjoyed the impressiveness of the unknown. But today our boundary is exposed; beyond us lies no nation, nothing but waves and rocks and the Romans. Brigands of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealth. Robbery, butcher, rapine, the liars call Empire; they create a desolation and call it peace.

Such overtly left-nationalist symbolism was intended as a provocation, reflecting Burnett’s growing frustration with what he saw as the British left’s neglect of Scottish questions. Until the early 1970s, Burnett had been an active member of the International Socialists, a precursor of the Socialist Workers’ Party. British Trotskyism was highly London-centric, and while the SNP’s rise since the late 1960s had not been lost on Trotskyist intellectuals, their responses had largely dismissed the idea that this reflected a distinctive Scottish polity worth engaging with more positively.

Burnett disagreed. “The present crisis of capitalism,” he wrote in Calgacus’ first editorial, “is neither a particularly Scottish problem nor even particularly British: it is an economic trough of global dimensions.” However, “when such a universal phenomena is related to a specific reality then that juncture is in our case an economic, political and social prism both definable and recognisable as Scotland.” The magazine’s identity was thus not just self-consciously Scottish but defiantly so: “Calgacus is guilty of that most heinous sin in the catalogues of the British Left – we admit that Scotland exists.”

Burnett had laid out this position in more detail three years earlier, in an essay for Scottish International titled ‘Scotland and Antonio Gramsci’. Alongside a panoramic critique of what he saw as the prevailing left-wing approaches to the national question in Scotland, Burnett offered his own pioneering analysis, drawing on Gramsci’s distinction between “political” and “civil” society (and later quoted prominently in Tom Nairn’s 1977 Break-up of Britain): “While we have a homogenous British state,” he argued, “the organisations and institutions in civil society which comprise its bulwarks and defences have an azoic complexity, the most significant feature of which for us is that civil society in Scotland is fundamentally different from that in England.” Thus Scottish culture and its distinctive institutions mattered profoundly to socialists seeking to counter bourgeois ideology: “Much of our shared ‘British’ ideology as it manifests itself in Scotland, draws its vigour and strength from a specifically Scottish heritage of myths, prejudices and illusions.”

Alongside this need for a more thorough socialist critique of Scottish identity, Burnett also emphasised the importance of defending its liberating and collectivist features. “The left must uphold and expound the merits of past achievements and the richness of our inheritance,” he wrote: “we must cherish the diverse contributions of the flowering Makar and the rantin’ ploughboy, the radical weaver, the passionate Gael, and the rovin’ tinker. If we do not, then what price ‘the revolution’?”

This position also reflected the influence of the folklorist, poet and Communist fellow-traveller Hamish Henderson, whose 1940s translations of Gramsci’s prison letters were first published in the New Edinburgh Review between 1973 and 1974. Henderson was central to Calgacus’ conceptualisation, though ultimately not formative. In an interview, Burnett told me that Henderson suggested the name Mac-Talla (after a successful Gaelic periodical based in Nova Scotia between 1892 and 1904), which Burnett rejected due to the limited Gaelic audience. Henderson also proposed Christopher Grieve (aka Hugh MacDiarmid) for the editorial board, but Burnett rejected this, too – MacDiarmid had alienated much of the Scottish new left with his support for the Soviet repression of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968 respectively. Calgacus was thus intended as a vehicle for a revolutionary Scottish Gramscianism, staking a socialist claim on Scotland’s “national-popular” that placed the rights – and radicalism – of minority identities at its heart.

For this reason as well as its location, Calgacus stood out amongst the largely Edinburgh-centric national periodicals of the 1970s due to its focus on the Highlands and Islands. Burnett had previously written for the West Highland Free Press based at Kyleakin on Skye, which had been established in 1972 by a group of Dundee University students, and the newspaper’s publishing arm also produced Calgacus. This ensured a distinctive interpenetration of regional and national questions, and issue 2 foregrounded the Gaelic slogan Tir is Teanga (“land and language”) on its front cover.

This was accompanied by articles about the land reformer and newspaper editor John Murdoch and excerpts from his work; maps of land ownership on the Argyll Islands; an essay by the Gaelic scholar John MacInnes on Sorley Maclean’s Hallaig, and an essay by the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger on “A Theory of Tourism”. Other issues also paid close attention to the region: Issue 1 featured an essay from Sorley Maclean on Gaelic poetry as well as detailed coverage of the North Sea Oil industry and its workforce, while Issue 3 included an article by James Hunter on nineteenth century land struggles and an essay on the land question by the SNP activist Frank Thompson.

While there was a clear rural and ethnic minoritarianism to much of this coverage, Calgacus also reflected the politics of a largely Anglophone, urban and university-educated intelligentsia that was looking to Scottish nationalism as a source of authenticity and self-legitimation. On the opposite page from “Victory to the Viet Cong” was an enthusiastic review of the Red Paper on Scotland, a major mid-70s statement of self-confidence from Scotland’s up-and-coming left intelligentsia edited by Gordon Brown in Edinburgh. The vague, radical-reformist and cerebral constitutional politics of the Red Paper – clearly pro-devolution, but also toying with independence in some places – jarred with another item on the same page: a folksy, populist protest lyric in favour of Scottish independence and opposed to the European Economic Community. Burnett’s own position, however, was closer to the politics of Tom Nairn and Scottish International’s editor Bob Tait, who pioneered the ‘Independence in Europe’ argument in the 1970s that would eventually be adopted by the once-Eurosceptic SNP. Calgacus’ nationalism was aware of its own potential pitfalls, pitching a cosmopolitan, outward-facing vision of cultural and political revival against the insular, homogenising state-nationalism of the UK.

Calgacus’s distinctive vision of cosmopolitan nationalism conceived of European minority-nationalism as a general rather than uniquely Scottish phenomenon, and a fundamental rather than marginal question for socialists. The composition of the (advisory) editorial board was itself a statement of intent, with a geographical spread significant enough to ensure that it never actually met. Alongside Burnett and Hamish Henderson were Tom Nairn and the Red Clydeside veteran Harry McShane; these Scots were augmented by Ned Thomas from Wales and Brian Trench from Ireland, key figures in Planet and Hibernia respectively – both vital, ground-breaking magazines in their own nations. They were joined by the Mersey-born Irish Catholic John McGrath, the author of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, on which Burnett had worked as a researcher.

The magazine’s content expanded this cosmopolitanism beyond Britain and Ireland, countering the left’s sceptical vision of a corporate, capitalist Europe with a distinctive vision of “Europe’s forgotten minorities”. This was focused not just on “the Europe of the Celtic periphery” but also “the Europe of Occitania, Galicia, Friesland, the Basques, Catalonia, Corsica, and a myriad of linguistic minorities,” reproducing translations of left-wing minority-nationalist literature from across the continent. This was justified by a particularly cultural – we might even say ethnic – idea of socialism, focused on “the salvation of humanity, the celebration of man’s achievement’s, not the annihilation of his rich diversity [italics added]”. Calgacus’s socialist, cosmopolitan nationalism can thus be understood as an attempt to redeem the idea of Europe, as a “carrying stream” of myriad precious and intertwined traditions, from the homogenising pressures of capitalist modernisation. This could be stretched to especially controversial lengths: in its third and final issue, Calgacus published Tom Nairn’s essay – later updated for The Break-up of Britain – arguing that the Irish question could be resolved by an independent Ulster.

By 1976, financial problems at the West Highland Free Press exacerbated tensions between Burnett and the WHFP’s fiercely anti-nationalist editor Brian Wilson, leading to the magazine’s demise. Calgacus was unable to find an alternative to WHFP’s already fragile access to both production and Scotland’s fraught apparatus of print-media distribution, and bad-tempered disputes on the letters pages of other magazines ensued. A fourth issue had been promised on “the place of women in Scottish society”, and its absence only amplifies the silence of women in the pages of Scottish political and cultural magazines during this period. Calgacus’ business manager Catherine MacFarlane, who married Burnett in 1967, was the sole woman involved in the magazine’s production.

Reflecting on a decade of the “revolutionary left in Scotland” in 1978, the Trotskyist intellectual Neil Williamson – who died tragically young in a car accident that year – remembered Calgacus as “almost an object lesson in irrelevance.” Any clear political impact is undoubtedly hard to find in the subsequent decades: the devolutionary form of Scottish nationalism which prevailed was far more reformist and institutionalised, deploying the majoritarian ethnic symbolism of twentieth-century Clydeside far more than the Celticist minoritarianism of Tir is Teanga. Yet class was also a vital part of Calgacus’ politics, reflecting the “land and labour” combination advocated by the Irish revolutionary James Connolly – a profound influence on Burnett, who grew up in the same Edinburgh Cowgate community as Connolly had.

While Calgacus tended to overstate – as many have – the revolutionary potential of ‘Red Clydeside’, many of Burnett’s political instincts have been vindicated, albeit without much political success to show for it. SNP activists like Frank Thompson and Rob Gibson were welcome in Calgacus’ pages, despite widespread left scepticism towards the party at the time, and this openness became common sense with the rise of the ‘79 Group. The magazine’s effort to generate a radical, multinational vision of Europe, resistant to the homogenising pressures of the EEC, is now sorely lacking from Scottish politics after Brexit.

Most importantly, Calgacus’ explicit effort to generate a “Scottish left” out of the implicitly British or de-nationalised “left in Scotland” (which was Williamson’s formulation) outlined a collective project that would animate the Scottish intelligentsia for the subsequent two decades. Just six years after Calgacus finished, the editorial collective of the left-nationalist magazine Crann-Tàra would repeat Burnett’s decision to dismiss a Gaelic title in favour of a more popular one, renaming themselves Radical Scotland to attract a broader, less fundamentalist audience.

Though it was short-lived, Calgacus was an inventive attempt to reformulate Scottish radicalism for a political world that had been transformed by the rise of the SNP. The magazine’s chosen priorities and themes can be traced through political projects from Jim Sillars’ “breakaway” Scottish Labour Party (of which Burnett was a member) to the Scottish Socialist Party, the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Greens, as well as media outlets like Bella Caledonia.

Rory Scothorne is a writer and historian who recently completed a PhD on ‘The Radical Left and the Scottish Nation Print-Cultures of Left-Wing Nationalism, 1967-1983’. He writes on Scottish and British politics for the New Statesman.

Scotland’s Spare Rib: the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint

Charlotte Lauder and Rachael Alexander on the emergence of Scottish feminist print culture

The 1970s was unquestionably a decade of a new feminist print culture. As the women’s liberation movement gathered speed across the UK and Ireland, there was a renewal of feminist publications that combined the content of a magazine – articles, essays, poetry, and letters – with an informative and communicative style similar to that of a newsletter or newspaper. This feminist print culture grew out of consciousness-raising groups, collectives, and workshops. In England, this developed more quickly and more diversely than in Scotland. For example, Shrew (1969-74, 1976-78), a newsletter that started at the London Women’s Liberation Workshop had a circulation of about 5,000 by 1974.

Well-known English feminist magazines such as Woman’s Voice (1972-82), Spare Rib (1972-93), and Red Rag: A Magazine of Women’s Liberation (1972-80) were organised by collectives and similarly aimed to provide analysis-based articles and opinion pieces with essential information akin to a flyer or bulletin. WIRES (1975-86), created by the Women’s Information and Referral Service was the so-called ‘internal newsletter’ of the women’s liberation movement that acted as ‘a central facility for feminist news’.[i] Other magazines from collectives in England show a range of viewpoints within the women’s liberation movement, such as Roman Catholic Feminists Magazine (1977-82), Link. Communist Party Women’s Journal (1973-84), Catcall (1976-84), and the Association of Radical Midwives Newsletter (1978-86, 1986-9). Ireland, too, had feminist print scene by 1972 with Fownes Street Journal (1972-4), Banshee. Journal of Irishwomen United (1975-77), Wicca. A Monthly Feminist Magazine (1978-c.80), and Status (1981-2).

The emergence of a Scottish feminist print culture has been described as ‘a trickle’.[ii] Although there were newsletters produced by women’s groups throughout the 1970s, such as the Edinburgh Women’s Liberation Newsletter (1975-1996) and The Tayside Women’s Liberation Newsletter, which was a joint effort between women’s groups in Dundee and St Andrews,[iii] 1976 was the turning point for a more determined Scottish feminist print culture. At the annual Scottish Women’s Liberation conference in Glasgow that year, a proposal was passed to form a feminist magazine and at the next conference in Aberdeen in May 1977 the first issue of Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was launched.[iv] The magazine was organised by a collective of nine women, with production assistance from four others, and ran for 4 issues at 25p per issue. The principal aim of Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was to represent the issues and concerns of women in Scotland, rather than relying solely on the viewpoint of publications from England:

The journal will also provide a forum for discussion for women in Scotland. A vehicle for debate on various controversial issues is badly needed. It is simply impractical to attempt to conduct discussions through already existing journals based in London. It is to be hoped that the journal will encourage active participation in discussion from women both inside and outside the movement.[v]

Like other feminist magazines, the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (1977-78) published a variety of content including poetry, fiction, news, conference reports, book reviews, and political articles. Its list of ‘Contacts’ was especially important and provided a central source of information on women’s groups, collectives, and workshops that were operating across Scotland.[vi]

Illustration from Msprint 1 (1978)

Geographical representation was another major concern for the magazine’s collective: articles such as Frances Bower and Joan McLellan’s ‘Women in Rural Scotland’ drew attention to the lack of access to healthcare, support groups, and educational opportunities faced by women in more remote areas of Scotland.[vii] In November 1977, a short article on the Shetland Women’s Group discussed that the group was facing “a limit to what can be done effectively in a small community where everyone knows everyone else, and to the kind o’ tactics we can use”.[viii] By 1978, the magazine’s ‘Contacts’ list has expanded to include Dumbarton, Inverness, and Falkirk, and calls were made for volunteers to distribute copies of the magazine on the west coast and the western isles.[ix]

Despite the magazine’s non-sectarian and inclusive policy, it was quickly caught up in the divisions between radical and socialist feminists that dominated feminist debate in the late-1970s. These tensions were splattered across the pages of most (if not all) feminist magazines in the UK and Ireland, and the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was no different.[x] ‘In Feminism and Socialism’, Finella McKenzie (the St Andrews contact in the editorial collective) discussed the limitations of socialist feminism,[xi] and the article was reprinted in Scarlet Women (1976-82), a national newsletter produced by a women’s collective in North Shields, Tyneside, which emerged from discussions begun by socialist feminists at the 1976 National Women’s Liberation conference in Newcastle.[xii]

As Sarah Browne sets out, divisions could become nasty.[xiii] An open letter from a feminist in New York criticised one member of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal’s position on radical feminism that was put forward at a radical theory conference in Edinburgh in July 1977 in a particularly heated and personal attack.[xiv] By the winter of 1977, rifts in the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal were obvious. Collective member Fiona Forsyth reported that:

The main disagreements were between feminists who saw women’s oppression by men as the fundamental structure which has existed in all forms of society, and the socialist feminists who wanted to discuss the links between male domination and capitalism.[xv]

Ultimately, these divisions, as well as disagreements about whether the magazine should include more literary content or focus especially on Scottish politics and the nationalist question, were too difficult to uphold in the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal collective and there was a split in 1978.[xvi] Esther Breitenbach and Geri Smyth, founding members of the collective and sympathetic to the socialist feminist cause, went on to produce Msprint: A Scottish Feminist Publication (1978-81).

Msprint – a play on the word ‘misprint’ and a reference to Ms., the liberal-feminist magazine founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes in 1972 – was similar to its predecessor but operated a closed editorial collective (initially 7 members in 1978 and 3 by 1981) in which prospective members had to be sponsored by a member before being admitted.[xvii] The initial run was 1,000 copies priced at 25p and contained 24 pages of familiar feminist content including political articles, letters, book reviews, conference reports, and literature, and a list of contacts for women’s groups and help centres.

The aim of Msprint was to “develop analysis of the position of women in Scotland and the role of women in Scottish politics”.[xviii] Whilst Scottish issues had also been at the heart of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal, this position certainly reflects the growing discourse on constitutional matters in Scotland magazines by 1978. In practice however, Msprint was much more concerned with wider British feminist debate. Indeed, whilst the magazine was critical of Spare Rib and the way its two Scottish issues of 1980 “handled Scotland”,[xix] far more attention was paid to the national question in Ireland than Scotland across the seven issues of Msprint.[xx] This was not a unique position: both Red Rag and Scarlet Women dedicated space to women’s concerns in Ireland. Scarlet Women’s eleventh issue was put together by the Belfast Women’s Collective and published articles on Irish feminism, the British occupation of Northern Ireland, abortion in Belfast, Belfast Women’s Aid, and a personal account of life in Catholic Belfast.[xxi]

It is worth mentioning that the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint were both printed by Aberdeen People’s Press (1973-84), an alternative printing service established by members of the Aberdeen Arts and Community Workshop in 1972 which printed a variety of socialist and community-led publications, including the newspaper Aberdeen People’s Press (1973-6) and books such as Oil Over Troubled Waters: a Report and Critique of Oil Developments in North-East Scotland (1976).[xxii] Feminist publications like Msprint were as reliant on their collectives as they were on their community printers and publishers. Scarlet Women was printed by Moss Side Community Press (later Moss Side Community Press Women’s Co-op) which also published the Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter (1973-87), Lesbian Express (1977), and a retaliation publication to Msprint entitled Whatever Happened to the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal? (1978), which was edited by members of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal’s collective who did not agree with Breitenbach and Smyth.[xxiii]

In the wake of Msprint there followed a gentle stream of Scottish feminist publications including the Dundee Standard “a closed feminist newspaper in Dundee”, NESSIE: Radical and Revolutionary Feminist Newsletter from Scotland (1979-80), Our Times: the Bulletin for Thinking Women (1986-8) published in Ayr, and Harpies & Quines (1992-4).[xxiv] Of course, the corpus of cultural, literary, and political magazines examined by this network also published articles on feminist issues, including Radical Scotland, Catalyst, Cencrastus and, most notably, Chapman under the editorship of Joy Hendry, who became the first female editor of a literary magazine in Scotland in 1979.[xxv]

The impact of Scottish feminist publications on the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s can seem fairly modest. Indeed, feminist publications in England appear to have been more active in engaging with issues of sexuality, class, and race than their Scottish counterparts. Arena Three (1963-72), the first openly lesbian newspaper, and Sappho (1972-82), a magazine for lesbian feminists, were both published from London, as were Outwrite (1982-88) a newspaper aimed at Black British women, Mukti (1983-87) which addressed British Asian women, and Candice: For the Woman of Colour (1992-4). Nevertheless, articles on class, imperialism, sexuality, race, and anti-colonialism appear regularly in Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint, alongside specific Scottish issues, and an in-depth analysis of these will provide a richer picture of the role of Scottish feminist print culture in wider feminist debates. Likewise, an intersectional perspective that includes within its scope magazines aligned with feminist issues highlights the lack of research on titles such as the St Andrews Lesbian Feminists Newsletter (?), Red Herring (Scottish Lesbian Feminist Group, 1975-6), and Gay Scotland (Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, 1978-97). Ultimately, feminist magazines in Scotland proved to a generation of women that feminism was an important source of debate, criticism, and analysis in Scottish cultural, political and social life in the late-1970s and early-1980s.

Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland researching Scottish magazine culture from 1870 to 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland.

Dr Rachael Alexander is based at the University of Strathclyde and is the author of Imagining Gender, Nation and Consumerism in Magazines of the 1920s (2021). Her research focuses on constructions of gender in twentieth-century periodicals and print cultures, in Scotland, Britain, the US, Canada and Scotland.



[i] Sarah Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), p. 85.
[ii] Ibid., p. 86.
[iii] Lynn Sampsell, ‘Women’s Liberation in Scotland’, Womanspeak, no. 1 (March 1979), p. 8.
[iv] Esther Breitenbach, ‘“Sisters are Doing it for Themselves” The Women’s Movement in Scotland’, Scottish Government Yearbook (1990), p. 214.
[v] ‘Editorial’, Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (SWLJ), no. 1 (Spring, 1977), p. 2.
[vi] Ibid., p. 27.
[vii] Frances Bower and Joan McLellan, ‘Women in Rural Scotland’, SWLJ, no. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 7-9.
[viii] Jane Cook, ‘Shetland Women’s Group’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), p. 13.
[ix] Ibid., p. 3.
[x] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 90.
[xi] Finella McKenzie, ‘Feminism and Socialism’, SWLJ, no. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 21-3; Finella McKenzie, ‘Feminism and Socialism’, Scarlet Women, no. 5 (1977), pp. 3-7.
[xii] Scarlet Women, 1982-2019, Tyne & Wear Archives and North Tyneside Women’s Voices,
[xiii] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 88.
[xiv] Deb Symonds, ‘An Open Letter to Lorna Mitchell’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), pp. 27-9.
[xv] Fiona Forsyth, ‘The Radical Feminist Theory Conference’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), p. 14.
[xvi] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, pp. 88-9.
[xvii] Ibid., p. 90.
[xviii] ‘Editorial’, Msprint, no. 1 (August 1978), p. 1.
[xix] ‘Editorial’, Msprint, no. 5 (n.d., 1980?), p. 3.
[xx] For example, see Esther Breitenbach, ‘Women in Northern Ireland’, Msprint, no. 3 (n.d., March 1979?), pp. 12-3.
[xxi] Scarlet Women, no. 11 (June 1980), pp. 1-37.
[xxii] ‘Aberdeen People’s Press’, Aberdeen Protest Blog, (September 2014),
[xxiii] Lois Stone, ‘Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter and the Lesbian Community’, Queer Beyond London, (June 2017), Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 90.
[xxiv] Rachael Alexander, ‘“Alive, Practical and Different”: Harpies & Quines and Scottish Feminist Print in the 1990s’, in Laurel Forster and Joanne Hollows (eds.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, 1940s-2000s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 307-24.
[xxv] Eleanor Bell, ‘“Leaps and Bounds”: Feminist Interventions in Scottish Literary Magazine Culture’, in Laurel Forster and Joanne Hollows (eds.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, 1940s-2000s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 215-28.

Sydney Goodsir Smith and Sidewalk

Magazines are for making enemies as well as friends. Richie McCaffery revisits the pugnacious Sidewalk via the furious pencil-marks of one of its targets.

One of the most important Scottish literary magazines of the 1960s was also one of the shortest lived. Sidewalk (which ran for two issues in 1960) was formed when the then editor of Jabberwock (an Edinburgh University student publication) splintered away from what he saw as an increasingly cronyist and reactionary editorial outlook, supporting older Scottish nationalist poets and very little else. In his final ‘American’ issue of Jabberwock, Alex Neish, now a local historian and pewter-ware expert, printed the opening chapter of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch much to the excitement of his readers, but to the consternation of the press and Burroughs himself, who had no knowledge that Allen Ginsberg had submitted it for publication.

With Sidewalk Neish was free to pursue his own vision, one that was transatlantic and syncretic, not merely a grandstand for the political bloviations of the older kenspeckle Scottish bards. In his valedictory editorial for Jabberwock in 1959 Neish made his thoughts swingeingly unambiguous, saying that he wished to jettison ‘that inferior romantic drivel of misdirected Nationalism which for too long has been a millstone around the necks of younger Scottish writers’. By the time Sidewalk 1 appeared, Neish’s stance had clearly not in any way mellowed, drawing very firm battle-lines in his editorial, guaranteed to antagonise older Scottish writers: ‘Lallans today […] has an academic insular artificiality which is inherent in the work of those who use it. The more Lallans poetry that appears, the more reasonable becomes the tenet that in the 1960s literary pastiche is being created by poetical eunuchs’ (p. 11). Curiously enough, ‘eunuchs’ was one of the favourite insults MacDiarmid liked to throw at writers he regarded as enemies.

Putting his firebrand rhetoric into action, Neish printed between 500-750 copies of each issue of Sidewalk and the magazine was aimed at an audience most likely to be ‘open-minded’ – university students. The magazine introduced its readers to the likes of Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder and William Burroughs. This small Scottish periodical was not just tokenistically international, but vitally eclectic, embracing French and British writing, Black Mountain Poetry and Beatnik literature. Let’s just compare the dramatis personae of that line-up with a 1960 copy of Lines Review (a major organ of the Scottish Renaissance). Lines Review 16 has on its cover a reproduction of a woodcut by Moira Crichton depicting Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid and Norman MacCaig all enjoying a guid-willie-waught in The Abbotsford Pub (Rose Street, Edinburgh). The contents are predictable: MacDiarmid, MacCaig, Garioch, Crichton Smith et al. (It’s interesting to note that Lines Review retailed at 1 shilling and sixpence whereas Sidewalk was 2 shillings, at a time when a student grant was perhaps 140 shillings (£7) a week). This is no slight aimed at Lines Review – one of the literary backbones of Scotland for decades – but to show that youth culture and other strands of avant-garde culture needed a room (or magazine) of their own.

Sidewalk might have been a flash-in-the-pan in terms of its lifespan, but it sent intellectual and aesthetic shockwaves through both young and older writers. In 1963, Bill MacArthur, a university student who had acted as an illustrator for Sidewalk, established his own magazine Cleft (which, like Sidewalk, only ran for two issues). Cleft is a seminal small magazine because it not only carried on Sidewalk’s transatlantic and European scope but also introduced concrete poetry and was more tolerant of the veterans of the Scottish Renaissance, like Hugh MacDiarmid and Robert Garioch, both of whom appeared in its pages. This fracturing of an old vanguard and an emergent youth culture is a crucial turning point in the history of the Scottish Renaissance. Jim Burns, in his 1977 article on Sidewalk points out that Alex Neish’s promotion of American writing was not unique in 1960 in a UK-wide context but that it certainly was significant in breaking up the provincialism or favouritism of the Scottish scene: ‘Neish obviously kept his finger on the contemporary pulse’.[1]

This brings us round to Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915-1975), a New-Zealand born poet who converted to writing poetry in Scots in the late 1930s and remained in Edinburgh until his relatively early death. One of Alex Neish’s particular bêtes noires was what he termed the ‘bombastic lackeys of the Nationalist movement’ and he could well have intended this damning phrase for Goodsir Smith who was a fervent disciple of Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scottish nationalist programme for the arts. In 2004, nearly three decades after the death of her husband Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hazel Williamson died and the contents of the New Town flat they shared  were sent to auction, including Goodsir Smith’s extensive library which had remained untouched since his death. This meant that for a few years books heavily annotated by the poet would appear all over Edinburgh, in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. It was in the now defunct ‘Old Town Bookshop’ that I bought for £2 Goodsir Smith’s pungently annotated personal copy of Sidewalk . It’s a fascinating time capsule of the clash of values between younger writers like Alex Neish and older Scots stalwarts like Goodsir Smith.

The first thing to note is that he kept this magazine, so he realised it was of importance even if it was offensive to his own tastes. Many of his pencilled comments in the margins are funny but also slightly reactionary. On the contents page he calculates the nationalities of the contributors – four French, at least one English, seven Americans and seven Scots. Many of the pieces are dismissed as ‘Dada’ or ‘transition Dada’ (proving that there is nothing ‘new under the sun’), Ian Hamilton Finlay’s piece is ‘joky’ and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s is ‘dull, windy, vague’ but crucially Alex Neish is deemed ‘a didactic type’. There is also a pencilled remark guiding us to p. 81 where we can find a ‘comment on the whole thing’: ‘But remember, things have been moving so fast in the States that by and large it’s already dated’. There is also an editorial attack on poets who write in Lallans on page 11: ‘The real point surely is this: that Lallans is neither a national language nor a genuine one’ to which Goodsir Smith’s pencil riposte is: ‘Whereas Ginsberg’s is?’

Many of the pieces have comments showing Goodsir Smith’s frustration and bafflement at what he considers the ‘emperor’s new clothing’ of contemporary writing. His umbrage may have also been directed at the magazine because issue 1 carries a particularly wounding review of Goodsir Smith’s latest poetry collection Figs and Thistles by George Todd: ‘This book is aptly named. But there are damned few figs and too many thistles […] this collection bears all the marks of scraping the barrel’. The coup-de-grâce of the review is this observation: ‘One wonders how seriously Sydney Smith takes it. Does he see himself in there lowsing the bands of an oppressed people? It would be better if he showed us he still has his tongue firmly in his cheek and was not squandering his talents on behalf of the parochial, pettifogging fashions which he can be so skilful at knocking’.

Perhaps as a placatory offering, Sidewalk 2 carried a full-page advertisement for Goodsir Smith’s books still in print and a review, again by George Todd, of his play The Wallace. Not quite as acerbic as his review of Figs and Thistles Todd nonetheless dismisses Smith’s play as two-dimensional and simplistic, essentially a ‘good Western’ where the ‘goody’ and the ‘baddy’ are clearly delineated. Sidewalk in this respect is a symptomatic text of its time, giving a clear indication of the fissiparousness of Scottish letters and culture in the 1960s, where a generation that had previously held sway was being challenged younger aspirants and upstarts. Todd, in his review of The Wallace notes that Scottish nationalists will draw parallels from the play to a contemporary Scotland ‘still beset by internal back-biting and schisms of one kind or another’. Sidewalk gave younger writers a platform and the opportunity to discover writing which wasn’t first and foremost Scottish nationalist or Scottish Renaissance-related, and in this sense it broadened aesthetic horizons. However, by attacking the older nabobs of the Scottish Renaissance, like Goodsir Smith, it could be argued that the magazine was merely adding another level of factionalism to the story. Every literary magazine that has a clear identity and outlook also, no matter how much the editors deny it, has a clique, or rather a circle of writers that it is sympathetically disposed towards. By 1960 it was high time someone stuck their neck out to challenge the dominance of ‘The Poets’ Pub’ generation and through the pioneering efforts of magazines like Sidewalk many now essential younger Scottish writers began to break through in the 1960s and 1970s.

[1] Poetry Information 17 (1977), pp. 46-48.

Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).