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).

Strange fealties: the online literary magazine

Where does the magazine – and its forms, codes, public intimacies – fit into online literary culture?  Ian Macartney investigates via nine magazines


The online literary magazine ecosystem is a sort of arena where there are very strict adherences to rules and etiquette, but also a performed candidness which I believe conceals certain social economics. Strange fealties emerge via social media interactions: the power dynamics between contributor/editor, submitter/guidelines, the follower/following-back. These are potent, and unresolved, situations. There is an aura which makes said fealties seem unplaceable, limits I could not express prosaically. It was only through nine magazines that I could reveal there was, indeed, something very calcified about how we interact with literary magazines online, and how they operate. A quality of the seeming-infinite; an inevitable power not only synonymous to the internet, but also microcosms of the internet.

nine magazines is, as its name suggests, a website which hosts nine ‘themes’, each of which takes the form of a mini-magazine. Each theme is an archetype of a literary magazine I have seen during my time as a writer. Some are directly inspired by specific publications I admire (analogica, the moon ( is SPAM; Direct Contrast is PN Review) while others are situated around internet subcultures, or the internet’s propensity to foster their growth. HELLSURFACE, for example, takes inspiration from the word-spaghetti of the reactionary  ‘Dark Enlightenment’, popularised by Nick Land, while The Uddington Review is totemic for any local-interest or parochial magazines that more traditional poets have set up online. UNFURL YR WORDS is essentially the entire spoken-word/slam scene. amethyst & magnets represents the type of magazines a lot of young people have set up during lockdown, particularly in North America, and a newer shell mirrors what I perceive as popular journals which publish metropolitan poetics, ‘lowercase’ in temperament, like The Poetry Review or Ambit. ecoVox was not inspired by poetry magazines, per se, but rather the rising (necessary) prominence of ecology in contemporary writing – but also where it fails (i.e. the conflation of political change with cultural response).

In this ‘meta-magazine’ I traded the sanctity often reserved for literature with a deranged internet logic which, as a writer in my early 20s, find inescapable – and in doing so, intend to ask what it even means for literature to exist in the infinite textual sprawl that is the internet, i.e. our current cultural lives.

I found several ways to do this. First, half the contributors are me. nine magazines gave me the opportunity to self-present in new and colourful ways, but with a distance. The project is a kind of  digital pamphlet – through my gang of pseudonyms I reverse the egalitarian pretences of the magazine, the idea that finely attuned work has been filtered through with no room for bias, allowing me to reframe my work. ‘Olaf Skyler’, for example, is the name given to nature poems I wrote when I was fifteen. Although I believe the poems hold up to scrutiny I am also very aware of their wide-eyed neo-romanticism which, on the one hand, I want to champion beyond dismissals of ‘juvenilia’, but on the other hand, I admit the limits of this worldview. In putting sincere poems on an absurd parodic platform, I wanted to ask: does the work become negated, here, or does it double in meaning? Which implies a wider question: is the act of putting a poem on the internet inherently absurd? Are we to really expect a poem can pause the infinite scroll?

Secondly, I accepted every submission sent my way. Being selected for publication often feels like the acquisition of medals, titles which will garner author bios to prove the legitimacy of an artist. These mythologies of literary success, the ceaseless need to have ‘made it’, negate the ideal state of the literary magazine as a community-creating force. With nine magazines I wanted to feel out the limits of this competitiveness, but also express gratitude for the communal aspects of literary magazines, and therefore diminish the curational edge at play otherwise.

After all, now the mechanics of publishing are accessible to everyone with an internet connection, quality is no longer the defining characteristic of a publication. This begs the question: if publishing is no longer an intrinsic determiner of value, where is that value? Does it still exist? By accepting every submission I replaced competitive impulses with a pivot to project-specific aesthetics. The surprise, the value, is not in my ability to curate or find “the finest” work (which is already a fallacious category), but rather dependent on presentation – meaningful surfaces. The masthead, for example, are all fictitious creations. Their photos were generated by AI. Dupont, editor of a newer shell, who is bitter enough to mention in her bios that “although she did not win” a non-existent poetry prize, she did receive a completely unrelated “William J. Buutsur Bursary”. The Uddington Review’s Doris McSwitch only loves “most” of her grandchildren, while Direct Contrast’s Mercy Conguisse (“one of the greatest poets of the 21st century”) had an affair with “his former farmhand, Gustav”. Author bios are usually a type of prose fiction – the fiction of the ‘successful author’, of an author’s personality and/or achievements – which permeate the online literary magazine, and a major engine of literary competitiveness, but here it becomes farcical melodrama.

My final tactic was the visual identity of nine magazines itself. I aimed to go for a ‘semiotic barrage’, a sensory assault emblematic of the internet. This strategy originates in webcomic artist Scott McCloud’s concept of the ‘infinite canvas’. For McCloud the internet unlocks a limitless space for artists to express themselves. The page no longer has a physical limit; a drawing can be as large as a webpage needs to be. In nine magazines I utilise the infinite canvas for the use of text. Lines and stanzas stretch way farther than a marginated page would allow, spilling over on to other pieces; some poems are presented lopsided or upside-down; poems arrive in gaudy fonts and colours and highlights or as screenshots, hyper-filtered. It is through the infinite canvas that the ‘real’ internet breaks through the veneer and shells of the competitive online literary magazine, a ‘real’ rendering what we often ask of poetics (i.e. the sacredness of text) futile.

This is how literature becomes freed from certain responsibilities. In my discussion with Rishi Dastidar for the Spoke in Mirrors interview series, we discussed how “skimming” text has become the standard mode of reading, especially online – the relegation of text as surface-rich, not because literacy has decreased. but because of the exact opposite. After all, my generation is the most literate yet – our primary mode of communication is epistolary, via corporate platforms such as Messenger, Snapchat or Instagram/Twitter DMs. It is not that text or literature has become irrelevant online, it just performs differently. It is not that digital life is meaningless, it is just too meaningful. Too many interpretations and opinions are presented at once; it is the cultural singularity, digital hyperstimulation, the overwhelm, multitasking as an ontological state.

I wanted to reveal this meme logic in something as sanctified as the poem, and the poem’s home of the literary magazine. This was not to diminish literature, per se, but rather to reveal where poetics survive. Because ultimately, nine magazines is an attempt at nascence: taking a form more codified than assumed – the online literary magazine – and revealing where the limits encroach, and where we could go next. It’s a ‘meta-magazine’ in the sense of meta as metaxis – inbetweenness. In the space between outright parody and emulation, something exciting can thrive.

Read nine magazines at ninemagazines.com.

Ian Macartney is a writer. He can be found at ianmacartney.scot

Some Scottish Magazine Sources

Inspired by Patrick Collier’s opening blog and talk, which offered us a guided tour of key theoretical sources in periodical studies, we thought it might be useful to assemble  a short bibliography of Scotland-specific sources on our magazines and their contexts.

It is, of course, only a starting point.


Rachael Alexander, Harpies and Quines and feminist magazines in Scotland’, Gender Equal Media Scotland Blog, 28 February 2020.

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 in Britain, 1940s-2000s: The Postwar and Contemporary Period (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 307-22.

Eleanor Bell, ‘Rejecting the Knitted Claymore: the challenge to cultural nationalism in Scottish literary magazines of the 1960s and 1970s’, in British Literature in Transition, 1960-1980: Flower Power, ed. by Kate McLoughlin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 263-74.

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 in Britain, 1940s-2000s: The Postwar and Contemporary Period (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 215-28.

Ross Birrell and Alec Finlay (eds), Justified Sinners: An Archaeology of Scottish Counter-Culture (1960-2000) (Edinburgh: Pocketbooks, 2002)

Neil Blain and David Hutchison (eds), The Media in Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).

David  Finkelstein, Margery Palmer McCulloch and Duncan Glen, Scottish Literary Periodicals: Three Essays (Edinburgh: Merchiston, 1998).

Susan Galloway and Huw David Jones, ‘The Scottish dimension of British arts government: a historical perspective’, Cultural Trends 19:1-2 (2010): 27-40.

Duncan Glen, ‘Scottish periodicals of the 1960s and 1970s’ in Selected Scottish and Other Essays (Kirkcaldy: Akros, 1999), pp. x-y. [also collected in Finkelstein et al 1998]

Linda Gunn and Alistair McCleery, ‘Wasps in a jam jar: Scottish literary magazines and political culture 1979–1999’ in Further From The Frontiers: Cross-currents in Irish and Scottish Studies, ed. by Aimee McNair and Jacqueline Ryder (Aberdeen: AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, 2009), pp. 41–52.

Scott Hames, The Literary Politics of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).

Christopher Harvie, ‘Nationalism, Journalism and Cultural Politics’ in Nationalism in the Nineties, ed. by Tom Gallagher (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1991), pp. 29-45.

John Herdman, Another Country: An Era in Scottish Politics and Letters (Edinburgh: Thirsty, 2013).
[previous edition published as Poets, Pubs, Polls and Pillar Boxes: Memoirs of an Era in Scottish Politics and Letters (Akros, 1999)]

David Hutchison, ‘The Alternative Press’ in Headlines: The Media in Scotland, ed. by David Hutchison (Edinburgh: EUSPB, 1978), pp. 39-50.

Ben Jackson, The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020)
[draws extensively on political and cultural magazines in charting the development of nationalist/devolutionist thought]

Stephen Kendrick, ‘Scotland, Social Change and Politics’ in The Making of Scotland: Nation, Culture and Social Change, ed. by David McCrone, Stephen Kendrick and Pat Straw (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), pp. 71-90.

Myra Macdonald, ‘The Press in Scotland’, in Headlines: The Media in Scotland, ed. by David Hutchison (Edinburgh: EUSPB, 1978), pp. 8-21

Margery Palmer McCulloch, ‘Continuing the Renaissance: Little Magazines and a Late Phase of Scottish Modernism in the 1940s’, Études écossaises 15 (2012): 59-73.

Peter Meech and Richard Kilborn, ‘Media and identity in a stateless nation: the case of Scotland’, Media, Culture and Society 14 (1992): 245-259.

Jane Potter, ‘Literary Publishing 1945-2000’ in The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, Volume 4: Professionalism and Diversity 1880-2000, ed. by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 250-76.
[includes short case studies of Akros and Cencrastus by Zsuzsanna Varga, and discussion of other literary periodicals – Lines Review, Lallans, Chapman, Verse, New Writing Scotland, etc – mainly in the context of SAC funding]

Richard Price, ‘Little Magazines and Scottish Modernism’ [first published as ‘Little’], Northwords (Winter 2002/3): 33-35.

Richard Price, ‘Some Questions about Literary Infrastructure in the 1960s’ in The Scottish Sixties: Reading, Rebellion, Revolution, ed. by Eleanor Bell and Linda Gunn (Amsterdam: Brill, 2013), pp. 93-114.

Tessa Ransford, ‘Independent Pamphlet Publishing‘, Scottish Affairs 70 (Winter 2010): 104-13.

Philip Schlesinger, ‘Scottish Devolution and the Media’, Political Quarterly 69 (1998): 55-74.

Rory Scothorne, ‘The “Radical Current”: Nationalism and the Radical Left in Scotland, 1967-1979’, H-Nationalism(2018)

Bob Tait, ‘Scottish International: A Brief Account’, in Scottish Poetry Index: An Index to Poetry and Poetry-Related Material in Scottish Magazines, 1952- (Edinburgh: Scottish Poetry Library), vol. 6 (1997), pp. 63-65.

Roderick Watson, ‘Scottish Poetry: The Scene and the Sixties’ in The Scottish Sixties: Reading, Rebellion, Revolution, ed. by Eleanor Bell and Linda Gunn (Amsterdam: Brill, 2013), pp. 69-92.

 

Back Issues: Event 1 Digest

The launch issue of a magazine tends to flaunt its novelty, but the much-delayed  start to this project was focused more on backstory.

The network’s first meeting (24 February 2021) began with a short talk by Patrick Collier, developing the themes of his blog post ‘Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine’. This was a rich tour d’horizon of the magazine in theory, unpacking the multi-voicedness, seriality and objecthood that make these artefacts what they are. What sort of critical – or uncritical – gaze is appropriate to the magazine, Collier asked, linking several milestones in periodical studies to recent ‘method wars’ in literary studies. Exploring the value of close, distant and ‘just’ reading, alongside questions of genre and materiality, this was a highly stimulating introduction to the field.

One of its pioneers, Margaret Beetham, emphasised ‘how the formal qualities of the periodical are shaped by its particular relationship to time’.[1] And the cultural work that magazines do, Collier argued, is caught up with their iterative nature. In examining specific titles we should attend to their ‘open’ and ‘closed’ qualities from issue to issue (rather than tethering a single article firmly to its date of publication). A cultural review might respond to unfolding events from a variety of perspectives, inviting readers to participate (via letters pages) and to navigate the mixed-genre text in their own way (open), but it will also construct a consistent persona, publishing schedule and implied reader across time (closed).

Commercial magazines may have a mission statement of sorts, but we take it with a pinch of salt, knowing that advertising and circulation are the foremost considerations. Non-commercial magazines, Collier noted, are in some ways easier objects for cultural historians to handle: even if they include a wide range of material and voices, they are usually led by a small group committed to ‘making its meanings stick’ rather than generating profits.

For the Scottish magazines at the centre of our interest, their typical smallness (of circulation, of dramatis personae), uncommercial aims and strength of editorial mission (often activist or avant-garde) will often lean toward the ‘closed’ pole of Beetham’s helpful rubric. At the same time, the majority of these titles are passionately engaged in ‘opening the doors’ of cultural and political change in Scotland, focused on generating new ideas, publics and connections.

And here, perhaps, is a notable feature of periodicals linked (in varying degrees) to a wider nation-building project. For many of our target titles, the implied subject and audience is ‘Scotland’, so that journals and reviews focused on Scottish poetry, Scottish feminism or Scottish constitutional change have a stable structuring interest and ‘field’ (closed) which they are actively shaping, expanding and contesting (open); all in ways that tend to naturalise the national frame they treat both as a cultural given and a prompt to action and critique.

We might say that periodicals such as Question Magazineprofiled here by Ben Jackson – ‘cover’ a domain of Scottish cultural and political life they also help to ‘constitute’ and solidify, its fortnightly reports helping to make this world both discursively and materially real, available to purchase in newsagents and bookshops. One of the interesting features of these magazines is how their formally ‘closed’ features – including the notable absence of women contributors – sit alongside their more ideologically ‘open’ aims and qualities, generating fresh national possibility, community and identity.

Questions of audience are of special interest for periodicals directly engaged in politics, alliance-making and mobilisation. Rory Scothorne noted the history of revolutionary newspapers as surrogate political organisations, an often ‘closed’ and hierarchical locus of debate sharing features with the vanguardist party (and often providing a source of income for party activity). The recent work of Lucy Delap (on the print-culture of British feminism) was noted for its relevance in studying magazines as modern political and rhetorical forms, and Patrick Collier noted the broader importance of periodicals in constructing ‘counter-public spheres’.

In these ‘parallel discursive arenas’, Nancy Fraser argued, ‘members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs’.[2] We can readily see how this description fits many of our Scottish titles, but might also observe the paradox of conceiving the national public (real or potential) as a subaltern counter-public – a paradox much easier to glimpse after two decades of devolution and the rapid consolidation of a Scottish democratic system.

Speaking from the archivist’s point of view, Graeme Hawley highlighted the practical and classificatory challenges that accompany the definitional conundrums outlined in Collier’s introduction: what exactly is a magazine, viewed in terms of its physical dimensions, publishing schedule, balance of visual and textual material, and so on? How can the dizzying variety of their content, and the embedded knowledge they ‘accidentally’ capture (e.g. the way a demolished building looked in a photograph from 1960), be tagged or catalogued for disaggregation and research, using digital finding aids? These reflections recall Beetham’s point (cited by Collier) that the magazine is ‘not so much a form in its own right as an enabling space for readers traversing the items they encounter’. How can this ‘enabling space’ be mapped for others, and made accessible to readers physically remote from archival collections? At the encouragement of the group, Hawley agreed to write a separate SMN blog developing these thoughts. The network will return to the question of digitisation later in the year.

This was a rich and dynamic conversation I can’t fully summarise, but here are a few points and observations that lodged in my memory:

        • Ben Jackson was the first of several (including the author of this blogpost) to confess having used magazine articles as ‘disaggregated’ historical fodder, rather than (as Collier suggested) ‘reading magazines closely as magazines’. Collier noted the inevitability of selectivity in using magazines for teaching or research, and offered generous absolution.

       

        • Reflecting on her own time with the Cencrastus editorial collective, Glenda Norquay complicated the image of politically driven magazines as ‘closed’ organisations. Although there may be an agreed editorial agenda, the nature of such magazines demands unpaid work at different levels and also a turnover of editorial staff, which can produce a degree of instability. An unchanging masthead can also conceal multiple perspective and evolving internal views.

       

        • Charlotte Lauder pointed out that mass-circulation commercial magazines can also have strong viewpoints, and directed our attention to publishers and proprietors (not only editors and contributors) in studying these agendas. Charlotte’s own work on The People’s Friend, owned and published by the Liberal MP for Dundee John Leng prior to its sale to DC Thomson, is a fascinating example.

       

        • Alex Thomson noted the importance of state patronage and public subsidy, especially via the Scottish Arts Council. In addition to their own strong agendas, most of our Scottish magazines would also face the imperative of satisfying the funding body (within a distinctive ‘double arm’s length’ regime prior to devolution, enjoying greater autonomy from government). This support was often premised on the publication of original literary content (poetry and short stories), effectively cross-subsidising these magazines’ more contentious offerings (for which the SAC was not paying and was not strictly answerable).

       

        • Malcolm Petrie noted the ‘interlinked’ nature of these Scottish magazines, and the many lines of affiliation (and occasional discord) by which they were knitted together. How might we approach them as a collection of titles, instead of separate entities? Patrick Collier observed that magazines always exist in dialogue with each other, and suggested framing our research agenda in a way that spotlights the threads of debate between magazines, thus foregrounding the broader ‘ecology’ in which they interact.

       

        • Nikki Simpson noted some of the practical challenges and potential of archiving magazines, and outlined her own plans to establish an International Magazines Centre in Edinburgh. The special challenges of copyright for digitisation will be a key focus of the network in later events.

       

      We rounded off the meeting with some planning discussion relating to upcoming activity (events, podcasts, interviews), and further details of the edited book project in development. The editors will be commissioning chapters later this year, with a preference for cross-disciplinary perspectives and co-authorship of chapters. Further details and a call for papers will follow soon.

      This much-delayed start to the network’s activity was truly heartening, and we look forward to our next meeting.  Prompted by Patrick Collier’s short bibliographic tour of periodical studies, we thought it might be helpful to compile a mini-bibliography on the Scottish contexts of our target magazines.


    • [1] Margaret Beetham, ‘Open and Closed: The Periodical as a Publishing Genre’, Victorian Periodicals Review 22.3 (Fall, 1989): 96-100 (p. 97).

      [2] Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56-80 (p. 67).

       

Introducing the Scottish Magazines Network

Welcome!

This introductory blog is really an expansion of the ‘About’ section, fleshing out some of the project’s aims, contexts and questions. It lacks the polemical verve of a first-issue editorial you might read in one of our magazines, but I hope it conveys the interest of Scotland’s periodical culture of the 1960s-90s. (by Scott Hames)

Small independent magazines played a major creative role in Scottish literature, culture and politics right across the 1960s-90s. Many featured poetry and short fiction (funded by the Scottish Arts Council) and were a key space in which writers, journalists and campaigners developed a shared national agenda centred on Scottish cultural difference, literary revival and democratic dissent.

Working in partnership with the National Library of Scotland, this AHRC Research Network brings together scholars of Scottish literature, history, politics and publishing to explore – and ‘re-circulate’ – this independent periodical culture. We have a wide range of titles in mind, from poetry journals to political magazines and cultural reviews, and several combining elements of each. We’re especially interested in connections between and across these organs, including the following titles held in the NLS collection:

Lines Review (1954-98), New Saltire (1961-64),
Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. (1962-68), Akros (1965-83),
Feedback (1966-67), Scottish International (Review) (1968-74),
New Edinburgh Review
(1969-84), Chapman (1970- ),
Scotia
and Scotia Review (1970-99), Calgacus (1975-76),
Q [Question] Magazine (1975-77), Crann-Tàra (1977-81),
Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal
(1977-78), MsPrint (1978-81),
Cencrastus
(1979-2006), Radical Scotland (1982-91), Edinburgh Review (1984- ),
Variant
(1984-94, 1996-2012), Common Sense (1987-99),
West Coast Magazine
(1988-97), Harpies and Quines (1992-94)

Not an exhaustive list!

If an earlier process of ‘cultural devolution’ paved the way for the new Scottish parliament in 1999, it can be directly witnessed in the writing and artwork of these magazines, and in the communities and alliances formed around and through them. These titles were also sites of literary innovation, featuring poems and stories by almost every major and emerging Scottish writer of the period.

The same titles featured key essays and critical interventions by thinkers such as Tom Nairn, Isobel Lindsay and George E. Davie, influential debates on the marginalisation of women’s writing, and were a key venue for the reassertion of Scottish folk traditions and the importance of Gaelic and Scots. Constant crossover between literary, cultural and electoral debate – from page to page and within the same article – is central to their interest and their influence.

Aiming to put these magazines back on the map – both for scholars and the wider public – the network will consider questions including:

      • What prompted and enabled this Scottish periodical culture, supported by what institutions?
      • What was its (short- and long-term) impact on Scottish literary and cultural production?
      • Through what groupings and networks did these magazines circulate?
      • To what extent did they shape or ‘constitute’ the Scottish political field to which they were addressed?
      • What continuities can we see with today’s Scottish literary politics, media and activism?

We hope to expand and refine these questions via our activity and discussions – including regular blog posts – and will eventually seek to answer some of them in a volume of commissioned essays.

Many thanks for your interest in the project, and please don’t hesitate to be in touch – if you’d like news of SMN events, please contact scott.hames@stir.ac.uk