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).

Mag Memories: A London Subscriber

Robin Kinross observes the 1970s scene from a friendly distance, with an expert eye on design and typography


I have always lived in the south of England, though grew up in what I felt was a Scottish micro-environment. My parents were both Edinburgh born and bred, both came to London in their twenties for work; they met and married in London. While I have ended up as a typographer, editor and publisher with the imprint Hyphen Press, my route to this destination was unplanned and it needed detours, driven by wide and I suppose ‘generalist’ interests.

In the late 1960s, leaving secondary school with science A levels, with thoughts of becoming a librarian, and interested in literature, cinema, art, politics – the magazines brought Scottish culture and discussion to me. They performed the classical function of helping me to know – or imagine – the community that I might have been living in, but wasn’t living in. How did I discover these magazines? Maybe in bookshops in Edinburgh, or perhaps in the London shops that might have carried them (Better Books? Dillons?). Around 1970, when I was a student of English literature in London, I believe I had a subscription to Scottish International, though have lost all my copies. I remember its well-funded production: A4 format and printed letterpress, with pictures on coated paper and line illustrations on the text paper. (This distant memory is open to correction.) It was in Scottish International that I first read Edwin Morgan. I became one of his constant readers.

Did Scottish International really carry an article on ‘Ibsen and Scotland’? I remember someone joking that this was like the formula of ‘X and the Polish question’, in which X could be anything – a person, a concept, an activity, any material fact. Thus one could generate a discussion almost automatically. If this joke was about Poland and Scotland, then it sounds like the voice of Neal Ascherson, whose house in Bethnal Green, borrowed from the sociologist Michael Young, I used to visit then: the Ascherson family childminder was the girlfriend of my best friend at the Polytechnic where I was a student.

At that time I certainly had a subscription to New Edinburgh Review. I have lost all those copies too. But recently I became interested in it again, looked through the run of the magazine in the British Library, and bought a few copies from second-hand shops. I wanted to rediscover the reviews of Black music – R&B, soul, ska – that were published under the byline of Dr Juke’s Rhythm Review. These were extensive and very knowledgeable discussions of hard-to-obtain records, showing an F.R.Leavis-like attention to detail and severity of judgment, sorting out the good stuff from the bland or meretricious. In his Blue Moment blog, Richard Williams had written about his ‘favourite piece of music writing’ – an article on Prince Buster by Mark Steedman. As Williams wrote, Steedman is now a professor in Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics. I got in touch with Mark Steedman, who confirmed that he was indeed Dr Juke. These reviews of very unScottish culture were for me one of the important elements of the NER.

At this time I was switching from reading literature to doing typography, which in 1971 I went to the University of Reading to learn. My perceptions of the magazines were filtered through a growing typographic consciousness. New Edinburgh Review had a good phase when its design began to be professional (rather than done by enthusiastic student amateurs). I have a copy of no. 16 (1972) that shows this. The cover is printed in two colours, as previously, but now uses a photograph printed not in black but a light brown, with black titling overprinted. ‘Art and layout’ is credited to Jim Downie, with Jack Wyper and Tom Bee. Among the illustrators in this issue was Stewart McKinnon, who would then have been a postgraduate student at the Royal College of Art in London, having gone there from Edinburgh College of Art. (Rick Poyner has retrieved McKinnon’s work in an article on the Design Observer website.)

The pages inside remind me of the early design of London’s Time Out magazine, founded in 1968, and in 1970 changing its format from A5 to A4, under the direction of Pearce Marchbank. For designers, other important magazines of that time were the BBC’s Radio Times (art directed by David Driver) and, from the USA, Rolling Stone and New York, the original city listings publication. All these magazines are cited as influences by Simon Esterson, the London designer who in the 1980s would come up to Edinburgh for brief spells to work first on Edinburgh University Student Publications Board’s Festival Times, which in 1985 gave birth to The List.

I am not sure when I discovered the re-established Edinburgh Review, launched in 1984. I think it would have been stocked by Compendium in Camden Town, near to where I lived at the time. Certainly I took out a subscription in 1988, and have a postcard from Peter Kravitz to prove this – plus all the copies still on my shelves, from no. 67/68 onwards: I must have bought back numbers to complete the series. It may have been in October 1988 that I first met Peter. It was at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he was in charge of the Polygon stand. I introduced myself and we had the first of many absorbing conversations.

The Edinburgh Review was important for me especially for its recovery of figures such as Stuart Hood, R.D. Laing, Alexander Trocchi. I hadn’t thought of them as Scottish, but now came to understand that they were deeply so. This was an enlargement and enrichment of what Scotland meant, for me and I imagine for many others. These figures had left the country to work elsewhere and were strongly internationalist, but retained the values of their Scottish educations: a serious commitment to thought and art, with a wide range of interests. Further they had a clarity, sharpness, sometimes a violence of thought and expression, that one doesn’t find much in the mild climate of English culture. They exhibit an easy passage from the physical to the metaphysical, which is perhaps one of the traits of the Scottish-educational habit of mind.

The Scottish philosophy material in Edinburgh Review was a great discovery. I remember especially the essays in no. 74 and Richard Gunn’s essay in no. 87. The ideas of ‘common sense’ philosophy helped me in polemics over legibility to put forward an alternative to the deconstruction theory that had been picked up in design circles and which was just then (early 1990s) dominant in US and British avant-garde theorizing.

I had also subscribed to New Left Review from 1970 onwards and so read Tom Nairn’s essays on Britain and Ireland, as they came out. When some of this material was collected in The Break-up of Britain, I remember thinking ‘I have read all this already’ and so didn’t buy the book. But also the idea implied in the book’s title of Scottish or Welsh (or English!) independence seemed to be taking it a bit far. Only much later, in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, did it seem obvious and necessary.

Tom Nairn was a regular contributor to the earlier issues of another London publication that I bought and read in the later 1970s. This was Bananas (1975–1981), the newspaper-format literary magazine edited by Emma Tennant, of Scottish aristocratic family, but brought up in England and living in bohemian West London. Nairn published in Bananas some of the writing that he was working on for The Break-up of Britain. Aside from that material, he contributed a scathing article on ‘The English Literary Intelligentsia’ (Bananas no. 3) – exhibiting a characteristic sharpness of expression in resuming his exposition of how England got to be the way it is, and in this case how it got to be the place that produced Kingsley Amis and Margaret Drabble. One should certainly add him to the list of wanderers who never lost the bearings of their education in Scotland.

As a typographer I should perhaps have been more engaged with concrete poetry than I ever was. This wasn’t the aspect of Edwin Morgan’s writing that I valued most. I have a few issues of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Poor.Old.Tired.Horse (1962–1967). I bought these new, some years after publication; perhaps they were still for sale in Compendium or one of the other London shops.

I saw a few issues of Akros, and I remember buying direct from Duncan Glen at least one publication – I think it was an interview with MacDiarmid, set on an electric typewriter. Glen was a good typographer and the magazine and its associated publications were well done in that respect. Late in his life he published a book, Printing Type Designs: A New History (2001). I have never seen this book, but from accounts of it I gather that the ‘new’ part of the history is the Scottish part. A specialist typographic bookseller in Amsterdam once asked me how to get hold of copies. I think eventually he succeeded and was able to stock it in his shop.

Looking at magazines through a typographic consciousness has a limiting effect. For example, I did occasionally see copies of Cencrastus and Radical Scotland, but found it tough going to actually read much in them, partly because of the amateurish design. That applies even more so to the Red Paper on Scotland, with its very small size of type, set in long lines (about 15 words per line). Neal Ascherson has called it the ‘unread paper’.

There is a technical explanation for what happened in design and production in these years. Through the post-war period and into the 1960s the predominant method of setting and printing text was with metal type and letterpress printing. Production was firmly in the hands of highly trained – and unionised – compositors and printers. But by about 1970 metal and letterpress were being deposed by photocomposition and offset lithographic printing, for reasons of cost of equipment and materials, and ease of operation. Small offset printers did not need much training to operate, and text composition with the IBM Selectric (‘golfball’) typewriters and Letraset (rub-down letters) for headlines needed no obvious skills. For a few years in the mid-1970s, the printing unions resisted this, but quite quickly gave way. In the 1970s and 1980s the pages of the small magazines were mostly pasted up – the raw materials were paper output from typewriters or the small photocomposers that came to the fore then – to make ‘camera-ready copy’ that was photographed to make film, from which printing plates were made. This was how EUSPB operated through the 1970s and most of the 1980s. It employed two compositors with union cards, though paste-up was done by non-professionals. The visible results of all this? Lines of text (especially corrections or additions) stuck down at a slight angle from the rest of the page, letters bumping into each other in headlines, rules drawn with a blotchy pen or an unsteady hand, illustrations made by someone with an idea but nothing much more than that. Towards the end of the 1980s, personal computers and especially Apple Macintoshes with page make-up software became available. At least now the lines of text were always perfectly straight.

At this time my main political commitment was to Charter 88. Every Saturday afternoon I joined a group on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields holding banners demanding a Bill of Rights, proportional voting, reform of the House of Lords, and so on. I always tried to get the one that demanded a Scottish Assembly. In July 1990, at the Charter’s first Constitutional Assembly, Tom Nairn sent a paper that spoke about the Charter movement: ‘the product of a southern (rather than “English” in the misleading territorial sense) political culture. Its radicalism is still permeated by a heartland ethos of confidence and possibility, still animated by high-profile assumptions of political competence. The Scottish movement, in contrast, is emerging from a low-profile, apolitical culture of submissiveness and evasion, and trying to build up an elementary self-confidence where almost nothing existed before.’

Though I certainly knew all about the ‘ethos of confidence’ of the southerners, what I valued in the Scottish movement, as seen in the magazines and more occasionally in real-life encounters with the natives, was the bringing together of culture and politics. One was not hived off from the other: the Scottish literary and visual cultures were playing a political role in affirming the nation. It wasn’t like that in England. Sometimes the Scottish voices were rough and plain, but I had the sense that something could be done through them.

Thanks to Simon Esterson for his memories of the 1980s.


Robin Kinross is the founder of Hyphen Press, and the author of Modern typography: an essay in critical history (2nd edn, 2008).

Mag Memories: A Can of Worms and Chapman

Joy Hendry looks back on the long, storied and combative history of Chapman, ‘Scotland’s Quality Literary Magazine’


Portrait of Joy Hendry by Alasdair Gray (2002)

The Scottish literary scene in 1970 was a veritable minefield: embattled, embittered by decades, if not centuries of neglect, distortion and misrepresentation and ignorance. Aspiring practitioners or scholars of literature like myself at the time, aged seventeen, could not be blamed for not even being aware of its existence, due to its absence from the curricula in education at every level. In terms of public recognition and funding, it was similarly invisible, deemed unnecessary, or a low priority in bodies like Arts Councils and universities.

Chapman began that year as The Chapman, a tiny, eight-page demi-quarto affair, the central impulse being simply to provide publication for poets (initially) in a scenario where much of quality was being written, for outlets very few. In no time, however, the combativeness of the scene and the struggle for scarce resources led to an editorial desire for controversy and ‘stirring it up’, especially when the founding editors had their application for Scottish Arts Council funding roundly rejected. The rude remarks made about other more fortunate magazines, and ‘established’ literary figures in The Chapman no 6 editorial, still make entertaining reading. (Straight intae the fechtin, almost…)

George Hardie, Hamilton-based poet, was the founder, and he teamed up with local poet Walter Perrie, whom I met in my second term at Edinburgh University, where we were both studying. He looked at my poetry and promised to publish two of my poems in the next issue. Eighteen months later, I found myself joint-editor of a literary magazine, aged only nineteen, though initially editorial policy came primarily from Walter. He wanted to place the magazine in the European and international mainstream, à la Pound, Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, and with a commitment to intellectualism and new ideas. From that lofty perspective, he tended to devalue current writing in Scotland. There was a firm commitment to quality in writing, giving airtime to new voices, including those espousing unfashionable and unpopular ideas, and to ‘speaking out’ about important cultural matters. We both wanted to avoid the destructive in-fighting going on in some of the magazines, and regretted the feuding between dominant personalities of the time. From the first, we sought out areas and authors suffering neglect or marginalisation. It’s hard to believe, now, that Sorley MacLean came into that category, as did Tom Scott and others.

The smaller the duck-pond, the fiercer the fight among the ducks, it seems. From a UK perspective, Scottish literature barely existed, and its individual cultural mores were misunderstood, perhaps wilfully – this despite its astonishing fecundity over centuries. We were young newcomers on the scene, but it became quickly evident that ‘the establishment’ (UK and Scottish) favoured endeavour in English only, and that both Gaelic and Scots suffered as a result. There was a strong and distinct bias against nationalism, which was almost treated with intellectual contempt. (Socialist ideas and postures were more acceptable, especially Internationalist, though Hugh MacDiarmid remained largely beyond the pale in university literature departments into the 1970s.)

Cartoon by Gerry Mangan from Chapman No. 66 – ‘of sundry bods failing to live up to N MacCaig’s expectations’ (1987)

As Scots, we’ve always been more than keen on vicious feuding, fechtin, flyting of a terrifyingly ferocious kind, and, the duck pond being a small one, this happened big time. Individuals even of ‘the native species’, once secured in a position of power or influence, had a grim proclivity to use that to marginalise any rivals. As editors of Chapman, we were keen to promote precisely those writers whose work was being marginalised, though the magazine itself suffered as a result, its grant being withdrawn in 1977 on grounds of poor literary quality. When we’d just been publishing Tom Scott, Sorley MacLean (and others more favoured too)?  Both Scott and MacLean had powerful enemies, and both had hardly been published or featured on the BBC for years.

By 1975, I had begun to get my bearings in this duckpond, and was exercising more editorial muscle, making the magazine much more centrally Scottish. We published one issue on the wonderful Rainer Maria Rilke, but when I began work on a second, mostly already commissioned, and with a third in view, I stopped dead, thinking: Why are we doing this?– and changed direction, though not entirely abandoning the magazine’s original aims and ideals. I became sole editor and redirected the magazine to prioritising Scotland – not as any backward-looking restoration, but so that the sheer quality and range of Scottish literature in English, Scots and Gaelic achieved better promotion and exposure. Inevitably that involved politics, though with a non-partisan small ‘p’.

A key moment in this process came in 1975, when we visited Sorley MacLean in Braes, on a crazy impulse arising late one evening in Sandy Bell’s, and travelled overnight to Skye, arriving drookitly on his doorstep unannounced – three of us, dishevelled toe-rags, with two dogs – to an immediate welcome. At the time he was writing his long poem, ‘Uamha ’n Oir’, the first two parts of which had already been published in English magazines. Starting off to tout for the third part, I was horrified to find out that Sorley had no expectation that any part of this poem would see publication in Gaelic, given the setup then. I immediately committed to publishing all parts written to that date, three in all, in Gaelic only, which I did (Chapman 15). Earlier that year, because of our collaborations with magazines and writers south of the border, Chapman was able to ensure Sorley’s appearance at the first Cambridge Poetry Festival, where had had made an enormous impact.

The Scottish magazine scene, in parallel, was similarly fractious and war-torn, with some though not all of the main protagonists slugging it out in their pages. Over the course of the twentieth century, some very fine magazines had come and gone: The Voice of Scotland (1938-61), Scottish Art and Letters (1944-50) and others too numerous to list here. In the 1970s, there were nine in hot competition for the limited funding: a long-running magazine in Gaelic (Gairm) since 1952, Lines Review also founded around then, published by Callum Macdonald and edited by a series of hands (1954-98), New Edinburgh Review (various editors, 1969-84), and Akros (Duncan Glen) appeared in 1965, running until 1983. Beginning around the same time as Chapman were Scotia Review (1972-1999, initially Scotia 1970-72), very much nationalist in thrust, edited by David Morrison, Lallans, devoted to Scots language (1973-) and Tocher, from the School of Scottish studies (1971-2009).

We were very much the upstarts, being the youngest editors by quite a long way. There was a Trojan horse at the time, the magazine Scottish International, founded by the Scottish Arts Council itself in 1968, edited for most of its run by Bob Tait, regarded by some as a favoured child of the Scottish establishment and in receipt of as much funding, just about, as the rest of us put together. The scene throbbed with suspicion and distrust. That SI did good and worthwhile work over its duration is beyond doubt, but it was generally felt that its stance was ‘anti-nationalist’ and the sheer disparity in the funding levels seemed deeply unfair. The very good, strongly nationalist magazine Catalyst (1967-74), similar in range of content, had been refused any funding from SAC and it was felt this could only be because of its political stance. Since most of the editors were nationalist, to differing degrees, this left people feeling wary and insecure.

Some of these were in outright war with each other; but almost all felt embattled and suspicious, guarding what little funding they had as best they could. To some extent at least, Walter and I were brought into the fold by SAC Literature Director, Trevor Royle, who became a close friend and, insofar as he could, supporter. Weary of the feuding, Trevor and Walter dreamed up a magazine association (SCAMP – Scottish Association of Magazine Publishers) which brought all the editors together in an attempt to maximise distribution. Before long we became friends and collaborators, organising events, holding regular meetings and employing magazine reps. Sadly, perhaps, the only thing that really worked, distribution-wise, was yours truly trudging round universities, trawling pubs, selling hand to hand. My record in one day was 144, sold at The East Kilbride Mod in 1976. Walter and I tried hard to foster a quasi trade-union mentality amongst editors, with at least some success, and there’s a hangover from that amongst editors working today. An abortive attempt to revive SCAMP was made by Gavin Wallace and myself in the early 2000s, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) work.

In editing Chapman, I didn’t allow feuding or gratuitous nastiness in its pages. While quite prepared to champion one writer to the chagrin, perhaps, of another, I did so for literary reasons and managed, over time, to ensure that both ‘parties’ appeared in its pages. At no time did I allow anybody, or any body, to dictate who or what I should publish, though I was open to ideas from everywhere and learned what I needed to learn from wherever I could.

Thanks to benign and careful manipulation, especially from SAC directors Trevor Royle and Walter Cairns who argued tirelessly for more support for literature, the whole literary scene in Scotland became much more harmonious and well catered-for, with everyone involved – writers, publishers and the rest – feeling that we were working towards common goals to the benefit of Scotland as a whole. Indeed some, myself included, now lament the lack of a good centrally disputatious issue, because things are maybe just a bit too cushy and ‘dumbed down’. I always tried to be even-handed, making literary quality, insofar as my judgement allows, my principle criterion; losing friends from turning down their work and publishing people with whom I was not exactly ‘at one’. I even published work I found personally abhorrent or distasteful in some way, because it had some quality or other I thought important.

From issue to issue, I would look out for some area that needed exploring, or radical change, and often devote an entire issue to discussion of that area of Scottish life; Scots: the Language and Literature (No. 23-4, 1979) looked at the language across the boards and tried to adumbrate what action in each aspect was needed to better its status and condition; Woven by Women (No. 27-8, 1980) was the first ever attempt in Scotland to open Pandora’s Box and look at the contribution of women to culture in the twentieth century. Another important issue was No. 35-6, The State of Scotland: A Predicament for the Scottish Writer? (1983) in which writers aired views about Scottish identity, its pros and cons, from all the political airts and perspectives (that caused a storm). And the Theatre Issue (No. 43-4) provoked a major re-think of the whole theatrical scene, pointing to the absolute necessity of giving more support to ‘the native industry’. The National Theatre we now have grew uninterruptedly, though not without huge difficulty, out of that issue, and both the magazine and I were heavily involved in the process right along the line.

Chapman of course had its critics, and its detractors, some of whom tried to accuse it of unthinking Tartanry, or ‘narrow nationalism’, neither of which charge sticks at all. One of the things I most value in hindsight is serving on the committee, headed by Professor Sir Robert Grieve, which produced A Claim of Right for Scotland (1988), which lead directly to the Scottish Constitutional Convention and the Holyrood Parliament. I find it amusing, and quietly satisfying, to observe writers gradually adopting positions which they had previously criticised the magazine for espousing, for example, realising the potentials of Scots language, which they declared had no future. And many swung away from looking primarily to influences from south of the border or across the Atlantic to realise for themselves the sheer amazing originality, fertility, and creativity that has emerged from Scotland over the centuries. Now, it is no longer deeply un-cool and backward-looking to be Scottish, but something to exploit and enjoy. At no time did I completely ditch the policy to publish international work, but, having realised in those early years just how much had to be done to build a deserving cultural framework here, it simply made no sense to do anything other than consider, as priority, the needs of Scotland and its writers. From about 1995 onwards, as huge progress was made, I felt able increasingly to publish work from all over the world.

And what of being a woman in that very male world (especially up until about 1980)? I think I am the first solo woman editor of a magazine, certainly a literary magazine, in Scotland. It’s been my great fortune to know and work with so many of the mainly male writers of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. I never felt, or was made to feel, in awe of any of them, though one or two gave me rather less regard than I might be due because I am a woman, and at first such a young woman. Without any self-consciousness at all, I approached even Hugh MacDiarmid as someone I could interact with on equal terms. I spent wonderful evenings with Norman MacCaig, Hamish Henderson, Iain Crichton Smith, Tom Scott, Alasdair Gray (who provided our covers for years) and many others; and those I didn’t meet so often were hugely supportive and always happy to write for me: Edwin Morgan, George Mackay Brown and many others. I missed knowing Helen B Cruickshank, which I deeply regret, but became very friendly with Jessie Kesson and Naomi Mitchison, both of whom I published regularly.

I would say that most (not all), like MacCaig, Crichton Smith, Hamish Henderson and others, appreciated me more for doing what I had done, because I was a woman. I used the magazine to encourage and support as many women as I reasonably could. However I am certain that both Chapman and I suffered in being unthinkingly passed over for many benefits and ‘official’ opportunities (in respect of status and reputation) due to two factors, one being my gender, and the other that Chapman operated independently from any officially-recognised institution. Being the particular age I am, I luckily ‘caught’ that older generation in a crucial cross-over period from neglect to recognition, but I notice women even ten years younger have a self-confidence which was systematically knocked out of the age-group I was born into. Looking back, I am narked, feeling I could in fact have done quite a lot more. In 1980, it was still possible for an established Scottish male poet to remark, when I probed him during researches for the Woven by Women issue: ‘Scottish women poets? You mean there are any!’ Nobody could ever say that now.

I think there were in fact advantages in my being female in this very male world, simply because I didn’t have to cope with having a ‘male ego’ myself, and could look dispassionately, sometimes even amusedly, at the trouble caused by the inter-tussling of the men, and see it clearly for what it was. Chapman has never been a vehicle for my ego, but a means to get certain things achieved in Scotland. I’m trying, nearing 70 now, finally to pay some attention to my own ego and personal needs – though finding it more difficult than one might expect to switch focus. But I am gratified that both Chapman as a magazine and I as an individual have played a significant role in the journey towards the devolved, thriving and much more robust Scotland we now enjoy.


Joy Hendry is a poet and editor based in Edinburgh. In 2019 she was honoured by the Saltire Society as one of the ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland’. In 2020 she became the inaugural winner of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Outstanding Contribution to Poetry in Scotland Award.

‘Mind that Magazine?’ Event 2 Digest

The public launch of the network was held 12 May 2021, as an audience of 40 scholars, students and former editors gathered (online) to ‘Mind that Magazine’.

We began with two special guests: Peter Kravitz and Glenda Norquay reflecting on the overlapping worlds of Edinburgh Review and Cencrastus in the 1980s.

Both talks were hugely useful in mapping out the various connections — social, practical, institutional — which defined the world of these magazines, and included some wonderful anecdotes and challenging questions.

An audio recording of these opening talks can be found below, or on Apple Podcasts.

 

We didn’t record the wide-ranging discussion that followed, but we’ve picked out a number of themes and highlights (based on the excellent notes of Alice Piotrowska). We’ll be pursuing several of these questions further as we move toward our next event, on possibilities for digitisation, and the edited book project.


Magazines as organisations that work together and form relationships. Talking about his experience in the early years of Radical Scotland, Graeme Purves mentioned the challenges of working as a small, idealistic and determined ‘editorial collective’: a model that is difficult to sustain in the long run. Glenda Norquay agreed, noting parallels with Cencrastus.

Why should this Edinburgh sandwich shop be a major fixture of literary tourism? Listen to the podcast to find out…

Distribution: Glenda Norquay mentioned her interest in the practicalities of magazine distribution. For instance, Edinburgh Review was operating within a fairly professional publishing set-up as part of Polygon/Edinburgh University Student Publications Board, but she also recalls people packing magazines (such as Cencrastus) into cars and driving them around Scotland themselves. Getting magazines into shops was a major challenge, and she is interested to know more about how other people did it.

SCAMP: Joy Hendry (Chapman) agreed that distribution was a major and perennial challenge, partly addressed through the formation of SCAMP (Scottish Association of Magazine Publishers) in 1973, at the urging of Trevor Royle and Walter Perrie. [Modestly funded by the Scottish Arts Council until 1976, SCAMP was a co-operative marketing/distribution scheme and selling agency intended to professionalise Scottish periodical publishing.] The situation did not really improve throughout the 1980s and 90s, and Joy would still be packing copies into her car and selling them directly in pubs, sometimes with the help of volunteers. (See also Joy’s blog on Chapman.)

From a December 1980 issue of ‘Student’ discussing developments at the Edinburgh University Student Publications Board (including the recent launch of Polygon). Full issue here.

Digitisation and research: Graeme Hawley (NLS) asked about the research questions people would like digitisation to open up for them. What is not currently possible, as a research question or method, that could be pursued through digitisation?  (Technology can do a lot of things, but it’s the research questions that will drive its use.) Scott Hames agreed this is an important discussion to begin, and that it is important to consider the new kinds of research/use digitisation would enable, rather than viewing it simply as a repository.

Glenda Norquay suggested that digitising magazines could help produce a ‘map’ of contributors who overlapped across different magazines – i.e. who was writing for which magazines? Graeme Purves mentioned that he is currently exploring related questions, and that there are a lot of names that crop up across magazines (such as Alastair McIntosh and Rob Gibson in Reforesting Scotland.) Once you start mapping those names, you pick up many connections.

Graeme Macdonald wrote in the chat that ‘digitisation would be great not only for research purposes but especially for research students geographically unable to immediately access Scottish university holdings (which by themselves are still pretty patchy), but also for use in general undergraduate teaching.’

Editorial freedom: Joy Hendry mentioned that being a ‘solo operator,’ while challenging on an administrative and financial level, meant that she could follow her own vision. She felt that she had a lot of editorial freedom to publish what she wanted, and it allowed her to do her ‘job’ as an editor – creating a ‘democratic’ outlet for varied voices but also realising her vision for the magazine, as she ‘knew where she was going’ and what she wanted to achieve. She cited Patricia Oxley of Acumen saying that editing a magazine is like ‘educating yourself in public.’

Allegiance to different magazines: Glenda Norquay said that she was particularly interested in people’s reading habits at the time – for example, did people read all magazines, or did they choose one or two outlets (e.g., would you be an ‘Edinburgh Review person’)? Murdo Macdonald remembers reading everything – although there was an element of competition, it was within ‘an overall sense of cooperation’ among magazine editors, with a lot of cross-interest. Similarly, Ray Burnett (Calgacus) said that he read ‘everything that he could get his hands on,’ including Chapman, Radical Scotland, and Akros.

Women in magazine publishing: Joy Hendry noted that Scottish literature was very much a male world in the 1970s and 80s, and that the inspiration driving Chapman would come from mostly male authors/connections. She mentioned trying to find a bridge between the ‘two worlds’ as a feminist editor working with male writers. (Jenny Turner’s blog is relevant here, and so too Glenda Norquay’s comments during this event – see recording above.)


‘Underlying social fabric’:
Rory Scothorne mentioned his interest in the social life/communities that gathered around the literary magazines – were there particular pubs, cafes, or bookshops that were important to the magazine scene? A few mentioned by the participants: Sandy Bell’s, Proctors and various Rose Street bars in Edinburgh, Star Club and the Scotia Bar in Glasgow, St Katherine’s Club in Aberdeen. Graeme Purves noted that the working world of Radical Scotland was very much centred around small pubs. Joy Hendry mentioned that she would distribute Chapman around pubs and universities in Scotland.


We hope to make an ‘audio scrapbook’ podcast from people’s memories of these magazines, so if you have a story or anecdote you’d be willing to share, please do get in touch on scotmagsnet@gmail.com. There will be a few other ‘Magazine Memory’ blogs appearing over the coming months.

Mag Memories: The Day I Received a Death Threat

Ahead of our public launch event on 5 May, we’ll be running a number of blogs and podcasts sharing the memories of magazinists.  To start us off, Prof Alistair McCleery offers a behind-the-scenes tour of how many Scottish magazines have been funded.


Is this thing on? Will I start?

The Scottish Arts Council, which had been established in 1967, in an early example of devolution from the overarching Arts Council of Great Britain, had a clear mission to promote cultural creation and reception across the nation. When I first became involved with it in 1988, the Literature Department was headed by the erudite and humane Walter Cairns and its Literature Committee was chaired by the energetic and diplomatic Deirdre Keaney. New projects flowed from their passion: the Edinburgh Book Festival, the Canongate Classics series, and the Scottish Poetry Library. Walter and Deirdre were both primarily responsible for the commissioning of the 1989 readership survey that in turn led to a number of key initiatives such as ‘Now Read On’ and ‘Readiscovery’.


And magazines?

I was coming to that. But you need to understand the culture Walter and Deirdre, and later (from 1996) Gavin Wallace and Derry Jeffares, created at the SAC and specifically how decision-making took place. In particular, the committee structure allowed for a great deal of transparency in decisions on the distribution of tax-payers’ money. The decisions were made by committee members who were representative of, and circulated within the wider groups of, writers, editors, and publishers as well as academics like me. Derry Jeffares, who had come to Stirling University from Leeds with enormous, entrepreneurial experience of academic publishing, built on the work of Deirdre when he took over as Chair of the Literature Committee, and further encouraged the development of writers and readers, both directly and indirectly through the support of book and magazine publishers. Derry acted as a mentor to me at this time, as he did for so many others; he constantly reminded me of my roots in the ‘Black North’ [of Ireland] as he persisted in calling it from his sophisticated TCD upbringing – even when I was enjoying his hospitality at Fife Ness, a long way from Derry and Dublin for both of us. Anyway, I also served on two sub-committees of the Literature Committee, the Mixed Arts and the Magazines, where it was a very positive experience to work alongside the likes of James Robertson.

Can you tell me more about the Magazines sub-committee?

We were all committed to the importance of small literary magazines. We valued them highly as an outlet for new writers, not only in terms of seeing their work in print but also as an opportunity for editorial advice and support to shape and encourage their careers; as a place for more experienced writers to experiment without losing either their usual publisher or a readership accustomed to a certain style or subject-matter; and as a print venue where writers with similar views and/or styles could coalesce to form more influential groupings to contribute to the constant regeneration of Scottish literary culture. These might seem rather high-minded views but they were the guiding principles behind our decision-making.

 

To be honest, we really only encountered one persistent difficulty: staleness. Let me explain. Sometimes, editors who had typically founded a magazine, and poured a great of their own time (and occasionally money) into it, found it difficult to comprehend that they and the magazine needed to change and adapt from what it had been at its beginnings. For example, Gairm had been founded by Derick Thomson in 1951 and he was to act as its editor for fifty years. It published all the great Gaelic writers of the twentieth century from Sorley MacLean through George Campbell Hay to Iain Crichton Smith. And Derick was an absolute giant in both the literary and the academic spheres. (I also served alongside him on the Council of the ASLS at one time.) But after nearly forty years, the magazine no longer seemed as – what’s the right word – as exciting, innovative, leading-edge as it once was. It seemed to be only going through the motions. We felt that a change of editor would likely reinvigorate it but Derick, when approached informally, was very resistant to abandoning the role, even to take up an honorary editorship. You can understand why. However, in the end, we continued to support it financially because there was no sign of any other Gaelic literary magazine on the horizon.

Did you have any other criteria for funding magazines?

I think it would be fair to say that we enjoyed idiosyncrasy and encouraged diversity – of authors, topics and so on, to encourage as many readers as possible.  However, there were two key principles that we insisted on: a professionalism in design and production (these being the far-off days of print); and the payment of contributors.  The first was intended again to encourage readers – although I have to admit that most sales of these magazines were through subscriptions, individual and institutional, and only a few bookshops handled copies for the impulse buyer.

James Thin’s on North Bridge was an honourable exception, offering a wide range for what may have been a largely student market. The second criterion was more readily understood: we offered funding not only to support the production of the magazine but also to support the authors; you cannot create a healthy literary culture on the back of volunteer or amateur – I mean in the sense of unpaid – writers. We never used circulation figures as a funding criterion, as compared to content and presentation, but we did expect proper accounts, even of a rudimentary kind. On the other hand, with the benefit of hindsight, we perhaps should have been proactive in creating some form of central distribution system, perhaps with an existing firm, to strengthen circulation here and elsewhere.

You had a later involvement with the SAC and magazines, I believe?

A minor one. Sometime after I left the SAC committees, in 2004 in fact, Gavin Wallace commissioned Marion Sinclair, who had also previously served on the Literature Committee and is now, of course, Chief Executive of Publishing Scotland, to write a Review of Scottish Publishing. One of our key recommendations was the establishment of a new magazine to promote Scottish writing and publishing along the lines of the very successful Books Ireland that had been going from 1976. That had acted as a very successful ambassador for Irish literary culture, particularly in its overseas distribution through the country’s consulates and embassies. Unfortunately, the British Council was less enthusiastic about a Scottish iteration. Anyway, that was the origin of the Scottish Review of Books in 2004.

(Books in Scotland had already existed up to 1998. It had been founded by Norman Wilson of the Ramsay Head Press in 1976. On his death, his widow Christine took over as editor with the support of his son Conrad. Christine was very generous to a young academic with a large family in both employing me as a reviewer and providing my daughter and sons with lots of mint children’s books – a genre that Books in Scotland did not cover.) Where was I?

The ‘Scottish Review of Books’.

Yes. The magazine was eventually stabilised through its link with the Herald newspaper which distributed it as a supplement to its standard Saturday edition. This was due, I think, to the then links with the Herald of its Editor, the dynamic Alan Taylor. However, it still needed support from the SAC, now Creative Scotland, particularly after the link with the Herald was broken. In 2019, Creative Scotland stopped funding it and it survives now online only. Coincidentally, Books Ireland became online only in 2019 as well but it continues to be supported by the Irish Arts Council. You know, if Scotland were an independent nation like Ireland, then it might lose its…


We’d better stop there. But what about the title you’ve given to this interview?

Oh, the death threat, you ask. I noted earlier that a key criterion for funding was that the magazine had to pay its contributors. We didn’t set the rate but they had to be paid. One of the editors steadfastly refused to do this and we had to withdraw support for his magazine. He then wrote to the sub-committee threatening to kill each of us next time he ran across us. It was a less litigious time and we just ignored him. And of course, it was not the first extreme reaction I’d ever received. In the 1980s, I undertook a review of small poetry presses (basically everyone except Faber and Chatto) for the ACGB [Arts Council of Great Britain] and I had to make some negative recommendations. Well, you’ve never seen vicious vituperation like that of vitriolic versifiers. But that’s for another day…

Thanks. We’ll leave it there then.

(Alistair McCleery interviewed by Alistair McCleery, St Patrick’s Day, 2021)


Alistair McCleery has published much work on the history of the publishing trade as well as on its contemporary prospects. He is the author of over 120 refereed articles and book chapters as well as some 15 books. He has written on Scottish authors from John Buchan to Neil M. Gunn, and on Scottish literary magazines from the 1920s to the 1990s.

Modern Scottish Magazines – A Long View

The focus of this network begins in the 1960s, but there is a much deeper history of Scottish magazines. Charlotte Lauder takes a longer view.

Modern Scottish magazines have a long history. We can start with the Scots Magazine, established in 1739 and still published today.[1] Yet, beneath this remarkable longevity lies a fractured history which makes the Scots Magazine a convincing simile for the development of modern Scottish magazines in general. In fact, the Scots Magazine has been out of print for much of its life – between 1826 and 1887, and from 1893 to 1922. Its most stable period of publication has only been since 1927. Similarly, the magazine has flip-flopped between a variety of proprietors and political allegiances, including the Free Kirk of Scotland (Liberal), the St Andrew’s Society of Glasgow (Unionist-nationalist), and D. C. Thomson & Co. (Unionist).

 

Although prominent during the time period covered by this research network, the Scots Magazine is not a title I’d consider to be within its lens of inquiry. But it is still a magazine produced in Scotland and it emphasises many of the issues under evaluation by this network: how do magazines construct or express Scottish national identity? How does politics influence a magazine (and vice versa)? How important are the people behind the press? Ultimately, what do magazines do (and not do)?

These questions have been somewhat neglected, particularly outwith the 1920-40 period. While studies of these magazines remain important, and the work of Margery Palmer McCulloch, Alistair McCleery, Cairns Craig, and David Finkelstein is extremely relevant, our view of Scottish magazines has been thwarted by insularity and a tendency to arrange good marriages between the major movements of that era: Scottish nationalism, Scottish Literary Revival, and Scottish modernism. If we take a step back, what can a longer and broader view of Scottish magazines tell us?

Firstly, Scottish magazines are ‘connecters’. Most of the best-studied Scottish titles are ‘little magazines’ like Patrick Geddes’ Evergreen (1895-96), Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scottish Chapbook (1922-23) and Northern Review (1924), and J. H. Whyte’s Modern Scot (1930-35), whose contributors and associated literati are also well-known. Research on these magazines, and their European counterparts, has provided a rich body of theoretical and methodological approaches, the most interesting of which is probably ‘periodical encounters’, focused on the social, economic, intellectual, cultural and material relations that make up connections between magazines, which Nathan Hensley has described as ‘a chain of visible or material connections’.[2] How magazines establish connections with other magazines (and also how they don’t) is just as interesting as what they publish. Materiality is a trusted entry point into these encounters – what is the format of the magazine? How many pages? What colours are used? Are these the same across the board? Assessing changes in form and layout also reveal ‘hidden’ aspects of magazines – is an increase in the number of pages the result of more funding? Does a change in format reflect a change in staff or printing premises? Can a change in font be political, or is it merely typographical?

 

As great at connecting as Scottish magazines were, they often published the same contributors, and increasingly those contributors ended up being the magazine’s readership. A long view of Scottish magazines therefore teaches us that they are also insular, and what a magazine sets out to do – for example, reaching an audience of like-minded intellectuals, writers, or creatives – is not always what it achieves. Hugh MacDiarmid, that omnipresent figure in the history of the modern Scottish press, lamented the lack of reach in Scottish magazines of the 1920s when he wrote that “None of these significant little periodicals – crude, absurd, enthusiastic, vital – have yet appeared in Auchtermuchty or Ardnamurchan […] It is discouraging to reflect that this is not the way the Dadaists go about the business!”.[3] Any study of postwar Scottish magazines should bear this in mind, and give attention to the ‘periodical encounters’ that immediately preceded those under examination here; or, at least, the encounters that magazines of the 1960s-90s said that they were responding to. Titles like The Voice of Scotland: a quarterly magazine of Scottish arts and affairs (1938-1961), The Galliard. An illustrated review of Scottish life and venture (1948-49), and Scottish art and letters (1944-50) are part of this precursory landscape and are as under-researched as those that form the body of this network.

 

Nationality is both helped and hindered by ‘periodical encounters’. Is a magazine produced in Scotland the only pre-requisite to being a ‘Scottish magazine’? What about magazines created for Scots abroad, like The Fiery Cross: a magazine for Scottish Canadians (1895-96) or The Australasian Highlander (1970-). There were magazines produced in Scotland by non-Scots, like those created by internationalist-socialist Guy A. Aldred’s Bakunin Press, including The Commune (1923-29), Regeneracion!! (1936-37), and Word (1938-64). And what about magazines that originated in Scotland, but which migrated elsewhere? James Leatham (1865-1945), the influential Aberdonian socialist and publisher of Scotland’s first socialist newspaper The Worker’s Herald (1891-92), after moving from Aberdeen to Yorkshire, established the Cottingham Press and published The Gateway (1912-45), ‘a monthly magazine aimed at Scots at home and abroad’, across these locations. Might there be a politically or editorially pithy magazine in London, Dublin, or New York with an eye towards Scotland and a viewpoint on devolution, arts funding, or contemporary literature? Most likely, no. But the outward looking and internationalist attitude of Scottish International (Review) (1968-74) and The Dark Horse (1995-) makes it not impossible.

Feminist magazines, of which Scotland was a prodigious producer, offer us a way into transnational encounters. As Rachael Alexander has demonstrated,[4] magazines such as Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (1977-78), Ms Print (1978-81), Harpies and Quines (1992-94), and NESSIE: A Radical and Revolutionary Feminist Newsletter in Scotland (1979-?), were concurrent with Spare Rib (1972-93), A Woman’s Place (1977), and Ms. (1971-), and studies into the ‘periodical encounters’ of feminist magazines at local, regional, national and international levels are certainly ripe for further research.[5]

The obvious conclusion that a long view of Scottish magazines suggests is that, at some point or another, there has always been a need to represent and codify some aspect of Scottish life. Sometimes this is obvious: regionality, feminism, language, literature, politics, history, and religion. At other times, not so much – for example, what is within the pages of the sole issue of The Scot-free magazine, published in Glasgow in 1989? A long view reiterates a phrase I often use, that magazines have a porous boundary between consumption and contribution. By considering a longer history of Scottish magazines, we see this relationship at work, and that the ‘outside’ of magazines are just as important as the ‘inside’ of them.


Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland. She focuses on popular literary magazines published in Scotland between 1870 and 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Scotland News.

[1] https://www.dctmedia.co.uk/brands/the-scots-magazine/.

[2] Nathan K. Hensley, ‘Network: Andrew Lang and the Distributed Agencies of Literary Production’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 48, 3, (2015), 360.

[3] Alan Riach (ed.), Selected Poetry (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992), 7.

[4] https://www.genderequalmedia.scot/news/blog/harpies-and-quines-and-feminist-magazines-in-scotland/.

[5] Sarah Browne, “A Veritable Hotbed of Feminism”: Women’s Liberation in St Andrews, Scotland, c.1968-c.1979’, Twentieth Century British History, 23, 1, (2012), 100-123; Bec Wonders, ‘Mapping second wave feminist periodicals: Networks of conflict and counterpublics, 1970-1990’, Art Libraries Journal, 45, 3, (2020), 106-113.

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).

       

Profile: Question Magazine

A key aim of the network is recovering lost or forgotten magazines. Ben Jackson revisits Question Magazine, ‘the independent political review for Scotland’

On 6 September 1977 Neal Ascherson, at that time political correspondent of the Scotsman, confided to his diary some gloomy observations about the publishing scene in Scotland: ‘As Tom Nairn predicted to me a few days ago, the publication of Q magazine is stopped. The figures are sickening. The circulation was down to about a thousand (max. 1500 a few months ago), and only five out of 2000 libraries in Scotland, and only two universities out of eight subscribed.’ Ascherson was struck by the incongruity of this failure taking place at the very moment that Scottish politics and culture had never seemed more dynamic: ‘It’s unbelievable that in the most important decade of its recent history, at the moment when the country should be alive with fateful debates, Scotland can’t support one serious political review.’[1]

Q magazine – or, to give the publication’s full title, Question – has not subsequently acquired the cult status now enjoyed by publications such as Radical Scotland or Scottish International, nor has it been subject to the same level of academic attention. It was fated to have a shorter lifespan – running from October 1975 to August 1977, a total of 34 issues. Crucially, it did not embody an obvious political or cultural agenda that would enable it to be easily slotted into subsequent historical narratives. Nonetheless, the magazine was an audacious presence in Scottish public life that deserves to be more widely discussed. Q was an attempt to produce a regular magazine of political and cultural commentary in Scotland in the same vein as the New Statesman, the Spectator, or even the Economist. It was not intended to be a small-scale publication circulated among the cognoscenti but rather an influential public forum sold in newsagents while a new Scotland confidently awaited its devolved destiny. The first issue announced the magazine’s mission: ‘Q is an independent political review for Scotland, not tied to any political party. It is the editorial policy of Q that the review is open to interesting contributions, whether they agree with Q’s opinion or not. With the coming of the Assembly there is clearly a great need for a review such as Q.’[2]

It was certainly true that the pages of Q published contributions from all sides of the political debate in Scotland. But there was also some artifice in this description since the team behind the magazine had a discernible leaning towards the SNP. The founder and editor of the magazine was Peter Chiene, a lawyer and supporter of the SNP. He produced the magazine with a small editorial board: Alfie Donaldson, a law lecturer originally from Northern Ireland but based in Edinburgh; Michael Grieve, the prominent journalist and former Vice-President Publicity of the SNP (and of course son of Christopher Grieve/Hugh MacDiarmid); and, perhaps most intriguing of all, Alexander ‘Sandy’ McCall Smith, at that time a legal academic but later of course the world-famous novelist who authored The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series (McCall Smith officially became Q’s deputy editor later in its run). Michael Spens, the architect and critic (and SNP parliamentary candidate), was also added later to the editorial board.

Q initially appeared monthly, in a compact 24-page format, before moving to a fortnightly publication schedule from October 1976 (No. 13). The fortnightly magazine increased its size to tabloid and reduced the page count to 12. In design terms, Q was an orthodox, even rather dry, publication: print was laid out across several columns with the odd pull quote to break up the text. Initially, there were few images beyond the cover, a cartoon or two, and the occasional photo. The use of images increased markedly when the magazine shifted to its new tabloid format and by the end of its run Q’s design had become much slicker. Editorially, the magazine followed analogous publications edited from London in providing a powerful blend of serious political commentary; in-depth coverage of business and science; and a strong culture section that afforded plenty of space to the high arts and book reviews. Longer features were mixed with regular fixtures such as a diary-style set of short observations on the news, ‘Flyter’; a short editorial column expressing Q’s official view; a letters page; and a crossword. What set Q apart from, say, the New Statesman or Spectator, obviously, was that it viewed the world through a distinctive Scottish lens.

Reading Q now is to be reminded of the vibrancy of Scottish political culture in the 1970s – a time of high hopes and trenchant debates, populated by a cast of fascinating characters, many of whom would continue to play a significant role in Scottish and British public life well into the twenty-first century. Q’s contributors included an eclectic list of luminaries such as Neal Ascherson, Alan Bold, Gordon Brown, Henry Drucker, Owen Dudley Edwards, Duncan Glen, Christopher Harvie, James Hunter, Neil MacCormick, Stephen Maxwell, Edwin Morgan, Tom Nairn, Jim Naughtie, George Reid, Malcolm Rifkind, David Steel, Jim Sillars, Teddy Taylor, Brian Wilson and many others. As this list suggests, a major deficiency of Q was that it printed almost no articles by women and provided only the most meagre coverage of the women’s movement (in this it was representative of the deficiencies of Scotland’s 1970s political culture more generally). As best I can tell (some articles were written anonymously and some writers used initials rather than full first names), only three female authors ever wrote feature-length articles for the magazine: the author Naomi Mitchison (twice); the then director of the Edinburgh Film Festival, Lynda Myles; and Alison Bruce, a researcher at Glasgow University. There was also a strong public and voluntary sector representation among Q authors: many of the pieces in a given issue were written by academics, politicians, and employees of pressure groups and charities, with journalists making a respectable showing as the principal representatives of the private sector.

Despite these limits, the pages of Q provide a fascinating window into a period in which the structure of contemporary Scottish politics was taking shape. Looming over everything was the question of devolution. When would it happen? What would it look like? But hovering behind those questions were the rise of the SNP and the possibility of independence. Q hosted animated debates about each of the four main parties and Jim Sillars’s new Scottish Labour Party (SLP); European integration; the implications of North Sea oil; land-ownership and the Highlands; the Scottish universities and their relationship to devolution; the Scottish cultural scene; Irish nationalism; the rise of nationalism in Quebec; and many other topics. Q also prepared for devolution by investigating the delivery of Scottish public services and the scope for their improvement when a new assembly took charge. Health, education, housing, local government, the legal system, and policing were all treated in depth.

The quality of the writing was usually high. Tom Nairn contributed several scintillating articles that are essential to understanding his level of practical engagement with Scottish politics in this period (as a member of Sillars’s SLP), as opposed to his more Olympian pronouncements in his contributions to New Left Review.[3] The SNP theorist Stephen Maxwell was also a regular contributor, penning an important review of Nairn’s book, The Break-up of Britain (1977). Maxwell also engaged the Labour MP John Mackintosh in a fascinating exchange that illuminated the emerging fault-line between Labour devolutionists and independence supporters that was in the event delayed by twenty years because of the failure of devolution to launch in the 1970s.[4] Q hosted a lively debate about the politics of the 7:84 theatre company and their seminal play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.[5] Neil MacCormick used Q to challenge the SNP orthodoxy that it would secure a mandate for independence by winning a majority of Scotland’s parliamentary seats. MacCormick argued that a majority of votes rather than seats would be necessary to secure democratic legitimacy for a new Scottish state.[6] This is just a flavour of the range of analysis aired in Q, though it does underline that the magazine’s most influential work tended to be penned by supporters of independence. Some intriguing names and juxtapositions were also to be found among the book reviews, such as David Trimble reviewing Robert Fisk’s book on the recent Ulster Workers’ strike; Ted Cowan reviewing Christopher Harvie’s Scotland and Nationalism; and Donald Campbell reviewing William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw (‘a kind of Glasgow Kojak’).[7] Appropriately, the final issue included a cover feature by Peter Chiene celebrating the 85th birthday of Hugh MacDiarmid. Chiene argued that MacDiarmid’s great achievements in poetry had yet to be matched by Scots in other fields, notably fiction and political theory. But he was optimistic that the rise of the SNP at least indicated that new Scottish political thinking was underway, even if it had yet to attain the heights exemplified by MacDiarmid’s work.[8]

Q was sadly not to play any further role in fostering this novel political thought. Neal Ascherson, for one, felt the loss of the magazine keenly and vented to his diary about the failures he thought it revealed in Scotland’s intellectual infrastructure:

For journalists, Q was quite indispensable, the only place where really free and intellectual argument, as well as many very practical suggestions, took place in print. If Hibernia has a circulation of 20,000 in a smaller country, why could Q not have reached a miserable six or seven? Too ‘Edinburgh’, too identified with the SNP? The real trouble is the extreme weakness and stuntedness of the political intellectual here, and reluctance to commit money and time. Can there only be 1500 people who want to speculate on their country’s future and understand its present, when so many hundreds of thousand vote for a new future?[9]

Ascherson’s lament remains a resonant one for anyone interested in publishing serious analysis about Scotland, even (or perhaps especially) today.


Ben Jackson is Associate Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. He is the author of The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland (CUP, 2020).

[1] Neal Ascherson, ‘Devolution Diary’, Cencrastus, No. 22, 1986, p. 51.

[2] ‘What is Q’, Q, No. 1, October 1975, p. 24.

[3] For example, Tom Nairn, ‘The Radical Approach’, Q, No. 10, July 1976; ‘Scotland the Misfit’, Q, No. 13, 8 October 1976; ‘1931 – A Repeat Performance?’, Q, No. 14, 22 October 1976; ‘Revolutionaries Versus Parliamentarists’, Q, No. 16, 19 November 1976.

[4] Stephen Maxwell, ‘Review: The Break-Up of Britain’, Q, No. 31, 24 June 1977; ‘The Trouble with John P. Mackintosh’, Q, No. 24, 18 March 1977; John Mackintosh, ‘The Trouble with Stephen Maxwell’, Q, No. 26, 15 April 1977.

[5] Ian Bayne, ‘Ideology and 7:84’, Q, No. 3, December 1975; John Forsyth, ‘7:84 Replies’, Q, No. 4, January 1976.

[6] Neil MacCormick, ‘The Mandate Question’, Q, No. 12, September 1976.

[7] David Trimble, review, Q, No. 3, December 1975; Ted Cowan, ‘The Reds and the Blacks’, Q, No. 29, 27 May 1977; Duncan Campbell, ‘MacLaverty and McIlvanney’, Q, No. 29, 27 May 1977 (quote at p. 10).

[8] Peter Chiene, ‘Poets versus Philosophers’, Q, No. 34, 26 August 1977.

[9] Ascherson, ‘Devolution Diary’, p. 51.

 

Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine

How should we read and study the magazine, viewed as text, artefact or cultural form? Patrick Collier offers a stimulating crash-course in theorising magazine culture.

 

Congratulations to the organizers  for persevering through the pandemic and getting together the first virtual meeting of the network. In advance of our discussion, I offer the following précis, distilled from a draft book chapter entitled “The Magazine In Theory.” Rather than address the many questions begged in that title, I’ll bring the précis down to earth by calling it “Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine.”

I choose multiplicity to avoid prescription. While there have been efforts, in periodical studies, to establish firm critical protocols for the study of magazines, heterogeneity and multiplicity have been the hallmarks of the culture of magazines since the middle of the nineteenth century, when they became a central cultural form in the West. So, multiplicity and heterogeneity should also, I think, characterize our engagement with magazines as scholars. As you will see, some of these ways of reading will exist in tension or even in conflict with one another, but that too is all to the good in the study of a cultural form that, singly and across the broader field, plays host to a huge range of voices, genres, postures, and disciplines.

            Read magazines closely (1).

In surveying theoretical/methodological writing about periodicals dating back to the late 1980s, I am struck that there was a time, no so long ago, when the close reading of magazines needed to be defended. In separate chapters in Investigating Victorian Journalism (1990), Lyn Pykett and Margaret Beetham articulated foundational methodological questions and provisional answers that remain generative today. These include Pykett’s suggestion that periodicals (and their contents) be read both for their formal properties and as participants in broader cultural discourses. Writing at the high-water mark of High Theory, Pykett borrows Barthes’s sense of the “text as methodological field” to foreground, effectively, two styles of close reading: deconstructive and New Historicist close reading—the one to register and analyze the deep structures of signification in periodicals and the second to foreground “discourse and discursive communities.” All this would build up periodical studies (though she does not use the term) as “a new interdisciplinary formation” that “[reinstates] history, economics, and sociology” in humanities scholarship.

            Read magazines closely (2)—as magazines.

The invitation to read magazines closely foregrounds the question of how magazines signify distinctly from other cultural forms—in other words, the status of magazines as aesthetic objects in their own right, artifacts that produce distinct meanings not identical with or reducible to the plain text of their contents. As Sean Latham and others have noted, magazines require “a new kind of formalist reading practice” that can make visible “the specific formal constraints and affordances of magazines themselves.” Jerome McGann and the late George Bornstein enabled this sort of reading by articulating the concept of the “bibliographic code”—the meaning-effects of such physical, textual features as layout, typography, paper quality, arrangement, etc.—and applying it to the complexes created when literary works appeared in specific magazine contexts. Most broadly, reading magazines as magazines means treating them as primary texts rather than neutral containers of textual evidence to be “disaggregated,” as Latham and Robert Scholes put it in their 2006 program piece, “The Rise of Periodical Studies.” But I don’t need to lecture on the importance of treating magazines as magazines before a group called the Scottish Magazines Network, so on to greater specifics.

            Read magazines as serials.

Perhaps the two defining elements of the magazine as an artifact are the heterogeneity of its content—the word “magazine” enters the language, in its contemporary usage, to signify textual objects that gather together multiple texts by multiple authors—and its serial periodicity. A large majority of magazines appear serially at regular intervals, and most others aspire to this condition without meeting it, folding after a few issues or struggling to maintain a regular publication schedule. But seriality and periodicity are not merely flat facts about magazine form—they are also critical frames through which magazines and their contents can be and are being read, with increasing frequency and sophistication, by critics. Focusing on seriality allows us to raise question about how magazines interact and seek to interact with readers (think of the use of serial fiction or recurring features to capture and hold readers), what cultural work specific magazines and magazine genres do (reiterating cultural values and norms, constructing and reiterating such subject positions as reader, citizen, consumer, housewife, etc.), even how some magazines achieve something like a consistent voice. To read a magazine as a serial means not just to read across issues and years but to foreground the effects of seriality on a magazine’s aesthetic and economic work. To read a magazine as a casual reader is to know that you are entering into a text that predates the instance you hold in your hands and promises to extend forward to future encounters. To read seriality as a scholar is to look for particular effects, patterns, and agendas enabled, hindered, or spontaneously produced by this seriality.

            Read the magazine both as and against genre.

To speak of genre in magazines is at once inescapable and insufficient. As an artifact whose rise to prominence fuelled and participated in the growth of the first mass-media and mass-entertainment industry (late nineteenth-century print culture), magazines helped to establish mass media as at once relentlessly genre-driven and profligate in generating new and hybrid genres. (Compare the magazine and newspaper markets of the 1890s with Hollywood film in the classical era or TV in the current streaming age: in all these settings everything falls into a genre, and new genres keep appearing). Historical readers, magazine contributors, editors, and publishers all viewed their products as situated within an available generic framework. But it is crucial to distinguish between genres as historical participants understood them and genres devised retrospectively by critics to organize the field of objects. Think of the terms “little magazine” and “literary magazine”—useful if treated as provisional heuristics, and sometimes evoked by historical figures, but also anything but stable and consistent facts in the world. As Donal Harris recently suggested in constructing “Big Magazines” as his own provisional category, terms such as “little” and “literary” probably more accurately and consistently denote “attitudes towards readership” than they do “size or content.”

            Read the magazine as an object in the world.

Beetham noted in 1990 that periodicals have an economic and a signifying function, with most being born out of mixed motives, combining a desire to make money or forge a career with aims that are expressive, aesthetic, or political—the desire to “make one’s meanings stick.” Most people who study periodicals intently are drawn to their significance—the roles they played in fuelling literary careers, or in the cultural contestation over meaning, value, and power. As suggested above, a magazine’s physical properties have meaning effects; but to consider a magazine’s economics and its objecthood thoroughly takes us further. A “magazine” is not a single object but a serial object in this literal, physical sense. A single “magazine” title is actually an expansive set of single physical objects, objects whose production creates and destroys in the physical world—creates jobs and livelihoods and many kinds of economic activity; destroys trees and creates waste and requires the production of ink and the burning of fossil fuel to produce electricity and transport issues to readers and newsstands. The economy of publishing transforms and helps to create the social world, and it constantly forms and transforms the physical world. For instance, as James Mussell has noted, periodicals “both represent and move through space, helping to transform it [space] into circulation routes, spaces of commerce, library space, educational spaces, etc.” Magazines’ impact on the physical world is transforming anew today, as the newest and in some cases the most compelling magazines exist on the (to most of us) invisible and electricity-guzzling infrastructure of internet servers. To read magazines as objects is both to revivify Richard Altick’s “sociology of authorship” by recognizing their crucial and multiple economic effects and to recognize their blunt materiality as objects on/of an exhaustible planet.

            Read magazines critically. And uncritically. And….

Having taught undergraduate seminars on modern periodicals, I find that reading magazines with college students is valuable because it foregrounds and even exaggerates problems of interpretation that apply to all reading. When we construct an interpretation of a Wallace Stevens poem taken from a teaching anthology, we (and our students) may quite easily fall into the illusion that the metanarrative we construct has some fundamental and stable relation to the words on the page—some objective or absolute existence independent of us and our acts of reading. When we foreground the magazine as text, this illusion disappears, in part because—as we all know—no two readers consume a magazine in precisely the same way. To borrow a phrase from Scholes, the “protocols of reading” that emerge in the contact between magazines and their consumers are much looser and more individualized than those enacted in the reading of a novel or a poem. It is much harder to sustain the illusion, when we construct a metanarrative out of our reading of a magazine, that we are recreating a reading experience some historical subject(s) might have had or that we are uncovering some objective thing that pre-existed our act of interpretation. Every reading of a historic magazine quite clearly builds something new, even as it may be used as evidence to posit a broader cultural pattern, a “structure of feeling” per Raymond Williams, or something like it.

I write this even as my Twitter feed is aflutter (or a-Twitter?) with discussions of “post-critique”—a rethinking of the kinds of close reading that have dominated the critical enterprise since the theory revolution. I began here by celebrating continued close reading of periodicals, so it is worth noting that I am doing so in a setting in which close reading is under a new and uncommon degree of scrutiny. At least since the 2009 issue of Representations subtitled “How We Read Now,” scholars have problematized the dominance of “symptomatic reading” and its “hermeneutics of suspicion,” in which close-reading’s objective is the revelation of historical power relations encoded within the text, which is generally found to sustain those relations, reiterating dominant values and assumptions. Rita Felski’s new Hooked: Art and Attachment, a follow-up to her 2015 The Limits of Critique, attempts to steer the enterprise of literary scholarship away from critical argument and “explanation” and towards understanding and validating the affective work literary texts enable. In doing so she laments scholars’ attachment to critique and celebrates, instead, the attachment of lay readers to art, which becomes an aspiration for scholarship in the future. More diversely, the 2009 Representations writers presented a range of alternatives to symptomatic reading, from Morettian distant-reading (which would require another blog post, or twenty) to “surface reading,” “just reading,” “reading for patterns” and more.

These are all valuable perspectives. Indeed, what a scholar does when confronted with the plenitude among and within magazines will necessarily involve a range of reading modes, including those referenced here, not to mention skimming, skipping, and pausing to describe such magazine elements as page design, recurring format, typography, size, and more. Indeed, the heat around the current critique/post-critique debate threatens to create a binary that belies the complexity and both/and-ness of much of the actual reading that scholars do. And here again the particulars of periodical scholarship are illustrative. So-called symptomatic reading does have an important place in periodical studies: given the serial (and thus iterative) nature of magazines and their importance, even cultural dominance, in various historical contexts, scholarly readings that are critical in the agonistic sense are important. As someone whose primary specialty is British modernism, I am more interested in suspicious readings that probe rhetorics of violence and traces of misogyny in Blast than I am in readings that celebrate its quite well-documented role in the early emergency of modernisms in Britain. But my time as editor of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, and my own scholarly impulses and ad-hoc practices, underscore that 1) sympathetic and even celebratory readings of periodicals are as common as 2) symptomatic and/or suspicious ones, and equally common are 3) readings whose main agenda is simply to claim historic importance for an un- or understudied object.

I take it that the remit of the Scottish Magazines Network, as a collaboration aimed at establishing infrastructure and relationships to enable the study of Scottish magazines, embraces the third of these modes, perhaps with a bit of the first thrown in. And as a practitioner of periodical studies, I know that work in all of these modes is the product of a supple, resourceful, and multiple reading practice that calls upon critique and attachment and everything in between—close reading, distant reading, just reading, skimming, and sizing-up. I know, also, that this reading produces affects ranging from tedium to anger to pleasure to appreciation. Whether what we ultimately write reveals a magazine’s complicity in sustaining power relations, or celebrates a magazine’s bold flouting of convention or advocacy for the oppressed, or merely recounts an episode or calls attention to a previously obscure title, our work starts with open-minded engagement with an object that once captured historical readers’ attention and is now, for us, capturing attention anew.


Patrick Collier is Professor of English at Ball State University. He  is the author of Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1880-1930s (Edinburgh UP, 2016), and co-editor of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies.