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‘My head is my only house unless it rains’

Don Glen Vliet

Rehearsal      /     8. Sophie Seita & Danny Snelson


The cover (detail) of Jimmy & Lucy’s House of ‘K’ (#1, May 1984, $2)  
From Seita’s performance, ‘Fingers are for Feeling,’ 2022 (see here)
Snelson, © David Esquivel / UCLA, 2023

Lodging & Dislodging the Little Magazine
(A Google Document conversation.)

Back in the innocence of 2019

Where to begin? Perhaps with a short definition of what a little magazine is? My simple definition is usually: little magazines may sometimes look like little books—i.e. they usually appear in a codex form (sheets of paper folded, assembled, and bound in some shape or other into their recto-verso pages—as distinct from, say, a scroll or a stone tablet)—but, unlike most books, they are almost always the work of more than one author, and they appear periodically. Seriality is built into the medium even if it never materialises.

Little magazines, just like small-press publications more broadly (as distinct from trade publishing), are also often associated with experimental forms of writing, art, and design.

Snelson        This seems like an apt beginning.

Tagging the italicised keywords in your first entry is useful: ‘sometimes,’ ‘usually,’ ‘most,’ ‘almost always.’ In each instance, the little magazine is precisely each of these things, except (or perhaps especially) when it isn’t! From multimedia experiments like Aspen to a wide range of contemporary Tumblrs, NewHives, and other ‘magazines’ dispersed through inherently periodical platforms—in many ways, the ‘little’ magazine might best be seen as a medium that resists the standardisation of the ‘magazine’ generally understood; whether it be in terms of genre, format, content, circulation, or editorial intervention. I like the way Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman chart the move ‘from genre to database’ in their study of the modernist little magazine. Beyond categorisation, we might find a definition in a scatterplot of multiple values, where the ‘little’ and the ‘small’ tend toward the quadrant furthest from the ‘institutional’ and the ‘popular.’ Or, even better, when the point falls off the map altogether!

Seita            I like that you put quote marks around ‘magazines.’ Are Tumblrs and other online platforms ‘like’ magazines because their medium produces serial content or because they look like print magazines in some cases (i.e. is the magazine now a metaphor)? Or would some of these projects identify as magazines? I’m very interested in that tension between identifying formal or generic features and an editor’s or author’s self-identification with a genre or, say, a particular avant-garde group. These two do not always match and don’t have to. This ties into another feature of magazines that you hinted at with your point about ‘circulation’ and that I mentioned earlier with regard to a magazine’s multiple contributors: a magazine is, generally speaking, a collective work and circulates within a community or network of writers, editors, designers, printers, publishers, booksellers, readers, and various other more or less visible participants. That collectivity is sometimes deliberate and foregrounded, and sometimes simply remains an implicit feature of the medium.

Snelson        Yes: I’m fascinated by the various ways in which new serial forms of online publication identify (or don’t!) with the magazine as a format. Sites like Jacket —and, by extension, Jacket2 are a far cry from the issue-based codex, but still refer to themselves as magazines. On the other hand, we also have terms like webzine, blog, thread, listserv, or, simply, ‘group’ that are network-specific while carrying many of the same features we’ve described above. Even websites or collections that don’t mirror magazine culture—with, say, periodic ‘issues’ of new content—still harbour a structural periodicity in their distribution. I’m thinking of sites like UbuWeb and PennSound or Eclipse (which I’ve written about as ‘little databases’) all of which are marked by the periodic addition of new materials over time.

For example, playing a site like Eclipse back through archive.org reveals serial release patterns that can be tracked through use. These little databases also construct strong editorial arguments, circulate in serial clusters, and engage in the ‘collective work’ within a ‘community or network’ that you note above. But perhaps this is indeed a move into metaphor and we could return to some of the particulars of historical little magazines?

Seita            Yes, let’s. Expanding on the aspect of ‘community’, I would add that magazines are sometimes founded in response to particular political, social, and cultural events or tensions; some historical examples would include all the magazine issues against the Vietnam War (like some/thing’s Vietnam issue, or the many humorous anti-Vietnam slogans in Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts), Muriel Rukeyser’s Dynamo: A Journal of Revolutionary Poetry (with contributions by Langston Hughes, Auden, etc.), the African-American magazine Fire!!—the list could go on. At other times, magazines serve as a space for editors to self-publish or to publish their friends, often in an attempt to support a local community or a small friendship circle. Many of the so-called New York School magazines published out of the Poetry Project would fit that description, as would Laura Riding Jackson’s and Robert Graves’s little magazines Focus and Epilogue, published out of Deya in Majorca. Conversely, many magazines have pushed hard against being labelled a coterie publication. As a caveat, I also want to add that, even though we are largely talking about Anglophone magazines here, the little magazine is of course a global form (and I’d like to point to Eric Bulson’s 2016 book The Little Magazine, World Form, an important revision of the Anglo-American and European bias of periodical studies).

Snelson        Bulson’s study is so urgent. Particularly his extension of little magazine doxa to postcolonial global networks. Of course, he begins the book with the properly modernist declaration: ‘No little magazines, no modernism’, but then proceeds to outline the Russian zhurnal, Japanese dōjinshi, Argentine periodíco, and Indian patrika, among others—each of which builds little magazine communities, local and global, in a wide array of ways. The most convincing definition of Language Poetry (not to mention the cohesion of the historical avant-gardes) has always concerned the writers that ‘cluster’ around certain magazines: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and Tottel’s and Tuumba et cetera ...

Beyond this, we might also consider the imagined communities that little magazines write themselves into, from the editorial globalism of Aufgabe back to the modernist journals built upon a dispersed community of, say, constructivists or dadaists. To go back a step, Bulson’s book concludes with a study of remediated or digitised little magazines, and the ways in which new digital archives shape our understanding of the historical documents—which I believe is a crucial step in thinking about historical documents through the present. In trying to conceive of the history of ‘the little magazine’ alongside contemporary iterations of serial publication, I’m always more than a bit confused by how historical forms complicate the present and vice versa. I wonder how you’ve been thinking of these relations?

Seita            One thing people almost always remark on when I tell them that I work on avant-garde magazines is how the digital environment must have changed publishing radically. And then I usually say, yes, but… There are many changes, yes, but there are also many continuities (as your coinage of the ‘little database’ so brilliantly captures!) Every time a new medium or publishing technology is introduced there is a great deal of discussion around ‘losses’ and ‘gains’, how the new technology perhaps ‘fails’ to live up to the earlier one, is less ‘authentic’, or, conversely, is embraced as the ultimate new medium that will usher in new aesthetic forms. I am thinking of Nietzsche’s use of the typewriter as a kind of prosthesis, or Olson’s (very romantic) embrace of the typewriter, replacing handwriting’s claim over its intimate bodily connection and rhythm with that of the typewriter. Now that we’ve covered some of the history of the little magazine and its many medial, generic, and social characteristics, I’m curious which magazines (historical and contemporary) you’d call your favourites, and why? By ‘favourite’ I also mean—which magazines do you find particularly fascinating, strange, or significant, perhaps in terms of their design, their development of a particular aesthetic form, or the role they played within a literary or artistic network?

Snelson        It seems that if there is anything that the little magazine can best draw out, it is an attention to the particular, the singular, the exception—over and against the generalisable. Discussing a few favourites is probably the best entry point. Feminist magazines like Big Allis and Chain and M/E/A/N/I/N/G are standouts for me—of those I’ve digitised for Jacket2 Reissues—as are translation-focused magazines like Calque and Aufgabe . I am a strong advocate for an activist archival practice that connects poetic fandom and political exigency to the present moment. Of the recent ‘little magazines’ or ‘small presses’, I’m most interested in digital projects that I simply cannot quite understand in any of these terms. For example, I’m thinking of Troll Thread and Gauss PDF and Hysterically Real —projects which really don’t quite fit as either press or periodical. I particularly love Paul Soulellis’ Printed Web which issues occasionally on Newhive or Google Docs, as well as in newsprint and POD. Or, even more perplexing, Tom Comitta’s 2011-2013 project calmaplombprombombbalm.com —which is basically just a spreadsheet, with most of the cells empty, abandoned, unrealised, in a somewhat indecipherable organisational system. He calls it an ‘online publishing house’, but even then, it’s a house without any foundation for critical appraisal (by extension, I’m thinking of the first magazine I ever scanned, Jimmy & Lucy’s House of “K,” a little magazine edited by Andrew Schelling and Benjamin Friedlander from 1984 to 1989). I suppose this indecipherability was also once the case with the emergence of mimeo and cheaper modes of photocopying that fostered zines and newsletters, which opened a wide array of creative practices free from the financial constraints of ‘proper’ publishing.

Historical magazines are all too interesting to catalogue: I’m continuously digitising my favourites for Jacket2 (upcoming are Pages, Barscheit, and Object, to name only three).

I’ve been particularly delighted to see the complete set of Tom Raworth’s Infolio alongside Claude Royet-Journaud’s Zuk —both single-page periodicals in conversation with a transcontinental poetics and a penchant for experimentation. I’d love to hear more about your favourites!

Seita            I would absolutely second Troll Thread and Gauss PDF, as two projects that think through the digital medium as more than a mere gimmick, and even when they publish pieces that could be called gimmicky, they make the gimmick do interesting and important work. Unlike other online publications, they do not simply mimic a paper magazine or book (or when they do, they do so to rethink carefully what constitutes a book or materiality—I’m thinking of Holly Melgard’s Black Friday or Daniel Wilson’s Files I Have Known . Since you bring up mimeo and photocopying—different print or publishing technologies allow editors and contributors to do different things. The PDF, which both TT and Gauss use, is increasingly a very capacious document that can incorporate non-textual media such a videos and audio files. Historically, some of my favourite magazines are also those that explore what the medium can do for their specific aesthetic and political interests. So, proto-Dada and Dada magazines like 291, New York Dada, Le coeur à barbe in terms of design and typography; then 0 To 9 is an absolute favourite, because of its smart and inventive engagement with materiality and the many exciting constraint-based works in there. Then there are important feminist and queer magazines HOW(ever) HOW2 and Mirage #4 ... Top Stories (which published Kathy Acker and Constance DeJong), and Koff (a feminist punk magazine I only recently heard about that included nude pictures of male poets, like Lewis Warsh)! I also feel I ought to mention some interesting British magazines, like Elaine Feinstein’s Prospect (later taken over by J.H. Prynne) and Tom Raworth’s Outburst, both of which helped introduce many American poets (like Olson and Ginsberg) to the UK, and C.C.C.P. at Cambridge (a pamphlet series in conjunction with an annual poetry festival, which ran from the ‘90s into the early 2000s), or Canadian magazines, like Raddle Moon and Giantess: the Organ of the New Abjectionists, the latter edited by Lisa Robertson, Susan Clark, and Christine Stewart. Other contemporary magazines I like are the experimental translation magazine Telephone (ed. by Sharmila Cohen and Paul Legault) and No Prizes (ed. by Ian Heames).

Snelson        These are all marvelous! Especially the ones I haven’t had the chance to discover yet—there is something about the process of discovery within a little magazine. Like browsing in a bookstore or thumbing through vinyl, it seems to be a mode of accessing information that is increasingly obsolete. One of my first literary ‘jobs’ was to index the entirety of 0 to 9 with James Hoff, Ryan Haley, and Ugly Duckling Presse. I was a sophomore in college living my first summer in New York City, and I felt like I was discovering an entirely new way of thinking about the literary at the same time that I was exploring literary communities, past and present, in the city and through the magazine. Imagining oneself into and out of a magazine is an experiment in speculative conversation, between editors, publishers, writers, and a reading community. I’d be interested to continue thinking with you around issues of archival or critical activism, in this regard. What magazines we return to, how do we present or circulate these issues online?

Seita            Exactly, studying magazines is about discovery and recovery. Another aspect of small-press publishing that’s preoccupied me ever since I delved into that world has been the question of inclusion and exclusion. Who is invited and who is left out, and why. What kind of welcoming or not-so-welcoming atmosphere do editors and contributors create? It might be easier to answer that question when we look back towards the past, with some distance, but it’s really in our own present moment that it assumes more political urgency. I also want to pick up on your earlier point about archiving as an activist practice. I don’t know if it will ever materialise but I am also toying with the idea of a digital project that digitises chapbooks and magazines edited by women (and perhaps primarily UK-based)... But I’m also hoping to enact this sense of activist recovery in my research and my work as a curator of events: I very much hope that in writing about some obscure publications or forgotten voices I can somehow rectify certain historical or contemporary imbalances and exclusions. The same goes for who I invite to read, who I collaborate with in my performances—I’m trying not just to theorise inclusivity but actually forge that openness and generosity in my practice.

Snelson        Absolutely. I’m often reminded of Craig Dworkin’s provocation in The Perverse Library that collections (and by extension, periodicals or press catalogues) are defined not by what they contain, but by what they exclude or fail to include. At the same time, anyone who has sent in poems to Poetry Magazine or The New Yorker (god knows I haven’t!) also knows that this distinction is drawn even sharper in the annals of what was once called official verse culture. The absolute ease of publishing today (in the sense that nearly everyone continuously publishes their own globally-accessible ‘periodicals’ with each new Insta, Tweet, or Tumblr post) has of course fostered an explosion of ‘little magazines’ within any given poetic, aesthetic, or geographic community. In this sense, I think the roles played by critics, scholars, archivists, and editors concerning which magazines gain attention, by whom, for how long, and for what reasons become increasingly imperative. This is paired with the politics of the archival impulse in projects like POC Zine Project and Open Door Archive or any number of other recent online archival initiatives: what voices are surfaced from the past, which historical documents are deemed recoverable, and how might the little magazine speak to the present?

Seita              There is also something about the question of scale: is a small press ‘small’ because that makes it financially more viable, structurally easier to manage (you don’t have to hire several employees), and so things can possibly get done more quickly? At the same time, for some small presses like Belladonna*, whose editorial model is based on feminist dialogue and collective agreement, publishing books and pamphlets can take a fairly long time. Or is it a matter of editorial integrity, in other words, you only take on projects you truly believe in (Jacques Testard refers to this as ‘keep[ing] the editorial ethos intact’ in his Hotel interview, and the late Tom Raworth quit Cape Goliard after he felt he couldn’t publish whoever he wanted; many feminist and queer magazines were founded precisely to preserve editorial independence). But the question of scale is also tethered to a particular system of value: keeping things small because that way you can (at least in theory) avoid incorporation into more commercial and thus capitalist modes of working. Of course, that is largely a romantic notion and little magazines are not the paradisiac alternative to capitalist production just because they are vocally anti-commercial or deliberately avoid appealing to ‘mass’ taste. I’m also increasingly doubtful about limiting one’s audience in a deliberate way. In other words, there are reasons why choosing to publish in little magazines and small presses makes sense 100% (artistic autonomy, often a quicker publishing schedule, supporting friendship networks, supporting independent collectives based on their aesthetics and politics), but not because they are somehow automatically ‘purer’ or because publishing with a slightly bigger press or presenting one’s work to a wider audience equals a pact with the devil. Small presses and avant-garde magazines can be run by autocrats, too! And, as Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr in ‘Numbers Trouble’, The Program Era and the Mainly White Room—and as many others have pointed out—the exclusions of non-white writers and women is often even more pronounced in experimental circles than in more ‘mainstream’ venues.

Snelson        Both the scale and the politics of the ‘little’ or the ‘small’ are suspect in this regard. A quick look at the network diagrams of canonized little magazines like The Little Review and The Egoist or Poetry Magazine quickly reveal just how large a little magazine can be (and how many advertisers and outside interests, of all scales, populate these pages) as well as just how white the American modernist tradition is. For some reason, I’m thinking of the word ‘boutique’ to describe many self-professed little magazines today: a term more directly related to the long tail of network capital. If the magazine is no longer a vital way of disseminating information, the paper-based object often becomes a kind of fetish or craft commodity. However, in lockstep, this craft culture also enables some of the most interesting ‘post-digital’ performances of paper-based publication—I’m thinking of those indexed by Silvio Lorusso’s brilliant Post-Digital Publishing Archive . The obsolescence of paper-based publishing stirs an unpredictable set of contingent effects. More to your point above, the asymmetrical distribution of gender and race in experimental magazines is continuously glaring. In this way, it’s vital that contemporary practices respond to these injustices in archival projects, critical writing, and new editorial initiatives. This is a conversation I’d love to continue indefinitely—however, for now, given the constraints of the interview format, and by way of conclusion, I’m wondering what you’re working on now? Your work has been a constant inspiration in thinking about the little magazine, and I’d love to hear what’s next for you?

Seita            Oh thank you for saying that, Danny, so has yours—truly. I’m hoping to finish my first monograph this year—on avant-garde little magazine communities from proto-Dada networks to our post-digital present. A few critical essays should also appear soon—one on contemporary digital publishing, one on feminist magazine communities after 1980, and another on Tom Raworth’s work as an editor, publisher, and printer. I’m currently preparing a centenary edition of The Blind Man for Ugly Duckling Presse, which I’m very excited about and which will come out in October. I’m also curating two little magazines exhibitions, one at Cambridge, and another at Poets House in New York. What about you?

Snelson       So much to look forward to! I’m delighted to think that our books work in precisely opposite directions around these questions: my manuscript on the little database begins with the formats of the present as a way to understand historical materials circulating online and the contingent effects of digitisation. In a related turn, I’m building a new section of Eclipse archive that will scan in recent print-on-demand books as though they’re archival objects. Turning from digital publication to print, the paper-based iteration of my project with Mashinka Firunts— Present Tense Pamphlets —is going into circulation IRL just now. Finally, I’m looking forward to a new release for Jacket2 Reissues, formulated in the commentary sidebar to this conversation in a Google Document (details TBA)! Perhaps ending prospectively (an unknown next issue) is best?

Seita            Yes, yes, so appropriate! I love your and Mashinka’s Present Tense Pamphlets for their insistence on the happy co-existence of print and digital—the magazine, after all, is written in the present tense, for various kinds of now’s but also its yet unknown material and metaphoric futures.

Deep in the mire of 2023


I'm tired. (Without formality, wouldn't every academic article begin like this?) Because of my tiredness, which is both physical and conceptual, I devised a ruse to get me out of this rut. To begin writing, I involved other people ... 

HOUSE OF ‘K’ (1984/1989)

The house of knowledge if bookended
by a poetics of death ...

℅ Post45, see here.

Sophie Seita is an artist and researcher whose work swims in the muddy waters of language, explores materiality, texture, and gesture, and the speculative potential of the archive. She regularly performs and shows work across multiple media, publishes books, makes textiles and graphic scores, leads experimental workshops around voice, touch, translation, and queer performance, and is a Lecturer in the Art Department at Goldsmiths. Recent and current projects include: an exhibition at Mimosa House (London), performances and events at Nottingham Contemporary, Café Oto, the RCA, UP Projects, and community engagement projects at Grand Union (Birmingham), Creative Darlington and Curious Arts, and Ruta del Castor (Mexico City). In 2022, she was a Dorothea Schlegel Artist in Residence in Berlin, and in 2023 was a Visiting Artist at Brown University. Her latest book, Lessons of Decal, is forthcoming from the 87 Press in December 2023.

Danny Snelson is a writer, editor, and archivist working as an Assistant Professor in the Departments of English and Design Media Arts at UCLA. His online editorial work can be found on PennSound, Eclipse, Jacket2, and the EPC.

First published on the Hotel Archive, 2019.

︎︎︎    Back to Rehearsal

Were a wind to rise
I could put up a sail
Were there no sail
I’d make one of canvas and sticks

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Motto’
(Bucknow Elegies)


Tenement Press, MMXXIV