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Greer Mansfield on the Modernist Journals Project & the greatness of little magazines:

Since 1995, Brown University has been building a digital library of periodicals associated with the Modernist era – the exact dates they observe are journals published from 1890 to 1922. The University of Tulsa joined the project in 2003, and the result is a site where you can read complete issues of fabled early 20th century magazines like BLAST, The English Review, The Little Review, The Egoist, and the original Harriet Monroe incarnation of Poetry.

Most of these journals are literary magazines of one sort or another, associated either with a particular movement or with an editor’s idiosyncratic vision. Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis’s BLAST was the vaudeville clarion of the short-lived “Vorticist” movement, while magazines like the English Review and the Little Review didn’t serve a movement so much as the wide-ranging taste of their editors (the great novelist Ford Madox Ford and the brilliant impresario Margaret Anderson, respectively).

Glancing at the list of contributors for magazines like The Egoist and the Little Review, one notices a fair bit of overlap. Names like James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, D.H. Lawrence, Rebecca West, Wyndham Lewis, H.D., and Ford Madox Ford recur again and again. The omnipresent Ezra Pound served as “foreign editor” for both Poetry and the Little Review, literary editor for The Egoist, co-edited BLAST, and contributed to The English Review and The New Age (among others).

What is striking in these old Modernist magazines, aside from the roll call of their famous contributors? Mainly that they have very little in common with prominent literary magazines in today’s English-speaking world. There is no gee-whiz tweeness (surely you can find your own examples without too much trouble), no senile genteelism (ditto), no forced jokiness, no desperation on the part of the authors to prove that they’re good guys and gals who aren’t necessarily smarter than anyone else and maybe want to be your best friend.

First posted: Friday, September 7th, 2012.

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