Hard to credit it in a digital age but the literature magazines are still with us. Those printed bastions of cultural excellence that appear quarterly, hopefully, beautifully – their high season issues are now in the shops. The market for these things has been declining for as long as I can remember. There was a golden age, before the war, when anecdotal evidence tells us that almost every working men’s canteen, corner shop, tea room and parlour across Wales had its subscription up to date and lit mags were the talk of the town. Everyone read poetry. But now that poetry is too modernist to understand no one does. The world consumed short fiction. But with TV is in every room (not to speak of being on almost everyone’s phone) fiction no longer holds sway. Once the views of the reviewers cut cultural ice – now simply no one cares.
Yet the mags still appear. Small print runs, glossy and smiling, pushing literature on. And they do. Despite the paucity of their audience this is still the cutting edge.
In the latest Agenda, magazine of the IWA, cultural historian Peter Stead suggests that Rachael Trezise might just have written “the first draft of our contemporary history”. Wales 2010: year zero. Trezise as Gwyn Alf Williams.
Helle Michelsen’s Planet runs the tight line between politics and culture, one that you can track in Wales but that’s virtually invisible in England. The latest issue is a place where Ozi Rhys Osmond’s Art of the Valleys pushes up against Nick Bourne, Cynog Dafis and Julie Morgan’s debate on coalition. Craig Owen Jones’s take on Asians in space sits beside Stevie Davies on Dowlais Steelworks. And W T R Pryce’s fine analysis of Eisteddfod chairs follows Gillian Drake’s piece on open air swimming. Planet’s cultural Wales is nothing if not diverse.
It is in the new Poetry Wales, however, that revolution is really apparent. In the 1970s when the late Eric Mottram held the helm of London’s Poetry Review the English-speaking literary world was split into two mutually opposed factions – the traditionalists and the innovators. In the cause of progress Mottram favoured the work of the latter. In Wales space was only ever available to the former. My own Welsh work sank into the mist.
Thirty years on Zoe Skoulding’ s new issue turns the tables. London’s Poetry Review now represents English poetry’s calm centre while Poetry Wales displays enough innovative work for one to mistake it for an issue of Bob Cobbing’s And. Alice Entwistle interviewing Wendy Mulford, John Goodby on Welsh modernist poetry. Poetry by Lee Harwood, Ralph Hawkins, Geoffrey Hill, John Powell Ward, and a stream of innovators from inside Wales and without. I enjoyed every page. It’s taken an age but Wales might at last have caught the world up.
An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail. #168