They Printed It First: The Advance Guard and the Early Days of Little Poetry Magazines

The following guest post is by Amber Paranick, a librarian in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room.

Have you ever heard the phrase little magazine? Have you wondered exactly what it means? Turns out, the name really has nothing to do with the physical attributes of a magazine. Little magazines were the primary outlet for most American poets during the early 1900s and the time of the Great War. But don’t read too much into the paradoxical name: some scholars contend that these “little” titles served a big role in promoting the work of 95% of post-1912 poetsmajor poets that would expand the landscape of American poetry.

In the early part of the 20th century, most popular literary periodicals (think Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, etc.) did not publish much experimental as some experts say because their editors didn’t necessarily want to put their reputation on the line by publishing the work of unknown or emerging writers. Thus, little magazine publications often took on the designation of advance guard, meaning that they printed works from unknown (at the time) authors before the rear guard, meaning major commercial publishing houses.

Little magazines appealed to a small group of in-the-know avant-garde readers and most had few subscribers, and because the editors didn’t intend to generate large profits by publishing the common poetic styles of the time, they were instead freed to set a new standard of printing which included non-traditional poetics that would go on to widen the spectrum of American poetry. And by doing so, little magazines were able to introduce emerging literary movements and schools (imagism, Dadaism, surrealism, etc.) to readers, and to writers.

An early example of little magazine is The Dial, a Transcendentalist magazine edited by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson and published from 1840-1844, which arguably paved the way for those that followed, such as Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Poetry focused on emerging poets and styles that was  founded in 1912 by poet, playwright, and journalist Harriet Monroe. Here is a sample poem published in Poetry, D. H. Lawrence’s “Birthday”:

“Birthday,” by D.H. Lawrence, was published in the January 1914 edition of Poetry.

“Birthday,” by D.H. Lawrence, was published in the January 1914 issue (p. 125) of Poetry. Photo by Amber Paranick, 2016.

Following the publication of Poetry is the Double Dealer, edited by Julius Weis Friend in New Orleans in January 1921. In its May 1922 issue you’ll find Ernest Hemingway’s “A Divine Gesture,” and if you keep reading its succeeding issues you’ll find early works by William Faulkner, Hart Crane, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Elizabeth Coatsworth, Malcolm Cowley, and Kenneth Fearing.

Image from The Double Dealer. Photo by Amber Paranick, 2016.

Image from The Double Dealer. Photo by Amber Paranick, 2016.

Some poets had their own publication and The Village Magazine, edited by Vachel Lindsay, is one such example, as is William Stanley Braithwaite’s The Poetry Review of America.

More examples of experimental poetry magazines include Others and Glebewhich was the first title to publish Imagist poet William Carlos Williams. Glebe later published the works of several other Consultants in Poetry to the Library of Congress and our 9th Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish. The Fugitive is another example of a little magazine publication that helped propel forward emerging poets, and in this case, an entire school of poetry. The Fugitive was first published in 1922 by a group of Southern poets at Vanderbilt University known by the same name. The Fugitives included Consultants in Poetry Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate, and John Crowe Ransom. You can find original issues within the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Cover of the April 1922 issue of The Fugitive.

Cover of the April 1922 issue of The Fugitive.


Further Resources

Library of Congress librarians stand ready to help you locate literature and poems within the Library’s collections. Here’s a great guide to finding poetry and literature within the Library’s collections. For help in finding forgotten rhymes and poetry treasures, you’ll want to consult this guide.

There are many published books on the history of American literary journals within the Library’s collections, including The Little Magazine, by Frederick J. Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich; and The Little Magazine in America: A Modern Documentary History, edited by Elliott Anderson and Mary Kinzie.

Want more reading material? Here’s a post about a Kluge scholar’s use of the Library’s collection of little magazines to find works by Hart Crane. And if you’re looking to unearth a rare poem within the Library’s collections yourself, read this post for inspiration.

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