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This item is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

Shortly after Poetry Nation became PN Review, the Mexican poet Octavio Paz contributed an article to the magazine in which he described the importance of criticism to the writing of poetry. He was talking about Latin America where, for political reasons, the survival of a free press and thus of independent cultural commentary was at best precarious. Cultural and literary criticism, he said, in the form of essays, interviews, debates and reviews, cleared the space within which work in all forms could develop and flourish. Creativity was inseparable from critical appraisal. His own magazine Plural was, shortly thereafter, violently 're-possessed' by an illiberal press. He founded a new magazine, Vuelta, in which he and his contributors attempted to keep a critical space open, against the odds.

Force can close critical spaces. So too can apathy. If in Latin America the foes of free culture are political, in Britain they sometimes appear to be various types of cultural apathy which leave the would-be critical media prey to the forces of marketing, the most pernicious ingredient - because it thrives on fragmentation and falsification - in what we used to call 'late capitalism'. Cultural marketing, in the interests of selling a particular product range, misrepresents or excludes much that is pertinent to a living culture. When it finds a way to annex the spaces that should belong to free criticism, the consumer (what we used to call the reader) is in peril.

London Magazine, always hospitable to free intelligence, did not - we are relieved to say - die with Alan Ross: it was acquired by a new owner who has appointed the poet Sebastian Barker to be editor. Poetry Review is at last changing editorial hands: sixteen years of Peter Forbes end and two individuals replace him. Both, as well as being young, have a reputation for independent-mindedness and are not little-Englanders. Stand, which experimented lavishly with an international joint-editorship and a trans-Atlantic format, culminating in a bizarre issue devoted to the Nobel Prize, has been repatriated and may find its feet and its committed readers again. Craig Raine's Arete, not always easy to get hold of and rather sporadic in periodicity, is a significant and handsome 'new player', and Thumbscrew should never be missed. Poetry London, apart from its listings, is not so parochial as its title implies, and Metre - Irish in origin - has acquired a sort of local habitation in Hull. Among the more established players The oblong North, Acumen, cheerful old Ambit, visionary Temenos, Agenda and a handful of other journals encourage the poetry reader to hope that change is in the air, that a recrudescence in literary, and specifically poetry, magazines is in train.

Each of these magazines runs essays and reviews. With such variety and with what may be increasing clarity of intent, the culture of reception for contemporary poetry may become more serious, more punctual, more generous. The Poetry Review appeared to serve the marketing programme for a particular group of poets and a not very particular literary ideology, but may now metamorphose into what it sometimes was in the past, an instrument of discovery and appraisal. If it regards itself as a magazine of record, it may again record not only events and reputations in the prizedispensing and prize-winning main-stream which it served and served up, but a wider domestic and foreign culture.

Are recent developments in the world of literary and poetry journals more than accidental, the fruit of actuarial tables and financial miscalculations? Perhaps, but it has been some decades since the field appeared so diversely intelligent. The cheer-leaders for poetry have long insisted that its claims need to be pressed with the national papers, and with the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. Yet such publications will never have substantial space for poetry or poetry reviewing. What matters to writers and poetry readers is less The Times than the Calendar of Modern Letters, Scrutiny and Criterion. A selfselecting readership that engages with the new, that enjoys the pleasure of verse and the rigour of appraisal, seemed increasingly a thing of the past. It is not impossible now that, in this country, it may become a thing of the future, and that the fit though few audience which the best poetry enjoys will become less few and more fit, and this without the compulsion to dumb down. The tasks of marketing and of appraisal will be separated out again, and readers approaching the journal culture of 2002 will have more information, nourishment and pleasure than they did last year.

I urge subscribers to PN Review with access to the web to explore the added value which comes with their paper subscription. PN Review is now available on-line gratis to all subscribers. It has a powerful search engine and over twenty issues can be accessed and comprehensively searched. We will add six issues a year 'at each end' of the electronic magazine, eventually going back in time to the journal's birth as Poetry Nation in 1972. New issues will be added two months after their paper publication.

In order to extend your subscription to include the electronic version of the journal, go to You will find the rubric 'Joining Instructions'. Scroll down to 'existing subscriber' and enter your account number which appears on all World Wide Subscription invoices. (If you cannot remember your subscriber number, e-mail and she will retrieve it for you.) The information you provide is processed and within a maximum of two working days you should be on-line. The PN Review site also allows casual visitors to sample a whole issue of the journal and to get a sense of the range of the magazine. Such visitors may soon find themselves numbered among the journal's paper and electronic subscribers.

This item is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

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