Why all poets should… buy zines.


OK, I may be a bit biased here as I actually run one of these babies, but bear with me. What is a zine anyway, I hear you cry? Well, the word “zine” was created as a short, slang term for a fanzine, but quickly became the term that covers any very small, independent magazine. According to Wikipedia, “the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier… in practice the significant majority are produced in editions of less than 100, and profit is not the primary intent of publication.” Right… so why, as a poet, should you buy these things?!

1. This is one of the best way to discover new and — importantly! — original talent. Literary zines are ten-a-penny, and all of them are really different. Read This is quite a “mainstream” publication, in that most of the work we publish is not particularly wild or experimental, and, unusually for a zine, we’ve published the work of quite famous poets like Roddy Lumsden, Ron Butlin, Alan Gillis, Kevin Cadwallender and Rob A Mackenzie (also a ONS reader, I am happy to say!). However, if it’s radically different poetry you’re after, zines are the place to go. Because they’re generally not concerned with making profit and/or fitting in with mainstream publishing, they can afford to take far more risks with the content they publish, so you’re more likely to find some weird and wonderful gems. Also, a lot of more “avant garde” poets prefer to publish in zines and avoid the mainstream — Scroobius Pip has been known to appear in tiny London zines, for example.

2. Zines are the bottom of the poetry foodchain… in a good way!
Sometimes I get bothered about how tiny and scruffy Read This is, particularly when a copy ends up sitting next to the latest issue of Poetry Review. However, I am reassured by the fact that zines are the minnows in the pond of poetry — yes, we’re small, we’re weird looking, and all too often we get eaten up by forces larger than us, BUT, without zines, the rest of the poetry community would have trouble thriving. Zines are where poetry’s bigger cheeses look for new voices, zines are the publications that foster and encourage young, uncertain poets until they feel brave enough to take their work futher. Zines have the freedom to voice critical and political opinions that bigger publications can’t, and throughout the history of literature, the bottom-level, zine-making community have been the ones stirring up change and starting new movements — from Oscar Wilde to the Beat Generation.

3. You get heaps, heaps more for your money.
You rarely get a zine that costs more than £5 — I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. And generally they’re even cheaper than that — many are totally free. So it makes sense that, rather than spending £8 or so on a single collection of traditionally-published poetry, you should try grabbing a handful of zines for your money. Sure, you’ll have less of an idea of what you’re going to get for your money, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Keeping your reading horizons as broad as possible is integral to developing a strong poetic voice of your own, so leap into the zine lucky-dip, and see what you get!

4. Your cash will really, really make a difference.
Speaking of money… sure, times are hard for everyone in publishing right now, but zine editors know for sure that no matter what they do, their publication is never going to be awarded funding or earn itself any money. If Read This is anything to go by, just breaking even is nigh-on impossible. So every time you pick up a little zine for £2 or whatever, your loose change is making a huge difference. You’re not contributing to the editor-in-chief’s salary or helping to buy the rights to some fancy cover-image… you’re actually buying the paper the zine is printed on, the ink that forms the words. You’re buying the folding-and-stapling volunteers a cup of tea after they’ve bound 150 copies in someone’s dingy basement. If that’s not worth two quid, I don’t know what is!

5. The quality can be phenomenal.
All zines are handmade to some extent. Even if — like Read This — they’re made on a photocopier, they’re still hand-bound or hand-embellished. Some zines are completely hand-written; many have hand-sewn spines or collaged/stencilled/cutout covers. For a tiny sum of money, you can pick up an object that really is a work of art. Beats a perfect-bound, mass-factory-produced magazine supplement any day, right?

6. Collectability!
Because zines are limited-edition commodities, it’s easy to get a bit geeky about collecting them. They certainly have a less throwaway, more sustainable feel than other publications — because there are only a very few out there, you want to hang onto them. And you do hear fairly often of zines that have “sold out” and become incredibly famous and sought-after, so it’s worth hanging onto your tatty original Xeroxed copies, just in case!

7. “Cool” factor.
OK, again I’m biased, but collecting zines has a kind of ‘geek chic’ attached to it, similar to comic books and such things. Because zines tend to represent the avant garde, zine-makers and readers are like a select secret society in many ways, blissfully cut off from the publishing mainstream. They’re a bit like Star Trek fans… kind of sad and obsessive, but also kitsch and ever so slightly cool. Join the club… buy a zine!

A few literary zine-makers to check out…
Obviously, I have to recommend that, if you haven’t already, you should check out Read This. We publish monthly in runs of 150 hand-bound zines, every issue is full of brilliant poetry and prose by new, young and emerging writers, and embellished with quirky artwork by artists from all over the world. Issues are also stupidly cheap! Check out our Etsy store. // Blood Pudding Press — the big, strange sister of Thirteen Myna Birds webzine — offer a plethora of fantastic, unique publications. Zines, poetry collections, artwork and oddities, all worth a look. I can particularly recommend Growling Softly. // If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I am totally obsessed with the beautiful handmade products churned out by uber-talented Amanda of Verve Bath Press. VBP’s regular literary zine is Words Dance, but they’ve also produced numerous poetry chapbooks and initiated the brilliant poem-for-a-dollar project. Well worth a look!

Know a literary zine I ought to check out? I want to hear your recommendations! Now go and buy a zine already!

(Photo by Dorsia)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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6 Responses to “Why all poets should… buy zines.”

  1. One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » Why all poets should… support small presses. Says:

    [...] all poets should… support small presses. A while ago I explained why all poets should… buy zines. Here’s the next in that [...]

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