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7 contemporary poetry zines you need right now

By finding poetry in the Kardashians, memes, and Tripadvisor reviews, these DIY publications are challenging the literary establishment

Once held in the ivory towers of traditional magazines and university reading lists, poetry has never been more popular or accessible. We have the internet to thank for breaking down the barriers: see the mainstream success of Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur, and the immediacy of platforms like Tumblr. In 2018, more and more zines are incorporating online aesthetics and values into print, creating a DIY subculture to rival the established publishing houses.

Submitting your work to conventional poetry magazines is no longer the only means of establishing yourself as a poet. Unlike magazines, zines are cheap and easy to make – often on free-to-download design software – meaning that poets can create, design, publish, and distribute their own work themselves. Grassroots publishing is levelling the literary playing field – zines are often born from communities who don’t see themselves represented in traditional media, whether that’s women of colour, LGBTQ+ people, non-binary people, working-class communities, or schools of poetry that haven’t yet been accepted by the mainstream. More importantly zines are immediate, unpretentious, approachable, affordable, and fun. Here's a list of our favourites right now.

HOTDOG

Dreamed up by founders Megan Conery and Molly Taylor in a Victorian police station, hotdog is an annual poetry collection that publishes female-identifying, non-binary, and transgender voices. The title of their third issue, Delightfully Unprofessional, is the zine’s ethos, as Megan and Molly learned how to design and publish on the job. Hotdog publishes poems that explore identity, food, and secret desires, alongside surreal and gaudy graphics. It’s funny, weird, and often painfully honest.   

SPAM

Describing itself as a “mixtape of curated work” and taking inspiration from memes, astrology, and 80s office culture, SPAM is the print equivalent of the 2004 blogger. IRL and online collide, as SPAM takes traditional poetic forms and quotes from modernist writers and places them beside TripAdvisor reviews and Kim Kardashian fansites. The zine creates monstrous hybrids of high and low culture in in cut-and-paste style collages in the tradition of Dada.  

CUMULUS

Coming from a long tradition of small press poetry in Scotland, CUMULUS is an experimental poetry zine that positions words among watercolour clouds. Rather than the traditional 70s punk aesthetic of zines, CUMULUS resembles a high-brow literary magazine, but without any of the pretension (or price tag). Like its cloud font, CUMULUS is bubbly and energised in its effort to bring together the social, political, aesthetic, and intellectual qualities of experimental poetry.   

DUM DUM

In 2011, femme punk LA poet, Taleen Kali, created DUM DUM when she couldn’t find a space for her experimental poetry in traditional literary magazines. Combining the attitude of the riot grrrl movement with the aesthetic of avant-garde photomontage, DUM DUM is published in a completely different form every year, from a postcard book to a fluxkit to standard bound book.

DATABLEED

Now in its third year, DATABLEED is the non-poetry online poetry zine. Questioning what the hell poetry even is, the zine combines text, visual art, video, and audio. DATABLEED merges the 70s DIY zine aesthetic with the age of the internet by completely democratising the form, making everything available for immediate consumption online.  

RAUM

A grassroots A5 booklet, RAUM was created to bring a community of voices together. Like SPAM, RAUM was born in Glasgow (it seems there’s something in the city’s water that’s making it the leader of new and alternative forms of art in the UK). RAUM is unusual, as unlike other zines, it doesn’t call for submissions based on a theme; instead, the theme emerges from what poetry is submitted. The only guideline is that poems need to fit on an A5 piece of paper.     

ZARF

Costing two quid and held together by a stapler, Zarf follows in the tradition of old-school, photocopier zines. While other poetry collections are painstakingly curated, Zarf’s pamphlet form looks like it was spat out by a typewriter the night before, and features some of the most innovative young poets working today. In the latest issue, Zarf describes what it and, more generally, poetry zines are doing: “poems are like stars in this, as in all other ways, that when we look at them just right we allow ourselves to admit the everywhere of gathering.”