Last night (Thursday 14th May, if you're reading this days after the event and are the most unreasonable kind of diary-keeping pedant) saw the launch party for the last ever edition of "The Alarmist". The passing of any good literary magazine is nothing to celebrate, but the death of an angular one with so much colour, wit, intelligence and accessible experimentation is particularly tragic. By combining brilliant, highly original short stories and poetry with humorous shaggy dog stories and biting bits of comedic verse, it was a reasonably left-of-centre literary journal and casual lunch-break reading dip combined. If there's another magazine out there doing something similar - at least in the English language - I'm not aware of it. Literary publications frequently suffer from an overload of pomposity, and "The Alarmist" replaced that with playfulness.
The front section of issue 5 is taken up with a large essay on how and why the magazine failed to last for more than two years, and it's well worth a read on their website if you've even the faintest interest in how independent literary magazines operate, or are thinking of starting one up yourself. If your ambition only stretches as far as producing a small black-and-white periodical with local distribution, it's probably not that relevant - but anyone who wants to attempt something bigger (or pull their small regional effort up to the next level) will probably learn a lot, or at least be forewarned about the pitfalls.
The regrettable lesson coming out of all this seems to simply be that the more ambitious you are, the more likely you are to fail. "The Alarmist" started out by giving away free artefacts such as poetry scratchcards - an utterly fantastic idea which is almost impossible to believe nobody's thought of before, until you get a sense of the scale of costs involved. Later issues just focussed on original design and striking content, and on that level the magazine really hit its stride around issue 4, which contained the most consistent stretch of stories, poems and artwork (lest anyone think I'm being biased about a magazine that published my work here, I didn't feature in issue 4 at all).
I'm occasionally asked why I don't start up my own literary magazine. The answer is simple. I don't have the time or money to do it myself, I don't believe that the magazine I would most enjoy producing would sell very much in an already deflated market, and I don't have a cohort of people willing to help me make it a workable venture (and that cohort extends far beyond people working to get the damn thing made and distributed, and into the realms of people willing to plug the damn thing on social media and elsewhere). But even if I did have a willing cohort of people, I probably still wouldn't have the time. The world is filled with writers hungry to get published somewhere - most magazines worth their salt get hundreds of submissions between issues - printers being an unreliable pain in the arse, bookshops not paying up on time, and poetry nights to sell your wares at. It's a big task to take on, and anyone who starts it with the best of intentions has my admiration.
The final "Alarmist" launch last night was odd to say the least, in that there was a poster outside 93 Feet East in Brick Lane advertising the poets on the bill - our names will probably never be emblazoned around Shoreditch again - and the terrifying comedian and winner of the Malcolm Hardee originality award Candy Gigi ended the night with aggressive audience participation and psychotic invective. But it suited the occasion, and was the most explosive finish everyone could have hoped for. If anyone wants to watch grown men being terrorised at high volumes by a barking wild-eyed woman with fruit, vegetables and cream, it's worth every minute. You probably won't even realise that you need to see this outside of the environs of the shit end of Walthamstow Market, but you do.
Anyway, buy issue 5. A poem of mine is in it. Then buy as many back issues as you can. Then please - go away and produce an interesting magazine yourself, no matter how much Gary and Mansour make you feel as if you shouldn't.