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The Possibility of Poetry: from Migrant magazine to artists' books | 12-Jan-07

The Folio Society Gallery, The British Library, London; Exhibition: 19 January - 26 March 2007; new British Library exhibition charts the short but extraordinary life of the 'little magazine' Migrant

19 January - 26 March 2007

Admission Free

The publicity material for this event says:

London; Exhibition: 19 January - 26 March 2007; new British Library exhibition charts the short but extraordinary life of the 'little magazine' Migrant

"A new British Library exhibition charts the short but extraordinary life of the 'little magazine' Migrant - one of the most influential poetry magazines of the 20th century, recently credited as being fundamental in inspiring the creativity of the 1960s British Poetry Revival. Migrant published the early work of many budding British and American poets who would later go on to win international acclaim. Ian Hamilton Finlay, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Roy Fisher and the magazine's poet-editor Gael Turnbull were among the authors whose early poems found an audience through Migrant. The exhibition draws on new research and testimony from those who were involved in Migrant's production, and also displays examples of the magnificent fine press and artists' books that several of the writers went on to produce in the years after Migrant.


'Little magazines' have often left behind impressive literary legacies. Many internationally acclaimed authors had early works published in little magazines: James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Angela Carter all asserted the importance of the little magazine to their work. Although these publications played a key part in the lives of so many British authors, they often had short print-runs and short lives: many are now extremely rare.


This exhibition focuses on the considerable achievements and lasting influence of one particular 'little magazine' - Migrant. Recent research has revealed Migrant's hitherto unheralded importance to the literary world. Although only eight issues of Migrant were ever printed, its creative legacy lives on in the work of the poets and artists who were given an early platform in its pages. Featuring copies of the magazine (now extremely rare, owing to its limited print run) and contributions from those involved in Migrant's production, this exhibition unveils a fascinating chapter in British literary history.


Co-founded and edited by Gael Turnbull and Michael Shayer, Migrant was largely responsible for introducing the US Black Mountain poetry of Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Denise Levertov and Charles Olson to British readers, and fostered and developed key British poets such as Roy Fisher and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Basil Bunting, a pre-war modernist poet from the North East of England, was encouraged by the Migrant editors to keep on writing after a long period of silence; he went on to write his masterpiece, Briggflatts. Several poets originally associated with the magazine went on to work with some of the great modern book artists in the UK, notably Ronald King and Ian Tyson, to create pioneering examples of British artists' books.


Gael Turnbull and Michael Shayer met at Perse School in Cambridge in 1944, their friendship cemented by a mutual love of poetry and literature. Despite Turnbull emigrating to America after university, they remained in touch: the magazine is representative of their lifelong friendship, and Migrant and its associated press was in part a dialogue between their different personal approaches to poetry. The 'little magazine' that they created was a truly transatlantic collaboration: Migrant welcomed European and North American poetry, whilst also championing new English and Scottish works.


Turnbull had completed a medical degree in Philadelphia and was working as an anaesthetist in Ventura California when he bought a second-hand Sears Roebuck duplicator and began printing Migrant from his garage, inhabited by guinea pigs, black-widow spiders and the odd tarantula. The resulting publication appeared at first glance, amateurish at best, with simple typewriter-like text on one side of each page only. However, within its pages lay the work of a wealth of literary talent. Copies of Migrant were posted to poets across the US, Canada and the UK.


Exhibits include the original Migrant printing press, unearthed especially for this exhibition, having been buried in a Scottish garage for several decades. Also on show are rare copies of Migrant, examples of Ian Hamilton Finlay's witty poetry cards, colourful paper-engineered collaborations between poet Roy Fisher and artist Ronald King, and some 3D text objects that Gael Turnbull made towards the end of his life. The exhibition also displays beautiful fine press and artists' books that several of Migrant?s writers went on to produce, underlining the stark contrast between the modest production values of Migrant and the exquisite works that its poets were later associated with. Extracts from a recent interview with Migrant co-editor Michael Shayer can also be heard via an accompanying soundpoint, as can recordings of the poets reading examples of their work.


Richard Price, Head of Modern British Collections at the British Library and curator of the exhibition, comments, "Shayer and Turnbull were arguably among the key poetry editors of the 1950s and helped kick start the creativity of the British Poetry Revival of the 1960s. Enthusiasm for the various American avant-gardes, an interest in translation, an acceptance of a variety of aesthetic approaches, a confidence in the independent voices of the new poetry of England and Scotland, and the command of the means of production by the artistic community itself: these are some of the key lessons that Migrant, among a few other select magazines, taught - and which the flourishing British poetry scene in the 1960s avidly learned."


For further information, contact Ruth Howlett at the British Library Press Office: 020 7412 7112 or"

Migrant cover

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