Small magazines in the age of Instagram, a one-on-one with freelance writer Subhankar Das | India is blooming

Welcome to the world of small magazines, mimeo editors, outlaw poets, chapbooks and experimental writing. IBNS caught up Subhankar Das, a freelance writer, literary activist, poet, blogger, editor and film producer, to answer some of the questions about the future of small magazines and small publications in the age of Instagram.

The Little Magazines movement is a world apart where unknown writers, unseen poets, and unsung litterateurs and activists share their literary endeavors and thoughts with tight-knit think tanks spread across the globe.

But how does this child of the mimeograph revolution of the 60s and 70s cope with the ever-changing digital universe where the rules of publication and the way we share information have changed dramatically. Is the digital revolution an existential threat to small magazines or will it bring unlimited opportunities and unlock unlimited creativity?

The Hungry literary movement in the early 1960s was a turning point in the Bengali literary scene. It has inspired thousands of writers, poets and literature enthusiasts and continues to influence the likes of Subhankar Das, who was born in 1963 when the movement was at its peak.

Over the past three decades, Subhankar Das has evolved as a poet, writer, editor, film producer and literary activist. While Jibananda Das and Allen Ginsberg of the Beat generation are his favorite poets, Subhankar is a fervent admirer of German-American author Henry Charles Bukowski Jr aka Charles Bukowski – a big name in the world of “small magazines”.

Bukowski, whose writing career spanned five decades from the 1940s to the 1990s, is known for his use of violent imagery and graphic language in poetry and fiction that depict survival in a corrupt and devastated society and its black existence.

Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels and published over sixty books, mostly in small literary magazines. Despised, ridiculed and mocked by countless authors and critics, Bukowski rose through the literary ranks from the back streets of the American literary scene to gain lasting popularity and become a mainstream icon. In 1986, Time magazine called him “the low life winner”.

Das’ job as an engineer in a multinational company was “sickening” and he quit his job to write poetry which proved to be therapeutic.

Subhankar has published 24 collections of poetry in Bengali and his poetry collection The Streets, The Bubbles of Grass is published in English through his art collective The Graffiti. He has translated Alan Ginsberg’s Kaddish into Bengali as well as works by Mallarmé and other poets. He founded Graffiti Publications which highlights the works of underground writers and artists.

Excerpts from the Q/A:

Q: What triggered your date with Little Magazines? How did Ginsberg and Bukowski come into your life?

I don’t know, maybe the rebel was inside me that couldn’t deal with the so-called norms of society and still wanted to break free. It started with my first job in Mumbai and ended naturally with my date with Little Magazines in Kolkata. I started looking for like-minded authors and discovered that I was not the only one in the world looking for that “other” and beat poets Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac and much later Bukowski came to my help.

Q: You participated in the recent Kolkata International Book Fair in February 2022 in the Little Magazine section. Have you noticed any changes or trends?

I have been attending the Kolkata Book Fair for 30 years or maybe more. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs but I’m happy with the current situation of Small Magazines and Independent Publications. Readers buy our books that don’t follow the so-called standards of the literary world, and I don’t think it’s that easy.

Q: What is the current status of small publications in Bengal? Give us an overview?

A lot is happening in the field of freelance publishing in Bengali. Some are just publishers who publish any book they can find. But I like to mention those independent presses that have a purpose and know what independent press really means. Parchment, Hoptak Kachra, Atmaja, Eksho Ashi Degree, Tobuo Prayash just to name a few of the editors currently working. Apart from that, there are many more. I’m not aware that India Presses works with English titles, except for the brand new publisher, Hornbill.

Q: How big is the small magazine world today? Has it grown in size and enrichment?

Yes, it’s not a small world. At least 2000 small magazines are published in West Bengal. Enrichment is a difficult word, few magazines fall into this category but who am I to decide? I write in the magazines that I like and there aren’t many.

Q: How do you see the impact of the digital revolution on the future of Les Petits Magazines – positive or negative? Will chapbooks become a relic of the past?

Little Magazine is a concept of rebellion and it always accepts new technologies. There are many e-magazines on the web.

But my personal choice if you ask me is the printed version, the physical presence of a book or a magazine and I believe that printed books will remain. They cannot be replaced by Kindle or some running pdf. To add yet let me tell you this, that most independent publishers have embraced the new technology of ‘print on demand’. So you can only publish 50 copies and when that sells out you can print more.

Q: Do you think small magazines need to reinvent themselves in the context of the rapid onslaught of digital publishing?

I already answered it in your last question. Stop thinking like society wants you to think. The editors and writers of Little Magazine are no pranksters and some of them are very well read and addicted to techno.

Q: Your views on new digital versions of small magazines and online audience?

I’m not sure about this audience of an online page with very little patience.

Q: Do you think strict digital regulatory laws are stifling the fluid spirit of small magazines?

Yes! This is of course a problem we faced while uploading ‘Ebang Falguni’ to YouTube. A short film we produced in 2004, which has a sexually explicit scene, uncensored and has toured 7 international film festivals.

Q: Are there any new Bukowskis in the world of small magazines and small publications?

Allan Davis Winans from the United States whose poems I translated into Bengali with his kind permission.