In 2019, when Clem MacLeod launched the inaugural issue of her literary magazine Worms as part of her university final project, she would never have guessed that, only two years later, it’d become a fully-fledged publication and community.
Studying fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, the 26-year-old felt her publishing project was a bit of a rogue move. After all, Worms #1 wasn’t a traditional fashion title. Rather it was a literary celebration of female and non-binary writers such as transgressive phenom Kathy Acker and I Love Dick author Chris Kraus.
As an added bonus, it allowed MacLeod to turn her love for reading and writing about, well, reading and writing, into something tangible for others to enjoy.
Turns out plenty of people did – enough for MacLeod to release three more issues, including the brand new Worms #4. Now, she feels more inspired than ever to provide London’s young literary nerds with a space they might not have had access to otherwise, an antidote to the gatekeeping and sneeriness often associated with academia.
Over the last couple of years, MacLeod has lured fellow bookworms in with esoteric topics such as myth-making and “revolting women”, alongside contributions from writers on the fringes as well as the more established voices of Queer Intentions author Amelia Abraham, Maggie Nelson, Caroline Calloway and Lynne Tillman.
Very good company indeed.
Now working part-time at cult East London bookshop Donlon Books, the Londoner is determined to keep literature as fun and accessible as possible. Worms #4 does that in bucketloads.
“Towards the end of putting together the previous issue, I was in a really good momentum and I specifically remember the walk to my studio every day being really good for clarity of mind,” MacLeod says. “I started to become obsessed with the idea of walking and what it does for your creativity, and things spiralled from there.”
MacLeod immersed herself in podcasts about psychogeography, a term that refers to the emotional impact a physical space can have on someone and one of the running themes throughout Worms #4.
“I remember interviewing [author and Hard to Read founder] Fiona Duncan years back, and she said that she got a lot of the ideas for her book Exquisite Mariposa while she was on the move, putting them down on her phone or via voice notes.”
By following a similar path, this is how Worms #4 came together: on-the-fly and organically. We caught up with MacLeod about the contents of the magazine, the joys of reading and writing, and the importance of self-indulgence amongst it all.
This issue of Worms touches on psychogeography, but also the Situationist movement from a non-male perspective. Can you break this down?
Psychogeography is basically mapping out the city via walking and thought. It’s a term that was coined by Guy Debord, and it emphasises the effects of geographical environments on people’s emotions. I’ve always been quite into The Situationist International, which was a group of intellectuals and artists who were into that.
Like most of the art and literary movements that I draw from, there were so few women involved. It definitely won’t be as linear as this [in the issue], but my thinking went like this: where are all the women? What are the physical implications of women walking in the city? Do women interpret the city differently? How are walking and creativity linked? In the end, I concluded that there must be a magazine’s worth of women’s writing about this.
Maybe it’s quite selfish and self-indulgent, but I definitely use each issue to learn about a subject that I’m really into but want to learn more about. Here, I [wanted] to dig up non-male perspectives of walking in the city, and the way this is linked to writing practices.
How did you decide to develop this idea around walking in the street, particularly alone and in the dark?
The murder of Sarah Everard happened during the early stages of my research, so that triggered a lot of conversation around the implications of women walking alone. The male idea of the flaneur and psychogeography imply a kind of floating around the streets alone – something that is generally politicised for women.
There’s a bit on that in the magazine, but at the same time, we didn’t want to hark on about how hard it is for women to be on the streets alone. Another interesting point of view came from Therese Estacion, who’s an amputee. She had a lot to say about the implications of walking in her situation.
Tell us more about the writers who have contributed and who you’ve chosen to feature in this issue.
I’ve wanted to have [American poet and writer] Eileen Myles in the magazine since the first issue. I read their book Afterglow, about their dog dying, and the actual day I finished reading it, my dog died. I’m such a freak with coincidences so I emailed them and told them that, and [they ended up featuring].
Lauren Elkin and Laura Grace Ford are the ultimate flaneuse writers, so it’s a privilege to have been able to get them [in the magazine]. Carmen Winant is possibly my favourite living artist, so it’s quite surreal having her, too. Tilly Lawless and McKenzie Wark are both Worms regulars and I cannot get enough of them. I’m stoked about this line-up. A lot of the people featured have been on my shelves for years, so it feels like quite a personal one.
What’s your favourite thing about Worms?
The community! I remember in the research phase of the first issue, I would find all these amazing young writers in the US that were doing literary events and readings, and just not giving a fuck about traditional writing rules. I was so inspired by them, namely Natasha Stagg, Stephanie Lacava, Fiona Duncan and Fabiola Ching.
Worms has become a bit of a meeting ground for young writers over here. Through doing the magazine, I feel like I’ve discovered all of these amazing writers, reading groups and communities. Book people are generally good eggs and it’s so nice for everyone to meet and share their thoughts on all the nerdy shit we love.
What do you hope readers will get out of Worms this time around, and in general?
Each issue it’s the same: I just want people to read! Reading is for everyone, even though it doesn’t always feel like that. There’s such a weird intellectualism that surrounds reading, but with Worms, I just want to break all that shit. There are no rules. I didn’t study English, and I don’t think any of my contributors or subjects did either. But I also don’t know, because I don’t care. I just read and write about reading and writing, and I hope everyone else can feel the importance and joy of doing that.
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