Close-up on a labor of love

In the unpredictable world of little literary magazines, one of the most distinctive is the new renaissance (tnr). Founded in 1968, tnr is noteworthy for a thought-provoking blend of ideas and opinion, consistently fine fiction and poetry, and a staunch commitment to the visual arts.

Like most small magazines, tnr is a labor of love. Founder/editor Louise T. Reynolds runs it out of her home in suburban Boston, lavishing whatever time she can carve from her work as a secretary. Assisted by a staff of six, she puts considerable effort into commissioning lead articles with punch and prescience. One such article predicted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a year and a half before it happened; another provided a compassionate look at the treatment of Indochinese refugees. All of which proves that a small press needn't be small in outlook.

''We're looking for writers who have something to say, who say it with some degree of style, and above all, speak in their own personal voice,'' Miss Reynolds told me recently. She feels one of the most valid distinctions between the stories in tnr and those published commercially is that her writers must ''be honest about the statement they are making without fudging it.''

The current issue, No. 14 (112 pp., single copies $4, annual subscription $8, by mail at 9 Heath Road, Arlington, Mass. 02174), contains 12 poems, four works of fiction, seven paintings by Ivan Albright, eight examples of the work of artist Roger Williams, two essay/reviews, interesting notes on contributors, plus an illustrated, 20-page opening article entitled ''El Salvador: The Politics of Terror.''

In the latter, former Maryknoll missionary Kip Hargrave, who spent two years (1979-80) in the troubled Central American country, focuses on the political and historical forces that have ushered in a wave of repression, guerrilla warfare, and mass murders. Hargrave's article offers a humane analysis, which substantiates his plea for a radical rethinking of the US role throughout Latin America.

The art in this issue is beautifully reproduced. I find the fiction and poetry less powerful, perhaps, than in Nos. 12 and 13, but I was rewarded when I turned to the criticism. James E. A. Woodbury's rich and authoritative essay on ''Mandelstam: The Complete Critical Prose and Letters'' opens several new avenues into the work of the Russian poet, and Ottone M. Riccio's study of two chapbooks by Joan Colby shows the wisdom, patient textual analysis, and real caring for a writer's message that elevate criticism to the level of high culture.

Leafing through tnr leaves me with a refreshing hint of what our popular literature might be like if it were freer of commercialism and slickness.

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