Feature Articles

THE STINGING FLY by Declan Meade

(Poetry Ireland News, May/June 2005)

When Aoife Kavanagh and I set up The Stinging Fly eight years ago, and even though we included poetry in our calls for submission, I did not expect to end up as a poetry publisher. Our chief interest was to provide an outlet for short story writers. But poems arrived thicker and faster.

Growing up in County Louth, and all through college in Coleraine (European Business Studies with German - it didn't even make sense at the time), I didn't really know that literary magazines or individual poetry collections existed. In school, I don’t recall seeing a poem outside of an English or Irish textbook. Poems huddled together in these books, and we hacked away at them line by line. They didn't stand a chance.

We've published some very fine poems in our first eighteen issues.

What is a poem? Is there an answer for this? Someone should be paid to feed all Dennis O'Driscoll's 'Pickings and Choosings' into a computer to see if it can come up with the ultimate definition.

'But it had never really occurred to me that there might be a place where one actually sent these efforts in hopes they would be read and even, just possibly - incredibly, or so it seemed - considered for publication. But right there in my hand was visible proof that there were responsible people somewhere out in the great world who produced, sweet Jesus, a monthly magazine of poetry. I was staggered. I felt, as I've said, in the presence of revelation.' This is from Raymond Carver, writing about how as a young man someone gave him a copy of Poetry magazine. I read 'Some Prose on Poetry' in bed the morning after the launch of Issue 7, which had also been the day we heard that the Arts Council were cutting our then very meagre funding of €1,000. Carver didn't submit his efforts to Poetry magazine for another twenty-eight years, but when he did finally get around to it, the magazine was - crucially - still there, and it accepted six of his poems. I got out of bed.

Eabhan Ní Shúileabháin came on board in 2001 and has been poetry editor since Issue 11. She lives in Wales now but is over and back to Dublin every couple of weeks. We'll meet for lunch and I'll hand over a bagful of poems. Once she has gotten through all of them, she'll come back with one small pile for me to look at. A very responsible person, she argues for each poem in this pile.

Talking with poets can get you down. Not enough outlets. Not enough money. Short story writers don't have it easy either.

The unresolved issue of The Usual Suspects: these are the people who submit work for each and every issue, regardless of whether or not their work has just appeared in the magazine. We're always happy to look at new work, and we do, I hope, get over the not-him/her-again factor. But then we also have to think of our readers. The Usual Suspects need to be prepared to up the ante every time.

Who are our readers? I'm not entirely sure, but we need more of them. One of our priorities this year has to be a marked increase in the number of subscribers to the magazine. Providing an outlet for work by new writers is only half of the equation. It also has to be about bringing that work to the attention of as many people as possible.

There is a need for creative reading courses.

In the forthcoming issue of the magazine (Issue One Volume Two!) there are poems by Colette Bryce, Toby Litt, Caitríona O'Reilly, Marge Piercy and keeper of The Shop, John Wakeman. We have the first published poem from Steven Doran, and we're also introducing a new section, the Featured Poet, in which we showcase the work of one new poet who has yet to publish a first collection. In this issue we have six poems by Ulster-born Canadian poet, Phillip Crymble. The new issue might also have included poems by Margaret Atwood. We asked her for poems when I saw that she was coming to read in Dun Laoghaire. Her assistant e-mailed me back to say that Poetry Ireland Review had beaten us to it.

In the introduction to his selection of Robert Lowell poems Michael Hofmann writes: 'In the case of living poets, there's a simple test: whose books do you wait for? It's never very many.' Here in Ireland we're lucky that we can claim a few such poets as our own, and we never know when the next one is going to show up.

Declan Meade is Fiction Editor of The Stinging Fly. A full set of submission guidelines for The Stinging Fly and subcription details are available at www.stingingfly.org (No e-mail submissions accepted).

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