Last Saturday, despite the bad weather, a crowd of poetry lovers came out in force to attend a very special event, a rare chance to see and hear from the current and two most recent Ireland Chairs of Poetry. Harry Clifton, Michael Longley and Paula Meehan read from their considerable bodies of work and discussed their individual experiences from their time as Ireland Chair of Poetry.
In the wake of the Paris attacks on Friday, Harry Clifton’s decision to read from his 2007 collection, Secular Eden: Paris Notebooks 1994-2004, added an extra poignancy to the event. Michael Longley announced he would be reading some new poems “to show being the Chair didn’t stifle my creativity”. Michael closed his reading with a poem in tribute to Seamus Heaney – fitting as the Ireland Chair of Poetry was established in response to Seamus Heaney’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The readings ended with current Ireland Chair of Poetry, Paula Meehan. The variety of all three poets’ work provided an entertaining hour for the appreciative audience.
After the readings Arminta Wallace, feature writer for The Irish Times, led the poets in a discussion of their time as Ireland Chair of Poetry. All three spoke of their delight at how enthusiastic and receptive the younger poets they have come into contact with have been with regard to wanting to learn the craft of writing poetry. The event ended with a reception to launch Harry Clifton’s new book of lectures comprised from The Poet’s Chair series, Ireland and its Elsewheres (UCD Press).
Friday afternoon of DBF2015 saw the crowds pack in to the Boys’ School of Smock Alley Theatre for what turned out to be one of the most informing events throughout the festival, our special Writers’ Event: Meet the Editors. Aspiring authors, readers and those generally interested in the publishing industry gathered together to listen to the discussion between our panel of disparate experts. Chaired by Declan Meade, Publishing Manager and founder of The Stinging Fly, the panel consisted of Gráinne Clear, Publishing Manager at Little Island Books; Dan Bolger, Commissioning Editor at New Island Books; Helen Carr, Senior Editor with O’Brien Press; and Patsy Horton, Managing Editor of Blackstaff Press.
Each panellist gave a brief introduction as to who they are, what they do, and how the process works at their individual presses. It was interesting to discover how different the various presses can be; for example, the fact that there is only a staff of two at Little Island Books compared with a staff of over fifteen at O’Brien Press. We got to hear how Gráinne Clear, whose official title at Little Island Books is Publishing Manager, is also responsible for editing and marketing within the small team. The other panellists agreed that this type of multi-tasking was common in spite of how big or small their presses’ teams were: and, as Gráinne said on the day, “Publishing is a job you do because you love it.”
“Read the submission guidelines for the individual press!” was the chorus of advice that rang out when the issue of authors submitting work was brought up. Know as much about the publisher as possible before sending in your manuscript. What do they publish? How often? Is my book too similar to one they’ve recently published? Do I have a clear idea of who the book would appeal to? These are just some of the questions aspiring authors should ask themselves before they approach a publisher. It was stressed how manuscripts can get rejected for a multitude of reasons, it’s not simply a case of whether or not a book is good or bad.
A significant portion of the discussion was spent on the issues surrounding how independent and smaller publishers in Ireland compete and compare with the Big Five on the global stage, particularly in the UK. Dan Bolger, Commissioning Editor at New Island Books, spoke of how “you’re aware of the Big Five but you’re running your own race.” Independent Irish publishers don’t have the financial clout to be able to go out and market and support their writers in the way they would wish to; nevertheless the works of Irish writers do translate and have considerable success worldwide, a sure sign of the quality over quantity thinking behind many of the Irish publishers’ selections in recent years.
The opening night of Dublin Book Festival 2015 was a great success with the launch of Winter Pages, Ireland’s new annual arts anthology. In a special recording of RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena programme, which will be broadcast tonight, Seán Rocks talked to two of the contributing authors, Claire Kilroy and Peter Murphy, alongside the anthology’s founding editor and publisher, Kevin Barry.
According to Kevin the idea had been floating around between him and fellow editor Olivia Smith for a number of years. This desire to capture the buzz around the Irish arts found particular focus through the many interviews that are prevalent in Winter Pages: “We wanted to ask about the craft.” The craft evident in the laughter of the audience when Kevin read out his own story from the anthology.
The serious issues surrounding what it means to be an artist, particularly a writer, once you’ve given birth and are taking care of a child were dealt with fantastically by Claire Kilroy, both on the night and in her personal essay, “F for Phone”. She spoke openly and earnestly about the her views pre- and post- pregnancy with regard to what it takes to be a mother, as well as her own struggle to find the words within the fog of her baby brain.
Writer and performer Peter Murphy read from his “post-apocalyptic dog story”, demonstrating his particular dialect and appreciation for scuffed-up language. His interview with the director Lenny Abrahamson is just one of the many artistic cross-pollinations throughout the anthology.
Music on the night was provided by singer songwriter Grainne Hunt.
As Kevin said, “Irish writing is built on people going nuts on the page”, and if the launch was anything to go by then Winter Pages is off to a great start.