IRISH PAGES: A JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY WRITING by Chris Agee
(Poetry Ireland News, July/August 2004)
GENERAL INFORMATION: Irish Pages is a Belfast journal combining Irish, European and international perspectives. It seeks to create a novel literary space in the North adequate to the unfolding cultural potential of the new political dispensation. The magazine is cognisant of the need to reflect in its pages the various meshed levels of human relations: the regional (Ulster), the national (Ireland and Britain), the continental (the whole of Europe), and the global. It is based at the Linen Hall Library, Belfast and appears biannually.
Since its launch in Summer 2002, Irish Pages has established itself as the leading quality literary journal in the North, as well as one of the foremost Irish periodicals. With a print-run now standing at 1400, it represents - uniquely for the island - the combination of a large general readership with outstanding writing from both Ireland and overseas. Increasingly, the journal is also read outside Ireland and Britain, with a sizable number of individual and institutional subscribers in France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, USA, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Each issue assembles a carefully edited mix of English and Irish, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, style and subject matter, in an overall fit aimed at a wide range of reading tastes. The cover theme suggests some of the content, and emerges from the editorial process - the blend of what is selected from submissions, and what is sought or commissioned. Of 'The Justice Issue', one reviewer remarked, 'There is a sense that the theme emerged from the writing, from the deepest preoccupations of poets, essayists, novelists and artists, rather than being forced upon them. The theme, rather, is gleaned in the reading, in the alchemy that can result when work from very diverse perspectives is well aligned.' (The Irish Times ).
In addition, Irish Pages includes a number of regular features: The View from the Linen Hall, an editorial commenting on cultural or political issues in Ireland or overseas; From the Irish Archive, an extract of writing from a non-contemporary Irish writer, accompanied by a brief biographical note; In Other Words, a selection of translated work from a particular country; and The Publishing Scene, a commissioned piece taking a critical look at some aspect of the literary world in Ireland, Britain or the United States. Each issue also contains a portfolio of photographs from a leading Irish photographer; an article on Belfast or Northern Ireland; work from at least one emergent or new writer; writing on the natural world; and a major essay of literary distinction on an ethical, historical, religious, social or scientific topic. There are no standard reviews or narrowly academic articles. Irish Language and Ulster Scots writing are published in the original, with English translations or glosses.
THE POLICY ON POETRY: Although Irish Pages is mainly a prose journal, poetry is, of course, a major component of the journal's mix of genres. On average, about a third of contributors (10-12 poets) and about a quarter of each issue (55-60 pages) have been given over to poetry, in both Irish and English, and including translations from other languages. Each issue has additionally carried a substantial essay on the poetic art by a noted practitioner. This distinct but circumscribed space for poetry reflects the view of both poet-editors that in the context of a general-readership journal such as ours, a lean selection of poetry is likely to be read more attentively within the overall mix.
The sole criterion for inclusion in the journal is the distinction of the writing and the integrity of the individual voice. There are no favoured styles, themes, schools, publishers, critical hierarchies, and so on. Equal attention will be given to established, emergent and new writers.
SOME DIFFERENT THINGS ABOUT IRISH PAGES: There are, in fact, very few literary journals that avoid reviews and cognate varieties of academic criticism (although we do publish the occasional 'essay-review' or critical essay). Why attempt what the TLS or LRB will always do better? Irish Pages represents a new paradigm focussing entirely on the reading of 'primary' writing, rather than its critical or 'secondary' mediation.
We wish the journal to be read widely and each issue's careful mix of genres and styles is essential to the magazine's appeal outside the ghetto of the literati. There is an especial commitment - uniquely for Ireland and perhaps Britain, at least in a literary journal - to nature/ecological writing as well as 'creative non-fiction'/the essay. And although each issue will carry at least one and often two pieces of fiction, part of the thinking behind this mix is to provide an antidote or alternative to the enormous critical and commercial attention that is given to the various genres of fiction, at the expense clearly of other genres, whose historical/ ethical/social value is surely no less.
Writing in Irish is integral to the editorial mix. To date we have published poetry, drama and fiction in Irish; we have also published first translations from the Irish by the Managing Editor (Seán Mac Aindreasa, one of the founders of the Belfast Gaeltacht) of a clutch of important essays by Eoghan Ó Tuairisc, Gabriel Rosenstock and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. We attempt to place the two languages in seamless juxtaposition, to suggest their parity in any definition of the 'Irish' in Irish Pages. Outside the Irish language world per se, the publishing of Irish language writing in journals is often tinged with tokenism; we pursue a much more active bilingualism.
One wider background aim is to give the journal a distinctly dissident edge, to inhabit 'the space outside' the Pale of the Received - business-as-usual in all its (especially Western) forms: literary, intellectual, cultural, social, political. Thus, the journal has a particular (though hardly exclusive) commitment to work informed by 'the ethical imagination'. I believe that there is a huge thirst for this kind of writing - writing of 'high artistic consciousness', but in the thick of the world and its dilemmas - and that it is immensely important for our increasingly complex global life. You might call it the literary equivalent of an NGO audience: all those potential readers for whom ethical issues count.
PRAISE FOR Irish Pages:
'A wonderful achievement.' - Michael Longley
'Irish Pages is an important event in the history of Northern Ireland.' - Rev
'One of the finest journals I have seen produced anywhere in these islands in recent years.' - Gerald Dawe
'The most important cultural journal in Ireland at the present moment.' - Jonathan
'THE BELL makes a doughty precursor for Irish Pages, which, in a similar vein,
goes all out for sober excellence and inspired audacity.' - Patricia Craig
'Irish Pages represents a new maturity in the life of the Irish periodical.' - Belinda McKeon
Chris Agee is the Editor of Irish Pages; Cathal Ó
Searcaigh is Irish Language Editor; Seán Mac Aindreasa is Managing
Subscription Information: IRISH PAGES, The Linen Hall Library, 17 Donegall Square North, Belfast BT1 5GB; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org