“You . . . realise that many poems are well-enough written to be publishable – and yet they don’t excite. They do not cause the hair on the back of the neck to stand up. The editorial heart doesn’t stop, nor breath shorten. The language is inert, the subjects are boring. Poets can often seem to be working a narrow little seam of private experience.” I wish this weren’t the case on this side of the Atlantic, as well, but what Peter Sirr laments here of the state of poetry in Ireland is all too often true in the US, as well. But, thank goodness for this excerpt “This is Not an Editorial,” from Sirr’s essay in the bi-monthly newsletter, Poetry Ireland, and for the other marvelous excerpts of speeches and exquisite essays and poems in Irish Pages. The work here does excite, does take away one’s breath and renew one’s confidence in the state of the written word in English (and in Irish). This issue’s theme is “The Sea,” though the journal is not dogged in its approach to the theme.
The journal, published twice yearly in Belfast, is handsomely produced (such fine and sturdy paper!) and thoughtfully edited. Regular features include an editorial commenting on cultural or political issues in Ireland or overseas; an extract of writing from a non-contemporary Irish writer; a selection of translated work from a particular country (Serbian and Croatian writing in this issue); and a commissioned piece that takes a critical look at some aspect of the literary world in Ireland, Britain, or the US. Poems, for the most part, exhibit attention to language and a certain subdued, but determined elegance. Prose is sophisticated, expertly crafted, and worldly. There wasn’t a single piece I didn’t find engaging or worth reading.
There are lyrical and potent essays about Ireland’s geography (as it relates to the sea theme), the meaning of stories, the state of the theater, and the state of poetry. There are poems of depth, beauty, and sophistication, and a portfolio of extraordinary color photographs by 15 photographers called “Marine Micrographs,” a kind of mesmerizing hybrid art/science approach to the science of the sea and the art of sea imagery produced by photographers in Puerto Rico, Germany, England, Idaho, Brazil, Australia, Holland, England, and Ireland.
I don’t know how easy it is to find Irish Pages in the states, but subscription forms are available online and “credit cards are welcome.” Irish Pages is a credit specifically to its genre (literary magazines) and more generally to literature. If you want to find work that certainly will shorten your breath and cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up, get out your Visa Card without delay.