Saturday 7 April 2018

Rachel Coventry's Launch Notes, Boyne Berries 23

Rachel Coventry

It’s a particular honour to launch the 23rd Boyne Berries. My first publication was in Boyne Berries in 2011 when Michael Farry was the editor. As you can imagine I really like Boyne Berries for this reason. No acceptance by any other magazine has ever felt as good as that first one. The writers among us know that up to the moment when you get that first precious publication there is absolutely no guarantee that you will actually ever be published and even though there is no guarantee that you will ever be published again it’s just not the same level of doubt. I remember being slightly embarrassed (embarrassment seems to go with the territory of writing) by the poem chosen and discussing this with Kevin Higgins. He told me that you have to trust the editor’s decision.  It was good advice and looking through this current issue it is clear that we can trust Orla’s decisions.

One of the most important things about Boyne Berries is precisely that it gives new writers an opportunity to see their work in print. Whatever way you look at it, without someone willing to take a risk on new, unknown writers there would be no new writing and without new writing there would be no writing whatsoever. It is imperative that we value publications that allow a writer to cut her teeth.

Of course Boyne Berries does not just publish new writers it is one of those lovely and rare platforms where the known and the unknown; the new and the old, are presented side by side. For example, in this edition, it is lovely to feature alongside Patrick Chapman, Jean O’Brien, and JA Sutherland as well as many familiar and well established names while also encountering work from some writers that I have not read up till now.

As writers often do when they pick up a shiny new magazine, I tend to head straight for back where you find the notes on contributors to have a good nose at other writer’s bios. This is a particularly gratifying exercise with a copy of Boyne Berries because it contains such a healthy cross section of Irish writing. For a while my own bio read, “Rachel Coventry is from Galway and she has a poem published in Boyne Berries.” In this edition, there is work from writers who have no publication credits and others that have many collections to their names. I have a word document on my laptop with all the various iterations of my bio. I can trace my development of my work by looking at it and whatever happens in the future Boyne Berries will be the start of the story and it is gratifying to think that someone’s publication journeys is beginning with this issue.

As we all know, it generally takes some time, effort and bravery to get that first publication and without someone willing to publish these poems and stories it would be difficult to go on. But it must be noted that that the quality of the work in Boyne Berries is of a high standard and has continued to be so over the years and that publishing new writers does not mean publishing bad writing.

Also, the wide range of writers published in Boyne Berries is a factor of particularly pertinence in these times when it is also tempting, when looking at the contributors list to work out the ratio of male to female writers in any a given publication. This has become particularly relevant in the wake of the Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets scandal. I wont go into it here, and probably the least said about it the better. But at the very least we can say that there are other well-known publications struggling to reach a gender balance and struggling with other biases but this is a problem that doesn’t seem to affect Boyne Berries.

It seem that at grass roots the Irish literary establishment has no difficulty including work from women writers and other marginalized groups and yet the lion’s share of the available arts funding seems to find its way to publications that continually show various biases. There is nothing controversial in this. Anyone who submits work to Poetry Ireland Review, for example, is informed, and I quote directly from the website: “We encourage more submissions from women and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, who are currently under-represented in Poetry Ireland Review”. There clearly isn’t any need for such a disclaimer in a Boyne Berries  submission call. That there are biases that block entry into publication for various groups is simply a fact yet that this block is not evident in magazines like Boyne Berries is another fact that deserves a little more consideration especially by the Arts Council.

Boyne Berries is a safe haven for the new writer and the more experienced writer alike-a place the work is considered in its own terms and it is maybe for this reason that it attracts such a variety of work from such a braod spectrum of writers. In a literary world that is not an even playing field an magazine like Boyne Berries is crucial.

Of course, despite the variety of writers showcased there is a lovely coherence to this particular edition. I was very drawn to the Orla’s submission call in December; I couldn’t resist it. The work chosen and the feeling of renewal and freshness in this edition is certainly a testimony to Orla’s skills as an editor. I look forward to the other edition that will be published later in the year.

In this edition, I love Anne Walsh Donnelly’s poem that opens the edition. I look forward to seeing more of her work also Sara Mullen’s interesting poem, another name that I’m not familiar with but I’m sure I will be hearing more off.  There are wonderful poems from Jean O’Brien, Noelle Lynskey, John Noonan and many other poets.

At the moment my own focus is on poetry but it was really great to read the fiction included in this edition, which features work from Lorraine Bennet and Olivia Fitzsimmons among others. When I get over this poetry fixation I may submit a story myself.

I also must mention Rory O’Sullivan’s cover art, which is fresh and vivid and nicely mirrors the magazines content. Boyne Berries is always an attractive magazine but I really love this cover especially the use of colour.

Finally, for all these reasons, I think we should view the launch of this 23rd edition of Boyne Berries as a celebration of Irish and international writing; a celebration that the winter is over (or it will be soon, hopefully). As Orla says in the editorial, we writers have been working away all winter and it is great to see the fruits of this work in this beautiful, fresh, spring edition and it’s particularly lovely to gather here to launch it. The world of Irish literature is very lucky that Boyne Writers Group supports this venture and for the hard work that Orla and Frances do to keep the magazine going. With that I’ll declare Boyne Berries 23 launched and we can get on with the real work of listening to some of the contributors read.

-          Rachel Coventry, April 2018

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