I’d like to thank everyone who submitted to the issue of The Stinging Fly which I have just edited. I received a little more publishable work than it was possible to publish. Priority was given to work that had made a serious and creative attempt to respond to themes outlined in the call-out I wrote for the issue. I know the effort that goes in to writing, the anxiety of waiting for news on a submission, the frustration of rejection, especially for young writers trying to get themselves noticed and perhaps feeling that they are being unfairly overlooked. I certainly felt like that; I wanted to stamp on the throat and gouge out the eyes of anyone who turned me down.
I was rejected five or six times by the The Stinging Fly before I had a piece accepted. So, keep trying, if you want to, if you’re able. There’s no conspiracy against you. If your writing is good enough, clear enough, original enough, powerful enough, it will break through. You will be heard. Though you might find being heard to be sometimes just as frustrating and meaningless as not being heard.
I also know the prestige attached to publication in The Stinging Fly. It’s the one magazine almost everyone I know in Irish writing wants to be in. It’s certainly the least conservative and the most professional of Irish literary magazines. I open a new issue always with a sense of excitement and expectation. Even if it is not always full of the type of writing that I like, I am sure to find something excellent, something admirable, something to be creatively jealous of. It has published and promoted most of the Irish poets and short story writers I have had any interest in over the last ten years.
So I’m very happy and grateful to have been given the chance to have a go at editing the Fly. It’s a pet complaint of mine, as well as an open cultural secret, that there are not enough literary editors in Ireland. A lot of first poetry books, and not only those, are published without being edited. Relatedly, there isn’t enough serious criticism either. The review section in Irish literary magazines is often nothing but a lazy appendix, a showcase of prudishness, sycophancy, personal vendettas, and conceptual vagueness, written by people who don’t seem to have taken on board the art of the 20th century, not to mind the 21st. We need publishers, magazines, and especially writers, to take editing and criticism more seriously. Not to do so is letting everybody down, and to risk succumbing to a dishonest, weak-minded provincialism which insists on over-praising everyone who gets up on stage and publishing everyone who manages to get a sheaf of poems together just because we’re all great friends, and probably cousins as well, if we looked into it. We must be far more ambitious than this.
I took an active interest in the pieces I selected for publication. In cases, I made strong editorial interventions. Some of these were taken on board, others were rejected, others modified after discussion. There was struggle. That’s how it should be. It means both the editor and the writer care about the work. I learned loads because of it; in editing, as in activism, struggle is the great teacher. Like any relationship, if there isn’t back and forth, if there isn’t tension, if there isn’t an energetic exchange, it isn’t happening.
I am for experimentalism and I am for high art (meaning art that makes us high), but I am against elitism. I like it when the mind works not solely for its own satisfaction, but for the heart and the passions as well. I like work that is seeking somehow to express the damage, as well as work that is seeking to inflict it. So I like offensive work, work that is on the offensive, work that is searching for someone offendable to offend; for me, this is the urge to freedom at work. The true artistic experimenter is a double-radical and a satanist in the Blakean sense. Their work has the potential to upset and upturn, to corrode and expose—to cause a reaction—both within the confines of their chosen art form, and in the wider world as well. These were my selection criteria for Issue 22, and I am proud to stand by every burning word.
Please join us for the Dublin Writers Festival launch of our Summer issue (no. 22) on Thursday, June 7 at Odessa Club, Dublin, from 9:30pm onwards. Free entry, and all welcome. Bring friends!