An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
The Stinging Fly
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Dublin 8
ISSN 1393-5690

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This page last updated: 31st August 2010.
The Stinging Fly Vol.2 #5

Produced in Dublin, The Stinging Fly is a perfect bound journal containing poetry, fiction, and reviews. This issue also contains some evocative photography by Byron Barrett and artwork by Marta Wakula.

As a clue to the contents, Declan Meade tells, in his editorial, that:

The Stinging Fly fancies itself as 'a good magazine' and our principle objective is to provide an outlet for the 'unknowns' of the literary world.
So, does the magazine hold up to the editor's claim?

The presentation is certainly attractive. The full colour covers contain text that is amply spaced with each poem given room to breath rather than being cramped into a corner, or on pages with other poems jostling for space.

The prose is clearly of a high quality. Kevin Barry's, LAST DAYS OF THE BUFFALO begins with a thought-provoking look at the town that his character, Foley, occupies:

AN UNDISPUTABLE FACT: OUR TOWNS ARE SEXED. Look around you. It's enough to tell one from the other. Foley's town, for example, is most certainly a woman — just take in the salt of her estuarine air — but she's not a notably well-mannered or delicate woman. She is in fact a belligerent old bitch. You wouldn't know what kind of mood you'd find her in. And so he storms out, every afternoon, and slams the door after himself.
The story continues with that same level of description as we are introduced to Foley and see his place in an alienating world. There is always something intriguing about a character who doesn't quite fit into the world he inhabits. Foley is portrayed largely as a gentle giant, but Barry gives the story a subtle twist that, in the tradition of the best stories, didn't tell me everything but told me enough to make me wonder just what the real story might be.

Michelle Gallen's, DOUBLE TUB is also an excellent read. Again, the central character, Conor Feely, is a soul alienated from the world at large. In this case though, revenge is the plot. I won't give too much away other than to say I would be reluctant to buy mayonnaise from any fast-food establishment that has Feeley on its staff.

Turning to the poetry: there is a translation by Kristiina Ehin and three songs by Larry Beau but, for the most part, the poetry is new work.

In Edna Coyle-Green's WORDS TO FORM MY MOTHER, the speaker struggles to put her now departed mother into words:

	While you were living, I could never breathe
	life into you to put you on a page;
	although, God knows, I've tried enough to leave
	your imprint there, my pen became a cage
	that held you in and only let you go
	out like a skim of stones on water; grey
	as air, in air a trace above the flow.
From the second section:
	I am trying (again) to write of you,
	your complexities, your kind simplicity.
	As usual, no word of it is true
And ending with:
	I spoke to you that night, not quite closing the door, leaving a gap,
	Goodbye, I said, I'll see you tomorrow, the last  words.
To me, this poem reflects that struggle we all have when we try to put the truth into words. We may skirt around that truth for days or weeks but never quite succeed in finding just the right words to express what we know to be the case.

There are poems of all lengths and styles, including shorter ones. Elaine Gaston's, PRESBYTERIAN:

	Cut flowers were
	a waste of money

	bought cake
	was laziness.
It may be short but it tells a story all the same.

From the well-written and informative reviews to the interview with writer, Claire Kilroy; from the poetry to the fiction; from translations to song lyrics; there is plenty to occupy the mind here. I think publisher/editor Declan Meade is right in fancying The Stinging Fly as 'a good magazine'.

reviewer: Susan Woollard.
The Stinging Fly Vol.2 #6

Based in Dublin, the Editor of The Stinging Fly Declan Meade says the magazine

provides a forum for the very best of new Irish and international writing ... and gives new and emerging writers an opportunity to get their work out into the world.
As that statement suggests most of the contributors to this issue are previously published in some literary arena but the magazine makes room for one or two newcomers and encourages emerging stars. The largest contingent of contributors are from Ireland but the magazine showcases writers from America, Canada, Australia, Scotland, England, The Netherlands and Italy. It is published three times a year in February, June and October and welcomes submissions January to March. The Stinging Fly makes a feature of the colour artwork on the cover of each issue and reproduces black and white drawings and photographs in the magazine giving it an aesthetic edge on many similar journals. It's a magazine that feels good in your hands and in your reading of it. Funding comes from the Arts Council, subscriptions and other financial parties including a system of Patrons. They also carry a few well- chosen and related adverts. The overall result is excellent.

And what does the reader get from the one hundred pages contained within the covers? A lot of good writing. An Editorial, News, Essays, Work in Progress, New Fiction — three short stories, New Poetry — twenty-four poems including a Featured Poet, Poetry in Translation, New Lyrics and Reviews. There is so much in here that I liked and enjoyed that it is impossible to show the extent of the work in this short review.

Featured Poet Keith Payne, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, offers six poems of varying length. When he talks of relationships in his poems he draws on all the senses as in this striking and curious poem, HOLY HOUR

	The sugary pink rim of tutti-frutti
	or dressed orange in your Scots trill

	McChrystall's snuff
	pinched from the rosewood box you made
	by hand

	then hand in hand across the road
	home to the Garth;

	I cantered by your side
	three steps to your stride.
I've read this poem several times and each time I look I see another meaning - and that draws me back in. It is deceptively simple yet within it there is great weight. Of his other featured poems I liked FISHING FOR MACKEREL:
	Cast off from Glasson rock;
	the suck and swell below the arc of a teardrop
	lead weight.

	Delicately feather the surface,
	probe the meniscus
	and hoist up horse mackerel gasping for air.
There are two ESSAYS in the Spring issue. The first is a personal account of childhood interest in reading, FIRST PASSIONS, by Judith Mok. The other, MR LOGAN'S WEEKLY NEWS by The Anonymous Lady is actually a work of fiction portraying a character in New York. I don't understand why it is referred to as an essay but in any case it is a good read.

There are three short stories in this issue; NO. 13 BABY by Colin O'Sullivan, the story of a young man teaching English in Japan who seems to be losing his mind amid the busy streets; THE GOOD STORY by Liz Arnett is of how the outside world views us compared to the vision of the lives we have in our heads; and finally DADDY by Ròisìn Bryce is a well-plotted short story with plenty of tension and pace. It is about a father, Colm, dealing with the women in his life. It's a story exploring coincidence and the timing of events that can lead one down a positive or negative track. The tension is built up from the beginning and you feel Colm is going to come a cropper. But it has a few surprises.

The Editor Declan Meade says,

We've a particular interest in promoting the short story form.
In comparison and showing the diversity of this magazine, SISTERS is an excerpt from Eugene McCabe's new novel in progress. The title refers to the nuns of the story. This extract introduces us to Carmel and her life behind the walls as a raw novice. I found the main character name rather clichéd but I suppose a nunnery does have to have names that are traditional. Within the walls life is not purely a round of contemplation and we are shown the inner turmoil as Carmel discovers past events affecting those around her. It has the feel of the traditional storytellers' art and quickly draws the reader into its closed world. The subject matter is not one that would normally draw me in and I thought the title a little prosaic, but I found McCabe's style of storytelling compelling enough to want to read the whole.

And of course poetry makes up a significant section of these pages. There are so many good poets to choose from and THE CARDIGAN by Caroline Dowling is but a small taster.

	Her face flushed
	When he gave it to her
	unexpectedly on
	Christmas night.
	He'd picked darker colours,
	brown and black
	trimmed with a
	cream crochet thread.
	He said it suited her.
	She said it felt tight.
	Hemmed in her shoulders
	strait-jacketed her arms
	chest bursting when
	fastened. Weeks of
	wearing helped her grow
	into it. Moulded to her
	shape she felt every
	knitted row — cable after
	cable of blanket stitch,
	garter stitch, back stitch,
	stocking stitch, coiling into
	patterns of Mondays and
	Tuesdays, wash days and
	Mass days. On Saturday
	nights out she'd leave it
	open, her underneath top
	cheering on her red lipstick.
	Sometimes after chips on
	the way home he'd tell her
	to button it. She could
	do it with her eyes closed.
The last line of Dowling's poem is crucial and the whole builds to a crescendo of that line. This particular cardigan represents a modern day version of the Scold's Bridle, set to keep a woman in her place through physical and mental torment. You feel her humiliation, pain, and sense of isolation. The relentless abuse and the resulting lack of self-will has shaped her into accepting that this is her lot. It's a powerful poem.

The Stinging Fly appears glossy and professional — and it is. The content represents some of the best and most accessible of contemporary writing. It offers variety in terms of subject matter and length of material. It keeps the reader informed of Festivals and related writing activities in Ireland and the FLY REVIEWS are creative works in their own right. I recommend this issue to both existing fans and newcomers.

reviewer: Chrissie Everard.
The Stinging Fly Vol.2 #7

It's beginning to have the feel of authority here, issue 25 already. The great and the would-be-good are all beautifully set out; it's like a new Dublin apartment. The farms'n'fields of Ireland are mostly ignored and that gives a working tension to these short stories, poems and reviews. New-school urban'n'abroad is all. Beware the first-person, present-tense narrator — and there are several here. They sidle up so coyly, it's seduction. It can as easily be a mugging, a detour to places far worse than any Grimms' or Andersen's tales.

In Phillip Ó Ceallaigh's MY SECRET WAR, he's taken into Guantanamo-style custody and Jonathan Swift-like travel through the American psyche. There's also echoes of 1984 and a sex-piece (for once, not gratuitous) balancing the moments of the Twin Towers bombing. He is turned and becomes an acquiescent intelligence agent.

	If asked, I had been hiking in Alaska.
Ah! But! This is a metaphor for the ordinary safe-smug citizen of other countries too.
	I was heading for barbecue country.
A bumpy-ride of a story and just as exhilarating. A.L.Kennedy, in WHOLE FAMILY WITH YOUNG CHILDREN DEVASTATED. The 'I' voice again noticing everything in hyper-aware, nightmare-details manages to give menace to an apparently innocuous phonecall and its developments. First person, present tense is also obviously in place in the interview between Declan Meade and M.J.Hyland, with her comment,
The questions I asked when I was five, when I was fifteen are probably the same questions I ask now.
Danny Denton, KID FALLING, again first person, past tense here, gives a breathless account of an accident on a building site — but far richer in atmosphere than that bald summing-up can hint at. The men's routine enfolds us and we are scooped into the crisis ending, too.

Tom Tierney, IN THE SLIPSTREAM of a CHRIST-LIKE FIGURE — ('I', past tense) this skips along like a talkative person at a bus-stop. Warm and observant without being over-detailed. Unlike most short stories it is humane and hopeful, managing not to be sentimental either. A rare example. Another first-person past tense is Grace Jolliffe's SUNSTROKED.

my patience, like my red bra and the sumptuous bed, went to waste.
Woman goes off with Egyptian taxi-driver to his brother's house, where
the first tentative touch was my hair.
Unbelievably, he merely undresses her and only takes a photograph. No rape. Lucky woman. This somehow balances her husband's previous infidelity. Not a recommended course of action, but set formally into distancing prose, with long sentences and long paragraphs. Good example of form versus content. Kathleen Murray, HANGING THREADS. First person past. An agency nurse goes before a tribunal.
I was going to stick broadly to the truth and what I knew.
But at the last instant, after many back-story intricacies, she gives a flourish of different evidence.

In between are poems, like wayside stops, looking-back-rural with Patrick Deeley's THE ROADSIDE CROSSES. For once, a motorist really takes to heart the

	thirty-seven crosses troubling
	the brief, lonely miles between
	Cappataggle and Aughrim.
Measured and contained, fourteen lines and a complete story, Howard Wright in CELEBRATION remembers his grandfather's attitude to politics. By whitewashing the backyard and tarring the step
	with the same bristle brush, my grandfather
	celebrated the July fortnight in his own way.
Using primary colours, unmixed, straight from the paintbox, Rita Ann Higgins in HE KNOWS NO ARTICHOKES, puts some elastic back into tired words and cooks up surprising constructions.
	She didn't mind his toxic tan
	or his weasel taste in toothpaste.
	What she did mind was
	the way he'd Cheshire cat
	the woman from the council
	and the way visa versa
	would Cheshire cat him.
Third person, past tense, used brilliantly. Sometimes poets do it better.

reviewer: Pat Jourdan.