The Digital Self

Sven Birkets leads the latest edition of Irish Pages

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.

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 latest edition, arranged around the theme of 'the media', features contributions from Seamus Heaney, Rita Kelly and Michael Longley. It leads with Sven Birkets' 'The Drowning Signal: Self in the Digital Age', first delivered as the third annual Irish Pages Lecture at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

Each issue also contains a portfolio of photographs from a leading photographer, and is open to submissions from photographers working anywhere in the world.

Irish Pages 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.

Irish PagesSince 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 2400, 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's cover theme binds the content and emerges from the editorial process. 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.

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 focusing 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.

Chris Agee

The latest edition of Irish Pages is available from the Linen Hall Library, Eason's, Waterstones and the Queen's University Bookshop.