Launch of The Yellow Nib

Tammy Moore gives her opinion on the fifth edition of The Yellow Nib

Read an extract from Emily De Dakis' contribution to The Yellow Nib and listen to her reading from the night.


All the usual suspects in the Belfast literary scene were at the launch of The Yellow Nib in Queen's Welcome Centre. Fitting, since the point of the anthology is that it takes place in one of editor Ciaran Carson’s ‘back rooms’.

Carson theorises that everything, art in particular, takes place in a series of small ‘back rooms’ where marginal voices can be heard. For him The Yellow Nib is an ink and paper avatar of one of those rooms and for the voices of poets and prose writers that he wants to be heard.

That is, after all, part of what being an editor is about, making a space for the authorial voice to be heard and serving as gatekeeper to that space.

Take it out of the private sphere, and writing is an elitist thing. Anyone who argues otherwise is someone to be wary off, particularly when they ask you for money. But that’s a rant for another day.

Carson is a good gatekeeper. Into each slim volume of The Yellow Nib is packed a surprising amount of poetry and prose lovingly collected and presented by Carson, himself a poet and author of some renown. Most inclusions are by established authors, although there is a scattering of new voices to be heard in this volume.

It’s a good, occasionally challenging, collection with an eclectic range of poetry and prose from writers such as Medbh McGuckian, Jay Parini and Jorge Luis Borges for the reader to work through. The new writers selected for inclusion in this volume, Emily Dedakis and Barbara Morton, work well with The Yellow Nib’s existing aesthetic, while at the same time serve as a challenge to any complacency that might have crept into the book’s concept.

There have been occasional objections raised about the fact that Carson’s back room is Queen’s University. Given the quality of The Yellow Nib (and my opinion would be different if there was a whiff of vanity about the publication) that doesn’t seem quite fair.

What is the ideological difference between Carson sourcing content for The Yellow Nib from Queen’s and the editor of a LGBT anthology sourcing content from rooms and authors that he is familiar with? Both editors draw from their own respective sphere of familiarity to fill their ‘back room’ with voices they want to be heard.

The Yellow Nib is a book that does exactly what it says on the cover. It’s writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre. It does not pretend to inclusivity or make claims to represent the wider literary culture that thrives in Belfast, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Through the Seamus Heaney Centre, and under the guidance of Carson, Glenn Patterson and Sinead Morrissey, Queen’s has nurtured a distinct literary tradition. They should celebrate that.

My only problem, if this minor discontent can be termed a problem, is that there is a sense that The Yellow Nib doesn’t want to be heard outside the Queen’s ‘back room’. It is by the literati, something I support and occasionally aspire to, but it is also for the literati.

That’s just a shame when the quality of the work is so high and deserves to be widely heard.

The Yellow Nib is available from Blackstaff Press.