Around Ireland: Bindweed Magazine

Each month we look at some of the literary publications, zines and websites in the island of Ireland. This month we look at Belfast-based Bindweed Magazine, and speak to its editors Leilanie Stewart and Joseph Robert.

On your website, you state that Bindweed takes its name from the creeping plant Convolvulus Arvensis, and draw a comparison between this flower “shouting to be heard” amidst all the other “immaculately pruned flowers”, and the state of publishing today. Do you feel there is a weighted bias or elitism within poetry, and how does Bindweed seek to address/correct this?

Convolvulus Arvensis: beautiful flower or insidious weed, or perhaps both at once? Well, that’s all a matter of one’s perspective, of course. The truth is that nature abhors a vacuum and we couldn’t find any e-zines that were committed to not having a theme or a population of writers/readers that it targeted or catered to. So, we created Bindweed to see what would ‘organically’ happen. Simple as that; weeds sprout.

There’s a great poem about the bindweed plant by James McKean, in which the poet states “the mother root | waits deep underground | and I dig but will never find her”. Would you say that the work Bindweed publishes shares a mother root, that is, a shared inspiration or common voice?

Thanks for bringing up the poem by James McKean. We both enjoyed it, but have a diametrically opposed view about the value of bindweed and its role in nature. Our view is that the “mother root” of Bindweed is its brittle root structure, or as James McKean puts it, “their roots all weak links”. These roots make bindweed the bane of controlling gardeners: it’s hard to kill and impossible to master. James McKean sees bindweed as “poor relations” who need to be “evicted”, which conveys an image of social cleansing, whereas our view is of bindweed as beautiful writing on the fringes of literature’s allotment; the flowers have not been granted access to the established elite in the garden of the literary world, but will make their own way over the garden fence and be appreciated by those who take an alternative view on what is good literature. Bindweed Magazine is what the readers, contributors and editors make it into. The plan is that there is no plan; the voice is not a singular voice, but a chorus of voices that speak up even when they’re not ‘supposed to’.

One of the concepts behind Bindweed is to bridge the gap between the accessibility and immediacy of ezines, and the traditional joys and permanency of print media. What advantages are they in produced the zine in both formats?

The advantage of our multi-format approach is that it provides more choice for our readers and contributors; weeds spread. If other formats came up that Bindweed Magazine could thrive in, we would be open to exploring them (YouTube readings / live performance / serial novels, etc). The only limitations are, as always, time and money; hence why we have our submission guidelines. That said, we are always open to proposals by past and potential contributors.

Do you feel writers still see getting their work in print more prestigious than being published online, or it this long held notion starting to fade?

Honestly we feel that it’s a personal view that some writers may still see getting their work in print as more prestigious than being published online; however, and to be blunt, as editors of Bindweed Magazine all we care about is more page views and POD sales, as that’s how we quantify the number of readers we have. Our mission is to provide a platform for new work to be read by as many people as possible.

Past issues have favoured poetry over fiction, with perhaps four or five prose pieces per issue. Is this a reflection on the ratio of submissions, or do you tend to favour poetical works over fiction?

It is indeed predominantly a matter of a ratio of submissions; we have in fact received more poetry than fiction submissions to date. Nevertheless, we do tend to accept a higher percentage of poetry than fiction submissions for the following reasons: if we like one poem out of a batch of six, we can publish that one poem. However, if we like nine out of ten paragraphs of a short story, we reject the story because of the one paragraph we don’t like. Obviously, some editors are more engaged with their contributors in revising their fiction, but we don’t do that. We view our editorial job as gatekeepers judging the quality of the work to see if it it worthy of publication; we don’t act as teachers, writing instructors or co-authors.

Bindweed also have a sub-strand, Heavenly Flower Publishing, which showcases extracts from self-published authors. How important is it to you to break the stigma of self-publishing as a vanity exercise?

The two of us perhaps have an idiosyncratic view of what constitutes ‘vanity publishing’. If we judge a work to be self-indulgent, formulaic, and/or boring, we would consider its publication by Faber and Faber, or its publication as a post on the author’s own Facebook page, as equally an exercise in vanity.

(Answered by Leilanie) The showcase feature is the brainchild of Leilanie; Joseph was not involved in this aspect of Heavenly Flower Publishing. My goal in showcasing extracts from the books of self-published authors was not to break the stigma of self-publishing as a vanity exercise, which I believe has already been broken through Amazon making it mainstream; it was simply to fill another void. I couldn’t find anywhere that published extracts of books solely as a promotional platform; more often than not, an excerpt was preceded by a review. I wanted to create a platform to put work that I liked in the spotlight and let it speak for itself.

(Directed to Leilanie) You’ve graduated as an archaeologist, having studied Archaeology and Palaeoecology – are they able parallels behind being an editor and being an archaeologist (the interview imagines unearthing treasure, having to dig to find worthwhile material, etc).

Whilst that is a poetically-framed and fascinating question, the truth is, there are no conscious connections or parallels between my work as an archaeologist and my work as an editor of Bindweed Magazine. My archaeological experience, however, does indeed have a big impact on my creative writing as an author and poet separate from Bindweed; my debut poetry pamphlet, A Model Archaeologist, directly relates to my former career in archaeology and my novella, Til Death Do Us Boneapart, forthcoming in the summer issue of Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, draws inspiration from ancient Egyptian religion and mythology.

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