Each month we look at some of the literary publications, zines and websites in the island of Ireland. This month we look at Meath-based Boyne Berries, and speak to its editor Órla Fay.
Boyne Berries is published by Boyne Writers Group in County Meath. Can you tell us a bit about the group first of all?
Boyne Writers Group was founded in 2006 and meets twice monthly in The Castle Arch Hotel, Trim, Co. Meath. The meetings are held on a Thursday night and used to start at 8.30 p.m. but we now start at 8 p.m. There are roughly sixteen members in the group and on a typical night there will be eight to ten people in attendance. The meetings are informal, take place in the lounge and are chaired by chairwoman Caroline Carey Finn or vice-chairman, Tom Dredge. At the meetings the writers read aloud their work and it is then critiqued in a constructive way by members, workshopped in a sense. We welcome new members. Some members come and go but we have been lucky to have a core group stay. The group publishes Boyne Berries twice yearly. In the past we conducted a series of open mics called The Boyne Reading and Open Mic. We participate in local festivals and celebrate Poetry Day Ireland. We hold an AGM in January or February each year when we review our work and elect officers.
How did the idea of publishing a literary journal first arise from the group meetings?
I didn’t join the group until 2008. I had submitted a poem and it was accepted for publication in Boyne Berries 1, 2007. Eventually I went to a couple of meetings and ended up staying. I would never have imagined being part of a group but I was impressed by the openness of Boyne Writers. Michael Farry, a founding member of the group and the first editor of BB says: “The original members were anxious to publish some of our own work in pamphlet form and one member, me, suggested that we go a little further and ask for submissions using the internet and publish a magazine containing members’ work and a selection from submissions. We all agreed, chose a title, and went ahead. The first launch was a resounding success so that was that!”
Your latest issue commemorates the centenary of the death of the County Meath WWI poet Francis Ledwidge. Why did you feel it was important for Boyne Berries to mark his centenary?
As a County Meath group and as a writing group we felt that it was very important to mark the centenary of the death of the Slane native, Francis Ledwidge. I think Meath takes great pride in this man’s life and work. As people we drive through Ledwidge Country along the Boyne and Slane passing the cottage where he lived. This is now a museum. We learnt his Lament for Thomas MacDonagh in school and came to know that Lord Dunsany, Ledwidge’s patron, lived in Dunsany Castle. We had published an issue to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising to great success, Boyne Berries 1916, so this Ledwidge issue was a natural choice. Meath County Council had devised a series of events to mark this Ledwidge year and we applied for and received funding from Meath County Council’s Francis Ledwidge Centenary 1917 –2017 Commemorative Grant Scheme.
Boyne Berries holds launch nights for each of its issues. How significant is it to hold these events for poets to meet up, socialise and share in each other’s poetry?
The launch nights work well because, as you say, it is an occasion to socialise with the writers and to celebrate their work. It is a chance to read and share your work with peers, friends and family. Allen Ginsberg said that writing, poetry in this case, was a way of ‘making the private world public’ and this is what the launches facilitate, whether the creative works being read are biographical or not, the writer gets to share their creative, often private world. Of course it is also a great way to distribute and sell the magazine on the night.
Has being an editor, exposed to so much contemporary work, impacted on your own writing in any way?
As a writer I am always learning. I am engaged in the world about me which I am sensitive to and take impressions from. If I am struck by something I will research it and write about it. I feel that this is a responsibility I have. I learn by reading and understanding what I read as an editor. So yes, I think that being an editor has helped me grow in my writing. The more you read and see the greater your repertoire can become. I think I am more aware of editing my own work and capable of being objective about it.
The journal is predominately poetry; would you like to see more prose submissions in the future, or are you happy with the current balance?
This latest issue of Boyne Berries has collectively nine pieces of fiction and non-fiction, more than usual but this will be the biggest issue of BB so far. I think the current balance works well. However, both editors so far have been majorly poets themselves. If the magazine has another editor perhaps things will be different?
Boyne Berries, and yourself, are very proactive on social media in celebrating the successes of your members, other writers, and other Irish literary endeavours. How imperative is it to you to help foster this sense of community?
It is important to be inclusive. I have always loved the fact that a blank page is a bit like a level playing ground. Anyone can make their mark on it and succeed in being original. It is also important to celebrate success and encourage others, ‘mol an óige agus tiocfaid sí’ (praise the youth and she will come). A group cannot exist without its members, the lifeblood of a magazine like Boyne Berries is the members of The Boyne Writers Group. At present there is a Boyne Berries blog and a Boyne Writers Facebook page which I administer. Recently I set up a Boyne Berries Twitter account because often contributors to the magazine would ask me if we had a Twitter handle. I didn’t know what that was but of course I looked it up as it was in the best interest of the magazine. I wonder what poets of the past, like Emily Dickinson or John Keats, would think of this digital age?