Around Ireland: Cold Coffee Stand

Each month we look at some of the literary publications, zines and websites in the island of Ireland. This month we look at poetry and fiction journal Cold Coffee Stand, and speak to one of its editors, Cathal Gunning.

What inspired you to set up Cold Coffee Stand?
Collectively, we were inspired by the recent surfeit of independent journals, Irish and otherwise, which have provided an outlet for both emerging and established authors without being beholden to corporate interests or external investors.

In your FAQs, you mention “accessibility and opportunity”; do you feel there is an issue with accessibility in contemporary literary journals?
There’s absolutely an issue with accessibility in contemporary literary journals, if for no reason other than many avid readers never have a chance to encounter them and many journals are happy to operate outside of the mainstream, maintaining a lofty “holier-than-thou” distance from the so-called average or casual reader. When many feel intimidated or excluded from even consuming poetry and short fiction, encouraging writers with unique, unpolished voices becomes next to impossible.

You focus on fiction and poetry, but you’ve also recently have a Halloween-themed offshoot, and previously carried a two-part interview with Irish journalist Angela Nagle. Do you anticipate any other special features at this stage?
While we would love to accommodate special features at every opportunity, most contests and non fiction features require a budget which is beyond our current means (i.e any budget). Fortunately the Halloween Horror contest was affordable thanks to contributions from our editors and the Angela Nagle interview was undertaken out of interest by our superb political and cultural correspondent Krishna Srikumar. Beyond serendipitous cases like those two, though, we would have to rely on support from readers and contributors for future features.

You initially launched in May this year after a submission call out; what lessons as an editor have you learnt since those early days?
Primarily we learned quickly that critical consensus is a fickle beast, one which is almost impossible to wrangle. Often times two or more editors will be divided on a piece’s relative merits and some superb pieces (included work I personally championed) has fallen victim to rejection by virtue of popular vote. As for the art of editing itself we are relatively lenient to allow for stylistic experimentation (to the chagrin of some traditionalists, apologies to the MA students and their beloved style guides). As such, my most arduous editing will generally go into rare non-fiction pieces such as Srikumar’s “Beyond Facts and Normies” (Pts 1 and 2).

You’ve built up an impressive following on Twitter in a short period of time. How vital do you consider social media to the success of CCS?
Thank you, we’re proud to reach anyone interested in literature, poetry, and the state of writing today. Whilst social media outreach isn’t in itself the primary purpose of CCS as an artistic project, I believe there is great merit in engaging the generation of creators for whom Instagram captions/Vines (R.I.P.)/ SnapChat screenshots are a constant source of poetry, accidental or otherwise, of engaging narratives, or comedy and drama and tragedy.

You request people to send you writing that doesn’t “care about rules” or “breaks the mould”. What do you see as an example of convention and rule-following that would put you off a piece of writing?
There’s honestly plenty of rule breaking we can’t abide (your Medium diatribe complaining about “society” isn’t fiction just because you wrote it as a self-pitying, self-insert anti-hero). However the sort of thing we’re referring to above is typically the staid, formulaic, often downbeat self-seriousness which has come to dominate both short fiction and much of Irish writing in recent years. Conscious or otherwise, we’re collectively less likely to engage with a bleak story about a lonely, depressed aging author in a remote location than say, magical realism or experimental fiction. This isn’t to say the aforementioned premise couldn’t be the basis for a fine story, only that the substance of the writing and strength of the prose would have to shine through a conventional, generic start point. It’s worth considering a point made in Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark’s How Not Write a Novel, where the prospective author is warned that reasoning “Great works are complex and depressing, therefore depressing, complex works are great” is akin to believing wearing lion’s hide will magically make a big cat of you.

There was a recent tweet from yourselves humorously stating “this lower case poetry |with the line breaks | and intentional misspellings | stop sending it to us”. Do you find this type of writing endemic to modern poets?
Unfortunately we do, and I won’t name any names as to whose work may be to blame. Again, as with the last question, this is less the fault of the initial innovators whose (often great, at least effective) work popularised the aesthetic. More often it’s an issue of emerging artists cribbing the style of their influences and creating an almost carbon copy, devoid of any originality or passion. Imitate the greats, by all means; go so far as to steal from your most impressive contemporaries. But read outside your comfort zone and consider each strange technique as you encounter them. Read wide, write nothing like your influences, and return to them when you sound like yourself.

Also there’s a specific element of intentionally misspelling which, when not accompanied by narrative justification or linguistic play, comes across as a desperate attempt to seem aloof and ironically detached. It’s a waste of time.

Unusually, there’s no mention of yourselves on your site – no names of editors, photos, biogs, links to your own twitter accounts or blogs. Is anonymity a conscious approach or merely a byproduct of editing a journal like CCS?
Anonymity was a conscious approach since the journal’s inception, as we collectively felt the work of the contributors ought to be centred at CCS. While I credit myself as an editor and co-founder on my personal Twitter (@CathalGunning) and our six strong board of editors are all more than happy to communicate with contributors individually, we chose to keep ourselves off the site itself in order to ensure the only names readers would encounter were those of the poets, authors, and other writers we’ve the opportunity to spotlight.

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