Each month we look at some of the literary publications, zines and websites in the island of Ireland. This month we look at Galway-based poetry newspaper Skylight 47, and speak to editors Bernie Crawford, Nicki Griffin, Marie Cadden and Ruth Quinlan.
You state on the website that the newspaper format of the publication “allows us room to spread our wings, and gives the work of our contributors space to breath”. How much do you feel the presentation of the poems impacts on the reading and enjoyment of them?
We know from the feedback we receive from both readers and contributors that the format is a big part of the appeal of Skylight 47 – the white space on the page is as much a part of the paper as the printed word. It also allows the order in which the poems are presented to have an impact – seeing several poems together lets the movement through various themes shine through, and that is something we think carefully about.
From the point of view of the layout, which we do ourselves, we have far more freedom in our design than a publication which has one poem per page. Poems with longer than average lines, prose poems and concrete poems can all fly given the space of a tabloid page.
People also seem to enjoy the easy access to the poets’ bios at the bottom of each page, which is much easier to do with a newspaper format.
How important has your association with the Over The Edge series of readings in Galway been to the success of Skylight 47?
This is where we began, and it still gives us a strong foundation. Many of our readers attend Over The Edge (OTE) events, and this is particularly important when it comes to our launches, which take place at one of the OTE Open Readings. Our main sales of Skylight 47 also happen at the OTE events. We distribute the newspaper to only two book shops: Charlie Byrne’s in Galway and Books Upstairs in Dublin and other sales come via our website.
Our association with OTE also gives us access to fantastic poets, both to launch the paper and to be our Masterclass poet – frequently our launcher has then become the writer of our poetry masterclass. Any poetry publication struggles for a readership, so we are very fortunate in the publicity given by OTE to Skylight 47.
Beyond merely publishing poetry, you also incorporate reviews, interviews, articles and poetry masterclasses. Was this a conscious decision to try and stand out and be different?
Our format was probably the consciously trying to be different, alongside loving the ‘white space’ feel to the paper. The other aspects of the paper have come from what we ourselves wanted to read, and a desire to include poets who aspire to be published alongside those we do publish – hence our Spotlight on a different writers’ group in each issue, our masterclass and our reviews of debut collections. We continue with the reviews, articles and masterclasses as they generate such positive feedback from our readers.
In an early editorial for Poetry, Harriet Monroe stated that ‘newspapers could justifiably lay claim to “the best light verse” but that those same papers fell embarrassingly short when it came to “the more serious verse.”’ (from Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age by Kevin Stein). Do you feel this is still the case with the press in Ireland?
We are very fortunate in Ireland that poetry is both taken as a serious art form and enjoyed as an everyday experience. The press today certainly presents “the more serious verse” on a regular basis, though doubtless there is light verse too. Papers such as the Irish Times and the Irish Examiner publish high quality work, others such as the Independent review and discuss poetry, and even local papers such as the Clare Champion and the Galway Advertiser include poems and reviews of serious work.
You obviously attract a lot of submissions from the West of Ireland, being where you’re based; but how important it is to you that you showcase, and speak to, poets beyond the region (and even outside of Ireland)?
Our editorial meetings always include discussions about how to expand our boundaries to include those in all parts of Ireland and beyond, and we have certainly attracted submissions, and have published work from, poets in the UK, the USA and India. Once we publish one or two from a particular country, our next submissions bag will generally contain several from there. It’s always interesting to see the differences in poems that come from other countries, and we love to showcase this.
Skylight 47 has been able to attract some big names for its launches and Poetry Masterclass features. What do you think it the key to your success and attraction?
The format is definitely part of this, and the quality of the publication in general. Our association with Over The Edge has allowed us to introduce ourselves and Skylight 47 to poets of stature, invited to Ireland to read at OTE events. However, their agreeing to contribute to the paper itself, either by launching or writing the masterclass, seems to be a result of their enjoyment of the publication and an appreciation of what we are trying to achieve.
What has been your biggest challenge in ensuring the continuation of the paper, and your biggest reward?
The biggest challenge, as for most small publications, is funding the paper. None of us are paid, and we do everything in house including the layout and design. Our biggest cost is printing. We would dearly love to be able to pay our contributors, and one day perhaps we will.
The biggest reward is when a new issue of the paper comes out and we see people reading and enjoying what we have produced. Opening the package that contains the next brand new issue, seeing the front cover, opening the pages and smiling with relief that, once again, it looks amazing!