The Stinging Fly Takes on New York


How its New York: For many contemporary writers in the English language, a stint in New York, however brief, is de rigueur. The City calls out to the literary, and this draw is evidenced by the multitude of short stories, essays and poems in Stinging Fly Volume 20 which use New York as setting, character and muse, written by people currently living on both sides of the Atlantic.

How its Irish : The Stinging Fly was founded in Dublin in 2007 by Declan Meade, and up until the most current issue which has expanded to include writers from further afield, promotes the writing of new writers living in Ireland.

Rachael W. Gilkey reviews the launch of the first New York issue of Irish journal The Stinging Fly and finds it fresh and smart.

I hurried through chilly rain to Swift Hibernian Lounge in the East Village for the launch of The Stinging Fly‘s first ever New York issue (Vol. 20; Winter 2011-12). The room was already crowded with a stylish-looking group of young men and women there to support the journal’s slogan, “New Writers, New Writing.” By the time editor and founder Declan Meade took the pulpit, it was standing room only.

That’s right, a pulpit: the focal point of the room, from which each guest reader and contributor would read. Combined with the dark wood and low lighting of an Irish pub, Swift’s provided a fine atmosphere for a book launch (if you can block out the muffled sounds of a Thursday bar night coming through the other side of the heavy curtain). “It’s like Hogwarts,” whispered a woman next to me.

Meade, first to address from the pulpit, founded The Stinging Fly in 1997; the literary journal publishes three times a year with contributions in prose, poem, interview, essay and photography. He spoke of how he saw a need for the journal’s presence in the Dublin landscape, knew there were good writers to search for, and a readership to connect them to. The Winter issue expands upon the original goal by setting out to explore the literary connections between Dublin and New York City, with contributions from writers from all over. One journal contributor, Idra Novey, recognized the difficulty behind going “outside of your country to find writers from a different scene.”

And yet, Meade and The Stinging Fly obviously took care to not be bound by the Dublin/New York connection, and instead, used it as a jumping off point to put together a fine collection of writing. Not everything is New York, or Dublin and New York, and this keeps the writing fresh from one author to the next, instead of miring it in a theme.

Some names you will recognize, like Colum McCann, whose essay on his first impressions of New York opens the journal alongside a palpitating Richard W. Halperin ode that mentions the City’s name on every one of its 14 lines; Kevin Barry, whose story in The New Yorker in February 2010 brought him to a larger Stateside audience and here offers snippets of New York scenes, including the Fulton Fish Market where his “photographs were hopeless – they caught the bustle and the glare but not the voices and not the life”; or upstate New York-residing Eamon Grennan, whose poems here don’t speak of the City at all, but invite us to taste the word “truffle” and explore Lake Wallenpaupack.

Others will be new and surprising, like the poems of Tim Dwyer, a short story exploring the issue of belonging by Emily Firetog and an intense, darkly poetic excerpt by Emer Martin called “Going Underground”:

“I was going underground. Under my life. Under the country. Under the barley. Under the potatoes. Under the churches. Under the lunatic asylums. Under the cow shit. Under the primroses and the hedges. Under the schools. Under Bridget’s cloak. Under the bed where I gave birth to my twins. Under the courts that stole my children.”

Dwyer and Martin were also present at the launch event, smartly curated, where the readers reflected a wide swath of the journal and also included Martin Espada, Afric Mac Aodha, Idra Novey, Mark SaFranko, Jana Prkryl, David McLoghlin, and Ciaran Berry.

Truly, the strength of the collection is in its short stories. Sean O’Reilly’s “All Day and All of the Night” is an honest exploration of the tender ground a relationship must tread after its been damaged by betrayal, Keith Ridgeway’s “Andy Warhol” captures a stark image of New York in the 80s, during the AIDS epidemic, and Eimear Ryan’s “Keep the Wolf from the Door” will resonate with anyone who has struck out on their own in a new place. Even the piece by Mark SaFranko, author of the only story in the collection I could normally do without, more for his insistence at the launch that his Charles Bukowski-influenced style was not, in fact, misogynistic than anything else, fit snugly within the collection and adds to the breadth of voices.

Pick it up and make some new discoveries. Copies in New York or Ireland can be purchased by visiting Subscriptions are also available.

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