FLARE and the age of the narrowsheet

A new poetry periodical has grown out of the Sunflower Sessions readings in Capel Street. The latest edition launches tonight

FLARE 03 launches at 7.30pm tonight in Beerhouse, Capel Street, Dublin

FLARE 03 launches at 7.30pm tonight in Beerhouse, Capel Street, Dublin


As poetry periodical startups tend to emerge and vanish with the ephemerality of meteorite showers, it’s hard to say how many issues it takes to make one a fully established part of the firmament.

Arguably if a little mag manages to stick around beyond its second issue, it may be considered in the running. That’s the situation the quarterly poetry publication FLARE finds itself in as it launches its third issue, FLARE 03, this week.

Touted as a “narrowsheet” (as opposed to broadsheet) due to its tall, slender format, FLARE has published work by 51 poets in its first three issues – with the third issue rolling out of the hangar with no fewer than 24 poems by 24 poets on board. (FLARE 03 is available for €5 from Books Upstairs, the Winding Stair Bookshop, and the Article shop in the Powerscourt. That’s a lot of new writing for the price of a pint. )

What the poems and the poets in FLARE have in common is that they’ve all been heard at the Sunflower Sessions readings (as of Wednesday, April 26th in the Beerhouse in Capel Street, after the migration from Nealons at the other end of the street).

The Sunflower Sessions have gained an admired reputation as a parade ground for a crack battalion of the Irish poets’ standing army, ranging from recent recruits making their open mic debuts to seasoned veterans still marching on to the muses’ drumbeat after many years and many books.

FLARE was conceived by Sunflower organisers Declan McLoughlin (session host and provider of the startling base images for all the FLARE covers) and Ross Hattaway (coiner of the description “narrowsheet”), who both saw the value of a regular publication as a natural outreach from the open mic platform into permanent paper form, and as a fundraising effort. The periodical, which is quarterly, has no open submission system as such – people who’ve read are discreetly approached one by one to contribute poems, which means there’s no slush-pile anxiety for the writers.

The poets are invited to contribute to a couple of issues, which does no harm to their print portfolio and may help them find a publisher for their first – or next – collection. This inclusive approach also attempts to make good the dearth of paper publishing opportunities, which can mean young and rising poets go for years without an appearance in print, and thus access to an audience wider than the faithful open mic congregation.

The Sunflower Sessions are named after the founder of its ancestor, The Last Wednesdays open mic, Sarah “Sunflower” Lundberg, who died prematurely a few years ago. As a mark of respect to her, the revived readings continue to be held on the last Wednesday of every month (except December).

FLARE contributors so far have included Iggy McGovern, Jean O’Brien, Breda Wall Ryan, Annamaría Crowe Serrano, Liz McSkeane, Richard Halperin, Robyn Rowland, Arthur Broomfield, Amanda Bell and Catherine Anne Cullen, whose books have adorned bookshop shelves for years; along with more recent contenders whose first books made waves in the last year or so, for example Alvy Carragher, Daragh Bradish, Michael Farry, Maurice Devitt, Rob Buchanan and Phil Lynch; and also poets currently making a name in the allied field of playwriting, such as Alice Kinsella and Daniel Wade.

Though the remainder of the regiment may not be so instantly recognisable from recent book-spines, on a first reading they are all identifiable as rising or mature talents. Indeed many have been officially recognised as such with festival and competition awards and selection by Poetry Ireland for its Introductions Series readings. A number are being published in book form during 2017.

FLARE isn’t my first time around the block as a “little mag” editor. I edited the college literary magazine Icarus and the more salacious TCD Miscellany while dawdling my way through Trinity during the Seventies, before succumbing to a Rip Van Winkle-style writing slumber while working as a journalist and later an online editor, eventually returning to the literary fold about a decade ago.

A lot has changed for the little mag editor in the meantime. No more the (literally) intoxicating reek of cow gum; no more risky trimming of paste-up copy with metal setsquare and lethal scalpel; no clunky, thundering IBM golfball typewriter for setting the text. In the current century it’s all just a matter of sitting down at a keyboard and screen, tweaking a page template, dragging and dropping poems from one column to another till they all fit, than finally saving the whole thing on a USB key for delivery to the local copy shop, where it’s published whole on the bulk colour laser printer that does A3. And to think we had the naiveté at the beginning of the Seventies to believe that the recent jump from grimy mimeographed and photocopied samizdat to paste-up and offset litho was a big deal.

The accompanying poems, one for sorrow and one for joy, give a small hint of the range of the contributions to FLARE.

FLARE 03 WINTER 2016-17 [FLARE is published quarterly by The Sunflower Sessions, €5 (ISSN 2009-9819). On sale in Books Upstairs, The Winding Stair, and the Article shop in the Powerscourt.] Forthcoming Sunflower Sessions at Beerhouse, 84.5 Capel Street, Dublin, are on Wednesday, May 31st and Wednesday, June 28th

Ordinary Things Are What I Need Today

Lift the grilles from the hob
wipe lumps of sticky remnants
place the grilles to one side
stack to wash when water’s hot.

Get at the cooker top –
gather scraps in kitchen paper
put them in the bin.

I opened the curtain at seven thirty
sun still below the rooftops
sky high and warm – the picture of a perfect day.

And I cried and I cried for a seed
to throw in that deep blue soil
to grow from it just one more day.
By Shane Holohan

At Prestatyn
For Rachael

With a restless sea breeze
a fresh melancholy rolls in
yesterday’s echoes
cradling the waves

Pink blossom cheeks
adorn the mantelpiece
in a soldier’s house
where her infanthood dwells

On a mournful landscape
my returning child is embraced
A humble old cat
sleepily purrs

Beneath an elegant watercolour
in a dingy cafe
we sup coffee
and plan our forever

The past meets the future
at seaside Prestatyn
my heart soars
from the earth to the stars
By Kenneth Nolan

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