The Bohemyth magazine, an Irish digital lit mag
In the summer of 2010, having just completed a Bachelor’s degree in English at Trinity College Dublin, I found myself in a similar situation to many twenty-somethings at the time: I had a good (if not economically marketable) education and was faced with the prospect of emigration. Whether it was hubris, fear, or some complex mix of emotions, I chose to stay in Ireland. Despite brief spells of experimenting with writing, it was only once I was away from the academic setting that I began to truly feel inspired enough to explore my own burgeoning abilities as a writer. I wrote vignettes, pieces that were neither traditional short stories nor poetry. Then I began to look for publications that would be suitable and open to such submissions. At that time there were very few places in Ireland that appeared to welcome new writers and/or new styles of writing. The Stinging Fly was among the few.
Most other magazines and journals had been around for a considerable amount of time and had established a particular aesthetic with regard to what they wanted to publish. The vast majority of these were print publications and perhaps risk-averse because of it. They were not willing to put off their current readers, buyers, and subscribers in the hopes of gaining new ones. Publishing online negated this problem. However, at this time there was a dearth of Irish-based online publications. While establishing myself within Ireland before attempting to compete in bigger markets was still the ideal, the means to achieve this wasn’t so clear.
One night, while I was looking through the Irish Writers’ Centre submission deadlines page, I found wordlegs.
wordlegs had been launched in January 2010 by editor Elizabeth (EM) Reapy and her team with the aim of providing “a platform to showcase young and emerging Irish writing talent.” I read through their first two issues and was really impressed with the variety and talent, but also with the rawness of the writing. It was obvious that this was a publication concerned with nurturing and supporting new writers. These were stories and poems that spoke very much of Ireland and the world as I knew it. It was the debut publication for most of its authors. I submitted and was thrilled to be featured in their third issue. In October of the same year, I received an email from Elizabeth detailing how she was moving to Dublin and wanted to set up a writers’ group with some of the writers she had featured in wordlegs thus far. Accepting her invitation was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.
This writers’ group would meet weekly in the aptly named Library Bar in the Central Hotel in the heart of Dublin. It introduced me to a varied, talented, and enthusiastic collection of writers, writers who were like me in that they were still only forming an idea of themselves as writers, still finding new influences, and most importantly, still willing to take chances and make mistakes. Critique was honest: this was massively important as it helped each of us to improve. I value the time I spent within that group because of the friendships formed, the freedom and motivation it gave me to explore my own interests, but mostly for how it helped me to learn things about myself as a writer and a person. I moved from fiction to nonfiction to poetry. The realization that poetry was where my abilities lay marked a hugely significant turning point in my writing. Once I began to take a serious interest in poetry, and started reading new young poets, I realized the boundless nature of it. The one thing that remained steady throughout this period of discovery was the improvement in my skills as an editor. As wordlegs and the group became its own little community, putting on readings, events, and even a festival, we became more aware of other, new events and publications that were springing up all over Ireland in 2012/13. They were beginning to make serious names for themselves. Publications such as The Penny Dreadful and The South Circular suddenly confirmed that a crop of new young Irish writers had arrived. They had not only found each other but were speaking to each other, too. Yet, I still felt like there was an appetite for something more, something different, and something closer to the experimental work that was so hard to categorize that was being published in online journals based in the UK and USA.
Michael Naghten Shanks of The Bohemyth
In October 2012, Alice Walsh, who I had met through the writers’ group, set up an online journal called The Bohemyth. Instantly, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it and so I became assistant editor. The opportunity to be able to give new writers the same boost that I’d been given, and to then be able to publish the type of writing I wanted to see was too good to ignore. In our first year we published new issues each week—an ambitious and, perhaps, foolhardy undertaking depending on how you look at it. We published two special issues, one in honour of Bloomsday and the other in honour of Samuel Beckett’s birthday. At the end of the first year I took over as editor. Due to the increase in number and quality of submissions, we switched to publishing an issue every month and Clodagh O’Brien joined us as assistant editor. I made a conscious effort to publish more experimental writing—inspired by the many publications I enjoyed: Clinic, Black & BLUE, The Newer York, Tender, Poems in Which, The Quietus, Shabby Doll House, and 3:AM Magazine—from an ever-increasing international lineup of submitters. To mark International Women’s Day in March 2014 we published an issue featuring a selection of some of the best young female writers from Ireland, Canada, the UK, the US, and Australia. Halfway through our second year we went through another editorial change with James Conor Patterson and Holly Isemonger joining The Bohemyth team as assistant editors. All our editorial meetings take place through email due to geographic differences. This allows the magazine to be immersed in three different writing scenes (Dublin, Northern Ireland, and Australia). At the start of 2015 we switched to a quarterly format.
In the relatively short but exciting time that I’ve been editor of The Bohemyth I’ve seen numerous fledgling publications come on to the startup literary scene, publications such as Belleville Park Pages, Guts (by Róisín Agnew), Synaesthesia, The Pickled Body, The Ofi Press, Prac Crit, and most notably, gorse. I’m also very excited about the addition of Banshee, forthcoming in September 2015. Each journal is adding its own style to this emergent landscape, a landscape that is growing more diverse and freer now to embrace the best aspects of the many DIY communities on the Internet. Cave Writings, a group of creatives who organize and host readings around venues in Dublin, is a prime example of this. In June this year The Bohemyth and Belleville Park Pages teamed up with Cave Writings to host a night of readings from some of our readers.
Something I’ve come to notice in my own writing, as well as the writing of more and more writers, is the influence and importance of contemporaries. As an editor, I love when someone submits to The Bohemyth and tells me how they enjoyed the work of another writer in another issue, a writer who may live on the other side of the world. The most significant trend I’ve observed since I began to take an active role in the Irish literary scene is the fact that it’s now a global scene. So many good writers are publishing their writing in online journals, making it easier for them to reach not only a wider readership but also a wider peer group. This is why I continue to relish editing The Bohemyth. It gives new writers a chance to speak to an audience, whether that audience is in the front row of one of our readings or on the other side of the planet.
Michael Naghten Shanks is the editor of online literary journal The Bohemyth. His own writing is featured in various publications. He has been listed for several awards, including the Melita Hume Poetry Prize 2015. He was selected to read as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2015 and has read his work at numerous events around Ireland and in the London Irish Centre. His debut pamphlet, Year of the Ingénue, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing. He tweets @MichaelNShanks and his website is www.mns.link.