Saturday 15 December 2018

A hot flicker of light for dark winter evenings

Journal: Winter Papers Vol. 4, Edited by Kevin Barry and Olivia Smith Curlew Editions, €40

Winter Papers, the arts anthology, is curated by Kevin Barry (pictured) and his wife Olivia Smith
Winter Papers, the arts anthology, is curated by Kevin Barry (pictured) and his wife Olivia Smith
Winter Papers Vol. 4

Hilary A White

A late solstice of the Irish literary calendar is marked by the arrival each year of Winter Papers, the arts anthology curated by Kevin Barry and his wife Olivia Smith.

Hardbound and printed on cream-coloured Munken Pure that gives each page a sacred texture, this edition appeared on the scene four years ago ready-formed, with a Rolodex of talent across the disciplines to call upon. It was fast-tracked to the top of the journal hierarchy on this island where it has remained.

In his editorial, Barry wades into the housing crisis and its harmful run-off into the arts, noticing that promotional jaunts for Winter Papers have shown that cities with lower rents "tend at the moment to be the most artistically vibrant".

With its newly-crowned Booker winner and smouldering Brexit dread resounding around the world, Belfast and its surrounds seem somewhat underscored in this issue.

In No Dancing, Jan Carson essays the uptightness and "legalism" of a cloistered rural Protestant upbringing and her difficulty in shaking it off after she thinks she's broken free.

Wendy Erskine, fresh from the acclaim her recent short story collection Sweet Home garnered, tells of a pastor's son seeking out satanic rock 'n' roll while the God-fearing congregation froth.

The oppressive weight of provincial tradition is a favourite theme of Eoin McNamee, whose Horses is another highlight here from an Ulster scribe, as is The Attention of Others by actress-turned-writer Jill Crawford. A pulsating throb runs through this macro-lensed study of a female actor beginning to break through into something approaching fame but finding her resilience severely tested close to home.

Limerick is another hotbed of creativity, as Barry, a native son, knows all too well. Winter Papers has always made room for illuminatory profiles of key figures in the arts, and so we find Peter Murphy interviewing producer and DJ John Lilis (or MYNAMEISJOHN, to use his stage name with Choice-winning hip-hop act Rusangano Family). It is the type of ranging but calibrated conversation that opens up a fascinating individual to broader appreciation. Siobhan Kane's sit-down with Donal Lunny and John Gallagher's chirpy examination of mid-17th Century con artist Mary Carleton (The German Princess) do the same.

Elsewhere, poets Leontia Flynn and Doireann Ni Ghríofa piece apart their crafts to one another with some varying results (the latter admits to hating her poetry and harbouring fantasies of setting flame to her award-winning works). The real meat in the sandwich are the included poems themselves - Ni Ghriofa's Maude, Enthralled, and Flynn's Taking Liberties.

More obscure kingdoms are prised open. Mexico-based creative couple Dylan and Liliana Brennan use text and photography to take us inside the mysterious Tarahumara indigenous region of Latin America. More beguiling again is Octopolis, an engrossing discussion about octopuses and consciousness by artist Rosie O'Reilly and photographer Yvette Monahan.

The array of tempos and subjects is a key strength, and this has always been the case with Winter Papers. Bizarre fare such as Cathy Sweeney's Oranges or Stephen Brandes's dotty photo gallery Eight Non-Sequiters sit snugly between short-story mastery - Mike McCormack's crushing I, The Flock, Lisa Harding's Starving, Three Spins, A Wednesday by Danny Denton - and essay work about everything from religious iconography to experimental theatre troupes.

You turn the page and are presented with A Polaroid Diary (a self-explanatory episodic by Cork filmmaker Oonagh Kearney) as if it's the most natural thing in the world. Like the lit match that adorns the terracotta cover, this collection is a hot flicker of light for the closing evenings.

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