College magazines “don’t occur in a vacuum; they breathe off the sense of creativity in the space around them”, the poet Thomas McCarthy remarked when the Quarryman was awoken from its slumber in 2015.
The inaugural MA in Creative Writing class (2013/14) was responsible for breathing life back into UCC’s literary journal which had fallen into a long hibernation, but it’s thanks to the English Society that the millennial version of the Quarryman persists and is fast becoming a fixture, not only in the literary calendar of the campus but of the city.
McCarthy recalled the spring of 1975 when the narrow stairs of Brighton Villas, then home of the School of English, were “snarled in a traffic jam of poets”. Professor Sean Lucy was polishing Unfinished Sequence, while the recently deceased and lamented Ulster poet, Professor John Montague – a towering figure in UCC’s poetic community at the time ─ was collating the lyrics that would become A Slow Dance; meanwhile, twenty students attended a workshop started and led by students.
“I remember Montague saying that ‘something big’ could happen out of the work of our group,” McCarthy remembered.
The Quarryman of the 1970s was produced by students and featured names we now know well as writers and editors – Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Theo Dorgan, Tom McCarthy, Greg Delanty, Patrick Crotty and William Wall. It was a ground-up publication representing the foment of writing – and in particular, poetry ─ that was happening on this campus then.
Now with its third issue, the new-look Quarryman has remained faithful to those roots, being a journal for and by students and the entire UCC community, and we hope – beyond.
Something big is happening again. Something different.
Now, creative writing is embedded in the university curriculum – at undergraduate, Masters and PhD level. It’s a growing and thriving discipline within the School of English. This year, 22 Masters students graduated and our first cycle of undergraduate creative writing students will graduate after a three-year cycle this academic year. Next year, we will have a number of PhD students submitting creative work for doctoral examination for the first time.
The range of all this writing activity is represented here. Poet Bridget Sprouls, an MA alumna, has published in the New Yorker and is nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize. Acclaimed novelist, poet and short story writer William Wall, one of those students who appeared in the Quarryman of the 1970s, is here too, both as established literary name and current scholar ─ Wall is completing a prior publication PhD with the School of English.
Cork writers such as Catherine Kirwan - a law graduate - and PhD candidate poet, Afric McGlinchey are set beside current MA students, Kate Brock, Jacqui Corcoran, Una Ní Cheallaigh, Sue Dukes and Alyssandra Tobin. UCC’s Writer-in-Residence Cónal Creedon and poet/lecturer Leanne O’ Sullivan rub shoulders with 2017 Masters graduates like Mark Kelleher, Nora Shychuk and Kelly Warburton, who are already making their names in the publishing world.
The life-blood of this journal is the undergraduate students who, like their 1970s predecessors, have energised the Quarryman with their enthusiasm and their canny organisational skills, not to speak of their work which more than holds its own beside their more experienced counterparts. I’m familiar with many of the names that appear in this issue of the Quarryman – e.g. Alison Driscoll, Caroline Healy – but am as excited by the names I don’t know, or don’t know yet.
All manner of emotional and physical territories are traversed by these writers – from waterboarding treatment for 18th century mental patients to the seductive art of cooking, from the comfort of felines to the fantastical Skypeople living on the rooftops of Copenhagen. And it wouldn’t be 2017 without Donald Trump being referenced, albeit obliquely.
A noticeable trend in this year’s journal is the preponderance of female voices. At a School of English reading in November last with poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and novelist Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, a lively discussion ensued on the challenges facing women writers trying to get their voices heard in 20th century Ireland. Not something we have to worry about now. The gender balance has well and truly shifted if this year’s issue of the Quarryman is anything to go by. No need for special pleading here – the former sleeping beauty that was the Quarryman has been awakened as the mighty Quarrywoman!
Associate Director of Creative Writing