Dec 5, 2018

Speaking with: Carta Magazine

Imogen McGuckin sat down with Christian Moore and Harry Downes, the creators behind new literary-prose magazine, Carta.

Imogen McGuckinAssistant Literature Editor
Ben Morrison for The University Times

Third-year students Christian Moore and Harry Downes have just seen Carta’s first issue through publication and come out the other side. With an unwavering commitment to “prose only”, Moore and Downes seek to actively redress the balance of literature on campus. In an attempt to understand where it all started, I ask first about Carta’s inception.

For Moore, the idea was born out of the realisation that there aren’t “enough avenues for students to express themselves in a healthy diversity of different means”. This includes the existing literary journals on campus, but also the structure of arts degrees in general, where he finds long-form assignments can enter the realm of “quotidian drudgery”. These, he says, undermine the essay’s potential to be a “radical thing”. For Downes, there is a “massive vacancy of prose on-campus”, perhaps because you can fit more individual writers in a poetry journal than a prose one. In contrast, Moore believes Carta offers long-form writers “not just the space, but the time”.

When I ask what the new magazine seeks to achieve, Downes responds that the magazine is “trying to re-organise discourse in our society away from the massive amount of fragmentation that we’re seeing – the polarisation of people’s different groups and tribes, essentially”. Is Carta then an attempt to unify the student population through literature? Perhaps, but the editors are intent on creating “an original publication” and firmly deny the emulation of any student, national or global journals.

The editors also appear to revile self-reflective poetry and they criticise the movement of “self-analysis”. “It has become aestheticized”, says Moore. “It doesn’t move anywhere, there’s no therapy behind people’s attempts to achieve self-knowledge.” Moore sees this as the primary failing in most modern poetry, but it doesn’t end there. He elaborates: “Moral reality has completely disintegrated, and we have power filtered through bureaucracies to where we stand – one of the greatest bureaucracies of the modern day being the internet.” For both editors, the theory of disintegration is intrinsically linked to “bad poetry”, something Downes labels “narcissistic” and Moore calls “masturbatory”.

This literature, to which Carta is so wholeheartedly opposed, will be familiar to all of us who read Icarus. Although their biggest rival, the journal is not the only target of Downes and Moore’s rebellion. They also feel the School of English is firmly pro-poetry in its employment of the Ireland Professor of Poetry, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. “Where is the prose equivalent?”, they ask. For me, this argument is unconvincing, as the fourth-year creative writing dissertation feels arguably prose-orientated, expecting both authors and poets to produce the same word count of 10,000 to 12,000 words. When I inform them of this, the editors express surprise, but maintain the stance that Icarus gives few long-form opportunities.

Moore and Downes go on to describe their experience of editing Carta’s first issue. Though the editors did not set a predetermined theme, they were surprised to see one emerge, as the “most successful” submissions considered issues of “sexual abuse, misconduct and power”. They felt these topics – in particular that of sexual abuse – were more thoroughly explored as a result of the prose requirement, than they would have been through poetry. For Moore, the variety of perspectives explored and presented in the first issue rebelled against the “bitty text messages and instagram captions” endemic in our society.

This opportunity is one Downes and Moore wish to offer again in their second issue. However, while airing and discussing sensitive issues may hold the key to their resolution, funding proves an obstacle. As well as being limited to a 70-page maximum length, Carta’s circulation has been curtailed by financial shortfalls. Although its editors are keen to express their gratitude to Trinity Publications for its support, advice and generosity, production has been below what they had hoped.

Of course, the challenges inherent to establishing a journal are not without their rewards. Along with three editorial staff, Downes and Moore decide which submissions “fit” their magazine. Despite this obvious autonomy, they stress that they are “not overlords of literature” and seek only to “be provocative”. Their first-issue editorial may have come across as “quite forthright”, says Moore, “but none of it is an attempt to close down discussion”. In fact, Carta’s editors have made it their “mission” to meet with writers and incite creative discourse. For Downes, this is all part of “editorial accountability” and improved transparency.

Looking ahead to Carta’s future, Downes and Moore aim to run “lectures and creative writing workshops” within College, but also hope that “society as a whole can benefit” from the journal. With the big ideas and infectious energy of its editors, Carta’s future looks bright.

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