When is a shopping centre not like a shopping centre? Easy! When it’s the site for fiction, prose, poetry, drama and art photography. But not as frequently as you might think, surprisingly enough. Ewan Morrison (writing in The Guardian on 25th April, 2012) makes the point that there are few works of fiction set in shopping malls. This state of affairs Morrison regards as ‘a disturbing omission in literary history, given we live in a world that is rapidly homogenized by these structures.’ Morrison was hard pressed to name ten titles themed around shopping centre, one of which Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies Delight) by Zola appeared in 1883. Zola’s novel charts the rise of the modern department store in the late 19th century when the emerging bourgeois women became the main spenders. Paradoxically, an underclass of women had to serve the desires of these upper class women and work like slaves to deliver ‘delight’.
Circle & Square, a new publication hot off the press, can now be added to the canon of shopping centre literature. Brim filled with prose, fiction, drama, poetry and photography, it was easy enough for me to conceive of such an anthology in the first place. I live within ten minutes walking distance of The Square, Tallaght and I pass through its portals most days (either lingering in the supermarket or as a means of arriving at Rua Red Arts Centre near the Level 2 exit). The Square is twenty-five years old this year and has become a dominant hub in terms of commercial, social, political and cultural engagement for the people of South Dublin and beyond.
The architecture of the Square (on three levels) is reminiscent to me, of first draft/editing draft/finished manuscript. Indeed Beryl Bainbridge once said that she began her novels in the basement of her house (level 1), continuing on up to the attic (level 3) where she completed the manuscript for publication. On more than one occasion also, I’ve felt like Orpheus in search of Eurydice as I descend from Level 3 to Level 2. Proving that an escalator has the power to bring mythology into my consciousness, co-existing with the decision of whether to have steak or salad for dinner. Mia Gallagher’s ‘Lure’ brings myth and reality together in an utterly compelling way. And then there’s the car park where all sorts of dramatic events can occur. Louise Phillips, one of Circle & Square’s guest writers, uses flash fiction to bring her main character (‘Layla’) into the car park of a shopping centre, having fled from an abusive husband. It’s early morning and the vast empty space further heightens that sense of isolation and alienation. Phillips uses the setting eerily well, as one would expect from a best-selling crime novelist.
Kevin Power (Bad Day in Blackrock) in a short story ‘A Mistake’ reveals a sharply observed psychological narrative, rooted in the darker layers of family history. Power is published with his mother Joan, ‘The Tulip Queue’, a story perfectly balanced between past and present. All of the stories and poems in Circle & Square highlight the fictional, biographical and historical riches a shopping centre possesses in terms of themes for writing.
Platform One, one of the key contributors, is a writing group who meet in Rua Red Arts Centre on a monthly basis and most of the writers are no strangers to literary prizes and awards (alas too many to mention here). All of the writers show themselves to best advantage in this publication. Because of its uniqueness, I will mention ‘Shopping Centre Agora’ by Sue Hasset (a performance piece in the form of a Greek Tragedy). This is a powerful combination of traditional form and contemporary landscape (which includes reference to ‘the hotel Tallafornia’). Circle & Square is blessed to have guest writers with international reputations. Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan shows why she is a master of her craft. The opening of ‘from Geomantic’ (an extract from a larger work) brings two different kinds of shopping list to the reader, two different lists with two entirely different emotional outcomes. Ferdia McAnna’s poem ‘Punk Songs for Pagans’ demonstrates he is equally at home in the world of poetry as he is with the novel. It’s important to remember also that the tradition of mentoring writers is very strong in South Dublin.
The last words go to Dermot Bolger who says: “To open Circle & Square is like entering the sort of fascinating café which every shopping centre should ideally possess: a cornucopia of engaging voices and fascinating stories that any reader would happily eavesdrop on. This is an anthology where a shopping expedition or a Luas journey can also bring you on a succession of intriguing and inventive voyages into the past and future. Prepare to be entertained.”
(c) Eileen Casey
Circle & Square will feature in a panel discussion at Rua Red during The Red Line Book Festival (13th October) booking at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get your copy of Circle and Square contact Fiery Arrow Press (email@example.com) €15 including post and packaging.
Eileen Casey lives in South Dublin. Poet, fiction writer and journalist, she is a regular contributor to journals and magazines. Her work is included in anthologies such as The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, 2005-2010 (New Island), If Ever You Go (Dedalus, 2014) and All Over Ireland (Faber & Faber 2015), The Stony Thursday Book (2015) and Around the Farmgate (Ballpoint Press). Awards include: A Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship (Poetry) and A Hennessy Award (Emerging Fiction). She holds an M.Phil in Creative Writing from The School of English, Trinity College, Dublin. Collections include: Snow Shoes (Arlen House Fiction), A Fascination with Fabric, (Arlen House Prose) and Drinking the Colour Blue (New Island Poetry). Arts Council Bursaries were awarded in 2010 and 2011.