Last Friday, literary journal Tolka celebrated the launch of its latest issue at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop with authors Roisin Kiberd and Brenda Romero, who read from their pieces published in the journal. Tolka’s editors — Liam Harrison, Seán Hayes and Catherine Hearn — have an aim to publish “promiscuous non-fiction”, and the evening at Charlie Byrne’s exemplifies very well what they mean by that.
Born during the pandemic, Tolka has become an important piece in Ireland’s vast literary journal scene, set apart by the passion its editors share for publishing non-fiction that is not easily defined. They decided to take the name from the Tolka river because, as Catherine Hearn explained, the word comes from the Irish “tolga”, which means to overflow, and most of the texts they publish share the quality of stretching the limits of genres.
One of the pieces included in the latest issue of the journal, “What We Share” by Brenda Romero, is an interactive piece of non-fiction in which, in the style of role-playing video games, the reader chooses the path the main character takes from a set of options. The text focuses on real-life stories of women who were sexually trafficked and the choices offered to the reader only reinforce the powerlessness of the character. “How do you find the balance between fiction and nonfiction in a piece?”, Romero was later asked by a member of the public, and the question might as well express the genre-bending nature of the text and much of the spirit of Tolka’s preached “promiscuity”.
The overflowing quality was also much noted when Roisin Kirberd read from the piece published in Tolka’s second issue, “Jeff Bezos Talks to God”, which focuses on the brief minutes the billionaire spent in his spaceship in 2021. The piece is not only a mix of non-fiction, critical commentary, and nonfiction, but also a hybrid in its form: at parts list, essay, story, and article. When discussing with the authors, Liam Harrison quoted Beckett: “form is content, content is form”, and went on to ask Romero and Kiberd about the genesis of their work. The evening at Charlie Byrne’s was a celebration of Tolka’s new issue and a reiteration of it being the place where “the overflow” and the “literary promiscuous” find their place. In an age where we feel compelled to label most things, it is much appreciated to know such a place exists.
by Fernanda Ortega