Cyphers Magazine

Publishing poetry, prose and art since 1975

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CYPHERS award given to the Syrian poet Maram al-Masri.

The Cyphers Award is offered to the Syrian poet Maram Al-Masri, to whom this number of Cyphers pays a special tribute. Maram al-Masri writes in Arabic and French; her work explores the agony and the adventure of exile and the sharp edges of the female condition in an especially humane and piercing voice.

From time to time, CYPHERS offers an award with a modest cash value, in particular recognition of a poet’s contribution to international literature. This gesture of appreciation is funded by friends of the magazine who wish to remain anonymous.   

Macdara Woods

Last Poems and Two Tales from County Meath

Macdara Woods was one of the founding editors of Cyphers and was a pillar of the magazine until his death in 2018.  His wife Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin found eleven poems, in almost finished state, on his computer, and she has done some minimal tidying with the help of a long-time friend of Cyphers, Ciaran O’Driscoll. The poems range from Moscow to Umbria to Malaga and Dublin. A short story and an essay about his grandmother’s farm outside Athboy, Co. Meath, complete the book and testify to the source of his strength as a poet.

You can get a copy from Cyphers, 3, Selskar Terrace, Ranelagh, Dublin 6. .€12 including postage.

Cyphers 88 was published in December 2019. 89, 90 and 91 have appeared during the lockdown. 92 is in preparation.

No. 88 was launched in early December in Books Upstairs. Little did we know …

Below is a comment on a thorny subject: the growth of bilingual editions of poetry in Irish and Scottish Gaelic.


The two principal languages of Ireland have jostled each other for over eight centuries though hardly on equal terms. Most writers and readers of Irish are also readers of English, while many Irish readers of English have a competence in Irish – and an interest in what is written in the language – to a greater or lesser degree. Many writers in English are also readers and speakers of Irish.

I think it’s not surprising that this fact is not as well known or as much considered as it might be – we are distracted by the tendency to categorise and sort into silos. Bookshops, Arts Council subdivisions of ‘artforms’ (and their budgets), the books themselves, are generally tidied into stacks on one or other side of the linguistic fence. Writers have sometimes vowed to stick to their own side, though many – especially but not only poets – have written and published in both languages. Characteristically, one of the finest recent poets in both languages, Michael Hartnett, bade a formal ‘Farewell to English’ and then relapsed in later work.

Hartnett had never stopped translating, and it is on translation I would like to focus now, since that is what lies at the back of the dual-language edition. Again, some writers refuse translation into English, though permitting versions of their work in other languages. Thus the native tongue becomes a bulwark against the global tide. In other cases translations into English have been welcomed, and the poet has gained an international presence. The influential example of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill has made this doubling of the original work a recognisable feature of Ireland’s literary culture.

The physical manifestation in many cases is the book with two languages on facing pages. Poetry of course, because poems are shorter, they can be taken in as a whole from a single page or a small number. What interests me about these productions is what they say about readers, readers with a command of two languages, and readers who acknowledge the attention that must be paid to the language of poetry and to the process of translation.

Also what they say about readers who belong to a bilingual culture. Imagine two customers in a shop spotting each other; they are both reading the same book. One can see the other has turned to the same page and thinks ‘I wonder does she agree with me about the translation?’

Léan Ní Chuilleanáin and Natasha Cuddington went in search of poems and ideas around the subject. What follows in this section shows a variety of approaches from three bilingual countries, Ireland, Scotland and Canada. No room here to dilate on the politics that are only too apparent anyway; the reader is invited to appreciate the closeness of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, the contamination of spoken Irish by English in Gearóid MacLochlainn’s Belfast riff, the metropolitan French of the Québecois poets. Meg Bateman tells us much that we need to know about the debate in Scotland, and quotes the trilingual Irish poet Rody Gorman to show that the boundaries are not fixed.

Translation breaks the boundaries, including the wall of time. And learning a language is also a wall-cancelling project. Gorman and MacLochlainn write the poem and then write it again. Micheál MacLiammóir, born Alfred Wilmore, wrote poetry in the language of his adopted country that is here translated nearly seventy years later, and translated twice. In spite of the solidity of the printed page, all translation is provisional, prone to evaporate over the hours or the decades, and needs to be conjured again.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Cyphers 71 launched at Strokestown International Arts Festival

No. 71 was launched on May Day 2011 at Strokestown House.  A reading by Albanian poet Ndrek Gjini, Galway resident, marked the event. Three poems by Ndrek, two by the Argentinian poet Juana Bignozzi, share space with work by James Harpur, Vincent Woods, Teresa Lally, Janet Shepperson, Macdara Woods and many others.

See the Strokestown website:

Cyphers 70 launched at Ranelagh Arts Festival

30th September 2010

Below is an article by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin on the early days and growth of Cyphers. This article was published in Poetry Ireland News, January/February 2011.

Late September 2010 saw the launch of the seventieth number of Cyphers. The Biblical figure made some of our friends assume this would be our last.  The editors preferred to focus on the thirty-five year span since the magazine’s first appearance and to see ourselves in Dantean terms as still in the middle of our journey.  Cyphers 71 is in preparation now.

In 1975 the four editors, Leland Bardwell, Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods, produced the first number.  When we started up, The Dublin Magazine had closed and The Lace Curtain’s penultimate issue had appeared.  We wanted to be as regular as the first and as open to the wide world as the second.  People assumed we wanted to encourage new writers – nothing was further from our thoughts, though in fact we were to assist with several emergences.  We did want to keep faith with the poets we admired, who might not be, or might not stay, in fashion: we felt strong enough to back our own judgement. Our first Cyphers contained only poetry.  In the second we included fiction (a piece by the late Jimmy Brennan, followed in No. 3 by one from Adrian Kenny who also has a story in No. 70), and for a long time we were the only magazine in Ireland publishing literary fiction.

Our first Cyphers felt like quite an achievement, after struggles to raise funds in a recession, much wondering about the title, and long enjoyable meetings discussing the content.  That was the easy bit – we wrote to our friends, and to the contacts we had made when we had run a series of poetry readings in Sinnott’s pub in South King Street, abetted by the late Justin O’Mahony.  We had admitted defeat there when the price of drink rose, so that the audience came later; also, the noise of a hostile regular inhabitant of the pub and the crash of the cash register combined to make some voices inaudible; also, Pearse left for a stint as Gregory Fellow in the University of Leeds.  His return was the signal for the new project.

I asked the Arts Council for money.  They gave us half of what we wanted for the first two issues.  Some friends, John Buckley, Benedict Ryan and Katherine Kavanagh, helped out, and we decided to go ahead and try our luck.  For years afterwards we depended on the patience and good humour of our printer, Pat Funge of Elo Press, as we struggled to pay off the bills for those first issues. But the Arts Council was impressed with our determination and funded us, so that in the end we got out of debt.  Pat’s old letterpress machines were damaged by vandals, and he used the insurance money to shift to the newer offset litho technology, so we learned about paste-ups and light-boxes; nowadays I make pdfs using Open Office.  After Pat’s death when Elo closed, Christy, Mark and Richard, who had all worked there, started a new firm, and they are our printers today.

More important than the six pounds that Patrick Kavanagh’s widow could afford to donate to the founding, she taught me to keep accounts properly.  It was the beginning of my long career as amateur bookkeeper and administrator.  For fourteen years I took care of the business end of Cyphers, haunted by bundles of invoices, dead chequebooks, and stacks of back numbers and unpublished submissions waiting to be returned.  All four editors would gather for a meitheal of writing rejection letters. I had card-indexes of subscribers and battered concertina files of stamped envelopes.  Then FÁS came to the rescue, with a lovely worker, and we got our first second-hand Amstrad computer (it came with a flowery oilskin dust-cover).  All of the succession of nice clever people who worked for us through FÁS schemes, and the later equally nice and clever ones whom the Arts Council helped us to employ, were frightened by accounts, so I still do that part.  But they were willing to log and list and copy and post the manuscripts and look after subscribers and see that the writers were eventually paid their fees.

In 1975 we swore that we would always pay a fee, however miserable.  Quite often the cheque has arrived so late as to surprise the recipient, but we reckon that, small as it is, a fee is never an unpleasant surprise.  It is also a marker of our opinion of the pieces we publish, that we have considered and weighed them carefully and think them worth money.  (But what of the writers we didn’t publish?  Some of them too have made it, but not all. Our archive is rich with pompous letters of self-introduction from people who wrote a poem about their holiday in Ireland; these contrast with the admirable brevity of the man who began his letter ‘Dear Shits’ …)

The early issues had a masthead with lettering by the late Ruth Brandt.  It was the arrival in early 1975 of her husband, Michael Kane, to get the details for the cover, that pushed us to decide on the title.  We had thought of Landrail, The Blackbird, Waterhouse Clock … Michael liked cats and asked us what our black cat’s name was.  She was called (after a series of poems by Macdara) Cypher, a name derived from, among other things, the Arabic word for zero, but it also means a code.  We thought that would do, though we were annoyed later when some critic thought we were being modest, taking the sense ‘nonentities’ – which it hadn’t occurred to us is one of its meanings too.

When we saw that first issue it was clear we’d got some things wrong.  The card for the cover was a paleish yellow, the format looked like a child’s copybook, and so we realised we must make changes, and a long evolution began.  From the second issue onward we used a stronger, cleaner colour, from the fourth we put the contributors’ names on the cover (all of them – we refused to pick out the bigger names); we moved to glossy card and acquired a spine at issue 5.  The black cat is in her grave in the back garden of Selskar Terrace, but her name lives on.

Cyphers 69 launched at Strokestown House

May 2nd 2010

Cyphers No. 69 was launched on Sunday 2nd May,  at the Strokestown International Poetry Festival. Visitors to the  Festival crowded the drawing-room of Strokestown House for what the Festival Director Merrily Harpur kindly described as a ‘treat’, and  sipped Prosecco and nibbled shortbread.  Macdara Woods read four poems, two from the new issue, and the issue was declared launched.

December 13th 2009

The editors of Cyphers (1975-2009) invite you to celebrate the publication of Cyphers Issue No 68 and the launch of our new website at

The Ranelagh Arts Centre, 26 Ranelagh, Dublin 6
from 6.30p.m. to 8p.m. on Tuesday 15
th December 2009.


Reply to 3, Selskar Terrace, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 or

(Luas from city centre to Ranelagh Station. Across the road from Luas station. Approx 2 min walk. Bus 48a or 44C from Hawkins Street/Merrion Square/Stephen’s Green.)