A Handmade Zine Riffs, for Years, on Themes of Belonging

Saul Philbin Bowman’s fist is raised in the air as he makes a beeline from the back of the room, through the crowd and into the clearing in front of the small makeshift stage upstairs in Yamamori Tengu Tengu on Great Strand Street.

Not I, the high-energy duo Thomas O’ Reilly and Ian Meagher, are hurtling through their new single “Please, No Kindness, Please”. It’s a frantic combo of guitar, drums and vocals that draws Bowman toward the front, shaking his head to thumps of the drum.

It’s the launch night of This Is Not Where I Belong*, a literary zine that celebrates being an outsider, founded by Bowman and Beibhinn Delaney seven years ago.

Tonight is for the twenty-sixth zine, and for each of those earlier zines there has also been a gig. “We try and bring people on a bit of a journey when they get there,” says Bowman, of the live music at each launch.

The music is diverse. It showcases contemporary currents in the city, things that might not have found a common home without Bowman and Delaney.

That resonates with the running theme. “People always ask us what’s the theme and I always say the same as last time – the internal struggle to fit in,” says Bowman.

It’s also, he says, about “the joy that comes with not fitting in”.

A Box of Zines

There’s a blue Adidas box opened on the table upstairs in The Palace Bar in Temple Bar, where Bowman and Delaney sit, the day after the launch, seeking out a quieter spot to chat with the zine’s founders. It’s crammed with past issues of This Is Where I Belong.

Each is so different.

Some are formatted like small booklets, others resemble maps to be folded open to reveal what’s inside. Others are like straight A2 pages, folded again and again. Each an array of different colours. Pale pinks. Dull greys. Bright yellows.

Even the title is inconsistent.

The first zine was called This Is Not Where I Belong. Each subsequent issue was a variation of this. Unbelonging. We Belong Together. I Just Called to Say I Won’t Belong.

“Some of them are directly taken from a song that had the word ‘belong’ in it, like this one for example,” says Bowman, flicking through the hundreds of zines in the box.

“This one for example is from Stevie Wonder,” he says, pulling out a booklet, the title running along the front cover in bold, underneath a singer crooning into a mic.

It’s I Just called To Say I Won’t Belong, a variation on Wonder’s hit song I Just Called to Say I Love You.

“So the way I think of it is ‘This Is Not Where I Belong’ is the band and then we have all these album titles and they all have the word belong in them,” says Bowman.

“It’s really parameter-driven,” says Delaney, not just in the challenge of constantly composing titles out of the word “belong” but also in the constant shifting layout of the zine itself.

Delaney highlights how painstaking it can be putting together a zine. It’s her turn to grab the blue shoebox.

She peers in and grabs a fluorescent-pink zine, folded into the size of a small tablet. There’s a square cut from the front cover.

“The idea is that you open it up and this guy is inside of it,” says Delaney, showing off a small rectangular square of card.

“You think, ‘Oh, it must go there’,” she says, pointing at the square cut on the cover where the zine bares its title. It won’t fit, of course.

The title for that issue? Unbelonging.

“It was a bit of fun for me,” says Delaney, laughing as she refolds the zine back to its original shape.

On Belonging

Over the seven years of its existence, This Is Not Where I Belong has had submissions from more than 100 contributors.

Last week, it launched its new website, with information on submissions and past issues.

The zine is a home for work that is highly idiosyncratic. Reflections on ABBA as horoscope signs. Poetry on love. Couplets in Chinese. Short essays on family, childhood, home, town and country.

“It’s definitely a good outlet for people of all stripes,” says Karen Henderson, a poet and a regular contributor for the past number of issues.

“Whether it’s a haiku, a long-form piece or even an illustration, it’s definitely a good outlet for that type of energy which you wouldn’t find in your normal nine to five,” says Henderson.

“Saul has always been a promoter of acceptance and belonging,” she says. It’s this trait that has informed the whole endeavour.

It’s why Bowman and Delaney ensure that there is a gig at the launch of every zine, says O’Reilly of Not I, who have regularly played at launch nights.

“Saul and Beibhinn have really fostered a sense of community. I’ve met so many people through just playing at those gigs,” he says. “It’s a really incredible thing that they’ve managed to bring all these really weird and bizarre people together.”

Entry to the gig always includes a copy of the zine.

“Which presents a problem sometimes as most of the gigs are in bars and people use them as coasters and stuff,” says Bowman, saying he spotted one the previous night in a bathroom stall in Tengu.

It was heartbreaking the first few times this happened, says Delaney. But you get used to it, she laughs.

“When the launch starts people are still surprised that they get something. To see people look at them and to show each other and say, ‘Oh, this is my piece,’” says Bowman. “You get a real buzz from that.”

The launch for the next issue is scheduled for 15 November in Anseo on Camden Street.

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers the north side of the city. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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