Sunday, October 23, 2005


Irish Poetry had an outing on the evening of Thursday 13 October in the Dublin writers centre, where the main event of a five day Irish language arts bash occurred. The IMRAM festival of native literature decamped for the night to witness the gifts of Welsh poets Menna Elfyn, Ifor ap Glyn and Irish/German poet Gabriel Rosenstock, read poems. Elfyn read her work in Welsh and English, ap Glyn read his in Welsh alone, and Rosenstock read translations of both of their poems in Irish.

I have an absence of both languages, but this made no difference to my full appreciation of these three poets. And although Rosenstock was on duty wearing a two hatted stance of festival organiser and reciter, he was on great form all round and exuded a sense of the wider positive affirmation poetry brings to its initiates and submittants. The Welsh visitors were greatly moved by the warmth of welcome from their fellow celts; and just before the book buy and sign atmosphere began at the termination of the reading several poets came all over a bit goo goo’ish about the shared culture and genes. "We are of one blood" was the wrap up line; and with that the business of cracking open the gargle began in earnest.

ap Glyn has some seriously good word think ups which fulfill the Amergin attributed "binding principle" of "good poetic construction", and he also has a unique bardic register of suburban concerns which amply demonstrate his competency to fill the hot seat throne at Cymru's poetry flame HQ. Being reared in London to speak Welsh makes him a pretty rare breed, and he quoted a Welsh historian whose name I omitted to write, as I sat there nicking what sounds struck me as they moved through the air of that Augustan room, where the colour brown has been newly rolled upon the walls once aqua green, and where many a phoney and artist have made their stand and wowed or bored whatever audience was there.

And whilst I am unaware if the paint job was commissioned especially for this night, I would not be in the slightest surprised where it the case; for another interior development had also occurred, the stationing of tables with, as I recall, tasteful tablecloths upon which the audience could lay there glasses. Usually you have to use the floor, or abstain until the readings end and then join the rest of the throng or thin crowd supping vertical.

The Welsh historian ap Glyn mentioned, famously said of his homeland -

"Wales is an artefact we have to make and remake every generation, if we want"

And ap Glyn is certainly committed to doing this and his beatiful poems show that he is doing it in a vital and vibrant way, the true voice obvious and "there", as Paula Meehan would say. Also true to his poetical heritage, he was completely off the page; all his work being delivered by memory, which demostrates his complete commitment to the poet's craft, which I suspect is more than just a job to pay the rent, certainly his life's passion. We had a brief chat after the do and I told him that he must be a pretty unique bird and have the London-Welsh poet market stitched up. Born to Welsh parents in London until 20 years of age and then Wales till now, over 20 years later. He was chatty enough but not really a full throttle social butterfly, unlike Rosenstock, who took my hand and chaunted an ancient bit of verse by way of sussing my credentials. After I spun him a faith poem he declared that fate had decreed our paths would cross; that our lives were intersecting at that point not only because we were both having a few snifters. I told him he was correct and picked his brain about my "Cauldron of Poesie" ideas, and we both agreed that everyone had it wrong but us.

Unfortunately I have no ap Glyn work at hand at this moment, as I sit in the office here at Indisub Internet cafe on the Quays, although I do at home, and I may return to this later, but at the moment I need to tell you of a more recent event, which took place this evening.

Four members of the Irish Poetry team have been performing their work in Temple Bar, at the weekly, Sunday "Speakers Corner", drawing a fair sized crowd and aiding those less fortunate than themselves find their voice. After we all randomly bumped into each other in Temple Bar Square and did our bit for the public, several marginalized voices were inspired by our performance and found their confidence and had their say; as they supped their gargle and staggered befuddled up onto the staging. Yes, the homeless drink gang whose native spot is Temple Bar, where they live the simple life of sitting with a cup, day in, day out, wind rain or shine, waiting for the off-licence to open so they can get their ale in and begin the day in true dosser style knocking it back without much of a break.

These voices where the perfect foil with which to ply our peal, and the loudness of register and overall audience reaction was very positive. Bemused English people on their weekend pissups stopped and gawped unable to take it in. Spanish/Italians/German/French/Dutch/Polish and a veritable United Nations of gawkers, found the true bardic vibe was alive and well here in the heart of that place they know from…erm the telly and that, where everyone’s begorra begod, but a right laugh on the ale. Yes, they found the Ireland of their dreams was real; bards on street corners knocking it out full belt, causing them and their European fellows to make a wish that they could take the week off work in Holborn, the Hauge Huddersfield or East Ham and stay longer to wallow in the vibe. After the show at speakers corner Noel Sweeney had to make tracks to the Auld Dub pub, but Mr Incredible (Ciaron Philpots) myself, and God (Mike from Meath) executed the busking. This is the first time I’ve worked with God on the streets, but Mr Incredible and I have been occassional colleagues on a number of occasions. During the early part of the summer myself, he and Theolophis, an LA poet here for a few months, worked the magic together and kicked started the Irish Poetry commitment to bringing quality work to the audience direct.

Theolophis’s leaving party was the first time the gang got evangelical, an atmosphere I imagine would have been the norm for Jack and Allen Ginsberg when they had their beat school bashes, ram jammed with a poetry loving set of misfits reality could not invent. This was a night no one who was there will ever forget. Raven, Theo, Mr Incredible, Sweeney, God, Jerry, Fintan, Birch and too many others to fill a list. This July night marked the arrival of something special, much in the mould of what Menna Elfyn said, just before being informed that Welsh and Irish Language poets were "of one blood".

She said that poetry is "affirmation"; much the same as Heaney and all the poets who had, and have; what Brendan Behan believed was essential for a poet to possess, "a loving heart."

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Shall we pray as one united entity -
try our best?

Or are we all programmed
to explode upon contact with the creator?

Like atoms at fissure curtailed no longer
or, free from doubt?

Do we choose in the end - make an effort
or make no difference?

Fibres in the fabric of absent matter
awaiting its slot of exposure to the god-
head gushing as its meant?

Or as close to no consequence as is possible
to get without having lived and left a trace

wherever life leads, wherever we tread

before its shell returns what spiritual
force we imagine ran true when drawing up our breath?

What blueprint's mapping the conceptual landscapes
as we post thought from a lectern postured
stance of academic sense?

Does a lettered gown within there curl outward
sans serif?

Straight lines anchor to a thread of fixed alertness

woven as one mesh of presence adorning the seive
of whatever filter perculates the essential sketch

discerened as we cross the egg yolk film thin threshold
and surrender our souls to the void of death?

Will we notice if we sink or lift in the evenly weighted
balance of passageways linking the extremities and depths
inherent in joyous sorrow to the earth upon which
ineffable order unfolds our flesh?

Are we campaigners in a familiar yet ancient faith
environment, ideal to situate the practice of managing
language made artefacts, whose restoration

comes through the simple act of allowing our
reverance an outlet to access the mystery
in a climate laid bare of waste;

where vectors of dispersal are a
continual Yeatsean deportment of the gyre's
gyrational flux
which emanate the role of beings we play

in the characters breathing creation
through lines this life demanded we took
from the pages our eyes came to rest on
as we read the self wrote book?

Desmond Swords

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Murder of Crows; the story

Having been active in creative protests and direct actions addressing the rights of the dispossessed in my native California, upon moving to Ireland I became interested in the history and plight of the travellers. I have only lived here for seven months, and it has been shocking to me that the Irish, a people once so maligned, marginalised and persecuted in their own country, would turn and do the same to their own -- in their own country. I do not say this as an indictment of the Irish; as a newcomer I do not have the right and I am sure that in my limited understanding of the issues regarding the travellers I may be mistaken on some of the finer points. But I have seen the same and worse in my own country often enough to recognise prejudice and the anger/violence it strikes up in people who are afraid, distrustful of or perhaps simply embarrassed by elements in their society that they feel are not in accordance with the social norms.

The xenophobia that exists in Ireland is by far a milder variety than that cultivated in the United States; Ireland doesn't have the same history of utilising racism as a means of maintaining a capitalist structure ( a comic strip I read once back home had Uncle Sam saying "We don't practice racism... we've perfected it!") The variety that does exist here, however, has existed long before the rapid influx of immigrants, and I dare say may represent a kind of self-hatred -- because the faces of the travellers are the faces of the Irish. As an African American, sadly I have witnessed this same kind of attitude amongst middle and upper class blacks with regard to their sisters and brothers in the ghettos. Indeed, it is an attitude which poisons even some in the ghettos. I have witnessed the same here in working class people who have voiced a hatred for the travellers that is perplexing only when the surface is seen. Dig deeper.

As for the poem itself, my wife and I were engaged in several conversations over the course of many weeks regarding the travellers, the historical plight of the Irish in general and her family's place in that history (she's Scots-Irish); those conversations were the genesis of much of the imagery in this piece:

Murder of Crows

Fly from here
this land is steeped in alcohol
the fermented borders
of the whiskey road
make a man's feet drunk
and the finish overstays its
welcome on the tongue, like the
biting backwash of light from
houses where you and your own
are unknown

Welcome to the verging rain; those faces
the torrent broken reflections
of what will not be forgotten
huddled on the edges of the black pool

Without you we spin
like the taught and tarred skins
of coracles in that dark eddy
and history becomes
what oracles tell:
the secrecy of owls in their nocturnal parliament
the murder of crows in their riot
the shrieking jackdaw and magpie
in their arc
across the verdant rise
to fill their bellies on scorn

Many deny but
all know the taste of it
in the hard crust
of our daily bread
and all the things a
mountain of butter
cannot rectify

October 2005

Monday, October 10, 2005


We are training as language artists
in an alluring Western based ambience
where pastoral and urbane intersect

vectors of cultural flux mesh serendipitously
and there are bards enough proclaiming of posie
from the page to station on every street corner
mountain peak, in all wooded glens,

and working every sector of the poetic spectrum
poets' compose with to reach "there"; be it

- quantitive, syllabic, accentual stress, combined metric
slam, L=A=N=G=A=U=G=E, open form, tragic
confessional, comedic, write-through or mental composition -

Techniques we have come to possess and will deploy
with varying degrees of success, failure, loss and benifit
in the aquiring of skills which increase the consumptional
capacity of our appetite for language

until such time that we feel capable of, metaphorically
eating the alphabet

a goal acheivable in 15 years hence

when we dream of scoffing knowledge on lingo binges
feasting on linguistical fare
lashing our eyes full of letter nosh
sucking soundgrub into our ear's gut

and ingesting text for regurgitation to "other" voices
who passenger on the shuttlebus of love;

where we are all gourmets gorging on blather
in one united assotment of sound, from

a quick smooth swoosh of solid reliable speed hulks
hurtling into a deep unconscious order of unkowable tune, to

freight laden trucks labouring in gridlock on
clogged access routes to the sublime fleeting energy;

whose jolts can compact galaxies to black
holes vacuum packed with an absence of time

tracing our concept mark of living as one with the infinite mind;

and bestowing by its thrumb
seer gifts of prophetic possession
to some poetic depositers of text, be it printed or binary coded opticle
data bits travelling through fibre to gozzy gawp gawk fests yet to begin.

We are the knocker uppers tapping on the window pane of literature
fitting up the page with poesy of all genre and form

from recognisably life affirming
to the unrecognisably banal barren mind space of knowing
if a singular discharge un-owns creation.

And between these two extremities
is life itself
replicating and assembling its note of busyness
demanding access to profess that you wander
round the kitchen like a two bit twok till all from
Ballymum to Ballsbridge sing

"The salmon you seek swims ineluctably upstream
to bind complete the continuum's principle impulse

returning through a labyrinth imititive of bioscape
brainshapes recording the pictoral quiver flue
of a life force unborn but spawning wisdom"

Shall we look into beyond for the faithfully inclined
unhearing what tune of belief to sing as they rise to begin their song?

Friday, October 07, 2005


Here's a thing from a kids book I never wrote. There's this sort of creepy reclusive Willy Wonka figure who's been held captive most of his life by his wicked uncle who has persuaded him of the evil of the outside world. So this is his song:

Fred Farkle’s Fear of the Outside World

Outside is very cold and very dark;
And goblins squat and air-spurred spectres ride;
Killers fill the shadows in the park,
And in street corners, murderers reside.
The wind whips savagely and, cutting wide,
Raises deadly creatures hid from sight,
Who slink and creep and plot and snarl and slide.
The demon dances blackly through the night.

The dogs howl blood and poisonous the bark
Of stunted trees to sick birds, mucus-eyed
From weariness and horror and the stark
Evil of nature bleached and terrified.
The ghastly air blows thin, a deathly bride
Wed fast to Plague too thick to let in light.
And through it all in screeching wrath and pride,
The demon dances blackly through the night.

This is my only refuge, this my ark
To keep me from the wicked blood-dimmed tide
And thick-lunged horror, sick seas where the shark
And strangling snake and slimy spirits glide.
So here I am, and here I must abide,
Where I am safe and things are warm and bright;
For out there, mad, with evil by his side
The demon dances blackly through the night.

Fintan Higgins

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Now that's what I call entertainment
we're witnessing history in the making
written by the winners and the
people who say wherever there
is money to be made it's
all there for the taking

You may have read about it in
the papers
there's kids trained on arcade
games and space invaders
who get target practice at home
aiming pistols at their
playstations, and now they're
taking all their orders from
George Walker Texas Ranger

knowing that if they don't do
as they're told they'll get
called traitors, even if it means
they'll be hated by their neighbours

but why on earth should they care
they're laughing in the face of danger
doing what they do best just to
make the world a little safer

So when they get killed crippled
or decorated and some of the soldiers
start to wonder where the
hell the parade is, they'll have to
learn the hard way that it's been
going on for ages, that there's
lots of money to be made in a war
that rages

so who pays the price?
who's the hole in their pocket?
because someone's loss is always
someone else's profit

It happens right in front of us
but we don't watch it
just shit Bruce Willis films
that make a killing at the box office

I don't mind preaching to the choir
when freedom fries in friendly
fire, time after time it's no
surprise, it's an eye for an eye
until we all go blind

This summer's biggest blockbusters
don't have big name stars or much
of a budget, just a bunch of bandits
with camcorders and swords and
some heads to chop off on the
cutting room floor

We never give in to kidnappers'
demands, if we don't pay them
ransom we won't look that bad
because we know that the rest of
the world understands and together
we can all wash the blood from our hands

But as for the Arabs we have other
plans, they'll be smoked out of
every right hole in the land
till we're sure that they're all dead
and buried in sand

where one day our big business
skyscrapers will stand
it's hard not to seperate fact
from fiction when faced with a
monkey like man on a mission

a leader who learned all about
his religion from Mel Gibson
films with his evengalism
whose not even capable of
taking his own decisions
whether it's abortion or killing
people in prisons

He's about the right size and
daddy's shoes fit him
if he's going down he's taking
all of us with him

I don't mind preaching to the choir
when freedom fries in friendly
fire, time after time it's no
surprise, it's an eye for an eye
till we all go blind

Cameras can shoot nothing worse
than the truth, it's a tooth for
a tooth, we've the pictures for
proof, and it's coming home to
roost, so that's all left to do
is dig up Bob Hope for a morale

Yeah GI Joe is gonna have to do
some explaining, coz photos of
abuse by troops sold a load of
newspapers and caused a sensation
across all of the stations

Just think what a third world war
would do for the ratings
you may have read about it in the
newspapers, there's kids trained
on arcade games in space invader
who get target practice at home
aiming pistols at their
playstations, and now they're
taking orders from George Walker
Texas Ranger.

Leo Crowley

A couple of new voices turn up at the now Monday night warble poetry open mic/workshop, upstairs at the Duke pub, Duke Street, second left off Grafton Street as you walk up from Molly Malone's bronze figure. It's a few down from Phil Lynots one outside the Bruxelle Street boozer of the same name.

This was a few weeks ago when the Monday night session was on Tuesday at the Left Bank Bar, Oliver St John Gogarty's Pub, before the move to another past heartland of Dublin literary life still in use as an art mine and gallery where occur theatrical displays of poetic performance by writers today learning the art of "earning a ryhme", as Mossbawn's bard calls the business of "professing poetry", an occupation one stressed "I" lighter than "prophesying," which is an interesting word I hope to write 3000 words on and deliver from the podium at a poetics conference in at The Disembodied Impossible Poetic College of Higher Education, very soon becoming a university, so effectively I'm going to a University next summer, and one of the topics up for potential blathering on about is "Prophets and seers". A 3000 word essay read from the page and a potential 20 minute tour de force piece of stagework work for the actor prepared to memorise his text.

But what are "prophets and seers" and do I have to be either one or both? Do these positions involve altering the mind through drugs or chewing flesh of some kind? Do I have to deliver prohecy in order to book the hotel? Will I have to make any explicit predictions during the address, and if so can I get away with making up an episode of divine inspiration if one is not forthcoming between now and then?

I will prepare by reading George Calder's 1917 translation of the Irish text "Auraicept Na N-eces/Scholars Primer"; which I have been wanting to lay my hands on for some time, but have been unable to because of laziness and the general difficulties involved in finding a copy at public libraries.

I know none of its contents, although I have a very dim idea that it was some kind of basic bardic instruction text used in the numerous pre-17C civil judiciary academies were the lawyer/poets with a flare for analysising words, trained in acquiring skills which increased the consumption capacity of their appetite for language, until they were capable of (metaphotically speaking) eating the alphabet

I stumbled across Eryn Laurie Rowan's translation of an Amergin attributed poem she has titled "The Cauldron of Poesy," which appears in the "Auraicept Na N-eces/Scholars Primer."

  • Scholars Primer

  • I will have to wait until I have a copy of Calder's book to compare his version with Rowan's, but as a stand alone poem this is an interesting and accessible read, whose narrative, or more accurately, its ruling poetic of "binding principle", lays out what is essentially an explanation of why not every poet's compositional methods will advance to a point where their skill of practice draws from the higher poetic grades or "streams" that have traditionally been associated with prohecy.

    But all this is for another time and will not be of interest to the general poetry buff only wanting to wallow in the shallow end of poesy's pool, and a book I can recommend for the paddlers who are drawn to light literary entertainment is Anthony Cronin's aptly titled "Memoir," first published in 1976. It's a riotous assemblage of memory, jolting back to life Patrick Kavangh, Brendhan Behan, Julian Maclaren-Ross, the painters Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun and Brian O'Nolan, who wrote under the pseudonyms of Flann O'Brien, Myles na Gopaleen (Myles of the Small Horses) and George Knowall.

    Brian O'Nolan, a notorious man of the forties and fifties hit the bigtime of his literary success as a brilliant new writer; a recent University College Dublin graduate whose absurdist style of satirical fiction appeared in various newspapers and books during the course of his life, up until his death in 1966. He is painted by Cronin as a stickler and straight man who had been knocking about Dublin as a literary heavyweight from the 1920's, and he enters Cronin's full tapestry of gags around the time the poet had become a qualified barrister ready to strut his stuff as a member of the recently independant Irish judiciary. However Cronin's big break was not to be into the courts or law rooms of 1940's Dublin, but an office job in retail considered a good number for a man of his prospects and station in mid 40's Ireland. However Cronin only wishes to become an artist and so withdraws from from pursuing a commercial career, eventually washing up in a back garden shed, one of a sucession of residences he shared with Brendan Behan.

    Behan's paternal grandfather was a music hall artist who had written Irelands national anthem and passed on the musical gift to his grandson, who breaks into boistrous boozing sessions with Cronin and into the story right at the start, offering his own literary ambition as succour to Cronin's, and in their quest of becoming writers, embark on an alcohol fuelled grand tour to renaissance sites in order, they hope, to suck up Art's vibe at source. The only problem they have is an absence of money with which to fully execute, what turns out to be Behan's masterplan of defecting to Chekoslavakia, in an effort to acquire instant confirmation as capitalism rejecting artists in search of worldwide success. Behan's scheme is revealed to Cronin once the sojourn has reached France, but after a spell of days in Paris they split their seperate ways under a cloud of mutual annomosity; immediately dispelled after a few weeks of Cronin hitch hiking to Northern Italy and hearing, upon making his way back to Ireland through Paris, his name being called by Behan. Behan fills in Cronin on what happened since they last spoke, of him joining the Foreign Legion for a night and being allowed to keep his signing on bounty as he left the following day.

    They are both nearly broke; Cronin more so than Behan, but pleased at the prospect of a joint return to Dublin they go on the lash and doss under a bridge for a few days whilst waiting for a mystery benefactor Behan claims wants to give him money. Whilst under the bridge Croinin paints one of the funniest scenes to enter my mind, when he wakes to find his size 11 shoes missing and has to slide around his small area under the bridge for three days sheltering from the constant downpours in the spare size 6 pair Behan had brought along for the defection party when he crossed the Border in Austria, whilst Behan runs round the city on the scrounge. Eventually he gets a touch from who may be Simone deBeauvoir and Cronins foot saviour leaves a miracle by the side of the road to Rouen as they are leaving Paris, in the form of a discarded pair of cut off wellingtons.

    They return to Ireland and carry on chasing the muse in McDaids Pub, The Palace, the Duke and numerous other watering spots in the city, where Kavanagh steps into their orbit, as a poet approaching middle age and a descent into alocoholism. Rather than rehash it here, go, read the book and let me tell you of Leo Crowley and his pal Aiden, who did an excellant duet after Leo did the above poem, which reminded me of Amiri Baraka's mid 70's marxist stuff. They came along because they had bumped into the rest of the Left Bank locals at the Saul Willimas memorisational poetry show at Crawdaddy in Dublin the week before.

    The duet was called "No Show" and was delivered balanced at the precise centre of the dividing line between speech and song, which I had not witnessed before in any living persons in such intimate terms.

    "Tonight tonight to

    L - Well we couldn't catch a train there was a nation wide rail strike
    so we caught a cab because the taxi blinked a tail light and
    we got aboard a bus and gave ourselves a little high five

    A - Well I had to man because I couldn't take the stage fright

    L - Hold tight
    A - Come on alright
    L - We got a play a gig tonight
    A - I know I know
    L - I know you know
    A - Well then shut up and let me go
    L - Relax
    A - I am relaxed
    L - Well then relax
    A - Just shut up and get off my back
    L - Oh what, you don't have to shout like that

    A - Push the button for us all to be dropped at the next stop
    L - We hopped off at the wrong stop, walked and got lost
    A - Found ourselves broke without a penny to toss
    L - In our lives
    A - In our pockets
    L - How do we cover the cost

    Oh how did we ever get ourselves into this

    A - I don't know
    L - Well keep an eye out while I'm taking a piss
    A - I think you should have thought about it more before you made a mess of things
    L - I didn't
    A - Yes you did and now we're gonna miss the gig

    Oh no you know you know you know
    tonight it's gonna be a no show

    You know you know you know you know
    tonight it's gonna be a no show

    A - Well maybe we should call upon the band to help us
    L - They're probably on stage right now doing a sound check
    A - What d'yer wanna tell 'em
    L - Tell 'em wind up the crowd
    A - But how they gonna do that


    You're right we'll have to get ourselves together and go
    coz we don't wanna be no no show

    Bliuppp Bliuppp

    It's the lads

    You know you should have been here 'bout and hour ago?

    Well we'd be there right now if we were any way professional
    but I guess we're not as tight as we might like

    You'd better not be expecting me to take all the blame

    oh real mature Aidan

    The alternative to mainstream poetry possee of Dublin

    We did a Patrick Kavanagh celebration 2005 in the Palace Bar Dublin, which is where he held court with the hacks and Leanne O'Sullivan and Maurice Scully came along. The night was about putting established and emerging artists on the same bill and to this end it went great. We all ended up back at gods place (ie mike from meath due to his flowing locks) having a poem session, and the night brought home some powerful realisations, namely that poetry is ultimately about a basic human need of wanting to belong and be loved.