Thursday, February 16, 2006


I am the voice of Scalljah, a penniless Dublin poet who committed suicide as the ultimate career move and I am addressing you from the post-life writers waiting area awaiting the Irish language god Ogma to give my earthly works a nod of acceptance or red card barring me from entry to the afterlife's bash of poesy. Do not be afraid or freaked out by my strange sense dear reader, as love is my code and I wish only to have a giggle and bring titters to your day as you deport elsewhere in search of double glazing, astrology, bomb making recipes or online romance.

At the end of life is silence and a return to light, which is where I now am. However, now and again, for special occasions we can return, and last night I reconfigured out of light and back into an earthly shape, as it was Mick Donaghy's turn to massage Bob Creeley's ego. These two topped it last year and are with me in the holding area; but Bob's been getting down a lot lately. Don't ask me what it's all about coz I missed his moaning as I was at the Thomas Davis lecture theatre in Trinity College with the full cadre of blatherers from 8pm onwards. In fact, Mick and me are getting a bit fed up with Bob and are considering putting him under a geasa if this constant anxiety about his status continues. He was in no shape for being at Trinners with Seamus, Paul, Brendan and numerous others who where in attendance to hear Paul Durcan deliver an hour and a half on Michael Hartnett's 190'ish line poem Sibelius in Silence, which he argued is

"One of the major poems in the Irish poetical topography of the last 200 years."

This was in his capacity as Ireland Professor of Poetry, a job previously held by John Montague and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

Last night I was an audience member sitting on the top tier with Macdara, Eiléan, Joe and a few well-knowns I failed to recognise, but who were close enough to smell, touch or even violently assault with verbal rantings should I have forgotten to take my tablets. But there were no outbursts or tantrums demanding access to public subsidies as I had only drunk five cans of Hackenberg premium and had injected my medication a short while before leaving the ward at St Brendan's, so by the time it all kicked off I was in the optimum mode for sleeping should Paul have failed to keep me awake.

My arse was parked sandwiched in a study chair next to Ciaran who was in a thin pinstripe linen ensemble, and as he casually draped the well tailored designer crumpled jacket over the back of a seat in the row below us, the waffle began with a warm up act who introduced Durcan as a "necessary voice" whose work has "mesmeric rhythms." He also threw in a few ordinary "gorgeous"s, as one would expect at such a hot air event; but the man executed his role with aplomb, laying off ladling too many clichés, and he torqued the audience’s anticipation for a top drawer word juggler to entertain, inform, enlighten and deliver the goods bang on the money; which is exactly what happened.

When Paul took possession of the lectern there was a palpable sense of tension, and he entered the ring of poesy all guns a blazin', with a few well crafted combos aimed straight for the jugular from the off. He and Hartnett were pals for 40 years and Durcan was there to redress the misbalancing of his reputation as "an existentialist leprechaun....doomed hobgoblin" and "performing chimpanzee of the bar stool.

Durcan was, to quote Howard Beale (Peter Finch character in the 1976 movie Network) "mad as hell", and for a man nearing pension age he gave a very impressive display of a rage possessed poet railing against a shadowy force emanating from armchair suburbian artists conspiring to misplace Hartnett in the chart of Irish poetry greats. I guessed that there were some scribes in the audience last night who Durcan has no time for, such is the nature of Irish poetry, where the facade of bonhomie and back slapping often conceals darker, less savoury sentiments.

Paul claimed to have met only one other person who had read the long poem in question, the poet Harry Clifton, and his contained outrage at the Irish poetry establishment's failure to recognise Hartnett's greatness was the fizz that kept his lecture bouyant. After the general introductory and eloquent rant he read the poem with an appropriate arch poet delivery, his voice like silken water draped moire and rippling mournfully smooth through the speakers, hinting of the magus behind the elf like hue. Durcan is definately a magician of verbal music and song strangely painted, and as I closed my eyes surrendering to his spell the hypnotic weave of Hartnett's words, expertly laced and braided by the podium god, caused a connection to come over me and my own poetic frenzy stir within; and when the mood of syncretic collaboration siezed my being and awoke the muse, I got to work with my mechanical pencil on the following writing burst -

The top flight of poetry
vehemently wise
with melodious openess
slumps guarding the edge of consequence
longing to sing the simple song strangely
painted in a language of mythic insistence.

Drink the grammatical fluency found in verbal
freedom hatching in a crescendo of love shaken
from the fight spilling rainbow quiver
arched across river swans weeping the bark
of trees.

And when PD's reading ended he got a well deserved round of applause and began his autopsy on the compositional method Hartnett used to create the poem. Hartnett was 51 when he wrote Sibelius in Silence, the same age as Sibelius was when he wrote the fourth part of his fourth symphony. Durcan dipped below the surface of the poem to reveal the main biographical feature binding Sibelius and Hartnett together; their dependancy on alcohol and how it affected their work. It would appear that Sibelius was the less senior alcoholic of the two or had twice the constitution, because he died around the age of 80. Whoever held the belts, Hartnett, Durcan was convinced, had -

"made a secret pact with his own soul to drink copious amounts of alcohol". He read extracts from both men's diaries to illustrate his point and gave a detailed account of Hartnett having detailed first hand knowledge of Sibelius's diaries along with a swathe of primary material surrounding the Finnish composer's life and work.

When they were both in the grip of booze benders the entries could have been interchangeable for either man -.

"I have been engaged in furtive drinking to get my nerves in better condition........I am curing myself with sobriety.....I need a regular intake to steady the tremors."

The gag that got the biggest laugh of the night, and was my first indication of how bottomlessly dark dark Durcan's humour is, came as he had been reading a few diary entries in what I took to be a serious and sombre register. Professor Paul's scale of comic or tragic had not yet come down on either side until he ended with the Hartnett entry -

"Cheer up, death is round the corner"; delivered deadpan, almost shocking the audience to laughter, but revealing in that moment the essential comedian behind Durcan's straight man act. The various strands he wove and ground he covered, plotted and plaited a detailed sweep of how Hartnett's relationship with the legacy of Sibelius gifted him the raw material he created a work of art, which Durcan argues, goes right to the heart of what it means to be human. I may detail this part of his lecture at a later date, as it is now late here in my sweet shop office on Dublin quays, and I must leave.

I've had a bit of a bad few days. On Tuesday I left my MP3 and memory stick in the computer here in the toffee emporium and forgot to remove it on leaving, and when I returned 20 minutes later after realising I had forgotten it, it was gone, stolen by a chance thief. Poetic justice for bringing to global consciousness the seal I forgot to pay for from Reads maybe?(Read 14 Feb post) Such is life and the cumulative knocks and losses can only make me stronger, as I believe poetry to be an art of faith and as long as I believe in the good gods of poesy I will be fine. But it's still 200 quids worth of gear gone, and for a man on social welfare instead of an Arts council bursary, this represents a substantial loss.

Then. later that night I decided to drown my sorrows with a few cans of Dutch Gold and decanted to a late bar, concealing the remainder of booze in my 100 euro coat which was then lost on the night tide of feeling sorry for myself, along with a little black diary I had been distilling recent poems on, so all in all I have lost a fair bit of electronic and written work, which I will have to retrieve from other online sources. So if there's any art lover out there looking to assist a genuine poet, please get in touch and help me escape the burden of poverty. Because, like Paul said last night, he has met many writers of verse, but few "real" poets. I am definately one of this breed, and have faith in this due to my discovering the Amergin poem "Cauldron of Poesy." I informed Macdara and Brendan of my find and hopefully once people eventually cop on to its relevence I might be able to get on the funding merry go round. A few quid recognition money.


Anonymous Poet said...

You say that committing suicide is the ultimate career move for a poet. Hmmm . . . . Does that mean I will never reach my full potential while alive?

Anonymous said...

that diary entry was from sibelius, not hartnett. all the diary entries in that part were sibelius.