Friday, March 24, 2006


The tin long since emptied of chocolate swung
squeaking in rusty protest from his son's hand
who ran on ahead, scattering crabs among
flying strips of seaweed and kicked up clouds of sand.

He caught up with his child where rocks cupped water
and held life in the sunburnt palms of their hands.
Squatting down beside barnacles, his father
broke the surface, seperating tangled strands.

Sun shocked fish flashed silver, fleeing fingers that
stirred up their world. Two submerged plastic sandals
grew snails; jelly fish lolled on the surface; fat
dollops of wax melted colourless candles.

They scooped up stones that caught their eye, sea tumbled
smooth, and glass coloured bottles that clattered
as they hit the tin's bottom. Above, clouds grumbled
and elbowed each other 'til bruised and battered.

A gull squawked a warning and circled the breeze
like a balsa wood mobile. Impending rains
brought them to their feet, legs buckled by stiff knees.
Drops patterned their jackets with polka dot stains.

They ran and rattled to the abandoned stall
where coffee and teapots sat in rings of rust.
On plastic seats they sat watching the rainfall
playing X's and O's in the table's dust.

The sun broke through and mopped up puddles. Trees shook
water from their leaves, cracking athritic bones.
Salty air tickled their bellies. The boy took
up his can. Lunch was waiting. They headed home.

Cerri Mynihan

I met Cerri last night when I attended Rathmines Writer's Group for the first time. They meet every other Thursday in the presbytarian church in Rathgar, South Dublin. Everybody brings a piece of prose or a poem, along with enough copies for the rest of the group, and then read it out. After they read the rest of the group criticise it and finish on the reader responding to the criticism. Basic stuff, but a nice enough bunch. Cerri's poem struck me as she read it like the percussion section of an orchestra, all crash and heavy stress, but bustling along its own way in a distinctive manner which shows the girl has talent.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Over the last few weeks I have been dreaming in language. Depending on what I have been writing before I go to sleep, it can be prose, poetry or song, and last night I had a song dream, but as is usual, most of it dissapeared on waking like footprints from a tide washed beach. The only line I can remember is

Fill the sky and paint the stars.

I had just nodded off when it came, and though I was asleep, I knew I was asleep and the song was a dream, which got me excited as my first thought was to try and remember the words and write them down on waking.

A few days before this I was dreaming in critical prose, the language all about

Returning from the front line of the poetry the trenches...

But last night It was more powerful than the prose dreams, because when the song started up it was ringing powerfully in my head and I was very much aware what was happening, even though I was slumbered. The song was accompanied by music and after the first two lines I started to think that I wouldn't be able to remember it all when I woke up. The song went on for about eight lines in total before I woke, and I repeated the above line a few times and hoped it would stick in my mind the following day. I had almost forgotten about it, but I just visited Peter Sirr's blogspot (Poetry Ireland Mag Editor) and he had a post about a dream, which prompted me to wizz over here and write.

If anyone from the Times is reading this, you know it makes sense, and here's a bit of fluff I left on one of the chatboards I use to agitate comedy.

My name is Woolie
da bully lovin sheep shaggar
fillin up dem shelves at da
muther fockin Asda mon

D'yers get me white boy?
D'yer's know where mon blood
from mon? From da Northside laah
where dem police and thieves
is nightly fightin in Bridge Street
by da mon Michael Hunters mon

'n in dem Nursery school mon
where me 'n my crew go wiv
the cider, suppin in dem wendy house
after army cadets on wednesday mon

where we keep our guns
'n shout about left right
left right left wheeel!!

coz wheeze is da stormtroopin
gettin bladdered on the park n composin

which don't take no time
coz I'm a witness of love lookin down from the top
froo the bottom of a pint pot laah.

I rock the mic with the wrong
bodies bein seasick 'n teasin the family Houston like wot's on the
Robbie records I got for me birthday, before I got in trouble wiv the police for shootin me grandad for his pension muffa focker
so spread dem wings and fall apart wiv the heart of a dead end bar outline.
Flicker it naggard,

coz I'm da nigga goan blow you way mon.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


One of the registers in my vocal repetoire is Scalljah, who morphed out of Sloppy Bob. Sloppy Bob is a comedy poet who came to me after I wrote a piece purely rhyme driven. Bob is Lancastrian and Scalljah scouse, which is the local vernacular term for a Liverpool person.

At the time I wrote him in Feb 2003, I had just filled my first writer's journal and was in the second year of university. When I re read the journal, the previous 18 months of instinctively plodding along through education, not knowing how the accumulation of knowledge would add up, suddenly became clear. I could consciously discern on the page what I was unconscious of when I had been writing it; discern outlines I was unaware of before my study of various modern writers such as Mayakovsky had switched on a light of learning.

The first fruits I retreived from this harvest of deeper understanding were two poems that I got from a trip to Spain documented on the journal's pages. As I re-read I could see little snippets of poetry in the prose, and I culled two lyric poems from them. The first lines of one, named after the campsite

My gaze is drawn to where
mountains cut the pale blue of dusk
with subtle thrusting lines that taper
to horizons edge and melt into the sea.

Twinkiling lights of fishing boats bob
along the middle distance
as the intermittant cry of peacocks
pierce the midnight air......

I can't remember the rest.

It was as if I had stumbled on a hidden code I had written, unaware I was doing so at the time, and although I cannot recollect the exact sequence of events, I ended up deciding to write a poem purely for rhyme.

I had recently been to the annual college poetry night and a poet had said, very self importantly, about being the "Ex-poet in residence" of a local cathedral, which I heard as pure comedy. Ungrasping of the irony when boasting about where he no longer worked. I was at home playing with this conceit of poet in residence, thinking of I am the poet in residence of..the bedroom at the top of the stairs....Moorgate bogs every Tuesday....Hamleys toy shop...the broom cupboard... etc. I eventually settled on the lines

Hello ladies and gentlemen
my name is Sloppy Bob
I'm usually Slippy Bob
but I've been having terrible trouble
with my vowels.

I'm the poet in residence of
the phonebox.....

and I then lengthened the conceit of phonebox resident

....just outside
every other Sunday
in the summer months
4 till 5

and then wrote purely for rhyme, looking no further than coming up with a small section, trying to rhyme every syllable as much as possible, in this case with the "box" of phonebox, "Sunday" and "AM."

Block bookings taken
minimum five up to about nine
depending on the weather

So you can see that everything assonates, consonates or rhymes, and this is how I wrote it, with no regard to sense. And as I wrote it a narrative emerged, bit by bit, which more or less steered itself. It was as though I were removed from the process, like when I first re-read the journal and saw an intelligence and movement I was unaware of at the time I was making the entries a year or so previously.

You can also find me
playing darts and pool
in the Blue Sphinx
where they'll put your car keys
behind the bar if you've had too
much to drink
smoke, sniff, or if you're having
a bad trip on a dodgy pill them lads
from the Lipton tower blocks have
been knocking out.

I'm very reliable
when I'm not pissed
or high as a kite on crack or smack
if I'm honest
at the minute's
erm..quite a bit.

I've got special OAP rates,
some great discounts for schoolchildren,
and I do private tuition, in the comfort
of your own home.

I don't smoke,
wash, drive, or perform live in
situations which are non PC,

tolerate discrimination against minorities;
majorities, or, any section of society
who feel threatened by the pernicious influence of,
poets who are shit;

like my ex,-mate,

He's got no grasp of meter,
his line breaks aren't that great,
his rhyme schemes are very weak, and
his central conceits, are crap.

We've not been speaking since he robbed
my midweek spot down the job club,
after the co-ordinator of the poetry workshop and me
had had a falling out,
about, the best way to teach the unemployed
of West Drayton, how to rhyme effectively;
when they're on an interview for a job.

I'd also like to mention, that
my Girlfriend, Sonja,
an asylumn seeker from Eastern Crounjia,
is available for work of any nature,
usually indoors, cash in hand;
though now the ASBO order's nearly over
she can work outdoors in about two weeks.

Ooh, and; I'm nearly forgetting, our Mandy;
Who's a secretary,
and a dancer;
fully clothed,
though she is open for negotiation,
if the price is right;
usually fifty quid.

Also, if you need a bloke to be
doing out around your house;
I had a word with our Shane last night
just after he got released
from the custody suite of the high street cop shop.

Now that witness has disappeared,
They've got nothing on him,
so, he's in the clear and actively seeking a bit of work,
around houses.

He particularly likes helping elderly people,
who are housebound and get confused,
because he's very caring and hands on,
as long as he's getting paid every Friday in cash.

My latest commission is from a multi millionaire businessmen,
who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons I can't divulge.

He wants me to extol the virtues, in rhyme, of a wide range of
quality toilet rolls; washing up liquids,
bleaches and a whole host of other
domestic products;
including toilet ducks.

I first met him through a mate
when I did a gig on a boat.
He wanted me to compose the contents
of a, suicide note
for someone he was in disagreement with.

He offered me sixty quid, cash,
on the spot, no questions asked,
which is not to be sniffed at
when you're a struggling poet
on the lower rate sickness benefit.

He wanted to keep it dignified
so the family wouldn't be getting to upset,
as they learned of his sad demise,
when they fished his body out the river;
so, I obliged and he give us an extra tenner
for a job well done.

The toilet products gig's ongoing at the moment,
so don't feel shy, about offering me,
any work, in rhyme
you might have coming up.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


A couple of nights ago I read the autobiography of Albert Pierrepoint, who was the UK's most prolific executioner. His total hangings numbered around 450, and the most in one day was 27 war criminals, as just after the second world war business was booming. His father and uncle were both hangmen and he decided to go into the neck stretching business when he guessed what his father did. He called his work The Craft and believed he had been destined to become one by a higher power.

Pierrepoint comes across as a strangely humane and highly intelligent man whose chief concern was giving the condemed a swift and dignified death. He resigned in 1956 after an argument with his employer about his fees. He'd gone to a prison to hang someone who recieved a reprieve and they offered him £1 of his usual £15 fee.

In his 1974 autobiography Executioner: Pierrepoint he comes out against capital punishment, saying -

I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people...The trouble with the death penalty has always been that nobody wanted it for everybody, but everybody differed about who should get off.

He wrote that the vast majority of those he executed went to their deaths, if not exactly bravely, with a degree of self enforced dignity, and as many were domestic murders committed in the flames of passion, he reckons that the death penalty was a waste of time. He also points out the arbitary nature of public opinion. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and her sentance had a huge public response, and at the time of her hanging had a wave of protestors outside the prison; but a week previously when he executed another woman, no one was interested. Ellis was an attractive nightclub hostess, whereas the women a week before was a dowdy female with no one behind her to raise the flag of public awareness, so she was swept aside and forgotten.

Monday, March 20, 2006

St Patricks day was on Friday, and I wrote a piece then which I couldn't post until now. I have been unable to get online since Friday due to a drinking session.



It's 6.50pm on St Patrick's day and I am at Posey Flame HQ here in my office at the blather academy internet cafe, scoring a noised call for those readers wishing to join the craic party at the front line of love. There are numerous high spirited mobs accoutred in novelty Oirish attire, the common denominator of apparel being an oversized fluffy top hat of Guinness, green and gold.

Many individuals have also opted for comedy cut away bum shorts revealing plastic buttocks with the legend pougue mahone written on them. This translates as Kiss my arse, one of the many national catchphrases, along with get fecked, and feck off yer stupid sock cooking mother feckin comtin twot. The usual reply to such pleasantries is Thanks a million, and the overall impression today in this land of a thousand welcomes, is one of a wave of Christmas trees disporting along the streets in a riot of boozed up bonhomie.

Lots of folk have tricolours and shamrocks emblazoned on their painted faces and are joyfully sounding in drunken release, whoops, whoohaas and whehaays to puncture the darkening sky of a cold March evening. Insulated in beer coats and goggles unbridled humanity is being celebrated in Dublin’s heartland, where saints and sinners commingle as one amaphorous mass bedecked in a glittering fantasy to wallow in the carnival of total Irishness.

As I traversed the crowded laneways towards this public hermit open access area where concentration occasionally becomes contemplation, I encountered several drunken Americans standing staggered on the pavement outside the Lord Edward Pub at Christchirch hailing all passsers by with the greeting Happy At Patricks day, in a register one associates with declarations of world peace. The world and his dog has descended on Dublin to partake of the real thing and many will return to their abodes across the sea bearing self-congratulatory meins which say

Yes, I too was Irish for a time.

The history of Gaelic Ireland is vast and until recently was pretty inaccessible to the layman, but behind the didlee dee waffle me wotnots, many who come here seldom see beyond, the heart of a poetic nation ticks its timeless tune. When the thrill seekers have left party central and returned to their normal lives, the full time residents will carry on living in this sophisticated place of many layers, where instinct and sense lead life in a way which can only be described as natural.

Once the reality of the past is unshackled from cliché and falshood, the indefinable factor X of Ireland can be stripped back to lay bare its logical and understandable components, and the hocus pocus dissolves to leave an impression of a truly unique and vibrant land, if somewhat predisposed to fantasy and exageration.


This is a poem I wrote two years ago, just before I left England to come and live here.

I had been at writing school for three years and 40% of my time had been taken up by the extra-curricular study of Irish history, from the Invasion myths which list the various waves of invaders who first came during the time of the Fir Bolg race, right through to contemporary times. As I came to the end of my study and realised I was only good for poetry, I realised I had two choices. Stay in England and write poetry as a plastic paddy banging on about some place I only knew through books, or come here and see how the writing panned out. Two years later I'm still here, and this was one of the last poems I wrote before I left the UK.


The wish of the will of the whispering dead
the fill of the lake on the black cloud ahead
the call of the wild and the crash of the dawn
belong to the memory of some terrible storm
that once raged at the living out of all sense
and takes our beginning to a place of no rest.
And so we begin

Long days gone and long days more will
pass over the West and bring talk of a sky
where the eagle above washes its wings by
the wind of the Sidhe on all souls night. And
every night and day when he drew breath a
man who lived by a blue running brook on
Achill gave chase to the thoughts when his
blood ran hot in days long since slipped
into memory.

And his mother wanted only bread and a
small portion of meager fare from the
ground her father ploughed with bare
hands and feet hardened on the western
rocks of an unforgiving landscape.

Here the wind took seven years of a man's
life and the calm sun of a long summer
added seven more. Here the wild sweep of
chattering folk told tales spoken of since -
long before the first memory set in ogham
the words of a poet cut into stone and bark.

Where a language whispered by hands
needed only a keen mind and a tribe druid
to teach how to mirror trees.

But those days disappeared in the slow burn
before a final sharp flame of the dying
culture snuffed out and sailed to the four
corners of earth to take root elsewhere.
and the roots intertwined and grew strong
from the hard times remembered now in
the folktales and anecdotes told by older
members of the tribe.

A Phoenix rising in a mist swells of
tears is our character mirroring that west
of eternal change and numerous weather.
It tells how the collective souls who
lived and died in the centuries of a
presence there live on in the thoughts
that we harbour but don't know why.

Two thousand years in the same tongue
raises few questions and ties the bind our
nation shares, but when the other tongue
took over and the people dispersed the
bonds were such a strength that mere
words were only surface and what lay
behind was a structure of thought laid on
a prehistoric foundation of kith, kin and
blood found in aboriginal places

Far away in time, some say, a common
stock existed in prehistory at Le Taine
before the big move West when Rome
held Europe in an imperial grip.

And as the other Celts became
subdued, our corner held fast to run a
course untouched by Caesar's penal
law, to keep an ancient European order
buried under Rome; one which carried
on its own way until Cromwell struck his
curse and began to extinguish the Gaelic
way of life.

But still we lingered on and kept our pride
until a dying ember's final comedy of error
repossessed a nation for those whose hope
was buried deep as the forgotten tongue of


Sidhe -- The Sidhe pronounced 'shee' are considered
to be a distinct race, quite separate from human. Sidhe literally means 'people of the (faery) hills'. In mythology they were originally the Tuatha De Dannan, who were the penultimate race displaced by the Milesians.

Ogham -- ancient Irish/Celtic writing system, complete with numerous images and illustrations.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hi Yall.

Dear Reader

If you typed Irish Poetry into msn and ended up here, stop a while and have a leisurely read. If you have any questions on poetry, Irish or otherwise, I'm the ideal person to ask, as I am a complete poetry geek who is only too happy to help, so just leave any queries in the comment box and I'll respond with the full vigour of one whose life is spent in constant daydream.

Todays post is a short one; a poem I spent the last two days working up. If you are a regular reader you may know that I am a bit of a disaster when it comes to losing stuff. If I added up all my losses over the last 20 years they would fill a small house, and the number of manuscript books that have disappeared is a joke. Another one went a few days back, 97 pages in, but the most serious loss was about 7 weeks ago when I lost a coat that had a diary in it, which was in the first stage of evolving into the main repository of poems. I won't bore you with the details, but a new way of working and style of writing was emerging which was directly linked to the physical size of the diary, and I had three drafts of poems on there when it went. I can't replace it as they don't have them in the shops here in Dublin and I bought a pocket notebook but it isn't the same. But I perservered and over the last two days magaed to recapture the process that went when I lost the diary, and this is the result.

I write in all styles from high blown esoteric stuff like this example, right through to comedy rap, so if this one doesn't float your boat, my first collection of poetry will soon be available on another part of the site.

Have a nice day.

The Coming Instructors

I recognise speech mirrors silence
and words rise like bricks
from unknown pools when instinct
builds a bridge that shines
upon the hidden outline
of their mind reflecting its
flawed form for all to read.


Their brain
draws waves from reality's canvas
and their willpower moves mine
like hands at an oracle
prodding a lump of knowledge
to stir my first alertness of the other world
and its language which kindles a tune whose flame
is the internal universe ticking my clockwork
song in a unique time truthful to their genius


They are understanding givers
who divine what dream
in a cloud above stars
will breathe in light and make reality
sing of life's return to a slumbered weave
of painted silence with the memory of
one slipped bottle dropped
from a toddler's fingers
the morning milk struck land
and grounded outside a door
to shatter in a puff of broken glass

smashing itself into the mind
by sheer force of will as a first
remembered act of childhood
revealed behind the door of sleep
I make believe my soundless unseen
wave like ripple
lapping on their screen of thought
can open.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I went to Damar Hall last night to listen to seven poets launch chapbooks. Belfast's Lapwing Press was the publisher who brought an eclectic mix of poets to Dublin and let them loose in the basement of poesy where they wove their magic for about fifteen minutes each, with a comfort break after the first four. I am unable to give a full account because I lost my manuscript book last night after decanting to Whelans Pub and then next door to the Village, an uber cool hangout for the cash flush gargler wanting to continue the late night ambience after throw out time. I wasn't even drunk. I had met a small party in Whelans and they coaxed me to follow them in to the Village, and as I am only barred from most of the boozers in Temple Bar, which is a good ten minutes away, I thought I would be OK drinking to collapse in this trendy haven. I had only been in there a few minutes when an African bouncer came over and asked me to leave. When I emerged onto the pavement I realised my book was still in there, and he let me back in to have a quick supervised scout around the 2.30am scene, but the lights, noise and general disorderly social array were not condusive to success and I decided to come back later. I went there tonight and an Italian barman affected an air of supreme indifference to my plight. When I asked if my book was about, the sum total of his inquiry consisted of a glance at the till and a shrug of the shoulders. I will have to telephone the office staff and try to impress upon them the seriousness of my loss.

The fellas whose business is standing in pub doorways are always on the lookout for a bit of argy bargy aren't they? And now they have two way earpieces and walkie talkies the overall register of their meins is more secret service and CIA than sup hole standabouts. The Village is known for the bands that appear there, and there's many an artist who has strutted the Village boards who''s first gig was strumming air guitars in front of a bedroom mirror, and I can imagine most doormen also indulge in the bouncer equivalent; practicing facial technique as part of the training regime. They all have that bored glacial hue which is the signature of a contemporary social life, and one easy to work up if standing outside a pub is your trade. And as there is not much action in the job, they have to make some work whenever they can get it, so at least I served as another statistic in the job life for one of Ireland's new workers.

But the readings went well and Denis the Lapwing head honcho left me with a memorable statistic. He said that 80% of poetry books are bought by women, but only 20% of poets who get published are from the fairer sex. And Denis was putting this right as 5 of the seven were women, several of whom adjourned to Nearys pub afterwards to engage in post reading poetry chat. I went there with Rob MacKenna, who is from Meath and a very talented poet who you can listen to on the audio site.

  • Scalljah's Sound House

  • Also in Nearys was Peter Sirr and Greg Delanty, who said they had read the review I wrote on Delanty's book launch the other week.

  • Delanty Book Launch

  • Sirr very kindly put up with me blathering on about the Cauldron of Poesy whilst pretending to appear interested. Maybe I wouldn't have got booted out of the Village if they were there?

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Gissa Job

    Yesterday's first post related a dream I had which I think may have been a predictive one, precursing the next stage of my writerly development, which I am hoping will be the oracular stage. In the old bardic schools, this stage came in the eighth year of training, and led to Ollamh status, or master-poet. There are no records stating the exact length of time it took to become an Ollamh, but it is specualated as being between 12-20 years. 20 comes from Ceaser, who wrote that it took 20 years to become a druid, who the old bardic schools were directly evolved from. It's closest contemporary equivalent would be beginning the final slog of a PhD, and the Ollamh title itself is still used in Irish academia and is the equivalent of a Professor in English.

    Not everyone was able to go for Ollamh, because much of the practice related to divinatory or otherworldly practice. And whilst today's world of science can poo poo this side of the practice, they believed in it at the time. Poetic practice in Ireland during Gaelic times was enourmously complex and would need far more than a blog post to cover the very basics. It is a vast topic and mind blowingly different from any other poetic culture, with the irony being that very few contemporary poets have even the smallest idea on the reality of it. For example, the ultimate form of satire, (whose practitioners needed a license, like Doctors) was the Glam Dicen, which was a legal religio-magical ceremony used to dispose unjust kings and involved around 100 poets and petty kings, with the crucial leagal moment taking place next to a whitethorn bush on a hilltop at a point were several tribal land boundaries met. The head poet would chant the poem and bow away from the tree, and if it was meant to be the unjust kings face would rise with blisters and he would be unable to govern. In Gaelic law a king was debarred if he had any physical blemishes.


    By the end of training an Ollamh would have to have memorised around 150 ogham tables, (memory aids) many hundreds of myths, poems, verse metres and precise grammatical rules of composition. They had numerous functions and were responsible for Irish lawmaking, much of which is still on record. This corpus of law goes under the name Fenechas or Brehon law, which was entirely civil, without Roman influence and a very sophisticated and fair system. The basic difference between Roman and Gaelic law is that Roman law is a Penal concept, which basically means if you do wrong, you get punished, whilst the Gaelic system was one of restitution and could be summed up if you've done wrong, now this is what you have to do to put it right.

    The societal bonds were based on the Derbfine, which is four generations of poeple from a great grandparent to a great grandchild, and was the basic unit in society from which all else sprung. Victims of lawbreakers would always be recompensated because if a wrongdoer defaulted on their fines, the immediate members in their derbfine became responsible. So if John Smith owed Alan Jones four cows for breaking his legs in a drunken fight and didn't pay, John Smith's family would become liable. By far the worst thing that could happen to a person in this society was to be cast out by their family, as they would have no derbfine protection, so it was a self governing system.

    Here are some links

  • The Fénechas and Gaelic Society, an Introduction and Overview

  • Numerous articles by Fenechas expert Breandán Uí Ciarraide

  • This one is a dedicated internet group who discuss and air various Brehon and Fenachas topics here
  • Fenechas Discussion Group

  • And whilst it is impossible to recreate the course of study the original bards undertook, the outcome of Ollamh training resulted in being able to waffle high grade blather to all and sundry.

    Ollamhs were practising hereditary lawyer-poets whose contemporaries, (should the art not have died out during the start of the 17C) would now be able to do things like turn themselves into a salmon, a ten foot teenager, a conjourers wig, an office memo directing top down organisational change, or turn black to white and vice versa; using only the power of their minds, with the relevant incantations being delivered via watching bugs bunny on the cartoon network.

    And whilst this is obviously tongue in cheek, the essence of their practice was that they were highly trained word jugglers or sorcerers of sound, and their qualifications would be the equvalent of Noah Chomsky's ongoing post-doctoral practice in quantumn linguistics. Not that such a topic is formally in existence, but these people had custody of langauge that was 1000's of years old, and the magical side to their practice, whilst now lost, rooted in direct and unbroken lineage back to druidic practice. This system is only 300 years severed, unlike the 2000 year dead Greek and Roman poetic templates English Language poetic tradition roots itself in. So whilst poets today will never be able to travel through space and time with a few well placed spells and incantations, the ultimate lineage of today's pension plan minstrels does have a mystic beginning.


    This post will tie my recent experience in with current theory on the otherworldly side of poetic practice from the main Irish Ollamh, Seamus Heaney, who can legitimately be termed the Mossbawn Bard or Magus, as his prose writing on the poetic art is the most lucid I have read.


    Heaney has a basic three point analogy which he uses to illustrate the trajectory of a poets career. He takes the owl calling metaphor outlined by Wordsworth in the preface to his Lyrical Ballads and extends on it to show the fundamental changes that occur in the development of the poet during their writing career. Wordsworth describes how he wandered the woods of Cumbria as a child making owl calls with his cupped hands, and tells of the surprise and joy that came when he managed the very first call after many failed attempts.

    He then indulged in this activity for the sheer thrill of doing it, until one time, the owl returned his call. After a few times of returned calls the novelty wore off, and he felt himself to be bit of a pro; but just as he was getting used to imitating reality and fooling it into returning his call, the time came when he called and the owl did not return the sound. In the silence that followed, a flood of images or understanding from the universal poetic, or what Yeats called the "anima mundi" became imprinted on his mind, and from this he learnt a fundamental lesson, that at the end of sound is silence.


    Heaney uses this narrative to illustrate his argument that there are three
    stages of development as a poet. The first is when, like the young
    Wordsworth making owl calls in the woods of Cumbria, you rejoice in the
    sheer novelty and joy of realising you can do it, the very first time you
    manage it after much trying .

    The next stage is when the owl calls back and you go up a level of skill, understanding that you are pretty handy at this imitating sound lark, and this would be the stage most poets reach and work at.

    The final stage however, and one which not every poet reaches, is when the owl no longer calls back and a silence is returned. There is a common view held by many soldiers of song that at the end of poetry is silence; a view which basically translates to the gaining of an axiomatic understanding on the essence of poetry.

    On Wednesday last this moment occured to me as I was walking home from Whelans pub singing the Oasis song Maybe.

    Up until February 2003 I believed that I was tone deaf, had no musical ability and was unable to hold a note when attempting to sing. However a number of times I had actually dreamt in song, with full musical accompaniament and words; and upon waking would be somewhat confused as I thought I was completely unmusical. These dreams were literally me making up a song in my dreams, both words and music, and although I never gave it much thought it was an oddity I could not work out.

    Then one morning in February 2003 I was walking to the college where I was studying in the second year of my writing studies and drama degree, and I began singing Maybe by Oasis and actually managed to hold the note. I can recall the exact moment, as I surprised myself and realised I must be able to sing after all. It was at this point that the dreaming in song made complete sense. This song therefore represents my owl call, as it was the first song I managed to correctly sing, like Wordsworth's first owl call, after many fumbled attempts.

    On Wednesday last, just as I was rounding the corner of George Street in Dublin, around 3am singing Maybe, I felt compelled to cease singing and was immediately flooded by a fundamental and silent understanding about poetry. I was hit by a feeling of wonder and scurried home pondering what it meant. The next day I realised I may have reached the crossroads and divination was a gift ready to froth over my cauldron. And the powerful snippet of dream which woke me a few nights prior to this incident and which I describe in yesterdays post, I now take to be another sign or precurser that a new stage is upon me.

    The immedite results of this was the cessation of smoking and boozing, as I forcefully realised that now is the ideal time to change my persona from that of a gifted pisshead poet, and into that of a long haul fresh faced rhymster who can get the granny glasses glinting as easliy as drawing young strutters into a room of poesy where they will hopefully discover a practitioner relating a truthful otherworldy vibe.


    Heaney's three stage idea is a recycling of his basic premises on the poetic art, and one I heard him expound in November 2004 at St Patricks College in Dublin, when he gave a lecture on Patrick Kavanagh. His basic argument is that you start out writing and go along a certain way, and just at the point when you think you have gained a fundamental skill or understanding, (which roughly equates to when you start getting complacent about the gift) you realise that the amount of knowledge you hold is very little, and that when this understanding occurs is when the real start of the journey begins.

    He says that as a poet you are always in a liminal state of limbo. You feel confirmed by the last poem you wrote, but feel threatened by the elusiveness of the next one. That's certainly how I feel, and when I look back on all my writing, in some ways, it's as if it is another person who has written it, but I know it's me and this helps to foster a feeling of long term stability.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Mother Love

    The post immediately below this one is a bit heavy going for the more casual reader, so I thought I'd top it with a lite post and poem. I was reading that last night Sat 12 March, there was an Irish bloggers award bash in Dublin. As usual I heard about it the day after and missed out on meeting my fellow Irish bloggers. With that in mind, this poem needs no explanatory notes. It was written for my mother.


    I will love you
    in a thousand years from now
    when the sands of time have
    worn our bones to dust
    and we are both at rest
    beneath the film of earth
    which sprung us to life.

    And I will love you when
    eternity holds
    pincered in its grasp
    the memories of our long
    forgotten lives

    which dissappear into the
    ether like a single rising breath
    and mingle with humanity's mass
    to travel as the sap of sunlight

    ascending through consciousness
    in one short flash
    before darkness snaps and
    swallows us back into the womb

    sweeps us to the moment
    when the pith and gristle of
    existence can begin
    as our souls once more unfold
    upon the threshold at the nexus
    of life and start swimming from
    the shallows to the deep


    About a week ago a lucid snippet of dream caused me to suddenly awake from my slumbers and I have been puzzling its significance since then, wondering if it was a sign that the oracular or divinatory stage of my development is now possible.

    I don't fully understand what this stage is all about and only have my own poetic experience to go by, but the process used to chart the topography I believe I’m anchored in and moving through, is one of intuition and this very powerful dream-snatch is one of the few I have experienced which I instinctively feel to be predictive.

    Demios Oneiron is the Village of Dreams on the way to Hades in Greek myth and Artemidorus of Daldis in Asia Mionor was a 2C Roman writer who wrote the Oneirocritica, a critical study of 3000 people’s dreams. This was the first text Guttenberg printed after the bible, and indicates the importance it was held in during the dawning days of mass print.

    Artemidorus categorized five dream states, 3 predictive and 2 non-predictive. The 3 predictive are –

    1 – Oneiros – allegorical/symbolic

    2 – Homora/visio - literal predictive

    3 - Chrematismos/Oraculum – an apparition of God or other who tells fortune

    But back to the dream. I was facing a small audience of fellow poets from the weekly Write and Recite grouping, and I was about to deliver a poem from memory. We were in some kind of half enclosed half outdoor environment and there was an invisible microphone in front of me, in the sense of I had a clear focus on exactly where my mouth had to position itself to speak. My intention was to lean back slightly, physically swivel round a full revolution on my right foot and, as I stomped down my left foot on successfully completing this manoeuvre, launch into a poem.

    At the moment of first turning I noticed a tree to the left of me in a first budding of spring leaves which were the colour of pale apple skin and I said

    we should give thanks for this,

    - opining we should thank the creator for all life. As I went through the full revolution, everything occured in slow motion, and as the turn continued I immediately saw the back of a monk dressed in a brown woollen habit who was performing some kind of ceremony. I instinctively knew that I was witnessing, and had become part of, a scene from the 7C.

    If you imagine a full circle of 360 degrees and a line down the middle splitting it in two, then the 21C audience of fellow poets were awaiting my performance in one half and did not see the 7C scene I had suddenly become privy to and which was happening opposite them in the opposing semi circle. It was as though they were facing an invisible three dimensional cinema screen showing a scene which ran down a centre line, and I had straddled either threshold to became part of these two realities simultaneously.

    As soon as I caught site of the monk I felt an incredible surge of energy, as though I were a jump jet about to take off, and before my back was fully turned on the poet audience they witnessed my facial reaction to what I was seeing. But unaware of what I saw, they misread my expression and mistook it for one which signalled that I was going into comedic mode, and the first rumblings of a laughter cloud began to surge amongst them in that half of my dual reality. I realised that there had been some kind of slippage or kink in the fabric of the continuum and I had inadvertently become enmeshed in two existences at once, and a millisecond before completing the revolution I awoke with a start.

    Artemidorus believed that the interpretation of dreams is nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities.....

    ......and with one significant alteration, I can mangle this quote into service as the maxim describing my essential theory of poetry –

    Poetry is nothing other than metaphor, or the juxtaposition of difference.

    Essentially a combining of difference, which Samuel Johnston summed up in his essay on the metaphysical poets of the 17C

    The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.

    The basics of this, and the smallest component of a poem are startling word combinations that do not usually appear side by side, which constitute the kernel unitary pieces of poetry: words like - concrete/icecream tarmac/bagpipes or paperweight/tractor.

    So these lie, like the start point in a set of concentric ripples, at the heart of the poetic art, and the furthest extension of them is the basic idea behind the conceit of a poem. So in Heaney's 1966 poem Digging,the various binary differences that appear in one whole to form the outer reaches of the basic conceits are -

    father/son manual/mental pen/spade

    and some of the startling word combinations are -

    squat pen and loving the cool hardness.

    From what I can gather through piecing together the various writings on Celtic poets from the bardic tradition, divinatory training began in the eighth year of study and culminated in Ollamh status. However not every poet was capable of oracular practice because the highest level of poetic insight was only gained by those who experienced the widest range of joy and sorrow.

    The blueprint of
  • Amergin's 7C Cauldron of Poesie

  • poem outlining how the poetic gift operates, states that everyone is born with three cauldrons in them.

    A cauldron of Incubation - which is born upright in every person and which distributes wisdom in their youth.

    A cauldron of wisdom, which is born on its lips (upside down) and which distributes wisdom in every art including poetry

    A cauldron of motion, which is born on its lips in ignorant people and slanted in those with the poetic gift.

    The cauldron of incubation and wisdom are only mentioned once and it is clear from the text that the cauldron of motion is by far the most significant, as this represents the potential and natural poetic capacity one is born with. The poem states that 50% of people are born with the cauldron slanted, and 50% with it on its lips or upside down.

    So a person born with a slanted cauldron of motion is born with poetic potential, as it means it will be possible to fill up, and can be visualized like a glass tilted at 45 degrees beneath a tap, whose pouring of water will enter the glass. Every other person who is born with it on its lips means that their container is upside down and will be unable to fill, much like pouring water onto an upside down glass.

    The water in this case comes in the form of the four human sorrows and four human joys in life, as outlined in the poem. Each joy or sorrow experienced is capable of turning the cauldron of motion, and the more it turns the more upright it becomes, until, in those who acheive the Highest Streams, it ends up on its back, and the highest ridges of poetic wisdom have been reached where the oracular poet's waffle and insight can froth over.

    When the text is analysed it is pretty simple and commonsensical, as what it says is that anyone born with the poetic gift has the potential to reach the highest streams, but these will only come to those who experience the widest range of joy and sorrow, and couple it with hard writerly graft and constant study. Like any other profession, it is not necessarily the most naturally gifted who reach the top, but those who stick at it and go the full course. Michael Caine has an apt analogy which illustrates this idea. He says that actors from his generation found success through hanging on whilst everyone else dropped off, and it was more a case of the last few standing than the swiftest and most able being winners in the race.

    The 50% division of who has natural capacity may be arbitary, but it reflects the fact that some are born with more natural linguistic ability than others. The motion of the cauldron is described –

    What is this motion? Not hard; an artistic turning or artistic after-turning or artistic journey, i.e., it bestows good wisdom and nobility and honor after turning,

    I picture the cauldron of motion as being the repository of our life experience, and how we choose fill, ie live our life, dictates how our poetic development turns out (no pun intended) and I am trying to figure how this turning type dream connects to the cauldron text. Maybe it's my equavalent of Yeats' automatic writing and the instructors who came and gave him metaphors to use in his writing.

    But the quote which resonates with me most is by Pierre Curie, the husband of Marie, who stated -

    You have to make your life a dream in order for your dreams to become reality.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006


    The two examples here chart the trajectory of my acquisition of a form called write through, which is when you use the words of one text and re-configure them into a different one.

    The examples are the result of a very good exercise the poet can use to sharpen and focus their concentrational ability.
  • Paul Durcan
  • , in his Ireland Professor of poetry lecture on 15 February 2006, said something along the lines of poetry being the ability to turn concentration into contemplation. As though by sheer force of will you can concentrate something into poetic life; which conjours up
  • a John MacNamee
  • phrase, bending the perimeters of consciousness. And this exercise certainly does that.

    I wrote these two in May 2004, a month before I left writing school for a full time voluntary career in alcoholism and literary oblivion. I was sitting at my computer looking out into the back garden and the green spring view spurred me into setting about writing a scenary piece. I was plodding on with the description for an hour or so and just as tedium started to kick in my eye aprehended Ted Hughs's Lupercal and Sylvia Plath's The Collossus perched on the top of the monitor screen. I had got them out of the college library and was due to read them that night. As I scribbled away, an idea came after writing the line
    my eye turns to
    Lupercal resting on the Collossus.

    I decided to juggle what I had already written and reconfigure the exact same words to create the second half of the piece. I would use all the words except Lupercal resting on the Collossus, which would only appear once, acting as a dividing line at the mid way point of the piece. I used all the same words, including the short conjoining words like and, then, the, etc. This isn't really a poem I would put in my collected, more a low grade abstraction which serves only as an example of the form. The words are irrelevant really, as they serve to show the process and demonstrate my first effort at this form.

    Beyond the thin crevasse an upward thrust of green
    and a snow like freeze of mottled tan
    hawk across to subtle shades of tapering yellow,
    brush verde’s tender final trickle
    and caper to the edge of left.

    A rake of garment
    in stark white synthetic blue
    hang inert
    amidst the narrow band of late spring colour
    whose tumbles of profuse symmetry merge
    in precise disorder with the May dusk.

    Birds call excited
    and cry unseen
    to cajole a dog’s gruff response
    in the fading light.

    Falling inward the black mood
    retreats with the blue night
    and I cast for line of weight
    in the measured glare of nature's balance
    and switch on mind to symbol as my eye turns to

    Lupercal resting on The Colossus

    The two minds whose symmetry in precise disorder
    hang profuse in a gruff stark black mood
    - beyond the upward edge of natures tender balance -
    hawk amidst the line unseen
    in synthetic shades of inert weight
    and band across the thin crevasse and thrust symbols,
    which merge by tumble in a rake of mottled colour.

    Yellow green and tan caper into a white,
    falling like snow to freeze verde blue.

    Then - as excited birds of the May dusk -
    they call my measured glare inward
    and taper in retreat to a final trickle
    then cast their subtle narrow cry
    and cajole and dog my garment of response
    to the late spring nightlight left fading

    A highly bland read that doesn't go much beyond novelty, and would certainly not have Neil Astley or Michael Schmidt beating a bath to my inbox with a set of golden handcuffs, or the Barnsley bard Ian MacMillan sticking a microphone in my face expecting magic.

    However, doing this was the mental equivalent of knocking down a brick wall and re-assembling it, forcing my mind to percieve each component word and, because of this seperation process, become more attentive to the precise structure of the initial text and alert to every single word. My mind felt like it were straining itself through a seive, as though I had undergone a first bout of physical exercise after a long spell of sedentariness. The fruits of this brain flexing was a sharpening of its overall sense of awareness to individual words, as the mind tweeked to a higher frequency of recognition; like being able to differentiate individual trees in a wood or gaining night vision.

    This exercise was another one along the way of training my brain to become more flexible and responsive to the esence of language. By using small texts to seperate and reconfigure, the mind develops its ability to chop up, jumble, juggle and re-lay language, just like a builder disassembling a structure to reclaim the material for other uses.

    I also understand now, that the mental fizz that acts of such concentration in composition creates, equates exactly with one of the four poetic joys in
  • The Cauldron of Poesy
  • poem attributed to Amergin. This is translated by Rowan Laurie as the

    joy of fitting poetic frenzy from the grinding away at the fair nuts of the nine hazels on the Well of Segais.

    And creating the piece as a whole was a challenge whose pay off was a second of the 4 Amergin joys, which is the -

    joy of the binding principle of wisdom after good (poetic) construction

    Amergin's first joy perfectly describes the excitement we feel in our heads when composing, and the second captures the tranquil sense of completion which comes after our labours cease and their final product is there on-page to look upon and take poetic pleasure in; a sort of, "I made that" feeling, whicht engenders a sense of self dignity and pride.

    So, with the mental froth in full bubble I decided to try again, but this time using a Hughes or Plath poem as the text to reconfigure. I read the books and settled on Plath's The Collossus. I wrote a 17 line run up before diving in and setting down the juggled Plath words.

    Her's start after the line -----write through----- and are italicized; with the piece as a whole effectively being the second part of the above, blamanche like write through.


    Did she angle wonder on the grasp
    extending reason her creation
    drove wild beyond loathing,
    by constantly digging in hunt of sound
    to knit rock firm sharp pictures alive with,
    like a gem stitched braid
    upon whose surface
    her eye discerned a myriad of texture?

    Did her mind’s farthest anchor reach a coloured butterfly
    wind chanced and framed like a Japanese print
    of bold delicacy
    fittingly unambiguous in a mirror of detail
    where every line rehearsed perfection,
    crisp as stalk fresh shoots?

    Nosed in did her compass net an imprint of
    discordant shadow in savage butt and jagged antinomy
    absent of balance nature or measure

    ----------- write through---------

    like a ruin of anarchy to the horizon line?
    Did she mix thirty years of laboured hours
    in little pails and gluepots
    to create an oracle married in shadow?
    Crawl like an ant over immense dead stones
    in the black fluted night
    and proceed to entirely open
    the lightning sun with the skull of her brow as it rises?
    Grunt cackle and glue the silt from her throat
    to bray at Orestiea,
    or some Roman mule god with acanthine hair
    scaling the tumuli of bald acres under red hills?
    Was she never counted by her father
    or others who
    none the wiser
    no longer listened
    as she dredged her bawdy bones of mourning
    and pieced together with blank eyes
    her pithy historical mouthpiece
    left to colour and stroke our ears?
    Could we perhaps lunch like barnyard pigs on the cornucopia of stars
    which littered her tongue like lysol on clear white plates
    climb ladders of weedy cypress jointed
    by the wind of a blue sky arching above to
    properley squat at some old forum and consider
    landing keel and plum on the pillar of her great lips?

    This is a great method to use on small texts, particularly blogspot comments at various po mo sites, as you can take a slightly pompous sounding deposit and twist it about. It's not important to keep the exact same words I think, only for the very first one you do, as you effectively give yourself an unreal goal and acheive it once then slacken the rules to fit once done. Like deploying meter. Once you have that form to your own personal satisfaction, then you can use it how you wish.