Friday, February 24, 2006

Is there a readership for poets who can write in more than one form?

Is mastering the discipline of writing under strict rules, be they metrical, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E or any other genre, a practical piece of kit for the mental mountaineer wishing to ascend the peaks of language and reach the higher ridges of poetical thought?

During the three years of attending writing school in my home town of Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK, I came to believe that the way to acheive non-combatant status in the continual poetry wars and avoid being the critical cannon fodder for any one group or individual would be to compose in as many forms as my learning revealed, from metrical verse right through to avant-garde forms and the newer genre of performance poetry. Whilst there my programme evolved to centre on memorising each poem I wrote before they reached a final written form, by editing and nailing them orally in the college theatre’s rehearsal rooms.

Metrical poetry was an absent other from the syllabus, casting an unspoken of shadow we were implicitly encouraged to ignore and consider as all but extinct. Treat like an aged aristocrat gasping their last beneath an oxygen tent of nostalgia, or holed up in a grace and favour bedist of a bankrupt stately home, whose faded grandeur, grip and influence had completely loosened and been deemed irrelevant.

The study of meter had not been factored into our learning because the poetry classes, traced an outline of modern and post modern verse, (mostly American) which dealt with contemporary forms and thoughts the working majority of mainstream word churners choose to ignore, dismiss or consider as irrelevant; in much the same way as their poetry and poetics can be rubbished by the spiritual avant-garde offspring of artits like Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, Gertrude Stein or Bob Cobbing.

Artists, like me, in the work-place of Cyberia creating software aided sound, sight, concrete and even conceptual poetry containing no words. Inspired by John Cage’s silent concerto, 4 minutes thirty three seconds, this is a one off, and once in a career poem whose only successful execution was authored by Charles Bernstein, and is a poem he is incapable of sounding and can be recited by anyone anywhere on the planet with access to peace and quiet.

Our six semester hike through the range of modern verse began at the base camp of Imagism, where we were issued an all in one Ezra Pound bible, blueprint, trail guide and survival pack; filled with instructions and ingredients for, hopefully, constructing our own poetic philosophy over the course of the next three years. The accumulative wisdom we were to distill into a final document summing up our stance with the world as trainee poets, and so, theoretically, leave as fully operational linguists equipped to sell our dream fare in a modern and crowded market place where poesy retails to consumers of verse.

For three hours a week and six in the final year, we traversed the landscape of American modernism from our college classroom, journeying through the foothills of Black Mountain poetry to the summit of Charles Olson's projective verse theory; which most of us failed to grasp, although we all tried to appear enlightened. The chronology of our studies mirrored the chronology of material looked at, and with only our Ezra-packs to sustain and show our minds how to travel through space and time, we ventured from North Carolina to San Francisco; teleporting to the City Lights bookshop looking for clues. We mopped up Ginnsberg and Kerouac's beat with a map of pink tinged toilet paper, which turned increasingly neon when our classes adjourned to the New York School, where we met Ashberry, Koch, O'Hara et al. Finally we felt our way through queer theory, touched on Amiri Baraka and terminated at the gates of Langpo.

The head scribe who set up and oversaw the degree programme is the linguistically innovative academic poet from the English avant-garde,
  • Robert Sheppard

  • whose poetry modules compass a non-mainstream topography, charting a course where populist verse is cast in the role of suspect scion and heir to the Wordsworthean patriarch hitched to life support. A poetic kept in coma by the enemies of po-mo thinking, unbelieving faith healers such as Billy Heaney and Seamus Collins: top quacks of a medical team funded with government subsidy and the profits of commercial poetry.

    During our time there we, in the words of the Mossbawn bard,
    read the commentaries and presented ourselves as informed; by nodding gravely to mask any bemusement or simply not turning up to class; particularly during the final year when the really crazy theories kicked in.

    The first afternoon of the final semester there were only three students who had voluntary signed up to the Reading and Writing as a Poet class. Present were Nicola, myself and Jennifer; a North Lancastrian and very gifted English major with a quirky voice from a similar vein of thought as the refreshingly talented poet Geraldine Monk, another Lancastrian. No one could fail to notice Jennifer's language gift, or the fact that she was stunningly attractive; but just as I was getting used to the idea of Robert, Jennifer, Nicola and I spending six hours a week in one another’s company creating and discussing the making of poetry, Robert decided to act. He went a few doors down the corridor to a short story class were the thirty nine other writing students in the year had elected to attend and shanghaied Neil, Stephanie, Katy and another young female student who rarely attended after that first afternoon.

    However, the delights of sharing class time with the beautiful and gifted Jennifer were yet to come; as it was during the second year when being taught by a PhD student, Cliff Yates, that I decided to devote the next part of my learning to the study of and attempt to acquire, meterical form. This was because whenever I attempted to air the subject Cliff made it clear that this was a no go area. The make up of the module meant the nearly Dr Yates would grade my poetry, and as the deadline drew near people in the class began openly wondering how this could be done. What objective measuring could be deployed, particularly on a course that is L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry based where the theoretical datums are so recently chalked up and, for some, incredibly difficult to locate?

    Although learning to float ideas in the increasingly scientific tide of a 21C poetic drew out a proficient sense of how to achieve buoyancy in the open seas of composition, the fact that our swimming instructor had no metrical aids or training made me all the more curious about this form. My instinct was telling me that it must be important because, up until Pound if poetry wasn't written in a metrical form, the finished article was just not considered poetry.

    What was even more obvious was how dense and disconnected much of the critical writing around poetry was; as though the complexities of the topic up for chat were on a par with understanding the mechanics of space travel or brain surgery. A quantumn linguistics class taught by a poet scientist who would run our finished work through the deep throught of some NASA strength software to compute a final and fixed decision on our overall talent for word play.

    It was becoming increasingly clear that the highly detailed and hard to follow positions and definitions of what poetry is which were being offered to us by many of the writers, was the product of an industry. A job at the academic factory seemed to be what the end goal of education was all about for would be modern poets. Get taken on by the boss poet or writer whose philiosophies would have to be your own before the name plate could be affixed to the cubicle door from where you could begin launching yourself upon the literary world. A fully paid up member of the respectable poetry world, playing the game and taking part.

    I had recently finished reading a book
  • Uriel's Machine

  • written by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. This book charts the history of freemasonary and specualtes on the stellar mathamatics and perfect accuracy used by the neolithic architects who designed the still standing stone age buildings at Newrgrange.

    There is a monastry that is now a hotel tucked off the main A59 dual carrigeway at Aughton on the SW Lancashire border with Merseyside and Liverpool. The hotel and one time home of monks is at the far end of a field which is a few meters opposite the house and was used by dogs and their walkers in the autumn after it had been cropped, up to the following sprng. I was with the dog journeying from the road and through the hedge gap onto the field, when an image of the sun, obscured and orange like the lit tip of a cigarette behind the thick mist, struck itself into my mind and I harnessed the swirl of ideas this set in motion as the theme of this piece.

    AUGHTON

    The yellow orange sunset jumble glows
    through silver prism mist clinging to straw
    stumped grey winter fields depleted by cold
    and as golden summer crops have been shorn
    by harvest blades autumn yieldings mow
    the dog jumps through a gap in the hawthorn
    bounding towards a priory built of sandstone:
    a place once governed by monastic law

    -----------------------------

    Did monks believe souls sped along alone
    to fulfill the plan of a rising dawn
    as Uriel told Enoch long ago,
    that countless lives in time surge toward
    space near where matter compels spirits flow
    and exchange their urges to be born
    instant, anew to eternally glow
    by leaping one to other in the storm?

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    OGMA ME EYE

    I wrote this poem a couple of weeks ago. I recieved a small diary for a Christmas gift which also had a detachable and refillable jotter pad the size of the diary itself neatly tucked in the back cover; so effectively it was a mini notebook. I had never used one before, but as the new year started I began using it for jotting down word combos, as and when they struck me or I heard them. It was turning into a very handy little book as it was small enough to comfortably fit in my coat pocket. I usually use an A4 size hardback jotter and a mechanical pencil, but cycling home from my sisters along the coast one evening three weeks ago, I stopped and sat gazing out over to Howth and took out the diary.

    It was dark, but the light from the street lamps cast enough light to write with and I wrote the first line down as I heard a bird skimming the water. Then as the days passed and the book started taking shape I realised that my writing process was evolving into using a smaller book. It made sense because, unlike the A4 hardbacks where you can ream out the words, this small book was condensing the words down, and making me a lot more aware that page size has an effect on the pysche. This is how Raymond chandler used to write. He would put a very small yellow paper in the typewriter to concentrate his writing, as the less words that can fit on the page the more you think on what words get put down and, so the theory goes, the less room for flab.

    The diary had two parts, the blank jotter, which had turned out great for research notes, and the diary itself, which I was starting to use in an innovative way. Every page had a quote at the top and the physical lines of the layout (which broke the day down into two hour blocks) meant I could experiment with how the shape of the poem evolved, as it could incorporate the few words already printed on the page. After two weeks I had three drafts working up, which I felt were an improvement on my usual stuff and I was effectively in a process of refining my compositional method.

    However last week I had a bit of bad luck. I got my dual MP3 recorder/radio and memory stick stolen from a public internet shop I use, after forgetting to take it out of the computer when I left. When I returned twenty minutes later after realising I had left it behind, it was gone. I was gutted because it had lots of files I hadn't backed up and have had to chase around the net for, and my recording activity has been temporarily halted. It recorded in two modes, one the quality of a very good dictaphone and the other, a line in function that took a microphone and recorded to CD quality. All a third of the size of a mobile phone.

    Prior to losing it I was a one man walking studio who could record anywhere, so I was gutted. That night I went out, got drunk and lost my only decent coat, an all weather one with detachable fleece. And in the pocket? Yep, the diary where my inchoate methods were taking shape. And in the two weeks prior to this I had two bicycles stolen, one of which I still owe 40 euros for, and guess where the guys number is? Diary again. And the final twist was that on the Valentines night when I lost the MP3 and coat I had just delivered a letter and three poems (to prove my bona fides) to Ralph Fiennes who is appearing at a theatre here, asking him if I could record him reciting a poem of his choice. Naturally he hasn't got back to me.

    But poetry is an art of faith and a week later I have tried to shake off any negativity by just keeping going and writing, knowing that adversity can only make me stronger in the long run.

    OGMA ME EYE

    In open seas of composition
    - by swimming twenty yards out to seer
    the pre-verbal
    tweet of an idea -
    float on an opaque signifier

    but be alert and unspeaking of what
    lifts beneath you
    waking the voice within

    Then
    consciously perch like a gentle merman
    or migrating sea bird awaiting to sweep
    across still shallow waters and

    sit understanding
    the incoming tide
    divining to hear what word god
    returns when the odds of hitting
    aural bullseyes cease to be wrongly spoken of

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    VIEW FROM A BRIT

    Dear Reader

    Yesterday, on Friday 17 February I attended a Bank of Ireland lunchtime poetry reading in Foster Place, Dublin where the human warmth of Michael Longley was on display, and I will post up something on his reading another day. I started this post with the intention of writing about the Longley reading, but ended up musing on the eternal question of what it means to be Irish; not to the degree or depths commentators such as Fintan O'Toole do, but from my own perspective as a second generation "plastic Paddy brit"

    The Friday event goes under the banner Out to Lunch, takes place every other Friday at 1.15pm and lasts for around half an hour. The man who runs it and introduces the poets is called John MacNamee, who is a bit of a local legend here. He is a Dubliner, early sixties and behind the old school gruff mask of being too cool to chit chat or shoot the breeze with anyone who has less than two books published, I detect he is actually a very warm man with a good heart. His own book The Man in the Hat is a memoir of short anecdotes sketching an autobiography of traipsing the globe as a tortured poet and living hand to mouth in the warm pool of crocodiles that is literary Dublin.

    The idea that literary Dublin is founded upon a very healthy tradition of hostility and hatred, with groups of individuals bonding through mutual bitterness towards those who acheive any degree of artistic or material success, is a cliche I detect holds some comedic truth. I have witnessed this darker part of human unkindness in the famed celtic rapier wit and it can be summed up in a Bono anecdote, which goes along the lines that in America people see the guy who done good with a mansion on the hill and say -

    "One day, I'm gonna be that guy."

    Whereas in Dublin and Ireland they say -

    "One day, I'm gonna get/kill that guy."

    And whilst this is obviously a stab at black humour it does illustrate an aspect of the Irish pysche which, I think, ultimately roots back to the warlike nature of the celt, and the notion that an Irish person could have a fight in an empty phonebox. The whole mythology of the land centres on the idea of war as sport and warrior bands cattle raiding, with various petty kings forming military alliances to invade other petty kingdoms for booty and mutual profit; and when the tide of events and politics changed, alliances would dissolve and new ones be made. One year two political and social units could be united in arms and the following year, facing each other on opposing sides of the battle.

    This traditional behaviour was normal commercial practice, as the whole corpus of gaelic fenechas civil law testifies to; and whatever was the most opportune alliance to make at the time were the ones that came into being. This translated into there being a robust set of customs condusive to fostering long standing animosity and enmity between groups at constant squabble or fight, whose leaders were well versed in adopting theatrical posturings to whip up a frenzy of indignation and outrage as an appropriate pretext to embark on raids whose whole purpose was the material seizure of goods from their neighbours.

    But when Cromwell came at the start of 17C and the "in house" "war as sport" fighting turned its focus outward to a "common brutal foe" (which exploited local politics by enlisting the aid of one tribe against another) a long process began which telescoped all greivance towards the English crown, culminating in the modern tradition of hating the brits; a public enemy number one who the Irish were taught to hate from birth up until the recent economic boom, when their minds tuned into putting euros in their pocket rather than verbally sticking it to the absent brits at all available opportunities. This whole area is still a can of worms, but since the 1994 ceasefire and resulting reletive stability the average young person in Ireland today is not being brought up in the same way as many of their parents and grandparents were; to blame the brits for all of Ireland's, and by extension their own personal, ills, long after majority independence had been gained and when most of the protaganists of the civil war are dead. A few months back I overheard a Dubliner in a pub blaming a brit bloke for him being unable to speak the Irish language. In a completely serious and straight faced register the man told him it was his country's fault, the brit's, that he the Dub had been denied his linguistical birthright.

    The brit looked lost, all he was after was the craic he'd seen on the adverts, the smiling Irish with a 1000 welcomes, and he hadn't bargained on paying through the nose for the fun of standing trial in front of a one man international court of humanity wanting to know what he, the brit, had to say about him, the Dub, not speaking Irish. The brit said he was born in 1965, nearly forty three years after independence, and anyway, pre-1922 when he and the Dub were in Tir nOg awaiting their brief return to mortality, all four of his Irish grandparents were in Ireland fighting the brits; but if it helped he would take the blame and buy the next round.

    Ok, Ok, I didn't overhear it at all, you guessed right, it was me getting the third degree. But this question of hate runs so deep it is difficult for the outsider to understand or someone in my boat to coherently express in a way which does not lead to cliche or invoke danger.

    Trying to accurately trace what many believe to lie at the very centre point of the Irish understanding is a difficult task, as I beleive that the kernel resting there is something which is the essence of poetry itself; the two opposing forces of war and peace which characterise the Irish, the Plato's egg of saints and sinners or scholars and bandits mentality of two contrasting things within the whole which seem more obvious here than elsewhere.

    But ultimately, what I am trying to get across is the nature of Dublin poets, whose lineage leads back to Yeats; a masterful and magisterial poet, as well as being a first rate snob, toff, complete spacer, one of the most significant poets of the 20C and someone who was the embodiment of all the these conflicting differences; but who I also think, shoulders a fair amount of responsiblity for the tradition of Dublin poets being stand-offish.

    When, in the words of Patrick Kavanagh, "Yeats handed in his gun," and figures such as Austin Clarke, Anthony Cronin, Brendan Behan, Flann O'Brien and Kavanagh himself filled the topography, the Yeatsean role model of the poet as a distant, removed and frosty mystic had taken firm root, which has resulted in a legacy of Dublin poets cultivating a remote, disinterested and incurious bearing when out and about.
    An essence of this persona is captured in the famous cartoon of AE (George Russell) and WB Yeats, so absorbed in their own contemplations as they gaze skyward that they do not notice each other as they cross on the pavement when journeying to one another's respective gaffes a few houses apart on Merrion Square.

    And when Kavanagh died and his shadowy laurel tiara fell into the Dublin literary ring for the current crop of pensioners to sing possession of, his behavioural legacy of being snappy, brusque, bluff and dismissing all competition who entered his orbit with a throwaway quip was taken up by the new (now old) crop of mainly university educated wannabees hoping to become head Oollamh.

    Many Dublin-centric poets in their late summer years have a stock Kavanagh anecdote that takes place in the learning temple of a pub where the Monaghan magus plays up the role of a man bored with their presence and barking out one-liner maxims in between studying the form of the gee gees. It is ironic that this most superficial, uneducated Kavanagh in the boozer vibe is the one perpetuated by the first wave who benifited from education, and I recognise this snippy, bearish and gruff habit of social non-intercourse as being a prevalent common denominator within the various stratal groupings. From lightweight open micers to the magus heavyweights of contemporary verse the main feature in the bearpit of writerly interaction is, that many are expert ignorers and deploy this tactic as the main weapon of choice.

    From the humblest scribblers gathering to the glitziest of talks and book launches a strict heirarchy of behaviour operates, which is not immediately obvious to the naked eye; so Paul will talk to Michael but not John, unless it's a low grade do where Michael is absent and the only others in attendance are non-members of the public (the lowest currency of all in literary Dublin) who don't count as they are blind to the subtleties of literary politics and aren't in the loop of gossip to publicise any untoward relations. In Irish life appearances are highly important as the veneer of normality which drape the real machinations, and even if you are a moral bankrupt behind closed doors, being seen in an exchange with those beneath you in the poetry pecking order is considered bad form in a land where nod and elbow languages rule supreme.

    And the example given contains only three variables. Once the full compliment of wafflers congregate and all the various performers and factions go to their various lengths to ignore or catch one another's eye, the acting that occurs is on a par with a student pantomime. The sorriest sight is lone writer A sniffing round the personal body space of writer B as s/he converses with someone else they consider being at least their equaly stature, in a deeply fascinating chat initiated for the sole purpose of ignoring A.

    Most Dublin poets I have come across have a very keen sense of their own status within the milieu, as a pack of lettered humans sniffing, wagging tails and growling at the underdogs and runts to keep outside the territory or deferring submissively to those with bigger barks, and this is the tradition John MacNamee was born into. A culture where even the corner boys measuring their spits have a strict ethical policy of who's who. However, lurking buried beneath the grave fronts of tombstone posturing I strongly sense the eternal child wanting to play; swap ideas, smile, laugh and make friends over a bit of daftness. But the Yeats legacy, compounded by Kavanagh and coupled with the traumatic Dublin heritage of booze sodden learning and the clerics of fear who warped the nation's pysche has left its mark in the form of a mask worn as armour which, once seen through, allows the alert bystander a full view of the Dublin poets common humanity we all possess.

    The social plating which is so prevalent in other poets I have met was gloriously absent from Longley and his aura was that of a benign grandfather, which he is four times over to grandsons, and he stated that he was going on "grandfather strike until I get a grandaughter," a gag which raised a titter in the mixed audience of middle aged surburbanites, leaving cert students, the ne'r do well usual suspects (myself included) and the odd spattering of nuns. His capacity for making an immediate human connection was apparent from the off when a succession of latecomers straggled in during the first ten minutes, and Longley stopped his reading, beckoning them in and pointing out vacant seats; acting with an essential kindness conspicous by its absence at other gatherings I have attended.

    His behaviour affirms my belief that often the larger the artist's reputation, the more approachable and down to earth they are, as they have discovered their own truth and exist and survive as an artist in the way Heaney so eloquently states, in their "own esteem," undriven by the ego of "moi." Paula Meehan echoed the first part of this sentiment during the 2004 Kavanagh prize award to Joe Horgan when she said that poets starting out storming the entrance to an exclusive literary citadel they imagine exist, climbing over the walls and launching all sorts of assualts of entry; once inside the walls, realise that there is no "there" to get to; that the artist or poet has to construct that mental reality themselves. As well as the author, they are the printer and publisher of their own passport and artist's ID card, which does not manifest itself as a physical document of valedation, but as an impress of the mind only they the creator can stamp through belief. The art of faith that is poetry.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    PAUL DURCAN LECTURE ON MICHAEL HARTNETT

    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 whisky....black 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.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Love Day

    Last year I was sat outside the disused Bewleys Coffee shop on Westmoreland Street flogging my love poems for two euros a go. It cost me ten cents a sheet, and I rolled the printed copy around an inch and a half plastic pipe and sealed them with a wax seal I forgot to pay for from Reads stationers. I made 150 euro, wrote a poem to order for a guard and another one about a charity worker called Linda who was prancing in front of me.

    That day last year was the first time I met James Anthony Kelly, who is from Kerry and one of the few poets in Ireland who makes his money without public subsidies. He sells his chapbook on the streets of Dublin for a fiver a go and when the goats and sheep are sorted out in fifty years from now, will be remembered for having an integrity unrecognised at the time. I thought it fitting that the day I started selling my stuff to the public I met James, as I had heard about him as a local legend for months. His favourite saying about some of the more high brow poetry do's is

    "There's precious little poetry there."

    Mairead Byrne, the Langpo queen currently in USA but from Dublin, name checks him in a poem she wrote, and which I heard at a "Meet The Beats" spalsh at Mother Redcaps pub Septemeber 2004. But this one was written in 2003.

    LROVSE

    Underneath it all
    we talk
    over and above what is;
    so why not stay a while
    and let me dream
    of life with you?

    I will not make a hollow pledge
    of empty words
    which promise something
    I can’t give;

    the wind
    the sea
    or starlight’s shimmer
    on your hair.

    The bond I undertake to seek
    exchanges comforts
    found from understanding
    and being understood

    although
    when I gaze upon your form
    I see emotion as a mirage

    you, the one love
    who will never truly stand before me.

    Your flesh can be only touched
    in dreams
    when reality comes alive
    in epic tales, played out nightly
    or in that half snooze state
    I sometimes get to fool around in'

    a world where my desire for you can be indulged

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    DESPERATE FOR A DATE?

    The place to waffle with published Anglo poets at the cutting edge of English Poesy, is here
  • Poem UK.
  • Here you will find such quality talent as Roddy Lumsden, Ed Barker (son of Dylan Thomas's mate George), Steven Waling, Kate Evans Bush, and our own Mark Granier. Modern minds swapping opinions on whatever comers up, from Homer to Happy Days and the colour of Henry Winkler's whatsists. This deposit was left by myself after hoking deeper into the illusion that I am a blatherer worthy of public endowments. I handed in my artist bursary application form to the Arts Council on Friday and just filled it in straight. I need money coz I've been a literary bum long enough and now that I have an Mp3 recorder am a one man Pat Boran and walking radio station rolled into one.

    But the serious reason for rooting deeper is the Amergin text, (scroll further down)written at the middle of the Irish poetc tradition in 7C by someone who had generations of poet forefathers behind him and many more in front. I have been airing this up for discusssion to try and gauge its relevance, whilst also writing about it in order to firm up my own ideas on it, and no one has engaged with me on it. So when the usual talk of "What is Poetry?" starts and everyone gives it the Greek spin as being the beginning, I switch off as there is a tradition in Ireland that lasted a few thousand years and only ceased 300 years ago. Read and giggle.


    Hurrah

    My suicide was a complete success and I am now in the poesie holding area of a great beyond where dreamers go to after death. You may read about me in the national press, as I sent my obituary to Daisy Goodwin, Robert Potts, Neil, Michael, Chris, Rupert and Ron Silliman. You will find my remains on the roof of the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street and the commeration will be wherever the poetry community decide, so please come, all are welcome. I have left a recorded piece I wish to be played at the after service of remembrance piss up in the Cheshire Cheese pub on my blogsite; a tender moving rant of supreme incoherency which I hope will not bore too much as you chat about the good old days of never knowing me. My only wish is that you bury my left hand in a small corner of Westminster Abbey, my right leg in Highgate Cemetry and my heart beneath a wind ravaged fir tree in a small demense next to the deserted village on Achill Island, Co Mayo. Failing this I would like my organs donated to poets in need of transplants.

    Here in the otherworld all is an ecsatic vision, white, soft and ethereal, like being a constantly changing image of light and shade on the cinema screen, high on non-addictive heroin, Mescalin and Sunny Delight like pop containing a premium strength additive of E numbers.

    As though I were Pete Doherty, all of the Arctic Monkeys and Band Aid rolled into one along with Elton John Paul Liam and Noel, but the only custody I am in is MTV heaven with Kate Moss's heart and an abundance of harmless crack, whilst being the permanent number 1. Like being Brad, Jen and Angelina living happily ever after in a global orphanage where all the kids we foster are the sprogs we practice making between the three of us, all day long with no judgement, jealousy or need for toilet breaks and telephone calls.

    I am in no recognisable physical form or shape and (fingers crossed) should be a completely disembodied voice very shortly. I have been chatting with Michael Donaghy and Robert Creeley, as we wait for St Peter to run us past s/he without name who will decide our ultimate destination and earthly reputation, and we are all hoping to get the nod by our respective language gods. Ogma for me and Mick and a less obvious one for Bob as he has to negotiate with Frost, Whitman, Pound, Eliot and WCW before he gets to somewhere in Greece, I think, I'm not sure as what he's been saying all sounds a bit complicated; but we are all praying together and will be very happy for each other if we end up supping sack with Ben Jonson and Bill Shakes at top table, or if we are in a packed back garden at the amateur barbecue sharing sonnets about sparrows on the village green.

    There are a number of possibles in play and the decisions will be made based purely on our ouvres according to the standard formulae which have always been used since the beginning of babel; and you will be surprised to hear that all our temporal posturing and the grand theories we spend our lifetimes thinking up are completely rubbish and entirely wrong.

    Simon Magus told me that there is no magic behind the art or complex modes of analysis used to figure the final result, as every one of us has their very own free will advisor to the creator, who lets us trace the watermark of our success or failure as poet, bluffer, nutter or fool during our stint on earth with a pen of faith we fill and use or leave in the box, and guess what?

    There are no laurel cups or short straws, because an absent concept of competition is everywhere and there is only love, peace, wonderully superb gorgeousness and free dinners, as our energies are all alone but united in the past, present and future in a way the living mind can not grasp, so I won't attempt to convey the sense of afterlife oneness, save to say its a laugh.

    But before the clouds of unreality tip their load via the boundless sky of cybersapce and dissolve your interest in a mist of verbiage to bore your brain and you surf away from this deposit, I can communicate some info from the waiting room of equal greatness for all. Apparently there was a Homer, a woman called Alana, who was not a simple warrior shepardess living the joi de vie with an entourage of party fawn fighting wo/men. She made the Illyiad up for a laugh, and the real story of how she came to tell this tale is too terrible to convey here because if I told you what Alana told me, you'd think I'd gone coco and lost my marbles. Too fantastic is the truth, so I will keep a lid on it and lie................Oooh, I'd better go because Elvis and Plato are calling me for a discussion on the eternal chicken, egg and cheesburger debate.

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    King Can

    Another day another poem dear reader.

    I wrote this a few weeks ago, and put it up at the

  • As/Is
  • website, where I post under the nom de plume of Scalljah and this site is a collaborative blog where Langpo poets weave their po mo madness, and has been the most instrumental point of my development over the last year. Sheila Murphy posts there and in the next few days I will begin to reveal the various experiences that have occured to me on a poetical level, which are the reasons I have faith in the divinatory aspect of poetry. There have been a couple of inexplicable occurences between myself and other poets, and the story of me and Sheila is one of them.

    So that's something to look forward to, absent viewer, as Stephen King would say. He reckons that writing is no more than telepathy, the writer sending out his mind and the reader drawing themselves into it. His book "On Writing" is the best how to write manual going, and the history behind him writing it is also very interesting. He got very badly hit by a juggernaut and wrote it as part of his recovery after coming out of the coma. In the opening spiel he says that although he had been asked many times to write such a book he was against the idea because he thought

    "Who am I to tell anyone how to write?"

    And although he is gilding the lilly a bit the basic humanity of the man is obvious, as the voice is him, not one of his characters. And no matter what people's opinion of his work is, it cannot be denied that he is one of the most prolific writers ever, a born natural waffler. In the book he says that during interviews a common question is -

    "How do you write?"

    And his reply is

    "One word at a time."

    He says that some of the interviwers think he's being funny, but this is his genuine philosophy on the whole affair, and it cannot really be faulted, and I think most people who've been writing a while would latch onto this as carrying truthful weight. In his writing book he describes writing his epic book "The Stand." Up till this point he had been a major booze and drug freak, and his writing routine was supping ale, smoking and dancing at the keyboard, spilling out his mind in a half gone state. He would have been in his late 30's at this point and then halfway through the book he hit bottom and quit the drink and drugs madness, and this is clearly discernable in the book. The first half is all about 98% of the global population getting wiped out after a doomsday biochemical weapons leak from a top security military base, and it is very dark with some wickedly funny baddies. The second half is when the two communities representing good and evil fight it out, and a lot more emphasis on the loving and lighter side of existence rather than the conveyor belt of horror and baddies of the first half of the book, written when he was at the peak of his drunkeness. By the time he decided to quit, half way through the book, he said the plot was a nightmare as he had created so many characters he couldn't figure a way of tyinf it all up; so what does he do. Blows them all with a nuclear bomb that his "Trash Can Man" character drags to the baddie HQ of Las Vegas, and the goodie grouping in the mountains of Colorado all live happily ever after. Class A entertainment with a rehabbed second half.

    Mental Illness

    I like shopping in Asda
    stalking the bag lady shuffling down Bride Street
    supping Dutch export
    collapsing in gutters
    scaring my reflection
    daring to be a dickhead
    tipping a wink to the lunatic fringe
    on ward role play with bi-polar patients
    making gags 'bout all weather tellytubbies
    a bit of bully,
    tossing double top to finish off.
    and walking in tandem with women on tow paths.

    Dogging at Rufford lock
    watching the Linnets at Vickie park
    dancing at Barons with Burscough Billets
    metaphorically vomiting on the queen mothers'
    headstone in her crypt of remembrance at Windsor
    and filling my boots on the slopes of Paranassus
    with laurel stems
    woven in a crown I make believe my own;

    fantasy gifts of Minerva, Mnemosyne, Appollo and Ogma
    having a party and letting me know

    "We are ones who make
    glitter and red carpet treatment

    turned Bob Dylan to Homer

    rock the souls of Elvis, John
    Liam and Noel

    so go tell the world of gods
    whose secrets unlocked reveal
    an oasis of monkeys and beatles
    day-dreaming you too will join them
    here beneath Partholan skies."

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    Neil I need you

    I wrote this in the summer when I was in the throes of connecting with the Write and Recite group, and it is todays poem of the day, so read and enjoy and please leave your comments Neil, Rupert, George and Mike; who I imagine as my ideal readers. Four figures from publishing who will whisk me off on a magic carpet ride of whirlwind poetry readings at converted mills in the North of England and the QE hall on the Southbank, where I can revisit Hungerford bridge and check out my old pitch. See the new faces and sip coffee in the Film centre cafe, gazing out at the bookstalls at last light and listening to the jazzing busker blow his sax. My slim and stylish hardback black notebook will be open at page 48 and I will be engrossed in conversation with an arty looking man who turns out to have been Mr Sensodyne tooth paste 1992. A true story readers; for I have been close to the flame of second hand success, back in the old days when the smoke was my staggering ground where I stumbled along the chartered streets dreaming of golden flagstones and Stephen Spielberg discovering me as I dished up the dips at islington High Street's Pizza Hut.

    They were the days; young free and the rest of life stretched before me like an unbroken vista whose end was too far away to believe as real. Alas how time creeps up and takes us all. One day your 19 and turning down opportunity after chance and the next your begging for a smile from the ropey lookers working in Londis. Another tired face whose aura fails to excite. So read on and breathe it.

    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?