Monday, January 08, 2007

When the sands of time have worn your bones to dust
and your flesh is reconfigured back to light
swimming from the shallows to the deep

in a preternatural abyss
circuiting the threshold at a nexus of life
where the pith and gristle of existence can begin

will your memory still be living on men's lips?

Ovid Yeats


The photo above is from the Hubble telescope and the characters are all literary legends. Clockwise from top left are pictures of statues - Patrick Kavanagh - WB Yeats - Brendan Behan - Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.


A short while after arriving in Dublin a few years ago, armed with little more than a daft and fragile dream and an enthusiasm for the verbal art I know rubs some up the wrong way but which I have no real control over or wish to curb - I slowly began to learn how and why some of the city's numerous characters transcend the quotidian to become legends.

An understanding, which - I suspect - only comes by being a witness of what occurs when - in the famous phrase from the mythological Irish warrior Cúchulainn - the music of what happens - happens, here on the ground.

Dublin is a strange place. Just at the point you need to meet someone, you will - as often as not - bump into them on the street, so one learns to trust in the unknown and leave to chance, as things seem to happen here in their own good time. There is a quote - I forget whom - that in Ireland the predictable rarely occurs, but the unexpected always. What in other countries does not, does so here, which is why I suspect one only fully grasps the nuances of the culture by being witness to it in situ.

Among the most famous from the poetical pantheon of literary greats is the poet Patrick Kavanagh - top left of photo - whose name; though known when alive became of mythic proportion after his death, and there are some around today whose lives have seized my imagination as being not dissimilar to his. James Kelly is one, who I first heard of the week I arrived, but did not meet until seven months later, poetically enough on the day I first sold my own poems on the street.

He is one of the few poets in Ireland who supports himself solely through poetry, by selling his chapbooks on the street - and he travels all over the country doing so. He is a Kerry man whose live performance is mesmeric. A man whose reputation - it is tempting to believe - could eclipse those of his better-known, state-supported contempories in years hence. It was near Valentines day and I printed up two of my - his and hers - love poems on 90gm marble-gold bonded paper, which I then rolled round 1 1/2 inch pipe and sealed with wax. I sat in the disused Bewleys doorway on Westmoreland Street, selling them for 2 quid each, thus being able to honestly claim that I was a publisher making a 1900% profit on each unit.

Just before I set out I went to a Homeless charity drop in centre, where they sell a full hot lunch - choice of two courses - for 1 euro fifty cent, with the irony being that it is top quality fare made with the freshest of ingredients, whilst less than 8 yards away a restaurant sells far inferior food for 12 times the price. This was where I met James Kelly for the first time, and we swapped our goods, he a chapbook and me a poem. He refused to take the fiver I offered him, and since then I have managed to record him at the Monster Truck Art Gallery the only time he came a few weeks back.


One legend I am yet to encounter is Aidan Walsh aka Master of the Universe, who set up the Temple Bar Music centre. The story I have been told by many different people is that he and another man took over a decrepit building in Temple Bar and turned it into an artists' collective. Everyone handed in a photo of themselves he cut in half. You kept one and he the other, which he pasted onto a board and the only way to get past him as doorkeeper was to show the matching half of your photo. People said you could be talking to him and say

"I'm just going to the shop I’ll be two minutes"

You would then return, knock on the door and Aidan would ask

"Who are you?"

To which the person seeking entry would say

"But it's me Aidan. I only left you 40 seconds ago to go the shop."

And to which he would reply

"Have you got your photo?"

"But I was here less than a minute ago. It's me"

"How do I know it's you and not an alien who has taken over your body and is impersonating you?"

I heard that his power of reasoning is such that he deals with people only on his own unique wavelength and terms, such that they end up having weirdly hilarious interactions with him.

However, behind the legend lies the tale of a tragic childhhod in a Cork orphanage and a story so unique film director Shimmy Marcus made an award winning cult documentary about his life and it is people like him, James Kelly and many others whose mythical currency increases in value after darkness snaps and swallows them back into the womb.

Temple Bar Music Centre is now very successful and I was told that his original partner was the business head who made all the money, and Aidan's only reward was to become a living legend.

Here is a link to the documentary and one to his website.

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