Monday, April 27, 2009

Americans in Dublin.

There are so many great American poets working, and so few reliable recommenders to know who they are who champion them.

I chanced across three very different ones in the last week, all with distinct reading styles.

Tonight it was Jane Hirshfield, who appeared at 15 Usher's Island on the South side of Dublin Quays, reading with Irish poet's John O'Donnell and Dennis O’Driscoll, marking the 40'th anniversary of the founding of The independent legal rights organisation, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centre).

This is the house Joyce's aunt lived in when it was a tenament, and the current owner is involved in a voluntary restoration project. The whole house was lit by candle-light, with the room where his short story: The Dead, takes place, on the first floor of the house, set exactly as it appears in the tale. A set table next to the hearth of a fire-place. The room next door was full of food and drink which we partook in after the reading.

Hirshfield reads with a very precise, almost verbal staccato delivery, softened by an exact music which reaches towards song whilst never falling conspicuously into it. Uniquely American and very distinctive. Her chimes and rhymes not clanging, are very deft and her poems not spoken in the more sing-song lyrical mode which Irish-Americans Lynch and O'Callaghan's do. This is not to say either is better or worse, merely uniquely themselves.

A treat to hear this fundamental difference between the European and American English poetic by one of the best.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Noel Sweeney (Live from Kilmainham)

Woke early this morning

To the sounds of you leaving
Clipping the wings
Of a new day dawning.

I grieve-like, then cleave
To space in bed
Where an angel used to be.

Ah ! faint form - like breathing
The ghost: tasting it wholly

As it hovers in, on, around,
Under the bed-cover - only
A memory.

To discover, I turn again
To sleep, eat dreams, sweet
Dreams fed to the soul

While spirit-like
On a silver thread, it's you
Inside my head.

As I lay in solace on a half-
Empty bed
You creep-like, come flirting

With the shadows, born
Again in traces of R - E - M.

Five Tombs Told

Dún Fhearghusa (Newgrange) on a bend in the Boyne valley, 5000 years old and restored by Prof. Michael J. O’Kelly, from the Department of Archaeology, University College, Cork; was originally a tomb and its corbeled roof has never leaked since it was built in 3000BC.


Highgate cemetry, Karl Marx, i think i saw once, or perhaps not. If i did it was a singularly uninspiring experience.


Keats in Hampstead Parish Church is different, as there is a marvelous John Keats memorial bench in the small cemetery attached to what is perhaps, the most pukka parish in the entire Kingdom of England, tucked away behind foliage and used only by junkies and various classes of working people on a break.

Here is a sense of peace; as it is “the first memorial to the poet John Keats on English ground” - as the Westminster Gazzette reported it in 1894, when Edmund Gosse took possession of a marble bust from the pioneering poet Bret Harte (1836-1902).

Harte was born in Albany New York and moved to California in 1853 at the age of seventeen during the gold rush, taking up various jobs until finding one as a printer's helper in San Francisco, where he turned his hand to writing and journalism. He shot to fame in 1868, when the editor of Californian periodical, Overland Review, with a story called The Luck of Roaring Camp, a tale of miners in the Californian gold rush.

In the latter half of 1870 his poem Plain Language from Truthful James - a satire on the racism shown by Irish labourers in North California to the Chinese competing for the same work, was unfortunately read by the middle class readers straight, as a legitimate object of cultural-criticism-as-art, to justify their own prejudices against the Chinese. He later called the poem *trash* and “the worst poem I ever wrote, possibly the worst poem anyone ever wrote.”


Harte is an interesting figure in American letters, at one time Mark Twains chief literary rival, whose early works lead him to syndicated fame across the American West, (with the poem above that gained a common title: The Chinese Heathen). In 1871 he returned to Boston and signed an unprecedented $10,000 a year contract to write for the Atlantic Monthly. By by the end of 1872 however, Harte had fallen out of favour and was reduced to lecturing on the gold rush and selling jingle-ads to a soap company.

He ended up a diplomat and intertwined with the men of letters who in his time, united under the aegis of Harvard historian and prof. Charles Eliot Norton; son of a Harvard professor of Scared Literature and the man most credited with accelerating the college into what Harvard is today.

Harte died in 1902 and is buried in St Peter’s Church, Frimley, Surrey, England, and Keats remains in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, (his legacy the largest collection of papers at Harvard), the hero *snuffed out by an article* as Shelly wrote.


Shelley's heart is interred in a grave next to Mary Shelly’s in St. Peters Church Bournemouth, and the funary votive rites of poet and audience conferred in the level of vitriolic abuse forerunners from the then avant-garde of a Romantic-vatic lot of heavy boozing transgressors - set off in crazee mixed up mad-heads - their contemporary trolls here online, making me a shakey laureate who roars of tombs in which dead ghosts drawing sustenance of shadowy substantive proofs of the heavier sort, sail into steep ascent, blowing across the top of a nunatuk someplace - Slievemore, or Croaghaun cliffs perhaps (pictured) on Achill island, where the Hawk of Time swirls above the sod.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reading and Writing: Part One

Every Saturday and Sunday, three second-hand bookstalls appear in Dublin's Temple Bar Square, a stones-throw from the river Liffey. One in particular is run by a chap (sat down with his back to us in the photo) who is the moustachioed, fez-wearing shopkeeper to my Mister Ben - (from the children's TV series of that name, whose secret doorway and portal to the otherworldly adventures was a changing room in a fancy dress shop) - and it is (partly) for this reason i call his foldaway cart: The Magic Bookstall.

There is (what feels like at least), a supernatural element and aroma surrounding the whole business of purchasing books from this man. My small library of books, is founded on the foundational stock from his wooden crate boxes.

Several years ago, I began buying books from him. Every weekend I would wander into the Square and acquire those books whose titles and content seemed most apt; with the act of buying, seeming like serendipity itself - as the process of selection was entirely extemporanous and never deciding prior to spotting the book but knowing intuitively: that book is the next one i must get.

Every book delivered by the gods of Fate, and i learnt to trust in a seemingly chaotic and random princple as the moment of satisfation and intellectual succor connected ultimately to some higher, empyreal calling and essentially, a celebratory inward event: like scoring a spiritual goal in a game-with-self and saying "ye hey, the old magic's alive and well."

And it was a few months ago that I instinctively understood the first phase of my relationship with the Magic Bookstall, had ended after the cart was emptied of the stock, ordered for me it seemed, from Heaven itself.

Until that weekend a few months ago, every Saturday or Sunday saw me ferrying away at least one and often four and five volumes, and it felt as though the stall would never run dry of magic titles i had to have in order to found reality as an intellectually creative observer and painter of verbal shapes seeking a stay against the calamity of Dublin life.

Finally, i came to know that a plateau had been reached, from where one first becomes conscious, can gaze across and clarify in a comprehensible manner, thesteps of the journey to where we are at present - on a firm inner ground paved by pages from the Magic Bookstall - and also Chapters vast second hand floor in their new premises on Parnell Street opposite Lidl, in the Moore Street district where the call and cry of an inimitable inner city Dublin accent selling fruit and flowers, ring as clear and fluted now, as it has done for generations.

There is powerful magic there also, but one yet to be harnessed. It is not the supernal mist invoked by the most unique profession of Dublin flower sellers that is the subject of this blog-post - but of a different, felicitous and befitting, otherworldly aspect surrounding the appropriation and appropriateness of the books to hand upon the shelves of my small library. One which began life in libraires vast and small from (conceivably) all across the planet, and which came to rest, finally, several yards from the Heavenly Cafe, where i would (and still to this very day), decant to read and watch society's fabric spin and yarn from distaff and spindle, to create a prosaic picture with all the awkward bits left in. Flawed yes, accurate - perhaps.

Inscriptions I have found in many of the books an other, ultimately inexplicable force led me to hook and slope off home with after a few pleasant hours perusal and coffee, gazing at the traffic hithering and tithering to and fro about the square - usually with live music of various description and ability wafting across from the corners of the six or so streets which converge into the quad where anything can happen, any book yield itself up in the vendors cart-like contraption holding the boxes in which the cargo stares, inviting us to take them home.

A copy of James Michie's English translations of Horace's Odes, purchased pretty much at the begining of my affair with the otherworldly aspect of poetic life several years ago,

"Ingest and become as one with the Muse

much love, Patrick"


The identity of the dedicator and the person who the volume is dedicated to, no one knows, yet the warmth and cordiality of the platonic love, is evident. Often-times i think it Patrick Kavanagh dedicating to Seamus Heaney, or another less well known Patrick sending it forward to someone else. It could be anyone. It could even have been a relative or freind of my parents or grandparents perhaps, i wonder now and again as I gaze longingly at the perfectly executed copper-plate script, day dreaming and lost in inventions of pretense, fabricating histories and lineages on the strength of eleven words in fading red ink.

Ah !

Friday, April 10, 2009

James Kelly. Good Friday?

Good Friday?

Grant me sleep
Even in this raw shaking spring -
And a new bird in a tree. Fill me
With your
Good news,
Or mould me
In your red

Spend a million years
In the hunger of my hands,
When every tree waved
And every shadow grew.

Passion was
A profane clause to unite the lonely
Blood that spilled into me.
From the intrique
Of flesh and lust.
And lies of lust.
And love and
Lies of love.

Where I've waited to be chosen,
I'm being fashioned for whoredom,
Born in the breast
And I beg
To feel
The beauty that you see
In the rustle of the brown
Green tree.


I bumped into James Kelly on Grafton street and secured a copy of his new chapbook. I have just invested in an audio recorder, with the intention of capturing live poetry events, and so recorded him reading his poem: Good Friday?

On Monday I will be at Ó Bhéal's Second Anniversary in Cork to record:

...the celebration of 100 nights of poetry with the launches of How the Light Gets in … and Five Words - Volume II.

How the Light Gets in … is the fourth in a series of Irish & Canadian anthologies of poetry edited by poet John Ennis. The volume is dedicated solely to Canadian verse and is illuminated by the works of established artists as well as by new talent from both sides of the Atlantic. This launch will feature a number of poems in the anthology, read by poets John Ennis, Tom McCarthy, Patrick Cotter, Billy Ramsell, Leanne O’Sullivan and Paul Casey.

With the occasion of Ó Bhéal’s second Anniversary comes the launch of Five Words - Volume II, the second collection of poems selected from poetry challenges, held before our weekly guests and open-mic sessions during the last year. Poets published in this volume who are present on the evening will read from their entries.

Readings will last between 30-45 minutes after which there will be the usual open-mic session. The night begins with a Poetry Challenge starting around 9.00pm. Guest poets begin between 9.30pm and 10.00pm.

Venue: the Hayloft, upstairs at The Long Valley, Winthrop St, Cork
Time: 9.00 pm
Admission: Free

T: 085 712 6299

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Time (Live from Kilmainham)

Remember when we laughed at life square on
in days existing now as only memories held inside,
distanced from this moment
by rotation measured time
we'll never halt
or with any words define?

Words will conjure images
and spark all sorts of trains of thought
careering through the mind,
like kaleidoscopic pictures,
but these we only glimpse upon in passing
with internal eyes
that swiftly frame in wordless abstract
any meaning they divine.

Some things lay beyond
where conscious grasp can't reach,
for time, like truth, is each our own,
unfurls unique to one and all
and lives are lived as days have gone,
no two the same
beyond the passing of horizons by the sun.

And should the echoes of our laughter then return,
when suns now set
outweigh the ones for rising,
will they live with those we leave behind,
when our stream of time no longer flows
and lips of life cease smiling?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Doo Wap: Fashion.

The obvious tenet on which the concept of Fashion is founded, is the principle of the fewer the more fashionable, achieved through either exhorbitant prices or extremely sophisticated (good?) taste.

As a life long fashion no-go area sartorially, I cannot begin to pretend to speak with authority on fashion; but as a younger chap, remember it well. Lime green kecks (pants) at the barn dance. The very memorable goon of dropping a full cup of hot chocolate over myself at nine ten am on the first day of sixth form, where I had appeared in white canvas trousers, spending the rest of the day unable to compete.

Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Wah! (with the exclamation mark) LP's in the fifth-form dinner break when the final year had access to a record player - clutched and paraded with the covers out. Wedge haircuts, reversable parkers (blue and yellow) - kicker boots, la coste, fruit of the loom, watching Not the Nine O'Clock news before everyone else and cottoning on first to the next big thing; like listening to Boy: U2.

All these activities, I was a failure at getting right and didn't even try, drawn as I was to Elvis and the Wolfe Tones instead of the Liverpool lips and rock gods, still going, like JCC, exactly the same, still ranting about the working class not getting a break and stuck in a time warp, John Cooper Clarke's brain and fashion sense trapped in 1983. Groundhog Day. God Save the Queen. Sid and Nancy: nothing changed, everything remains the same the more change happens.

Fashion: turn to the left (1997). Fashion: turn to the right (2010) - perhaps, when Dave (Cameron) becomes the new Tone (Blair) as squats and general poverty get trendy again: perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Day and Hudson, Rock and Doris, drainpipes and quiffs, long hair and skins, swings and rondabouts, men and women, the impelling desire for love and nothingness held in equipoise between head and heart, between the legs and ears, always fashion steers us along to what we become - and on the cobbles its distressing for a fee: ripped jeans jack and sean and Johnnie G, auld ear air sings free, hears above the cocophony toing and froing about the table: benevolence or sneer on the blank and empty canvas.

Fashion what's within to be, original and uniquely wee ewe eyes of blinding night's epiphany and scream for moi, moi moi before the stock's all gone and nothing's left but God fashioning us.


barks the word verification.