Friday, November 18, 2011



The FINAL is finally here! On 7TH DECEMBER 2011 @ 8PM (SHARP! SHARP!! SHARRRRRRPPPP!!!), eight of the country's best slammer poets (all winners and runners-up in the 2011 regional heats) will go head-to-head in a fast & furious contest, the winner will emerge with the underground-prestigious title of All-Ireland Poetry Slam champion 2011. There will be 3 ROUNDS, 3MINS MAX PER POEM (1 POEM PER CONTESTANT PER ROUND), ALL CONTESTANTS MUST PERFORM THEIR POEMS FROM MEMORY... In the meantime, check out our contenders:

Representing Ulster:

Conor O' Kane: (Teknopeasant)

Seamus Fox


Representing Leinster:

John Cummins

Karl Parkinson


Representing Connacht:

Seamus Barra O'Suilleabhan

Sarah Clancy


Representing Munster:

Fergus Costello

Mary O'Connell


Once again we'd also like to invite you all to attend and be our raucous audience members. Drum-rollers and hollerers very welcome! :O)


Entry will be by donation, when we pass round the mystical Hat of Love in true broke-poet tradition, ALL PROCEEDS WILL GO TOWARDS COVERING THE EXPENSE OF THE EVENT.

So tell yer mates, or your writer's group, one and all. All very welcome!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Michael D. Higgins maligned by mad woman.

Carol Rumens published an opinion blog on the Guardian today, that labelled the president-elect Michael D. Higgins's poetry as 'mad-dog-shite', on the strength of one poem: When Will My Time Come?

The provocativly titled blogpost, Michael D. Higgins is no Poet, read as if it had been dashed off in ten minutes, and ended:
The Northern Irish poets have a phrase for rubbish poetry. I first heard it from Longley himself, though I believe he said he got it from Frank Ormsby: mad-dog-shite. I'm afraid I think this is the category into which "When Will My Time Come" effortlessly slips. Whoops!
The article drew many responses, the majority of which expressed disappointment with the author of the blog. This comment, one of the milder rebukes:
Mr Higgins isn't a particularly distinguished poet, agreed. Printing this bit of ill-written hit-and-run practical criticism, though, in the week after he has won a hard-fought election to be the head of state for his country, is mean-spirited and graceless of The Guardian.
One poster reproduced a coarse bit of doggerel written by Rumens and in which the word 'cunt' appears, as an example of how easy it is to damn any poet on the strength of one poor example. It was immediately removed, as were many other posts far less sneery and unkind as her own.

The absurdity of the Guardian moderating policy was revealed when I posted two lines that were immediately removed, which pointed out a spelling mistake in Rumens' blogpost:
Brendan Kenneally is spelled wrongly, it is Kennelly.

A poor article.
Also removed was this moderate comment:
One analysis of this short piece can posit that it’s fairly plain for an intelligent reader to grasp that the author of it was uninterested in undertaking any serious poetic inquiry into the merits, or otherwise, of this poem – weighing up all sides with thoughtful and mature consideration before delivering an opinion expressed in clear, concise and civil language – that engenders a healthy debate this forum claims as its sole focus; but rather, she had a visceral loathing of the poem in question (and possibly the author) to such an extent that she, essentially, in her haste to insult the poem with the most vulgar 'mad-dog-shite' epithet she thought permissible to publish, chose to dispense with the usual norms of serious critical behaviour.

The piece itself seems merely a knee-jerk desire to mock, goad, sneer and be disrespectful, by uttering the insult ‘mad-dog-shite’, upon which is hung and around which is framed, a flimsy psuedo-critical patter attempting, and failing, to pass itself off as the real thing, in order to justify what, if written on its own, would rightly lay itself open to a charge of being wholly offensive, uncalled for and, most importantly of all (for its author), unprofessional.

It’s the same impulse that motivates an imperial power wishing to exercise its full might upon an innocent other – to fabricate evidence in order to justify a pre-determined course of action, without which the naked unfairness and disproportionality of its actions are immediately and embarrassingly obvious to all rational observers.

The author of this piece, the theory goes, sought to indulge in a bout of boorish behaviour and loutishly did so under the cover of it being a valid ‘critical’ act of the responsible academic poet. It happens all the time. Great fun. And tellingly the blog author has absented herself from the debate she knew would occur and the tenor of which, one could guess – she misjudged. But the sign of healthy debate is allowing ourselves to look foolish now and again, and this author, to her credit, rarely slips up so fully and, in the grand scheme of reality, comedically.

In the trajectory of her career as a poetry journalist for this media organisation, this piece will be remembered more than most of her very many other, more thoughtful ones. Life goes on and we all learn from our mistakes. The tenor she sent into the world has been roundly returned and I am sure she will be cringing somewhat at the unflattering attention she has drawn to herself for all the wrong reasons; but when the dust settles I am sure most will recognise the inherently comedic nature of this minor spat between a poet and the public on whom she relies for validation.

Since the Julian Assange fiasco when the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and his brother-in-law and head investigative reporter David Leigh, were responsible for a cravenly hypocritical and dissembling editorial in which they sort to shift blame onto Assange for Leigh's mistake in publishing, contrary to all crytographical practice, the passphrase and salt that decrypted the Cablegate file, the true colours of the Guardian journalistic ethos has been plain for any intelligent reader to grasp. It is big on lipservice and moralising platitudes but when it comes down to brass tacks, they pull every underhanded stroke in the playbook to sideline, silence and smear anyone who counters their position. An ethos that trickles down to removing harmless poetry lovers with the insolence and gall to point out spelling mistakes on their book section.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Deleted response to Guardian Poem of the Week 17 October

Several commentators on recent books blogs have said they'd like to see a discussion of Roddy Lumsden's poetry, and PotW's own MeltonMowbray posted a request earlier this year. So for this week's poem, I've chosen one of my favourites from Lumsden's latest collection, Terrific Melancholy. I hope aficiandos and new readers alike will enjoy the elegiac virtuosity of "Square One."

Panning shots of the razzmatazz of contemporary London begin with an unnaturally motionless River Thames, which contrasts with the surrounding fluidity of endless construction and self-invention. The location is mirrored in spirited, slangy diction, and a repetitive device that stitches all together in bright gold lamé thread. On the page, you almost see the green light. Read the poem aloud, and you hear the gunning of engines in the repetition of the hard "g" – described in phonetics as a voiced, velar stop.

Big top today dishes the anonymous lover, fans and supporters in Camberwell, Camden, Chingford, Chigwell and place, poise, warmth & the crystal wit of a fine dining connoisseur; thrash poetry’s trashing objective alveolar noun, adjectival astonishment, vowel sounds cranked out in the exercise of loving the bloodaxe; a frond of salient pink, red and blue, thrusting upward ever deeper into minds on the edge of exercise itself; a liminal invisible bind and verve all sense knowing its rule adheres to trad ‘n’ po-mo – any mix of these eerily erotic earlier Mac Low collections perfectly speaking what’s in front of us before and after time, telling deaf the world to c’mon, take comfort in a slow burning professorial gaze through madeup words welding instinctive spontaneity poised debating the precept, premise, pre-textual urge and desire to be actual.

Thank you for this. It’s not a gimmick, but a privilige to read, Square One. Thanks for sharing how it came about. I thought it may have been written at speed as I read it.

The spontaneous Monopoly conceit-challenge – mirrored in a form condusive to composing at speed - evident now you tell us – is not disimilar in conception to the ‘Gerry McNamara five-word poem’ more positive exercise that makes up the first half of Cork’s weekly open mic poetry night. O Bheal publish an annual best-of anthology made up of the best spontaneously composed poems written over the year.

The first anthology in the series (precursing by several years Salt’s best-of) is made up of poems composed during the original weekly Write and Recite open mic poetry night at the height of the noughtie 04-07 Dublin period in boom-boom-boom. The rule is write a poem in which must appear five words, shouted out at random by the crowd, decided by mob democracy, written down by McNamara and by us the audience, who then have the length of a pint and cigarette break to come up with a text we choose to read aloud, or not. The winner’s decided by audience consent, and nominal prizes Gerry brought in week to week – often pens, occassionally sex toys, once, I recall, balloons… or were they envelopes and paper? Yes, yes. The one week I came close to winning. Second. I won a jotter. Or was it a plastic sabre?

I know I took some prizes home on occassion, unwanted by the winners, wandering crowds through dark warmth, cold or coolness Dublin noughties heyday, swathes of bouyant people peforming as both audience and acts, early in the week at night; Westmoreland Bridge, O’Connel Plaza, Fleet Street, the old Irish Times, Mail, Sun, Star, Herald and Echo, echo, c’mon get the echo poetically here shuttling back and forth this week.

A pleasure to read, and a privilege to own a weary fortysomething’s strap-on vibe narrrator Lumsden, noughtie London – sense the jousting dons in autumnal light facing away, maintaining breath, poised warm balanced behind a line ahead of time itself, sincerely brilliant blatherer playing in words that wrote the critical doctrine of this scene and, certainly a majority of poetry scenes about the place today, took their cue from. This forum is a testament to you. Long may you reign as the one actuality in it, curated by depressive, jealous hipsters fine dining & with it, in a consituency au fait with what dish of the day is.

Our prize today is watching riots on television.
Transparently satirical, the witty, warm & shy

few with contingencies and copies of it burnt,
one five-word poem, detaining the attention
of an audience’s sincerely expressed sense of play,
spontaneous, effervesent, marvelous exhuberance

handling of form. I am very impresed. It has a contemporary conceit to it that authenticates the obvious and in doing so offers up some discussion about ourselves and bespeaking mystery hidden in form’s firm sight, in lines laid yummily on the ultra-modern page, here-and-now curiously angled - asking more of us than we of it, perhaps? Yes, yes.

Massive happy hugs c’mon yes you talented bardstick, square one lying in this poem fictionally speaking actual faith in this the reversal of time, poetry and a space in which a follower can grow into a fan proper, effecting one to praise text by turning it into write-through oulipo and experimental poetique vie itself, authenticating who share twenty six letters, one square chord and the truth – with which to compete for what we receive from fate in poetry proposed on the rational premise, in which our language genders itself, s/he the langpo nightmare KO’ed by vie poetique bores-at-dawn in a face off. Henry Moon v Lloyd Paterson, Scunthorpe Rovers, Dame St. Doncaster’s ground, south of here a very poetic place, participatory perspicacious invention, extempore flyte and flail, Bloodaxe of the actual poet and collegiate fan, the grave impersonal and friendly best-of man, c’mon you diamond, you mentor you legend.

Pen S.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Too Dangerous for the Gals

This blog comment was too 'off topic' and declined publication on the blogs of Katy Evans Bush, Carrie Etter, Jane Holland and Rob McKenzie, during the earliest round in the current Poetry Society War, two weeks ago. Carriet Etter wrote a blog asking for information about what had been happening at the PS, and welcomed anonymous comments. This was due to many poets being too fearful to write honestly under their real name because of the perceived 'power' Fiona Sampson wields as editor of the Poetry Review. The post was eventually removed by Etter and can no longer be linked to.


I just hope that there’s someone on the inside with the talent and sagacity of Peter Barry, remembering this theatre in the Poetry Wars, who will record and publish it in all its comedic glory.

It’s amusing that ‘serious’ poets converse endlessly in the ‘debate’ about defending basic freedoms and human dignity in any number of places around the world with which we have no personal connection whatsoever; calling for this, that, or the other right of human dignity to be upheld, exhibiting real commitment in the abstract to our cause of humanitarian democracy – a la the Arab spring, women’s rights etc; yet when it comes to speaking about a middle-class university graduate who lives in rural Wales, who is, if we are to believe Anonymous, trying to make a power-grab for herself on a poetry magazine in safest England; the poets are all too fearful to speak, for fear of causing upset and offence, or docking our chances of ‘success’.

I blame this situation on the state-subisidized contemporary po-biz project that, in the absence of a recognized course of poetic apprenticeship and study, is founded and predicated solely on the idea of (what one anonymous poster said on the now removed Etter blog) ‘flattery and yet more flattery’ – in the form of a prize culture being the sole measure of poetic ‘success’.

In a shrinking literate realm of instantaneous publication, mass electronic communication and the strategic social networkizing of poetry; the first, and increasingly most important validation of a ‘successful’ poet, is not a question of existing as one in our own self-esteem, but rather, how many other ‘successful’ poets are, for want of a better word, ‘freinds’ willing to approve of our efforts in print, place us on the pages they publish and, if it is in their gift, recognize our talent with the prizes we crave and that seem the sole and central benchmark of poetical ‘success’ in, what Sampson referred to in her issue two Horizon podcast as, the Poetry Village.

As Robert Graves stated when delivering his opening Clark Lecture, The Crowning Privilegein 1954 at Cambridge University:

Unlike stockbrokers, soldiers, sailors, doctors, lawyers, and parsons, English poets do not form a closely integrated guild. A poet may put up his brass plate, so to speak, without the tedious preliminaries of attending a university, reading the required books and satisfying examiners. Also, a poet, being responsible to no General Council, and acknowledging no personal superior, can never be unfrocked, cashiered, disbarred, struck off the register, hammered on ‘Change, or flogged round the fleet, if he is judged guilty of unpoetic conduct. The only limits legally set on his activities are the acts relating to libel, pornography, treason, and the endangerment of public order. And if he earns the scorn of his colleagues, what effective sanctions can they take against him? None at all.

Graves goes on to state that poets owe fealty to none but their muse: ‘the desire to deserve well of the Muse, their divine patroness, from whom they receive their unwritten commissions, to whom they eat their solitary dinners, who confers her silent benediction on them, to whom they swear their secret Hippocratic oath, to whose moods they are as attentive as the stockbroker is to his market.’

He refers to a twelve year poetic apprenticeship undertook in the earliest British (Brythonic) bardic culture, and how: the arch-ollamh ranked in dignity next to the queen and acted as a vizier; his profession was endowed, his person was sacrosanct, and a gift for killing by satire made him the terror of the warrior class and even of the king.

Nowadays it seems, the fochloc beginners setting out on their word-weaving career, have lost touch and severed connection with the idea of existing as a poet first and foremost within our own self-esteem, by adhering to a twelve year term of training. The default route to the highest reach of ollamh-dom in England, and one which Sampson herself took, is to win-win-win; beginning with a Newdigate at Oxford (for best undergraduate poem) and then, jumping through a series of well-defined hoops: Gregory, Forward First, this prize, that prize etc, until ‘success’ arrives via an unchanging, well-trod path that leads to a small citadel of Letters within which repose the trophies and laurels of a small, select few who’ve all been awarding prizes to one another and consolidating our positions on the pages of the magazines the poetry prizes qualify us to edit.

The fact a majority of anti-Sampson posters who commened on Etter’s blog did so anonymously, is evidence suggesting this model is alive and well.


Where are the poets like Graves, who care not a jot who they provoke, offend, or whose sensibilities or toes are trod upon as they learn the trade of poetry? The ‘serious’ poets seem serious only in their desire to ‘win’ a prize, our primary validation of poetic authenticity yielding not from within our imagination and intellect, but from without. Not on the say so of our own instinct affirming itself on the page in the poems we write, but by the approval of those whose credentials are a list of prizes that are more favors being returned, a la Sampson, Paterson and O’Brien; at the heart of this holy alliance no one has the courage to speak of as themself.

Desmond Swords

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Walcott write-thru: In The Village.

Everybody is dishevelled in Dublin,
situated in a comedy, the unwritten pages
of a novel-haired voodist, secret chronicles
of colonial embarrassment, fiction and Latin
sorrow, parenthetical pitches, hidden covert

till it shows in our face, the bleached regret,
wide-winged stanzas, memoirs gusting open

the American eye in us, watching the deep
Quixotic shake of a great invisible charge,

some secretly forlorn scene, obverse and flip-
side of reality, our fictional, confirming stories,
the sean-nós, old noise of the heart in nobody's

battle but its own, call it quits whenever odds-
on regret, a sorrow-grizzled heart, broke even

in the poem casting ordinary its spell, a white
steed, troops, the cavalry that won't make us
a statue, the unrequited charge of love, the old

mens' banners hung across a tidy lawn of talk,
jovial regrets, trailing us, secret law of Danann,
its original flaw causing us to veer into them,

dawns, returning your soul - in a poem.


I wrote through our 2011 Eliot winner, Walcott's poem, and created the above exercise in shuffling his words and letters in the poem, about the page to make a different verbal object. The write-thru form is a modernist, contemporary one in which the student can practice his or her basics, stick to the rules of a poetic form. In this case, the same words in a different order, with a handful of new ones from the rearranged letters, in a few words I chose to re-spell and change by re-ordering their letters, and several words one's imaginative mind invented, breaking the rules within acceptible limits, adhering to the decorum and etiquette general within free-verse and formal, at present; the choice, spur, literate meld of rare-spun thoughts via the act of a performer pretending in Letters.

There's graciousness in Walcott's poetry, perhaps because he has always been Mister to us, and for this we want to congratulate him; and on securing a rightful sweep across the board of poetry, taking what is rightfully due, and the duty a communiuty of human beings not part of the goading and public jealousy Walcott recieves as a person who took 'up the prosperity of barcraft', to bestow; making love in a poem appear to all who read Walcott's love poetry.

As good as it gets and on top of the world because he made it that way via the vehicle of reading and writing who he is, Mister Derek Walcott; not Lord or Sir, but king of the lyrical majors,

Lyric love poets know our trade, sing of what England is not made, Her Majesty's laureate imposters not making others go weak at the knees; Mister Walcott, we automatically think, has it written, alive:

'the noble brew in which is boiled the true
root of all knowledge
which bestows after duty
which is climbed after diligence

which poetic ecstasy sets in motion
which joy turns
which is revealed through sorrow;

it is lasting power undiminishing protection'

...To 'sing of the Cauldron of Motion', as the anonymous seventh century bard who wrote the untitled cauldron of poetry, translated by Liam Breatnach first, in 1979, 1300 years after the anonymous Amergin wrote it.

Generations of oral poets behind her or him, and 50 generations of poets ahead in print. The ultimate authority, Walcott would agree, I suspect. Not that it matters. Poetry is unique to us all and our eyes at the top watching out from a life-long apparatus, critical scaffold, standing firm on planks of our poetic reasoning; X = MC squared, a quantum underthrumb, hidden, unseen, the poetry within us, and a fair and balanced, square, this heart, not in sir but Mister.

I look forward to discovering this senior poet again, in print one can learn the respectful silence of a poet's mind from Walcott. I did buy his book of essays secondhand from Chapters, but lost it (along with several much sought after books on bardic wisdom), in the pub where I was celebrating the secondhand yield of exactly what it is on the must-read list of any student bard, whatever your grade, be it first year foclo or fifth decade ollamh.

I was looking forward to wallowing in Walcott's eloquence. A small dip into it on the first floor of Chapters large and comprehensive Parnell Street bookmart, lit one's mind as only his fellow, Irish, poet had until that point, because I immediately detected what all the fuss surrounding his poetry is about; by reading his prose, finding why he is the widely respected poet: because he knows his onions and speaks from the great streams:

'craftsman of histories
cherishing pupils
looking after binding principles
distinguishing the intricacies of language
moving toward music
propagation of good wisdom
enriching nobility
ennobling non-nobles'

His cauldron of motion, experience, life spun and distilled via us into poems: 'it bestows good wisdom and nobility and honor after turning.

'The Cauldron of Motion bestows,
is bestowed
extends, is extended
nourishes, is nourished
magnifies, is magnified
invokes, is invoked
sings, is sung
preserves, is preserved
arranges, is arranged
supports, is supported.

Good is the well of measuring
good is the dwelling of speech
good is the confluence of power which builds up strength.

It is greater than every domain
it is better than every inheritance,
it brings one to knowledge
adventuring away from ignorance.'

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lennon & MacNeice.


Spider, spider, twisting tight--
But the watch is wary beneath the pillow--
I am afraid in the web of night
When the window is fingered by the shadows of
When the lions roar beneath the hill
And the meter clicks and the cistern bubbles
And the gods are absent and the men are still--
Noli me tangere, my soul is forfeit.
Some now are happy in the hive of home,
Thigh over thigh and a light in the night nursery,
And some are hungry under the starry dome
And some sit turning handles.
Glory to God in the Lowest, peace beneath the earth,
Dumb and deaf at the nadir;
I wonder now whether anything is worth
The eyelid opening and the mind recalling.

God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain.

I'll say it again.

God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain.

I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedy,
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in kings.

I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles

I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that's reality.

The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over.


I was the Dreamweaver
But now I'm reborn;
I was the Walrus

But now I'm John

And so dear friends
You'll just have to carry on,
The dream is over.