Saturday, March 26, 2016

Does poetry transcend its alphabet?

The text below is a spontaneous response to the above question, posed---and replied to by the All Ireland Poetry Slam account---on her Facebook, by Carrie Etter, an Illinois, Normal poet, and English professor at Bath University.


The very first subject introduced to a Foclo, the first grade of trainee Fili poet in the old Gaelic literary order that turned out forty generations of poets from 5-17C; was the Ogham alphabet, and the very specific tho highly convoluted tale of how it came to be invented by its creator, Fénius Farsaid. 

We learn the tale in the Medieval poet-training manual, Auraicept na n-Éces, Scholars Primer, a 12C compilation of four books: 

... unique among medieval grammatical works in that it represents the earliest vernacular tradition in Europe. Its earliest ('canonical') parts date as far back as the 7th century. In its present form, it contains much ancient material relating to the Latin and Ogham alphabets, the nature of Old Irish and Latin gender, comparison, and declension.

The first of them, The Book of Fénius Farsaid, tells the foundation myth of the Irish language, and goes into great detail about Ogham.

His and the other Auraicept na n-Éces texts were decanted from the Book of Lecan, Book of Ballymote, and the text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster, into English in 1917 by George Calder, under the title The Scholars Primer.'

Calder labelled it Handbook of the Learned, but a more literal translation of Auraicept na n-Éces - I was told by a senior Irish speaker at a Poetry Ireland / Éigse Éireann event in Dublin -
would be something along the lines of 'the system/working methods of poetry/knowledge'.

The word Éces being one of the most ancient Gaelic words for Knowledge/Poetry. Root of the name of Finn Eces/Finnegas ('bright knowledge') , the druid who taught a young Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Forty generations of Gaelic poets began their seven-grade trek to becoming an Ollamh 'poetry professor' ---and contender for the Ollamh Érenn 'poetry professor of Ireland' top spot occupied by such learned (and forgotten) figures as Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh, poet to Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond--- learning that Fenius created the Gaelic language on the plain of Shinar in Babylon (modern day Iraq), three decades after Babel's collapse, when the 72 dialects of humanity's shared languages were scattered, until being retrieved by seventy-two (named) scholars, under the co-ordination of Fenius, who spent a decade retrieving them.

From which he then created, experimentally deciphered or back-engineered Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and, finally, perfected all language into the Ogham form, and the earliest recorded alphabet that the Gaelic language and its subsequent 1200 year literate Fili tradition found itself on.

We are told by the 7C author of the Book of Fenius in the Auraicept na n-Éces, that the seventy-two named scholars who'd done the donkey work collecting the scattered languages from which he created Hebrew, Greek and Latin, asked that Fenius, 'select for them out of the many languages, a language that no-one else should have but which might belong to them alone. Wherefore on that account was invented for them the (Gaelic) Selected Language (bérla tóbaide) with its (five) superadditions.'

1 - Bearla na Feine, the language or dialect of fenechas law. A high level language of the educated that the system of entirely civil law was preserved in and used by Brehon lawyers and Filidh poets for official business like law, ritual and ceremony. Also the language in which Auraicept na n-Éces is written, as well as Táin Bó Cúailnge.

2 - Iarmberla - Glossed as 'the additional language' by Calder, but commonly called the Iron Language.

3 - Bearla an Eaderscartha, the separative language or dialect; The Language Parted among the trees. This is the famous Ogham, a language used for encryption and memory lists. There are numerous Ogham tables in the Book of Ballymote, all with different names and uses.

4 - Béarla Filidh - 'language of the poets'. The Secret Language of the Poets, the 7C text states 'sometimes known as the 'Dark Speech' because it obscures meaning through the use of kennings and metaphors. 'The Poets used this language to converse among themselves, in tests and initiations, in producing chants, invocations and satires, especially when they wanted to reserve their meanings to the learned only.'

5 - Gnaithbhearla, the customary colloquial language and dialect of the illiterate majority. The common language that serves everyone and what became Old and Middle Irish, and eventually Modern Irish.

Obviously of interest to the poets is Béarla Filidh, which a 13C Brehon lawyer explains to his pupils:

'The literary language whose thrust is not self-evident or superficial
and the noble reading aloud—for ardent judges and bards, they
are the keys which release locks.'

It was a cipher language in which a skilled poet could communicate with other poetry professors and poet-lawyers above the heads of everyone but themselves. Where every letter was measured and elegant as sun-polished blackthorn blossom, their text communicating a multiplicity of meanings, the truest of which could be hidden in plain sight in words carefully selected and wrought to form the abstruse stream of Béarla Filidh, where every connection ---as John Minahane points out, quoting from a Latin Grammarian, in his groundbreaking work of scholarship and innovation: The Christian Druids: On the Filid Or Philosopher-poets of Ireland--- reveals 'knowledge of a thing (that) will die unless you know its name.'

Kevn Desmond

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Three Requirements of a Poet

When I was first in Ireland, 2004-10 was spent banging my head on all the mythology, and the site of the stone idol of Crom Cruach got mentioned in an unfinished/abandoned poem on the final O'Neill Mór, and second earl, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone.

Magh Slécht, the 'plain of prostrations', is in Cavan. Named after the act of lying prostrate in front of the stone idol of Crom Cruach, and where there was human sacrifice going on until Patrick put a stop to it.

his tribe in tatters on a Plain of Prostrations
facing the presence of the Lord, he surrendered

in one short celestial act of ineffable burlesque
tragic slap-stick on a stone floor, where he found

his island wholly ghost, mimed his submission
at history’s pointed tip.

Patrick is also reputed in various texts to have condemned the spontaneous druidic compositional practice of Imbas forosnai, 'inspired illumination', and one of its two sub-strands, Tenm láida, 'illumination of song'. In Whitley Stokes translation of the Life, Patrick declares 'that no one who shall do that shall belong to heaven or earth, for it is a denial of baptism.'

Two of the three highest compositional poetic forms similar to the Frostean notion of a poem 'beginning in delight and ending in wisdom'. Not knowing what is going to happen on the page until - at its best - the poem is spontaneously written; and with the author merely a stenographer of the spirit in letters and Ogma's plaything.

The other sub-strand "Dichetal do chennaib, extempore incantation, however, that was left, in right of art, for it is science that causes it, and no offering to devils is necessary, but a declaration from the ends of his bones at once."

All three were introduced in a technical capacity to the Filidh poets on the eighth year of their twelve year poet-training curriculum, that in the English translation of Rudolf Thurneysen's German translation of an 8C monastic classic, “Mittelirische Verslehren.” In Irische Texte, are cited by Joseph Nagy, in his 1986 Overview of Orality in Medieval Irish Narrative, as "the “wisdom-tokens” of the Fili:

... that is, the elements of language, the clethchor choem (“fair palisade,” a type of poem and/or meter), the reicne roscadach (“poetic rhapsody,” another metrical genre), and laíde (a third type); that is, the teinm laída (“chewing of the pith”), imbas forosnai (“great wisdom that enlightens”), and díchetal do chennaib na tuaithe (“incantation from heads of the tribe”)".

John Carey makes an absorbing case for Patrick not having banned the apical practice of Imbas Forosnai and its Tenm láida sub-strand, in a (by Irish poetry standards) recent Ériu article, The Three Things Required of a Poet, vol. 48 (1997), pp. 41-58, that in Irish poetry are traditionally cited as being Imbas forosnai, tenm láida, and
dichetal do chennaib.

Citing Pádraig Breatnach's 'discussion of Macgnímartha Find as whole', and using as theoretical footings the original wording in the 8C Uraicecht Becc, 'Small Primer' legal tract defining the many strictly divided grades of social class and the associated lóg n-enech - honour-price - of each grade of person in the civil law - literally 'face-price' - the price damages were calculated in suits when you 'lost face' in the legal process; Carey builds a compelling case that the Patrician banning of the highest form of druidic practice and one of its sub-strands, were a later interpolation by early Medieval clerics seeking to make everything pious, holy and sacred. The David Ickes of their day.

Which I would agree with; should a discussion on the pointless and all but forgotten pages, places and purposes of the earliest native poetic order of these brilliant British and Oiwish oyls ootbwake or awise, ye 'unna.

And one of the joys of writing to learn is the unexpected results, finding new contributions in the discussion. The Nemed, Uraicecht Becc and early Irish Governance, Sydney University 2013. Julianna Grigg.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Post-Patrick's Day Dindsenchas

Much of the long, rambling, acutely self-absorbed and boring writing that makes up this barely read blog, begins as comment made first on a variety of other social-media platforms, taking shape elsewhere, and formed initially as a spontaneous response to other texts, moving and static images, and recorded sounds from the post-modern global poetry network we are all lumped in together as sentient beings with an internet connection having an earthly experience in an increasingly connected world mediated and navigated by most of us in the era of IT, via Facebook, Grindr, Tinder, Twitter, and all the other pan-global corporate social-media sites there to sell us stuff.

And make obscene amounts of money for a handful of contemporary wild-west robber-barons of the information technology era, whose corporations are more powerful than any national government, and pay little to no tax on their mind-mindbogglingly large profits created by digitising, monetising and trading the electronic data of us individuals making up the billions of individual social-media users' accounts at Facebook, Guardian, Jiscmail, Pinterest, Skype, Twitter, Youtube, and countless other data-collection platforms, points and electronic dumps across an ever expanding form and mass of social-media creation.

This post came out as a short and more focussed comment and response to a public Tweet and private Facebook update of a fellow Anglo-Irish 'friend' on social-media, who I have never met and do not know, whose names are legion and fictional voices always witty, sparkling and wise, and whose recently published eighth collection of poems, The Blind Road-Maker, is a must get for all who seek to hear eloquence and learn of beauty when listening to a song.
"17th March, most over-rated bloody day of the year" muttered Crom Cruach to himself.
From this fourteen word tweet flowed an instantaneous response and disposable comment on a post-modern social-media platform we are all by now seasoned hands on, but which at one time was inchoate and new. 

What Yeats labelled when appearing in the vast amounts of pre-1916 prose agitation during his early long-winded vatic moments, as a cultural hot wax.

Not unlike the inner lyrical light of 'inspired illumination' that inspired, drove and lit the Coole-Dublin-Sligo-London sage to wax hot himself in poetry and prose before, during and after the Rising; and that occurs with a meeting and making of the literary voice from Segais Well, fishing for a salmon of spiritual wisdom that drop by tortuous drop, comes to them grinding away at the nuts of knowledge in a mill by the mind's apical compositional form of imbas forosnai.

The 'inspired illumination' and 'spontaneous manifestation of knowledge', that is cited throughout the Irish annals as one of the 'three things required' of the highest grade of ollamh 'poetry-professor' in a golden circle of ollúna.

When first in the throes of this cultural hot wax of a prophetic literary impulse, or any other original urge to stretch out one's hand and draw some rational pattern from the universe and speak in its song  what is clearly being prophesied, can seem as IT once seemed to us - as much younger people - the theoretically exciting revolutionary future that was so satisfying because we then were young and IT was so far away and off in a very distant nirvana. 

Certainly this was the case when the poetics of the internet were first articulated at the start of it, by New York poet Charles Bernstein, in his seminal 1994 document prophetically delineating the architecture and trajectory of what the post-millennial trolls' internet became.

Beginning I Don't Take Voice Mail: The Object of Art in the Age of Electronic Technology with an observation and statement that the passing of twenty-two years has proved to be accurate. Eminently and entirely true now as it was then.

Just as today's art world is dominated by marketing, sales, and promotion, so the object of art in the age of electronic technology will continue to be profit; and the values most typically promoted by the art world will continue to be governed by market, rather than aesthetic, formal, philosophical, or ethical, values.

Though we are reading this with 20/20 hindsight, coupled with a ubiquitous, pointlessly prevalent and present post-modern condition of cultural cynicism; at the time when Bernstein wrote this, as a 44 year old David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters teaching at the University at Buffalo, co-founding the numerous programmes and poetic legacies we are left with today; Clinton was just revving up his artful administration, there were two billion less in our race, and life on our small planet was a lot rosier in the world generally for most of us - much younger people - under the global administration of this one person that changes every four to eight years. 

Whose time in office was blessed by numerous outbreaks of peace, and his public record - at that time - was marred only by a personally embarrassing gawdy spectacle of being the world's most theoretically powerful person cheating on their spouse in public. 

And as the world becomes evermore integrated and the boundaries between virtual and existential reality blur and shrink as a previously inaccessible and vast source of poetic knowledge reaches adulthood in the IT era, and becomes reliable, stable and provably true - so too the significance of the American presidential race has inversely expanded into the consciousness of every concerned and thinking person practicing silly fictional voices in print across multiple social-media accounts and platforms.

Oh what we would give for that kind of young and innocently naive pre-9/11, pre-billionaire Clinton world culture now Trump's evil specter is rising, for all the wrong reasons, hitting all the wrong notes portentous of doom, that human history repeatedly plays but few have heard before at such misanthropic pitch in our privileged white European culture of continual and utterly pointless war until The Emergency of WW2 ended seventy-one years ago.

In a world riven by the hateful rhetoric angrily compelling to crawl out from the shadows a racist voice articulating a doctrine of economic slavery, for the first time in post-Auschwitz history there has appeared a very loud and loutish global social-media demagogue and American internet troll most people in the English speaking world would not trust to tell us the right time of day.

Who we the majority in this peaceful world are fearful of because of his extremely banal thuggish rhetoric peddling a pure untruth relying for its success on the perpetration of mass-deception, falsehood, racism, smear, mockery, goading, outrage, and, most evil of all - the anger of a boastful billionaire capitalist prince and corporate potentate threatening to 'make America great, again', by returning it to a pre-Jim Crow era of kleptocratic, oligarchical white supremacy.

Promising to extort vast sums from larger world economies and their governments, all backed up in the loud and boastful threat of US military intervention anywhere on our shared globe that this megalomaniac decides, owe him. The capitalist scion from America's first and most privileged order and socio-economic class of aristocratic carpetbaggers, a troubled tearaway son of a proudly unabashed racist, drawing to him like flies to BS the wealthy ruthless opportunists jostling for space to co-operate with him in creating this uniquely pre-post-modern brand of trash-talk.

That draws out from the silence and shadows a large audience of uneducated and disaffected poor white, deluded and latently unreconstructed racist folk that previously rarely engaged in the political process of voting to make up a majority electing any of the former acutely dangerous anti-intellectual con men of recent American history who corrupted democracy first by seizing control of its levers and instruments in rhetorical campaigns that begin and end with one vile and wealthy man from an elite kelptocratic class of grifter glibly denouncing billions of different people, races and religions, as inferior to their crassly privileged and wealthy white elite one self, in angry shouted 'lemme tell ya folks' slogans proclaiming a disturbingly sectarian 'greatness'.

The very stuff of perpetual calamity and discord, proudly eviscerating the most passionate and repugnant cheer-leading supporters and dumbo-cretin victims of it. 'Trust me', says a voice of the dictator, fooling enough people some of the time to get his signing hand within reach of billions of dollars that his entire campaign, if 'successful', claims it is going to build an under-budget 80 billion dollar wall with, using his own corporation. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

The frighteningly banal Bush years and plundering of the White House for personal profit by slimeballs and spiritual failures, reached obscene levels of moral corruption, decay and bankruptcy under the last Donald and Dick to ramp up debt in the name of American exceptionalism, and making it 'great', again for themselves and the Military Industrial Complex, Cheney and Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and some significantly well rewarded duplicitous others in on the Bush/Blair illegal war scam.

A handful of people persuading the rest with fabrication, spin, and outright spoofs, to pledge allegiance and die for a handful of rich white Anglo-American racist capitalists who created the global lies that led to the mess we are not out of  yet. Concocted by two men, world leaders who profited handsomely from the mass-murder they unleashed and that curses still the cultures, societies and millions of people that the Bush/Blair illegal war business physically and spiritually destroyed. The nation-states and those millions in them made homeless as a direct consequence of their whopper lies and existentially bankrupt policy of naked human greed, cloaked in a nauseatingly delusional faux moral piety, backstabbing and double-cross, at the ongoing heart of all the Blair/Bush global wrong-doing. 


And though the now one degree of separation between us all who are instantly connected is a commonplace reality, at the time he first spoke on the object of art in a future electronic age, Bernstein's idea of what the future internet would become, how everyone and anyone in the world will be sitting remotely on top of virtually all of history, and most of it's published voices at our fingertips, the idea of us all remotely communicating with every and anyone else's eye on the planet, reachable in print; was at the time a very radical and wholly authentic post-modern poetic vision.

Bernstein was one of the first contemporary poets, I can think of, to accurately grasp, understand, predict and delineate in print the essential game-changing element; of finding ourselves for the very first time in our shared and recorded history, European and American, with an equality of access to education, information, and the means of contributing as one of the first web-based Facebook comment class of social-media students that the digital information age ushered in, schooled, and then sent abroad into a world of ordinary folk and global media elites, winners and losers, every single person with a social-media account and the will to listen to the trolls' most deluded twaddle, who now all instantly qualify as a potential inheritor of the twin-bore literary impulse that is all Yeatsean hot wax, Joycean shite and onions, and erudite Beckettian waffle.

A desire for the hyper-ironic post-modern self-awareness and self-restraint, inculcated by falling into a positive model of moral secret-society Resistance and rising; the technology of the intellect, writing, mixed with the quintessentially Dublin urge to go on at length about shite, at the knuckled-edge of poe-loyt langwij, lyrical spontaneity, double-entendres, and an eventual sink from the cut-glass narrative clarity heard clearly-spoken in Dubliners, for the very first time, and via the worst excesses of Ulysses, wind its way into the erudite gobbledygook cited in our own imitations of one of the world's most literary challenging and unread post-modern phonetic bukes. Fannegins Weak.

All of us potential inheritors of all that is tediously long, erudite, and perfected spoken-music in the  less-learned ears of sparse pretenders in rival South-Dublin societies of secret sages in golden D4 circles of complaining ollúna, a horde of D8 experts in failing better every time, from the Liberties and Ballsbridge emerging wrought out in one fluid wind-like vatic voice containing three elementary figures of speech: one a homeless migrant's entire cast of Lancastrian humanity, and both the two Dublins in its twanging Anglo-Irish tone spoken in the more general literary English voice than a potential fifty million perfected literary English versions of ourselves.  

Published online after speaking it on April 16 1994, at a symposium, sponsored by the Parsons School of Design and organized by Lenore Malen, on "The Art Object in the Age of Electronic Technology", in the New School for Social Research, New York, where Bernstein delivered his prophetic prose outlining a series of fundamental poetic truths, with the immense precision, natural grace, wit, and timeless post-modern American voice that takes creative delight in documenting the ever changing moment to moment reality of art and life.

Speaking in a powerfully entertaining and enlightening series of voice/s in continually experimental hybrid forms of forward-edged writing that is cute, clever, tricksy, critically fearless, actively embracing and employing the psychological Beckettian principle and trick of wry self-ironising and supreme post-modern awareness. Writing well by consistently engaging at all times in the creatively intellectual act of failing better every time letters get put together in print on a page and screen. By the eternal neophyte and life-long learners that all eight billion of us human beings are.

What twenty-two years ago was real only in the very original mind of one experimental post-modern American poet leading the way in cutting edge critical prose, is now every and anyone's quotidian social-media reality. We have all undergone our own prose journeys as newly self-created, self-publishing autodidacts, committed and participatory academic commentators, concerned social-media netizens expressing our right to free speech and hoping that in the process some vague, or perhaps with time, clear position and poetic, will have made itself apparent in what it is we do in letters. The arrangers of sounds, inventor of words, mixer of fictions in factual lines and straight sentences that sing out from a lyric impulse, or do not, the music of what happens. And by doing so remake in our own vision the world:

The most radical characteristic of the internet as a medium is its interconnectivity. At every point receivers are also transmitters. It is a medium defined by exchange rather than delivery; the medium is interactive and dialogic rather than unidirectional or monologic.

Bernstein was the first practitioner of post-modern poetics, that I am aware of, to guess correctly in print and get right what eventually came to pass as the common literary post-modern social-media experience, that he played a principle part in punctuating, leading and marking the way to what is and where now in it we are; when he posted as his first link to this, then recently published piece, on the Buffalo Poetics list; the forerunner of all contemporary poetry forums, that ran for 21 years before being retired and archived in late January 2014. That Bernstein created as a project in his capacity as director of an experimental digital Poetics Program and the Regan Chair of the English Dept. of the University of Pennsylvania, and Editor of SUNY-Buffalo's Electronic PoetryCenter.

Where the voices of a few enlightened post-modernists exhibiting a knack for and interest in the most ancient, archaic and original poetic forms and topics, that succeed in getting through because of a clear signal to noise ratio detectable on ultra avant-garde social-media poetry platforms; that is very easy to discern because the back-drop to all social-media being a continual bombardment of us by corporate propaganda - an original voice of the s/he that needs not naming, drawn to talking of a sidhe muse, stands out from the less critically engaged, quieter poetry lovers without much appetite for exercising in casual social-media prose talk, an interest in the feet on the ground phonetics this slow art of finding phonetic faery sidhe, shee; and the technical and concrete aspects of Tuatha De Danann art, etymology, and all the other acoustic s/he play at the hazel source your faery-ring round Segais Well equivalent - inculcates over many years of reading, study, and writing for fun in the child-like source of wholly absorbed actory play, and being as close to delusional as one can be when in phonetic faer speaking of the fairy art.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Poo Art of the Revolution

Hello, my name is Kevin

the best and most widely read
satirist in Ireland, according

to a close friend & protege
who ran away from home

to the circus in Clonakilty
where he learned first his

trade as a clown.
With a one trick cock-bag

of literary learning, two clever
cute culchies, three steps

ahead of the Jackeens,
getting always one over

on the gombeens we meet,
hectoring ex-members

of the Socialist Party, gob men
lecturing in the canon we edit

created to publish and puff up
ourselves and those we approve

of in a revolution that never
arrives. Fifth-column mavericks,

RTE stalwarts, changing society
one satirical poem at a time,

pronounced in loud declamatory
voices, enunciating slowly each

spoken syllable, spreading
the word and emoji language

in a hip hot lingo of professional
luvvie poet-friends; whose work

will live on once humanity
has gone, my protege, Daithi,

has claimed, in a shrill and shouty
ranting voice that has brought

us local literary fame.

Kevin Desmond