Thursday, May 19, 2016

Joyess Modernism. The Nightingale You Love.

Spontaneous speculative linguistically innovative response to and commentary on Guardian year ten series Poem of the week no. 448: To a Nightingale by RF Langley.

Thanks very much to our Guardian curator, custodian, virtual goddess, keeper and poet-steward safe at the critical top of Her online Potw free for all barouche, caisson, wagon, receptacle and cutting-edge contemporary and experimental literary tree composed of comments from the Anonymous and identifiable colleagues, frenemies, friends, trolls, and cutting-edge linguistically innovative freedom fighters in the war on darkness, ignorance and fear of all that is different and unknown.


There is much well-woven alliterative, assonantal, and consonantal mouth-music in this week's offering. Subtly stitched into perfectly superlative super-short lines the words of which demand to be heard spoken to convey their full effect. And when they are, awe and dazzle our Reader's outer ear experiencing a merry-go-round of sounds and meaning.

Tho some of the words will send the general reader straight to a dictionary, and it takes a number of close-readings before we grasp the semantics and what exactly Langley's visual picture is; the overriding impression one is left with after first encountering this poem, read aloud, is a very striking sonic felicity in the arrangement of sounds the spoken words make, and the impressive quality of acoustic aptness and concordance their combined union create.

Tho i didn't know the meaning of a handful of specialist entomological words in the poem, the dizzying orality of these words combined transcend, or at least, equal, i think, the sum of their individual meanings, and cohere in a greater multi-formed spoken poem, that is, perhaps, a very definition of what the poetic voice should sound like in our external ear.

What struck me also are the very consciously placed periods appearing playfully in the middle of short haiku-length lines. Unlike the also superlative use of them three weeks ago, by Sarah Howe. Who deployed them in a similarly-shaped poem also made up of haiku-length spoken units; but only at the end of those short and more visually hygienic lines. Something I didn't consciously note at the time.

Though perhaps counter-intuitive to the mainstream eye of a more literary serious and poetically sombre contemporary middle-aged post-Movement editor whose critical outlook and opinions were formed in the shadow and sway of Seamus Heaney's global dominance as the most visibly eminent and officially ennobled laureate of a once very modern yet also very formal lyric verse; the assured and witty way with which Langley 'breaks the rules' of the old school, by not keeping subtly hidden the periods, and separating the units of speech by capitalising them as new sentences in the middle of slim laconic lines, because of the sheer ostentatious sound and musicality the poem makes, this full stop-go puncuational strategy enhanced rather than attenuated the whole effect of reading the poem for the first time. Aloud.

Speaking a mix of the exact scientific words most of us have to consult a dictionary to understand the meaning of, and the clacky-clicky makey-uppy sounds from nature that have no formal names, combined into a poem of the Nightingale that lead us by the ear to a bridge along the very metrically sophisticated and assured road that is a thematic centre of this free-verse that is anything but.

A contemporary lyric formality and metrically couth, laid back and refined framework hidden in plain sight disguised as a poem from the avant-garde modernist wing broadcasting a sophisticated effect caused by this yoking together of seemingly disparate sounds and meaning one must stare very closely at for a concentrated period of time, before one appreciates the finely created whole of this week's text.

One for the more aristocratically discerning Reader prepared to dig and listen and learn out loud how well-chosen the words and immaculately crafted are the welds in the arrangement of them. How metrical their divisions and distances, hearing from one sound to another this week's richly rewarding modernist song of spoken music made by a mouth alone.

And as the poet hopefully wills to reflect in print when s/he is in the throes of a half-inspired half-ecstatic state of cerebrally dependent composition all seek, tho most without a comprehensive bardic education or knowledge, in English translation, of the appropriate texts and technical triestes, that begin, the student Irish poet learned, for forty generations of their former courtly and aristocratic tradition: 'with the languages from abroad, every obscure sound that existed in every speech and in every language was put into Gaelic so that for this reason it is more comprehensive than any language.'

This pseudo-historical accounting for B-L-F-S-N and the Ogham alphabet in the Medieval poet-training manual published in English as the Scholar's Primer, that defined a strict twelve year course of studies, the purpose of which inculcated into the student poets a subtle appreciation of imbas forosnai and the spirit of divine illumination that creates all superlative poems and their parallel occult shadow text hidden within the very language of the poem as its ghostly aural silent voice that, as A.E. Houseman believed, went through one like a spiritually silent spear when in the presence of it.

Heard in the inner aural ear where the purest poetry exists, and that cannot be done justice when poets:

   ... address themselves frankly and almost exclusively to what may be called the external ear. This, in different ways and by different methods, they fill and delight: it is a pleasure to hear them, a pleasure to read them aloud. But there, in that very fact, you can tell that their music is only of the second order. To read aloud poets whose music is of the first, poets so much unlike one another as Milton and Blake, is not a pleasure but an embarrassment, because no reader can hope to do them justice. Their melody is addressed to the inner chambers of the sense of hearing, to the junction between the ear and the brain; and you should either hire an angel from heaven to read them to you, or let them read themselves in silence.

This point of potential contemporary contention appears in his breath-takingly ruthless posthumous critical assassination of Swinburne in the year after he died, claiming the silent aural ear is a superior poetic instrument than the spoken one.

And of course, in one sense, he is correct in claiming. But Houseman was also without any bardic learning, and exhibits a fatal sense of, perhaps, wrong assumptions, superiority, and a tone of gentlemanly entitlement common in that peculiarly Edwardian Anglophone voice at which Yeats excelled and was first in the class speaking.

At the point it was coming into the full of its capacity and attainment of his poetic, political, and mature theatrical literary power, at the height of speech as the pre-Dublin Rising and Anglophone poetry world's pre-eminent voice of eloquent poetic civility.

The spoken ear that Houseman demotes in his writing exercise of a literary strategist with one goal of repeatedly wellying a contemporary Edwardian boot into the freshly dead poet founder of a Victorian Decadent old school, by elevating to primacy and privilege this aural sense-blender, chamber, and divider of five simultaneously experienced physiological perceptions which meld into a wholly alternative non-physical inward path, and picture of reality, that is, perhaps, borne of personal bitterness, or critical perspicuity, depending on where in the spectrum of competing positions one decides to make a rhetorical stand and concur with or contest.

Adopt for the theoretical craic and a theatrical purpose common in those lucky to have got a way into painting and rendering closest to the contours of their own unique thought-process, a living inner prayer, poem, and the incarnate human spirit conjured to being by the unfathomable magic of Creation itself.

That is but briefly here and can potentially be harnessed to sing in spoken song and light ahead our spiritual road and make exist that ear within each and every one-off member of our eight billion strong species and race of humanity, that, in the greater context, are ourselves, singularly for three score and ten, and collectively for a quarter of a million years, but a brief breath of time in something far more perceptive and eloquent than what our quotidian words stack up and amount to on the page of one singular human life.

Itself but briefly drawing breath, disappears with the human spirit passing above, around, away, below, beside, down from, up over and beyond back into Creation flowing toward the light, and, in this poem, leaving in both one's external spoken and silently heard inner aural ear a rarely balanced frolicking and joyous playful spiritual mouth-music elevating to overt notice the usually unrevealed making and markings of that poem appear visually less formal. By the very clever and not insubstantial mental device and practice of stylistic deconstruction, and by example highlighting the nuts and bolts of a fixed metrical position, in such a way that challenges, confronts and invites a literary Reader to question the rigid poetic perspectives and conventions of formal lyric verse.

Spiritually enriched and morally clarified by the experience of pressing forward in the entirely counter-intuitive witnessing of a linguistically innovative poetry composed at the very creatively upper and most superlative intellectual heights.

And a manifestation of the knowledge which illuminates a poetic way across and through life's floors and doors of intuition drawn in the abundance of ways and paths across the bed of the noble streams only one in a hundred will get you across.

Desmond Swords

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Director of Slam's Tenth Annual Address.

All Ireland Poetry Slam. Facebook. Dublin. 

Thanks very much for all the birthday best wishes and gestures of virtual support for the AIPS on Facebook.

It was nine years ago today, six organisers brought first an all island slam music to happen and play in the mouth of the sandbanks, at the inaugural Ulster final in McHugh's boozer, Belfast.

A hastily arranged and supremely successful, minimal-fuss organisational effort, won for Connacht by Liverpool poet Brendan Murphy.

Who'd only begun writing and competing in the live poetry Slam form months before, and so had a whirlwind journey from the beginning to an early summit of the creative and emotionally dizzying all-island champion-ness all seventy-two provincial and nine on our All Ireland winners' roster have experienced over the decade of this now very well established seasonal Samhain fixture and annual series of competitive live poetry events.

One that has gifted context, cash, and a potentially lucrative All Ireland live poetry title to many of our contemporary slam stalwarts, who began getting invited to join in at the top-table of literary Ireland after the post-economic Crash and shift in cultural mood from a whatever you say say nothing poetic, and quiet school of ersatz certitude, where every narrator of a pre-2008 Irish poem was a native Trinity speaker, situated in a Tuscany villa stiltedly musing on arcane and abstruse topics in a uniformly timorous literary tone of the minor personal epiphany popular at that time of incredibly delusional ostentation and excess - to a wider and more socially inclusive, less culturally crass, formal, mundane or corporately manufactured bardic band of less quiet and more vocally insistent bravely outspoken linguistically innovative working-class voices representing the come all ye and let it hang out wave and wing of autodidactic Ireland.

That gained entry to the citadel of mythic literary Tuatha De Danann dream-music on their own merit and distinction, but were unified and drawing a primary context - during the early (2007-12) formative years - from the slam form and poetic that established itself organisationally as a fully democratic and successfully operating minimally costed culturally ennobling fixture that has been a faithfully nurturing supportive, and transparently fair vehicle free for all the practitioners of this oral re-connection, with which many now superlative poets have been blessed, served by and journeyed in to the upper floors and delivered gift-wrapped and gratis, ennobled as our all island live bardic slam champions, to the doors, desks and reception nodes of official Ireland poetry.

Now firmly elevated, emerged and fully embraced in the arc of reality that began as an idea in the mind of one man, a democrat republican from Dublin Palmerstown, Gerry MacNamara, founder of the seminal penultimate pre-Facebook, Glór, Monday Echo and Circle Sessions weekly underground Dublin poetry open-mic, Write and Recite (2004-8), advertised solely by handbill flyer and word of mouth, and at which there were no featured poet slots, and all those who put their name on a first come first on list, got the same amount of minutes at the mic.

The Slam birth in Belfast nine years ago today was wholly against the then very exclusive insular ultra-conservative self-serious cultural grain, and was reliant on little more than no money whatsoever, and a brilliantly creative idea implemented to perfection by the intellectual genius of the first final's lead organiser, Belfast poet Mark Madden.

Who retired from this voluntary role some years ago, and nominated as his replacement the very able, and now very experienced Tyrone poet, Colin Dardis.

Though condescendingly considered by more snooty, subsidised latte-sipping cluelessly simpering and timidly huddled non-speculative silently disengaged posers on the official Ireland arts bodies' circuit at the time as a debased and meaningless mongrel form of AIPS competition and slanguage that contained no literary merit, a cashless oafic assembly of professionally depressed nerdowells and outcasts; this lazy, visionless phantasmagorical projection and deliberately mis-characterised perspective was poetically swept swiftly aside by a 2008/9 Cleena wave knocking culturally off their perch and displacing a suddenly irrelevant school of state-sponsored crony-poet lovers gorging uninterrupted in quietude for decades at the official literary arts trough.

By unleashing to public prominence a wholly new and Rising tide of linguistically innovative slam radicals, and lifting to their stations a next generation of live poetry voices in what is now a well established and ongoing social-media driven vehicle for re-connection with the oral bardic culture.

Speaking in a style of metrically rendered folk voice presenting on its own merit this hitherto unfashionable free-form of multi-various rhythm and oral poetry, in a form of spoken song with which -- as an English outsider and mature post-graduate fourth year student barely at bardic grade one (of seven) and a focloc beginner arriving in the deepest depths of Ireland's most recent collective cultural delusion at the height of the economic boom, with nothing but a newly acquired Edge Hill BA in Writing Studies and Drama, and eagerly launching oneself into the live poetry Dublin scenes in July 2004, experiencing the cultural and personal joyousness common with returning English plazzies -- I created this competition eighteen months after first arriving and marvelling with comedic un-containment at the bonkersness of the poetry folk here.

At the very point I became the local live WaR poetry scene's loony-in-chief of boozy cultural disruptiveness, in which this competition was conceived, in the belly of drunken social shame and moral mortification, as a personally created gift and apology to Gerry MacNamara, and vehicle with which I was hoping to wheedle a way back into his open-mic poetry and weekly WaR event, that one's alcoholic rendition of Come Out Ye Black and Tans had got barred from the Duke pub in Dublin five weeks into what Gerry was expecting to become a permanent weekly residency; eighteen months into Write and Recite's four year verbal brawl round some of Dublin's most iconic pre- and post-crash literary drinking establishments.

This is the datum and base from which the idea of an all island slam was created and could only rise above. And has continued to do so successfully over the previous crazee decade of poetic triumph and debacle, belief and despair, hope and faith in this one mad idea born in the pit of a personal sorrow this annual public roller-coaster emerged out from and resolved in a light of self-lit poetic positivity that is now ten years on from its first incarnation.

A dream and idea turned into living reality and truth by this guardian bardic bore (Kevin Desmond), AIPS creator, and lore-steward custoding the Poetic Tradition of the All Ireland Poetry Slam's Senchus Mór.

In which a slam poem is primarily the spoken cultural object rendered in any of the dizzying myriad yet unmistakably Irish spoken forms of Cuchulainary verbal magic taught from the Tuatha Dé Danann tongues of such mighty oaks as all those that have wore and won the annual crown of this eminently authentic live prestigious poetry process and organisational lesson-maker with which many of our finest and most successful younger live poets have created and found their own spoken song.

And out from, within, and with which, as the late great Padraic Fallon translated the otherworldly words of blind 18C Connacht slam-poet equivalent, and last of the wandering bards, the autodidact Mayo poet, Anthony Raftery: 'one can find the well by their wet footprints, and make one's soul!'

(pipes by Joanie Madden)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

To Walt Whitman in America

Send but a song oversea for us,
Heart of their hearts who are free,
Heart of their singer, to be for us
More than our singing can be;
Ours, in the tempest at error,
With no light but the twilight of terror;
Send us a song oversea!

Sweet-smelling of pine-leaves and grasses,
And blown as a tree through and through
With the winds of the keen mountain-passes,
And tender as sun-smitten dew;
Sharp-tongued as the winter that shakes
The wastes of your limitless lakes,
Wide-eyed as the sea-line's blue.

O strong-winged soul with prophetic
Lips hot with the bloodheats of song,
With tremor of heartstrings magnetic,
With thoughts as thunders in throng,
With consonant ardours of chords
That pierce men's souls as with swords
And hale them hearing along,
Make us too music, to be with us
As a word from a world's heart warm,
To sail the dark as a sea with us,
Full-sailed, outsinging the storm,

With the sea-steeds footless and frantic,
White myriads for death to bestride
In the charge of the ruining Atlantic
Where deaths by regiments ride,
With clouds and clamours of waters,
With a long note shriller than slaughter's
On the furrowless fields world-wide,

For a continent bloodless with travail
Here toils and brawls as it can,
And the web of it who shall unravel
Of all that peer on the plan;
Would fain grow men, but they grow not,
And fain be free, but they know not
One name for freedom and man?

One name, not twain for division;
One thing, not twain, from the birth;
Spirit and substance and vision,
Worth more than worship is worth;
Unbeheld, unadored, undivined,
The cause, the centre, the mind,
The secret and sense of the earth.

God is buried and dead to us,
Even the spirit of earth,
Freedom; so have they said to us,
Some with mocking and mirth,
Some with heartbreak and tears;
And a God without eyes, without ears,
Who shall sing of him, dead in the birth?

The earth-god Freedom, the lonely
Face lightening, the footprint unshod,
Not as one man crucified only
Nor scourged with but one life's rod;
The soul that is substance of nations,
Reincarnate with fresh generations;
The great god Man, which is God.

But in weariest of years and obscurest
Doth it live not at heart of all things,
The one God and one spirit, a purest
Life, fed from unstanchable springs?

Within love, within hatred it is,
And its seed in the stripe as the kiss,
And in slaves is the germ, and in kings.
Freedom we call it, for holier
Name of the soul's there is none;
Surelier it labours if slowlier,
Than the metres of star or of sun;
Slowlier than life into breath,
Surelier than time into death,
It moves till its labour be done.

Till the motion be done and the measure
Circling through season and clime,
Slumber and sorrow and pleasure,
Vision of virtue and crime;
Till consummate with conquering eyes,
A soul disembodied, it rise
From the body transfigured of time.

Till it rise and remain and take station
With the stars of the worlds that rejoice;
Till the voice of its heart's exultation
Be as theirs an invariable voice;
By no discord of evil estranged,
By no pause, by no breach in it changed,
By no clash in the chord of its choice.

It is one with the world's generations,
With the spirit, the star, and the sod;
With the kingless and king-stricken nations,
With the cross, and the chain, and the rod;
The most high, the most secret, most lonely,
The earth-soul Freedom, that only
Lives, and that only is God.

Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Earthly voice

Hush dark dusk the evening
light is fading now

in the spirit it is all
we have, and warm tonight

memories come fill within
us as the day ends

murmuring otherworldly
in a singing voice
that fills the void

still and soft
with the silent breath
of you my love.

Jennifer Maher

Sunday, May 01, 2016


I step from the airplane
my hair melts dead air
I walk quickly, click-clunk
click-clunk, click-clunk.

Barbara Jordan, bronze
and sober, glasses poised,
the last like myself I'll see
for three more days
and three more days

forever. Outside I slow
the click-clunk to a three
sound crawl; click,
click-clunk, click, click-clunk.

I am a woolly mammoth
stuffed into a cab. I bear
the long silence
of my extinction through
the rear view, my head
on the back seat,
horns akimbo. I melt dead air.

Humans shoulder blame
for the loss
of large mammals like me
a new study finds.

The cabby is my cousin.
My cousin carts my husk
to my Diarama.
The radio says; the tide
is high. The radio says

I'm gonna be your number one.


Samiya Bashir