Who in the name of Banbha, Fodla and Eiru's people has been appointed the poetic guardian tasked with leading the collaborative creative turning of this elegant property into a stately home fit for the 21C cultural purpose and possession of the ancient Irish artistically aristocratic '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'; and that the unimprovable original druidic voice speaking 7C Milesian poet Amergin's Literary Ars poetica, that was only first translated into English in 1978, informs us, 'is lasting power / undiminishing protection'.
The ninety minute evening of readings and discussion, Arguing with Edmund Spenser in Contemporary Irish Poetry, was a collaborative event organised by The School of English, Drama, Film and Creative Writing, University College Dublin, and Poetry Ireland.
Five poets who'd been "thinking and arguing with Spenser in their recent work" gave a collectively virtuoso performance that made this event a homely yet seriously scholarly and culturally warm occasion that cost those attending precisely nothing but our time, travel, ears, eyes, and which suitably edified and entertained our minds with the imaginations of five of Ireland's premier poetry practitioners performing in letters and live spoken language at the very highest level.
John McAuliffe, Trevor Joyce, Leanne O'Sullivan, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and the current Ireland Professor of Poetry, Ard Ollamh Eireann, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.
St. Helens, Lancastrian born, Kerry raised Irish language poet, Ard Ollamh Eireann (2001-4), Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, gave the first reading of her mythic poetry written in response to Spenser at an event curated by the UCG educated poet-critic, Manchester University Creative Centre for New Writing co-director, John McAuliffe.
Ní Dhomhnaill poignantly explained how it was very challenging, and all but impossible to intellectually reconcile the finely crafted airy lines of praise in the Faerie Queene-- that she first read by the sea near Smerwick on the Dingle peninsula in Kerry --with what Spenser witnessed and was complicit in, in his official capacity as Secretary to Lord Grey. The genocidal act of the Smerwick Massacre, conducted by the hands of Walter Raleigh leading the decapitation of eight hundred possibly press-ganged Italian and Spanish papal soldiers; which Spenser described as the 'rough work' of his fellow courtier poet.
McAuliffe's ten minute Introduction to the event set the scene and provided context to Spenser's role as a literary propagandist and Crown administrator divvying up and parceling out the former final earl Gerald Desmond's escheated half a million acres to loyal Elizabethan English and Anglo-Irish tenants, and those literary and martial Elizabethan courtiers who had successfully hunted down, crushed, defeated, and brought to an end three and a half centuries of Hiberno-Norman Geraldine governance in Munster by decapitating the head from the House of Desmond and its lineage of four barons and fifteen earls.
Next up was Trevor Joyce whose texts were a variation of the write-thru form. Where the literary experimentalist takes one text, chops, cuts, and reconfigures it into another text.
A form of turbo-charged and very complex creatively conducted Found Poetry oneself began practicing in 2004 in my final year at university, using Sylvia Plath's father poem Colossus. And since that time one's regular experimental literary acts of write-thru have evolved into the fairly fluidly oiled process and practice it is today.
Write-thru is a form not many practise in because it is a fairly challenging form that takes a lot of intellectual and creative effort. Most published poetry is personal lyric of the minor and major epiphany, and Joyce, one of Ireland's premier modernist poets, is in one sense working in resistance to this tradition by drawing his literary inspiration from and following in the experimental footsteps of the 1930s Irish modernist poets such as fellow Dubliner, Samuel Beckett, career diplomat, Denis Devlin, and European intellectual and Advent Publisher, Brian Coffey. The latter two practices for the bulk of the time they were living were in the main airily waved away in silent dismissal as culturally irrelevant by the less fully realised supposedly leading poetic lights of immediate post-Yeatsean bubbaling tewn.
In which his many admirers stepped into the absence of a living cynosure and arrogated its afterglow to themselves as his enemies, flunkies, friends and many competing literary custodians. The retrospective elevation into the first order of the Irish literary canon and retroactive acknowledgement of their contribution to Irish letters by later generations of golden circle ollúna under the wise and humane spiritual guidance of the Bellaghy bard, is, perhaps, a source of grim satisfaction for some of the Poundian inspired literary crazees.
Devlin and Coffey's treatment by the state-sanctioned and subsidized Official Verse Culture mob in Dublin, as it was with Kavanagh, it is now generally agreed, constituted the many petty and mean-spirited acts of negligence by omission at the time by a ruthlessly lesser talented and less visionary 'Yeatsean' careerist crowd who traded on Silly's name to boost their own published efforts as Friends of Famous Mister Coole Dublin Sligo London dreamer.
Dubliner Joyce recited what for oneself personally was the most interesting piece of the evening. Made up entirely of one syllable words cut from what is generally considered to be Spenser's crowning achievement, Mutability Cantos, and recast by the arch modernist as a write-thru.
And one from his book of most recently published experimental poems that Joyce describes in the subtitle of this latest collection, Fastness, as being: "A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser"; which is at once both modern and ancient. The hypnotic effect of the one syllable pitched perfect oral flow was startling in its originality. Joyce spoke of his process of casting these literary and linguistically innovative experiments and write-thru poems, in a very illuminating manner.
He talked of 'stripping out' all the four and five syllable words of Latin and Greek gods and goddesses, and getting down to the linguistic hardcore and foundation of Spenser's poetry and intellect. Very much a make-over expert taking the words of one text, changing it into another, and in the process making the finished product the experimentalist's own voice.
The protean nature of language is what, as I heard it, interests Joyce. The fleetingness of thought, ideas, and very much an intellectual approach, balanced by a long and established practical understanding of the basics of spiritual reality due to his life-long love of language which is the vehicle for spiritual expression we all share.
Joyce said that prior to his dive into Spenser he was not at all a fan of his poetry (I think the word 'loathed' may have been uttered); not least because Spenser is a very divisive figure due to his role as the founding voice of Elizabethan lyric propaganda, at Ireland's tragically sorrowful cultural expense. But after working on the write-thrus Joyce began to appreciate Spenser's gift with language, and came to understand the poet and separate him from 'the bad man'.
'He was a good poet but a bad man', was the succinct and perfect summation spoken by the always interesting and prodigiously gifted, humble, modest and wise current Ard Ollamh Eireann, Ireland Professor of Poetry, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.
Whose ability to cast a cold eye across his poetry and separate it from the barbarous acts Spenser was active and complicit in as one of the most ruthless Elizabethan toadies of his time, dissolved one's own dilemma of this poet with culturally oppressive proximity to one's own paternal name and (the family yarn spins) lineage of Desmond.
And for this I am eternally grateful I attended this ninety minute event of readings and panel discussion on this reviled and polarizing figure in Irish culture and its poetry.
The Trinity high priestess of Desmond Munster English said she had heard this from another academic. And this simple calmly rendered statement of reality allows the Irish writer a permission to begin investigating the poetry of Spenser with a sense of emotional detachment and intellectual balance by examining and appreciating the craft of poetry without being cluttered up and put critically off kilter by the hate-filled genocidal composition of his most humanly evil publication too incendiary to publish during his own lifetime, A View of the present State of Ireland.
A truly evil text composed by an inferiority-ridden then modern contemporary Elizabethan poet who had been born to a low station and with the barest of authentic poetry tradition to draw and learn literate nobility from. And with no real spiritually noble aristocratic class or humanly positive qualities.
A mind filled only with the desires, whims, and jealousies of a ruthlessly heartless and wicked supremely selfish uncaring Tudor courtier and astonishingly flawed human being. The word-work of a homicidal psychopathic cowardly bully and what is called by working-class London English people, a no good wrong 'un. A truly bad example passionately advocating in his vile doggerel for the violent extermination of the Irish people and culture. Rendered by this arch cruel and conspicuously envious man who exercised his gift in language to a very fluent degree, as 'the pacifying of Ireland'.
But only, of course, the delusional monarchical mind of this mentally ill madman argues, should its people not cease speaking Gaelic, wearing Irish dress, stop conducting themselves in their millennia old ancient and noble Irish cultural habits; and become English themselves.
I may have the order wrong but next up, I think, was Leanne O'Sullivan, who came to Spenser via her husband, Spenserian scholar and Medieval and Renaissance specialist in the UCC English Department, Dr. Andrew King.
Her response to Spenser was a smoothly eloquent and innately poetically gracious flowing lyric poem in which a third person narrator muses on the art of scholarly endeavor via the form of a character composed by the narrator as a literary errand boy and scribal assistant moving among and around to and from books and manuscripts as O'Sullivan's arch bandraoi voice sculpted by the mythic reality of sand sea sky and stone transports the listening Reader to faeryland with her otherworldly O'Sullivan Beara spirituality rooted and sourced in the ancient Cashel Eóganachta nobility of magical memorial Milesian mouth-music originating in what became the Gaelic Irish and Kerry Cork Kingdom of Desmond.
The culturally poetic force of mystic language Nollaig Ó Muraíle suggests has an etymological connection to the Kerry dialect word béarach, béar[r]a that refers to "rocks on the seashore against which the sea breaks with great force."
The first of the three O'Sullivan readings I have attended was the 2004 launch of her debut Waiting For My Clothes, and four Bloodaxe collections later she has fulfilled the early promise of a fully rounded innately perfected wild mythic imagination that made such a global splash when she turned up a shy and artistic teenager to a local poetry workshop in Cork composed of vacationing American MFA students, hosted by visiting poetry professor and high priest of witty sardonic and dry poetic American modernism, Billy Collins.
Who spotted her natural and prodigious gift for literary speech that eventful day and from this chance encounter attained her potential early on after a rocky teenage start to become Ireland's premier Munster poet of her generation.
John McAuliffe, one of Ireland's most contemporaneously significant and publicly visible poet-critics, had as the subject for his poem his first visit to the ruins of Kilcolman castle, where Spenser had written The Faerie Queene, and that was a Geraldine castle of Desmond's Spenser ended up with the possession of, along with three thousand surrounding acres, after the final fifteenth earl Gerald Desmond's half a million Munster acres, castles and estates were escheated and divvied up by Spenser as a Crown servant and secretarial agent tasked with the orderly transition to the highest bidders of the Geraldine properties, spoils and wealth acquired by violence and mass murder.
McAuliffe's lyrical investigation and literary wrestle with the ghost, contrasted the ruined castle with the grandeur of the Spenserian stanzas that served as the Merchant Taylor scholarship pupil's then contemporary formally experimental cutting edge Elizabethan amateur's rough-work and loose less evolved English language parallel to an expansively more metrically sophisticated anamain praise poetry composed in the strict-straight Dán Díreach verse-form. That was the the first class superlative poetic state and reserve signature form of the apical grade of the seven degrees of wisdom in the Gaelic literary tradition, the ollúna/poetry professors.
As we learn from the great 19C Kilkenny Irish language scholar, John O'Donovan, the formal complexity of the Dán Díreach verse form makes the metrical sophistication of the experimentalist Spenser's poetry by comparison appear as challenging to compose as a limerick, nursery rhyme, or doggerel.
Such was its acoustic and literary complexity that the student poet was trained up in two looser forms. A beginner's imitative potty-training Oglachas form that a student poet began playing with letters and practising in; in which most of the formally exacting and mindbogglingly precise metrical rules of the Dán Díreach verse forms were left out; before getting handier and graduating to the water-wing and stabilizer Bruilingeacht form.
In which more of the metrical rules of the Dán Díreach verse forms were introduced and gradually applied, until by the transition from the eleventh to twelfth year the nearly qualified poetry professor was applying the seven and eight requisites of strict straight Dán Díreach verse we learn of in Part IV Chapter Two of O'Donovan's A Grammar of the Irish Language (1845), Of Versification: "viz.,
1st, a certain number of syllables in each line.
2nd, four lines in each quatrain.
3rd, Concord/Alliteration/Uaim is of two kinds, proper and improper. The former, called Fior-uaim, is where the last two words of a line begin with a vowel or the same consonant... The Improper Concord is when the words so beginning are not the last two in the line.
But here note, that what the ancient Irish called an Iarmbearla, i.e. the article, possessive pronoun, adverb, preposition, or conjunction, coming between any two words, neither forms nor hinders a concord. The proper concord can be used for the improper, and vice versa, in every line except the third and fourth, in which the proper concord is indispensably necessary.
4th, Correspondence/Comharda. This has some resemblance to rhyme, but it does not require the corresponding syllables to have the same termination as in English rhyme. Correspondence is of two kinds, perfect and broken. Perfect correspondence, which is sometimes equal to perfect rhyme in English, consists in the agreement of two words, the last in two lines of poetry, in vowels and consonants of the same class.
Broken, or imperfect, correspondence is the agreement of two words, the last in two lines of poetry, in vowels only, without any regard to consonants.
5th, Termination/Rinn, requires that the last word in the second and fourth lines of a quatrain should exceed that of the first and third by one syllable.
6th, Union or Uaithne, is nearly the same with Correspondence, except that the same vowels are not required in each place; and, in polysyllables, it is only necessary that they agree in class, as abba, biobba; imne, doimne, opmaille, reanpoige; but the nearer they agree the better. A syllable, however, with a broad vowel cannot form a union with one having a small vowel.
7th, Head or ceann, is the monosyllabic word which concludes the second and fourth lines of a quatrain in that kind of verse called Seadna.". "To these may be added an eighth, not because it is always necessary, but because it is often used, namely, Urlann, of which we shall speak in its proper place.
8th, Another requisite of in Dan Direach is that called Amus. It is nearly the same as an imperfect correspondence, except that it requires an equal number of syllables in the words which correspond.
The principal species of Dan Direach verse chiefly in use among the Irish poets are the five following, namely, Deibhidhe, Seadna, Rannaigheacht mhor, Rannaigheacht bheag, and Casbhairn.
Deibhidhe. The principal requisites which distinguish this kind of verse from others is, that the first and third line of each quatrain end with a minor termination, and the second and fourth with a major termination. It requires also seven syllables in each line, with correspondence concord, and union, which must all be perfect in the last couplet."
And O'Donovan carries on as you can read at the link, listing the full complexity and intellectual beauty of these metres that Spenser not having Gaelic viewed in his barbarous unsophisticated mind as the work of uncouth, unlearned uncivilised rhymers with no class and speaking a language he only wanted to exterminate and render into silence.
There can be no rehabilitation into the Irish canon of this doggerelist's evil infantile and wholly anti-human view that the literary utterances of the finest most sophisticated language experts to have ever written, with a thousand year history and ancient authentic local native tradition, sourced in the pool of living druidic speech - were a doggerelistic product of the monstrous minds of barely thinking rude crude illiterate Irish simpletons.
This mind may have a few stray lines of beauty but they are between masses of plodding uninventive utterly unimpressive tin-eared propaganda written solely to boast, prance, wheedle, flatter, and obsequiously toady in the service of himself alone and no other. He cared not for any earthly queene, he dreamt only of powerful riches and vast material wealth and would lie, cheat, steal and have others kill on his order, to secure what he wanted for himself alone.
And as we know from George Calder's translation of the list of requirements for each grade in the four 7C books and grammatical texts which make up the Auraicept na n-Éces, literally, Precepts of Poetry, aka Scholars Primer, and Handbook of the Learned, and the technical training manual of the twelve year Gaelic poet-training programme - the writing of twenty anamain praise poems in the highly creatively complex and immensely intellectually challenging strict straight Dán Díreach verse forms was a requirement of learning in the penultimate eleventh year of study.
It could be the major or minor variety, anamain mór or anamain becc; with four divisions of anamain mór, Nath, the Anair, Laidh, and Eman.
And at which point the nearly poetry professor had one more year, and after performing a learning requirement of the Four Feats of Ladchend mic Bairchida, Chota, Bicni, and Béci; became qualified on the twelve year curriculum and had finally after a long creative and intellectually joyous literary route attained the apical grade and appellation of ollamh/poetry professor described in the annals as: 'A great sage then, s/he does not apologize for their ignorance of anything in the four divisions of learnedness (Gaelic, History, Latin and Poetry)'.
The Irish language poet and Ard Ollamh Eireann (2001-4), Ní Dhomhnaill, seemed most of the five poets reading the one for whom the living Gaelic language folk memory of 'the bad man' was of such cultural potency and phantasmagorical strength that she came across as the one least willing of the five talking participants to completely abandon all cultural reserve and join in the fun of acknowledging the well-wrought craft and praising the poetry of this contentious figure surpassed in the centuries long and ancient historical Irish memory only by figures such as Cromwell.
She said that in her opinion Spenser's low opinion of Irish literary Filidh poets was the result of his 'jealousy' of them. Which I would tend to agree with. He had no Gaelic and the genocidal way in which he wrote about Irish culture would tend to more than suggest the mind of this uncommonly unaristocratic low birthed talented scholarship boy and later man was one driven by an inferiority complex, greed, jealousy, hatred, and an ability to ignore any act of barbarism in the pursuit of personal material profit and his own social elevation by any means to the aristocratic status he was cravenly obsessed with and his entire life was a testament to and his writings the living literary proof of.
One of the most qualified repositories of the entire unadulterated cultural arc and sweep of history contained in the living Gaelic language; Ní Dhomhnaill, punctuated the air of good-natured frivolity on the professorially detached four-fifths academic panel of poetry professionals by delivering a timely bardic reminder in her recounting of the local Kerry and Desmond South Munster folk memory that was proven true when during an archeological dig, she said, I think, in the 1980s, a corner of some domestic field known locally for generations as 'field of the heads', was found to contain a mass of sixteenth century people's severed heads.
The pieced together facts from the few that were ever recorded, and certainly not publicised, 'rough work' being all Spenser committed to print, and Grey himself boasting to his queen he had "Then put .. in certain bands, who straight fell to execution. There were six hundred slain", tell far less the true gruesomeness of what occurred than the physical proof which turned up in the corner of this Kerry field close to the site of the Smerwick Massacre.
The final poet to read her work was the current High Poet and her scholarly anecdotes imbued the occasion with a wit and wisdom of the very highest intellectual order which crowned and completed an extraordinary evening in the Poetry Palace on Parnell Square.
Blessed by the bardic history one thousand years in living existential print, and the Irish titans of global literature. The officially noble laureates Beckett, Bernard Shaw, Heaney and Yeats. Not to mention the unofficial modernist noble laureate Joyce. And a very long list of the world's premier literary poetic practitioners and people of the goddess Art in the home of scholarly European letters with a living connection to the birth of Gaelic writing in the Ogham aka Celtic Tree Alphabet.
Ní Chuilleanáin's prayerful praising of our collective faery woman of this island O Ireland of memory and mouth-music;- was a tour de force in how to do it and one felt truly blessed to have been privileged to hear, witness and be a silent cerebrally joyful participant in such a memorable event as I left for the first of what one hopes will be many more at Ireland's premier home place and Poetry Palace fit for the world's best spoken bardic matter and literary filiocht we the public witnesses there have been presented for free by the cultural magic of this island's ancient druidic goddess of the kind maternal timeless ever present warm witty wise, in triplicate, living literary feminine love spiritually all Her.
McAuliffe was not so much attempting to rehabilitate Spenser as have a mature dispassionate look at the language of this 'good poet' in a playfully mature Argument five centuries after the butchery and mass murder this arch 'bad man' was witness to, complicit in, and glossed over in virtual silence. Challenging instead the phantasmagoria of what he had taken part in and witnessed, thru the mutable lens and redemptive process of Poetry.
Thanks very much to Director Kennelly, Publications Manager Paul Lenehan, Education Officer Jane O'Hanlon, Communications Manager Muireann Sheahan, and someone whose name I don't know, who opened the door, a very smiley lovely person. It has been amazing fun and I cannot wait for the honor and privilege of serving once again as witness to another event at the Peoples' Poetry Ireland Literary home there in the heart of this thing of deep cultural joy and profound poetic love.
Here's to all the hard-working staff and literary lovers at Poetry Ireland and UCD for making a major psychological event of minor personal epiphany such a rewarding spiritually beautiful and lofty thing.
And hopefully much more of the experimental English language anamain prose-poetry. Slainte.
Grá agus síocháin