Dear Anon. Thank you very much for this kind calm considered reply to the article titled Bó land Heaven and the Bardic Blindspot.
I understand your pain. I too for many years as a younger person, felt the exact same way. Until luckily, a door was self-opened and the path was presented by one's Self leading step by step into what I had always wanted to be doing but felt someone from my working-class English background was too thick, too uncivilized and too common to ever be allowed to do.
And now of course I understand what the superlatively human poet Seamus Heaney meant in his essays where he tells the reader in a warm kind playful but deadly serious and eternally present voice, in an intimate one on one manner; that the writer must find our own agency within.
Create our own critical literary operating system. What New York feminist critic, scholar and poet, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, describes in the final italicized words of an essay on poetry and gender, 'Overthrow': "poetics (that) gives (the writer) a permission to continue."
The writer creating as Boland did, their own self-sustaining path into spiritual sovereignty. Because the point and purpose of (writing) poetry is about spiritually ennobling oneself from within our own imagination. And although in the modern superficial whirl it can seem to be bestowed from outside ourselves, by the awarding of nomenclature, titles, and exterior baubles that gift a brief sugar high of personal pleasure; the real stuff of personal spiritual and literary sovereignty comes from within our own minds and imaginations.
Although sometimes poetry and writing can seem like a team sport, it is, when all is said and done, when we are all gone, a solitary individual pursuit and imaginative game played with self. The future reader, for those that have any, cares not a jot who our literary friends and enemies were, and if they do, they want only comedy not the earnestness of quotidian pobiz politicking. As they are interested only in the eternal present of the living written word.
And nobody can write that for us, only the individual mind and imagination can create its own poetics and permission to continue on their own path without having to ask others if they are allowed to follow their own instinct. One that reaches eventually the heights of uncommon sovereign eloquence; not through the applause and acclaim of literary friends but through hard work and concentrating on doing the business end of poetry; not the secondary and what can often become the diversionary social-side of PoBiz.
Hard work is better than bright wit. As we learn from the Gaelic to English translations of Wisdom Sayings of the 8C Hiberno-Saxon King, Aldfrith of Northumbria. Who was born and reared in Ulster, his father Oswiu of Northumbria in exile in Ireland, and his mother a princess, Fín, a daughter of the 7C Irish High King, Colmán Rímid, of the Cenél nEógain sept, whose power-base was Inishowen in Donegal, and their capital, Ailech.
Described by Alcuin, Bede, and Stephen of Ripon, as a wise man of great literary learning.
And this inner spiritual nobility one attains solely from their own hard work, hammering the books, writing the letters; until, drop by joyful drop the tortuously difficult fleeting ideas become easier to locate, apprehend, inspect and delineate in letters closest to the contours of the original thought which birthed whatever it is one ends up speaking on the page.
We must create our own critical literary apparatus, measurements and system; as we cannot rely on others to tell us what is happening in the realm of language. That is the take-away I got from reading nearly every single word the Bellaghy bard published. Certainly his prose.
That I discovered and fell in love with first; and which led me to the poetry I had not read much of until chancing across Finders Keepers one afternoon in the Edge Hill University library during the second half of the second third year semester of my Writing Studies and Drama BA. Prior to that I'd virtually no familiarity with his voice. I had heard the name Seamus Heaney alright, being known to me, but that was about it.
And once I picked up his book of critical essays, looking for a guru, three years into the writing at university, I knew immediately that this was it, the real thing. And in that moment within several sentences, I found and fell in love with the literary voice of my and millions of others most beloved human poet of the finest bardic order whose own poetic voice serves as the superlative example and model to aim for, for any starting out on their twelve to twenty year apprenticeship in Irish letters.
And his prose voice was my soul guide from that moment on. The kindly sage, "a gentlemanly country man", as the Tipperary bardic poet and unacknowledged godfather of Dublin spoken word and slam, Noel Sweeney, describes the Bellaghy bard in his poem, PNO6, recounting a passing moment when he and the chief poet of Ireland passed through a door at the Poetry Now festival in Dun Laoghaire.
And in that moment Sweeney, like (I think) Betjeman said of silently sheltering from rain in a doorway with Kavanagh, he felt in that fleeting moment some intimate revelatory wordless exchange of the human soul had occurred as the intelligence of the Monaghan poet shone through the brief shower. And my own silent moments with the voice I trusted most occurring without ever exchanging a word in person; because the Mossbawn mage always told us one on one on the page in his most eloquent and kind critically human literary voice; what ye gotta do as a poet.
As the great Northside Dublin, Finglas poet, Paula Meehan, told me, and a couple of hundred others in a public address at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre before it closed down, during her introduction to a poetry reading by the Southside sister Dublin poet, Eavan Boland, a year after I had arrived in the city of my late mother, Pauline Desmond, nee Swords, in a similar sounding voice my late Cabra mother spoke with, that had an identical cadence and conviction of spirit; how she began exactly the same as both of us, feeling excluded from poetry and writing it. She considered herself too working-class, too common, and from a community where books were something to read and not to be written.
My mother was an avid reader, with a working-class North city Dublin accent, background, and that identical fearless warm-hearted straight-talking kindly verbal manner as Meehan; who told a poetic parable of how she imagined the literary world to be a citadel only the socially elite with cut glass voices could enter and practice the art of letters in.
Her dream was to be a writer, a poet, but because of her background she had it in her mind that because she was excluded she could only enter the literary citadel by subterfuge. And so she plucked up the courage and approached it, and went around it looking for some side or back entrance, but the walls contained no aperture or opening.
Such was her desire to breech the literary citadel and become a writer, she girded herself and scaled up its walls, climbing right to the top, hoping there was perhaps a way in over down through the roof, like Lugh leaping the walls of Tara after being turned away by the gatekeeper, coming in from the sky.
But, no, the citadel had no exterior entrance. And clambering down she thought, perhaps there is a way under, a tunnel; surely there must be a way into the literary citadel for someone so talented and determined as our Finglas ban-fili.
But, again, there was no way in. Finally, resigned to her fate, accepting her North Dublin Finglas working-class background was excluded, she turned to leave her dream behind and face life in a factory, shop, or office; when she had the idea; that, maybe, perhaps, could she be so bold and daring as to try the most obvious route and go in through the front?
Her heart beating, expecting at any moment for there to appear an officious jobsworth in regulation Dublin peaked security hat with a dull bronze badge in the middle of it, wearing a dark siege jacket rumpled, shapeless and indistinct; who would tell her to clear off, her sort could not come in to this top class joint for the high born aristocrats.
But no one came or stopped her approach; and when she reached the door, tentatively she knocked but got no answer, and so she pushed the door and as if by magic, it opened, much to her surprise. And even more to her amazement, there was nobody at all there to prevent her from entering the literary citadel that she was convinced she was barred from at birth. The only exclusion was created by her own phantasmagoria and working class paranoia.
And I can remember Meehan telling that tale in crystal clarity years later. I am drawn back to the crowded lobby and can see myself stood there as if it is now, looking across a sea of heads and hearing the authentic voice of Meehan speak, with the tall Boland standing in silence by her side.
And I hear the wise voice of this national North Side Dublin treasure as clearly as I hear my own mother's telling me as a small boy her aged relatives' tales of her family's great grandparents being evicted onto a boreen at the side of a Mayo cottage in Bohola, with nothing but the rags they were stood up in, her eyes blazing as she told me and my four sisters this; her entire body filled with some ancient spiritual possession, and transmitting it. Some profound lesson of what felt like recent familial reality that had happened only hours earlier.
That seemed odd and out of place to me as a young boy in Lancashire. A deep well of passionate Irishness passing down the single most important point of truth and historical memory I now understand exactly the import of as a very privileged literary lore keeper led to the citadel wholly by a maternal spirit of our faery woman of Ireland always ever present and guiding every letter with me as the gift from an eternally loving people of our mother goddess Art.
Who is now in heaven and hallowed be Her name. That we her children cherish for giving by her love these living letters and words of Her's that praise this island O Ireland we inherit its joy and sorrow that flourishes and will not perish but held in heads possessed with Her wholly spirit.
And I understand why you claim the Bardic Tradition was a bastion of misogyny and exclusion, you are perfectly right. By today's standards women were excluded from the literary equation. But unless we go back in time and ascertain what these long silent voices had to say when living, we can only speculate and guess.
The Tradition may have been male but the art, knowledge, precepts and principles of their literary tradition are ancient, timeless and gender neutral. All one need do with the critical and instructional texts that teach it, is change he to s/he and that is literally it.
Once this is done the workings, the learning of it can be had by all. Because once you actually do study, read, write through the lessons, and after sixteen years in English translation, come to cerebrally possess the entirety of the bardic tradition, Coimgne, all the voluminous textual pieces fallen finally into place like a box lid clicked shut; then you experientially have learned all that is taught on the curriculum at the bardic college, and you possess eólas.
Acquired by having spent the required amount of time fishing, caught and eaten your eó fis, Salmon of Knowledge, bradán feasa from Nechtan's Well of Segais, ringed by nine hazel trees.
They feast on the Nuts of Knowledge, each one containing a total download of the full Coimgne, and which Amergin Glúingel tells the student poet about in Irish poetry's Ars Poetica text translated first from 7&10C Old Irish rosc and prose, only in 1978 by PL Henry, and a year later by Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies Celtic Studies Professor, Liam Breatnach.
And this version by the world's foremost independent expert scholar on the topic of Ogham, Erynn Rowan Laurie: "...they cast themselves in great quantities like a ram’s fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne, moving against the stream swifter than racehorses driven in the middle-month on the magnificent day every seven years."
"The nine hazels of Crimall the sage
drop their fruits yonder under the well:
they stand by the power of magic spells
under a darksome mist of wizardry."
(Edward Gwynn, Metrical Dindshenchas, 1913)
Caught in Yeatsean "waters of emotion and passion, in which all purified souls are entangled".
And you come to understand of this ancient North British and Irish poetry tradition; "it's a club that is steeped in history, of spine-tingling glory, and at times, truly heart-breaking tragedy"; but ye keep the faith, kidda, bcuz it's the same as when you are part of Liverpool Football Club; You'll Never Walk Alone.