RSS

Tag Archives: Bono

JUDAS STOPPED AT DUBLIN: A Poem of Spiritual Pollution and Ablution (in Yeats 2015)

   Judas    Dublin

This blog and my books are sufficient witness that as writer and poet I don’t oppose criticism of Christians, Christianity or any religion. It is, or should be, a general democratic right though increasingly non-western religions, not just militant Islam, oppose such. (Hindu nationalism, emboldened under Modi, shows a sudden increase in persecution of Christians with last Christmas believers even attacked for carol singing!). Even so, I still find unacceptable some levels of lampoon and abuse of beliefs that – practically – are the psychological and cultural equivalent of racism. Their unimpeded expression amounts to a pollution of the social atmosphere. To surround religious issues with gutter talk and obscenities is not “satire” or “free speech”, among other things it’s just aggressive bad manners….

To revive an old issue, but as it happens at a relevant time, Brendan Kennelly’s The Little Book of Judas (2002), a selection with additions to the  400pp The Book of Judas (1991), is a case in point. I was reading Judas in early January before the Paris massacre, but though its poetry is one of a kind, it  seems newly topical,  especially now  those of us outside France finally know more about what Charlie Hebdo beyond the tragedy really represented,  and could wonder if Christians didn’t  always have  more reason than Muslims to be offended by it. (With at last report 70 churches in Niger torched, Christians have paid more than enough for the ultra-secularist rights claimed by the cartoonists  and defended by  sympathizers as though the quintessence of western freedoms they never quite were). Whatever, I don’t accept that material like Judas can be justified as ‘really” therapy (discover and express your inner Judas!) or a special kind of truth telling society needs. Nothing and nobody terribly needs it………[This introduction is continued below with the notes]

JUDAS STOPPED AT DUBLIN: A POEM OF SPIRITUAL POLLUTION AND ABLUTION IN YEATS 2015 (1)

PART ONE: POLLUTION

Judas I am, so damned I’m full of
The highest of wisdom you wouldn’t
Believe, (though you need to for sure).
A reason don’t pray for me please,
You’ll only be cured of yer Oirish lies
And deceit and forgiven when you stare
Down my tunnel of darkness faithfully
Hearing my own and Beelzebub’s verbiage.

Which I couldn’t stop if I tried.
Just as I couldn’t do ever. You maybe
Heard how, irrepressible always,
My saucy questions and filth made it,
To that Last of the Suppers at which,
You may trust me, I wasn’t blootered (2)
Unlike B Behan being himself as usual.
I had too much to spout out
At that solemn occasion and later
Because, you know, Jesus couldn’t have
Done things so well – “salvation” and all that –
Without me as enabling guide and
A Mouth the better to have your attention.
Consider for even the average occasion
Jesus keeps butting in with his talk
And you’d need to remind him
To pass you the salt. [3]

My power with words has good nuns transfixed
And they writing me letters, recognizing
My insight which conveys them
More grace and insight than
Counting their beads and swallowing bread,[4]
While the youth of mixed-up new Erin
They come to me just as to Jesus –
Even their favourite old rocker
From Joshua Tree says I fly high as
The Holy Ghost flies (3) (while I talk Spiriteff).(5)
But it’s fine if and when they blaspheme:
Their laureate told them it’s hatred of God
Brings the soul back to God and
Fair needs foul any time.(6)

I’m the very best voodoo. I visit
The poet by night and can raise him
Higher than Keats for skill in that negative
Knowing that absorbs things from
Grass blades to angels.[7] I let him hear
Voices, his own, your own, Erin’s own,
Lucifer’s, you name it, there’s no
Psychic or shaman will be in contention.
Hearing my voices my poet, alert, grabs
His pen or the laptop – instant creation!
Any labour of mystics – and isn’t the poet
A mystic? – that can’t combine all the input
From awareness all’s’ One, has not
Yet found truth, not learned with the Serpent
That truth too’s a lie. Come join me on journeys
Through muck of the mind, for some it’s a way
Of the cross, for others just fun. Whichever
It’s all much the same, your chance for
Some carousel rides at life’s fair where it’s
Laughter will save and purify “soul”.

For you too can hear me, you eventually will,
I really can’t hold back the words more
Than I can my bladder and bowels. Beginning
Is what I most do and am replaying always;[8]
I don’t understand the meaning of “end”.
Nor for that matter “empty”. It’s a fact
The colostomy bag of my verse
Is so full there’s hardly room in
All those houses of Erin that publish
To contain the treasure of dark pearls
And slime that I pour over pages and
People when I’m not wandering
Dublin to see the night sights, the sick
On the streets, the dead in the Liffey.
It all so reminds me of beauty, indeed
Is beauty itself as the pen of the
More mindful of poets always knew
Since Jim Joyce could look out at sea
And think it fine as a nose-dirty hanky.

Humour, it’s something I’ll always retain.
I like to see life’s funny side,
Like Lazarus back from the grave and
Begging for tea or Flanagan asking
How much he’d receive for nailing
You know who to what and just when.
And then that day I was thinking
God was an unmarried mother in
Limerick, somewhere out West. God
Hasn’t heard half my jokes yet. I tip him
Good Morning and suggest that Nazareth
Folklore carries some interest. But I don’t
Have reply. Never mind, I persist in the
Hard work that’s mine though I can’t know
Why it is I’m the chosen any more than
A poet from backwaters Kerry…. You
Want my advice? Off with you all if not
To Lough Derg, then for penance I’ll say
Take a look at yourself, see just who you
Are, like Cromwell, Hitler and lords of IS
I say there lies your labour and duty.
Let nothing constrict your imaginative
Life, your sublime logorrhea or cheek.

PART TWO: ABLUTION

DALKEY  Dalkey Bay Twilight

Dismissed but not followed we may pause.
Where are we? Today perhaps anywhere:
Dublin Bay, Dalkey, Killiney, even Dover [9]
And there surveying the sea you’ve remembered
Or those oceans imagined which are always
Moving within you whose secrets in essence
You know. Whichever, just look and hold
Those waters in view and hear them. For now
It is evening, and the tide is returning
But winds gusting and high waves are rising
With new force under twilight’s soon darkness.
They sweep in, rushing forward the time of the
Curse-ridden final degree of the fishes, [10]
Its wild depths, long and notoriously site
Of too many drownings, of suicides, losses,
Of lies and betrayal, all that supports
The great sum and weight of human despair.
“Then where”, soul inquires, “is the place for
Our shelter, where the protection that there
Surely must be? Does not even the deepest
Level of darkness precede or hide light?”

Maybe and sometimes indeed, but an age
Must have end and the weather and fashion
Of minds obscures the divine which
Itself is already and mostly withdrawn.[11]
Till all times and seasons will change it’s
Evil that reigns. All rule by the Good,
All justice, protection, these mark but
Intervals only, favours to right deeds
And faith. But if prayer asks the wrong God
Or the right name too late, souls risk
To become or to stay victims still.
Too many voices will silence soul’s hearing
Of God and too many voices lend
The divine many names. Beside the
Oceans of time and of life the peoples
Are waiting, but waiting for what?
For whatever flatters the human,
Appears the most easy and binding.
A new name will arise, but will only deceive.

I thought us alone but he hears us,
The traitor, the one born of this sign.[12]

“No, but how strange”, muses Judas, I take
The so minor role of the old cheeky kisser.
Me? Wouldn’t you think it’s another example
Of how God is always making wrong choice?”

Well, for love neither of God nor of man could
Your choice alter ego, that poet presuming, check
Any words on his tongue or committed to page.
His being could never envisage a too lowly task
On the stage of this so ugly beautiful world
That invites the uses of art…Be assured, then,
Since your mouthpiece in Dublin disfavours
All thought of vocation that’s minor
Your role was never so minor (the while
Its choice was far from divine). Beelzebub
Smelt out the weakness, saw how your mouthpiece
Could finish those non serviam labours
Of JJ, how, using a vocal psychopomp’s aid [13]
In a few years alone with the laughter of fools
He could spirit whole mesmerized masses away
From reasonable mind, conduct them with flair
To the summits not of Sidhe but the silly.[14]

“Conduct”, can it be I’ve uttered the word,
That word deemed “too archaic” now issuing forth
Like a symbol from out of the maw of
Spiritus Mundi, seven letters of sound  [15]
Forbidding a poet, myself, to be published?
Seven letters, seven, the all-sacred number?
Yet how suitably suspect and banned
When the behind-scenes secular venom
Is busy excluding whatever that’s sacred
It can. For from homes of the poets
To publishing houses the last degree’s
Arts are simply perverse and unholy
Can’t bear or share light, can’t teach or inspire
Too often double-faced to the core,
In feeling or ethics but few levels
Higher than what might fill Dante’s inferno,
Whip and spur into action dark minds in
The houses of Erin’s children abused. [16]
See them, poets when not raking in muck heaps
Chasing the most arcane, technical word
While injustice enlarges and genocide follows [17].
Hear them, Judas’ comrades, the artists
Moaning, protesting the power of who or what
Limits and censors, hear them blaspheming
At home yet cowardly docile not to offend
The rule of belief that threatens and struts
In the role of implacable bully abroad.
Saeva Indignatio! Swift,Yeats, who
Could express, who seize the world’s now
Brim full cup of mad reeling?

Who was it the “tolerant” Voltaire pursued?
Whose career was he eager to hinder?
The same one who’d learned the rule is:
Be too kind to be kind at all. It’s the same [18]
For the good, though alas and by contrast it’s
The small leaven leavens the lump. No poet
Is called to deep feeling and friendship with evil
The project’s too easy, caught and spread
Like a cold. Who is it needs to feel through,
With or for the mind of a traitor?
Why justify (by)ways of Judas to man?
Sing him no more, you need only summon
His name and he’ll come to you and to Dublin –
Be assured he’ll make his home and hearth there.

BONOKennelly2

 [ Intro cont ]……In the wake of the Paris massacre it was surely rather irresponsible of Salman Rushdie to propose that all religion “is a medieval form of unreason that deserves “fearless disrespect”. (With 39 people including the author’s Japanese translator dead on account of his The Satanic Verses one feels Rushdie of all people might express himself with more restraint!)

As we have seen, in societies and faiths beyond the West considerably less than Kennelly’s high and persistent level of poetic profanity of which my poem gives only moderate evocation, entails far severer consequences. I don’t of course approve those consequences or agree with their ideological basis, but some permitted western literary freedoms should give us pause to reflect just how long-suffering especially Christians have been, (and shouldn’t have to have been), in relation to the values of a supposedly democratic society. For example, jokes about crucifixions – any crucifixions whether of Christ or anybody – should be deemed unacceptable whether on a  religious or humanistic basis. Such gallows humour isn’t humour. The abuse of Christianity being”democratically” tolerated only heightens the impression outside the West that it is not simply “infidel” but is so contemptibly infidel as to be undeserving of respect or rights. (a sort of attitude as in extremist  Niger that If you can’t support it over the insult to the prophet, you can’t complain if we destroy your places of worship in retaliation!). Muslims at this point ignore the reason Christians tolerate abuse of their faith which is because, unlike Islam, their belief system is most essentially a faith to be recommended and chosen, not imposed. It is not ultimately a political faith that envisages certain rights to imposition  – Islam means Submission – some would maintain globally. Democratically however Christianity and any faith still has rights that could and should be more affirmed to basic respect in the public forum.

Publishers and leaders of opinion in media have something  to answer for in what has happened to the sheer values fog overtaking public opinion in recent decades. Personally I don’t believe any publisher would be justified to issue what Kennelly produced. And though undeniably Ireland in the last century has known too much censorship for which Catholicism is not guiltless and though – fittingly for a betrayal theme! – it was a UK rather than an Irish publisher issued Judas, it is still controversial that, so far as I know, the Irish literary establishment has never seriously criticized Kennelly. Rather and as usual they (like the eccentric Bono) hastened to flatter the Kennelly of the profane and obscene ramblings that became a shock value bestseller by at least poetic and Irish standards. It is moreover amazing given the remarkable inflexibility of  Ireland’s management of such as its abortion laws, that Kennelly didn’t run anywhere near foul of the existing but never applied blasphemy laws. Be that as it may, in this year of the Paris magazine massacre and Ireland’s Yeats 2015 (see my blog for Nov 2014), we should think again about what western values are and where going. And I do have more right than most poets and writers to protest what (as indicated towards the conclusion of the poem) I claim from long experience is the situation. I don’t incidentally care if my criticisms should chance to give a little belated publicity or sales to poet and the publisher, Bloodaxe. Let them take what’s little better than blood money anyway. It is more important that truth be stated and recognized regardless. It’s the only possibility of some freedom from pollution, some exorcism of the rot.

NOTES TO THE POEM

1) The title echoes Carlo Levi\s memoir,  Christ Stopped at Eboli. Dublin has long been the residence of Judas poet Brendan Kennelly, formerly English literature professor at Dublin’s Trinity College.
2) “Blootered”, one of many Irish slang expressions for drunk. In the poem Unauthorized Version, dramatist Brendan Behan arrives at the Last Supper drunk and demanding Jesus to give him more drink. See Brendan Kennelly, The Little Book of Judas, Bloodaxe, 2002 p.78. Another Last Supper poem will speak of Judas preventing a bomb going off.
3) Kennelly op.cit. The Dinner p.167-9
4) There is a kind of person, especially in religion, who will always treat denial as higher affirmation, obscenity as the disclosure of beauty and blasphemy as the greatest praise. With its reviews of Judas publisher Bloodaxe cites Sister Stanislaus Kennedy who declares Kennelly’s “poems shine with the wisdom of somebody who has thought deeply about the paradoxical strangeness and familiarity and wonder of life’. Judas/ Kennelly must have laughed.
5).”The Book of Judas – Reviewed by Bono”, http://u2_interviews.tripod.com/id133.html
6) Kennelly, op.cit, SpiritFuck  pp.125/6.  This poem alone but many others would place Bono decidedly in the wrong in identifying/associating/comparing anything in Kennelly’s work with the Spirit  (Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit Matt 12:32 is believed to mean calling demonic evil good and divine good evil – Jesus warns the Pharisees not to blaspheme by attributing his work to the devil). The work of Kennelly and Bono, the literary professor and the rocker has been surprisingly intertwined and supported one another as high profile figures in Ireland. While I don’t vouch for all the following evangelically inspired article has to say,  the sheer mystery, often just wild ambiguity of Bono’s influential take on Christianity is treated in the following feature http://www.holybibleprophecy.org/2012/08/12/u2-frontman-bono-christian-or-antichrist-by-elliott-nesch/      And I’m bound to say from the astrological standpoint evangelicals wouldn’t care to acknowledge, I am fascinated that for someone who has so played around with Christian doctrines and reguarly acted MacPhisto on stage, we find Lucifer on an angle for Bono and what I empirically judge to be the regularly Antichrist factor, Achristou, conjunct his ruling Saturn, the devil’s planet in the devil’s sign, Capricorn.
7) Reference to Keats’ theory of negative capability whereby one loses oneself in identity with the other. “Hatred of God…” is from Yeats’ Supernatural Songs and  ‘fair needs foul”  from Yeats’ Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop.  While it would be possible to misunderstand Yeats here whose meanings were not negative or radical in the style of Kennelly, some mystery does attach to just what Yeats did believe and what kind of darkness it sometimes embraced for himself and/or Ireland. I examine this in Secret Yeats and the Hidden Arcana:  http://bit.ly/1jt9zOH
8)  Beginning is the title of one or Kennelly’s earlier, successful and celebrated persons – fittingly for an Aries, the sign of beginnings but not famous for concluding anything.
9)  Dalkey bay is just south of Dublin. For the inclusion of Dover consider Matthew Arnold On Dover Beach and my poem Beyond Dover Beach  http://bit.ly/1gLlckG                        .
10)  Dolphins, which can be sometimes seen off Dalkey Bay, were anciently one of the symbols, perhaps the original symbol for the sign of the fishes, Pisces. The 29th degree of Pisces is deemed evil and unfortunate. To live as now at the end of the age of Pisces is comparable to living on the unfortunate last degree of the sign. Especially anything maritime from floods, tsunamis, major pollution of the seas and the drowning of refugees will be highlighted.
11) Although optimistic Christian philosophers and theologians teach otherwise, biblical and early Christian tradition is that the Creator is withdrawn and the devil rules the world. All understanding of and relation to God, all understanding of suffering should be predicated on that ignored belief. See my Cosmic Father, and The Great Circle http://amzn.to/128eGOQ
12) There are ancient traditions to the effect (endorsed in modern times by the seeress Jeane Dixon from alleged vision) that Judas was born under Pisces.
13) JJ is James Joyce to whose negative attitudes I would regard Kennelly as heir. See Why Ireland Needs Yeats 2015 and more. A psychopomp, Mercury being a good example, travels between heaven and earth or between conscious and unconscious. as per Jungian psychology.
14) Sidhe (fairies) is pronounced Shee
15) Yeats:The Second Coming “….A vast image out of the Spiritus Mundi  troubles my sight…”
16) The Murphy and Ryan reports shocked Ireland by revealing decades of abuse, some of it almost fit for the Inquisition, practiced without restraint within church institutions like orphanages.
17) Irish and western poets have been almost wholly absent from  protest of anything like the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands from Egypt to Pakistan and the genocide in Iraq and Syria.
18) Voltaire had an irrational dislike of the dramatist Marivaux and sought to keep him out of the Academy possibly due to the fact Marivaux was a Catholic who was not a supporter of the Encylopedie.. The celebrated quote about kindness is from Le Jeu de L’Amour and du Hazard.

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 25, 2015 in aesthetics, Poetry, religion

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015…AND MORE

YEATS2015         YEATSCard

WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015….AND MORE

Ireland has designated 2015 the year of Yeats – it’s the 150th anniversary of his birth. Celebration is appropriate not least because this is a poet who sounds surprisingly modern and relevant – lines from such as The Second Coming are often cited today as people observe IS and worldwide turmoil. And unlike the also Nobel prize winning Seamus Heaney, Yeats was always willing to be engaged in politics and with almost any subject.

Yeats’ legacy is however at once something notable and negligible. It can seem like the latter in terms of real influence upon modern Irish poetry which I will argue, despite its contemporary profusion and the cult of Heaney, has –  by and large –  lost steam and been in decline since Yeats’ death in 1939. It has been so despite Ireland’s earlier and celebrated history of bards and schools of poetry. The situation is radical because now even the very notion of poetry is in eclipse in Ireland. This is evident when one reads for example that Michael Davitt (1950-2005) was “…one of modern Ireland’s finest poets in either of the nation’s languages, (according to critic Philip O’Leary in The Irish Literary Supplement, 22.3.04)). As translated by another of Ireland’s “leading” poets, Paul Muldoon, the kind of adolescent, “avant-garde” level at which Davitt worked as in To Pound from God, was in the order of:

“ I suppose you’ll want me to wipe your bum
Or open a tin of Pedigree Chum….

At least, and unlike Trinity College’s now retired Professor of Modern Literature Brendan Kennelly, Davitt didn’t write a collection of verse called Poetry My Arse and opine that the subject of poetry as he understands it is “basically a celebration of human inadequacy and failure” ( cited An Anthology of Irish Poetry, ed.Wes Davies, p.307).

Those seeking by contrast a confident secular sublime, can always try verse from poetry festival organizer, poetry prize winner and university lecturer in creative literature and poetry, Conor O’Callaghan. The first verse of his two verse poem Comma  runs

Infinite
blip that
a flyover
sped beneath
scores into
a down-

(and the second verse begins with the word ‘pour’).

Nowadays you are almost more likely to find the spirit of Irish verse and vision in some prose works like Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim Two Boys or in the work of Colm Toibin, a writer who always wanted and intended to be a poet rather than the novelist he has become. So…what happened? And what might Yeats teach us if poetry is to be significantly revived today in West Europe’s former home of many muses, or at least aisling sky women?

NATIONALISM AND SOUL AS POETIC INGREDIENTS

Yeats

I will  presently give more examples (they could, alas, be greatly multiplied) to suggest just how seriously something is amiss in the emerald fields of Hibernian poesia, but I can state from the outset what is wrong as regards the general direction of the verse since Yeats.

It is of course possible – just – to  be anti-Yeats and produce some good poetry as the work of such as Northern Ireland’s Seamus Deane ( b.1940) indicates, but the first de-potentiating mistake of Irish poets was, however politely and surreptitiously, to dismiss or swerve from Yeats as any exemplar. It was felt he was too nationalist in inspiration and there could be no value or future in that because, with Ireland independently established, literature should become international (pursue Modernism in effect). The trend began mildly with a diplomat of the newly independent Ireland, Denis Devlin (1908-1959), but soon it would gather pace and even become a torrent. Rejection of the Yeatsian poetic could hardly go further than in the irony of Celtic Twilight from Brendan Kennelly (b.1936). Instead of any sense of myth or “magic”, the poem evokes a Dublin of prowling decrepit whores and a Grand Canal in whose “rank waters bloated corpses float”. Even studies of Yeats – and even last September’s curiously early London launch of Yeats 2015 somewhat – tend to place the undeclared laureate somewhere apart, in a disappeared society and time past because of his obvious contribution to foundational events of 1916. The psychological and cultural reality however is that by understanding a national history and ethos a poet may better understand and reach into the world at large.

I would hardly be the first person to stress that point – it’s almost a commonplace. Walt Whitman voiced and helped shape American democracy but also espoused universal ideas beyond it while Goethe was the very cosmopolitan founder of a liberal Germanic tradition. But I know for certain the national/international principle is true as regards Yeats from having lived in Asia. I found him to be appreciated there and I might be asked to read from him. Some of Yeats’ verses like Lapis Lazuli are mentally or geographically located in Asia, while it’s well known some of the poet’s best verse dramas draw upon traditions of Japanese Noh. At least one accomplished poet, Desmond O’Grady (1935-2014), is an exception to prove the national/international rule within Ireland. He does manage to combine Celtic with wider themes and like Yeats at one point he was strongly influenced by Pound – perhaps too much so when he got side-tracked into mammoth labours of poetic translation. But though appreciated, O’ Grady enjoys neither the status nor the influence of a Heaney or Muldoon, both poets of the North and the troubled North has attracted a lot of attention in Irish poetry.

Although Yeats’ affinity for Asia owes something to his attachment to the theosophy and theories of magic many could never accept, more generally he was simply following the wisdom of the archetypes with which most serious poetry will always be involved. Genuine introspection will bring one there. Intense affinity with just place may not. Influenced by Joyce, a notable poet, Patrick Kavanagh, believed that one could be universal by devotion to a place, a notion that owed not a little to Joyce’s Dublincentric imagination. He risked becoming, as I think he often was, merely parochial because place will not quite generate the same imaginative verve as society or nation which can be a matter almost of soul. Linked to the archetypes one could say that Yeats was about – in the broadest sense – “soul”, something which, like contemporary Western poetry generally, modern Irish verse singularly isn’t despite the reputation of the Celts for spirituality.

But poetry itself is first and foremost spiritual. If you don’t believe that, then you must at least accept spirituality is what many people either assume poetry is about or appear to want from it – the biggest selling poet in the world today is, like it or not, the medieval Sufi mystic, Rumi. Poetry is Orphic and originated in the ecstatic, prophetic function and the serious poet, i.e. one who offers something beyond the entertainment or instruction which have their place, can never quite escape that root function….and/or the love theme which will often accompany it as we see everywhere from the Bible’s Hosea to Dante in the Vita Nuova.  Even major atheist poets like Lucretius and Shelley have dealt in the universe, large vistas and the sublime.

At its highest and best, poetry heals, inspires and creates – including whole peoples. Critic Harold Bloom may exaggerate but is essentially correct to propose Shakespeare has helped form modern humanity; Bloom maintains the bard did not only reflect humanity, he also made it and we have become his characters. In somewhat similar fashion, the rhapsodies of Isaiah inspired and remade a lost Hebrew society and largely through introducing new images of God and the self that allowed a new synthesis for a new age to emerge. Dante half created the modern Italian language itself amid his visions. The poets of the Romantic era expressed and half made the age they inhabited.

Sometimes, just sometimes, poets can and do change the world (though of course the noncommittal Seamus Heaney predictably denied it). Granted most poets cannot and need not aspire to such a degree of achievement. No nation is anyway likely to produce more than four or five really outstanding poets in a century, and society needs not just seers and culture heroes but minstrels, balladeers, teachers and entertainers. Poets nonetheless need to avoid through resentment, dullness or, sloth merely subverting the almost alchemical Great Work to which at varying levels their tribe contributes across time.

THE JOYCE/BECKETT PROBLEM

JJOYCE         BECKETTPHOTO

What could and should have been the ongoing influence of Yeats on modern Irish poetry has, I believe, been blocked and limited within his homeland by the strong competing legacy of Joyce and his admirer cum devotee, Beckett. Both these Modernist writers have cast long shadows. Though both composed a few poems they were essentially authors of prose and both were unspiritual or very negatively spiritual. (Beckett’s prize winning and obscure Whoroscope, written in a hurry to pay Paris rent and rewarded by the heiress Nancy Cunard, if and when it can be understood is arguably one of the most nihilistic, sordid and profane poems in the canon of verse. It surely belongs to “the throne of the faecal inlet” it refers to). The prose of the Joyce/Beckett duo has nevertheless been more weighty in influence upon modern Irish poetry than any poetic antecedents. Some want to claim it for life itself. I admire the wide-ranging erudition on most things Irish of Declan Kiberd, but I can’t accept as per his Ulysses and Us that Ulysses is really any notable guide to the management and celebration of life.

Although Yeats was something of a heretic in relation to most beliefs and traditions, his origins were Protestant. This has been held against him, or at least left him less favoured as a model for novice writers and poets than the by comparison more street-wise, democratic (sometimes), Catholic-raised Joyce who managed to voice those feelings of frustration and discontent many Irish Catholics have felt at least now and again. By contrast, and although Joyce himself could demonstrate an almost non serviam Luciferian pride, Yeats’ Protestant voice would be regarded as imperious and elitist, in short merely Anglo-Irish of the past, something Yeats scarcely even sounded like in real life. (To hear recordings of his voice which is neither very Irish nor English and not particularly emphatic, can come as a surprise and challenges the image some have of him). Patrick Kavanagh reflecting an all too familiar social resentment in a poem called Yeats  exclaims, “Yes Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected/ By the middle classes and the Big  Houses”. This is green-eyed nonsense like the whole poem in effect –  Yeats faced enormous struggles in all directions and rightly called himself poor until well into middle age and winning the Nobel prize.

So the class objection was again a mistake fostering further error because even though with age Yeats undeniably evolved some dubiously elitist, even fascist notions (partly in disgust at the sheer ruin the ultra-Catholic Ireland of De Valera was doing to hard won new freedoms), the fact is that poetry of the serious, bardic kind will often sound or seem elitist. Such poetry declaims, declares, reveals from the higher mind or worlds and as such is not about the everyday nor issues describable in its terms. Even England’s witty, socialist Auden decided in his latter years that what poetry needed next was to get back to the high style. Getting back there could nonetheless prove harder in our egalitarian times than leaving it behind. Ireland especially would seem to have to prepare for a very steep climb. It might even need to engage a bit of “censorship”, a self-censorship of a new and not merely puritanical kind to arrive there and at least try to be serious.

It may be mildly entertaining, but does a poem like James Simmons’ Epigrams constitute something – anything – worthy of a place in Wes Davies’ critically acclaimed and all-encompassing Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry? Epigrams 2 and 4 run:

Declining appetite
Made him polite

Now my faculties give in
I see the need for discipline.

Modern Irish poetry could use some discipline. Too many contemporary offerings such as one can read at  PoetHead on the Net which has showcased new Irish women poets, seem just self-indulgent and trite.

Award winning Denise Blake, an advisor to the RTE national broadcaster on poetry (like the mentioned Michael Davitt – no wonder poetry is in some trouble!) begins her poem, Adjusting,

The saucepan is full of left over potatoes
And I keep cooking too much rice and pasta
Three placemats still sit on our dining table

In musing on an absent son in Beyond the Front Door she writes of

“Cold pizza slices in a cardboard box, an empty coke can
lying on the table”

Subject matter for Irish still life art perhaps? Doubtless Mrs Blake is a caring family person and her sentiments genuine enough, but one finds nothing here and elsewhere that couldn’t be said as well or better in prose. But possibly she was remembering precedents like Beckett’s in Whoroscope with its ridiculous and profane reference to Hovis bread.

Dr Emily Cullen, noted harpist, short story writer and much else if one can quite locate her anywhere, seems willing to inhabit the same kind of kitchen zone if more impishly than  Mrs Blake.. In Galway Mould  we learn

For fun I bought you mouldy cheese,
Last night it took revenge on me
Inducing a vivid dream
Of a while chandelier of mould
That slowly lowered
Through our kitchen space.

Although without question Mairtin O’ Direain of Aran (1910-1988) can be hailed, as he has been by some, as a gifted poet of real distinction, apart from him let no one imagine any back-to-Gaelic direction such as Sean O’Riordain  (1916-1977) and Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) took would improve much inside or out of any Irish kitchens and better preserve the true Ireland. O’Riordain was a good, proficient if somewhat overrated poet whose illness and dramatic depressions seem like an unintended metaphor for the sad fate of things Gaelic. Hartnett is sometimes good but also sometimes gratuitously weird as in Death of an Irishwoman where she is described as “a card game where a nose was broken…a child’s purse, full of useless things”. If this is the latest incarnation of Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan, that lady is now in serious trouble and indeed a bit useless!

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill born in the Kerry Gaeltacht in1952 has devoted herself to verse in Irish. Translated, one of her poems begins,  “I wake up and my hands are sticky/With the smell of blood” and it concludes…”I’m stuck forever with this stink of blood/That’s on my hands”. In the course of the poem she has reduced bars of Sunlight Soap to slivers trying to rid herself of the smell at the tap. Nowhere is it explained what this blood represents or why it sticks. Does it symbolize, war, Ulster Troubles, the poet or anyone from history or myth? In his Nobel prize address Heaney compared poetic inspiration to breeze over a scullery bucket. Why not the kitchen sinks and dustbins of Hibernia? Well, at least with the likes of Vona Groarke (b.1964) you may find yourself in the open air, kitchen observations exchanged a sort of gardener’s diary verse – “I let the gooseberries/ Rot for not knowing when to pick them”.

But let it be said, Ireland’s contemporary female bards are more delicate than the menfolk, including the revered Heaney who (as only one example of the gratuitously sordid) writes – in Mycenae Outlook – having just referred to a vision of webbed blood and bodies raining down on the speaker “like tattered meat” –

“I would feel my tongue
Like the dropped gang plank of a cattle truck
Trampled and rattled, running piss and muck
All swimmy-trembly…

Not to consider what an über baroque evocation of a state of tension this is, it is really just more from the stock of sensationalist Joycean prose with its “snot green, scrotum tightening sea”, the world as a human theatre where people are holding on to or letting out their urine and never quite forgetting urine like Bloom who enjoys “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.

JOYCE: FROM REALISM TO NIHILISM

chastened

If it belongs anywhere, modernist realism of the Joycean kind belongs principally with prose whose main sphere is the factual report and which is not something designed to the same degree as poetry to convey or reach the transcendent. But post-Yeats Irish poetry has constantly, pedantically and monotonously appropriated the themes and style of Joycean realism and cynicism for verse. We need to ask why.

As said, Joyce spoke for those of the Catholic background that Yeats and his advisor in things Gaelic, Lady Gregory, did not share. Jesuit educated Joyce did not however pronounce on religion in any way prophetically – he was closer to a satirist, even just lampoonist of Irish and Catholic traditions. He had no alternative vision that might help reform, modify or substitute for Catholicism; he did not even reject it like an atheist. Like the true Luciferian he sometimes was, and possibly even aspired to be, Joyce simply subverts and renders toxic, contributing by his example to the also unhelpful example of the (Protestant raised) Beckett’s extreme paralysis of thought and action, his Murphy/Molloy/Belacquaism sitting in a corner cursing and despairing of existence – when not farting, evacuating, or masturbating. Inclusion of the latter theme to the field of poetry, (and rather insultingly to the Irish farmer as in Kavanagh’s half good poem, The Great Hunger,) can be traced back to Joyce, Ulysses and its anti-hero Bloom.

In accepting Joyce as high literature and a suitable object of academic study (he quite intended us to make it our life work!) we risk, and Ireland has risked, accepting him more metaphysically by osmosis. And the sad fact is that despite his obvious and undisputed brilliance, Joyce is at root unhealthy, certainly almost the last thing any new nation, not to say nascent poetic circles, should look to for prime inspiration, and if he wrote about the common man, apart from some early work, he certainly didn’t write what the common man could ever hope to understand.. Even just humanly Joyce does not come up to the mark, straining the kind of tolerance society normally reckons to extend to artists. Ignoring his questionable treatment of both parents at their death, this was a person so ungratefully arrogant he could turn even his main benefactor Harriet Weaver from the door. This was a person so merely contrary that having been keen to make Nora Barnacle his mistress, he prevented publication of his first biography because Nora was not portrayed in it as his wife. If Joyce wasn’t Lucifer he was periodically Judas and to follow him leads inexorably to precisely the Judas theme – it receives its fullest treatment in Brendan Kennelly’s bombastic, overflowing  succes de scandale,  Book of Judas (1991) which supplies the Messiah the traitors he is assumed to need to be himself and identifies Ireland itself with a species of Judas complex.

Such perspectives apart, practically, Joyce’s values were never truly liberal of an exemplary kind for us to follow; they were merely rebellious designed to shock like the basically unnecessary, irrelevant incest theme of Finnegan’s Wake. Even the repulsive reference in Ulysses to “the snot green, scrotum tightening sea” is merely a sideward glance to Dublin’s Forty Foot nude beach often frequented by gays. Anyone from his friends to the Trinity (as in the famous “my Mother’s a Jew, my father’s a bird” etc doggerel ditty) were the pretext of largely aimless, self-congratulatory Joycean humour and cynicism.

The Joyce and Beckett effect has been to divert energies from, rather than to encourage attention to the needed reform and development of modern Irish life including not least its spiritual life to which poetry might have been expected to contribute. One doesn’t need to plough through the earnest examination of the Catholic theme in modern verse that Andrew Auge pursues in  A Chastened Communion (2013), to realize that the poets, like the people at large, have  few religious ideas to offer (though it does have something – such poets as Padraig O’Tuoma and Micheal O’ Siadhail , both poets are respected including among theologians outside Ireland, a reason perhaps that  Wes Davis’s huge Anthology of Modern Irish poetry almost insultingly in the of academic secularism gives them no space or acknowledgement).  Mainstream Irish religion has been and remains too weak in theology and philosophy in the first place. This nonetheless means that once the roof has been blown off traditional pieties and reverence there is little substance left but instead just hollow, trivializing profanity like Patrick Fiacc’s whose poem Our Father begins, “Our Father who art a Belfast night /Pub bouncer”. Or again the purely bizarre like Brendan Kennelly’s God’s Laughter. This pictures God unable to stop laughing or “freezing in fear” when he hears words. As fear is a negative emotion plainly it could not be a meaningful attribute of any true deity. But at least Kennelly’s half dotty admirer, U2 frontsman Bono, (who has used the poem for U2’s pop theology), hasn’t controversially praised it as he did Kennelly’s The Book of Judas as poetry flying “as high as the Holy Spirit flies” for sheer inspiration!).

Scriptures and especially the reformist/prophetic Hebrew tradition scarcely register for Ireland despite some natural Celtic affinity for such, a reason perhaps that the Irish and Jews have been so associated, at least politically, in America. Irish Catholicism is, alas, more a matter of devotions, rituals and folk religion, not to say superstition, though in earlier centuries and before Catholicism invaded via England like Protestantism later, the Celts produced the likes of Pelagius and Erigena in theology and philosophy. The convolutions of Joycean thought which could serve an almost “rabbinical” examination of life and literature, are expended by Joyce and his imitators on what is often little more than lavatory wall scribble. The attack upon Irish religion given Joycean example has become a matter of aesthetics rather than thought, and there the matter has become largely stuck. Reform and development are highjacked by aimless, passive complaint which the poetry echoes. Joyce’s interest in Ireland may at one level have been futuristic in revolt against nationalist nostalgias of his time, but paradoxically his labours (eighteen years alone on the still almost unreadable, Finnegans’s Wake whose best effects are contained in the first and last sentences!) catch the culture in a circling, repetitive torpor from which it seems unable to emerge.

If it wasn’t clearer earlier, it is fully apparent in the wake of the Murphy and Ryan reports and ongoing church scandals, that the Catholic church has failed Ireland abysmally.The country has survived less because of Catholicism as long popularly maintained, than despite it. For long the hierarchy opposed most Irish moves and calls to independence, (notoriously one prelate declared that hell wasn’t hot enough nor eternity wasn’t long enough to punish Fenians). Meanwhile, hidden in  orphanages, monasteries and nunneries was behaviour fit for the Inquisition. Some of it (and despite the vein of quasi-Wildean preciousness in a lot of Irish culture) seems as though arisen from some, satanic, nightmare level of Celtic consciousness which the modern poetry almost celebrates in its vision of existence as virtual vomitorium and lavatory, a dream world in which one falls in a shower of waste as in a ridiculous short poem Free Falls by Thomas Kinsella. (You can read it with a commentary many times its length in Britain’s Guardian newspaper’s Poem of the Week for 9.12.13 where you will be assured Kinsella b.1928, “significantly helped shape the course of poetry in Ireland, and beyond”. By conducting it to Sam Beckett’s lavatory?)

Only Catholicism whose semper idem principle has almost automatically opposed change, fails to recognize the at once psychological and spiritual principle, that there is a duty to seek change for the sake of soul, and even for spiritual health and progress to question religion as mere tradition and “to let the dead bury their dead”. Biblically God is portrayed as departing from the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 10:18) when a certain level of evil is exceeded, this in itself a declaration that no institution however venerable is automatically, eternally sacrosanct in the eyes of God. The Judaeo-Christian tradition always declares “come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4 ) the reason being “so that you do not partake in her sins….so that you do not share in her plagues”. Christianity is, or should be, less about tradition than the in-break and formation of the new. In our own times and faced with certain features of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has proposed, (what Christians seem fearful of doing even while Christians are persecuted by Muslims and denied the legal right to use the Allah word in some places), namely that Muslims should reject their faith and become either atheists or Christians or (more recently she concedes) at least definitively reject the traditions of Sharia Law.

In The Invention of Ireland  (1995) Declan Kiberd proposes the Protestant perspective could have been more used and useful to Ireland. I agree. Maybe reform is yet possible for Irish Catholicism, but as the author of Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency who believes religion must work for people, I feel I could go further than Kiberd and maintain it’s probably high time Ireland abandoned the Catholicism it seems no longer able to trust, love and believe – not abandon for pure secularism which would be defeatist and perhaps even impossible given certain features of the Celtic mind, but some alternative. Obviously one would not recommend surrender to anything like Paisleyite Protestantism and Ireland wouldn’t go there anyway. But anything from Orthodoxy to Charismatics might serve….anything in order to start again and actually to exert a spiritual will, to integrate the levels of Celtic vision. This, where it is strong in persons, is currently sinking back into the vaguest neo-paganism, new ageism or  perhaps Buddhism, going everywhere and nowhere like the repeated ambiguities of Bono lyrics or an agnostic Heaney advising in Doubletake,

….“Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells”.

If even Latin America has been casting off Catholicism usually for Protestant alternatives, why not Ireland if it would help cauterize the wounds and go somewhere definite?

I think there can be no question but that influences on Irish leaders of opinion stemming from Joyce and Beckett and their often slavish successors colour the social outlook and have favoured poetic themes in a way to justify a certain victimology, a culture of complaint and aimless protest much of it just a Beckettian sinking Winnie passivity. And we readers of such authors are even encouraged by the guides and critics of their productions to take a “poor Joyce” and still more a “poor Beckett” line in estimation of their lives and work. Contrary to Yeats’ meaningful dictum “in dreams begin responsibilities”, it as though these artists’ deliberate life choices meant little or nothing. Especially depression in the style of Beckett somehow excuses speaking darkness and a sitting-Murphy despair to the rest of the world at every opportunity –the sort of thing some of us like myself, who has suffered clinical depression, have made actual effort to avoid.

We need moreover to wake up and realize that like the bad tree which can only produce bad fruit, in pursuit of their aims these persons have, however unwittingly, contributed to establish new and unacceptable restrictions. Obviously much censorship in Joyce’ youth was absurd and we have all heard of how the accomplished prose of Dubliners got refused for publication because of inclusion of the word bloody. Yet a century later admirers and inheritors of the Joycean legacy are not themselves without their prejudices and the society which readily tolerates what today would have the likes of Beckett executed if he were a Muslim for repeated profanities, behind the scenes can prove  controversially censoring in the area of religion and much else. Even to include such words as “conduct” and “bestow” can be sufficient to refuse you publication.

I had no special intention to make this article personal, and I don’t really have any need now that the scandals and injustices experienced in relation to persons of the literary establishments and publishing is available for anyone to read as an aspect of my memoir Reflections of an Only Child. (amzn.to/1rRagvl). However if I do include a personal note at this point, it’s because while preparing this article I received from The Irish Review, and not unexpectedly – I only applied to satisfy pressures on me to do so – an incoherent refusal from a writer (ironically and almost hilariously of all people  the author of Deconstructing Ireland) as regards a request for some exposure of my poetry.

ROAOC     NPTCDRAMAS

I was informed in one and half lines they couldn’t publish “it”, whatever poem could have been meant by “it”, since I’d suggested seeing a collection of verse (New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas) from which something might have been selected. As self-recommendation I had pointed out a poetic drama of mine on a Celtic theme had been performed in Australia. I also suggested my Coming To Syracuse mini epic could  be looked at on my blog [it’s now a 6 part Canadian made You Tube video at http://bit.ly/1pi8Hn1 ] as proof of some basic competence in poetry (It would be too long for their publication so I didn’t offer it for such). As no one from specifically Ireland visited the poem between my sending the email and receiving the refusal two days later, plainly those of The Irish Review didn’t bother to check.

Had he/they done so, it would have been clear, apart from shortage of space or a special theme of the month such as could have been told me, there would be at least no moral right to refuse me. Any occasionally expressed claim of mine to be writing and as a Protestant of Irish nationality closest to Yeats in theme and style is not any boast but a statement of fact. I am more inclined to the mythic, metaphysical and visionary theme, and I deserve the attention denied me and not for the first time, but continuously in Ireland for anything poetic or otherwise. And I could well demand it in the face of the sometimes insulting and selfish way those of the diaspora are too easily dismissed as having no inheritance, no stake in anything Irish at all. (I can’t imagine Jews or Italians suffering the same kind of treatment). I suspect what the refused “it” was and which damned me, was that I also mentioned, (and I admit I was testing the waters!), that he could also look on the Net at my (quite popular) Remembering Seamus Heaney. No one today is allowed to blaspheme the Heaney god. He is Irish poetry, even if some of us like Camille Paglia (who refused to anthologize him) would consider him third class Yeats.

“OUT OF SHAPE FROM TOE TO TOP”

Heaneyverse

Well might Yeats’ valedictory Under Ben Bulben almost prophetically declare:

Irish poets learn your trade
Sing whatever is well made
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top…

Well made” here is key. Poetry (above the simple entertainment level) is first and foremost the art of excellence. It’s because it is about excellence that Yeats like his virtual mentor, Shelley, often felt that what he had produced was not quite good enough. ”True” poetry is what is as distinctively finished as a piece of sculpture or memorable as the strains of a major  symphony. And despite the self-doubt, it was this absolute quality that at his best Yeats was able to achieve and it’s why he continues to be internationally celebrated. Obviously he wouldn’t have appreciated those many Irish poets who have followed him who are too often writing what is almost an anti-poetry that has not issued from heart and intellect working in harmony. And there is something else here.

It is an admitted embarrassment that the elderly Yeats should have leaned towards fascist views of genetics and eugenics and that his Under Ben Bulben too baldly refers to the new Irish poets in terms of:

Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base born products of base beds

but there is arguably a kernel of truth here to be considered.

POETRY THAT REMEMBERS

Ben Bulben

It was and still is yet another mistake of post-Yeats poetry that it too lightly assumed there is scarcely anything Irish to represent whether through the “remembering” of Yeats’ Great Memory (read Collective Unconscious) or raw temperament. By the latter I mean those things like a sense of rhythm, pattern, even a way of observing people and objects that seems as distinctive as La Tène Celtic art yet spontaneous and minimally acquired through cultural means.

There are two ways in which persons belong or deeply feel they belong to a country. One may do so, as the perhaps more Anglo-Irish than Irish Yeats seemed to, namely by some hard-to-understand and as good as occult principle of earth consciousness of the kind Jung accepted. It is a belief that the land itself can leave some imprint beyond any effects of culture or the length of time spent there. (Like actress Joanna Lumley, unquestionably many Anglos born in India have felt there is some “touch” of Asia left on them that time and cultural education away from it will not erase or explain). Plainly there was something in Yeats that would always want to arise and go to Innisfree or stand beneath Ben Bulben even when dying in France. Just recently I read on the Net the poem of an Irish American plainly in the grip of the same kind draw to the Irish earth itself. Some accomplished late poems of the mostly self-exiled C.Day Lewis could be deriving their strength from the principle.

The other important way one belongs to a people is – likely enough – genetically. It is almost taboo in a multicultural society to speak of race as any determinant of anything, but there may even be a hidden injustice to that position, one which obscures certain realities. How do we explain (as the last week that I have been writing this, one hears of the Lebanese son of an Australian mother and the Libyan son of a French Canadian mother, both feeling themselves different and maladjusted and turning against family, homeland and every sensible advantage to become IS fanatics.

Multiculturalism is a value system relying much on the empirical/pragmatic outlook Yeats held suspect, and it is apparent the kind of society it encourages too often produces divided, discontented even tormented individuals left to feel an impulse to realize – precisely what? It may be, and probably is, the ineradicable drumbeats of something profoundly genetic that feels unaccepted, inalienably different and struggles to reach expression beyond whatever a post-enlightenment culture of reason lays out. I have myself protested in Reflections of an Only Child what seems like the blithe indifference to questions of race and inheritance among Irish leaders of opinion. If some nations have had too much race theory, Ireland has arguably had too little, even almost none though of no people group might something like racial inheritance be more obvious – the character of the Celts is easily recognizable in the descriptions of the ancients over two millennia ago. It is too easily imagined in Ireland (and originally because pragmatic, empirical England had assumed something of the kind) that as long as a person can make a living and be fed, it doesn’t much matter where on the face of the globe they reside. Accordingly, immigration is almost regarded as necessary and convenient even while it may in fact prove quite disorientating and take a real psychological toll on individuals.

Reacquainting myself after many years with Irish poetry and its issues, I found a reading of Stan Smith’s Irish Poetry and the Construction of Modern Identity (2005) and Wes Davies’ compendious An Anthology of Irish Verse (2013) dispiriting. There were fine examples of poetry from numbers of poets, but overall I would judge the collection, especially as it covers the scene over the last two generations, trashy. Too often it presents a punkish anti-poetry in which the only Irish thing about it is the will to act and pose, in this case to act out not being Irish, to uncharacteristically understate oneself, to be cool because it’s hip, sophisticated and neo-international to be so. (As I shall inevitably be accused of exaggeration, I was pleased to read a Paris Review interview (The Art of Fiction. no 82) in which even Edna O’Brien, whose concern is with prose fiction not poetry, charging modern Ireland with just imitating Anglo-American mores).

“STILL THE INDOMITABLE IRISHY”?

Shamrocks

If I hardly recognize any distinctive, perennial Celtic character in the poetry of especially the last thirty years (beyond perhaps, however negatively, a quality of  violent/surrealistic “vision” in elements of Brendan Kennelly), it is because something counter-intuitional is going on. There is a refusal of the “remembering” which Yeats rightly considered essential to poetry, Irish or any other. It will be protested that Heaney, a poseur if ever there was one, does remember – he remembers a dark ancient bog past and a rough farmland present or recent past. But his roughness is either inauthentic or unnecessary or both. If he genuinely aimed to represent a rural coarseness he should not have weighed his verse down like an over burdened Christmas tree with jargon and obscure technical vocabulary that avoids, or substitutes for, real emotion or committed statement (a really great and passionate poet could, like Racine, say everything with only two thousand words). Also if Heaney is indifferent (as in The Early Purges) to the killing and drowning of kittens and pups, then he was just a rough cur who we can and should just dismiss as such. I can only say, as indicated in my memoir, my own forebears in Ireland didn’t take that kind of attitude towards animals despite being raised on a farm and I know plenty of Irish didn’t and don’t either. Indeed I looked up an article on the Net where some protested similar things, in one case someone insisted their people had been farmers not far from the Heaneys and didn’t approve such views. Heaney’s sentiments cannot just be excused on the basis they are only “representative” of Irish life and farmers.

In response to Early Purges words like

….Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, “Bloody pups”, it makes sense.

one disgusted correspondent was even moved to extemporize:

Seamus is dead thank God
I hated the words of this man
Cruel and unthinking and more than a little odd
Now he’s gone, give his work an outright ban

My chief overall impression of modern Irish poetry is of so much quasi-journalism presuming to call itself verse. (And again, having arrived at that conclusion, I was again fascinated to note that from her different sphere Edna O’Brien opines in the mentioned interview that the trouble today is so many writers are just journalists). Ireland’s poets sound too often depressed, glum, sullen, resentful, mocking and shocking, even occasionally cruel like Michael Hartnett – his Pigkilling belongs with Heaney for indifference to animals – almost totally devoid of a smile and certainly lacking any good story to tell. Indeed it’s can be so remote from any light touch that isn’t outright clown-silly with Paul Muldoon (”with a stink and a stink and a stinky-stick”) that it’s hard to imagine Oscar Wilde ever came out of Ireland. It’s typical of what’s wrong that a quite well known, almost popular poem by Sean O’Riorain called Saoirse (Freedom) includes such sentiments as:

I’ll bear affection for people
without anything original
in their stockthoughts.

One can of course do that; it belongs today to various relativist and egalitarian tendencies – Yeats’ “levelling wind” – but if you surrender to the humdrum in this way you won’t be going on any Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to anywhere (certainly not to Yeats’ Byzantium)  and have much to say or be at all. Ultimately most modern Irish poetry, like too much poetry elsewhere, is just a bore, an activity for in-groups, precisely the scene Yeats would encourage us to turn from and even scorn. And necessarily so if one doesn’t want to lose all sense of social, let alone literary direction.

According to one of his reviewers, the essential idea behind Colin Graham’s The Deconstruction of Ireland (2001)  is that what’s called ‘Ireland’ just “stages its own deconstruction and that at every turn the idea unravels and reforms itself, always in anticipation of the next act of definition and criticism which…will be inadequately applied to it”. It follows that both affirmation and deconstruction for Ireland are but a “momentary stop on a seemingly runaway train” and Ireland, itself a concept in flux, “is a future which is always posited and never attained”.

Undeniably Ireland and our world is changing, but change is not everything; and notions of an ungraspable, indefinable “Ireland” bespeak how things are – or will just feel and seem – to the secular consciousness for which there is no “remembering” in the Yeatsian sense, little or no scope for poetry in the broadest sense as contributing to culture, and perhaps most importantly as indicated, no personal or collective willingness to take real control of the spiritual life from which so much else flows.

We inhabit an almost post-poetic age in which the magic, the mystery, the spirit of the poetic art has been lost, but which the policy direction behind the granting of  bursaries, prizes, professorships of poetry, publications are almost busy helping us lose, putting what was once a fairly public medium – even when difficult, Isaiah, Dante and Shakespeare were essentially for everyone – into the hands of cliques. Yeats, even in his greatness may not be the perfect poet – who is? – and most could never reckon to follow him into ritual magic. But if poets and modern Ireland cannot regain some grip upon his magic and the magic of existence, we shall continue in the shallows rather than the heights of literature if we don’t bring it to near  outright extinction. Hopefully Yeats 2015 will provide new inspiration and beginnings.

IRISH AUSTRALIAN  (Irish Australian Heritage Flag)

 

.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: