Mo ghrá go daingean tú!
In the mode of my pros(aic) side, I have beeen doing some digital comms work with the Armagh-based John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival for the last couple of years. I tend, as much as is financially possible, not to work literary festivals. I know this seems a bit illogical – what could be better than working around writers when you are a writer yourself? But for me, metaphorically speaking, and in the manner of John O’Connor, there is always the temptation to throw the post in the river and stretch out in the long grass with pen and paper.
I curbed my impulses well enough except, if I did nothing else to fill my poetic well last weekend (1-4 Nov), I didn’t want to come away without seeing the new translation by Paul Muldoon of Caoineach Airt Uí Laoighaire – with original music by Jim Lockhart of Horslips.
Fast & Absent Friends 1: Far North & Deep South
I was very taken with the performance. I’m not masssively au fait with the original (see below) but know enough about it, and the Kinsella translation, to have markers to locate myself. I loved the music – and was glad to get the chat about the inspiration behind some of it. These things you can’t know without those useful afterwards Q&As.
I particularly like – in general – translations of Munster text by Ulster poets. It’s a strange thing. It took me a few years of being here before I realised that there was a Munster temperament. A friend of mine from Belfast, when I was trying to explain, asked me where Munster was – while straining, I suspect, to pick up a hint of German in my accent. I am at the advantage as there is one of me and the majority of everybody else in my day-to-day life is from here. It would be easier if the temperaments were diametrically opposed – you say ‘Eibhlín Dubh’ (pron Evelyn Doo) and I says ‘Eibhlín Dubh’ (pron Eileen Duv) let’s call the whole thing off sort of thing – but actually they are simply different.
While I am from East Cork, there was a joy in hearing even the names Gougane Barra, the Gearagh – and knowing that there has been somewhere, somehow even a hint of interest in that geography which is so much of my inner landscape. That introduction all the better made by not coming from me, I’ve learned that well. But more than that, there is the translating of cultural ties and relationships. I’m going to humourously amend this to ‘improving upon’ in the translation, safe in the knowledge that both temperaments are very confident in their own excellentness. Seeing the translations, for me, can either confirm or explain dissonances that I negotiate everyday in my ordinary conversations. The reimagining of family relationships here is a case in point.
Fast & Absent 2: Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill
You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me.. (Donal Óg)
I was so glad to have the opportunity to see this in Armagh last weekend. One thing about it, however, caught me off guard and being a woman with a temperamental mix of charm and uncalled-for honesty attempted – unsuccessfully and skirting round the borders of what my grandmother would have called ‘a mighty display of ignorance’ – to explain the reason for my unease, in a kind of two-pronged attack, to both translator and composer.
The truest thing I said – and it was a suprise to me the vehemence of an impulse that I had long forgotten – was that Eibhlín Dubh was/is a hero of mine.
I’d had a chat with Trish Bennett who was there as well and we tried to work out if it was on the Leaving Cert Syllabus (we are, I think, a year apart). I am almost sure that the answer in my case was yes. I have no recollection of the poem itself. There are two possible reasons for this. The first being my ability to remove myself to the world of day-dreams when I was bored by anything in school. I was like dearest him that lived alas away for all but the contemporary poetry on the Irish Leaving Cert poetry syllabus. However, our Irish teacher very wisely also refused to teach us the letter of the law of the Irish course, preferring to give us a sense of the spirit of the words – poetry and prose – that he so loved and so hated to see mangled and jeered at by teens who were not a bit interested. I am very grateful for this.
I do remember very well that he introduced us to the author of the Caoineadh – explaining her position, explaining the bravery in the authorship. It is, I think in retrospect, to his credit that I don’t remember a whisper of doubt or suspicion, or, indeed, any sense than that this was anything other than a fine and praiseworthy deed. While I didn’t know anything about losing a beloved husband, father of my children, my own position due to an untimely death that had ramifications across the community, I did have a strong sense of the kind of imperative that, when the chips were already down, might move you to a measure that was most assuredly not going to improve matters – i.e. take the words out of the mouths of those who felt such declaiming was their entitlement. Mo ghrá go daingean tú.
It was later, at UCC, the whispers behind the backs of the hand got to me. The Caoineadh was more than likely written by a man posing as a woman. Such things are, to be fair, done. They are. Their was, it seems to me, a good deal of self-congratulation that ‘feminists’ should be trying to create a woman-poet tradition on the back of a high octane poem of the canon – within the lament tradition and more generally – that was not in fact written by a woman. It certainly took the wind out of this woman who writes poetry (I’d rather you called me a feminist than a not-feminist)’s sails.
To the extent that when I spat nails at the almost – almost – complete stripping out of the voices of women in both my Irish and English language education at the Fired event in Bangor in September (that would be one poem by Máire Mac an tSaoi that set my teeth on edge, and a slua of poems by Emily Dickinson which provided a sort of life blood) – I completely forgot about Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill.
Last Friday night, the woman on the stage was not my Eibhlín. That is true and it is also no matter. I am as happy to register her absence and through the words of this mighty act of lamentation, reinstate her, her uwavering presence through the generations, as she is in my imagination.
Fast & Absent 3: Lorca
A LAS CINCO DE LA TARDE
‘To fight a bull when you are not afraid is nothing, to not fight a bull when you are afraid is nothing, to fight a bull when you are afraid is something’ – is a Spanish saying I once heard. My return to Lorca’s keen for the bullfighter/writer Ignacio Sanchez Mejías was prompted by talk and thinking about the offhand comments about the lament tradition. Those comments are always made – in the style of etc. Elegiac, isn’t it? I do have, I suspect everyone who is community based has, a feel of what this tradition of lamentation sounds like. And yet how many actual laments could I count?
Not so very many. Two ‘canonical’ ones that I could quote. One being the Lament for Art O’Leary – but how well did I know that really? The other being Lorca’s Llanto – which I know with the red veins of my heart. Or more accurately, the ‘Alma Ausente’ section. It came to me, after a very good friend of mine died. My desire to translate it, to get inside the spanish words to extract what I needed, felt like part sickness and part healing. I couldn’t understand, because I had written and published poems of my own dedicated to him, why I was so fixated on this poem and translating it. As much as I can think is that I wanted to remember the person I knew as a friend and the legend (in my case possibly the manner of his death or some elements of his life of which he was much more than the sum of). Or perhaps more accurately to recognise – in as many senses of the verb conocer as fitted – the person I knew. And this poem – as Art O’Leary – connected me to all the complexity of what it is to lose somebody that you know deeply – crossing the lines from private individual to public person.
It seems to me – and I am still as per Ingold ‘in between and mid-stream’ in my thinking – that the caoineadh is like the sermon at a Requiem Mass – and the difference in register from universal recognition to going-through-the-motions-of-what’s-expected (which has its own comfort), is the celebrant’s a true knowing of the person in the coffin.
As I’m writing, I have another ‘window’ open about the appointment of a Poet Laureate to follow Carol Ann Duffy – that’s where my train of thought is taking me. Such positions, saoi, laureate, whatever the title, confer more than an entitlement but an expectation that the person would be proficient in the formal arts of lamentation. But the lament, that carrying creative grief, seems to me, on reflection, to chose wisely its own adherents.
Paul Muldoon’s translation is included in ‘Lamentations’ (Gallery Press, 2017). The performance is well worth attending, imho. Find Irish/English (Kinsella) versions HERE.
Lorca’s poem is HERE.