72 Seasons: Tristichs 21-30 April #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!” Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons

For Poetry Month 2019, 1-30 April, I have been creating a daily three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. I haven’t been quite as disciplined as in previous years, letting a few days lapse at a time. I am remembering that my grandfather kept a diary where he entered fragments of facts of the day – amount of seed ordered, a visit, a doctor’s appointment. I always wondered about keeping a diary with such spare wordage coupled with a consistency of updating. I have found the process very anchoring – enough that I might continue it for my own pleasure. There is a real, but easily forgotten, wonder in playing a day-to-day life part in the earth’s turning – and the continual joy of feeding! The final 10 below. The previous two lots of ten are also on the blog.

21.04.2019

‘new ruins’ on display at the Abbey

lonesome hoot of a reclaimed CIE train

memories of the level crossing at Buttevant

22.04.2019 (Earth Day)

not wasting things that might-not-come-again

moveable feasts and coinciding celebrations

the last of the stash of easter chocolate

23.04.2019

freckles on fresh eggs shells

chilli jam

seeded wholemeal bread

24.04.2019

wednesday: the working week

wondering about the truth of weather forecasts

the usefulness of sodium bicarb for brown bins.

25.04.2019

a windy day is not a day for thatching

april is not a month for hay-making

being a hoarder is not without advantages

26.04.2019

middle parts are mandatory

at times neither memorable nor noteworthy

friday is not the end of everyone’s work week

27.04.2019

another 10 year milestone

food and friendship are the best of company

relief of boarding a double-decker bus

28.04.2019

middling news from home

comfort of clearing out old stuff

wild garlic pesto, locally foraged, is a gift

29.04.2019

wildflowers

a patch of daisies that escaped the cut

dandelions half blossom, half clock

30.04.2019

last day of April

nothing unusual about rain

always, nonetheless, a little extra to the ordinary

72 Seasons: Tristichs 11-20 April #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!” Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons

For Poetry Month 2019, 1-30 April, I have been creating a daily three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. Unlike other years, I am using the older proponents of haiku as my mentors with their focus on close observation and their trust in the moment-as-it-is and with an emphasis (though not strictly observed in my case) on the natural world. A nod here too, as always, to the go-between that is Imagism. Find the middle 10 below.

11.04.2019

talking about art

artificial air

a real fear of falling

12.04.2019

scent-notes non-blending

garlic sweat and aftershave

blocked sewer and sweet magnolia

13.04.2019 – Castle Ward

first bluebells

a dandelion clock poised for take-off

animal scat mostly composed of seeds

14.04.2019

last sunday of advent

adding lemon juice to warmed fresh milk

curdled milk to baking soda

15.04.2019

high wind

sirens

a recorded version of Fauré’s Requiem

16.04.2019

a day for looking forward

weather forecast – good and bad in it –

making lists

17.04.2019

new takes on old recipes

top-hat types: hen-shaped mallow and candy eggs

frozen berries with experimental crumble

18.04.2019

this walk by the river is called Jane’s Shore

I don’t know who Jane is

the hollow stump seems to have become hollower.

19.04.2019

hot cross buns

gluten-free crumpets

everything is improved by melting butter

20.04.2019

im Lyra McKee

holiday saturday, spring sun on a bluebell path

and were you there? did you see which hands held the gun

that, just last night, took the life of this sacred woman?

72 Seasons: Poetry, Precision and Three Lines that are True for #NaPoWriMo 2019 – #lettersfromladyn

“At first their names too were borrowed from the Chinese, meaning that they did not always conform to the vagaries of our local climate. Eventually, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai revised them and in their present form they now serve to illustrate a natural, poetic pilgrimage through the ever-changing landscape of the Japanese year!”

Read more: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2018/05/the-poetry-and-precision-of-japans-72-microseasons
Narcissi & Mini Proseco Bottle

Happy Poetry Month and hoping this finds you well! For the last couple of years I have set myself a daily poetry practice for what has become Global Poetry Month based around the tristich or three-line stanza. I’m working with in the three-line format again this year. From 1-30 April, my plan-of-action is to create a three-line piece on the theme ’72 Seasons: Three Lines that are True’. Unlike other years, I am using the older proponents of haiku as my mentors with their focus on close observation and their trust in the moment-as-it-is and with an emphasis (though not strictly observed in my case) on the natural world. A nod here too, as always, to the go-between that is Imagism. I’ll post them here on the blog every 10 days. What follows is a kind of meandering meditation on the motivaion behind this year’s approach.

Clear Sight: The Comfort of Close Observation

‘May you live in interesting times’

– Chinese curse

Poetry, precision and small acts of truth telling are on my agenda through the month. I’m trialling this as a kind of medicine. I have worked in the digital world through information/ communications/ marketing roles for almost a quarter of a century – mostly in the voluntary, community and arts sectors. Starting with web content management and listserv administration and graduating to social media and mobile platforms in line with changes in technology. The last few years in particular has seen an unimaginable rise in information sharing, and the task of Sisyphus that is discerning whether what is being shared has the marks of truth or not.

À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien..’ This early part of the 21st Century is, in every sense of the word, ‘interesting’. In the noughties I carried out an act of translation of Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ – http://www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/apollinaire/zone.htm#. By which I mean I tried to really understand his movement through Europe early in the 20th Century, and what it’s translation-defying first and last lines were really saying, through reading everything I could get my hands on about it and all translations.

One of the commentators suggested that the start of new centuries tend to be turbulent. I’m adding my two cents worth having lived through and celebrated the change to the New Millenium, that the human spirit in those moments of momumental, but not naturally occurring, changes of calendar tends to register possibility in the new and try to ‘future proof’ so that the mistakes of the catastrophic past might not be carried into this ‘clean slate’ type new epoch.

There is no clean slate. There is now, I think, a sense of vacuum. A sense of having looked hard at the past with the wish to not recreate it, but like a horse refusing at a fence, there is a shying away from the normal task and pattern of ‘creating’ that future. I don’t know about you but I’ve often observed that while the demons from the past dance in the present, the first stirrings of the future also haunt this same premises. There they caday about together, as it were, in a fairly uncomfortable manner and are hard to organise into go or stay. And while a ten year plan may seem daunting to the average cricket, a whole millennium’s worth of forward planning, including the hope for Utopia, is beyond the human imagination. Quo Vadis. Cue the fake news artists, the snake oil sellers, and Chicken-Licken wired to the moon.

It is the end of the world as we know it. That is, of course, the true and ongoing part. In my humble opinion, however, what needs enquiry is the place where the desire ward off an impending cataclysm (I have quite a list from global to personal, as I expect you do) meets the desire to create a some sense of workable future. For me, this is aided by a clear-sighted look at the what’s here now. More simply put, information about seasonal fluctuation, no matter how reliable it may be in the location those seasons occur, aren’t at all as useful if a body is actually living somewhere else.

Foresight: Truth and the Future

“We are so far from knowing all the agents of nature and their diverse modes of action that it would not be philosophical to deny phenomena solely because they are inexplicable in the actual state of our knowledge. But we ought to examine them with an attention all the more scrupulous as it appears more difficult to admit them.” (also translated as ‘The weight of evidence should be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts’).

Pierre-Simon Laplace

“But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

Carl Sagan

Foresight, as no one ever said, is 20/20 vision, like poet and prophet is the same word in some language which I forget now. This is in the category of a lovely lie I was once told (here as convenient lie is to the inconvenient truth, the lovely lie is to the plain truth) by someone who knew how to conjure and wield words you’d be forgiven for wanting to be true.

In the midst of all this début de siècle hubbub it’s hard to get an idea of what is actually going on. If truth is that which is in accordance with a sense of fact or acuality (broad brush strokes…), how is the truth related to the future?

I have a fascination with all things divination. Longer than I can remember. My first beloved toy was a small blue lion with a sunlike mane that I called ‘Leo’. Tea leaves, tarot, divining rods, crystals, horoscopes, dead sea scrolls, ‘gifts’ of extra sensory perception, bibliomancy, Novenas, apple cores, the yarrow, Nostradamus, Cathbad, John Dee, scrying… I once did a poetic listing for my own entertainment and to show that pretty much every stick and stone was inspiring some ‘fortune-teller’ somewhere to have a revelation or insight. I think this fascination is true for almost all those who write poetry, even those who ‘doth protest too much’.

It’s also the province of crack-pots, conspiracy theorists, the business of government and corporate strategists. (In the interest of full disclosure, my academic training is in the area of business strategy – creating sustainable prosperity going forward – whether at the level of individual firm, sector, and national state).

For me it’s a triangular, or maybe a circular interest. If you look at the places where alchemy, religion and science cross lines you find that the emphasis on ‘that which is not yet known or is potentially unknowable’ – whether actual or future – sticks an exceptionally creative stick in the wheel. The drive to see around corners, to know the unknowable, to explain the inexplicable, makes the task to get the wheel in forward motion very compelling.

Whether increasing the probability of beneficial outcomes, a get-rich scheme, or a hope for immortality, this drive has configured all we know about our known world. In the mainstream, the forecasters – from frameworks to assess probablity of future outcomes to news programme pundits, are the voices crying out in the desert for better understanding of what is going on now in order to create a more favourable negotiation of circumstances at some time that is not here yet, given that what is not here yet may have some of its own elegant tricks up its epoch sleeves.

Nevertheless when I am inspired to write poetry, it has never yet been in the spirit of ‘prepare ye’ with a Michaelangelo-like sketch of a helicopter in the margins. I have rarely seen this type of poem and I’d probably, with no harm to the writer, not choose to read much further if I did. For me, there are clear lines between poetry and prophecy. The reason that I’m talking about it now is, however, that by the matter of clear transcribing of what is the poem-coming-into-being, there is a hard to account for, after the fact, enlightening sense of prescience which I am far from alone in experiencing as a writer, which is why the digging ground of the two being the same is an argument for which I can make a case.

So that’s a long winded walk back to where the car is parked.

The Three-line Trick

This year’s NaPoWriMo practice is a small good thing. That’s all it is. Day-by-day observation of what is there – poetry and precision. On the one hand, a good discipline in the kind of precision that is connective tissue in poetry and makes it long-lived. On the other, a kind of grounding, anchoring, that may be at least a tracking of the truth in reference to a present actual rather than the past or projected fears – which have their place, but here in the sense of being able to discern what is likely to yield good information going forward. A practice that while remaining true to itself also transforms simply by being recorded and where no transformation has actually happened in real terms.

Hester: beyond right and wrong, acknowledging hurt – #lettersfromladyn

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi ‘A Great Wagon’

Meeting Hester

I wasn’t old enough to know what the ‘A’ stood for. I was old enough to be in the house with some degree of care for small sleeping children. I should have been in bed myself but, by accident, I got caught up mid-way through what I didn’t realise was the final episode of a TV dramatisation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. I was so anxious to get the end of it that I took the risk of getting caught but luck was on my side. The last of the credits were over when I was discovered. Nobody thought to ask what I’d been watching. I carried the mystery of the double ‘A’ like an exquisitely embroidered locked-box that turned out to be, in reality, a quest to find its key. Except the minute I found the key, I understood that the quest had been false. The young girl in the sitting room had understood very well the point of the adaptation* – ‘scapegoating’ ‘blame shifting’. As titillating as sex may be, particularly in a strict religious context, to an adult audience – that aspect was not what held my attention. The depiction of duplicity, betrayal and the relief of its outing did.

What TS Eliot said

“A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” TS Eliot

The world of words is a mess of letters – whether breastplate or not. Words like the ocean, and we appear as a collective to swim through them, hitting off riff tides and struggling with hidden currents – sometimes both at the same time – and I am willing to say on behalf of everyone that it is unlikely that we are ever on our own no matter how isolating an experience can seem to be.

The dictionary is at everyone’s disposal – and there is most assuredly nothing new under the sun. But yet, the old saw of Eliot’s which I’ve heard misquoted now and then these past few years, is not I think misquoted in the way I understand it. My take is that use of other people’s words that appear without acknowledgement in our writing are those that are well respected and so easily recognisable in their own context, that when we use them, it is an act of homage, an exploration of lineage – and also an uplevelling of our own work. The question of who we respect and why we respect them, I suspect, is at the heart of this piece of writing.

What I want to say, in the manner of Hester, and within a paradigm of dominant discourse and narrative controllers, a body could find their mouth moving, arms and legs at times, and yet feel like a bit player in a drama where they have little or no power of direction. Two kinds of silences emerge. The silence where the sense of all-rightness is so pervasive that those in the presence of it deny any vague stirrings of argument – and a carefully disguised silence – where words appear to be said but that happens through an act of ventriloquism so you could miss that the person themselves is, in fact, not the one who is speaking. That is to say that a hole ‘could be’ dug for ‘you‘ and ‘you‘ could be left there secula seculorum without a need for breath, bread or companionship. Now imagine that you have dug that hole for yourself (use the ‘I’ voice here and leave yourself there for a little while) – I bet you that having gotten over a little jag of despair, you will be planning a break for freedom? It may take some time, but I also bet that you will be successful.

There is a third silence, in the manner of Hester, a sacred dignified silence to be invoked when you or I or she or he or they acknowledge that we, whether individual or collective, are not in the conversation at all no matter how it looks. Where we have no choice but to let the circus of all-rightness be as it is, while acknowledging honestly that the only part we share in this is the strange presentiment of those around us who enthusiastically interact with us as if we are monkeys, we genuinely have nothing to say except this is not my reality.

When the Scarlet Letter is ‘I’

For all the shame or nondescriptness that may attach to it, I decided a long time ago to wear my ‘I’ proudly – whomsoever had ordained my embroidering of it, whomsoever might wear its counterpart, when there was no counterpart.

In another blog I asked the question of myself, and to anybody who might find it interesting, who do you write about when you write about ‘you‘ and who are you writing about if you aren’t writing about yourself? The question as it emerges from the person that ‘I‘ am is not at all as straightforward a high-moral-ground position as it might look on the surface. To be honest, it isn’t straightforward at all and it’s less about me than you might think. So I’m going to go back a little bit and say that the intention behind it – as a matter of guideline rather than unbreakable rule – is to honour my connection with my own experience as I perceive it to be as what I have to offer (such as it is), to attempt not to speak on anybody else’s behalf, rather, if it is possible instead, to inspire their own true speaking, to create a dialogue or an atmosphere of correspondance even if that is one-to-many rather than one-to-one. All is not all-right. I doubt it ever will be so if you are looking for somebody to make a case for that, you still haven’t found who you’re looking for.

But my ‘I’ can be more at odds with myself in its speaking than its silence. That’s what I have been finding. My complex relationship with my own identity makes this ‘I’ a shapeshifting kind of letter. Another way of saying this might be to say that when I’m speaking from the place of ‘I’ , ‘I’ might possibly be speaking from the stance of a commissioned scarlet letter – making it a double ‘I’. One is a stock character in someone else’s drama of all-rightness to whom I have been trying to smuggle in provisions and etablish escape routes, and the other ‘I’ is one, I have to be honest, whose best language, to date, has been silence. Authenticity, ‘I’ conclude at this particular pit stop on the journey, is a wild ride.

One little Indian: multiple identities and Minnehaha

I was younger – the too-little child who hangs around the legs of an older sibling and the older again boys next door. The game was Cowboys and Indians. I suspect both my sister and myself were designated ‘Indians‘ but she successfully argued a case for a less inferior role or went on strike altogether. I, very influenced by a beautifully illustrated version of Hiawatha, embraced with great excitement my position which involved being confined at a distance – entertaining myself with imaginary log canoes, waterfalls and wigwams – to make sure I didn’t create nuisance for the older boys who were at that time engaged in shooting each other in a part of the neighbours’ garden I wasn’t allowed to go. It’s funny how early we learn the ways of all-rightness and our place in the pecking order.

The thing is at this stage in the story my own ear is straining for some concrete context for all of this because this is how things ought to progress. A preamble to an outing of the non-taking-a-trip-out-for-the day variety. ‘I’ am now regarding myself as if I am separate from myself and am wondering – I would like this to get to the specifics. Is her particular beef gender relationships, a matter of Irish Politics, sex and/or religion, animal welfare, how the West was won, who is to blame when children meet cultural references too young?

It feels like there should be, at this point, a denouement where ‘I’, as the author of this, orchestrate some situation whereby a heretofore larger-than-life all-right other all-of-a-sudden rips open a tightly buttoned outergarment to expose the matching ‘I’ they’ve been wearing like the stigmata all this time. The little key that wept blood. But again, again, the finding, the exploring, the naming and the shaming in any context, the multiplicity of the concept of context, proves to be a false promise.

Scapegoating, blameshifting, duplicity, betrayal and an outing of that still holds centre stage. But, with great respect to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his truth-to-power resolution, my experience is that this isn’t how things fall out. Where there ought to be a scaffolding, there is an expanding silence. The only difference is that there is relief in this silence. Minnehaha, Madeline, or whoever, from beyond the grave or back from a multiplicity of deaths – some by her own acts of betrayal – and decades of laid-waste land is here and trying to figure out – as the true silence spreads out – what would ‘I‘ have been saying all this time if things hadn’t been as they were.

4’33” minutes was a mighty silence for a music composition. A minute does for unthinkable atrocities – how are years to be acknowledged?

Coming in mid-way through the final installment

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.”
– Rumi ‘A Great Wagon’

I haven’t grown much physically. Metaphorically speaking, here I am again, on my own while those in charge are out, younger ones sleeping somewhere in this house who are owed a duty of care not entirely mine to discharge, and I am pursuing a fascination that is bigger than its risk. All the notes of theatre in my voice letting me know that there is still some other in my ‘I‘. There are a lot of right things about wanting justice. My wish to be in a world that is just – to contribute to that – is not going anywhere. But, I must acknowledge that the ‘fight for it’ is also a place where the words ‘I’ speak are often not my own. And, in the offchance, there might at some future time be a noisy public confession in some context or other what happens afterwards anyway? In life, a wrong outed is rarely a precursor to harmony in relationships – individual or community. The usual best hope is to get away from somebody or a situation – and that can be, in itself, a significant victory.. but pyrrhic. Chop wood, carry water – a better future for the next generation. In the particular incidence of Hester, it probably makes no real difference. And that’s when the heart makes its first appeal to the voice to break its honourable silence. Name the losses and cry for all of them,  all the years, how and where it truly hurt. Cry. A lot. My heart, that authentic ‘I’, unabsolved, uninstated, unrealised and moving slowly. I’ll meet you there.

 

*The adaptation had a slightly different agenda than the book, it felt, when I read the book later on. I remember the TV ending as being more dramatic and quicker to close. I can’t swear to it though.

Touch, don’t observe – #worldbrailleday @LabelLib @acniwriting #tbt

Today (4 Jan 2019) is World Braille Day and I have just taken up the RNIB’s offer to have a visual representation of my name in braille to raise awareness of braille (RNIB Connect Podcast) and happily remembering getting a better sense of braille last year.

2018-04-25 13.26.26

Label lit/Poetry Day 2018 ‘Poetry Surprises’

I loved being part of this initiative for National Poetry Day ’18 – taking to Downpatrick with a handful of labels to be found in places where poetry would not be normally found.

The individual micro-poems/labels were drawn from a deconstructed poem (reconstructed below) that I had written for a curating poetry course.

The poem’s curation element was born out of my frustration at the behind-glass at-a-distance visual presentation of art, particularly constructed or 3D artforms, where individual pieces seemed to silently scream from behind the glass, or whatever out-of-reach space, about how the best part of their innate artistic communiation was in the form of physical interaction which was prohibited.  I was also, in my own writing practice, experimenting with the sense of touch – that self-same physical interaction (skin-to-skin contact being the most profoundly inspirational but in my workshop experiments it was objects which were called upon to share their inspirational qualities through the medium of the fingers, the palms, the skin).

Working with the PageTurners – a creative writing group drawn from the RNIB NI membership – the idea of creating labels with a braille element presented itself to me. I am still so grateful to the RNIB braille team for responding to my strange request and so quickly. They said two things which I have filed away for future use. One is that braille isn’t as commonly known as it was by virtue of the advance in technology and the other is that I could, if I was a bit more organised, have organised actual brailled labels. This might have been a better awareness raising and access strategy – but my curation of braille ‘elements’ was also to invoke the language of touch, raising broader awareness of the predominance of the visual in our lives – and perhaps to create a bridge between the two.

The braille version of poem came back to me in one piece without line-breaks, so in order to create the elements I had to work out the system. I have always loved the feel of braille – words I can touch – but, up to this I hadn’t any idea how to transform the dots and indentations into communication. I am no expert now but I have a better understanding of it and even more respect for it than I had before.

Some more information about Label Lit 2018 by Arts Council NI here (video)

To Have & To Hold: A Curator’s Proposal

Let’s leave the world of the glass display case
Find a way back to our own space
Create a touch tank of the place we inhabit.

Touch       don’t observe

Impressions left on the spoon-bowl palm
Of the hand – a sustaining pleasure
Of weight and size and texture.

Touch       but with care

There are boundaries here to consider
How best to hold what’s fixed, passing through
All that contains you?

Touch      these four walls

Doors   windows   keep vigilant
For anywhere that feels like confinement
Ask yourself is this what home is?

What
Holds you
Here.

Fast & Absent friends: A Lament for Eibhlín Dubh, & Lorca

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.

Notes:

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.

2018-11-03 12.47.14

Poems on a Sunday Afternoon is 10 – @Down_arts #Downpatrick 30 September

6tag-3088414843-1483269340422047431_3088414843For men may come, and men may go / But I go on forever. – Tennyson

The fact is the assocation between writer’s collective ‘Write! Down’ and Down Arts Centre is actually longer than a decade. The first of the ‘Poems on a Sunday Afternoon’ forerunners was a Burn’s Night in 2005 (in or around).

Poems on a Sunday Afternoon

Another fact is, I am a little hazy on the day and date that Rachel Kennedy, then Arts Officer with Down Arts Centre, rang me at my Voluntary Arts Ireland desk based then at English Street, Downpatrick, to ask whether Write! Down would be interested in a proposition she had for DAC and Write! Down to partner.

On the plane home from an AMA conference she told me, there had been a discussion about Sunday afternoons and what might work well in programming terms in that time slot and she’d had an idea.  I agreed, on behalf of everybody, with this idea – immediately and wholeheartedly.

The format – a platform for writing in this area, a showcase of new writers, and new writing by established authors and a connection point for those interested in writing in all its forms locally;  a featured reading and a shared space where all were welcome to share a their own work (poem, story, song) or a favourite – drawn from the Write! Down way of being in the world, has not changed to any great degree through the ten years of its existence.

Plus ça change

While Sunday Poems or PoSA as it is better know to its regulars has retained its motives and make-up, almost everything else has changed. Write! Down – a dynamic combination of Maria McManus and myself, joined by Matt Kirkham, Vi and Emma Whitehead and Donal O’Hagan – dispersed after five burgeoning years of operation. Rachel Kennedy took up a new post as Director of Eastside Arts, I can’t think of any of the current ‘regulars’ who were with us at the very start – even Down Arts Centre itself was remodelled and reconstructed in the time period (leading to some very interesting other venues while the work was in progress).

Austerity Times

Some of those were difficult years. A number of years in, the first ‘austerity’ cuts came in, and like the canaries in the coalmine, the voluntary and arts sector were the first to get a foretaste of what has become the new ‘normal’. These cuts had a lot of reprecussions, the loss of key funding for Write! Down being one. However, with Down Arts Centre’s continuing support – and the sense that this was a small but valued initiative – we have rode out the bad and enjoyed the good by turns. I had my own difficult times – though I haven’t, to date, missed any PoSA event (with thanks to Vi Whitehead who on a number of occassions came with the express purpose of taking up the reins in the event of me keeling over) – and the upshot of that is that I didn’t record anything. My memory is a blur of featured readings, first time at the podium for new readers (many of whom have gone from strength to strength), acts of the most incredible bravery by ‘ordinary’ people for whom PoSA has been a vehicle to share heartfelt and/or difficult life experiences creatively, beautifully, and an almost divine generosity between attendees, and a very strange almost expected, synchronicity of theme that arrives without any invitation on almost every occassion.

Reading isn’t Compulsory

Despite what you may have heard. But the thing is, when everybody is responding to the noble call, it’s hard to sit it out. From my silent teenage years, I know what it was like to burn to be part of things and to have my own self-consciousness cut me off at the pass. It’s like the First Nation’s talking stick – there seems to be something not quite right until all voices have shared, even one’s own. So I do love it when people share their work or favourites that have moved them.  And PoSA continues to be a very supportive space for that all important ‘first time’.

From Featured to Fabulous

Again it isn’t compulsory to go from strength to strength, having been featured in the ‘featured space’ – however, that has been about the size of it. I’m again cursing myself now for not having kept a record because every time I think about a poet or author in the area or connected to the development of writing locally, I think – ‘oh yes’ they read (or sung) here at one time. Both Brigid O’Neill and Damian Smyth, who are with us for the celebration, are both returners. Meeting the new work of established writers criteria, renowned Downpatrick poet (among other things) Damian Smyth, read from ‘English Street’ in it’s earlier stages at an earlier PoSA. It feels very good to be launching the full collection here.

All the thanks

To be honest, it’s been a cast of thousands. My thanks to Write! Down – more loose affiliation than collective now but still the connections are all there – and to all involved in Words for Castle Ward, which is the operating partner currently, and the most generous heart of the Sunday Poems afternoons.

An almighty thanks to all who have come and shared your work. Everyone. Entertaining, heartfelt, heartbreaking, brave, engaged, campaigning, gifted. You never know who will come through the door or who has been touched by the words that have been shared. To those who have come once, those who came for years and then let it slip away, those who have been coming these last few years, those whose first time will be the next one, those who always mean to get there and will one of these days – you are what makes this what it is.

To the featured readers, thanks for bringing your best work and selves to this space. It has been heard and appreciated, with a particular word of thanks to the writing group features. There has always been a lovely sense of natural networking (oh how I hate that term) about PoSA and a sense of the whole writing project as being valid and ongoing by your being there.

To the staff of Down Arts Centre, the biggest thanks of all for all the support over the years – Rachel, Denise, Donna, now Janine,  keeping the show on the road with their seasonal calls for the next PoSA events, marketing them, supporting the endeavour in every way. Sunday Afternoon isn’t exactly the most delightful time to be coming into work and, I need to express big appreciation to those who work the slot – Rita at the beginning, now Greg and many more – with a great deal of enthusiasm, and excellent refreshments, and patience with the amount of chatting that could happen at the end of the afternoon.

Celebrate with Us

All that is a rambling preamble (which may function as some kind of future record) to invite everybody to join the 10th anniversary celebrations on 30 September at Down Arts Centre.

Shared Space, 2.30pm – 4.30pm: At this, as all previous events, you are invited to share your own work or a favourite as usual. We are delighted to be joined by local songwriter Brigid O’Neill whose own song writing career we have watched go from strength to strength over the past ten years.

Featured Reading, 5-6pm: We are delighted to welcome internationally recognised poet Damian Smyth for a local launch of his most recent collection English Street (Templar Poetry: 2018). This is his sixth collection follows Mesopotamia (2014), Market Street (2010), Lamentations (2010), The Down Recorder (2004) and Downpatrick Races 2000.

All is FREE, doesn’t need to be booked in advance, and while we’d love you for the whole event, this PoSA is constructed so that you can come to all or either parts. More info from wordsfromcastleward@gmail.com if you need.

Final Words

In the event that this sounds like I am going away on a long trip, I am delighted to announce that PoSA goes on tour for the first time in November. The show goes to Kilbroney Park (indoors I need to say) on the 18 November as part of the CS Lewis Festival. We are delighted to have Colin Dardis in the featured spot reading from his recently launched collection ‘the xofy’ and the shared space has a loose theme of ‘things you find when hiding’ – inspired by a tendency for people to find incredible things when hiding out from something else that you find in CS Lewis writing. And.. January’s PoSA is also going to be very interesting…but one season at a time… Slow and steady had definitely got us through this decade.

PoSA10

Image at head of piece: ‘Time Bug’ by Emma Whitehead.