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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

‘Sometimes I imagine /they speak’: A Note on Richard Wilbur, George Oppen, and the Political Poem

When Richard Wilbur is linked to modern Irish poetry, it is usually by way of his influence on Michael Longley and Derek Mahon, who read his work as students in the 1960s. Poetic dandy that he was, he is often cited as an exemplar of the artist who turns to poetic form as a buffer against the rougher pressures of history and politics. By extension, careful formalism such as practised by Wilbur is often seen as an a priori conservative stance. This is not necessarily the case, and Wilbur wrote his share of poems expressing anger at the Vietnam War, such as ‘On the Marginal Way’, which reaches back to the holocaust and the Spanish Civil War to channel the poet’s rage at the ‘tidings of some dirty war’, and ‘A Miltonic Sonnet for Mr Johnson’, comparing Lyndon B. Johnson unfavourably with Thomas Jefferson. When asked for a poem by a student newspaper in 1970, however, he wrote ‘For the Student Strikers’, published only after some consternation and delay. It’s not hard to understand the negative reaction it provoked:

Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.

It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.

Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start,
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.

They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff
And the guardsman’s son.

The poem calls for civility, respect and dialogue, while placing the responsibility for these qualities on the side of the protesters, whose anger places them outside civil norms. In their righteous indignation, they lose sight of their enemies’ humanity. (Small contextual reminder: also in 1970, four student protesters at Kent State University were killed by the Ohio state guard while protesting US bombing of Cambodia). Once they have calmed down, the protesters can drop round for some dialogue to the nearest policemen’s houses, at the risk of doors being shut in their faces (rather than, for instance, rifles being discharged in their direction). Why didn’t Arthur Scargill drop round to Ian McGregor’s house for a cup of tea during the miners’ strike? Why don’t Black Lives Matter protesters stop by their local police sheriff’s department for a friendly chat? The suggestion is comical, ludicrous even. In a political stand-off, why should it be the responsibility of the protester to accept the civilised norms of the governing class? Are these really so self-evident that a departure from them requires the policing (metaphorical and literal) of Wilbur’s poem? It is the perennial Antigone question, of why the arbiters of power and authority should be the ones to decide what constitutes civil protest and reasonable resistance to the rule of law.

The poem retains the power to provoke today. Writing this short essay, I see it was posted with a commentary on Eratosphere by A. M. Juster in 2016, who hailed its relevance against the mass erosion of civil discourse that greeted the election of Donald Trump, by which he meant the language of anti-Trump protesters. Juster has elsewhere underscored the political bona fides of Wilbur’s poem by describing its author as otherwise ‘not a conservative poet’ and ‘a poet from the far left’, which will come as a surprise to many. It’s also worth adding to the mix here that I have interacted quite a bit, with A. M. Juster on the internet, who is a regular and thoughtful commentator on poetry on twitter. Our discourse has certainly remained within the terms of the concept I am trying to unpick and unpack here, the ‘civil’.

Wilbur is not alone in responding to political conflict in these terms. A striking poetic disagreement from this same period occurred between Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan. The former had begun to write protest poems against the Vietnam war and the latter, whose politics were of a libertarian left/anarchist hue, objected. He found them didactic and brow-beating. The two exchanged many letters on the subject and their friendship suffered badly. Duncan’s attitude is probably best expressed in his oft-quoted suggestion that ‘The poet’s role is not to oppose evil, but to imagine it.’ One poem that especially riled Duncan was ‘Tenebrae’, with its description of suburban Republican wives, whose distance from social conflict draws the disapproving comment from Levertov that ‘They are not listening’. Evidently feeling got at, or accused of not tuning in to the correct radical frequencies, Duncan tells Levertov that ‘I am listening and hearing more than you consider it legitimate to hear’. He insists that the proper task of the artist is to follow where his art leads him, and not to presume artistic merit will lie where political virtue signals its presence. He is accusing Levertov, in contemporary parlance, of ‘virtue-signalling’ – a problematic objection, I find, when shadowed by what we might call reverse virtue-signalling, in which a conservative reader insists that political engagement can only be bad for a poem, leaving all virtue on the side of the unexamined status quo. This is certainly not Duncan’s position, though his actual views about the climate of the Johnson-era US are perhaps better illustrated by his decision, in 1968, to stop publishing for fifteen years, a promise he duly honoured.

Which brings me to the case of George Oppen. Though sharing with Wilbur the experience of wartime combat in Europe (Oppen narrowly avoided death in a foxhole in Alsace), he had followed a radically different path and career from the younger poet. After the publication of his elliptical debut Discrete Series in 1934 and association with the Objectivist poets, chiefly Reznikoff and Zukofsky, Oppen responded to depression-era US politics by joining the Communist party and giving up poetry, becoming a labour activist instead. After the war, the Oppens came under political suspicion and moved to Mexico, where George worked as a carpenter. Newly returned to the US, he was 54 when he resumed his poetic career with The Materials. Unlike the much-garlanded Wilbur, Oppen was no one’s idea of a career poet, and reacted to his surprise Pulitzer win in 1968 by, for his own eccentric reasons, striving to give as few poetry readings as possible. Yet for all Oppen’s record as a political activist, he makes for a very uncomfortable political poet, as judged by contemporary standards. Critics who express scepticism of political poetry will often identify it with sloganeering, of the kind one might write on a placard at an anti-war protest. Oppen had no sense of such a conception of poetry. He was deeply puzzled by the Beats and other expressions of 60s counterculture. For Oppen, the poem is not a site of opinionation, but a site of witnessing, of hospitality to available reality. As David Herd writes: ‘Oppen would have liked a poetry totally without the inflections of voice, a poetry that understood its objective to be an almost silent, largely impersonal rendering of things.’ Oppen was fascinated by Heidegger, and can often appear to strive for a state of mystical Dasein, or revelation of ‘being-in-the-world’, in his poems. The contrast between Wilbur and Oppen is most obviously apparent on the level of the individual line, and what each poet thinks it is, and can do. Oppen does not use rhyme, and has no real use for the pentameter line. His line-breaks are, to a dispassionate observer, often arbitrary and jagged, serving to thrust into prominence the object of contemplation.

Nevertheless, politics are abundantly present in Oppen’s work. The poem that has prompted me to write this note, ‘The Book of Job and a Draft of a Poem in Praise of the Paths of the Living’, marks a particularly painful encounter with 60s politics, in the form of the murder in Mississippi of three civil rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, engaged in voter registration (their killings form the backdrop to the film Mississippi Burning). The poem is dedicated to Schwerner, whom Oppen had known in New York, and the poem begins with an ambition to ‘name Goodman Schwerner Chaney/who were beaten not we/who were beaten children/not our/children ancestral/children rose in the dark.’ But it is they, not we, who have suffered,, and that bridge of difference is one the poem finds it tricky to cross. In his study George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism Peter Nicholls describes the poem’s tortuous composition and publication history, as Oppen circled round this problem, before its reaching a final form in Myth of the Blaze, a collection incorporated into his 1975 Collected Poems.

One basic difference between Wilbur and Oppen is the latter’s habitual dissection of syntax. In conversation with Lawrence Harvey, Beckett said he felt driven to slice up his own poetic syntax for reasons of ‘shame’, and with its stuttering sub-utterances Oppen’s poem gives every impression of an abashed inability to confront its subject and have its say. The reference to the angry ant derives from a letter of Francis Drake’s to Elizabeth I, in which he warns her that the wretched of the earth will not be patient forever but will rise up and have their vengeance:

And then there is the question of the Book of Job. Oppen’s relationship to Judaism is a huge topic, and not one I can fully ventilate here, but his reading of the Book of Job is, it must be said, pessimistic. Job has had a rough old time of it, but nothing God says approaches an apology. One reason for this, according to Oppen (waxing gnostic), is that it is not God who speaks but the demiurge, the malign god of creation. In his notes on the biblical text, Oppen gives no sense of being impressed by God’s self-defence. Up to now, Job has been the victim of a cosmic order that seems vicious and irrational. Now it is spelt out as a moral code, while retaining its violent irrationality. As Nicholls observes, drawing Blake into the discussion: Truth, we might say, falls outside of the apparent contraries of ‘moral virtue’ – it is not about theodicy, the justification of God’s ways to man, but about the material presence of the world, the creative force that speaks from out of the whirlwind, the force that, as Blake has said, creates both the tiger and the lamb and cannot be held to account for its actions. Truth is rather that ‘moment of sincerity that dislocates everything’, a sincerity, that is, that equates not to an individual’s intentions but to the actuality of the world itself.

Although God restores Job to prosperity, Oppen sees continuing violence in the moral order that he represents, just as he does in the vacuum of anarchy he has allowed to invade Job’s life. As he stresses in his notes on Job, the remarkable thing is that Job has provoked God into speaking at all, but the dignity we wish to see restored to Job comes from his own articulation of his woes, not from his accepting a restored place in the violent cosmogony of the Old Testament God. These private responses to Job find oblique expression in the poem. Here as elsewhere Oppen identifies with states of reduction, smallness, poverty, frailty, shabbiness, insubstantiality. As the ‘storm’ passes, some will survive and ‘we /the greasers’:

survivors will be tame
will stand near our feet
what shall we say they have lived their lives
they have gone feathery
and askew
in the wind from the beginning carpenter
mechanic o we
impoverished we hired
hands that turn the wheel young
theologians of the scantlings wrecked
monotheists of the weather-side sometimes I imagine
they speak

‘We /the greasers’ references a derogatory slang term for Hispanic immigrants to California, and its ‘we’/‘they’ vacilliation provides this section with its own commentary on Oppen’s solidarity with, and simultaneous separateness from, the migrant labouring communities of his adopted state. The bystanders and observers will not be sharing our testimonies of the violence done to them, nor will ‘we’ be seizing the microphone to broadcast our political thoughts. Perhaps those in the deep south will see this ineloquence as blameworthy (Levertov’s ‘They are not listening’ again), but the poem leaves it at imagining their speech, rather than recruiting them as vehicles for its indignation.

The experience of the storm leaves the survivor with a residue of ‘shame’, which ‘touches him /again arms and dis- /arms him meaning /in the instant //tho we forget //the light’, with social conflict once more ascending into a realm of ontological light and dark, revelation and concealment. A passage of landscape writing resounds to the ‘camera’s click’, a material trace of an alien, observing eye that we might (for instance) visualize as the civil rights workers recording the injustices of the deep south. The writing is, still and ever, brittle and self-fragmenting in rendering a:

tragedy so wide
spread so

shabby a north sea salt
tragedy ‘seeking a statement

of an experience of our own’ the bones of my hands

bony bony lose me the wind cries find
yourself I?

this? the road
and the travelling always

country forever

The poem approaches only to reject the commensurability of tragedy and the lyric vessel of the ‘statement’ it might provide. The site of colonial violence in Conrad is a Heart of Darkness, and Oppen’s description of the land as an ‘undiscovered /country forever’ echoes the jaded language of ‘civilised outrage’, while self-consciously refusing to present itself as the enlightened discoverer of what it is that drives the primal violence of American life.

The poem ends instead with an act of radical entry into its landscape and its memory, extracting from it a harsh music in which the present becomes coextensive with the past (time past is ‘not ended’) and the landscape a text we can both read and write upon. There is no ‘I’ in the closing verse paragraph, though a ‘we’ does feature briefly. More importantly, ‘in itself /of itself speaks the word’: objectivist self-sufficiency of the word is achieved at last:

mid continent iron rails
in the fields and grotesque
metals in the farmer’s heartlands a sympathy
across the fields
and down the aisles
of the crack trains
of 1918 the wave
of the improbable
drenches the galloping carpets in the sharp
edges in the highlights
of the varnished tables we ring
in the continual bell
the undoubtable bell found music in itself
of itself speaks the word
actual heart breaking
tone row it is not ended
not ended the intervals
blurred ring
like walls
between floor
and ceiling the taste
of madness in the world birds
of ice Pave
the world o pave
the world carve


I would summarize the contrasting effects of Wilbur’s and Oppen’s poems as follows. Wilbur’s subject matter may surprise the reader, but his poem exists on a recognisable spectrum with his usual lyric poise and wit. This makes it all the more startling then that he so blithely enlists these qualities to a discourse of civility so transparently forced and unsustaining. ‘Rumoured to be unlike you’ – so it is the protesters who have a problem with difference rather than the police? The unloading of touchy difference onto the students recalls the contemporary insult of ‘identity politics’, where it is the self-engrossed womanhood/blackness/whatever of the protester that disables their capacity for reason. What of the identity politics of sameness, of the inert and monstrous Leviathan – what of the reality of murderous state violence? These concepts escape Wilbur’s poem and the available reality it conveys. I find it a finally small and cowardly utterance.

Oppen’s poem is born in private recoil from the wound of political violence and fashions from this a meditation on good and evil. How do the wronged assert themselves in the face of political evil? Is it for Oppen to give them a voice or do they speak for themselves? The poem ponders hard the conditions of its own making before entering, tentatively, the in-between state where understanding and solidarity become possible. But what it is we ‘carve //thereon’, in the poem’s lapidary conclusion, is not spelt out, remaining shrouded in the Job-like whirlwind of history. The poem ends on a note of continued scattering and loss, stating its moral imperative but alive to inadequacy and failure too. Oppen’s is the harsher poetic environment than Wilbur’s, yet strangely more welcoming where questions of politics and history are concerned, more open to the possibilities of understanding and change. It seems to me exemplary of what a modern poem can be in the face of politics and history, of the traces they leave on us, and the traces we in return can hope to leave on them.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Work in Progress, or Mr Smacky Paw (Slight Return)

Whereas it might be urged that our progress, findings and pronouncements followed neither sequence nor method, the truth is arguably, given the right combination of arguer and arguments, of arguer and arguments and audience – is arguably quite other. Travel fatiguing us (there being few things we found less to our taste than travel), we debated, my associate and I, with our feline advisors (then lying between us), whether our purposes might not be as easily accomplished by going, not here, there or there, but nowhere; with due allowance made for rolling now this way, now that, as our cramps, bed sores, or our feline advisors’ whims dictated. As we debated, a shadow continued on its way from the far edge of a wardrobe to the near edge of the door. I remember being struck by this, to the point of wishing to make a note, and remembering my pencil had unfortunately rolled from the bed and onto the floor, onto the floor and under the bed, where it lodged just out of reach. Arising from my recumbent position to retrieve it I placed one foot before the other – so – prior to kneeling down, only to find my progress checked by the actions of Mr Smacky Paw, otherwise Percy the cat. I passed the bed-corner, very slowly fleeing, and smack! went his paw against my trouser leg. I took a step backwards, out of shock and the better to register what had just happened, and smack! it went again: smack! Now forwards again I went, attention divided between the rewards of the window and the experiment on which I found myself embarked, and smack! went the paw a third time. Fart!, went Sam, another of our feline advisors, looking on from the other end of the bed, fart! though not in a manner of suggestive of any causal connection between my advancing and retreating, Mr Smacky Paw’s reaction to this, and the release of a small quantity of gas into the bedroom air. Then just as the fart, this modest fart, by no means pungent or exceptionable, just as this fart had supplanted the smack in my mind, roll! went Jessica the cat in her median position on the bed between the two other cats, from this side to that, and back again from that side to this. But such was my state of rapt attention to Jessica’s roll, coming on top of Sam’s fart, coming on top of Percy’s smack, that standing there as I was, like a great big gawm, I found myself smacked all over again, for no crime at all, neither of forward nor or rearward motion: smack!, went Mr Smacky Paw, with perhaps enough force to concuss an infant dung beetle or ladybird, but causing me, to speak of me, the recipient after all of this blow, something closer to bemusement than annoyance, but interruption and inconvenience too, since but for the smack I would long since have retrieved my pencil, enjoying a momentary view from the window preparatory to my kneeling down, that too, a view of the field, its line of woods in the distance with sometimes a buzzard or two overhead, sometimes not, but still, a view, a genuine view, not this hell of trouser-tugging molestation with attendant farting and rolling and, can you believe it, while I was thinking all this, pfft!, went another Sam fart, and left-right, right-left!, went another Jessica roll. I retrieved my pencil and returned to bed, confirmed in my earlier suspicion of the madness, madness I say, of venturing abroad under these or indeed any conditions.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


after Jean du Chas

We are exploded!
Hellish contraption en route to Haydn’s creation
bearing me along on the bier of her thoughtstream

she tore off a snowwhite cockade from her Bourbon unmentionables
the Bari Madonna shedding her gewgaws by clockwork

who but a Khan would not affect pyjamas
knucklebones cracking like hailstones on the skylight?

a most inept catechumen
doffing his cap to a shooting star
a null place, a spacious naught
an inside fob pocket voice

cover your goitre, my scarlet armed rusty haired bovine
the goodwill of this lousy old earth is venery against thee
the laurel of unknowing on my distempered head
insensible in a deathstupor

I have – glory be – a competency
that oft posed question
a ptyx of bitterness
garrotte me with her garter
turgent bubs
promulgated by a sowgelder
oh mine, my own sweet bowels!

(I hereby atone for myself
I willed and pronounce it
my blighted ipsissimosity
semel et simulacrum
an antidote to all content)

what is this life but an Irish sea
I stiffly asseverate
melancholy as a leveret
a laden head & a leaden behind
the eunuchs as usual in the thick of the shenanigans

coil my law round thy tarsals
punctilious buck of a young gallant
the undevirginated young ladies in Holland glide on the ice

Sweeney on Eigg

dark sky
darker sands       to circum-
ambulate       the island sets
the compass points spinning      catches
the Massacre Cave      the standing stone
off-guard      they scamper ahead of me
to their places

gewgaws of       island
kingdoms      a necklace with no chain
a god’s dowry scattered      the water-
colourist’s palette       greens purples
browns       upended veining
the burns       sprouting
a rainbow from the tap

millstone of the centuries
turning       improvident demons
of cloud draw blood       from the peaks
the edge of the candlelight too       is jagged
my bothy’s welcome shall be defenceless
only the      boarded-up house
locks its door

select aperture
select brightness       and contrast
each morning       the neighbouring island
presses its face      to the window
each afternoon      the ferry lowers
its tongue       to the pier
a cow at a salt-lick

arrowheads of gull-
prints       fallen in showers
have been       discovered since
the last tide      excavations
continue      the sands’ archive
of forgetting       remembers all
my forgetting

storm-felled trees
our shelter      capsized hulls
by the pier      my life-raft
a curse blows me here       and drives
us hence      my birthright island
roots me       in earth my feet
have yet to touch

my bothy
has no mirror       the curse
is incomplete so long as       I cannot
see my face      a few poor whimpers
escape us       lose themselves
in what       the sand sings and
singsand       singsand

Friday, August 19, 2016

Verlaine: Ars Poetica

Death to the white-guy heteronormative
bourgeois lyric. It sinks and I soar.
Untune your MFA-schooled tin-eared
competence and give us an auld tune.

So you’re the English language: want to make
something of it? This isn’t afternoon tea
at the Savoy. As for what it all means
I’ll leave that to you, soft lad translator.

Hymn with me the joys of unknowing: your eyes
behind a Touareg’s veil; summers in Goole;
a cat’s mucky footprints across a grant
application for a poem about autumn.

Because what we want’s head-fuck, nothing
but head-fuck, not the whole finding-his-voice,
one-of-our-most-trusted poets malarkey,
but moving to Yemen, orchids at the North Pole.

It’s no go your jokes at the reading, to limp
nervous giggles. End all your lines with ‘the’;
savage your friend’s new book; trace scar-lines
on the cheeks of your suburban epiphanies.

Away with a way with words: snap the neck
of eloquence like a wishbone and where
that headless chicken leads, follow. The blood-
jet of poetry spouts the purest free verse.

Rhyme, you canary courting a hippo,
stop telling me one thing chimes with another.
Nothing connects. Step out of line and it’s
a potshot to the wrist for you too, mate.

What we want’s ruckus and crash bang wallop,
a Pteranodon’s mating-call, or Mozart’s
Queen of the Night played on the Voyager probe:
anything out of this world – that or silence.

You up for it, philistines? Lick my spondees
and make sense who may. Have you even tried
being a genius? It sorts most problems out.
Anything else is The Norton Anthology.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

On the Nature of Landscape as Quotation

Though I might wish to dispute it, the statue of Robert the Bruce outside Marischal College is not holding up the Declaration of Arbroath for my personal benefit. He’s not really looking at me. Yet there he is on his horse, a herring gull posed on his head. Likewise, the statue of Gordon of Khartoum outside the gallery has no deep thoughts on its French Impressionist holdings. The statue of Victoria at Queen’s Cross has no demonstrable thoughts about anything. You may have seen one just like it, or close enough. She is there but not really there. All landscape is quotation. Further out from the city centre:

the Aberdeenshire canal
continues though dry, and where
should be bargefuls of granite
clearing the culverts and locks
are filled-in bridges over fields,
the trail coming and going.
Water remains available
but spurned yet

closer to where I live in the countryside, it elects to resurface in a short, anomalous stretch behind the Italian fish and chip shop in Port Elphinstone. It is August and the grass and nettles are overgrown, but a path has been trampled down to the water’s edge, where I find a duck on a log and not much else. I cannot see where the water begins or ends.

As an absence the canal repeats the paths that would have been there before it, now doubly lost, but snaking back from absence to presence it goes somewhere else again – not found, exactly, but diverted beyond municipal utility and marked deletion alike. Pushing the low branches of a beech tree aside I find algae, plastic bags, and clumpy growths of celandine. Rendering the canal obsolete, the age of steam will surely never die, I tell myself, before I turn back to:

where the waste
from the closed
paper mill gathers
the surface now
frothing now
placid and since
there must
be something
to look at
accept this duck
returning my gaze
from its nest
and a single egg
beneath it dead
but looking
ever so comfy

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Zone Out So Not

Occipital flange sublates pump-action
metonym, barking impasto left rib.
Utter vile cinnamon incidents’ throb
relaxed shale reserves into zinc trash-can.

The the of an an, bleats cryptographer
bare-cheeked to void slick colons as one:
spandrils adjusted to fuckwits’ paean,
kid yourself grave and the ghost flea graver.

Ooh but for ah be said non-responsive,
clitoris thermals rendered in marble paste.
Indigene tags identify Cheyenne,

splicing the axes of choice and combination.
Same again drainage by phoneme, once I’ve
finished with you; the premium yokels laid waste.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Author Recalls An Unfortunate Incident From the Days of His Youth

I am as correct as the next man as to my wardrobe, I like to think, and making my way to the bus-stop one day was distressed to find not just the tip of my necktie protruding from under my jumper but, how much worse again, the tip of my penis peeping over the top of my flies. Concerned to do a good job of rearranging my vest and trousers I found myself, for a brief second and a brief second only, exposing my entire wee willie winkie there on the street-corner, when to compound my woes I noticed a herring gull bearing down on me with some speed from the roof of an adjoining Methodist chapel. Thankfully I had to hand the text of a lecture I had delivered that same morning to the local Rotarian club on developments in the contemporary Irish lyric poem and the ‘post-Celtic Tiger generation’, and used this to discourage the malevolent scurrie; but to no avail. In no time at all, amid much wriggling, tugging, and other general shenanigans, his greedy yellow beak had connected with my puir wee winkie. Would he bite, suck, snap or yank? I hoped, naïvely, not to linger long enough in this undignified embrace to find out. But, woe is me!, even as I struggled with my laridian foe a packet of tofu wieners I had been carrying in my shoulder bag became dislodged, and, given the damage its packaging had suffered in the general mêlée, a 12-inch specimen shot free of the bag and into my mouth, causing me to gag; during which fresh indignity there was, alas!, no let-up from Mr Herring Gull, whose beak action I could now characterize without fear of contradiction as tugging, most definitely tugging. How indecorous and absurd a tableau I must have presented to passers-by, with the herring gull pulling on my puir wee winkie in a kind of seesaw rhythm with the motion of the tofu wiener, wedging itself Excalibur-like ever further down my throat; but not quite as indecorous or absurd as I would shortly look, when, in my disorientation, I fell backwards onto a small bollard, whose truncheon-like tip succeeded, can you believe it, in piercing the back of my trousers and jamming itself up my waiting rectum. Though I hesitate to impute spite to a mere herring gull, the close-quarters eye-contact I was by now enjoying with this pox-ridden specimen had acquired an unmistakable element of grudge and aggression. I nevertheless spared a thought for my surroundings, and the confusion I would inspire in any of my acquaintances, should they happen to be passing – my fellow congregationists, for instance, or a member of my bridge club – not to mention my inability, given the wiener in my mouth, to explain how I had come to find myself in this unfortunate position. On and on went my ordeal: wee winkie in herring-gull beak, wiener in mouth, bollard-tip in rectum, with me swaying now backwards now forwards, now up now down, from bollard to gull, from gull to wiener, from wiener to gull, from gull to bollard, from bollard to wiener, from wiener to bollard, nnngghumpfff, my choked cry of protest dying on my tongue. And though I have now, who knows how, extricated myself from this unseemly imbroglio, and gone on to lead an emotionally rich and fulfilling life, I did not escape without scars; and even today, I have only to read, hear, or think about the contemporary Irish lyric poem, with particular reference to the post-Celtic Tiger generation, to find myself back on that street corner, a herring gull yanking on my wee winkie, a tofu wiener molesting me per buccam, and an obstreperous bollard lodged in my rear passage; the only effective remedy for which, I have found, down the years, has been my painstaking translation (not intended for publication) into acatalectic hexameters of that masterpiece of Scottish Renaissance Latin humanism, George Buchanan’s three-volume Epigrammata.