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Sunday, May 27, 2007


This image found here.

Thomas Kinsella’s Selected Poems, just out. Among the losses in the transition from his Peppercanister pamphlets to volumes like this are his notes. Consider Albert Speer on polyphony, as quoted in the notes to Out of Ireland:

April 19, 1958. Today we heard a record of Gregorian chants. Although primarily an expression of the piety of the early Middle Ages, they are at the same time, in their slightly monotonous quality, evidence of the unspoiled capacity for emotion that people had in those times. Stronger stimuli were not needed. In the painting of the age, also, small gestures sufficed to express drama. And recently I read that people fainted when they first heard early polyphony. Thus progress can also be understood as impoverishment.

Here is Giradlus Cambrensis, otherwise Gerald of Wales, Anglo-Norman black propagandist supreme (and observer of bestial practices in Co. Wicklow; he encounters a cow-man hybrid in Glendalough, with snout and hooves, which the locals stone in their shame and horror). Sorry: here is Gerald of Wales, from the same set of notes, finding something good to say about the Irish:

It is only in the case of musical instruments that I find any commendable diligence in this people. They seem to me to be incomparably more skilled in these than any other people that I have seen. The movement is… quick and lively, while at the same time the melody is sweet and pleasant. It is remarkable how in spite of the great speed of the fingers, the musical proportion is maintained.

One of Kinsella’s tutelary spirits, commemorated in Out of Ireland, is Seán Ó Riada, who also puts in a surprising appearance in Geoffrey Hill’s Speech! Speech! Kinsella has written of the striking contemporaneity of Jonathan Swift and Aodhagán Ó Rathaille – contemporaries but each ignorant of the other’s existence. Do Hill and Kinsella read each other’s work? Kinsella and Hill critics tend not to look over the garden fence into the other’s patch either. That urban myth (is it?) of Larkin being recommended by Donald Davie to try Dolmen Press with The Less Deceived only to get turned down. The deep mutual ignorance in so many ways of British and Irish poetry even today, Faber-published Northerners excepted. The almost invisible coverage in the British papers of the Irish elections, even.

Regrettable absence of St Catherine’s Clock from Selected Poems. Robert Emmet, hanged outside St Catherine’s, 1803. Interesting essay I read once about his speech from the dock, its multiple versions. One version circulated by the Castle extravagantly blaming the French, the better to sow dissent. Ben Dollard’s fruity saloon bar patriotism, Mr Bloom’s gorgonzola and burgundy-fuelled trouser salute in response. Pprrpffrrppffff.

I have done. Last word to Kinsella:


About the third hour.

Ahead, at the other end
of the darkened market place
a figure crossed over

out of Francis Street
reading the ground, all dressed up
in black, like a madwoman.

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