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Thursday, December 27, 2007

All This Useless Beauty

Towards Lough Dan; Lough Tay.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Valleymount, West Wicklow

Valleymount's unusual church is the result of emigrant stone workers absorbing local influences in New Mexico in the early nineteenth century before returning home to West Wicklow. It also features stained glass windows by Harry Clarke. The inscription on one of these, 'Rex Regum', would I think make an excellent name for a Catholic detective who specialised in theology-themed crimes, such as despoiled holy water fonts or typos in editions of Thomas Aquinas.

In Wicklow

Lough Bray Lower; Lough Nahanagan from Wicklow Gap; Derrymuck (behind Dwyer-McAllister cottage); Glenmacnass; Croghanmoira from Sally Gap.

On Arran

Machrie Standing Stones; Lochranza Castle.

Monday, December 17, 2007

William Hanbidge, Discountenancer of Vice

The extract I quoted from Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter lately put me in mind of an equally rough and ready folk autobiography, that of William Hanbidge, a native of Tinnahinch in the Glen of Imaal, Co. Wicklow, who lived from 1813 to 1909. He belonged to a society for the ‘discountenancing’ of vice, which always conjured images, for me, of a nonagenarian Quaker dropping into his local pub to gurn threateningly at the local drunk. Anyway, here is Hanbidge’s account of the descent into sin of the village of Stratford (Stratford, Co. Wicklow that is). Blogger isn’t too hot on mid-sentence gaps, quite a few of which occur in the original text, and which I’ve had to remove here. Please supply mentally, mindful of the high regard in which the early twentieth-century Projectivist community of West Wicklow held Hanbidge’s writing (his use of the full stop is also somewhat fitful):

Straford was a prosperous little place but it was also a most abominable wicked place

The scenes to be seen of a Saturday night and on Sundays were awful.

Drunkneness, prostitution, cursing and fighting.

There were always a wordy warfare carried on between the country and town lads for the country lads when they saw the weavers would shout A dish of kailcannon and an iron spoon would make any calico weaver jump over his loom with other scurrilous epithets which the others resented very much.

All used to meet at a low public house about half a mile from the town on Saturday evenings and Sundays the sights which followed I cannot describe.

After a time the downfall of the town began.

Mr Orr found out that he could buy the calico ready wo much cheaper than it cost him to have it woven so he dismissed all his weavers who were scattered over many parts of England and Scotland

The slated houses which they lived in soon fell into ruin.

Mr Orr still continued the bleaching and printing business for a short time till his correspondent in South America failed by which he lost thousands of pounds and he turned bankrupt and could not continue the business

All the remaining employers had to seek work in England or Scotland and others such as shoemarks &c.

Thus fell Stratford no more markets.

{Quotation ends}

Those in the mood for more will be pleased to know that W.J. McCormack edited Hanbidge's memoirs for UCD Press a few years back (scroll down a bit). The above picture, which I found here, is not of Stratford but nearby Valleymount. The combination of Wicklow place-names and water reminds me of a bridge I encountered there once called Pennycomequick Bridge. Or am I making that up? I can't be sure.

Flat Earth Society News

New from Tom Paulin: The Secret Life of Poems, an ‘encounter with some of the most celebrated poems in the language’. Starting with Anon, Wyatt and Herbert we gradually approach the choppy waters of the contemporary, and after Hughes and Larkin find the following names: John Montague, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Craig Raine and Jamie McKendrick. While it’s true that Craig Raine is not demonstrably Northern Irish, though at least Oxonian, his poem has the great advantage of being called ‘Flying to Belfast’: ‘he is flying from a culture which can separate poetry from politics to a different society that doesn’t make that separation.’ McKendrick, also not-Northern-Irish-but-at-least-Oxonian does not so much as mention Northern Ireland. He is however the same Jamie McKendrick who ‘was the first reviewer to point out the complexities of Paul Muldoon’s rhyme schemes in The Annals of Chile’, in a ‘seminal review’.

Eppur non si muove.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Yet, But, So, We, Our

Perhaps in homage to the seventeenth-century divines who reserved their most stinging remarks for their footnotes, Geoffrey Hill used a note to see off Philip Larkin in Style and Faith; and now in a note to an essay on Sidney Keyes in Tim Kendall’s Oxford Handbook of British & Irish War Poetry I see he’s at it again. ‘The speaking voice’, he writes, ‘has its own systems of betrayal, as is demonstrated by many poets from “Movement” to Mersey Sound.’ Footnote: ‘See e.g. Robert Conquest (ed.), New Lines (London: Macmillan, 1956), passim, uses of “yet”, “but”, “so”, “we”, “our”. See also The Mersey Sound, Penguin Modern Poets, 10 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983; 1st pub. 1967), passim.’

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hey, Asshole!

This is a discarded poem. Consider it buried hereunder.


Pay two visits on the same day: your first and last. ‘We’ve come on holiday by mistake.’

The view from a mile up. Then lying prostrate in the back garden. Find the correct perspective. Change it.

Don’t tell them anything. Them meaning you. Don’t tell yourself anything. Starting now.

The little rasher of overexcited loquacity in your mouth, trailing its delicate fronds of drivel. Give it the back of your hand.

Find the thing, prod it, sniff it, turn it over. It would appear to be dead.

Cheques payable to ‘Friends of the M62’.

Allow four working days for us to do what we want with your money. You’d only waste it anyway.

Champagne all round at the motorway service café, we’re walking home.

The hearses speeding again.

The world’s first telephone sex baby.

The caller has chosen to scribble your number on a shithouse wall.

In this reconstruction the role of the missing girl has been taken by the missing girl herself.

Ditches on the estate have been drained and filled with tears and lemonade.

A CCTV camera has been arrested and charged.

Kicking the ladder away before climbing up it you have effortlessly reached the top.

Don’t let’s just agree, let’s agree to the point of violence. But our vast and endless differences – no, we can’t be bothered.

Let the caption read ‘Alderman Chubb receiving the applause of the chamber for her remarks on the relationship of base to superstructure.’

I told you I’d help you find your odd socks. I lied, I lied, I lied.

Speak a swear word, the clouds form into it.

You put on a record, I dance a little, I dance a little and sing.

The man in the street when the hero runs past, bodychecked by him and shouting ‘Hey, asshole!’, every film has one – oh my God, that was me!

This gruesome weapon, requiring only a short piece of string, half a diced carrot and an old envelope –

A bumble bee flies into your mouth, beds down, stays there.

Be sick of it. Keep being sick, sick, sick. Or, if you must, rejoice.

Night thoughts of the morning train in a room in the Royal Hotel: ideas above your station.

A big yellow skip outside the front door: your transport awaits.

Your whole body covered in tattoos, have the image of the skin underneath tattooed back over them and start the performance all over again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

James Watson is 16 Per Cent Black

DNA Scientist Who Thinks Black People Are Stupid Learns He Has 16 Per Cent Black DNA, Apologises For Previous Stupidity and Racism, Blames It on His 16 Per Cent Black DNA.

I would have used this as the post title but it didn't fit.

Read the news story here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Found this short 'un in my poetry folder, having completely forgotten I'd written it. So here it is for what it's worth. Remarkably little, I suspect.


Name me a part of me I can tie
a knot in to remember us by.

Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter, picaresque auto-apologia with a larrikin contempt for the mere comma, agent of bourgeoisification that it is:

Dear Sir,

I wish to acquaint you with some of the occurrences of the present past and future, In or about the spring of 1870 the ground was very soft a hawker named Mr Gould got his waggon bogged between Greta and my mother’s house on the eleven mile creek, the ground was that rotten it could bog a duck in places…

{Quotation ends}

Shortly before his Euroa bank heist in 1879, Kelly occupied a farm property in Jerilderie and dictated 8000 words to his comrade in arms Joe Byrne. He had russled some 200 horses in his time, but when this was put to him at his trial he indignantly countered, ‘Who proves that?’ ‘Non peccat, quaecumque potest peccasse negare’, as Ovid might say. In the midst of the bank raid, Kelly tried to locate the editor of the Jerilderie Gazette, who he thought could be persuaded (perhaps with some of the drinks ‘on the house’ he provided for his hostages during the raid) to publish his tract, but Gill had absconded and the text remained buried until 1930.

The endless complaint of the badly used, the harried, despised Fenian:

[Captain Brooke] knows as much about commanding Police as Captain Standish does about mustering mosquitoes and boiling them down for their fat on the back blocks of the Lachlan for he has a head like a turnip a stiff neck as big as his shoulders narrow hipped and pointed towards the feet like a vine stake…

{Quotation ends}

Kelly killed three policemen, but claimed that ‘a man killing his enemies was not a murderer’. At the siege of Glenrowan he came out fighting in his home-made armour. His last words before execution, myth would have it, were ‘Such is life.’ His mother Ellen lived a further 43 years, until 1923.

I marvel at Sidney Nolan’s Kelly paintings, some of which he donated to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin.

‘I am a widows son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.’

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Blue Movie Theory of Seismology

Cioran's Entretiens, their frequent harkings back to his paradisal childhood in Sibiu, otherwise Hermannstadt, otherwise Nagyszeben.

Many years later he hears on the radio that it has been destroyed in an earthquake. He walks the streets in despair and sees a church but cannot bring himself to go inside and pray. Instead he sees a porn cinema and decides to go and watch a blue movie. It was a terrible film, he says (whether terrible because a blue movie or a really bad blue movie I don't know), and sits there thinking, Well if human civilisation amounts to this then earthquakes probably aren't such a bad idea.

In another interview he is asked if he enjoys writing. Enjoy it? I hate it. I hardly ever do it. I'm the idlest man in Paris. The only person more idle than me is a prostitute without a client.

I paraphrase, since idler that I am too I forgot to mark the pages.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Encyclopaedia Mahoniana

Whiling away the wait for the megabucks Derek Mahon limited edition Somewhere the Wave (due any day now) with a chapter a day of Hugh Haughton’s Encyclopaedia Mahoniana.

Derek Mahon, then. The Irish say Mahon, the British say ‘Mann’ and Americans say Mahone, as in the Irish for ‘my arse’. Unfortunate, that. Even his name has to come in a variorum edition. I’ve written very little about him, over the years, and feel like I'm making a nuisance of myself even just formulating these thoughts. This particular god does not need interruptions from me. Many years ago now a friend of mine who spotted Mahon in the street around Dublin found himself following DM around, at a suitable distance, perhaps in the hope of a discarded spondee or surplus anapaest falling out of his pocket, but couldn't bring himself to say hello. I sympathize entirely.

When I finally met him myself and asked him to sign a copy of Night Crossing (still a much cheaper purchase than books two or three, Lives and The Snow Party – look them all up on abebooks and see for yourself) he somewhat theatrically averted his gaze as he signed his name. This would have been in the post-Yaddo Letter period when rumours of a proper comeback volume had the gold-dust quality of Thomas Pynchon sightings. And that book would be The Hudson Letter.

For some reason the thoughts on Mahon that bubble to the top of my brain seem to form themselves into questions as much as statements or opinions. Such as:

Why, for all Mahon's fascination with Ezra Pound, his Poundian (or is it Poundian?) weddedness to poetry in translation, does his Pound stop with Mauberley – as very publically signalled by the Mauberley redux of ‘A Kensington Notebook’? What would a Mahon Cantos look like? Don’t say The Yellow Book.

Introducing his translations from Jaccottet he briefly mentions Michaux and the cult of the ‘illisible’ in French poetry from mid-century or so onwards, and not approvingly either. Is this Mahon’s version of Larkin’s intro to All What Jazz, perhaps, and the beginnings of an answer to my first question?

If an early Mahon poem falls over and out of the Collected, or gets revised out of existence, is it still making a noise somewhere? Does he instruct his current publisher to veto republication of poems this publisher never published in the first place, or like babies in Limbo, might there be an occasional dispensation?

How, when Mahon is on record as preferring the amiable enough minor poet and talisman-to-the-Irish-post-avant (no sniggering there) Thomas MacGreevy to all the poets of the Movement – not just some, all – can his reception among very-much-pro- and very-much-anti-critics in the never-ending Irish modernist debate have worked out the way it did? What are they missing? (For an example of anti-Mahon pro-modernist response, take a look at Donal Moriarty’s disparaging of Mahon’s translations from Nerval in favour of Brian Coffey’s dried biscuit and soda water versions, in his UCD Press study of that estimable old duffer.)

What was going on in The Yellow Book? Really, what was going on to make critics think that Oscar Wilde and 90s decadence was a useful template for denouncing the ‘fake in contemporary culture’ (that’s from an essay by Gerald Dawe, collected in his recent volume The Proper Word)? Denounce the ‘fake’ (fax machines, I remember, come in for his particular ire) by staging a love-in with Oscar Wilde?!

Connoisseurs of Irish Studies racial consciousness will have long cherished Declan Kiberd’s declaration in the Field Day Anthology that Mahon and Michael Longley ‘represent a strand of Ulster that identifies itself as British and asserts its rights to the English lyric.’ Perhaps his sour poem about going back to the Wee Six for his mother’s funeral in The Yellow Book helped move him another step up the ladder towards eventual assumption into the paradise of born-again Irishness (and Collected Poems does end with a poem called ‘St Patrick’s Day’ after all). Forty or so years ago Mahon remarked on how the time was coming, if it wasn’t already here, when discussions of whether so-and-so was an ‘Irish’ writer could clear a room in seconds. That’s one prediction that didn’t come off then.

Which of the following does Derek Mahon have most in common with: Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Thomas Kinsella, Geoffrey Hill? Award each one marks out of ten on a likeness scale. Your answers should tell you a lot about which Mahon it is you’re reading, of the many available Mahons of the mind. (My answer to this one, at least is: 6, 2, 3, 1, 3).

And that’s enough Mahon questions for now.

One More Thing

As a footnote to the recent tales of Raymond Carver and his aggressively interventionist editor Gordon Lish, Marcel Berlin notes in his column today that the celebrated ending of ‘One More Thing’ turns out to have been written not by Carver but Lish. A man has been ordered to leave by his wife:

He said, ‘I just want to say one more thing.’

But then he could not think what it could possibly be.

{Quotation ends}

On a slightly related note, in a transcript of a Geoffrey Hill reading I was sent recently (Geoff samizdat!), GH talks about a word Gillian Rose changed in the margin of one of his books (in her copy of the book, I mean). He now prefers her word to his and plans to incorporate the change in the ‘deathbed edition’ of his poems he is preparing.

Is there was one line, any line, you could aggressively edit and alter in any work of literature what would it be?

Sunday, December 02, 2007


No promised heaven, crucified Christ,
could move me to your love, any more
than my brief default from sure hell-fire
moved me to the fear of you I missed.

You alone, Lord, move who sees
you nailed so, to your cross, and so despised:
move who looks upon your flesh so bruised,
the wounds and the contempt in which it dies.

Your love alone that moves, and moves enough
to win, though heaven never was, my love,
and though hell too be lies, my despair,

for leaving yours as full as my heart’s bare;
and whose cheated death – love turned to theft –
no death of mine repays, or earthy gift.

I found this translation in an old magazine, having long since forgotten I'd ever written it. I think I found the original Spanish in the Penguin Book of Spanish Verse, where, again I think, it is credited to Ignatius Loyola. In case of any possible misunderstanding, I should add that I possess no religious faith whatever, none! There is no God. But there are some interesting poems about him in Spanish.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gagging For It

From a Teach Yourself Arabic I bought the other day: ‘We have a muscle in our throat which is never used except in vomiting. Think about that and pretend you are about to be sick. You will find that what is normally called in English gagging is actually a restriction in the deep part of the throat. If you gag, and then immediately relax the muscles in order to release the airstream from the lungs, you will have produced a perfect : (called :ayn in Arabic.)’

Will Self

I was at a Will Self reading in a pub once, and decided I’d had enough of his aardvark-trying-to-hoover-the-fluff-out-of-its-bum voice. But the crush was too tight and, trapped at the wrong end of the room as I was, I was trapped. My only hope was a bookstall: I bought a Will Self and stood there reading it. Will Self’s voice behind me was very distracting though. My thought process was going something like this, in other words: shut up Will Self, I’m trying to read Will Self. Is there a word for a situation as ridiculous as that? If not, there should be.