Friday, April 16, 2010
The frothing caress cast in fractured syntax!
I do like car ferries, I must say: anywhere the 70s haven’t stopped happening yet is all right by me. Escaping the pestilence of Icelandic volcanic ash this morning, which had grounded my flight on Thursday, I found myself queuing for breakfast behind a supersized scouser still in her pyjama bottoms and finishing off a Bacardi breezer from the night before. Bullet-headed lorry drivers sprawled in postures of Brueghelesque repose or held forth on Man City team-selections this season, a tad too excitedly for the hour that was in it, I thought (five in the morning, for God’s sake). I was in Dublin for the presentation of a tribute book to my old professor, Terence Brown. It’s called Twelve by Two for Terence and has some very fine things in it, I must say. I saluted him then, and do so again now. His appreciation of having me back may have dipped slightly during a certain ‘musical’ interlude over dinner, but bygones now, bygones. I was also able to pick up a copy of Icarus LX·MMX while I was over, a celebration of sixty years of that publication, which rifles (or do I mean ‘riffles’?) their back catalogue for a collection of hits, misses and outright horrors (that would be me, with a risible attempt from 1988 – ‘Purpose and place are blent /when the sundial is damp with the first dew still’, forsooth). Michael Longley’s often repeated tales of his Trinity salad days get a fresh telling here, mentioning, among other things, how he took a poem published in Icarus in 1960 and reworked it for his 2004 collection Snow Water. That’s enviable. I contribute a short piece on editing the magazine myself, which I reproduce below, though as you’ll see I largely take refuge in tales of our amusing little mishaps. My Trinity roots have given me much, but I find I combine my returns to them with a morbid nervousness of origins, and much grand-standing superstition about and fear of the past (though maybe the extremeness of my reactions just confirms how childish I remain, twenty years on). Because you can’t go back, really, you can never go back! Having said that, I notice with amusement that my name at least has never gone away, since it is still on the door of house 25, where I used to live.
Here’s that piece then. The picture above is of Birkenhead at dawn.
‘Author’s name lost’: hardly the most confidence-inspiring of bylines, but there it is on page 29 of Icarus 91, under a poem called ‘Outside Mass’ (‘On Easter moss, delicate and moist...’). The covering letter that holds the key to this mystery is, I presume, lodged down the back of a sofa or filing cabinet somewhere in the upstairs room in House 6 where I edited, which is to say flung together, three issues of that magazine in the academic year 1989-9. These were still the days of camera-ready copy. Laser-printed pages were gummed down and delivered to a printer behind Mahaffy’s pub on Pearse Street. Our sales figures are not recorded.
Contributors were recruited in a haphazard way. One of our illustrators was a copiously-bearded man named Hugh reputed to live in a large pipe in the Booterstown bird sanctuary. An interview with Seamus Heaney was bagged after a T.S. Eliot centenary lecture he gave to the Phil. May O’Flaherty of Parsons Bookshop reminisced on bygone bohemian days (Liam O’Flaherty ‘must have been the least civil person I have ever come across’), while self-styled ‘master of the universe’ Aidan Walsh offered a blueprint for bohemian times to come (‘Anyone who wants to play in my band can write to me and send donations or whatever’, an invitation that for all I know still stands).
Typos abounded. Issue 93 carries an article on a Russian film director referred to throughout as ‘Tartovsky’. Opportunities for monkey business were gratefully seized. I bastardized a poem of Henri Michaux’s about icebergs into English under the moniker ‘Harry Mitchell’. Among our other contributors was a bunch of my mates from Presentation College, Bray, whose names I purloined for a spot of heteronymic mischief: they know who they are. Another victim of these ventriloquistic high jinks I can name was Fearghal McGarry, now a distinguished historian and former TCD lecturer, then an employee of Fogarty’s sweet shop near the Dart station in Bray. Icarus 93 records him as the author of the deathless couplet, ‘I bite the head and survey the ooze. /Frail jellybaby, my truncated muse.’ Try telling me books about the Spanish Civil War or Eoin O’Duffy top that. Directly under this we find another couplet, this one titled ‘1989’: ‘The frothing caress cast in fractured syntax! /Come let us immerse our hopeful satieties.’ That was probably my idea of a chat-up line too, at the time.
The closing poem of my last issue, ‘To Be a Sperm’, I pass over without comment. My pages may as well have come with scratch-and-sniff Biactol inserts, anyone reading them today might think. That’s all cleared up now, as Woody Allen says on the phone in one of his films to a long-ago college girlfriend, and while the experience may induce its share of squirms twenty years on, it’s one I’m very glad to have had. No matter the bemusement or indifference with which the ‘expensive delicate ship’ of university life sailed past its theatrical splash, Icarus remains a compelling bright spot in the canvas of my Trinity years.