Site Meter

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pool of Darkness

Wittgenstein in Rosroe, 1948, sketching a figure in the mud with a stick. It is a duck’s head and bill, or rather a rabbit’s head and ears, or rather both at once. St Roc’s nearby chapel and holy well, by a deep glacial notch in the hillside at the head of Killary Bay. Here St Roc struggled with the devil, according to legend. The devil attempts to drag the saint off to hell on a chain, the saint resists, and their struggles cut the pass into the hillside. ‘Thus geology reveals itself as mythology’, Tim Robinson observes in the preface to Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness; ‘both are systems of “description of what can be seen” in terms of what lies too deep to be seen. (...) In some future legendary reconstitution of the past it will be Wittgenstein’s wrestling with the demons of philosophy that tears the landscape of Connemara.’

It’s always a pleasure to throw some hyperbole around, so let me hail this book now as the work of, I would say, the single most impressive prose writer in Ireland today. It is a truly awesome tome.

Assuming as I do that eccentric millionaire philanthropists form a large portion of my readership, let me put on record that if all my cat food/cappuccino/Beckett first edition needs could be taken care of for the next five or ten years, there is nothing I would rather do than spend the time tramping every last square yard of County Wicklow attempting to do for that tract of land something vaguely akin to what Robinson has done for the Aran Islands and Connemara.

Wittgestein’s stay in Connemara is by now a more or less officially mandated subject for Irish poetry, though of course he stayed in Redcross, Wicklow too, subsisting largely on a diet of charcoal biscuits and walking to the shops in Arklow when his stocks ran low. As he wrote to his sister Helene:

The country here would not have so many attractions for me if the colours here were not often so wonderful. I think it must be to do with the atmosphere, for not only the grass, but also the sky, the sea and even everything that is brown are all magnificent – I feel a good deal better here than in Cambridge.


First photograph shows Killary harbour (Ireland’s only fjord), the second the ‘motte stone’ in Redcross. This latter I have most fond memories of climbing. Photos found here and here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Opening for Smart Youth

Beckett fact no. 94.

Ten newspapers and magazines in Beckett.

‘Bah, the latest news, the latest news is not the last’, as they say on the Beckett Endpage news section. Mr Rooney enumerates ‘numerous subscriptions’ among his expenses in All That Fall, but declines to go into detail. Luckily other characters are more forthcoming about their reading habits:

1) My last fact ended with Eh Joe, so to start with it this time, Joe is, I am sorry to say, a reader of The Irish Independent, yahoo rag that it is.

2) Ada in Embers meanwhile is a solid lefty and Manchester Guardian reader, in which she immerses herself the better to avoid gallant conversation, Henry alleges.

3) Watt’s Dum Spiro not only reads but edits Crux, the popular Catholic monthly. The eagle-eyed will have spotted that rearranging the letters of the holy family into ‘Has J. Jurms a po? Yes’ (as one of the magazine’s competition prize winners has done) misses one e. I presume their copy-editing standards have gone up since then.

4) ‘Opening for smart youth’, Willie intones, reading from his copy of Reynolds News. This journal was once an organ of labour radicalism, but fell away into photojournalism and sensationalism before ceasing publication in 1967.

5) Molloy, TLS, fart-proof. That one you’ll have heard before, I’m sure.

6) A ‘guttersnipe’ asks the poet of ‘Serena I’ ‘’ave I done with the Mirror’. Some people ain’t got no manners.

7) The Moscow notes of the ‘Twilight Herald’, which is to say Evening Herald, scanned with great interest by Belacqua in ‘A Wet Night’.

8) As a journal, the Nouvelle Revue Française would seem best advised to have stayed away from expanding into publishing Proust in sixteen volumes. The results, according to Beckett in 1931, were ‘abominable’.

9) Punch magazine, Beckett senior’s invariable post-prandial Sunday skimming of, as noted in Company.

10) The Weekly Irish Times, favourably compared by Miss Counihan in Murphy to Old Moore’s Almanack. Among Beckett’s contributions to The Irish Times was a review of Jack Yeats’s novel The Amaranthers, his typescript of which a dear friend of mine once astonished me during a meal by producing from between the pages of a nearby book. Mail me, Aisling!

One might also note the glasses-less Beckett’s myopic stare as he reads/pretends to read Le monde in the Gisèle Freund photograph of him that can be found on the cover of Anthony Uhlmann’s Beckett and Poststructuralism. Which I suppose makes eleven.

Breasts and Pimples

Beckett fact no. 93.

Ten references in Beckett to my own dear County Wicklow.

As I mention pimples in my title, I might add that the pimples of typos hereunder when I first posted this have now been zapped.

1) Belacqua’s snooty fit, for shame, in ‘Love and Lethe’: ‘Wicklow, full of breasts and pimples, he refused to consider. Ruby agreed.’

2) ‘But if it is merely a matter of getting me out of the way,’ said Neary, ‘while you work up Miss Counihan, why need I go to London? Why not Bray’ (Murphy). Enough said.

3) And down the coast again we find Greystones, just outside which lies Redford cemetery, ‘way out in the wilds of the country on the side of a hill, and too small, far too small, to go on with. Indeed it was almost full, a few more widows they’d be turning them away’ (First Love). Odd this, given that sixty years on it remains anything but full, small though it is, raising the ghoulish possibility of evictions in the interlude.

4) ‘great granite rocks the foam flying up in the light of the lighthouse and the wind-gauge spinning like a propeller, clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality my most – ’ Good old Dun Laoghaire pier, site of Krapp’s epiphany. Except it wasn’t Dun Laoghaire at all, Beckett told Eoin O’Brien, it was Greystones. Greystones pier has neither lighthouse nor anemometer. But maybe, as the footnote goes, ‘not in this work’. Krapp has fond memories of walks on Croghan. But that’s on the Wicklow/Wexford border. What brought him down there, I wonder?

5) South of Greystones squats, lies, or comatosely sprawls the unremarkable village of Kilcoole, which gives seven eighths of its name (the e was a conscientious objector) to the unpublished play Kilcool, whose central character takes a train south through Bray Head to visit her childless, widowed aunt. Though dating from 1963 and abandoned, the play was successfully quarried for the dramaticules of the 70s, in particular Not I. The curious are directed to Gontarski’s The Intent of Undoing.

6) And further down the coast again, Belacqua and the Alba have a tryst on the Silver Strand, or Jack’s Hole, in Dream of Fair to Middling Women, from which name the narrator recoils in a spasm of finer feelings.

7) And so up into the mountains. ‘Standing on the Big Sugarloaf, it may well be objected, or Djouce, or even a low eminence like the Three Rock, the Welsh Hills are frequently plainly to be discerned’ (Dream again). The first two of those are in Wicklow, but the last is in Dublin, so enough about that.

8) Similarly with Malone’s stonecutters in Glencullen, and Watt’s Glencullen Hacketts (Dublin), but Prince William’s Seat, also from Watt, on which Mr Hackett remembers breaking stones during his wife Tetty’s labour, that’s on the Wicklow side, isn’t it?

9) How not give pride of place to that marvellous paragraph in Mercier and Camier beginning ‘A road still carriageable climbs over the high moorland.’ This is Glencree again and the Military Road, into which the pseudocouple descend from the Featherbed Mountain (of Proteus fame), passing the Lemass memorial and its misspelt reference to Terence MacSwiney, the mayor of Cork mentioned in passing by Malone. The fork in the road leading down to Powerscourt waterfall or on to Sally Gap, blessed terrain, featured on the dustjacket of Mary Bryden’s Samuel Beckett and the Idea of God, readers may recall. M&C take the previous left, past the former borstal (another Joyce reference: Molly Bloom gave a concert there) and the German war cemetery. Oscar Wilde was baptised in Glencree’s small Catholic church by an over-zealous nanny, I believe. This is also, I would have thought, the territory of the opening Text for Nothing, but here as in other examples I might have peddled, Beckett has chosen to eschew topographical giveaways.

10) The ‘Avoca bag’ in Eh Joe. Thomas Moore’s ugly effigy on College Green, whose symbolic congruence with the Avoca-inspirted ‘The Meeting of the Waters’ (there used to be a gents’ toilet under it) is remarked on by Leopold Bloom, also features in More Pricks Than Kicks. I plead ignorance of what an Avoca bag is, since Ireland was (for the moment at least) still safe of perennial Sunday daytrippers’ favourite, Avoca Handweavers, back in Eh Joe’s time. But since we’re passing, why not slip in for a grotesquely overpriced cappuccino and a twenty minute wait among your fellow negative equity-afflicted N11 commuters. Ah, Wicklow, wild, wet and wonderful as ever.

Photo of Glencree found here.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Odaurades. Souillarde. Pagure. Tampon-buvard.

There’s nothing like the whiff of a new book by Francis Pong (as a student of mine pronounced him once) to get the lexicographical juices flowing. CB Editions (website here) have published the alliterative Beverley Bie Brahic’s renderings of Unfinished Ode to Mud, roughly one quarter Le parti pris des choses and three quarters the less familiar (to an Anglophone audience) Pièces.

Ponge describes his creative method in 1947:

No doubt I am not very intelligent: in any case ideas are not my strong point. I’ve always been disappointed by them. The most well-founded opinions, the most harmonious philosophical systems (the best constituted) have always seemed to me utterly fragile, caused a certain revulsion, a sense of the emptiness at the heart of things, a painful feeling of inconsistency.


A materialist mystic, or a mystic materialist, Sartre said of Mallarmé. But is there even any mystique in Ponge? The mystery is that these shells, door handles, horse shit and grapes should be there at all, but Ponge is hardly one to dwell on that. No. Merely bow in wonder. The marvellous ars poetica of the end of ‘Notes pour un coquillage’:

From this point of view I particularly admire certain well-tempered writers or musicians, Bach, Rameau, Malherbe, Horace, Mallarmé – the writers above all because their monument is composed of the true common secretion of the mollusc man, of what is best-proportioned and adapted to his body, and furthermore as distinct from his form as one can imagine: I mean, SPEECH.


The section from Pièces contains two small masterpieces in particular that deserve to be as well known as ‘Notes pour un coquillage’: ‘La lessiveuse’ and ‘La chèvre’:

These long-eyed beauties, hairy as beasts, beautiful and stubborn – bellezebubbish – when they baa, what are they complaining about? What troubles, what cares?

Like ageing bachelors they love newsprint, tobacco.

And how speak of goats without speaking of rope, and even – such pushing and pulling! such gently obstinate jerks! – of rope frazzled, and perhaps of the tip of the whip.

That goatee, that gravelly accent.

They obsess the rocks.


A steal at £7.50.

Doriferous bream. Scullery. Hermit crab. Blotting paper, by the way, in case your French is as rusty as mine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Melior's Parrot

Statius’ elegy for Melior’s parrot. I found this one down the back of the sofa and thought I might haul it out.

Prince of birds, your master’s eloquent pleaser,
Smooth-tongued psitaccine ventriloquiser,
Who was it cut your song so cruelly short?
Our dinner guest last night! Who’d have thought,
Watching you gather titbits from his plate,
You’d die, party animal, that same night?
That way you had of answering us back!
Now silent Lethe’s stilled your cheeky squawk.
Singing, swan-like, your own requiem,
You’ve struck us poor surviving singers dumb.
And how that beak of yours would xylophone
The shame of it, being locked up, along
The silver bars that lined your polished cage
(Plush décor’s no palliative for such rage) –
The same box whose door now flaps ajar,
Or creaks, at best, a plaintive ‘Nevermore!’
Scholar birds whose power extends to speech,
Ravens, starlings with your mimic touch,
Magpies (Ovid says you’re transformed girls),
Echoing partridges and nightingales –
Shoulder your poor brother to his rest
And swell the chorus of our deep distress:
‘And is he gone from us, and gone so young,
The green eastern kingdom’s uncrowned king
Who outshone the jewels that line the peacock’s
tail, the fowl, and the birds of icy Phasis?
Such things he’d call the mighty to their faces!
Not even Caesar himself was spared the names
He’d hurl as lightly as the guests their crumbs,
His only pay. Never until now could
Melior say he knew true solitude.
Seeing the parrot off with due aplomb
He perfumed his ashes with Assyrian balm,
The feathers with saffron; but though his fragrant pyre
Flamed high, oh his phoenix soul flamed higher.


Photo (eclectus parrot) found here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Em, Yeah, Em, Y'Know

Speaking of football, get a load of this brilliant mimic in the breakfast cereal aisle, somewhere or other. Get him on the television, someone. I particularly like the Jamie Carragher lunge and snite. Sniting. Go look it up.

Boothferry Park

Empty since December 2002. Of Hull City’s current squad only Ian Ashbee played there. Boothferry Park hosted a one-all draw between Northern Ireland and Spain in 1972, the game having been moved there from Belfast after George Best received IRA death threats for a political (Paisleyite) outburst. It was his last international cap. I’ve seen the match programme, on the wall down t’pub. Iceland and Kwiksave have now departed the stadium too. The boys in the distance were sledging down the remains of the South Stand on what appeared to be fridge doors. It is a rank libel (literally) to say Shara spells of cat piss, by the way. I’d have said weasel piss myself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Frank Kuppner, How Could You

I’ve always liked Frank Kuppner. The book titles: A Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty, Everything is Strange, A God’s Breakfast, The Intelligent Observation of Naked Women, Ridiculous! Absurd! Disgusting!, Second Best Moments in Chinese History, What? Again? Selected Poems, and now Arioflotga. The fact that he was ‘born in Glasgow in 1951 and has lived there ever since’, without benefit of a wikipedia entry or a Contemporary Writers website page (shame on them, again), or any invitations that I can see to poetry festivals south of the border. The highminded bawdy-rambunctious grotesquerie. The de Selbyesque cod scholarly shenanigans. The boisterous atheism. The finger he flamboyantly flicks at contemporary neo-nationalist and post-colonial ways of reading and writing poetry. Such as, from ‘The Uninvited Guest’:

I would rather keep my private parts throughout eternity, thank you.

The sound which the stars emit is an endless scream of pain.

If a man cuts off thy head, then do thou likewise.

Stranger, do I owe you anything? No? Then kindly get lost.
[Evidently, a rather disobliging tomb inscription.]

Yes, yes, yes. Of course you’ll live on after you’ve ceased to exist.
The whole universe couldn’t possibly even think of continuing without you.


The brilliant parodies of Eliot in ‘West Åland, or, Five Tombeaux for Mr Testoil’:

lightning thundering and thundering in the empty house
though I dare say we need not ask, which dole
as I pointed out at least once when discussing the Whole
over the lemon sole with Ernesto Che de Altzpflegenerheimer-Smith
whom I happened to fall in love with
looking rather shabby
in a public convenience near the Westminster Abbey


The brilliant cod Orientalism, as in ‘A Faded Inscription’:

‘Arriving very early I knocked vigorously on your door,
But an old lady from a window opposite told me
You were probably gone up the mountain to find a cool place to jerk off in;
Somewhat alarmed by her smile, I hurried away without waiting.’


I could keep going like this all morning. But what prompts this post is his new book, Arioflotga, Kuppner’s salvaging of the index of the sadly disappeared Great Poetic Anthology, as found in ‘a Latin American restaurant in Glasgow’. It comprises 114 pages of alphabetically arranged lines including:

‘There can be no true Bolivian who does not wholly agree with me’

‘Only a single example of a heroic shit’

‘One assumes that Saint John of the Cross was not much interested in schoolgirls’

‘Mozart? Never heard of him,’

‘Man’s life is a sort of fart in a dream’


And what I really wanted to say was that amidst all this brilliant buffoonery he repeatedly refers to a country called ‘Oblivia’. Frank Kuppner, I just invented a country called Oblivia and was trying to write a poetic sequence about it. I had put its national flatfish on the coinage, lamented the plight of its navy (Oblivia is a landlocked country), discussed the possibility of building an opera house to play Wagner in the Oblivian jungle, and started a lively correspondence in the Oblilvian Monthly on free-verse Bolshevism. And now you come along and do this! I fear I may have to set the chupacabra, the Oblivian national fictional monster, on you (after you’ve signed my copy of Arioflotga).

The photograph, which I’ve always wanted to copy on here, shows my brother Gavin at large on the southern coast of Oblivia, near Ushuaia.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Verlaine Roimh Bháis

S’é an geimhreadh deireanach agam
is níorbh fhiú faic an bás
atá romham anois gan an smólach
a chloinstin sa choill: cluinim é
ann, inar ndeachamar ag fánaíocht

agus is eol dom – domsa
mar chách – nach raibh ach leath-
mhuinín riamh agam as a leithéid.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Rotenhering Staithe

The durntner barmston stotties
a divot of flibb ovver
the squab cowld dunt
and scuts off chinning.

Shurrup and pobflange to that,
whatever your nunt.

Not a yope in the yonend
this neshfall, not a bool
in the wub. You drahwaht,

I wahnluv, and well, well, well:
we gassunder, siling
and scragging all night,

and here he comes now,
all skegflounce and marnanall,
keen as a whompslag
and, eugh! mawping bright.


Image found here.

The Daily Brainfelch

Yesterday I watched someone pick up a pencil and try to write with it. The results can’t have been to his satisfaction, as he had to stop and give it a good shake before starting again. It was all right after that.

'Higher place, levitate me, higher place...'

No Joy for Artless Underdogs

Oxford Street

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Seasick Steve

For anyone yet to catch up with the Seasick Steve phenomenon. The spirit of Son House is alive and (un)well after all.

I am reminded of the Simpsons' encounter with a hobo:

Homer: The Simpsons are riding the rails!
[Bart notices a man lying on the floor of the boxcar]
Bart: Cool, dead hobo! [pokes him with a stick. The hobo wakes up, and the family screams]
Hobo: Morning, folks.
Homer: W-What are you going to do to us?
Hobo: Don't worry, I'm not a stabbing hobo, I'm a singing hobo.
OFF: [sighs with relief]
Hobo: [picks up a banjo and sings]
Nothin' beats the hobo life!
Stabbin' folks with my hobo knife!
I gouge them with -
Marge: [interrupting] Um, excuse me, Hobo. Could you play
something a little less unnerving?

No, evidently.

Existence is the Crime Against the Existing

What is and is and is and is and is,
Oh, in my rage at No One to address, I cry out: Intelligence,
(For mind is implicit in it all),
Give over, it is enough, let existence subside,
All this that words point to meaninglessly like vanes jerked in the wind,
Sea, land, sun, consciousness, the universe, most meaningless word of all (the fantastical converting into one),
I cry out for us all, Desist, give again the void, the one word that means everything.

(from ‘Mother’)

Hayden Carruth, 1921-2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

Some Swearing

What is a football manager’s press conference without swearing? A ham sandwich without mustard, a darts player without a beer belly. Joe Kinnear (temporarily) of Newcastle shows how it’s done. And with Twenty Major having chucked it in, let’s face it, we could all do with a little extra swearing just now.

JK Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror's north-east football writer]?

SB Me.

JK You're a cunt.

SB Thank you.

JK Which one is Hickman [Niall, football writer for the Express]? You are out of order. Absolutely fucking out of order. If you do it again, I am telling you you can fuck off and go to another ground. I will not come and stand for that fucking crap. No fucking way, lies. Fuck, you're saying I turned up and they [Newcastle's players] fucked off.

SB No Joe, have you read it, it doesn't actually say that. Have you read it?

JK I've fucking read it, I've read it.

SB It doesn't say that. Have you read it?

JK You are trying to fucking undermine my position already.

SB Have you read it, it doesn't say that. I knew you knew they were having a day off.

JK Fuck off. Fuck off. It's your last fucking chance.


The Mummified Head of St Catherine of Siena

Found here.

Trinity College, Dublin, Barbarism Of

A protest against vivisection in the Biology Department of Trinity College, Dublin, prompts a letter from John Banville in today’s Irish Times:

A senior member of the biology department at Trinity confirmed to me by telephone that vivisection is indeed carried on in the college. He said vivisection was a ‘very emotive term’ - it is not emotive, it is precise - and courteously offered to discuss the matter with me, or to have other people at the college speak to me about it.

I declined. My position on the matter is not open to discussion.

It is a disgrace that one of the country's leading educational institutions, a seat of learning and enlightenment, should be engaged in such brutal and unnecessary practices. A part of our responsibility as human beings is the protection of species at a lower evolutionary level than ourselves. To inflict unendurable agony upon conscious animals is barbaric.


Today, I am ashamed to be a graduate of TCD.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Elements

Floodtide, a temporary
lake gathered under
the railway bridge by

the dip in the road
and a jogger running
on the spot, confused,

not wanting to lose
momentum. A drain
spouts a fountain

and streetlights sink
the luminous bricks
of their reflections

into brown water.
The pallet that floats
past numbers not one

survivor on board.
A terminal air
things are taking,

I would have said
once, but there
is no escaping

as lightly as that.
The rain keeps
coming and why let

something as minor
as our flood-sodden
end stop us now?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008