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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Catching Up

I have returned from Italy, my thoughts on which anon (the secret ingredient for submarine paint is nun’s sweat), but first some items of note fished from the pizza menus and ads for patio salesmen cluttering up my porch.

The lapwing above is in honour of Michael Longley, knowing as I do that it is his favourite bird. Longley is seventy, an occasion marked by Enitharmon’s Love Poet, Carpenter: Michael Longley at Seventy. Contributors include his belaurelled contemporaries and several generations of juniors, including my own. Michael Longley was writer in residence in Trinity in the early 90s, a period I’m pleased to see described here, though my own account of it will have to wait for my forthcoming memoir Cappuccinos I Have Known. That fine poet Peter McDonald’s contribution, ‘Weather’, ends:

The sunshine makes red virulent
and yellows vibrant with decay;
it’s not surprise, more like assent
when they fall, when I let them fall,
to what is fated, in its way,
of which this rain-cleared light makes little,
meaning the day can gleam, can glow:
and not a bad day, as days go.

Another contributor is Ciaran Carson, whose On the Night Watch (Gallery Press) I see is also out. I wrote a long essay here about the turn in Carson’s style in Breaking News, and am pleased to see him continue to inject a belated bacillus of Objectivism into Northern Irish poetry. The leitmotivic obsessions of For All We Know are still much in evidence, as is the wrong-note line-break, sending the reader’s eye scrolling up and down as it registers a whole series of split-second semantic adjustments as the first word of the next line retrospectively adjusts what you thought the last line meant. Many poems heighten this effect by describing the passage of time. ‘If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness,’ Wittgenstein wrote, ‘then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.’ Here is Carson’s (a run-on title, this) ‘Of Yesterday’:

says St Augustine

is there to say
the past is not

as is the future
as for now

it flits from
split to split

into the next
so what

is there to fear
from time

when now
is forever

The latest issue of that fine Dublin journal The Stinging Fly features a comprehensive and provocative review of Paula Meehan’s latest, Painting Rain. One thing I like about the review is how it takes and acknowledges the whole context and background of Meehan’s work then, in the nicest possible sense, ignores it. It will not have been so important to how we read her, in the end, that Meehan spent a lot of time giving poetry workshops rather than working in life insurance, whether the ‘I’ in her work is identical with its author, resembles her closely, or even not at all, given the secret life we have now established for her a life-insurance saleswoman.

Fryatt also begins by mentioning class. Having got my feelings about Eavan Boland off my chest in a long article a few years back I feel that’s a subject I never need to revisit, but it has always puzzled me how easily gender trumps class in the grievance queue, where recent Irish poetry has been concerned. Meaning, I’ve always felt there was a mismatch between the amount of time Boland spends investigating Irish gender politics and the amount of time (none that I can see) that she devotes to class, but also how seldom she gets picked up on this issue. Fryatt concludes (to get around to quoting from the review at last): ‘Meehan, like many contemporary poets, maintains a Romantic emphasis on subjectivity while neglecting the duty that accompanies it: that of ensuring the versified soul earns her privilege through linguistic concentration. That neglect makes of social conscience mere worthiness, and of protest mere protestation of virtue.’

Speaking of fine Dublin journals, I mentioned, a long time ago now, an upcoming piece of mine on Beckett’s letters. It can be found (in the print copy only, I mean) here.

The summer conceptual/flarf issue of Poetry (that makes it sound like an annual event) features a brief note on Michael Hartnett by the ever-waggish Conor O’Callaghan, including this anecdote:

Sometime in the nineties an Irish Studies conference was hosted by the University of Limerick. The local laureate gave a plenary reading. The speaker immediately preceding had used an old-fashioned overhead projector that Hartnett, not big on technology, mistook for his lectern and microphone. He laid his pages on the magnifying glass panel and spoke his poems into the projector’s lamp. A combination of its bulk and his diminutive stature meant that not only was the plenary reader mostly inaudible, but he was mostly invisible as well. Whenever it came to lines of importance or of particular emotional intensity, he would lean into the projector’s bulb and whisper. A collective giggle began murmuring around the audience. Eventually Hartnett peered from behind the apparatus and asked rhetorically of the darkened auditorium, “What the fuck are you laughing at?”

And finally, some lyrics from the new Tinariwen album Imidiwan. From a track called ‘Tenhert’:

The doe of Azuzawa is so radiant
She was leaving Tin Ardjan before the rains
Following the Tashalghé river westwards, towards some striking camels
Who came from the Awaji family, more beautiful than nine fawns
Bolting to the top of the hill where the rock pools are green

I learn from the sleeve notes that the Touareg never use that word to refer to themselves, given its Arabic provenance, and should in fact be referred to as the ‘Inazaghen’, the people of Adagh, which is almost a town in Co. Louth but, luckily for the Touareg, isn’t quite.

I recommend this album, and the various magazines and books listed above.


Fenian said...

The award of a Festchrift from his publisher is a fitting tribute to one of the great Irish literary figures of our generation! He is one of the triumvirate of important Northern Irish poets (with Heaney and Mahon) who emerged in the 1960s to collectively bring a new 'renaissance' in Irish writing.

Kit Fryatt said...

I drop over here for the first time in ages and find you reviewing my reviews...demmed cheek, I call it. (thanks for the kind words) Identity politics always trumps class politics in the republic of Ireland - it seems early success of anti-imperialist nationalism is to blame.
While I'm being provocative, though, don't you think that maybe Carson's wrong-note line breaks might be the result of a genuine, A-1, top-hole, copper-plated Tin Ear?

puthwuth said...

Maybe there's a fine line between plain wrong and serendipitous wrong. Does a double negative equal a positive -- if I have a tin ear but then can't scan anyway, perhaps I enhance my chances of writing a pitch-perfect sonnet by brilliant accident?

Anonymous said...

A student of gender politics need only ever comment on class issues if class is being used as an excuse to discriminate against men and/or women, or to elevate men and/or women further... which it frequently is. While I get the feeling that the apparent simplicity of this statement will irritate, can't help but think you should all fuck off and go fishing. The endless, useless dissection of rivers is preferable to all this...