It is unfortunate that the poetry scene has been tarnished by recent, highly publicized instances of plagiarism, yet the revelations of the despicable practice should not surprise poets. There are too many poetry competitions awarding too much money to the winners. Fame, it seems can come too easily by way of social media. Facebook seems to have created a new phenomenon, the instant poet, whose ‘work’ often seems to have incubated overnight with little attention having been paid to the craft of writing, before it is thrust upon a tired public.
Of course the Irish poetry world is clique ridden and exclusionist and has been so for too many decades, yet this very Irish trait should inspire, rather than deter poets. Maybe not enough of us are asking, for whom do we write? If the answer is for awards, or fame, or, God help us, for publication in Poetry Ireland, maybe we should be writing jingles for Tayto crisps or Milk Tray chocolate. The notion of writing for a so-called ‘public’ is sad, in any case. The number of people who actually read poetry can be numbered in the low hundreds and of those the numbers who try to understand it can be slashed by multiples. Someone has said if we get three people to read our poems we are doing well, a sobering observation and not one without foundation if we recall some of the gushy references to Seamus Heaney’s work in the aftermath of his death.
True, driven, poets will continue to write poetry in spite of the distractions that plague the scene. Forged in the fire of rejection and crafted in the isolated garret, it will endure to enthral and enlighten when the instant poem and its unworthy mentors are lessons in how not to promote the arts in Ireland.
Breda Wall Ryan
Rub’ al Khali
in the dreamtime
before this chattering world
breaches the surface of sleep.
to the crossing place
of have to have not,
seek out the sand people
making caravan for Rub’ al Khali,
The Empty Quarter,
bone stripped place
of dune rolled sea
and crystal night.
heat and cold
of deadened skin
all those wasted years
until what’s left
is inner voice
the only truth
set your face
from this roaring life,
go mark your path
We go there to throw stones at ourselves.
We’re sleeping, and dream we are there,
the house inside the house, night’s headquarters.
Who knocks? The door is only implied.
Why enter? The rooms will come to you, in time.
The house behind a hill called Hell.
A little cry under its ethereal eaves,
apparitions steaming the windowpanes,
death’s breath, not what you’d call enticing.
Like smoke, I mow down a hallway.
Like fog, I embrace the chill measure
of a life lived after life-in-death.
An ether, I am wholly spiritual in nature.
One of the lost. One of the living.
Dark And Stormy Night
The meter is running,
rain scoring the wind,
coming down hard
on the town of New Apocalypse,
my cab driver smoking a cheroot,
smiling without smiling,
red-eyed, racing the lights,
with me slumped in the back seat
and as drunk as a lord.
Here! Stop here! I shout,
on a street among other streets,
the taxi easing to the curb,
the driver looking back in disbelief.
Seeing what little matters.
Being Vladimir Ilyich
for Gerry Matthews who recruited ‘the Irish Lenin’ to politics
He sweeps the driveway Sundays,
names each fallen leaf
‘god’, ‘capitalism’ or ‘monarchy;
then indoors to count the raindrops
on the window pane and wait
for World War Three.
He lifts the toilet seat and asks himself
what would Vladimir Ilyich do next?
He harangues wide-faced students
with words borrowed from a book,
the first page of which
he’s actually read.
He’s supports every striker’s cause,
as twine supports corpses
strung from trees. Delighted
to be losing his hair, each morning
he’s a few per cent more
Vladimir Ilyich. Devastated
no one’s yet sent him
a letter bomb or flavoured
his apple tart with Arsenic.
He speaks hours
on the need to weed out dogmatists,
He’s grown the Party from a phone box
to a decently sized school hall.
Tomorrow, he’ll put it back in the only
phone box in town
not yet torn down.
THE BLACKBIRD IS THE AUTHOR OF MY DAY
The black bird sings
my day into existence At one moment operatic,
then comic, then conversational,
Sounds he may have overheard and
recorded in the feathered scrapbook of his blue-black head,
Lilting, punctuated by trills and hymn-like
crystal sharp chords.
He is its author, director and
conductor of the orchestra of dawn.
I don’t write these poems
it is the rain on my window That typing with furious fingers;
it is the brown heat of summer,
The black trees seen against a sky
in the yellow apple-sweet morning.
The green wind that ripples the seas
of wheat and barley,
Vast corn-silk oceans that stretch
all the way back to my childhood.
It is your perfect thighs that I can’t
gaze upon them for fear of going blind,
It is the broken moon like a glass ashtray
whose shard you wear in your belly. That same satellite where the stolen
voices of owls were hidden by Some goddess in
the springtime of the world.
It is the wind chimes in the garden
it is the secret names of cats,
it is the boundless joy of dogs;
it is the starving child And the blind woman and the poor and the voiceless that write these bastard songs:
these orphan lyrics. The blackbird sings my day into being.
A day so strange and full o
love and sadness and
frustrated desires that worry the tender flesh beneath my clothes,
that dries like sweat on my body.
Because, what does a blackbird know
of the terrible needs of man?
You are blind and I can not see you
You smell of guitars
You pour into
my thoughts like coffee with milk, but please,
stop calling me Don Quixote.
I’m more shallow
Than I seem.
You tell me that
I’ve not sold out but what you don’t
realise is That’s only because
no one offered to buy me. Given the chance
I would sell my soul and my body.
You are blind
and no one can see you. You smell of guitars
and the ocean of your sky burns
with star fish, You smell of mirrors,
sex and abracadabra.
LANGOUSTINE ON METAPHOR: 1. RAIN
The Book of Corrugated Iron will feature rain. The hero travels in rain and arrives at the Palace of Rust, said Langoustine.
Rain in The Book of Corrugated Iron will have the power of speech. It will gabble like a village idiot said Langoustine.
Out of the rain creep rivulets of steel wire. Doors open like parched mouths. No one speaks, said Langoustine.
The caves will be full of rain and fine mist. The Book of Corrugated iron registers mist as the action of phantoms, said Langoustine.
A single drop of rain lodges in a tin cup, said Langoustine. It is the only currency available in hard times. Corrugated iron is big money.
The currency of rain drives hard bargains, said Langoustine. It is the language of the empty hand, the knife, the dead eye.
Character dissolves in rain. The Book of Corrugated Iron is full of dissolved people gathering in pools, said Langoustine.
Rain is in the mind, within the skull itself, said Langoustine. When the lids open the eye rains glittering platitudes. The dead speak.
Words are rain, said Langoustine. In The Book of Corrugated Iron speech runs away with itself. Conversation is a fine drizzle.
At the end of The Book of Corrugated Iron there is a flood, said Langoustine. The plot is inundated. The water keeps rising.
To Salome John the Baptist gave good head,
His inversion being complete. Salome,
Despite the veils, being in everything the man;
She is in the seat of power. He, trembling,
With locusts and honey, till the severed limb Went dead. Decapitation being the object Of his eternal desire, the executioner’s blade – Her phallus! His sphincter than a mere toy For her strap on! He made by Her into a priest Of Ishtar. See, how he offers it up to her like a rose. Out in the desert the Wildman eats honey His honeyed words bearing prophesy:
The news of a love so impossible in its kind,
Out from the desert comes the corrupting rose.
Lee Miller Bathing in Adolf Hitler’s Tub,
For Anne Guidasci
The model, photographer, actress
And Muse turned War Correspondent, further
Morphs into Bathing Nymph inside the
Deposed Minotaur’s lair, he now dead.
His empire of skin, piled high with the ash
Of bones still twirling a ghastly snow
In the consciousness of all men.
The nymph soaks in the tub, a compelling
Figure from out of this new mythology.
There, contained in her Pandora’s Box,
Float gruesomely the images of
Buchenwald and Auschwitz;
The accursed names of this newer history,
She then, the nymph, compelled to further change.
STRIKE UP THE CONTIGUOUS
prestidigitation, this could be
judicious concurrence. It started
with ASL, soon enough
she read me shorthand.
So here is where
her language lives.
It started w/ waiting for
later words but I jiggled
the velleity and got rehabilitated
fusebox. Here is permissible
audacious refusing all quashing.
That’s the retort.
We (she & me) went unfit for
alacritous legerdemain so
oblivious goes all normal
discourse. Essential occupant
of unutterable, I am partial to her vowels.
Strike up the interlocution,
this could be insurrectionary
unanimity. I get my protein
online w/ symbiotic keystrokes.
Batteries swim crazy best
Let me tell you about
subsequent recombination. Soon
enough graphemes got all Braille,
hence immediate nutrients
Jazz in the cathedral
These piano and violin tremors
birds swinging across the nave of St Giles,
are the closest to being articulate
we will ever come-
so much so
that it wouldn’t bother me
if their pickaxe trajectory
shattered the stained-glass windows
the musician introduces each piece,
this next one more “intellectual;”
he says the word without scorn,
as words are meant to be said
Patterns evolve and dissolve
into amused arches,
light trilling on violin sounds
hides mathematical variants
Certainty drives the birds away
Kite Flying in Vicarstown.
i.m. Michael McEvoy 1956
It is somewhat strange
that he carried in his pocket
For several years
the paper cutting of a
“Design for a Kite”.
It could have made
A real flyer,
But like the rest of his life
He put it on hold
Until the cancer went, of course.
A DUTCH LIFE
His father died in the War (not a Resistance hero,
just picked up one day and randomly shot),
so his childhood was hunger, fear
in the streets and the Hun. But
the architecture was untouched. Most days
of his life he walks through Amsterdam South,
a utopia built for the poor, squatted by the rich.
After the War, Europe was one big mattress
so Remco Campert said, and he got his share.
(Now, in the artists’ club, he sometimes meets those girls’
grandmothers, loud with lipstick and nail polish
and he is tender and sentimental with them).
He spent a lot of time smoking in thick, dark overcoats
in freezing studios with painters hysterically
discovering pink and red and yellow.
Every day, he ate cheese and bread with slow relish.
And so the fifties passed, with children
and reconstruction and the brave new dawn.
Why did it all have to be so grey? By the sixties
he had learned to wear white suits, and his
favourite colour was the rainbow.
Good times, American girls, he smoked a lot of dope
but always returned to chilled jenever, preferably
drunk in the warm brown murk of Oosterling,
where his father had once held court.
He loved the first sly crackle of ice in the air,
he looked forward to the acrid, fat zuurkool
(As in the winter he thought of mussels
steamed in the pot, girls in spring dresses.)
He did his bit, wrote his books, his column,
wry and sharp, was popular with the young
who sometimes came, pink and golden,
to sit on his bed and comb his long grey locks.
There was a wife somewhere,
and children, but he lost them in the harsh eighties.
Still, these days they’re all friends again,
he summers in France in his daughter’s house,
the grandchildren call him by his Christian name.
Now he has had a lot of wine
for lunch, as he sways in the hammock
in the shade of the mulberry tree
he dreams of Frisian skates strapped to his feet.
Seven years old, weightless
he follows a silver road through the frozen polders,
so alone, nothing between him
and horizon, no sound
but the scrape of steel on the ice
as he leans forward into the light
I’m driving home
through a moth-storm,
powdery drifts bank
on the windshield,
the windows are down,
the air mushroomy
with August heat.
I’ll call again
from a mile out.
Wait under the porch lamp
for my headlights
to crest the hill,
for the car to turn at last
onto the home stretch…
In the morning dark
before you know
I’ll take the first mushroom
from the humid night,
white, fat-tipped, eager
for my fingers.
Breda Wall Ryan
It’s seeking the detail in things,
The stripe in the boy’s pyjamas.
The shot that killed Liberty Valance.
It’s being too easily distracted
to hold down the whole canvas.
Loosing the rescue dogs of war.
One hundred years of solicitude.
It’s missing the line
to follow the point.
No woman, no joy.
What else these boots are made for.
It’s looking for that final, tiny thread
to unwind patterns into empty spaces.
The courage of red badgers.
Things past remembrance.
It’s the voices in my head, edited,
and everything I’ve seen or done
or ever heard or read.
This useless pursuit of obliquity.
I’m seven in dog years now.
Here you come with a collar
to teach me new tricks.
I may choose not to learn.
Jubilate in Punk Minor
Praise her that spurns their opening doors, faces back into her cell
Until her Moscow punk mate is free too in some far ordained hell,
Masha, we must think now of Masha, who stands by her comrade
When the last card, or nearly, is played to silence spirited Nadya:
So, the road that Putin paves leads all the while to a hospital in Krasnoyarsk
And there are many, frozen mute in this man’s stony winter, who’d rather not ask
About the horrors of every mile of it, brave women beaten, like the dead Roma
Woman, her soul’s more lucent now than any false-gilt sanctuary gleam,
“For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand”,
Yeats writes for a young Gera. But Nollaig sa tSamradh is at hand:
Opening for all of us that groaning sluice gate chorus, our hope at last,
For some were despairing for another of the desaparecidos, the lost
“Wow”, he shouts, – Andrey – “Wow” as he sees Nadya’s flowing hair flow
On the video, least we can do is share with him “Wow” too for all time, “Wow”.
Cogs, Crucifixes and Codology
One machine constantly produces the living out of the dead,
while the other produces the dead out of the living.
All my friends are avatars and headstones,
a description, nothing more, but our bodies are pointillism.
Painting, music, and fucking, are vastly superior to literature,
no one supposes the secret is here, between thighs,
connecting, linking, involving flanks, wanks,
no classical columns, the limitless and colourless eyes,
and thimble breasts of a young East European woman
working in a nail bar who said she started smoking at age nine
because her mother was her hero. I just enjoy a cigarette.
She got me straight away. That new age hippie type
with lynching hair and beard, kills his caterpillar pipe
outside the pub, some dark thin woman, tattoo sleeved,
and drunk, it’s not yet six, gets to grips with her grief
and hugs everybody, yes, everybody is her friend,
her tale is on a loop in air like smoke rings.
Smiles and unconditional love.
The East European agreed with me about slim cigarettes,
no point, an affectation. We suck holes in our cheeks.
Leucocratic eyes that force me to describe the vastness.
Too much for the eyes, a Siberian idea of sorts.
I thought of a title for my next book, and wanted her
like Lola Montez, under the influence of art and kisses,
my fingers wearing thimble hats, banging together
like tinny bells, a small defiance to that cult of the cockeyed,
the vanities show or musical revue that masquerades as poetry,
a parade of the well dressed, well fed, well bred.
Fucked if I know or give a damn.
The manuscript is black, a solid block of colour
from being copied time and time again, a resounding lunacy,
a pointless din because poets are afraid of their own sounds,
or it has been crowded out of them by battery cages,
the factory farming of creative writers like pigs in the Republic
keeps Irish misery authentic, contributes to our suffering,
the synthetic dross, we are reared intensively,
as an audience, as listeners, reared on the pellets of a dead Ascendancy.
It’s their loss; I hear a plane pass overhead from my balmy bed
where I want to die in time to the engine of a taxi running outside.
We are all machine, swipe card and clock, real time like real talk
is a luxury that most folk can’t afford, that’s why we’re bored,
by the marking of time with on the hour news and food,
greedy appetites, breakfast, lunch, dinnertime, our brains are starved,
our inner resources hanging on a hook behind the door
like a lead bought with good intentions, meanwhile,
a dog digs up a yard and chews everything in sight,
his nails grow long and he hurts himself. But you have a pet.
You make do with divertissements when the world is disappearing
down sink holes but you can watch it on a documentary, playback,
and nice images can wallpaper the greatest cracks, a Duranty con,
as virtual worlds replace real time which is the present
and not worth much at all to those of us just passing through
the stages of uncertain youth to queasy middle age to blessed senility.
Public space becomes a commodity, surveillance, invisible manacles,
continuous monitoring, feedback loops. Are we so civilised?
The mortgage like restraints makes us compliant
to bond holders and crooked bankers who know time is money,
and money wraps the lives of ordinary folk in papers.
My father is a casualty of the Department of Environment,
Community and Local Government, of annual reports,
strategy statements, and decentralisation, of Public Sector Agreement,
wage cuts, universal charges, austerity.
Life is throttled out of every natural fibre,
he had a heart attack because he realised he is a gear tooth
in less durable material, the gravy of governments and policy makers.
They tried to coax him into a slab, but he slipped a cog,
moved jerkily in his get away when he became certain
that crucifixes are not empty symbols.
Face down in a gang of pillows; a lover pushes my legs together,
slides his cock amid the high altar, securely,
rocking from side to side like a bee dance; that waggle
to score nectar, poems grow and die in our bodies,
we abandon all identity, emotive expressions,
Delsarte poses, our mouths and genitals, roses.
We are not indecent. In my mind’s eye,
I see that squid caught in Naples, its head bashed on a rock
to soften it for eating later. Poems are the way we talk,
or should be, god-builders walk the walk but ultimately
the mission is love. Can we make the Muse our friend?
What purpose does that distinction serve
between the word and flesh?
Ginsberg wrote Howl for Kerouac.