Showing posts with label Irish poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Irish poetry. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ben Howard's "The Backward Look": Book Review

For a couple of years, I'd drive on my way to work past a yellow sign hanging from a concrete slab building facing the freeway: "First Time Ever, Last Time Ever." I suppose it referred to some never-ending sale, but I liked to think of it in terms of a daily reminder of impermanence. (Recently, of course, it disappeared.) In poet-critic Ben Howard's successor to his first collection of essays "Entering Zen," (2011; see my reviews on Amazon US and this blog), he advances along the path of awareness of this fundamental Zen truth, addressing in these fifty entries from his columns for "One Time, One Meeting" that titular acknowledgment, of the fleeting encounters we too enter into.

Out of these, Howard creates short essays, grounded in everyday life. The first five exemplify their range. A poem by Billy Collins about shoveling snow with the Buddha, a lament by a Washington Redskins player about injuries, a 1948 Japanese novel about Burma, a slip on the ice tied into the difference between mishap and mistake, and the rest-stroke, free-stroke on guitar (Howard also plays): these demonstrate the characteristic concerns which he channels into his practice for us to see.

I use that verb for we witness Howard in modest, reflective manner, as a presence who steps up and then sidles away, allowing us to glimpse the meaning as he does, but also to sense the mystery. The title of this book comes from a Dogen quote: "Take the backward step and turn the light inward." By doing "just this," that Zen master promises our "original face" will appear; this also reminds me of one of the last remarks attributed to the Buddha urging his followers to "be a lamp unto yourselves." Howard interprets Dogen's stance as a shift away from "ego-centered thinking" to "other-centered awareness." This reorientation directs the practitioner to not a blissed-out state of detachment, but a sense of the balance between conditions of heightened sensitivity and informed action. Such an even-handed approach, as in meditation and thinking, speaking and doing, shows Howard's practice.

He's also practiced at writing, and I recommend his collected essays on Irish literature, "The Pressed Melodeon" as well. He keeps to a steady format, less than ten paragraphs usually. He offers wise tips about writing as a craft, and he applies them in unassuming but diligent fashion. As he cites Hemingway's advice, he prefers brevity and being "positive" in the sense of concentrating the body and the mind upon the moment, whether pleasant or not, to find it "empty of a separate self" in Zen.

Meanwhile, other poets enrich these pages. Seamus Heaney, Jonathan Swift, Dennis O'Driscoll (a less heralded talent worth your seeking out), Louis MacNeice, Patrick Kavanaugh from Ireland enter, but so do Basho, Philip Larkin, and even Bob Marley. From such sages, Howard accumulates their reflections on how to ease up, and to let go. One gain here I sense, teaching myself in an ever-increasing course load with higher enrollments but shorter turnaround times online for grading, emerges from Howard's slower pace. He advises us to limit our consumption of information, to let some comments stand as superfluous rather than as imperative. Never advocating ignorance, he instead encourages us to contemplate the wisdom of "not-knowing." From this humility, a term I reckon we hear much less nowadays, Zen cuts down pride and arrogance.

One of my favorite concepts is dependent origination, and Howard brings this lofty teaching down to his dinner table. There, he points to various loaves of bread from local bakeries, to illustrate this basic Buddhist insistence that "this ceases to be, because that ceases to be." Reading this when I'd received earlier that day bad news, I took heart in the repetition of this most fundamental of life's truths here.

As these essays progress, their tone sustains a firmly held if gently revealed insistence on the necessity of stepping back from our routine. Carrots, Yiddishisms, construction noise: all generate insights into the "imperfect life we are now living." Enhanced by Howard's teaching, his Iowa youth, his Irish stays, whatever he's read, seen, and discussed, his experiences seep into these essays. At his practice group on Sunday's summer evenings, impermanence becomes understood "not as a concept or a Zen tenet but as an experiential fact, as palpably real as the darkness gathering around us." He regards such a moment as welcome and as inevitable as any other in his encounters, shared with us. (Amazon US 4-22-14)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Éamon Carr's "Deirdre Unforgiven": Book Review

As a musician and poet, Éamon Carr came to prominence in the Irish counterculture in the late 1960s, and as drummer for Horslips, he memorably created lyrics blending the Ulster Cycle and other Celtic tales into hard-charging or softly lilting music. Now, he returns to these inspirations, but, in the intervening decades, the impacts of Northern violence, itself recapitulated, mythologised, and raw, darken this play, subtitled "a journal of sorrows".  For, during the 1990s, Carr as a journalist revisited places he had toured as a musician, and he heard new stories of strife, vengeance and suffering again.

In a spare but eloquent style, Deirdre Unforgiven by its title conflates the tragic protagonist, enslaved and compelled to wed lusting, selfish usurping King of Ulster Conor, with what I sense as an echo of Clint Eastwood's compellingly and similarly haunted anti-hero, himself unhinged by lost love and simmering sorrow. As Professor Shannon McRae's preface and Carr's introduction explain, these verses adapt Yeats' Japanese Noh ritual to drama. Enhanced by John Devlin's drawings, this is a pairing well suited for Carr (see his 2008 poetry collection and homage to Basho, The Origami Crow [my review]); here he conveys through the stripped-down incantatory recitals of ancient Greek tragedy the structure for his bleak ritual scenario.

Taking place in the "uncertain time" just before dawn (itself redolent of suggestion in charged Irish rhetoric) a triple Chorus precedes a Young Man, a reporter, fresh from an eerie conversation with a crow-like figure on the Shankill. The Chorus and the Old Woman, the Celtic goddess of war the Morrigan, fill out Deirdre's backstory "of yesterday's news that is heard too soon". Meanwhile, the reporter recalls as of 1999 yet "another bad day at Drumcree" between marchers and protesters.

The ghosts of Deirdre and of the unforgiving ruler over Ulster, Conor, masked as is the Old Woman, tell their side of the saga. They reveal Conor's thwarted frustration and Deirdre's desperate elopement with Naoise. Deirdre arises to warn: "There will not be enough mourners to lament/ those who fall" but as the Chorus speaks for so many witnesses: "They listened/ and dismissed her concerns".

Opening the second scene, the Young Man recounts more victims: footballers caught in a blast, a grave for one who died too young, three boys at home as they slept blown up by a petrol bomb. Deirdre bewails her passion for Naoise, for it blinded the pair: "we didn't see the blight".  She tells of her doom after that of Naoise and his brothers, and as she collapses, the Old Woman continues her tale. The Chorus repeats the triple spiral of lore: "Pure black banner/ Pure blue sky/ Pure red blood". Conor's desolation and the reporter's despair combine, for both lack words to assuage their torment.

The Young Man, in a very Yeatsian image of how the off-kilter past whirls into the present, sums up their predicament: "Somewhere, whip in hand, a laughing child/ sets a wooden-top spinning./ Now ask,/ for this world to keep turning/ must we all,/ each one,/ hear the lash sing?" Silence follows.

Deirdre chose to fling herself on a rock, to dash out her life rather than submit to Conor. Her defiance, commemorated by a memorial tree "that when the wind blows/ sings of infinite sadness", represents the capitulation of the female to the male, the injustice perpetuated by the cocky and headstrong over those perceived or outfoxed to remain weak. The Old Woman, no stranger to this anguish for she herself embodies its mythic atavistic force, concludes: "For wherever there are dead men/ that's where you'll find me./ My wings forever wrap the fallen/ who so wanted to be free".

Carr's play invites no easy resolution. As Yeats did, so does he. Deirdre Unforgiven presents a stark reminder of the brutality behind the cant, and the cost incurred by too glib a chant or rousing ballad.
(Slugger O'Toole 11-15-13. British Amazon 11-15-13 and Amazon US 11-14-13 all without OC link)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wes Davis' "An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry": Review

While modern, it's not only modernist in scope; Davis in helpful prefatory essays brings on about fifty poets and gives each perhaps twenty selections. He frames this with a few unobtrusive (if too scanty for a less-informed readership I assume may be often outside of Ireland) endnotes and a helpful, if truncated general introduction. There, anticipating an audience who may take him to task for not including Yeats, he begins with "ancestral figures like [Austin] Clarke, [Patrick] Kavanagh, and [Louis] MacNeice" to show how they responded to the Celtic Twilight of Yeats and predecessors. Kavanagh demanded to diverge from what he summed up or put down as "Poems of Fields, Poems of Rocks, Poems of Bogs; Poems of Bigger Fields, Poems of Harder Rocks, Poems of Deeper Bogs".

Certainly the familiar roster fills much of the nearly thousand pages of this handsomely produced collection. Politics, the Troubles, love, nature, intolerance: they make many appearances. I hazard it's only halfway, with the long lines patterned by Kavanagh and enriched by Robert Lowell in the work of John Ennis (born 1944; authors rank by birth) and then a leap eight years to Harry Clifton, that many readers will find a name or two they might not already know. Davis notes that he wanted to give space to those still writing, and therefore each poet gains about the same amount of space; this balances in my opinion the recognized titles from the usual pantheon with those meriting attention from the younger ranks, and those who've labored long in the shadow of those hoisting awards, occupying tenure and featuring on a syllabus or as a seminar, and jetting around the world.

Therefore, as editor, Davis chooses to direct our attention away from Yeats, not towards him. Any reader can find him and the other famous poets included here elsewhere. What one may not find as easily abroad (published by Harvard this represents this need) might be such as Dennis O'Driscoll, Mary O'Malley, Paula Meehan from the mid-1950s, and those following, to name but a few. Those who grew up studying Yeats and his peers in Ireland later in the century began to explore with greater precision the Irish language traditions, as school in many cases exposed writers to these influences. While the lack of Gaeilge compromises the value of this book somewhat, Michael Davitt, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Cathal Ó Searcaigh in translation arrive to echo its impact, all three anticipated.

After WWII in the North and the South, more poets entered higher education (post-Meehan and O'Driscoll all those listed born after the mid-1950s earned degrees and, increasingly as contemporary times overlap, doctorates). As the present comes closer, the dispersal of those included to other lands, for a while or for good, accelerates. It's no longer the exile brought on by censorship of state or clerisy, but a choice invited by teaching opportunities or occupations abroad that beckons the post-WWII generations away from Ireland even as, in Sara Berkeley's line from rural Northern California, she's 'always leaving Ireland'. (qtd. 858)

It's noteworthy that two couples stationed overseas appear: Vona Groarke with Conor O'Callaghan, and Peter Sirr with Enda Wyley. Poems by later writers roam into corners as often as earlier writers such as Pearse Hutchinson or Richard Murphy poked about Continental, American, Asian, ancient, or medieval lore, but one finds globalization among many newer writers. Justin Quinn wanders Prague; Sinéad Morrissey leaves Belfast to teach in Germany, study in Japan, and to fly over the Gobi Desert.

The greatest pleasure here comes when as Davis intends one can dig down into a poet. Padraic Fiacc's anguish as he returns as a young man from New York City to 1970s Belfast, Meehan's barbed and prickly re-creation of the tale of Acteon beset by maidens as they enter their synchronised menstrual cycle, or O'Driscoll's masterful vignette of 'The Clericals' as they sum up their faded office status as they turn as outmoded as another era's technology await, among hundreds of hidden offerings within.
(Amazon 5-7-13; to Slugger O'Toole 7-18-13 . Thanks to Ben Howard for sending me a copy; part of his in-depth critique can be found via the Sewanee Review (Spring 2013) 21.2.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"To the Winds Our Sails: Irish writers translate Galician poets": Book Review



This 2010 anthology collects five poems each from ten Galician women. Irish poets translate four per poet from an English-language crib, with the remaining one rendered into Irish itself. The results reveal some of the revived enthusiasm and energy emanating from this northwestern corner of Iberia, with its alleged ancient ties to the Celtic lands, as the legendary homeland of the Irish themselves. 

How such expression cross over linguistic expanses, co-editor Mary O’Donnell observes, raise questions. ‘It remains one of the essential questions whenever translation is in the air: how should it be done—an attempt at a literal transposition, an attempt to capture the spirit of the poem, regardless what gymnastics of language and phrasing, or is it a bit like making a dog stand on its hind legs? In other words, can it be done at all?’

Comparing Luz Pozo Garza’s take (from As arpas de Iwerddon [The Harps of Iwerddon—unmentioned in this very under-annotated book but it’s the Welsh version of Éire]) on the medieval account Lebor Gabala Éren or Book of Invasions, the possibilities emerge across the sea that unites rather than divides Galician from Gael. Taking Binn Éadair as her setting in these inclusions, she evokes a John Hinde picture-postcard rather than today’s Howth full of imposing villas. She appears to wish to return to what was imagined, in venerable or more recent depictions of this fabled promontory north of Dublin, and like her translator Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, envisions myth within or beneath today’s exurban sprawl. 

Manuela Palacios in her preface explains the context for each poet. She singles out Luz Pichel’s surrealism. The unpredictable bursts into her “Burning the Firewood’. I cite in full for a flavour of her style. ‘The fog at daybreak is crammed with the bustle/ of rushing people./ A cock’s cry that comes with from afar/ echoes the cry of the crow,/ that scurries frightened/ by the blows of men.// They rise with the day and break maces/ against the doors of the cattle shed.// Another cock responds./ I look at the woodshed and think/ how I would like to burn it all.’

Catherine Phil MacCarthy’s rendition captures the rhythm of the Galician, with about the same amount of syllables per line. English usually takes fewer words than the original, so MacCarthy’s choice shows the attention to not only meaning but melody that translation may provide. Poets were given free rein to tighten or loosen the English or Irish equivalents, and in the latter (each Galician chose which of her five poems would be singled out for the Gaelic selection; some Irish poets had their own command of Irish to translate and some were given assistance, notably by Rita Kelly), considerable change can be seen, as that language in turn often demanded more words and more syllables than the Galician, in turn.

Why use three languages? This parallels, as O’Donnell shows, compare 'two histories of struggle, two histories almost assimilated by greater, eloquent cultures that communicate in what are decisively termed world languages’, so giving Gaeilge and Gallego a chance to be heard along with English and rather than Spanish strengthens cultural exchange and encourages dialogue between the two nations, in real or idealised manifestations between two cultural cousins, seeking blood ties beyond the water.

Ultimately, the choice of ten women poets itself burrows into the land for some, and transcends its limits for others eager to enter imaginary or psychic terrain. This matters for any reader. Let Xiana Arias via Paddy Bushe conclude, as they do this volume, with a burst of transmission asserting ‘This is Not Feminine Literature’: ‘This is not feminine literature, the author said, while writing a play for children. There is a hero who snatches a beautiful woman from the arms of an evil man. In the end she leaves, alone, scoring the asphalt with her toenails.’ This image digs deep into one’s imagination, a fitting way to leave the impact of this encounter within the reader’s mind. (Slugger O'Toole 9-25-13 and to Amazon US 8-10-13)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tony Bailie's "A Verse for Murder": e-Book Review





This cover merits study--it's well chosen and ties into the mystery elaborated by an informant. The title, a play off of the "murder of crows," echoes in the name of Barry Crowe, a Belfast journalist (or is it "sleazy tabloid hack"?) pursuing the backstory behind the sudden demise, apparently by auto-asphyxiation, of Northern Ireland's leading poet. The compromising circumstances unfold neatly in this e-book novella.

Bailie, whose novels The Lost Chord and Ecopunks delved into respectively gnosticism and New Age quests, continues his application of Celtic and esoteric themes into his fiction. As a Belfast-based journalist (and a poet), he enjoys sending up his profession(s) and their shared pretensions. His short story "The Druid's Dance" in the anthology Requiems for the Departed by Irish mystery writers incorporating Celtic myth and archetypes anticipates the mood and tone of this new tale.

Reviewing a mystery, one cannot give much away. The blurb at Amazon sums up the premise enticingly. It's not betraying the story to admit that the set-up elaborates into, over 74 quick pages, an entry into the symbol of the spiral and the Triple Goddess of Celtic lore. Drawing on, in my "guesstimation," theories of spacetime and the earlier attempts of Irish writers Denis Johnston (The Brazen Horn) and Francis Stuart (The Abandoned Snail Shell) to plunge into the liminal, the results for Barry recall those of the warp-spasm of Cú Chulainn, and the cosmic terror that seems to cross generations and centuries as Bríd, Andrea, and Alma enter the lives of Barry and his cop pal Dervla.

Phrasing sharpens: "curtains all along the street begin twitching in a semaphore of suburban noisiness" updates Brinsley McNamara's once-famous novel about a gossiping lot, in the "valley of squinting windows."  Rowan Tree "looked like a poet should do, elongated body, gaunt face, exploding hair and eyes that suggested insanity." Another, once-promising, poet's eyes "retained the primal urgency of someone who wanted to say something but had no idea of how to say it."

Futurist couplings of poetry as violence, "sexual electricity," a jealous bard Rowan Tree's curse in verse, hallucinogens, nods to Robert Graves and pagan rituals still alive today in the heart of the city: these exemplify the details Tony Bailie adds to enrich his narrative. If you find this enticing, you will find this efficiently conveyed but pleasingly allusive tale a pleasure. I'd like to hear more from Barry.
(Amazon US 10-31-12 and British Amazon; slightly edited and expanded for Slugger O'Toole 10-22-13. P.S. See also my brief review the same day of his electronically delivered short story "Sacred Santa" on Amazon US and British Amazon)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ag foghlaim faoi Galicia

Faoi deireadh, bím ag léamh mír faoi na Gailíse sa Spáinn. Deirtear finscéal go raibh ndúiche Cheilteach fadó. Ach, níl mé cinnte mar scoláire, ar an drochuair.

Mar sin féin, thósaigh mé fuarthas ar iosacht leabhar leictreoneach le David Hoffman. Is treoirleabhar aísiúil é. Scriobh sé go soiléir agus gonta.

Tá mé ag gheofar ar iosacht leabhar eile leis filiochta aistrithe ó Gailísis go Béarla-- agus roinnt Gaeilge. Beidh mé sé ag thaispeáint ar bealach spraoiúil a foghlaim beag as Gaeilge agus Gailísis a chéile. Is cosúil Portaingéilis go fírinne.

Is maith liom an suíomh seo ar an nghréasán Turgalicia freisin. Tá tú in ann ag dul ag imeall an réigiún agus ag fheicéail an tír féin. Tá bealaí taistil eagsulaí ann.

Go minic, d'fhéadhfadh go mbeadh mearbhall nuair a lorg de reir "Galicia" i mBéarla. Tá sé freisin réigiún arsa sa Pholainn. Bhí conái Giúdaigh ann, go dtí go chéid seo caite. Fada ó shín, rinne Ceiltigh ansin.

Learning about Galicia

Lately, I'm reading a bit about Galicia in Spain. It's said in legend that it was a Celtic heartland long ago. But, I'm not sure as a scholar, unfortunately. 

All the same, I started with borrowing an electronic book by David Hoffman. It's a useful guidebook. It's written clearly and concisely.

I am borrowing another book about poetry translated from Galician to English--and some Irish.  It will show me a fun way to learn a little in Irish and Galician together. It's like Portuguese, certainly.

I like this site on the web Turgalicia too. You are able to go about and the region and to see the land itself. There's various itineraries there.

Often, there may be confusion when searching regarding "Galicia" in English. It's also an ancient region in Poland. Jews lived there, until the last century. Long ago, Celts did.

(Photo/Grianghraf: Cristina Pato leis bratach na Gailíse agus píopaí/with a flag of Galicia and pipes.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940": Book Review

The editors began this project around 1985. Changes in ownership of Beckett’s works, negotiations over publication of his correspondence, and the winnowing down of 15,000 letters to 2,500 to be reprinted in four volumes, along with another 5,000 from which excerpts would be used for annotations, demonstrate the care with which this endeavor has been compiled. Beckett may be the last major writer to have his correspondence extant in an entirely non-electronic form. The range of his letters, two-thirds written in English, 30% in French, and 5% in German, attests to the cosmopolitan range and erudite ambition of his determination to imagine himself, early on, into a literary life.


Fehsenfeld and Overbeck explain how they sought a middle way between the minimalist editorial approach of Richard Ellmann for James Joyce’s letters, and the maximalist approach taken by John Kelly for W.B. Yeats’s letters. Restricted to reproducing those letters that drew directly upon Beckett’s writings, the editors nevertheless seek a liberal interpretation of this control. They explain how their first examples display Beckett’s desire to connect to correspondents. He delivers less information, and more solidarity, or intimacy, as he tries to forge a literary career – and to keep his distance from one.


As Beckett’s confidence grows, and as Murphy finally gets published after nearly two years of rejections, his language takes flight. Their content and style soar like kites, above his cities. His words may relax, energize, or recoil. No wonder “rectal spasms,” as the editors note, characterize the physicality of later 1930s letters, with analogies between the act of writing and primal, raw functions within the body.


He begins with coiled frustration. “I am looking forward to pulling the balls off the critical & poetical Proustian cock” (36). His monograph on Proust he regards more as duty than pleasure. He struggles to separate himself from his fellow and elder Irishman in Paris. “Sedendo et Quiescendo” to Beckett “stinks of Joyce in spite of most earnest endeavours to endow it with my own odours” (81). He then promises an editor at Chatto & Windus a scatological comparison to the precise shape of his bowel movements.


Thomas McGreevy received many of the letters included here. They speak of Beckett’s indolence: “even if I succeeded in placing something and getting some money I don’t think I would bother my arse to move.” (158) He would rather lose the world for stout “than for Lib., Egal., and Frat., and quarts de Vittel.,” (159) he tells McGreevy in May 1933. Yet Beckett wonders why Man of Aran lacked any poteen, and soon he spends more time in London, looking toward Paris rather than Dublin for his future.


A year later, he tells Morris Sinclair of his fears, that “no relationship between suffering and feeling is to be found,” and any joy comparing his own fortune to those with less “begins to look deceptive” (204). He observes himself as if “through a keyhole,” and feels at a distance well away from his own self. “Strange, yes, and altogether unsuitable for letter writing” (205).


He finds the attitude that will infuse his mature work. In Autumn 1934, he informs McGreevy that the dehumanization and mechanical nature of the artist extends to the portraits he studies so intently: “as the individual feels himself more & more hermetic & alone & his neighbor a coagulum as alien as a protoplast or God, incapable of loving or hating anyone but himself or of being loved or hated by anyone but himself” (223).


Still, humor lurks. A spider has two “penes.” The “Kook of Bells” gets a nod. T.S. Eliot spelled backwards stands for toilet. Beckett contrasts the art, plays and concerts he views with English literature. It remains mired in “old morality typifications and simplifications. I suppose the cult of the horse has something to do with it”(250).  He tires of vices and virtues. This mood may, in Spring 1935, account for his difficulties with Murphy. After analysis with Bion, Beckett rages to McGreevy. “If the heart still bubbles it is because the puddle has not been drained, and the fact of its bubbling more fiercely than ever is perhaps open to receive consolation from the waste that splutters most, when the bath is nearly empty” (259).


Yet, he watches the old men as kite flyers at Kensington’s Round Pond that autumn, and he observes them in his letter with the same detail that will enrich his novel. He tells McGreevy of a friend’s comment: “‘You haven’t a good word to say except about the failures’. I thought that was quite the nicest thing anyone had said to me for a long time” (275).


Tedium shrouds 1936. Working for his brother back in Dublin tempts him briefly. “I am thinking of asking Frank does he want stamps licked in Clare Street. Though I fear my present saliva would burn a hole in the envelope” (320). He informs McGreevy: “I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read. It is not as though I wanted to write them”(362).  Frank asks him after Murphy is turned down again:

‘Why can’t you write the way the people want’, when I replied that I could only write the one way, i.e. as best I could (not the right answer, not at all the right answer), he said it was a good thing for him he did not feel obliged to implement such a spirit in 6 Clare St. Even mother begins to look askance at me. My departure is long overdue. But complicated by owing them £10 apiece (366).


Beckett cannot please possible publishers. “Do they not understand that if the book is slightly obscure, it is because it is a compression, and that to compress it further can only result in making it slightly obscure?” (380). He vows that his next work will be “on rice paper with a spool, with a perforated line every six inches and on sale in Boots” (383).


He roams Germany, refining his fluency, in early 1937. His letter to Axel Kaun in German represents a breakthrough. “It is getting more and more difficult, even pointless, for me to write in formal English. And more and more my language appears like a veil which one has to tear apart for me to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it” (518). While this exchange is well-known, within the contexts of travel and growing unease as the Continent’s fate entangles with his own uncertain future, this letter gains resonance. In 1936 he had noted how at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, “all the lavatory men say Heil Hitler. The best pictures are in the cellar” (384). He shifts from London to Paris to Dublin, unsettled.


Recovering from the 1938 attack upon him by a Parisian assailant, Beckett contemplates an offer from Jack Kahane’s Obelisk Press to translate Sade’s Les 120 Journées de Sodome. He hesitates, not wanting to do the predictably censorable work anonymously, but reluctant “to be spiked as a writer” (604). He as always needs the money, but the project fades away. His later letters document the rejections given to Murphy, and Beckett’s reluctance to stay in Ireland. “All the old people & the old places, they make me feel like an amphibian detained forcibly on dry land, very very dry land” (637).


Even in 1933 he felt an “unhandy Andy” around his family. Frank suffers his own malaise, “with the feeling all the time in the not so remote background that he is strangling his life. But who does not” (369). In 1938, Beckett learns from his brother that their mother is ailing. “I feel sorry for her often to the point of tears. That part is not analysed away, I suppose,” he tells McGreevy. From Paris, he “returned to the land of my unsuccessful abortion,” but only to “keep my mother company” before he goes back for good “to the people where the little operation is safe, legal & popular. ‘Curetage’” (647).


For Beckett’s own intimacies, this compendium remains discreet. Lucia Joyce and Peggy Guggenheim garner proper mention. Beckett stays reticent regarding his relationship with Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil. He introduces her to McGreevy in 1939 as “a French girl also whom I am fond of, dispassionately, who is very good to me. The hand will not be overplayed. As we both know that it will come to an end there is no knowing how long it may last” (657).


By June 1940, Beckett wonders about their fate, “provided we are staying on in Paris.” He tells Marthe Arnaud how “Suzanne seems to want to get away. I don’t. Where would we go, and with what?” (683). He concludes, c/o the painter Bram Van Velde, with a characteristically resigned, yet defiant set of images and thoughts. As those around him await the Nazi occupation, Beckett cites Murphy, and mixes his own predicament with that looming over the recipients of his final letter.

Under the blue glass Bram’s painting gives off a dark flame. Yesterday evening I could see in it Neary at the Chinese restaurant, ‘huddled in the tod of his troubles like an owl in ivy’. Today it will be something different. You think you are choosing something, and it is always yourself that you choose; a self that you did not know, if you are lucky. Unless you are a dealer (683-684).


Presciently, an advance notice about More Pricks Than Kicks in The Observer opined: “Mr. Beckett is allusive, and a future editor may have to provide notes” (210). Notes expand here. Each letter earns footnotes; profiles of recipients total fifty-seven. Works cited, an index, and George Craig’s French and Viola Westbrook’s German translation prefaces supplement the letters. Contributors credited by the editors fill thirteen pages.

This is the first of four projected volumes. The diligence of those who have assembled this compendium attests to its thoroughness. Spot-checking, I could find only one small slip, an indexed reference that lacked a referent. The immense labor of Beckett, building up his own talent, is matched by the scholars who present his early correspondence, or at least a third of what remains, to an attentive audience. 

[P.S. As above, in html/pdf in Estudios Irlandeses 6 (2010): 183-185. Edited down and then expanded again for a different crowd at  Amazon US 2-17-13.  As is my Amazon review the same day of "Volume Two: 1941-1956"]

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Christopher Murray's "Samuel Beckett: 100 Years": Book Review

Thirteen scholars revisit his work. They each have 29 minutes on Irish radio. They sum up why we still read his often baffling fiction and watch his sometimes plotless plays a century after his birth.

Drama professors Christopher Murray, Anthony Roche, Gerry Dukes, J.C.C. Mays, Katherine Worth, and Declan Kiberd represent leading scholars. Historian Terence Brown, actress Rosemary Pountney, actor Barry McGovern, philosophers Dermot Moran and Richard Kearney, and novelist John Banville offer equally elegant entries. None of these are weak; despite the time constraints and implicit expectation that the listener's already familiar with Beckett's formidable work, the essays avoid cant, jargon, or tedium.

I'll briefly sum up each contribution. Murray introduces the collected Thomas Davis RTÉ lectures by emphasizing Beckett's notion "never less alone than when we are alone." (7) His anti-heroes "aim for Nirvana and miss." (3) They're captivated by the captive voices we all have within, the consciousness which never rests, which "is really conscience in disguise."

Dukes explores the early, unpublished play "Eleutheria" alongside "Waiting for Godot" to attend to the evolution of Beckett's most famous work. "En attendant Godot." Dukes notes how 'attentistes' as those who (in French) wait had been used during the Resistance in WWII as a put down for those who (unlike Beckett), put up with the Occupation rather than fight against it. Beckett chose to act, to resist authoritarianism, at great risk.

His characters attempt to understand life's cruelty. Kiberd finds in "Murphy" a protagonist enamored by The Other, in an insane asylum, but in this relationship, he fails to escape his own mental and physical isolation. The novel attempts to delay such reckoning, and as an aside, Kiberd finds in a convoluted sentence a delay shared "with many Irish politicians" Wylie's "ability to rob his own sentences of the meaningful climax of a finite verb." (38)

Later, Kiberd looks at Murphy's relationship with the prostitute Celia: "He fears, like many men, that his partner wants to change the very thing in him with which she originally fell in love." (42) Beckett's often unfairly targeted by casual readers for his inhumanity, but as this theme reveals in this early tragicomic novel, beneath the odd learning and puzzling jibes, the ideal of emptiness, of utter self-sufficiency, beckons as its moral and its caution.

Both Mays (on poetry and prose poems) and Moran (on philosophical contexts) quote the same early verse, "Gnome," and who can blame repetition of: "Spend the years of learning squandering/Courage for the years of wandering/Through a world politely turning/From the loutishness of learning." Beckett's cutting of what his mentor Joyce compiled, his gradual whittling away in his prose and drama of easy resolutions, thematic digressions, and plots themselves, makes him astonishingly central to the past century's confrontation with our legacy of learning.

Anthony Cronin, in a magisterial lecture on the prose trilogy, speaks of how Beckett "by reducing his characters to the extremer simplicities of need and satisfaction and the grossness of its perhaps necessary illusions."(88) "Molloy," "Malone Dies," and "The Unnamable" strip away narrators and leave us with voices. But, how can we relate to such severity?

Cronin-- whose masterful biography "Beckett: The Last Modernist" (reviewed by me on Amazon US) remains my favorite of the three lives to date for Beckett-- concludes that he exaggerates to make his comic, tragic point. Heroes and lyrics fade, and poetry leaves empty air.
"Deep in our collective soul is a collective unease about the contrast between the traditional ecstasies, nobilities and romantic passions of literature and what most of us actually feel, the state of mind in which most of us actually live most of the time. And indeed between our portraits of our supposed selves as decent, kind, caring and unselfish and what is actually our psychology, actually our outlook. In its exposure of these gaps, Beckett's trilogy has a profoundly cathartic effect." (91) It may not say all that must be said, but what it says may liberate us from pretension.

Other academics share Cronin's careful estimation of Beckett's difficulty. Anthony Roche tells how he saw "Breath" as a teen on tv, and how its strangeness contrasted with the enjoyment of seeing "Godot" on stage. He later connects talking on RTÉ about the intriguingly titled "Krapp's Last Tape" the afternoon he learned of the 9/11 attacks. Somehow even the emotions buried in that play managed to inform Professor Roche's review on the air that day.

Beckett's power can unsettle. Rosemary Pountrey describes her own stage performance of "Not I," requiring her to be bound into a dark box. Richard Kearney compares his student reactions to Beckett as a "pompous bore" with his encounters with the plays performed live. Barry McGovern as a skilled speaker of Beckett's lines shows their energy in his plays for radio. Katherine Worth reminds us of their global impact, and the battle between the estate which demands fidelity to Beckett's directions with those who wish to free his drama for interpretation to keep it relevant.

John Banville, whose novels combine often hints of Joycean abundance and Beckettian austerity, can be as serious and unstinting as Beckett. But Banville sees humor within our habitual unhappiness, and so does Beckett. He's not a pessimist any more than an optimist, Banville decides after pondering his work: "like all true art, it simply is." (127) He adds, in a fashion Beckett would have admired: "By its very existence it affirms, but affirmation is not always positive."

Kearney stresses "Beckett's own refusal of easy solutions to life's ultimate questions-- life and death, theism and atheism, meaning and absurdity, self and other" as "one of his most abiding gifts." (121) The more I reflect on him, the more Buddhist (a term I have not found mentioned explicitly in his 1929-40 letters or any of his texts published [but see my speculations]) he seems. Perhaps by his honest elision of what constitutes the conscience, the voice, the mind, the self, Beckett in his passing over any conceptual definition or conventional approach (such as Buddhism, appropriately) proves truest to those few authors who attempt to articulate what noise and what silence lies within us all.

P.S. Posted to Amazon US & Britain, and Lunch.com 9-16-10 But without those hyperlinked speculations to their source, my "Beckett, Buddhism, and the Void" from Horizon Review 4 (2010).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ben Howard's "Entering Zen": Book Review

Fixing a sewer pipe, buying paint, wielding a chainsaw, riding a motorcycle, and changing a diaper: Zen moments can arrive anytime. Poet and critic Ben Howard shows us, in seventy-five essays about a thousand words each, how to learn to perceive the passing moment as the immediate entry into deeper awareness. He eschews sentimentality, avoids bromides, and shares compassion. 

While never drifting into cliches or gliding into the ether, Howard's commonsense, steady, and alert gaze at what he sees from the vantage point of a retired professor of English in upstate New York reveals the insights he has gleaned from decades of "just sitting"-- and from moving about his neighborhood and writing for his small-town paper what he sees that can help readers learn more about Zen, and perhaps to take up some of its practices for themselves. With this collection, what first appeared in the local paper and on his "One Time, One Meeting" blog can be consulted easily, and returned to frequently for inspiration and stimulation. 


I first found out about his essays via a web search for images of a fountain pen to accompany a blog entry of my own. His piece, on how a fountain pen's disassembly taught one about the Heart Sutra teaching that "form and emptiness" define each other, stuck with me, as a lover of pens (mine was canary while his was plum, the same Sailor brand as it happened) and as someone starting to learn about Zen when I happened upon the website. Since then, for over two years, I've followed these pieces as they've appeared every other week. 


In each, he opens with an observation, on Alex Rodriguez, a poem by Jane Hirshfield or Seamus Heaney or Basho, the classified ads that nestle near the column itself in its first incarnation, a heard fragment of conversation, a scene from the news, or getting smacked by a Delaware wave, among dozens of possibilities in these pages. Then, he moves from its lesson to a parallel in Zen. He may cite a venerable Japanese teaching-- he is a longtime student in the Rinzai Zen tradition-- or a contemporary master. One citation that stuck? Charlotte Joko Beck's admonition to "give up hope," for a Zen practitioner does not sit or act in hopes of a goal, in search of equanimity let alone enlightenment. He or she takes up the discipline for its own sake.


Howard possesses empathy, and unlike some Zen expounders he does not berate or chide the reader for a lack of gumption. Instead, many of his pieces end by suggesting, more gently, to the reader to take up a simple meditation exercise and to try it out for a month or two to see if it makes a difference. This aligns for me with the Buddha's instruction to not accept any teaching unless it jibes with one's own understanding and makes sense for one's own outlook. 

In "Back to School," he tries to sum up Zen's reminder to shake us free from habit. Or, as Hirshfield defines it in seven words he cites of hers: "everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention." Howard explains: "To cultivate direct, intuitive perception is the real work of the Zen practitioner." He warns of too much book-learning without practical experience to temper words with action, or lack of action. "Practicing Zen is not a process of acquisition, nor is its aim the mastery of a body of knowledge. On the contrary, it is in large part a process of unlearning, of becoming aware of our layers of conditioning rather than adding another layer."


My favorite examples of Howard's guidance come from a few entries later in this collection, which begins the end of January 2008 and concludes two years later (but his blog continues at its usual rate of production since then). In "Children of the Sun," he takes up Irish poet Pearse Hutchinson's use of the Irish language to explore the meaning of the titular phrase in a poignant fashion. (I go on record that I favor but one of the two readings of a particular Gaelic phrase pondered therein, however!) 

"Pursuing the Real" tells how one Ginny Lou, an Aussie greyhound, took off from her track to pursue a real rabbit and not the mechanical one. This illustrates the steady nature of Zen, focused on the physical roots of our breathing self, from which we can never be sidetracked for long. "Leaning into the Curves" compares how to ride a motorcycle with how Pema Chodron advises to get unhooked from negativity. Finally, "Effortless Effort" neatly begins with the contemplation of an Aero Press coffee maker and segues into the President's reaction to the shootings in Tucson earlier this year. 


I have shared that last piece with my Technology, Culture & Society students; I have sent the helpful one on making green tea to my tea-drinking dharma friends; I have posted many more on Facebook or sent them to readers I sense may share my enthusiasm. Without any pretension, but with careful prose and a subtle poetic skill, Howard reminds me here of what I first encountered (years before) in his essays on Irish writing "The Pressed Melodeon" and more recently in his "Leaf, Sunlight, Asphalt" (2009; sample poem, info and part of my review here) verses: the calm, recollected power of tranquility amidst energy. 

(Posted to Amazon US & Lunch.com without these links, 5-23-11, I reviewed "Leaf" alongside Eamon Carr's complementary "The Origami Crow" in Estudios Irlandeses 5 [2009]). 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eamonn Wall's "Writing the Irish West": Book Review

This Irish poet-critic teaches in St. Louis and frequently summers in Colorado. His continental crossings led him to connect writers from the West of Ireland with those of the American landscapes he visited. This book collects seven essays about seven authors from Ireland who explore on the page the scenes that resemble those of the plains and mountains--and the oceans missing from the interiors which their American counterparts generally inhabit. 

He starts with Tim Robinson, a Yorkshire-born, Cambridge-educated mathematician and visual artist turned literary cartographer of the Aran Islands, Connemara, and the Burren along Ireland's Atlantic coasts. Wall compares Robinson's "deepmap" with that drawn in William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth over a Kansas county. His careful maps and his intricate travel narratives continue to construct an intimate and exacting record that makes out of the lack of previous Irish mapping a strength. By "tracing" his paths inch-by-inch, Wall finds, Robinson shows how he continues the tradition of the oral place-name stories and verbal accounts left by previous walkers on this ancient terrain.

Gary Snyder's impact upon the Beats and the Buddhists they spawned has a long reverberation. Wall connects his retreat to an "island" on a ridge in the Sierra Nevada with the Ardilaun island redoubt where Richard Murphy resides off the Irish coast. Their common roots in ecological sensibilities enrich their poetry.

Mary O'Malley's poetry also comes from the coast, but further north, in the shrinking Irish-speaking communities of Connemara. Her County Galway home, in an area both depopulating as natives leave and repopulating as second-home owners and exurban city dwellers move in, straddles a bilingual region, where the Irish drifts across the English vernacular. Her poetry, infused by her feminist sensibilities, Wall argues, also enters a liminal realm, where the frontiers give way to less-fixed lines, about a people whose allegiances may lie closer to New York City than Dublin.

This western orientation characterizes the late John McGahern's novels. Considered, as Wall notes, perhaps the successor to Beckett and Joyce for his spare, searing fiction, McGahern's based more inland, but he connects with O'Malley's interest in the clash between imagination and reality. Wall quotes Larry McMurtry: "the romance of the West was always more potent than the truth". Owen Wister, Alice Munro, and Wallace Stegner enter Wall's chapter, as he links rural isolation and emotional resilience or its lack to the characters in McGahern's third collection of stories, 1985's High Ground. McGahern's sullen protagonists simmer and do a slow burn; some burst into rage, others come to terms with mortality, and a few even seek awkward grace.

London-born Martin McDonagh's "Dante Dodge City" mirrors Quentin Tarantino's mayhem and Sam Peckinpah's showdowns, as Wall forges bonds to Peckinpah's own influence, John Ford, son of Galway immigrants. Their cinematic sagas drew on mythic heroes allowed to kill. Peckinpah and McDonagh place their bloody battles just over the border, in Mexico or in the Irish West.

McDonagh, like Tarantino, appears an "anteater" in the way he sucks up popular culture, rock music, film and television predecessors into what appears to be not only horrifying but humorous scenarios of tragicomic chaos. He breaks down boundaries of taste and decorum. He claims to bring the energy of punk into his plays. However, Wall doubts that McDonagh for all his manufactured outrage is as original a force as he's hyped. Wall reminds us that Hollywood's visions--as witnessed by McDonagh's shift into film with his short Six Shooter and the full-length In Bruges--dominate the London-raised but Connemara-connected playwright's sensibilities, and that gore goes back to the Greeks. Since the Aran plays of Synge and the reveries of Yeats, the Irish from somewhere else have entered the West to caricature its unrepentant, unreformed natives.

Twice, Wall quotes Richard White's "nationally imagined" vs. "locally imagined" concepts of the West. Wall adds that, for such as McDonagh, the international distinction vs. the national one works for Ireland, as it did for White for America. The notion of a "simultaneously savage and beautiful" domain captivates ticket buyers for McDonagh's string of plays and for films.

For those outside this garish spotlight, such as Sean Lysaght, a more solid meaning rests in the modest flora rather than the more advanced, or regressive, fauna stalking McDonagh's Irish bogs and island rocks. Lysaght's 1991 poem cycle follows the example, eighty years before The Clare Island Survey, of pioneering naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, who roamed the same landscape. The Irish language floats into the names for the plants and flowers, contemplated by Lysaght or catalogued by Praeger.

Finally, Moya Cannon's Galway-city residence does not keep her from poetry which captures the bioregional. Wall sets Northern English poet Kathleen Raine's verse next to Cannon's to find similar longings. And, circling back, he also finds connections to Gary Snyder's examples.

The first three essays originally appeared as journal articles. They demonstrate the shift in tone from his easygoing preface, as Wall assumes the role of scholar confidently. He takes on considerable challenges in simplifying Robinson's admirable but dauntingly elaborate explorations of Irish landscapes. Wall stretches to include travel writers and two fellow countrymen and contemporaries of Robinson, Colin Thubron and Bruce Chatwin. Wall's perspective widens, but its depths demand close attention in this very ambitious article. The erudite and lofty reach extended by Wall in his pieces on Robinson, Murphy, and O'Malley means that the reader must cling to some rather attenuated tendrils which curl far from their Irish-American grafted roots.

I would have liked more inclusion of Irish-language authors. As Wall argues, these indigenous interpreters remain far less known, inevitably. This volume could have assisted in guiding a wider audience to the plays of Antoine Ó Flatharta, the many local storytellers and singers distributed by Cló Iar-Chonnachta, or the lyrics of sean-nós (old-style unaccompanied) singers such as Caítlin Maude or Róisín Elsafty. He does cite the better known poets Maírtín Ó Diréain, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, if largely in passing. Wall's admission of decayed fluency in Irish itself attests to the costs as well as the benefits of a long time abroad. 

Although pitched at an academic audience, readers familiar or not with these writers may wish to learn more. Wall integrates eco-critical foundations. He avoids theoretical jargon or literary theory-mongering. While stuffed with references and sprinkled with citations, he deploys his learning lightly, considering the usual contributions by most professors to criticism today. Professor Wall succeeds in directing attention to an innovative, cross-cultural field of earth-based, multidisciplinary research. (Lunch.com 5-21-11 & Amazon US: 5-11-11; Posted 5-10-2011 to PopMatters)

Friday, February 18, 2011

"The Selected Works of Samuel Beckett": Review


Given two-thousand pages, seven major texts, thirty-two dramatic pieces, plays, thirty poems, three early stories, an early story collection, twenty more stories to total fifty-two, texts, novellas, three pieces of criticism: what can one add? This brief review surveys instead the value-added, the perceived advantages of this slipcased, four-volume compendium. These works are “selected” rather than “collected,” for they do not incorporate some untranslated poems and critiques written in French. Neither do they publish Beckett’s first novel, From Fair to Middling Women, nor his play Eleuthéria which he prevented from appearing during his lifetime, so by excluding what critics generally concur are decidedly minor efforts, they are not a “Complete Works.”

However, as series editor Paul Auster explains in the only commentary within all these pages, a six-paragraph preface, “the works on which Beckett’s reputation rests” are all here. This collection duplicates, at first glance, the hardcover editions (if with different artwork), commemorating the 2006 centenary of the author’s birth. They appeared in a limited (and soon sold-out as a tetralogy) press run. Therefore, I opened these paperbacks expecting to find the same contents in a more affordable version.

The press blurb for the box-set of these Grove Centenary Editions noted: “Typographical errors that remained uncorrected in the various prior editions have now been corrected in consultation with Beckett scholars C. J. Ackerley and S. E. Gontarski.” I assume these texts have been reprinted in paperback unaltered. This may be of passing interest to casual readers (if any exist for Beckett) but a few, especially in academia or who conduct research upon this most dazzling of modern authors—who succeeded at fiction, drama, poetry, and criticism equally, and in two languages—may need to know this notation. Earlier printings of Beckett’s work, often published in the United States by Grove, suffered from textual errors. Therefore, the scholarly community and the theatrical performers who energize Beckett may welcome these handsome volumes, designed in paperback with bold photos by Laura Lindgren, who created for the hardcovers minimal icons; these decorate the back of the paperbacks.

Unfortunately, Grove-Atlantic has not kept the introductions by noted contemporary writers which graced the hardcover versions. With more than a couple thousand pages already, why a few more could not be spared for these essays puzzles me. Colm Tóibín had introduced the earlier and Salman Rushdie the later novels; J. M. Coetzee had discussed the poems, short fiction, and criticism. Edward Albee prefaced Beckett’s drama. The loss of these contributions weakens the impact of this paperback set.

However, the abundance of what remains, Beckett unfiltered, direct, and freed from interpretative templates or critical constraints, proves welcome. Instead of many small volumes of many of these works, a reader may purchase this collection and have nearly all of what Grove-Atlantic keeps in print in one convenient container, rather than a small shelf of paperbacks, as most readers of Beckett had to accumulate over the past half-century in order to read this author’s prolific productions. Even in smaller anthologies by genre, Grove-Atlantic still gathers nearly all of Beckett in eight volumes. Ultimately, the reduction of his life’s work into these four uniform volumes with handsome typefaces and readable presentation (even if not on acid-free paper, another disappointment) improves upon the less attractive fonts and galley plates used for many Grove printings when Beckett’s works began to be issued by the same press decades ago. The scholarly editions may wait, but as with his correspondence which after a quarter-century of preparation and litigation has begun to be published, delay may be a consequence of contentions between his estate and those who (as with certain dramatic productions) seek more liberty.

The contents themselves have generated large rather than small shelves of reaction from critics and professors and actors themselves. Rather than adding to them here, any reader curious about this bold author, who confronts the Big Questions without Easy Answers, needs to return to the originals. Perhaps, cleared of even the short introductions by his followers that nestle in the hardcover editions, the paperbacks present Beckett as he deserves to endure: direct, compassionate, unflinching, and brave. (New York Journal of Books for 2-8-11 & & Lunch.com 2-20-11)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Seamus Heaney translates Robert Henryson's medieval Scots verse

A middle-aged man contemplates the aftermath of Chaucer's tragic Cresseid. Abandoned by Troilus after she dallied with Diomede, did she deserve the contempt with which she was treated in this tale from the Trojan war? Robert Henryson defends her, and his serious consideration attracts Heaney to revive from his "mid-Ulster" upbringing the speech rhythms shared with a "hidden Scotland" that he hears within this late fifteenth-century poem's elegant defense of a fallen woman, turned a leper.

Heaney, as with his translations of the medieval Irish tale of mad Sweeney and his version of "Beowulf," keeps his own direct, confident manner foremost. "Who's now to guide, accompany or stand by/Me, set at odds and made so odious/ To Diomede and noble Troilus?" is the translation of "Quha sall me gyde? Quha sall me convoy,/ Sen I fra Diomeid and nobill Troylus/ Am clene excludit, as abject odious?" (10-11) You can see here the balance of freedom and fidelity that characterizes Heaney's interpretation.

Henryson's also known for his versified fables, expanded into morality tales from Aesop and other written and oral sources. He combined the popular and learned cultures and is supposed to have been a schoolmaster. Heaney admires the Scots poet's range, similar to his own, and explains Henryson's modulation as an appealing reason for rendering his tales for a wider audience.

There's no notes beyond a few sentences setting the context for the fables, and the introduction I found suggestive rather than thorough; these remain minor shortcomings of this version. Yet Heaney points us to scholarly editions, as his emphasis here's on accessible, brisk, and sententious storylines that convey sympathy with human predicaments and moral quandries. "Hence the decision to translate the poems with rhyme and metre, to match as far as possible the rhetoric and the roguery of the originals, and in general 'keep the accent'." (xiv) These do demand to be heard aloud, and the origin of Heaney's notice of Henryson was "to translate some other narrative that could be performed by an actor" after his reading of "Beowulf." (xiii) While fewer than five thousand lines of Henryson exist, perhaps this collection of his verse will inspire such a recitation of it for us today. (Posted to Amazon US 12-13-09)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My review of Eamon Carr & Ben Howard's poetry



This appears in Estudios Irlandeses, Number 5, 2010, pp. 187-189. The pdf is on line at "Irish Studies around the World". I compare two new collections of poetry that emphasize Japanese, Zen, and cultural connections between that milieu and Ireland/ Irish America. And one expands into soccer the fated year of Roy Keane & Mick McCarthy, the other upstate New York academia. Not sure which arena of conflict is more harrowing for these two survivors, urbane, witty, wise.

In case you wish to track down them down: (1) The Origami Crow: Journey into Japan, World Cup Summer 2002 by Éamon Carr (Dublin: Seven Towers, 2008).ISBN 978-0-9555346-5-2 (case bound); 978-0-9555346-6-9 (perfect bound). 75 pp. (2) Leaf, Sunlight, Asphalt by Ben Howard (Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare: Salmon Poetry, 2009) ISBN 978-1-907056-13-0 (paper). 69 pp.

I finished the review originally on Carr the day I found out about Howard's book, and I had to revise my article immediately after opening Howard's collection and hearing such resonance. Professor Howard also has a blog, The Practice of Zen: One Time, One Meeting. This is his sixth verse collection. Information from press: "Salmon Publishing"

As the blurb goes for "Origami Crow,"-- "Chronicling the wild World Cup Summer of 2002 in Japan, Carr follows the fellow spirit of medieval Japanese poet Basho on a journey that is both movingly personal and exceptionally universal.." These prose-poem reflections are Carr's first volume (unless you count his contributions to the pioneering late-'60s Tara Telephone collective and the broadsheet "The Book of Invasions." Perhaps that name, and his, sound familiar?

That album is one of the classics of modern Irish music. Carr was the drummer and lyricist for the 1970s electric folk band Horslips, Later, his sports commentary, and/or his journalism on the air and in print via Dublin has kept him in the media spotlight. More about his book can be found via the publisher: "Seven Towers". The image of Carr's from a video of his reading a selection from the collection, at "Eamon Carr@Balcony TV.ie"