Monday, August 17, 2015

Shame A Sidhe Nee Note

'I credit poetry for making this space-walk possible. I credit it immediately because of a line I wrote fairly recently recently  (1995) instructing myself (and whoever else might be listening) to' -


What's the story? The message? What are we being encouraged to do by Seamus Heaney as people who might be listening?

From the response of the local and global Heaney audiences, there is an emerging consensus affirming what Heaney hinted it meant in his Nobel acceptance speech, shortly after he'd first written the poem, The Gravel Walk, which appears half-way thru his first post Nobel collection, The Spirit Level, in which the line's earliest poetic context appears.

Enact the line above as a living person. 

Or as Heaney said himself in a 2008 interview: 'I began to look up rather than keep down. I think it had to do with a sense that the marvellous was as permissible as the matter-of-fact in poetry.'

Certainly Historian Eugene Kielt who runs Heaney tours, gets it right, when he opines that it is 'very inspirational. It is about going for it. We are naturally cautious and sometimes someone should throw caution to the wind.'

Kielt continues, that though some charge of this advice is about 'keeping your feet on the ground', it's  about 'looking up as well. It is (primarily) about risk taking and not being inhibited, losing your inhibitions.'

If Heaney chose this epitaph himself, as Yeats did his own, the Heaney family can rest assured that there's at least one from the vigorous throng of poets on Britain and Ireland following in the wake of this Ard Ollamh - with a forty year presence at the very top of world poetry - with nothing but what Heaney calls, the 'professional love' a wordsmith has for their Muse.

Held in such internationally high regard because he had learned as authentically as any filidh taught on the curriculum that turned out forty generations of Irish rhymers from the fifth to the seventeenth century.

I was never introduced to Ireland's last Ard Ollamh during this past decade I've been  in Dublin. And incertus oneself I was far too timid and shy to approach and introduce myself to him.

Not least because Heaney was the only poet I was consciously aware of, that, in my own mind at least - had the power to personally make or break my belief in the veracity of what I was up to at that stage starting out on the road of literary learning and letters; barely a foclo or macfirmid - 'word-weaving beginner', and 'son of composition'

I was happy and feel blessed to have just been in the same room as him a number of times, observing and learning from the best (then) living poet in the world on his home turf, just another of the many wannabe filidh in an ultra-competitive throng at Tara seeking affirmation, validation, and favour from a high king-poet and linguistic leader of the homeland and himself alone first.

Then his family, and people that flocked from all over the globe to watch and learn from this once living container of pure human positivity and spiritual voice that had earned a right to walk rhyming on air, and talking with the ultimate authority on the poetic act and art, not because of who he stood next to, or who was socially drawn to him, but by being the best at what he did. Filíocht.

I was blessed by poetry, fate and dán (that in its most antique and authentic context means 'fate' as well as 'poem', 'poetry' and 'art') - to witness in Dublin Heaney speaking both poetry and prose, on five or six occasions.

On one occasion, four months after I'd first arrived, in the thick of the Kavanagh 2004 centenary; during a St Patricks College, Drumcondra, Seamus Heaney Series, of six lectures, on child cognitive abilities, the week following his own on Kavanagh, that I also attended; I looked up from the note-taking I'd been writing and there was Heaney's back, directly in front of me, sitting down watching and listening to the same lecture.

I realised it was him close to the end of the lecture. Note-taking thru most of it, it had gradually, over a final minute or two, dawned on me, as I intermittently looked up and caught glimpses of the profile of this senior stout person's head turning occasionally slightly to the right, then left - that the best poet in the world had chosen to sit right in front of me.

He had came in and sat down after me, and, no doubt observed before he did, me writing in my own private circle of studious concentration, oblivious to his presence. Unlike, one suspects, most other socially preening and posturing scribes and would-be poets of Ireland in the room that night.

As I already mentioned, on arriving in 2004 it was Kavanagh's hundredth birthday, and everyone in Dublin was on the Kavanagh centenary bandwagon. Somewhat ironically he had become an establishment icon, long after his life was over. When he was living the official Irish literary establishment didn't give him the time of day, but now he was safely dead silence his life and work was being culturally appropriated and celebrated by all.

During that summer, a new poet-pal I'd just made from Write and Recite, a weekly poetry open-mic that happened in Dublin from 2004-8, PJ Brady, was in the twentieth year of doing his one-man play in which he plays the role of Patrick Kavanagh, and I had volunteered to put up a couple of posters from his ten or so full-size glossy-poster stash, in as prominent and relevant places as I could think of.

To this end of putting up posters I opted to attend two events back to back. One was a Kavanagh manuscript exhibition at the National Library, and the other was the Royal College of Surgeons launch of Peter Fallon's translation of Virgil's Georgics, published by his own imprint, The Gallery Press; with fellow Gallery Press poet Seamus Heaney introducing his publisher's translation of the Latin bard.

These, I thought, were two perfect places to catch the eye of Dublin's poetry buffs. The Kavanagh manuscript launch was on Kildare Street at six-thirty pm, and Fallon at seven, five minutes walk away in the College of Surgeons on Stephens Green.

I arrived at the National Library and asked please was it OK to put a poster up; and the security man said, no problem. After I put one up it occurred to me to ask the person doing the introduction of a main speaker, if they would mention PJ's show. I ended up talking to a third-in-charge person, who came up with a classic reason for not mentioning Brady's one man Patrick Kavanagh show in which he spoke the Enniskeen poets prose and verse, that sums up the inherent natural comedy of Irish literary life.

"I don't think it would be appropriate in the circumstances."

I could not help but instinctively and inwardly chuckle to myself, silently responding what circumstances are they?

A Kavanagh event, Ireland's premier Kavanagh actor in a limited run of this world-class Kavanagh show, performing the Monaghan man's own prose and poems on stage. Surely the circumstances couldn't be more apt and appropriate?

However, being new to Dublin, enthralled with the place and in the mist on blind poetic instinct, I moved on buoyed by this briefly comedic creative episode; to Peter Fallon's launch, playing it by ear.

Arriving there I decided to ditch requesting a shout-out for The Heart Laid Bare, and to just put the poster up by a wine and cheese area of the ballroom where the culturally valued faces of the great and seriously good of Irish poetry (that I did not recognise) were broadcasting their price (lóg n-enech) mingling post-book-launch that had just occurred in the main raked, four/five tiered college of surgeons lecture theatre .

The ballroom has an imposing high-vaulted space with an intricately decorated ceiling adorned with expensive oak and plaster friezes, and fading oil portraits of various Augustine personages hung staring out on the walls; but the nearest sash window had been faced with interior double-glazing, making a superlative flat surface for adhering the poster to.

After the National Library experience I thought it best to cover all possible bases, and so requested and received permission from a security man at the main downstairs desk to put it up. So, after the launch, as a crowd tinkled in civilised talk and chatter, I went over to a glass window by the wine and cheese table to put the poster up; and half way through doing so a man who I'd watched introduce Heaney at the start of the event in the main lecture hall, came over in a vaguely agitated and disgruntled social state, and we had the following exchange:

"You can't put that up here."

It's OK, I got permission to put it up.

"What (somewhat disbelievingly), from security ?"


"Well, erm they probably think you're with us. You'll have to take it down."

By this time I was inwardly chuckling again, as he was clearly highly-charged, one assumed because of the high profile nature of the event, so I said no problem, and slowly began to un-sellotape the two-third affixed poster; when the most comical thing happened. Your man physically interjected and said:

"Here, let me help you."

And just at this point seeming as if he was about to tear it away like an angry executive snatching a latte from a facetious office boy, he realised his behaviour was drawing attention in the large public space away from the main cynosure of poetic gravity and focus, and onto us. He blushed brightly before turning on his heels and then shuffled off to fulfill a role of exchanging poetry-related pleasantries as the chief-smiler, hand-shaker, and director of official poetry chit-chat with those present.

He had inadvertently drawn attention and free publicity to the poster at the event than one had envisaged or hoped for, as the all-seeing collective Dublin eyes in the room noted from their corners, no doubt, who the then Director of Poetry Ireland / Éigse Éireann, that I later learned was the Louth poet, Joe Woods, had been having a frisson of socially combative exchange with.

At the wine and cheese do's of official poetry in Ireland, any stray scrap of true or fictional gossip, is big news, no matter how slight, so one felt somewhat pleased with my efforts. I'd not gone out to create a fuss, but still, in one's own mind if nobody else's; a spontaneously brief notice of my voluntary culture doings had occurred, that, I decided, could not have been better scripted.

I had been to my first Dublin literary establishment events, back to back, and all in all a good evening's voluntary work had come of it.

I then spotted a mobile notice-board just outside the sumptuous ballroom and decided to put the poster on there.

When I had slowly and methodically done so I turned round and was immediately met, ten feet away, by the eyes of Fallon and Heaney; who were having a one-on-one time-out from the bustle of the ballroom, sitting on two chairs to the side at the top of the sweeping marble staircase, alone, saying nothing and staring directly at me.

And with no sign of acknowledgement from them of me beyond a stare, caught unawares, not realising they were there, sheepishly I  raised my eyebrows and moved off lips clamped in a facial gesture of one in surprise spotted by this duo from the ollúna at their most authentic and natural in their own golden circle of imaginative and playful child-like artistic concentration.

Filled with emotional and intellectual positivity at the perceived success of my creative mission, smiling in joyful surprise; I vacated the building with a spring in my step, welling with imbhas and deciding that a perfect first impression in the golden poetry circle had been made.

At the height of this collective delusional spell of Celtic Tiger madness; that I believe (tho it's very unpopular and unpatriotic to utter any disagreement with the magical doctrine that the bubble is going to expand and last forever) - will spectacularly crash. I am certain of it."

contd@ Jan Manzwotz Blog, created four years after starting to write, at the start of one person's journey thru the thickets of the English language in Dublin. Created as an unconscious and instinctual part of a Finn McCool find ye name process forty generations of Irish rhymers were taught, yohl.
A metaphorical bardic poetry lesson from s/he that learns to love in letters a long route - from the curriculum's core reading material, found hitting ye head over and over again with it, until the contents of what a fíli poet had to learn, sunk in. From the pages of the unimprovable original druidic apparatus ye still have at the educational centre of ye poetic manual and practice in contemporary Ireland: Auraicept na n-Éces.