Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Anne Marie Kennedy Review of Salmon Book, Session.

Pete Mullineaux's insightful look at traditional Irish music.  A Poet Prepared. 


The Bristol born, Galway based poet, author and playwright Pete Mullineaux knows his way confidently around traditional Irish music. His poetry collection, Session, (Salmon Poetry), dedicated to his mother, with artwork by Fran McCann, is guaranteed to leave his readers wanting more.

The poetry, like the regional variations in the music, varies in style and tone, the common link being the poet’s voice as a silent observer. Mullineaux uses evocative images, insightful observation, humour, playfulness and nostalgia. He is a scrutiniser of intricacies, a watchful eye, someone who listens to the tunes and observes the people who play them. The reader sees the players’ eyes, fingers, their bodies, the body language and the resulting inter-personal and inter-musical relationships being formed. Mullineaux also explores the emotions and psychologies of his subjects with curiosity and admiration.   

One of this writer’s favourites is A Piper Prepares, where the speaker intimately describes the uileann piper’s preamble. It is a tantalisingly visual poem with so much anticipation in the opening lines that the reader hopes the preamble goes on: It’s almost like shooting up; a captivating ritual / as the belt is looped around the forearm; the buckle/ notched, blowpipe joined to leather bag; a shard/ of cloth, folded between elbow and rib for comfort.

Mullineaux has the speaker in this poem watch the piper assemble the instrument and describe it in slow motion detail. ‘Drones are attached like pistol silencers, regulators poised,’ and while acknowledging the tune of the same name, ‘the piper’s apron,’ he remarks on the leather patch across the lap which provides ‘protection from the crazed jabs of the chanter, / its manic hypodermic dance.’ As the tune begins, ‘a primal hum vibrates,’ and ‘a gasp/ for air as the bellows fill and suddenly there’s life/ in the lungs and wind in the reeds...’

‘The Five Mile Chase,’ is a tribute to Patrick Street. Traditional musicians Andy Irvine, John Carty, Kevin Burke and Jed Foley have their individual stage movements noted and matched to rhythm, playing styles and character nuances. ‘A tilt of the chin for the pigeon on the gate/ a bend in the waist for the stack of wheat/ a wink in the eye for the blue eyed rascal/ a slip in the hip for a trip up the stairs.’ It’s a twelve line piece that could be sung in jig time. Hup! 

Mullineaux uses a coupling motif throughout the collection. In ‘The Lads of Leitrim,’ an accordion and a flute player meet up regularly to play a session in a snug in Manorhamilton. The poet compares their ease and joy in the music to a long standing marriage. ‘Could there be a love closer to their hearts/ than this – something to cherish for a lifetime -/ never to part, for better or worse/ in sickness and in health.’ As they launch into the Fermoy Lasses, he declares ‘these fellas are wedded to the music.’

Another couple, Paddy Canny and Frankie Gavin, have their musical communion told with slow lyrical ease in ‘Cave Music II.’ Canny, ‘the elder statesman has eyelids drawn / tight like a mole,’ while the younger Frankie, ‘allows the older man the lead, follows the set tone/ finding his own empathetic touch.’ 

Mullineaux provides the snapshot, watching the young Gavin who could have closed his eyes, but chose not to. Gavin, who was ‘a generation apart’ at the time, kept watch of the older man, ‘aware how much this moment must be fixed, / treasured deep in his own vaults.’ 

Watching Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke’s playing compelled the poet to write ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.’ Byrne’s accordion sits ‘like a sleeping child in his lap,’ and Blancke ‘leans forward, the harp/against her cheek, listening/ for a heartbeat...’ The poem moves swiftly from the womb analogy, to a child one, when Byrne ‘tickles and squeezes’ the accordion, and like an infant, growing with the pace and momentum of the tune, together, the duo, ‘fast forward, to courtship, / dancing, making crazy love / through music.’ 

This aptly titled collection, Session, by Pete Mullineaux is a gem. Encore, si’l vous plait? It is available from, bookshops and music stores.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hugh Cooney's Edinburgh Fringe Adventure

Ballymore Eustace's Hugh Cooney was in Edinburgh last weekend, after enacting something creatively mad in a positive sense; and a brilliantly executed piece of living performance art and storytelling - whilst having an ace time doing it.

A former festival virgin on his inaugural Edinburgh Fringe or Bust performance storytelling art tour. 

He hitchhiked from London to Edinburgh, over two days, with the live tracking of him by an online app; a diary of tweets, pics of the random folk that picked him up, and fb update-selfies by the side of the road with his thumb and a sign held out. Keeping his family, fans, followers and s/m friends abreast, engaged and emotionally involved in his (pron. kookullanary) Cuchualainary (copyright John Cummins Poetician) Cooney baloonae adventure hitchhiking from home in inner city Hackney, to the good crazee cultural stuff that is Edinburgh in the middle of August.

All with the goal of reaching his 5pm Saturday slot at the Forest Cafe. He was slow getting out of London, and having lived there I know this was potentially the most difficult bit. Escaping the rat race. He had several short lifts up the M1, and had to turn back and go a different route the first night. On which he stayed in a country house retreat someplace in the midlands. He then went NW and made it to Manchester, then fairly swiftly the rest of the way once in the friendlier North of England. 

Conducting national live radio conversations with the cream of professional Irish broadcast journalists and DJs manning the decks in Ireland, keen to give what the Irish call a dig out, for such a great and positive creative idea reliant solely on wishes and a prayer. Faith in the better and best human side of the sixty million people living in Britain. 

Like the comedian Tony Hawks was reliant on when he hitchhiked lumping a fridge round Ireland after losing out on a drunken bet, that turned into the basis of an experience from which came a best selling book and film.

A beautifully kind-hearted motorist adopted Hugh for a final big stretch of driving, only too happy to buy into his ever increasingly more real, and manifesting before our very eyes, mad Irish dream coming true on the road between London and the global Scottish thespian festival.

And there was lots of love and good vibes by the time he reached his destination (Hugh pictured above doing the gig), with a few hours to spare to get ready and experience one of the four human joys, of what Amergin calls in his 120 line 7C Old Irish ars poetica, first translated by Galway University academic P.L. Henry in 1979 - and over twice as long as his other three poems (numbered seven, eight and nine at the link) far less interesting, imo, or understandable, rosc, druidic ogham-derived battle magic spells that Paul Muldoon can spend an hour or two cock a doodle doing about: 'the Joy of fitting poetic completion'.

That comes with a 'turning or after turning' of one's three inner artistic cauldrons and interlocking spiral gyres, so that they spin upward with momentum of imbas, poetic fizz, literary energy, and facilitation of the open channel to Creation and one's ineffable
gender-neutral mind's voice, mapping the individual voice closest to the contours of thought, as Newcastle West Limerick poet, Michael Hartnett, put it. 

Cooney on his Blog puts it:
'Like one of the Seanchaí/Storytellers of old, equipped with only my stories (and of course some clothing, cash, sandwiches, voice recorder, shillelagh, go pro, wine skin and a phone). i’m approaching it very much as a pilgrimage to see what the buzz is. Should anyone want to hear my stories, perhaps I can tell them down an appropriate lane or in the bushes in the park. Or perhaps you know a suitable situation that would welcome such a vagabond?'

He made it, had a great debut gig in Edinburgh, and is now in the woods with a man he has just met. Dogging, by the looks of it. Hugh has a very satisfied quietly joyful inner glow to his fresh and kewlest of all the NCAD hipster-faces in Dublin during the time we made art together over the years. Firstly when I met Hugh, and his Dublin based art-partner, fine artist Tom Lynn. 

Lynn, created, with fellow Irish artist, Al Kennington; the Monster Truck Art Gallery on Francis Street in the Liberties, Dublin 8. The oldest most working-class part of South Dublin. 

And it was the Monster Truck Art gallery where i encountered these two who created the poet in residence position i held there for several months. Both recent graduates, who'd graduated the same or a year before i had from Edge Hill.

Hugh is one of the made-members of the island's most successful and highly secretive Irish art mafia. Hugh makes contemporary Art in numerous forms. Including food, music, and, what he is best known for, the crazee comedic performance art youtube comedies he scripts, performs, records, uploads, and then come, fall, show sit, sues reads the evidence, prosecutes, and often in drag, with a cast of characters drawn from the entertaining and artistically rendered phantasmagoria of his mind.

Desmond Swords

Friday, July 17, 2015

Three of Amergin's four poems explained.

In the mythological history of Ireland, Amergin, from Amhairghin - which Ireland's most prolific Irish language poet, Gabriel Rosenstock, in his book, Beginner's Irish, defines as: 'born of song' - is the druid poet of the seventh and final otherworldly race of people that took possession of the island. The Milesians, or Sons of Mil Espaine. He is the last of the otherworldly poets of ancient myth and considered the founding poet of the modern day Gaels.

The annals accord to Amergin's voice, 172 lines of poetry, spread over four texts.

His most well known of these lines is a twenty line riddling poem and 7C text written in the drudic form of 'rosc', Song of Amergin/Duan Amhairghine.

It is considered to be the oldest and first poem written in Ireland, and the one Amergin text of the four that Irish poets know of and give themselves license to sound lala about when responding to.

Aul Plumdoon Paul Muldoon himself spends an entire Oxford Poetry Professor lecture allusively punning on it in a speculative experimental discourse, that, if any of us had written and published on social media, it would, perhaps, as recently happened to me, have garnered what Amergin calls in a different, and longest of the four texts: 'the abundance of goading one receives when they take up the prosperity of bardcraft.'

The coming of the Milesians is dated in the the early 17C Annals of the Four Masters, as 1286/7 BC.

And in 1700 BC, in Seathrún Céitinn/Geoffrey Keating's: Foras Feasa ar Éirinn/Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland; more usually translated History of Ireland.

Whilst the 17C Galway noble Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh/Roderic O'Flaherty, in his own history of Ireland, puts the date at 1000 BC.

In the pseudohistorical High Kings list of Ireland, believed to be a construct of the eighth century AD; the first Milesian king comes after eight Fir Bolg, and seven Tuatha De Danann high kings.


As already stated, the annals accord to this mythical figure, Amergin, 172 lines of poetry spread over four texts.

Three of the texts (poems 7, 8 & 9 at the link) are virtually impenetrable riddling poems of the most metrically ancient 'rosc' variety. Old alliterative druidic blessing and battle-magic spells written in the most archaic 3-/5C Goidelic text, originating in the very first Irish letters, Ogham. A singularly interesting two to three hundred year reality that represents the transition period from oral druidry to literate bardic Old Irish letters of the 5C.

In the Medieval prose narratives these are the most metrically ancient alliterative verses, that are set apart from the prose, punctuating it as direct speech from the mythological poets' mouths. And signifying by the verse that what is being spoken is the most profoundly antique and eloquent words, that come out from the mouths of the numerous poet-characters, as spontaneously spoken poems - at the most significant parts of the tales they appear in.

Of which we have one hundred and ninety-eight remaining primary tales, of the 250 prim-scéla 'primary tales' we know where the number taught, and learned by rote and heart, and that made up a very large part of the Gaelic poet's education, on the seven step, twelve to fourteen year, bardic filidh poet-training curriculum.

When metrical poems are recorded directly from the mouths of the character, they are usually serving the purpose of changing the narrative entirely by means of spoken magic.

However, the fourth of Amergin's four pieces, appears in the Trinity College Dublin manuscript 1337 (formerly H 3.18); and though it is untitled, it is the most important, by far, imo, of the four texts traditionally attributed to the founding poet of the Gaels. And it is a very different, far less densely riddled poetic text.

That the student poet at grade one, foclo, was, I suspect, introduced to during their first Halloween to May Day semester, in the poet-training schools, that taught the art and trade of fíliocht / poetry - in one form or another (fíliocht originated in druidry, then evolved into literate bardic, before filidh 'poets' practice) - for twelve hundred years; to forty generations of poets.

The untitled text (link to Eryn Rowan Laurie's most recent scholarly translation.), that has no title, I suspect, because it didn't need one, as everyone knew it; is a mixture of short alliterative-lines of rosc, and longer lines of hybrid prose-poetry. It spells out in black and white the earliest verbal druidic ars poetica. The purest bardic voice on record, telling the reader exactly what poetry is, and how it works in a person, 'body and soul'.

It is an extremely fascinating document that very few readers, and even less poets, are aware exists. Because it was only first translated in 1979, by the late (2011) Professor Emeritus, N.U.I. Galway, Patrick L. Henry.

Who birthed it into English as the subject of a specialist scholarly article in Studia Celtica #14/15, 1979/1980, pp. 114-128, 'The Cauldron of Poesy'.

The second translation was by co-editor of the annual Royal Irish Academy journal Ériu, and Ireland's preeminent Old Irish expert on Early Irish law texts, poets, poetry and metrics; School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Professor Liam Breathnach.'The Cauldron of Poesy,' Ériu #32, 1981, pp. 45-93.

In my opinion this ancient rosc and prose-poem text is a/the holy grail of (Irish) poetry. Clearly detailing the most brilliantly simple yet also most authentic and most ancient poetic we have with which to understand what it is we are doing in letters. That only a handful of people have ever read.


Amergin's first (and his most famous) poem, Song of Amergin, is commonly accepted as the earliest Irish poem ever written, in the 6/7C AD.

It is twenty lines, that in the tale it appears in, The Coming of the Miliseans, Amergin spontaneously recites as he steps off - with his eight brothers and a large group of warriors - one of the thirty-six Milesian ships that arrived and set anchor in Kerry, at the mouth of the Kenmare river, around Beltaine/The first of May.

We're told, in an eleventh century Clonmacnoise annal, Chronicon Scotorum: 'On Thursday, the Kalends of May, on the l7th of the Moon'; 'the Year of the World 3500'.

There to face-off with the Tuatha De Danann, for killing their uncle, Ith, whose death at the hands of the De Danann occured after he'd spied the island with Mil his brother, from the Bregon tower in Northern Spain, and had gone to the island on a reconnaissance mission with a handful of relatives and retainers. Ith's enthusiasm for what he found on the island concerned the De Danann as a threat to their own possession of it and so they killed him rather then let him leave and possibly come back with an invasion force.

The Tuatha De Danann had been in possession of the island for three hundred years, after seizing it themselves in the two Battles of Moytura/Magh Tuireadh, 'plain of pillars'. Keating dating their arrival to 1477 BC, and the Four Masters dating it 1897 BC.

The First battle of Moytura was in Cong, Mayo, when they defeated the Fir Bolg, and the Second Battle of Moytura was by Lough Arrow, in Sligo, when the Formorians were vanquished.


The act of speaking this ancient alliterative riddling poem, Song of Amergin, that there's is no agreed set translated text of (tho there are numerous translated versions by various Celticists and poets) is traditionally interpreted as 'born of song', Amergin himself, as he steps ashore, claiming and taking possession of the island for this seventh and final mythological race.

That forty generations of poets traced their own existence to and wrote of for 1200 years in their own literate vernacular language.

And immediately after Amergin speaks aloud his most famous Song, our mythical druid then spontaneously recites the second of the texts attributed to him.

A short eleven line poem-blessing titled, Bríocht Baile Fharraige/Bounty of the Ocean (poem number nine at the link.).

After this blessing poem the eight Milisean brothers and their forces wade ashore. Where they briefly skirmish with Tuatha De Danann forces in the Slieve Mish mountains as they make their way to Tara.

At which point in the narrative they parlay with the De Danann chiefs, and with Amergin the mediator-poet negotiating between the two sides a battle plan is agreed by both the mythological races. The events at which become the next part in the tale, The Coming of the Milesians.

It is agreed that the Milesians will return from the middle of the island to their ships, and set sail over nine waves out. Then, if they can make it back ashore, the island is there's to fight the Tuatha De Danann for the possession of. 

However, a trick up their sleeves, the De Danann druids magically speak some roscanna (rosc pl.) to conjure up a storm that sinks five of the Milisean ships; that triggers the third of Amergin's texts, a twenty-one alliteratively lined rosc poem titled, Invocation of Ireland (Professor Eoin MacNeill's 1922 translation), that is spoken as the druidic counter-spell spontaneously recited by Amergin onboard one of the surviving three ships the storm does not sink. And that beats the magic of the De Danann druids and quells the storm.

The three surviving brothers; Amergin, Eber and Eremon, make it ashore and then take the island when they beat the Tuatha in battle three days later, in the Battle of Tailtin, modern day Teltown between Navan and Kells in Meath.

After which Amergin, in his mediator-poet-judge-druid role, divides the island between his two surviving brothers, Eremon taking the North and Eber the South.

There's a dedicatory poem written by Padraic Colum, which prefaces one of his editorial masterworks, Anthology of Irish Verse (1922), that recounts this incident.

To George Sigerson, Poet and Scholar

Two men of art, they say, were with the sons   
Of Milé,—a poet and a harp player,   
When Milé, having taken Ireland, left   
The land to his sons’ rule; the poet was   
Cir, and fair Cendfind was the harp player.          

The sons of Milé for the kingship fought—   
(Blithely, with merry sounds, the old poem says)   
Eber and Eremon, the sons of Milé   
And when division of the land was made   
They drew a lot for the two men of art.           

With Eber who had won the Northern half   
The Harper Cendfind went, and with Eremon   
The Northerner, Cir the poet stayed;   
And so, the old Book of the Conquests says,   
The South has music and the North has lore.           

To you who are both of the North and South,   
To you who have the music and the lore,   
To you in whom Cir and Cendfind are met,   
To you I bring the tale of poetry   
Left by the sons of Eber and of Eremon.           

  A leabhráin, gabh amach fá’n saoghal,   
  Is do gach n-aon dá mbuaileann leat   
  Aithris cruinn go maireann Gaedhil,   
  T’réis cleasa claon nan Gall ar fad.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mel Bradley poem, The God of my World.

Originally a comment on Derry poet Mel Bradley's facebook.

Lovely poem there, Mel.

There was an interesting article in 2008 by a New York rabbi and Torah bible scholar, Mark Sameth, who spent 20 years study on the appearance of the Tetragrammaton in the Torah. The Hebrew theonym יהוה, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH, most commonly pronounced as Yahweh and Jehovah. Strict conservative Jewish traditionalists 'avoid reading it as יהוה exactly as it is spelled, either aloud or to themselves in silence, nor do they read aloud transliterated English forms such as Jehovah or Yahweh.

Instead the word and pronunciation is replaced with a different term, whether used to address or to refer to the God of Israel. Commonly substituted Hebrew forms are: hakadosh baruch hu “The Blessed Holy One” or Adonai “The Lord” or Hashem “The Name”. Such terms are believed to equally refer to the same as One as יהוה or Jehovah, in much the same way that the English terms “God”, “LORD” or the “Creator” are used to refer to the God of Israel.' (wiki)

There is no agreement on the etymological root of the Tetragrammaton, tho there's a school of thought that it comes from a triconsonantal root היה (h-y-h), a verb meaning "to be", "exist", "become", or "come to pass".

Sameth's own conclusion of his twenty year textual investigation appears in an article in the summer 2008 issue of the CCAR Journal, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, an association of Reform rabbis: "Who is He? He is She: The Secret Four-Letter Name of God"

He theorises that a basic druidic ogham trick is behind cracking this literate mystery, because when the Tetragrammaton is read in reverse and the four letters are flipped, the sounds become, he says, the Hebrew words for "he" and "she." So, God, is not He, Lord, etc, but He/She.

When I read Sameth's conclusion of a life long study into God, i independently had come to the same conclusion, by a different route of study. I'd been four years post-graduate, independently studying the voluminous mass of textual material that made up the bardic filidh poet-training curriculum; all in Irish, and relying on English translations, that only since the turn of the 21C it's been possible to access, all virtually. The source material i was reading, all in Irish manuscript; was pointing to the exact same thing. That God is a gender-neutral spirit, and within us all as our disembodied mind and intelligence, that in everyone, regardless of our gender, is the wholly spiritual s/he Sameth theorises he found in the Torah.

That is hidden and visible only to initiates with knowledge of a druidic trick taught to forty generations of poets in Ireland, as the very founding concept of their trade. And that they were introduced to as a newly arrived grade/level one trainee-poet, foclo (word-weaving beginner) - starting their first Samhain to Beltaine semester in the singing schools of yore. With a further six grades to go on the twelve to fourteen years of study ahead of them, before they graduated, at the seventh and final ollamh grade, and took their place as a Doctor of Poetry in the Gaelic literary tradition. (5-17C).

Robert Graves also concluded after a lifetime of deep study of Myth, and writing hundreds of books, that what he calls the 'unimprovable original' Stone Age poetic was gender-neutral. And it was only with the Greek Iron Age Appollonian falsifying of the previous more Maternal s/he religion, that all the 'God is solely male' nonsense took hold, and really made its mark with the spread of the Roman empire. Because it was grafted and forced onto the stable and peaceable s/he religion, that was a couple of thousand years old when the Mediterranean Levant civilisations began seven centuries of mass implosion and collapse, after the Minoan eruption of the island of Thera, (now called Santorini) around 1500 BC. The new deathly man-cult spread by the new Iron technology, that represented a scientific quantum leap at the time.

The new Man is God religion was spread in much the same way the deluded murderous morons of Daesh are doing now. 'Bow down and devote every waking second of your life to what our He god commands you do in life, that is the one God, or it is His will you be horrifically tortured and murdered as a non-believer, by His earthly good guys' engaged in all the genocide and proselytizing about this wholly bullshit Male God and Creator. All for the purpose of legitimizing as being divinely approved of, their acts of pedophilia, mass-murder, rape, torture and terror that is the Male death cult. What Graves calls intellectual homosexuality. The elevation and worshiping of a solely Male deity as Creator of the real world and all us men and women in it. Yeah, right.

Desmond Swords 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Cuchulainary Music of Gamblers' Bodies

Learned a poem that will carry its own weight
through the use of its quatrains and stanzas,

on its own feet speak and stand in spoken song,
upon a stave of the Creator's making stage

a strophe of inventively voiced syllables that speak
the contract from lip to ear, in a mouth binding

oaths that pledge this demi-realm of spirit,
slate green sea, by the music of what happens

in its own paradise & mind-blue mystery,
to the oneness that and this, that and this, that

& this, that literate on the pages of our memory is.

An absent anarchic body of light, blind presence,
attentive ear, the eye of tradition and lore

one must listen to and learn the fundamental
tenets of before claiming in canto, section

and rann, movements from cosmic to singular
and back again 'be the branches of genealogy

off-spring are born from, extending to summon
the living'
, in the same line of spoken psalm

carry weight by sound alone; and be not bold,

slapdash, timorous, or touchy, brought not
to ruin by low drunken tricks; but the law-abiding

hand-of-mind form, imbhas forosnai, spontaneous
manifestation of knowledge in a poem carrying

its own weight; created slant, spun & set airborne
by the power of prayerful wings; alone within

and without us - 'taken from the mysteries
of the elemental abyss.'

Desmond Swords


Cuchulainary is an adjective coined by All Ireland Slam Champion 2013/4, Dublin Coolock poet, John Cummins.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Killer Queen of Gamanraige

Killer-queen of Gamanraige, Maeve of Connacht, scored
her ancient song on pages time forgot, in life long ago

going back to begin at a coast of psychopomp sea-gods
whose tide of beauty is read beneath waves breaking

on a sham-rocked shore of island invention sung of since
the pre-Jesus era to a flight of Earls from Lough Swilley.

Goidelic Finn McCool: more apt to give than deny
the spear run wet through many a man, who fought

but hours amid years of hunting in woods, the final chief
fenian whose hair turned white prematurely.

Sreng. Beautiful to behold, harsh and inhospitable
Connacht Fir Bolg, who slew on the Plain of Pillars.

Nuada his foe at the first Battle of Moytura.

Bres; cruel son of Formorian prince Elathra
and De Dannan princess Eriu, spared at Lough

Arrow in the second by the king of light Lugh:
valiant and ruthless, crazed like a Norse-berserker

frenzied on bog-myrtle: silent in Fort Navan's

cast-list of kings on the island of myth, with women
behind a Wall of Three Whispers at Tara,

and Uisnech where Bridgit's first fire was lit.
A Cunning crafstwoman dyed in permanent overlap

between two worlds, who voiced the Uliad, wrought
a queen's acorn crop of severed heads to fiction

with he of two names in the Hall of Heroes
at the court of king Conchobar mac Nessa:

I care only that my doings live as myth
when I'm gone, not if die tomorrow or next year.


Culann's Hound; whose martial-art training ceased
in a friendship of thighs at the Fort of Shadows

on the isle of Skye, and was unwilling as O'Higgins
at O'Connors wedding, to kill the close companion,

pass sentence by one deft stroke in a single bout
of printed combat, alive in the ancient memory

of Ardee, where son of a dog slew foster-brother
Fediad, with a bellow-notched belly-darted Gáe Bulg

thigh-friend Scáthach gifted. A light-spear thrown
solely in combat at river fords; it's barbarous tip

cast from the foot like a javelin, was removed
by filleting Fediad's body apart; and slew all but

Lugaid mac Tri Con - Son of Three Hounds,

Dear Cúhulainn


You lived the well ordered life with a chariot driver
and barley fed horses to war with, until the implement

predicted to kill a king did, and prophesy proved true
as your bowels spilled out on a cushion in the vehicle.

King Cú Roí's death avenged by son Lugaid. His father,
part of a roaming band of warrior bards who raided

spoil and slaves from the Isle of Man - stole Blathnat -
who loved you - of course - on first sight; your hero-halo

out-sparking the rival, who took her for part of his booty,
but she betrayed him to you, who said to the satirist:

Tie grace to wrath

Cúhulainn, now tied to a pillar of stone to die standing up.


Desmond Swords
2007, unpublished poem from an unpublished collection.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Freinds 101: Michael Hartnett & Paul Durcan.

Looking forward to A Rebel Act: Poems That Shaped The Nation, on RTÉ tonite. 

The title comes from Pat Walsh's biographical book published by Mercier press: A Rebel Act: Michael Hartnett's Farewell to English.


I stumbled across a small compact online collection of Limerick, Newcastle West, poet Michael Hartnett's utterances and quotes. And a very memorable one jumped out at me. Hartnett wrote that the authentic genuine voice of the writer is when it is recording and speaking at its most successful and superlatively in print on the page mapping the most accurately and closest to thought the poetic contours of a writer's own individual mind. This is the most natural pattern and process cerebral activity can literately make. Making the voice distinct, its own and no other's.

Into which category Hartnett's falls, it is generally agreed by those in the know and the ollúna that would exist, if would-be verse-smiths today were encouraged, and led by example, to look for challenging interactive poetic inspiration in, for example, making an effort at engagement with the one-hundred and twenty line title-less 7C Old Irish ars poetica and founding critical text of the Gaelic literary tradition. What's striking about it is the gender-neutrality poetic at its core. A 50/50 s/he text of brilliant druidic simplicity detailing the authentic ars poetica of the bardic/filidh poetry tradition.

The one text that eluded Robert Graves all his life. A handy how-to guide unlocking 'the language of true poetry — 'true' in the nostalgic modern sense of 'the unimprovable original, not a synthetic substitute'; written in a mix of ancient iarni-bérla ('iron speech') prose; and rosc (pl. roscanna), an almost impenetrable druidic earliest Old Irish verse-form. Found in the 14C Book of Ballymote, and translated into English in only 1979, by the world's preeminent Old Irish language expert, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies Professor, and Ériu Editor, Liam Breathnach. 

Introduced to the newly arriving word-weaving beginner and grade one foclóc turning up at Samhain to begin the first six-month semester of a dozen semester course that would turn them out a Doctor of Poetry, six attainments, grades, levels, and qualifying hurdles later; on the twelve year bardic syllabus of yore and reality. Not the mythical wafty bardic Game of Thrones one we can all make up in varying shades and degrees of creative competently comedic BS. 

And returning to their tuatha, tribe and clans back home in their local kingdoms at the first call of the cuckoo, heard in the poetry schools breaking up at Beltaine, when the students went home for the light half of the year, on May Day. And then at the beginning of autumn they returned to learning and began their next semester at Bard School; spending the dark half of the druidic year studying filíocht; the craft and art of word-knowledge and poetry. 

Continuing the long qualifying process, taking on voluminous amounts of information by catechistic rote repetition; spoken out loud in front of a higher qualified poet taking the class; or, as the ecclesiastical Edmund Campion noted in 1571, students at singing school sang out their lessons piecemeal using a technique called 'cronan' or crooning. From which the modern understanding originates, I think.

And returning every Halloween. A second year MacFirmid ('son of composition'), third year Dos (bush/tree-shelterer), fourth Cano ('whelp'/dog), fifth Clí ('ridgepole'), sixth year Anruth ('great/noble stream'), and Doctor of Poetry 'ollamh'; after a final five year stretch spent sensing the spiritual poetic form imbhas forosnai ('imbas', great knowledge, poetic talent, inspiration; 'forosnai', that illuminates); along with its two mantic sub-divisions tenm laida and dichetal di chennaib, translated by German Celtisist Kuno Meyer and quoted by noted Medievalist and Lancastrian Celtic Scholar Nora Chadwick, in the definitive paper on Imbas Forosnai in Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol 4, part 2, pp. 97-135, Oxford University Press (1935); as 'illumination of song,' and 'extempore incantation' respectively.

Practical literary techniques that construct a system of self-supported learning 'on, under, out of, through, past them. These are the staves of words with the poet'; we learn from the genuine poetry Scholar's Primer, Auraicept na n-Éces, core material of the bardic syllabus first translated in 1917; by just banging the head against it repeatedly getting nowhere and a slow twelve year-plus process not unlike sieving your mind thru a tea strainer and taking on a silo of mythic-informational grain; until we eventually discover how, more by effort than anything else, to effect the correct spiritual poetic divisions that channel dán díreach down strict and straight onto the page in print, during a five year Great Stream of learning and verse flowing out from the student doctor creating her and/or his own s/he system of language, taught and learnt for 1200 years of uninterrupted literary tradition, and founded on the s/he principle introduced on day one; before, finally, securing the conferral of ollamh and the apical poetic ennoblement of a Bardic PhD. La viva voce. Not by watching episodes of Simpsons and South Park, or learning how to write free-verse by playing Mortal Kombat fantasy games on electronic screens; but by studying the material on the course training them to be the literary and linguistic equivalent of brain surgeons.


I bought A Rebel Act in Cork when it was first published and on the train back to Dublin got half way thru it, and, yet to return, I look forward to resuming the rest of Walsh's literary labour of love when dán executes the two or three hours of return it will take to finish it. 

Like most Irish poets who are not up there with Yeats and Heaney, or their favoured acolytes, attack-dogs, cheerleaders, disciples, and assorted close personal followers; Hartnett very much viewed himself as an outsider poet. Though when alive he was writing in the shadow of such globally eminent dead poets as the Coole-Dublin-Sligo-London Dreamer, and a living oak of the Mossbawn Magus and Ballaghy Bard; he did have a few friends and supporters, and did get his poems published and discussed in the national press.

His first poetry collection Anatomy of a Cliché, was published by Poetry Ireland in 1968 to critical acclaim whilst he was living in London; and he returned to Ireland to take his place in the pantheon of the then contemporary working published poets chasing the small amount of money to be had by their labours at home in 60s and 70s Holy Catholic Ireland.

Bi-lingual in Gaelic and English he grew up in grim, grey poor and priest-ridden 1940s & 50s rural Ireland, in similar conditions of bleak  social poverty that his fellow Limerick writer, Frank McCourt, reveals in hi-definition on the pages of his globally successfully memoir Angela's Ashes.

His relationship with the Irish language was born from the tongue of someone who local legend claimed was the last native speaker in Limerick (though a Kerry woman herself), his maternal grandmother, Bridget Halpin; into whose home he was fostered at the age of four. And who, along with her 'cronies', as Hartnett labelled them, did not speak Irish amongst each other in front of her own children but were more relaxed about speaking it in front of her grandchildren. 

She was of a generation born to parents who survived the immediate aftermath of the Famine. After being visited by such an economically-induced holocaust the surviving population of Ireland that had not fled or died of starvation, collectively committed to following what the then recently deceased (1847) Liberator, Daniel O'Connell, had advised during the heady days of mass organised civil-social rights movements, Monster Rallies; and the Catholic Emancipation, that O'Connell's leadership brought to Ireland and got wrought into law after the breaking of the final hold of the remaining Penal Laws, that resulted in the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. 

Two decades before the holocaust struck in the blighted potato harvests of 1845 & '47. 

O'Connell's Advice to a poor, rural Irish peasantry, was to do whatever it took to get society, via the children, speaking English, as an act of economic necessity, by which (I paraphrase) to 'sell your produce, pigs and chickens'; and without which, the consensus amongst them was that the people of Ireland could not realistically take control of their own sovereign, social and economic destinies.

In the immediate post-Famine apocalypse the people who'd survived the holocaust, understandable in the circumstances, came to the cultural conclusion that there was no choice other than to adopt the English language as our own. Over the course of the following one, two and three generations, people began dropping Gaelic and doing all they could to get their children to speak English. Including not talking to them in Irish. 

In the mind of the Irish speaker a cultural, economic and social necessity (and historical realty); but for the more theatrical members of the generations feeling especially excluded and cut off from our grandparents' mother tongue; there is an awareness of an absent spirit, duality, and instinctive knowing that one's identity is defined as much by a profound poetic absence and things that no longer exist, as what reality does actually exist and is the one we experience. 

And a scenario that describes the imaginative condition perfectly, I think. Alternate complex and compelling intellectually created fictional realities composed of things that are not here. Non-existent people as powerful as any living, who live vividly on the page, and exist  in our own readers' minds. After being conceived, born, and coming successfully to life and living in the mind of their authors' first. Loved, loathed, celebrated; and assembled from an imaginative pick and mix of reality woven to literary and verbal art. 

When at its finest balanced the equally successful words are working superlatively both on the page as a cerebral and conceptual electromagnetic and neurological performance of 'reality'; and in the spoken recital of them by the living literate act a human being in physical reality performing dán and éigse; creates when speaking spoken song, and making poetry happen with the voice alone. Knowing the difference between the five divisions of the Selected Language found in the bardic filidh Scholar's Primer, and the reality one mind makes when not in possession of the codes to Seamus Heaney's 'golden circle' halo lifting all boats, and the ogham cynosure flowing out from a supreme Socratic love.


Hartnett learnt Irish by hearing the live language spoken as a young boy, listening to the oldest people in the community speak it, animated by all the earthly wit, love, and human passions that gave full life to the rule-leaden and dead language that Hartnett's generation was being taught to despise as an impenetrable unspoken written language in school. This official 40s/50s republican state Irish language held none of the appeal that the Irish of those whose minds were formed first by it, exerted on Hartnett's own imagination.

Filled with two languages and tongues he knew well and loved; tucked up in his loft listening to the gurgling and murmuring of Munster Gaelic spoken in low voices and out of hearing. That the annals say 'has the music', whilst Ulster Irish 'has the lore.'; as the reader will learn in Padraic Colum's Dedicatory Poem, to George Sigerson, Poet and Scholar; on the first page of what many consider the unsurpassed and groundbreaking standard bearer Anthology of Irish Verse, Boni and Liveright, New York, 1922.

Hartnett very publicly swore off writing in English when the carnage in Ulster was at its most murderous and fervent; announcing this intention in his fifth book and second poetry collection, published by Peter Fallon's Gallery Press in 1975, A Farewell to English: where 'he declared his intention to write only in Irish in the future, describing English as 'the perfect language to sell pigs in'.  

A poetic spin on O'Connell's advice to a world that had been speaking Irish unbroken since before the introduction of literacy. As this website of the annual ('Poetry') Éigse Michael Hartnett Festival in Limerick informs us, legend has it:

Hartnett's grandmother foretold his future as a poet when a fledged nestful of wrens alighted on him one day — thus ultimately inspiring the poem ‘An Muince Dreoilíní / A Necklace of Wrens’.

Later still, Bridget Halpin (‘who never came to terms with the twentieth century’) would be lovingly immortalised in ‘Death of An Irishwoman’.

One of the most memorable poetic events I have 'experienced' was Paul Durcan's ninety minute tour de force defence of his friend Michael Hartnett's 190'ish line poem, Sibelius in Silence, in which he argued, at his first Ireland Poetry Professor lecture in the Jonathan Swift Theatre Trinity College Dublin, Feb 2006:

" ... is one of the most important poems of the last 200 years." Not only in the Anglo-Irish poetical canon, but world literature, Durcan steadfastly boasted/claimed.

Claiming also to have met only one other person in Ireland who'd read it, Harry Clifton, who became Ireland Poetry Professor some years later. He came out swinging and it was a real privilege to be one of the lucky few people on planet earth that night there experiencing a truly otherworldly vibe. Vatic Durcan at his very best. It may have been the best he ever did. Certainly the biggest gig of his life to date. Redressing the mis-balancing of Hartnett's reputation as "an existentialist leprechaun....doomed hobgoblin" and "performing chimpanzee of the bar stool"; that Durcan cracked out as soon as he opened his gob."

After a mesmeric reading of the poem Durcan began his autopsy on the compositional method Hartnett used to create the poem, and drew out from the work a subliminal performance of the critical text. Hartnett was 51 when he wrote Sibelius in Silence, the same age as Sibelius was when he wrote the fourth part of his fourth symphony. Durcan dipped below the surface of the poem to reveal the main biographical feature binding Sibelius and Hartnett together; their dependency on alcohol and how it affected their work. It would appear that Sibelius was the less senior alcoholic of the two or had twice the constitution, because he died around the age of 80. Whoever held the belts, Hartnett, Durcan was convinced, had:

"...made a secret pact with his own soul to drink copious amounts of alcohol". He read extracts from both men's diaries to illustrate his point and gave a detailed account of Hartnett having detailed first hand knowledge of Sibelius's diaries along with a swathe of primary material surrounding the Finnish composer's life and work.

When they were both in the grip of booze benders the entries could have been interchangeable for either man:

"I have been engaged in furtive drinking to get my nerves in better condition........I am curing myself with sobriety.....I need a regular intake to steady the tremors."

The gag that got the biggest laugh of the night, and was my first indication of how bottomlessly dark-dark Durcan's humour is, came as he had been reading a few diary entries in what I took to be a serious and sombre register. Professor Paul's scale of comic or tragic had not yet come down on either side of the fence, until he ended with the Hartnett entry:

"Cheer up, death is round the corner"; delivered deadpan, shocking the audience into a gulp of involuntary laughter, and revealing in that moment the essential comedian behind Durcan's straight man act. The various strands he wove and ground he covered, plotted and plaited a detailed sweep of how Hartnett's relationship with the legacy of Sibelius gifted him the raw material with which Hartnett created his superlative work of verbal art; that Durcan argues, goes right to the heart of what it means to be human. 


When I originally wrote this piece, before the expansion to its current state, I was living in the Iveagh Homeless Hostel, were I was happily resident for 18 months before moving out to Kilmainham. Four years later I returned back to the Iveagh Trust social housing and educational complex in Dublin city-centre south; blessed with the offer of an apartment here, top floor, feeling very lucky and grateful for my first real home in Dublin. I signed off the original piece saying 'it is now late here in my (internet) sweet shop office on Dublin quays, and I must leave.