Our new anthology The Deep Heart’s Core: Irish Poets Revisit A Touchstone Poem is at last complete and due for publication in February.
In The Deep Heart’s Core some 100 Irish poets accept the invitation to revisit a favourite, key or touchstone poem of their own, and offer a short commentary on same — as they might at a live event.
The result is an illuminating, thought-provoking and wholly engaging volume, a unique anthology as selected by the poets themselves, and a rare glimpse into the thinking, feeling and craft behind the finished poems.
The Deep Heart’s Core is both an ideal introduction to contemporary Irish poetry for the general reader and a handbook for the aspiring practitioner or student.
The Deep Heart’s Core is edited by Pat Boran and Eugene O’Connell and features a foreword by Bernard O’Donoghue.
Graham Allen: ‘Military Hill’ – Tara Bergin: ‘This Is Yarrow’ – Eavan Boland: ‘That The Science Of Cartography Is Limited’ – Dermot Bolger: ‘While We Sleep’ – Pat Boran: ‘Waving’ – Eva Bourke: ‘Evening Near Letterfrack’ – Heather Brett: ‘Bankrupt’ – Paddy Bushe: ‘After Love’ – Rosemary Canavan: ‘Crab Apples’ – Moya Cannon: ‘Chauvet’ – Ciaran Carson: ‘Turn Again’ – Paul Casey: ‘Exile’ – Philip Casey: ‘Hamburg Woman’s Song’ – Sarah Clancy: ‘Homecoming Queen’ – Michael Coady: ‘Assembling The Parts’ – Enda Coyle-Greene: ‘Metathesis’ – Tony Curtis: ‘Bench’ – Pádraig J. Daly: ‘Complaint’ – Kathy D’Arcy: ‘Probable Misuse Of Shamanism’ – Michael Davitt: ‘Déirc’ / ‘Alms’ – Gerald Dawe: ‘The Water Table’ – John F. Deane: ‘The Poem of the Goldfinch’ – Mary Dorcey: ‘Trying on for Size’ – Theo Dorgan: ‘On a Day Far From Now’ – Cal Doyle: ‘Sirens’ – Martina Evans: ‘The Day My Cat Spoke to Me’ – John FitzGerald: ‘The Collectors’ – Gabriel Fitzmaurice: ‘Dad’ – Anne-Marie Fyfe: ‘The Red Aeroplane’ – Matthew Geden: ‘Photosynthesis’ – Rody Gorman: ‘Imirce’ / ‘Bodytransfermigration’ – Mark Granier: ‘Grip Stick’ – Vona Groarke: from ‘Or to Come’ – Kerry Hardie: ‘Life Gone Away is Called Death’ – Maurice Harmon: from ‘The Doll with Two Backs’ – James Harpur: ‘The White Silhouette’ – Michael Hartnett: ‘That Actor Kiss’ – Eleanor Hooker: ‘Nightmare’ – Breda Joy: ‘November Morning’ – Brendan Kennelly: from ‘Antigone’ – Patrick Kehoe: ‘The Nearness of Blue’ – Helen Kidd: ‘Sunspill’ – Noel King: ‘Black and Tan’ – Thomas Kinsella: ‘Marcus Aurelius’ – Jessie Lendennie: ‘Quay Street, Galway’ – John Liddy: ‘Scarecrow’ – Alice Lyons: ‘Arab Map of the World With the South at the Top’ – Aifric MacAodha: ‘Gabháil Syrinx’ / ‘The Taking of Syrinx’ – Jennifer Matthews: ‘Work Out’ – John McAuliffe: ‘Today’s Imperative’ – Joan McBreen: ‘My Father’ – Thomas McCarthy: ‘The Garden of Sempervirens’ – Philip McDonagh: ‘Water is Best’ – Afric McGlinchey: ‘Do not lie to a lover’ – Iggy McGovern: ‘Knight Errant’ – Medbh McGuckian: ‘Aunts’ – John Mee: ‘Travel Light’ – Paula Meehan: ‘The Moons’ – John Moriarty: ‘Faust’ – Aidan Murphy: ‘Touching Parallels’ – Gerry Murphy: ‘Poem in One Breath’ – Madelaine Nerson Mac Namara: ‘Atlas’ – Caitríona Ní Chléirchín: ‘Feiliceán bán’ / ‘White butterfly’ – Nuala Ní Chonchúir: ‘Tatú’ / ‘Tattoo’ – Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin: ‘The Copious Dark’ – Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh: ‘Deireadh na Feide’ / ‘Last Blast’ – Áine Ní Ghlinn: ‘Tú Féin is Mé Féin’ / ‘Yourself and Myself’ – Doireann Ní Ghríofa: ‘From Richmond Hill’ – Mary Noonan: ‘The Moths’ – Julie O’Callaghan: from ‘Edible Anecdotes’ – Eugene O’Connell: ‘Doubting Thomas’ – John O’Donnell: ‘The Shipping Forecast’ – Mary O’Donnell: ‘The World is Mine’ – Bernard O’Donoghue: ‘The Iron Age Boat at Caumatruish’ – Liz O’Donoghue: ‘Suspended Animation’ – Mary O’Donoghue: ‘My Daughter in Winter Costume’ – Sheila O’Hagan: ‘September the Fourth’ – Nessa O’Mahony: ‘Lament for a Shy Man’ – Mary O’Malley: ‘The Gulls at Fastnet’ – Leanne O’Sullivan: ‘The Station Mass’ – Karl Parkinson: ‘A Love Letter to Reinaldo Arenas’ – Paul Perry: ‘In the Spring of My Forty-First Year’ – Billy Ramsell: ‘Complicated Pleasures’ – Gerard Reidy: ‘Slievemore Deserted Village’ – Maurice Riordan: ‘Badb’ – Mark Roper: ‘Firelight’ – Gabriel Rosenstock: ‘Ophelia an Phiarsaigh’ / ‘Pearse’s Ophelia’ – Colm Scully: ‘What News, Centurions?’ – John W. Sexton: ‘Sixfaces and the Woman of Nothing’ – Eileen Sheehan: ‘My Father Long Dead’ – Peter Sirr: ‘After a Day in the History of the City’ – Gerard Smyth: ‘Taken’ – Matthew Sweeney: ‘I Don’t Want to Get Old’ – Richard Tillinghast: ‘And And And’ – Jessica Traynor: ‘Scene from a Poor Town’ – John Wakeman: ‘The Head of Orpheus’ – Eamonn Wall: ‘Four Stern Faces/South Dakota’ – William Wall: ‘Alter Ego Quasimodo’ – Grace Wells: ‘Pioneer’ – Sandra Ann Winters: ‘Death of Alaska’ – Joseph Woods: ‘Sailing to Hokkaido’ – Macdara Woods: ‘Fire and Snow and Carnevale’ – Vincent Woods: ‘Homeric Laughter’ – Enda Wyley: ‘Magpie’.
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Our programme for 2017 features an exciting range of new books by both well-known and up-and-coming writers, as well as one of our most ambitious anthology projects to date in the shape of The Deep Heart’s Core.
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Keith Payne's letter from Galicia, first published in The Level Crossing, introduces two of the new wave of Galician poets.
World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural …
IT WAS AS IF MacNeice had predicted what was happening in front of me on the screen last night. I was sat at my desk in Vigo correcting some Galician translations, a half dozen tabs open on the desktop as I clicked back and forth between dictionaries, verb tables and the newsfeed coming from the exit polls for Spain’s general election: the two-party system was over, things had changed suddenly.
… I peel and portion A tangerine and spit the pips and feel The drunkenness of things being various
‘Spain is Different!’ Manuel Fraga announced in the late sixties as he began to package Scandinavian and British tourists off to the Costa del Sol. Like his boss, Fraga was Galician and was Franco’s Minister for Tourism. Just forty years on and the PP, the conservative party that Fraga founded, was finally realising that things were indeed, very different, but not how they had imagined. Ada Colau, an anti-eviction activist, has become Barcelona’s first woman mayor. Manuela Carmena, a retired judge, defender of workers’ rights and of detainees during the dictatorship, is the first independent mayor of Madrid. I hummed a few bars of Old England is Dying, and listened for the Medusa howls of Spain’s elite as Podemos, Equo, Barcelona en Comú and En Marea (The Turning Tide)washed over Old Castile, and Fraga’s party were left ‘not waving, but drowning.’
Waves of emigrants have been leaving Galicia since boats were first floated. According to the Leabhar Gabhála, it was Galicians, Breogan’s sons and grandsons, who were the last to populate Ireland. You know them as the Milesians. In my partner’s family there is exactly five years each between her mother, her uncle and her aunt. A common pattern in Galicia where it took five years to make enough money for a return ticket from the Americas before going back, a son or daughter conceived just before you sailed away. Su’s family all recognized Frank O’Connor’s ‘My Oedipus Complex’ when I told them the story one Friday night at the house. Almost every house in the region has a ship’s trunk somewhere where you will still get a whiff of Brazilian coffee when you open the lid and stick your head in. For the most part it was the men who emigrated, waves of them, and the women were left behind to raise the family, mind the house and manage the land, if land there was; it’s written all over their hands. Since the Nineteenth-Century Galician Revival, the figure of the stoic, weeping Galician woman stood on the cliffs has been forged in iron in the collective memory.
But the wave is turning. A wave of young Galician poets, women mostly, have reimagined themselves as something other than that tragic figure on the cliffs weeping and wringing her hands helplessly as the ships sail away. She may still be found on the cliffs from where María Do Cebreiro writes back that ‘The wind puts across the body’s cut / in so soft a manner it is no longer / an invasion or even a sign of / ownership.’ She celebrates that ‘the joy of skin / is in its loosening.’ Blown free as it were, Do Cebreiro is joined from the cliffs and the streets, the cafes and bars, from bed and balcony, from ‘Picking apples in Tolstoy’s Garden,’ from New York’s ‘Sing-Sing Prison,’ from ‘Midtown Manhattan’, ‘The Charles Bridge’, a ‘Taxi in Lima’ and the ‘The Cotton fields of Thessaly’ by her contemporaries Yolanda Castaño, Chus Pato, Lupe Gómez, and Elvira Ribeiro among many others. Some of whom send me back and forth and back and forth again and again through the pages of Servando Pérez Barreiro’s Diccionario Completo Galego-Inglés as my finger digital clicks back to the exit polls that ticker-tape down the screen. A change is washing over Spain and as these poets write the wave, I allow myself a little drunkenness on their variorum edition.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world Is more spiteful and gay as we supposed.
MacNeice visited Spain in 1936 with Auden, and when asked which side he supported in the Civil War responded: ‘I support the Valencia Government in Spain. Normally I would only support a cause because I hoped to get something out of it. Here my reason is stronger […]’ To the same question, Beckett responded ‘¡UP THE REPUBLIC!’
I DON'T KNOW IF MacNeice made it up to Galicia where Laurie Lee first landed in Spain and from where he began his walk that would eventually walk him right into the Spanish Civil War. His first port after leaving England was Vigo: ‘I landed in a town submerged in wet, green sunlight and smelling of the waste of the sea […] The drowned men rose from the pavements and stretched their arms, lit cigarettes and shook the night from their clothes […] and strange, vivid girls went down the streets, with hair like coils of dripping tar and large mouths, red and savage.’ I can’t speak for their hair, but these poets from Galicia are as savage and vivid in their poems as Lee’s somewhat seasick imagination. Poets who are toppling the Royal Galician Academy’s bookshelves and emptying its Royal Members’ pockets, with Yolanda Castaño’s taunting that ‘You need to frig the alphabet / till it spurts unlikely links.’ I click back again to the exit polls as they come to a close and as the joy and horror from the talking heads staggers down the screen I think of Paddy Galvin and the story of his mother daubing UP THE REPUBLIC! in red on their gable wall and his father then washing it off as the Irish Christian Front marched down the Coal Quay in support of Franco’s Spain.
I’m just in from the bakery where the paper on the counter tells me they’ve just announced Patxi Lopez of the PSOE as the new speaker in the Spanish Congress. Rajoy’s PP stayed in their seats while the young conservative Ciudadanos voted with the old socialists PSOE to exclude Podemos in what looks to be a prelude waltz to a new government of the old ways.
Tonight, around nine hundred wolves will pack hunt through the Galician mountains. Galicia is one of the last regions in Spain still home to wolf packs. Su’s village ‘Traspielas’ contains ‘tras’ the preposition ‘across’ or ‘through,’ and the word ‘piel’ skin, and it was suggested to me that Traspielas was once a trading post for wolf pelts. Recently I was brought up the mountain to a ‘foxo dos lobos’, a wolf trap of drystone walls that opens hundreds of yards apart and graduates pincer-like down into a 12-foot pit into which the wolves were hunted. When the packs grew in number they had to abandon the mountain and come down to the villages to feed and so their numbers would be culled till a balance was struck between pack and village and they would stay once again in the mountains. Down here among the translations, María Do Cebreiro’s ‘The Blood’ reveals that ‘humans are not animals of reason / nor animals that speak. We are animals of rupture, / of the temporal breach.’ Later, in The She-Wolf, she writes ‘The she-wolf gives milk / to the brothers who kill each other. // ‘She will not claw the cobblestones. / Far from the churchyard, far from meaning / She feeds the brothers. Yes, above all else / she feeds them to death.’
Suddenly collateral and incompatible: World is suddener than we fancy it.
I have no idea what’s going to happen in the coming months and years here on the peninsula. There will be more elections, without a doubt more corruption, there will also be more hope, more citizen breaches, there will be more wolves. I click across and see that there’s an anthology of Galician poetry to be launched in Madrid this week; Punto de Ebullición, Boiling Point. So yes, there will be more poets and there will be more poems and I will be here reading and listening and feeling them all ‘on my tongue, on my eyes, on my ears and in the palms of my hand;’ incorrigibly Spain.
Vigo, January 13th, 2016
Yolanda Castaño and María do Cebreiro are two of the poets appearing in Six Galician Poets, translations by Keith Payne (Arc Publications, UK, 2016). This article, and accompanying poems, were first published in issue 1 of The Level Crossing (Dedalus Press, 2016).
And the quicksilver gone from the mirror.
From the hand feeling for the trace I make the best of jaded pages; the black ink shows through the flip side and I think this could also be writing; scribbling new words while other earlier words seep through the page.
Trans. Keith Payne From: A Segunda Lingua / The second language (Fundación Caixa Galicia, 2013)
The woman wakes in the middle of the night the moment someone says: – Pierce yourself with a needle and tell me the colour of your blood. – My blood is neither blue nor red – she responds. Then it slowly dawns on her there is no way humanly possible to watch without being watched. The following day she dreams of eating stones that are easy enough to stomach. That she moves by night, naked calm, like the women in Delvaux’s painting. That someone leaves a red cloth under their pillow and can see the face of their future lover, and the pair condense the time of their life into a dream second, holding over almost all the caresses and conversations. Blood is dark and dense, it has the integrity of a solid substance, an integrity that – almost exclusively for their colour – certain tints and sediments of wine take on. Unlike mothers, she gives separate space to blood and semen. She knows there’s no end to the power of that severing, the absolution of keeping distance. That’s why she is wary of the sacred powers of suckling, yet knows the place of milk in the power of wheat. The desert is endless and its children are not yours. And so she is not afraid, and at night in dreams, a faceless figure appears, not threatening (a friendly presence) and so she never forgets humans are not animals of reason nor animals that speak. We are animals of rupture, of the temporal breach. Able to love anything we want with the intensity of every given moment. She places a magnet and a clover flower over the trine of light the stars compose for them. She will meet his image in the quirks, in the drop of blood the faceless voice bid her draw in her dream. By day, the faceless voice returns to its body, she knows and is happy there will be no more possession, she doesn’t want him to remember or yearn for her, just let him live in the heat of her skin, just as she dreams her birth in her body’s every moment.
María Do Cebreiro
Trans. Keith Payne From O deserto / The desert (Apiario Editora, A Coruña, 2015)
To coincide with the launch of her new collection of poems, Geomantic, on November 14, we link here to a recording of a wide-ranging conversation between the poet and UCD Adjunct Professor Jody Allen Randolph, in an event that took place at The National Library of Ireland, in April 2016, during the course of which Meehan reads and discusses many of the poems in the book.
Congratulations to Doireann Ní Ghríofa who, on 02 Sept, in its 40th anniversary year, received the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for her poetry.
Dedalus Press is proud to have published Doireann’s English-language debut, Clasp, described as follows by Nyla Matuk in Partisan Magazine’s Year in Books:
“a moving study of the fragility of our bonds: those between mother and child, and between ourselves and the animals, people, former selves, and places in our minds and midst. The poet’s empathic considerations are applied to history as well, which she concretizes to reveal moral transgressions in Ireland’s past… Clasp is remarkable for its detailed observational capacities of a concrete yet fraught quotidian life.”
More details of the award may be found here: https://www.rte.ie/culture/2016/0905/814341-rooney-prize/
And Doireann Ní Ghríofa is among the guests on The Poetry Programme on Saturday evening (10 September 2016) at 7.30 pm, RTÉ Radio 1, for a feature on the Prize, which also includes Dedalus poet Gerard Fanning. (See RTÉ website for links if the date has passed.)
“For such a big personality, her carbon footprint was small. Her radio played Lyric FM, quietly. And for years and years she drove an ancient Triumph Herald, the back seat of which was composed almost entirely of old literary magazines and dog-eared typescripts. And yet somehow, just like language itself, it sustained her.”
Read Pat Boran’s Obituary, first published in The Irish Times, Sat. July 2, 2016, in full HERE
A SINGLE ROSE
by Leland Bardwell
I have willed my body to the furthering of science
Although I’ll not be there
to chronicle my findings
I can imagine all the students
poring over me:
“My God, is that a liver?
And those brown caulifowers are lungs?”
“Yes, sir, a fine example of how not to live.”
“And what about the brain?”
“Alas the brain. I doubt if this poor sample
ever had one.” As with his forceps
he extracts a single rose.
We’re finally there with issue 1 of THE LEVEL CROSSING (see HERE).
THE LEVEL CROSSING is the new occasional journal of poetry and poetry-related prose from Dedalus Press. This first issue includes new work by poets from Ireland, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Poland and Korea, among others, poets already associated with the press as well as more than a dozen writers with no previous connection.
The issue features a report by Keith Payne on the new Galician poetry, Gerard Smyth on B.H. Fairchild, Vincent Woods’ writing on Macdara Woods’ new book, Music From The Big Tent, and Pat Boran on the attractions of haiku and landscape.
There are new poems by Catherine Ann Cullen, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Jane Williams, Tom Matthews, Hanyong Jeong and James Silas Rogers, among others.
Gerry Murphy writes about being a poet / lifeguard, and Grace Wells considers the poem ‘Selkie Moment’ from her recent collection, Fur.
There’s a sample of contributions – by Karl Parkinson, Jennifer Matthews, Paul Perry and Jessica Traynor – from the forthcoming anthology The Deep Heart’s Core: Irish Poets Revisit Their ‘Touchstone’ Poems.
And we’re delighted to present our feature on ‘Poems of Place’, the poems being drawn from over 900 submissions received in a recent open call for submissions.
In putting together THE LEVEL CROSSING, we set ourselves the target of producing a magazine that, in content, feel and attitude, was positive, outward-looking and, not to overstate the case, didn’t look like it was produced in the 19th century. For a first issue, we’re happy and excited with the result but can see lots of ways we could further improve. With a bit of luck, we’ll get that chance: after all, the barriers come down, but then the barriers also go up again!
In the Afterword to Waveforms, his recent collection of haiku and photographs, Pat Boran considers the attractions of keeping it small. Low-res PDF of essay and sample poems from the book, as featured in issue 1 of The Level Crossing. Click HERE to open or download the PDF.
Dedalus Press is currently accepting online poetry submissions.
Irish poets, as well as those born elsewhere but currently resident in Ireland, may submit a book-length work (or a significant part of same) between now and 31 July 2016, via the DEDALUS PRESS SUBMITTABLE page. (Formerly the Press could accept only hard copy submissions sent by post.)
Paddy Bushe talks to Pat Boran about his latest collection of poems, On a Turning Wing
How important is place to your writing life, both in terms of subject matter and your actual modus operandi, the locations where poems come to you and/or get written down?
Place is of primary significance in my poems, probably the element which is most essential to them. I think this may be because I grew up in a Dublin suburb to which I felt no familial or imaginative ties, and that I have a consequent yearning to be integrated into place, to be a part of place. Of course the result is a willed, creative process rather than an organic, natural one, and this feeds into my poetry. I can place the genesis of most of my poems, a genesis or place that may disappear in the poem itself, but which is very much part of how it develops and survives – if it does. Love poems, political poems, poems about the nature of art – all of these can begin as a kind of invocation of place. For many years most of my work was ‘placed’ in Iveragh in South Kerry, my adoptive home. In more recent times my focus has widened, but usually with Iveragh not too far in the back of my mind.
Your poems are often ‘set’ far from home, reflecting your interest in travel and, in particular, hill-climbing and mountain-trekking. Are you actively writing, note-taking for instance, when you’re on the move? Can you make final versions in situations like that, or is it a case of poetry being something ‘recollected in tranquillity’, as Wordsworth had it?
I’m always full of good intentions about using notebooks, voice recorders, cameras and so forth. But I’m afraid I’m highly disorganised and unsystematic. Notebooks tend to be lost or neglected fairly quickly, and voice recorders gloriously blank when I return. I do find a camera useful as an aide-memoire, and even a stimulus for some new insight after a trip. Sometimes I get a reasonably complete draft of a poem. But my poems usually “stew” for quite a while after the spark first comes, generally in the form of a line or three which move around in my mind for weeks on end. So yes, I’m actively writing, but perhaps in a way that others wouldn’t notice. That’s my usual method – if that’s not too much of an overstatement – whether my work is placed at home or away.
Of course it’s not just in seemingly adventurous things activities like trekking or visiting formerly remote places (is anywhere really remote today?) that inspiration is to be found – galleries in Madrid or Paris, or conversations with musicians and poets in the extraordinary landscape of An tEilean Sgitheanach (The Isle of Skye) can stimulate poems. The genesis and working-out of most poems is humdrum enough, as it is, I imagine, for most poems by most poets. All of which is really to partially concur with Wordsworth’s ‘recollected in tranquillity’ formulation.
It’s the business of the poet, I think, to create rather than recreate. It’s what’s on the page that’s important, not the stimulus that gave rise to it.
Can you talk a bit about being a poet in two languages, Irish and English? Translation aside, how closely related is your poetry in the two languages? Are their subjects that seem more at home or more suited to one or other language?
I suppose the first thing to say is that English was and remains my first language. That’s a matter of fact, not necessarily a matter of choice. I speak, read and write more instinctively and more fluently in English than in Irish. When I began to write, in my late teens, I tended to write mainly in Irish, for ideological reasons. When I started to write again, in my thirties, aspects of that ideological commitment had faded, and I wrote solely in English. Both choices were limiting, and both exclusivist. I began to write again in Irish, especially when the “starter lines” I spoke about earlier suggested themselves in Irish, or in echoes of Irish. These echoes are especially strong where I live, which is residually a strong Gaeltacht area, and whose landscape, culture and history speak to me in Irish more than in English. So the subject and originating circumstances usually now determine the language in which I write, as well as any social or linguistic situation which may have given rise to the poem.
On a slightly different note, I find it puzzling, and indeed a matter of regret, that poets who are capable of writing in both languages so seldom do so. Of course I understand that poetry needs sources with cultural and linguistic depth that goes beyond competence, but I cannot help thinking that the choice is still often influenced – in both linguistic directions – by a hangover from the nationalistic and political takeover of the Gaelic Revival , which I believe has done great damage to the language. I greatly regret, for example, that Michael Hartnett bade A Farewell to English rather than simply making Irish welcome. Further back, I think it’s a great pity that Douglas Hyde – who opposed the nationalistic hijacking of Irish – did not write “The Necessity for Gaelicising Ireland” rather than “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland”.
Let it be said, of course, that those who would dismiss our Gaelic inheritance, for either ideological or meretriciously pragmatic reasons, do no service to our cultural life. Irish life and Irish poetry should celebrate the possibility of being genuinely bilingual, and not decide to close one eye in order to favour the other.
Many Irish language poets (who speak fluent English) prefer to have others translate their work, perhaps as a way to keep the energy within the language. How do you approach that task with regard to your own poems, a number of which appear in your new book as they did in earlier volumes?
To be honest, translating myself was a matter of necessity as much as of choice – there was no queue of translators lining up to take on the work! But really I approach the task as I do when I’m translating the poems of, say, Cathal Ó Searcaigh or Gabriel Rosenstock. That is to respect the work, to be as close as possible to the original in meaning, line structure, sound patterns and so forth, while at the same time producing a poem which works in its own right. Obviously, as far as rhyme or other sound patterns is concerned, this can mean finding equivalence rather than exact reflection. The same applies to idioms, metaphors and so on. As a rule of thumb, if I feel I can’t do that, I try to avoid translating the poem.
Some years back you edited the anthologyVoices at the World’s Edge, a volume of poetry and prose (with photographs) inspired by the visits under your guidance of a number of poets to Skellig Michael, a place that’s part of the physical and mental landscape you inhabit. If one could put aside the crassness of turning the Skelligs into a kind of monastic Disneyland, as some Government ministers seem determined to do, how would you describe their real value in contemporary Ireland? Do you think we’ve lost the ability to admire and cherish places we are unable to master?
The island isn’t actually visible from my house, as it lies just behind Bolus Head, the northern headland of the two which enclose Ballinskelligs Bay, or Bá na Scealg, on the edge of which I live. But I suppose you could say that for a long time I have had an imaginative line of sight to Skellig, and that it has been central to my imaginative and poetic world for most of my writing life.
The value of Skellig Michael, even in a country which is increasingly post-religious, is primarily spiritual. In other words, it provides an entrance into otherness, otherness of time and place, otherness which I have seen have a profound effect on believers and atheists alike.
And of course there is the extraordinary wildlife and physical beauty of the place, which are part of that spiritual dimension, along with its role in mythology, history, folklore and the various combinations of all three which animate our perceptions of it. The commoditisation xxx of this extraordinary and place is indeed crass. One of the most shameful things I have seen in respect to Sceilg Mhichíl is a tourism promotion film, for which Fáilte Ireland actually paid €25,000 to Disney Lucas, and in which the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht spoke. Neither she nor anybody else in the film even mentioned that there was an intact Early Christian monastic site on the island. It’s only quality, the viewers are implicitly told, is how well it fits into the Star Wars narrative. It would be shocking were Donald Trump to say it. To have a government with this mentality – and this went to the highest level of government – is profoundly disturbing. Significantly J.J. Abrams expressed amazement in the film that he had been permitted to film on Skellig. He must have been amazed at the gombeen mentality that secretly gave him that permission.
Your new book takes its title from a line by Hopkins. And Hopkins is something of a guiding presence in a good deal of your writing. What is it you admire in him? Is his influence more marked in your English language writing?
I had always liked Hopkins, from schooldays on. I admire his open and absorbent sensibility, and I recognise, even though I no longer share, his fear-ridden and guilt-ridden Catholicism. He makes great poetry out of feelings and thoughts that I grew up with. I am also fascinated by his intelligence and craft. It seems to me that he combines the sensibility of a romantic poet with the intelligence and craft of a metaphysical poet. When I did an MA with the Open University after retiring from teaching in 1990, I wrote a dissertation on the influence of his feelings of exile and alienation on his Dublin poems. So I read his work fairly intensively at that time. And around the same time, on Skellig Michael, I looked into an abyss (I can be terrified of height) and Hopkins’s lines leaped into my mind:
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep, Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
That led to my long sequence “Hopkins on Skellig Michael” where my obsession with Skellig coalesced with my enforced obsession with Hopkins. I should make it clear that Hopkins never went there, but I used an imaginary overnight retreat by Hopkins to explore Hopkins’s mind and work, while physically exploring the island.
As you say, Hopkins is an overt presence in this new collection, especially in “Of Paint and Clay and Words”, a line of which gives the collection its name. As regards his general influence on my writing, I’m sure there is, in both languages. But I think that’s for others to trace. It would feel presumptuous for me to do so.
The Scottish Gaelic poet Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley Maclean has been another significant influence, and you walked in his footsteps, literally and metaphorically, when you translated his collected poems into Irish (Ó Choill go Barr Ghéarain, Coiscéim, 2013) a couple of years back. There’s great love of and understanding of place in his work, and great sadness at what is lost. Is it too much, do you think, to suggest that great poetry always walks a line between celebration and elegy?
Somhairle, whom I had the privilege of meeting a few times, is certainly an influence, in both languages. I think he was by far the greatest Gaelic poet, Irish or Scottish, of his era. That’s why I took the decision, against all good sense and reason, to translate his collected poems into Irish. I was very aware that the potential readership of poetry in a threatened minority language translated into a sister threatened minority language would be of interest to a minority of a minority of a minority. But I got enormous satisfaction from it, despite it being such challenging work over a period of three years.
I have also dedicated two poems to him, one in English and another in Irish. And, although the connections is disguised rather than overt, the poem ‘The Music Master and the Poet’ in my new collection is based on a story the poet and musicologist John Purser, who lives on Skye, told me about himself and Somhairle.
I also got great satisfaction out of working with my son, Éanna de Buis, on his film Ar Lorg Shomhairle: In Sorley’s Footsteps in which we traced Somhairle’s poetry in the landscape of Skye and Raasay which stimulated so much of his poetry, even though he rarely took landscape description as a subject for his poems. But he embodied love poems, political poems and historical poems in his landscape, in works of enormous power, beauty and above all, integrity.
I think there is a great deal of truth in what you say about elegy and celebration in great poetry. I’ll pass on whether or not it applies to all great poetry, but it certainly applies to many great works of art, be they literary, dramatic, musical, visual or whatever. And I would certainly think that all elegy necessarily implies celebration.
That sense of both celebration and elegy is certainly evident in the poem sequence here about Tech Amergin, the arts centre in which you and your wife Fíona were very much involved for many years. Arguments like this often, and rightly, take place in the public arena of a local newspaper. What are you hopes and intentions in giving it a new life in verse?
That sequence, which I found extraordinarily difficult to write, and still find difficult to read aloud, started out as an outburst of rage and of contempt for the bureaucracy which, in an act of corporate revenge and vindictiveness, got rid of the voluntary group which for a number of years, on a completely voluntary basis, had run a high-quality, wide-ranging arts programme at a tiny cost, and at no cost to the educational committee which held legal ownership of the centre, again entirely due to local voluntary effort. At the moment, four years later, there is a minimal programme which is a shadow of what there used to be.
The detail of that deliberate destruction of an arts programme is for another day. But as I was writing the poem, I realised that merely to vent my anger and contempt might give me temporary satisfaction, but would tell a very limited story. So I decided also to celebrate what there had been, and to try to show a little of how precious it had been in the community, and how the bureaucratic bullying which lay behind the destruction of that preciousness hurt the community which the bureaucracy nominally served. I hope the poem speaks for the belief that all communities are enriched by access to the arts, and becomes a plea for that access to be universal.