Filíocht (Poetry)

Gabriel Rosenstock, Margadh Na Míol In Valparaíso

Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso

Would I be right in suggesting that Gabriel Rosenstock and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill are probably the two greatest living Irish poets? There are many contenders for that title but when looks at the breadth of their works it is hard to imagine a more deserving rival than those two doyens of Ireland’s literary scene. Sometimes I prefer Rosenstock, sometimes Ní Dhomhnaill, each appealing to my particular moods or where I am in life (in fact at the moment I am sick as the proverbial madra but that is an aside).Of course the Anglophone media don’t rate either very highly and for one reason and one reason only: they write in Irish not English. So while the late Séamus Heaney will be rightfully eulogised those who express their art through our island nation’s indigenous tongue will forever be placed at the back of the literary bus. Indeed both receive greater respect and admiration outside of their own country than they have ever done at home. So this is interesting, from Mícheál Ó hAodha in the Irish Times:

“It is common knowledge that Gabriel Rosenstock belongs to the Innti generation of poets, that generation that coalesced around UCC in the early-1970s and who sparked the smouldering embers of a hitherto rural-based Irish language idiom and culture into life, a culture that was like an old dead woman whom a former lover can’t bear to rest his eyes upon in the wake-house. The Irish language was battered and bogged down and had nothing urban or hip about it.

But the Innti generation of Ní Dhomhnaill, Davitt, Rosenstock, Ó Muirthile and co. came along and put a fire beneath it. Like the “Burnings Limbs”(or the “Géaga tré Thine” (2006) – (a title of one of Rosenstock’s poetry collections) and inspired and energized by the tearing down of old barriers and repressions on the broader stage of the world – the burgeoning civil rights movements of Northern Ireland and the USA, the Paris upheavals, the struggles for minority rights among peoples, languages and cultures – the Innti generation created a new and transgressive language, a language of challenge and rebellion, both political and social.

This is all common knowledge. It is well-known amongst the literary cognoscenti of Ireland. Or is it?! The reality is that the Irish language including Irish language poetry is so marginal to this country’s literary circles in the apparently “multicultural” Ireland of today, so peripheral still, that no-one is quite sure what space it occupies – if any.

What might not be so well-known outside to those outside the small world of Irish-language literature is that Gabriel Rosenstock, of the aforementioned Innti generation continued (and continues) writing. This bilingual volume Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso/The Flea Market in Valparaíso (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) is a very comprehensive collection of his “New and Selected Poems” as translated by Paddy Bushe…

Rosenstock and his fellow Irish-language poets are constantly breaking new ground and became interlocutors with the wider poetic worlds of Eastern Europe, the US and Asia long before many of their more staid European contemporaries did. Why is this?

… it is not because they have that ancient “sense of place” that so fascinated the Irish poets of old; it is that the language is their home-place rather than any geographical locale.

This brings with it an enormous freedom. And yet Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.”

About these ads

The Fatal Strain: Cultism

Leila Ida Nerissa Bathurst Waddell, one of Aleister Crowley's "Scarlet Women", c.1913

Leila Ida Nerissa Bathurst Waddell, one of Aleister Crowley’s “Scarlet Women”, c.1913

I’ve always been interested in clandestine military, political or religious groups, be they revolutionary movements, secret societies or arcane cults. Growing up in Ireland one is imbued in a culture where such organisations are integral to the social history of the nation, at least from the 18th century onwards (and arguably much earlier if one were to reach back to the era of the promiscuously exuberant Fianna of Medieval Ireland and Scotland). I was raised in a country where the Buachaillí Bána and the Irish Republican Brotherhood were part and parcel of the education syllabus and the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys part and parcel of the nightly news. How could one escape a fascination for the esoteric in such a milieu?

Even the more outrageous cults hold an interest for me, especially the practitioners of early 1900s “magick”. The kinks in human psychology that led the likes of W.B. Yeats to fall for the allure of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or allowed Aleister Crowley to get away with his deviant shenanigans are intriguing. When I was younger I used to read the Fortean Times for fun and I still recommend it, especially when it’s at its most humorously cynical. I suppose that is why I am also prone to the literary and artistic genres of Fantasy and Science-Fiction (though the former also owes an awful lot to growing up with the tales of the Aos Sí – as indeed does J.R.R. Tolkien). One of my favourite Science-Fiction books is Frank Herbert’s seminal Dune and there is plenty there to wet one’s cultic appetite, from the Bene Gesserit to the Fremen. Herbert wasn’t the first author to posit the society of the “witches” but he was certainly one of the more imaginative and convincing (I’ll diplomatically gloss over Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, unashamed literary jackdaw that he was – and I won’t mention Terry Brooks!).

All of which rambling serves as an introduction to this article by Jeff Sharlet on the secularist website Killing the Buddha investigating a highly secretive Christian-based society in the United States known simply as the Fellowship. If you have any interest in religion, cults and the power of the Evangelical Right in regions of the US I highly recommend a read.

Imram 2012, Leonard Cohen And More

Imram 2012 – Féile Litríochta Gaeilge, Túr na nAmhrán, Tionscadal Cohen – Leonard Cohen

Today’s Irish Times has a lengthy examination by Úna Mullally of the Irish arts scene that is well worth reading:

“Imram, the Irish-Language Literature Festival takes place from October 11th to the 20th, and offers a dynamic programme. There are familiar names participating: Louis de Paor, Dairena Ní Chinnéide, Micheál Ó Conghaile. And there are familiar names discussed: Pádraic Ó Conaire and Seán Ó Ríordáin among them. But there is a current of energy flowing through the festival that those used to the traditional narratives of the Irish language in the arts might be surprised by.

There is an indoor and outdoor multimedia installation by Ceaití Ní Bheildiúin; a dance piece called Ré written by Daithí Ó Muirí and choreographed by Fearghus Ó Conchúir; contemporary prose from Éilís Ní Anluain; the Mouth On Fire theatre company reading Beckett’s poetry in Irish; The Cohen Project sees poets Liam Ó Muirthile and Gabriel Rosenstock translate some of Leonard Cohen’s work into Irish, with Liam Ó Maonlaí, David Blake, Hilary Bow and the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra providing the music.

Next week, a two-day symposium is being held in Dublin aiming to “explore, challenge and provoke notions of contemporary arts practice in Irish.” The symposium, titled Fás agus Forbairt’ (Grow and Develop) is hoping to bring together contemporary artists who are currently working in Irish and artists who may speak Irish but whose work is in English.


In music, the Kilas and the Ó Maonlaís were flying the flag for Irish-inflected contemporary music from the 1990s on, and that’s still the case. The annual Seachtain na Gaeilge Ceol compilation CDs feature contemporary Irish artists singing Irish-language versions of their songs. While the overall result might be nice, there’s a sense of tokenism about it, even if, on occasion, these songs are occasionally brought to a live setting.

But things are changing. Temper-Mental MissElayneous, an upcoming Dublin rapper, has a tendency to drop Irish rhymes into her raps accompanied by bodhrán instead of beats, namely with her track Cailín Rua. And Daithí, a Clare fiddle player who has managed to successfully fuse traditional strains with contemporary electronic music, recently sampled the singer Mary O’Hara in one of his tracks, a trick last pulled by Massachusetts band Passion Pit in their break-out single Sleepyhead.

From the Puball Gaeilge tent at Electric Picnic to Manchán Mangan’s theatre work, there is an edge to the Irish language in a contemporary artistic context, and that edge is growing as those in charge of funding continue to quietly seek out more non-traditional targets. But a new generation of artists also need to take the leap. Perhaps next week’s Fás agus Forbairt symposium will put a real structure around such tentative, yet quickening steps.”

Mícheál Ó hAirtnéide

A quick post to mark a review by Theo Dorgan in the Irish Times of a new biography of the Irish poet Mícheál Ó hAirtnéide (Michael Hartnett), who also happens to be one of my favourite wordsmiths, not least for his legendary description of the English language from his collection “A Farewell to English”:

“The road is not new.

I am not a maker of new things.
I cannot hew
out of the vacuumcleaner minds
the sense of serving dead kings.

I am nothing new
I am not a lonely mouth
trying to chew
a niche for culture
in the clergy-cluttered south.

But I will not see
great men go down
who walked in rags
from town to town
finding English a necessary sin
the perfect language to sell pigs in.

I have made my choice
and leave with little weeping:
I have come with meagre voice
To court the language of my people.”

Ironically enough it echoes my mother’s own dire linguistic condemnation from which there is surely no escape:

“Irish is the language of the gods; English is the language of the dogs…”

So to the IT review:

“BY 1974, AGED 33, Michael Hartnett had already built a considerable reputation as a poet in English and was widely accepted as a genuine talent. Then, unexpectedly and abruptly, on June 4th, from the stage of the Peacock Theatre, in Dublin, he announced that he proposed to abandon English and from then on write and publish only in Irish.

It was, in the eyes of many, a quixotic gesture. Hartnett was not a native speaker, although his grandmother, to whom he had been more or less fostered out as a child, was reared with Irish and would speak it at night to her neighbours when they gathered in. Hartnett often spoke later of listening from his bed to these voices that murmured, it seemed to him, from a vanishing world.

Pat Walsh’s book revolves around that pronouncement from the Peacock stage, ranging backwards and forwards through Hartnett’s life to examine his context and formation, attempting to arrive at a summary judgment of the poet’s life and writings, returning always to what he sees as the pivotal event in both life and work.

If Hartnett expected a big reaction to his grand gesture, he must have been disappointed. Some were bemused and puzzled, others inexplicably irritated, even hostile. Most, perhaps unsurprisingly, were indifferent. Walsh is good on these reactions: he records them in all their variety, so opening fertile ground for future scholars not just of Hartnett but of our troubled relationship with our native Gaelic tongue.

Hartnett’s election for Irish was essentially private, but, inadvertently or otherwise, by making his choice, and by making a public occasion of declaring his choice, he backed into a still unresolved politics, drawing attention to a psychic wound that has never healed, may indeed never heal. By opting to write in Irish, Hartnett found himself more or less forced into polemic.

A Farewell to English, announced as his last book in that language, is riddled with attitude-striking, with the ventriloquised anger of the 18th-century dispossessed. Even his poems excoriating our modern lack of vision could be read as projected forward from the values of that spurned Gaelic matrix. Reviews ranged from the gentle but sceptical (Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin) to the downright merciless and dismissive (Ciaran Carson), and Walsh does us a further service by gathering in so many of these first reactions. But, taken all in all, under and inside the protective rhetorical arguments of A Farewell to English, there is a genuine poetic impulse. What most commentators seem to miss, Walsh among them, is that Hartnett did not choose Irish: Irish chose him.

Michael Hartnett believed, very simply, that a poet is born, not made. Around his person there seemed to be always a certain psychic disturbance, giving rise to a feeling reported by many that there was something otherworldly about him. His grandmother saw it early. Equally, for all their meticulous craftiness and word-wizardry, there has always been in the best of his poems a sense of an otherwhere, as if he travelled between the world we say we know and some other contiguous but veiled reality. This, I believe, is the key not just to his character but to his poems.

There is something otherworldly, in several senses, about the first section of A Farewell to English, the title poem of the collection. Hartnett is sitting quietly in a bar when, unbidden, “like grey slabs of slate breaking from / an ancient quarry”, the words come tumbling into his mind: “mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach, álainn, caoin . . .”

A Rebel Act is an act of love, a book that surveys the life and achievements of Michael Hartnett with a workmanlike attention to detail. Pat Walsh has opened the ground, and done a good job of it. Neither full biography nor comprehensive exegesis, his book is a loving and valuable homage to a great poet. Nevertheless, to understand Hartnett there is no alternative to studying the poems, and studying the poems to remember: we do not write the poems; the poems write us.”

Unfortunately those poems are now difficult to acquire but for anyone interested in the Irish language, and what the language can achieve beyond mere utilitarian use, I urge you to seek them out.

Which reminds me of an ex-girlfriend and my copy of  Ó hAirtnéide’s translations of the poems of the great Munster poet Aogán Ó Rathaille. She dumped me but kept the book. So she had some good taste then ;-)

Dáithí Ó hÓgáin – Ar Dheis Dé Go Raibh A Anam

A brief post to mark the passing of Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, a man who brought academic rigour to the popular promotion of Early Irish Literature, Mythology and Folklore. From the Irish Times:

“The funeral takes place today of folklorist and UCD emeritus professor Dáithí Ó hÓgáin.

Prof Ó hÓgáin, originally from Bruff, Co Limerick, but living in Bray, Co Wicklow, was a professor of Irish folklore at UCD, and the author of many books on the subject.

He worked at the university for almost 40 years and was the author of books including The Sacred Isle and The Lore of Ireland, a weighty encyclopedia of folklore.

He died on Sunday, aged 62. He is survived by his wife Caitríona, children Aisling, Orla, Niamh, Ruán and Sadhbh, two grandchildren and his brothers and sisters.”

His body of work was phenomenal, running to dozens of articles, pamphlets and books. But undoubtedly his greatest contribution is the huge compendium of native Irish literary knowledge published in “The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance“. Like may others I found it an invaluable introduction to Ireland’s indigenous traditions (and still do).

He will be sadly missed.

An Irish Slam!

Nice report from the Derry Journal on the recent All-Ireland Poetry Slam competition held in the Maiden City and its winner, Irish poet Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin. The only thing that mires the article is the apparent inability to record the champion’s name correctly: Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain is not Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin.

“A captivating poet performing only in Irish made history this week when awarded the prestigious title of All Ireland Poetry Slam Champion.

In an impassioned battle of words, Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain, representing Connacht, won first place and the admiration of all – despite the majority of the audience not speaking Irish. Although the precise content of his work remained a mystery to most, his passionate, animated delivery won over the entire room.

Local performer Conor O’Kane, AKA Teknopeasant, and Seamus Fox represented Ulster, Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain and Sarah Clancy represented Connacht, Karl Parkinson and John Cummins performed for Leinster, and Mary O’Connell and Fergus Costello for Munster.

Each performer wowed an enthusiastic audience, with Conor O’ Kane, Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain, Fergus Costello and Karl Parkinson all winning the round on points. The second round was mesmerising, with each poet leaving its audience awestruck and wanting more. After a great deal of deliberation and soul-searching, the three judges decided that Connacht-born Irish speaker Seamus Barra O’ Suilleabhain and Leinster poet Karl Parkinson would go head to head in the final round.

Choosing a winner from this nail-biting finish proved incredibly difficult for the competition’s three judges – Eaman Craig (aka Derry rap artist, Wileman), myself, and acclaimed poet Jason Lee Lovell, founder member of University of Ulster Poetry Society.

In the end, Seamus Barra O’ Suillebhain was justly named as the All Ireland Poetry Slam Champion thanks to the fluidity and passion of his performance and his natural ability to make poetry in the Irish language as melodious as music. A bold, but well-deserved winner.

Following his stunning achievement, Ireland’s new Poetry Slam Champion for 2011/2012, Seamus Barra O’ Suillebhain said modestly: “This isn’t so much a win for me as much as a win for the Irish language.”

Organiser Abby Oliveira added: “Seamus is an engaging performer who writes his work only in the Irish language for an Anglophone audience. The fact that he was effortlessly able to engage and entertain the largely English speaking audience is testament to his deserving win.”

For more on the work of Séamas Barra Ó Suilleabháin you could try the compendium of poems “The Willow’s Whisper: A Transatlantic Compilation of Poetry from Ireland and Native America”, which includes his writing. A preview is available here.

Oireachtas na Samhna

The Irish Times carries a very personal report celebrating the weekend’s Oireachtas na Samhna, the annual Irish language and culture festival, this year held in Cill Airne:

“IT IS the time of Samhain and I am heading south to Killarney. Every year at this time I find myself on the road to somewhere. The reason – Oireachtas na Samhna. It has been going on now for well over a century but, in reality, it has been going on for thousands of years since its original incarnation at Tara. I am part of a tribe, and the tribe is on the move.

Oireachtas na Samhna, or the Oireachtas, as we call it, is the annual gathering of the Gaels. A festival which will be attended by 10,000 people from all Gaeltachts and beyond, and which will host some of the most prestigious competitions of our traditional arts. Sean nós singing and dancing, storytelling and oration, lúibíní and many others. Champions will be crowned this weekend, immortality bestowed. Hundreds will gather in hushed halls to hail new heroes and the families and communities that produce these champions will claim title to nobility.

Samhain is there since the beginning. It was the annual feast of Tara, where hundreds of thousands gathered to celebrate the last harvest. The word literally means summer’s end, the threshold of the dark. It is the time when we are closest to the otherworld, when the barriers between us and our ancestors soften. Our immediacy fades. We briefly become aware of the eternal.

I will meet people I haven’t met since last year’s Oireachtas. No matter. The distance of time or space is made redundant by the story we share. We’ll pick up where we left off. Like a family which meets for a wedding or an anniversary, familiarity will bathe us, and our handshakes, hugs and greetings will be as joyous as they are authentic. We’ll all be conscious of the significance of our gathering and put our best side out.

Language is more than communication. It is expression too. It provides us with another way to see the world, another way to make sense of it. And it is universal. Irish speakers of all backgrounds and ethnicities – from America, Japan, Russia, Africa, Australia, Canada and other countries are heading for Killarney right now. The Oireachtas is our festival. It’s what we do. It is our Haj, our Ploughing Championships, our novena, our Oxegen.”

More can be seen here. Including…

Hail To Nova Scotia

Interesting news in the Scotsman highlighting the international dimension that is increasingly important to the two main Gaelic languages, Irish and Scottish. In this case it is the latter as a Canadian Gael is awarded for his Scottish language poetry and writing. 

“AN international dimension was brought to this year’s Royal National Mod in Stornoway as the distinguished “Bardic Crown” was presented to Canadian Lewis MacKinnon, with the award crossing the Atlantic for the first time. 

Mr MacKinnon, a published poet and teacher, made the journey to Stornoway yesterday to be presented with the ceremonial robes and crown at a special event in the town centre. 

The Gaelic version of the poet laureate is a major part of the Mod celebrations and is traditionally handed out during the literature events. 

The newly crowned bard of the Gaelic world was born in Cape Breton, the district where Gaels first landed after emigrating from the Highlands. He has written a book of poetry in the Nova Scotian dialect and is a Gaelic teacher. 

He said: “Acknowledging the importance the bard plays in events like the Mod I accept reticently this role and I hope that in some way I may, through my work, reflect Gaelic Nova Scotia and how it is today, profoundly aware that it has its origins, the words, the actions and historical events of the peoples of Gaelic Scotland.” 

It should be also noted that Nova Scotia (Albain Nua) and Newfoundland (Talamh an Éisc) have strong Irish links too, as anyone who has heard a Newfoundland accent can well attest, and this has led to a renewed interest by Irish-Canadians in their linguistic heritage. (And of course Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism and promotion body, has quickly stepped in to meet this growing demand with offers of overseas education programs and language tourism… Ooops, no, sorry, I forgot, they’re too busy pursuing the petro-dollars of corrupt Saudi Arabian princes and their Wahhabi colleges… SIGH…)

Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru – Oireachtas Náisiúnta na Breataine Bige

The people of Wales have been marking the celebration of their native language and culture in this year’s Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru or the National Eisteddfod of Wales. For the last week festivities focusing on literature, poetry, art and music have been held in Wrecsam (Wrexham) with nearly 150,000 people in attendance. As the BBC reports:

‘Organisers of the National Eisteddfod say they will look back on the Wrexham event with “pride and happy memories”.

Attendance figures for the final day of 18,151 were up 4,500 on the final day in Ebbw Vale in 2010.

Total attendances across the week were more than 9% higher at 149,692.

Aled Roberts, chair of the local executive committee for the Wrexham event said: “It has been a very happy week here in Wrexham, and we have been very lucky with the weather most days.”

He added: “It was great to see a winner in all the main ceremonies during the week – and all of these winning for the first time, and all these winners and their stories have added to the friendly atmosphere of the week.”

Mr Roberts said 4,500 local people took advantage of a buy-one-get-one free scheme at the start of the week and he was “delighted” so many local people attended with a number returning during the week.’

The very positive media coverage of the Eisteddfod has not been matched of course in England’s Britain’s national (and nationalist) media. From the right-wing Express:

‘THE BBC sent more than 200 staff to cover the National Eisteddfod of Wales, a bigger team than was dispatched to Wimbledon.

Despite being in the midst of major cost-cutting, the corporation sent 238 people to cover the singing and cultural festival which ended yesterday.

The figure was revealed as the broadcaster slashed other services, including coverage of Formula 1 motor racing, in an attempt to find savings of at least 25 per cent.

The resources used to report the week-long festival from the Maes in Wrexham, north Wales, rank it alongside the BBC’s other main outside broadcasting operations.

Figures for 2010 show that the corporation sent 185 staff to the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which was watched by 29.3 million people, 274 to the Glastonbury music festival and 292 to the World Cup.’

Horror of horrors. The BBC expending the same sort of resources on the national festival of Wales as on England’s Britain’s holy of holies, tennis at Wimbledon. No mention of the millions spent by the BBC on a recent royal jamboree by the Express hacks of course but hey, that’s a celebration of English British culture: that’s different.

But there is a reply:

‘John Osmond, director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, insisted that the number of BBC staff involved should be seen in the context of the cultural importance of the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

He added: “There’s nowhere else in the European Union that holds an event of this size, range and scope, and certainly not in relation to a minority language.”’

On a side-note check out the web presence of BBC Cymru. The webpage of a media company serving a Celtic nation in a Celtic language. Then have a look at RTÉ in our free and independent Celtic nation. Pathetic.

Somhairle Mac Giolla Eoin

One of my favourite poets is the Scottish writer Somhairle Mac Giolla Eoin (Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley MacLean) so its nice to see this tribute and discussion over at Alison Ní Dhorchaidhe’s blog.