Tag Archives: poetry

Love & writing according to Ford Madox Ford

Bitterness, rejection, suffering, loss. Must one crush broken dreams underfoot with the smell of death in one’s nostrils to produce good writing?

That’s one road. The dramatic road.

But confidence and productivity can also spring from the support and security provided by those around one. That’s my road.

I’ve been reading Ford Madox Ford‘s The Good Soldier. This passage caught my eye. He talks about love and achievement or creativity: Continue reading

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I had no dreams before I went to prison

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu

This week the Anglican Archbishop of York John Sentamu spoke out on prison conditions in the UK. The part that made headlines was when he criticised how some offenders are rewarded in jail by being provided with computer games or cable TV. Continue reading

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Islamic toilets – a plea

I’m fairly politically correct. But I was almost caught short and caught out at the weekend. Continue reading

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Blame… a) Canada? b)it on the boogie? c)a moment of madness?

The most unlikely thing happened this week. I know you’ll find this really hard to credit.

There’s a word in Ireland for it – and that word is GUBU. Continue reading

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Second Act Drama

Ivor Jefferson, drama teacher Wandsworth Prison.

I went out looking for drama, and watched a woman’s life hang in the balance just inches from my face. Continue reading

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Invisible People

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away (from Antigonish, by William Hughes Mearns )

In this case it was children I met who weren’t there. As well as women and men. In fact a whole village. But officially they didn’t exist. “Never heard of them.” Or so I was told by the authorities. I got them to check just in case. “No such people,” I was told. I sought official confirmation. And got it. Definitely no such people in this country. And by now the man they wished would go away was me.

So naturally, I decided to have a look for myself. Continue reading

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Art Saves Lives

What you could win - note the Picasso in the top left corner.

Fancy picking up a Picasso for a tenner? That’s just £10.00. Or an early photograph of Kate Moss? Or a limited edition from the late Beryl Cook? Or my favourite, Anita Klein? Continue reading

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What (Irish books) I’ve been reading 21st November 2009

Far Green Fields: Fifteen Hundred Years of Irish Travel Writing
Forget the proverb. You definitely should judge this book by its cover. The illustration is beautifully conceived and appropriate to the wide-ranging delightful tales of Irish travel inside. The cover artist is Philip Blythe (from Ireland, moved to Australia). The publisher is Blackstaff. I salute you both. (Unfortunately, nowhere could I find a good copy of the book’s cover to use in this post, so I’ve used a different Philip Blythe picture of Killyleagh castle in Co. Down.) Meanwhile, editor Bernard Share has put together a bunch of exiles, explorers, soldiers, deportees, imperialists, rebels, playwrights, actors and others, men and women, who wandered the world and wrote about their wanderings. You’ll not be surprised that the collection kicks off with St Brendan the Navigator (wasn’t he the first European to make it to America?) and includes the intrepid cyclist and muleteer Dervla Murphy. But apart from some flighty Earls, the action happens mainly in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s.

Luggage – by Peter Hollywood. It’s a long short story about a Northern Irish family’s driving holiday round France. On the surface, nothing out of the ordinary happens on this well observed family holiday. But a sense of creeping unease follows the father. It could be merely that hard-to-shift Troubles anxiety, or perhaps someone really is out to get them.

The News from Ireland and Other Stories (King Penguin) – by William Trevor. Short stories of regret, fear, loss, loneliness, alienation, passing youth. Not a bundle of laughs, but then, hey, that’s life sometimes. In Trevor land though, that’s life all the time. However, there’s gentleness too and the small ways in which people interact physically and emotionally are captured perfectly.

New Selected Poems 1968-1994 – by Paul Muldoon. Sure he wrote lyrics for Warren Zevon, and appeared on The Colbert Report. But it’s his poetry that I return to again and again. He writes about his quoof – a family term for a hot water bottle. (In our house we’ve invented the term broast – somewhere between bread and toast, ie very lightly done.)  Somebody else said about Muldoon: For sheer fun,verve,wickedness and grace, he has no rivals. So here’s an example. Just a wee quick short one:

Ireland

The Volkswagen parked in the gap,

But gently ticking over.

You wonder if it’s lovers

And not men hurrying back

Across two fields and a river.

What I am about to read:

Mystery Man by the prolific and funny Colin Bateman. The hero is a bookshop owner who turns private eye. But most excitingly (to me now) is that the shop he owns is No Alibis – a real life mystery bookshop on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue. I’ve been in it! The hero offered me a cup of tea! (He’s one of the charming men of Ireland.) Or did he? That is – is the real owner the same as the fictional owner? I’m looking forward to finding out. I’ll just take a little peek inside the book before I start reading to look for clues… Yes! Page 7. The owner makes a visitor a cup of coffee. It must be him! In no other bookshop have I been offered a cup of tea or coffee for nothing. (By the way, there are other good bookshops in Belfast. I must get round to telling you about them in a future post.)

And, as soon as I get my hands on it, I’ll be starting Soldiers of Folly: The IRA Border Campaign 1956-1962 by Barry Flynn. It’s about the ’50s campaign, which spawned the song The Patriot Game, and less forgiveably the film from the Tom Clancy book Patriot Games.

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Deadly verses

poppy Is this the most dangerous, even despicable, poem ever? You’ll have heard it most likely at   some Remembrance Day service or Armistice Day commemoration. It’s called In Flanders Fields. John McCrae wrote it in May 1915, on the occasion of the death in battle of a friend. The poet himself died in 1918. Here’s the poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I last heard it said aloud at our village service marking the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Some children performed it in the village hall. Overall the service was too religious for me, but I accept that as part of the cultural mores of England. I know it deters other people though, who just want to remember and respect the sacrifices made by their forbears without having to bow their heads in front of priests or ministers.

And I fully embrace the rightness of remembering. The importance of marking past sacrifice, the better to not in future waltz gleefully into new carnage. So the talk given during the service by a youth leader was perfectly pitched – vivid, poignant, educative and heartfelt. He reminded those gathered, especially the children, that those who died in Flanders Field were young people not much older than they are now, just like them, not some sepia-toned figures of myth or history book.  So far so good.

John McCrae c.1914

John McCrae c.1914. Canadian poet, physician & soldier. He wrote In Flanders Fields in memory of a fallen friend.

But then some of our children performed THAT POEM to their school friends and to the rest of us. So what’s the problem? The first two verses are fine. It’s the final exhortation to “take up our quarrel with the foe.” And then we’re warned: “If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.”

So there you have it. Keep fighting or you’ll be letting down your dead comrades. Peace and resolution of conflict are relegated in importance below the need to avoid dishonouring the dead. And what better way, suggests the poem, to honour those glorious dead than to add to their number.

It’s the siren call of the dead-enders, the true believers, the last-ditchers. In their world the dead always trump the living. And the only way to free yourself of survivor’s guilt is to go over the top. So there’s no-one to lean on the brakes.

Sometimes, granted, you have to fight. But shouldn’t the main point of remembrance be to avoid making the same mistakes? To remember the awfulness of it all. To remember that the living are more important than the dead. We should respect the latter, but protect the former.

So I’m tired of hearing that poem. The story behind it is poignant. The impact has been huge. It inspired the tradition of selling and wearing poppies. But instead of “In Flanders Fields”, next year I’d prefer something by Wilfred Owen. Dulce et Decorum Est will do fine. It’s about a gas attack and its aftermath. Here’s an excerpt:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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Jinx Lennon

Jinx Lennon

Jinx Lennon

Jinx Lennon, aka Dundalk’s punk poet. Nothing to do with the Blackwatertown book. But gives an insight into Ireland you might not get on the mainstream media. http://shop.septictigerrecords.com/npreview.html is where you can hear some samples. The best songwriter in the country according to Christy Moore apparently.

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