Monday, December 31, 2007

Destruction at the Hill of Tara

A major part of Ireland’s cultural and archaeological history is under threat from the construction a toll motorway (the M3), which is slated to run right by the Hill of Tara and to destroy thousands of years of important archaeological remains in the surrounding area. There have been many protests, falling on the Irish government’s apparently deaf ears. (Ironically, the new Minister for the Environment is John Gormley of the supposedly environmentally-conscious Green Party, who still claims to oppose the construction of the M3, yet seems to be doing nothing of substance to stop it from going ahead. It is to be hoped that the Green Party is roundly rejected by the Irish electorate the next time around.) A new protest is scheduled for January 8th in Dublin, and in other cities around the world. The following information is taken from the website of TaraWatch. (The Save Tara campaign also has a lot of information on its own site.)

Lismullin Henge • Gabhra Valley, Ireland
by Jarrett A. Lobell (Archaeology magazine)

Early last year, archaeologists working on the route of a controversial highway near the village of Lismullin, Ireland, stumbled across a vast Iron Age ceremonial enclosure, or henge, surrounded by two concentric walls. The 2,000-year-old site is just over a mile from the Hill of Tara, traditional seat of the ancient Irish kings and site of St. Patrick’s conversion of the Irish to Christianity in the fifth century A.D. The discovery of the massive henge, measuring more than 260 feet in diameter, confirms the long-held belief that the area around the hill contains a rich complex of monuments.

The extraordinary amount of archaeological remains on the Hill of Tara — burial mounds, religious enclosures, stone structures, and rock art dating from the third millennium B.C. to the twelfth century A.D. — makes it Ireland’s most spiritually and archaeologically significant site. Construction of the new M3 highway, meant to ease traffic congestion around Dublin, threatens not only the Hill of Tara’s timeless quality, but also newly discovered archaeological sites in the surrounding valley.

Lismullin, seen in an aerial shot taken during excavations (above), and other sites that stand in the way of the new road are now approved for destruction. Although archaeologists and concerned Irish politicians are rallying support worldwide for the protection of the Hill of Tara, the iconic site remains in great peril. At press time, the European Commission had initiated legal action against the Irish government over the M3, charging Ireland with failing to protect its own heritage.


TaraWatch is calling for 300 volunteers to participate in a demonstration/video production, in protest of the M3 motorway works at the Hill of Tara. The demonstration will take place in the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin, at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8, which was the day the National Roads Authority was supposed to hand over possession of the National Monument at Lismullin to SIAC Construction, before it was done early just before Christmas.

There are two different Tara songs that will be performed, either by the original artists, or on tape, for purposes of making a video. Professional dancers will help choreograph some movements, with props such as 300 white crosses, so it should be an interesting demonstration, creating some powerful music and images. Participants should be available to attend a rehearsal on Sunday the 6th of January at 4.00pm at the Garden. Please sign up anonymously, here.
Protests will also take place on 8 Jan. in Belfast, London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Melbourne and other cities. For more information please email

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Art and Revolution

Poetry Ireland recently updated their website, and I discovered that they’ve archived an opinion piece I was asked to write for Poetry Ireland News in 2004. The article is called “Art and Revolution”, and deals primarily with poetry in a social or political context. It sprang partly from criticism leveled at me for (supposedly) having an anti-political agenda when I was editor of The Burning Bush. That criticism (I felt) was always misplaced, but it led to a worthwhile debate, of which this article was one part. While most who were involved in that debate have long since moved on from it, it makes for an interesting backwards glance.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kevin Higgins reviews Ancestor Worship

Kevin Higgins has reviewed Ancestor Worship in today’s edition of the Galway Advertiser (which is Galway, Ireland’s free weekly paper). It can be read at this link, and I also reproduce it below. Much thanks to Kevin and the Advertiser.

An Irish-American Poet in Galway

By Kevin Higgins

I FIRST met Pennsylvania-born Michael S Begnal 10 years ago at an open-mic poetry session at Apostasy Café on Dominick Street when readings often went on towards midnight.

Mike was a Sinn Féin supporter with a big interest in experimental poetry, especially the Beats; I was a recovering Trotskyist who had just discovered TS Eliot. They weren’t exactly idealistic times. However yesterday always seems less cynical than today.

Later we launched The Burning Bush magazine, harbouring illusions of overthrowing the ‘literary establishment’ (I have since realised that the literary establishment exists mostly in the minds of unpublished poets and old men on park benches). The hoped for revolution didn’t happen; our exact aims were rather vague!

Yet The Burning Bush created a space where people could disagree without descending into crankiness. Mike, in particular, used the magazine to open up Irish poetry by promoting linguistically radical poets such as Alan Jude Moore, Trevor Joyce, and Randolph Healy.

It is fashionable to complain about America, but the American influence on the Galway poetry scene — from Jessie Lendennie to the late Anne Kennedy to Mike Begnal to North Beach Poetry Nights — has been profoundly positive. Mike’s contribution, from the Apostasy days to his return to the US in 2004, was important, making the publication of Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry) a cause for celebration.

As the title suggests ‘Irishness’ is one of its big subjects. From Expatriation: “I too’m ‘American’ now,/sauntering the local lanes,/land of ghostly progenitors,/cold stone,/bitter defeat”. Begnal is not any old Irish-American; he’s acutely aware that he is addressing an issue about which the greenest clichés are forever being spoken. His interest in his Irish roots is altogether more profound than that of the typical elderly Bostonian in golfing trousers boarding a tour bus outside Jurys.

A number of the poems here are written in Irish. And in the title poem, Ancestor Worship, a distinctly separatist — almost supremacist — tone is struck at the end: “like LeRoi Jones’s move to Harlem,/broke with his white friends,/changed his name://ancestor worship/is the only religion/truly compatible/with the fact/of evolution”.

The three-page The Conquest of Gaul successfully combines the political and the erotic: “breasts still sway and shake and/bodies soak in camaraderie/the soaked flesh intensely perishable/lust lush will outlast the brick/of the industrial estate”.

The weaker moments in Begnal’s poetry are when concrete images give way to too many abstract concepts. He is at his best in View from a Galway Window: “the faint smell of sewage,/some girl ditches her dog/and a fat woman/heads for the beauty parlour,/open for Saturday business/this Bealtaine,/but all I see are/Mormon missionaries/sent severely from Utah.”

This is not an easy, crowd-pleasing, collection, but then it is not trying to be. It is though, often witty, often caustic, and for me evokes the recent Irish past in a starkly unsentimental way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

NHI review of Ancestor Worship

New Hope International has reviewed Ancestor Worship. This interesting piece, by Gwilym Williams, can be read here (scroll down that page), and I have reproduced it below. My thanks to Williams and NHI.


Man’s best friend may be his dog but in Michael S. Begnal’s case it’s his ancestor.

The Irish-American Mike Begnal, as his blogspot calls him, has been rummaging around in his ancestry in various places including naturally in Ireland. Half a dozen of the poems in this publication are in the old tongue. And intriguingly the book’s cover shows an ancient document listing the death of an abbot of Kells in the year 1128.

The place to start then would appear to be with the 14th poem in the book, the title poem, ANCESTOR WORSHIP. This one might provide an insight into what it’s all about, this book of 70 or so pages containing “some of the poems” published in publications such as Poetry Scotland, Poetry Wales, Poetry Cornwall, Poetry Ireland Review, Electric Acorn, The Blue Canary and many more; some 3 dozen publications in all.

ANCESTOR WORSHIP is the basic starting point for it is, whatever your point of view:

the only religion

truly compatible

with the fact

of evolution.

Its a brutal acceptance of the then and now:

the faces look the same

in rain

Begnal asks, demands to know:

who burrows into your eye

and says, "Who're you?"

Other variations on the theme can be found in poems like IRISH CITIES. In his Derry hotel room Begnal is in a reflective mood. On the face of it a simple matter of nostalgic pondering:

like Waterbury, Connecticut,

where not I'm from

but my father

and all his fathers

since famine time

Note how Begnal suddenly slips in his justification there. The stay-at-home slouch must plainly starve or eat humble pie. Begnal’s ancestors are nothing if not adventurers. No further justification for upping sticks is required. But it comes anyway. And with a star and stripes flourish:

like wave-battered Brendans

and populated,

planted the system within


the Go Nation

I could now go to some poetic place like Prague with its 4 poems but I settle for Paris and MONTPARNASSE CEMETERY. Begnal invites me as his reader to:

think of all the bridges on the Seine

that melancholy snake,

men and women have jumped off,

insignificants splash

in the green murk,


and having considered this and other Parisian matters I’m eventually taken along to the cemetery to discover the final furious truth:

cemetery toilets smell

like fermenting forest piss,

and flies congregate in gangs,

waiting to eat your shit

It matters in the end not one jot that in the first line of the first poem in the book that:

blue sky envelopes Galway

for like the old abbot from Kells we’re all going to the same place as our departed relatives.

This is an intriguing collection to discover, unearth, and to contemplate. The poems can safely be read in any order and it's probably a good idea to do so. I tried jumping about at random from one to the other building and demolishing connections. It was great fun if fun is the right word. Like a favourite bone I suspect it’s something that can be constantly returned to and chewed on with familial contemplation. The only disappointment I felt was that Bagnall couldn’t see his way to translating those half dozen Irish poems of his:

agus Joyce bainte den tenner

-- Gwilym Williams

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fred Johnston reviews Ancestor Worship

A review of Ancestor Worship has come out, from the Irish poet and novelist Fred Johnston. It appears on the site of The Western Writers Centre in Galway, Ireland, of which Johnston is the director. The piece is quite favorable, and much appreciated. It can be found at this link (scroll to the bottom of the page), and I also reproduce it below.


ANCESTOR WORSHIP. Michael S. Begnal. Salmon Poetry. ISBN 1 903392 54 3. Pbck. €12.00. 70pp.

Of the most recent brace of poets to emerge from Galway, Irish-American and Irish-language enthusiast, Michael S. Begnal is by far and away the most accomplished and the most interesting. During his time here he edited the enthusiastic magazine, The Burning Bush - where some have tried to shift heaven and earth (and every inch of newsprint in the region) to ‘confirm’ themselves as writers, Begnal has simply worked at his task. His work has appeared widely; a first collection appeared in 2003, The Lakes of Coma, while some other work appearing in Galway at the same time and after was likely to induce one. He has written on the writer James Liddy and Liddy, naturally, returns the favour with a fulsome jacket blurb. He credits the Galway Advertiser’s Markings page, once edited by this writer and cancelled because it was too, eh, racy for local cultural consumption. Like most young American poets, he has pilgrimaged to Prague. Seven poems as Gaeilge appear here, if you don’t count the as Béarla ‘Burned Hut,’ which echoes the Irish-language An Teach Dóite, which in English is the name (‘The Burned House’) for Maam Cross, outside Galway; one has to praise the remaking of language in such a word as ‘gorted,’ created into English from the Irish ‘gort,’ a field, or even ‘gorta,’ famine (to my mind there is a connection linguistically between the two words) in the line of his first poem, ‘Expatriation’: “ the oblivion of Boston,/cast from your gorted land...” Begnal is no bauble-eyed romantic seeking some preposterous ancestral ‘truth’ in Erin the Green, though he is ardently nationalistic, or was, an echo of which can perhaps be heard in his ‘The Conquest of Gaul’ or in ‘Black, White and Green,’ and his translation, ‘To The Gaelic People’; these poems travel, to Mexico, Paris, and elsewhere, seeking to put down roots like some mediaeval Irish wandering mendicant “...suffering the slings of myself,/ my vast torpidity/and inevitable disgust/at the exclusion practiced [sic]/by myself/and others...” (‘Water Cress’) Note to Salmon proof-reader: this is not the US. ‘Practice’ is a noun, not a verb; the verb-form is ‘practise.’ One’s hat is off to Salmon and Begnal for publishing his Irish language poems sans traductions into English, as so many Irish language poets seem to have a need to do - and by so doing, merely point up the dependence of Irish upon English. Irish poetry could not survive, one would think to read them, without the English language. Begnal seems to offer the poem and leave the interpretive work up to the reader bare-facedly, which is fine. With the occasional shortness of breath, these poems are wonderful, experimental, courageous, in-your-face, melancholy, lyrical, all by turns. The collection in full is a voyage of personal and imaginative discovery - circumnavigating identities. The production of the book is equally gorgeous with the ‘manuscript’ for cover by Siobhán Hutson. More will be heard from Begnal, there can be little doubt of that. Meanwhile Galway’s scribes will continue, some of them at any rate, to scratch and scrape at the remaining stony grey acres of imaginative creativity. Excellent. Salmon Poetry at her best.

-- Fred Johnston

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Begnal, Lisk, Salerno reading at NCSU, Thursday, November 1

I will be giving a poetry reading on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh, NC, on Thursday, November 1st, at 7:00 pm. It takes place in Tompkins Hall room G118 (that is, room 118 on the basement floor of Tompkins). I will read alongside Tom Lisk and Chris Salerno, who, like myself, have recently published new collections of poetry.

The reading is sponsored by the online journal Free Verse, which has published my poem “Bettie Page,” as well as the supplement of Irish-language poetry I edited, entitled “Véarsa Saor: New Poetry in Irish with Translations.” Free Verse editor Jon Thompson will make the introductions.

This reading is free and open to the general public, and everyone is welcome.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Begnal cancellation for Ancestor Worship launch

Unfortunately, I was not able to make Ireland in time for the launch of Ancestor Worship (see previous post) on Friday. Due to heavy rain causing “low ceilings” in New York on Thursday the 11th, my American Airlines flight to JFK, from where I was supposed to connect to an Aer Lingus flight to Shannon, was cancelled (after having boarded the plane and then sitting on the runway for two hours). The second flight they put me on kept getting delayed for the same reason, until I ended up missing the last Aer Lingus flight of the night, meaning there was no way I could get to Galway in time for the launch on Friday the 12th. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before. Apologies to those who came out on my account.

However, the event did go on, as Dave Lordan, Knute Skinner, and Billy Ramsell were also launching books at the same time, and it was by all accounts a great success. My friend the poet Alan Jude Moore (pictured at the launch) stepped into the gap and read some poems from Ancestor Worship, and I’m told he got a good response. My thanks and appreciation go out to Alan, and to Kevin Higgins and Susan DuMars of Over the Edge who set up the event, to Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, and also to Salmon Publishing. I still plan to get to Galway for a reading sometime in the near future.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Ancestor Worship book-launch, Oct. 12

Ancestor Worship is being launched in Galway (Ireland), this Friday the 12th.

Over the Edge hosts the launch of four new poetry collections at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop:

Ancestor Worship by Michael S. Begnal (Salmon Poetry), Fifty Years: Poems 1957-2007 by Knute Skinner (Salmon Poetry), The Boy in the Ring by Dave Lordan (Salmon Poetry) and Complicated Pleasures by Billy Ramsell (Dedalus Press) will be launched at Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, Middle Street, Galway on Friday 12th October, 6pm.

All are welcome, and refreshments will be served.

For further details contact: 087-6431748 or e-mail

Ancestor Worship
12.00 Euro Paperback 130 x 204mm 72 pages ISBN 978-1-903392-54-3 September 2007

Unusual routes become strategies. Mike Begnal is Irish-American, he writes in English and Irish, he can invent a hybridisation of style. Ancestor Worship is an extension of this, it can take on a new romancing and deciphering: the warm blood / that flows through to this age, / dangerous and violent in veins... Likewise a journey or pilgrimage can be undertaken somewhere, from olive-green felt couch to olive sky. The essential is no one has been quite there before, along the genealogy or amid the furniture. --James Liddy

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Salmon Anthology

Following on the heels of my collection Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry), I also have a selection of three poems in the new anthology Salmon: A Journey in Poetry 1981-2007. This volume in a way summarizes the 26 years of Salmon Poetry’s existence, collecting the numerous Irish and international poets it has published in that time. Jessie Lendennie is the editor. Including detailed biographical notes for each poet and a complete bibliography of Salmon’s publications, the book is well worth purchasing.

The list of poets featured is: Nadya Aisenberg, Nuala Archer, Leland Bardwell, Marck L. Beggs, Michael S. Begnal, Marvin Bell, Eva Bourke, Ray Bradbury, Rory Brennan, Heather Brett, Patricia Burke Brogan, Simmons B. Buntin, Sam Burnside, Catherine Byron, Louise C. Callaghan, Seamus Cashman, David Cavanagh, Jerah Chadwick, Patrick Chapman, Mary Coll, Roz Cowman, Vicki Crowley, Theodore Deppe, Mary Dorcey, Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Egan, Mícheál Fanning, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Mélanie Francès, Philip Fried, Erling Friis-Baastad, Paul Genega, Frank Golden, Michael Gorman, Mark Granier, Robert Greacen, Angela Greene, Maurice Harmon, Clarinda Harriss, Anne Le Marquand Hartigan, Michael Heffernan, Kevin Higgins, Michael D. Higgins, Rita Ann Higgins, John Hildebidle, Ron Houchin, Ben Howard, Gerald Hull, Fred Johnston, John Kavanagh, Anne Kennedy, Thomas Krampf, Jessie Lendennie, James Liddy, Dave Lordan, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Joan McBreen, Jeri McCormick, Stephanie McKenzie, Ethna McKiernan, Ted McNulty, Máighréad Medbh, John Menaghan, Áine Miller, Patricia Monaghan, Noel Monahan, Alan Jude Moore, Tom Morgan, Jude Nutter, Jean O’Brien, Clairr O’Connor, Hugh O’Donnell, Mary O’Donnell, Ciaran O’Driscoll, Mary O’Donoghue, Desmond O’Grady, Sheila O’Hagan, Tom O’Malley, Barbara Parkinson, Mary O’Malley, Gwyn Parry, Angela Patten, Paul Perry, Mark Roper, Tom Sexton, James Simmons, Janet Shepperson, Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons, Robin Skelton, Knute Skinner, Jo Slade, R.T. Smith, Olaf Tyaransen, Eithne Strong, Jean Valentine, Breda Sullivan, Richard Tillinghast, John Unrau, Peter van de Kamp, Michèle Vassal, Eamonn Wall, Emily Wall, Gordon Walmsley, Gary J. Whitehead, Sabine Wichert, and Ann Zell.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kim Decker Design

Graphic artist Kim Decker has her own website up now, and it is definitely worth taking a look at, at

Decker created the cover of my book Mercury, the Dime, and has done a lot of other great things as well. The images in this post are samples of her work. There is much more at the website itself....

Monday, August 13, 2007

Small Press Distribution

Six Gallery Press books are now distributed by SPD (Small Press Distribution), meaning that my collections The Lakes of Coma and Mercury, the Dime are now available through that channel as well. Take a look at them at this link, and feel free to order....

Small Press Distribution is a non-profit literary arts organization located in Berkeley, California. Founded in 1969, SPD is currently the only distributor in the country dedicated exclusively to independently published literature.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bettie Page (poem)

My poem entitled “Bettie Page” is included in the latest edition (issue 12, Spring 2007) of the online journal Free Verse. Please take a look....

The journal is edited by Jon Thompson, and is a really great production.

Véarsa Saor: New Poetry in Irish with Translations

Tá mé i m’eagarthóir ar fhorlíonadh fhilíocht Ghaeilge (le haistriúcháin Béarla) san iris ar-líne Véarsa Saor. “Véarsa Saor: New Poetry in Irish with Translations” an teideal atá air. Clúdaíonn sé Louis de Paor, Dolores Stewart, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Niamh Ní Lochlainn, Rody Gorman, Colette Nic Aodha agus Gabriel Rosenstock. Clic ar an nasc deireanach....

I have edited a supplement of contemporary Irish-language poetry, with English translations, for the latest number (12, Spring 2007) of the online journal Free Verse. It is titled “Véarsa Saor: New Poetry in Irish with Translations” and includes the names listed above – some of the best writers in Irish today – and is in my own obviously biased opinion well worth a look.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Two recent book reviews

I’ve published a couple of book reviews lately....

One appears in the latest issue of Poetry Ireland Review (90), and is on Catherine Walsh’s book City West. My review is not available online, but it does incorporate (and improve upon) a piece I previously posted here. The whole issue (edited by Peter Sirr) looks good, though, so keep an eye out for (and if you can, buy) it.

Also keep an eye out for/buy the new issue of the Belfast political and cultural journal Fortnight (453, June/July 2007). It includes my review of Maurice Scully’s most recent volumes, Sonata and Tig. Again, it’s not online, but it is also partially based on an earlier piece that is (to give you a taste)....

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ancestor Worship now out!

My long-promised collection Ancestor Worship is now officially out. It is available from several outlets, but it would really be great if anyone who wanted to have it ordered from the publisher, Salmon Poetry. Please use the above link to order.

I appreciate everyone’s support.
The book is 72 pp. long — a large collection — and includes six poems in Irish.

Here is the back cover blurb, from James Liddy:

“Unusual routes become strategies. Mike Begnal is Irish-American, he writes in English and Irish, he can invent a hybridisation of style. Ancestor Worship is an extension of this, it can take on a new romancing and deciphering: ‘the warm blood / that flows through to this age, / dangerous and violent in veins...’ Likewise a journey or pilgrimage can be undertaken somewhere, from ‘olive-green felt couch’ to ‘olive sky’. The essential is no one has been quite there before, along the genealogy or amid the furniture.” — James Liddy

And a sample poem to whet the appetitie, which is included on Salmon’s site (see above link), the title poem:

Ancestor Worship

Not like the bones of parents
carried out in procession
from their dark vaginal tombs
among the rocks,
mummified skin stretched
and tanned in mockery of death

it’s not like the imagined
rituals of an old old age
before iron or bronze,
the metal of our mythology,
though the faces look the same
in the rain

but the warm blood that flows through to this age,
dangerous and violent in veins,
hanging heavy like burlap sheets
on a dewy day

the right hook of history,
the slow motion arc of the punch,
the strange figure
on a modern city street
who burrows into your eye
and says, “Who’re you?”

It’s like when Lennon laid
his New York album on you,
and appeared in pictures
in his new image—
sudden Irishman,
like LeRoi Jones’s move to Harlem,
broke with his white friends,
changed his name:

ancestor worship
is the only religion
truly compatible
with the fact
of evolution

12.00 Euro / Paperback / 130 x 204mm / 72 pages / ISBN 1 903392 54 3

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Translations in Calque

I have some translations in the brand new issue (number 2) of Calque, a journal of translation. My translations are from the Irish of Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, Proinsias Nuinseann, and Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin, all 18th/early 19th century Gaelic poets.

Copies can be ordered at this link.

Alternatively, they can also be ordered from: Calque, c/o Steve Dolph, 252 Hampton Dr., Unit B, Venice, CA, 90291, USA. $10.00 each (plus $2.50 shipping).

The editors can be contacted at

Thursday, June 07, 2007

“Blues for Tomorrow” in MungBeing

A poem of mine entitled “Blues for Tomorrow” appears online in the new edition of MungBeing. Appropriately, it is their “Future” issue. As well as my poem, there’s a lot of interesting stuff included here, so do check it out…

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

David Stone, Bridge Poems

David Stone’s new collection Bridge Poems has been published by Six Gallery Press, and is very much worth getting. I can’t really review it, because I’ve already written the preface for it. So instead I’ll give you that (and an excerpt from Stone himself, below).


David Stone is unique among poets. Parallels could be drawn, influences named — Baudelaire springs to mind, and perhaps I could say something tricky like, “Stone is an American Baudelaire, transposed from 19th century Paris to 21st century Baltimore.” But then I may just as well say he’s “a postmodern Poe,” or “a modern-day Surrealist.” None of it is sufficient. I will say that Stone draws from many traditions, poetic and otherwise, whether he resembles them or not. The French are important, but so are the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the history of jazz, Paul Celan, Osip Mandelstam, Hart Crane, etc. To whatever degree Stone may be “influenced” by this poet or that text, he is worthy of nearly any of them and The Bridge Poems is the proof. For my money (since we live in capitalist societies), Stone is a major American poet and he will surely be recognized as such in time.

Given the title of this book, Crane will loom large. Crane, who, as Stone writes here, “attained water,” and of whom Waldo Frank wrote in the 1933 edition of The Collected Poems, “His vision was the timeless One of all the seers, and it binds him to the great tradition; but because of the time that fleshed him and that he needed, to substance his vision, he could not employ traditional concretions.” And so it is for Stone. His seeming obscurity is not an affectation or a conscious wish to appear “avant-garde.” His highly-pitched language is the struggle to articulate the incomprehensible and the unacceptable. Stone’s work often reads crazily because the world certainly is crazy, and America especially. America is like souls in the underworld. And ghosts speak through poetry.

Michael S. Begnal

Here is a poem from the collection which is perhaps representative:

Jazz Biers

The Dead


in Flanders Field

& grope


& conehats.

The Jackal



of treasure



in deep

sea vents.

—David Stone

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Another review of the Liddy Tribute

Another review of Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice: A Tribute to James Liddy has appeared, in An Sionnach 3.1 (Spring 2007). An Sionnach is the journal of Irish Studies published by Creighton University Press. The piece, by Eric Adams, is not only a good overview of the collection, but provides an interesting description of the book launch which took place at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus last year: “There was an energetic silence in the hall—an anticipation of performance. Liddy’s reputation in Milwaukee as a center of gravity which draws in characters from all directions is not dissimilar to the spirit of his poetry.” I think this is also the only review so far to note that the book contains not only the numerous overwhelming praises of Liddy, but also a couple of “attacks” (Thomas McGonigle, Myles na Gopaleen) – both of which are included, as Adams points out, in “celebration of mischief.” A lively piece from a great journal.

(The above photo is the front cover of Arena 3, Summer 1964, edited by Michael Hartnett, James Liddy and Liam O'Connor, who are pictured in that order.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dán in An Guth 4

(A poem of mine was published in the Irish and Scottish Gaelic poetry journal, An Guth issue 4, edited by Rody Gorman and published by the Irish press Coiscéim.)

Foilsíodh dán de mo chuid san irisleabhar An Guth 4, a d’eagraigh Rody Gorman. Tá An Guth bunaithe in Albainn, agus tá filíocht i nGaeilge na hÉireann agus i nGàidhlig na hAlbann ann. Foilsíonn an cló Éireannach, Coiscéim, é. Léigh ar aghaidh:

Éire san 18ú Aois

Faoi cheobhrán an Tí Mhóir
ritheann na capaill deargrua amach
i dtreo na gcoillte gearrtha

Roinnt cruamhíle ó shin
tá bothán dubh ar an sliabh
ina bhfuil fear féasógach

Le geamhsholas an tinteáin
déanann sé stáidéar ar leabhair
(ní fhaigheann sé mórán ach fionna)

Sroicheann capall aonair an bun,
dreapann sé suas, suas, suas, agus
buaileann ar an doras le crúb —

“Tar isteach...?”

—Mícheál Ó Beigléinn

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter 2007

We commonly run through the mythology of the 1916 Easter Rising in our minds: the proclamation of the Republic and the siege of the GPO, the “sanctifying” of the cause of Irish independence in blood, the executions of the leaders, who had been imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, Connolly shot while sitting on a chair due to the grievous injuries he had incurred in the fighting. It has been turned into poems, songs, etc. It has become a shorthand of sorts, for whatever you want it to mean. In the last couple decades that has often been something along the lines of: Pearse was a fanatic with a death-wish and a misguided Romantic notion about self-sacrifice, or was really just a “terrorist” who has provided cover to a whole new generation of terrorists. Now that the war in the North is over, it has suddenly become okay again to celebrate Pearse and the other men and women of 1916. Last year’s gargantuan government commemoration in Dublin, the biggest since the 50th anniversary in 1966, seems to have made it acceptable. Certainly this is a good thing. But think of the smaller marches and gatherings which have always taken place, year after year, which didn’t always have “official” sanction. And of those who wore an Easter lily when to do so immediately identified you as sympathetic to the cause of a united Ireland, when it wasn’t always the PC thing to do. And how much easier it is this year, now that Ian Paisley has sat smiling next to a lily-clad Gerry Adams.

I think of those Sundays in Eyre Square, Galway, at the foot of the statue of Liam Mellowes. (For it was in Co. Galway that Mellowes led the only action of the Rising that occurred outside of Dublin.) A lone piper and someone reading the Proclamation. Somewhere around a hundred people or so – not bad for Galway – to show their regard and to hear a B-list Sinn Féin speaker. Then the march to Bohermore Cemetery, where the obligatory plain-clothes Branchman sat in a compact car, trying to observe who was in attendance. The action of memory has him absentmindedly reading a newspaper, but I’m sure that wasn’t really the case.

Undoubtedly, with the recent events in the North we are just a little bit closer to the aim of a united Ireland, but perhaps as far as ever from the ideals of Proclamation of the Republic. The Rising was led by Pearse, the Gaelicist, and Connolly, the socialist. Though it certainly lives, the Irish language still struggles in competition with English. The gap between rich and poor grows seemingly wider, as Ireland, in emerging from its century-and-a-half-long economic slump, has morphed itself into the latest bastion of the nouveau-riche.

As Roland Barthes, the post-structuralist cultural critic, has pointed out in his Myth Today, “Myth is speech stolen and restored. Only, speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back it was not put exactly in its place.” It wouldn’t be too difficult to identify distortions in the 1916 myth, at the agency of both reactionaries and revolutionaries. But on Easter 1916, a real Pádraig Pearse led a real uprising against a real colonial government, which sailed a real gunboat up the River Liffey, and fired real shells at the centre of Dublin. Real men and women took to the streets and battled real British soldiers. Real bullets fired by those same real British soldiers executed Pearse, Thomas J. Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Ned Daly, Willie Pearse, Michael O’Hanrahan, John MacBride, Éamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Cornelius Colbert, Seán Heuston, Seán Mac Diarmada, James Connolly, Thomas Kent, and there was a real rope for Roger Casement. Some were real poets.

I admit to being partial to the symbolism of 1916. It appeals to my personal sense of aesthetics. In that way perhaps I am even perpetuating its mythic qualities (and probably this is unavoidable, for an action in history which has been transformed into an image). But underneath the layers of distortions it might still be possible to arrive at some sort of truth about the Rising and what it meant. One might start by rereading the Easter Proclamation. And then also imagining what it could mean for the Ireland of today. The guns have gone. This is a good thing, and one can only hope that Sinn Féin politicians are correct in their analysis that a united Ireland can now be achieved without violence. The question is what kind of Ireland will it be. The Proclamation remains, and cannot be erased. It’s not just paper, but a seed, a representation of a goal and a statement of intent which remains to be fulfilled.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Burdock 2

After a long postal odyssey, the new issue of the Milwaukee-based literary magazine Burdock finally arrived. Edited by Keith Gaustad, Burdock 2 is a good mix of poets, and also includes one prose piece by Jim Hazard. Lots of great poems here. James Liddy with a couple of shortish pieces – “Which was the real President / James Brown or Gerald Ford…?” Jim Chapson’s “The Joke” argues, tongue in cheek we think, for demons as the cause of mental illness. On a slightly related note, one of Burdock’s “burrs” (some of the poems are printed on sticker paper) is from Tim Miller, entitled “Do You Know Autism.” As Miller himself has suggested, you can use these stickers to cover up crap poems in existing anthologies. Not a bad idea at all. Good poems from Susan Firer and Sarah Fox (the latter has a piece about Salvia divinorum! – “Her blood is minty and erotic…”). (Editor Gaustad writes, “There’re women in this issue so one could say things are progressing.”) My vote for best poem title: Fr. Ronald Crewe’s “Chew Any Good Carpets Lately?” Eric Adams’ “Coolgreany Hangover” reminds me of July 2002. Cool cover (not shown) by Kyle Fitzpatrick.

Let’s hope this journal keeps going, because it’s already developing into something great, and should continue to do so. As before, send something at least for postage, say a buck or two, to Keith Gaustad, 1515 E. Kane Pl. #39, Milwaukee, WI, 53202, USA. Submissions taken at the same address (with an SASE), or inquire at

Friday, March 23, 2007

Liddy Tribute reviewed in The Irish Literary Supplement

The Irish Literary Supplement has reviewed Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice: A Tribute to James Liddy in its Spring 2007 issue (Vol. 26, No. 2). The piece, by Tyler Farrell, is entitled “The Poet Who Caps Our Being,” and is quite a glowing assessment of both the Tribute and Liddy’s newest collection, On the Raft with Fr. Roseliep. Farrell writes, “The festschrift shows the desire to hail this poet, to give something back to a man who influenced poetry, shaped a new and unique outlook, and struck a blow for the spiritual and the sexual, the Irish and American, the freedoms and the footsteps.” Later he adds, “Many of the works jump off the page and relay much of Liddy’s devotion to writing, life, friends, love and art. It is gossip for the gossip poet and love for the love poet.” My appreciation to Farrell and the ILS.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

St. Patrick escapes from servitude as a pig herder in Ireland back to his native Britain (from where he had been kidnapped) with the help of sailors who agree to take him aboard. Patrick, or Patricius, says in his Confessio that “on that day, I refused to suck the breasts of these men from fear of God, but nevertheless I had hopes that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ, because they were barbarians.” The breast-sucking appears to have been a custom of ancient Irish society.

Later Patrick comes back, competes with the druids in contests of magic, and lights his fire on the Hill of Slane to trump the traditional druidic fire on the Hill of Tara. (It seems the Irish government is planning to build a highway near/over Tara soon. There’s presently a campaign to stop it, which any right-thinking person should support.)

James Joyce writes about the Archdruid Berkeley’s religious disputations with Patrick in Finnegans Wake. Peter D. Fitz-Hugh examines this section in an interesting article:

Why then should King Leary as the Archdruid’s chosen example of his way of ‘seeing’ the world appear all green? Because the fundamental point about Leary is his Irishness, a true native Irish king, the embodiment of Ireland free and unoppressed, who must therefore be seen as green, Ireland’s national colour, through and through to the Archdruids ‘throughsighty’ (FW611.32). Joyce is also saying that the Wake is a thoroughly Irish work.

St. Patrick represents a major cultural shift in Irish society. Although, of course Ireland didn’t become Christian in one fell swoop, as if in 432 the country was suddenly converted en masse. The original religion existed for probably many centuries more, and numerous pagan sites and practices were preserved almost wholesale in an ostensibly Christian guise.

It has been suggested that poems on the 7th-century figure Mongán in ancient texts such the Imram Brain maic Febaill represent a native pagan resistance to the imported religion, and that “Mongán was a chief [flaith] sympathetic to pagan beliefs…and poets viewed him as their champion and a source of hope as they attempted to hold the line against Christianity” (my translation, from J.E. Caerwyn Williams & Máirín Ní Mhuiríosa, Traidisiún Liteartha na nGael, BÁC: An Clóchomhar, 1979, p. 30).

Many also point out that on another level Christianity was eventually accepted into Ireland with a striking lack of violence or force, with a lot of tolerance for the earlier belief, even subsuming some of it and molding itself to pre-existing customs (though rejecting many others). St. Patrick therefore has a strange double meaning for Ireland.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Irish Times reviews James Liddy Tribute

The tribute/festschrift for James Liddy, which I edited, was just reviewed by David Gardiner in The Irish Times (Saturday, 3 February 2007). Here is the piece:

A poet permeated by the Beat

David Gardiner

Michael S Begnal, Ed., Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice: A Tribute to James Liddy (Arlen House, 2006)
James Liddy, On the Raft with Fr Roseliep (Arlen House, 2006)

Being Irish-American has never really been particularly “cool”. Bob Dylan admits to learning a few things from Liam Clancy about protest songs, and there’s nothing particularly uncool about catching a Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys show. But between Bill O’Reilly and Pat Buchanan, the rebirth of cool does not seem to be around the corner.

And yet, being an exile to the US and a dissident voice there is both a truly complex and American stance. Extending back to the Jeremiads of the Transcendentalist writers through to the Beat generation, America can be a place to be (in the adapted words of an Irish poet who spent some time in Berkeley and Boston) lost, happy, and at home.

Two recent works highlight the continuing achievement of James Liddy, an inheritor of generations of American writers who were watching their homeplaces and loved ones transformed and who remains an important continuing influence on a contemporary generation of writers.

Like his tireless efforts on behalf of his peers and younger writers, James Liddy’s work doesn’t pay much attention to what’s cool. He has paid attention to what’s important to poetry – to the life of the word. More than anything, this shows that his studies of, and travels with, the American Beat writers since his arrival in the US in the 1960s have permeated his very being.

James Liddy has remained one of the most prolific and active Irish writers since appearing on the scene with his 1962 publication, Esau, My Kingdom For A Drink (Dolmen Press) and with the important, short-lived journal Arena (1963-65), which he published with Michael Hartnett and Liam O’Connor. Since then, he has published more than 50 chapbooks, collections, and prose works, including his Collected Poems (Creighton University Press, 1994) and the first volume of his autobiography, The Doctor’s House (Salmon Publishing, 2004).

Parallels in the sheer volume of writing might be made between Liddy and George Moore, and they could continue – the exile and the autobiographer; the myth-maker of the houses inhabited, from the Doctor’s House to the Snake Pit to the Slovak Bowling Alley; both presenting themselves as one of the first of the “new Irish”; both documenting, as Liddy writes in The Doctor’s House, a life “rotten with literature and art”. Recently, Liddy has stated that Moore gave to Ireland something that was hugely important to modern Irish writing: an imagination that was Catholic, European, and French. To Irish writing, as testified to in Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice, James Liddy contributes an imagination – especially through his collaboration with the late Michael Hartnett – that is Catholic, libertine, and Beat.

The staying power of that imagination is one of the truly powerful literary achievements. When so many of the current generation lapse into a parody of self-promotion prior to their second MFA classroom award, Liddy has persevered in his writing, editing, and teaching career on his own terms across 60 hugely productive years. From the “hegemonic critical bent”, as a conferee might like to say, Liddy would seem to have it all – out in an Ireland that was repressively Catholic; flirtatiously Blueshirt in Dev’s Ireland; an outsider’s outsider from one side and a highbrow’s highbrow from another. Yet, there’s that “other side”. The side that actually likes that big, loud, dumb bully across the water; that writes sympathetically about, of all things, Slovak Bowling Alleys.

One of the chief strengths of the collection of tributes Michael S Begnal has gathered within Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice is that the large collection of contributors does convey something of this Whitmanesque multitude. Among the most notable inclusions are Thomas Kinsella, Liam O’Connor, the late Michael Hartnett, Knute Skinner, Philip Casey, Terence Winch, Una O’Higgins O’Malley, Thomas McGonigle, Dermot Bolger, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Eamonn Wall, Jim Chapson, Zack Pieper, Pearse Hutchinson, Micheál Ó Conghaile, Brian Arkins, and Dennis O’Driscoll. The sculptor John Behan concludes his appreciation, signed “Charles de Gaul airport . . . 3 May 2004”, by quoting Liddy’s poem Patrick Kavanagh’s Dublin, which could easily be claimed as an ars poetica:

We travel through Dublin’s wide streets bearing
white flowers to throw in bunches to our young friends
and sunrise halos from forgiveness to our unknowing lovers
where roof-high breezes out of a green still
on the fields pour along our hands which clumsily confess
the faithfulness too deep for anything but walking.

To remind us that the Dublin in which Liddy began writing was not entirely the bohemian paradise Liddy creates in his work, Begnal includes Flann O’Brien’s review of Esau, My Kingdom for a Drink, which that great figure concluded “is all . . . illiterate schoolboy hysteria, brashness and, where any meaning can be discerned, a total ignorance by Mr Liddy of Joyce’s work and intent . . . Mr Liddy’s eructation can provoke nothing but derision and perhaps the hope that he is young enough to get a touch of the strap from the Brothers”.

Though giving no evidence of what Liddy got the touch of, Eamonn Wall provides a wide and generous context for the “New Irish” writing in the US in his contribution “From the El to Axel’s: Irish Poets Stateside”, in which he places Liddy’s work alongside Muldoon, Montague, Boland, Delanty, and Grennan. Wall comments eruditely that Liddy “is the poet of polkas, bowling alleys, bedrooms and bars who remains always the singer singing the song of the self. The urban America of his poetry . . . is as complex as Kavanagh’s Dublin and Pope’s London. Often, he is out of tune with Irish America and very much in tune with Serbian, Bohemian, Czech, and Polish America”. A previously unpublished letter from Charles Bukowski concludes: “we’re not going to cause any literary revolution, but we hope to say a few things that haven’t, for some reason, been said and to print the good clear strong poem – the poem that drinks beer and smokes cigars and laughs – sometimes. all right. but we have to reject almost everything and people get discouraged. we do too.”

Throughout the collection, Begnal generously selects unpublished works of James Liddy’s, including Her Disposition, which is simply one of his most remarkable poems, in which he imagines his mother, pregnant with him and near WB Yeats at a cocktail party (and which concludes in box, below left). Only John Montague, perhaps well aware of too-early epitaphs, uses the word “encomia” properly in Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice, for it really is a tribute to a career in continuing stride rather than finishing sprint.

THIS CONTINUING PRESENCE is most evident in the new collection, also published by Arlen House, and, rather fittingly, featuring a painting by the early Dolmen artist Pauline Bewick. On the Raft with Fr Roseliep invokes the memory of Raymond Roseliep, another American-Irish writer transplanted to the Midwest – particularly Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, which Liddy refers to brilliantly in his note as the “Little Rome of the Midwest”. As a frequent contributor to Threshold and The Dubliner as well as an extensive correspondent with Christy Brown, Fr Roseliep joins James Liddy’s sizable menagerie of poet-saints, for both his work and what he represents. As with many of Liddy’s recent collections in both prose and poetry, On the Raft is both a poetics and a lives of the poets at a time when, as Liddy writes in one poem, “The Writing Programs/ have won, to write is only to teach to get paid, Muses kick/ America in the ass”.

On the Raft opens with Let’s Invade Ourselves Not Iraq, a poem that starts off with the exchange: “Professor, are you thinking of retirement?/ I haven’t fully explored the drinking age yet”. Liddy is expert at inserting voices in his poems and at subtlety in general – and that oxymoronic structural statement lies at the centre of why his poetry is sometimes under-appreciated. In this poem for instance, Liddy combines the epigrammatic gesture and the combined art forms of conversation and gossip: “Autobiography whispers in Cleopatra’s ear noble unencumbered woman/ what would happen if we weren’t failures?” Throughout a tightly structured movement stanzas rotate twice through consideration of self to others to societal considerations until concluding: “I lay agenbite of inwit beside the glass. / Mars, have mercy, direct wars within”.

AS IN LIDDY’S other collections and memoirs, this work is filled with casual mention and allusion. A fragmentary list of those who appear would include Willie Redmond, Charles Bukowski, Patrick Kavanagh, Michael Hartnett, Kay Boyle, Robert Duncan, Bob Watt, Whitman, Pound, Eliot, Graham Mackintosh and Joe Dunn (both White Rabbit Press), Jack Spicer, John Ryan, George Stanley, Baudelaire, John Ashbery, Edward Carson, Oscar Wilde, John Kerry, and, of course, Pope Benedict XV. In one of his best breathless recitations, On Cooking & Jack Spicer, Liddy writes out a litany of the White Rabbit Press (San Francisco) that is an invocation and a catalogue, ending: “These are the lives of the poets. Transparencies. When we dead white rabbits arise we will cook up literature again”. Samuel Beckett wrote in Dublin Magazine in 1934 that “all poetry, as discriminated from the various paradigms of prosody, is prayer”. Going a step further, Liddy repeatedly presses prayer into the service of poetry – his secular invocations, litanies, loves, and devotions ride upon that beatific line.

On the Raft with Fr Roseliep opens with an epigraph from Jack White. In a collection filled with allusiveness – to Fr Roseliep himself, to the Beats who fly throughout his work like so many saints on a Byzantine frieze, to the fellow-poets of Liddy’s many cities on either side of the Atlantic – it makes sense that there’s another name at the start, as it begins:

‘This album is dedicated to, and is for and about the death of the sweetheart. In a social plane, impossible to exist, and in memories, past defeating present. We mourn the sweetheart’s loss . . . ’

The note of melancholy began for Liddy with his very first work, found its first brilliant articulation in one of his most important works, Baudelaire’s Bar Flowers (White Rabbit, 1975), and continues here. This persistent melancholy, though, is that of a true and puckish lover and is discovered only by – in good readerly Beat fashion – taking the poet at his word and entering into his world, searching out this Jack White, or (if you’re one of his many students, or the current generation of writers), you may already know that Jack White is not one of Liddy’s universe of writers but the lead guitarist and writer of the band The White Stripes, whose liner notes from the album Elephant (2003) continue:

We mourn the sweetheart’s loss in a disgusting world of opportunistic lottery-ticket holders caring about nothing that is long term, only the cheap thrill, the kick, the for-the-moment pleasure, the easy way out, the bragging rights and trophy holding.

A new generation should continue to know Liddy’s work so as to know that we have not lost the sweetheart – though the cry must continue from Arena through to Elephant and beyond.

David Gardiner is associate professor of English, and director and editor of Creighton University Press and An Sionnach, publishers of The Collected Poems of James Liddy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

VICE, The Fiction Issue

Vice magazine, first time I’ve seen an issue in a good six months or something, maybe more. Since I don’t currently live in New York, L.A., or London, I only get them when a friend gives or sends me one. (Guess I should check the website more often, since you can actually download them for free.) But one thing I immediately noticed was a letter in this issue’s Mail section – a gushing, over-serious ass-kiss (“This is not an ass-kiss,” it begins) from a 37-yr-old man who actually deems it necessary to stipulate, “I am not a part of Vice’s demographic.” The letter-writer is, “however, always drawn to your magazine because it shows a side to society that us comfortably numb old farts can peer into and then ponder the world around us.” It then goes on to laud Vice for its “bold and important” articles, “courage,” the “issues” it “highlights,” etc. The title the editors have given this short missive is “Averting Midlife Crisis.” Inexplicably (for anyone who has ever read the magazine around, say, the early 2000’s), they don’t make fun of this guy in the slightest and actually go so far as to answer, with no real trace of irony, “Thanks, old-timer.” Perhaps Vice has in a sense entered its own mid-life crisis. But then one could hardly expect it to maintain the same relentless style of attack after ten-plus years. But to see them openly accepting a comment about a “demographic” at all, much less tacitly admitting that a 37-yr-old guy might not be part of it, was a bit weird.

It was always well-known that advertising was a major part of the magazine, but it used to be that it was more just a vehicle which enabled them to do their own uncompromised and uncorrupted thing. Now we’ve got product placement in the “Tidbits” section. Believe it or not, underneath the item on the Clone-A-Pussy kit is a blatant promo for Canon’s Elph camera: “Call it brand loyalty but it seems like the Elph just keeps getting better and better...” Is it just me or does this stick out like a sore thumb? Well, at least they actually gave Jay-Z a bad review. On second thought, part of the reason seems to be because he’s too old! And meanwhile, Li’l Wayne gets the thumbs up (unbelievably termed “best rapper in the universe”) for lyrics like this: “Bitch I’m paid / that’s all I gotta say / can’t see you little niggas / the money in the way...” They actually quote this as a testament to his genius. Well, put me in the “old” category too then, because I’ll take almost any half-decent old-school rapper, or anyone who can come up with something at least slightly more original to say, over this. (I agree with them on the Clipse album though. As far as commercial rap goes, it’s not bad.)

But this is Vice’s Fiction Issue and a lot of the sorts of articles that normally would have been included aren’t here, in favor of short fiction pieces. So in some ways it’s hard to compare it to other issues, and it’s not got a lot to do with any supposed demographic. I was really surprised by the high quality of the writing they’ve published. Not because I’m down on Vice, because, let’s face it, despite my above criticisms it’s still the best magazine out there and the only one I would read on a regular basis with any real interest. Really it still is. And despite the occasional clunker, they always seem to come back with a great issue. Surprised just because frankly I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, being as preoccupied as I am with poetry and “non-contemporary” fiction. I have, however, read 57-yr-old Richard Hell before – his novel Go Now was pretty good I thought – and his piece here about early sex is too. Also included is a story by the almost 45-yr-old Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. Sam Brumbaugh (40) conjures a weirdly claustrophobic sense in “Baron in Vegas,” a story about a guy selling his dead semi-famous uncle’s guitar to something like a Hard Rock Cafe. Harmony Korine’s (only 34) fictional (?) conversation between Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Clint Eastwood, though, comes off as rambling and a bit dull, but then probably how it would have gone down in real life. Another filmmaker, Neil LaBute (44) (who, unfortunately, directed that awful remake of The Wicker Man) has a really good story here, about an office racist. He gets into some pretty twisted shit (no pun intended) (you have to read it to know what I mean). And I have to mention Eileen Myles (57), a really interesting figure, a punk poet who’s been doing a lot of great stuff since the 70’s – “Tapestry” is no exception, a brief chronicle of certain erotic adventures, which she likens to “a procession of beaver shots.” Speaking of poets, when is Vice going to do a poetry issue? Or have they already and I missed it?

Anyway, I could go on, because almost every story in here is really, really good. Sorry for those I left out, but after starting off criticizing, all of the sudden I notice all I’m doing now is saying how amazing this issue is. But alright, one last kudo – as always the photography is great too, not least the cover pic of the Strand Bookstore by Roe Ethridge (age 37). Enough.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Maurice Scully, Tig

Got Maurice Scully’s latest book, Tig (Shearsman Books, 2006, 102 pp., ISBN 978-0-907562-96-2), which is the conclusion to his massive meisterwerk entitled Things That Happen. Tig follows Five Freedoms of Movement (1987, 2001), Livelihood (2004), and Sonata (2006). At present I have not gotten my hands on the penultimate volume Sonata, so I’m looking at Tig as its own thing, and am not at the moment all that worried about how it ties in with the rest (although I have read the others, Livelihood being the bulkier volume).

But now that I see the gigantic scheme of all this, I am reminded of William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, which, like Things That Happen, is a large continuing poem written over the course of decades. And though I don’t want to stretch the comparison too far, Scully, at the very least, is obviously a poetic kindred spirit to Williams.

Tig opens with an image of a butterfly migration, an “immense blizzard of wings,” but Scully, as always, wants to get under the surface of the image. It is not only the beautiful forms and colours one sees, but also “...light exuding // over the visible / light intruding...” and there is a comment on the evolution of insect wings, and a rectangle representing a window, “rain on glass to the side of yr face...” Then comes what is more or less the book’s central (and recurring) image, a leaf falling from a tree (thus the cover photo), again seen from a windowpane, a windowpane that is the lense through which the poet sees, at a remove:

different (or) touching a windowpane where
drops gather ( ) difference ( ) &
or different

The window implies a house behind it, which is a central concern here too. A couple of sections have the title “A Place to Stay”: a space where one lives, or from where to engage with the wider world, as in a society, how one approaches society from one’s own space. In Munster Irish, the word tig means “house.” The themes are simple but the actual process may be complex. The section “Backyard” gives us a crisp picture, “on still pools oakleaf / folded in a muddy crevice” and wonders, “are we just / photographs talking...?” Life is “one elong- / ated crisis (with / modulations)....” Things that happen.

But it is the modulations that are of crucial importance here, otherwise why put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. The falling leaves suggest age; there is an oblique reference or two to death. And modulations in writing. The best thing about Scully, for me, at the moment, is his style, which he’s really honed at this point. It’s got clarity and precision, even the way it looks on the page is made for particular effect, the use of certain marks, and the occasional use of the Irish language and Gaelic literary tradition totally makes it. It has got purpose, and he says so:

I’ve had quite enough

Free Expression, Genius & all that.

Let’s communicate.

That’s the end of book one. Book two opens (nearly) with an observation, “essentially a poem is a flat surface covered in part by groupings of twenty-six quite well-known symbols.” Later an ironic joke:

All that these able writers have said on language has been
challenging, provocative, & generally very helpful.

Thank you.

And that’s where it starts to get really good, I mean really turned up a notch. All the images from the first half of the book are reconstituted, repeated, cut up in a sustained burst of energy, like watching a fireworks display, which keeps getting more and more spectacular till the end. For me, Scully is one of the very best Irish poets alive today. Tig reconfirms it; and this book is worth your while.