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

No comments: