Saturday, March 22, 2008

Paddy’s Day, or Easter?

St. Patrick’s Day has just passed, and I noticed that Guinness has been running a campaign to make the day an official holiday in the US (as it is in Ireland), something the company is calling Proposition 3-17.

Sounds great in principle, till you realize that, well first of all, it’s a beer group pushing this — not just Guinness, but really its parent company, the multinational Diageo. So their motivations are obvious, and are corporate rather than cultural. Besides which, there are already way too many idiots going around on Paddy’s Day, acting moronic and perpetuating stupid “Irish” stereotypes. Why encourage those people by making it an official day off? All it means is they’ll be able to start drinking earlier, getting drunker and stupider quicker, leading merely to more vomiting in the streets and fake Irishness.

While those in favor of the official holiday idea no doubt think it means that Irish culture will be somehow promoted on a wider scale, Paddy’s Day in America is more usually marked by racial stereotypes (notably, the Irish-as-drunken-louts stereotype). Paddy’s Day in the public sphere means almost nothing now, except possibly to people of Irish descent or with a real interest in Ireland, Irish culture, etc., on an individual level (or, for those religious people, as a Catholic feast day). Beyond that, it has become nothing but an excuse to indulge in drunken stereotypes and Plastic Paddyism. Similar stereotypes for other ethnic groups’ holidays would not be tolerated — so why do Irish-Americans tolerate and even embrace Irish stereotypes? Do gringos put on plastic sombreros and fake mustaches, and go staggering through the streets on Cinco de Mayo? Is it acceptable to put on blackface for MLK Day? So why is this acceptable for St. Patrick’s Day?:

Paddy’s Day has become so commercialized, so stereotyped, and so ridiculous that I don’t wear green, don’t even celebrate it anymore, except maybe in small groups of like-minded friends, or inwardly in my own head. (Or in Ireland, where although the celebrations are quickly becoming equally as annoying, at least there is some organic connection between Irish society and the day that’s in it.) Going out and seeing people wearing green plastic leprechaun hats, with shamrocks (or, even worse, four-leaf clovers) painted on their faces as they vomit in the gutter is really not that fun. An official holiday would only add to the sheer stupidity that St. Patrick’s Day has unfortunately come to represent. (And by the way, the Irish symbol is the shamrock, not the four-leaf clover. The shamrock has three leaves, not four.) Don’t get me wrong, I like to drink, myself, too. But I prefer not to be surrounded by walking insults when I do so.

A much more meaningful holiday for Irish people should be Easter. Leaving the Christian aspect aside, for Ireland the 1916 Easter Rising represents the struggle for independence, liberation from imperialist domination, a cultural rebirth, linguistic rebirth, and an overarching celebration of the spirit of freedom. Not all of these things have yet been realized, but it means that the struggle is ongoing and that everyone still has a part to play. As I wrote in my last year’s Easter message, we are closer than ever to a united Ireland, but it has not yet been achieved. Nor have the wider ideals of the Easter Proclamation, in which “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

Despite the proclamation of “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible,” the gap between rich and poor seems to grow apace, multinational corporations exploit the economy and natural resources, the Irish language is still discriminated against, and even the Irish government is willing to bulldoze thousands of years of Irish history at the Hill of Tara to make way for a motorway that might shave a few minutes off the daily commute to Dublin. But the Easter Rising, led by Pearse and Connolly, represents an opposition to all of these political, economic, and cultural injustices. Easter, therefore, can still be a powerful symbol of resistance, and a powerful representation of Irishness that is far from the leprechaun-and-green-beer stereotypes that are ubiquitous on Paddy’s Day. Instead of a fake plastic hat or some shamrock face paint, it is far preferable in my opinion to wear an Easter lily. Caith lile na Cásca in ómós do laochra marbha na hÉireann — agus i streachailt in éadan éagóracha an lae inniu!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reading 3/18 in Columbia, SC

I will be giving a poetry reading on Tuesday, March 18, at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. The reading is part of their Poetry Initiative series. I will be reading with Marjory Wentworth (SC Poet Laureate), Ed Madden, and Julia Koets.

The event takes place at the Richland County Library, which is located at 1431 Assembly St. in downtown Columbia. It begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m., and the readings begin at 7:00 p.m. A book-signing will follow, and all of our books will be on sale, including Ancestor Worship. Looks like it’s going to be an interesting night....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Burdock 4

Issue four of the Milwaukee-based literary journal Burdock is out, and it contains some wild stuff, including poems as stickers — yes, some of the short poems here come printed on sticker paper, ready to be stuck up some place they are (no doubt) not welcome, like police stations or Wal-Marts. There are three solid poems from one of Milwaukee’s best up-and-coming young poets, Zack Pieper. One is the simple and ironic “The American Dream”: “The In-/ Exhaustible/ Search/ For more/ Meaningful/ Sex.” Burdock favors the short poem, to be sure, but includes a few which run to the length of a full page, while Eric Adams’ prose goes to two.

Mostly, however, it is a magazine of short blasts and grit, with a few deserving nods to Kerouac and Ginsberg, whose influence on the Milwaukee scene is notable here. For me, some of the other standouts were Jason Groth’s untitled exegesis of a strip club (“The air is violent breasts shoulder driven into sad agate eyes…”), Dolly Lemke’s autobiographical “Birthday Cake,” Karl Saffran’s send-up of the Beats, Tim Miller’s “The Bulgarian Town of Batak” (which deals with a Turkish-propagated 19th-century genocide — “infants who died sliding down the length of a Turk’s bayonet…”), and David Brannan’s and Tyler Farrell’s Catholic explorations. Wait, that’s nearly the whole issue…

Editor Keith Gaustad has some nice things to say about Ancestor Worship: “Ancestor Worship reads well and the poems do not all work around one theme. The strengths of Mike’s writing are his ability to celebrate a place using brutal starkness and at times a rough honesty, the kind that puts you on the wrong side with friends. I suppose if things were never ugly then they’d never seem beautiful. Putting that all in one poem can be risky, next thing you know you’re an essayist, unless you keep a bit of love in the language and Mike has that from his ancestors, some of whom were old-school rappers and some were Irish revolutionaries. From KRS-One to W.B. Yeats, Mike B channels genius from all of the greats shedding light on the divided who are obliged to their fates. Word.”

Burdock 4 also includes two of my own newer poems. And a cool cover by Anna Shovers (above). To obtain it, contact Keith Gaustad at