Monday, May 25, 2009

Poem in the Suisun Valley Review

I have a poem in the new issue of the Suisun Valley Review (Spring 2009, Issue 26, ISSN 1945-7340). This journal is impressive, with a glossy cover and perfect-bound format. It is produced and edited by students at Solano Community College in California who take English 58, “a course in the contemporary literary magazine.” Sounds like a pretty progressive college, and it comes through in the magazine itself, which includes not only poetry and short fiction, but photography as well.

There’s some really great material in this issue, and it is well worth the $6 cover price. An immediate stand-out for me was a poem by Ashaki M. Jackson (who describes herself in her bio as “an ethnographer by proxy” and a social psychologist “in her spare time”). Her poem is “Revival,” and stylistically it reminded me a bit of myself. My own poem is “Thylacine,” and if I may say so it is one of my favorite poems that I’ve written in the last couple years. It takes up two pages of the journal; thanks to them for giving me the space....

Order the magazine at: Suisun Valley Review, English Department, Solano Community College, 4000 Suisun Valley Rd., Fairfield, CA 94535, USA, or query by email at: There’s also lots of info on their blog (the link above) and their MySpace page.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Léirmheas de Joe Steve Ó Neachtain i bhFeasta

Tá léirmheas a scríobh mé den leabhar filíochta is déanaí Joe Steve Ó Neachtain foilsithe san irisleabhar Feasta. Is é an t-eagrán atá i gceist ná Móreagrán na Bealtaine 2009 (Imleabhar 62, Uimhir 5, ISSN 0014-8946), agus tá sé ar díol sna siopaí leabhair i láthair na huaire. Príomhiris liteartha na Gaelige is ea Feasta, agus tá Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa ina eagarthóir air.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The scholar, Austin Clarke, and others

Poet and critic Robert Archambeau has posted a pleasant “end of semester” post on his Samizdat Blog. Toward the end of it, he includes Austin Clarke’s “The Scholar,” which I had not come across before (my knowledge of Clarke being shamefully somewhat less than it should be). But since I happen to be a big fan of Seán Ó Tuama’s anthology An Duanaire, 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed (The Dolmen Press, 1981), I immediately recognized the Clarke piece as a loose version of “Aoibhinn Beatha an Scoláire,” the now-anonymous 17th-century Irish Gaelic poem. Archambeau highlights Clarke’s use of consonance, assonance, and half-rhymes, which is indeed pretty amazing. And it goes along with what I do know about Clarke, that he was very big on bringing the techniques and metres of Gaelic poetry over into English. Here is the original poem, followed by Clarke’s English version:

Aoibhinn beatha an sgoláire
bhíos ag déanamh a léighinn;
is follas díbh, a dhaoine,
gurab dó is aoibhne i nÉirinn.

Gan smacht ríogh ná rófhlatha
ná tighearna dá threise;
gan chuid cíosa ag caibidil,
gan moicheirgne, gan meirse.

Moichéirghe ná aodhaireacht
ní thabhair uadha choidhche,
’s ní mó do-bheir dá aire
fear ná faire san oidhche.

Do-bheir sé greas ar tháiplis,
is ar chláirsigh go mbinne,
nó fós greas eile ar shuirghe
is ar chumann mná finne.

Maith biseach a sheisrighe
ag teacht tosaigh an earraigh;
is é is crannghail dá sheisrigh
lán a ghlaice do pheannaibh.


The Scholar

Summer delights the scholar
With knowledge and reason.
Who is happy in hedgerow
Or meadow as he is?

Paying no dues to the parish,
He argues in logic
And has no care of cattle
But a satchel and stick.

The showery airs grow softer,
He profits from his ploughland
For the share of the schoolmen
Is a pen in hand.

When mid-day hides the reaping,
He sleeps by a river
Or comes to the stone plain
Where the saints live.

But in winter by the big fires,
The ignorant hear his fiddle,
And he battles on the chessboard,
As the land lords bid him.

Even if you don’t speak Irish, you can see that Clarke is attempting to imitate the form of the original, down to the loose or half-rhymes of lines 2 and 4 in each stanza, and the not-quite-regular pattern of alliteration. But what I found particularly interesting was what Clarke did with the translation itself, because he actually subverts the meaning of the poem to a great degree. For comparison, here is Thomas Kinsella’s rather more literal translation from An Duanaire, closely reflecting the original:

The Scholar’s Life

Sweet is the scholar’s life,
busy about his studies,
the sweetest lot in Ireland
as all of you know well.

No king or prince to rule him
nor lord however mighty,
no rent to the chapterhouse,
no drudging, no dawn-rising.

Dawn-rising or shepherding
never required of him,
no need to take his turn
as watchman in the night.

He spends a while at chess,
and a while with the pleasant harp
and a further while wooing
and winning lovely women.

His horse-team hale and hearty
at the first coming of Spring;
the harrow for his team
is a fistful of pens.

In the original, the emphasis is on the seeming ease of the scholar’s life, his relief from the drudgery of other occupations, the apparently privileged position he holds. The feeling is of spring, of art, of freedom, of sex, even a sense of hedonism, of libertinism in late-Gaelic society. It harks back to the role of the file, the poet, in classical Gaelic society, once on a par with the chief or king. But given the poem’s time period, probably the 17th c., maybe shortly after the disaster of Kinsale, perhaps there is a hint of a rose-tinted perspective here, or at least the unspoken sense that things were quickly to change. The poets who immediately followed, and up through the early 19th c. Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin decried their reduced circumstances and bristled at the poverty they, poets, had been reduced to (by English despotism).

Austin Clarke’s version of the poem is of his own time period (post-independence, ultra-conservative Ireland). The emphasis here is on summer as a temporary respite from the duties of the job. As Archambeau smartly points out, there is a “devastating turn at the end, when the easy flow of pastoral escapism comes to a screeching halt, and the scholar once again finds himself, as we all do, working for The Man.” This does not happen in the Gaelic or Kinsella’s version. In these, there is no rent at all; but in Clarke, as winter looms, the concluding line is “the land lords bid him.” In the original, chess is a pleasant diversion, but as Clarke has it, it is a battle. And there is no outward libertinism in Clarke’s versionthe line about “winning lovely women” disappears altogether, it being the 1930s, the Catholic Church’s moral despotism holding sway in Irish society. There is no one but “the ignorant” to listen to the scholar now.

As the ideal life depicted in “Aoibhinn Beatha an Scoláire” is soon dissipated in the wind of 17th-c. English colonization, so is any hope of real intellectual freedom frustrated in 30s Ireland, in Clarke’s version. An interesting side note to this is that my father had a brief correspondence with Clarke in 1970-71. These two letters are now part of the collection of the University of Delaware Library, and the info on them can be seen here. If you scroll down, you will note that under the heading “Scope and Content Note” it lists “censorship in Ireland (including Clarke’s own work),” among other subjects.