Friday, August 24, 2012

Interview on Burdock Radio

I was interviewed by Keith Gaustad on his Burdock Radio show on Riverwest Radio, Thursday, 23 August 2012.  The interviewed is archived and can be accessed here:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Future Blues

My new collection, Future Blues, is now out from Salmon Poetry.  It is available on your other book-selling websites too, and probably at least order-able from most actual bookshops.  But it’s always best to go direct to the publisher:

Thank you for your support.


ISBN: 978-1-907056-90-1
Page Count: 86
Cover Artwork: Kyle Fitzpatrick, “Theater” (mixed media on canvas, 95” x 96”, 2007),

Michael S. Begnal’s Future Blues is both a progression of and a break with his previous collection, Ancestor Worship. Inasmuch as any poet’s work is a continuing narrative defined by nothing more or less than chronological time, Future Blues is the collection that follows its immediate predecessor and so cannot help but be aware of it. Yet, as Begnal has written, “The best musicians, writers, and artists for me are the ones who, either steadily over time or perhaps in radical bursts, change their style or approach – each new work in part an effort to surpass the previous.” The Irish Literary Supplement described Ancestor Worship as “an attempt at reconstructing an obscured heritage.” While traces of such an impulse inevitably recur, Future Blues hurtles forward seeking out “new images and modes of being” (as one poem puts it), even as our collective future – death – looms.

Future Blues, in its title, lashes Irish poetry past and future into alliance – a desperate, daring act. Is that a space between “Future” and “Blues” or a caesura? Whichever, it offers a narrow stage for the uneasy demimonde of the present, where the Ghosts of Irish Poetry Past and Future meet, and merge. This is a poetry of trace and gesture, of tree and leaf, of light and surfaces, of haze and mark, drink, decline and persistence; a poetry of disjunctiveness which swells notably into cohesive poems in English and Irish – cohesive but still textured; a poetry of anomalies, stitched across time and culture from Mongán to Laurence Sterne to Frank O’Hara to Ron Asheton, often fragile, always intelligent, bristling with formal spice. Mairéad Byrne

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sarah Bennett’s Article on the Irish Avant-Garde

A proto-avant-garde Irish poet
Sarah Bennett has published an interesting article on contemporary Irish avant-garde poetry in the online journal Wave Composition.  Titled “Love, Sorrow and Joy: Aubade for the Irish Poetry Avant-Garde,” the article traces the development of Irish experimental/avant/non-mainstream Irish poetry from MacGreevy though Devlin and Coffey, through the Sixties (The Lace Curtain journal and New Writers’ Press), through to the turn of the century and Wild Honey Press, up to the present.  I’m glad to see this, and it reminds me of the kind of work I have engaged in myself, with The Burning Bush and in an essay I wrote a number of years ago now (“The Ancients Have Returned Among Us: Polaroids of 21st C. Irish Poetry”) in the Louis Armand-edited Avant-Post anthology, that is similar to Bennett’s (I don’t imagine she’s seen it, though, so not to suggest she is in any way influenced by it).  Bennett references me in her article as “Poet, blogger and critic Michael Begnal, committed to the promotion of experimental writing in Ireland. . .”, and I am flattered.

It’s also nice to be kept up to date — I was not aware of Graham Gillespie’s collection Love, Sorrow and Joy (which is grandiosely subtitled “A New Voice in Irish Avant-Garde Poetry” and, strangely for a first collection, includes an interview with the author himself) (this book being the source of Bennett’s ironic title).  Bennett criticizes it as conservative and notes that “It’s difficult to conceive of an avant-garde — Irish or otherwise — in which Gillespie could rightly be accommodated.”  I can’t comment on this, as I’ve yet to read the book, but I’ve always been a fan of such critical jousting, and it will be interesting to see for myself.

Bennett rightly attacks Fintan O’Toole’s assertion that the work of Paul Durcan represents “an instance of the Irish avant-garde breaking into the mainstream.”  Durcan has never been an avant-garde poet, and personally I find his alternately jokey/cranky speaker persona to be merely irritating.  But, that is just my opinion.  Bennett, in any case, is percipient in observing the difficulty, due to socio-historic circumstances, in even approaching the mainstream v. avant-garde debate in Irish literature.

Debates on the definition of “avant-garde”/“experimental” writing rage continually.  Bennett briefly delineates a number of other critics’ positions, seeming to gravitate toward Alex Davis’s.  Still, I always wonder if a more specific critical context is necessary in a piece such as this — might she venture her own definition of the Irish avant-garde?  But then, arguing for this definition over that could be an article unto itself, perhaps a book, and so in this case I like that Bennett just gets on with it, knowing that we get her drift, and engages with the work in a way that reminds us why we ought to read and keep reading it.

Wave Composition as a whole, by the way, looks to be a worthwhile journal.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Poem for a James Liddy Book, at Lúnasa

Poem for a James Liddy Book, at Lúnasa

Book reviews must be analytical,
but I don’t want to be analytical now,
I just want to say that I like it,

Why do you like it?

Because of how it makes me feel

How does it make you feel?

Not like prose (even when there is prose)
but like at Lúnasa
sad and celebratory,
a wave of something anti-logical
in the chest and/or bowel

Why is it sad?

Because James in this book
knows of his death, the lights of dawn
as the débauché loses consciousness,
vomits and the party goes black,
the body cannot keep up
with the convulsions
and the amber liquid finally gags him—
and thus, because James is my friend

Why is it celebratory?

Because as he imparts
in numerous languages—
Silver English, Silver Irish,
Silver Latin among them—
until the blackout,
drink makes us feel good
and our friends are here,
they are naked
and we are penetrating/licking
each other
and could fall in love

What swings from side to side?

I think it must be the parts of the body,
but also that when we reach one side
we move to “the other”

What is “the other”?

Like when you gather berries
on a hilltop
and bring them to the bonfire
and someone hands you a bottle
and you take a drink
and you begin to speak
in cadences art-technologic,
which are taken up
with fire smoke,
and the beings,
who are real by the way,*
say “hi” back to you,
and in the morning you proceed
around the well
in sunwise circles,
     in ludic laughter

*Read the book