PEN Reading in Jukjeon, April 26


Just a little announcement regarding an exciting event which I’ll be participating in this Saturday afternoon in Jukjeon, Yongin.

There is a PEN Korea poetry reading by Korean and foreign poets based in Korea taking place and yours truly will be one of the readers. Expect a good eclectic mix of readers in a relaxed and informal setting. If you’re about please drop by. I’ll be reading one of my poems about Korea. I don’t really know anything about the other readers, but personally I’m intrigued and excited about this opportunity.

The event will take place in the Poeun Art Hall just at Jukjeon Station from 3.30PM – 5.00PM on Saturday, April 26.

This is a free event and will take place in English.

For more information on PEN and PEN Korea please follow these links:

pen-international.org

penkorea.or.kr

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I Just Want to Scream


I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

I heard that a ferry to Jeju that was sinking. News implied all would get out alive. I thought it was Costa Concordia like, if only it was comparable now.

We watched the television late into last night, and all of this morning the volume was up high. We heard talking heads of doctors and divers explain what is wrong and what is right. At one stage I almost cried. I felt that here was the greatest loss of life. And all the time the television showed that hull, the end where those rotors spun south, poking and bobbing like a message in a bottle, an arrow directing all souls to heaven’s heights.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

There are others more suited to anger. There are others more suited to decry. What matters now is to get those kids out alive. Kakao Talk told us some have survived. In a bubble somewhere with all kinds of refuse and the water as cold as those who died. We wait, and we wait, and we watch another news broadcast. And again a talking head tells us we cannot hold out hope for how many might be inside.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

A crane, they said, is floating to the site. A day it will take. I wish I could go and help push. Heave it with everyone else watching, in tears for these boys and girls in their formative years. The years when our lives are determined and we certainly never forget. Our friends who last with us until there’s none of us left. We go through it, our highest triviality til then,and we think it’s the end but come out together.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t do any good.

The lies. The ineptitude. The waste. The love lost. The flowers laid. The broken days. The way so many lives were left to be taken so carelessly away.

I just want to scream, but I know it won’t be loud enough.

“Poetry & Art” – An Essay on Creative Production (2008)


During 2008 I was slap bang in the middle of a masters in 20th and 21st Century Literature in the University of Southampton. At the time, one of the course options was a poetry writing module, which was part of a larger creative writing MA but suitable candidates could take part if they had proof of having written before, and I had.

I don’t go on much here about writing poetry, and sometimes I think I should, but perhaps I feel that writing is something I struggle enough at without having to pretend to know what I’m talking about. The poetry class I took made it a requirement to actually write an essay proving to a certain extent that I did have a clue what I was talking about.

Looking back at it now, I can recognise some strong elements of theory and understanding of what I was doing in my own writing, in a time when I knew less of my actual poetic direction than I do now, and I maintain I know nothing to this day. That’s not to say that I write bad poetry, just don’t ask me to give you a notion on what my actual goals are, other than to write and get published more (you can read some of my published poems here and here – but be sure to read some of the other great poetry on both these sites).

This essay though was written five years ago, so in advance allow me to offer my defence. I don’t think I’ve ever written as much as I have in the five years that immediately preceeded this essay, so I think my writing is better. I’ve also got my bullshit detector a bit more finely tuned, although still far from perfect. I haven’t edited this, except for a few typos, so please feel free to pick through it and raise any points in the comments section. There are large tracts where I related to my own poetry, and in terms of that you can refer to this document which includes all the poems which the actual essay was referring to (again, I have not edited these poems and consider them to be in their so-called original state).

So without further adieu, allow me to present my essay full of self criticism, self appraisal, but hopefully not self destructive.

“Poetry and Art”

Southampton, December 2008

Why and what am I writing for? What is the significance of my own ability as a poet or writer and what good can come of it? I have tried to confront as many themes and different styles for varying poetic effect. I have amalgamated my writing into a project which presents to the reader a journey. The ‘journey’ is an artistic journey from the position of questioning my ability, to understanding, and to the eventual acceptance and use of poetry as a means of conveying a message.

I have experimented with the use of language and its effect on the poem. Of course, there are various definitions of language and each affect us differently. A simple search on the internet for ‘language’ will reveal a primary concern with translation and learning new languages; this directs us towards the function of ‘language’ in poetry. Poetic language is a means of translating the world into art, the same as painting or sculpture, but in this case, with language and words. By learning to be ‘poetic’ we understand a new way of speaking and looking. This all sounds very simple, but that is its beauty; that it is simple and easy to understand.

With this in mind, I have used my own experiences and ideas to help my writing. I have used a mix of reality and imagination to create a blend of language which represents truth. At the same time, I have remained conscious of the fact that simple language portraiture has little function other than aesthetic. For me, poetry must contain more than just a picture.

I have added into my work emotion, nature, and the subconscious self that cannot be transmitted in conventional terms. Of course I am conscious of the disadvantage of individual interpretation. Human interpretation is, as Susan Sontag termed it ‘the revenge of the intellect upon art’[1]. And it is not only Sontag who holds this opinion. Nietzsche said:

“The feeling that one is obliged to describe on thing as red, another as cold, and a third as dumb, prompts a moral impulse which pertains to truth; from its opposite, the liar whom no one trusts and all exclude, human beings demonstrate to themselves just how honorable, confidence-inspiring truth is”[2]

 With that in mind, how do we know what poetry is? How can I tell that what I am writing is ‘true’?

Wittgenstein said that ‘mutual understanding, and hence language, depends on nothing more or nothing less than shared forms of life, call it our mutual attunement or agreement in our criteria’[3]. As a poet one is not left in the world with only feelings to decipher but left in the world with meaning to respond to[4]. Art is created for a response to be created from it, not dictated from it. Poetry must insist on running its own course, finding its own measures, and charting its own course in hidden or denied places as a means of unlocking its true feeling and expression.

When I write, one of the things that I want to address the world and the problems and realities which, I believe, the twenty-first century has forced. Consumer culture and the loss of the individual’s sense of individuality is one of these pressing forces. I have tried to explain that through the desire for all things material we have allowed ourselves to be consumed by the society we live in, leaving our lifestyles to be decided on by ‘decrees of state’. My own attempt of finding poetic truth has been hindered by what Nietzsche has drawn attention to:

 “humankind, where deception, flattery, lying and cheating, speaking behind the backs of others, keeping up appearances, living in borrowed finery, wearing masks, the drapery of convention, play-acting for the benefit of others and oneself — in short the constant fluttering of human beings around one flame of vanity is so much as the fact that an honest and pure drive towards truth should ever have emerged in them”[5]

 With this in mind, there is a fashion of living in large expansive housing estates where all the homes are the same design and shape and colour. In Ireland, near my home town, this is particularly the case, where huge stretches of field have been turned over to construction companies who have built thousands of houses which, to me, have little or no character, with even less public amenities; except for a small green patch in front for the children to play on when it is not raining. Lives and the deep, deep reality of life have been clouded over by the competition between neighbours’ own vanities. Art holds a responsibility to present realities at face value and to present to open the eyes and minds of those that are clouded over.

In saying this, art can have its own personality and avoid the politics of society. Poetry is a voice, art is a vision, what is heard and seen depends on where one looks.

Poetry as an art is concerned with the moment, one which deals specifically with the present, asking questions and presenting answers about moments which are not distinguishable from the repetitive nature of human life. Both situations may in their own right be unique, but the solutions are not. Sentimentality has little function in matters of the heart. Understanding the very motions of existence from start to finish, realizing their significance, and reacting to them, are more important than waking and running to work. Waking up in the morning brings with it a total change in the way we have perceived the world, from dream state to conscious state. The emotions brought about by change and then the sickening feeling of reality can do more damage to the subconscious, yet at the same time it can have little benefit to the individual as it will not return and it will not change. Poetry is a means of expressing the reality as it is, and diminishing the effects of trauma which comes from realization of the conformity which humanity subsists itself to.

I have presented poetry which has been inspired by the situation, the moment, and the occurrence which can only be true for the moment which it is speaking of; be it feeling, a true story, or an imaginary creation. My intention has been to prove that it does not matter what words are used, but what they say, how they are used and what they present to the reader. I want my poetry to be understandable for what it says, and for the words to interpret the poems for the reader[6], and not the other way around.

Language and literature are inseparable. It is only through this connection that we can use language as a way to express and commit our thoughts into expression.

 

[1] Susan Sontag, ‘Against Interpretation’ pp.7

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’ pp.878

[3] Charles Bernstein, ‘The Objects of Meaning’ pp.60

[4] Ibid. pp. 61

[5] Nietzsche, pp. 875

[6] David Antin ‘Some Questions About Modernism’ http://writing.upenn.edu/library/Antin-David_Some-Q-Modernism.html

 

 

Seamus Heaney


Seamus Heaney died today. He was 74. By no means a young man, but in this day and age it cannot be denied that one of the world’s greatest poets has left us early, and this is to say nothing of the feelings I can barely imagine his family and friends are suffering under as we speak.

I was once in the same room as him. That is the best that I can say of my personal relationship with him. It was in UCD and he was presenting on a reworked version of the Antigone, where he spoke about the challenge of translation and representing the Ancient Greek classic in the twenty first century. To tell the truth, I can’t recall if we went up and introduced ourselves or not. He struck me as I did not expect someone of his significance to strike me; down to earth, honest, and light hearted, with a deep and warm voice from which words seemed like they were happiest coming from.

I wanted to post a poem that I thought would symbolise how I felt about Heaney. One that would allow me to think of him and his place in the world, and my position next to him. I don’t really know much of his poetry, and by much I mean probably about a percent of his thousands of published works.

When these unfortunate situations come around it’s always appropriate to find the right poem, and maybe the right poem is the one we always remember first when we think of a poet, or artist, novelist, or whoever it is to be remembered.

The poem I remember is Digging.

As I read this poem I read about a man who could not match his familial talent for digging. Potatoes. Turf. Earth. These were all buried deep his background, but he found himself buried deep in books and writing, struggling to see how he could emulate his father and grandfather.

When I was thirteen or fourteen we read this poem in school. I enjoyed it and understood it, but perhaps that was all. Little connection with this seems to have been made between the poem and the man who wrote it who won the Nobel Prize for Literature a couple of years later. This connection was not established until many years later.

In the poem, what Heaney teaches me here is that it doesn’t matter how distant or untraditional your direction in life may find itself verging. Always do your damnedest and dig deep always for the good turf and your labours will be rewarded. If you feel you are not doing them justice by not following in their footsteps, there are fewer finer displays of gratitude than dedicating your success to the influence of family who went before you.

It seems like a simple message because it is, that’s why it is so effective. The idea behind this has not been lost on me despite being so far away from Ireland and my own father and grandfather. We all take different paths in life but we need good guides to show us where best to tread or footsteps.

Rest in Peace Seamus Heaney, you have finished digging. And the hole you dug is good, very good.

Digging

by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with.

(poem courtesy of the Poetry Foundation)

“In Memorium” – New Planet Cabaret


More submitting by me here (and you wonder why I’ve had so few minutes to spare). This was for RTE Radio 1’s ARENA show which has been hosting a radio based creative writing course (yes you read that right) called New Planet Cabaret, with the assistance of the very competent and energetic Dave Lordon (I’d say more but I haven’t read much of his poetry so…).

I made my entry back in January and you can read the entry requirements here. I didn’t have mine featured and forgot to listen back to find out if it was at least mentioned – when I did listen to it there were mentions of some pieces which may have been a bit long for the radio – I imagine mine was also too long, if it was at least considered good. I thought I’d share it with you here as I’m not sure what else to do with it. It’s not a poem. It’s not a story. It’s just words and my imagination. Again, fun stuff. 

In Memorium

Christened Flatus Mac an Sídhe, he called himself Flatty for short, and Flatty Sheahy to a uniform or a skirt. He was not of the Sheahys of places known for their Sheahys, as this Sheahy was made up for sure, still Flatus wasn’t the worst sort.

He was a soft but robust fella whose age you’d never tell with a look, nor would you know if he was broad or short, stout or upright. He was just there.

Flatus really wanted to be the kindred sort, happily floating about mingling in and out with all types, enjoying the outdoors, strolls by the sea. Yoga. Hiking. Meditation, that sort of thing. Indeed a hike to a yoga and meditation retreat would be ideal.

A lover of life Flatty was. One who lived for lungs full to bursting and the whistle of the exhale through his nostrils. Life was all for Flatus.

But Flatty could kill if he wanted. Deprive you of his company he would, or hail down with the fury of a million factories in his poisoned effusions, drowning your crops and rose gardens, but only a rare breed could force that. At least that used to be the case.

Flatty could be full of himself, believed he was incomparable like a superpower, him with his blusters and gusts.

Sure enough he was untouchable and, for example, with a wisp a wall he could take down to its bricks, or pass through it as if it didn’t exist. Oh ould Flatty knew how to change everything, leaving a life and death distance in the difference.

Except for these notions of grandeur and his stance on issues environmental, he went about his existence like the best; god on his conscience, the day on his breath.

And we all knew him well, our Flatty, he who always played with our hair, his moods, his patience, and the fact he was never bothered by rush-hour, or missing buses late at night, and arguing about inconsequential things. We figured him to be at least.

However, Flatus Mac an Sídhe was old before he finished being young. Those muscles he once flexed fell flaccid, and to threats he grew apathetic.

Alas Flatty grew tired with himself. Finding moments to swallow the morning and drink in the sunshine and moisture of the dew just as the sun has risen had grown sparse. His skin grew grey and lifeless. His overworked throat went dry. The ducts in his eyes could not cry.

“It is what it is”, is what Flatty would say, “isn’t learning to live the best you can in company with it a better solution than arguing against it? Sure isn’t that that the way I’ve done it and never garnered further complaint?”

He would say that. Flatty could say that. Flatty had a say in things. Because without Flatty, well let’s be honest, there is nothing.

Yes Flatus, you and your molecules, you had a say and you could have done more. You could have gotten angrier and fought for those walks you loved so much. But now you have relinquished your title. Superpower or not, yours is a sunken flagship.

And then to be sure we killed you. We curried up enough filth and fear and vehemence to counter anything you could manage to rekindle until you keeled over breathless.

There you were, writhing in a blustering and intoxicating mess with your defecations all over the place. Tearing down everything you loved. Tearing down the walls of everything you thought was built from your influence. And you did not cry.

We woke the next morning and you were not there. Not hiding or buried or burnt or vaporized or departed or extinct or emigrated or arrested. Not gone. Just nothing

And now Flatus, there is only memory to define you.