No shortage of love for Candlestick Poetry here, and the 'Instead of a Card' idea means I am finding more and more occasions to send yet another batch off to friends. There's something about the thinking-of-you love, comfort, consolation and pleasure that is sealed in the envelope as I post it, whilst knowing that I am sending something that will speak for far longer than a card. This week Ten Poems About Knitting has gone off to a dear friend who is finding knitting her great salvation through difficult times.
There has been no let up for the dovegreyreader Candlestick Chapter either who have been working very hard of late and I am very grateful to them. In time for St Patrick's Day on March 17th we have been reading Ten Poems From Ireland and Liz has very kindly written today's post on the poems...as an ex-pat living in France I hope you will enjoy her thoughts.
When I started thinking about writing my thoughts on the 'Poems from Ireland pamphlet', I had a moment of panic. I was born in Dublin, but have lived in France since 1978. So, I was a child, a teenager and a student in Ireland. But a wife, a mother and a teacher abroad. And when I'm asked if I feel Irish or French, I usually say that I feel me, and that is often quite enough to keep anyone occupied, thank you very much! Because of all this, I felt I had no right to comment on current Irish affairs (publicly anyway, I've lots to say at the dinner table), and no inclination to pontificate about identity and 'Irishness'.
And then I read the poems. Once again, literature and specifically poetry did their thing of going from the particular to the universal, of using language to give structure to our experience without rejecting the ambivalence, the 'oxymorons' that make being human complex and worthwhile examining.
This came to the fore in the three poems that have as their subjects specific periods of early 20th century Irish history: the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the ensuing Civil War.
'The Countermanding Order' puts the 'great cause' against the undocumented background of the wife and mother, managing a farm, looking after three small children and still finding time for 'handwork'. I can't help feeling that this parallel 'order', the counterbalance given by the domestic order of things that keeps life going might be the real meaning of the title. And don't you love the horse called Rebel, who 'halted in his familiar place'! A rebellious conservative! An oxymoron pulling a cart!
In 'Safe House', the individual story behind the public History is one of grief, and not relief. The observations of the child discovering the world through the sense of touch, the lovely expression of his 'small clumsy turnings' are heartbreaking when transposed into a scene of violence, both that of his death and the violence of the reaction imposed on his parents 'Tell them there was never a child'.
If children born in Ireland in the 21st century can (and thankfully so) have the luxury of discussing conflict in terms of comparing film versions of the American and Irish civil wars, ('A lot more action'), news stories every day remind us this is not so for every child. The twists and turns of world history mean that a Syrian born refugee might react to the Brown brother story with more empathy than his Irish born classmates. And yet the poem 'Civil War' underlines in its closing words the fact that shared experience, common feelings, what Thomas McCarthy calls 'the world of small happenings' are what link us, whatever the historical or geographical details. The small girl in the class says 'Happy Families' as an example of an oxymoron, and '… everyone heard, and everyone understood'.
'Once' affected me in another way, going as it does from the domestic to the legendary, the mythological. 'ordinary, ageing human love' whisked back to the time of Grainne and Diarmuid, the original Tristan and Iseult!
'They are mated for life. They are legendary.They are safe'.
A fantastic atmosphere created, going from suburbs and front doors to Irish wolves, and silvery people. Mountain freshness and ocean fog. Who says I can't be touched by a bit of Celtic romance?
Like Paula Meehan in her introduction, I feel sadness at the loss of any language. And it is on this level that I react to Teanga Eile (literally 'Other Tongue')/Second Tongue. The tracing of the different status of the Irish language at different times in Irish history, kidnap victim, government tool, shunned or stalked, patois or mojo is a tour de force of language, whether in the original Irish or in the translation. But it has become, in the words of Michael Hartnett ' a language seldom spoken'. My grasp of Irish (to my shame) is just enough to be able to read the poems with the translation, follow the words and hear the sounds.
Which is where I connect with 'Two Sides of the Same Coin'. I am the same age as Paula. I did not go to a school where corporal punishment was used, but I remember learning Irish by rote: poetry, essays, grammar. I have very little functional competence in the language. I think educational methods have moved on, and that Irish can be taught as a living language.
But just as the 'history' poems take the particular event and examine universal experience, Paula Meehan uses this Irish oddity (having your 'mother tongue' beaten into you or out of you) to describe the need we all have to give our 'gibbering ghosts' their say. And would that we could all do it as well as she does! I love the use of rhyme: the anguished near rhymes in the first part, the break through blow/no/crow, the return to near rhymes. And then the epiphany, the poetry. The soothing rhyming couplets! But nothing is perfect: the most we can hope for is 'brutal peace'. Better than civil war if we have to have contrasting pairs!
Two poems touched me immensely, and will probably be those I come back to. 'Possession' is an Irish poem: written in Irish, the Woman comes from a typical Irish ringfort, the mist, the spells , the very Hiberno-Irish idiom of 'but, sure stay if you must'. Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill grew up in England in an Irish-speaking family, and if writing poetry in Irish was 'a language issue', she also said 'One of the things that causes me to get up in the morning is the desire to take Irish back from that grey-faced Irish revivalist male preserve.' So there!
Lastly, 'Begin': Brendan Kennelly was one of my teachers at Trinity College Dublin, and as I read this poem, I can hear it in his soft Kerry accent. What better way to confront our troubled times than with these words of hope:
'Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin'