Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An old friend contacted me recently. It was a real pleasure hearing from him.I might have chosen Canned Heat, but opted instead for Creedence; he'll know why I’m including this classic from the sixties.

Monday, June 29, 2009


There is a particular atmosphere that pervades the ruins of cottages throughout rural Ireland. I think it has to do with their former humbleness, sometimes their isolation,the fact that it our own (and not so distant) history and also knowing that the famine emptied them and left them bleak reminders of our impoverished past.

I am drawn to them: to recreate the rooms in my mind, furnish them, family and belongings, visualise what it was to read by the light coming through that window, sit at the hearth, drop the head to avoid the lintel coming through the front door.

When the ridges can still be seen in the vegetable plot or a line of fuschia still survives outside the door delineating what was the extent of their patch, it is doubly poignant. The most moving place in Ireland is, I think, the deserted village on Achill. A huddle of about 100 ruined cottages. You get a strong sense of what it was to be in a community living so closely together. While standing there, and drawing on what you know from books like Peig or maybe the film “Man of Aran”, you people the streets quite easily; the place does it for you.

The mental images can be extremely vivid, the feeling very strong: a haunting sadness, and somehow a memory. And because you know it you do not want to leave soon.
Ireland is littered with these ruins. Like holy wells, they transport you to another place, a more thoughtful place. It is good that they survive.

Flickr has a number of photographs of the deserted village at Slievemore on Achill Island and numerous others of ruins througout Ireland.

from Sunfire

The hunch-doubled thorns,
ingrown pantries
the moss-stone walls

The nettle-cracked doorway,
the cloud curtained windows

The stone-sheltered air
bumbled still,
the submerged garden ridges

Monday, June 22, 2009

Penguin Café Orchestra

There’s loads of Penguin Café Orchestra music on YouTube.I can’t recommend it highly enough. Beautiful, often haunting sad, often lively uplifting, gloriously happy music. It’s hard to categorize, ranging somewhere in the classical, minimalist, folks; or maybe not. I’ve often used it to create a mood for writing, but just as often to cheer myself up.

I don’t know how much the remaining members of the original PCO do now (founder Simon Jeffes died in 1997); some of them are appearing under the name the Anteaters at the Broadstairs Folk Festival in August. Meanwhile Simon Jeffes' son, Arhur Jeffes, is touring a younger group of musicians playing Penguin Café music under the name MUSIC FROM THE PENGUIN CAFÉ, dates are listed at http://www.penguincafe.com/home.htm

If you’re not familiar with the PCO, I’d recommend ”When in Rome” as the album to listen to; it’s brilliant. My favorite tune title of all time is on “Music From The Penguin Café” it's “The Sound Of Someone You Love Who's Going Away And It Doesn't Matter”. I wish I’d got to that one first.

The following is from 1989 BBC broadcast

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weather, Landscape,Writing

There is no doubt that the Irish weather can be exasperating. Can be! How often do barbecues have to be rushed indoors, sports days become wash outs, wedding photographers look for an alternative backdrop in a corner of a hotel foyer? No need to answer. But that unpredictability in the Irish weather has, I believe, been part of what makes this country stand out in its literary contribution to the world.

As the clouds march continuously across the Irish sky, they bring spells of rainfall followed by spells of watery sunshine, changing as they proceed the atmosphere of countryside over and over, even in a single afternoon. The quality of light changing as it is filtered through veils of different densities: one moment vivid colour, the next sombre tones as the light diminishes to something akin to a 30 watt bulb.

The clouds in quick succession might be ‘high in the heavens’ alto-cumulus, lower to the ground shower-carrying, towering cumulus, charcoal then angry blue. They might share the same sky, with almost any variation in the high, middle and low skies predicting all sorts of weather simultaneously and all with edges lit by emerging sunshine.

And so the moods of the sky flow across the landscape; a landscape that intensifies these variable moods. In Patrick Kavanagh’s poems a farm will be north-facing and wintry on one side of a drumlin, south-facing and sun-flooded on the other. One of the small farms through the midlands and into the west might for some minutes be highlighted and happy in a patch of sunlight then immediately grey and sad-looking hemmed in by a low sky, rain and the contours of the countryside. Add to this the history of emigration and famine, the story behind the walls that still divide the land into tiny fields more or less viable.

To know those who lived on these little patches of land and light, to know their stories and have the stages on which they lived their lives presented in different intensities of light and shade sets them up, almost theatrically, for the story-tellers of Ireland.

Could John McGahern have produced such wonderful, moving novels without this Irish weather or Brian Friel who so successfully evokes the feeling of what it was to be rural and Irish in his plays; not to mention “Angela’s Ashes”?

I doubt it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vera Klute

I have mentioned a number of artists over the years, usually those that have influenced me, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned a new name. I’m not informed on current artists and art, and lot of multi-media work leaves me cold; smart ideas, no soul, no atmosphere, no particular mastery of a medium.

I was introduced to Vera Klute’s website the other day and was highly impressed. She is a German born artist who studied at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art and is now based in Dublin. She graduated in 2006 and has since been drawing a lot of attention all around the country. I came across her when she exhibited at Rathmines Festival in 2007 as part of a group exhibition.

She has the smart ideas, but she has the rest of the package too. Take a look at the videos on her site; they have the art and they are entertaining, and she knows her medium. What can I say; I’m impressed. Visit http://www.veraklute.net/index.html

Monday, June 8, 2009

I need space

I need space

to disremember scale

to be the size

I want to be

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Snow is Dancing

Have a listen to these very different versions of Debussy's "The Snow is Dancing". I wasn't very interested in classical music back in the early seventies, but Tomita's synthesiser versions of Debussy, Holst's planets and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition( the first classical album I bought)made me curious.

Anyway, it's interesting to compare both approaches, first the beautiful classical version, Michelangeli playing.

Tomita's synthesiser version "Snowflakes are Dancing" from the 1974 album of the same name:

Over-reach youself

At the moment I can’t just decide to send poems to publishers and that’s been the way, give or take, for three or four years. Well no, I do decide, but then I change my mind. More than before I want to wow myself. And that’s not happening.

I think I should over-reach myself. In fact, I think everyone that’s involved in creative arts should want to over-reach themselves. Those who don’t, flirt with smugness and that’s a quick route to bland average work.

I have managed it a small number of times: to write better than I’m able to, and it’s a great but very rare feeling (for me at least). But I think it’s the measure to keep at the back of one’s mind.

Goya is one of those poems in which I think I've written beyond myself. I suppose good luck is involved: the right words, images etc come to mind on queue.I suppose that's the difference: great poets don't rely on luck.


Of course not!
Of course no one that ever cracked open a head
has seen a symphony pour out.

No executioner has seen the flow of an amber fireside
with its intimate and tangling caresses
drain from the split skulls of lovers

nor have soldiers who shoot dark holes
seen rafts of memories spilling,
carrying the children, the birthdays, the orchards,
the dances.

When they shot the poet, Lorca,
the bullets sailed in a universe,
yet when the blood spurted it was only blood
to them.