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Monday, May 26, 2008

Talking Balls

‘I longed to see them gone’, Beckett’s Molloy says of his testicles, ‘from the old stand where they bore false witness, for and against, in the lifelong charge against me’. Paul Muldoon too has been getting testicular in When the Pie Was Opened (Sylph Editions):

I swear as a Roman supposedly swore an oath
on his balls and went through some Roman rigmarole
to ward off the behemoth
and its tail that stiffened like a cedar-pole

in the Book of Job.

{Quotation ends}

Gore Vidal’s father had three balls, as GV likes to recount (I’m in all the textbooks’, he told his wife). The Muldoon poem describes what might appear to be a third ball lolloping onto the scene before being downgraded to a mere ‘spermatocele and removed altogether.

Further, While both are inclined to be standoffish, /the left ball hangs lower than the right as a general rule. A rule of thumb, or of ball-bag, flouted by Rodin’s Thinker, I seem to remember.

Remember enervate (ballsless) Origen and give small thanks, spermatoceles and all.

Elsewhere in the pamphlet Muldoon translates from Welsh, Old English, Latin, Greek and the Irish folk song ‘An Spailpín Fánach’:

No more to Cashel I’ll repair
To sell myself at auction
Nor loiter at a hiring fair,
A roadside wall at my station.
When a gentleman on his high horse
Asks if I’m hired already,
‘One fine day,’ says I, ‘You’ll finish the course
Behind the Irish navvy.’

Caithfidh mé a rá áfach gur scannall é staid an téics i nGaeilge. Cé chomh deacair an rud é síneadh fada a chur san áit ceart? (= Some of the Irish accents have gone missing.) In fact, the Irish fada mutates on two occasions into the double slanting line of a Hungarian diacritic. Perhaps the spailpín followed Art O’Leary into the Hungarian hussars:

Go deo deo arís ní rachad go Caiseal
Ag díol nó reic mo shláinte,
No ar margadh na saoire i mo shuí cois balla
I mo scaoinse ar leataobh sráide.
Bodairí na tíre ag teacht ar a gcapaill
Ag fiafraigh an bhuilim híreálta.
Ó téan aim chun siúil, tá an cúrsa fada,
Seo ar siúl an Spailpín Fánach.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Nemesis

Todd Swift writes to express displeasure at me taking a ‘knock’ at him in this post, and suggests ‘it’s personal’ and perhaps a consequence of the ‘sad mean-souled Irishmen’ that have long enlivened ‘your island’s feuds’. Though this blog is of course written by a persona rather than a person and what you’ve got to understand is that it uses a style of postmodern freeplay yadda yadda, I may as well as put on record that I, the person David Wheatley, since that’s what it says on my driver’s licence, sitting here typing this, have no personal animus against anyone. This is not because I’m some kind of good person, let me hasten to add. I was merely exploring the topic of persona and how it affects the way we write and argue. People who have slagged me off in print, that strange man who used to send me anonymous letters telling me I was a kiddy-fiddler for reviewing his book negatively etc: no grudge against them, no grudge against anyone.

Except for my nemesis, the Mongolian goatherd T’k’k’q of course. I really hate him.

And the human race at large, I really hate it. It can eff off and die a lingering and atrocious death, and the sooner the better.

But otherwise nothing. I trust this clears things up.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hot Toss

Good news for Larkinites as the new issue (no. 25) of About Larkin arrives, filling the Larkin-news-shaped gap in the market for readers of Larkin everywhere. In between descriptions of a ‘Larkin Sunday Morning Trail’ in Warwick, the annual Hull sixth-form Larkin study day, and the latest state of play in the quest for the British Rail poster that inspired ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ (‘Larkin’s “Sunny Prestatyn” seems to have no actual poster as its subject’) we find seven pages by Susannah Tarbush on ‘From Willow Gables to “Aubade”: Penelope Scott Stokes and Philip Larkin: Part 1’. Penelope Scott Stokes was asked to the poet’s room in Oxford for tea after a memorable showing as Viola in a student production of Twelfth Night. She declined. As was first revealed in 2005, she then inspired Larkin to write poem XXX of The North Ship (‘So through that unripe day you bore your head’). What was not previously known is the second poem inspired by this undergrad muse, as now revealed to a grateful public. The ‘extensively redrafted holograph’ of ‘Poem for Penelope abt. the Mechanical Turd’ in Hull University archives begins:

August again, and it is a year again
Since I poured the hot toss into your arse.

A footnote to ‘arse’ reads ‘Larkin originally wrote “into your mouth”’. Consider the plangency of the repeated ‘again’, underscoring the pathos of the lamented one-off tossing. Consider too the subtle vocalic music of ‘pour’, ‘hot’, ‘toss’, ‘your’, ‘arse’. The poem continues, ‘Choking, I pull open a door’, ingeniously inverting any hint of sexual violence by transferring any possible choking onto the crestfallen poet. A final quatrain deals with some sadly unwanted sandwiches prepared for the speaker by his well-intentioned but less than expert-sandwich-making loved ones.

Noted Larkinist James Booth comments: ‘The emotion seems to be of shame and guilt rather than misogyny or aggression. The title sounds arbitrary and surreal: presumably the poet means to describe himself as a mechanical turd?’

If you think I’m making this up, first of all shame on you, and second follow this link to the magazine website and order a copy for yourself.

georgiasam: pouring hot toss in your brain almost daily since 2005.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Verdict

Much to chew on in Adam Kirsch’s essay collection, The Modern Element. Always a pleasure to see a critic going against the grain, or more particularly going against his own grain, or what we might assume on that score, as in the essay on Anthony Hecht. To me, Hecht is an over-upholsterer, forever asking you to get up so he can re-stuff his prize antique sofa with another handful of Augustanisms, to the point where I for one would rather go and swing on the hammock in the porch instead. The sofa may have a sign above it reading ‘Twentieth Century, Barbarism Thereof’, but an overstuffed prize antique sofa it remains, with the price tag still a little too ostentatiously attached. Here is Kirsch’s verdict:

Hecht’s strengths – seriousness, intelligence, formal discipline – are all rare in contemporary American poetry. He expressed, as well as any writer of the last fifty years, the resolve of the cultured mind faced with the enormous barbarism of the modern world. But that very stance is also what set the limit to his poetic achievement. It is not necessary for a modern poet to take chaos as theme; but if he does, it may be necessary for him to accede to that chaos, to allow it into his very speech, as Lowell and Berryman and Plath did in the various ways. It is to them, rather than to Hecht, that future readers will turn for a sense of what it was like to live, and suffer, in the late twentieth century.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nights In/Out

I was reading the local freesheet today when a line in the personal ads caught my attention. Random bloke in search of lass announces that he likes ‘nights in/out’.

Nights, then. That part of the day when you either go to the pub or see if there’s anything good on the telly. He likes them, one way or the other. He will not suddenly cower until the table at the approach of sunset, ladies, though I doubt he thinks they need assurances on that score before going on a date. Or does he? No, probably not. SO WHY RAISE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE?


I saw a shop in town today called Hullapalooza and thought:




Poetry Does Not Matter

Harry Clifton on Jay Parini’s Why Poetry Matters in today’s Irish Times, or rather on why poetry may not matter, to poets:

The fact is that the best poets are not themselves poetry enthusiasts and never were. If anything, they were dragged against their better judgment and only in response to some deep necessity into this ambivalent realm, and have done, and are doing, everything in their power to resist it. It is the little figures, their impulse too slight to constitute a threat either to themselves or anyone else, let alone Plato, who are forever trilling on about the wonderfulness of the art. The ideal republic (probably a deterministic hell, if the truth were told) has little to fear from Louise Glück or Richard Eberhart.


John Latta mentioned Point Pelee the other day, and I thought I might gratuitously avail of this post to use a picture of a scarlet tanager seen there and found (the picture) here. Wow!


Was thumbing through the Copper Canyon edition of Dennis O’Driscoll’s vademecum Quote Poet Unquote: Contemporary Quotations on Poets and Poetry when I came across this: ‘Publishers should scrap the corrupt practice of solicited pre-publication blurbs, and the shot in the arm they provide to debutant writers who don’t deserve to be in print anyway.’ What a smarmy little prick, I thought, the smarmy little prick in question being me. I said that in 2004. It makes it sound as if I wanted to go around stopping them, perhaps by dropping in on them at home and talking them out of it. Let everyone publish and be damned, I’d say now instead.

I mention this because of a flapdoodle on Todd Swift’s site, in which Sean Bonney wondered aloud ‘if you [Todd Swift] are some kind of satirical fictional character, pompous, essentially dim, but in your imagination the James Bond of a poetry world that is simply too ungracious to recognise your genius…’ Todd Swift replied, as is his wont, by wondering why we can’t all get along, but also stated ‘It is true that Eyewear is a persona, and written as such… it seems odd for Bonney to miss out on the obvious – this blog is a text (indeed, intertextual) and full of shifting registers of discourse… Eyewear is a blog that questions the blog genre, and does so with wit and brio.’

So we write as personae, so what?, I wondered. What kind of a defence is using a persona when someone attacks us? What is being added to the argument? Can I now disown my 2004 self as a replicant persona rather than really me? I thought my 2004 soundbite was smarmy and pharisaical, and would think the same if I’d published it under the name Father Ignatius O’Gobshite or Brother Barney McKnowitall. A persona may help me articulate things I couldn’t otherwise write, but if I do say them and someone disagrees with me, can I pull my opinions back over the counter and say ‘It wasn’t me, it was just a persona’? That would be more than a little disingenuous.

I felt the same about John Osborne’s analysis of the attacks on Larkin in the book I discussed here. If we take Larkin’s little ditty ‘I want to see them starve, /the so-called working class’, sent in a letter to Robert Conquest, and retitle it ‘Portrait of a Fascist’, then sure, Lisa Jardine or Tom Paulin’s righteous indignation gets defused a little, but a corollary of this, on this logic, is that every time he speaks in verse, even in private, we are neutering Larkin’s right to express any kind of opinions, ever. And what if Tom Paulin’s attacks on Larkin are part of a carefully cultivated persona too? And in private Paulin is a fanatical Larkin fan? Is a persona capable of breaking the laws of libel? No one is anyone, no one thinks anything, no one is ever responsible for saying anything?

A person called me said the soundbite I started with in 2004. He can take the flack for it now because a person coincidentally also called me is attacking him for it now. It was a dickish thing to say. I love personae, and have long delighted in Pessoa, Kierkegaard and Flann O’Brien, but arguments can be real even if the people articulating them are not (and I’m far from convinced of my own reality). Persona should point us in the direction of, rather than away from, being able to have a real discussion, with real positions and consequences.

Thus endeth my sermon for the day.

PS If anyone ever feels disagrees with me about this it was the small furry black creature over there eating the shoelace, not me.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Marvellous image of Liverpool used in a Guardian piece on Terence Davies yesterday.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Minerva

Thrill to the Bedouins of the Desert, the antics of the Indian Rubber Man and the Voltigeurs, one of whom will rest his chin on an Immense Beam of Timber before unwinding with a Chinese Divertisement (sic). Courtesy of his Lordship the Seigneur of Holderness.

The imminent closure of this pub is a total disgrace, bearing which in mind you will (once again) forgive my cringe-inducing mobile phone photography.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I remember well when I was starting off, back in Dublin in the 1990s, how adamant Justin Quinn and I we would not publish our poetry in Metre or have ourselves reviewed (not one reference to any of our books, not once, in any issue of the magazine). And while I still find that admirable, I also now feel that there is no point in hyper-squeamishly avoiding discussing his work just because I happen to know him. So let me say that his Modern Irish Poetry 1800 – 2000 is a truly prodigious and marvellous achievement. In fact, it’s hard to think of people who have done more on the two fronts of poetry (The ‘O’o’a’a’ Bird, Privacy, Fuselage, Waves & Trees) and criticism (Gathered Beneath the Storm, American Errancy, and now this) in the last twelve years than JQ.

I’ve noticed in the past with albums that have become favourites that I find myself unable to proceed to track two before I’ve listened to track one over and over again, and so it is with this book. So as I continue to digest its contents, let me give some idea of JQ’s capacity for penetrating directly to the heart of the matter, critically. These should get you on your toes. File under whip-cracks:

1. Of Patrick Kavanagh: ‘Kavanagh’s achievement is restricted to a handful of poems which anthologists of two generations have agreed upon. Exploring his work outside this number is a dismal experience.’

2. Of Brian Coffey: ‘It is difficult to see justification for the claims that Coffey is an experimental poet in any meaningful sense; certainly, bizarre punctuation and spacing of words do not in themselves constitute originality.’

3. Of recent Muldoon: ‘That it is clotted with self-parody is deliberate, but such an intention is not enough to forestall the feeling that Muldoon has reached a difficult juncture in his explorations of autobiography. No matter how far-flung the reference or the rhyme we are always landed back with Muldoon, his Irish mother and father, his American wife and children. No world seems to exist beyond the garden fence. One imagines Muldoon’s house in New Jersey as an amazing repository of phantasmagorical animals, eclectic books and strange exotic objects, all of which are choreographed to the same show-tunes day after day.’

Buy this marvellous book.

Photo found here.

Beamish Boy

Percy Puthwuth, philosopher king. Pacifist too: lifelong tally of birds and rodents nil. Media whore. My beamish boy.

Little soul
drooling boy
hot water bottle

tucked into your skin
when you resurface
from sleep

two dark moons
rise perfectly into
the eye-sized holes

in your fur.

{Sequence ends}


A silent fart
for all the family
is as much as you

can hope to sire
shorn of your two
furry dice

to reek and catch
a female eye.
But not to worry:

such for all
childless things
is posterity,

our own stink
behind us
and nothing before,

then getting
to like it, growing

in the mingled smell
of our farts
and the fire.

Piebald Police

Rimmel and Fidget by name. Slubberdegullions and ruffians, though as the photo shows apparently capable of externalizing their thoughts in (suitably empty) bubble form. An honourable mention for Hobo (or do I mean Herber’) and Smudge too, while I’m at it.

Curtain up:
come on in
our piebald friends,

brains in your arses,
spill through the flap.
Food is what hides

in other cats’ houses,
with a dessert
option of skin

and hair flying.
Which suits you fine.
War shall not cease,

all shall eat all,
until even
the flap gets hungry,

your battle-cries –
lick my vomit!
eat my shit! –

as it eats one
then the other,

pausing only
(slurp) on the end
of a tail. But show me

the stomach that could
keep you down.
Give it a day

and the flap will have
puked you both
back up again.


Sam is a recently arrived orangeman with a taste for birds and small rodents, and a leper’s double bell of moral pariahdom to match.

This orangeman’s
newly discovered
traditional route

takes you
in his stride
starting from scratch

at the foot of the bed,
and gingerly step
by step proceeds

by the crook of your hip
to the undulating
bronco he rides

on a breast-bone perch.
He wants your breath
and will have it.

Breathe. Breathe in.
Take it. Give it.

Felinefest Continues

Another small dead animal. Molly was an old tailless tortoise-shell rescued when her owner died. Unlike Mitzy, Molly was a Zen cat blissfully tolerant of fellow felines, thunder storms, which she liked to sit in, and the misfortune of possessing a baldy arse. Here she receives palliative care from Puthwuth, who runs a clean ship.

This dead tortie
was a Cheshire cat
but in the wrong order.

The grin went first.
There never was
a tail, just

a balding stump.
But then to see
the rest go – legs,

lungs collapse –
a broken bellows –
it is murder.

Don’t talk to me
about loss,
who flatter myself

I feel in my lap
the flick of her missing
tail’s contented

thump thump thump.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mr White

I mentioned in my last post about a sequence I’ve done about the cats of Hull, and while I’ve sat on it for a while with a vague intention of unloading it on a magazine, why not just post the thing here, I tell myself, where at least I can use photographs too.

So next along is Mr White aka Snowy aka Manny. The reason for the aliases is his moving between different houses along the street, and passing under a different name in each. It takes a lot for him to calm down enough to do more than conduct a food raid when he comes through the cat flap, but what an honour when he does.

Writing on his blog about his cat Lily, George Szirtes announces ‘She is a great delight to look upon and study.’ My whole style of writing changed, for the better I hope, after I moved here to Hull in 2000, and bulking large among the reasons for this is the thousands of hours I have spent observing the cat life of Hull, and all I have learned therefrom about movement, style and grace. Mr White then:

White ghost torpedo
so far ahead
of yourself

so scarcely there
you’re gone
by the time

I’ve taken you for
advance warning
you might appear.


Mitzy the Birman cat was one of life’s solipsists, at least where members of her own species were concerned. Arriving from the RSPCA in 2004 she took almighty exception to the presence of other felines in the house and screened their existence out, philosophically, with a series of blood-curdling yawps, honks, hisses and yodels. Though cleared by Hans Blix of stockpiling farts of mass destruction, Mitzy was persuaded after a few months of daily carnage to relocate her candyfloss ruff and pigeon-toed walk to my parents’ house in Co. Wicklow. Here her domestic duties included sitting in doorways, tearing the wallpaper, burrowing under throws and cushions, and generally frustrating the works of humankind. She never learned to do her business outside but would perch on her litter tray, swaying gracefully back and forth. And now she has died of kidney failure and her crossed eyes have closed forever.

Here is a poem about her from a sequence about the cats in my life I wrote recently:

Gulliver revised:
human is houyhnmhnm,
cat yahoo.

I am the horse
and Gulliver you.
Your screams couldn’t

be louder when a cat
comes into view.
But take a good

look at yourself:
the mirror’s an enemy too.
There is not just

no other cat.
There is not even you.


Poem ends. Mitzy ends. We must love one another and die. Hail, Mitzy (? – 13.5.08).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Owl of Minerva

There are more than two hundred and fifty pubs where I live, of which I would class no more than ten as fit for human consumption. One of these is the 199-year-old Minerva, which features a philosophical owl on its façade, a room that seats two a maximum of two drinkers, a fleet’s worth of nautical charts, and fine views of the sludgy brown Humber. As described in Peter Didsbury’s poem ‘The Pierhead’:

The name of the goddess of arts and trades is written on a board, painted in the livery of one of the old railway companies. The windows of the pub beneath it stare at the empty shore a mile away, at other windows, jigged with grey light. Mute and opposite hostelries wear faces like slices of meat, haslet for example, and wait for Byron to swim between them, for the ticket office is locked,

the last ferry has gone.

{Quotation ends}

The Minerva’s hinterland is due to be redeveloped, which makes it all the more ridiculous that the pub is about to close down, ostensibly for two years, but in reality quite obviously to make way for riverside flats. This is a total disgrace, and anyway in drinking distance of this marvellous boozer should contact Camra or simply go there and barricade yourself in before its proposed closure on 25 May.

Photo found here.

I Know Not What They Mean

‘Any woman who sheds tears for love in loneliness is a saint. The Church has never understood that saintly woman are made of God’s tears.’

‘Only tears will be weighed at the Last Judgement.’

‘Shall I ever be so pure that only saints’ tears could be my mirror?’

Three random captures from Cioran’s Tears and Saints (whose cover features a detail from the above painting, van der Weydens The Descent from the Cross), prompted by Christopher Reid’s request in ‘A Reasonable Demand that someone ‘please explain tears’. Ben Wilkinson has taken up the challenge here.

Tears are the human soul succumbing to the temptation to exist.

In his moving new pamphlet or not-even-pamphlet (the colophon announces 31 copies) A Widower’s Dozen, Reid rearranges his ‘sad thoughts in new, hopeful arrangements’ like an elephant chucking bones hither and yon in an elephant graveyard. In the freshness of grief he feels a ‘new-born soul’ take up residence in his emptiness and set about distilling ‘pure tears’. He cites Henry James’s preface to The Altar of the Dead, and ‘the awful doom of general dishumanisation’ whereby the dead are not to be invoked in polite company. ‘I see an old writer, gagging on the ghost-rich air /of a literary salon, a terrible place to cry in.’ In ‘Bathroom of the Vanities’ Reid describes cosmetic bottles still on the shelves but never to be used again. There is no Hardyesque epiphany or reinstatement of the departed one, as the bottles ‘conserve their last drops of essence and aura /and wait for no one’. There is simply nothing more to be said.

Christopher Reid, A Widower’s Dozen (Own Desk)

Indefatigable Hoof-Taps

Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill:

Mo ghrá go daingean tú!
Lá dá bhfaca thú
ag ceann tí an mhargaidh,
thug mo shúil aire dhuit,
thug mo chroí taitneamh duit,
d’éalaíos óm charaid leat
I bhfad ó bhaile leat.

Thomas Kinsella:

My steadfast love!
When I saw you one day
by the market-house gable
my eye gave a look
my heart shone out
I fled with you far
from friends and home.

Michael Smith:

My steadfast love!
I day I first saw you
by the market-house wall,
my eyes heeded you,
my heart fell in love with you,
I fled from my friends
far from home with you.

Vona Groarke:

when you stood out that market day
my eyes settled on you.
I knew I would have you
if it meant
stepping out of my whole life
carrying nothing with me.

Art O’Leary was a captain with the Hungarian Hussars. When teenage widow Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill saw him first he was carrying a sword in public, in contravention of the Penal Laws. The couple eloped and Eileen’s family broke off all contact with her. Art was declared ‘notoriously infamous’ by the High Sheriff of Macroom, with whom he developed a Ned Kelly-style feud over a horse: the Sheriff declared O’Leary’s mare forfeit, again under the Penal Laws, and demanded he sell it to him. O’Leary was shot dead in 1773, and when his horse galloped home to Eileen she rode it back to her husband’s body, whose blood she cupped and drank. Less endearingly she later shot the mare in a fit of grief-stricken rage.

Mr and Mrs Hall on an Irish wake in Ireland: Its Scenery and Character, in 1841:

The women of the household range themselves at either side, and the keen at once commences. They rise with one accord, and, moving their bodies with a slow motion to and fro, their arms apart, they continue to keep up a heart-rending cry. This cry is interrupted for a while to give the ban caointhe (the leading keener), an opportunity of commencing. At the close of every stanza, the cry is repeated… and then dropped; the woman then again proceeds with the dirge, and so on to the close.

All the above and more from the introduction to Vona Groarke’s marvellous new translation of Eileen’s Lament from Gallery Press:

Art of the sun,
like a mantle around him,
Art of the shapely words,
Art of the majestic mare,
cut down like some
bothersome thistle
on the verge at Carriginima.

Brave of Groarke to restrict herself to ‘husband’ for that famous first line, ‘Mo ghrá go daingean tú!’, but her boldness is more than repaid in the distance she manages to keep from the papier mâché hidden Irelandisms that have clogged up previous versions. She has also bravely forgone the safety net of a would-be English equivalent to the three-stress line of the original. I read her version and think of Jack Yeats’s horses, of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III for female voice, of Beckett’s Not I… Beneath the hooftaps, the eighteenth century breathes its heartbroken gasps:

Rise up now and come with me,
for the weight of sorrow
across my heart
will not lift
unless you pitch it off.
It is like a chest
with stones in it
and I am very much afraid
that its rusted lock
and fastened latch
will never know a key.


Everyone should read this fine translation.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

To Wilmington Swing Bridge

House on the swing bridge, house in the air,
standing aside for the barge from upriver,
let my dragging anchors not snag
on your cables while I confer
with my first mate, athwartships,
pondering our heading and draft.
The forecast promises shopping trolleys,
my lightermen poke at the muddy soup,
but I swim to the burger van and regain
my ship’s cat’s perch from terra non firma,
the forty-five degree angle of your
compliance to my chuntering purpose.
The dry bulk in the yards we pass
will be reduced to nothingness
and utility; my cargo exists
only in the subjunctive yet not one
grain shall be lost. A lost swan
incubates a nest of golf balls
and a stray hand replaces the flowers
in the bridge house window: red flowers.
House on a bridge, I hear the gears scream,
I feel each tooth of the terrible works
connect and, greased up, haul you back
to the fixity of empty air.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Humber Umber

Needed: Noitce

Ian & Kay apologise but the Clarendon will remain closed till further noitce.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Student Writes

‘In Coleridge’s work, nature poems come hand in hand.’