THE HUMOURS OF BANDON (from Irish University Review 1980)
A Sense of
Ireland: Leargus ar Eirinn took place in London during
February and March 1980. In the words of the programme: ‘The purposes of the
festival are to present the best of Irish Arts, North and South, in a major
international context; to demonstrate in England the depth and strength of
and contemporary culture; to
make an important contribution to improving
understanding and relations between the people of these islands.’
The author would like to acknowledge the support of A. Guinness & Sons, without which this poem could not have been possible.
On February the twenty-ninth
I looked into an empty pint
and saw the bottom crack.
And through the aperture the dregs
regurgitate as talking heads
(the body won't come back).
My glass fills up with faery foam,
an apparition in it grown
where once the stuff was black:
it is an Irish eisteddfod,
twice-twenty poets from the old sod
in congress with their claque.
No dossing down with Kilburn kin
but at the Tara snug as sin,
not too far from. the land.
Green mats out in the Mick Hilton,
off Cromwell Road, pace John Milton,
The Jim Reeves Lounge is crammed.
A jamboree financed no less
by three Arts Councils and Guinness.
The Lambeg and Showband
uniting all, Orange and Green,
Tadgh, Planter, Poor Mouth and Paudeen
groping for the Red Hand.
Not since MacOissian fooled an age,
and Bouchet Moore was all the rage
in street and drawing room,
have Celtic Twilights looked so bright
in artificial London Light –
an Irish Poetry boom.
The IRA would like to claim
responsibility, but Sinn Fein
warns them, nothing doing:
for when Pat poetry explodes
the Oxbridge world goes with the poets.
The Provos change their tune.
It's History, Art and Life in one
great gathering. Hampstead will come,
and Islington, to cleanse
the Irish question from their minds
fully engaged with Third World kinds
of post-colonial zens.
The New Left and the Nouveau Riche
may differ, but agreement's reached
to neutralise their ends,
and purge themselves of persiflage; .
putting it all down on the page
the poets will make sense.
It's said, a country's tourist trade
would never dub a spad a spade
if it could call it trumps.
Bord Failte's no worse than the next,
and welcoming any traveller's
cheque, at every chance it jumps.
Only the poets and rugby players
in international affairs
All Ireland represent.
Both reassure the world at large,
the latest book, a forward charge,
looks like a brave attempt
to do what Popes and Queens cainnot, .
make whole this little beauty spot
as nature really meant.
From Landsdowne Road to Ravenshill
all mud is mud for scrums to mill;
the killings don't prevent
famed bards from Skull to Enniskillen
sharing at Readings the top billing.
They go from strength to strength.
What London wants from these uncouths
is not the stomp of ignorant boots
but folksy orisons;
tame Irishmen, benign, though butch
like Boucicault, the Tom Moore touch
in righting ancient wrongs;
gleemen, gallogs and Roaring Bhoys,
whose gallimaufry is a noise
froth with begorrah sounds;
the coyne and livery of the cowed,
and not Freemen like Shane the Proud,
with bodrags and bodhrans.
Shane (not the movie) but the Great,
Beggarman's son, who couldn't wait
for Elizabeth (the First)
to give him Mary Queen of Scots
and Ulster, so to London trots
to put her in his trust,
leaving behind (who would chance'm)
anyone worth a royal ransom.
His train packed with the worst
bagmen and bards from wild Tyrone
who harped and keened before the throne
and seanachied and busked;
but stayed too long, and broke their chief,
who ended up in Gaelic grief,
eating the sovereign's dust.
Yet these kerns of ‘divers mean crafts’
gave Cockneys pause, and Shakespeare laughs,
stage-Irishmen, still with us:
Thadys who upstaged Tudor fears
with Irish Bulls and actors' tears
and paddywhack backthumps;
the Bord plumps for a like display
of native arts, hyperbole,
and Guinness-backed galumphs.
A Guinness heir rolls out a firkin
for each poet. He's overworking
like Sisyphus. It irks:
camp followers like cockroaches
attach themselves as he approaches
and dig in with their dirks.
Drayhorses in their driest dreams
would not deliver less, it seems,
to teetotals or Turks.
The empty barrels are sent back,
refills fall to the same attack.
So much for poet's perks.
The Tara honours the influx
of poets with three suites, de luxe,
the top one for the North.
Noted for their grammar school tact,
products of the Education Act
of '49, in short;
it's hard to hear a sootfall fall
on Mossbawn carpets, as they crawl
skunking a Tolland corpse.
The next best bivouacs the Pale.
Beneath them Munster, the hobnail
brigade, begin to snort
(this boatload from the Marsh or Cork
have two-pronged tongues like a pitchfork)
and curse like Skin the Goat,
hitting the roof with blackthorn sticks:
‘Up there, the metropolitan Micks
are holding cosmic court.
Violence and Art in the Ceili,
Symbolism and the Shillelagh.
The Song of Roland Barthes
means more to them than Bless This House,
a seminar on Levi-Strauss
more than an ass and cart.
Their Great Cloak's a cloacal shift ,
Synge's mantle (Beckett, Joyce and Swift
the Celtic mind distort).
At least we're Irish. Ogham stones
inform the meaning in our poems,
the dolmen moulds our art.
We're Irish as the Book of Kells,
more Irish than the Irish themselves,
and stick to our own sort.’
The leading lights from the N.S.
have passes to the lobby (Press).
The Marshmen they ignore.
The fabrous author of Wet Grass
is what they come for, but he has
Don't Disturb on his door.
But they're prepared to wait, being soused
by thoughts of pastorals and cows
and politics, and the pore
of wellsucked words like torc and pelt
(Gerald's Herball under the belt),
the Georgians gone one more.
The foyer's thick as buttered brogues
with squat-thumbed students on to vogues
(doctoral diggings galore).
Outside Sound Poets from Earls Court
hone honeyed words for all they're worth,
like ‘stoor’ and ‘spool’ and ‘spore’.
Beyond the pavement-grey is blocked
with poetry-lovers who have flocked
to hear, in the deep heart’s core,
while state care honk through traffic jams,
inside them bureaucratic bands
from the Arts Council corps.
It is too late. Already grimes
of Concrete Poets from MacAlpines
are breaking through the floor.
The Mossbawn carpets are torn back;
floorboards like a Corsican trap
erupt in every room,
as bristling hordes of stout green-necks
bound out on lilliputian legs
and in their wake exhume
Hurlimann cans and hurley sticks
and poltergeisting building bricks
('twould rouse the gorge with grume).
A cailleach from Arrah-na-Pogue
crashes the cuddy with her currogue
and shrills a plaintive croon:
‘I'm Ireland, and my bards are dogs
puffed up with scent distilled from bogs,
the spoilt woof of my womb.
Should I devour them as a swill
it won't rid me, they're immortal;
to stomach them, aroon,
would mean a bellyful of sons
who'd hang heavy, being unseasoned
and swallowed whole too soon.’
(Now if the crone was a Cronus,
she would have eaten them and shown us
what was coming to them).
Still in full cry, the moyling mass
fouls up my apparition's glass…
‘Drink up the dregs, it's Time.’
The curate comes to wipe the bar
of drisheen, sawdust and Dunbar.
I send the dead glass flying.