I would like to live in the West, at the edge
of the world, on a small holding,
walk my cow each day to the milk shed
and see which hen I am beholding to
for laying an egg. I would change
wheat into loaves, fill my plate from the field,
stack turf like gold bars for the kitchen range,
and conceal my distillery in creels.
Instead, I have stood at the town’s crossroads
and listened to who is ‘Wanted’ across the border,
who is being adulterous on the old bog roads
and who sprayed ‘Ireland is out of order!’
this poem is rededicated to the protesters in Jobstown, Sligo and elsewhere
On this day of tear-gas in Seoul
and windows broken at Dickins & Jones,
I can’t help wondering why a history
of those, who made their point politely
and then went home, has never been written.
Those who, in the heat of the moment,
never dislodged a policeman’s helmet,
never blocked the traffic or held the country to ransom.
Someone should ask them: “Was it all worth it?”
All those proud men and women, who never
had the National Guard sent in against them;
who left everything exactly as they found it,
without adding as much as a scratch to the paintwork;
who no-one bothered asking: “Are you or have you ever been?”,
because we all knew damn well they never ever were.
Our leaders would like to inform us
that they are fine with protest
in fact they really respect us
so long as we follow their rules and do it
without any disruption of business, (preferably
at home in our own bedrooms where no one can see us,
and without any unnecessary shouting
that might upset the neighbours)
they’re fine with it then,
so they are.
Our leaders would prefer if we fought with each other
and if we absolutely have to protest in public they’d rather
we did it in the form of a strongly worded letter to the paper
or a phone call to Joe which their straw men could deal with
by saying they’ve launched an inquiry that’ll never be finished
and that they agree with us about whatever it is
that should never have happened,
haven’t they’ve always said it,
If the worst comes to the worst and, despite them warning us
that we should have due consideration
for the inevitable, unspecified but extremely sinister consequences,
we mount a demonstration against them
they’ll counter by saying that some of the people out marching
are reported to have once been spotted by someone
eating ice cream in Bangor which everyone knows
is north of the border
and you know what that means
or don’t you?
Our leaders would prefer if we’d focus our anger
on the unemployed carpenter who put up some shelves
for his mother when he knew full well that accepting
more than two biscuits counts as a nixer-
he’s the type that has ruined our country
they call him the benefit scrounger,
who was fully employed until 2009
but now has managed to squander something something million,
yes that exact figure, would you like to report him?
Click here please…
oh yes your call is important.
Our leaders would love us to whinge about the imaginary asylum seeker
who is rumoured to have left a thousand prams
at a thousand bus stops in every single city, small town and village
you know the woman? No, me neither,
because no one has ever actually met her
but it’s rumoured that her skin was darker than yours is,
or so they’ll tell us, our leaders,
because they’d love us to fight with each other
over any small difference and leave them alone while we’re doing it,
they’d love if we picked on the gays instead of the bankers
they’d love you to get riled up about Panti Bliss who wants
to come into your house and ruin your marriage instead of wondering
how the hell they themselves put us in bondage
to repay 60 billion to loan sharks we never did business with,
and they’d love if those in negative equity
squabbled with the people from council estates
and if they in turn would fight with the renters
who’d pick on with the travelers
and they’d rather you made like a fascist
and blamed the Roma who, they are happy to tell us
are the cause of the economy collapsing
and were somehow involved in causing global warming
I mean have you not spotted the sea levels rising
did you not see the floods in Cork like?
Of course you did, they won’t stand for it,
And it’s nothing personal that our leaders have
against any particular ethnicity,
it just that they hate to see us united and mobilised
they are afraid we might compare notes
and realize that the same things affect us all the same way,
they’re afraid we might lose the run of ourselves
and run them the hell out of office,
and what should we tell them?
That we’re in this together?
That every person of every class, creed and race
who wants something better is welcome? Is one of us?
Or should we tell them that when 85 individuals own more
of the wealth in the world than three point five billion
the problem goes deeper than skin colour, deeper than factions
deeper than their strategies for permanent growth on one tiny planet
should we tell them that our system is broken?
Or should we just say nothing
and watch how they tremble,
when they see us all sticking together.
I walk a country lane,
by the Council machine.
torn and crushed;
Brown, grey tangles
crucified on stone walls.
Bare, wounded limbs,
salted by raw winds.
not all our people
will grow back
Irish Air: Message from the CEO
with thanks to Padraig McCormack for the inspiration
Every day under the sky
in this teeny weeny country
they think belongs to them,
people kick football, jog
up and down promenades;
run red faced for buses
on wet mornings; days off they climb
up shaky looking ladders;
they drive miles through countryside
to attend funerals of people
they never met, and roll
car windows down. They give
others who’ve collapsed gasping
in the street
amateur mouth to mouth.
When everyone else is out,
they make obscene phone calls,
pant down lines at women
they think live alone.
Come the six o’clock bell,
those not trapped in traffic
or enrolled in evening classes,
slob on a bewildering variety of sofas,
play until bedtime with remotes.
All the time taking for granted
the luxury: breath
which, given the cost, we can no longer offer
free. Much as we all enjoy
breathing, our current funding model
is no longer sustainable.
Every country in the OECD,
excepting Ireland, levies
a small charge for breath.
Air is important.
We must stop disrespecting it
by failing to give it a price.
As of October, Irish Air
will begin attaching meters
to the side of each adult’s skull.
No eighteenth birthday party
will be complete without a visit from us.
It will be an offence,
punishable by a law made up yesterday,
to tamper with, or remove,
your personal meter.
There are no exemptions
for the disabled, the elderly, or the insane.
Air will still be available free
to children and the deceased.
When you smother your spouse,
inform us here at Irish Air,
and we’ll reduce your bill
by the appropriate amount.
The cranium of every tourist
will be fitted with a temporary meter,
to be removed only on their exit
from the country. Those whose bills
remain unredeemed will not be allowed
leave. Diplomats are exempted.
Resisters will have their air flow
reduced to the occasional puff,
every half hour or so.
If you have reason to believe
your personal air flow
has been erroneously reduced,
call our office
and speak to one of our staff.
It is an offence
to tamper with, remove, or shove
your personal meter
Our arses are important to us
and we will not tolerate them
being interfered with
by citizens of this teeny weeny country
you think belongs to you.
Book Review: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, Karl Whitney (Penguin Ireland 2014)
Dublin, perhaps uniquely, has suffered mythologization by genius and by sentimentality. Caught between Leopold Bloom and the Leprachaun Museum (yes, there is), the city of Dublin, the living breathing people and the physical structures they live in and on, has fallen out of sight. Joyce and Flann O’Brien caught its speech, but the one did it so perfectly people are afraid to read him, and the other was so accurate they think the humour is a laughing matter; James Plunkett wrote Dublin on a human scale and gave it flesh and blood characters, but is little known outside Ireland. We have ended up with Bloomsday and Paddy’s Day, the first now more kitsch than the second.
Karl Whitney has now written a book that gives us back Dublin as a city, not the set of a novel, or the battlefield of dreams of some misty eyed tourist in search of their heroic and downtrodden ancestors.
While some of the tourists might be inclined to follow Whitney’s Joyce trail—visit all of Joyce’s Dublin addresses in order (the Trieste equivalent includes his favorite knocking shop)—or even his Liffey descent—from where the river becomes tidal to the last bridge before the sea, crossing every bridge on the way—his bus game would be a bit too Situationist. In this one, you take buses for ninety minutes, changing bus every fifteen, crossing the road if a coin comes up tails. The first time he tries it, he ends up in an area with only one bus. A later attempt is no better. Taking a bus in Dublin has no element of play, but only `the extreme frustration familiar to the demoralized commuter.’ Whitney would not be the first artist crushed by the inadequacy of Dublin’s infrastructure.
Wittgenstein in Exile, James C. Klagge (MIT Press)
Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Lee Braver (MIT Press)
For James Klagge in his study of Wittgenstein and his philosophy, exile becomes a metaphor that help identify the enigmatic nature of his subject. Wittgenstein’s rootless, itinerant life was a crisscross of journeys across western Europe, from his home in Austria to England, to Norway, to Ireland – returning to Austria to teach children in a rural location, returning to England in 1929 (‘God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train’, announced Maynard Keynes to his wife), returning to Norway to live. Always he travelled, as he lived, alone. He exiled himself from family, friends and academia and, given the strangeness of his temperament, exile serves as a description for his state of mind. Everyone feels alienated to some degree of other – those who don’t are spooky or just plain numpties – but Wittgenstein’s estrangement from the society and culture of his age was profound and the author’s understanding of this underlies what he writes about the man.
Wittgenstein in Exile is enjoyable to read because it does not indulge in abstruse, intricate arguments and is mercifully free of the mind-numbing prose that results when the author of a book about philosophy solely addresses a professional audience of people assumed to share his interests. Klagge’s comfortable style of writing, reaching out to a wider readership, succeeds in presenting the peculiarity of a man who could not separate his philosophical work from the way he conducted his own life. Unable to avoid remorseless self-examination, Wittgenstein was an artist of the intellect not just in his writings but in his relationship with the world and to demonstrate this Klagge draws considerably on reminiscences of those who knew Wittgenstein and who experienced in conversation aspects of his austere genius.
Two Ways of Seeing: Review of Exhibitions by Kazimir Malevich and Dennis Hopper
Tate Modern is currently home (until 26 October) to a major Malevich retrospective, the likes of which has not been seen in Britain before, while at the Royal Academy there is an exhibition of over 400 photographs taken by Dennis Hopper and on show in Britain for the first time. Malevich and Hopper are both regarded as radical figures who challenged convention but their differences outweigh any perceived similarities. This is not down to painting and photography being different art forms but to the uncrossable gulf between someone who revolutionised the nature of art and someone who happened to be around at a time of social change and captured aspects of it with a camera.
Malevich experienced the October Revolution and then enacted it artistically, dramatically tearing down the old canvas and inaugurating a new way of representing reality. But like most such sweeping summaries, it occludes the history that leads up to a significant moment, washing it over with a rhetorical flourish that rinses out a meaningful understanding. What distinguishes the Tate retrospective is its resolve to show Malevich developing as an artist in a particular place, Russia, and at particular times, from pre-revolutionary tsarism through to Stalinism.
Born in 1879 into a Polish family in Kiev, Malevich travelled to Moscow as a young man, discovered impressionism, saw the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse and began to develop his own style of painting while still feeling he had to speak the language of the western avant-garde. This shows in his Self-Portrait of 1908-10 which takes from Gauguin a compositional ploy which positions the image in front of a painting – a just discernible scene of bathers in this case – while presenting himself as dapper and urbane. Room Two of the exhibition shows him as an artist drawn to Russian themes and styles, painting rural workers using simple forms and expressive colours to portray their hard-working, honest lifestyles. The Scyther of 1911-12 reveals the influence of modernism without sacrificing allegiance to a Russian cultural identity. The figure is barefoot, as poor peasants would have been, set against a warm red background signifying the rye harvest; the farmer’s form and mass is far from traditional representational art but the word for the colour red in the Russian language also denotes something beautiful (hence, Red Square) and this is also part of the painting’s iconography.
or cead mile failte, are you here for the torture?
In case you had managed to misremember
how much our country hates us
along comes another woman needing shelter;
because someone transgressed against her
she needs help from us, just for the moment
until all this is behind her,
and do we make her welcome?
Does she get the help she needs? Ah
you know the answer: does she hell-
this country hates the likes of her
this country rapes the likes of her,
we will leave her with her bodily integrity in tatters
while psychiatrists fight it out about her psyche
and noone will ask her opinion
on what’s to be done with her
she is not considered sentient
and our state penetrates her
over and over and over-
this woman will be incorporated as evidence
in a poisonous debate that skims over how
very many ways the state we’ve built
is willing to degrade us, she will get a code name
and become a touchstone, something (not someone)
that we can talk about in concerned tones
on Marion Finucane and we will shake our heads
and say it’s clear now that our state hates us
as if we hadn’t always known it
as if we haven’t always felt it
as if it hasn’t been the subtext of our paths
through life to womanhood-
men friends it’s clear now too,
that if you are so inclined you could rape us,
and in all but a few cases you’d serve no sentence
not only that lads but here in our little Ireland
you could impregnate us, force a conception
that we played no part in, then you could
sit back and wait for our institutions
to force motherhood upon us
and they’ll do it- they’ve proved it
even if they have to perforate our mouths with tubes
and force feed us, even if they have to sedate us
then slice our wombs open with surgical knives,
they can and obviously will do it
and deep down we always knew this:
we knew Savita Halappanavar
we knew the Kerry Babies
we knew of lonely deaths on wet nights in Granard
and the A,B, C, and X cases
and the fortunate amongst us,
the ones with resources know what ferry terminals
look like at night time and how much it costs
to raise a child in all sorts of currencies,
we know whether we are or are not up for it
there should be no shame in that but here, well,
we must keep it secret because of how much
our state hates us, when we make love
we take the risk of ending up in hospital
in a country where if you’re a pregnant woman
‘state care’ is an oxymoron, it’s a shame to say
that as long as we have the capacity
to bear children, Ireland is not a safe place for us;
women, rise up, this country hates us
it’s long past time we changed it
enough is way too much this time.
Referendum now – repeal the 8th Amendment.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”
Ask the vast majority of people who said that and it is a fair bet they will probably reply something like: Josef Goebbels, or maybe Stalin perhaps, Saddam Hussein might even come up, maybe even Henry Kissinger, or maybe even, in a lucid moment, they might reply Rupert Murdoch, or for that matter Denis O Brien. The truth is they would be wrong on all accounts. Although they would at least be relatively close with the last two or three.
But no, none of them said it, but it is a sure bet that all of the above names would understand the sentiment.
The quote is the first sentence from a 1928 book called Propaganda. The writer was Edward Bernays who many regard as the founder of modern public relations. As a bold and declarative sentence it leaves you in no doubt what so ever as to the logic underlying the words.
That is, the masses can be first organised and manipulated and secondly, even more important, they must be if “democracy” as it is largely understood today is to fulfil its function in maintaining market-driven politics. The logic therefore is that “the people”, the great mainstay of democratic theory and thought or so we are told, cannot and should not be trusted.
Book Review: Phantom Home, Ahlam Shibli (Hatje Cantz, 2013)
The sudden and violent death of someone close to you can only intensify the grief and feeling of loss that accompanies any bereavement, so much so that looking at a picture of the person may be too unbearable to bear. The raw and unavoidable facticity of someone’s absence becomes a too-painfully presence that would be compounded by a photograph that makes the ordeal even more difficult to cope with. This is understandable and it takes an effort of imagination and empathy to comprehend another kind of response when the sudden and violent death is a public and political moment in the life of a community that is itself living with an ongoing sense of loss and deprivation. Palestinians living in their land under occupation by Israel have witnessed death at the hands of their occupiers for most of their lives and seen the destruction of their homes and crops. They live with daily indignities that prevent them from travelling on certain roads in the West Bank, they suffer from a grossly unfair allocation of water and they observe the expansion of settlements for Israeli colonizers.
Ahlam Shibli, a Palestinian photographer, explores the visual culture — posters, murals, banners, paintings, photographs and graffiti – of the community of Nablus as it commemorates those accorded the status of martyrs: Palestinians killed fighting Israeli forces, civilians killed in Israeli attacks and suicide bombers whose missions took them into Israel.
Put on our Sunday best for Mass.
Let on we haven’t heard
about dead babies in Tuam.
Eight hundred infants,
bunkered in human filth.
Bones tossed like old coins,
dump of dead currency.
To those who defend
servants of God and state:
‘They did the best
with what they had.’
What have we?
Proud, complicit government.
Blessed well of
after The League of Gentlemen
Unlike all other candidates,
I’m very much in favour of dog shit;
have it with everything;
am especially fond of the sort produced by
I have the energy, enthusiasm and necessary
sexual appetite to properly
service the people behind doors
I’m knocking on locally.
I’m for more traffic jams
and overweight policemen called
I won’t be diverted into talking
about abortion or world war four.
This is a little election for little people.
I’m against nasal congestion
and political reform; have lived locally
for the past half hour.
Our eight year old, Cian,
will support whatever football team
you want him to. I’m against
adverse weather conditions in Salthill;
okay, in theory, with the continued
existence of black people.
I’ve studied transport systems
at Mauthausen, Belzec, Vorkuta; think I know
how to ensure two Ballybane buses
never again come along at once.