Culture

Walker Evans Depth of Field von John Hill

Photography & Fiction Books of 2015

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Depth of Field, Walker Evans (Prestel)

More than anyone else, Walker Evans made the vernacular a respected field for photography, taking the documentary style of newspapers and magazines to the level of art, holding a mirror up to ordinary life. This book is a retrospective: not just his classic, dispassionate work of the Depression era but material from before and after those years. He managed to do nearly all his work as paid assignments, a remarkable achievement, and his famous New York subway project was a rare exception.

This book is packed with photographs that cannot be forgotten, like the ‘Alabama Cotton tenant Farmer’s Wife’ that captures dignity and goodness in the scrubbed face of a woman standing against a wall of her clapboard house. Her willingness to pose so unaffectedly is more understandable in the light of knowing that Evans spent three weeks in Hale County, Alabama getting to know people and win their trust. He was there with James Agee on a writing assignment for Fortune magazine and looking at the photos Evans took it comes as no surprise to learn the magazine declined to publish them.

Evans’ early work is more formalist than the photography he became famous for in later years but it is also reflective. In New York in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, he took to capturing the presence of Brooklyn Bridge, the barges moving below them and workers taking lunch on the streets and people on the sidewalks. Faces interest him but in his search for what he called ‘contemporary truth and reality’ he photographs people not just for their unique individuality – he likes them to look straight into the camera — but also for the social semiotics they embody. This shows in his Cuba photographs of 1933 and it never leaves him although he finds meaning also in buildings, gas stations, billboards, the interior of a barber’s shop. Middle-class suburban life has little interest for Evans.

The New York subway work, lasting from 1938 to 1941, came after Alabama but there are many sections in Depth of Field that bring less well-known projects to our attention. In 1941 he was photographer for a book called The Mangrove Coast: The Story of the West Coast of Florida but five years later he is back on city streets doing what he likes best, taking unposed pictures of working people going about their lives, and it continues into the 1950s. Formalist concerns return in his late work of the ‘60s and ‘70s when he sets about celebrating ordinary hand tools—‘the fine naked impression of heft and bite’ in a wrench or ‘the beautiful plumb bob’—and in more of his own words he says something about them that extends to his achievement as a whole: ‘…small tools stand, aesthetically speaking, for elegance, candor, and purity’.

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Valerie & TS Eliot

Memorable Non-Fiction of 2015

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The Poems of T.S. Eliot: The Annotated Text. Volumes 1 & 2, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (Faber & Faber)

T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are linked in strange and unlikely ways. They were both anti-semitic (and Eliot was a racist to boot) but this does not prohibit or prevent the appreciation and enjoyment of their poetry except when, as in Eliot’s King Bolo pieces, the bigotry is put into words. Céline is still worth reading, Wagner worth listening to and it’s not difficult to find other examples of artists with objectionable right-wing convictions–after all, who objects to reading Yeats?

The more interesting connection between Eliot and Pound is the way one of this pair of American poets helped the other; for just as Pound was of enormous importance to the young Joyce he also decisively influenced Eliot in the writing of ‘The Waste Land’ – published in 1922, the same year as Ulysses – and that astonishing poem would not exist in the form it does were it not for Pound’s editing of the work. Until the publication of the first volume of this two-set edition the only way to see clearly what Pound achieved was by way of a facsimile and transcript of the original drafts (Faber & Faber, 1986), showing how Pound worked on the text, but now Faber & Faber have gone one better thanks to the annotations provided here by Ricks and McCue. Quantitively, Eliot’s poetic output is not great but with just ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’, ‘The Waste Land’, ‘Four Quartets’ and a handful of other pieces his place in English literature is assured and this is reflected in the fact that the first volume has 346 pages of poems and 965 pages devoted to commenting and annotating them. This, of course, includes a detailed presentation of Pound’s work on ‘The Waste Land’.

It’s always risky to speak of a definitive edition but in this case it is difficult to imagine, unless new work by Eliot comes to light, how the present two volumes could be replaced by something better.

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Goya in London

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Art Review

Goya: The Portraits. National Gallery. Until 10 January 2016

The Goya exhibition at the National Gallery shares something with The World of Pop by bringing to the attention of our eyes an aspect of his art that had previously passed us by. Goya is not famous for his portraits — but if you’ve seen his ‘Antonia Zárate’ in Dublin (loaned to London for this show) you’ll know he can paint people like an angel — but he earned his keep by turning them out for rich patrons and only now, by bringing together so many of them, is it possible to take in his extraordinary achievement. 

His pure skill as a painter reveals itself in the ability to render those parts of the human body not hidden in costumes or layers of clothing; witness the fine skin and eyebrows of Maria Teresa de Vallabriga, the young wife of Infante Don Luis. Goya was hired by the royal couple as a portrait painter and he grew to like them as people capable of being themselves, not straitjacketed by court protocols. And when painting the Duke and Duchess of Osuna with their children Goya seems equally enamoured by their personal qualities and portrays them with a sense of animated informality.

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Teresa BugaÔÇÖ Cubes  Courtesy of Tate Modern

Pop Art in London

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Pop art — a complicit reflection of and a critical response to the plethora of media that bombarded popular culture in the 1960s: magazines, photographs, billboards, colour advertising, television, brand names, celluloid – was bound up with the climatic ascendency of US power in its manifest destiny to conquer the world with military might and icons and logos of the good life and the free market. Baudrillard noted this in 1970 when he characterised pop art as the ‘total integration of artwork into the political economy of the commodity sign’.

crowd of people, even dissenters, becoming just a collection of potential consumers.

Tate Modern’s exhibition refocuses this debate not by bringing together the familiar works of Pop Art but by looking at its international face and showing how it was used by artists to raise
social and political issues that went beyond the remit usually associated with Warhol et al. For Evelyn Axell, the space age of the 1960s becomes a site of sexuality in Valentine (1966) by showing Valentine Tereshkova, the Russian cosmonaut, waiting to be unzipped in an act of erotic voyeurism that celebrates female intimacy. In Joan Rabascall’s Atomic Kiss (1968) the archetypal movie-inspired female mouth in red lipstick is juxtaposed with an image of an atomic explosion. These are interesting and arresting but other pieces on show seem lightweight, like Teresa Buga’s Cubes (1968) which looks like a dismantled Rubik’s Cube painted with graphic signs. It is supposed to anticipate a post-modern world where meaning is never fixed, always subject to deconstruction and reconfiguration, but if
you were unkind you’d say it would not be out of place in a children’s play area. Kiki Kogelnik, an Austrian who went to New York and met Warhol, Rauschenberg and the gang, gives us Bombs in Love (1962), a mixed-media sculpture of two found bomb-casings painted in lurid colours of hippydom. It has a curiosity value but a museum rather than an art gallery might best serve as its permanent home.

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Social-Democrats

The Continuing Story of Óglaigh na hÉireann

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All around the snot-nosed parishes of Ireland

small people of both genders, and neither,

are flapping open

copies of The Sunday O’Duffy

getting worried

about the continued existence

of the Citizen Army, Fenian Brotherhood,

Official IRA.

s

We can’t have

parties who perspire to government

secretly controlled by cabals

of men (and ladies) whose faces

we never see; apart from those

faces prescribed by prevailing winds

and the agreed rules

of the European Union,

which we need never see

but rest eternally assured

are there. Or thereabouts.

s

The only weaponry allowed

those seeking elected office

are five piece suits to help little

men appear substantial,

and no more than six

plastic chairs on which the faithful can

every other month gather

to recite the Our Father,

or discuss the rising

price of sewage. Even

s

the Social Democrats must come clean

about the continued non-existence

of their army council, and what role precisely

Fintan O’Toole plays in its

military high command.

s

A mature democracy like ours

needs parties whose manifestos

political correspondents

with excellent haircuts (and none) can safely

spread across their living room floors

and roll around naked on

without fear of being interrupted

by men and women wearing

illegally held

balaclavas.

s

KEVIN HIGGINS

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Progressive Film Club Screenings: Sat 24th Oct

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Date for your diary – our next screening features a documentary from Mexico (Spanish with English subtitles) and a gritty feature film from Dublin.

Sat 24th October 2015
New Theatre · 43 East Essex Street · Dublin 2
        
3pmOut of Focus [2013]
San Fernando is no ordinary prison. In Mexico City’s most notorious juvenile detention centre, boys between the ages of fifteen and eighteen are serving sentences for serious crimes. When they are released after many years they have their whole lives ahead of them—but what then? “In my community and throughout Mexico,” says Cholo, “even around the world, as an artist I want to be known, not only as a thief and a loser.” As part of a film and photography workshop organised by the film-makers, the juvenile inmates’ hopes and dreams are artistically reflected in short stories, sculptures, songs, poems, and films. They tell of their experience with violence and crime but also of dealing with each other and the importance of friendship. ? Directed by Adrián Arce.? Running time: 37 minutes.

4pmSmolt
In the style of a bootleg VHS, Smolt is a unique portrayal of an eventful few days in the lives of Darren and Leon, two Irish lads who generally have to fend for themselves. While killing time selling second-hand cigarettes, the boys run into some trouble with a girl, a gun, and a shipment of counterfeit football jerseys. Smolt offers an intimate, visceral slice-of-life of two young lads in the concrete playground that is Dublin. ? Directed by Michael Higgins. ? Running time: 67 minutes.
See trailer:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj59Jh-VMdE

Admission is free – as usual.

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E_K

Einstein’s Socialism

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Einstein’s progressive views inevitably made him face the fundamental in our times question of socialism. He dealt with it in his extremely important article “Why Socialism?”1, published in the first issue of Monthly Review in 1949. In it Einstein explicitly declares in favor of socialism, recognizing its superiority over the capitalist system.

Einstein came to be interested in socialism through realizing that the present social order does not promote culture and through his understanding of the deep despair and hopelessness experienced by many people. He recounts in the article an enlightening incident from a conversation he had with an acquaintance, who had expressed his indifference about the eventual destruction of humanity after a relevant remark by Einstein. He makes an accurate diagnosis of the social crisis: “Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile towards the group, small or large, to which they belong”.

From this starting point, Einstein came naturally to the question of the feasibility and the historical need of another, socialist order. And with his usual mental integrity, he replied it in the affirmative when he was convinced that there is no other way to save human civilization.

In “Why Socialism?” Einstein does not only sharply condemn capitalism. Even more significantly, he adopts, to a large extent, the Marxist analysis of the capitalist system, criticizing its exploitative character and its other derivative afflictions, such as the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, crises, unemployment and the manipulation of public opinion. His judgments on the principle of profit and other currently dominant values of wild market capitalism are quite interesting

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palfestireland

Progressive Film Club: Palfest & “5 Broken Cameras”

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Progressive Film Club

Oscar-nominated “5 Broken Cameras” amongst the attractions in upcoming Palfest.

We finished our screenings for summer last Saturday and plan to resume in September or October. We thank you for your great support for our events.

In the meantime we will try to keep you posted on any upcoming films that might be of interest such as these that are being screened during the upcoming Palfest (full details from site).

SMALL HANDS IN HANDCUFFS

Wed. 8th July 2pm
The Pearse Centre
Admission Free, donations welcome

In October 2013, Anrai Carroll, a 16 yr old Transition year student travelled to the West Bank to make a film about child arrests in Palestine. Posing as tourists, Anrai and his mum, activist Brenda Carroll flew to Israel and travelled on to the West Bank where Anrai finally met Mahmoud, a boy his own age who was arrested at 14 and imprisoned for almost a year and a half, also Rasim, 18, who lives in fear of a knock on the door which could mean his arrest.

Anrai’s film shows not just the physical journey but the painfully emotional and sometimes scary transition from naive xbox player to a wiser and stronger young man. What started as a simple idea in Powerscourt Lawns, Waterford has grown into a global symbol of solidarity.

FLYING PAPER

Thurs. 9th July 4pm
The Pearse Centre, Dublin
Admission Free, donations welcome

Flying Paper tells the uplifting story of resilient Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown. This feature-length documentary film is directed by Nitin Sawhney and Roger Hill and co-produced with a team of young filmmakers in Gaza.

FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS

Fri. 10th July 4pm
The Pearse Centre, Dublin
Admission Free, donations welcome

A screening of Emad Burnat’s Oscar-nominated Documentary, – an extraordinary work of both cinematic and political activism, 5 Broken Cameras is a deeply personal, first-hand account of non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village threatened by encroaching Israeli settlements. Shot almost entirely by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son, the footage was later given to Israeli co-director Guy Davidi to edit. Structured around the violent destruction of each one of Burnat’s cameras, the filmmakers’ collaboration follows one family’s evolution over five years of village turmoil. Burnat watches from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, protests intensify, and lives are lost. “I feel like the camera protects me,” he says, “but it’s an illusion.”

“It presents with overwhelming power a case of injustice on a massive scale, and gives us a direct experience of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of oppression and dispossession, administered by the unyielding, stony-faced representatives of those convinced of their own righteousness.” – Philip French, The Guardian.

OPEN BETHLEHEM

Sat. 11th July 4pm
The Pearse Centre
Admission Free, donations welcome

Armed with her camera and a dilapidated family car that keeps breaking down, filmmaker Leila Sansour plans to make an epic film about a legendary town in crisis but just few months into filming her life and the film take an unexpected turn when cousin Carol, Leila’s last relative in town, persuades her to stay in Bethlehem, her hometown she had left years before, to start a campaign to save the city.

As the pair launch OPEN BETHLEHEM, Leila finds herself trapped behind a wall in the very place she so much wanted to leave. The face of Bethlehem is changing rapidly with potentially detrimental consequences. Reports predict that if trends continue the Christian community of Bethlehem, a city that provides a model for a multi faith Middle East, may be unsustainable within one generation. Leila’s plan to stay a year stretches to seven.

OPEN BETHLEHEM is a story of a homecoming to the world’s most famous little town. The film spans seven momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife, under occupation. The film draws from 700 hours of original footage and some rare archive material. In fact the making of this film has led to the creation of the largest visual archive of Bethlehem in the world and plans are currently being discussed with University College London (UCL) to turn the collection into a museum.

Website ;- http://www.palfestireland.net/

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jollylad_t3

Working Backwards

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Book Review  

Jolly Lad, John Doran  (Strange Attractor, 2015)

An Encyclopadeia of Myself, Jonathan Meades (Fourth Estate, 2015) 

The autobiographer has something in common with Narcissus although not if the comparison only reduces the writer to being an egoist in love with the story of his own life. Before Narcissus sees himself in a pool he is ardently solicited by the nymph Echo but he rejects her advances and she wastes away in grief until only her voice lives on. When, later, Narcissus sees himself reflected in the water his anguish, like Echo’s, resides in not being able to embrace what is so dearly desired. He dips his arms in the water, reaching for the neck he sees, but cannot touch for himself. Consumed by his own grief, Narcissus dies and mourners find only a flower by the water’s edge. It’s a potently suggestive myth, inlaid with parallels: repetition as representation – verbal in one case, visual in the other; yearning for something out of reach; failure to reciprocate desire leading to death.

Unlike the autobiographer who will be worth reading, Narcissus fails to register a difference between his present self and an image that would represent him. What he sees is not his own self but an other that reflects his self; he speaks and sees his lips moving in the water  but the image doesn’t speak to him although it is a visible and spatial repetition of his voice. Like a letter without an address, his desire returns undelivered to its sender. Derrida’s opposition that pits a writing that is always deceased and deficient against the full presence of the living voice, the script versus the body, is part of the constellation that makes up the author as a selfhood presenting itself. Writing your own life retrospectively attempts to create the self’s authentic voice but, like the image Narcissus beholds in the clear water of the pool, it cannot provide what is being sought. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the narrator addresses Narcissus: ‘What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more. That which you behold is but the shadow of a reflected form and has no substance of its own.’ Autobiographies can be calibrated according to their degree of success in acknowledging the inherent failure in trying to reach what has passed, as if an echo could somehow be the real thing. As the White Queen paradoxically observes, ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards’. John Doran in Jolly Lad has a knotty problem that compounds this immanent impasse: can he bear to look at his previous existence? He writes of a ghastly past that he desperately needs to leave behind but achieving this entails asking himself what kind of self will take its place.

Doran’s childhood was marked by the kind of material deprivation that characterized many working-class families around Liverpool in the 1970s and cannot be simply pointed to as an explanation for his troubled self. His father, reduced to working short hours and a pinched income, had little sympathy with John’s manic attraction to pop music and only in adulthood is his son able to contextualise his father’s moroseness and hatred of U2:

Of course, this was another example of capitalism’s great cloaking mechanism in full effect. Blaming expensive hat wearing stadium rock divots for your lot in life is no less unreasonable than blaming immigrants, the police, the middle classes, those on the dole, claimants of sickness benefit, your neighbour who has a better car than you, those on your shop floor who have better shift patterns than you, the secretary you suspect to be fucking someone else in middle management, the students who are  only working in your office over the summer break, black people, Asian people, Europeans, people from Wigan, people from Manchester, people from London, people from Yorkshire, people from the other, better side of Warrington Road…

(True, it might have been no less unreasonable than blaming others but, let’s be fair,  some mea culpa  should be expressed by son to prescient father for identifying U2 as bellends.)  

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It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

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It is undemanding to look at the photographs taken by Ciarán Og Arnold after the financial meltdown of 2008 and regard them as sad signifiers of life in a distressed small town in the Irish midlands suffering the throes of economic collapse. There is no work for young people but not everyone can emigrate; ergo: hopelessness, ennui, barely suppressed anger and frustration for those left behind on the scrapheap. The Celtic tigers were stuffed with greed, corruption and a venal populace and alongside the dead skin lies the human wreckage. Oh, what a pity.

This is the pound-shop moralism of the ‘beautiful soul’ that Hegel descried in The Phenomenology of Spirit.  It’s too easy and comforting to feel you are standing on the outside, not needing like Pontius Pilate to wash your hands, as if somehow you have nothing to do with the wretched cultural wasteland
 that produces the deprived micro-community so sorrowfully captured by Ciarán Og Arnold. The male angst and sense of despair depicted in his photographs epitomise the rage that resides inside Irish society, a visceral response to life that goes beyond mere economics. If Joyce’s Dubliners presented a dark side of early twentieth-century life then I Went to the Worst of Bars… does something similar for the early twenty-first century.

The temper of these photographs is  immanent for there is no outside, and in place of a simplistic dualism of  subject – a photographer – and object – desolate dance clubs, dismal alleyways, inebriated older men, aggressive younger ones, two goats in a field, girls dressed up for a weekend night out – we see a totality that fuses facts with values, poor lighting with a poverty of opportunity, crappy wallpaper on a wall with horribly stunted horizons, budget-priced film stock with a culturally bankrupt environment.  Ciarán is the sound geezer who has clicked the shutter on his camera but the photographs are communal: the zeitgeist of an Ireland that goes largely unrepresented or, when it is acknowledged, is mediated by the perspective of an Irish media that would have us believe we are all paid up members of that middle-class constituency so piquantly evoked by George Harrison:

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks
and knives to eat their bacon

Ciarán Og Arnold does not show us these people but they are the audience silently confronted by the faces, the furniture and vegetation, the cheap clothes and the empty bed that he presents us with.

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New Proclamation to the People of Ireland

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Proclamation
The Next President
OF THE
IRISH REPUBLIC
TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND

IRISHLADS AND IRISHLADIES: In the name of O’Brien, Martin-Murphy, Esat Digifone, the Dublin United Tramways Company, and of the dead executioners who met with unhappy accidents on their way to midday Mass, from whom she receives her old tradition of being neither this nor that.

Having patiently perfected her zeal, having waited, resolutely as a cat bound and gagged all night in the outhouse, for the right moment to reveal herself on Facebook, she now seizes this moment, with her one good typing hand, supported by all her children who thankfully went away and quietly died in flats above chip shops at Cricklewood, and by gallant allies first in London, and now, Berlin, but relying in the first instance on her own weakness, she strikes in full confidence of her ongoing defeat.

I declare the right of others – henceforth to be referred to as the financial markets – to the ownership of Ireland, and their unfettered control over all Irish destinies –male, female, hermaphrodite, thin, fat, or medium sized – to be sovereign and indefeasible. Our long subjugation by foreign institutions and dudes named Rupert, or lately Gunter, who knew and still know what’s best for us, has extinguished us. Nor should we be ever again be spoken of, except by madmen roaring on street corners and those who will be henceforth called Shinnerbots on Twitter, our candle having been successfully quenched by our own hand. In every generation a rabble of corner boys (joined occasionally by Bernadette Devlin and her likes) have conspired in back alleys and attics secretly converted for said purpose to assert the lie of our right to national freedom and sovereignty; eight times during the last four centuries they have asserted it by force of pikes, Lewis machine guns and Kalashnikovs. Standing against such fundamental wrongs and re-asserting our most recent surrender in the face of Goldman Sachs, on legal advice received from Peter Sutherland Senior Counsel, I hereby proclaim the Irish Republic to be a state subjugated to people whose names I don’t even know, and couldn’t pronounce if I did, and pledge my life, and more importantly yours– and those of your inconsequential children – to the cause of our ongoing interest payments and GMC/Sierra Ltd, in which you should all immediately buy fucking shares.

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elly

Kelly

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“He has balls”, a Labour Party source   

 d

The clasp of his handshake once reassured

prospective mothers-in-law

he’d not disappoint their daughters.

And though his infrastructure’s

in desperate need of an upgrade,

he’s confident he can get his

waterworks fit for purpose,

ladies and gentlemen, here tonight,

and those at home

watching on TV, sometime

within the next twenty

five years. And if doing so

 d

involves flogging

every last rain drop,

from Bellmullet to Garryduff,

at a savage discount, to the guy

who despite his wallet’s ongoing

morbid obesity, has hair

that looks like it’s been stuck

to the skull with Evo-stick,

then Kelly’s the kind of pragmatist

who’ll make shit like that happen,

whether anyone asked

it to or not.

 d

His tongue rough

as the carpet in a room

where Stevie Coughlan

once talked against the Jews.

For the past six months,

every erection he’s had

has been a member

of the Heavy Gang

about to throw a Provo

onto the railings

from a Garda Station

second storey window.

 d

According to recent polls,

in certain areas of Tipperary,

he’s only slightly less popular

than Richard the Third. At least

half a percent less hated

than this time last week.

Of unequivocal victory,

he has no alternative

but to be certain.                                           

 d

KEVIN HIGGINS

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