Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Reviving Poetry Tuesday

It's Tuesday! And, on this blog, that means it's time to talk about poetry!

Well, not so much, to be honest. Yes, I let my fledgling Poetry Tuesday tradition slide recently. 

But maybe that's not such a bad thing, since a tradition has overcome an important hurdle when it languishes and revives for the first time.

Anyway, today's Poetry Tuesday post is just a quick post about the poetry jukebox which was recently installed outside my own workplace, the James Joyce Library in University College Dublin. Here is a picture of it.

This particular poetry jukebox only features women poets, which is fine by me. It would also be fine by me if it only featured red-headed poets, or left-handed poets, or poets who went mad. Inclusivity is not my thing.

It was a bit gingerish about using it, since I'm always expecting some smart-alecky comment from someone passing colleague. (I don't even like taking mobile phone pictures in public, selfies or otherwise, as I'm so self-conscious about onlookers.) But one day, after work, I pressed the button and listened to a poem written and recorded by a contemporary poetess. It wasn't a good poem, but I'm not too worried about that. I saw that it also had poems by dead female poets.

One of the women pictured, Maria McManus, wrote this about the idea of a poetry jukebox, in an Irish Times article: 

Words have power. In print and broadcast news in the North, in this past week alone, came reports of graffiti on walls that read “N ----rs out”; families fleeing sectarian threats; swastikas daubed on walls; a pig’s head left outside a community centre used by Muslims; anti-Muslim slogans sprayed across the doors.

Another day, another time, another place, it would be homophobic slogans. Misogynistic graffiti, though prolific, rarely makes the news, but a Belfast cafe caused a stir this week when it claimed “You can beat the wife, but you can’t beat a £5 lunch”. This was on a sandwich board sitting in the street. The owners hit back on social media, saying people were over-reacting, it was just a joke, people were too sensitive. Blah, blah. Eventually, under duress, they apologised. Eventually.

Ho hum. No mention of hatred against straight white men, priests, nuns, conservatives, the unborn child, Christians, or other popular and socially acceptable targets.

Ms McManus goes on: "This is our context and it becomes then all the more important for us to animate and occupy public space and public discourse with something quite contrary." It makes me wonder what she thinks of Philip Larkin, Rudyard Kipling, John Betjeman, Kingsley Amis, and other great poets who leaned to the right in one way or another. 

Poetry, including the best poetry, can be a vehicle for views and opinions of every sort-- though it is true that good poetry usually avoids the shrilness and shallowness of outright propaganda.

Nevertheless, I could not agree more with her final lines: "Through the Jukebox, we hope that we can connect with a wider audience for poetry – not just the ones who will go to a reading, or buy a poetry book, but other people – people passing in the street. The curious. This is about normalising poetry. Why shouldn’t it be part of everyone’s everyday life? Why shouldn’t it nourish their soul and their imagination?"


(Rather sadly, nobody was sufficiently moved by the article to leave a comment.)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Some Facebook Posts, While I'm Away

My life has been very busy recently. I have also been doing a lot of writing, but not blog writing.

How, then, to keep my blog ticking over? Well, perhaps I could "treat" you to some of my Facebook posts. I am an avid poster on Facebook.

Suck it up!

I see some Catholics suggesting we put the term "Catholiphobia" into currency. I'm completely against this. No more -phobias, -isms, victimologies or grievance-mongering. Instead of inventing new ones we should be rejecting the ones we have already.

If someone does something objectionable, it can be denounced without going in for -phobias and -isms. Bullying, for instance, is wrong no matter who does it and who the victim is. Let's judge each deed and utterance on its own, without any appeal to such concepts.


I have such mixed feelings about the decline in Irish cultural Catholicism. I have noticed that a lot of the people who talk loudly before Mass (in Ireland) are elderly. It's funny that presumably a life of going to Mass and practicing their faith hasn't given them enough respect to keep silent in church. And just this morning I read a reference to the practice of standing at the back of the church during Mass, which was a stupid and silly custom, still seen at memorial Masses and other occasions, generally practiced by men and boys who think it somehow manly.

And Irish cultural Catholicism meant that a lot of priests who should never have been priests and nuns who should never have been nuns spent a lot of time subverting the Faith in Ireland, doing immeasurable damage.

On the other hand...there all the indirect ways the Faith pervades and enriches a culture, benefiting even those who spurn it. A sense of the sacred. A sense of the value of every human life, not abstractly but concretely. The spiritual taking priority over the material. A gentleness which I think is lacking in Ireland now. All that. So on the whole, I regret it, but with qualifications.


I saw a student wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirt. I reflected that, to her, this must be like the Beatles or some other pop culture phenomenon, way back in the past. And that I remember them being the latest thing. And I was feeling a bit bad about being so much older than the students when I thought, why do we so often regret having lived a longer rather than a shorter time? There may be good specific reasons in terms of missed opportunities and other things, but in general, isn't it a good thing that we never died all those days that we might have died? That we remember different periods in history, as eye-witnesses? If experience has value when it's happening, surely it retains value after it has happened, for its own sake.


It's local and European election time and once again there are debates about whether election posters should be banned.

I always try to see all sides of an issue and be moderate in my language. But I do think people who want to ban election posters are life-hating, miserable, self-absorbed, consumerist, atomized, joyless, soulless, embittered, anti-public spirited, tunnel-visioned cranks.

I don't mean to be offensive, though.
I have just watched the film Saving Mr. Banks again, which is about the making of the Mary Poppins film and Walt Disney's relations with the author of the source novels. I saw it for the first time in the cinema, then on DVD a few years after that, and now on TV. Every time I've seen it I've been hugely impressed. A real grown-up film with complex emotions and rounded characters. It understands that the motive of a work of imaginative literature is very often a desire to reshape or redeem one's past. Both painful and ultimately uplifting. A classic, I believe.
Last night I dreamt I was in a hotel bar in America, with a large group of friends. Some guy came in and started being aggressive to us. We mocked him and he left, returning moments later with a gang of cronies which greatly outnumbered us. We all fled up to the higher floors of the hotel as they gave chase. I found myself thinking how accurate G.K. Chesterton's description of fancy American hotels still is. I thought I was in the clear until the original fellow saw me. He said, with great politeness, "You realise we are going to grind your face in the carpet when we catch you, don't you?" "My dear fellow", I replied, "I wouldn't have it any other way". Then I woke up.

Analyze that...

(In real life, my response would more likely be: "Please don't hit me! Please don't hit me!")
I am reading The Go Between by L.P. Hartley. The section I am reading now describes a cricket match between the family and staff of a Manor, and the local villagers. The Introduction tells me that the book is all about the loss of innocence, the deceitfulness of memory, and very serious themes like that. I feel a bit abashed admitting I'm enjoying it right now mostly for its vivid account of a Hall vs. village cricket match!
How long before "Sir" and "Madam" are attacked by political correctness? Surprised it hasn't already happened.
The best way to win every debate (or, at least, to impress people in debate) is to have a very simple formula which you can apply to everything, over and over-- like "do whatever you want as long as you don't harm others." But life is too complex to be grasped with a formula. And so somebody who accepts the complexity of life is already labouring under a disadvantage when it comes to a debate. They will sound hesitant, inconsistent, and so forth, when they are actually trying to be responsible and serious.
Francis Derangement Syndrome gets as tiresome as Trump Derangement Syndrome. I saw one conservative Catholic commentator who I admire very much complaining that there had been no papal tweet about the Notre Dame fire yet. I went to look at the Pope's account and saw that he tweeted about it five hours ago. A bit much, surely...
I post this passage from Samuel Johnson's biography of the poet and pioneering landscape gardener William Shenstone for two reasons. First, the sheer luxurious leisure of the prose itself. Second, because it has long stuck in my mind as an articulation of that question which hovers over all human life: What is worth doing?

"Now was excited his delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance; he began from this time to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters, which he did with such judgement and such fancy as made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the skilful: a place to be visited by travellers, and copied by designers. Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves and to place a bench at every turn where there is an object to catch the view; to make water run where it will be heard, and to stagnate where it will be seen; to leave intervals where the eye will be pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is something to be hidden, demands any great powers of mind, I will not enquire: perhaps a sullen and surly speculator may think such performances rather the sport than the business of human reason. But it must be at least confessed that to embellish the form of nature is an innocent amusement, and some praise must be allowed by the most supercilious observer to him who does best what such multitudes are contending to do well."

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Streams of Time

I was going to begin this blog post with the words: "Time is endlessly fascinating to me." But then I thought: Isn't time fascinating to everybody? Indeed, even to write on the subject of time, at an abstract level, is to risk cliché. There have been so many poems, films, songs, and other meditations on the subject of time that it might seem a theme best avoided.

However, in this blog post I am thinking about one particular aspect of time I've never seen addressed anywhere else.

I'm talking about the phenomenology of time, the way we experience time.

It seems to me that we experience time in different streams, which run concurrently but at different speeds. And the awareness of these different streams of time, and the contrast between them, has brought a great deal of poetic delight into my life. The silent music of time is bewitching.

Wherever you are, or whatever you are thinking about, you find yourself embedded in a different "stream" of time-- although you may experience more than one at the same time.

The best way I can explain this is by giving examples from my own life. I thought about going from the slowest stream of time to the fastest, or perhaps from the fastest to the slowest. But then I decided that would be a little too methodical for my liking. It would also give the impression that these are all simply points on a scale, and that's not the case. They are all subtly different, and not only in how slow or fast they are.

I will list them at random, as they occur to me. I have mentioned some of them before in previous posts.

Here's the first one that comes to mind. When I was in my late teens, my mother spent a while working as a cleaning lady for a particular family. She would always come home with a bag of goodies, which often included banana bread and Black Forest gateaux. It would also include a bag of recent newspapers. I developed a rather strange habit of reading this bundle of newspapers in the bath (yes, in the bath), by candlelight.

It was a delicious sensation, reading about controversies and news stories which had just passed out of public attention. It was like hearing a hubbub from a public meeting or a football game, but muffled by distance. I loved the unique combination of excitement and calm.

(This is pretty much the same atmosphere I enjoy when reading old periodicals or collections of newspaper columns, though it is obviously even more distanced in that case.)

The next example that occurs to me is that of a painting in an art gallery. Here the "stream of time" seems to have frozen, and we seem to have entered the realm of the timeless. 

And yet, it's not quite so, because the painting still inhabits time. Unless the painting is a still life or an abstract work, there is probably a sort of time inside the painting; something is happening, even if it's just cows grazing on a field.

But even if it is a still life or an abstract work, the painting doesn't really exist outside time-- not even in the phenomenological sense I'm talking about here. Because we are aware that is occupies a particular place in the history of art, or the history of culture. We are in that "stream" as we look at it. As well as this, the painting occupies physical space in the gallery, and the hushed tones and slow paces of the gallery visitors creates its own "stream of time".

The mention of timelessness brings me to an important point-- just as there are different "streams" of time, there are different "flavours" of timelessness. A photograph, a scene within a snow globe, a Greek myth, and a classic episode of some nineteen-eighties TV sit-com could all legitimately be called "timeless". But how differently we experience these various example of "timelessness"!

In truth, I think there is no absolute difference between "streams of time" and instances of "timelessness".

Another example occurs to me-- parliamentary history. This is obviously very relevant today, with all the upheaval about Brexit. And this example shows how delicate and subtle these "streams of time" are. I remember being very struck, during the coverage of the 1997 General Election in the UK, when one political commentator pointed out that Tony Blair had become the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1807. So, on the one hand, the election coverage was feverish and moment-by-moment, but it also opened out onto the long galleries of Westminster history.

Another example (and somewhat similar) is the "stream of time" we enter when something of world-historical (or even national-historical) significance occurs. Most of my readers will remember this from 9/11, and many of my readers will remember it from the fall of the Soviet Union. At such moments, the whole world seems to have entered into a very definite "stream of time", and everything takes on a different aspect; grander, more monumental. The other great moments of history seem nearer they did the day before.

At the opposite end to such huge and world-shaking events are the private, enclosed "streams of time" that we enter into when it comes to board games, card games, and computer games. Reader, have you ever found yourself absorbed in game after game of Scrabble, or Gin Rummy, or some other game, and found that you are now living, not hour to hour, but minute to minute, and second to second? Indeed, the flow of time in the world outside seems to have been suspended, while you are lost in the game. This ad for Lucozade, from just before the new millennium, evokes this atmosphere very well.

Is there a "stream of time" for that interesting abstraction, "daily life"? I don't think so-- at least, not a single one. Every environment, pursuit, atmosphere, and frame of mind has its own "stream of time".

I suppose this is one of my stranger posts. In truth, such posts are the ones I enjoy writing the most. I hope somebody out there recognizes their own experience in it, or even that it articulates something that you have found yourself half-thinking once or twice. That, for me, is one of the great joys of reading, and of writing.

Friday, April 5, 2019

More on Diaries

 From The Siegfried Sassoon Diaries 1923-1925:

After strolling about the Backs, I went into the Fellows' Garden at Pembroke and sat there unhappily from 6 to 7. In a newspaper shop I'd bought a vulgar postcard of two cockatoos in bed, one of them saying: "Shall we ask mother to sty with us?". This I sent to O. Sitwell, about whom i was still in an internal tantrum. [The card was  reference to Max's caricature of O. and S., with parrots on their fists saying: "Well done, Osbert" and "Well done, Sacheverell".] Contemptible bad taste on my part, of course. So I sat in the pleasant garden, tearing myself to tatters and wishing I hadn't sent the card, while enjoying the idea of paining O.S.

Then I discovered that I'd been locked in the garden, and I had to get over the twelve-foot wall by a ladder, which I found by a tool-shed. I pulled it up after me and let it down into Free School Lane, and then threw it back over the wall, to the astonishment of a passing don.

I'm very much in a diary mood right now, and I've been thinking about diaries a lot recently.

As I've mentioned before, I've been keeping a diary since June 24 2015. I began it on impulse, inspired by a section of Brideshead Revisited which very vividly describes a voyage on an ocean liner, and which made me want to capture the immediacy of my day-to-day life.

I kept my diary on a website called Penzu.com until late November of last year. My Penzu diary is 1.3 million words long. I eventually stopped keeping a computer diary because I became frustrated at the amount of time I spend looking at screens, and I felt the urge for a physical diary.

Since then I have used a page-a-day diary, written in longhand. I asked the secretary in my job if she had any page-a-day diaries left for 2018, since we use them a lot. It turned out she did, so I used that for the rest of the year. Then I bought two page-a-day diaries for 2019. One page is very often not enough to chronicle my day. (I knew it wouldn't be, since in the case of my 2018 diary I often had to continue an entry on the pages from before November.) 

The Penzu website lets you export your entries as a PDF. I have several copies of that PDF saved in different places. I also scan and save my paper diary entries, for fear of losing them. 

I haven't failed to chronicle a single day since I started, which gives me great satisfaction. I regret I didn't start keeping a diary as soon as I could write. (I did in fact keep several, but they are lost. None were even nearly as long as my current one.)

I keep a diary for several reasons. One is my terrible memory-- or rather, my extraordinarily selective memory. My ability to forget things is astounding. Very recently I was sitting in a kitchen where I have spent a great deal of time and someone mentioned that, some years ago, it had been divided into two rooms, but the wall had subsequently been removed. This might seem like a small thing, but it gave me quite a jolt. I knew this, but I'd completely forgotten it. My wife often tells me about things we've done together and I realize I have no memory of them-- even when . So that's part of it.

However, I don't write a diary simply to capture the things normal people would remember anyway. I write a diary to remember all the little things that any normal person would forget. I don't want these to be lost, although it's hard to explain exactly why.

For instance, I've been meeting a friend for coffee every Thursday for many years now, with a few interruptions when he has been abroad. I record the topic of our conversations. I'm intrigued by the fact that, if I did not record these at the time, there would be no way to remember them. That knowledge would become utterly unobtainable, no matter how you tried to retrieve it-- there is absolutely no way either of us would remember what we spoke about on a given day, in ordinary circumstances. What would be so awful about that? Well, nothing, perhaps. But I'm fascinated how a little bit of effort, a mere line or two, preserves something for years, perhaps decades, which would otherwise be utterly gone beyond hope of recall, in a day or two.

I also keep my diary to record my reading, thinking, emotions, and ideas. This is often material for future "public" writing.

Enough of my own diary. Right now I am interested in other peoples' diaries, as well. But it's hard to find a diarist who really suits me. I have little interest in extroverted diaries which are mostly focused upon exciting and specific events, such as a war or a government administration. I look for diaries which drawn on the whole of life, including the less obviously exciting parts. I like diaries which find a place for dreams, conversations, curious incidents, public affairs, meals, reading, introspection, the weather, and everything that goes to make up the rich tapestry of daily life.

Sassoon's is pretty good in this regard. The diaries are from the 'twenties. As a person, he seems to have been quite full of life and enthusiasm, so they are not filled with the well-bred ennui which is too typical of many writers' diaries. The balance between incident and commentary is about right-- I reckon it should be about half and half.

To close, here is another entry from Sassoon which I found particularly interesting:

What a disappointing man Elgar is! When I met him a week or two ago I told him I was sending him a copy of Recreations and mentioned that there is a reference to his Concert in the piece called "Philharmonic". To-day he writes: "Many thanks for the book. I cannot quite follow you through it all. I gather from the "Philharmonic" that you most judiciously fled from the Concerto. I am sorry you didn't like it. Yrs (scribble) E.E." I replied, "Dear Sir Edward, Let me reassure you (in case my admiration is of any value to you) that I have heard the Violin Concerto eleven times, and its beauty has moved me to an increasing degree. Why should I have sent you my book if it contained a sneer at your music? And how could I have sent it to you unless I admired your work? You surprise me. I merely wished to show my gratitude. Yours sincerely." But Elgar is always behaving like that. He is on the look out for affronts, and probably thinks that all the "younger generations" despises his music.

My Second Venture onto YouTube

My first effort at making a YouTube video was quite well received (among those who watched it), so I decided to make a second one sooner rather than later. In this video, I put forward three reasons I think Irish Catholics have to be hopeful.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

My First Venture into YouTube

I watch a lot of YouTube videos. An awful lot. Venturing onto this platform seems a natural step.

Here is my first effort. I stress "effort". Yes, my collar is askew and I'm talking too slowly and vaguely. A learning experience.