Monday, June 4, 2007

Irish Times

I'm midway in an excellent debut novel, a more-than-mystery titled In the Woods by Tana French, set in the environs of Dublin and concerning a detective who was himself the victim of, maybe, kidnapping or, maybe, abuse as a child (he has amnesia about the events and only his partner knows of his troubled history), forced by the murder of a young girl to revisit the scene of... whatever happened back then. Very atmospheric and elegantly written.

And it has caused me to think of the Green Isle, the Four Green Fields, Galway Bay, peat fires, bog people... But who am I kidding? I've never been to Ireland, or Eire-plus-the-North. I've lived overseas, traveled around the world, been to Europe several times, but no Ireland. Ridiculous.

As a perennial reader and sometime writer, I cherish the Irish: Yeats, Synge, Joyce, Beckett, Heaney, and many others (maybe even Tana French henceforward). And I've loved Irish music since i was a wee lad, from the Clancy Brothers to Moving Hearts, from Van Morrison to U2. Heck, if I drank beer, I'm sure I'd be a Guinness regular...

Should have gotten there while the island was still an economic backwater, the still-lamented homeland for so many emigrated Americans. Now it's become The Celtic Tiger, most jobs-prosperous nation in Europe. And now even the Northern combatants, Orange and Green alike, are swearing to work together for peace. (Makes you wonder if there's maybe still some tiny hope for the Middle East.)

Ah well. Cultural references aside, what I have done in my stumbling fashion is write a few poems with a struggling Irish lilt to them. Here are the best two (and reading them on the "page" means you don't have to hear me mangle the accent); the first came from discovering the quotation from Flaubert--I have no idea why my imagination then went straight to the land of
Joyce--and the second was my attempt to pull a fast one:

Bear Language

"Language is like a cracked kettle on which we
beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all
the time we long to move the stars to pity."
--Gustave Flaubert

I beat the cracked kettle
with a single stick of hazel
and listen as the thick syllables
run together. The chain pulls
this way and that, rattles
its own countermeasure, and hauls
me up tall, tipsy-toed to reel
Old Blarney in, drool and all.
Oh, he’s a handful,
he is: brown fur matted wet, male
razzle slapping his time, the usual
twinkle of trouble
in his one good eye. Bears

‘ll dance for you, and stand still,
shuffle and stall and sometimes scuffle
a bit; but Old Blarney’s a regular dazzle.
He rears back, high as Maeve Hill,
and sets his bear backyonders to heel-
an’-tow, and wriggle sure and all.
With his great paws flapping uncle,
his gap-tooth smile,
and his raggle-taggle tinker’s airs,
why, honey wouldn’t melt in his muzzle.
And thereby hangs a tale…

Or did. Just the last April
it was, at Derry Fair, and him on a publican’s table,
stepping out something fierce and typical.
Till he backstepped his backside full
in the barman’s electric fan, and fell
all over himself and nine pints with the froth of the pull
still on them—pell-mell and holywell
water, prancing and roaring and clanking, hide-hairs
a whirlwind behind him, parts of Old Blarney mill-
ing amongst us like the pieces of a puzzle
we couldn’t reassemble,
though we patched up his pride by wetting his whistle
with enough of the stout to befuddle
Cuchulain. He passed out in a puddle
of Guinness, still licking his chops, wishful
like… And now he just grins and bares it all.

Me? Oh, I’m just the bit of a shill.
Whilst Old Blarney struts his wonderful,
I blather and beat on this kettle
and watch his tin cup fill,
till the stars come out all unawares.

Postcard from Northern Ireland

I wanted to write something
better than ranting
that follows the letter of meter,
and rhymes.
Reflecting the times,
I settled for this
bit of rhetoric.

Postscript added days later: finished In the Woods, and I do recommend it highly. Some plot stuff can be guessed as one gets closer to the end, but not what happens, or doesn't, to the conflicted hero. Bravo; excellent writing throughout. I hope Ms.French shows her stuff again soon, Irish or not.

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