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#2498 - Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - Editor: Jerry Katz
In this issue are two pieces from renowned Irish poet, haikuist, translator, anthologist, humorist, and author, Gabriel Rosenstock. Excerpts: "...our strange language today, cappucino-flecked, wouldnt wash down easily with those earlier generations. And the ancients are hardly reading the latest titles, are they? So really, one is writing for nobody. Is that bad?"
" I once read on the same platform with a poet who had never published a poem in his life for the very simple reason that his language did not have an alphabet or written form! He was a big hit, I can tell you! I would have loved to have kept up a correspondence with him but, as you can imagine, he was unable to write his address. But we communicate across the great silences of dying languages with every single line we compose."
"I have no idea in the wide world what importance is. Is it something invented in London or San Francisco or somewhere?"
Sainmhíníonn Krishnamurphy an Grá Krishnamurphy Expounds on Love
Cad is grá ann? Ó! What is love? Oh!
Anois anois anois! Now now now!
Ní thuigim I dont understand
An grá atá uait, nach ea? Its love you want, is it?
Taibhsítear duit é It appears to you
Samhlaítear duit é You imagine it
In am éigin a dimigh tharainn Belonging to some time past
Nó am éigin atá le teacht Or some time to come
Nó é measctha agat le grá Dé Or you mix it up with love of God
Nó grá do dhuine eile Or love for another
Nó grá ar son an ghrá Or love for the sake of love
Nó, fiú, grá don bhfocal féin, grá? Or love of the word itself, love?
Anois anois anois! Now now now!
Ní fhéadfadh an grá a bheith i bhfocal, a ghrá, Love could not be in a word, my love,
I gcoincheap In a concept
Ná in am, ná in áit, ná i nduine eile ná i ndán. In time, or place, or person or poem.
Murab ann dó anois If it is not now -
Gach piotal de á oscailt Each petal opening to the sun
Don ngrian is ea é, é féin Which is itself -
Sé oíche dhorcha an anama de shíor é! Ar manam. Then it is the dark night of the soul.
WRITING IN IRISH FOR WHOM?
When Irish more or less died out in most of the households on Achill Island Achill, where Böll had a cottage and in which I stayed as a child, and later as an adult when the language died out in the houses, the men continued for a while to use it at sea. What a metaphor for the use of minority languages today.... Fishermen, out at sea, speaking a threatened language among themselves, fishing for old words. Back on land and the secret language becomes a dying whisper in the breeze and then silence.
Writing in Irish today for whom? Well, even if you have something to say it is unlikely that the current generation will be interested. Or, if they are, they wont have the key. They may have a skeleton key that opens up a few well-anthologised texts thats about it.
Writing for some future generation is a lost cause. Whats left? Writing for oneself alone? Somewhat selfish, bordering on autoexoticism. And so, I write for generations past, honouring those and and thanking those who honed and shaped the language, helping to make Irish a world literature. But only a few of us believe this to be palpably true and, anyway, our strange language today, cappucino-flecked, wouldnt wash down easily with those earlier generations. And the ancients are hardly reading the latest titles, are they? So really, one is writing for nobody. Is that bad?
No! Writing for nobody bestows an extraordinary freedom on the writer. He can explore anything. There are no market expectations, no agents to advise you about trends, none of the foppery of your books in windows or dressing up in front of a mirror before picking up an international prize. (For appearances sake, of course, we do allow for the odd celebrity and boast to the world that were still alive. Yes, we have our somebodys but most of us are nobodys). Its a humbling expereience. And maybe thats not a bad thing either. After all, bad enough as we are, what would we be like if we had an ego?
I once wrote a comic Mass (Aifreann Krishnamurphy) knowing that nobody would haul me up for blasphemy because nobody would bother to read it or perform it before a live congregation. In a sense, its not fun any more being a heretic knowing that nobody is going to threaten you with burning or anathema. If theyd only curse us, ban us, ridicule us then, at least, we would know that somebody actually read something and disapproved. But one continues .... why? Nobody knows. Is it just an incurable itch, an insanibile scribendi cacoethes? An urge to fill the Irish language with everything it may have lacked, lacked until recently, from the fridge to the I-pod via the vibrator?
Maybe to ask this question For whom? is to start off on the wrong footing. For whom do we write? Well, lets ask ourselves for whom do we live? For ourselves? For others? For whom or for what do we suffer, do we love? Or do we just suffer? Just love? Just write?
Our world is bewildered by questions. The mob is constantly bellowing: We want answers! You do, do you? Everybody is looking to someone else for an answer. I have posed a question. For whom does the Irish-language writer write? For some it is a tantalising question. For many it is a question of no importance at all. Some will await an answer. Most will not be bothered. And so it goes.
If you have
something important to say, why dont you write in English,
in a world language? Are you contemptuous or afraid of an
audience? I hear this question from time to time. Why do I need a
world language or world audience? I have read poetry and
Why did Achill fishermen continue to speak Irish at sea when on land they abandoned it? An urge for continuity? Better communication? Of course, it would have been unsafe to switch suddenly to English if weather lore, names of landmarks and promontories, fishing terminology etc. were mostly in Irish. Well then, was it simply for the pleasure of it that they continued in Irish?
I have no pressing communicative or safety reasons to write in Irish. Do I have the so-called urge for continuity? Maybe, but not for its own sake. Anyway, what continuity? Raftery the last of the bards may have been a frequent visitor to my mothers ancestral home but isnt that stretching continuity a bit when my mothers generation had long abandoned the language? So, do I write for pleasure? That must be it. Pleasure. Yes, pleasure. Its enough. Most Irish children derive little pleasure from Irish as a school subject and that is a sin.
I once read on the same platform with a poet who had never published a poem in his life for the very simple reason that his language did not have an alphabet or written form! He was a big hit, I can tell you! I would have loved to have kept up a correspondence with him but, as you can imagine, he was unable to write his address. But we communicate across the great silences of dying languages with every single line we compose.
You may ask, did that poet who could have been a stuntman in that moving film The Weeping Camel, did he have something important to say? Importance? What is importance? I have no idea in the wide world what importance is. Is it something invented in London or San Francisco or somewhere? They have no weeping camels in London what would they know about important things! I seem to recall the alphabet-less poet intoning something about a horses mane blowing in the wind. Is that important? Well, I am sure that nothing was quite as important for that poet when the utterance came through him. Probably important for the horse too.
Hey, can we forget about importance, please? Nothing is important. Everything is important. Irish is not important. Irish is very important. You are not important. You are very important. And so on... Take your pick. It wont matter a tráithnín in a thousand years.
The poet who wrote about the horses mane was a shaman, of course. Shamans are the only poets left. Well, they were the first. And they shall be the last. Give him an alphabet, give him books to read, radio to listen to and chances are he will complain that his shamanistic powers are beginning to fail him.
Irish still has enough ancient magic and music to allow us to chant in it and perform our shamanistic rites. If the world is sick, the shaman poet and not the multinational pharmaceutical company may be the one to call upon. Then the nobody who has been performing for nobody all along is suddenly perceived as performing for the whole tribe and the tribes of all nations and none.
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