Archive for October, 2011

Tuesday poem: When will my time come

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Michael D. Higgins’ time has now come, and is being celebrated all over Ireland. What a joy it is to have a poet President, and especially one who seems a grand guy! And how prescient it was of him to have written this poem. He’s got scenery now, in spades.

When Will My Time Come
by Michael D. Higgins

When will my time come for scenery
And will it be too late?
After all
Decades ago I was never able
To get excited
About filling the lungs with ozone
On Salthill Prom.

And when the strangers
To whom I gave a lift
Spoke to me of the extraordinary
Light in the Western sky;
I often missed its changes.
And, later, when words were required
To intervene at the opening of Art Exhibitions,
It was not the same.

What is this tyranny of head that stifles
The eyes, the senses,
All play on the strings of the heart.

And, if there is a healing,
It is in the depth of a silence,
Whose plumbed depths require
A journey through realms of pain
That must be faced alone.
The hero, setting out,
Will meet an ally at a crucial moment.
But the journey home
Is mostly alone.

When my time comes
I will have made my journey
And through all my senses will explode
The evidence of light
And air and water, fire and earth.

I live for that moment.

There’s a glorious celebratory song by the Saw Doctors – ‘Michael D. Rockin’ in the Dáil’ – here. My recommendation is that (a) you turn it up to a loud celebratory level, and (b) that you dance to it. That’s what poets do.

Tuesday poem: Syros

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I’m a bit ashamed not to have known the latest Nobel Prize winner’s poetry before he won the prize this year, but at least it didn’t take me as long to acknowledge Tranströmer as it took the Nobel committee, which has apparently seriously considered him for the prize every year since 1993! Here’s a haunting example of his work for starters.


by Tomas Tranströmer

translated from Swedish by Robin Fulton

In Syros harbor leftover cargo steamers lay waiting.
Prow by prow. Moored many years since:
CAPE RION, Monrovia.
KRITOS, Andros.
SCOTIA, Panama.

Dark pictures on the water, they have been hung away.

Like toys from our childhood that have grown to giants
and accuse us
of what we never became.

The sea has read them through.

But the first time we came to Syros, it was at night,
we saw prow by prow by prow in the moonlight and thought:
What a mighty fleet, magnificent connections.

I do know it’s only Monday today, so why am I posting a Tuesday poem? Well, it’s mostly because I have the time to to it this afternoon but it’s also because The Tuesday Poem website is based in New Zealand, where it’s already 4 am on Tuesday. You might like to check out the other Tuesday poems, which you can do any day of the week by clicking on the link.

You know that I know …

Friday, October 14th, 2011

I’m getting great pleasure from listening to The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.

If you don’t yet know about this CD, the previously unpublished lyrics are from four notebooks found in Hank Williams’ car after his death, and recently set to music by the various musicians who sing on the album. The collection has been curated (a term that’s now used for everything from cake recipes to toolboxes, but in this case I think it’s the right one) by Bob Dylan, who invited eleven other rock and country stars to contribute. Norah Jones, Alan Jackson, Lucinda Williams and Bob Dylan are my favourites so far – but for me, the absolute standout is Jack White singing ‘You know that I know.’

White’s interpretation of the song is glorious. He’s been criticised for introducing a kind of quaver to his voice but I think it works brilliantly; it’s a very Hank kind of sound that complements the very Hank kind of lyrics: from heartbreak to honky-tonk, all in one song.

You know that I know
That you ain’t no good
And you wouldn’t tell the truth
Even if you could
Lying is a habit
You practise wherever you go
And you may fool the rest of the world
But you know that I know …

And I’m a sucker for this bit – it’s the beautifully judged use of ‘correctly’ that so charms me:

And if you recall correctly
I’m the guy that brought you to town

It’s a bluesy sound with a bluesy beat, and I don’t even object to the electric guitars. Thanks, Jack. Nice one. I can’t help thinking that Hank Williams would be impressed. Wouldn’t you, Hank, huh?

All things are numbers, or a visit to Magna Grecia

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Magna Grecia – greater Greece – is the name given to the bits of southern Italy that were colonised by the Greeks two and a half thousand years ago. This map shows the main bit in yellow, around the arch of the ‘foot’ of Italy and up into the ‘heel’ and we particularly wanted to see whatever there was to see, in the way of ancient Greek ruins, when we were in Puglia this September.

In the end we visited only two sites, the ones near Metapontum (now called Metaponto) but they were both so interesting we’d like to try again in a few years with better books, better maps, and more time. Still, what I discovered after we’d been – in that frustrating and irritating way that you do when you haven’t done your research thoroughly before you go – was fascinating. ‘Achean’ is one of the resonant collective nouns used by Homer for the main Greek tribal groups of the time, and it seems that it was the Acheans who sailed west across the Adriatic to Italy: as the poet Allan Curnow put it in a different context, “simply by sailing in a new direction/ you could enlarge the world.” Even more interesting, however, was the discovery that Pythagoras taught and died in Metapontum.

Pythagoras! Who amongst us doesn’t remember their first lesson in geometry and a demonstration of Pythagoras’s most famous theorem: that in a right-angled triangle the sum of the area of the square on the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares of the other two sides: that is, a²+b²=c². Mr Long, teaching maths to Form3Latin1, Takapuna Grammar School: I remember it well. The plane diagram looks like this:

Pythagoras! Who famously said that ‘all things are numbers’ and so his ideas live on in the arcane musings of many modern groups researching the phenomena of numbers, many of which you might think are somewhat towards the cult end of belief systems. The Freemasons are the best known of these groups and I speak as a woman whose grandfathers were both Freemasons, to say nothing of a beloved brother-in-law, so there. Pythagoras left no written records of his ideas; it’s all been passed down through the centuries by others.

Pythagoras! Whose tomb in Metapontum was still being shown to visitors when Cicero visited the town, about 500 years after the great philosopher, mathematician and all-round mystic had died – but it’s not there now. The site is about as big as three rugby fields and most of the remaining materials are low to the ground or reconstructed; they include three temple sites and an enormous amphitheatre, and if I’d known about Pythagoras’s connections I’d have laid a bunch of wild flowers in his memory.