Sunday, June 28, 2020


The publication of Le Flacon - The Flask and Le Poison - The Poison in The Ragged Lion and Flare respectively is very encouraging. These are two of my favourite poems from Les Fleurs du Mal and with them I am coming to the close of transversing the very first section Spleen and Ideal section of the book. I will have to regroup all of these latest transversions and include them with the contents of The Enemy - Transversions from Charles Baudelaire which was published by Lapwing five years ago. 

Christ! It's been five years since I brought out that first volume in this project... I am in no hurry to finish. I want to take my time with it. I feel I rushed, somewhat, The Enemy and I will probably have to revisit some of the poems, we'll see.

Anyway, here is the latest promotional film with me reading Le Poison - The Poison by Charles Baudelaire and which was published recently in Dublin's Flare 15.



Oleg Yankovsky in the role of Gorkachov, the Russian poet,
in Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece Nostalgia

Like most people around the world, I love Russian literature and cinema, so when Nina Kossman invited me to take part in the bilingual reading celebrating the life and work of the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, I of course accepted. My task was to find one of her poems and to translate it into the French which I would then read aloud at the Zoom reading - see the link below - the reading in its entirety is included. ( go to 22 minutes in for my reading in French)

The poem I decide to choose was The Muse which I will include in the links also below, I was working from an English translation which I found on Poetry Foundation. The translation was not very complicated to do, it was the reading which took me some thought. Anyway, I am quite happy with the reading in French. I am getting more fluent, as a result of the numerous readings I have been giving lately. So this is a very good thing.

A big thank you to Nina for encouraging me, she is a very kind host. This is the third time now that she has invited me along to her bilingual readings. Many thanks also to the other poets and translators for their very warm reception of my interpretation of the poem, their response was also very encouraging. 







“My name is Nobody!”


So, Odysseus replied to the giant Polyphemus,

While fleeing from the cave.

The apocalyptic cave.

The subterranean cave.

The cave where the wines of Maron intoxicated the Cyclops.


Blind Drunk! – such is the expression.

It contains the archaeological trace in the conveyance,

 This fragment from out of the discourse of the ancients.


Once it is voiced it is as sure

As the stone- work of those plinths,

Or any other motif from classical architecture.

Such is the parallel of contemporary architexture.


Don’t speak to me about your accursed notions of time.

We are all at once ancient and modern.

The olive stake still smoulders in the mind,

And wine still helps us to escape the things which oppress us.


We are either nobodies, or tyrannical giants.

Friday, June 26, 2020



Register as Ontology 


Have you ever wondered why you will very rarely see, if ever, epic poetry being published or even read these days, despite the fact that epic works, such as Homer’s Iliad and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, have proven to be extremely popular with cinema going audiences in recent times? Why is this? Why are our poets apparently abandoning the epic poem as a fitting form when we are living through times which demand the use of such a register?

As a poet, this is a question that I have been engaged with for the last number of years. It all started some years ago when I was doing a masters in comparative literature, and I chose to write my thesis on Samuel Beckett’s final attempt on the novel Comment C’est How It Is. I decided to focus on the invocation which appears in the opening two paragraphs of the book. Despite having read the novel many years previous, before conducting my research, it wasn’t really until I had decided to focus on researching for my thesis that I was struck so immediately by this classical feature. What was Beckett, a so- called modernist, doing harping back to classical forms?

Of course, the answer was obvious. He was inspired by James Joyce! Even so late in his writing career, he was still, apparently, looking to the Master for ideas and inspiration. These ideas, I must admit, didn’t go down very well when I started presenting them at Beckett symposiums. While giving my first, upon completing my thesis in 2013, I remember a pretty well- known American professor scoffing at the idea that Beckett’s final novel was his take on the epic, and when, undeterred, I continued to pursue my enquiries in this direction, this time roping in the assistance of Giambattista Vico and Finnegans Wake, I was looked at as a kind of a curiosity by fellow academics. I say fellow but then that is not so true, as I am more of a practitioner, being a published poet and translator, rather than an academic. So, my whole impetus, or motive, into pursuing such an idea, the epic, is perhaps more central to what I am about.

What does this mean? As a practising poet I have for many years now been exploring with all kinds of poetic forms. The sonnet is one of my preferred forms or literary genres. I love its plasticity. Let me qualify this last statement, rather than adhering to Petrarchan or Shakespearean notions of what a sonnet is, I have a much more relaxed approach to meter and rhyme. Basically, I disdain rhyming couplets in English, in general, preferring to use run on lines, or enjambment, alliteration and prosody with the odd alternating rhyme, as I believe it is more in keeping with today. In other words, I feel that a Shakespearean rhyming system, for example, or indeed Petrarchan, would be out of joint with the times. But why? I hear you say. Are not the sonnets of William Shakespeare among the greatest literary creations in the English language, and as such should we not attempt to reproduce them, or works of a similar nature, today?       

This is where I must now resort to introducing the central idea of this article now, as I believe that register, be it formal or informal, is ontological. Now, a word about this word. Having studied continental philosophy for a number of years, it has become almost second nature for me. But most people wouldn’t be able to tell you what ontology was if you were to pay them. So, in a nutshell, ontology is anything which is related to Being. Martin Heidegger is, without a doubt, the philosopher who made the most of this idea, famously believing that contemporary philosophy had reached a crisis, as it had been more concerned with epistemology, or the theories into knowledge, rather than knowledge as a means in itself. Namely to help people living – which he believed was what philosophy had originally been about, before Plato and the academy came along. Nietzsche being a famous example of ‘Life’ philosophy, and so a very good example of ontological musing. Philosophy so for the purpose of living!

Now, let us return to register as ontology. My point, or the point that I am trying to put out here, is that poetry is missing, it would seem to me, a register in order to present the epic nature or scale of the issues which we face as a race – namely: catastrophic climate change, global pandemic, and the rise of authoritarian political regimes in the form of populism. These being the most pressing three, in any case.

If you look around you, the most popular form of poetry today, among the masses at least, is the phenomenon of what is called ‘Spoken Word’. The chief attribute of this genre of poetry is the capacity of the poet to use mnemonics in order to be able to remember often very long and complex texts, and which are generally in free verse, or very much plodding with rhyme. One of the two, at least such has been my experience.

To be honest, I am not a fan, I must admit. Having attended many public readings in order to read my own work, generally for the purposes of disseminating it, I have had to endure countless performances given by so called ‘poets’, either ploddingly rapping out their latest epic in rhyming couplets, or, and to be honest I don’t know which is more toe-curlingly horrific, purging some confessional, usually of a sexual nature which is really none of my business, and I usually just want to run a mile from the room.

Iambic pentameter is there to enter into as an ontological device, I would postulate, as it gives a coherent structure using a very simple and unassuming five beat rhythm pumping through each line, and which has often been compared to the very natural rhythms of the human heart or even breathing. This structural device, of syllable counting per line, is extremely useful to measure the line, and to also consider prosody as a basic poetic structure from the very word go.

William Burroughs famously said that a lot of modern poetry was just ‘lazy prose’, and this is what he was referring to, the rather prosaic nature of an awful lot of so called poetry, or at least what passes for poetry these days. So, I put it to you, what of the Epic poem as an ontological device suitable for our times?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Telemachus Cycle - Cover issue of Live Encounters 2018 - Homage to Ulysses, Plakias and James Joyce

Well, Bloomsday is here again. For us Dubliners, this would normally entail a trip to the Martello down in Sandycove where the first chapter of James Joyce's monumental Ulysses is set. As a teacher, I have taken many classes on a sort of pilgrimage there, over the last 18 or so years. That's the length of time that I have been teaching! If you've never done it before, I would encourage you to do so. But, for God's sake make a stab at reading the book first. The first few chapters are remarkable, without a doubt the most singularly original of any modern novel. First there is the setting. The old tower. Its very Shakespearean. Of course, Hamlet springs to mind. James Joyce was an enormous fan of Shakespeare, and this comes true straight away in the setting of the first chapter of the novel. All literature is about, essentially, family. Joyce is no different. Throughout this first chapter, the death of his mother, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, haunts the young Stephen Dedalus.

Normally, weather permitting, you would swim in the Forty Foot - the popular name for a local bathing place at the foot of Joyce's Tower in Sandycove ( see the link below). The year I wrote this poem cycle, I was thinking about my son Liam who lives in Paris. I was holidaying in Crete in the beautiful town of Plakias, and he could not come with us. So, I dedicated the first poem to him. See the poem The Martello. In Homer's Odyssey, which Joyce famously used to structure his own epic Ulysses, Telemachus is Odysseus's son who remains waiting for the return of his father for the many years that he is away from home. Only recently I translated a poem by Joseph Brodsky into French which was treating the same theme. Like I said before, all great writing is essentially about family. This is why we have the canon, as it is a part of our tradition. It goes hand in hand in understanding family and what it means, for good or bad, to be a part of a family. The family is the first social structure which we come into contact with, and so it is a microcosm of greater society. If you understand your own family, and the extremely complex power struggles that go on, it will give you a very clear idea of what to expect when you go out into society. So, here it is, my post today about James Joyce and Bloomsday which if anyone asks you is all about Family!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Hammer Klavier - Poem from Merrion Square published in A New Ulster, Issue 71, August 2018.

I wrote the poem Hammer-Klavier over two years ago now, as part of a loosely connected poem sequence in my book Merrion Square - unpublished. I find myself inserting it into a proper home now in a new work that I am currently involved in. The new book is called The Eroica Variations. I have been rather obsessed with this piece of music, since first discovering it in the discotheque - proper- in Versailles, of all places, some time back in the early nineties when I was living there. 

Variations, in general, interest me greatly. As a Teacher of English to Students of Other Languages, I am always getting students to consider differing variants on how you could say something, in order to promote fluency. This crosses over then into classical music, and Jazz, where you can see musicians and composers playing around with variations of melodies and themes. The above recording by Alfred Brendel was my first introduction to the Eroica Variations of Ludwig Van Beethoven, and all subsequent recordings of this piece of music I invariably compare it to.

Now, I need to grapple with Cantor and set theory.

Here's the link to ANU.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


If you want to have some idea of what is going on in contemporary Dublin, poetrywise, you might like to purchase a copy of Flare. This is the latest issue, you can see the list of writers included above. My old friend Michael Whelan is there, I see. Along with a few other familiar names. Arthur Bloomfield, a fellow Beckett head, I reviewed his book for A New Ulster some years back. Colin Dardis from up North, nice to see him included. He must have read while he was down on his travels here pre-Covid 19. The publication has a very strict policy of only publishing writers who have read at the Sunflower Sessions a sister group to the narrowsheet, as it were. Then there's the Editor himself, Monsieur Mag Uidhir, and Bob Shakeshaft bedad, all the way out here in Skerries like myself. Eleanor Hooker is a big draw, never had the pleasure of meeting her, but I've seen her work published in Poetry Foundation. So, a wide breadth of writing styles, by any standard. Good to see my Baudelaire transversion in among them all, with the original in French of course. Charles might be pleased...
If you'd like to purchase a copy, do so here.