Let me begin by inviting you into the club: there is no word in Irish, or in any of the Celtic languages, for "no." Nor is there a word for "yes." RatLet me begin by inviting you into the club: there is no word in Irish, or in any of the Celtic languages, for "no." Nor is there a word for "yes." Rather, answering yes or no requires the speaker to conjugate the verb into its positive or negative form. If you ask me "Are you going to the store today?" in Irish, I would have to answer either "I am going to the store" or "I am not going to the store." The importance of these linguistic oddments varies from one speaker or linguist to another. In many classrooms, the difficulty has turned into a bit of a game--how can you translate campaign slogans (i.e. "No new taxes") and still have them sound snappy? In Northern Ireland, particularly in nationalist communities, the lack of a native "No" has been relatively important over the years. Imagine attempting to make a bit of a slogan in your native tongue to refuse actions by an English-speaking government you reject--tough, eh?
Right, so, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Carson is a fine writer. In poetry, his dense, velvety language is even further compressed. His memory of bygone Belfast geographies is entrancing. And, he gets me with this every time, the man discusses the needle arts practiced by his mother and aunts lovingly. It is not a tome of poems about knitting or quilting, but it is a book of poems in which his mother, a needle-woman, appears as a shining example of thrift and talent and creative expressions of love. That alone makes the book worth reading, in my eyes. I loved it, savored it, reread it a few times, and will likely reread it several more times in my life....more
For someone who goes out of her way to read and translate Irish and Welsh mythology, well, it took me forever to get to this. Now I remember why. ThisFor someone who goes out of her way to read and translate Irish and Welsh mythology, well, it took me forever to get to this. Now I remember why. This material--not the translation, mind you, but the material itself--makes me want to shake people really really hard. The text was transcribed in either the 12th or 13th century, which is part of the problem. Because, you know, this version was recorded so much further from the historical source material, and thus pretty terribly corrupted.
Also, in the spirit of full disclosure: I'm a pretty radical feminist and a dirt-worshipping heathen, so St. Patrick doesn't much appeal to me. Most of the Saints whose prime focus was destroying native religions and cultures don't get invited to my birthday parties. The whole "driving the snakes out of Ireland" routine is a thinly-veiled reference to Christian missionaries stamping out or subsuming native Irish religious practices. And I hate green beer too.
Dooley and Roe did a great job translating this. I don't know how they made it through. I would have lost my mind. It's easy to forget what kind of shape some of the mythology is in, having been transcribed by monks who were not generally fluent in the languages they were transcribing and who were also encouraged to "clean up" any texts that seemed blasphemous, idolatrous, sexual, or otherwise un-Christian by medieval standards.
So, you know, priceless pieces of oral history were whitewashed and stripped of sex, humor, tidbits of ancient religious practice and belief--just thinking about what we've lost is making me itch. Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-Christian. I'm anti-censorship. And I particularly resent the roles left for women in some of the works that were transcribed later. That may not make sense to folks who aren't well-versed in Irish myth, but if you compare the women in The Tain Bo Cuailnge to the women in this text and it doesn't make you itch even just a little bit, um, go listen to some P.J. Harvey please. Now. It's an emergency.
Acallam na Senorach is set up as a major frame story which holds hundreds of little stories about Irish mythology. In the book, St. Patrick is trying to learn about Ireland and its heroes, primarily Fionn Mac Cumhaill, from the surviving Fianna. The Fianna were, according to the myths, groups of men who didn't yet hold land or political position who wandered around sort of keeping order and having adventures. I say "sort of keeping order" because they were frequently involved in huge skirmishes that didn't seem to do anything to keep the peace or maintain justice. Fionn's Fianna had many run-ins with the Tuatha de Danaan, the Divine Tribes of the Goddess Danu. The main narrator in Acallam na Senorach is Cailte, Finn's right-hand man and an all-around badass.
Should be a great book of stories, right? For many people, it probably is. For me, well, I hate parts of it like poison. Largely because over and over again, for no clear reason, members of the Irish pantheon suddenly cowtow to Patrick and forswear their own divinity.
Seriously. Who would do that? The Dagda would not do that. Aengus Og would not do that. The Morrigan would certainly not do that. And I shudder to think how any of them would react if their siblings or kids--even just the demi-Gods--did it. Makes no sense. Destroys all connection to character established in the earlier mythology. The Tuatha De Danaan were badasses in the myths. And suddenly they're worshiping some new God they just heard about? I know this form of revision is common in many Christianized cultures, but it drives me nuts. Nuts, I say.
When I could set aside my burning anger and remember that I was reading a historically-significant text that two really talented translators had made available to me for crap pay and too little recognition, I really was able to enjoy the stories, particularly the dindsenchas (stories that explain how a place got its name--a very important type of Irish myth).
But then one of the Tuatha De Danaan would lay his or head into Patrick's lap and beg to be baptised and offer to dig up the grave of one of their relatives or lovers so that Patrick could have more wealth, and I would start cursing again.
And in case anyone is wondering, if I die and am buried with a horde of my cool stuff and any of you dig me up to steal my grave goods to fund some evangelist, my peeps will boil you alive. In the nicest way possible of course, but with the same results. ...more
Right, so, this is one of those books I had to have once I found out it existed. Carmichael was born in 1832 on a little island in Scotland called LisRight, so, this is one of those books I had to have once I found out it existed. Carmichael was born in 1832 on a little island in Scotland called Lismore--it's near Oban, where they make very good single-malt. He was a traveling civil servant who loved to collect songs and poems. The title is a bit misleading--only a few of the poems are actually love songs in the modern sense. The book is divided into actual love songs; waulking songs (my fiber-artist's heart sings!); curse songs; laments, and invocations of saints/gods, particularly Brigid/St. Brigid aka St. Bride. Also, "Gaelic" is one of those words that stymies people--unless you're really into philology or Celtic studies, you probably think "Gaelic" is synonymous with "Irish." It's not, unless, ironically enough, you're speaking Irish ( "i nGaeilge" translates to "In Irish," not to "In Gaelic" I could explain, but I'm pretty sure I've already lost most of you. Also, my tea is getting cold). In this instance, the poems were transcribed from singers and tellers who had learned them through the oral tradition in Scotland, Cornwall, and Ireland, and then translated from Cornish, Irish, Scots Gaelic or Broad Scots into English....more
This book pairs sections of Heaney's translation of Buile Suibhne (Sweeney Astray) with black and white photographs of Donegal by Rachel Giese (now RaThis book pairs sections of Heaney's translation of Buile Suibhne (Sweeney Astray) with black and white photographs of Donegal by Rachel Giese (now Rachel Brown). Poetry and black and white photography share a special connection in my head. I don't know when the link formed, but I know that each art's interest in compression and precision raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Each art, done correctly, results in something akin to religious ecstasy. For someone with a fractured belief system like mine, such art allows me to get closer to faith than I otherwise could. Connecting poetry and photography to Irish mythology forces my reaction that much closer to apotheosis. So yeah, I wanted this book. It lives with Triur Ban and An Leabhar Mor on an imaginary alter-like book table in my mind.
Heaney reworked parts of his translation, and happily the entire text is included in the back of the book, so those who have not yet read Heaney's Sweeney Astray have it all here. I don't think Sweeney's Flight works if you don't read the full text--this isn't meant to be just another coffee table book. So if you're lucky enough to get hold of a copy, do yourself a favor and read the full text. I'm always both excited and jealous to read Heaney's translations, because he's one of the precious few who are getting to do what I wish I could for a living. Thankfully, he's doing it so very well. Buile Suibhne tells the story of a seventh-century pagan Ulster King who is cursed with madness by a bishop. T.S. Eliot, Neil Gaiman, and Flann O'Brien have all used Sweeney in their work. The tale is generally considered to be the most poetic of any of the old Irish texts, and many translators and writers play at trying to do it justice. Heaney cracked it in the 1970s, and I don't know who can match him. ...more
Catherine Byron's The Getting of Vellum is a narrow book of verse. I've read it over and over again over the last few months. The poems contained in tCatherine Byron's The Getting of Vellum is a narrow book of verse. I've read it over and over again over the last few months. The poems contained in the book were written largely in the late 1990s, and several of them circle around the poet's collaboration with calligrapher and artist Denis Brown, for which Byron received an Arts Council of England Writer's Award in 1997. Byron becomes hide-obsessed somewhere before the book begins, and returns to the idea throughout. It's unsettling to some readers, I guess, but as a long-time leather-worker, I was fascinated to read another's reaction to learning about skinning and preparing animal hides for use.
I am, of course, frustrated that I missed the exhibitions of the Byron/Brown works. Thankfully, there is some of Byron's mixed media work available online and also here. I'm a bit addicted to projects like these, and have been since Triur Ban and later An Leabhar Mor. It wakes something up in me to see poetry meet visual media and craft in such a way.
Like many contemporary writers, Byron also turns to intimate subjects. I don't feel any shock for shock's sake in her work, though. Her writings on sex and conception depart so clearly from the hashed-over pap I keep finding in university poetry magazines. I hope they find her. I hope they get it.
It's twee. It's precious. And most of the poetry between the covers is doggerel. I should have known by the concept--Beal used the colors of DMC embroIt's twee. It's precious. And most of the poetry between the covers is doggerel. I should have known by the concept--Beal used the colors of DMC embroidery floss as a stand-in for a Muse. I hope Calliope and the girls don't hunt the poor guy down--I'm sure he meant well.
I'm sure Mr. Beal is a fantastic embroiderer, but he's not so much of a poet. To quote that old meanie Truman Capote, whom I love: "That's not writing. That's typing."...more
This is an anthology of sacred poetry from around the world; much of it from tribes in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The translations are tight andThis is an anthology of sacred poetry from around the world; much of it from tribes in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The translations are tight and electric, and the variety of material presented is impressive.
I'd try to explain how fascinating the book is, or how moving, or how it makes my dirt-worshiping soul sing. But I can't. It has stoppered my mouth over and over as I've been reading it. ...more
Michael Longley is an astoundingly talented poet, but also a very witty one. This collection includes several pieces that either translate or respondMichael Longley is an astoundingly talented poet, but also a very witty one. This collection includes several pieces that either translate or respond to Ancient Greek myth, as well as some lovely, clearly personal pieces. ...more
Arguably the best translation from Old Irish to English available. It's full of action, intrigue, sex, poetry, myth--everything worth reading, in shorArguably the best translation from Old Irish to English available. It's full of action, intrigue, sex, poetry, myth--everything worth reading, in short. Loius LeBrocquy's illustrations are genius. ...more
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The concept is visionary, the translations are excellent, the illuminations are breathtaking. Beautiful, beautiful, bBeautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The concept is visionary, the translations are excellent, the illuminations are breathtaking. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. ...more