A very Bad hand at Righting 2 …Director’s Cut with special features

Well, it’s Sunday again, and it turns out I feel it’s a bit incomplete without a post. So, here’s the deal. If you read most of this on Wednesday, then you can whizz straight to the end and then crack on with whatever creativities enmesh you right now. If you didn’t, then you’ll just have to begin at the beginning, or the afterthoughts will make no sense.


I’m writing this early in the week, and possibly not in the right mind for balanced thoughtfulness.This morning I read Anthony Wilson’s post, After Paris … just follow the link, and read it for yourselves     http://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/   And then I read Bill Greenwell’s poem for this week. And then I had to write. Anthony Wilson writes about the responsibility on all writers to write in the cause of the reality and truth of how things are. Bill writes about the ways in which we are all being steadily imprisoned in the name of our freedoms. I’m writing out of anger. I am writing because meaning is being sucked out of language that’s used to justify the unjustifiable, and about the profoundly anti-social nature of the soi-disant ‘social media’. I am tired beyond belief of the 24/7 news reporting that is minimally concerned with informing and clarifying, and substitutes hypothesis and posturing for responsibly educating us all. I am angry at the universal and casual Bush-ism of a ‘war on terror’, and all the terrible errors that follow on the reification of an abstract word. A word. Words cause nothing. People with guns and bombs and emotional paralysis kill other people, and they do it in the name of more words. They do it in the name of democracy, without ever defining what that might be. They do it in the name of Islam, which is a short name for a splintered and internecine religion with as many warring factions as Christianity. A word used lazily and thoughtlessly without any reference to mutually exclusive and rhetorically inconvenient schisms, say between Sunnis and Shias. Like Christianity, and the sectarian rhetoric of the euphemistic Irish ‘Troubles’. Anthony Wilson is right to invoke Seamus Heaney in After Paris. Think of him and threats to his friends and his family because he wouldn’t let his language and his poetry be allied to the half truths of dogmatic opposition. I am writing because I’m tired of the easy and uncommitted emotionalism that can be loosed on the world at the touch of a Twitter ‘enter’ key, or on railings in all our towns and cities for the cost of a bunch of flowers. I am tired of the OMG of texting atheists and the post-Diana and post 9/11 righteousness that commits us to nothing at all.

On Saturday I was a Poetry Business Writing Day. One exercise grew out of a poem: Known to the guards. I should have made a note of the poet. Someone will tell me. It’s a poem about how a child might be frightened into an unshakeable belief in the omnisicience and omnipotence of the forces of law and order, even if it’s actually only a fat member of the Garda on a bicycle. Peter Sansom asked us to to reflect fast on early brushes with authority. Normally, this would have sent me into Stan Barstow/Dylan Thomas territory. But this happened instead. It has no title, and it’s not been tidied up.

I want no more nostalgia, for whatever reason;

how can I, in a week of hostage, sieges, men in black

with guns as big as wardrobes, Kevlar vests, black boots,

helmets like the eyes of flies, the chatter of static, the racketting

senselessness of helicopters, blue strobing convoys

barrelling through siling rain and spray

and the breathless wet-yourself excitement

of the newsmen endlessly recycling scraps of film and tape,

and sputtering phone-in answers and solutions

no one wants to hear, the bigotry the fury,

the fictitious facebook solidarities,

the cursor click that tells the world that now,

today Je Suis Charlie

and redfaced politicians photo-opping

their temporary indignation in between

their destruction of the welfare state

and growing fat with hedgefund managers and oligarchs,

how can I versify my childhood fears

when after all, our number’s up

and all of us are in the eye of millions of cameras

and all of us are known to the guards

who have the guns and the vans and the planes

and can guard none of us from anything?


Like I say. I’m not in the mood for balance, and I fear for truth, whatever that is, so long as it has no capital letter. Tony Harrison says it better. The last four lines of ‘On not being Milton’. The quotation is from a plea for clemency. Tidd was hanged.

Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting.

In the silence that surrounds all poetry we quote

Tidd, the Cato Street conspirator who wrote:

Sir, I Ham a very bad Hand at Righting.


Sunday: An afterthought 

I was tempted to call it a coda, but that probably implies a degree of of structural or formal intent that it doesn’t deserve.

First up, I tracked down the poem ‘Known to the guards’. It’s by Martina Evans, ( check her out at http://www.martinaevans.com/about/ ), who I didn’t know about, but who grew up in an Irish country pub with lots of siblings,who has had published nine works of prose and poetry, whose poetry collection ‘Facing the public’ was a TLS Book of the Year in 2011, and who has a considerable reputation as a university teacher and workshop leader. I should get out more. I should certainly try to know more about this world of poetry and poets. It seems to grow exponentially, like Macbeth’s line of spectral kings.

Second is a bit more complicated. On Wednesday I wrote in reaction, and, as ever, there’s a lot of rhetorical over-simplification. I’ll stand by the wellsprings of it, but I didn’t want to give even the scintilla of an impression that words are the problem. What I wanted to say was that it’s what we do with them , and what we let them do to us that matters. I wanted to say my version of what Anthony Wilson meant to me. And also that words are what keep the world alive, and mapped and negotiable.

Most nights, on the edges of sleep,I dip in and out of Edgelands [Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts], because there’s not a page without a line or a phrase or an image that doesn’t make me see the world in a sharper and more interesting light. Last night I was just skimming through the chapter on Ruins. It’s about abandonment and the uses of memory, or about the memories  built into industrial structures even though there’s rarely anyone to articulate them. (which is, of course, the genius of this book).

These are the things that stuck and snagged. The authors are writing about abandoned warehouses and other empty structures in the wastelands of buddleia and fireweed and crumbling asphalt. ”they become non-places, quite literally off the map – ‘an impossible designation of space as terra nullius, which suggests they are spaces of and for nothing’ And they atrophy because their blood supply has been cut off.”  A laid-off warehouseman points out for them ‘a long, shallow, corrugated roof like metal horizon over the scrubby edgeland trees. That was his warehouse. Now it feels like the empty church in Philip Larkin’s ‘Church Going’:

‘A shape less recognisable each week/A purpose more obscure’

What I was not managing to say was that we can behave as though words are real, and wave them like banners or wear them like disposable Tshirts . Or believe that words should be what make the world real, make its shape more recognisable, its purpose less obscure.

Next week we’ll be having a guest, which I imagine will be something of a relief.





4 thoughts on “A very Bad hand at Righting 2 …Director’s Cut with special features

  1. John, I like the two interpretations of how words can be used and perceived. I think they both coexist and this is the battleground, a crucial battleground. Nietzsche spent a lifetime wondering whether thought or experience held the key to understanding (and ended with a Blakean philosophy something akin to ‘energy is eternal delight’), but it seems to me the middle ground between those two philosophies is language, so how words are appropriated and experienced can take us one way or another? A slight diversion, and not to hi-jack your cobweb, but here is a thought for today: translation can save the world. Somewhere in that hinterland between the meaning of words in one language and their meaning in another, lies the potential unifying principle? How many of us have a good translation of the Koran?


  2. That’s a hell of a thought, Anthony. What it did was make me suddenly think: how would we know it was a good translation? How do we know which of all the translations of the Bible is the one to to trust? I gave up on that one when I was persuaded to try to read Frank Kermode’s ‘The genesis of secrecy.’ about scriptural exegisis. I gave up when I grounded on one page that had three words not in the Comlete OED.This is going to take me into the gap between transmission and reception. There’s a lot of stuff about reader theory, and 99% of it I don’t understand. I understand the 1% about every decoding being a new encoding. What about listener theory? Is there such a thing? I like your implied distinction between experience and appropriation. It’s the latter that cause so much trouble.That’s a thought for a cold Sunday night. Thanks as ever. Keep on troubling me.


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