Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Me and General Robert Lee

Friday, May 26, 2017

Shared Experience

I was watching (or rather, listening to) a YouTube recording of At The Movies by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. It was their "worst of the year" compilation, and at one point Gene Siskel asks Roger Ebert if he remembers the picture cutting out at the press screening of The Nutcracker Prince. Neither of them made any move to tell the projectionist, as they reckoned it was at least as good that way.

I felt a powerful frisson of pleasure at this anecdote-- I love any kind of shared experience, shared memory. Something that happened and is unrepeatable, that was shared by two or more people but can never be shared by anyone else. There's something delicious about it. But so hard to explain!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Request

I have an overactive mind, and when I'm working at a computer (either in work or at home) I like to listen to stuff on YouTube. It doesn't seem to affect my concentration.

However, I very often run out of stuff to listen to, so I'd love suggestions.

The stuff I'd like is fairly specific:

1) Talking heads, either straight to camera or at a lecture/conference.

2) LONG. I don't have the slightest interest in TED talks or anything under ten minutes.

3) Probably not Catholic. I'm tired of Catholic speakers trying to convince me of something I already believe. I don't want to hear the kazillionth refutation of Sola Scriptura or moral relativism or Richard Dawkins.

4) Preferably, something personal and subjective.

5) Nothing too dry, like economics or architecture or epistemology-- human interest stuff.

My ideal is a vlogger called Millennial Woes. Yes, he's Alt Right, and I disagree with him about a lot of stuff, especially about race. But he's extremely thoughtful and intellectually honest. He talks not only about concepts but memories, experiences, feelings, doubts, hesitations...in many ways, he's a (much more successful) example of what I've been trying to do with this blog. One of my favourite of his videos featured him going through his DVD collection for three hours, choosing what to keep and what to throw out, commenting on the various DVDs and whatever thoughts they inspired in him. So, you know...something opinionated but not too preachy, not too shrill.

You know, I'd be happy to listen to a five hour video by a Milwaukee housewife talking about the life lessons she's learned through the years, and her memories. But it's hard to find such videos.

So....I'm listening.

Right Now

Right now-- at this very moment-- people are sitting in cinemas all over Ireland, all over America, all over the world. They are sitting on the plush red seats, drinking in the scent of popcorn and hotdogs, and (for the most part) utterly losing themselves in the enormous images on the enormous screen.


Personally, I don't think like to think of the packed screenings so much. I like to think of the half-empty or three-quarters empty screenings. In fact, I like to think of those parts of the world where it's early afternoon, as I write this, and people are attending matinee screenings where the cinema itself seems like a little suspended reality of its own, as everybody else shops and drives and works outside. I like to think of matinee screenings in cinemas called the Lux and the Adelphi and the Majestic and other deliciously bombastic names. Thirty years from now, in many cases, they'll still remember the film they're watching now, where they saw it, who they were with.

Right now, at this very moment, people are sitting in pubs all over Ireland, all over the UK. They're sitting in bars in America. They are sitting on the cushioned seats, in the welcoming low light, the golden glow thrown from globe lamps and other fancy subdued lights. Everything around them says: "Welcome! Be comfortable! Take it easy! Don't worry, for now!". They might be talking about the Spanish Civil War, or the Narnia books, or fishing. The conversation seems richer, fuller, because of the tang of alcohol or the low fire in the fireplace or the mellowness of the pub's decorations.

All around Ireland, right now, there are hundreds of miles of country roads, leading from one small town to another small town-- many of them places that were never very famous for anything. Down some of them, a car passes every few moments. Down one of them, perhaps, a boy is walking, dreaming, looking at the horizon. Some of them-- and these are the ones I like to think about the most-- are completely deserted.

All around the world, right now, there are people lying in warm baths, steaming rising from the water, the door locked, cocooned from the world outside for a precious little while.

 I like to meditate on all this. It enriches me, even though it makes not the slightest material difference to my life. It adds to the excitement of that most exciting word, one of the most exciting words in the language-- "world". Because a world can be the world of a warm bath, or the world of a boy's consciousness as he walks along a deserted country road, or the object of discussion between two friends sitting in the White Swan or the Castle Tavern or the Admiral of the Humber.

A Gentle Traditionalist on Youtube

Roger Buck, the writer of the acclaimed books The Gentle Traditionalist and Cor Jesu Sacratissimum (both of which I can eagerly recommend) has launched a YouTube channel.

I think this is a great development. YouTube is where it's at. Sadly, many Catholic channels are either incredibly insipid (on one hand) or downright venomous (on the other). I know from Roger's books that his channel isn't going to be either one of those things. I know that, on the contrary, it will be thoughtful, imaginative, gracious and deep. Please do subscribe to it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Good Post from Edward Feser on Anger

As someone inclined to wrath, I've gone through phases of trying to eradicate anger from my personality entirely. Edward Feser explains how it would be sinful to entirely lack anger, and how the sin of wrath differs from anger.

One of his examples is quite amusing, if you've been following Feser's blog recently:

In light of these facts, opponents of capital punishment, war, and the like are bound to be tempted to conclude that enormous numbers of their fellow citizens are simply depraved. (It does not occur to them that what is in fact going on is that widespread continued support for the death penalty and for just war reflects a residual grasp of the demands of the natural law.) Frustrated by the persistence and popularity of attitudes they regard as immoral, those of what I am calling a “militant pacifist” mindset are bound to become even angrier at these perceived injustices – with a spiral into wrath and its daughters being the sequel.

Indeed, many people who pose as purveyors of peace and love give the consistent impression that they are Angry and Enjoying It!

"But my friend Maolsheachlann is not a parrot, I am glad to say."

An unlikely sentence from a blog post by my friend Roger Buck, which you can read here, where he promotes the Irish Conservatives Forum and describes a recent visit to Dublin:
 
Evening time in Dublin, I walk and walk the streets – shuddering. I shudder at the crassness, the commercialism I see all around me. And I shudder at the sight of Irish people now utterly submerged in the rhythms of global culture and capitalism (the two are not easily separated!) whereas even a few decades ago the rhythms would have been far, far more referent not to globalism, but to Ireland herself and to the Church.

I shudder at a Dublin that is now, in terms of culture, so little distinguishable from London or Liverpool or Los Angeles. Dublin that was once the outstanding exception to all those other great Anglosphere cities – now apes them.


Indeed!

The Irish Conservatives Forum is doing well-- twenty-three members and quite a few threads going. I hope it continues into the future.

Minding Frank Duff's Language

I've been reading The Woman of Genesis, a book of essays (which were, I think, all originally talks given to Legion of Mary meetings) by Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary. It's a fascinating book. Duff had a powerful conviction that Catholicism was the true religion and that Catholics had a duty to persuade everybody of this truth. Some of the articles on other religions almost make the reader inclined to titter nervously and look over his shoulder, they are so unabashedly critical and sectarian.

For the purposes of this post, however, I'm more interested in his use of language.

Frank Duff was very long-lived-- he died in 1980 aged ninety-one-- and he was very active almost up to the end. Furthermore, the articles are undated, so it's hard to tell what year any particular article was written in. Nevertheless, his prose style doesn't seem to have changed much over the years.

I was particularly struck by this paragraph (from an article about addiction), as a good example of his style in general:

Of course, fun can seem fast and furious as long as the drink is flowing. In those circumstances, people imagine themselves to be witty and brilliant, but tape-recordings of such outpourings have proved that they are not elevated and can merit to be called drivel.

Reader, does this strike you as very different from a paragraph that might be written today? It strikes me in this way. Indeed, I found myself smiling a little, as I read it. There isn't a single word in it that any writer or speaker would hesitate to use today, and yet the entire thing seems quaint, stiff, stilted. It reminds me of the sort of English spoken by well-educated, upper-class Indians or Pakistanis.

If someone were to write this paragraph today, I imagine it would read something like this: "We all know that, when someone is drunk, they can think that they're being very witty and brilliant. But, when they hear a recording of what they said, they realize that they were actually speaking drivel."

Even the substance of the paragraph is rather odd to our ears. The detail of the tape recorder seems unnecessary, over-elaborate, over-earnest.

Admittedly, Duff had something of a pedantic and stiff prose style, perhaps due to his having been a civil servant. So some of this was down to his own personality, but not all of it.

I'm not lamenting this change. I'm only remarking it. It's fascinating that language can change so significantly, even when it remains entirely intelligible.

Trying to improve my Irish made me very self-conscious of language usage. I found myself wondering first of all how a native Irish speaker would use a particular word or expression, what would "come naturally" to them. Then I wondered what "came naturally" to me speaking English. Once you find yourself wondering what comes naturally, it's hard to get a hold of it. It reminds me of the occasions that someone asks me for the lift code in the library, and I realize that I can't tell them, though I use it all the time-- I key it in entirely through "muscle memory".

The same is true of my writing style. If I'm good at anything (on which subject I'm agnostic), it's probably writing. But when I think about style I go completely to pieces. It's only when I think about the ideas I'm trying to express that I can write-- presuming I can write at all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Joke

A man went to a counsellor in a state of agitation.

"I've realised in the last few days that I've never loved anybody", he says. "I feel like I'm incapable of love."

"OK, well, let's break this down", says the counsellor. "Tell me about your parents."

"I had the best parents in the world. Loving, supportive, concerned...but I never loved them!"

"Well then", said the counsellor, "are you married?"

"I have a beautiful, caring, devoted wife. But I don't love her!"

"What about children?"

"Two beautiful daughters, everything a father could ask for...but I don't love them either!".

The counsellor extends her sobbing client a tissue and says, "I see. Now, I want you to think very carefully and tell me...is there really and truly nobody in your life that you've ever loved?"

The guy sobs, looks rather embarrased, and says: "It's a bit odd, but my wife's mother. I guess I love my wife's mother."

"I see. Anybody else?"

"My wife's sister. I know it sounds bizarre, but I'm fairly sure I love my wife's sister."

The counsellor smiles and says: "You see then, it's not so bad, after all!"

"How on earth can you say that?"

"Have you never heard? 'Tis better to have loved in-laws than never to have loved at all!".

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Postcard From Switzerland

I got a postcard from a friend in Switzerland today. It showed a picture of two gnomes sitting fishing on the rim of a cup of tea. (I think.) I didn't really understand the picture. if there was any joke or significance to it.

The handwriting on the back was hardly decipherable; something about trees and coming to Dublin in July.

But, turning it round and round in my hands, I found myself marvelling at how much a postcard now means. Somebody has to go into a shop, scan the postcards, choose an appropriate one (appropriate for you), write a message, buy a stamp, and post it. In our age of instant communications, its tangibility and personal nature is so very meaningful.

I guess there's always been a certain sweetness to postcards; certainly, they feature heavily in book and film titles, not to mention song lyrics, which aim for poignancy. ("Hide on the promenade, etch a postcard...") However, now they are more touching than ever.

Capitalism and Human Nature

I dislike the tendency to blame "capitalism" for all the woes of the world because it seems to me that "capitalism", like "heteronormativity", "hierarchy", "patriarchy", "nationalism", and "elitism", is simply a word used to describe human nature, and that trying to change human nature is always a bad idea-- indeed, usually a wicked idea.

Now, I'm not particularly a cheerleader for capitalism. I'm not a partisan of the completely free market or laissez-faire. In fact, if we're going to respect the idea of human nature, then it makes more sense (to me) to accept that there has never been a free market and governments have always "interfered" in the economy. Anarcho-capitalism seems as utopian to me as communism.

I'm all for key industries being nationalised, and quite generous social welfare, and quite heavy regulation of commerce, and so forth. At least, I'm certainly not opposed to such things on principle. I think they have to be argued on a case-by-case basis.

But the idea that the system which exists in every developed country is somehow unnatural, and twisting human nature out of shape, just seems bizarre to me. If capitalism is so unnatural, why does it manifest itself again again, in Singapore and Japan as much as in America and the UK? Indeed, why are most "communist" countries increasingly capitalist? On the other hand, if we're going to play with language so that highly socialised economies like those of Scandinavia are no longer capitalism, then we've departed from the ordinary understanding of the term.

If the desired alternative to capitalism is the Distributist ideal of small farms, small business, etc., then this seems like a pipe dream to me. Indeed, Chesterton hailed Ireland as a successful example of a peasant economy, but this ceased to be the case quite a long time ago, and Ireland relied on emigration to keep this system working for a long time before that.

The Mondragorn Corporation in the Basque country is sometimes hailed as proof that worker-controlled industry can thrive. Well, I'm very pleased by the success of Mondragorn, but it's one corporation, and it exists in a capitalist economy--as Noam Chomsky whinges on its Wikipedia page.

Assuming the abolition of capitalism as the preliminary to achieving your social goals seems to me irresponsible, silly. It's like saying: "That's what I'll do when I win the lottery". Capitalism isn't going to be abolished. Give it up.

I wouldn't like to be misunderstood. I'm all in favour of dreamers and utopians. The world would be poorer without them. I think it adds to the pageantry of life to have tiny microparties who meet in a pub and plot the downfall of world capitalism. But it stops being funny when so many serious intellectuals and writers and film-makers and others participate in such talk.

Also, I'm not saying that economic reforms are impossible. I think economic reforms are inevitable. We'll always have capitalism, but I would like to see a more family-friendly and nation-friendly brand of capitalism. I would make the argument that the social teachings of the Church are aimed at this, rather than some "third way" between capitalism and socialism.

If you have a vision for society (as I think everybody should), I think the great test of it is: can you pursue it now, either by yourself or with a group of others, in the way you live your life? If the only progress you can make towards it is by agitating, by seeking to gain political power, then it's both utopian and probably dangerous.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Strange Comforts

I'm still feeling blue, but I've been finding some comfort in a strange place-- YouTube videos of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's At The Movies show.

They appeal to me for various reasons:

1) They belong to the recent past (eighties and nineties)-- a period I've always found fascinating. I don't mean specifically the eighties and nineties-- I mean whatever the recent past is, relative to now. The recent past isn't history, but it's not the present either. It's a kind of limbo. Somehow, I find that strangely tranquil. The controversies of the moment have died down, but the controversies of history haven't flared up yet. (For instance, it's strange viewing their review of JFK and remembering what a hullaballoo there was about that movie.)

2) I like the fact that they were both Chicago film critics. As my previous post shows, I'm very interested in the concept of place recently-- especially cities and towns. I have a friend who's fascinated with Chicago, though that might have had more to do with the Chicago gal he married.

3) I like the theme music.

4) I like the opening montage, which shows them leaving their respective newspaper offices and going to the cinema. Imagine having, not only one great job, but two great jobs!

5) I like that the show had its own traditions. There's the famous thumbs up and thumbs down, of course, but also the fact that they would say: "Until next week, the balcony is closed" at the end. They also did "worst of the year" and "best of the year" shows.

6) The show incorporates one of my favourite things in the world-- an empty cinema, which serves as its set. Obvious, but effective. In fact, the background images on my computer diary, on my laptop, on my work computer, and even on my gmail are all cinema interiors-- some empty, one with an audience. I like them in both cases, but especially when they're empty-- the idea of a private cinema, or even a private screening, is delicious. I think the mind is a kind of private cinema-- it's my favourite metaphor for consciousness.

Another thing I like is the whole cinema "aesthetic"-- it's so easily evoked. A red upholstered seat evokes the cinema, as does a heavy red curtain, the spotlights on the ceiling, or a stylized projector or movie reel. It's as easily evoked as Christmas, or the horror genre. I love such things. 

7) I like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel themselves. There's something quite avuncular about them.

Interestingly, neither of them were bowled over by Groundhog Day.  They both give it a thumbs up, but they don't speak of it in nearly the sort of adultatory terms they use for some other movies. I had the same reaction-- I liked it at first, but not that much. In fact, Gene Siskel says it "grew on him", presumably in one viewing. I know Roger Ebert's regard for the movie increased over time.
 
(This is what he wrote in his retrospective review of 2005: "Groundhog Day" is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is. Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like "Groundhog Day" to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.")


I'm tremendously moved that the last words of Ebert's last blog post, two days before his death, were: "I'll see you at the movies". As someone who didn't believe in an afterlife, I wonder what exactly that meant to him. 

To change subject completely, I tweeted this aphorism today: "With God, suffering is mysterious. Without God, suffering is meaningless." I thought that was quite well put, but it didn't get any reaction. Twitter doesn't seem to like me as much as Facebook did.

Being from Ballymun

I was speaking to someone yesterday about Ballymun, my home suburb of Dublin. I grew up there and I've spent most of my life there. He asked me if I felt any attachment to it and I said, yes, I increasingly feel a strong attachment to it.

He asked me if there was anything distinctive about Ballymun and I cast about, unsuccessfully, for some kind of tangible distinctiveness. It used to be very distinctive, with its brutalist architecture surrounded by large "green spaces", its roaming gangs of kids, its horses, its van-shops. Now, however, that's all gone, and it's pretty much like any other Dublin working-class suburb.

"No", I had to admit, eventually. "Nothing really." 

And yet I feel like a Ballymunner to the tips of my toes. Even the sound of the name is evocative to me, reminding me of Pushkins's excellent couplet:

Moscow; those syllables can start
A tumult in the Russian heart.

I'm also reminded of this O. Henry story, where a snooty cosmopolitan who spends most of the short tale laughing at local pride ends up getting into a bar fight because someone insults his home town.

Maybe all local patriotism is completely irrational.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

On Friendship

I couldn't resist the Montaigne-like title.

Somebody left a comment about friendship on one of my posts months ago and I've been meaning to write something about it since. Reading about Aristotle's views on friendship has revived the subject in my mind.

This evening, I've been trying to calculate how many close friends I have. A close friend I would define as somebody I've known for years and with whom I've had innumerable interactions in different situations. (Although that's not the whole of it, but that's the necessary condition. I don't include family either by blood or by marriage-- not that these aren't friends, but it's something different.) I've come up with about half-a-dozen to ten...it's hard to "call" sometimes, between whether someone is a close friend or just a good friend.

I'm very slow to call somebody my friend-- not out of choosiness on my part, rather out of bashfulness.

I have other friends, who I wouldn't call close friends, necessarily. And I've had other close friends from whom I've drifted apart, for one reason or another.

For the longest part of my life, I didn't really have friends. I only really began to make lasting friends in my mid-twenties. I'm thirty-nine now. 

In my childhood, I had no friends at all, being very withdrawn, and this has had a lasting effect on me, making me very introspective. In my teens, I made sort-of friends in the neighbourhood, mostly through taking part in informal soccer games. I'm not in touch with any of them now, though. I had no friends in school, though after leaving school I had transient friendships with some old school acquaintances. My class in college was so small that we were all quite friendly, but I'm no longer in touch with any of them.

It was only when I started working that I made lasting friends-- and before the lasting friends, I had some transient work friendships which were quite intense at the time, but which are now entirely finished. I was a bit of a lost soul for a while, so I was eager for confidantes and bosom buddies. I've come to believe that you shouldn't use your friends as confidantes-- it may be embarrassing for them in the short term, it will certainly be embarrassing for you in the long term. Although revealing one's vulnerabilities, to some extent, seems to be a part of friendship.

The funny thing I've noticed about my close friendships is that I never expected them. They just grew up unobserved. Whenever I've tried to make somebody my friend, I've failed miserably. Probably it's the old principle-- people like you most when you're not trying too hard, when you're not aiming to impress.

Another thing I notice about my close friends is the element of impersonality involved. The best conversations I've had with all of them are the least personal, the least emotional. Indeed, for a long time I had a weekly get-together with one friend (a philosopher) where we would discuss some topic almost in the formal, forensic manner of a college tutorial. The worst part of small talk is not that it's trivial-- the worst part of small talk is that it's so intrusive and personal. Indeed, I've started pretty much telling small talk merchants to mind their own bloody business.

Humour and friendship are very closely linked, I think. One of the first "moves" in a friendship is when somebody makes a daring joke, guessing the other won't take it amiss. It seems to be a kind of trust offering, a leap of faith. Whimsy is another important theme, I think. Certainly, with me, one of the first "soundings" I take with anybody is to say something rather bizarre and inconsequential and see how they take it. If they run with it, I like them. If they focus on the bizarreness and inconsequentiality...not so much.

Well, maybe I haven't said anything particularly profound. The ambiguity of friendship fascinates me, but I don't know how to expand on it. Perhaps in some future post. But I do think friendship is one of life's greatest gifts, and one I'm glad I eventually came to enjoy.

Showing my Colours



I just put up this image as a poster on my office wall.

That'll confuse 'em. Ha ha ha!

I'm tolerant. I like peace. I like colours. I don't particularly like nuclear bombs. Works for me.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

My Irish Conservative Forum has taken off in a big way...it now has EIGHTEEN (18) members and several good discussions going.

However, we all know that everything that's really fun is over eighteen, so anyone who wishes to join....well, here is your invitation. 

The counter-revolution starts here! Do you want to be a part of it? Of course you do!

The Alt Right, Trump and Democracy

The Alt Right are generally anti-democracy. In this regard, they are similar to many people on the further reaches of the right, including many conservative Catholics.

The Alt Right were enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump-- that is, until his air-strike on Syria, when they began to lose their enthusiasm for him. Some of them disavowed him entirely.

These handful of facts express why I can't be anti-democratic, even if I wanted to be (which I don't). Let's say Trump had been a dictator instead of a democractically-elected President-- which the Alt Right would presumably be all in  favour of. What would they do, then, when he disappointed them? What is the mechanism of getting rid of your philosopher king if he turns out to be all king and no philosopher?

People say democracy is just an illusion of control and the unwashed masses are conditioned by...fill in the blank. Well, maybe. But does that mean having outright despotism is somehow better? Doesn't democracy have some curbs on arbitrary power?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

On People Being Pathetic

I'm an incredibly irritable and cantankerous person. Not outwardly, so much, because I try to suppress it, but inwardly. I'm annoyed and infuriated by my fellow human beings dozens of times a day-- sometimes (perhaps usually) for something completely innocuous, such as the snicker on someone's face or the predictability of a comment.

I'm trying to overcome this tendency within myself, but it's a big battle.

Funnily enough, the times when I feel the most spontaneous shame for it is when I see my fellow human beings as pathetic-- including myself (usually myself in the past). Then I genuinely feel for them and feel bad I ever scorn them.

I had a friend once who told me about a friend of her own, who had adopted two little girls from a background of extreme poverty. She said that, the first night she put them to bed, she noticed as they were sleeping that they were both holding onto the shiny wrapping paper in which she had given them some kind of chocolates earlier. They'd never owned anything and so they held onto this. I found this story very affecting, and illustrative of the human condition.

It reminds me of this passage from Chesterton's Manalive, which I've only read once:

"Why are children not afraid of Santa Claus, though he comes like a thief in the night? He is permitted secrecy, trespass, almost treachery—because there are more toys where he has been. What should we feel if there were less? Down what chimney from hell would come the goblin that should take away the children's balls and dolls while they slept? Could a Greek tragedy be more gray and cruel than that daybreak and awakening? Dog-stealer, horse-stealer, man-stealer—can you think of anything so base as a toy-stealer?'

"The burglar, as if absently, took a large revolver from his pocket and laid it on the table beside the decanter, but still kept his blue reflective eyes fixed on my face.

"`Man!' I said, `all stealing is toy-stealing. That's why it's really wrong. The goods of the unhappy children of men should be really respected because of their worthlessness. I know Naboth's vineyard is as painted as Noah's Ark. I know Nathan's ewe-lamb is really a woolly baa-lamb on a wooden stand. That is why I could not take them away. I did not mind so much, as long as I thought of men's things as their valuables; but I dare not put a hand upon their vanities.'

It also reminds me of this poem by Coventry Patmore, which I can only read through tears:

The Toys

My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
"I will be sorry for their childishness."

Newman Lecture in Central Catholic Library

An email from the CCL:

Dear Members and Friends,

Later this month,  the library will host a lecture entitled  “The Personalism of John Henry Newman”. The lecture has been organised jointly by the UCD School of Philosophy and the International Centre for Newman Studies. The speaker is Professor John Crosby, who teaches in the Department of Philosophy, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Professor Crosby’s research centres on the development of Christian Personalism, a social and philosophical movement which originated in nineteenth-century Europe, and which places great emphasis on the value of the person as the key notion that gives meaning to reality.

The date is May 30th, time 4pm, place 74 Merrion Square.  

Registration is free, but places are limited. To reserve a place, please contact Margaret Brady at the UCD School of Philosophy, email: margaret.brady@ucd.ie

We look forward to welcoming you to this event.

Teresa Whitington
Librarian
Central Catholic Library

Europe and Me

I was going to title this quick post, "The Faith Isn't Europe and Europe Isn't the Faith", but I don't know how many people would get the Bellocian reference and it's not really the nub of what I'm talking about.

I wrote about the story of Father Solanus Casey reaching the Capuchin monastery through snowfall on Christmas Eve a couple of days ago. That story really enchanted me. In fact, as I was reading about it on one web page, and re-watching another YouTube interview about Fr. Solanus that I'd seen many months ago, I had something of a "purple notebook" moment (although purple notebook moments can only ever be verified afterwards; the purple owl spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk).

Part of the reason I found Fr. Solanus's story so moving is because it combines the permanence and sublimity of the Faith, with all its lofty associations, with the familiarity of American references; Yonkers, Harlem, street car operator, and so forth.

And musing on this, it occurs to me that I'm completely cold to the romance and glamour of "Europe". Yes, I know Ireland is geographically in Europe, but I mean the continent, and especially the Romance-speaking lands. The sight of a piazza or a cobbled street doesn't excite me one bit; to be honest, it kind of depresses me. And all those relentless blue skies...

I had my honeymoon in Germany, France, Italy and Austria. They were nice, but...you know, they were nice.

The same is true of European history. I'm afraid I find the High Middle Ages to be a crashing bore. All those principalities and duchies and royal families just make my head swim. As a monarchist and a localist and a Catholic, I should probably view this as a golden age, but I don't.

I love Ireland, and I love England, and I love America.

Ireland; smoky photographs of Brendan Behan, Michael Collins, and Eamon De Valera in dark pubs; sausages, rashers and white pudding; tea, tea, tea; green fields, real or imagined; a kind of endearing awkwardness in the populace, right down to how we carry ourselves; the Irish mammy; the cult of heroic failure.

England; Big Ben; Carry On movies; the eccentric vicar with a model railway in his backyard; ghost stories featuring donnish middle-aged men who cycle from cathedral town to cathedral town; the cult of heroic failure; names like "Hampden" and "Bromley" and "Coventry"; bleary seventies movies where everybody and everything looks tired, dishevelled and worn-out.

America; the Budweiser Clysedales; Target stores; Macy's parade; flat, square buildings and low skylines; extreme weather; a sense of enormous space; a sense that even outdoors is somehow like indoors, people are so relaxed and unselfconscious; a kind of respect for everybody's personal projects, and an eagerness to talk about them (tell an American person some project you have, and they take it seriously); more than anything, gusto.

I'm also rather drawn to Japanese and Russian culture, what little I know of them. I told this to my sister and she said: "I've noticed people who are drawn to Russian culture are usually also drawn to Japanese culture." Perhaps it's their unapologetic insularity.

But Europe leaves me cold.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Great Indoors

When I have more time, I want to write a lengthy blog post with this title.

I love the indoors. I greatly prefer the indoors to the outdoors. Being a conservative, I tend to like boundaries, barriers, and divisions. I'm fascinated by the fact that, once you divide an enclosed space with a wall, you've created two new spaces.

This reflection arsies from a dream I had just now. Actually the dream is a recurring dream. It was set in the old Ballymun, which was divided into flats (four-storey and seven-storey apartment blocks, one of which I lived in) and towers (fourteen stories high). The recurring dreams comes in different varieties, but in one variety I am inside of the towers (which I didn't know so well) and surprised that it has all kinds of facilities I didn't know about. In this dream, one of the floor contained an indoor cinema, which was furnished like an ordinary cinema, had its own shop, and so forth.

Cinemas are one of my favourite places, perhaps even my favourite place of all. The background image on my email is a cinema audience. The wallpaper of the desktop I'm writing on now is an empty cinema. I love cinemas not only because I love movies but because they are windowless, self-contained. I also like supermarkets and swimming pools for the same reason.

Sometimes I get the reputation of a contrarian. There are constant complaints from the staff in the library where I work about the lack of windows and natural light. I remember, at one meeting on the subject, I said: "But I like the lack of windows!" Everyone thought it was just me being contrarian again.

I love the library because it's so big. Every now and again, I like to pause during my work-day and reflect that there are five floors around me full of different rooms, in each of which different things are happening, but they are all the same unit. I find this almost mystical. It's part of the pleasure of patriotism and the pleasure of family. Indeed, I hope it's not irreverent to invoke the words of our Lord himself: "In my father's house, there are many rooms."

I've occasionally toyed with the idea of writing a fantasy novel set entirely indoors, in an indoors or underground world. How this would work, I'm not so sure. The need for food and ventilation is a problem.

Don't get the impression I'm a pasty-faced troglodyte who never goes out and who hates the sun. I do like the outdoors sometimes, particularly when it snows or in wintry weather. Indeed, I wrote this poem to express my occasional passion for the city streets. I walk at least twenty minutes every day, often considerably more. But indoors is definitely my first love.

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Love, Love, Love, Love, Love This

I quite like this story about Fr. Solanus Casey (known to his family as Barney), cut and pasted from another website. It describes how, at a time when he was wondering which religious order to join, he decided on the Capuchins:

After Holy Communion, Barney distinctly heard the Blessed Mother telling him, “Go to Detroit” where the Capuchins were – and still are – headquartered.

Without question, Barney departed through a snowstorm for three days to arrive at the monastery door of St. Bonaventure on Christmas Eve. Exhausted from the trip, he fell asleep, but was awakened by the sound of bells and singing wafting through the air which was pungent with incense. With joy, Barney jumped from his nap and joined the procession to the chapel for Midnight Mass. In the years afterward, he would tell of the profound happiness of that night.


This story has so many things I love:

1) A dramatic situation.

2) Snow 

3) Christmas.

4) Discomfort followed by a reward. I've also written in praise of discomfort here.

5) Voices in the air, my favourite noise.

I'm not surprised he loved the story.

Mind you, this kind of thing works best with snow. In Ireland we have rain, and the worst sort of rain-- drizzle. Dispiriting, but not adverse enough to be bracing.



 

Annoying Habits of Hagiographers

Since I've been researching a books on saints, I've spent a lot of time reading hagiographies recently.  Once upon a time, hagiographers were notorious for making up stories out of whole cloth. But for the last hundred years or so, the principal sin of hagiogaphers is sheer waffle. It's amazing how many pages of hagiographies are filled, not with facts about the saint, or even with background facts relevant to the saint's life, but with general observations about the human condition and with confident reports of what was passing through the mind of the saint at a given time. I keep on wanting to ask the writers; how do you know this, exactly?


Also annoying is the sardonic, knowing, world-weary tone that the hagiographer often adopts when writing about the sins and shallowness of the ordinary man or woman, as contrasted with the saint. Even when the writer is applying it to themselves, it's maddening.

But let me return to the "uncanny insight" side of things. In an article on soon-to-be-Blessed Solanus Casey (who died in 1957), written by a relatively youthful Catholic apologist who I won't name, I came across this sentence:

“We have to put God on the spot,” he’d say with an Irish twinkle in his eyes."


Really? Did the author see the "Irish twinkle" himself? Did someone tell him about it? Rrrr!

How to be a Nebbish

All the service counters at my local post office have signed above them reading, "Please wait to be called at to the counter". A request with which I try to comply, but people behind me in the queue are invariably prodding me forward as soon as one becomes free.

Recently, on being so prodded (and after having waited what seemed like an unreasonable time anyway), I went up to the counter. The young woman walked away and counted money for five minutes, then came back, looked up at me in surprise, asked if was waiting, and told me the counter wasn't open.

"It looks open", I said. She didn't reply, just walked away to do some more behind the scenes stuff.

I stood there for a while, defiantly, but eventually I gave up and went to another counter.

Today I was in the post office. The same woman was at the same counter, which became free.

"I think that one's free", the guy behind me said.

"I don't think so", I said.

"It looks it."

"Well," I said, waving him forward, "you're welcome to give it a go."

"Thanks", he said, walking up the counter. I rather looked forward to him getting the same treatment-- but of course, he was served right away.

Sometimes I feel like I am in a Woody Allen movie.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Narrow Gate

I'm putting the finishing touches to my saints' book manuscript. Writing always makes me want to write more, and the subject matter is of such interest to me, that it's hard not to fire off blog posts while I'm doing it. (I understand why music groups write more songs than they can use when they are recording an album, and can then go months and years without writing much else.)

So many things inspire me about the saints, but the the thing that I find most inspiring about them is the whole concept of "the narrow gate". It's amazing to think that St. Patrick, St. Gemma Galgani, and Blessed John Henry Newman-- to take three saints almost at random-- were, in their very disparate situations and styles, aspiring and attaining the very same thing-- to follow the very specific teachings of Our Lord (which are themselves very different from "natural religion" or "universal wisdom", etc.)

Though it may seem an undignified comparison, it reminds me of the pleasure you feel when you realise that a particular software is compatible with a particular hardware. The saints were so, so different...and yet, all of them passed through this narrow gate.

Well, I don't have time to expand on this...but the point is that, in the past, whenever I heard the words "narrow is the gate", I presumed it was meant to be a foreboding. But, pondering the lives of the saints, sometimes it seems as much something to rejoice over, as to sober us.
 

Early Reactions to the Latin Mass

I can't title this post "initial reactions to the Latin Mass" as I've attended it before. A couple of years back I attended one low Mass and one High Mass in St. Kevin's, Harrington Street. However, I've gone back for the last two weeks and I intend to make it a regular thing now, God willing.

These are my initial thoughts:

1) The single biggest advantage is that I can receive on the tongue, kneeling, without any fuss or difficulty. In pretty much every single Mass I've attended, Communion has been awkward-- or at least, I anticipate awkwardness. I've always received on the tongue. Twice the Host has been dropped. Even though I always aim to go to the priest rather than the extraordinary minister, I've occasionally had to resort to the extraordinary minister-- nearly always a lady. So trying to bow down low to receive just makes it more awkward.

For a while, I kneeled when it came to my turn to receive, feeling I should do this. But I always felt self-conscious about it, thinking it ostentatious, and eventually I stopped. I like that it's just the done thing at the Latin Mass.

2) I've greatly admired the supernaturalism and seriousness of the sermons-- although I'm not sure the claim that Lenin was a Freemason is accurate.

3) The absence of the sign of peace is wonderful. Of course! Doesn't everybody hate that?

4) The absence of liturgical abuses is a blessed relief. Liturgical abuses are what drove me to the Extraordinary Form. Priests interjecting their own words into the liturgy, "inclusive" language, priests leaving the altar at the sign of peace, applause during Mass, people receiving directly from a chalice left on the altar, children giving readings, altar boys without vestments, homilies which are of questionable orthodoxy or even downright heretical, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth...I couldn't take it anymore.... 

I'll still be attending daily Mass in the Ordinary Form, for instance the lunch-time Mass in UCD. But these abuses seem at their worse on a Sunday, anyway. Come to think of it, I rarely encounter abuses on weekdays.

5) Of course, the language and trappings of the Mass are majestic, although I haven't really become habituated to them yet, so it's all something of a blur.

6) I admire the reverence and seriousness of the congregation, but....as with the Ordinary Form, so many people are late! Lateness at Mass has always perplexed me. Somehow, I'd assumed it wouldn't happen so much at the Latin Mass. Is it so hard to make it on time? I understand if a few people were a little late, but people filing in half-way through just baffles me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Sexist Poem Is No Longer Sexist!

Like everybody else, I loved "If" by Rudyard Kipling. But, as you all know, I'm radically committed to gender equality and a non-sexist society, so the final lines:

Yours is the earth-- and everything that's in it--
And what is more; you'll be a man, my son!

Bothered me A LOT.

First of all, it's redundant. If you're a man, then the earth and everything that's in it is ALREADY YOURS, because you benefit from patriarchy and male privilege. Kipling should have written, "And what's THE SAME, you'll be a man, by son."

But, more fundamentally, it's exclusionary. How can a woman read this poem and not feel Othered? It's going to Other the HECK out of any woman! (Apparently, it was Ayn Rand's favourite poem, but she was a fascist anyway.)

Today, though, I realised that this poem is no longer sexist because of...GENDER FLUIDITY!

Yes, in order to enjoy the final lines of the poem, you only have to "transition" into maleness and (if you want to) transition back. It only take a moment-- no surgery, HRT, or even wardrobe changes are necessary, these days.

A deep reading of the poem actually undermines gender norms! Kipling, one would have thought, was a believer in essentialist gender roles. But the very title of the poem is "If", and the last line suggests that gender is not fixed or essential. Wooohooo! Even big old fascist Kipling was queer underneath!

Mind you, Kipling is only right-wing from an English perspective. From an Irish perspective, he was progressive, because he was in favour of World War One....and celebrating World War One is progressive in Ireland...because Irish nationalists opposed World War One...and nationalism is bad....well, if you're Irish it's bad....well, in the last few decades it's been bad....being an Irish nationalist was good before that because it was anti-imperalist. I don't know how it all works. It's so confusing. Anyway, at least I feel better that I can enjoy "If" now, without guilt. And so can you!

Cumha

"Cumha" is the Irish word for nostalgia, and I was just hit by a particularly potent blast of it.

I've given up on reading Irish language poetry, at least for the moment, and I've decided to go back to An Sagart, the journal of the Cumann na Sagart, the Irish language association for priests and other Catholics. Maybe I'm getting excessively sectarian, but after a while of reading non-Catholic stuff, I miss the atmosphere of Catholicism. I think this is particularly pronounced when it comes to the Irish language, because almost everything in Irish that's not written from a Catholic perspective is pointedly anti-Catholic in one way or another. For instance, many of the poems I was reading used Christian imagery, but they used it in an irreverent way. Similarly, contemporary Irish language writers seem to delight in vulgarity and "grittiness", in order to prove how far removed they are from the Christian Brothers schools.

So, once again, I picked up one of the familiar sky-blue volumes of An Sagart. The one I took today came from 1989. I was twelve in 1989. It was the year before the 1990 soccer World Cup in Italy, which seems to me to be a major dividing line in Irish social history. (This guy agrees.)

The article that I happened to read was about a "reconciliation room" (or perhaps a "confession space") in a church at Cloughjordan, Tipperary. The writer (a priest) was simply describing the church, the stained glass windows (by famous Irish artist Harry Clarke) and the room itself. He also described the time he spent there hearing confessions.



Reading it, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, of homesickness, of yearning. The atmosphere of the article was so specific to the Ireland of my childhood, the Irish Catholicism of my childhood.

How to describe it? Mellow is the first word that comes to mind. Bear in mind that this was an Ireland that had already been considerably liberalised-- too liberalised, already. But there was still a background respect for the Church and the clergy, for religion in general, which could be more or less taken for granted, to some degree.

Relaxed is another word that comes to mind. I don't think it's projection that the Ireland reflected in such articles is less hectic, less driven, less go-getting than the Ireland of today. A modern economy, for sure, but one where business and commerce still had considerably less glamour and respectability than literature and the arts-- where there was even something slightly apologetic about money-making. (A long way from "Dragon's Den".)

I can't fit the next idea into one word, but I would say "a sense of shared narrative", or "a sense of shared identity". Of course, the writers and readership of An Sagart would be particularly committed to the Irish language and national culture, but it really does seem the case to me that, right up to my childhood, there was a shared sense of narrative and memory in Ireland. The long struggle for national independence; the Irish "spiritual empire" of missionaries abroad; the campaign to revive the Irish language and other national traditions; the scourge of emigration (treated as a national scourge instead of an individual predicament, or lifestyle choice; even the Troubles in the North, universally treated as an unalloyed tragedy, were a part of this. Today, shared narrative seems entirely to do with living conditions, such as housing and hospitals. Important, but the bare minimum.

The desire to use the words "us", "we", and "our" is so potent in human nature. The problem is that, when you make such an admission, you instantly evoke images of collectivism, Orwellian dystopias, Nuremberg rallies, the Borg from Star Trek, and so forth.


But that's not the point. "Us", "we" and "our" doesn't have to be a monolith or a phalanx. In fact, it's precisely when those words refer to a whole landscape-- one which includes divisions, conflict, disagreement, and oppositions of various kinds-- that they are most powerful. Like my favourite images of the snow globe, the words "us", "we" and "our" refer to the unseen borders of a whole world, the glass dome that makes a world.

Plugging Another Forum

My Irish Conservatives Forum (which has begun to take off) was a sort of spin-off from the Irish Catholics Forum, and was inspired by another spin-off-- the Irish Federalist Forums. So it's only fair to give them a plug here.

This forum was set up by a member of the Irish Catholic Forum who has long argued for a federalist Ireland, along the lines proposed by Desmond Fennell. I've had quite stimulating discussions with him. While I'm not opposed to a federal Ireland, I think culture is much more important than administrative structures. This chap (like Desmond Fennell) also tends to favour a "post-nationalist" Ireland. While I'm very enthusiastic about localism and regionalism, I support them within the umbrella of a unifying nationalism, and not as a successor or alternative to nationalism.

It may be of interest to some.

The Irish Times At It Again

Our new beatus, Fr. John Sullivan SJ, was apparently a "half-Protestant, half-Catholic" because he converted from the Church of Ireland. (The Church of Ireland is our branch of Anglicanism, or Episcopalianism in America.)

The Irish Times seize on this phrase from the postulator of his cause (sadly, all-too-typical of a modern-day Jesuit), and spins a whole narrative from it.

It suggests that this beatification is only possible because of the arrival of Pope Francis. Forgetting that Pope Benedict beatified John Henry Newman, the most famous Anglican convert of them all.

A truly cheap shot.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Frank Duff on Twentieth Century Irish Catholicism

I found this interesting essay, entitled The Faith: The Nation: Prime Principles of Survival, in a collection of Frank Duff's essays entitled The Woman of Genesis. The essay is obviously written after Vatican II, since it mentions it, and the book was published in 1976, but I don't know the exact date for the essay itself.



Frank Duff, of course, was the founder of the Legion of Mary, and his cause for sainthood is currently being examined.

I've always been rather dismissive of the argument that Irish Catholicism, at its heyday, was "a mile wide and an inch deep"-- but Duff seems to support it here, to some extent at least. Then again, Duff had very high standards and perhaps he was over-critical. It's hard to tell.

I fear that the majority of our people have but a mechanical goodness. They attend Sunday Mass and the Sacraments but have no depth in their religion. They do not know it properly nor live their lives according to it. They can be quire undutiful, neglectful of the principles of honour, devoid of apostleship which the Vatican Counil has proclaimed to be a basic element of Catholicism. We are bringing forth little better fruits than respectable paganism would. Drinking has now become the new deluge. We are not being protected from the slaughter on the roads nor from the criminal. It is no answer to say that the same applies to other countries. We would be doing better if our religion were real.

It has always been imagined that the Irish people have a unique regard for the Mass. Therefore it is a shock to encounter proofs to the contrary. I have now covered a good deal of the surface of the country and I can tell you our experience in regard to daily Mass, which surely is the test of appreciation. The attendance is miserable in proportion. Yet in the smaller places there is nothing doing at that time, and the majority could attend. I specify one case where we had a priest with us and offered a week-day Mass to a village which normally has one on Sunday only. Not a single local turned up for it. Other places would be better but not much better. Does that sort of thing afford justification for our alleged love of the Mass?

Quite evidently that degree of religion is not going to stand up to the adverse influences which are every day thickening and marshalling themselves...

Acute French observers, coming here soon after the Second World War, declared that they saw a remarkable likeness between the Ireland of that time and the France of two hundred years previously; the same characteristics and same weaknesses. Two hundred years ago would have ago would have been the period in which France would have prided itself on being the most Catholic country in the world, that is immediately preceding the French Revolution. The French Revolution did not create all the hollowness and the hatred of religion which then appeared. It only revealed what was there. It was like taking off a mask.

There are many other interesting things in this essay. At one point Duff mentions sociologists (unnamed) who have predicted that Christians will have dwindled to less than five per cent of the world's population by the end of the century! And not in any spirit of derision or contradiction-- he seems to think this reasonable enough.

He also warns against the temptation of using modern media as a "short-cut" to evangelisation, saying they should be an "incidental aid" but adding that he has heard of but few conversions through reading and none through TV.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Adventures in Irish Verse, and Thoughts on Verse in General

I'm still reading Irish language poetry. I've just been leafing through a couple of "slim volumes". I can read Irish prose without a dictionary, but I need a dictionary for Irish poetry. Poets seem more likely to use rare or literary words, or to use ordinary words in an altered form.

The last volume I dipped into was called Gainneamh Séidte (meaning Blown Sand) by Jackie Mac Donncha, published in 2003. The cover has a very nice picture, all in a light brown monochrome, of some long grass surrounded by sand.

I couldn't make much sense of the first poem, in which the poet was addressing another person, and urging them not to hurry out a gate. But I liked the second poem, even though I wasn't able to understand that one too well, either. It was about a place where a dead person had smoked, outdoors-- a ditch or hollow or something. (A "dimple" was the literal translation.) I'm not sure how the poet knew the smoker was now deceased, but the smell of tobacco apparently lingered-- metaphorically, perhaps.

For all that I'm making it sound enigmatic, the language is very simple and direct, which I like.

Here is the thing about poetry and me. I think I have pretty good taste in poetry. I have a tin ear when it comes to music, but I have pretty good taste in poetry. At least, I've always taken an intense pleasure from "classic" poets such as Yeats, Tennyson and Larkin. Even where I don't particularly like a 'classic' poet, as with John Donne, I can see why it's considered outstanding. (As opposed to when I listen to classical music, and it all just sounds equally pretty to me.)

But in recent years-- for more than a decade, in fact-- I've felt that I'm not going to discover any more truly sublime poetry. I'm never going to discover a new poem that gives me the same sort of pleasure as "Locksley Hall" by Tennyson or "The Burning of the Leaves" by Laurence Binyon. This wouldn't be a problem if I enjoyed long poetry-- there are hundreds of long poems by classic poets which remain unread by me-- but I don't enjoy it. I've read that poets such as Keats and Shelley believed that their long works were their important works, and expected to be remembered for poems such as Hyperion and The Triumph of Life rather than "Ode to a Grecian Urn" and "Ozymandias". Well, maybe they should have been. Maybe our age is philistine for its lack of interest in long poetry. But I can't feign an enjoyment I don't feel. Short lyric poetry is what appeals to me. In my experience, the best poetry provokes such an intense response that it simply can't be sustained for pages and pages.

Anyway, the point is that I've given up looking for "classic" poetry. It's possible I'll encounter some new poems that move me as much as "Locksley Hall", but I don't expect to. Nor am I particularly sad about this. As Chesterton said, the world will never starve for want of wonders but for want of wonder. There are plenty of other wonders out there.

I could go looking for "just OK" poetry-- by which I mean, technically accomplished and fairly profound, but lacking the indefinable something that elevates the best poetry (or my favourite poetry, since a lot of this is subjective). And I'm sure I will do more of that, in years to come.

At the same time, I admit that my interest in poetry now has less to do with excellence than with the very fact of poetry. I've developed an appetite for poetry which doesn't demand the sublime or even the accomplished. In fact, I have quite a taste for the naive and the artless. I think anyone could write a poem that would please me, as long as it was heartfelt and sincere, and adhered to some specifics I'll mention in a bit.

To put it another way, I'm no longer so much interested in poetry considered as one of the summits of cultural achievement. Now, I'm more interested in poetry considered as an expression of the human spirit, and as a haven for the human spirit. At this point in my life, a poem by an ordinary teenager (or pensioner) seems to me as wonderful a thing as a poem by a Kipling or a Betjeman. Maybe even more wonderful, because an ordinary teenager or pensioner has a greater need of it.

Along with my ever-burgeoning opposition to political correctness and progressivism, and along with my determination to be completely uncompromising towards these things, I've felt an increasing craving for something I can only call softness. I think modern life is terribly hard. Maybe all life is hard. Maybe life has always been hard. Anyway, I find myself craving softness and tenderness-- not shown towards me, necessarily, (though I'll take that!), but in general.

If an angry progressive were to demand that I acknowledge his grievances as a transgender queer liberal Catholic who's been oppressed because of his mixed race ancestry, I'd decline quite pointedly. But if he wanted me to read a poem expressing his human yearning and confusions, I would feel quite tender towards that. Heck, even if he wanted me to read a poem expressing his grievances as a transgender queer liberal Catholic who's been oppressed because of his mixed race ancestry, I'd be quite tender towards that-- and even interested. The feelings themselves have a certain validity, even if they are not justified. (I'm thinking about an interpersonal encounter, here. If I were presented with such a text on a syllabus or a poetry anthology, I would be less receptive. There are already far too many of those.)

Poetry seems to me like a haven where the student, the worker, the mother, the consumer, the prisoner, the patient, can transcend whatever roles they happen to occupy and simply be a human soul whose yearnings and memories and imagination stretch to a far-distant horizon, and beyond. Poetry is one of the things most affirmative of the human spirit that I know.

This is not an entirely new feeling on my part, since a few of the entries in my purple notebook also reflect it. One of the entries refers to a scene in Star Trek where the android Data (who is trying to be more like humans) writes a poem about his cat Spot, and then discusses it with another crew member. Another relates to an anthology I read, many many years ago, in which teenagers choose a favourite poem and then comment on it. One poem-- I think was 'Eldorado' by Poe-- was chosen by a teenage girl who wrote out the poem on nice paper, put a decorative border around it, and put it up on her wall. I was delighted by this story, as I still am. (Apologies to readers who have heard me mention both of these little recollections a million times, but it's relevant again here.)

This desire for "softness" isn't new, either, because it's always been part of what drew me to Ireland's Catholic past, especially its recent Catholic past. People think of Catholic Ireland as harsh-- harsh on women, harsh on homosexuals, harsh on Protestants, harsh on single mothers, etc. Even assuming all that is true (which I don't), I still think Catholic Ireland was gentler, softer, and more humane than contemporary Ireland. This is hard to prove in any measurable way, as it comes down to many intangibles-- language, facial expressions, even things like colour schemes. But look at any outdoors Marian shrine in Ireland, most of which went up in the 1954 Marian year. Or, indeed, look at any statue of Our Lady. There's something softer and gentler in that image than anything that secular Ireland has to show.

But let me return to poetry, and particularly the simple, artless poetry that appeals to me these days. The kind of simple,artless poems I'm looking for tend to have certain characterstics.

First of all, I like them to fit on one page.  

I also like poems that dramatize the human condition, and the condition of the poet. I like poems that take some definite situation or image, rather than poems written from a "God's eye" point of view. This is the kind of thing I mean:

A poem about someone taking a box of old stuff from the attic, going through it, and thinking about the past.

A poem about someone in a traffic jam.

A poem about an empty room after a party.

A poem about somebody listening to a radio interview with a politician at election time.

As opposed to:

An oblique poem full of mysterious imagery, whose meaning is not obvious.

A poem describing the growth of a town over centuries.

A poem about some abstract concept such as planned obsolence.

A poem playing with language.

There's nothing wrong with the second bunch of themes-- anything can make a poem, in my view-- but it's not the sort of poem I'm thirsting for these days.

"Contemplation" poems are my favourite-- one in which somebody (either a character within the poem, or the poet outside the poem) is contemplating something. Like somebody staring into the flames of a fire, or the steam rising from a cup of tea. Or somebody standing in a busy shopping centre, and watching the crowds. Or simply the image of a child falling asleep, and the poet's thoughts on it.

The glamour of language and the glamour of writing is such that I only ever feel something is really real when someone has written about it-- and especially, written a poem about it. At particular moments, I find myself thinking: "This is the kind of thing someone might write a poem about". In a strange way, a four-line poem that a sixteen-year-old writes has more reality and potency than the international airport he writes it about. It makes the international airport more real, in a way that an article or a video could never do. Because it has passed through the filter of a human soul.

Well, if anyone has some short, artless, situation-based poems (of their own) to send me, I''d happily receive them. But I've probably damned them with such dubious praise that nobody would want to!