Monday, October 30, 2006

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart

I have always been a little slow, particularly in catching on to really cool stuff. So forgive me for this, but I had such a shock to find myself standing in front of Bruce Springsteen at that gig in Dublin and thinking, not only can this guy perform, but these lyrics are bloody amazing!

Seriously, I didn't know ! You can imagine the following days of rapture as I began to listen to all of Ian's albums. The other artists that came immediately to mind were Tom Waits and Billy Joel. But also this Yeats poem which still echoes in my mind when I listen to Bruce.

Initially the link was bound to be the mere mention of the circus (see my last post and the lyrics of that Springsteen song). Wild Billy is one of my favourite songs because it reminds me of being a kid of maybe 8 or 9 and listening to Billy Joel and realizing that songs could be about telling a story as well as about dancing or a catchy chorus (other favourites of the day included 'You're the One That I Want'- John Travolta and Olivia Newton John). But I also love Wild Billy's Circus story because I feel like I fit into it. I'm there in that circus (and before you say it, no, I'm not the man-beast lyin' in his cage sniffin' popcorn.... I was thinking a little less literal than that... although somedays....)

It helps. Songs like that help. The weirdness of all those circus freaks, the clowns waiting for a saviour, the hopes surrounding moving on. And there is so much colour in it too. I like how Springsteen and Waits can do that. Like there is some revelation of gold to be found in the darkest and most human of places.

And so onto this Yeats poem. It's about writing but (I think/ imagine) it's about writing as a human function of being. As if sometimes the act of writing can be so transcendent that you have to remind yourself that 'human' and 'writer' are inextricably linked, lest you find yourself unable to do the job at hand. Mike Ridell has this piece on his website (see title link and then click on 'articles') called 'Voiding the Void' which makes a pretty great job (in my opinion) of describing this sort of tension. He says:

'The writer can never be healed, but can be maintained through judicious palliative care. In writing there is a clumsy reaching toward the stars; a kind of outward movement of the Void, expanding into the world. It is unavoidable....and it is deflating. The words can never carry the weight of the eternal, and yet for the writer there is nothing else to transport it in.'

I can feel that in Springsteen and in Waits and in this Yeats poem. Here it is:

The Circus Animals' Desertion

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

What can I but enumerate old themes,

First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.

Those masterful images because complete

Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

Wild Billy's Circus Story

It was so nice to look at Paul's blog this morning and see a picture of Bruce. I still can't do linkage but click on the title to have a look at said blog which is marvelous.

I am sort of a latecomer to Bruce Springsteen. For years my husband tried to tell me how great he was and our house was full of his albums before I ever listened to one song. All I knew was 'Born in the USA'...

Then a few years ago a friend of a friend offered us their tickets to see him in Dublin and we went....

It's hard to say how grateful I am for that. I had no idea.

So anyway. This is the song that does it for me. This is where I meet Bruce and he meets Tom Waits and Tom Waits meets Yeats (maybe more on this later when not so frazzled by babystuff) and so on. I love this song.

The machinist climbs his ferris wheel like a brave
And the fire eater's lyin' in a pool of sweat, victim of the heatwave
Behind the tent the hired hand tightens his legs on the sword swallower's blade
And circus town's on the shortwave

The runway lies ahead like a great false dawn
Fat lady, big mama, Missy Bimbo sits in her chair and yawns
And the man-beast lies in his cage sniffin' popcorn
As the midget licks his fingers and suffers Missy Bimbo's scorn
Circus town's been born

Whoa, and a press roll drummer go, ballerina to and fro
Cartwheelin' up on that tightrope with a cannon blast lightin' flash
Movin' fast through the tent Mars bent, he's gonna miss his fall
Oh God save the human cannonball.

And the flying Zambinis watch Margarita do her neck twist,
And the ringmaster gets the crowd to count along: "Ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven"
A ragged suitcase in his hand, he steals silently away from the circus grounds
And the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind
A man in baggy pants, a lonely face, a crazy grin
Runnin' home to some small Ohio town
Jesus send some good women to save all your clowns

And circus boy dances like a monkey on barbed wire
And the barker romances with a junkie, she's got a flat tire,
And now the elephants dance real funky and the band plays like a jungle fire
Circus town's on the live wire

And the strong man Sampson lifts the midget little Tiny Tim way up on his shoulders, way up And carries him on down the midway past the kids, past the sailors
To his dimly lit trailer
And the ferris wheel turns and turns like it ain't ever gonna stop
And the circus boss leans over, whispers into the little boy's ear "Hey son, you want to try the big top?"
All aboard, Nebraska's our next stop.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Time change

The heating is broken. Ian cannot leave for some foreign place without some disaster (usually some expensive disaster) arriving to herald his departure. Last time it was a leak from the washing machine. The time before that 2 visits to the vet for the cat and stitches etc. This time it is the heating. Oh, and another leak from the washing machine. And Ana has got the flu.

So the clocks went back last night but of course she doesn't know this and her flu plus her inability to time travel culminated in a particularly restless night which she is now re-living; it's meant to be naptime but she is standing up, crying through snot and lamenting the demise of her Postman Pat doll who I have removed lest I should behead him for keeping her awake with his stupid bloody theme tune which I have heard around 1000 time today already.

I think I am going insane.

I have counted to 100.

Go. To. Sleep.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Festive Hygiene

There are just too many people I wanted to share this website with. Please click on the title link. I specifically thought of Mags, Jude, Cary, Sarah, Kellie and Clare. But really, all of you must take a peek. I am amazed and joyful..

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Be Honest

Our whole house looks like this. Does anyone else have a house that looks like this? I think if it was someone else's house I would think it looked colourful and bohemian. But sitting across from it in my kitchen it kind of just looks like more work to do....

lâ ilâha illâ allâh

Took some of the GCSE Islam students to the mosque in Belfast last night. Us laydees all wore the hijab (I did not wear it well I have to say. It kept slipping off). It's coming to the end of Ramadan and they invited us to break fast with them after prayers. They were extremely kind to us. And the food was great (Algerian apparently). Peace be upon them.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hands Off My Baby Paisley!

Apparently the DUP are saying that they managed to secure 'the retention of academic selection in the province's post-primary sector' as part of the devolution package.

I failed the 11plus exam. Then I resat the whole year again (because hey, I was young for the class and clearly had nothing better to do with an entire year of my life) and promptly failed it again. I've got to say it didn't bother me at all at the time. I got to go to the big school with my friends. And my parents were cool about it too. No great feeling of disappointment. So I went to high school and at 16 I thought I'd leave and get a job. And then something unexpected happened. I aced my GCSEs. Like, passed them really well. It was quite a shock. And I wondered what to do. Well, I had no big plans about working or anything so I applied to grammar school and started studying for A-levels. And when I was finished then I would get a job. And then something else unexpected happened. I passed those exams pretty well too. I had no great plans for university or anything but once again I thought 'why not?' so that's what I did...

And now here I am teaching students, some of whom passed the 11plus and some of whom didn't.

It didn't do me much harm, did it? Failing that exam. I mean my life took the same path as my sister's and she had passed her's, gone straight to grammar school, did not pass 'go', did not collect any stigma...

But it wasn't the same path.

When I think about how many times it was made difficult for me to move on in education and how many times I almost left and missed out on the studying that I came to truly love it makes me crazy with anger to think how we are still dividing children into 'smart' and 'not-so-smart' at age 11 (or any bloody age! People change folks!).

I had to leave my school when I was 16. The school I loved, the friends and teachers I knew. I had to get better grades than the grammar school kids in order to study A-levels with them. I didn't enjoy 6th year. Grammar school was different to the one I went to and I was never comfortable with that. I stopped playing the violin and quit my interest in drama. I almost left after about 3 months, convinced that everyone but me knew what they were doing (despite eventually doing better than many in my classes). I had no notion of going to university. No-one in my immediate family had done so and they were very pleased I had got as far as I did. I only applied because I thought it was 'the rules' that everyone had to and I had little intention of actually going. I applied for random courses that I knew nothing about and luckily one of them was at Queen's and luckily I got the grades to take that course and luckily they let me change my course completely after 2 weeks so I could take English which was looking a lot more interesting than it did when I was at school....

There are several points when that test that I repeated and repeatedly failed could have seriously mucked up the path I eventually took and I wonder how many other people missed out on something they could really have benefited from because they didn't have the luck I had.

And now this nonsense from the DUP. I find it thoroughly depressing. Sometimes I think Northern Ireland deserves everything it gets because we keep voting in these backwards-looking politicians. And what of Blair and the rest? It makes me so cross because I see as an insider in the world of education how a non-selective, integrated system can work.

The school I teach in does not select on the basis of academic ability. We are integrated and coeducational. And we have recently been in the papers as the top non-grammar school in our GCSE results. Apparently the big scaremongering voice that says 'you can't mix children who appear to do exceptionally well with those who appear to struggle (or even those who motor along just nicely thanks)' is lying to us! Woo ! And guess what? Our school even sends people (lots of people actually) to university and they can get first class degrees and everything! Double woo! And mixing with students who are different to them will not harm them! In fact it might even be good for them! In fact, the idea is that mixing with people who are different to you can be a very positive learning experience!

What a novel idea! Perhaps this is something that the DUP can learn when they finally sit down to do business with Sinn Fein et al. Perhaps if they had been to a school like our's they wouldn't have had a such a problem with difference in the first place. How ironic that this move which will serve to further stall the long-overdue move to eradicate academic selection might be the one which brings the DUP together with those they have avoided for so long.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Michael Donaghy

When I wrote before about Eolath I said that after I had heard of his death I wished I had written to him and told him what a great experience his workshop for teachers had been. I had meant to do it and chickened out.

My friend Grainne took me to hear this poet named Michael Donaghy reading a few years ago. I hadn't heard of him before but his poetry (and the performance of it) was utterly captivating (click on title link to hear him). Sadly he died suddenly in 2004. I had chickened out of talking to him on the evening I saw him perform (probably a good thing as I might have choked on my gush). But I did email him some time later and he kindly emailed back to say thanks. When I read his stuff it makes me feel waves of gratitude that there once was somebody who could write it down like this.


John 20:24 -29

We fell out of love as toddlers fall
glancing down, distracted, at their feet,
as the pianist in the concert hall
betrays her hands to thought and adds an extra beat -
The thought vertiginous. The reprimand.
It fells the bee mid-flight. It made me stall
before a holy water font in Rome
half afraid that if I dipped my hand
I'd find the water's surface hard as stone
and - this you'd never understand -
half afraid to leave the thing alone.
For I'd been taught that Jesus walked the sea
and came to Peter three leagues out of port.
Said Peter Bid me to come unto thee
and strode on faith dryfoot until he thought....
and thinking, sank. I'd never learnt to swim
but I'd seen insects skim across a pond
and I'd seen glasses filled above the brim.
Some firm conviction keeps a raindrop round.
What kept me rigid as a mannequin?

We fell out of love and nearly drowned.
The very wordlessness all lovers want
to feel beneath their feet like solid ground
dissolved to silences no human shout
could ripple -
like the surface of that font
when other voices, tourist and devout,
grew still, and someone whispered by my side
O ye of little faith -and shallow doubt-
choose here to wet that hand or stand aside.
No one was there. But I could tell that tone.
I heard his ancient apostolic voice
this evening when I went to lift the phone
to tell you this - and froze. The reprimand.
For once, in two minds, Thomas made the choice
to bless and wet with blood his faithless hand.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Wish I'd had my camera tonight. But I didn't. Tried to take a picture with my phone but it was just silly. A little red dot. When really the thing was immense. Huge. So no picture, only this which is deeply inadequate;

The moon is a red egg
Unbalanced on the sea,
Soft around the edges.
An illuminated ovum
Pulling me in and out,
Binding my arms to my back
As I run for the land.
Calling my name.
Promising my lost memories.
Reminding me where I came from.
Drawing me perpetually back.

Brian Moore

For Sarah and everyone; this is the opening bit of 'I Am Mary Dunne' by Brian Moore. It is a brilliant brilliant book and it made me cry in Starbucks. Sarah, do let me know if you have trouble getting hold of a copy.

Cogito ergo sum. I close my eyes and go back sixteen years. Mother Marie-Therese writes it on the blackboard. Her arm is rolled up bare to the elbow: the sleeve of her habit is rolled up to avoid chalk dust. 'I think, therefore I am,' she says. Where the Latin was just something to translate, the English jumps and my hand is up (unlike me, that) and when Mother sees me I ask wouldn't it have been more correct for him to have said Memento ergo sum?

'Memento?' With that winter frost smile of hers.
'Yes, Mother. I remember, therefore I am.'

She sends her smile searching among the other girls in the class. But no one has a comment. As for Reverend Mother's smile, it would mean 'A silly girl has misunderstood Descartes,' or 'See how we have engaged the attention of Mary Dunne.'

'And why would you say that?' she asks me.
'Because' (I am fifteen) 'we are what we remember.'
'Interesting,' says Reverend Mother, but did she really think so? Did she remember our conversation an hour after class? I have remembered it sixteen years and now I wonder. If we are what we remember, did that girl I was die because I forgot her? As now, perhaps, I am beginning to die because some future me cannot keep me in mind.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hey Lizzie!

This post is for my mum who hasn't seen any picturs of Ana at Greenbelt yet. In the picture on the left she has just been taken from the creche and you can see her wristband and her stickers which say 'I've seen animals' and 'I've seen puppets'. Her paper bag contains raisins. Yum.

The Body Of Christ

Wanted to blog this mainly for Paul because it was the talk of eucharist lately that gave me the idea.

Last month's ikon (see title link) saw us bringing our our 'station' to St George's. My idea is pictured here. During the evening particpants were invited to explore each station and take what they would from it. I remember something Pete said about ikon being a desert in the oasis. And I say to myself, thank god for that.

I had borrowed the communion kit from a friend of mine. It was used in the trenches apparently.

I so wanted to keep it.

The chalice contained bits of red paper and people were invited to write the names of those, living or dead, that they remembered. Then they would leave the names on the plate.

It all looked nicer in St George's than on my bedroom floor. We had candles and everything.

The script behind the cup and plate read as follows:

These are the saints I remember
These are the saints I think of
These are the saints I eat and drink Christ with

This is the body
We are the body

The body of Christ

The living body
The body immortal
The dead body
The body eternal

The body of Christ

The charmless body
The tired body
The body beautiful
The failing body

The body of Christ

The forsaken body
The swollen pregnant body
The empty, empty body
The hopeful body
The body rejected
The body desired

The body of Christ

The innocent body
The addicted body
The body joyful
The body terrible
The captive body
The emerging body

The body of Christ

The impoverished body
The decorated body
The body held
The body abused
The body broken

The body broken

The body broken

The body of Christ