Celebrating the music of the past with the words of the present

As we look forward to Samhain, the Gaelic festival marking the end of the Harvest season and the beginning of the “darker” winter months, we are quick to draw connections to our Western ideas of Halloween: spooky costumes, creepy decorations, grim horror stories, and a crisp fall chill that makes us shiver. While these traditions did stem from Samhain myths and customs, we often neglect the more celebratory tones latent in the history. Families will often decorate and set places at the table to welcome the spirits who return for this finite period. During Samhain, the Irish take measures to ward off evil spirits, but also devote themselves to celebrating the deceased.

In this poem, Thomas Kinsella celebrates the musical and artistic work of Irish composer Seán Ó Riada, who passed away in 1971. The nostalgic, auditory and kinesthetic imagery of Kinsella’s words pay homage to Ó Riada’s work, embodying the celebratory traditions of Samhain.

The Dance

It is the staling music of memory
has brought us nosing once more
around our forgotten young hero

and his high-spirited doings.
Grieving solos fade
and twine on echoes of each other

down the shallow valley:
his own voices,
divided against themselves.

His spirit, in one piece still
(just for a little while,
and only just)

is cavorting in answer
all brains and bare feet
along the scruffy skyline,

stepping the parish boundary
in goodbye
and beckoning with a comical thumb

up over the edge:
Come and buy
My terrible new capabilities…

The little plants shivering
green and pale on the far slope
in a breeze out of the Next Testament,

unplaceable, familiar smells
stealing among the goats’
dainty, unbothered feet.

And there would be no sign
If we tried to follow
his shifting rhythms,

the throaty piping,
the dry taps fractured on the drum skin,
the delicate new hooves

on approval, slithering to the beat
down out of sight
into the stony places.

-Thomas Kinsella, from Selected Poems (2010)

You can check out the pieces that Seán Ó Riada composed using Kinsella’s poems here on iTunes.

Follow us on Twitter for more #samhainsongs.

Cúil Aodha/Ó Riada
Sculpture of Seán Ó Riada in Cúil Aodha, Ireland

Posted in Irish Poetry, Poem of the Week, Poetry, Thomas Kinsella | Leave a comment

What does Ireland’s official Professor of Poetry do?

In September of last year, WFU Press’s very own poet, Paula Meehan, was appointed to serve as Ireland’s newest Professor of Poetry. This prestigious position, which is Ireland’s equivalent to the U.S. Poet Laureate, was founded by an independent Board of Trustees in response to Seamus Heaney’s 1995 win of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of the six individuals (including Meehan) who have had the honor of fulfilling the role of Professor of Poetry since its establishment in 1998, we are proud to say that 5 have been poets closely affiliated with WFU Press.

As Professor of Poetry, Meehan’s responsibilities range from delivering inaugural speeches to participating in events like Dublin’s first spoken word poetry competition next week, which keeps the poet and playwright out and about. Similar to the U.S. Poet Laureate, Meehan is given funds to share and promote a passion for poetry throughout the island. Additional information about the position itself, or information about Paula Meehan’s work and upcoming events can be found at the official Ireland Chair of Poetry website.

2013, CHSS, Irish Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan giving a reading.

Meehan at her 2013 Professor of Poetry Inauguration

Posted in Arts and Culture, Ireland, Irish Poetry, Irish Women's Poetry, Paula Meehan, Poetry | Leave a comment

Happy birthday to Ciaran Carson

Author of poetry and prose, translator, professor, and accomplished musician, Ciaran Carson is a man of so many talents that we never need much of an excuse to celebrate him. Many happy returns to you, from all at Wake Forest Press!

Year After Year

playing the tune
over you’ve been

cutting out
the frills getting

to know how
the notes are more

truly told by
leaving them

alone to be
found by the bow

-Ciaran Carson, from Until Before After (2010)

For more about this book, read our interview with Ciaran Carson.

Ciaran Carson

Posted in Ciaran Carson, Irish Poetry, Poem of the Week, Poetry | Leave a comment