Monday, March 16, 2009

Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice

I probably should read a bit of Louis MacNeice before I say much about Ken Bruen's Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice.

For now, though, I'd guess that fans of Bruen's leisurely pace, with pauses to admire the bucolic scenery, will probably like this early novel as well.

It's less tragic than Bruen's Jack Taylor books, and it manages a wonderful bitter, funny, resigned humor that — and God and Bruen forgive me for saying so — is positively life-affirming.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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33 Comments:

OpenID maxine said...

Louis Macneice is a wonderful poet - enjoy!

March 16, 2009  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Here's a decent place to start. I'm sure Ade would approve.

We did a few of his poems at school, though I'm ashamed to admit I've very little recollection of the studies. I'll have to do a wee bit of revision.

gb

March 16, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Her Last Call is one of my favourite Bruens. Its got so much momentum you wonder how the words dont push out through the back cover of the book.

Of course when I was a kid we had to memorise Louis in school. My personal favourite is Bagpipe Music which concludes with the stanza:

Its no go my honey love, its no go my poppet.
Work your hands from day to day the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour the glass will fall forever.
And if you break the bloody glass you cant hold up the weather.

But the link Ger was directing you to was Carrickfergus, which didnt work for me for some reason. Here it is below:


Carrickfergus

I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries
To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams:
Thence to Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scotch Quarter was a line of residential houses
But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt.

The brook ran yellow from the factory stinking of chlorine,
The yarn-milled called its funeral cry at noon;
Our lights looked over the Lough to the lights of Bangor
Under the peacock aura of a drowning moon.

The Norman walled this town against the country
To stop his ears to the yelping of his slave
And built a church in the form of a cross but denoting
The List of Christ on the cross, in the angle of the nave.

I was the rector's son, born to the Anglican order,
Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.

The war came and a huge camp of soldiers
Grew from the ground in sight of our house with long
Dummies hanging from gibbets for bayonet practice
And the sentry's challenge echoing all day long.

I went to school in Dorset, the world of parents
Contracted into a puppet world of sons
Far from the mill girls, the smell of porter, the salt mines
And the soldiers with their guns.

March 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Maxine. I had this idea -- a prejudice, I know -- that crime writers who wrote about poets would write about Rimbauds and Francois Villons -- glamorous bad boys, in other words. But from the poem Adrian quotes here, the man appears to have been something other than that. There's lots of melancholy life in that poem, as there is in Ken Bruen's novel.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerard, you're a wee young one yet. You have years to go before you can begin to regret the things you should have read when you were a youth.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that's a fine poem, and I'd read it recently. Did you mention of link to it on your site?

"Her Last Call" left me with the constant feeling that I had dropped right into the middle of something and had to try to keep up -- a bracing feeling.

And here's a little gift for all you Louis MacNeice readers.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Peter, I think regret works somewhat counter to logic. I think you can be quite young when you regret the mistakes of the past, six or seven even, and I'm not being flip. I can remember turning 18 and being in a veritable agony of regret of all that had not happened. Both actively and passively.

The funny thing is that as you get older, you don't regret more and more, you regret less and less. Sure, it was a misspent youth, but in one way or another, everyone's youth was misspent. Or, put another way, there is no misspending... Okay, I can think of one or two exceptions.

Adrian, I think the second poem doesn't work because the rhythm feels off. It doesn't seem true of the first one, so you wonder what made it so. My guess, without knowing anything at all about MacNiece is that it was too close to him and he needed to work it through further to make it sing.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Should I regret not having more regrets?

What I really wanted to tell Gerard is that almost everything that I have read that's worth reading (with the exception of Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Dr. Seuss) I did not read until after I got out of college. There is no reason to regret not having read or appreciated this, that or the other author. Indeed, every author one had not read is just one more author to look forward to reading.

In re "Carrickfergus," I don't know if the rhythm ever reaches that magical point where the poem attains a meaning almost independent of the words, but I sure do feel as if I can hear the speaker talking.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Re: Carrickfergus

Joan Baez sings a version of it, but the words are completely different. As with almost anything she does, it's beautiful (if you're a fan of soprano). It's on her "Bowery Songs" album, which was recorded live in 2004.

I know this because I happened to borrow that CD from my library today. Odd coincidence, that.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It appears that the song goes back to a much older poem, from the eighteenth century. Of course, Carrickfergus Castle had been around for six hundred years even then.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

RE my regrets, don't worry guys. I don't lie awake at night wishing I'd been more of a nerd at school. I just sometimes realise that we studied some fantastic stuff that I never really appreciated.

On the other hand, I appreciated all the Pratchett and (don't tell McKinty) King that I read back then.

From school, I remember more the John Keats, Wilfred Owen and Robert Frost stuff for some reason. I don't think it was some weird teenage anti-Irish thing or anything, as I remember Brian Friel's play Translations even more so. But then, I saw it performed twice in the year we studied it.

Actually, I kind of remember why the Frost sticks in my mind. My teacher used to take the piss out of his work something shocking, and he had a lot of scorn for those searching out the deeper meaning of choosing the road less travelled by. Plus he was on The Simpsons once.

Jeez, I'm going on. Blame my kids. They had me up at 6.30am on my day off.

Happy Paddy's day.

gb

gb

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have many years left to learn to appreciate it. One day you'll look back with suspicion on folks who claim to have appreciated all that great stuff when they were in school. Or else you'll be in awe of them.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day to you, too. As an American resident, I suppose I should take pride in this holiday, America's great gift to Ireland.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Yeah, thanks for the holiday, mate.

gb

March 17, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

No I only meant that the link didnt work for me. I love the poem. Its not my favourite Louis but I really like it. And if you know Carrick at all, it pretty much sums it up. My grandmother (mother's mother) was one of those mill girls BTW.

There's another poem, I forget the name of it, LM is remembering back to his childhood when his mother died which has these lines:

My mother wore a yellow dress, gently gentle gentleness.

When I was five the black dreams came, nothing was ever quite the same...

March 17, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linkmeister

Yeah the Baez song is a completely different derivation from the poem. As Peter says its Trad. Van Morrison also sings it and Charlotte Church and many others. Its a standard. In fact I heard a busker sing it this morning doing a twenty five song Irish medley. After Carrickfergus I had to give him a buck. The great thing about all those songs: Carrickfergus, Athenry, Molly Malone etc. is that you can sing them all with about six chords G A D C Em and barred F.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Yeah the Baez song is a completely different derivation from the poem. As Peter says its Trad. Van Morrison also sings it and Charlotte Church and many others. Its a standard. In fact I heard a busker sing it this morning doing a twenty five song Irish medley. After Carrickfergus I had to give him a buck. The great thing about all those songs: Carrickfergus, Athenry, Molly Malone etc. is that you can sing them all with about six chords G A D C Em and barred F."

As far as I can tell, most traditional Irish songs are easy to play and sing, with the notable exception of "Rocky Road to Dublin," with its tricky rhythm.

"Carrickfergus" is on a CD of Irish songs I have, but in a version by one of those guys with crystal-clear voices. I never liked voices like that.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Much obliged, Gerard. Enjoy it.

In fact, there's no reason to snigger at the idea that Saint Patrick's Day is American. It was started by a group of Irish Americans lonesome for the old country and to help their fellow in America, I think. In short, it's a quintessential American immigrant, and hence American, celebration.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Carrickfergus today has a lovely little seaside promenade down by the castle. The streets that slope upward from there still a bit of the feel of an old town. I didn't see any mills, salt mines or blind and halt, though. I didn't spend much time exploring the town. For me, it was train to castle to pub to train.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Move high enough on the neck and you could play the whole thing as barred chords, if those tabs are right.

I really do need to put my Rickenbacker up on eBay. It needs a better home.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Sorry to slam the Carrickfergus poem, Adrian. I looked at it again, and still don't catch the rhythm of it, but it's very evocative in its images. Maybe if I heard it spoken.

I do like the other two samples very much, though.

My St. Patrick's Day celebration so far--sitting in the laundromat, I hear some booming voiced white guy greet the Hispanic guy who works in the little store next door,'Happy New Year!' The Hispanic guy, understandably cofused, asks, 'Huh?' The other guy says 'It's Saint Patrick's day!' Hispanic guy "St. Patrick's Day?" "Yeah--it's a holiday, like Christmas." "Christmas?" "Yeah, but it's like a holiday for white people."

So much for cross-cultural exchange.

March 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that was a wonderful exchange. Ken Bruen could hardly have written a better.

Adrian could tell you about sides of Carrickfergus I've never seen, of course, since he grew up there and drank at all its pubs in one day, but the castle itself can induce reflection. Think of it: It was begun by a Norman, which meant its founder was really English, French or Nordic, depending on how one wants to look at it. And that Norman, John de Courcy, became something of a protector or guardian of Irish culture. Those Anglo-Normans, if I recall my bits of Irish history right, became the Old English of Ireland, as opposed to the later new English. So a building becomes an embodiment of a history that is more complicated than we semi- or less educated outsiders suppose.

It's an evocative site, especially when one looks out through the old slots through which archers or crossbowmen once fired, and sees a power station across the water.

March 18, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, those songs are simple enough to play even without bar chords. This comes in handy for indifferent players like me.

March 18, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Oh, I know. I was just bemused that it could be played without moving finger placement at all if one wanted to.

March 18, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hey, I like that. A song for frozen fingers.

March 18, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Oh I should add that Carrickfergus Council demolished the house were Louis MacNeice grew up, even though as a nineteenth century rectory it was a listed building, and built an old people's home on the spot.

This was two decades after demolishing the (admittedly ruined but still evocative) parsonage where Jonathan Swift lived and composed several works to build that brutalist power station.

March 18, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I remember someone railing on your blog against the destruction of Dean Swift's house. Is that power station the one visible from the turrets at Carrickfergus Castle? I'll tell you, it was quite something to imagine shooting at it.

March 18, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Second time Swift's come up for me today as a matter of fact. A small group of friends and I are undertaking to read Finnegans Wake together. For now we're going to a pub called The Poet and the Patriot, drinking Guinness, which the true Irishmen among us here would probably find fault with, but which tastes pretty good to me. As the plan stands, we'll each read a page and then puzzle over it together, with much help from a commentary or two.

We've been talking about doing this for a long time, and I was afraid my interest might have waned, come the day. But it was actually really fun. It might be the only way to do it that makes any sense.

Anyway, long story short, Swift does come up in the first few pages, although actually I'd be hard pressed to say who doesn't. I'll be sure to bring up his Carrickfergus connections if he makes a reappearance.

March 19, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That sounds like an entertaining way to read what is commonly regarded as a dense, impenetrable book.

I think I may once have met someone who claimed to have read it, but I didn't believe him. I probably will believe you if you make a similar claim.

March 19, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Well, as by our calculations the end of the book will be in about six years, I am not sure you will remember that you said that.

I have more faith that the group will finish it than that I myself will be here in the same place long enough to do so. But it will be nice to have made a beginning, in any case.

March 19, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Six years, you say? May I suggest Remembrance of Things Past as your next book and then some nonfiction for a change of pace. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, perhaps?

March 19, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

I know. It's one of the reasons I've been actively trying to recruit a few more warm bodies, so that if I do have to leave, I won't be dissolving some critical mass.

Still, the idea came from some group my friend heard about on NPR, who meet to discuss a single page of FW each time. They'd been meeting and reading for about ten years and were still not very far along, but didn't seem to mind. I mean, what would you do when you reached the end but start over anyway?

March 19, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Oh, yeah, and my v word is 'festic'

March 19, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You could go nuts and discuss two pages some time. But look: A great book seems just as good a way as a a knitting circle or a poker game to keep a grop together, so why not?

Festic might make a good Joycean portmanteau word, except its two apparent components are probably too close in tone: festive and fantastic.

If it embodies the highest forms of festive and spastic, could describe extreme St. Patrick's Day carousers, I suppose.

March 19, 2009  

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