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Atlantic Currents and the Poetry of Alex Hayes

Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell, brings together sixty-five writers from both sides of the Atlantic, featuring a collection of stories, poems, essays, songs, and parts of novels. This January, Trasna features selected writings from this 2020 anthology. Featured this week, the poetry of Alex Hayes.

 

FR8879, 42

(Warsaw to Shannon)

 

We’re leaving the sea of clouds behind now,

Suspended and frozen amidst the blue,

I looked for you in my chest and for all

those years saw nothing but mirrors and those familiar, youthful eyes staring back.

 

Soon I’ll be home, and you still five years dead,

Slowly rotting, embalmed with unsaid words.

 

You were more alive in this last week than

in sixteen years past, shrouded in shadow,

Forever more mystery than mother.

 

The glass within is shattered now,

I finally feel the pain,

You’ve shown me the bleeding never stopped,

You did not die in vain.

 

 

Mingled Red

I have hung my heart on your window pane

and watched the curtains billow in the wind,

Neither of us knew what it would contain,

Yet when you learned, you never did rescind

that surety of grip that keeps my heart

balanced, level beside open window,

The maintenance of balance is an art,

While oblivion hungers from below,

And the weight of shrapnel lodged in my flesh

threatens to cast my heart into the dark,

And jagged metal tears your palms afresh,

And the mingled red of our wounds, so stark…

 

I marvel at you and I keep the faith,

You will not fail come fire, come storm, come wraith.

 

 

Lacuna

The gentle arcing of her back

envelopes the cradle in shadow,

Tender gurgling, furtive laughter

which reverberates around the room

until it rips the roof away

and bathes the figures in cloudless sky.

 

Her wide smile buttressed by nine months

of terror and anticipation,

A patchwork cat of childhoods past

stitched together with crystalline twine

teeters smugly from the gable

mewling warnings as it is able.

 

She cannot hear them, nor can he

so absorbed are they by ritual,

He reaches for the thousandth time

for the polished marble of her face

abraded by a thousand nights

of visitation to this lost place.

 

The cat explodes in a shower

of leaves edged in golden filigree

that whirl above the silent pair

in a shimmering cyclone of air

composed of atoms unreal

and existing purely in darkness.

The man awoke to the rustling of leaves

falling gently from the eaves

of the house that he shared only with ghosts.

 

 

Alex Hayes is a writer whose work deals with the intersection of technology, alienation, and meaning in modern life.

He was awarded University College Cork’s Patricia Coughlan award for his writing in 2017.   Whilst studying at UCC, he attained first class honours in English and Philosophy.

He lives in Waterford with his fiancée Tina and their perennially bratty cat Luna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountain

Perched, gleaming, upon a precipice,

Home to colonies of lichen,

The glass mountain defies elements,

Chipped and tarnished, but it remains whole.

 

The people that made their lives here

at the foot of this shining peak,

Have let the detritus of ages

calcify around their culture,

Forgetting the days when mountains walked.

 

In time they prayed to the mountain,

To purge the malady from their hearts,

So they could meet each other’s gaze,

Feigning reassurance of good health,

But the mountain could not hear them.

 

They remained marooned in their own minds,

Fumbling with symbols and noises

in futile attempts to pierce the eyes,

Wishing to be as transparent

as the enormity they worshipped.

 

The people of the mountain fractured

steadily across tribal lines,

And broke each other before their God

to wash away silence with blood.

 

 

Silence prevailed, as it always has.

 

When their thirst for war had been sated

and the time for them to heal had come,

They turned their backs on the mountain,

Proclaiming it to be mere glass,

and so they lost their sense of scale,

Casting their eyes down into the dirt.

 

Then the mountain moved; the giant awoke,

It obliterated their history

with a single step.

 

The oblivious titan lurched forward,

Inscrutable in motive, meaning, form,

Until by capriciousness or design,

It keels over and rends the earth apart,

To slumber again,

Be worshipped again,

And teach again the lesson of scale.

 

 

 

Norman Mailer Remembered

Norman Mailer Remembered

By David Daniel

A while back, in one of my classes, I mentioned Norman Mailer. Several students chorused:  “Who’s Norman Mailer?”  Which surprised me. This is a class at the state university. I thought for a moment, and said, “He’s a thinking man’s Bukowski.” This got nods. Like a lot of their generation, the students know Bukowski.  But not Mailer.

And yet, in a real sense, Mailer made Bukowski possible; or at least paved the way for Bukowski to write whatever he pleased, and Bukowski pleased plenty.  But free, uncensored literary expression was not always an option for writers.

In the late 1940s, when Mailer was finishing his first novel, the epic naturalistic saga of World War Two, The Naked and the Dead, his editors were emphatic in forbidding him to drop the F bomb in its pages. Mailer argued that he was writing “about soldiers and combat and war and that the real obscenity isn’t language it’s . . .” and so on. But that fell on deaf ears: so, he coined the word “fug” to fill the gaps, and the guardians of decency allowed it to pass.

Mailer tells of having decided at the end of his 16th year, during his first semester at Harvard, that he wanted to make the Big Time, to become, in his words, “a major writer.”

And indeed, this became the overarching ambition (some would say the extravagant megalomania) that was the driving wheel of a career that spanned six decades.

Beginning with short stories at college, then on to The Naked and the Dead, Barbary Shore and The Deer Park, Mailer became the keeper of an ever-expanding vision. He was a man on a quest, which, as he declared in his 1959 book Advertisements for Myself, had become nothing less than seeking to foment “a revolution in the consciousness” of his times.

Mailer found himself toiling in the same monochromatic world of 1950s America that Jack Kerouac lived in. However, whereas Kerouac’s path took him on the road, Mailer, a precocious son of the Jersey Shore and Brooklyn, chose more or less to stay put in the belly of the beast, home to Madison Ave and the corporate mass media, and duke it out there.

Of Kerouac, whom he met and liked, Mailer wrote: “His literary energy is enormous, and he had enough of a wild eye to go along with his instincts and become the first figure of a new generation. His love of language had an ecstatic flux. To judge his worth, it is better to forget about him as a novelist and instead see him as an action painter or a bard.”

A pretty astute comment, still. I love Kerouac and regard him as a great artist, but frankly I’ve never considered him much of a fictionist per se, nor, for that matter, Mailer, either.

Mailer did go on to grab some brass rings—the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize twice—and tells a humorous story of having mistakenly thought he was tapped for the Nobel one year (instead it was French writer Andre Malraux, who was being considered, though didn’t win). However, it wasn’t Mailer’s novels which won the awards. The books were The Armies of the Night his engrossing account of a 1967 anti-war march on the Pentagon, and, later, The Executioner’s Song, a tale of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore. Despite what one chooses to call these efforts, they were (like Kerouac’s books) essentially non-fiction narratives into which Mailer had injected his iconic persona, thereby helping create what came to be called the “New Journalism.”

But I’m not going to quibble about labels; at his best, Norman Mailer was a brilliant and original wordsmith, and even when he was not at his best and just earning a paycheck to help deal with the spiraling alimony costs of the serial wedding groom—(he was married 6 times and had 9 children) he wrote riveting, breath-catching, thought-provoking prose.

His list of works is long: The White Negro; An American Dream; Miami and the Siege of Chicago; Of a Fire on the Moon; A Prisoner of Sex; Why Are We in Vietnam?. As well as psycho-biographies of figures as diverse as Marilyn Monroe, Picasso, Lee Harvey Oswald—even Jesus. And big, late career books like Ancient Evenings and Harlot’s Ghost and Castle in the Forest, (in which he returned to something more closely resembling fiction, though, in my view, not effectively). Generally, he managed, by turns, to engage and enrage and stir the pot.

Every bit as controversial as Mailer on the page was Mailer on the public stage, where he met expectations: pugnacious, challenging, funny, larger than life (though physically diminutive), and frequently brilliant in his talk. Even when his ideas strayed far beyond plausibility—his 1970’s proclamation, for instance, that good orgasms make good babies—he was nonetheless interesting.

Any writer needs a window from which to look upon the world, be it small (as is the case, necessarily, of most writers working today) or large (as was true of 19th Century giants like Tolstoy, Dickens, Melville). Of his mid-20th century contemporaries, Mailer came closest to this latter category. He wrote of a life lived on a broad scale. So, Norman Mailer, 1923–2007—Rest in Peace. We shan’t see your like again anytime soon.

Back to Bukowski for a moment, and my students’ comment. I like Bukowski, too.  He’s a true original; love him or hate him, when he was on his game, he can get you to feel something, to react.

Mailer, when he was good, he got you to feel and to think. And for a writer, that’s the Big Time, baby.

*****

Note: Norman Mailer would have been 98 this week. Born on January 31, 1923, in Long Branch, New Jersey. He studied at Harvard and served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946. He died in 2007, at the age of 84. His euphemism for the “f” word later found use by the satirical underground band of the same name.

Covid Images

Original artwork from Chath pierSath

Boston Children’s Chorus celebrates us all by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

We’re all pretty Zoomed out these days, but consider saving Sunday, January 17 at 4 p.m. for the Boston Children’s Chorus’ 18th annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year’s concert is “On the Water” and is not be be missed. Once dubbed the “Ambassadors of Harmony,” the Boston Children’s Chorus’ mission is needed now more than ever as we all come to grips with the long-overdue challenge of achieving racial harmony and social justice. These special MLK concerts are always rousing performances, feel-good occasions that stir the spirit and renew one’s awareness and commitments to get out of our bubbles and work harder to realize the promises of democracy.

The chorus was the brainchild of longtime civic activist Hubie Jones, who for 60 years has conceived and implemented initiatives on behalf of under-served children and youth in Boston. Initiating or reorganizing dozens of organizations and developing talent among young people of color, Hubie has helped shape the social justice landscape in this city and beyond.

Back in October of 2002, he was moved at the dedication of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge when he saw people of every race, religion, age, national origin, way of life, come together in tribute to a man who had dedicated his short life to civil rights and fighting injustice. Hubie (full disclosure: my Five on Five program colleague and dear friend) wanted to go further. He wanted to use music to bring children from different backgrounds together to further the cause of strengthening the social fabric. The very next year, the Boston Children’s Chorus was born, learning much from more established children’s choruses in New York and Chicago.

Starting with just 20 children from around Boston and its suburbs, the BCC now includes more than 400 singers in different concert groupings and performs some 50 concerts a year. Their venues have ranged from Boston Symphony Hall to the Sydney, Australia Opera House. Three hundred Greater Boston children will be heard next Sunday and, as with the rest of life these days, will be heard digitally. Singing from their own homes, they will be joined by Massachusetts-born opera star Andrea Baker. Their songs will be woven together by spoken word and historical context, with other videos filmed at sites across the globe and hosted in BCC’s South Boston Headquarters.

Four hundred one years ago, the first slave-bearing ship, the White Lion, arrived in North America, and thus began centuries of injustice borne by Black Americans, the significant residue of that shameful history enduring today. The BCC concert draws on a rich artistic history and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr with music that draws us all into the African-American experience. To register, click here. I guarantee it will touch your soul.

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