Not long ago, in the company of Max u, I made my first ever trip to Ireland. As "literary tourists" we saw the standard highlights, stayed in a hotel near Trinity University, ate at restaurants that had mostly tourist customers and Eastern European waiters. I was deeply moved to see the place where "The Dead" was set while on the Hop On Hop Off Bus. I recently read a very interesting book by R. F. Foster,The Irish Story, Telling Tales and Making it up in Ireland, in which he devotes a lot of space to detailing how Ireland has been turned into a cultural amusement park to draw in foreign money from tourists wanting to feel they had seen something real. Ireland was portrayed as selling it's history to enrich, not the majority, but a narrow range of people. There are even famine villages you can visit for seven euros or so, or you can do the twenty minute tour of the Jameson Museum for twenty euros. The stores are full of Irish trinkets (made in China), you can pose in a Leprechaun outfit for a few euros. The only problem is this is not Ireland. The great, and it is great, literature of Ireland did not come from people who grew up in amusement park ready cottages, from people who were always pleasant to be around or who spoke with an exaggerated accent as a tour bus guide. They did not lead sanitized lives. They did not turn their faces from the Ireland not on the leprechaun trail. In my reading of Irish literature (I am just a reader, not a scholar at all) I am seeing in many of the short stories and novels I have read a conscious revolt against Irish romanticism, the vision of the idealized "happy" peasant yeoman working his little plot that Eamon de Valera wanted people to accept. Joyce knew the Irish Literary Renaissance represented by Yeats and Lady Gregory might produce works of great beauty drawn from a deep love of Ireland, as they saw it, but it would fail from the deep "snobbism" inherent in the movement and the selfish social values behind their thinking. I have spoken about Irish short story writers dealing with the "mean streets of Dublin or Galway". I see Irish literature as in the process of working out issues coming from the legacy of 100s of years of colonialism, from trying to escape from the self image the English imposed on them as undisciplined, irresponsible, heavy drinking clowns. I think back to what the father in Roddy Doyle's The Van said "The Irish are the niggers of Europe". A long time ago when i was young and thought i knew everything I came up with a bitter mantra, "When you live in shit, you learn to like it". Much of modern Irish literature is kind of saying the same thing, only much better. I am now starting in on modern Irish poetry, moving beyond Yeats.
Karl Parkinson's Litany of The City and Other Poem is almost a Leaves of Grass of the dark side of Dublin. There is to me a kind of deep paradox inherent in his works. There is a reveling in things most would turn their faces from, junkies, young girls giving blow jobs for heroin, natural geniuses on the dole, beer cans all over a filthy apartment in the projects expressed in what most see as the most elite literary form, the poem. The poems speak for those without their own voice. It takes a very cultivated person too truly focus on Karl's works, one whose life style and background will often make him a near tourist in the world of these poems. The literary roots of Parkinson, he refers to them, are Blake, Burroughs, Ginsburg,Whitman and Joyce. I can see Joyce in some of the "catalogues" in "Litany of the City". I can see Whitman nursing a 18 year old fatally injured Civil War soldier and knowing he will not last the night reading these works and feeling an almost paternal pride. Whitman also wishes he could have sex with the soldier before he dies. I see Blake rewriting "Litany of The City" as a prophecy book, I see Burroughs asking where the cheapest heroin can be found and I see Joyce taking it all in with a blink of his eye and wondering if it is ok to ask Ginsburg if he wants to talk through the night with him. I see Frieda howling. Jean Rhys stops by and thinks to herself, "there is real potential here". She'll stop back in twenty years.
Dublin is the star of many of these poems. One of the characteristics of Irish writers is the strong need of working out of their relationship to their past, much more than in other literatures. It is very important to define one self as Irish, as if it is an identity that must be asserted, not simply assumed as a birthright.
Parkinson is very much a poet of an urban world, he sings with total verisimilitude The Song of A City Boy. He includes interesting poems about bars in New York City and Rio de Janeiro. (I think the bar in Rio might be Help.). He likes to look at people and can see deeply into them. That is part of the love of pubs and bars in these poems. These poems do not judge, they see. They do not say near all they know.. These are in many way poems of close observation. Here in Manila there are vast garbage dumps, people live all their lives in them scavenging what they can. Most avoid seeing them, Parkinson could see the history of a country steeped in these dumps, see unspeakable cruelty and pain and the joys people use to escape knowing they will kill them. He would see how poverty fuels the drug business and makes somebody far away in a mansion rich, how it fills the hostess bars and the brothels. How it makes carrying an expensive cell phone an invitation to murder. The whip is in the grave.
I have said before, the Irish love death, not just in an abstract way. Most of the people in these poems are headed for an early grave. There are few old junkies. The Irish love oblivion,trances, mad geniuses you would be ill advised to loan a euro. Imagine Patrick Kavanuagn walking the streets of Dublin in rags. Imagine a woman on the Dole who has read all of Beckett and loves a drunken fool. The Irish do not take pride in ignorance. I know it is odious to generalize and my response to this is, oh well, show me how I am wrong and I will thank you.
I sort of think the shadow of James Joyce somehow blocks out "stupid" Irish writers but I don't have this theory fully worked out yet. I still think one of the dominant themes of Irish literature is that of the missing or weak father. Several of the very moving opening poems of the collection deal directly with this. I know a colonial reading of Irish literature is an "old" idea but so are the ideas of Blake and Whitman. You can see Orphic madness in 3000 year old near Eastern poems. I do not think the Irish writers of 2013 have anywhere near worked out these issues even though those more read in Irish literature have told me I am off in this. Just read Irish news online and you will see how betrayed the Irish are by their political fathers
I am very into the short stories of Desmond Hogan (I met Karl at a reading by Desmond) and I see in these poems a working out of the themes in Desmond's stories.
I am not all technically trained in poetry and I actually think this does not matter. When I read a poet, I ask myself can I stretch my life experiences through her or his work, do they know something I don't, do I like the way they use words, do their words ring with truth, have they read deeply some good books, are they not afraid of the ugly truths about themselves. In Parkinson's work, I would answer yes to each question.
I really liked Litany of The City and Other Poems. I read the full collection four times and the lead poem, five. I will read it more in the future. I hope to read other collections by Parkinson and completely endorse this collection.
Author supplied bio
Karl Parkinson’s work has been published in many magazines and journals, including The Stinging Fly. His chapbook A Sacrament Of Song was published in 2010 by Wurmpress and his first collection Litany Of The City & other Poems will be coming out soon from Wurmpress. He has been a featured reader/performer at The Electric Picnic, Glór sessions, Brown Bread Mix-tape and many more. In 2011 he was part of The Irish Rising poetry show in the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York city and in 2012 he performed at The March Hare Festival in Newfoundland, Canada. He won the Balcony TV award for the most entertaining video of the year in 2009. Leinster slam poetry winner 2010 and All-Ireland runner-up in 2011. He is one half of spoken word duo Droppin The Act(with Dave Lordan).
wurmimapfel.net/wurmpressfrom Wurm Press in 2013. Karl Parkinson. Litany of the City and other poems. Citychildren,. Eat my wordy tongue! Play me soft like a harp! Beat me like a drum!
Link to publisher page, has selections from the book. You can also hear Parkinson read his works via a Google Search.
There is a very interesting and thought provoking Q and A (ok I think so) on my blog in which you can read one of his poems.