“a celebration of outside influence”

I missed the news of the 11 October launch of a new anthology of contemporary Irish poetry (both in English and in Irish) – Our Shared Japan – as mentioned on the Dedalus Press blog. It’s been published to mark the 50th year of Ireland’s and Japan’s establishment of diplomatic relations.

Today’s Guardian prints Seamus Heaney’s afterword from the anthology where he considers the outside influence of poetry on poetry and points to some similarities from the past.. although I’d suggest it’s a similarity common among Archipelagic writers. He also provides, perhaps unintentionally, an alternative view of that which we are being put through.

“Another quality which the Old Irish poet shares with his Japanese counterpart is a quality we might call “this worldness” – both are as alert as hunters to their physical surroundings – and yet there is also a strong sense of another world within this “this worldness”, one to which poetic expression promises access.

“In each case, it’s as if the poet is caught between the delights of the contingent and the invitations of the transcendent, yet by registering as precisely and poignantly as possible his consciousness of this middle state he manages to effect what Matthew Arnold would have called “a criticism of life”.

So you could argue that there is a direct line running from the startle of recognition in the work of the early Christian hermit as he renders the whole strangeness of the blackbird’s song to the “tinkle of china / And tea into china” as Derek Mahon contrasts the exquisite manners of those attending the snow party (in his poem of that name) with the savagery of contemporary European wars, including those being waged in Ireland “in the service of barbarous kings”.

Mahon’s poem, one of the most durable written in the late 20th century, constitutes in effect a proof of the contention by his friend Michael Longley – that other Hiberno-Japanese master – that the opposite of war is not peace but civilisation.”

Adds Thanks to Susan, in the comments zone below, here is Michael Longley in an interview in 2003 talking, among other things, about “the opposite of war”.

Longley: It’s how we interact with one another, civilization. On the one hand, I’m interested in how we avoid tearing one another to pieces. Peace is not that, peace is the absence of that, peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization. Civilization is custom and manners and ceremony, the things that Yeats says in “A Prayer for My Daughter.” We have a vocabulary of how to deal with one another and how to behave, a vocabulary of behavior, as well as things to say to one another . . . and out of that come laws and agreed ways of doing things . . . and that in daily life are a bit like form in poetry.

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