“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.

  • Martin Mooney


    despite what others have said (now and again) it’s always reassuring to read these poetic (might even say ‘civilised’?) posts of yours.

    You and others who feel the same might be interested in a little-publicised event this Wednesday evening at Bookfinders Cafe in Belfast:

    It’s the Belfast launch of ‘The Echoing Years’, an anthology of Canadian and Irish poetry including francophone and Irish language poets. Some of the contributors will be on hand to read work from the anthology and to discuss the many connections between the two (or four, or more) literatures.

  • susan

    Pete, I was curious about Longley’s statement that the opposite of war is not peace but civilisation, and found in in context in this longer Longley interview in Five Points journal online:


    Thank you for the information on “Our Shared Japan.’ The list of contributors is very promising.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks Martin.

    I don’t think I’ll be able to attend, but I’ll post it above the fold and, hopefully, push some readers your way.


    That’s the context of the statement. But as the link in the original post suggests – “the damage to our society and our democracy may already be irreparable..”

  • susan


    If you and I are having an argument over the meaning of Longley’s words, you will have to supply a trail of (flotation) bread crumbs, I’ve swum out over my head. I looked up the interview seeking clarity.

  • Pete Baker


    No argument, I think. You’ve been spending too much time on that immigration thread ;o)

    The interview does set the context of the reference, and I’ve added the specific quote to the original post.

    But the link, here it is again, indicates that as a society we should be very careful about what customs – or, more specifically, what we allow to become customary – are set down as part of the Civilisation Process™

  • susan

    You are calling me a Stalinist!?!

    Only joking. Will look at the thread.

    Later. :o)

  • Pete Baker


    I’m probably making it sound more complicated than it actually is – wouldn’t be the first time.

    Longley identifies a process through which “a vocabulary of behavior” becomes accepted, by society, as a standard by which everyone operates.

    The question to be asked, as the linked thread hopefully points to, is what happens to a society in which behaviour is accepted which fundamentally undermines vital elements of society – such as accountability mechanisms and, in particular, the judicial system.

    The land of the blind, in other words.

  • susan

    Powersharing is
    Not what’s lost in translation
    Only what is left

    That’s a haiku, she added helpfully. Just not a good one. I’d try again but I think we’ll both hate me in the morning.

    Here’s a better one, from Michael Hartnett’s Inchicore Haiku:

    No. 45
    I’m stopped in the street
    A stranger tells me his sins.
    And he forgives me

    And lest you think Hartnett was referring to Eames/Bradley, here’s an interesting page from Hartnett’s official website — put together in memoriam by his son — you might like to read.