To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, June 12, 2020

Gerry Loose: from The Great Book of the Woods: “Palimpsests & Riddles” (after the Ogham)

[From the edition newly published by Xylem Books, an imprint of Corbel Stone Press, 2020.  See the author’s note, below, for more on Loose’s engagement with the ancient Ogham runes.]

Knockshanawee souterrain

a trick of the neck
is yew to pine

a trick of lungs
is pine to alder

a ruse of the voice track
is alder to yew

a trick of love
is brother to brother

a trick of darklight divine
is twin to twin

Knockshanawee souterrain riddle

it is cold
is there frost

there are thorns
are they pricking

there is a resolution
is it legion

there is clamour
is there silence

the wood is ancient
is it withered

there are crypts
is it an effort

Ballyknock short discourse

right to the marrow
flame & steel

elegant & forthright
oldest & coldest

felloe & tang
vanguard & bevy

pine & groan
swaddle & mass grave

Ballyknock riddle

sing us thorn
cleave us friend

not complaint
not rebuttal

soothe us horse
smooth us work

not effort
in soil

shelter us hind
sing us strength

flesh & grass

Ballyknock letters swimming

hazel & pine then oak
start with these

their twists & torques
sisters to birch

they are the red boast
of sibling women

calling & scolding
sparks from speckled fire

Ballyknock from the lungs

the ash field
the oldest energy

the path of the voice
iron rod of breath

the driving of slaves
a proverb of slaughter

one third wheel
one third weapon

begin your answer, pine
call your nut-marrow, hazel

Ballyknock riddle

what thorn
& who’s a friend of lesion

what work is smooth
& who helps geldings

what guards
& who spills

what is simplicity
& who delights in kine

what lives cold
& who cultivates plants

what pain
& who replies

Cloghane Carhane

was she a friend
women fight
here among the ivy
now I begin to see    lust
in the ivy
women fighting
bees swarming

now we’re all angry
should be
taking stock
minding cattle
was she a friend
thief of the grove of silence
drains blood
boils my blood
was she a friend

Cloghane Carhane
underneath his name

carpenter’s work

it starts to make sense
it starts to make sense
the most withered wood

the job in hand


the highest of bushes
the most decayed wood

it answers muster
the elm
the apple
forest & orchard
& the hazel


coltsfoot the apple that suckles
sun hoof the vine that strangles
sun horse the yew that sickens


    quick        gentle

    so hard to quell


the hind   the hunt



Church of the 3 Holy Brethren

little saint of whitethorn
little douser of wolf spark
welcome to the burial mounds

dear confessor of blood-red berries
sweet dweller of beehive cell
oaks make good gallow-trees

my heart

Church of the 3 Holy Brethren

bees have their own pollen auguries

there are thirteen

of blanching night

of swarming death

of chilling earth

of propagating plants

of lustrous herb

of the infirmity of tone

& six contained

in the thicket of letters

author’s note.  Ogham is a rune-like script of the early Irish language found on standing stones made between the 4th and 8th centuries CE. It comprises strokes across or to either side of a central stem line. Each stroke now represents a letter of the Gaelic Beith-luis-nin ‘alphabet’. It is found on monoliths mainly in Ireland, with some in Scotland, and some dual-text ogham/Latin stones in Wales. There are also inscriptions other than the monolithic – on tools or in caves – but these are rare. 

There are numerous myths concerning the script’s origins: that it was invented to keep secrets from the Roman conquerors of nearby Britain; that it was similarly invented to keep secrets from the lands that Ireland was later to annexe as Dal Riada (the islands and mainland of western Scotland); that it was invented by an obscure 4th century CE Christian sect. It is also said in some quarters that it was handed down by, or named for, Ogmos, the Celtic god of eloquence.

There are many methods of interpreting ogham. The script itself is steeped in the secrecy of the literate over the non-literate. It is therefore always regarded as the property of the high poets, the early medieval fili of Ireland, who would spend many years memorising up to fifty ways of reading or deciphering it. The poetic possibilities are therefore manifold.
. . . . . . .

The poems here are therefore versions, creative re-inventions and co-creations, made with other poets and translators who lived from the 4th to the 14th centuries CE.

[N.B. Much more of this commentary is included in Loose’s very useful introduction to his book, and additional excerpts can be found elsewhere on Poems and Poetics. (j.r.)]

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