At Verona 2

Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_-_St_Jacobus_in_Budapest

St. Iago Matamoros, before he got into brewing stout.

Wilde thing; by Donal Clancy

No Verona, nor Reading this Gaol.
Not of my body, but of my soul
this bleak house a prison makes,
and echoes with my futile pleas.

How steep the stairs within this house are
for unwanted feet as mine to tread,
and oh how silent and bitter is the bread
which is broken on this marital table, better far
that I remained on flat greens,
or bare my head to St. James’s gate
than to live thus, ignored by all but those
that seek the freedom of my soul to mar.

‘Curse love and leave: what better hope than this?
She has forgotten me in all the focus
of her self-pity, and faded looks’–
Nay peace: behind my prison’s blinded bars
I do possess what none can take away,
My love, and all the memories of how we were.

Official Executioner

Rillington

Albert Pierrepoint born on this day in 1905.  His father and his uncle were executioners, part time hangmen.  As a child Albert wrote in a school exercise “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner”.  He achieved his goal.

He began his career as executioner in Dublin.  He was assistant executioner to his uncle in the Hanging of Patrick McDermott in Mountjoy Gaol in 1932.

In the course of his career he hanged over 400 people.  His total was boosted by the war.  Pierrepoint carried out the executions of 200 war criminals in Germany between 1945 and 1950.

William Joyce (lord Haw Haw) the Irish born Nazi propagandist was one of his “customers”.  Pierrepoint also had the distinction to hang both the wrongly convicted  Timothy Evans and the rightly convicted serial killer John Christie for the murder of Evans wife in an illegal abortion.  The events were portrayed in the film “10 Rillington Place”

Pierrepoint also hanged the last man to be executed in Ireland, Michael Manning (1954) and the last woman to be hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis (1955).  He resigned in 1956.  The British Home Office asked him to reconsider as he was the “most efficient and swiftest executioner in British history”.

Despite working as a hangman for over 20 years Pierrepoint observed that hanging was not a deterrent.

And now some selected verses from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by prisoner C33, the pen name adopted by Oscar Wilde after his release from prison.

I

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

II

The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer’s collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

IV

There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God’s sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man’s face was white with fear,
And that man’s face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.

Happy Birthday Clifton Snider

Clifton

The best poetry is painful.  In many cases it carves open the poet, exposing their deepest insecurities to the world.  In certain cases it carves open society and exposes the rot at the core.  When poetry does this it becomes political.

When the Nationalists murdered Federico Garcia Lorca in the Spanish Civil War they said his pen was worth a regiment.  Brendan Kennelly in his Cromwell poems brutally illustrates that violence is perpetrated on all sides in conflict, and rejects the attempt by any one side to airbrush out it’s hand in the bloodletting.

Clifton Snider approached poetry through the lens of Jungian psychology.  In this regard I share an appreciation of his journey as it mirrors my own in some respects.  Snider is an academic who challenges conformity.

He took the US administration to task over the war in Iraq, setting up his own anti-war page. A Poet Against the War

He has been targeted by the Right in the USA for his criticism of the military led, profit oriented approach to US Foreign Policy.  His life has been placed in danger by the right.  When an ultra right wing mouthpiece denounces an academic they are aware that there is a legion of stupid white men out there, wrapped in the US flag and armed with assault rifles who are happy to pull the trigger on any clearly marked target.

An academic who specializes in psychological decoding of the works of Oscar Wilde : duck in a barrel.

But Snider is a fighter.  His poems are not shy retiring allusions or hidden allegories.  They are full frontal attacks, and he names the beast!  I doubt you will hear his poetry read on Prairie Chapel Ranch down there in Texas.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: by Clifton Snider

The woman with a scarf
at the food stand
asked for an ounce of flour:
she had three children
and a little water.

The American leader
squinted, eyes like oil pools.
He shot her point blank
in the temple.

His secretary of state
lopped off the arms & legs
of a soldier, pressed into service
by the sword of antiquity.

The minister of defense
ordered smart bombs to explode
the brains of a man in turban
old enough to remember
the American president
who provided his people arms
to fight their neighbor.

Happy Birthday George Bernard Shaw

george_bernard_shaw_2

Born in Synge Street, Portobello, Dublin on this day in 1856 Bernard Shaw makes it onto my page more as a playwright as he was not really a poet.  I know of only one poem that he wrote and that is satirical.  in 1924 and 1925 a writer by the name of Herbert Langford Reed published two anthologies of Limericks.

Langford took a poetic form that was widely employed to tell rude jokes with sexual innuendo and cleaned it up for publication.  The result is a lot of sanitized and frankly unremarkable pieces of doggerel.  Shaw’s limerick is the perfect critique of the work of Langford Reed.

Shaw himself is rightly seen as a giant of the literature world.  How many writers get their own adjective?  When you describe something in the manner of Bernard Shaw you call it “Shavian”.  It may also be employed as a noun to identify a fan of Shaw.

A prolific writer of brilliant, intelligent and witty drama, rightly a Nobel Laureate.  Shaw was less successful with his pursuit of the 20th Century novel and turned down opportunities to pen librettos for opera with Elgar.  He was a friend of the Irish Literary Revival, a member of the Protestant ascendancy, albeit at the poorer end, he connected with William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Russell, James Joyce and was friend and inspiration to Sean O’Casey who became a playwright after seeing “John Bull’s Other Island” the play that made Edward VII laugh so hard he broke his chair.

When John Millington Synge passed away Yeats and Lady Gregory offered the post as director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to Shaw, but he declined.

Although he never returned to live here he maintained his links with Ireland throughout his life and in his will he bequeathed the rights of several of his plays to the National Art Gallery in Dublin.  One of the plays, Pygmalion, was given a musical overhaul by Lerner and Loewe in 1956 and became the smash hit musical “My Fair Lady” making the art gallery wealthy in the process.

Contemporary with Oscar Wilde and both leading lights on the London theatre scene at the very height of its prominence.  Shaw was the later arrival, Wilde already a celebrated star before Shaw emerged on the scene.  It is said that Shaw admired all Wilde’s work until “The Importance of Being Ernest” which he detested.

Shaw was a mixed bag.  For all you find to love in him you will find plenty to dislike.  He was a eugenicist, an anti-vaxxer, he admired aspects of fascism and Hitler, met Stalin and described him as a Georgian Gentleman, was opposed to anti-semetism and his views on religion and spirituality are confusing, conflicting and contradictory.  His sexuality is a matter for debate, he was painfully shy and celibate until age 29 and did not marry until age 42 to a woman of his own age.

 

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse: by George Bernard Shaw

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse,
From being taken away in a hearse.
He made it so clean
Now it’s fit for a queen,
Re-established for better or worse.