POETRY

poems of the month

fish

vagabondage

measuring my face

ostracism

old clothes

modern iranian poems

my hero

face at the bottom of the world

perhaps (maybe)

the diogenes sequence

where to store furs

i am and am not:
      fragments of rumi

destiny and destination

the zen of no-enlightenment

the iraqi monologues

already backwards

a light in ruins

separate amputations

the sexy jihad

awaiting the barbarians

the smell of possibilities

ultimate leaves

rejoice in the dog

post-millennium maggot

the book of nothing

confession from belgrade

dispatches from the war against the world

albanian poems

french poems in honour of jean genet

the hells going on

the joy of suicide

book disease

foreground trouble

the transcendental hotel

cinema of the blind

lament of the earth mother

uranian poems

haikai by okami

haikai on the edge

black hole of your heart

jung's motel

leda and the swan

gloss on rilke's ninth duino elegy

jewels and shit:
poems by rimbaud

villon's dialogue with his heart

vasko popa: a shepherd of wolves ?

the rubáiyát of
omar khayyám

genrikh sapgir:
an ironic mystic

the love of pierre de ronsard

imagepoem

 

TRANSLATIONS

 

BETWEEN POETRY AND PROSE

the maxims of michel de montaigne

400
revolutionary maxims

nice men and
suicide of an alien

anti-fairy tales

the most terrible event in history

the rich man and the leper

disgusting

art, truth and bafflement

 

SHORT STORIES

godpieces

the three bears

three albanian tales

odorous underwear

a little creation story

 

ESSAYS & MEMOIRS

a curious and peculiar
kind of queer

the ivory palace

helen's tower

extortion through e-bay

schopenhauer for muthafuckas

are doctors autistic ?

single track in the snow

never a pygmy

against money

did franco die ?

'original sin' followed by
crippled consciousness

a gay man's guide to soft-willy sex

the holosensual alternative

tiger wine

the death of poetry

the absinthe drinker

with mrs dalloway in ukraine

love  and  hell

running on emptiness

a holocaust near you

happiness

londons of the mind &
dealing death to the caspian

genocide

a muezzin from the tower of darkness

kegan and kagan

a holy dog and a
dog-headed saint

an albanian ikon

being or television

satan in the groin

womb of half-fogged mirrors

tourism and terrorism

diogenes
the dog from sinope

shoplifting

this sorry scheme of things

the bektashi dervishes

combatting normality

fools for nothingness:
atheists & saints

death of a bestseller

vacuum of desire: a homo-erotic correspondence

a note on beards

translation and the oulipo

the visit

towards the zen of sex

 

PHOTOGRAPHS

prelude

metamorphotos NEW LINK

 

MUSIC

tombeau de kurt schwitters

three movements of melting ice

 

MY PAINTINGS


 

WHERE I COULD ONCE HAVE LIVED



Back in 1971 my lovely, slightly-silly, rescued German Shepherd dog earned the disfavour of the Earl of Caledon - whose Head Gamekeeper's house I rented, in the south of the county Tyrone, close to the Irish Border at the beginning of the recent minor "Troubles" - by running over some of his thousands of tree-seedlings. I had to move, even though I had made a wonderful spinach soufflé for the Countess in her spacious kitchen, from a recipe by Elizabeth David, whom I had only recently discovered. It was the only soufflé I have ever made, apart from soufflé omelettes which can be whipped up easily by any fool.

I sent off several letters to various landed gentry north and south of the Border. One of three favourable replies was from Clandeboye, seat (name a corruption of Clann Aodha Buí - The Flaxen-Hugh O'Neill Clan) of the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (neither an O'Neill, nor Irish), a short distance east of Belfast.

The residence he offered was Helen's Tower, a kind of literary folly in a forest, built for Helen Selina Blackwood in 1861 to a design by a certain William Burn, in stolid Scottish Baronial style (the dashing and virile First Marquess was no King Ludwig II) and celebrated by both Browning and Tennyson. The latter composed these lines:

Helen's Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes

In earth’s recurring Paradise.


The tower is built of county Antrim basalt, not granite.


I was invited to lunch - not at The Tower, but at the pleasant Georgian-Victorian pile which may or may not have been the Marquess' main residence. I can't remember how I got there - possibly by Lambretta Scooter...or was it a Honda C90 ? ...I have always had a poor memory for events in my life...but certainly I did not get there by bus.

I was received at the impressive front door, brought up a fine staircase, and shown into a drawing-room by an impressive and impassive Jeevesish butler. I sat there alone for a while, until I saw a slender, almost elfin figure gesticulating at the French window. It then disappeared. A minute or two later the same figure, the very Marquess himself, arrived in the room. He had hoped to come in by the glass doors, but found that they were locked.


Part of my begging spiel to the landed gentry was that I was a poet and painter, as well as a keen gardener and lover of trees. After the informal armchair lunch (of fish, I definitely remember, served impeccably by the impressive butler with obligatory napkin) the sprightly Marquess took me out to view some of his impressive trees - one of them a giant beech which had produced another huge beech-tree by an above-ground runner, in other words, a low branch which had taken root. The parkland surrounding the house was splendid.

In a Land-Rover along a muddy track we then went to the Tower. It was built in imitation not so much of the 15th century tower houses which are found all around the coasts of Ireland (and called 'castles' in that culturally-deprived island) as of the more elaborate Scottish Border tower-houses or keeps, which often have turrets, sometimes in quantity, as at Glamis. In vertico - one room in top of another - with, I seem to remember, the kitchen (no electricity, no piped water) at the bottom, a splendid viewing terrace on the top, and in between a bed/sitting room and a beautiful little poetic library which still had its books - were linked by a winding stone stair. It seemed smaller to me then than is suggested in the pictures above, more like a cramped Thoor Ballylee (which I had visited two years previously on my Lambretta scooter) than the tower at Duino.

I would have been very lonely and isolated, unless I (socially and sexually naive) had been 'taken up' by the Marquess - of whom and whose world I knew nothing. That would have been unlikely, for I have always tended to be befriended - and have been patronised - by women, not men. Except in prison.

Lamentably corrupted by electricity and running water, and alarmed at the muddiness of the track, I declined the offer of leasehold on the monument - in competitive imitation of which the next-door jumped-up aristocracy, the Vane-Tempest-Stewarts, holders of the Marquesate of Londonderry (pronounced always without stress on the 'derry' bit, which means 'oakwood') built a tower on Scrabo Hill at the head of Strangford Lough (alias Loch Cuan) which can be seen for miles - and possibly from the nearby Mull of Galloway on a day of exceptional visibility.

The last Marquess of Lond'nd'ry had famous social occasions in county Down in the 1930s, to at least one of which the Nazi Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop, was invited. I have to this day some of the specially designed, turquoise-glazed square bonzai pots which once graced the now abandoned and half-destroyed, tide-rinsed art-déco swimming-pool at Mount Stewart, an estate mis-managed in perpetuity by The National Trust. The Marquess was not only a keen aviator and perhaps fondler of fascists, but was the first Minister of Education for the statelet of Northern Ireland, in which post he failed to stop the Catholic population from setting up its own separate schools which were defiantly not 'godless' like the official, secular schools, the Queen's University of Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin, but were faithfully, child-molestingly Catholic - and did not admit Protestants. This voluntary apartheid was one of the main reasons for Northern Ireland's little "Troubles" which now pale into insignificance beside the woes of Bosnia, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Syria, but were much easier to 'cover' by journalists, especially French journalists who were not able to report on similar bombish unrest in Corsica, an island which contains two whole départements of France (numbers 20A and 20B, if, like me, you read car number-plates!).

But I digress.
Where was I ?

But an even greater reason for declining Helen's Tower was that I was offered a Head Gardener's house 80 kms away on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, in the middle of a wooded and deer-filled estate owned by the Earl of Caledon - plus a small wage for helping to restore the old walled vegetable gardens. I had no income at the time. This very beautiful house had many rooms, electricity and running hot and cold water, so the attractiveness of Helen's Tower was greatly diminished.

read more about Caledon here >


I was not aware at the time of my homosexual proclivities. Despite much fumbling and futtering and squirty phallic experiment at my minor Public School a few miles up the road from Helen's Tower (where the misunderstood Sam Beckett failed to be a suitable teacher for a term), I was not particularly attracted to men. Indeed, I was still 'getting over' the end of a heterosexual romantic love affair in Copenhagen and the Baltic outpost of Christiansø. How I got there is another tortuous tale. (Ask me sometime, and I'll tell you, so.)

My impressive beloved (much, much more mature than I, though only a couple of years older - but that's Northern Ireland for you!) switched her attentions to my recent friend, frustrated and also from Belfast, with whom I was somewhat and inexplicably infatuated, and whom I had encouraged to leave depressing Belfast for gloriously heterosexual early-sixties Copenhagen (before the hippies arrived). I was broken-hearted for at least ten years, and eventually found great consolation in dogs, though my dog-affairs, too, all ended in tragedy. But that's another story, and perhaps I'll get round to recounting the energy and wisdom I received from canine deities - all 'rescue dogs', of course.

So it was that I did not realise (as I would now, immediately) that the elfin Marquess was not just sexy in a willowy way, but 'gay' (a word which at the time I, mercifully, did not know) in a troubled statelet where homosexuality was a crime frequently punished by the courts. It was not for another 15 years that Northern Ireland de-criminalised intimate carnal relations between human beings of the same sex (which for most people crudely means anal penetration, a practice which I regard as coarse and inelegant at the very least), and even longer before the Irish Republic, a sad and often brutal state apparently ruled by the Christian Brothers, Opus Dei, and the Irish College in the Vatican (would you ever guess that I was brought up a Protestant in East Belfast ?) - which, nevertheless, has never joined NATO - relaxed its prohibition.

I subscribe to the Jungian idea that each of us has our own fairy-tale which in some way describes us. The execrable poetry-translator Robert Bly has celebrated the masculine significance (for him) of The Iron Man. Mine is La Belle au Bois Dormant, or Sleeping Beauty - despite my preference for Swan Lake as a musical entertainment. In other words, I am a Late Developer, and need constantly to be nudged into awareness - even by a kiss - even by a kiss from a dog. My homo-erotic awareness was not awoken for another ten years - by a kiss from a handsome bearded dancer whom I met in the cramped toilets of the Beaubourg (Centre Pompidou) in Paris. This was despite giving shelter for seven years to a man who was incapable of arousing sexual excitement - let alone awareness - in me, and yet who was obviously in love with me and had abandoned his wife and son to live with me in the damp cottage (on the estate of the Marquess of Lond'nd'ry) which I moved to after foolishly declining Helen's Tower. After my Parisian lavatory-epiphany, that man (who had great qualities, but not the quality of teacher that I so admire in dogs and so rarely find in humans) found another male to serve, and eventually died from complications arising from Motor Neurone Disease. The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava died from 'an AIDS-related illness'.

Had I accepted his romantic and muddily-remote tower only a few miles from Belfast, my life might have been dramatically different. I would surely have met the late royal Princess Margaret (big deal!) at one of the glittering soirées in his London residence, and perhaps a beautiful and rich lover who would have kept me, for a time, in the unflamboyant and unpenny-pinching elegance to which I am naturally attuned, but for which I have never had the lolly (to use a term favoured by the then Earl of Caledon), being a born Unemployable. I would not have gone off to fail to live with the Pygmies north and west of the vast Likouala Swamp in the People's Republic of the Congo. I would not have learned an enormous amount about trees and shrubs from my wanderings around the Mount Stewart estate, and my plant exchanges with the Botanical Gardens in Dublin, my visit to Fota Gardens before they passed to Cork County Council, and afternoon tea with Lord Talbot de Malahide before his death and the passing of his splendid gardens to the Irish State as Malahide Demesne Regional Park). I would not have spent three months in Belfast's Crumlin Road gaol (which now has guided tours) for shoplifting groceries and household goods - which short sentence was another awakening nudge.

I would not be typing this on my Samsung laptop in the little study of my little half-timbered house (not unlike Helen's Tower in being basically four rooms one on top of another) in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, an unfortunately-trendy village celebrated in a banal and costly American movie with the title of The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Having soon rejected the tawdry life of London's artistic glitterati, I might have composed The Clandeboye Sonnets. I might have bumped into Francis Bacon and in that desperate ambiance might have died - in luxury, or in squalor - of "an AIDS-related illness".


Helen's Tower has been renovated and is now rentable by the weekend
from The Irish Landmark Trust.

 

 


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