Activist Journal: Ireland and Germany Extraction, 2015-16

By | 1 November 2016

14/11/2015 Rosewood

Been inside all day due to weather. We are all in shock and traumatised by the horrendous attacks in Paris last night. How to talk and think and write about it? Our only avenues of coping. Will get outside tomorrow whatever the weather – need the air and the release.

28/11/2015 Rosewood

Tracy and Tim are downstairs reading Jane Eyre aloud. They are about halfway through. We will see a National Theatre production of Jane Eyre in London (the slow journey to Cambridge/London and back) on the 28th of December.


Wet day. Forgot to mention yesterday’s superb sunset. We watched it from behind Mt Gabriel as it orange-lit and conflated the edges of the hills and mountains. It burnished the eastern side of Barnancleeve Gap an amber-orange. Unforgettable.


Did a very wet walk up Ardmanagh and along the mountain loop. A small dog barked at me from behind a ditch and as I walked – ignoring it so as not to draw it out onto the roads – I heard the tell-tale pitter-patter of a following dog. I looked around and it stood and pricked up its ears and tilted its head and gave me that ‘you’re who I am befriending’ look other walkers are likely familiar with. I knew then it would persist in following me. A beagle-Jack Russell cross. Following me slightly to the left, about two or three metres astern. I turned and told it to go home and stop following lest it get hit by a car. But its pursuit was committed as we continued between the hedgerows, negotiating puddles and the steaming macadam. For a moment I thought it had turned back or diverted through a gate into a field, but it was soon back at my heels.

Eventually I passed a house where a miniature dog trotted down and growled at my new companion, setting off an exchange that quickly made me redundant. The dogs seemed to know each other. I am guessing it went safely home, each of us with a new sense of mapping, a different way of setting our co-ordinates as we experience place. It’s easy to become one’s own set of reference points in understanding a locale one is walking through – all else out there mediated through one’s experience of passing through, of noting and recording. The solitary walker is never actually solitary, though it’s easy to forget this.


Yesterday morning Tracy drew my attention to a chiffchaff in the (bare) bushes outside the kitchen window. Very exciting – tiny ball-shaped bird (like an Australian weebill in size). They are rare here at this time of year though some do winter on the southern coast of Ireland, especially in Cork.

25/11/2015 Rosewood

Fine, clear day. A good day in a difficult, compromised and grim world. As the conflicts between religions, sects, nations, and individuals grips the planet, it is hard to find purpose in the quotidian. But ‘nature’ deserves reverence and I hope I can always remember that the ‘outside human’ is a vital and resistance massiveness, outside the thanatos that has us all in its thrall.

I so enjoyed Tracy’s company as we visited the heights on the west side above Barleycove Beach – the causeway still closed due to storm damage and the beach itself difficult to access. And then we went to Bantry to pick up some stuff from the health-food shop. The whole region was blown through with a glorious light and the locals were full of it. Something reached into most people here and Tim came home from school full of the joy of the day.

This is a resistance to the dismal death-wish that has stifled human creativity in so many places (a death-wish that often has complex and co-determinate origins, but also one exploited by power-players in the jigsaw puzzle on inequality, privilege and control). I refuse to be crushed by their negativity but I will never pretend it is not there.

The activism of poetry is manifold – I believe in direct pacifist applications to create possibilities for positive change, but I also increasingly believe in the (poet’s) efficacy of practice and existence in that the process of making and experiencing poems is essentially generative and life-affirming, whatever the ‘intention’ of the poet. Even those poems that claim or affirm negative or oppressive aspects read beyond their limitations (e.g. pro-war poems) through the belief that the act (of poetry) can be ‘potent’ and restorative – that something exists beyond the material or even the notion of spiritual reward. The collating of words/sound/sight is the ‘6th’ estate – the generative composition. I am saying (also) that the desire to express beliefs (whatever they are) in figurative language likely indicates at least a subliminal ‘hope’ (vestigial that it might be!) that oppression is the antithesis of the poetic act. Even if we consider manifestations of State-driven poetry such as patriotic verse, or that registering a noblesse oblige piety, or even, say, poetry celebrating ‘the hunt’, there’s probably an intrinsic quality to the act of writing poetry that reveals other, often contradictory to the ‘message’, desires regarding how we might (de)read (as in Illich’s ‘de-schooling’) – that the act of poetry goes beyond the intention and subverts the (conservative) propaganda of the ‘poem itself’. That is, the poem itself generates new meanings that allow the writers and readers, the speakers and listeners, to move outside the limited scope of their original desire and purpose (and patterning). Poetry can free the poet and the listener/reader from the prejudices that inscribe acts of writing and hearing/reading. Poetry, in a sense, drives itself against thanatos, against the death cult of language.

21/2/2016 Tübingen, Germany

In Bautzen today a scene of horrendous tragedy and implication – the burning of a building meant to be used to house refugees while thirty people stood around goading and cheering, with youths trying to prevent/hinder the fire brigade from extinguishing the blaze. The fire was deliberately lit.


Went to the Hölderlin Tower today with Tracy and Tim. Was last there in the late 90s. Very moving, always. Distressing (terrible) to see great plane trees cut down along the river’s edge. Everywhere the felling of trees? A blight? Opportunism? The mass cull of trees around Tübingen is ongoing. These are trees authorities say are ‘in their downward cycle’, being 200 years old. Maybe, but many others around the area are young trees suffering the same fate. Hölderlin would have seen these trees in their early days – through his window, as Zimmer talked with him. And as for that late, great ‘prose poem’ (as transcribed from memory by the author of the novel Phaeton), the lovely blue … the spires (of the churches) reaching into the ‘lovely blue’, these plane trees (the lines of the poem still living across the river on the island) are spires, and their loss – should they also be eventually taken – is a loss for birds and insects and other creatures (including humans) and for the trees themselves. Their spirituality is the fact of their right to existence. Apparently, some years ago, two women placed votive candles inside the hollow of a great plane tree on the island for Valentine’s Day and set the tree alight – it took eighty minutes for the fire brigade to extinguish and the tree’s interior turned into a chimney, wasting the canopy with flames. With the sickening rise (again) of neo-Nazism in Germany, feeding on the hate generated by the humanity of offering homes and a life for refugees, the association with all burning with the indelible stains of the past is impossible to ignore. From Valentine’s Day to Bautzen. The links are there. Not tenuous, but disturbingly present. We cannot walk the streets without graffiti of hate (often overlaid with graffiti of welcome), and other burnings have taken place in surrounding villages.

In the tower I was taken by the remarkable letter with three palimpsests of poem drafts1. Astonishing. And a magnificent coal tit in full song on the limb of a weeping willow in bud, over-reaching the river. And the trunk – massive – of a plane tree on its side on the island, with kids climbing over it. Innocence and experience are in need of revising, as is the neo-Romantic sublime that underpins so much Westernised ‘ecopoetry’. Only intense conservation and respect for environmental intactness – environment beyond the human (all humans) – and highlighting the intensity and worth of ALL life will bring a repair to the biosphere and all of us – adults, children … animals – within it. As the white cat arched itself and waited at the door of Zimmer’s house to be let in. On this warmer winter’s day with blue breaking through the clouds even thirteen-year-old Tim leapt about.

  1. In time, I started work on an essay with Andree Gerland on Hölderlin’s great ‘Half-life’ poem and close consideration of this manuscript (which Andree gifted me in replica).
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