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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Mick Wallace's speech at Cúirt Festival launch of 'The Ghost in the Lobby'

Myself, Mick Wallace and Aengus McCanna, a participant in my creative writing class at Galway Technical Institute, at the Galway launch of The Ghost in the Lobby which took place as part of this year's Cúirt Festival of International Literature. I am holding a signed copy of Alan Shatter's novel Laura which was presented to me on the day by James Martyn Joyce.

Speech by Mick Wallace TD at launch of Kevin Higgins’s The Ghost in the Lobby at the Cúirt Festival of International Literature, Galway Arts Centre, Sunday, April 13th, 2014: First of all, I don’t know much about poetry, I know a lot more about football, coaching young fellas and building houses, apartments and roads. I was surprised that Kevin asked me to launch the book. The first time I was talking to him, since he asked me, was yesterday. I think he’s probably wondering himself why he asked me. He did warn me, as well, that I wasn’t to talk too much. So that kind of made me wonder again why he asked me; maybe he realises that at heart I’m a selfish egocentric bastard and that I’m probably going to talk much more about myself than I am about him and his poetry. Which is true. Because I don’t know much about Kevin and I know a little bit about me. So, I started reading these poems yesterday and I thought it was very interesting; I thought it was about time to read them, before I got here. 

            Honestly, when you read poems, you find different things in them, everyone will find something that appeals to them particularly. So I picked out a few quotes and marked a few lines that stimulated some thoughts for me. The first line that I liked was “I leave the house / just as the rain’s begun taking itself / far too seriously”. I liked that. The ‘Dear Editor’ poem is very interesting for someone that works in the field, if you can call it work, that I do now: “Dear Editor, is it just me? / You are what I do nights / when I can’t phone radio stations / to violently disagree with what I said last week.” And it finishes with “only when you say my name / can I be sure I still exist.” The struggle for recognition is a strange thing for all of us. It’s particularly strange when you see politicians operate. Because it’s been disappointing most of the time, what they do. For the three years that I’ve been in the Dáil, you’d be kind of shocked at the kind of effort that guys put in to getting on television and the radio and getting their picture in the paper - I’ve spent three years trying to stay out of the papers – they haven’t succeeded and neither have I. I find it very strange, but this poem actually captured it a bit, it’s almost as if we don’t exist unless we’re getting recognition. Okay, we all like a bit of recognition but getting it from the media doesn’t do much for me at the moment. Never has. I find them a pretty abysmal lot. 

            Speaking of the Dáil, I see a poem here – and I’m sure Kevin wouldn’t admit to it – but I think I know who he’s talking about. He says: “Your straight face / all the years you rhymed attack with Iraq / your love of alliteration / that’s had you repeating / billionaire bondholders each day / for the past thousand and counting.” I’d probably be in trouble if I named him, but I think I know who it is. It reminds me of the particular individual involved, when I got into some bit of hot water about the V.A.T. One of the first things when I went into the Dáil that I found hard to take was listening to the government ministers talking about stuff they know nothing about, because they had no experience of life, listening to them talking about creating jobs, about changing building regulations, about housing and construction and the whole lot. I discovered that most of them had never actually lived in the real world. It’s part of the reason why there is such a disconnect between what happens in the Dáil and what happens in the world outside, that there’s so little experience actually in the place. It’s made up mostly of legals, publicans and teachers. I find it amazing that there’s no civil engineers, or engineers of any type, in the Dáil. Engineering – the artists mightn’t agree with me so much on this, but I do think it encourages clear thinking. And clear thinking is seriously lacking in the Dáil chamber. 
             
            Anyway, as hard as it is listening to the Right side of politics lecturing you about something they know nothing about, when I did run into trouble on the V.A.T., I was getting some serious lectures from the hard Left, so called, about how I should have ran my business. Given that I had employed thousands of people, I was finding it a bit difficult to take from guys who had never employed anyone. And most of them had never done a day’s manual work in their life. It isn’t easy to list you someone lecturing you about something they know nothing about, and that’s why I don’t intend to lecture you about poetry. Because you know more about it, than I do.

            In here there’s a poem called ‘Go’ “Where you can be sure the mincemeat / contains no percent mule”. Now, I like that. And it reminds me of the serious cover up that we did about the horse meat, because we didn’t really come clean on that. But we’re not very good at coming clean with this kind of stuff. I still remember when Larry Goodman was making a fortune putting concrete blocks in cardboard boxes and getting paid subsidies on it. And instead of throwing him in jail, AIB wiped his debts and he was flying around in the helicopter again the next week. 

            A poem like ‘Alternative Proposals shows Kevin has obviously kept his eye on what’s going on in the Dáil– Clare Daly and myself put a fair bit of work into the whole abortion debate; we were just talking about it last week. Now that Minister Shatter has got two nasty letters in the post, it reminded us that we stopped counting what we were getting when it went past the thousand mark from – don’t want to call them any bad names – the ‘pro-life’ lobby. But anyway, this is a very good poem which I like very much and I’ll just read you a piece of it: “Any woman of childbearing hips / unfortunate enough to find herself alive / on the patch of weeds between Muff /and Kilmuckbridge or Skibbereen / and Hackballs Cross must / to have her baby/babies legally / abhorted obtain, before she kills herself, / without bribery, or offer of sexual favours / the signatures of six former members of the Irish National Liberation Army / six personal friends of Shane Ross” – now, you’re asking a bit much there – “six random guys shouting obscenities in the street, / six women from Barna / who though Michael D’s speech last week to the European Parliament / was absolutely marvellous / six plumbers who’ll definitely be there / first thing Tuesday morning.” It’s actually interesting that you said “Tuesday” because during the good times the plumbers stopped working on Monday. A lot of building workers stopped going to work on Mondays because they couldn’t spend all the money before Sunday. 

            Now, being that I’ve already admitted that I’m a serious selfish bastard, there’s a poem about me in here. I’ve read this before. It came at a time when I was getting more attention than I wanted; it was also around my V.A.T. problems: “Anatomy of  a Public Outcry.

Those with short uncommented upon hair
but exquisite tax returns
can’t forgive you being
regularly mistaken for Jesus" Thanks!

Or the lead singer in Poison.” Thanks again.

The ninety eight caller
 to Four FM’s Hour of Complaint
wants you publicly garrotted
in, preferably, New Ross”. Listen, I don’t want to die in New Ross! New Ross is not a great part to die in.

for allegedly eating risotto
 at inappropriate hours of the day" I have to admit I have eaten risotto at all kinds of hours of the day. 

The little guy once caught
having a wardrobe malfunction
with a tender and merciful
rent boy" I know who he is too.

wants your big pink shirt declared illegal
 under the strict new dress code
he spends his afternoons
dreaming up" Well, he doesn’t do much else in there.

The Times and Daily Mail agree
when the Irish team concede
that third shattering goal,
or it rains in Mayo
for the fourth consecutive day,
it’ll officially be
all your fault."

Now, ‘Newly Elected Face Makes Maiden Speech’, this is interesting as well: “I have nothing against homosexuals,
but am not in favour of them either.
Now you’ve told me Ché Guevara
was a Communist and Adolf Eichmann
a very bad man, I’ll bear those facts
in mind, when talking about septic tanks,
a subject on which I’ve loads to contribute.
I’m against nuclear war and the Spanish
Inquisition, except when they actually happen."

The Dáil is so full of people who, really, don’t have an opinion. And, if they have, they keep it to themselves in case they lose votes by expressing it. That poem is very apt.

            There’s a poem here called ‘Prayer for a Friend’, which is about a friend of Kevin’s called Clare Daly who, as papers have told you, she’s also a friend of mine. It’s a poem about an encounter they had many years ago, but he drags it into the present day as well: “Today is / you still sitting in front of armoured cars / others aren’t big enough to resist. / All you wanted come true, so / don’t be the girl who died / of her name on the front pages beside // the worst picture they could find.” That is very, very good. Myself and Clare and Ming, I would like to think, we have tried to be different and we haven’t played games. We don’t find many people in there who don’t play games. The media don’t like us very much for that. The mainstream media really only give us coverage when they have something nasty to say about us. This poem captures that, because, really, we were supposed to disappear when they burst the living daylights out of us. 
            Myself, I got the front page of the Irish Independent nineteen times during the summer of 2012. And none of it was very positive. We were supposed to go quietly, like some have done, when the pressure comes on. But we didn’t have an appetite for disappearing but an appetite for speaking our minds and, I suppose, trying to articulate a voice who don’t have one in the Dáil chamber. Our appetite for that has grown stronger and a lot of people don’t like that very much. I don’t know how much you have noticed but challenging the establishment in this country is not so easy. They’re very powerful and they have a lot of vested interests in keeping the likes of us silent. But, until they shoot us, we won’t be silent.
            I better keep my promise not to go on too long. But it’s always nice to air your views and have your say. It’s the part of the Dáil that I like the best, where you can say what you like. And I do that more and more. I speak six or eight times a week on average. The nicest correspondence I have is people from all around the country writing to me, also saying good things not just bad things. A lot of people have written to me and said it was wonderful that I spoke for them when I spoke on a particular day. It does encourage me to keep going.

            On the side of poetry, I still remember a poem that I liked very much when I was a kid. I think of it a lot. Because there’s some lines in it that matter a lot to me. It’s a poem by Robert Frost.  It’s ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’. And it goes something like

Whose woods these are I think I know.
 His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must find it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near…"

God that’s terrible, now, to forget like this... 

“…Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

Thank you.