Category Archives: history

Ireland, here or there

I recently traveled to Ireland with my son, and we experienced the wonderful scenery, the friendly people, the history, and the delicious food and drink that this island has to offer.  We flew into Dublin – and after an exciting time on Saint Patrick’s Day – we set off by rail to the western, more wild part of the country.  The scenes from the train changed from urban to countryside, as we made our way to Cork.  All the little village stops along the way were quaint and the conductor would announce the stop in both English and Gaelic, concluding with a thank you:

Thank you for riding Iarnród Éireann. (Thank you for riding Irish Rail).

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To my ears, it sounded like he said, “Thank you for riding, here or there.

This thought resonated throughout the journey as we went by bus or shuttle to remote locations or simply walked through villages and towns in which we spent the night. There is something exciting and wonderful about rambling through the country-side and discovering new places.  Whether it was the colorful row how houses above Cobh harbor or the barren stones and sea/landscape of the Burren, forests near Killarney or the city street, Ireland offered what seemed like all possible combinations.  And these were accessible from points A and B or C or…Z

Just by what seemed a random direction, any number of beautiful sights and experiences could be found by wandering.

It is no wonder then, that the Irish poets and storytellers, or those that emigrated over the last couple of centuries, spoke and sang so fondly of this beautiful country.  It stands in stark contrast to the tragic history of conquest, famine, civil war and unrest that has plagued the people of Ireland over the centuries.  Both sadness and beauty erupting from the same surroundings is remarkable, and dare I say, poetic.  The countryside simply cries and laughs and inhales – everywhere you look.

Here or there.

 

Listen

I’ve spent the week listening to songs
and paying tribute to old movie stars.
Ol’ Gator and the Crewe are gone,
the coffee pot is growling on.

The songs I heard are old and true,
yet still they sound like yesterday.
I send them out from me to you.
The coffee pot is growling on.

Ol’ Gator fought the crooked law
and justice served the Crewe at last.
Even bandits fight against their flaws.
The coffee pot goes growling on.

What could happen, which is worse?
Posed a voice I recognize.
Are our leaders so accursed?
the coffee pot goes growling on.

Where did all our heroes go?
I ask aloud – inside my head.
The lonely people – they all know
the coffee pot’s still droning on.

Songs and stories will often tell
us who we are to be:
Poet, lover, bootlegger rebel.
The growling pot has stopped, it’s done.

Books and Thoughts

If you’ve happened upon this post – Thanks for visiting. Normally, I post poetry because this is a convenient outlet for expression.

If you’ll indulge me, I don’t feel much like writing poetry today, so I think I’ll just write…

Books I’ve read/am reading

I just finished An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I bought this second-hand on my birthday over a year ago. It is an ambitious novel, and the premise is intriguing – to tell the story of a crime from multiple points of view. The story is filled with twists, perspectives, unreliable narrators, and Dickensian description and dialogue – this aspect which made it difficult for me to engage (which is why it took me so long to finish it). The ending was worth the effort. And in thinking back on how the story was told and the details that the author integrated into each account of the tale, the work was well done.

As I tend to read books in batches to find one that latches my interest, the next book I finish could be among these: A Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin, A Killing Term, by Robyn Sheffield, Bloodline, by James Rollins, or The Shack, by William Paul Young. My reading interests are diverse. 🙂

What to do about Confederate Statues

I find the debate of what to do about statues to confederate civil war icons (note I did not say heroes) and symbols both troubling and cathartic. I will state upfront that I am a southerner, born and raised, though I have live much of my adult life in the midwest. During my childhood, I was enamoured with the romantic view of the south (Antebellum plantations, the Lost Cause, Civil War history). As a young reader, one of my favorite books was the Robert E. Lee biography in the “Who was” juvenile biography series ( along with JFK and The Wright Brothers!). My continued experience and education has helped shape a more well-rounded view of these events. I still have an interest in Civil War history and writers of that period, but do not hold such a romantic view of the South’s intentions and reasons for seceding. Nevertheless, I consider it an important part of our country’s heritage and growth.

Statues are reminders of history and should be contextual in their placement. I think it is impossible to not have statues of some of these figures of history, even if they were on the wrong side of the Civil War. Exclude those explicitly guilty of war crimes (You don’t see statues of Nazi leaders-and rightfully so- for this reason). Statues of Robert E. Lee and others are appropriate in certain locations – war cemeteries, battlefields, museums – but less so in other places – every deep south courthouse or public park (what is the historical significance?). I don’t understand why there are statues to Lee in Montana or Ohio. There is common sense that could be applied by local governments. Confederate flags should not be on display at public buildings, but are appropriate symbology at confederate battlefields and cemeteries (It’s probably OK at NASCAR races, too, because I don’t want to antagonize THAT many people) 🙂

What is troubling is the amount of time being given to extreme viewpoints and attempts to legitimize them, when their only goal is to disrupt peaceful discussion and incite hate and violence. Further, they have taken the iconography of confederate civil war symbols and combined it with the message and symbology of nazism and white supremacy. This is not American, nor does it reflect the context of our history. They don’t get to abduct this part of our history and manipulate it for their ends. Our nation was founded on principles of compromise and civil discourse. There are differences of opinion, and there are cracks in the foundation because we are human. These groups don’t get to weasel in between the cracks and put up walls to divide us. As Americans, we should not stand for hate or divisiveness. We’ve already fought over that and learned good, albeit painful lessons.

American history is rife with right and wrong, and lessons to learn. And too often, I think we place our 21st century perspective on events of the past without first seeking to understand the past. What is most important is how well the history is recorded. I see history as way to learn (as a society) from mistakes as well as point to moments of success together. Is there equal balance in books and essays and can the information be taught to succeeding generations so they have a good perspective of the issues of the past, the philosophy of the era, and what was learned from it. We should never aspire to go back to the way things were, but we need to shoulder our history and learn from it ways to improve moving forward. As long as we have books, and we teach and discuss the historical subjects openly and without bias, our history won’t vanish (as some of our fear-mongering ‘leaders’ have implied). Statues without stories give us nothing to keep the historical perspective and invite bias. Bias invites extremism and silos of isolation (people who think like ‘we’ do), along with walls and media outlets that fuel and inflame. And if we continue to build walls around (literally and figuratively), all we will accomplish is division. Abraham Lincoln had something to say about divided houses.

We are all engaged in telling the story of America much in the way I tried to describe the book I just finished. There are events that are observed and experienced by different people who bring different perspectives. The different stories can be skewed by personal motives, some are unreliable and others rooted in fact. America is still a young country by global standards. Yet, we fight battles as old as civilization itself – and it is important to remember -prejudice and hate have no place in our discourse. Don’t be fooled by prejudice disguised as patriotism – Our history defines our path very clearly on this.

Poet in Mind: Something about Blue Mountain

It has been over a year since I wrote something in this series. I had been thinking recently about poets and their writing process, and I was looking for writing that focused on southern ideals and influences- from an out-of-the limelight source. I decided to focus on post-civil war era writers in the south. Researching that idea lead me to an interesting story that isn’t necessarily just about poetry, but I can’t help but think it influenced poetry a great deal.

Mark Perrin Lowrey (1828-1885) served in the confederate army during the civil war, reaching the rank of Brigadier General. He was often referred to as the “preacher general” because of his background as a baptist preacher. Originally from Tennessee, he and his wife Sarah Holmes had settled in rural northeast Mississippi before the war. He returned after the war was over, and recognized the need for educational opportunities for women in the South. In 1873, he established the Blue Mountain Female Institute, later called Blue Mountain College, in Blue Mountain, Mississippi (near Tupelo).

Mark and Sarah Lowrey had eleven children. Among them, born April 2, 1860, named Mark Booth Lowrey (1860-1930) and his twin brother Perrin Holmes Lowrey. Both of the boys grew to have distinguished public careers. Perrin became a lawyer and judge in Mississippi and Booth became a well-known public speaker/essayist/satirist/humorist in his day. Both at times were faculty members at the Blue Mountain school.

Mark Booth Lowrey’s writing was well-regarded and he was a sought lecturer/speaker and professor of “expression” at the Blue Mountain Institute. Among Booth Lowrey’s canon of poetry is a collection of folk poetry, written in “Negro dialect” in the vein of Uncle Remus or Mark Twain, which was a popular form around the the turn of the century. It is an interesting style and raises thoughtful questions. It is worthy of its own discussion, but not here. Instead, I chose the following poem, a delightful song of admiration.

The Red-Haired Girl
by Mark Booth Lowrey

You may sing your song to the queenly grace
Of the raven-haired brunette,
To the faithful soul of the blue-eyed blonde
With her pose of a statuette;
You may pine and die over hazel eyes,
You may rave o’er the chestnut curl,
But for all the charms of the world combined,

Just give me a red-haired girl.

The eyes of jet and the raven locks
Are a source of rare delight,
And the moonbeam curls of the meek-eyed blonde
Are a soul-bewitching sight;
But the peach-like cheeks and the rosy lips
And the teeth of chiseled pearl,
Are the outward sparks of an inward light,

The soul of the red-haired girl.

Her cheeks are fresh as the blushing rose
That blooms in the joyous spring;
Her eyes are bright as the summer’s beams
That dance on the blue-bird’s wing;
Her hair is like to the autumn leaves
That glisten, and dance, and whirl;
And the seasons, all but the winter’s chill,

Are found in the red-haired girl.

The blush of spring, and the summer’s calm,
And the autumn’s sober truth,
The placid candor of sweet old age
And the fire of ardent youth,
O, Nature’s casket of rarest gems,
Of rubies and gold and pearl,
Of diamonds, onyx and evening stars,

O, royal, red-haired girl!
*******************************
Booth’s grandson, also named Perrin Holmes Lowrey (P.H. Lowrey)(1923-1965), also became a poet. He frequently published short stories and poems in his earlier years, but later shunned the life of a writer. Some of his poems reflect his time serving in the Navy during WWII. In Song of the Flag, P.H. Lowrey conveys a strong patriotism with imagery and word choices.

Song of the Flag
by Perrin Holmes Lowrey

OH, sing we the song of the flag,

Of the banner that billows and beats
As it rips through the wind on the roofs of the towns
And whips at the top of the fleets.
It tears through the rage of the blast,

In a fury it tugs to be free,
As it swings in the teeth of the storms of the land
And sings in the gales of the sea.

It runs in the winds of the plains,
It steadies and stiffens and thrills,
It streams in the smoke of the scattering clouds,
And gleams on the bayonet hills.

Oh, sing we a song of the flag,

As it bellies and flutters and flings,
As it leaps to a home in the arms of the air,
And laughs at the lusts of the kings.

It flames with the red of the dawn,
And the white of the breakers that race;
It burns with a beacon of wonderful stars
On a banner of infinite space
******************************

Another member of the faculty of Blue Mountain College, David E. Guyton (1880-1964), was a professor of history…and a poet. He was blind since the age of 11.

Triolets
by David E. Guyton

WHILE thou art near,
As now thou art,
I feel no fear,
While thou art near,
That others, Dear,
May win thy heart,
While thou art near,
As now thou art.

When thou art far,
As thou shalt be,
No jealous jar,
When thou art far,
Shall ever mar
My faith in thee,
When thou art far,
As thou shalt be.

Till saints deceive
And truth is trite,
Sweet Genevieve,
Till saints deceive,
I shall believe
And trust thee quite,
Till saints deceive
And truth is trite.

***********************
Muna Lee (1895-1965) was born in Mississippi, but moved to Oklahoma at an early age. She returned to study at Blue Mountain College in 1909, and was encouraged to write by David Guyton. After one year, she returned to Oklahoma and studied at the University of Oklahoma, followed by a return to Mississippi, ultimately graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1913. Early in her career, she was a school teacher, and wrote poems. As she felt the need to contribute more, she taught herself spanish and applied and was hired to be a translator for the US Secret Service during WWI. It was during this time that she became enamoured with latin american culture, and translated a large number spanish language poems. She had a long brilliant career in civil service, as a writer of fiction and poetry, and held an interest in Pan-american affairs in Puerto Rico, where she made her home in 1920. Much of her personal poetry seemed to focus on personal heartbreak-love lost-but was infused with imagery of beauty that filled the void.

The Unforgotten
By Muna Lee

I can forget so much at will:
That first walk in the snow,
The violet bed by the April rill,
The song we both loved so;

Even the rapture of Love’s perfect hour.
Even the anguish of Love’s disdain —
But never, but never, the little white flower
We found one day in the rain.

A Song of Happiness
By Muna Lee

From “Songs of Many Moods”

SO many folk are happy folk—
The feathered folk and furred!
And many a kindly glance I’ve had
And many a brisk bright word
From squirrel and from gray fieldmouse,
From cardinal and blackbird.

It’s only folk within the wood
Can know my happiness.
I did not tell my secret, but
I heard the robins guess;
The golden minnow knows it
Beneath the water-cress.

**********************************
Poetry often originates in quietest of places and is capable of reaching the farthest points. Each of these poets passed through a sleepy town with a small college in rural Mississippi. There are many such places I’m sure. Much of their poetry was published in small periodicals, something that is done much less these days.

And finding those gems, unknown before, is like finding “the little white flower in the rain.”

**********************************

1. The Mississippi Poets, Ernestine Clayton Deavours, 1922, E. H. Clarke & Brothers, Memphis, TN.
2. The Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, James B. LLoyd, ed. 1981, University Press of Mississippi.
3. A Pan-American Life: Selected Poetry and Prose of Muna Lee, Edited and with biography by Jonathan Cohen, Foreword by Aurora Levins Morales, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004