Sunday, January 29, 2006

Death of Peter Kavanagh

Peter Kavanagh, brother of the poet Patrick, died yesterday in New York (see RTÉ TV news item here.

His death will no doubt revitalise the discussion and debate which surrounds not so much his relationship to his famous poet brother, but his relationship to so many others of Patrick’s living friends and admirers. And, of course, readers. How sad, in a world in which poets and poetry are so often marginalised or altogether excluded, that one of the great champions of any poet should have been so jealously possessive of that poet’s memory as, effectively, to erect a wall of worship around him.


William Wall said...

Good luck with all of this, Pat

WritOnWater said...

How sad, in a world in which poets and poetry are so often marginalised or altogether excluded, that one of the great champions of any poet should have been so jealously possessive of that poet’s memory as, effectively, to erect a wall of worship around him.

(Is it possible that the "possessive jealousy" you name was not instead the profoundest expression of brotherly love? Your judgment strikes a pejorative note. Why? Would you care to expand?)

PB said...

writonwater suggests my comments on the recent death of Peter Kavanagh strike a "pejorative note" though I would rather think of it as a "critical note". Peter's loyalty to and advocacy of his brother Patrick's work was, of course, commendable. But there have been, and thankfully continue to be, many others who are also dedicated to ensuring that Patrick Kavanagh's work enjoys the readership and the critical response it deserves. Ultimately the worth of Patrick Kavanagh's writing, as will ever be the case, will be judged by those who never knew him but find in his work the magic that both Peter, and those with whom he could be less than accommodating, championed and indeed treasured.

WritOnWater said...

You call it "critical", I see it as "pejorative", unless phrases like "jealously possessive" and "erect a wall of worship" possess elegaic nuances that are wasted on me. But then mourning is not your business here, is it? Rather, it is to "revitalize the discussion and debate" which will ultimately wrest Patrick's work away from the "commendable" brother, who was "jealously possessive", and restore it to the "many others who are also dedicated" -- as if this needed doing. Surely the work itself will secure that, with or without yours or Peter's assistance.

I noted that RTE's wee comment also used the word "jealous". Was that coincidental?

I should inform you that Peter Kavanagh was a very dear friend of mine. I held him in lofty esteem. And I will not allow comments like yours to go unchallenged. I mourn for a great man, and a sublime friend.

Coirí Filíochta said...

I am a big fan of PK and after reading Anthony Cronin's "Memoir" got a real picture of the man. PJ Brady played him in Sep 2004 above the Palace Bar and brought him to life no end. I have read Peter's biography and much of Kavangh's prose and am aware of two factions marshalling around the memory, but what he brings to is the inspiration to carry on in the face of adversity and choosing affirmation and joy over fire and brimstone.

Cronin recounts an anecdote of Kav in the boozer saying that the "standing army" of irish poets never falls below 20,000.

PB said...

In writonwater's most recent posting below, I confess I originally saw what seemed to me the insinuation that there was some kind of conspiracy afloat and that, indeed, the other conspirators might have been foolish, or desperate, enough to invite me on board.

I refrained from comment, however, in deference to the friendship and loss described therein. Young as the internet and blogging are, it would seem clear already that there are times when it might not be entirely wise or justified to rush into type. If the use of the phrase "jealously possessive" might seem harsh, this writer's critical intentions are, I am confident, more than evident in the preceeding phrase "one of the great champions of any poet".

So, it is particularly appropriate and reassuring now to see Irishpoets (who signs in as "a big fan of PK"), acknowledge the two factions "marshalling around the memory", while at the same refusing to allow the true importance of the work to be lost in the fray.

Appropriate, OK. But why reassuring? Because he/she agrees with my original description of the late Peter Kavanagh?

Hardly. In fact, in particularly bad light I might imagine I see myself portrayed as a member of one of those factions (and I have to say I'm not altogether convinced that at least one of those factions even exists!)

No, the reason I appreciate irishpoets' contribution to this thread is that the contribution is based upon the kind of clear-headed, grown-up judgement any really good reader will and must make as she or he faces any poem, knowing either too much or too little about the poet's own weaknesses or, perhaps, as in this case, about the weaknesses of those round about him.

However harsh or challenging they may prove, the poems are inclusive in that they turn no one away.

Coirí Filíochta said...

That's right Pat.

The most important thing to remember is the work itself, and PK's poems and the surrounding prose suggest (to me) that he ended up believing all his efforts at satire to be more or less a waste, as what was ultimately of worth to him was the joyous and affirmational aspect of poetry, and his most memorable poems would seem to testify to this.

His brother actually labels him a "snob" saying that all the rebellious outsider bit was an act and really he wanted to take possession of some "shadowy laurel crown" he half imagined existed in an official capacity, and it was reletive poverty that was responsible for the veneer and myth that's currently trading around him.

But Irish poetry is unique, and we are lucky in this country to be so closely connected, reletively speaking, to the full weight of tradition; and although the cataclysmic social disruption after the start 17C threw it all up in the air, we can still reach back those 300 years and be thankful of a tradition which allows us to feel a great degree of poetic security.

The blogging game is reletively new and the poet who seems to have the largest prescence is Ron Silliman, the San Fran West Coast Langpo bloke, and looking over to that side of the pond reinforces the sense of stability here, as the rest of the english writing poetry world appears to be engaged in a civil war of formal versus avant garde, and its all petty arguing over a few tired topics, usually along the lines of

"What is poetry"

We are lucky because we had it here in a mind blowingly all encompassing way for a few thousand years and most poets elsewhere haven't really got an accurate idea about this tradition, or how simple it can all be. It's all there in black and white if they cared to find out, but they start out on the wrong foot and never get it. The legacy of this tradition is a general global conscensus that the Irish have a "magic" gift for lingo. Once you do the homework on the history it all becomes clear why this is so and we can strip back the veil of intrique poets elsewhere rarely understand.

All this said about love and peace though, Kav did have some killer put downs, my favourite being

"A notorious nobody in a world of bores"

PK also reckoned that poets had to have what he called


and if they didn't then you were "looking in the wrong shop." But the one piece of philosophy that sticks out is his idea that everyone is a genius. His logic goes that everyone is a genius because everyone is unique, and the trick is to find out who the real you is and just be that person as best and fully as possible. This was written in the context of poets finding themselves, and is a sensible way of looking at things.

Unknown said...

One of Ireland's favorite writers Patrick Kavanagh always looked on Dundalk as his home town,which he had many many connections with, so why is there nothing to mark or celebrate him in Dundalk. John

PB said...

An interesting point there from johnlongford2. The list of countrywide monuments and commemorations has increased in recent years with, for example, Vicarstown, Co. Laois now having a very handsome Patrick Kavanagh bench (with the Grand Canal waters providing the connection). Dundalk would seem like an ideal and fitting location for a similar opportunity to pause and ponder.