Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

How strange, after long and many decades, to look back on the entanglements and distances of two lives. Sometimes running like parallel motorway lanes [James Hogan and I were the children of Professors in the same College, both of whom had fought in the war of independence but took opposite sides in the Civil war; we were students there in the same years, we are almost the same age]; sometimes spiralling off apart like Escher walkways [Augustus Young was publishing poems and then memoirs with English presses a while before I had my first book, but we coincided in an issue of The Lace Curtain, where, as James Hogan, he denounced the ethos of the (then influential) Dublin Magazine. That was several years before we were publishing him in Cyphers, first of all poems of travel, and later memoir and criticism; and it was a good while later that I actually requested a piece for the magazine on his Brazilian doings, the delightful, phantasmagoric and danger-filled ‘On not meeting Ubaldo João Ribeiro’.]

The international theme could not have surprised me. I studied history as an undergraduate, and Professor Hogan lectured to the small Honours class. I will never forget the marvellous lectures on Machiavelli, in the course of one of which a digression on assassination led to a lively debate with an African student who raised the subject of what would happen if General de Gaulle was murdered. [It was 1962, before the killing of Kennedy; contemporary African politics was already a hot topic in Ireland, with Conor Cruise O’Brien’s involvement as UN representative in the Congo upheaval. Professor Hogan disapproved of O’Brien; students who thought about politics mostly admired him. And the war in Algeria was coming to an end.]

Diversions enliven the map, even when they are also points of contact. Retreating further into older times: James and I as children learned to play the violin, in my case not very well. At which time his eldest sister Ita, tall, beautiful and a fine musician, would have been the important Hogan for me. Cork in the 1950s had a lively cultural life in musical, theatrical, visual art – in every art but poetry in fact. The audience was small enough that one saw the same people at every event, and Ita Hogan as pianist, accompanist or soloist, or just present, was in view. [When I met her forty years later in Dublin holding a senior position in the College of Music, I was astonished to find she was no longer a foot taller than me.]

Forgive the reminiscent mode. A poem by Augustus Young in Cyphers 92 (2021), sent like all the recent ones from France, salutes ‘the pots and pans of living life against the grain’, but also confronts ‘the travails/ I once thought were life’. Scenes from a half-shared past suddenly come into focus and then dissolve. It is through the writing that we’ve stayed, neck-and-neck, in touch, that I can now see more meaning in our origins than we might have suspected; and now, faced with the approaching final uncertainties, the certainty that the archived words will in the literal sense survive us illuminates a closing irony.

danta gradha augustus young

It was a pure accident that in photographing the Dánta Grádha for insertion here I didn’t notice that I had placed the book on a manuscript of my own. The hidden quotation reads: ‘If you care only for some transient thing your destiny is fearful….’ The ‘m’ is the last letter in the name Osip Mandelstam, who wrote the line. [B.L.]

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The Duras Press

The Duras Press