Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whisky, by Ciaran Carson

Sometimes literature can make you thirsty. The late fifties and early sixties novels of Marguerite Duras (such as Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia) all made me want to get drunk on whatever the characters were drinking, even before I found out Duras was an alcoholic.

I don't recall ever reading something that made me want to get stoned or do other illegal counterfactuals. (Not that I was unable to find other reasons ...)

This one from Ciaran Carson's 1996 collection Opera Et Cetera made me want to drink some whisky, among other things (it also made me want to try to interpret it, but I'll leave it at typing it again to see how the lines feel under my fingers):


Of how the life of water is distilled to liquid gold; how the water of
The Liffey becomes Guinness; how explosive cocktails take the name of Molotov;

How the wild mountain thyme blows around the blooming heather, and the perfumed smoke
Of poteen rises high into the azure sky; how turf is the conducive agent, and not coke;

How coke is crack, not heroin, nor smack; how marijuana is La Cucaracha,
Maryjane, or blow; how many States of mind there are in Appalachia;

How you turn into an insect overnight, or after-hours, from eating
Magic mushrooms; how the psilocybin got your brain and led to some 'Strange Meeting';

How the tongue gets twisted, how 'barbarian' is everyone who is not Greek;
How things are named by any other name except themselves, thereof I meant to speak.

While I was typing, the associations began to flow:

The wild mountain thyme brought to mind Penelope Houston, whose punky folk I loved so much in the early to mid nineties (shortly before I read this book for the first time, in September 96): she did a burning cover of that song.

Poteen made me think of Brian Friel's Translations, which I played a small part in and co-directed in Saarbrücken in 1994.

Turf made me thirsty for Laphroaig.

The Appalachian States of mind made me think of Brad Mehldau playing "New York State of Mind" as solo jazz piano. Far-fetched? I don't care!

Turning into an insect overnight? You know what I thought when I read that; you thought the same thing after all.

But after-hours made me think of the movie "After Hours", whose basic idea I would like to steal for my long unwritten tale "The Clerk," which started being pondered in the main Basel Post Office years ago.

For me, Strange Meeting is a tune by Bill Frisell I once began to write some words for.

barbarian is everyone who is not Greek: this idea always reminds me of Adorno's claim about lyric poetry after Auschwitz being "barbaric"—"not Greek"?

Perhaps this is all free association; perhaps this is "naming things by any other name except themselves."


Unknown said...

Yes, I think you're right; each one brings their own claims to the word association. Even still, it's a great evocation of the feeling of whiskey, uisce beatha (the water of life) coursing around the body and especially the brain.

Donald Brown said...

"Turning into an insect overnight? You know what I thought when I read that; you thought the same thing after all."

No, duh. Do I feel stupid. I thought of "Song from under the floorboards" by Magazine: "By force of habit I am an insect/ I have to admit I'm proud as hell of that fact."

And I always understood "blow" as cocaine, not marijuana. Oh well.