Eamonn Lynskey's Poetry and Reading Blog

July 16, 2015

‘Neanderthals’ published in Boyne Berries magazine, Spring 2015

Filed under: Poems Published, Poetry — Tags: , , — tvivf @ 2:25
Boyne Berries no. 17

Boyne Berries no. 17

Boyne Berries no 17 (Spring 2015) brought lots of good things. A really nice springtime poem from Gearoid O’Duill entitled ‘Snowdrop’:

“Spring flowers make no show yet, except the snowdrop, 

its white head cautiously spread, pendulous,

each inner petal veined with gentle skein of green…”

I always like the considered line and the well-chosen word, which I also find in ‘Ritual’ by Lorcan Black, a poem touching on the fleeting nature of love:

“One blink and the thread dissolves,

the doors slice open…”

‘The doors’ image is part of an extended metaphor of a train journey which continues right through the poem. Other poems which appealed to me were ‘Spring Invasion’ by Kate Ennals, Adrienne Leavy’s ‘Bright Shadow’, and a rather ‘zero’ poem from Ciaran Parkes entitled ‘Bog Body’. Nice poem too from Orla Fay (‘Fawn’) reminding us of the ‘fierce beauty’ of other species that inhabit this planet, which we often presumptuously describe as ‘ours’.

Of the stories, I was very struck by Mari Maxwell’s ‘McTagish Law’ with its ambiguous ending, and by Rozz Lewis’s ‘The Statues of St Jude and Buddha’ with its exact depiction of a very familiar family situation where the ‘faith of our fathers (and mothers!)’ has not lasted into the next generation.

My poem ‘Neanderthals’ is a bit on the gloomy side, being concerned somewhat with human arrogance. How is it that this long extinct species of mankind has come to represent all that is backward and vicious? Recent studies seem to show that Neanderthal Man (and Woman) had a high level of intelligence and a developed social sense. Perhaps it’s inbuilt in our white caucasian  natures to regard all other types and species of the human as inferior, be they the ‘savage injuns’  of the recent past or the black/coloured peoples of the present? I remember when I was a young boy that a group of Irish UN soldiers was ambushed in the Congo and many of them killed by Baluba tribesmen. For years afterwards in Ireland the word ‘Baluba’ was used to describe any unruly and uncouth group who interfered with the comfort of their neighbours. And were these tribesmen uncouth and unruly? Perhaps, but we should remember that the UN soldiers were operating in territory the Baluba tribesmen regarded as their own and were acting under the not unreasonable assumption that these armed men were invaders and meant them harm. Had the Inca reacted in the same way, the history of South America would be very different. We were all very sorry for our Irish soldiers at the time (and quite rightly so), but I can’t remember that any good word was said about the Balubas.

A BBC programme broadcast at the time this poem was written (September 2012) made an

Stiil from the BBC programme 'Andrew Marr's History of the World' (Broadcast 2012)

Still from the BBC programme ‘Andrew Marr’s History of the World’ (Broadcast 2012)

honest effort to overcome prejudice in order to show that these nomadic ancestors of ours were something more than wild beasts, but this was only partly successful. Certainly some of the publicity material for the programme didn’t help break down barriers. One photo (pictured right) presented Neanderthals as a cross between noble savages and black rappers. I think we don’t know enough about them to be definitive about their overall lifestyle but I can guess that they were not operating the laws of the jungle, as maintained by our right honorable friend on the bench. They seem to have had at least a modicum of social cohesion.

Another unfortunate aspect of this judge’s comments was that he was criticising  the actions of a group of Irish Travellers. This court scene was, therefore, a rather sorry vignette of our prejudices towards groups other than ‘our own’.

Footnote: The judge in question, in a previous case, had sentenced a man to climb Croagh Patrick for verbally abusing a garda.

Neanderthals

 … The Judge said that the defendants

were like Neanderthal men abiding

by the laws of the jungle… (news report)

 

Whereas there is this widespread idea

that Neanderthals had haggard haircuts,

went half-naked, had a wild-eyed stare,

and killed and chopped each other up for food; 

and whereas it is said their skulls were small

and, like the Heidelbergensis before them,

that they probably worshipped stones and trees

and yes were homo but not sapiens – 

I have no doubts at all but they were kind

among themselves and did not soil the ground

where they lay down to sleep, and loved their kids,

and hoped for happiness. And then we came along.

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