Bang Bang: you’re … alive! From the Bard of the Liberties to the Liberty of the Westmoreland Street Bard
Anyone of a certain age who knew Dublin in the ’50s and ’60s might smile at the header. To anyone who’s not in the know, I hasten to explain. ‘Bang Bang‘ was a real person. Nobody’s entirely sure of his true name; but he was one those street people who pass into folklore – if only because they’re somehow too … noisy to ignore!
But it’s an old Dublin tradition, street entertainment. And with it the embracing, the encompassing more or less comfortably within mental and emotional boundaries, of the strange, the marginal, the otherwise excluded. In historical terms you don’t have to reach back too far to come up with other, and more colourful, characters from the poor quarters making their mark on city and memory.
Zozimus (Michael Moran) was one such. Born in about 1794 and blind since infancy, Zozimus used his prodigious memory and versifying ability to earn a meagre crust – and more sustaining respect. He was a ‘gleeman’ – a street performer, specialising in the telling of tales. His audience in central Dublin gleefully dubbed their very own gleeman ‘Zozimus’ for his high style, their wit characteristically combining mordant mockery with surreal exaggeration – the grudging affection and pride somehow filtering through. (Bishop Zozimus was a compassionate figure featuring in a pompous but nonetheless popular contemporary poem commemorating the good prelate’s attendance upon the dying St Mary of Egypt.)
Zozimus died in 1846, and in 1893 the poet Yeats was describing him as ‘the last gleeman‘ in one of his yearning essays looking back upon what he regarded as a tragically oppressed and therefore moribund culture. Correct on the first count, Yeats was resoundingly wrong on the second. There are gleemen alive and well now on the streets of Dublin. You can’t, it seems, keep a good gleeman down. And the very best of their illustrious brotherhood – for Zozimus set high standards – may be seen and heard today on those very streets. More precisely in and around Westmoreland Street, although you may also catch sight of him in Clontarf if you’re lucky enough.
Pat Ingoldsby, poet, playwright, columnist and erstwhile broadcaster; a heroic survivor and celebrator of those tiny joys and sadnesses of everyday life that escape most – and are ignored by so many who are perhaps fearful of feeling too much too often. Pat, a brave man, has no such fears – even though he knows, and has often faced, the worst. He looks life in the eye – and he blinks, winks, sheds a tear or lights up at the sight of it all. Sometimes all at once. Almost. ‘Welcome to my head,’ says Pat, ‘please remove your shoes.’
But don’t be deceived by the lightness of tone in his invitation, for the eyes in that head are not looking inwards in shallow, self-absorbed vanity. Far from it, they’re constantly focused with unerring insight on the outer world. Here’s Pat Ingoldsby on a Downs Syndrome child singled out for her sweetness among a group of other such children on a bus:
… time for you to learn
that you can’t go on loving like this.
Unless you are stopped
You will embrace every person you see.
Normal people don’t do that.
Some Normal people will hurt you
very badly because you do.
I like that upper case ‘N’ for ‘normal’, which adds ironic emphasis (you can hear his voice). He’s right, isn’t he? There’s punishment awaiting in some form or another for those who step out of line, shock the complacent and – more bitterly still – offer the true coin of kindness to those unable to discern its value. Finally and gloriously, Pat shouts out – calling for love to triumph: ‘if you’re not normal’ he says to that dear little girl whose heart brims with affection, ‘there is very little hope for the rest of us.’
Pat knows. He’s one who has looked into the abyss, and carried on looking even when it stared back at him. You only have to look at a few of his works to understand that. For me, this is demonstrated by his poem on Northern Ireland, ‘No More’ or ‘Don’t Kill Anyone for Me’ (from How Was it for You, Doctor? 1994). The man’s for peace and firmly on the side of the angels, however heavily disguised they may be – and often are, as the title poem from his 1999 collection Beautiful Cracked Eyes bears witness:
In a world of people afraid
to speak or to listen
It is the ones
who are supposed not to know
time after time
they are the ones
who come and speak with me.
Time after time
when I am drowning
they are the ones
who come and save me.
But you’ll be getting the impression that Pat is all gloom and doom – and that would never do, for his work and life are full of the light of humour. So let me end this tribute to the Bard of Liberty with one of my favourites, which never fails to make me laugh: verse which contrives to weave apparently paradoxical strands into living, breathing – leaping! – wholeness. Here, a streetwise form of innocence runs together with a heartfelt plea for tolerance, acceptance and understanding – love, even. Love, especially. From the source of life to life itself – time to let the man speak in his own write:
Vagina in the Vatican
A vagina sneaked into the Vatican.
It sneaked past the vagina-detectors.
It tip-toed into the very heart
of the rules and regulations section
where all the cardinals were sitting around
in circles making rules about
times of the month, thermometers and how many
erections are allowed through
the eye of a needle.
The little vagina sprang out suddenly
and shouted “peace be with you!”
The cardinals all replied
“and also with you”because none
of them had ever actually seen one
and they hadn’t got a clue what it
really was so they gave it cups of tea
and chocolate biscuits.
When Father Bartholomew came in for
the cups he paled and gasped and
was just about to say “my dear Cardinals,
with respect you have been sharing your
biscuits with a vagina.”
But he said nothing because it might
have led to awkward questions.
The adventurous little vagina
hopped and skipped and danced
along the corridors shouting
“Peace be with you!”
and all the priests who had never
seen one said – “And also with you”
and all the priests who had seen one
said it too.
In theory it should be just as easy
for an erection.
but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Copyright Pat Ingoldsby 1990-2014 all rights reserved.
Copyright © 2009-2014 This content is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this content feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content, other than where indicated as being vested in another eg Pat Ingoldsby, is not in your reader or on any other site than minniebeaniste.wordpress.com, it makes the page you are viewing an infringement of copyright.