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I attended a conference in Sligo this weekend: Into The Earth, The Archaeology Of Darkness.  It was fantastic, and I intend to write up what I gleaned, as well as a bit of my adventures there.

I headed up on Friday, passing through bogs in Offaly and Roscommon.  Desolate, windy spaces: they practically howl a primal language.  The landscape and mystery of the bogs feature prominently in Irish myth and folklore.  The archaeological record speaks of votive offerings and buried bodies,  laid to rest deep beneath their murky, otherworldly waters.

Anne Stahl

Quagmire, swampland, morass:
the slime kingdoms,
domains of the cold-blooded,
of mud pads and dirtied eggs.
But bog
meaning soft,
the fall of windless rain,
pupil of amber. (Heaney, 1975)

Irish poet Seamus Heaney writes a lot about bogs.  He has referred to the bog as a sort of Jungian, as well as geological, memory-bank, a “dark casket where we have found many of the clues to our past and to our cultural identity” (Broadbridge, 1977: 40). He sees the bog as a symbol of the Irish psyche, as contrasted to the American psyche which, in its pioneering spirit, looks  “outwards and upwards, to fulfilment through movement, advance, exploration and openness” (Corcoran, 1986: 62). The Irish bog is the “answering myth” to the frontier myth of the American consciousness (Heaney, 1980b: 55).

Landscape artist T.P. Flanagan also loved the bogs.  Flanagan romantically described the bog as “the fundamental Irish landscape” which had “primeval connection” with a pagan past. His perceptions were of “the moistness, the softness of the bog, its fecundity, its femininity…” (Parker 1993, 87). Heaney dedicated his first bog poem to his friend and fellow
bog-lover, Flanagan:

BOGLAND
For T.P. Flanagan

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening –
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encroaching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

T.P. Flanagan

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage,
The wet centre is bottomless.
(Heaney, 1969: 55-56)

More than once I imagined myself  – one of the thousands of offerings placed in the bog, with its perfect liminality: neither fully water, nor fully earth – but a transition point, a threshold.  The funny thing is….. I was.

As I drove home Sunday, on a bleak stretch with rain lashing and wind howling: thump, thump, thump.

A flat tire.

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I put distance between us
When I pave the road my feet walk upon
and box myself into a mobile space

I put distance between us
With my words – ‘spirit‘ – that is something
Other
than this clay case that heaves and breathes

I put distance between us
In my climate controlled square that stops wind from breathing WITH
When no breaks or twists from rushing deer or limb contort
My body, now morphed in its chair before my electric box

I put distance between us
in my mind…for I am ME and you are THEY
or IT
and all THOSE out THERE are put beneath

~TL 2012

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