The Notion of a Simultaneously Savage and Beautiful Domain in 'Writing the Irish West'

Since the Aran plays of Synge and the reveries of Yeats, the Irish from somewhere else have entered the West to caricature its unrepentant, unreformed natives.

Writing the Irish West: Ecologies and Traditions

Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Length: 248 pages
Author: Eamonn Wall
Price: $27.00
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2011-03

Poet and critic Eamonn Wall teaches in St. Louis and frequently summers in Colorado. His continental crossings led him to connect writers from the West of Ireland with those of the American landscapes he visits. This book collects seven essays about seven authors from Ireland who explore on the page the scenes that resemble those of the plains and mountains -- and the oceans missing from the interiors which their American counterparts generally inhabit.

He starts with Tim Robinson, a Yorkshire-born, Cambridge-educated mathematician and visual artist turned literary cartographer of the Aran Islands, Connemara, and the Burren along Ireland's Atlantic coasts. Wall compares Robinson's "deepmap" with that drawn in William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth over a Kansas county. His careful maps and his intricate travel narratives continue to construct an intimate and exacting record that makes the lack of previous Irish mapping a strength. By "tracing" his paths inch-by-inch, Wall finds, Robinson shows how he continues the tradition of the oral place-name stories and verbal accounts left by previous walkers on this ancient terrain.

Gary Snyder's impact upon the Beats and the Buddhists they spawned has a long reverberation. Wall connects his retreat to an "island" on a ridge in the Sierra Nevada with the Ardilaun island redoubt where Richard Murphy resides off the Irish coast. Their common roots in ecological sensibilities enrich their poetry.

Mary O'Malley's poetry also comes from the coast, but further north, in the shrinking Irish-speaking communities of Connemara. Her County Galway home, in an area both depopulating as natives leave and repopulating as second-home owners and exurban city dwellers move in, straddles a bilingual region, where the Irish drifts across the English vernacular. Her poetry, infused by her feminist sensibilities, Wall argues, also enters a liminal realm, where the frontiers give way to less-fixed lines, about a people whose allegiances may lie closer to New York City than to Dublin.

This western orientation characterizes the late John McGahern's novels. Considered, as Wall notes, perhaps the successor to Beckett and Joyce for his spare, searing fiction, McGahern's based more inland, but he connects with O'Malley's interest in the clash between imagination and reality. Wall quotes Larry McMurtry: "The romance of the West was always more potent than the truth".

Owen Wister, Alice Munro, and Wallace Stegner enter Wall's chapter, as he links rural isolation and emotional resilience or its lack to the characters in McGahern's third collection of stories, 1985's "High Ground". McGahern's sullen protagonists simmer and do a slow burn; some burst into rage, others come to terms with mortality, and a few even seek awkward grace.

London-born Martin McDonagh's "Dante Dodge City" mirrors Quentin Tarantino's mayhem and Sam Peckinpah's showdowns, as Wall forges bonds to Peckinpah's own influence, John Ford, son of Galway immigrants. Their cinematic sagas drew on mythic heroes allowed to kill. Peckinpah and McDonagh place their bloody battles just over the border, in Mexico or in the Irish West.

McDonagh, like Tarantino, appears an "anteater" in the way he sucks up popular culture, rock music, film and television predecessors into what appears to be not only horrifying but humorous scenarios of tragicomic chaos. He breaks down boundaries of taste and decorum. He claims to bring the energy of punk into his plays.

However, Wall doubts that McDonagh for all his manufactured outrage is as original a force as he's hyped. Wall reminds us that Hollywood's visions--as witnessed by McDonagh's shift into film with his short Six Shooter and the full-length In Bruges--dominate the London-raised but Connemara-connected playwright's sensibilities, and that gore goes back to the Greeks. Since the Aran plays of Synge and the reveries of Yeats, the Irish from somewhere else have entered the West to caricature its unrepentant, unreformed natives.

Twice, Wall quotes Richard White's "nationally imagined" vs. "locally imagined" concepts of the West. Wall adds that, for such as McDonagh, the international distinction vs. the national one works for Ireland, as it did for White for America. The notion of a "simultaneously savage and beautiful" domain captivates ticket buyers for McDonagh's string of plays and for films.

For those outside this garish spotlight, such as Sean Lysaght, a more solid meaning rests in the modest flora rather than the more advanced, or regressive, fauna stalking McDonagh's Irish bogs and island rocks. Lysaght's 1991 poem cycle follows the example, eighty years before The Clare Island Survey, of pioneering naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, who roamed the same landscape. The Irish language floats into the names for the plants and flowers, contemplated by Lysaght or catalogued by Praeger.

Finally, Moya Cannon's Galway-city residence does not keep her from poetry which captures the bioregional. Wall sets Northern English poet Kathleen Raine's verse next to Cannon's to find similar longings. And, circling back, he also finds connections to Gary Snyder's examples.

The first three essays originally appeared as journal articles. They demonstrate the shift in tone from his easygoing preface, as Wall assumes the role of scholar confidently. He takes on considerable challenges in simplifying Robinson's admirable but dauntingly elaborate explorations of Irish landscapes. Wall stretches to include travel writers and two fellow countrymen and contemporaries of Robinson, Colin Thubron and Bruce Chatwin. Wall's perspective widens, but its depths demand close attention in this very ambitious article. The erudite and lofty reach extended by Wall in his pieces on Robinson, Murphy, and O'Malley means that the reader must cling to some rather attenuated tendrils which curl far from their Irish-American grafted roots.

I would have liked more inclusion of Irish-language authors. As Wall argues, these indigenous interpreters remain far less known, inevitably. This volume could have assisted in guiding a wider audience to the plays of Antoine Ó Flatharta, the many local storytellers and singers distributed by Cló Iar-Chonnachta, or the lyrics of sean-nós (old-style unaccompanied) singers such as Caítlin Maude or Róisín Elsafty. He does cite the better known poets Maírtín Ó Diréain, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, if largely in passing. Wall's admission of decayed fluency in Gaeilge attests to the costs as well as the benefits of a long time abroad.

Although pitched at an academic audience, readers familiar or not with these writers may wish to learn more. Wall integrates eco-critical foundations. He avoids theoretical jargon or literary theory-mongering. While stuffed with references and sprinkled with citations, he deploys his learning lightly, considering the usual contributions by most professors to criticism today. Professor Wall succeeds in directing attention to an innovative, cross-cultural field of earth-based, multidisciplinary research.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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