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Alan Cooke wrote a haunting follow up to the electric Naked in New York
Note: This post originally appeared in www.expatspost.com
Memorable quotes from THE SPIRIT
An Odyssey Home
Emmy Award Winning Writer
It is true that certain events in life can alter us forever. It could either be a journey, a birth or death of loved ones. We are all connected. When I started reading the follow up to his book Naked in New York, I was touched by the profound sentiments in his paragraphs. He writes in a distinct language that is truly his own. Even the way he describes scenes or situations sounds original.
THE SPIRIT of IRELAND An Odyssey Home, is a memoire about aftermath of his New York journey. Here the wandering poet is exhausted and reeling from the excitement he has finally given up. While Naked in New York evokes electricity, The Spirit of Ireland is haunting. Here he has written his deepest sentiments about a country he calls home and the love-hate relationship that has always been the core: the contradictions that plague the modern day Ireland.
So what is Ireland to him? Here is how he describes her:
“She was the orange sunsets and the breaking dawn filled with the symphony of nature and life. She was the pulsing heart by the ocean of tears. She was my grief and my salvation. She was my loss and my beginning. She was a well that had fed the millions who have come from afar to drink from her. She was my family and my friends. She was my shame and my agony from near and afar. She was the four million, the soft race of Irish dreamers and talkers and lovers. She was the hunger of the past and the scar that runs under the soft earth. She was the farmer’s hands and the thunderous hooves of horses over the broken soil of the West by the ocean at the end of the world. It was where I was born and where I had left and returned to again. And I am filled with her, this sensual and sad place. “
After returning home our poet has written about the transformation. The abuse that follows the roller coaster journey into the unknown. This is the very thing that probably plagued Jack Kerouac and Mahatma Gandhi. That’s why they wrote those masterpieces. Their soul’s unrest finally found something to channel all that rage and alienation. Alan Cooke describes his own feelings this way:
“The language within me had changed. The doubt and consideration of kinder worlds has disappeared. Harsh and strong, the electric energy of America burned along the seam of my spirit giving me something new and frightening to carry.”
The contradictions that follow:
“I thought of New York with its ten million natives. But this was not a metropolis of ideas and inspirations and dreams merging and colliding again and again like where I had been. Dublin was an intense beehive of mindless consumption. There was no room for the wandering soul trying to find the threadbare path of his own life once again. Something was being wiped away by the hour. I put my hands in my pockets and looked in the windows at the lifeless figures posed into an odd tableaux. Distorted plastic dummies. They reminded me of the misshapen twisted apathy of the spiritless crowds that now haunted my mind and moved quickly past me.”
“This new Ireland was a bloated pool of greed and terrible progress. It was a relentless facade sold by a quixotic devil who offered eternal riches wrapped in toilet paper. I jolted back to the moment on this Dart and looked over the slumped shoulders of a businessman at the headline which read: ‘Ireland, happiest place in the world.’ I looked at all the faces of harried worker bees and could feel their swelling tension. ”
Let it be known to future readers that the sentiments are exactly the same as how we address our parents. We see their good and bad sides. But we love them. I know this book will draw polarizing reactions from Irish readers and beyond. But to react negatively is to miss Alan Cooke’s point. His love for Ireland runs deep. He has hopes and dreams for Ireland. And readers will want to go to that country after reading this book. It is because he takes us to the smells, the climate and even the minute things, through his hypnotic prose. One can’t help but love everything about Ireland. Including the contradictions, harmony and the colors that embrace its air. The Irish people are the true salt of the Earth. They are amazing and fascinating.
And in understanding lies palpable love:
“Ireland’s people were by nature a nation of beautiful lazy dreamers in thought and deed whether it be sinking into a pint or a humorous gaze upon the world. But this was all demolished. It was now seething and sweating. Grunting like a pig for the nipple of the new. ”
What’s impressive about this book is its sheer description of life and death at a young age.
“This was death. His body went soft in my neighbor’s arms. The ambulance came too late. ”
Of death in the family and message from beyond the grave:
“My Mother’s gaze was lost in the storm though. The bird would not leave. The sky was already growing dark. It was winter and only four o’clock. The robin’s tribute to my Mother’s woes hung in the air. She held onto a table cloth and would not let go of it.”
In Chapter 3, the author describes his current location. Perhaps the Irish soul is always fascinated by landscapes . Landscapes of the world and the universe itself:
“I found a cottage in the outer reaches of County Clare, a place by the Atlantic Ocean. It was set amongst a flat and beautiful landscape with tiny stone walls and old famine roads. ”
And here he further supports this claim:
” There is something in the Irish soul that is connected to the universe. The pulse of our breathing is measured by the rhythms of our landscape and our rivers and valleys and delicate roses. Our language and poems take flight from the mouths of hundreds of nations since the beginning of the written word. Our fearless legs have lain our seed across the globe. It all comes back to the beginning, in a place down a tiny dirt road. These kind of people, to me, were the source. Something very old and undefinable. We built New York and London and many other places with our sweat and tears and heart. We left these places with our magic. Our open hands of craft and skill and hands that bent into pockets in icy Americans winters so far from home, so far from love.”
Every journey in a rite of passage. Do we gain something from it? Absolutely! This is how he sees his own journey:
My journey alone gave me something. A treasure and a way of seeing the world when most men bore the weight of long hours for fools and left their dreams cast out into the darkness.”
The book explores the darkness of the Irish famine. I am amazed at the combination of horror and poetry when he wrote the following:
“The blood had run in tidal rivers covering the faces of dark tender eyes only two generations ago. Mouths that fell apart eating rotting food and grass and earth. ”
I often think that the poetic gift is a special one. To have such laser accuracy in observation of moments and the people wrapped in these moments is fantastic:
“In Mayo, one day, I found a wild empty beach. I watched an old man arrive in his car. His spirit looked white, a kind of a shape around his body like a light. He pulled his car right up to the water’s edge. He got out and took his clothes off, his shirt then his trousers. He left them in a bundle by his car. He looked up into the sky. His body was bent. He had spindly arms. He put his hands on his waist. The sea was a mirror of calm, but underneath were the old stirring currents of the Atlantic”
That and the connection to the mystical :
” I walked further into the harsh scrub and rock, each foot carefully moving over the deep cracks of stone. I came upon a large slab of rock that must have been twenty feet long. Perfect and smooth, all grey and very much like the back of a whale. It has a skin and surface filled with energy. I sat on the slab then I lay across it. I put my stick down and took my coat off. I spread my arms across the rock and let my palms touch the skin of it. I turned my head and lay my ear close to the ground. It was humming, something so low, like a vibration. It was comforting. Like the earth’s very own song. Ireland, this little green island, cast on the edges of Europe isolated and alone for thousands of years, always kept its magic. It begins over and over. I drifted off to sleep. Even the wind seemed to quiet for my repose in this valley.”
“He was like a ghost in the landscape as of those animals perfectly attuned. Almost like the wind, strong yet at times and at other times a bare breeze that faintly touched the lips.”
When we think of the Irish spirit, we think of this connection to this life and beyond. I remember a conversation I had with the author and how animals play a big part as messengers of the dead. This is an incident he often mentions in his interviews:
“I came back home one day and I saw a small grey white Connemara pony standing alone in a field near my house. He had a dapple of gray around his back and legs. I got out of my car and walked to him, he stepped back and snorted. He bolted and ran around the stony field wild and unfettered. It seemed like a spirit had materialized and moved onto this land in horse form. He seemed to glide and move with poetry. Every time I tried to get near him, he would simply move of reach of my hands. He refused to yield. He seemed different from other horses. ”
Horses are also part of what it means to be a Celt. From the mythology involving Epona and Rhiannon, there is something mystical about horses:
“They say a horse can sense a wound in a man. Their sensitive noses can pick up the stench of imbalance and disharmony in a soul. He stood his ground then moved towards my outstretched hand. He pushed his nose over the length of my palm.”
His thoughts about the elderly:
“They say when you get old your spirit moves forward out of the body. It moves through the skin and floats like an energy close to you. And all you were and all that you have experienced and all you have carried and how you have carried it were written upon it. ”
And what it means being Irish:
“A gene built from suffering made into art and laughter. A soul undivided like a pool of silver water. An ocean stilled for all those yearning to dip into and be reborn.”
The Spirit of Ireland, an Odyssey Home is a beautiful book. It is a mirror of our humanity. It is something that you can either agree or disagree but it does create a stir inside you. A beautiful memoir and I enjoyed every bit of it. I enjoyed the tone, the prose and the fact that Alan Cooke put so much of his heart and soul into it. Some of us only know how to be alive …in the only way we know. But Mr Cooke , The Wild Irish Poet shows us what it means to live intensely. Even if we can only grasp vicariously at such beautiful window…to a beautiful soul.
The book is set for release soon.
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