Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Happy Christmas my arse...

Illustration by Cathy Simpson

Happy Christmas my arse…

Hastings writer Leigh Kennedy author of the celebrated book of short stories entitled Wind Angels was recently interviewed (Nov 27 2012) by HOT columnist Sean O’Shea. Leigh requested to interview him in return. Sean reluctantly agreed – just for Christmas.

Leigh talks with Sean about books, questions of identity, exile and his temporary re-birth as a HOT columnist.

Leigh Kennedy (LK): What writers have most influenced you?

Sean O’Shea (SOS): The first book I ever read was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Thereafter I enjoyed Steinbeck and I particularly admired his concern for social justice. The Russian short story writers, including Chekov, left an enduring impression on me and of the Irish writers Kavanagh, Yeats, McGahern and of course Joyce and Beckett.

Of the Irish writers who wrote in Gaeilge, Sean O’ Riordain left an indelible mark. His poem One Island and Another/Oilean agus Oilean Eile, captures well the plight of one who has become uprooted, outgrown their native tradition and faced the challenge of being a solitary wanderer.

Regretfully I no longer speak my native language with any degree of facility and don’t know of anyone who speaks it in my neighbourhood. When I’ve had a few jars, and if the conversation becomes a bit tedious, I sometimes revert to the Gaeilge. People think I’m speaking in tongues or just raving. So, it has regrettably become a private discourse which I still catch myself murmuring in my sleep to old ghosts.

LK: So, you are a migrant to Hastings. Do you feel at home here?

SOS: I’ve never felt entirely at home in myself, let alone at home in any particular place or tribe. I’m drawn to an image of life as a pilgrimage. Though birth was not our choice or fault, we all have our journey to undertake without maps or guidebooks.

There was this artist, I forget her name, who assembled a pile of stones, many of them broken. She chose each stone for its unique colour, texture, weight and shape. She would feel her way across the stones, and each stone represented to her a different stage of life’s journey. There wasn’t, so far as I can recall, anywhere she was going. She didn’t speak of arriving….She entitled her sculpture, Prayers to broken stone, lines borrowed from T.S Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men.

At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone

A wise person once said to me that we spend the early part of life trying to find ourselves, and the latter part getting over ourselves. Identity is to some extent an amalgam of other people’s definitions of you, and it’s possible to become disfigured – like a Francis Bacon portrait – in the distorting lenses of people’s changing perceptions and appraisals.

A generous gaze

LK: Isn’t that a bit bleak?

SOS: Well, I don’t go as far as Sartre in his rather grim description of the possible relationship permutations i.e. sadism, masochism or indifference. It helps to be the recipient of a generous gaze, maternally at first and then through access to material and cultural resources, and most importantly of all fellowship.

That said, Hastings is a very good place not to feel at home.

LK: Your favourite song?

SOS: Difficult one because there are so many but at this time of the year it’s got to be Fairytale of New York by Shane McGowan of The Pogues. I like Shane’s black humour and irreverence

It was Christmas eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me won’t see another one
And then they sang a song
The rare old mountain dew
I turned my face away and dreamed about you

And the boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas day

LK: Why did you come to Hastings?

SOS: I was living and working in London and became seriously ill. I felt like a wounded beast yearning to crawl back to the sea which it dimly remembered had once been its home.

So, I retreated to Hastings, a short distance away from God’s waiting room. I thought that I had entered the departure lounge of life and was now just waiting for that final anonymous call.

But Hastings wasn’t done with me. I slowly woke to the sound of its music, the cries of the gulls, the barks of the foxes, the hoots of the owls, the crashing waves, the incantations of its poets, occasional intelligent conversation, sing-arounds and some kindly words and gestures from complete strangers.

These sounds and events seemed to call out to my pagan soul and beckon me back once more into the fray. I wondered to myself, am I really up for another shout in the blood?

Then I joined the comradely group of volunteers who comprise Hastings Online Times and SOS was born. I was relieved to give some rest to my previous exhausted persona. Like most of us when in our private hours we survey our follies, I had dreamt of other things I might have been and done. One such fantasy was of a life tap danced in print with faltering fingers fumbling over its own obituary. I valued the opportunity to write for HOT, put a few words in on behalf of the oppressed and interview some of Hastings many fascinating artists.

LK: You mention the importance of music in your life. Could you say a bit more about this?

SOS: Thankfully we still have the music and that’s what keeps me sane. Hastings is a veritable cornucopia of musical talent and diversity. When the music comes together and the session is really happening you can forget yourself for awhile, time seems to stop, and every so often you reach a plane which some call sublime. Now that’s a good place to live. Maybe we’ll all live there one day in mutual recognition and harmony. Wouldn’t that be a grand thing?

As it says in Corinthian’s (1) 13:12

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

LK: That sounds almost optimistic Sean!

SOS: Well, as St Augustine once said

Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.

LK: Thanks for allowing me to interview you.

My thanks to you…Wind Angel.

December 2012

Posted 11:56 Friday, Dec 14, 2012 In: SOS

Also in: SOS

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