A London literary walk in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.B. Yeats


Irish poet Niall McDevitt continues his Yeats explorations by leading a Central London walk from Yeats’s bachelor pad in Euston to the only known pub he was willing to frequent, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street.

Though Yeats wrote designer Irish poetry in which there is little or no glimpse of London – apart from the pejorative ‘pavements grey’ – he was an avid Londoner who depended on the city for his intellectual, artistic and spiritual development.


Fellow Londoners from whom he learnt about mysticism, literature, politics and the arts included Wilde, Blavatsky, Beardsley and Pound. Though he built no London, and wilfully censors London from his poetry, there are traces to be sifted, and plenty of stories from his autobiographical prose.


This walk particularly focusses on the fin de siecle Yeats: nationalist, Blake editor, symbolist and – according to some – diabolist. McDevitt chooses not to ignore the crucial role of magical study in Yeats’s development. As well as giving him metaphors for his poetry, magic deepened his friendships. Fellow neophytes included his uncle George Pollexfen, his muse Maud Gonne, his patron Annie Horniman and his future wife George Hyde-Lees. In his 30 years as a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he did not attain to the highest grade of ‘Ipsissimus’ (which means the ‘very self’). McDevitt argues that Yeats, as the greatest lyric poet in the English language and a supremely learned magus, deserves to be honoured with this title posthumously and that we can get behind the masks to see him for who he really was.


Meeting Sat 13 June at Woburn Walk at 1.00pm. (Nearest tube: Euston Square or Euston). £5

(N.B. The walk takes place on the occasion of Yeats’s 150th birthday. Niall McDevitt will be guesting on The Robert Elms Show on BBC London 94.9FM at 11am that morning.)


A forthcoming short essay ‘Ipsissimus Yeats: the Poet-Magus in London’ will be published in the debut edition of STEPZ Magazine.



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The Yeats talk for SELFS happened on Wed 13 March to a packed house in the Old Kings Head Pub, Kings Head Yard, Borough High Street, Southwark.


I’d done it as a walk but not as a talk. I knew I could walk the talk but could I talk the walk?


It was good to beam the Isis-Urania Temple into the room. 36 Blythe Road is a legendary address. It remains open to the public in the form of a greasy spoon cafe. Note the synchronicity: George was the name of Yeats’s occult wife.


The tale of the Battle of Blythe Road was perhaps the centrepiece. The big question is: where is the Vault of the Adepti? Someone suggested it was last seen washed up on Brighton beach. I believe the remarkable poem ‘The Mountain Tomb’ may provide clues.


All the Yeatses turned out for the event. I compared Yeats to Ginsberg because they both had mothers who experienced severe mental health issues.


Thanks to Nigel of Bermondsey for the invitation and the hospitality. SELFS talks are ace. My final question to the audience went unanswered. What does Yeats mean by the phrase from his memoirs: “The right voice could empty London again”?

Photos: Frances Nutt


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13 May at 20:00
The Old King’s Head
The Kings Yard, 45 Borough High Street, SE1 1NA London, United Kingdom

W.B. Yeats was one of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s key poets. Though ‘National Poet of Ireland’, whose stock image is that of Dublin theatre-manager/cultural nationalist and Sligo poet/folklorist, Yeats spent long periods of childhood, youth, middle age and old age in London.

Irish poet Niall McDevitt argues that London was Yeats’s ‘third eye’,  where he practised the magical study that was so important for his poetry and where he kept in touch with new developments in literature and the arts.

Yeats Pre-Raphaelite, Yeats Symbolist, Yeats Decadent, Yeats Modernist – as well as the misunderstood and mocked Yeats Magus  – are explained by McDevitt, paying close detail to the London co-ordinates, and especially the legendary ‘Battle of Blythe Road’ in 1900.


Talk starts at 8pm

£3/1.50 concession

To be sure of a place you can email nigelofbermondsey@gmail.com

Photo of Niall McDevitt talking about the Battle of Blythe Road at 36 Blythe Road:
Max Reeves

Niall McDevitt is the author of two critically acclaimed collections of poetry b/w (Waterloo Press 2010) and Porterloo (International Times 2013) and has been hailed as ‘the Paddy Conscience of the Crunch and Jihad’.


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ZION (2)

I have written a short lyric poem ‘Zion’ as a riposte to a tendency within British poetry to fetishise Zion. Two 21st century poetry volumes will suffice to illustrate my point: Geoffrey Hill’s The Orchards of Syon and Kei Miller’s The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion.

Both of these books contain the fetish-word in their titles, and throughout their poems. It is a refrain in which the keyword grows more magical with repetition. Arguably Hill’s ‘Syon’ should not be targeted as it is not the same as the word ‘Zion’. Well actually, it’s just an Anglicisation of the Latin ‘Sion’. The writer Thomas L. Jeffers explains that The Orchards of Syon is “a title having less to do with Syon Park, the London home of the Duke of Northumberland and famous for its 18th-century gardens, than with a visionary place named for the Mount Zion that overlooks Jerusalem”. In Hill it seems like British-Israelism, but he is too complex a poet to be pinned down to simplicities. Is his Anglicised Zion a badge for Anglo-Zionism? The poet Mark Wilson claims that Hill “has absolutely no respect for present day Zionism and has actually attacked it in two recent Daybook sequences: ‘Odi Barbare’ and ‘Liber Illustrium Virorum’.”

Hill imaginatively merges two places – Goldengrove (from Hopkins) and Syon – as idyll. Goldengrove is perhaps the English countryside of Hill’s childhood; Syon perhaps the spiritual aspiration of his adulthood. Syon is where Hill wants to be, but this is in a 2002 book widely seen as offering readers a poetic consolatio after the world-changing events of 9/11. There is little doubt that Hill is right-leaning, physically aligned with such British institutions as the Monarchy, the Church of England, Oxford University etc. Here for me is the most odious passage Hill has ever written:

Syon! Syon! that which sustains us and is
not the politics of envy, nor solidarnosc,
a hard-won knowledge of what wears us down.

Syon is not Fern Hill; it is grown-up, a place where the political right is rampant and the left is banished. Hill blatantly rejects left-wing politics i.e. solidarnosc, dismissing it as ‘the politics of envy’. Syon, on the other hand, is ‘that which sustains us’, and is defined as the very opposite of this undesirable left. Who is the ‘us’? There is grammatical ambiguity. Is Syon the ‘hard-won knowledge of what wears us down’, or is it not? That Syon is the opposite of solidarnosc – solidarity – and the Polish Labour movement that breached the Iron Curtain, seems damning, even self-contradictory. The thing is, even if Hill is not the curmudgeonly champion of British hierarchy we know him to be, and does not harbour Zionist views, his use of ‘Syon’ as mantra is still questionable. If he is anti-Zionist, it is more questionable, though perhaps he has developed his position since publishing the book 13 years ago. ‘Syon’ lacks the innocence its author sees in it, is some kind of subliminal advertising, some kind of approval. That said, I am an admirer of much of Hill’s work including some of the poems in this volume. I understand why he transposes the yearnings of the Jewish exiles in Babylon for their homeland into his own – perhaps exiled in America, or in internal exile – yearnings for an English equivalent, and appreciate how his change of spelling is sonically less harsh, and modifies his meaning.

The same problem applies to Kei Miller’s volume, but in a different way. ‘Zion’ and its Anglicised variants is a huge concept and means different things to different people. I very much enjoyed The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, even though I’m not mad about cartography as a metaphor, and have problems with the use of the word ‘Zion’. Miller is drawing on the Rastafarian cosmology of Zion as “a utopian place of unity, peace and freedom as opposed to Babylon, the oppressing and exploiting system of the materialistic modern world and a place of evil” (Wikipedia). Miller’s book is as much a heartfelt cry for a better world as Hill’s, and there is no way I would infer any literal Zionism intended or suggested in his utterance.

I should add that I myself do not contest Israel’s right to exist, and am more generally a deeply philosemitic person. Also, I am prone to fetishising the closely related word of ‘Jerusalem’. (One of the many meanings of the Hebrew usage of Zion is ‘Jerusalem’). I therefore understand the urge to have a name for a mystical place of total human liberation. Miller’s Zion is imagined in the following passage:

…You find your feet at last straying off the marl roads,
the bauxite roads, the slaving roads
and the marooning roads, and you would be
turning now onto the singing roads
and the sweeting roads that lift you up
to such a place as cannot be held on maps or charts,
a place that does not keep still at the end of paths.
Know this, that lions who trod don’t worry
bout reaching Zion. In time
is Zion that reach to the lions.

Imagine, however, if you were to ask a Palestinain intellectual what s/he thinks of an English poet or a Jamaican poet using Zion as a talismanic word for the place of human perfectibility. After informing you that ‘Sahyun’ is a wadi a mile from Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, you would probably be told that Zion is the ‘Babylon’ of the Palestinians; it is where death comes from, airstrikes, tanks, quads, soldiers, security walls, observation points, exorbitant taxes, punitive regulations etc. The ‘lions of Zion’ is a popular idea for Zionists also, as in the ‘Lion of Judah’, but showcases its powerful predatory nature.

I am not Palestinian. What I believe about the word ‘Zion’ is that it is a degraded word, a degraded concept, so deeply sullied by the military imperialism of the Israeli government, that it may never recover. There is no exact verbal equivalent of ‘apartheid’ to describe Israeli policy, which is why the word ‘apartheid’ is now so frequently used. The actual word to describe it is ‘Zionism’, which began as a movement to create a nation state for the Jewish people, but has ended up as a movement to wage a colonial settler-state war against the Palestinian people. Therefore the word ‘Zion’ has become synonymous with the word ‘apartheid’. It’s impossible to hear it in any context without a feeling of distaste. It is its own death-knell.

My poem ‘Zion’ is based on the actual topography of Jerusalem which I visited in 2014. That Zion is an ever-expanding concept can be seen in how it can refer to the Holy of Holies, to Solomon’s Temple, to Temple Mount, to Mount Moriah, and to Jerusalem itself. But the geography of Jerusalem also includes Mount Zion which is just outside the Old City walls. Its terrain boasts such landmarks as King David’s Tomb, the Cenacle (site of the Last Supper) and the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, where many English are buried. They died in Jerusalem, for Jerusalem. It is a symbol of the Anglo-Zionism which is a major belief-system of such British leaders as Blair and Cameron. It being a hill means that I can use the word ‘hill’ with a double meaning, a passing nod to Sir Geoffrey.

‘Zion’ has been published in the groundbreaking political and artistic magazine STRIKE! in the March-April 2015 edition, with a photograph by Max Reeves, to coincide with the Israeli election in which Netanyahu’s Likud Party defeated the opposition Zionist Union.

To contemplate how a word can become dirty, think of the word ‘cleansing’.


Niall McDevitt

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Porterloo is a unique book in the history of poetry in English.

Irish poet Niall McDevitt has seen through the English tradition of ‘courtly poetry’ and demonstrated how a self-respecting poetry need have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

The collection is an epic response to the return of the Conservatives to power in 2010 – albeit hamstrung by coalition – and the shock of not only observing how Conservatism treats human beings but of suffering it first hand. (As an immigrant who experienced unemployment and who has since ‘graduated’ to self-employment, McDevitt was among the lower echelons of the 99% whom the Tory whip was lashing.)

Other pursuits were abandoned. McDevitt began writing a new type of poetry to counteract the sheer psychic harassment he was being subjected to by Con-Dem rhetoric and legislation.

After attending a reading by the veteran Afro-American poet Amiri Baraka and particularly enjoying the sequence of political haiku called ‘Lowcoup’, McDevitt wrote a lengthy 30-page sequence of anti-Conservative haiku which he called ‘Fucku’, satirising the daily minutiae of Tory powerplay with the assistance of the invaluable Facebook page NOBODY LIKES A TORY.

The first subject he found to give a bigger canvas to was the imprisonment of Charlie Gilmour in 2010 for swinging from the Cenotaph flag. Sentenced to 16 months, Gilmour was being vilified in the Daily Mail and deluged with hatemail from its readers. As an antidote to this hatemail, McDevitt wrote an epistle, ‘Letter to Charlie Gilmour (aka ‘The Cenotaph Yob’)’, a poem in four sections which catches the mood of the 2010 riots but also meditates on one of the darkest episodes from English history i.e. the public hangings at Tyburn.

A later poem was a self-questioning celebration of the 2010 storming of the Tory H.Q. at Millbank by students protesting the hike in tuition fees. McDevitt is honest enough to examine his feelings of jubilation at hearing the news and and ask if they are unworthy. The poem was first published in the Spring edition of the radical new magazine STRIKE!

Porterloo’s title is a multuiple pun on portaloo/Waterloo/Peterloo and which alludes to the disgraced ex-Tory councillor and Tesco heiress Shirley Porter. Though her reputation was destroyed by her behaviour as leader of Westminster Council, the Conservatives continue to behave in exactly the same way, having learnt nothing from her notorious decline and fall. Once again, social cleansing and gerrymandering are the order of the day. The ‘porterloo’ imagery is sustained through the volume, from the portaloos of Tent City to the discovery of a dead Conservative in a portaloo at Glastonbury.

Porterloo thus becomes a codeword for the latest class war to be unleashed by the Tories, their first in the 21st century. In the climax to the first section of the book – called “P” – McDevitt imagines the precarious situation in which millions of people find themselves as ‘waiting to be flushed down the Porterloo’

Other poems lament social cleansing in Elephant and Castle and Camden Town, as well as the persecution of Julian Assange by William Hague and the British authorities,

Some of the satire is a Jarryesque gob-in-the-face of the British establishment. ‘Sonnet to a Monarchist’ criticises a poet who has fallen under the spell of Prince Charles. ‘Let Us Celebrate Dickens’ concisely shows up the hollowness and hypocrisy of the Dickens celebrations in 2012. ‘Thatcherism’ scourges the ‘militant mediocrity’ of Tories throughout the ages while celebrating the fact that ‘there is no such thing as mrs. t******r’.

The book is also distinguished by having a preface from the illustrious author-anarchist Heathcote Williams on the theme of ‘Insurgent Poetry’.

In contrast to the menacing ‘blue meanie’ parade of Conservatives that feature in the book, there is a bohemian backdrop of culture heroes such as Heathcote Williams, Amiri Baraka, Naomi Klein, David Graeber, Jeremy Reed, and Allen Ginsberg. The 20th Century English poet David Gascoyne is re-appraised in an essay in the appendix. What McDevitt has been taught by Gascoyne is that there is a ‘third way’ in poetry. One doesn’t have to choose between the solipsism of personal expression or the agitprop of political expression, a single poem can serve both needs.

Porterloo is personal-political poetry at its wittiest and McDevitt’s trademark shape-shifting is in evidence in the ceaseless formal experimentaion of the cycle. The art is primary, despite the political urgency.

The book covers a very important period in modern history which includes the year of the English riots and the year of the Occupy movement, but takes a long view. It will be capable of cautioning the future.

Poet Jeremy Reed has hailed Porterloo as ‘a brilliant explosive book… the best politically weaponised poetry ever’.

Porterloo is published by International Times with illustrations by Mike Lesser.
The book has been critically acclaimed in The Wolf, The Recusant, Stride, The Morning Star and was hailed as book of the year by poet AJ Dehany.




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Abu Dis with dome1

the 63 bus circles round the hills of Jerusalem and down the valleys of Jerusalem, along geometry-defying escarpments, through gold sands and red rocks, screening walls of death on its windows, shunting ridge to ridge of a desert conurbation, to a township divided from itself

the wall that guillotines Abu Dis is made up of thin tall rectangular slabs of concrete, each with a cyclops eye at the top, blind spyholes surveying nihilism, colourless but for an international babel of graffiti, a blue Che, an Irish tricolour

the wall is elephantine in its greyness and magnitude, serpentine in its curving constriction of the land

the blue Che says it all, and across the road from his messianically sad visage is a grassless football pitch, wildly nettled and playerless, its surface made of sun-dried mudballs; alongside Che, also blue, a ‘LET ME SEE THE SEA’ and two impressive jellyfish
trailing ribbons, as if to sting the barricade

burning abu dis2

black earth, black wall, flaming tyres and sledgehammers, an atmosphere of tear-gas

shadows of human beings scale illegal heights

the area is acquainted with death, beyond the black wall is Al-Eizariya, (i.e. the place of Lazarus), better known as Bethany, cave of the stench

Palestine Parliament3

the would-have-been Palestinian Parliament would-have-been in Abu Dis,
would-have-been where an independent Palestine would-have-been governed from, would-have-been centrally situated in this East Jerusalem idyll, would-have-been emblazoned with the Eagle of Saladin, would-have-been would-have-been but isn’t,
built to be dis-used, conditionally perfect

instead there is a wall dividing farmers from their farmlands, students from their university, neighbours from their neighbours, Jerusalemites from their Jerusalem

Abu Dis ghetto4

Ahmed offers me a fist, his hand oily from garage work, and shows me to the bus-stop beyond the lifeless campus

at Abu Dis checkpoint, Arab passengers show A4 permits and I.D.s, I show my passport, the bus enters a tunnel and ascends to Mount Scopus, it’s winter, the sun is gone

Niall McDevitt

(Photos courtesy of Electronic Intifada)

N.B. Abu Dis is twinned with Camden Town. The website for the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) can be found here: http://www.camdenabudis.net

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Clayton Eshleman: THE WHOLE ART

The Whole Art Clayton Eshleman The Whole Art is a book of essays homaging the work of the American poet/essayist/translator/editor Clayton Eshleman.

It is brilliantly edited by Stuart Kendall and superbly produced by Black Widow Press.

Contributors include James Hillman, Eliot Weinberger, Michael McClure and Rachel Blau DuPlessis.

Having met Clayton Eshleman in London at the Nancy Spero exhibition at the Serpentine, having later interviewed him for The Wolf, having corresponded with him regularly, and having published some of his poems in International Times, I was invited by Stuart Kendall to contribute an essay to the book. It was suggested I write about Eshleman as a political poet, which was a good brief for me. Eshleman’s engagement is one of the things I admire most about his work, as well as his eye for the shamanistic.

My piece is called ‘The Outright Lie”: Clayton Eshleman and the Rules of Engagement. It discusses the problems faced by political poets, with reference to Blake’s America a Prophecy and Robert Duncan’s ‘Up Rising’.

As an old Beat, it was gratifying in the notes on contributors section to see my blurb just below that of Michael McClure, who has contributed a poem of homage called ‘Smile of the Beast’ which is dedicated to Eshleman.


Photo: Julie Goldsmith


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