the biggest romantic with the biggest secret but all the greatest romances in history end in death & that’s the most beautiful reminder.
arizona, art, artist, black sails tattoo, body, canvas, change, customer, david lopez, design, different, dreams, history, imprinted, ink, inspiration, interview, japan, japanese, lopez family tattooing, nashville, new york, okinawa, one shot tattoo, origin, quality, ron and dave's, ron lopez, skin, staten island, symbolism, Tattoo, traditional, work
Imprinted by the Gun….
Tattoo Gun That Is
By: Allison Ryder
Ron & Dave’s is an extremely well known and respected tattoo shop in Staten Island. It’s a place customers go with trusting attitudes and the ability to release the reins of control and allow the tattoo artists to create art that incorporates their vision as an artist, with the reflection of the idea in the customer’s mind. Ron Lopez is a dedicated and extremely talented artist whose reputation precedes himself, and his sons David and Christian Lopez, not only followed in his footsteps but are also impeccable tattoo artists. Ron opened up his own shop in Elizabeth NJ after working underground early in his tattoo career. In 1998, Ron and Dave opened up a tattoo shop, side by side and seventeen years later, that shop has not only become a landmark in the midst of Castleton Corners but it has become a location, people travel from all over the world to, to get a tattoo done by one of these artists. Ron passed down all of his knowledge and abilities to both of his sons and Chris began tattooing at 16 years old. Prior to this shop opening, the first tattoo Dave ever did was “the outline of the hot stuff red devil on my dad’s leg at twelve years old,” he nodded in remembrance of where it all began.
I wondered if he had always known this is what he wanted to do. Some people know their whole lives and some people know in a moment. When asked, Dave’s response was;
“As a child, I was always fascinated by tattoos and watching my dad do his work. He’s been incredibly influential in my career but in high school, I had no idea if I wanted to be a tattoo artist or not. I approached my dad about learning how to tattoo because it was something I wanted to know how to do. I didn’t learn, thinking it would be my full time job but once I started, I fell in love with it.”
The love he speaks of is reflected in every creative, finely detailed, and beautifully colored piece of art he sends out into this world on someone’s body. At 16 years old, Dave began tattooing and his first in shop tattoo was a blue rose on a woman’s back. Since that moment, it’s become such a significant part of his life and it has brought him countless opportunities, friendships, and experiences: “I love that someone comes in with blank skin and leaves with a picture that’s going to be on them for the rest of their lives.” Spoken like a true artist, appreciative and dedicated to the work he’s putting out there.
Dave followed his father’s footsteps in a courageous way, however, Ron is not the only artist he admires and finds influential. Kevin Craig, Guy Verderosa, Satoru Koizumi, and Shuryu are others, just to name a few.
While Dave does not categorize the style of tattoos he is capable of creating and while he enjoys everything he does with no piece favored over the other, he likes Japanese and traditional American tattoos best. I admire the mixture of these two styles which cover his arms as he states, “I like Japanese style because of the stories that are involved with the designs and I like traditional American style based tattoos because it’s the stuff I grew up seeing and doing on those who came before me. I would like to do more Tibetan style tattoos in the future.” Dave also enjoys tattooing older people generally because they’re usually more tolerant, however, “I can usually tell who is going to give me a hard time as far as pain goes but then some people really surprise me.”
I look around at the diverse artwork hanging upon the walls of the shop by various artists. I admire the large red letters towards the back of the shop with little bulbs illuminating RON & DAVE’S, to be seen immediately upon entrance. There are countless books and sketches for customers to go through and pinpoint precisely what kind of tattoo they’re interested in getting. Driving up Victory Boulevard, you can see the lights shine from the frame of the glass window out front, as the shop makes its mark on the busy street. It’s not just the tattoos that Dave puts his time and efforts into, it’s the entire shop. Upon first glance, this immaculate, artistic, and comfortable atmosphere draws customers in, as does his personable and honest approach to the customers. A conversation can be started with anyone if someone cares enough to try, and he always cares enough to ask.
So now I ask, what is it like owning and running your own business?
“Owning my own shop can be extremely stressful sometimes but it also allows me the freedom to do other things like travel. When I work as a guest artist in someone else’s shop, they are my boss and I enjoy that as well because when I’m working for someone else I’m less stressed. This is because I’m only worried about what I’m doing and not worried about how everyone else is operating. But I wouldn’t change a thing.”
And thank god for that.
The history of tattoos is a lengthy one, dating back to Neolithic times. The practice has been transferred through various cultures and countries, as a portrayal of religion and status, to pledges of love and bravery, to identification, and independent and artistic expression. In periods of Chinese history, tattoos were used upon slaves to reflect ownership, in India, tattoos can be symbolic to specifics within culture, in Japan, criminals were tattooed as a sign of punishment, and in the United State, tattoos were once used to identify someone as a seamen. For someone who’s been tattooing for a little over 20 years, there has to be distinctive changes in this practice and I questioned how it’s changed throughout the years.
“Tattooing became mainstream. Tattoos used to be symbolic images conveying feelings and thoughts, and now tattooing is very literal. Everyone thinks their tattoo is different and has a specific meaning to them, when at this point in tattooing, I find the opposite to be true. Tattoos mean less now than they ever did.”
A lot of younger generations get tattooed because it is the latest trend and not because of their value or appreciation for the origin of tattoos, whereas citizens of history got tattoos that stood as an individualistic mark. However, there are still some people who get tattoos of meaning, myself included, and then there are the people who get pieces of artistic expression in uncommon styles of tattooing to truly portray the beauty of art. How I came to begin getting tattooed at Ron & Dave’s was because of my sister who has been loyal to this shop, as well as Ron’s other shop in New Jersey for many years. My first tattoo was done in another shop and initially it was beautiful but upon healing, I could see the error and returned in hopes the artist would fix it, however he was no longer working there. I was extremely picky in entering another shop after my first experience but I knew of Ron & Dave’s from many people. Their reputation certainly proceeded itself and I knew my sister’s work was done well. Her loyalty instantly transferred down to me as I reached out to Dave and had my first interaction with him. While my first encounter was for a miniscule quote, I’ve come a long way since that tattoo, with intricately impeccable pieces that cover entire portions of my body. Almost all of my tattoos hold a significant meaning to me and while I provided him with an idea or an image, he took it and painted it more beautiful than I could have ever imagined, marking it different with his signature. But one tattoo, I completely released the reins on as I entered the realm of Japanese style tattoos with a David Lopez twist. As someone who has been tattooing through such different time periods, it is more visible when something becomes more about popularity than symbolism. It not only shows the change in the business but the change in society.
Not only does Dave co-own and run Ron & Dave’s but upon relocating to Arizona, he opened up Black Sails Tattoo Shop with Fritz Andrews, where he remained for five years: “I looked around and I couldn’t find a suitable shop. I was self-employed here so why not open up my own shop in Arizona and do things my way.” Most people would fear starting up their own business, let alone doing it away from all the people they know but confidence surrounds every word he speaks because no matter where he is, the quality of his work is unquestionable.
So now I wonder, what is the biggest difference having owned a shop on two sides of the United States?
“People in New York give me more freedom to do what I think is best. They’re more comfortable with me because my reputation is more well-known here, whereas in Arizona, they’re taking my word for it.”
Aside from New York and Arizona, we can add Nashville and Japan to the list. Let’s begin with Mike Kepper, a professional skateboarder from New Jersey who Dave looked up to, as he was a skateboarder himself. He eventually got to meet Mike because his father tattooed him and since their first encounter, Mike became one of Dave’s longtime friends. Mike ended up moving to Nashville and opening up Music City Tattoo with his girlfriend Laura in 2004. Within a year of their grand opening, Dave became a guest artist in their shop, describing the experience as “Amazing. I’m working in a shop with great friends of mine and Nashville is drenched with creativity and such artistic people. There’s an enormous amount of individualistic expression there and it’s truly awesome to work beside someone I grew up, looking up to.”
Dave doesn’t stop at the border of fifty states, he crosses the world to be a guest artist at One Shot Tattoo in Okinawa, Japan. Satoru Koizumi has been tattooing since 1994, opening up One Shot Tattoo in 2004. He is an artist with a pristine eye for detail, and a shop that tourists and inhabitants alike are sure to visit to get some of the most culture infused pieces they could get done in Japan. How does a situation like this even begin you might ask and I would say, through proactive initiative to not only market himself as an artist but to learn more, to improve, to expand his knowledge and apply it to his own business.
“I contacted Satoru through MySpace to ask if he took guest artists and he said yes so in December of 2012, I traveled out there for the first time.”
Irezumi is the Japanese word for tattoo or to be literal, the insertion of ink under the skin. In Japanese culture, the art of tattooing is said to date back to approximately 10,000 BC. At the beginning of the Meji period in roughly 1868, tattoos were outlawed by the government and it wasn’t until 1948, that they were legalized.
So the question is: What is it like tattooing in a culture that inspired so many great artists and pieces of work varying from religious reasons and social rank, to cultural and artistic expression?
“The work ethic of the Japanese is better than anyone I’ve come into contact with. Being able to work alongside of them is truly a privilege and it improves the way I go about my daily business in every aspect. I actually tattoo mostly Americans in Japan but it’s just an amazing experience to work side by side with people who are so dedicated to what they’re doing. It’s not just a job to them, it’s their life and they take every aspect seriously down to the smallest detail.”
Shuryu is a Tebori practitioner who Dave met through Satoru at One Shot Tattoo. Shuryu comes from a large tattoo “family” in Japan and upon their meeting they had become friends and his first time in New York was in 2014 with Dave. It’s upon rare occasions, you can find this amazing artist at Ron & Dave’s shop where he tattoos in an authentic Japanese way. The style used at Ron & Dave’s is strictly tattoos created with western style tattoo machines whereas Shuryu’s style is a mix between western and traditional Japanese style with hand tool methods. Tebori is the traditional form of tattooing in Japan. The tattoo is applied using a bamboo or metal stick with needles attached at the end that is thrust into the skin at a specific rhythm, depositing pigment into the skin layers.
Not only is David Lopez a remarkable tattoo artist traveling around this world creating art, learning and absorbing practices and cultures to mold into the business he’s created for himself, but now, as of 2015, a new road is on the horizon. Not only does he offer tattoos and piercings at his shop but he also offers non-laser tattoo removal. It is considered to be the tattoo over method where a solution is applied in the exact same way as a tattoo. It is applied with use of a tattoo machine and tattoo needles, to inject the solution under the skin. This in turn reacts to the tattoo pigment already embodied in the skin and removes it via the scabbing process, as it’s healing. Depending on the person, it takes between 2-3 months to heal. Dave reassuringly confirms, “This process is better than laser removal because it is not color specific like laser is and it is much less painful. It also tends to remove more pigment per session than the laser does.”
Dave speaks of his experience and opportunities in Japan with the utmost admiration and respect of their work ethic, never once comparing himself. The reality of it is that Dave was raised by one of the best artists in Staten Island and New Jersey, and he worked his way up to gain his own well-known reputation, and he continues to build this tattooing empire. His work ethic is identical to that of the Japanese. He is hard working and dedicated, and has such a love and passion for what he is doing. It isn’t just a job he clocks in and out of; he puts in the hours on days off to draw pieces, he looks for ways to change with the times but also keep the authenticity and history of tattoos alive. Dave runs an immaculate shop with a talented artist at his side (Guy Verderosa), filled with pictures of some of the greatest work this world has ever known and filled with culture. He is courageous enough to begin a business in a place where he has to make a name for himself, literally from the desert up. Since Dave imprinted my body with ink, there is no place else I would go or refer to because this is a man who has devoted his life, his time, and his heart to creating pieces of art that will not fade in color but last for years, just as vibrant as the day it was done. A man who puts the time into every detail and works seven days a week, 365 days a year to accommodate people, to better his business, and to inject images onto bodies that truly matter and are admired by those wear his work so proudly.
So lastly, I ask: Any advice for future customers?
“Yes. Future customers should be concerned with quality over price. People need to stop shopping by price and start focusing on the quality of the tattoos they’re getting. I have an absurd amount of cover-ups, and the reason is because most people don’t research tattoo artists before they get garbage tattooed on them.”
Some businesses charge minimal money to try and gain customers which is appealing to people but the thing is, this isn’t like buying a cheap but attractive sweater that may rip the first time you wash it– this is a piece of art on your body, portrayed to the world, permanently. The customers think they’re scoring a deal because they’re saving money and getting work that seems to be mediocre in their eyes and they end up with work that’s just not done well. A lot of the shops that customers think are a little pricier are the shops with the artists who are doing the better quality work. The bottom line is, a person is going to spend the extra money for something that is better for them and when it comes to tattoos, it shouldn’t be any different. Instead of focusing on the price or thinking what you think they might charge, try focusing on the work and try asking them.
David Lopez is an extremely talented and inspirational tattoo artist who is ambitious, dedicated, worldly, and hard working. He puts in the sleepless nights to make sure every detail is perfection and he has an amazing mind to come up with vibrant color combinations perfectly befitting the piece. The amount of years he has been tattooing, plus the many requests he receives to tattoo outside of New York, as well as the incredible work he produces is part of what makes his reputation so great and well-known. He is his father’s son; both highly dedicated to their craft and putting every ounce of themselves in the business and life they are creating.
The three photos below are done by Guy Verderosa, who also tattoos at Ron and Dave’s in Staten Island.
Ron & Dave’s
603 Manor Road
Staten Island NY 10314
607 Westfield Avenue
Elizabeth NJ 07208
Find these shops on Instagram & Facebook to see some of the amazing work done by these one of a kind artists.
defense is the immediate act of war but instead of responding with hate towards the crime, try reacting with love towards what you’re fighting for. peace delivers answers, reactions, & effectiveness. violence delivers more violence.
ambition, artist, Astray, bigger, different, dreams, found, happiness, heart, history, imagination, jobs, kids, life, lost, love, marriage, me, mind, money, perspective, published, relationships, vision, writer
why have I led myself astray?
because at 22 I became a published writer instead of an English teacher. because I have tattoos and photographs and memories and a bucket list to mark my journey instead of steady promotions. I have worked since I’m 13 years old and I’ve worked in enough cubicles and industries to not settle for money that doesn’t equal to the efforts I’m putting in. I have enough passions to pursue, things I love and things I’m good at, rather than acquiring things that have no impact on my life and myself. because I’m an artist who appreciates life and beauty, and not a slave to the system.
why have I led myself astray?
because I’m 26 and I’m not married with 14 kids already. I’ve had enough long term relationships go wrong or not in the chosen direction to be content they became exboyfriends and not ex-husbands. because I can be in love and be happy, or be in a relationship and be happy, and not have that hour glass most people die by. because I can be with someone and give them myself completely, and appreciate them, and help them, and worry about them because I care, and try to make their life better because they make mine more beautiful, and love them every night, and kiss them with breakfast every morning, and take an interest in what matters to him because he matters to me, and not need a ring to do that.
why have I led myself astray?
because I’m struggling and stressed and ambitious enough to try different things instead of live the same repetitive cycle. because I’m aware that life has limits and unforeseen time stamps so I want to make everyday count and live a life I’m proud of. because I have a heart that I live by, a heart I commit to- despite the cold, distrustful, bitter beings that shadow the earth. because I get rejected and hit rock bottom but keep pursuing the same damn dream because it’s my purpose and my destiny.
why have I led myself astray?
because I live in a way you’re not accustomed to, because people should sweat and bleed in a job they hate making money to save for something that could or could not happen in the future, because I’m responsible but not to your standards, because you don’t understand me.
the truth is, you don’t know me. you know you and I’m not you.
if I did indeed lead myself astray, I’ll find my way. I always do. but I don’t think I did. I think the truth of the matter is people claim you lost your way when their eyes, hearts, and minds are not big enough to have your vision, drive, imagination, and love.
instead of asking why I led myself astray because my life and outlook are so different. ask yourself why you haven’t moved. why you’re so disturbed by the way I live my life, so curious about my winded roads, so inclined to be judgmental that you’ll never really know me.
a sofa in the forties, act of union, actions, answers, barriers, betrayal, childbirth, children, choices, christopher miller, civilization, college, corruption, death, diogenes, disease, english, gender, gestation, great britain, guilty, high honors, historical, history, humanism, identity, individual, ireland, judgment, language, legacy, life, loyalty, male domination, murder, mythical, nature, nightmare, oppression, past, personal experience, philosophy, poetic expression, poetry, political, punishment, reflection, research, seamus heaney, sexual endeavors, silence, society's movements, struggle, symbolism, the haw lantern, values, victim, violence, voice, witness, women, writing
Thanks to my Lit Professor- Prof. Christopher Miller – helping me for many weeks – this would be the paper that granted me High Honors in English when I graduated from College. Just found out it. It’s very long,as it had to be but I wanted to share it regardless.
Seamus Heaney’s Poetic Expression; Individual Identity and Oppression in Ireland
In his long and distinguished poetic career, Seamus Heaney developed the ability to intertwine his own personal experiences with larger political struggles in Ireland. Heaney exposes the violence of humans and the power of authority, as well as the silence and power of the individual. “Act of Union” and “Punishment” are both from Heaney’s collection North (1975), which examines human situations in relation to historical conflicts. These two poems in particular focus on the violent struggles through the lens of women’s experiences. “The Haw Lantern” in the collection The Haw Lantern (1987) and “A Sofa in the Forties” which is a piece in The Spirit Level (1996) are two poems which explore humanism and politics within Ireland; these poems observe an individual’s loyalty to their beliefs and values, when faced with strife in Ireland. These four poems address the political struggles Ireland faced during the latter half of the 20th century. Heaney transports readers through political, historical, mythical, and personal subjects by associating each with the individual in Ireland. Placing himself in the subject’s position, as well as a witness overlooking the conflicts expressed, Heaney is able to transcend both the perspective of the observer and the observed. This technique helps readers visualize the violence and power within Ireland, as he also illustrates the important effects the individual has within society.
In the poem “Act of Union,” the title has a double meaning. Heaney reflects his sexual relationship with his wife, however, he not only displays the sexual relationship but he places himself in his wife’s position throughout this act and the repercussions of it. In doing so, the poet
illustrates the relationship between Great Britain by portraying Ireland as the female. The political Act of Union passed in 1801, formed the United Kingdom by joining Ireland and Great Britain. Much of the Irish community initially found this act appealing because of the independence they would gain; however, this hope was never fulfilled. (Wikipedia “Great Famine (Ireland)”). Another downfall of this act was its aftermath: thousands of lives were lost and others emigrated to the Americas. The destruction of the potato crop led to the Great Famine where starvation and disease spread, all occurring while under British rule. Fingers pointed at Great Britain for purposely allowing tragedy to strike Ireland, while the British made few efforts to prevent it (Wikipedia “Great Famine (Ireland)”). The language of this poem is drenched with both sexual and historical meanings; this is reflected in a two sided structure, which consists of two sonnets. While the first sonnet introduces the circumstances Ireland and the woman find themselves in, the second sonnet reflects the effects of this union.
The poet begins by explaining the sexual intercourse between him and his wife, Marie. This notion inadvertently implies the different genders for Ireland and Great Britain:
A gash breaking open the ferny bed.
Your back is a firm line of eastern coast
And arms and legs are thrown
Beyond your gradual hills. I caress
The heaving province where our past has grown.
I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder
That you would neither cajole nor ignore. (4-10)
Heaney uses the “I” to refer to himself and the “You” to refer to Marie. This is the primary meaning, however, the subsidiary meaning refers Heaney to Great Britain and Marie to Ireland. In this sense, the beginning of this sonnet is referring to Ireland and ‘her’ geographic location in relation to Britain. Heaney uses the ‘gradual hills’ of Ireland to portray a woman’s breasts and in
comparison, speaks of himself caressing his wife’s body. Here, the poet is also providing readers with a visual of Ireland’s landscape. Heaney refers to Ireland in the eighth line, being the beginning of his relationship with his wife. In political terms, he is shining a light upon the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The domination of male over female, and Great Britain’s power over Ireland is reflected in the ending two lines. Through the sexual endeavors noted in this poem, the relationship between Heaney and Marie flourishes into the birth of a child. In contrast, the relationship between the two nations creates the complex birth of a new political entity.
The end of the first sonnet is a portrayal of Heaney’s climax and the conception that follows, as well as Britain’s satisfying pursuit over Ireland and the unfolding effects of this union: “Within whose borders now my legacy / Culminates inexorably.” (13-14) Here, Heaney creates the idea of a seed being left behind in both relationships. This seed represents the birth of Heaney and Britain’s legacy.
The second sonnet illustrates the outcome of the sexual relationship, as well as the political outcomes of such a union. The beginning of this sonnet further reflects the domination of the male over the female; however, this sexual relationship is not meant to be a violent one. It is merely reflecting the difference in strength between man and woman. As Ireland has fallen victim to Great Britain, it is natural Ireland would be personified as a woman. Here, Heaney is referring to Marie’s pain during gestation and childbirth: “And I am still imperially / Male, leaving you with pain.” (15-16) This also refers to the pains the society of Ireland face after their own ‘intercourse’ with Great Britain. Heaney continues by vividly showing how the act he engaged in with Marie created a child but it is a child she must carry alone. In terms of Ireland,
though the union was initially embraced, it was Ireland that had to carry the weight on “her” shoulders and received the tragic repercussions of this relationship.
The developing fetus is symbolized as an innocent but devastating intruder:
And ignorant little fists already
Beat at your borders and I know they’re cocked
At me across the water. No treaty
I foresee will salve completely your tracked
And stretchmarked body, the big pain
That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again. (22-28)
The effect of the sexual relationship between Heaney and Marie was the unborn child in her womb. In this sense, “the water” is relating to the woman’s water being on the verge of breaking. When it comes to Great Britain and Ireland, Heaney creates various perspectives as to what this growing child could truly mean. This reflects the viral power of Britain’s rule; as if it were a one sided disease, growing stronger rapidly, and oppressing Irish society. This also reflects the intimacy between Irish women and British soldiers, which later became problematic. The last three lines refer to the woman’s body after childbirth as it is “stretch-marked” and “raw.” While the baby is beating at his wife’s bodily “borders,” the barriers between the British and the Irish were torn down and Ireland was targeting Britain from “across the waters.” The reason for this anger were events such as The Great Famine, where starvation and disease took control and Britain watched the tragedies unfold. In this relationship, “stretch-marked body” refers to the land being stretched into a new world and Ireland being left “raw” to the rule of the British.
Returning to the beginning of the poem, one can see how the poet introduced the idea of nature and followed up with this visual throughout this poem. Heaney makes references to specific natural aspects of Ireland’s landscape to portray the female body. The land being
depicted as a woman creates the notion of Mother Nature and where a woman’s strength resides. There is a vivid connection between nature, Ireland, and a woman’s body; however, there is also a connection between nature and civilization.
Heaney makes a reference to the individual’s reliance on nature, as well as the connection of society and the land:
Tonight, a first movement, a pulse,
As if the rain in bogland gathered head
To slip and flood: a bog-burst. (1-3)
Here, Heaney is fusing together nature and the unborn child. The poet’s subtle insertion of bogs creates the idea of the human bodies that inhabit the land, as well as those buried beneath it. Now that the sexual relationship described in sonnet one and the pregnancy shown in sonnet two, has been discovered, one can see how Heaney begins with the birth of their child, and the two nations’ political co-existence. Readers can now see this idea presented in the very first line. Beginning with the birth, Heaney then thoroughly explains what brought this about. This immediate connection between land and body provides a sense of history, linking the past with the present, and how the relationships between Great Britain and Ireland have developed over time.
This poem serves as the beginning in the political complexities taking place in Ireland. Here, Heaney places himself in Marie’s perspective and ties womanhood and childbirth, with Ireland. The purpose of this is to portray the domination over and suffering of women, as well as to portray the historical and political realities women endured in Ireland. Heaney takes this concept and beautiful reflection of Ireland’s landscape, as well as the subtle mention of bogs, and
ties it with the conflicts between Great Britain and Ireland. “Punishment” vividly follows this format, however, this poem shows the more violent sufferings women have endured.
This poem travels even deeper into Irish society by looking at the individual and reciting the wrongs done within a community and revealing the individuals who simply turned a blind eye to the barbaric punishments placed on innocent victims. Heaney uncovers the tragic deaths of those known as bog bodies; they are well preserved bodies of mostly victims of violent humiliation, inhumane cruelty, and unjust murders. These bogs date back to the Iron Age and this poem represents the violent history within Ireland. Heaney focuses on a young teenage girl who was killed for adultery: “His subject is a fourteen-year-old girl of the first century A.D., an adulteress drowned in Windeby bog for her folly” (Collins 95-96). This provides the factual aspect behind Heaney’s poem, reflecting the young woman’s youth and murder. Heaney is using the historical murder of this young woman to expose the horrifying torture of women within present society: “As Henry Hart notes, Catholic girls in Northern Ireland have recently been ‘cauled in tar’ for defying the taboos of the Provisional I.R.A.76 Chief among these is the dating of British soldiers, particularly officers” (Collins 96). Within the poem, a link is created between past and present. Heaney places himself into both experiences of each woman, to reveal the continuous cycle of political horrors.
In “Act of Union,” Heaney metaphorically becomes Marie to sympathize with her and understand her strength and pain during childbirth. Here, the poet is sympathizing with this young female victim who also carries the burden and pain of punishment, alone:
I can feel the tug
Of the halter at the nape
Of her neck, the wind
On her naked front.
It blows her nipples
To amber beads,
It shakes the frail rigging
Of her ribs.
I can see her drowned
Body in the bog,
The weighing stone,
The floating rods and boughs. (1-12)
In these few opening lines, the reader is invited to imagine the victim’s suffering. This description of the young woman reflects the cold, starved body that endured torture at the violent hands of persecution. There is a disturbing sexual tone in these few lines, reflecting the humiliation of sex and gender. The poet starts off by embracing the woman’s emotions to show the violence against women in society. She was punished for an act she did not commit alone, yet she alone was killed.
As the poem progresses, Heaney becomes an individual within this society, watching this crime take place:
I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur
of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs.” (29-34)
Here, the poet is not only reflecting the silence of society but of his own silence, if he were present when this act was being committed. He views the individuals within society as being turned on by the evil punishment this young woman endured. He moves from the victim’s perspective to the perspective of a historic spectator.
The critic Thomas Foster observes: “If the ‘civilized’ man recognizes the wrongness of tar-and-feathering, or murder, of the various forms of violence, the poet’s being is also broad enough and wise enough to acknowledge the impulse of the community to protect itself. There seems to me no attempt here to justify the atrocities, but only to ‘understand’ (again a distant sympathy), to comprehend their source.” (55) Heaney is neither accepting nor giving his approval to the past punishments, he is trying to understand them as he sees the connection between past and present forms of persecution. The people in the community have a fear of facing the same fate, so instead of fighting together against the evil forces within society, they remain silent.
The silence of the individual is significant in this poem. Though the entire community may not be taking part in this horror, by remaining silent, the individual is just as much at fault as the murderer is. The poet is exposing the downfalls of society, as the critic is using “it” to refer to the poem in relation with Heaney’s own identity: “In “Punishment,” Heaney accepts responsibility for the more reprehensible aspects of his culture… it acknowledges Heaney’s sense of guilt, or at least complicity, about certain aspects of the present cycle of violence in Ulster” (Collins 96-97). In this way, Heaney intends to not simply put the blame on society as a whole but to place the brunt of the blame on the individuals who make up society. It reflects a fault in the religious and cultural beliefs that allow this act to take place despite the unjust foundation for it. Heaney is reflecting the concept of the individuals turning their back on their morals, as these victims are receiving self-inflicted punishments.
Heaney represents the link between past violence and present persecution by associating this anonymous young woman with the Irish women who are targeted because of their intimacy with British soldiers:
I who have stood dumb
When your betraying sisters,
Cauled in tar,
Wept by the railings,
Who would connive
In civilized outrage
Yet understand the exact
And tribal, intimate revenge. (37-44)
This refers to the Irish women who were being tarred, feathered, and strapped to lampposts for their actions. Their relationships were viewed as a betrayal (just as this young woman’s affair was), and as a result, the women were brutally killed by the IRA. The term ‘betraying sisters’ could refer to the various portrayals of women; there is the connection between the anonymous woman who is being punished and the women in Ireland, both for acts of intimacy. This could also reflect the individual females who are taking part in these wrongful persecutions. Though it could refer to either of these concepts, the overall notion is that these women are betraying one another. Here, Heaney acknowledges the individual guilt and the assistance of the individual by one being silent and ignorant to the uncivilized persons who believed they had the right to decide who lived and who died. The humiliation that was infiltrated only increased the fear and chaos throughout the community. This poem creates a bridge between the individual and the uncivilized, and maintaining Irish culture and barbaric ways of life. The poet mocks the idea of people becoming civilized from the time of this young teenager’s demise to the Irish women in his present day.
The young adulteress’s murder is symbolic “of the bloodshed caused by contemporary violence in Ireland” (“Seamus Heaney 1939-”). This poem is a significant part in understanding the violence and power of the individual. Alan Tomlinson and John Horne explain Heaney’s motives with this poem: “Heaney found a symbolic approach to what he calls Ireland’s ‘neighbourly murders’ in the image of tribal sacrifices that occurred in Jutland during the few centuries before Christ. They were considered appropriate tribal sacrifices, which amounted to ritual hanging or beheading, of thieves, adulterers, or traitors, to the gods of harvest. After the killing, or as a way of drowning the victims were disposed of in bogs, such that, in many cases, their bodies have been preserved for over 2,000 years by the chemical properties of the peats… Heaney uses these figures as examples of victims of ritual murders resembling those in Northern Ireland” (185). The downfall of humanity lies within the actions of the individual. The ritual murder of the adulteress can be compared to the murders of Irish women because in both series of events, those who were doing the punishing believed they were doing the right thing by ridding the world of actions perceived as threats to the whole community. Heaney captures these women when they are at the mercy of another human being, another human being who is betraying humanity by punishing the innocent.
As Heaney observes the guilt of the individual in this poem, he enters the mythical realm with his poem “The Haw Lantern,” to further explore the importance of individual character and the impact of the collective. This poem refers to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who searched for one honest man within society but did not find one. Diogenes symbolizes the judge who will test each individual he comes across. Harold Bloom compared the story of Diogenes to the characters appearance in this poem: “Diogenes believed that we must reject the pleasures of
society and live a highly disciplined life” (93). Heaney places himself in the mythical philosopher’s journey to search for an ounce of hope and righteousness in a corrupted society. The importance of self-respect, honesty, and dignity falls on individual identity, which is a crucial component in this poem. In this poem, like the others, the poet places himself in the place of the observer and the observed. He is not only placing the judgments on mankind in his search for honesty but he is also placing that same judgment on himself.
Heaney uses the flame within the lantern to symbolize the hope he has on this search. Even though the flame is dim, it still burns slightly:
The wintry haw is burning out of season,
crab of the thorn, a small light for small people,
wanting no more from them but that they keep
the wick of self-respect from dying out,
not having to blind them with illumination. (1-5)
This creates the notion that there are hardly any noble qualities present within the collective but all it takes is a small light of self-respect within one individual to create a great hope for the whole. Here, Heaney also suggests self-respect being one of the most crucial parts of life. The poet explains the choices one could make and still respect themselves are the only choices one should make. The character of the individual is what is important; it is about doing the right thing despite society’s force of fear upon the people. Heaney uses “illumination” to represent various characteristics that are forced upon a person by the higher powers of society, such as the fears that keep one silent, the misguiding knowledge, and the barbaric actions of humanity. Heaney is attempting to create a vast difference between the individual and the demoralization of society, and to keep one person from turning a blind eye to something they know is wrong. Though he is observing this difference, he is also shining a light on society as a whole.
Heaney transfers the point of view in this poem from the people to “you,” which turns the tables and has the observer become the observed:
But sometimes when your breath plumes in the frost
it takes the roaming shape of Diogenes
with his lantern, seeking one just man;
so you end up scrutinized from behind the haw. (6-9)
The character and tale of Diogenes is brought into the poem in these few lines. Diogenes stems from “your breath” signifying the exploration of one’s own consciousness. The focus is no longer on the corrupt society but rather on one’s self. This judgment is a tactic used to reveal the truth amongst deception. Man is now being scrutinized and judged for his actions, choices, and silence during the harsh political struggles in Ireland. The being is now detached from his own surroundings and his reflection is within the lantern. This poem explores one’s self.
The reality of this poem and outcome of the individual journey lies within the ending:
and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone
its blood-prick that you wish would test and clear you,
its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on.” (11-13)
The actions committed and the choices made during these political challenges mask the truth. The reality is that the test has been failed and “you” are no better than the deception surrounding “you.” The moving on at the end of this poem symbolizes the failing of the test and in turn failing one’s self, by not being the honest man that is being searched for. When looking at the lantern, the victim “flinch[es] before its” core, representing the fear and lack of confidence in one’s personal moral character.
Like Heaney’s poem “Punishment,” there is a vivid display of deceit and silence within this poem. Going back to this poem, one notices Heaney makes room for the reader to be placed
into the poem: “your betraying sisters.” (38) Even in “Act of Union,” Heaney is constantly saying “your,” referring to Ireland as he is speaking from Great Britain’s point of view. In each of these poems, Heaney is placing the reader into an individual situation during a time of great political struggle. He is using a symbolic representation of the individual versus civilization within Ireland, to realistically represent the life society is molding, the repercussions of a person’s and of peoples political choices, and how one’s self-respect and personal expectations of themselves can assist or demolish the destruction of mankind throughout history.
Almost a decade after “The Haw Lantern” was published; Heaney published “A Sofa in the Forties.” Unlike the three previous poems, the poet is addressing his own childhood experiences in relation with the power of Great Britain and its impact within the home. Though domination is present here, it is less violent than it was in “Act of Union” and “Punishment.” However, in comparison to the previous three poems, Heaney moves himself between two different perspectives to portray the conflicts between Britain and Ireland. Here, the poet moves between his childhood and adulthood, looking at the world with a sense of innocence, as well as a sense of maturity and knowledge.
Heaney begins by taking readers into his childhood as the imagery of imaginary games is immediately introduced:
All of us on the sofa in a line, kneeling
Behind each other, eldest down to youngest,
Elbows going like pistons, for this was a train. (1-3)
This specific choice of beginning not only reflects youth and the power of imagination but it suggests the imagery of order and the importance of hard work. The sense of rank and order can easily be derived from society within Heaney’s conflicting times.
Continuing to describe playing on the imaginary train, which was really the sofa, the poet’s language transforms: “Ghost-train? Death-gondola?” (13) This presents the realistic notion of a nightmare that is recreated within the imaginations of the children. The train becomes a reflection of transportation; linking transportation with these two phrases creates the notion of society’s movements towards man’s end. Heaney uses this train to symbolize an escape from the outside world. As the critic John Banville notes, with quotations from the poet’s personal descriptions of his home life as a child: “it passed ‘a kind of den-life which was more or less emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world.’ That outside world, as we know, had entered upon one of its most murderous and cataclysmic phases, though ‘none of the news of these world-spasms entered me as terror … and if there was something culpable about such political ignorance in that time and place, there was something positive about the security I inhabited as a result of it’” ( “Playing the Common World’s Melody”). In his childhood home, Heaney found a sense of comfort and security against the outside world. Looking back at this situation from an adult perspective, the angles alter and Heaney understands the complexities that surrounded him and the uneasiness that transmitted through the radio. Being a child at the time, he was blanketed by innocence, youth, and unawareness of the tragic realities in Ireland. At that time, the poet was not terrified by the news streaming through the walls of his home; instead he found solace in the individual aspects of his life and the detachment his youth provided him with, from the corruption outside his door.
The sofa is a key representation of consistency within this poem:
We occupied our seats with all our might,
Fit for the uncomfortableness.
Constancy was its own reward already. (37-39)
Here, the poet takes readers away from the playful imagination of a child and seats one on the sofa to reveal the family’s familiarity with disagreeable situations. This also reveals their lack of freedom in obliging. The condition that places them on this sofa was a regular notion for them and a part of their daily lives. The voices streaming through the radio became familiar background music for Heaney, as a child.
This poem represents the tragedies and realities within the world around the poet and how this deliverance of news was inserted into his childhood memories:
HERE IS THE NEWS,
Said the absolute speaker. Between him and us
A great gulf was fixed where pronunciation
Reigned tyrannically. (27-30)
Heaney refers to the gulf of Britain and Ireland, as well as the difference between standard British speech and Irish accents and dialects. The contrast between the voices creates the notion of power as the voices of Britain invade the poet’s home, representing the oppressive severity of British rule. These few lines also reflect the barriers between British and Irish culture in past and present; as this poem was published in the 1990’s, long after the union between the two took place. However, despite the union that was formed, there was still just as much of a separation between Great Britain and Ireland.
Heaney continues to enforce the power of the individual in the following line: “We entered history and ignorance.” (25, 36) The repetitiveness of this line enhances the meaning and reflects the individual’s journey into a new life. The society of Great Britain was creating a new
history where Ireland was under the rule of the British government and where the two cultures were blended together. Irish citizens were taking drastic measures and assisting the IRA in horrific and dehumanizing “punishments,” in an attempt to repel the British occupation. The individuals who made up the societies of both, were creating a domination of ignorance. The ignorant actions and silence of the people created a tragic history for Ireland, where their culture was being abused and their people murdered, due to unjust beliefs.
As the poem comes to its close, Heaney refers back to the symbolic train which was also a metaphor for the movement within Ireland:
A tunnel coming up where we’d pour through
Like unlit carriages through fields at night,
Our only job to sit, eyes straight ahead
And be transported and make engine noise. (44-48)
While the poet was observing what was taking place around him, he puts readers into the perspective of the children on the couch. Heaney triggers the auditory and visual senses, transcending the disarray inflicted rom the sounds emitting from the radio. The British still have the same power to create fear within the Irish and make certain they know who is in charge. Heaney creates a sense of obedience in the last few lines and this can be seen as a subtle yet metaphoric question; will the Irish allow Britain to strip them of their humanity or will they steer away from the dominance of the IRA and the British? The individuals within Ireland have been culturally dominated and the “unlit carriages” flash back to the search of hope and honesty within the violent nation that is being created. There is a lack of resistance reflected in these last few lines, as well as an assistance of ignorance. The ignorance of the individual only aids to the
destruction of humanity; the people of Ireland were expected to move forward while working and living under the hegemony of Britain. The “tunnel” refers to the absence of Irish culture and the insistence of British culture.
The moments described here are taken from the poet’s childhood and reintroduced with adult knowledge. The sounds of British speech filling his childhood home were simply sounds which caused his family to attentively listen to on their sofa. Recollecting these moments as an adult, Heaney can see how the British made Irish citizens feel inferior and uncomfortable. He recognized his own “ignorance” to be a manifestation of his youth. Heaney used the train as an anecdote to portray the individual within Ireland, living by the politics of Britain. By placing this poem within the home, readers are shown how the political conflicts and struggles were injected in the personal realm of existence.
Pointing fingers at society would have been easy but the truth is that when the individual looked at their hands, they’re dirty; this is what Heaney suggested in all four of these poems. Though these four pieces describe the perspective of the observer and the observed, Heaney was truly writing witness poems, reflecting a bigger picture. The poet is revealing how the actions and silence of the individual contribute to the continuous cycle of horror, cruelty, and violence from past to present. Readers are placed in the shoes of both the victim and the witness, the observer and the observed, to break down the barrier of corruption and create an understanding of the impact of the individual in Ireland. In “A Sofa in the Forties,” which was written later in Heaney’s poetic career and when the worst of the violent struggles in Ireland were over; Heaney does not use a specific villain to reflect the dominance of Britain over Ireland. In this poem, unlike the others, Heaney portrays dominance through an inanimate object, the radio. The poet
compares and contrasts personal experiences such as sexual relationships and childhood memories with political acts and unjust religious and tribal customs, to reflect the history of Ireland and the growth and destruction over time. Heaney also creates a vivid connection between the human being and nature, and the hand of humanity in tearing down Irish culture and land. Ireland’s movements and growth are transcended through one’s own self-awareness and conscience. It is the movement of one man, one man who is willing to create his own identity, disregarding the oppressive times and concentrating on his own self-respect, who will begin the change and growth of the nation. These four poems brilliantly represent the impact of the individual during harsh political times, throughout the 1970s to the 1990s. In combining the political, economic, and religious realities of the world, personal experiences, and being a victim and witness to the cruelty of society, Seamus Heaney is exposing the downfall of society which falls on the silence and moral identity of the individual.
Banville, John. “Playing the Common World’s Melody” The Guardian. 16 March 2008. DA: 24 March 2012.
Bloom, Harold. Seamus Heaney. Chelsea House Publishers 2003.
Collins, Floyd. Seamus Heaney: The Crisis of Identity. Rosemont Publishing & Printing Co. 2003.
Foster, Thomas. Twayne’s English Authors Series 468. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.
Poetry Criticism. “Seamus Heaney 1930-.” . Ed. Carol T. Gaffke. Gale Cenage, 1997. 13 March 2012.
Tomlinson, Alan. John Horne. Twentieth Century in Poetry. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 1999.
Wikipedia. “Great Famine (Ireland)” . 24 March 2012.
leaving the town i knew
by allison ryder
i’m tired of this sleepless town;
roads to nowhere, driven by people
content in their settlement
or with a desperate will to get out.
childhood memories, past relationships-
where my heart once beat.
but my heart crossed waters, dove
into new realms. i’m no longer
family and friends remain to be
my ties to the town I don’t belong in.
i have no objection looking back
but when i look forward,
my life lives across the horizon.
packed my bags, took a deep breath,
watched the trains come and go,
rattling the train tracks. my trace
is on this town. my heart lives
in all i’ve touched
but my heart has other plans now.
i traveled outside of
the only world i ever knew;
i found what i want, what i need,
i found another part of me.
a blank world where i can
imprint my identity,
where i can make it mine.
it’s a new chapter of my life,
i’m diving in – pen in hand.
i drive through, watch the land
diminish into the sky. as i glide onto the bridge,
i roll down my window and whisper,
to the first part of my life, as only
specifics will carry on through.
i’m going to make a life for me,
outside of the town i knew.