panel talk:
Other Codes / Cóid Eile: Digital Literatures in Context, Galway Digital Cultures Initiative Conference, NUI, Galway, 11-12 May 2017

Judy Malloy:
"As if the memory was a song: From Ireland with Letters":
Conveying Diaspora in a Polyphonic Electronic Manuscript

On a quest that my grandfather, Walter Powers, sent me on years ago, in circa 2008, I acquired Smithsonian historian Richard Wunder's monograph on 19th century Irish American sculptor, Hiram Powers, who was born in Vermont but lived most of his life in Florence, Italy, from whence -- sent home to America -- his work was important in convincing Americans of the evils of African American slavery.

I began at the beginning, where Wunder documents that the sculptor’s first male ancestor in America was Walter Power, who was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1639, and emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1654. Knowing that in 1654 no Irishman would emigrate of his own free will to a Puritan colony, I stared at the date.

There is much lost history from 1649 when Cromwell invaded Ireland, to the arrival of Walter Power in Massachusetts in 1654, to Walter’s conviction of pre-marital fornication with and subsequent marriage to the Puritan woman, Trial Shephard.

And so, in Gaelic Revival books of Irish history, from an Irish American viewpoint, I unfolded the story of how after Cromwell devastated Ireland in 1649, he sent his Irish opponents and their families into exile and slavery. And in archives and art histories, I followed how, 200 years later, a descendent of one of those captives created work in the service of an end to African American slavery.

The research and composition process was documented in a series of online notebooks. In this talk, using notebook extracts, the creation of Begin with the Arrival, canto 2 of From Ireland with Letters -- where on a stormy night in a pub in New Hampshire, an Irish American musician is performing and a stranger is in the audience – is recreated.

Taken as a whole, the research -- briefly represented in this greatly abridged sample of my notebook entries -- forms a dialog with the work itself, which can be read in toto online.

July 27, 2010

[I] Am about ready to begin outlining the plot of From Ireland with Letters. At the moment, (sometimes this changes for various reasons) the main characters are Máire Megan Powers, an Irish musician who is researching her family background…and Liam [O’Brien], an art historian who is researching Hiram Powers.

August 6, 2010

Once a narrative is begun, creating the characters and their story becomes a fine part of a writer's life. However, the preliminary writing is exploratory, by which I mean that it may evolve as the story is created; the words and cadence are not yet polished; the story may change.

September 3, 2010

...While awaiting the arrival of 8 reels of microfilm of Hiram Powers' letters, on Interlibrary loan from the Archives of American Art, I began to follow the research trail of the first Italian National Exhibition, held ...after the Unification of Italy. ...Fittingly, for [this] Exhibition held in 1861, the year…of the beginning of the Civil War, Powers exhibited his sculpture America, in which America is personified as a female figure, trampling on the chains of slavery.

October 17, 2010

...Beginning the tandem process of writing the words and designing the interface of a new work is always difficult. But after a while, the tone and interface somewhat fall into place, and it becomes a little easier.

...A large amount of time now needs to be spent reading letters to and from Hiram Powers. Was concerned about reading his handwriting but the letters have been transcribed and typed by the Archives of American Art...Am currently reading letters from 1842, the year he began modeling The Greek Slave.

October 22, 2010

Michael J. O'Brien's Pioneer Irish in New England (P.J. Kennedy and Sons, 1937) arrived in the mail, and I am reading it slowly.

…O'Brien observes that "...if it be true that 'Walter Power lived at Salem in 1654', the assumption is justified that he was one of the Irish 'captives' who came in the Goodfellow from Kinsdale, Ireland. "

...A license was granted on September 6, 1653 to take 400 Irish children and carry them to the plantations. The ship docked in England before sailing for the New World on October 28, 1653. ...[O’Brien] writes that "The Goodfellow arrived in January, 1654, at Marblehead, Mass, where the master of the vessel disposed of part of his human cargo and then proceeded to Boston."

In (in the same week) reading about the Irish captives who were sold to Ipswich masters…I remembered bicycling around Ipswich [Massachusetts] when I lived there...And I wondered if any of the young men and women stolen from their homes in Ireland, had lived on East Street where I lived.

January 21, 2011

[In his Music of the Middle Ages, Alberto] Gallo makes the point that the intellectualization of composition using established literary forms was important in changing attitudes about the seriousness of secular music. "The polyphonic and 'poly-textual' motet is the genre most symbolic of medieval music and its analogies with language" he writes," and it is the first form in which music is not only a pleasant sound but a way of seeing reality."

...That then was the first circular path -- from literature to music; from music to literature.

[in an epic passage in his A History of Irish Music, Grattan Flood reviews Irish early music and poetry:]

"The reader has seen that the ancient Irish were acquainted with the ogham music tablature in pre-Christian ages; they had their battle-marches, dance tunes, folk songs, chants. and hymns in the fifth century; they were the earliest to adopt the neums or neumatic notation, for the plain chant of the Western Church; they modified, and introduced Irish melodies into, the Gregorian Chant; they had an intimate acquaintance with the diatonic scale long before it was perfected by Guido of Arezzo; they were the first to employ harmony and counterpoint; they had quite an army of bards and poets; they employed blank verse, elegaic rhymes, consonant, assonant, inverse, burthen, dissyllabic, trisyllabic, and quadrisyllabic rhymes, not to say anything of caoines, laments, elegies, metrical romances, etc.; they invented the musical arrangement which developed into the sonata form; they had a world-famed school of harpers; and, finally, they generously diffused musical knowledge all over Europe."

February 4, 2011

Originally from County Cork, Liam's paternal Grandparents met at a Boston dance hall in the 1950's. (or so I imagine after reading See You at the Hall, Boston's Golden Era of Music and Dance by Susan Gedutis...

Many of the Boston Irish dance halls started in the 1920's, were closed during the World War II. The music started again in 1946. A few years later, [or so I imagine] Liam's grandparents met at one of the dance halls in Dudley Square…where single men and women, from Irish American families or newly arrived from Ireland were sure to find a neighbor from the old country, or even a job or a romance...You could meet someone whose family came from County Cork at the time of the potato famine and so did your family, but you never knew this until you were dancing and talking at the Hall. That is how Liam's grandparents met in the early 1950's.

...The dance halls were also a nurturing place for Irish music. Perhaps Liam's Grandparents heard Tom Senier's Emerald Isle Orchestra at Winslow Hall or Matty Toohy's band. Senier was born in Galway; Toohy was from Country Kerry. Toohy worked at Harvard University by day; Saturday nights he played at the Dudley Square Opera House…

Irish American songs and the songs that musicians born in Ireland brought with them when they came to America were sometimes quite different. But both traditional Irish songs and Irish American Songs were played at the dance halls.

February 12, 2011

Spoken word was also a part of Irish lays. [Hugh] Shields [in Narrative Singing in Ireland] notes that there was a tradition of ending a lay with speech -- "in this way the speaker announces a return to 'real' or 'non-ritual' time at the song's end". And "expressive descent into speech" was sometimes an integral part of the song.

And there is a blurring of the distinction between narrator and subject in Irish lays that is particularly interesting to a new media poet.

April 4, 2011

Once in a while an interlude that is very different from what one is working on helps to …take one outside of one's own creative sphere. So, on Friday I went to hear the music of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet... at the Berkeley Art Museum. The experience ROVA created of four different yet closely related saxophone voices was memorable, particularly the way they used the space. At times, rather than all playing in front of the audience, they each played from different parts of the area, sometimes even ascending to the balconies.

May 2, 2011

...The idea is good: Máire's lay conveyed through how Liam experiences it; through selected lines of song; through her recollection of the composition process; and with a background of the lives of Walter Power and Hiram Powers -- all these things running in parallel lexia spaces, so that like a piece of music, the reader experiences them together.

May 11, 2011

...whether escape or research or because entranced by the creative rhyming, the rapidly flowing lines, the alliteration… I reread -- Kathleen Hoagland, 1000 Years of Irish Poetry ...and looked also at George Sigerson's [1907] Bards of the Gail and Gall. ...The most difficult poems were written during the 17th century. Not much art and music remains from that time of the devastation of Ireland, not much, but there are these poems. When I read them, I heard the voices of seventeenth century Ireland: wistful, mournful, questioning, harrowing… The Flight of the Earls written by Andreas Mac Marcuis in 1607; ("Who shall break our heavy chains?") and Geoffrey Keating's Farewell to Ireland...The most harrowing Shaun O'Dwyer of the Glen. [O'er wasted fields and solemn...Now my lands are plunder, Far my friends asunder]

September 16-17, 2011

…The interface for "Begin with the Arrival" puts Máire Powers and Liam O'Brien together; the distinction between their stories and reactions is not always apparent; and Liam's reaction is as important as Maire's performance.

Being able to present words in different ways is one of the strengths of new media literature...

June 14, 2011

...One of the reasons print narrative is so enduring is that it is human nature to want a sequential story. Yet the experiences of life can be conveyed in other ways…For instance, Liam will not listen to Máire ...without thinking his own thoughts. The audience will drink their ale or beer and notice what their neighbors are doing. while at the same time they hear the music and the words. ...Such struggles [with] ...ways of conveying experience are a part of the making of art.

And sometimes there will be moments when everything comes together, and one thinks "yes this is what I want to convey, and finally I have done it".

August 15, 2011

...I plan to begin the second part of Máire's lay with the events in Ireland on this day 362 years ago.

... And so I made a trek last week to the library of the University of California at Berkeley, where they hold a substantial collection of books on Irish history.

…the trek to the library, the carrying of historic books home, holding these books in my hands seem a clearer way of following the path of Irish history...the books I am reading are:

...Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, (London:Longman,) 1865...


[Father] Denis Murphy... Cromwell in Ireland, (a History of Cromwell's Irish Campaign. Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, New Edition,) 1897.

Murphy sets the stage… and then he writes of Cromwell's departure from Milford Haven:

"On Monday August 13th, he set sail with the van of his Army in thirty-two ships...General Ireton, his son-in-law, followed two days after, with the main body of the army in forty-two vessels. His chaplain, Hugh Peters, with twenty sail brought up the rear."

It was a formidable invasion, probably even larger than Murphy knew because in his 1999 book...Cromwell in Ireland…James Scott Wheeler (retired US Army) writes that Cromwell had 35 ships; Ireton had 70 ships; and they were followed by Colonel Horton with a flotilla of 18 ships.

October 8, 2011

...This week the writing of what Cromwell did in Drogheda was particularly difficult. I wrote it but do not want to talk about it.

October 30, 2011 Part III of "Begin with the Arrival", Cromwell is defeated at Duncannon and Waterford.

...creating the continuo text is very difficult. The continuo is words -- not music played on the viola da gamba or harpsichord -- and these words occur only intermittently... But… the continuo texts…set the pace of the work -- ie on either side, the briefly occurring words...are what make the whole work. The process is like working on a painting that needs something, but you don't know what it is until you put what seems like a small detail in one corner and … the whole painting comes alive...

… I need to write an authoring tool…for testing the placement and timing of the continuo text, because otherwise making it work is very time consuming, and I am weary of the process. Nevertheless, this week there was a ...high point, the discovery of Frances Browne's "Songs of Our Land", which I found in a …1892 edition of Henry Montgomery's Specimens of the Early Native Poetry of Ireland. She [Frances Browne] was a 19th century Irish writer, who, like the harper Turlough Carolan, was blind. So in Begin with the Arrival, I used a few words from "Songs of our Land" as continuo text to introduce …[the] "Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill".

[And] In unlikely counterpoint to Frances Browne's:

" are still left when all else has been taken>br> like streams in the desert, sweet songs of our land",

I am reading Brendan Kennelly's Cromwell.

(The message from Amazon, "Your order of "Cromwell: A Poem" has shipped!" seemed repeated on my email menu -- like the commands needed to set things in motion in some works of Interactive fiction…

Kennelly's Cromwell is a disturbing read but good, very good…The ridding of demons -- an appropriate topic for the beginning of All Souls Week -- is accomplished in different ways by different artists. But sometimes Kennelly also steps into the rhythms of ancient Irish poetry:

"...I here suggest the bobbing sea's debris / Throbbing like Oliver's stimulating drum…” November 5, 2011

Having divided Begin with the Arrival into what will eventually be four parts, the making of each part perfect (in accordance with my vision) has become feasible….

The related ideas --
that the reader knows the whole of partially quoted songs;
that the rhythm of remembered song carries into the work;
that through a poet's allusions to traditional song, the reader is situated in the community of music --
are important in the work of contemporary Irish poets, Séan Crosson observes in "The Given Note": Traditional Music and Modern Irish Poetry. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008)

The distilled struggle with displacement and broken traditions -- that Crosson documents in the work of contemporary Irish at times also apparent in Irish American approaches to hereditary displacement.

November 16, 2011
[Davitt Moroney, Program Notes for J.S. Bach: The Complete French Suites, Cal Performances, November 13, 2011]

"All six French Suites contain a similar sequence of movements based on the rhythms of traditional French courtly dances. The sequence (which is all the word "suite" means) always contains the four essential ones, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue, but others can be interpolated before the Gigue. On paper, this unity of construction makes the suites look similar to each other (especially when laid out in a concert program), and the thought of hearing six such sequences of the same dances might seem daunting. Yet paradoxically, it is by hearing all the suites together that attentive listeners can more easily notice the characteristics that identify each movement's essential form, its 'substance'."

…Although this and the issue of how a musician chooses to ornament Bach's French Suites are not precisely the same, in Bach's time, the audience may have been more likely to also play themselves, and in a sense the reader of each work of electronic literature does perform the work.

… returning in memory to the six French Suites that Davitt played on Sunday, I recall how, after Suite No. 1 was played, I listened so expectantly to the following Suites; how there were certain movements I particularly wanted to hear: the Sarabandes, the Minuets; how each time they occurred there was a moment of heightened satisfaction.

December 9, 2012

Often when one is writing a work of fiction, after a certain amount of time, the characters begin to take on a life of their own. This has begun to happen with From Ireland from Letters, to the point that I feel it is necessary to remind not only the readers but also myself that although the lives of Walter Power and Hiram Powers are real, Máire Powers' great grandfather -- who from Ireland after the Easter Rising,, brought to Boston the books she used to create Begin with the Arrival – is fictional.

I swear (beginning to sound like West Clare fiddle player Junior Crehan telling...what happened on a moonlight night) that after…I wrote that Máire's great grandfather escaped with his Fenian American brother -- packing crates that had carried guns to the rebels with books from the Gaelic Revival -- that after I wrote this, this fictional part of the story felt real. And, as if he was my very own great grandfather, which as far as know he was not, I could easily imagine the silent midnight unloading of those books on the piers of Boston Harbor.

I am indebted to the Library of the University of California for many of the Gaelic Revival books that I used to create Begin with the Arrival. But somewhere, I can almost feel it, are the books that arrived in Boston Harbor in 1916, the year that my mother was born.

January 23, 2013

...Frederick Douglass' influential Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave was first published in 1845, a few years before The Greek Slave arrived in America in 1847. Other early slave narratives written by African Americans included...A Narrative of Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery; and Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave...It was in the climate of these and many other widely read slave narratives that in 1847 Hiram Powers shipped The Greek Slave to America...

...When The Greek Slave toured America, during the 447 days it was on was seen by more than one hundred thousand people, according to Wunder ...becoming one of the most famous sculptures in 19th century America. The abolitionist newspaper The National Era ran several articles about this work… [in this segment from The National Era, the slave herself is speaking;}

"...I am the representation of the captive and the forsaken everywhere, and whatever sympathy I may secure for my enslaved sisters in Turkey, are due to my sisters of another hue in the land throughout which I am making my pilgrimage. Whatever claim of justice I may secure for me, and those like me, are due to those equally oppressed in your very midst. Think you that it was cruel to rob me of liberty, purity, and happiness? Though my skin were black as night, my soul would have the same aspirations, and need the same sympathies, my intellect would have the same laws and need the same development."


Crosson S (2008) The Given Note: Traditional Music and Modern Irish Poetry, Cambridge UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Douglass F (1845) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Boston, Anti-Slavery Office.

Flood G (1906) A History of Irish Music, Dublin, Browne and Nolan.

Gedutis S (2004) See You at the Hall, Boston's Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance, Boston, Northeastern University Press.

Hoagland K (1981) 1000 Years of Irish Poetry, Old Greenwich, CT, Devon-Adair.

Kennelly B (1988) Cromwell: a Poem, Eastburn,UK, Bloodaxe Books.

Malloy J (2011-2012) notebook for canto 2: Begin with the Arrival. Available at

Malloy J (2010-2016) From Ireland with Letters. Available at:

Montgomery HR (1892) Specimens of the Early Native Poetry of Ireland, Dublin, Hodges, Figgis, and Co., Second Edition.

Murphy D (1897) Cromwell in Ireland, a History of Cromwell's Irish Campaign, Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, New Edition.

O'Brien MJ (1937) Pioneer Irish in New England. Boston, P.J. Kennedy and Sons.

Prendergast J (1865) "Of the seizing of Widows and Orphans, and the Destitute and Transporting then to Barbadoes, and the English Plantations" In: Prendergast, J The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, London, Longman, pp. 237-240.

Roper M (1848) Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery, Berwick-upon-Tweed,UK.

Shields, H (1993) Narrative Singing in Ireland, Dublin, Irish Academic Press.

Sigerson G (1907) Bards of the Gail and Gall, New York, Scribners.

Wheeler JS (1999) Cromwell in Ireland, Dublin, Gill & Macmillan.

Wunder RP (1991) Hiram Powers, Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873, 2 vols, Newark, University of Delaware Press.

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