The Ballad of Moscow Joe

Years ago, while working in the muddy foundations of culturenorthernireland, I came across the work of Carnlough primitive or outsider artist Moscow Joe Mckinley (largely through the work of Peter Haining, to whom I am indebted for the pleasure and privilege.) This helped solidify another cloud of interests – bad country music, bad jokes, bad taste – into a poem that I wanted to say something like ‘we deal with our human losses and griefs through whatever manner of art we can make, from whatever materials we have to hand.’ And I sometimes think that poetry made from the poorest materials – a poesia povera if you like – may have something extra to say…

The Ballad of Moscow Joe

In the war of words between Philomena
Begley and Susan McCann—who was who and which was queen
of Irish country music—I lost two figurine-

encrusted art-cars, torched by yobs with a grudge
against what’s beautiful. That was the thick end of a wedge
that had seen my wife abandon our marriage

as well as the bungalow I glorified with collaged nick-
nacks, doctored garden ornaments, objets trouvés, hand-picked
junk, notices to the world in general and Carnlough

in particular. To her it was nothing but merz,
to me it was—as she had been—a way of living with the world’s
embarrassment of riches without it breaking our hearts.

Which are born broken: all this stuff, these assemblages
and amateur road-signs, is just the wages
of heartbreak, and when my children launch their purge

will all be swept away: as Philomena might well sing,
this ain’t my home unless you wear my ring…
So bulldoze the bungalow. All this furious decorating

was only ever meant to reconcile me to the lack
of … Well, when country music’s played in reverse on a tape deck,
your truck starts, your dog gets better, your girl comes back.


About Martin Mooney

Author of four collections of poetry - Grub (1993), Rasputin and his Children (2000), Blue Lamp Disco (2003) and The Resurrection of the Body at Killysuggen (2011.)
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