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Martin Shaw: On Editing A Hut at the Edge of the Village

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Memoir | Non-Fiction
hut at the edge of the village

By Martin Shaw

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I believe John Moriarty has something to say to younger people and readers from outside typical philosophical or spiritual areas – something about how we change our relationship to both the circumstances of our life and our beholding of a world on fire. A Moriartian consciousness can kick start an old love affair with the earth we have grievously neglected. It can teach us manners. Thinking into his work with students of mine, I was thrilled to see how eagerly they entered the wrestling match his thoughts required. They yearned for it. I started to think of the work as from an elder we didn’t know we had – not John, but his books. Not to sanctify Moriarty as a saintly personality but to qualify that the work had a charismatic agency that needed reinforcing in a time of such disquiet. I am more interested in the lonely, horny, magical and conflicted John anyway.

But where to start? Most of his books are large and have a distinct absence of handrails. I re-read everything published, and glimpsed a few areas that aren’t. Then I read it all again.

Gradually, themes started to present themselves: his handling of myths, both personal and cultural, his circling around a new kind of Christianity, sexuality and its wounds, his capacity to show fidelity to what he called “divine ground.” Even sizing up to his own death like Hamlet with his skull.

Significantly, not all of his work was on digital files, so there was a word by word, line by line transcription taking place for about half the excerpts. But that proved a useful labour. It slowed me down, I paid in concentration and read out loud from start to finish.

Compiling this new anthology of John Moriarty was no straightforward task, as any reader may imagine. The work is labyrinthic, sometimes obscure and frequently prophetic in register. Any attempt to downplay that would be a deceit, and rob the work its voltage.  Soundbites are few and far between, and the landscape of the writing is less a book, more a metaphysical savannah or tundra to negotiate. It would be wise to have the right camping equipment to hand. But the rewards are simply vast. My concern over the years is that his work, though revered, would remain in the orbit of esoteric Christian or Jungian circles. The times are simply too urgent to let that happen.

I imagine that for many readers, A Hut at the Edge of the Village will be rather like an acupuncture session. Certain areas will contain the wince of a significant pressure point, others will float happily by. I would suggest working maybe one or two themes into your own life – to learn a folktale by heart, or sit in the long grasses and be dreamt by a Hare. These days, they are radical acts. A potential danger is that you experience what the Lakota Sioux call “too much Great Spirit”, that the whole affair becomes too psychoactive and straight up baffling. For me, a few sentences of John are often enough for a day – I feel the benefit for hours.

In reality I could have compiled endless variants of this anthology. But I am at peace with its progression and of course, if infected, the reader can then enter the mass of his wider canon. I came to John fully grown in my own work and felt equipped to have a conversation with some of his ideas and themes, as you will find throughout. His dazzling cross-mythologising can take up much of the bandwidth when you first read him, but what I will carry away is the exquisite Kerry genius of his local stories, the five fathoms depth of them, and his invitation to a kind of Christianity we barely have the words for.

Working nightly into his Christian visioning excavated something in my own heart. A powerful, almost pagan Jesus announced himself. Not reassuring, troubling not easy, as if I was standing at the doorway of a new life. Whether I have the courage to walk through it, I can’t tell. Or maybe I already have, and just don’t know it.

(c) Martin Shaw

About A Hut at the Edge of the Village:

There is a radical agency in John Moriarty’s work not always acknowledged. As our heads spin with mythological cross-referencing, poetical leaps and the philosophical bent, it is clear that there is nothing domestic, nothing tame, about John Moriarty. The power of Moriarty is that he has found a thousand beautiful ways to say something very disturbing: we have to change our lives.

In this small book of big thoughts, award-winning author, mythologist and storyteller Martin Shaw situates Moriarty’s work with respect to our eco-conscious era and a readership seeking spiritual and philosophical guidance. Moriarty asks of us only one thing – that we move our gaze from seeing to beholding. And there the trouble begins, when we realize there is a world beyond us far bigger than our temporary ambitions.

A Hut at the Edge of the Village presents a collection of Moriarty’s writings ordered thematically, with sections ranging from place, love and wildness through to voyaging, ceremony and the legitimacy of sorrow. These carefully chosen extracts are supported by an introduction by Martin Shaw and foreword by Tommy Tiernan, a long-time admirer of Moriarty’s work.

According to Shaw, ‘These are not pastoral times we are living in, but prophetic. We are at a moment when the world as we understand it has been turned upside down. The challenge is that there are fewer and fewer people who can interpret such happenings in a deep, soulful way. Moriarty can do that. When culture is in woeful crisis, the insights never come from parliament, senate, or committee; they come from the hut at the edge of the village. Let’s go there. There is tremendous, unexpected hope waiting.’

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Dr Martin Shaw is an award-winning author, mythologist and storyteller. Currently Reader in Poetics at Dartington Arts School, he founded both the Oral Tradition and Mythic Life courses at Stanford University. His collection of Celtic stories and poems with Tony Hoagland Cinderbiter: Celtic Poems, was published in 2020 by Graywolf Press. Shaw’s most recent books include Courting the Wild Twin (2020), The Night Wages (2019) and Wolf Milk (2019).

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