Jenny Verner

On the Death of our First Son

Lough Neagh at Maghery The graveyard at Mullanakill Churchill, home of the Verners.
Lough Neagh at Maghery The graveyard at Mullanakill. The graveyard is beside Churchill House (Mulanalkill in English), home of the Verner family, about 3 miles from Lough Neagh and beside the River Blackwater. In this graveyard are buried people from both Protestant and Catholic tenant families as well as Sir William Verner’s horse, Constantine, which he brought back from the Napoleonic Wars (including the Battle of Corruna).

This poem tries to address the theme of fathers and sons through channelling a father’s reaction to the death of his sons through the perception of his wife. The voice of the poem is  an imagined version of  Jane Verner, wife of John Mitchel.

The setting is the Southern States of America during the Civil War. Jane (Jenny), begins by setting the scene of how she hears the news of the death of her first son in the Civil War. She recalls that Benjamin, a Black slave who works in her house,  was painting the floor. The colour of the floor reminds her of the lough (lake) at Maghery, a place near her early home at Churchill, a Big House, or stately home, belonging to her father,  Colonel William Verner.

Churchill, home of the Verners.

Churchill, home of the Verners.

In the second verse, Benjamin is looking at the grey of the floor and says that he can sing that lake even though he has never seen it, but because he knows, from what she has said in the past, how sad she was when she was sent away from her father’s house.

In the third stanza, Jenny, who was, like her husband a radical Nationalist, dedicated to achieving freedom for the Irish people ( as she saw it), even though she was from a privileged Protestant background, acknowledges that Benjamin is a slave. And she acknowledges also that he knows he is a slave, but somehow, makes an art of painting the floor which transcends his slavery.

In the next stanza, she tells us that when they were painting the floor , ashe tells him all over again, she has told him the sotry many times – about how she and John Mitchel had eloped and her father’s men had caught up with them. And she records how John is angry about her father following them because he does not really care about his daughter anyway.

In the next stanza, she goes back in time to the scene where her father confronts them angrily after they had eloped for the first time. He is full of fury about the dangers he encountered at the Battle of Coruna ( part of the Napoleonic War and something of a disaster for the British). He compares his courage with her foolishness and lack of responsibility in running off with a man like Mitchel – a Presbyterian ( and thus much lower in the social order), and a man  without prospects. He disinherits her and refuses to ever let her be buried in the family churchyard. But this is a complex matter, for she was an illegitimate child and he may well have disowned herself and her brother regardless of what she did.

In the next stanza, Jenny returns to the present and brings into the foreground the secret that she and Benjamin share – that she knows his son has escaped. She prays that he will get away, ‘beyond the line’, to the north.

And then, her husband, John, comes in and it is clear form Benjamin’s gesture of laying the brush down slowly that bad news is about to be broken. Jenny compares the way he lays the brush down to the fishermen she remembers from her exiled home. She knows there is bad news and will not look him in the face but reaches her hand to him and reminds him that he is not Jesus – he cannot walk on water; he cannot always escape, as he did from Australia. But she is also chiding him for taking the side of the confederates, who were pro-slavery  in the war. She has lost a son for a cause that she vehemently disagrees with, even though, somehow, her radical husband has been converted to it, thinking that the condition of the slaves is many times better than that of the Catholic tenants in Ireland

Jenny recalls that this is the first of her three sons to fall in the Civil War. Two are killed and one is badly wounded. The phrase ‘true blue’ puns ironically upon the colour of the Confederate uniform and the colloquial term for Unionists – loyal to the blue of England, and her own background.

In the next stanza, she takes on the language of the gospel song, suggesting that the black slave women wash away the sins of the White masters. And she thinks back to John, hurt and puzzled as to what ‘turned’ him from being a radical to a conservative. The word ‘turn’ in Ireland also refers to people who change religious sympathies, so there is an irony. She surmises that john has turned into the conservative, backward looking man her own landowning, Planter  father was. A further irony.

In the next stanza, she looks down at the floor Benjamin has just painted, and sees, in a kind of dream reflection, the faces of her sons, Johnnie, Willie and James, back in time, playing with their father.

And she locates this happy time ironically to the period the family spent in Australia. John had been transported there for his radical politics. And in the next stanza, she referes to the escape from Van Dieman’s Land ( the scuttle from Australia) and her regret that she could not have stayed longer there. There is a reference also to the ‘secret song’ of another oppressed people – the Aborginals.

In the last stanza she realises that the white Australians would not have let her go ‘Walkabout’ – nor perhaps would the Aborginals themselves. But she consoles herself that Benjamin trusts her ( ‘chanced me’) and now, many years later,  the escaped son of Benjamin is  become a pastor in the North and as he raises his voice in gospel song he also somewhow works in the Irish composer, Carolan ( who wrote music for the Unionist Ascendancy, and which she would have heard perhaps as a child and then sang in the house where Benjamin’s son would have picked up the tune). So the working in of Carolan , below the line, is another kind of subversion, another irony.

She has this information from her son, James, wounded, who had lost an arm in the Civil War and so has to write childishly, with his left hand. His son was to become Mayor of New York. Jenny recounts how John has left again for Ireland. He was to die there, having stood successfully twice as an MP, but was debarred because he was a felon.  So there she sits, with Benjamin, staring at the floor they had been painting the day she heard of the death of her first son. And they think, the two of them, alone, that the apinting of that floor, that tiny work of art, was all that they had made between them. And indeed it is, but, of course, both are parents and they have made sons, whose fortunes are to be so different.

Bianca Del Rio: 'I would gladly do my comedy without drag' | Television & radio

Hi, Bianca! So where the hell are you? I am actually in New York City, down on 16th Street. I’ve been here for two days. I’m just schlepping from one place to another, interviewing and talking about myself. Related: RuPaul's Drag Race ends season 7 with one of the best finales in show's history This year’s been quite the whirlwind for you (1). You keep popping up everywhere! pre bonded hair It truly has. Actually, these last few months, I’ve had a couple more days here and there when I stay in the city a day longer, or stay in Los Angeles for three days in a row. That actually makes it worse because you kind of get accustomed to everything, and then you have to leave again. Getting back to that grind is somewhat difficult. All these girls usually complain about, “I need time off,” and for me it’s not good because then it throws me off completely. Actually February, it might be two years that I’ve been traveling as much as I have, which is kind of nuts. I’ve also been one of those people that have said yes to every gay thing that comes my way. I’ve had some great gigs and had horrible ones. I always look at the horrible ones, and think there’s got to be something in this that I can use later in my show. It all pays off in the end. Does Bianca even bother with a personal life at this point?

I have my dogs, I have my friends, but as far as relationships go, it’s a little difficult when you’re on the road as much as I am. It’s not a bad thing. You also got to be somewhat careful with the people that you meet on the road. You don’t know if they really like you or if they just want to borrow your dress. Speaking of dresses, how many suitcases do you typically travel with? remy hair extensions Usually four. There will be one that is my actual drag clothes and shoes. One of them is my makeup and my jewelry and my wigs and that kind of stuff. Then usually the other two are merchandise, and then I use a pretty large carry-on for my boy stuff, depending on how long I’m out. No wig boxes?

No! I assemble my hair on my head. I started out with wigs years ago when I was younger. I’ve always done wigs. For me, it’s part of the process. I don’t carry around wigs on sticks. I put my hair together every night, and then I just mantle it every night because it’s just the best way to travel. Related: RuPaul: 'Drag is dangerous. We are making fun of everything' perruques cheveux naturels You drink a lot in your show. Are you actually swigging liquor, or do queens tend to fake it onstage? It’s no act, it’s real. I know some people that do pop drink and stuff like that because they can’t handle it. For me, when I started working at bars, I would drink. I’m used to drinking. It’s very Dean Martin of me.

You’re so polite on the phone – not the Bianca I was expecting. Well, catch me after a couple of drinks. The world is just a little too fucking serious. I take pictures with fans, and I always show up on time – dispel all those drag queen myths of being late and all that madness of not showing up. When it comes to the stage, I just let it rip and let it happen because I know somewhere, somebody else is tanking it. I don’t really do it so much in real life; it might just work through my advantage at the DMV or something. perruques cheveux Variety recently singled you out as a “comic” to watch out for in 2015 – and not as a drag performer. Do you consider yourself a comic first and foremost? For me, call me what you want, as long as I’m working. I’ve been all of those things. I don’t really know about a title, but the interesting thing with drag, particularly when it comes to comedy, I don’t do any funny dressing up. I’ve made it a point with this show to make it more about stand-up comedy and less about drag. I didn’t want to do costume changes. I didn’t want any music. I didn’t want any of that, because I didn’t want people who may not know me outside of the Drag Race bubble see me as, “Oh a drag show.” I’ve done those things. I would gladly do my comedy without drag. I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Do you think you could be as lacerating, the way Bianca is, without the full regalia? I think yes and no. There are friends of mine that I’ve known for years who didn’t like my brand of humor, but once I was on Drag Race, they loved it. Really, I don’t know. I wouldn’t know until I tried it. Seeing you as a person can either help or harm you. It’s definitely something worth experimenting with. You’re known for your comedy, not your lip-synching abilities. Do you think not wanting to have to lip-synch helped you win the Drag Race crown (2)? This is the thing: A lot of queens basically say that Bianca’s not even a really drag queen because she doesn’t lip-synch. I’m like, “What a fucking idiot”. Isn’t that the point of the fucking show? Which is not to lip-synch because that means you’re in the bottom? No, I didn’t want to lip-synch. If I had to, I could, because I learned every song. But that’s not the point of the show, stupid. Every season, it’s the pageant queens v the comedy ones. Do you think that battle has run its course on the show? lace front wigs I don’t know their intention. You got to remember when we go in, we don’t know the information. I don’t know everything. They don’t give a file on each person. We meet everybody when we actually meet them when we first come in the room. It just becomes what it is. I’m not privy to any of that information, but it’s not as fascinating to watch. Either young versus old or comedy queen when they’re ugly. The people that spend all this time and energy making these audition tapes, when they get on the show and then they go, “What? I got to do this?” It’s silly. Realize that’s the show! You know the structure of it, so be prepared. Do the best that you can in those elements.

Related: RuPaul's Drag Race: which queen should win season six? What was RuPaul’s reaction to seeing the Rolodex of Hate show? I don’t know if she has seen it. What? She’s doing 40 different shows on TV right now. cosplay wigs True. Any time I’ve seen her, she’s always been very supportive and she’s always proud of me. I thank her immensely for this opportunity. TV’s a pretty powerful thing. I recently did a podcast with her and she’s obviously generous and laughed. Getting a compliment out of her is not that easy. If she comes, I’ll give her free tickets. I’ll hook her up. It’s the least I could do. (1) For more than a year now, Del Rio has been touring her comedy show, Rolodex of Hate, to cities worldwide. A taping of her show in Austin, Texas, is now available to watch exclusively on Vimeo. (2) Del Rio won the sixth season of Logo TV’s popular drag queen contest series, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Every episode, one queen is eliminated following a lip-synch “for your life” battle.