'Trem Neul': Composition process

Editorial note: What follows is a look at some aspects of Joyce’s composition process for the long poem “Trem Neul” collected in with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold in 2001 and later published in Masthead in 2004. Joyce prepared a bibliography of source texts for friend and poet Anna Khasin circa 2004. This excerpt features the first five pages of the forty-six-page poem as it appears on pages 186–231 of the 2001 collection, and also features the source texts that contribute towards this opening section of “Trem Neul.” Each of the five pages is followed by annotations written by the poet indicating the literary texts relevant to each section. The relation between “Trem Neul” and its source texts is complex and incorporates a myriad of literary alignments which function at formal, textual, and intertextual levels.

This annotated approach to “Trem Neul” details the twelve texts most important to the constitution of the poem. Each text is introduced as it corresponds to a particular line or fragment of the poem, and many return again and again throughout “Trem Neul.” W. L. Williams’s First Lessons in Maori is a useful example of the annotative style. Williams’s language primer is the third text to feature in “Trem Neul,” so it is cited as “3 W. L. Williams, First Lessons in Maori, 7th ed., 1923, 83.” Joyce draws from First Lessons in Maori over and over in the right-hand column of the poem.

It is important to note that the line numbers used in this annotated version of “Trem Neul” do not correspond to the line numbers of the poem, where the block stanzas are much more condensed than the right-hand columns. For the purposes of this text, it was convenient that each numbered line should read across the two sections of the page such that line 1 reads, “Your life issues out of time much        Come here.” Numbering the lines in this way proved more effective for identifying literary sources, but it does not acknowledge the two diverse styles of the text. Not every line of the poem will be accounted for by this annotative approach the poem. This is a select bibliography and it does not begin to account for “Trem Neul,” nor should it. The intention in presenting a list of sources for “Trem Neul” is to encourage a clearer understanding of Joyce’s poetic process, of the intertextual nature of his recent poetry, and the manner in which these poems exceed the sum of their parts. — Niamh O’Mahony