By Maureen Hossbacher
Host for the evening, Irish American Writers & Artists President, Maria Deasy, led off by thanking supporters and participants who have kept the organization thriving over the past year. And thrive it has, despite the pandemic, compensating for the loss of in-person salons by adding to our rosters presenters from statewide and even global venues. An excellent example, and first up on the roster at this salon, writer Brendan Keane came to us directly from the Connemara district of County Galway, to deliver installment #2 of his story, “Big Baby Goes to Hollywood.” In this scene, fledgling actor Dwyer McDonough gets a hard lesson in pre-MeToo movieland politics when he finds himself the target of an amorous casting director.
First time presenter, Patricia Brody read two poems from a group titled Waking While Covid: “If Sappho Caught Covid19” and “Lot’s Daughters. Rising.” A third, “The Cherry Chronicles,” a tribute to a magnificent weeping cherry tree blooming in her local park, was accompanied by photos. Brody teaches a poetry workshop at Barnard College Center for Research on Women and is the author of two full length collections, American Desire (Finishing Line Press 2009) and Dangerous to Know (Salmon Press 2013).
Also making his IAW&A debut, Terrence Moylan, read from his memoir, Lucky Felon. In a chapter entitled “The Apothecary,” 19-year-old Terry, fresh out of the Army, botches the theft of a drug store when the sight of two traumatized female store clerks makes him reconsider his actions. He makes a hasty getaway with a bag full of pills but forgets to pilfer the cash drawer, to the great displeasure of Joe, his driver and partner in crime. The scene ends as the cops are hot on the trail of their pickup truck. Originally from Washington Heights NYC, Moylan is a Florida resident, where he attended Florida Atlantic University and studied writing with Emily Rosen.
Frequent IAW&A presenter, Thom Molyneaux, again invited us to explore the intricacies of his dramaturgical mind with the presentation of his own original prologue to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, called “The Year of Yorik.” This prequel takes place in the year before the first scene of Hamlet. With Thom reading both roles, Polonius and Claudius scheme to install Claudius on the throne as husband of Queen Gertrude upon the demise of his brother, the King, while the King’s 17-year-old son, Hamlet (here known as “Pip” ) is shunted off to school in Germany.
It’s always a treat when Derek Dempsey lends his talent and exuberance to a salon. Zoom-ing in from the porch of his home in the Hudson Valley, he performed two of his original songs: “The Policy Song,” a driving musical complaint about how shifting political approaches cause us to “build it up just to tear it back down again, then tear it down just to build it back up again,” and an easy tempo love song, co-written with David Dash and inspired by the Canadian songwriter of the title, “Ron Sexsmith Walking to Town.” We are happy to report that Derek is back playing LIVE gigs at Iggy’s on the Upper East Side on Thursday nights. This is a sure sign that live music is coming back to New York! You can also catch Derek, on Fridays, at the Brew house in New Hyde Park, L.I.
After a brief intermission, Brendan Costello, Vice President of IAW&A, launched the 2nd half with an engrossing essay,“What the Blind Lost,” the title from a line in a poem by Miller Williams: “What the blind lost when radio/ gave way to TV/ what the deaf lost when movies/ stopped spelling out words and spoke/ was a way back in. Always, this desire/ to be inside again, when the doors are closed.” Candidly sharing some of his personal history, Brendan compared his experience of navigating life in a wheelchair to coping with the impediments imposed on everyone during the worst of the Covid lockdowns and restrictions. In our different ways, we shared, to some extent, the sense of isolation and loss familiar to him for many years. Wise, and skilled in coping and prevailing, his efforts in facilitating our virtual salons provided a much needed respite for so many of us.
The salon then welcomed another debut presenter, Michael Begnal, professor of English as Ball State University in Indiana, and author of two poetry collections, Future Blues (2007) and Ancestor Worship (2012) both published by Salmon Poetry, an Irish press. He read the title poem of the latter, which ends: “ancestor worship/ is the only religion/ truly compatible/ with the fact/ of evolution” — a concept certainly in sync with IAW&A’s sensibilities. His 2nd poem, “Samhain,” dedicated to the Irish chieftain Mongán, is a praise song for the language of our ancestors: “they are there, in a word or line / you thought was your own.” Indeed they are.
IAW&A Board member, Darrah Carr, founder and Artistic Director of Bessie Award nominated Darrah Carr Dance Company, was on hand to introduce an exciting segment of the salon, a live dance performance by the gifted Alexandra Williamson, long time member of Darrah’s company, which combines Irish and modern dance in a style she calls ModERIN. The beautiful piece, choreographed by Alexandra and performed to recordings of two songs in Irish, was inspired by her trip to Tipperary to research her ancestors. She will soon be off to McCarthy, Alaska, for a stint as Artist in Residence at the Wrangell Mountains Arts Center.
Poet Marcia Loughran, whose readings never disappoint, shared “Rockaway Beach One Year After Hurricane Sandy,” her contribution to QUEENSBOUND , an audio project of 16 poets curated by Queens poet, K.C.Triommer. Each contributed a work corresponding to a Queens subway stop on the #7 line, Marcia’s likely familiar to many in the IAW&A audience. It was followed by two affecting selections from her chapbook, My Mother Never Died Before: “Cleaning Out My Mother’s Purse on Mother’s Day” and “Tap Dance at the Nursing Home.” Her latest collection, Songs from the Back-in-the-Back, will be coming out in October 2021 from the Poetry Box.
With his usual sense of humor, the intrepid Malachy McCourt quipped that he is writing the “Autobiography of a Ceiling” a subject he has researched thoroughly, as he lies abed waiting for a broken bone to heal. The embodiment of the word “trouper,” Malachy read the final, poignant story in his memoir, A Monk Swimming, about a rare afternoon spent with his father communing with nature in a field in county Limerick. Beside a magical well with the sweetest water, the young Malachy listened to his father’s stories and songs for the.last time before he would leave for England and abandon the family. As is his custom, Malachy then sang us out with a verse of “Limerick is Beautiful.”
The next IAW&A salon, on Monday, May 24th, at 7 PM, will be a special event featuring veterans and hosted by Anthony F. Roberts.