By Bernadette Cullen
Photos by W. Jay Wanczyk
The Irish American Writers & Artists July 25th Salon at The Ellington Restaurant on Manhattan’s UWS began with IAW&A Vice President Brendan Costello hosting a roomful of artists anxious to share their creative endeavors with all in attendance. The evening concluded with a story and a song we all went to sleep humming over, and over again.
First up was Brooklyn native Martin Alvin, award-winning actor, director, and playwright, who read his short story Men Don’t Cry (C. Magazine, a Texas publication). And as we listened, we heard a young boy remembering watching Jimmy Stewart on a 12″ TV, his mother beating him, him still loving her, him learning boys don’t cry, him learning men don’t cry, him confessing at story’s end, “when I cry, and I do, I do it in secret inside myself.”
Maureen Langan, award-winning broadcaster turned standup comedian and TEDx Talk speaker, took us to the wonderful, boisterous, hilarious realm of comedy. Her lines were rapid-fast, side-bending, and everyone was laughing, including yours truly, who forgot to take notes. But, I do remember her spotlighting Martha Stewart’s pronunciation of marinade as mari-naarrrd — a woman, she underscored with a sharp laugh, “we put into jail, then she got out.”
Natalie H. Rogers, actress, public speaker, and author of Talkpower: A Mind Body Way To Speak Without Fear, read two poems. The first, Obituary Collage, centered on a great fur hat she wore at a funeral for an acquaintance, letting her words reveal the dark reason for the great hat! This was followed by Last Wish and Testament, a poetic and utterly dynamic refusal to ‘die like an old person’ but, rather, to die as noisily as possible.
Connecticut resident Ed Patterson, a finalist in Bellingham Review’s 2021 Tobias Wolf Award for Fiction, read his short story Skipping Stones (Umbrella Factory Magazine). The narration was not linear, which added to the wonder of how time confuses even itself, how past and present flow into a legacy that skips, like stones, from father to son. And as you listened, you could trace the dark lines of that legacy all the way back to a fight on a summer’s day between two young boys, a fight that suddenly, unforgivingly, turns deadly.
Next was Siobhan Regan, a County Mayo native. Formerly a Chicago resident (ten years), she recently decided it was time to take a bite of the Big Apple. And she did, with a lovely reading of the opening monologue from her cousin John Kearns’s play, Boann and the Well of Wisdom. The monologue was lyrical, telling of a miraculous well, of its waters, of myth, of all things lost. The play will have a Manhattan production by Morningside Players (100 Lasalle Street, NYC) from Sept. 27-30th before beginning a mini- tour of Ireland (Listowel, Kells and Dublin) during the first week of November. And the playwright will be accompanying his play to Ireland with his new Irish passport!
Eileen Joyce Donovan’s historical novel, Promises, won the Marie M Irvine Award for Literary Excellence; her A Lady Newspaperman’s Dilemma won the 2021 When Words Count nationwide competition. Tonight she read from a work-in-progress about her move to Brighton Beach, and how a real estate agent’s assurance that everyone spoke English proved false when the first tenant meeting she attended was entirely in Russian. Once at the deli counter, her order for Swiss cheese concluded with ‘cheese with tiny holes, but was definitely NOT Swiss.’
And then, it was Malachy McCourt‘s turn. Malachy began by telling us “there was a book on my table,” then he held up a book that was sitting in his lap. It was Angela’s Ashes, his brother Frank’s Pulitzer Prize memoir of growing up, very poor, in a small town in Ireland. With book held high, Malachy asked, “How do you write this?” It was less question, more statement, or dare. Then he spoke of a hard Irish childhood, of a mother but no father (he had left), of siblings who survived, of those who did not, of eleven of his young classmates, dying. “You could die at any time,” he said. And then he spoke of his and Frank’s journey to New York, of Frank’s desire to be a teacher, so Frank went to night school for his GED, then Frank went to university, then Frank wrote Angela’s Ashes. Again, Malachy held up his brother’s book. Again, he asked, “how do you write this?” Then, answered his own question: “Start off with poverty and a good sense of humor.” In closing, Malachy told a roomful of comedians, of short story writers, playwrights, poets and songwriters to “Believe in yourself. Do not criticize, only believe, believe.”
And when the clock looked down into its hands, Malachy McCourt began to sing that song that ends many IAW&A salons: “Wild Mountain Thyme.” When he reached the first refrain, he sang it, then stopped singing, and said to everyone in the room, “Sing the song, children!” And we did, in one believing single voice: “And we’ll all go together/To pluck wild mountain thyme/All around the blooming heather/Will ye go Lassie go?” And every time the refrain took its turn, we sang it, as if singing the words was the only thing holding up the stars in the dark sky, the moon the right color. And then and last, Malachy sent his children out into the night, with a branch of wild mountain thyme in their hands and a song that followed them all the way home.
IAW&A President Maria Deasy
with Malachy McCourt
The next IAW&A Salon will be at The Ellington (2745 Broadway) on Tuesday, August 15 at 7:00pm. Writer Anthony Murphy will host John McDonagh, Mary Lannon, Thom Molyneaux, Maureen Hossbacher and others, with musical guests The Kennedys.