by Charles Hale
Every seat was taken at Tuesday night’s Thalia Café for a special evening of the Irish American Writers and Artists’ Salon series. Over the past year it had become evident that there were a number of members who are writers, some published, some unpublished, whom, for one reason or the other, hadn’t presented at a salon. Perhaps some were reluctant or slightly intimidated by the high level of talent that frequents the salons, others might have felt a little nervous presenting their own work before a group and then there were those who just needed a little shove. A few weeks ago we announced that this past Tuesday’s salon would be dedicated to first time presenters. Seven of the evening’s twelve presenters heeded the call. And what a great night it was. As emcee and an audience member I was delighted to hear one fine reading after another. The level of writing was quite high and if there were cases of the jitters, I didn’t notice.
Jim Rodgers who has been reading from his novel Long Night’s End, led off the evening. The scene began with Johnny Gunn and his over-the-hill rock band playing for the “kids” on the Lower East Side and finishing back in Sunnyside in the early hours of the morning. There, Johnny’s childhood friend, Jimmy, begins to crash as the raw memories of the sunny day, his fire brigade, and his own personal loss finally overwhelm him. Johnny and his friends circle the wagons and vow to keep the demons from snatching Jimmy away. The scene suggests that the struggle between those demons and the boys of Sunnyside will reach titanic proportions.
Two first time readers followed Jim. Peter McDermott, Associate Editor and columnist for the Irish Echo, whose fine writing many of us follow each week, read a wonderful extract from “The Sisters,” the first story in Joyce’s Dubliners, (1914). An earlier version of the short story was published in the Irish Homestead Journal on Aug. 13, 1904.
Mary Carroll was next up, recalling her days as an actor through the eyes of an old red plush theatre seat, which carried with it from Broadway to a regional theatre some of the great moments of American theatre history, thus the title of her work “Aisle 2, H4, Orchestra.” The work focused on a rehearsal period for Carson McCullers’ The Member Of The Wedding, which was particularly fractious, at least from the “eyes” of H4. Well read with a “voice made for radio.”
Multi-talented John Kearns, who has presented at many salons, read two love poems, “I Would Have” and “A Presence Like Absinthe“ (in Write On Maui ezine) followed by a poem about the relationship between the artist and audience, “Intheternal Frenzy.” He concluded with “Aboard The Aran Searbird: Leaving Inishmore” (in Feile-Festa Literary Arts Journal) a poem about departing by boat from the largest of the Aran Islands. John will be attending his cousin’s wedding in Mayo next week and will doubtless be scribbling something during his travels.
First time reader Mary Lannon read from her novel-in-progress, An Explanation of the Fundamentals of the Derivation of Dilapidated Brown Station Wagon Theory (aka How I Became a Scientist and Discovered the Truth about Parallel Universes) by Miranda J. McCleod. (I’m not making up that title.) The audience responded with laughter to this twist on the coming-of-age tale that recounts a young mad scientist’s journey through her Irish Catholic upbringing in small town America.
Guenevere Donohue closed out the first half of the evening performing monologues from two different characters of her play, The Poecock. Set at an Asylum in Wales in 1921, and based on the accounts of Guen’s grandmother Bridget Shea, the story chronicles a difficult friendship between an English patient and her nurse struggling to survive horrendous conditions for both the committed, and the Celt support staff. As always, Guenevere’s skill as an actor were so apt to the task and heart of her words.
After an intermission that was filled with conversation and laughter, five first-time presenters followed: Karen Daly read a crisp, true story called “Sister Marlene” (emphatically not about a nun) in which the appearance of a mysterious woman disturbs the relaxed mood of a writing class. Karen noted her great interest is in New York City Irish history, and is currently researching the 2013 edition of her self-published Irish American Images Calendar. (The beautiful 2012 edition hangs on the wall next to my desk.)
Michele Cetera, an oncology nurse and writer, presented a short story “Hectic Day.’’ Her story tells of a woman who thinks of her breast cancer as an “inconvenience” and how she and her husband come to terms with her illness. This is an insightful story, dealing with the thoughts of a nurse, a patient and a spouse who are dealing with cancer. It also touches on how, occasionally, we get caught up in our own busy lives and “inconveniences” and fail to appreciate the gift of “the everyday.” A compelling read.
The evening’s next reader was Philomena Forde. Introducing Phil, I suggested that she must be a confident writer. Who else would write about a memoir of a childhood in Limerick given the McCourt brothers’ propensity for such a thing? But Phil, who said she felt a bit intimidated by the “wonderful quality of presentations, fantastic writers and readers,” was marvelous reading from her book The Lost Blue Shoe.
The final first-timers were Lori Messing McGarry and Ian Bateson. Lori read from her novel-in-progress “Sacred Smoke“, a story about the plight of a young Roma Gypsy girl in contemporary Greece. The balance between Western ideals and ancient traditions was presented in a dramatic scene with an Orthodox Priest and a Gypsy Fortune Teller who struggle against prejudices to protect the girl. Ian followed with a witty story about an apartment-hunting ordeal in New York City. What New Yorker wouldn’t relate to this humorous tale of woe?
Tom Mahon, a frequent salon presenter, followed with another real estate story, “For Sale by Owner.” In Tom’s story, a woman who is attempting to sell her home to a woman who reminds her of her younger self, relives an experience of a past betrayal. As much as she needs to sell the house, she doesn’t want that woman to buy it and experience the degrading betrayal that she has. As always, very well read and well received.
Great night filled with fine readings and lots of buzz. Salons are held on the first and third Tuesday of the month. The next salon will be at The Cell, 338 W23rd, August 21, 7PM. For more information on the salon or joining the Irish American Writers and Artists contact Charles Hale @firstname.lastname@example.org