REPORT FROM THE IRISH AMERICAN WRITERS & ARTISTS’ SALON AT THE THALIA CAFE 11/13/2012
by Charles R. Hale
One of the outgrowths and benefits of the Irish American Writers & Artists’ salons has been an increasing number of collaborative efforts among its members. Before a jam-packed, standing-room-only crowd at the Thalia Cafe, four members–two writers and two singers–provided perfect examples of this trend.
Inspired by a New York Times story about the Brooklyn apartment where she grew up, Karen Daly presented an evocative tribute to her grandmother, which brought tears to the eyes of at least one man in the room. In “Mama’s Window,” she pictured her grandmother keeping watch on her from a building on Lincoln Place, and showed how the little girl would come to resemble her grandmother in so many ways.
Knowing the barest facts about the O’Connor family of Rector Street, New York, Karen wonders how their daughter became a woman of such dignity and fierce resolve. Like many Irish family stories, theirs had sadness and secrets and great love.
Karen movingly described her grandparents’ marriage and her grandmother’s desolation at her husband’s death. The emotion was perfectly expressed when singer Jack Di Monte surprised the room with a beautiful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “When I Lost You.” This seamless collaboration resulted from a chat at the prior salon. This was Jack’s first performance at a salon, but we learned that he sings at the Thalia on Monday nights. We look forward to hearing more of Jack’s great voice, and more about Karen’s family.
We’ve heard Maura Mulligan read passages from her engaging memoir, Call of the Lark. Maura showed her true roots as a storyteller when she stood and recounted the night she left her home in County Mayo for America She movingly evoked the Ireland of her childhood in images of the turf fire, the boxty and butter-making.
When the neighbors come to bid farewell, they take turns churning the butter, a custom said to bring good luck to all in her thatched cottage. Maura wonders “Would that include me as well since I was to leave the following morning”? Through the kitchen window young Maura sees “the rising of the full May moon as it climbs over the hill near the Well Field, where the fairy bush stands alone.”
Member Kathy Callahan said, “While listening to Maura tell her story I became so totally immersed in the rhythm of her voice and visual imagery that I lost track of time and place.”
John Kearns read two poems based on poetic passages in his novel-in-progress, Worlds. The first, “From the Brooklyn Bridge,” is a meditation upon immigration and on similarities between the Brooklyn Bridge and other sites in the New World to sacred sites in the ancient Celtic world. In the second, “Seamus Logan’s Passage to the New World,” Seamus is in steerage between the Old World and the New World, telling a story of his wanderings through Mayo and Connemara and his other worldly vision of an abandoned village’s coming to life and being destroyed by the Great Hunger.
Sarah Fearon work-shopped some new comedy material. Some of her ideas included, dealing with the beginning of the end of the world, and getting old. Sarah also riffed on thinking outside the box before we wind up inside the box, the theory on identifying if you’re economically one of the 99% or 1%, and a new discovery revealed from Jesus’ shroud which seems to be examined far too often, which suggests that God was originally from New York. And my favorite, Sarah wondered why doctors ask us “What are we doing here today?” From the crowd’s response a good percentage of Sarah’s material is worth developing.
“This is for you all, an artist’s voice, but really a writer’s voice.” Playwright, actress and singer, Guenevere Donohue gave the Writers & Artists a vocal gift, a soulful sweet song, an original composition of melody to Charles Bukowski’s poem, “Bluebird.” Guen’s open-hearted, tender take on the infamous Charles B was a great way to end the first half of the evening.
Jim Rodgers read an excerpt from his novel, Long Night’s End. His protagonist, Johnny Gunn, stands at his friend Jimmy’s wake at Lynch’s funeral parlor and the reader is brought into Johnny’s private thoughts– thoughts filled with sadness, bitterness, and rage at his friend’s tragic death. At the same time, we witness the characters of the story being weaved into the scene, highlighting the incomprehensible loss to Jimmy’s wife, Sunnyside, and his fellow New York City firemen. A strong and visceral end to Jimmy’s battle with the demons who had haunted him since that sunny day.
Our thoughts went to the victims of hurricane Sandy when Maureen Hossbacher read a poignant excerpt from her novel-in-progress, The Grand March. The excerpt, set in Rockaway Beach of the 1950’s, at the end of summer, after a hurricane, introduced us to Nance Moran, a young girl wrangling with the dissonance between sexuality and Catholicism. No doubt many in the captivated audience could relate to similar childhood awakenings and dilemmas.
Popular salon presenter, Tom Mahon, read a section of a children’s short story about a horse and a boy in upstate NY. The boy is out riding and discovers two hunters in his family’s woods, and boldly but cleverly gets them to leave. While raising his son, Tom discovered the shortage of good stories for boys that does not exist for girls. Tom mentioned that he’d like to work on remedying that shortage.
Malachy McCourt closed the evening with a personal essay that dealt with the damage death does to familial relations and how death arouses sub-conscious anger toward the deceased. “We have no recourse or ability to settle matters when some one buggers off and dies leaving stuff undone,” Malachy said. Fittingly, Malachy ended the evening with a song ” Isn’t it Grand Boys to be Bloody Well Dead” After the applause and cheers subsided, Malachy called out “Great night !” And it was.
For more about the Irish American Artists and Writers contact Charles R. Hale at firstname.lastname@example.org