The March 26th Artists Without Walls’ Showcase was an incredible evening. Here are a few of Vera Hoar’s photos as they appeared in the Irish Echo.
The March 26th Artists Without Walls’ Showcase was an incredible evening. Here are a few of Vera Hoar’s photos as they appeared in the Irish Echo.
A lovely note from a member of the UCD Choral Scholars:
Dear Niamh and Charles,
From the moment we arrived in the beautiful church, I was struck by the fine atmosphere and awesome acoustic of the building.
It was a delight to perform there, and I would like to express my thanks for the organisation which went into procuring this venue – an administratitive ability which was, indeed, felt throughout the tour of New England.
Thomas (John) Fallows, a choral scholar who enjoyed singing for you at St. Peter’s recently!
P.S. I noticed, on your Facebook page, a tribute to the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. Having studied Mr. Heaney’s poetry for the Leaving Certificate Examinations (and since then), I was sad to hear of his passing. The homage paid to the wordsmith was absolutely fitting, and perfectly written. Please pass on my thanks to Mrs. O’Donnell.
Today, April 13th, is Seamus Heaney’s birthday. Had he lived, he would be 75 years old. It seems fitting to remember him and celebrate him today, the day of his birth, as well as on August 30th, the day of his death. Happy Birthday, Seamus Heaney!
LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS (IRISH)MEN
by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are Irish, and those who wish they were. At least that’s how the saying goes—and I’ve heard it quite a few times since I married an Irishman a few decades ago.
Most of the time, I dismiss such bon mots of Irish pride for the blarney that they are and happily lay claim to my Sicilian-Roman heritage. (This is especially true around dinner time. Who would choose boiled potatoes and beer over a plate of Linguine Puttanesca and a glass of Chianti?) But when it comes to poetry, I must confess to full-fledged Irish Envy.
Ireland has more than its share of “saints, scholars, and schizophrenics,” as a celebrated study of Western Ireland has demonstrated. There is something about Ireland, with her wild terrain, deep mythology and dark history, that tends toward mystery. It makes sense that such a culture would produce people with extravagant minds. It also makes sense that it would produce more than its share of poets. Lovers of language and purveyors of song, no one can wield and weave words quite like the Irish—even in a tongue that is not their own. Irish lore is rife with poetry. The Ancient Makers knew there was magic in chanting “the right words in the right order” (the formula Coleridge devised to describe poetry), and Ireland’s Modern Makers know this, too.
Sadly, the most celebrated among those Modern Makers, Seamus Heaney, passed out of this world this past August. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Poetry (1995), author of 13 major collections of poems (and many smaller collections besides), four collections of prose, two plays and multiple translations of major Western texts, Heaney was among the most productive and lauded of living poets, Irish or otherwise. He was also among the most beloved. In addition to being a poet who wrote deeply human, accessible poems, he was a dedicated teacher of young writers, a generous friend, a faithful husband (married to fellow poet, Marie Devlin, for nearly 50 years), and a devoted father. W.B. Yeats, another celebrated Irish poet (one to whom Heaney is often compared), wrote that human beings are forced to choose between “perfection of the life, or of the work.” Heaney seems to have proven his predecessor wrong. He lived as well as he wrote.
During the weeks and months after his death, Ireland grieved Heaney’s loss publicly and without restraint. The day of his death, the radio stations played recordings of him reading his poems. As an Irish friend confided to me in an email she wrote that morning, “that voice and those words that are usually so comforting are so heartbreaking today.” Friends of Heaney, including august writers Thomas Kinsella, John Montague, Peter Sirr and Paul Muldoon, in speaking of him had to stop as they were overcome by their sorrow.
The rest of the world has grieved for Heaney as well, for unmistakably Irish as he was, we know he belonged to us all. Even people who never knew Heaney personally but know him through his work—people like me—feel a keen sense of loss and understand we are all poorer for his passing. Over the past few months, Heaney’s poems have haunted me. Lines come to me unbidden, out of the pure blue—like these from his poem, “Clearances,” chronicling the death of his parents:
And we all knew one thing by being there.
The space we stood around had been emptied
Into us to keep, it penetrated
Clearances that suddenly stood open.
High cries were felled and a pure change happened.
A “pure change” has happened to us all as we look into the emptied space left by Heaney’s absence, the sudden silencing of a voice that has been with us for nearly five decades (so familiar, “so comforting,” as my friend said). Since 1966, with the publication of his first book, Death of a Naturalist, Heaney has been telling us his story—of his growing up in rural County Derry, the eldest of nine in a big Catholic family, of his explorations of the little world he inhabited and what its mysteries might mean, of his discovery of his vocation as writer (rather than farmer or IRA soldier), of the Troubles that afflicted his country and led to bloodshed and murder and self-sacrifice, and of the power of poetry to name the graces we are blessed by and to redeem our most grievous losses. Heaney had the poet’s gift of being able to make the particular universal—to tell his story, in all its concrete detail, while simultaneously telling us our own.
Heaney’s poems of childhood—that universal condition we all share—are particularly poignant, capturing as they do our own discoveries of pleasure, of beauty, of love, and, inevitably, of our mortality. (And how often these discoveries occur to the child at the very same moment.) In the poem “Blackberry Picking,” he describes in glorious detail the eager pleasure of searching for blackberries in high summer, anticipating the buckets full of berries he and his siblings would bring home, gorging themselves on the “flesh / sweet like thickened wine,” and “hoarding” them in the barn for future days. Sadly, though, the ritual begun in such joy would end in desolation, as the children would find “a rat-grey fungus glutting on our cache”:
Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
The child’s pleasure in satisfying his “lust for picking” and his appetite inevitably leads to this sober knowledge—beauty dies, pleasure ceases, nothing lasts in the end. These are grim thoughts for any child to harbor—but such is the nature of the human that we cannot help but hope, from moment to moment, day to day, and year to year. Hope is what keeps us from despairing in the face of death, and poetry speaks the language of hope better than any other art I know. With each re-reading of this poem, we accompany young Seamus and our childish selves in the ritual search for a perfection we know we can never possess. And we reenact this fruitless/bootless search, this hopeful/hopeless quest, joyfully. Because of Heaney’s art, we accompany ourselves singing.
Heaney’s most well-known poem is the one that might seem, at first glance, to be the least universal, “Digging.” A poem about young adulthood, rather than childhood, Heaney dramatizes the moment when he discovered his vocation as a writer. This epiphany comes to him as he sits as his desk looking out of his window and watching his father dig peat in the field below. Since few of us have grown up on farms in rural Ireland, and few of us decide to become writers, it might seem a stretch to claim that “Digging” describes our own sudden knowledge of our selves, our limitations and our talents. Yet Heaney’s poem speaks to us through its particularity, immersing us in Irish earth and yet piercing through the veil of appearances, to reveal to us the time-honored human journey toward maturation, revelation and self-knowledge:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Between the opening and the closing of this brief, 31-line poem, the young Heaney goes from idle observer of the world to active participant in his chosen arena of life. In the opening stanza, his pen is poised, ‘resting’ in his hand, “snug as a gun”—a terrific simile suggesting the latent power in the pen the boy has not yet learned to use. By the end of the poem, the pen has transformed into a very different sort of tool—a spade. But unlike the spades used by his father and grandfather to dig in the earth, the pen is a spade that probes the heart and mind, digging into memory, history, and the mystery of identity.
Much of the poem focuses on the past—the work of his forbears, their precision and craftsmanship, “nicking and slicing neatly,” their heroic strength, “heaving sods over their shoulders” like the Gaelic Giants they were to the small boy Seamus. He has long known himself to be different—“I’ve no spade to follow men like them”—but he suddenly discovers essential ways in which they are the same. Their pursuit of excellence, intimacy with the gritty reality of the place they come from, what Jesuit poet G.M. Hopkins describes as the this-ness of life, “The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap / Of soggy peat”—these are their common passions, only Heaney will lay claim to them with words. The young man’s—and the universal—rite of passage is complete. The final lines of the poem launch the passive, past-obsessed boy into his own future as he concludes with this resolve, “The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.” And dig he does. Heaney remained faithful to his promise for the next 50 years.
Three years ago, I had the pleasure of doing a podcast/interview with Americamagazine when Heaney’s then-new (and, as it turns out, his final) collection was published, Human Chain (2010). When asked by the interviewer, America editor Tim Reidy, to identify a favorite poem in the book, Heaney’s strange poem “A Herbal” immediately popped into mind, as it contained these marvelous lines:
I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.
What strikes me about these lines is the bold claim they made then and that they make now. Heaney wrote them after suffering a stroke that nearly killed him, and they seemed to me to constitute a declaration of independence and an absolute refusal to fear. With its insistent repetition of “I” and “me,” the lines proclaim the inviolable power and sanctity of the eternal “I AM.” Whenever death comes (and come it will), whatever death might do to my body, Heaney seems to say, it cannot take away from me the fact that I lived—and not only lived, but lived in the here and now that is Ireland, my heart and my home. These are words we might all live and die by, no matter what country we might call our own.
The American poet Walt Whitman once wrote that “the proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Heaney has been absorbed by his country all right, and claimed by most of the countries of the world, as well. Wherever poetry is valued, he is revered and mourned. In addition to the many eulogies offered, the hundreds of tributes penned, the public readings of his poems, people from around the world have been writing poems honoring Heaney’s life and his art. I’d like to close this piece by offering one such poem, a sonnet I wrote in homage to Mr. Heaney some years ago. In addressing Heaney as “Saint Seamus,” the poem calls attention to the sacredness of the Word, the instrument Heaney used to honor and celebrate the world, and suggests the sacredness of the pursuit of poetry.
HOMAGE TO SAINT SEAMUS
“I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”
For years I’ve knelt at your holy wells
and envied the cut of your clean-edged song,
lay down in the bog where dead men dwell,
grieved with your ghosts who told their wrongs.
Your consonants cleave my soft palate.
I taste their rough music and savor it long
past the last line of the taut sonnet,
its rhyming subtle, its accent strong.
And every poem speaks a sacrament,
blood of old blessing and bread of the word,
feeding me full in language ancient
as Aran’s rock and St. Kevin’s birds.
English will never be the same.
To make it ours is why you came.
“Homage to Saint Seamus” admits openly the Irish Envy I confessed at the outset of this essay—but the poem finally arrives at the joyful discovery (just as I did) that poets like Seamus Heaney bless and liberate language for all of us. We don’t have to be Irish to lay claim to great poetry. We only have to be human.
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell is a poet, professor and associate director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University. This essay was originally published a few days after the death of Seamus Heaney, on August 30th, 2013, on the AMERICA magazine blog.
Today, Sunday 2pm, Honor Molloy and Jack O’Connell will be reading from Pat Fenton’s “Stoopdreamer” at Farrell’s Bar located at 16th St and 9th Ave in Brooklyn in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood where “Stoopdreamer” was born.
Tonight, Sunday, April 13, 7pm, singer/songwriter Salina Sias will be performing at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1, 196 Allen Street in NYC. Also performing with Salina will be guitarist Thad DeBrock and cellist Noah Hoffeld.
After staging three full productions in the past year at Theatre Row – Pompa Pompa!, Kill the Bid! and Death, Please! – Brendan Connellan has turned his hand to making movies. Here is a brief excerpt from his dark and strange (and fun) 15 min short film – KEEP HER CLOSE – which he wrote, directed and features in. Further portions will be released in the coming weeks.
A number of years ago I decided to take the test to become a New York City tour guide. Why? Why not? Having an interest in New York, past and present, I thought it might be fun. I received the license but never led a tour, that wasn’t my objective; sharing information and stories was, and for that matter, still is. And so I often meet a friend, or a friend’s friend, at McSorley’s Old Ale House where we talk about New York’s history, its politics, buildings and bridges, sports, crime, music or anything of interest.
I stopped in recently and I was greeted by an unforgettable mixture, ale that has seeped into the old floorboards, pine sawdust that once absorbed the spat tobacco, a few raw onions, and a hint of disinfectant. McSorley’s Old Ale House is the perfect balm for whatever ails you.
As I waited for my friend Marcia, I wondered if my great great great grandfather John Hale ever visited McSorley’s? John McSorley opened The Old House at Home in February of 1854, a few months before John Hale’s immigrant ship, the Neptune, sailed toward the tip of Manhattan on May 23, 1854. The Hales lived around the corner on the Bowery. My son Chris, just might be the seventh generation of Hales to frequent the place.
“Couple of lights, Charlie?” the floor boss, Richie Walsh, asked as I settle into my favorite spot, the small round table, the one with the wood drawn back at the edges, located just north of the potbelly stove.
“Lights, Richie,” I called. You can have anything you want at McSorley’s as long as it’s McSorley’s light or dark ale.
I sat surrounded by the two-room saloon’s countless framed pictures and newspaper articles, browned with age. Behind the bar, relics of glory now gone: a fire helmet, rusted handcuffs, a rocking chair and a pipe. Any time is a good time to visit the Ale House but my favorite time is midweek, particularly a winter’s day. Try it. Go in and sit quietly next to the stove. The heat from the stove radiates along your spine, as the day closes in around you. You’ll soon be wrapped in darkness and congenial shadows, the perfect wintry atmosphere of funereal gloom. You can’t beat it.
“Have a good day, Pepe,” a departing patron called to Pepe, McSorley’s day-manager and barkeep. “It will be when you leave,” he called back. Pepe, who grew up in the East Village neighborhood, has been serving customers for over thirty years, and, as he says, “controls the chaos.” Not without great wit, I might add.
And McSorley’s, is a storyteller’s paradise. Sitting at a table next to the stove, surrounded by NYC memorabilia, you never know who you might share a story with: an actor or news anchor, a governor, a chess grandmaster, an ex-con or a porn star. I’ve shared a story or two with each along the way.
“It’s been burning for 160 years, my friend, and it’ll be burning long after we’re both dead and gone.”
“Yeah, thanks for that cheery reminder, Pepe,” I said as we walked toward the door, past two patrons entering the saloon.
And as we reached the swinging doors the last voice I heard was Pepe’s. ”How come every time I’m bending over you two show up?” Classic, Pepe. Classic place.
Written by: Charles R. Hale
Artists Without Walls’ member Jenai Huff will be doing a live performance/interview on 90.3 fm WMSC. The show is ‘Radio Nowhere’ and runs from 7-10pm. Jenai will be on about 8pm for 45 min to an hour. It can also be listened to online at http://wmscradio.com./
Bernadette Fee, well-known New York fiddler leads at seisiun at Cannon’s Blackthorn, 49 North Village Ave., Rockville Centre, NY 11570-4604, today, 1-4pm.
Charles R. Hale will be presenting Breathing of an Ancestors Space and Time, a video and spoken presentation, which focuses on the importance of taking the time to find one’s family story. A simple question–Where is your baby sister buried?–sent Charles on a journey of self reflection and discovery. Today, 3pm at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Avenue, Rockville Centre, NY.
“The Cell is a cracking little space, with the AWoW audience all jammed in and willing me on – it was hard to go wrong. Such a fun night! Loved the mix of music, poetry, and clowns like me!” Comedian Maeve Higgins
Billy Barrett opened the evening with a chapter from his memoir Highway Star called “Candygate.” A hard-driving, tough-talking expose that at times takes on the quality of a who-done-it noir piece like LA Confidential. He seems determined to yank all the demons from his closet…yours and his.
Patrick Kavanagh award winning poet Connie Roberts, in collaboration with North America’s premier uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan, read her poem “Mosaic”, about the tragic fate of Grace Farrell, a young Irish emigrant who froze to death in an alcove of Saint Brigid’s Church in the Lower East Side, NYC, in 2011. She followed it with her poem “Letterfrack Man”, a response to Seamus Heaney’s iconic poem “The Tollund Man”, in which she memorializes the “sacrificial” body of Peter Tyrrell, who fought to highlight abuses in Irish industrial schools, before self-immolating in a London Park in 1967. Niamh Hyland finished with a powerful and poignant ballad about Peter Tyrrell, Connie’s reworking of the classic U.S. labor ballad “Joe Hill.”
After writing, directing, producing and acting in three full productions at Theatre Row in the past eleven months – Pompa Pompa!, Kill the Bid! and Death, Please! – Brendan Connellan unveiled a new (and dark) short play – Gash – featuring himself and the very talented Alessia Sushko, Miguel Vias (in his first stage appearance in 4 years) and Tara O’Grady. Sometimes, a birthday surprise goes beyond party hats and blowing out candles! It may involve some light torture.
Warren Malone is a New York based singer/songwriter who is originally from Manchester England. According to Warren, “I love to sing—I sing all day, everyday—write songs and play guitar. I love traditional folk music as much as I love a great pop song. The first record I ever put on was a Hank Williams’ record when I was four years old. As a kid I loved Elvis.” And Elvis’ “Burning Love” was the third of three spellbinding tunes that this talented performer–not to mention witty and charming–sang. Have a listen to Burning Love.
Comedian Maeve Higgins told a story from her book, called “Malevolent Dolphins.” “It was the first time I told it on stage so I was excited about that,” Maeve said. “I followed a few amazing acts – Connie Roberts and the piper were stand outs for me. Connie’s poems are so moving, truthful and she somehow also manages to be funny – great. Anyway I did my bit, had great fun doing it.” Maeve forgot to mention one performance…her own. Maeve had the audience in stitches. Brilliant.
Salina Sias opened the second half and immediately charmed the audience with her spontaneous sense of humor – she had the listeners both relaxed and excited, laughing and waiting impatiently for her first song. What they got was a stirring rendition of her original song, “A Picture Of You.” It was followed by “Addicted,” a sexy, quirky number that speaks to the human capacity for delusion. Cellist Noah Hoffeld accompanied Salina’s voice and guitar. Both of Salina’s songs are off her upcoming record, New Day Comin’, which at this point is only available at her live shows. Salina is currently preparing for her “Addicted” tour and hopes to add a few Irish and Mexican tunes to her next AWoW set.
Kate McLeod read a poignant, personal essay–working title “A Crime Against Crimes”–about her last summer at a camp that she attended for six years. Recently, she and a buddy jumped the locked gate to revisit the camp. It was then that her memory was flooded with two incidents that happened to her. ”One thinks these things are small and insignificant–minor– but they are the ones that stay with us and haunt us through life,” Kate said.
The coupling of Connemara’s Pat Coyne with NYC’s Bernadette Fee was enchanting. Both musicians are rock solid performers in the Irish Traditional world. Pat’s distinctive singing and extraordinary guitar playing have been exhibited over the years with the Sean Keane Band and Bernadette’s fiddling has been heard at NYC seisiúns and céilidhs. The music these two produce is timeless. They began with two lively reels, “Paddy Taylor’s” into “McFadden’s Handsome Daughter.” This was followed by Pat’s captivating rendition of Don Stiffe’s song “Someone Special.” The third piece was the step of the “Killkenny Races” with Bernadette showing that playing the fiddle and dancing can be done at the same time. This was done with Pat’s tasteful accompaniment. They finished with two more reels “Tim Maloney’s” and the “Green Mountain” to the cheers of a very appreciative audience.
For more about Artists Without Walls contact email@example.com
All photos by Vera Hoar and Cat Dwyer.
Cat Dwyer’s photos from the Artists Without Walls’s Showcase, 3/26/14. The names of the photographed appear above the photo.
Jerry O’Sullivan and Connie Roberts
Tara O’Grady, Miguel Vias, Brendan Connellan and Alessia Sushko
Joe McElligott, Charles R. Hale and Niamh Hyland with students from Lehman College
Noah Hoffeld and Salina Sias
Bernadette Fee and Pat Coyne
Who is Honor Molloy?
I guess I’m a product of the cities I’ve lived in: New York City; Allentown, PA; Dublin.
Born in the Rotunda Hospital—Europe’s oldest maternity hospital—I grew up in a lively theatre family. Artists, journalists, actors, musicians, even The Dubliners, gathered round the fire for parties in the teeny stable that my father had converted to a mews. This paradise came to an end as what my mother called “The Troubles” arrived at our door. The drink drove us out of Ireland and my American mother brought us home. Allentown was a dreary place in the 70s. It was alienating and I only wanted to escape. So, I studied all forms of art, fostering my discipline, ready for the day I could start my real life somewhere else.
I came to New York to attend the NYU Graduate Acting Program. As a result of that I embarked on a decade of producing and performing in my own work in the small theatres of the East Village, the Lower East Side, and SoHo. At the same time, a group of actors founded The Working Theater—a company dedicated to making play-going a regular part of working people’s cultural lives. I got swept up in their mission and became the development director, writing grants, as well as reading all the plays that came in the door. I often thought, “I could write a better play.” So I went off to graduate school to study with Paula Vogel at Brown. This led to Brecht and to the Royal Court in London and to a more political approach to playwriting. Back in New York after grad school, I thrived in the company of theatre people—a highlight of this time was a residency at New Dramatists.
I spent ten years working with Simon & Schuster Audiobooks, immersing myself in storytelling, meeting actors, producers, writers, and publishing professionals. I started writing a memoir which eventually became the autobiographical novel Smarty Girl – Dublin Savage. Once published, I discovered New York’s Irish American community and have come to terms with that kid who left Dublin all those years ago—washing up in the cultural wasteland that is Allentown.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing the first draft of the book for an Opera / New Music Theatre Work that I’m developing with Composer / Performer Corey Dargel. This piece concerns three patients confined to a long-term psychiatric ward and their psychiatrist. Each patient believes she is Christ. This piece examines the brain, memory, and what constitutes personality.
Do you have upcoming events you’d like people to attend?
World of Words: Queens
April 12th 3 – 5pm
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center
31-10 Thomson Ave,
Long Island City, NY 11101
Who are the writers / playwrights, past and present, you admire?
Sam Beckett, Caryl Churchill, Jim Cartwright, Ntozake Shange, Tennessee Williams, Sebastian Barry, Maeve Brennan, Maura Laverty, Sarah Waters, Sarah Atkinson, Alice Munro, Zadie Smith, John Cheever, Frank Conroy, and, of course, Shakespeare
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
My mother, Yvonne Voight Molloy, for being a mighty spirit and getting us out of Ireland.
Name five things you’d like to do or accomplish in the next five years.
Five is too many for me, so I’ll do two:
See The Three Christs in production
Write Naked Allentown – a collection of stories about my childhood in Allentown
If you could dream of trying something in the arts you haven’t tried, but would like to, what would it be?
O, to be a visual artist. I have always been jealous of artists and their paintings, sculptures, and installations.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Reading and running. In that order.