Listen to the Willow’s Whisper: Irish and Native American Poets

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How It’s New York:  New York is a place of fusions!  Every nationality is represented here.  And, the event takes place at Glucksman Ireland House, in Washington Square.
How It’s Irish: The Willow’s Whisper:  A Transatlantic Compilation of Poetry from Ireland and Native America is the brainchild of Jill O’Mahony, lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology, and brings together poets who write in Irish, and Native American poets.
This article was first published in Irish Examiner USA, Feb. 14, 2012.

You can also hear Jill, Travis Hedge Coke and Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh on the Feb. 12 week’s podcast, too.



Post-Colonial Cultures Share a Common Language, Writing “Betwixt and Between”

The Willow’s Whisper

Jill O’Mahony, editor of new volume The Willow’s Whisper
In Ireland, during Cowboys and Indians, children fought to play the Indian, syas Jill O’Mahony, editor of new volume,The Willow’s Whisper: A Transatlantic Compilation of Poetry from Ireland and Native America, a collection of poetry by Irish and Indigenous American poets that launches at Glucksman Ireland House on February 16th.
Only, Jill has trouble saying the word “Indian,” because it’s a contested word today.
Yet Travis Hedge Coke, one of the poets in the volume, who is of Huron, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and even some Irish descent, prefers that word, or Cherokee.
He also explains that some in his younger generation from IA even used the term “NDN” for a while to reclaim it.
The word “Indian” has been in common use for so long, and it sums everybody up.
“If we were doing it right, we’d probably say something about Nations.”
Other terms like “Amerind” annoy him.
“There is no Amerind people, you can’t point to them. At least when you say Indian, everybody in the room knows who you’re talking about,” except, of course, for the country of India.
Whatever the word, that Irish boys would rather play Tonto than the Lone Ranger reveals, as she says, the Irish affiliation for the underdog.
More than that, the Irish share with Native Americans the experience of having their own cultures dominated by an Other.
The academic term in use is Post-Colonialism. It’s writing “betwixt and between,” O’Mahony says, using one language to write about another.


The Irish poets in the book are all native speakers of Irish, but for the Indigenous American writers the question of language is complicated.
Not all of the languages have been maintained. Some poets, like Travis Hedge Coke, write in English.
“It’s the language most of us speak,” Travis says. Odi Gonzales writes in Quechua and Spanish.
The Willow’s Whisper includes 35 different voices, and explores the cultural situation of the poets, including their insight into living in contemporary society and being part of a traditional way of life.
“There’s a lot of relations between Ireland and Indigenous Nations,” Travis says.
“I had never seen anybody put an emphasis on similarities in culture the way this collection does.”
From North Carolina originally, he now lives and teaches in Nebraska.
Ailbhe Ní Ghearbuigh writes in Irish, and then has the poem translated by Gabriel Rosenstock.
She taught Irish for a year in at Lehman College in New York, and wrote a poem about the language as a convalescent, at the Public Library.
“She is fragile,” she says.
Fluent in both languages, she says her creative work doesn’t come to her in English.
“Everything sounds clichéd that I try to write in English. Irish comes from a different place, a less intellectual place.”
For Jill O’Mahony, some of what makes the Irish as a people particularly lyrical stems from the Irish language, even for those who don’t speak Irish.
“How are you getting on,” she says, asks for more of a story than just “how are you,” and the typical answer, “ah, sure, I’m not too bad,” is the opening to a story, not just the answer to a question.
A lecturer at the Waterford Institute of Technology, the idea for the volume grew out of a time when she was somewhat stumped for a dissertation topic, and reading poetry to pass the time.
She came across a Cree poem, and was struck by how Native American emphasis on imagery and on nature reminded her of Irish poetry.
People may think poetry is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be, she says.
When people just relax and believe they will understand it, they find something to appreciate in it.
Poetry, she says, is “necessary. A poem is what you make of it. What you get out of a poem is its truth.”
The Willow’s Whisper launches at Glucksman Ireland House, 1 Washington Mews, Feburary 16th at 7 pm. RSVP to 212-998-3950 or Ireland.house@nyu.edu.

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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts