by Mary Lannon
Photos by Philomena Connors
How it’s New York: The latest Irish American Writers and Artists Salon took place at the Cell Theatre in New York.
How it’s Irish: The evening featured performances and readings by Irish and Irish American Artists.
Giant penises made by the artist Judith Bernstein as discussed by Ann McCoy, and two random appearances by the Cell’s dog, Harry, were moments that stood out among more meditative pieces from a slate of talented writers and artists at the Cell on Tuesday night.
McCoy explained that she deliberately rebelled against the academic conventions of art criticism in her provocative and witty piece, “Judith Bernstein-Hard,” recently published in The Brooklyn Rail. Bernstein painted and sculpted giant penises beginning in 1966, McCoy said, directly linking violence and men. This groundbreaking work went largely unrecognized, McCoy added, until quite recently. McCoy teaches at Yale in the YDS design section and is an art critic for the Brooklyn Rail.
The cell’s dog Harry made one of his appearances during Stephanie Silber’s reading from the short story “Making Stories,” in which a blocked writer heads to the Marshlands for solace only to find haunting memories of her father and yes, the appearance of a dog. As if on cue and to much laughter, Harry appeared as Silber described the story’s dog. Silber’s story was a contemplation of how the past informs the present, may shape the future for the better, if not precisely with the promise of a happy ending.
Harry also appreciated John Munnelly’s songs that ended the evening. Munnelly, with Harry’s occasionally accompanying him, sang “Angel Tears,” a meditation on stillness versus agitation; “We Should Go Blind” from his new album, Hello World, available from iTunes: and “Does My Bum Look Big in This? (The Bum Song) ” released on YouTube last year and described as “hilarious:”
Like Silber’s reading, many of the pieces touched on the past’s hold on us.
Two lonely people who engaged in a love affair in the 1960s reflect on meeting up again decades later in Sheila Walsh’s new comedy Surrender in Somerville. Kathy MacGowan directed Walsh and Daniel MacGowan in two scenes from the funny and touching play. We look forward to seeing future work from Walsh and the MacGowans, both new members.
Ray Lindie’s novella “Lone Hero” also featured a main character dealing with his past. In the scenes Lindie read, his protagonist meets up with his ex-girlfriend after being home for five months. The two plan a rendezvous, as her new boyfriend, Aldo, is unavailable.
Some of Christy Kelly’s poems also touched on the passing of time and the past’s hold on us, notably in the form of the complex feelings involved in a child’s relationship to the father. Kelly is working on a new book of poetry entitled Dear Father. Additionally, he is finishing a novel called Nobody Said.
Lissa Kiernan’s work also in part dealt with time’s passing. She read three poems, a pantoum entitled “Anniversary,” a blues poem called “Icarus Blues,” and “Still Life with Irish Dirt.” The last poem can be heard set to music at Penduline Press, whose current issue features Irish writers and artists.
The audience also eagerly welcomed the latest installments of novels that have been read over the last two months at the salons.
First, John Kearns read from his novel-in-progress, Worlds. This time the Revered Sarsfied Logan, S.J. visits the 1910 picket lines outside of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and hears Esther Rosenfeld, a young woman he had found beaten on the street and taken to the hospital, speak to the strikers. Father Logan brings the bandaged and limping young woman for a cup of coffee among the well-heeled shoppers of the “Ladies’ Mile” of Lower Broadway. Esther and Father Logan discuss how the priest might help the strikers’ cause and Father Logan is pleased to see the young woman devour a piece of cake she had at first refused.
Then Tom Mahon read the third chapter of his novel American Mastery. The Fenton brothers meet their mentor, Mr. Keller, who’s the last manufacturer in their little upstate New York town. The man is ill but wants to expand his business so needs to work quickly to get a loan to build bigger. When he learns that Raymond, the older brother, knows Japanese, he asks if he’d return to Japan to find a manufacturer to build and export his thermal windows. The story takes place in 1976 between the disruptions the oil embargoes caused in 1973 and 1979. The reading went well because the audience was so attuned.
Another standout of the night was new IAWA member and crime fiction writer Gary Cahill who read selections from two short stories set in Hell’s Kitchen. “Rollover I.R.A.” told of past and present-day very hard men raising money for the struggle in Northern Ireland in the shadows of 42nd Street. We also followed two loan-shark “collectors” inexorably pushing a couple of loud-mouth real estate speculators toward land’s edge on a bleak November night from “Corner of River and Rain.” Catch Cahill in September at NY Public Library Mid-Manhattan, and in October at bar 2A and KGB Bar in the East Village.
Finally, another highlight of the evening came from Bernadette Cullen’s long poem called “When the Stars Turned Sideways.” A montage of catastrophe, some mythical and some man made, it was inspired by a class on long poems that Cullen took at Poets House. She teaches part-time at The College of New Rochelle.
A great night of poetry, prose, drama, and music at the blue-moon Salon! See at the Thalia on September 3rd!