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Seamus Heaney was a force of nature who visited Howard County an unbelievable three times.
Heaney, who won a Nobel Prize and was called the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, died in 2013. HoCoPoLitSo, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, was lucky enough to host Heaney for three readings — in 1982, in 1988, and in 1994. His 1994 visit many HoCoPoLitSo veterans remember as the ice storm visit, when everything else was cancelled because the city was encased in a good half-inch of ice, but stalwarts trudged through the storm to see Heaney read.
On the last two of his readings, HoCoPoLitSo’s founder, Ellen Conroy Kennedy, wisely taped interviews with Heaney, first with a noted scholar George O’Brien, and then with a fellow poet, Roland Flint, posing questions.
During his long and amiable correspondence with Kennedy, Heaney decided that he did not want the taped interviews to be sold as part of HoCoPoLitSo’s television talk show series, The Writing Life. In one letter from the 1990s, he writes: “As I have said often before, there are already too many interviews by me, going over the same ground. There is nothing new in the material on your transcript.” In the margin, in his long, looping handwriting, Heaney wrote: “(tho’ I do like the Yeats riff at the end)!” Since that time, the world has changed immensely. Heaney is no longer around to conduct interviews, and HoCoPoLitSo no longer sells DVDs or taped versions of the interviews.
But the society does have a YouTube channel where these formerly hidden gems – featuring writers such as Donald Hall, Frank McCourt, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lucille Clifton — are now available for free to students, writers, and scholars.
For ten years, HoCoPoLitSo sought permission from the estate to upload the interviews to our channel on YouTube. Finally, Faber & Faber Ltd. granted permission, HoCoPoLitSo received a donation to cover the rights fee, and the video is finally seeing the light of day on HoCoPoLitSo’s YouTube channel.
All sixty minutes of the video are available, as well as a transcript, upon request, for scholars and readers and fans of Heaney’s work. In the video, Heaney sits on a stage, with his arm slung around the back of his chair, and takes questions from Georgetown professor O’Brien, and from the audience. He speaks about his life as a boy on his family’s small farm, his time in boarding school, the parallel between the rise of his life as a writer and the rise of the rebellion and unrest in Northern Ireland.
He says in the interview, “Politics in Northern Ireland, and politics in El Salvador and politics in Iran and politics in Israel, it’s all spectator sport for most people. Of course, it’s necessary for us outside to be concerned, but the real energy is intimate. Writing has to concern itself with the first circle, with the intimate place where everything is exact, rather than the second or third circle where the big part is writing, is publicity.”
He recites “Digging,” at Ellen Kennedy’s request, and reads, “Alphabets”, and “From the Republic of Conscience”, as well as sonnets dedicated to his mother, “Clearances”. The program ends with the story about writing a poem to celebrate his niece’s birth because he hadn’t any present for the family, then the triumphant reading of the charming poem, “A Peacock’s Feather for Daisy Garrett.”
HoCoPoLitSo has a forty-five year history of providing epiphany-inducing programs with literary greats. But those programs are ephemeral, seared in many people’s memories, but gone when the event is over.
The Writing Life series captures those unbelievable literary moments; seeing, after all, is believing.
Donations to support The Writing Life are welcomed and tax-deductible.
Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary and The Writing Life producer
HoCoPoLitSo’s 42 Annual Evening of Irish Writing and Music is on Friday, February 21, 2020, featuring Alice McDermott, music by O’Malley’s March, and traditional Irish dancing with the Teelin Dance Company. Click here to learn more.
HoCoPoLitSo’s annual Irish Evening on February 21, 2020, will feature award-winning author Alice McDermott, Celtic rock band O’Malley’s March and the Teelin Dance Company. McDermott, three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and National Book Award winner, will read, followed by a rousing concert of electric Irish folk music and championship step dancing. Click here for tickets.
“Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back,” a Kirkus starred review noted about her most recent novel, The Ninth Hour.
The Associated Press said “[T]he story is exhilarating, largely because of McDermott’s lyrical language and unforgettable characters . . .[T]he nuns of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor . . are as fierce, funny, complicated and brave as any women in our fictional universe today.” The Guardian noted “McDermott’s award-winning body of work constitutes its own fictional world; she returns again and again to the Irish in the U.S., to the heartlessness and the consolations of Catholicism. … her new book unfolds without sentimentality or pity, but with a frankness of gaze that elevates her characters rather than diminishes them.”
The evening program begins at 7:30 p.m., but Irish coffee, Guinness, and other beverages and snacks will be offered for sale beginning at 7 p.m. and during intermission. Book sale and signing by the author after her reading. After intermission, O’Malley’s March, fronted by former Gov. Martin O’Malley, will play traditional Irish music and Celtic rock, with guitar, fiddle, harp, bodhran, electric bass, trombone, accordion, bagpipes and tin whistle.
McDermott joins the long list of illustrious Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For more than 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.
His Excellency Daniel Mulhall, the Irish Ambassador to America, drew a hearty laugh from the audience at Friday night’s Irish Evening of Music and Poetry.
As a daily counterbalance to the insanity on Twitter, Mulhall sends out a few lines of Irish poetry every morning.
To the audience at the poetry reading last week, Mulhall joked that he’s starting a campaign: “It’s time to Make Poetry Great Again.”
After the laughter died down, HoCoPoLitSo board members could be heard muttering amongst themselves, “Poetry was always great.”
But timeline quibbles aside, HoCoPoLitSo was thrilled to welcome the ambassador and sterling poet Vona Groarke to the forty-first Irish Evening.
Last Friday morning, in tribute to Irish Evening, Mulhall sent into the Twitterverse a few lines from Groarke’s beautiful poetry:
Anyway, the leaves were almost on the turn
And the roses, such as they were, had gone too far.
It was snow in summer. It was love in a mist.
It was what do you call it, and what is its name
And how does it go when it comes to be gone?
There’s at least one thing that Mulhall and U.S. President Donald Trump share – they like to start the day with a Tweet. But oh, there’s a world of difference between them.
The poems Groarke read on Friday night were both tender and fierce. Her “Pier,” was well applauded for its verve in chronicling the leap from a pier into the Atlantic on Spittel beach, on the West coast of Ireland. Though Groarke confessed that she hasn’t yet made the leap herself, she’s watched it done, she said, a bit sheepishly. And the poem proves she can feel it.
Many in the audience commended Groarke’s translation from the Irish – the first by a woman poet – of “The Lament for Art O’Leary.” This poem chronicles the mourning and protest of a wife, keening over the body of her Catholic husband, killed by the Protestants, ostensibly for having too fine a horse. And Groarke’s translation was both sensual and sorrowful.
The selections of prose Groarke read from Four Sides Full, her book of prose about art frames, were illuminating, particularly the anecdote about the show of empty frames in the Hermitage in Leningrad, signifying the hiding of artwork to preserve it.
Poetry and music brought some 300 people together last Friday night. Perhaps verse can heal divisions in countries, between people, if we only open our hearts to others’ stories.
Susan Thornton Hobby
I swoon at a good love poem. Here’s a quick introduction to two that have me dizzy on my feet.
Both are by Vona Groarke, HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for this year’s evening of Irish writing and music – it’s this Friday, don’t just mark your calendar, get your ticket. I offer these poems here as foreshadowing for the event, a beloved favorite annual occurrence that’s been going on for more than forty years now. Both poems I discovered while reading up in advance of her visit. Each has me in its own way a little breathless, smitten, staring newly in love at their marvel.
“What leaves us trembling…”
“Shale” is just a great little love poem, I think. It left me trembling. Read the the length of the poem here, it’s not long, but I am only sharing a few stanzas in this piece. It starts and ends by a ‘not telling’ device, meanders nicely in-between, but what it ends up saying along the way.
What leaves us trembling in an empty house
is not the moon, my moon-eyed lover.
Say instead there was no moon
though for nine nights we stood
on the brow of the hill at midnight
and saw nothing that was not
contained in darkness, in the pier light,
our hands, and our lost house.
I described it to a friend as perhaps opaque while trying to be translucent, but opalescent all the while. It’s that opalescent surface that’s dazzling and intriguing, then you peer through the shimmer into what the poem’s lovers share as example of us all. There’s the narrator relating a contemplative monologue, a scenario that is part plot, part seeming. I am not sure what is actually moment and what is shared mind, but it doesn’t matter, the poem’s lovers seem to find themselves at that point of realization and action that comes when two bodies/souls make that moment out of circumstance and each other that is a fusing. And that ending, wow, an unsayable understanding just left there. You know what I’m saying?
The sea is breaking and unbreaking on the pier.
You and I are making love
in the lighthouse-keeper’s house,
my moon-eyed, dark-eyed, fire-eyed lover.
What leaves us trembling in an empty room
is not the swell of darkness in our hands,
or the necklace of shale I made for you
that has grown warm between us.
That warming of such a tangible object is quite a making. What a poem. I’ll go back and read it again and again, wanting that answer, finding that stone.
“Let the worst I ever do to you be die.”
An aubade is a first-thing-in-the-morning poem lovers share to each other. Think of the nightingale and the lark in Romeo and Juliet. In that case, the debate was about which bird’s song was determining the moment over, the day begun, and the time together over, or not, one being the voice of morning, the other of night. A clever quartet for the two still in bed.
The poem “Aubade” from Spindthrift takes on a different sort of in-between-lovers morning scenario. As readers, we are on the sickbed where the caretaker of the couple narrates understanding and affection while tending the beloved. It is hardly a place for a love poem, one would think, but oh how it is. The poem is pictured here in its entirety, so have read.
It’s a way more transparent read that the previous piece, but you do gain a sense of Ms. Groarke’s way of presenting the world through her observations and language. Transparent, but the glass is beautifully etched with fern and foam.
And there’s one line that just dropped me:
Let the worst I ever do to you be die.
Such a sober realization of the inevitable, that we will die on those we love and that is quite a thing should we be the first to go. There’s a dearness and commitment in that line that is quite a realization. Ideally, it is the worst we’ll do. Is love ever ideal? And then that last, true-love line, pure presence, able and ideal, and love in action.
I am here, blessed, capable of more.
Beautiful. Love poems aren’t just for the young, the beautiful, the wooing. They are for the lifelong and every moment.
It’s time for you to fall in love… with Irish Evening.
Mentioned above, Vona Groarke will be reading from her work followed by a concert of Irish music and championship step-dancing at HoCoPoLitSo’s 41st Irish Evening on Friday, February 8, 2019 at Smith Theatre in the Horowitz Center for Visual Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.
For this year’s Irish Evening, music will be performed by The Hedge Band, featuring Laura Byrne on flute, NEA National Heritage Fellowship winner Billy McComiskey on box accordion, Donna Long on piano, and Jim Eagan on fiddle. Traditional Irish Dancing will be performed by Teelin Irish Dance, featuring owner and director Maureen Berry and the 2016 World Champion Saoirse DeBoy.
It’s going to be a special evening. You are going to fall in love with Irish Evening.
The program begins at 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets.
HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its annual Irish Evening on February 8, 2019, is the award-winning poet Vona Groarke, recipient of the 2017 Hennessy Hall of Fame Award for Lifetime Achievement. Groarke’s reading will be followed by a concert of Irish music and championship step dancing. During intermission, complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages will be available. Irish coffee, specialty cocktails, and Guinness will be offered for sale beginning at 7 p.m. and during intermission. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College. Tickets are available on-line (starting Nov. 23) https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3905864, by phone or mail. To purchase by phone, call 443-518-4568 or by mail, send a check and self-addressed envelope to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.
Vona Groarke’s most recent collection, Selected Poems, won the 2017 Pigott Prize for the best collection of poetry by an Irish poet. Noted as “brilliant and original” by the Irish Times, Groarke writes haunting and candidly sensual poems. At Irish Arts Center’s annual PoetryFest in New York, organizer and author Nick Laird extolled Groarke’s voice as “always modulated beautifully, assured and daring, often wry, (that) in the end keeps faith with the world.”
Groarke has published ten books, including a 2016 book-length personal essay, Four Sides Full and one translation, Lament of Art O’Leary (from an eighteenth-century Irish classic). A new collection of poems, Double Negative, is due in 2019. Her work has been recognized as one of Irish poetry’s “most consistently satisfying voices” (Agenda magazine) and “among the best Irish poets writing today” (Poetry Ireland Review). She has been the recipient of many prizes and grants, including the Brendan Behan Memorial Prize for her first collection, Shale (1994), the Michael Hartnett Award for Flight (2002), and is currently a Cullman Fellow at New York Public Library.
Groarke joins the long list of illustrious Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For more than 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.
Performing traditional and original Irish music will be the Hedge Band: Laura Byrne on flute, Billy McComiskey on the box accordion, Donna Long on piano and Jim Eagan on fiddle, accompanied by dancers Maureen Berry, founder and Director of the Teelin School of Irish Dance, and Saoirse DeBoy, the 2016 World Solo Championship winner (girls age 16-17).
HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its 37th Annual Irish Evening is the international best-selling and award-winning author Emma Donoghue. She will read from her work starting at 7:30 p.m., February 6, 2015, at the Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College.
General admission tickets are $35.00 each and are available on-line at irishevening.eventbrite.com or by sending a check payable and mailed to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.
Donoghue, called “one of popular fiction’s most talented practitioners” by Kirkus Reviews, and a writer with “ingenuity” by the New York Times, will read from Room and her other novels. Donoghue’s reading will be followed by Narrowbacks in a concert of traditional Irish music with stepdancers from the Culkin School.
Donoghue has published eight novels and several pieces for radio, stage, and screen productions. Collectively, her works have won the Lambda Literary Award, the Stonewall Book Award for Literature, the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. A film adaption of Donoghue’s heavily praised 2010 novel Room is currently in production, with director Lenny Abrahamson and Brie Larson set to star. Donoghue has also been in close running for the Giller Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and the Orange Prize.
The Narrowbacks features Terence Winch on button accordion, Jesse Winch on bodhran and guitar, former Irish Tradition member Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle, Linda Hickman on flute and whistle, and Eileen (Korn) Estes on lead vocal and piano, who is the daughter of original Celtic Thunder lead vocalist Nita (Conley) Korn. Band members play a full range of traditional Irish reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slides and slow airs. They will also sing a variety of songs, including original compositions.
To be displayed during the event is Denny Lynch’s photographic exhibition, ‘The Carrolls of Offaly and Maryland, A Photographic Essay,’ a series of photographs that came about from Lynch’s fourteen-year study of the history of the Carrolls. Lynch has said of the exhibit, “This exploration gave me the opportunity to photograph beautiful landscapes, castles, towns, and monuments associated with this family on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Donoghue follows other great Irish authors who have come to Howard County, including Frank McCourt, Eavan Boland, Hugo Hamilton, Paula Meehan, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, and Colum McCann, to name a few. For years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has recognized and celebrated the enormous impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.
With the winter that has been upon us, a warm, spirited evening is what we seem to need and you’ll have just that this year on March 14th, HoCoPoLitSo’s 36th Annual Irish Evening.
You who love literature, music, and art are invited to hear the beautiful cadences of not only one but two wonderful Irish poets Paula Meehan (Ireland’s Professor of Poetry) and Theo Dorgan (O’Shaughnessy Prize, BBC Radio) as they read their work and pay tribute to the late great Seamus Heaney, followed by the incomparable Irish music of Narrowbacks, featuring All-Ireland fiddle great Brendan Mulvihill, and fabulous stepdancing by members of the Culkin School. Did I mention the profusion of Irish coffees, signature drink “Jameson Ginger,” and scones?
HoCoPoLitSo relies on proceeds from this annual fundraiser to create live literary programs throughout the year, so in buying tickets, you are not only giving yourself the gift of a fun and elevating evening but investing in the 2014 arts and culture calendar of Howard County.
Friday, March 14, 2014, 7:30 PM
This year, HoCoPoLitSo would like to make your life a little easier, giving you the opportunity to really delight your special someones with tickets to see Billy Collins or the 36th Annual Irish Evening, featuring Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan. Happy Holidays.
36th Annual Evening of Irish Music & Poetry
Featuring Paula Meehan & Theo Dorgan, The Narrowbacks, Step dancing
March 14, 2014 • Smith Theatre – HCC
Dublin’s informal poet laureate, Ms. Meehan was recently named Irish Professor of Poetry. The post was created following the late Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. She is only the second women appointed to this position.
Theo Dorgan, a former director of Poetry Ireland, is also a poet, playwright, translator, editor and broadcaster. In 2010 he received The O’Shaughnessy Prize For Irish Poetry.
The Blackbird Poetry Festival’s Nightbird Reading
With Billy Collins
April 24th • Smith Theatre – HCC
The Nightbird reading featuring two-term National Poet Laureate Billy Collins closes the annual Blackbird Poetry Festival. Called “the most popular poet in America” by The New York Times, Collins headlines the festival, which this year has the theme Poetry Unmasked.
“Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor,” writes The Poetry Foundation, “but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself.”
The many who heard Seamus Heaney during his three HoCoPoLitSo visits to Columbia (1982,1988 and 1994), the last not long before his being named Nobel Laureate for Literature, are saddened to learn of his recent death at age 74.
We treasure the memories of hearing him read his poems no less than the acquaintance we made with his warm and generous person. From his 1982 visit to our 4th Evening of Irish Music and Poetry, we recall the place, our companions, his voice and afterwards the many books he signed and annotated for long lines of admirers.
From 1988 we prize our “Afternoon with Seamus Heaney” video. He read from his poems, talked with his friend George O’Brien, and responded to questions from a Smith Theater audience. Edited down to one hour, this TV program aired locally in Maryland in January 1989.
The circumstances of Heaney’s third visit in 1994 were dramatic. Close to 700 advance tickets sold for his evening appearance at the Interfaith Center in Columbia, but a winter blizzard had closed even the Kennedy Center in Washington. Traffic in the region was paralyzed, and only a few highways were passable. Nonetheless, about 230 people, some hiking through the snow, arrived to hear him. Earlier in the day a skeleton crew opened the Howard Community College TV studio, this time to record a half hour interview with Heaney reading several new poems – hosted by Roland Flint. The one hour 1988 program aired again in 1995 to celebrate our favorite Irish poet’s Nobel Prize.
Ellen Conroy Kennedy
Founder, Director Emeritus
A few Seamus Heaney links:
It’s time for Irish Evening! We’re told that writers in Ireland know when HoCoPoLitSo calls, you go. And they come from wherever they are to share with Howard County their work. Our Irish Evening is that special. This Friday it’s happening again and you, yourself, will want to be there.
Let The Great World Spin author Colum McCann is returning as our guest for the 35th Annual Irish Evening at 7:30 pm, March 1, 2013 at the Smith Theater, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College. It will be his third Irish Evening, though the second in which he has been featured. You see, one year he came to the evening just because he wanted to take in the occasion for himself and see Colm Toibin.
McCann, a winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the most lucrative literary award in the world, has published 5 novels and numerous short stories and articles. In 2003 McCann was named Esquire Magazine’s “Best and Brightest” young novelist. He has also been awarded a Pushcart Prize, the Rooney Prize, the Irish Novel of the Year Award and the 2002 Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award. He was recently inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame.
McCann’s reading will be followed by the Narrowbacks, Eileen Korn, Jesse Winch, Terence Winch, Linda Hickman, and Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle in a concert of traditional Irish music with stepdancers from the Culkin School.
If the writers themselves are so motivated, how about you? Tickets — there are still a number available at the time of this posting — can be purchased online here. Yes, there will be Guinness.
Curious but not convinced? Here are a few resources on Colum McCann to whet your appetite further:
- “What’s a Dublin lad trying to do writing a New York novel like this?” Theo Dorgan asks.
- Lifting a pint with Colum McCann:
- In conversation with Roddy Doyle. The conversation starts about nine and a half minutes in, after Doyle reads.