Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Say Green!

The following originally appeared in "The Floyd Press" newspaper on March 22nd.

“Say Green!” someone called out as Max Charnley snapped a photo of spoken word performers at the Café Del Sol this past Saturday night. Because the Open Mic, scheduled every third Saturday, was on St. Patrick’s Day this month many in attendance were donned in green clothing.

“I want you all to know that I take reading poetry on St. Patrick’s Day very serious,” I announced to the audience as I began my 10 minute reading slot. I was wearing a sage green sweater that was purchased in Ireland and had the word “Blarney” sewed in the tag. “I don’t know whether blarney refers to a bunch of baloney or the gift of eloquence. It’s probably something in between,” I joked.

Earlier that day I had been reading from Thomas Cahill’s bestseller book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” The title is a reference to the Irish monks who, at the fall of the Roman Empire when literature and artifacts were being burned by barbarians, hand copied the Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian classics, which would have otherwise been lost to us.

Said to have invented rhyme, the Irish tradition was an oral one in which their history was preserved by way of spoken verse. Literacy came late to the out-of-way island, but once it did, the Irish made up for lost time. In one generation they learned Greek, Latin, and some Hebrew; they devised Irish grammars, and copied the whole of their native oral history. But they didn’t just copy. The Irish are credited with inventing the codex, the first prototype of a book (before that scrolls were used), and they produced the most magically illustrated manuscripts the world has ever seen. The Book of Kells, which includes four gospels and the Bible in Latin, is one such example.

I read a few excerpts from Cahill’s book about the Irish, their playful love of the alphabet, and their reverence for language. “The Irish enshrined literacy as their central religious act,” Cahill wrote. Even at the earliest stage of their development, “the Irish were intoxicated by the power of words. Every noble Irish family maintained a family of ancestral poets,” I shared with the café crowd.

I knew from other reading that in the old Irish tradition the only position more noble than a poet was a king. In the spirit of the Irish poets, I introduced myself. “I am Colleen, which means “girl” in Irish Gaelic. I’m the granddaughter of Ellen Bergin of Youghal, County Cork, great granddaughter of Mary Murray, Margaret Keating, and Theresa Dineen from Cork, Tipperary, and Offaly,” I said before beginning my poem titled “My Grandmother’s Brogue” (which I read, in part, with a brogue).

The Irish theme continued when Katherine Chantal read a poem that wove two trips to Ireland together. In the early 70’s she traveled through the country with a backpack. Then, while on a more recent trip, she navigated the narrow country roads there while driving with her sister on the left side. … When wind is ever present in a land … How then to be still? ... Those emerald hills … The constancy of the ocean’s voice … Presents its own quiet … And projected us back to … Our ancestors who once walked the same … She read.

Four of the nine members of the Floyd Writer’s Circle, including myself, were in attendance. Most of us were already warmed up from reading two nights earlier at the Jessie Peterman Library where Friends of the Library hosted us as part of their Floyd Naturally! program. Our writer’s group is dedicated to promoting the spoken word in the community and has been co-hosting the Spoken Word Night with the café once a month since October 2005.

Writer’s Circle founding member Mara Robbins is a Hollins University student and a recent finalist in the undergraduate poetry competition at the 47th annual Lex Allen Literary Festival. She read several poems, one of which was about writing poetry forms, such as pantoums, haikus, sonnets, and villanelles. Jayn Avery, just back in town from selling her pottery on the Roanoke Market, read a hopeful poem about the coming of spring. Rosemary Wyman was inspired to write the poem she shared when she saw an acquaintance and his caregiver walking down the street.

Sally Walker, Café Del Sol owner and master ad libber, introduced readers and helped to make them comfortable by adjusting the mic when needed. There were two first timers. Young Mars read and essay about losing his beloved cat, and Martha Taylor shared the words of a poet she admired. Greg returned to the mic to read a poem that explained his recent haircut.
Poetry wasn’t the only evening’s offering of entertainment. Some in the crowd hummed along to a ballad that Chris Youngblood crooned a capella. Foot tapping and handclapping could be heard when Joe Klein belted out “The Star of County Down” (which I hummed then and continued to for the entire next day)

As Joe sang, I closed my eyes. Sitting on the café’s comfy couch and sipping my cold amber brew, I imagined us all in an Irish pub. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate and fulfilling way to spend a St. Patrick’s Day evening.

Reading of My Grandmother's Brouge is HERE.

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