Robyn Rowland and Lynn Saoirse performed together, having produced a CD partnership of harp music and poetry, wove together to mimic “an ancient Irish idea”. Following the bardic tradition but, in contrast, giving the words equal prominence, the content and rhythm displayed something deep rooted in Irish tradition; the fact that passion, spirit and history are so close to the land.
The harp and poetry fused perfectly to complement each other, bringing the audience across calm and stormy landscapes, through weariness and hope, famine and love. At once ancient and modern, classical and unique; if you like beauty, romanticism and words that linger, this is for you.
The poems chosen covered a wide range of topics, crossing place and time. “We thought we’d start you on something sweet (Lir’s chocolates) then hit you with the famine and all my lost loves” (Poem 1 – Lir’s Gold Ribbon). Living in Connemara, Robyn says; “the landscape has been powerful in my work, the tension between belonging and leaving has been difficult and I’m about getting to grips with it”.
Robyn also read The Line of Drift – a poem about a lost relationship (to the backdrop of a harp version of the Oscar-winning tune from the film Once) and When You Leave, which she described in the following way; “the job of the parent is to care for the children and the job of the child is to pull away so it’s tough”. Also reading The Famine, which begins with a quote from G.B. Shaw, Robyn admits that it “took a few years to write because of it’s political and social sensitivity and terribleness…it’s set not far from Leenane… and written to support those in famine all over the world.”
Further poems included The Weight of Man and a poem about a lost love while watching a flood from the balcony. After telling a comical story about a gondola ride in high tide, Robyn explains the next poem is about longing and Robyn quips “but you have to forget the funny now and think serious loneliness”… (Venice – For Hugh) “Venice is an old lover still wet with longing...” played to the tune of Hallelujah, finishing with the stunning lines; “This is a city of indulgence, and I’d play the boatman twice, if he’d bring you.”
After an interlude of children playing traditional music and demonstrating traditional Irish dancing, Mary Swander took to the stage with two accompanying readers. Starting with an unexpected (and unexpectedly accomplished) harmonica tune, she then introduced three revealing stories based on her own extended family members who originated in Ireland and ended up on a farm in Iowa.
The stories displayed wit, humility and a key eye for observation and social and cultural traditions. Using additional performers made the characters and situations really come alive, conveying the comedy, realism and grittiness of her stories.
If you’re in Dublin next week, Mary will be performing at the Irish Writers Centre with Joan McBreen and Seamus Cashman and classical guitarist Redmond O’Toole.