Poet inspired by ties binding Ireland, U.S.

Author: Michael Coady will read at tomorrow's Evening of Irish Music and Poetry in Columbia.

Howard Live

February 24, 2005|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Award-winning Irish poet and author Michael Coady says he likes to write about the mysteries of life. He writes poetry and prose that arise from his family's links with immigration to America. Stories of people's destinies were shaped by choice and chance, he says.

"My father went to America as a young, unmarried man in the 1920s," Coady says. "During the Depression, he became seriously ill in Hartford, Conn. He had to return to Ireland and was nursed back to health by his mother. Then, one night, he went to a dance in the local hall and fell in love with the girl playing piano with the band. They married, and I'm the eldest of their seven children.

"Here's the enigma," he continues. "If my father hadn't had a health breakdown and returned to Ireland to meet, as it happened, my mother, where would I be, so to speak? The mystery of meetings. The enigma of how all parents come to meet. ... Call it fate, destiny or whatever. `The music of what happens,' to quote a proverbial Irish phrase."

Coady, 65, will be reading at the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's 27th Evening of Irish Music and Poetry at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Jim Rouse Theatre. He replaces Hugo Hamilton, who had to cancel because of illness.

Coady still lives in Carrick-on-Suir, the small Irish river town where he was born.

"[It's] a river town in a lovely valley, with a deep heritage and history," he says. "I write out of it. It's my cosmos of imagination. I also have a strong sense of community - not only the horizontal aspect, what's there now, but also the vertical. What and who have been there in the generations before that."

He writes about Irish immigration to America.

"I like to explore the darker side, the failures," Coady says.

"My great-grandfather emigrated to Philadelphia in the 1880s," he says. "He came as a widower. His wife died in childbirth. He left one 7-year-old child behind."

The child was Coady's grandfather, who was abandoned by his great-grandfather.

"A letter came 30 years later asking for forgiveness," Coady says. "My grandfather never forgave and never forgot. I grew up with the story of the letter from America. It was torn up and burned in a fire."

Coady wrote a poem about that family story called "The Letter." After the poem was published, a genealogist in Maryland searched out the story, Coady said. She found the grave. After visiting his great-grandfather's grave, Coady wrote a memoir about the journey and the visit called "The Use of Memory." It is a chapter in his book All Souls.

He has published a number of other books, including Two for a Woman, Three for a Man, Oven Lane and One Another. In his acclaimed All Souls and One Another, he weaves together poetry, prose and his photographs. He won the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry in 1979 and received the eighth annual Lawrence O'Shaughnessy Award for Poetry in 2004.

"I'm especially interested in Ireland-America links that can reach beyond the superficial, shamrock-shillelagh level," Coady says.

He is a Heimbold professor of Irish studies at Villanova University. The January-through-May stint will be the longest he has ever been away from home, he says.

Coady's presentation at the Evening of Irish Music and Poetry will be followed by traditional Irish music and step dancers. Grace Griffith, a 12-time WAMMIE award winner for best female vocalist, will perform with past and present members of Celtic Thunder, Irish Fire and the Narrowbacks. The band will play traditional Irish music including reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slides and slow airs, said Pamela Simonson, deputy director of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. The dancers will demonstrate hard-shoe step dancing, which, like this music, flourishes not only in Ireland but in the immigrant communities of Australia, Canada and the United States, she said.

The night has become a tradition in this area as well as the group's largest fund-raiser, said Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, the event's chairwoman.

Howard County Poetry and Literature Society's Evening of Irish Music and Poetry will be held at Jim Rouse Theatre, Wilde Lake High School. Tickets are $26 in advance with a credit card, or $30 at the door. Proceeds support the society's community and school literary programs. The society's mission is to enlarge the audience for contemporary literature and poetry.

Tickets and information: 410-772-4568.

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