The HoCoPoLitSo will treat its audience to another occasion of tunes, step-dancers and poetic readings

The 29th Irish Evening

February 07, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

For the 29th year, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society will take audiences away from the cold and gray of winter with lively Irish tunes, fast-moving step-dancers and colorful poetic imagery.

The society's annual Evening of Irish Music and Poetry on Friday night at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia will feature a reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, who has built an international reputation with his inventive use of language and imaginative themes.

Muldoon said by e-mail that public readings are an extension of his work as a poet, critic and teacher.

"The public performance of a poem is an act of criticism, meant to bring the poem even more fully into the consciousness of the listener," he said. "The poem teaches the performer how it wants to be read, just as it taught the writer how it wanted to be written."

Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, a HoCoPoLitSo board member and 22-year chairwoman of the Irish Evening, said of Muldoon, "He covers a wide rage [of topics]." He writes about "family and the human experience, the pain he had been through," she said.

Critics have noted Muldoon's ability to write about his rural Irish heritage and modern Irish political issues. And according to the British Council's online database, he has branched out significantly to touch on rock music, the 1960s, other artists and, in a 200-page poem, a utopian society that was planned by 18th-century poets in Pennsylvania.

He has published 28 volumes of poetry, including 2006's Horse Latitudes, as well as dramas, translations, essays and criticism.

Muldoon has won numerous awards. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for his book of poetry, Moy Sand and Gravel, and his online biography points out that The Times Literary Supplement called him "the most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War."

Muldoon is closely associated with the country where he was born -- in Portadown, County Armagh, in Northern Ireland. He was educated in Belfast and published his first poetry collection at age 21. But unlike past Irish Evening participants, he lives in the United States, having become a professor of the humanities and creative writing at Princeton University. He has also taught at Columbia University and Oxford University in England.

"Even though I've lived in the U.S. for 20 years, many of my poems have a distinctive Irish aspect," Muldoon said by e-mail.

Throughout his career, he has focused on creative use of language and working with complicated rhyming and stanza patterns.

McLoughlin-Hayes said that some of Muldoon's work has a reputation for being difficult to understand, but she said she has found much of it to be accessible, particularly when read aloud.

"When he reads to the audience, he has them in the palm of his hand," she said of Muldoon, who appeared at HoCoPoLitSo`s Irish Evening in 1990. "I wouldn't have asked him [to read] otherwise because we have to be careful about our audience. It's really a mixed audience."

"The fact is that some of my poems are more complex than others," Muldoon said. "Ideally, it would be great if the audience member had already read the poem, or was able to read along, but that's rather a lot to ask. So I tend to read from the many poems I've written that are quite accessible."

He also said he does not prepare a great deal for readings. "I often don't know precisely what I'm going to read, even as I stand up. I play it by ear. It means I have to be in the moment, as I believe we say, rather than operating on autopilot."

Another HoCoPoLitSo tradition will continue when the Narrowbacks play Irish music for the second half of the evening.

Led by guitarist Dominick Murray, bodhran (Irish frame drum) player Jesse Winch and accordionist and songwriter Terry Winch, the group pulls together members of the former band Celtic Thunder, most of whom have been playing at the Howard County event since 1980.

Top competitive Irish step-dancers will also be part of the evening, McLoughlin-Hayes said.

It is a formula that has made the evening into the poetry society's largest fundraiser and a popular fixture on the county arts scene.

"We found what works," McLoughlin-Hayes said. "We bring in great poets, and we usually bring a full-house audience."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

The Evening of Irish Music and Poetry is to begin at 8 o'clock at Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets are available for $25 by calling 410-772-4568, or at the door. Information: www. HoCoPoLitSo.org.

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