Hosted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, and rarely staged outside its home at the Irish Arts Centre in New York, Poetry Ireland is bringing Muldoon's Picnic to Scotland and Ireland from Thursday 24 August – Sunday 3 September 2017.
Muldoon and his house band Rogue Oliphant (including Cait O’Riordan of The Pogues, Chris Harford and Ray Kubian) will be joined by special guests for a star-studded literary and musical tour - details here. We asked the bard for his choice cultural picks...
A film that haunts me is The Journey, the biopic about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness that’s an odd mix of Beckett and James Bond. Written by Colin Bateman and directed by Nick Hamm, it stars Timothy Spall as Paisley and Colm Meaney as McGuinness. Though the element of MI5 surveillance and the stretches of exposition are themselves a bit of a stretch, the film’s heart is somehow in the right place. Indeed, given the boggy crossroads at which the Northern Ireland Executive now finds itself, largely because of the 'Cash for Ash' scandal, one sighs for the days of the Chuckle Brothers. And what’s this with Teresa May and the DUP? Cash for The Sash?
The closing credits of The Journey are accompanied by Are You Getting Through, the new single by Glen Hansard. I’m a big fan of Glen, partly because he invited me to take part in an evening at Carnegie Hall a while back. I’m pretty sure it’s the first and last time I’ll be treading the boards there. Two September releases I’m really looking forward to are Paul Brady’s Unfinished Business, on which I had the honour of co-writing three of the songs, and the new Van Morrison CD, Roll With the Punches. I’m relieved to see that it looks as if Van and another of my heroes, the great Mohawk wrestler Billy Two Rivers, are going to be able to come to terms over the rights to use a wonderful photograph of Billy on the cover.
A rather more troubling Indian rights issue is the subject of the book that’s been exercising me these past few days – Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – by my brilliant New Yorker colleague, David Grann. This is a terrifying account of the murder by shooting and poisoning of at least thirty members of the Osage tribe and the investigation by J. Edgar Hoover and the fledgeling FBI. These murders, the first of which dated from the early 1920s, seem to have been committed so as to access the income from the oil that lay under the otherwise barren Osage land in Oklahoma. Having bought the land for next to nothing, the Osage had now leased it to prospectors and were making huge amounts of money. 'In 1923 alone,' Grann writes, 'the tribe took in more than $30 million, the equivalent today of more than $400 million. The Osage were considered the wealthiest people per capita in the world.'
I spend a lot of time in the Mohawk Valley of New York State, where I have the privilege of attending the operas/musical plays at Glimmerglass. The four shows on offer this year are Xerxes, Porgy and Bess, The Seige of Calais and – you guessed it – Oklahoma! Helene Hanff, a relative of my wife, tells a great story about how the piece acquired that exclamation point the night before it opened in New York in 1943 and how another Theater Guild intern and herself spent that night entering it by hand on 10,000 press releases. The Glimmerglass production, directed by Molly Smith and starring Jarrett Ott as Curley and Vanessa Becerra as Laurey, runs until August 22.
It’s rarely I watch television but the aforementioned wife and I do occasionally commit to a series on Netflix. The one to which we’ve most recently succumbed is The Keepers, a seven-part documentary which examines alleged sexual abuse at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland, and the unsolved 1969 homicide of 26-year-old Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, a nun who taught there. A lot of mystery surrounds one suspect, Father Joseph Maskell. Having been removed from his priestly duties in Baltimore after numerous allegations of sexual abuse, Maskell found a haven in Abuse Central – our own fair land. He worked in Wexford for about seven months in 1995 as a temporary clinical psychologist for the South East Health Board, and seems to have been in private practice in Ireland between 1995 and 1998. He died back in Baltimore in 2001. When our friends at the FBI exhumed Maskell’s body in February 2017 their attempts to connect his DNA material to Catherine Ann Cesnik proved inconclusive. According to a report a few weeks ago in the Baltimore Sun, "a Baltimore attorney, Joanne Suder, who has represented people with abuse claims against Maskell in recent years, said she has received numerous phone calls about him since "The Keepers" was released. She said three people with knowledge of his time in Ireland have told her that Maskell presented himself as both a psychologist and a priest and that "he had access to young girls." "That's frightening," she said."
I’m a gig pig, in the sense that I take in more musical events than is good for me. One of the great things about living in New York City is access to the Metropolitan Opera. I already have tickets for nine operas at the Met in the 2017-18 season, kicking off with The Exterminating Angel in October. Then there’s rock’n’roll! Bands I’ve seen in the last month or two are Ian Hunter and the Rant Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and a glorious, ass-kicking U2. The show I’m most looking forward to later this month in Ireland is the appearance at the Kilkenny Festival on August 19 of the Inner Mongolian rockers, Hanggai, with whom I hope to do a little turn in the Festival Finale on August 20. Having spent a bit of time last year hunting with eagles in Western Mongolia, I’m feeling pretty psyched up.
Though the term 'psyched up' has a very particular resonance that dates only as far back as 1968, it’s a term ghosted by the work of Sigmund Freud. And it’s not too much to suggest, surely, that the work of Lucien Freud is also ghosted by his grandfather. Indeed, Edward Chaney goes so far as to assert that "the distinctive, recumbent manner in which Freud poses so many of his sitters suggests the conscious or unconscious influence of… his grandfather's psychoanalytical couch." I love Freud’s work so I’m particularly looking forward to checking out the IMMA Freud Project 2016-2021 when I’m in back Dublin in early September.
It was a portrait by Lucian Freud of his ex-wife, Caroline Blackwood, that Robert Lowell, ex-husband of Caroline Blackwood, was clutching when he was found dead of a heart attack in a taxi in New York City in September 1977. I’ve been thinking a lot about the 40th anniversary of Lowell’s death and recently found myself listening to a podcast from my favourite National Public Radio programme, Fresh Air, hosted by the inimitable Terry Gross. Her interviewee in this case was Kay Redfield Jamison, author of Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character, her magnificent study of poetry and the bipolar. It’s heartbreaking, heady stuff.
The App I find most useful in New York is Via. For a mere $5, one may travel anywhere in Manhattan and Brooklyn in an SUV. It’s a ridesharing service, of course, so it’s a lovely way to win friends and influence people. Via is now available at La Guardia and JFK so I can’t help but think that, had he been able to avail of it, Lowell might have survived that last cab ride from the airport.
The Next Big Thing
Imagine the National Transport Authority actually doing a bit of authorizing and allowing Via into Dublin.