Getting a “bit o’ luck” reading Irish poetry

Hanafins - Public House New London, CT

Preface: I’ve just downloaded pictures from last night’s poetry reading. Those are from my second  reading ‘edventure!’ (Stay tuned) But, let’s start from the beginning.

Once upon a …Sunday…last month

… at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Mystic, CT, I sat, curbside, with my two kids screamin’ and getting overly-excited from all of the “green” Irishness “floating” around us. ( I was in the spirit with a few beers and a shot of Irish vodka. (Yeah, Irish vodka… I didn’t know there was such a thing.) The parade marched-on by our feet.  All of the kids got excited, to chase candy and to wave at everyone, as if we were all in the parade. Then, I was drunken-struck: “Why don’t I go down to Hanafins and read Irish poetry?”

The thought wouldn’t slip from my mind, even though I was a bit slippery during the parade. By Monday morning, I convinced myself to go to the Irish pub, after work, and ask. All day I had the jitters. I was confident to ask, but terrified at the prospect of them saying “yes.” At 5:30, after work, I took the New London exit, off 95 North, and went downtown New London. I parked on State Street, in front of the pub, and walked in with my poems.

I saw Diarmuid, or “D”, the owner, at the far end of the bar, as he was talking to some of his cronies. I quickly glanced at him and he asked, “Hey, brotha…what’s going on?”

“Do you have any poetry-readings here?”

“Poetry?”

“Irish poetry. You’re the only Irish pub in town, and I would like to read some great poets like: (Dylan)Thomas, (William Butler)Yeats, (Robert)Burns, (Robert Louis)Stevenson and (Eugene)O’Neill.”

“Yeah, sure. Go ask Jimmy over there by the door and see.” Immediately, I grinned and nodded, in thanks, and walked in stride over to Jimmy.  We talked for about five minutes with Catherine, the manager and D’s wife; and, we agreed I would come back the following Sunday, from four to six, and read with their Irish jam-band. When I walked-out the front door, I let out: “I did it!”  Back in my truck, I screamed and whooped all the way home, across the Thames River, to my apartment in Groton.

I rushed home, got the dogs and went up to Groton Heights. I let them run wild in the park, as my elation soared with the wind and open night. I stood on top overlooking New London, high above, in the old revolutionary Fort Griswold, as the American flag flied, vigilantly, above, next to me. I prayed. The clear, eternal, strength of my Scotch/Irish heritage, and these writers, steeled my confidence in the cutting wind: “I believe!” This was, now, my moment to soldier-on and make this dream real. I trusted my intuition 100%. This acknowledgment was very humbling.  I kept thinking, “All I’m doing is reading their poetry, not my own; but, I must learn ‘from the masters’ and feel their spirits burn within my spirit when I read them.” I was an apprentice. I took the responsibility and commitment, head-on.

On the following Sunday, I was ready.  I walked in the bar. I could’ve had a bracer, but I decided to stand sober and feel my own vulnerability. Up to then, I read every night: poems, poems and poems. Every single one I read out loud. I had to find the essence, and know the poem working in me. If it didn’t, I would pass on it. I didn’t count how many. I timed each one.  And, I timed the whole set: I had over an hour’s worth. The best feeling was when I read them all together — I became lost and slipped-away to another time. That’s when I knew I had connected, in my soul, within my treasure-cavity, to these timeless writers.

Sunday 3:35pm: I walked inside Hanafins and ordered a hot water with a slice of lemon. I wanted to make sure my throat was ready, and to naturally calm my adrenalin. I asked the bartender when the owner was going to arrive, and when the band would be setting-up to play.

“What band?” the bartender questioned. I was trying to hold back my stupefied reaction.

“I spoke to D, Catherine and Jimmy last week and they said I could…I could read today.”

“Okay. I’ll text and call.” I waited patiently, at the bar, trying to register my destiny. A few minutes later the bartender said “I left them a message, but the band isn’t going to play because the guitarist is out of town.” I was alone, undecided and dejected.

Sunday 6:00pm: Until then, I got acquainted with the patrons and the other associates of the bar. I felt easier and more daring. “So why leave? I’ll stick around and see what becomes of the night.” I played three games of darts, and won two. A “bit ‘o ‘luck’” was coming on.

Sunday 6:35pm: My time came. D arrived with Catherine, and he smiled and said, “Go for it!” He went up to the stage, turned on the stage lights and gave me the thumbs-up. I had no microphone and no band.

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The crowd was thick. The chattering and conversations were a cacophony of voices and laughter. I stood on stage and faced my audience. Time began to slow-down and shift, as I spoke. “Hello. I’m Ed Patterson… and I going to read some Irish poetry.“ I needed to deliver my first poem with a punch, and give it top-billing at the same time. “My first poem is ‘John Barleycorn: A Ballad,’ by Robert Burns.” As I pulled up the poem to read, the house began to grow silent. After the first few quatrains, the tone dropped, only a few voices from the back were heard, as I kept reading and falling into the poem with my steady voice. By the end, on the last quatrain, I raised my glass, as it says in the poem:

Then let us toast John Barlyecorn

Each man a glass in hand;

And may his great posterity

Ne’re fail in old Scotland.

Like Celtic lore, I felt thunder and flashes of lightning coursing through my veins. The applause broke my reverie…I lifted my head: I had arrived. I was welcome. I was home.

I read all of the poems without a break. Once, or twice, a couple of ladies came by and said it was nice to hear poetry again. A calm sense of stewardship came over me, as if an Irish flag waved above my head, next to my family’s “Patterson” coat-of-arms. Mostly, I had introduced these great, immortal, spirits, here, at Hanafins. New London is Eugene O’Neill’s home (Irish)town, and this is the only Irish pub in New London. Up to now, there hadn’t been poetry read to express his writings at Hanafins, nor these other passionate thoughts of: William Butler Yeats, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Dylan Thomas. The timing was right. I was invited back!

Epilogue: As I walked off the stage, I was congratulated with handshakes, “good job” and applause. Was this my initiation? My intuition led me on this rites-of-passage, and I survived. Like stepping out of dream, I said ‘good by ’til next time’ to everyone. When I walked outside, I felt the sky opening-up with spring rain. The storm had passed through me, and now I was being cleansed by the heavens.

Disclaimer: For the record, I do not compare, as an equal, to these writers. I serve their art as a means to learn my own. I’m very grateful to be enlightened by them. I feel blessed to know I can bring their words justice to the ears and minds of others. This journey will never be forgotten. I’m Scotch/Irish, and I’m proud of my heritage.

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