By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
The fourteenth series of the International Studies’ semesterly programming kicked off on September 13 with “Irish American Voices: Stories and Verses,” presented by Dr. Eamonn Wall, endowed professor in Irish Studies. The event ran from 12:30 to 1:45 in room 331 of the Social Sciences & Business Building at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Wall presented the two speakers, authors Mary Swander and David Gardiner, who are both Irish-American writers and poets.
The first speaker, David Gardiner, has written over 60 essays and articles, two books of poetry, and has also been published in the campus publication “Natural Bridge.” He is also a good friend of Wall, and gave the professor some gently humorous remarks before launching himself into his reading.
Gardiner spoke about his experiences as an Irish-American in Omaha, Nebraska. Poems such as “Chivalry of Crime” trace his family history from an ornate pocket watch to gunslinging guerrilla groups in Missouri, while “Phoebe in Fourth Position” examines his daughter in front of a Degas painting. He also spoke about how a court writer taught him that poetry can have a sense of humor and that, according to a professor of his, poetry is “language as its most intense.”
The second speaker, Swander, is the state poet of Iowa and a graduate of the MFA program at Iowa State University. She has published and edited volumes of prose and poetry, written one play which has been performed in multiple cities, and has written several memoirs. While Gardiner opened with admitting that his heritage is “suspect at best,” there is no doubt about Swander’s connection to Ireland and the people who crossed from there to settle in America in the early 1900’s.
Much of what Swander read from drew upon her Irish family history, from her family members being harassed by the KKK in Iowa to Swander finding her family cemetery on Omey Island, a small island off the coast of Connemara, Ireland (which in itself should give Martin McDonagh fans a short pause). Through a series of excerpts, she makes the particular island culture of Omey and the people who live around it come alive and feel more approachable for the majority American audience in attendance.
After the reading, Gardiner and Swander took questions from the audience. Most of them were about the craft of writing itself. One attendant asked how long after an event did they start writing about it. Swander answered and said it depended: it could be right away, but often she needed the perspective of distance to write about an event properly.
Gardiner spoke about constantly journaling and going back to see what he wrote during a particular incident and whether or not there would be anything in that writing that could inspire something bigger. Sometimes a random line could be the key to a larger idea. “It has meaning,” he said, referring to these random fragments of inspiration, “but you may not know what that meaning is.”
The next Irish Studies event is on September 30 at the Webster Groves Public Library. It will be a showcase of Irish-American writers and artists. On campus, the next Irish Studies event will be on October 6 at 12:30 p.m. in SSB 331. Joseph Lennon of Villanova University will be giving a presentation on hunger strikes in Ireland.