I have a funny story about when I had a stammer. It really is a very funny story. But then there’s this Irish bloke called Owen O’Neill who has a really, really, really funny story about when he had a stammer, and he wrote a letter about the IRA and sent it to a newspaper, and the newspaper only went and printed it, and the IRA sent someone round to the cottage where he was staying to convince him of the error of his ways. And this someone had a stammer…
This is the Poetry Café, and that means you get a pie and a bottle of beer thrown in with your ticket. The wise StAnza-goer bolts his or her pie quickly, and then nurses the beer-bottle between his or her feet, like a penguin guarding an egg. This is necessary. It’s particularly necessary for a session with Owen O’Neill, because you would drop it laughing, or break a tooth if you happened to be taking a swig at the time. Owen, you see, is one hell of a raconteur – and I don’t mind betting he’d hate being called that. But he is a stand-up comedian as well as a poet, and what he actually did for his café-spot was take us on a tour of the people he has met, from his childhood in County Tyrone right up until he recently named his grand-daughter. If you go to see him anywhere, be prepared for his tale of being struck by lightning, or to hear about Miss O’Brien the headmistress at his school and her attitude to his imaginative picture of Christ escaping crucifixion, or to hear about when he, aged nine, decided to confess to ‘a sin of impurity’ because it sounded good, or to hear about Mary Cassidy and why she was called ‘The Virgin Mary’ and why she thought he had the power of healing. Oh yeah, and the stammer, you have to be prepared for that one.
The eight or so poems he managed to fit in around all this story-telling, described many of the same encounters and events; or if not them, they explored the possibility that Lazarus was not dead but having a long lie-in, or who was the odd child at the edge of the school photo, or what is so brilliant about navvies. By comparison with the stories, the poems were serious, or had a seriousness about them. Where they told the same story, they did so on a slightly different plane. Poems and tales, the one sparked off the other. I can’t think of a better way of getting indigestion from bolting a pie. Five stars, right off. Thank you, StAnza.
Review by Paul Thompson