muldoon's picnic feature

Muldoon’s Picnic – It’s Not a Picnic

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It’s not a picnic. It’s something else entirely, although I’m not sure exactly what. But it is worth seeing.

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The Irish Arts Center’s website describes it as a “critically-acclaimed feast of music, storytelling, poetry, and more” and as “a staple of New York’s cultural diet.” Since Pauline Turley described it to me a while back, I have been meaning to see what it was all about, and I finally did in November.

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The lineup changes, but when I attended, we were treated to comedy by Mike Birbilgia (it was on a Monday evening so we he had the night off from his Broadway performance of The New One), along with his wife, poet J. Hope Stein. My friend and I were seated next to them during the performance, not realizing who they were or that they were on the agenda. She is a talented writer and easily as funny as her husband. I was pleasantly surprised to realize as she was reading, that I was familiar with one of her poems…a selection from her book Little Astronaut that had come across my Facebook feed just that day.

We also got a chance to enjoy music by Ben Goldberg, and the (very good) house band, Rogue Oliphant (comprised, at least in November–it changes, of Chris Harford on guitar, Ray Kubian on drums, David Mansfield on guitar, Cáit O’Riordan on bass, and Warren Zanes on guitar).

Cassandra Wilson, jazz singer extraordinaire, performed some of her new material. (It is actually not quite fair to call her a jazz singer—jazz singer she is, indeed, and a very good one, but her material is broader than that, incorporating blues, country, and folk music as well.)

Another highlight was a presentation by Sally Singer, the creative digital director of Vogue, who was extremely funny and sharp, and gave us a quick run through of fashion week and her response to it (which referenced the movie Beetlejuice).

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And then there is Paul Muldoon himself, the host, and the man who puts it all together: a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, and professor of poetry, and also an editor, critic, playwright, and lyricist. I adored The Dead, 1904, (which he co-wrote with his wife, Jean Hanff Korelitz) when I saw it last year: it’s an immersive performance of one of the most famous dinner parties in literature.  (It’s back this year through January 13th, 2019, at the American Irish Historical Society and is well worth seeing.)

He described Muldoon’s Picnic to the Irish Times last year as a direct descendant of that very human impulse to perform, to share, to make one’s own amusement. “It’s one of our most basic instincts; to listen to a song, listen to a poem. Even in this era when people have their noses stuck in their tablets, it still works” he said. It does. It’s usually to be found at the Irish Arts Center,  although it has been presented in other settings.

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I was quite pleased with the evening, and hope to make it back…over the years, the Picnic has featured such disparate performers as Laurie Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Erica Jong, Alice McDermott, Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Gary Shteyngart, Zadie Smith, Loudon Wainwright III, and Colson Whitehead. Paul Muldoon’s website describes it as a “mixum-gatherum of poetry, prose and music,” and so, if that is what you are seeking, you can find it in New York.  I am now eagerly awaiting a future such event. (If you are interested, check the Irish Arts Center’s webpage for updates or subscribe to their mailing list.)

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of Irish Arts Center