Friday, March 09, 2007

Shay Duffin and His Portrait of an Irish Rebel

Shay Duffin and His Portrait of an Irish Rebel

By Doug Holder

If you want the full Shay Duffin experience then listen and keep your mouth shut. Duffin a master storyteller, is an accomplished Ireland-born actor and writer, who is in town performing his acclaimed one man show “Shay Duffin As Brendan Behan: Confessions of An Irish Rebel,” playing through March 31 at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theatre smack dab in the heart of Davis Square, Somerville. This work pays homage to the iconoclast, novelist, playwright, Irish Republican Army operative and poet Brendan Behan (1923-64) Duffin, like the late Behan, is a man who has the gift of gab (or “crack” as they say in Ireland”) and has a reputation of regaling folks with his ribald anecdotes about the actors, writers, ner-do-wells, holier than thou hordes, drunks, stumblebums, and pikers he has encountered in his eclectic life. I talked with Duffin at The Somerville News offices on a bitterly cold March morning.

When I asked Duffin why he chose Behan as a subject for his play, and indeed for a fair amount of his creative work, the usually loquacious actor simply said “I admired his honesty.” Behan was not only honest according to Duffin, but he was sick, a dyed-in-the-wool drunk from a long line of people with “bad elbows.” Duffin said that he is totally different from Behan. For starters he rarely drinks. Behan’s extended family was very political, stolid Republicans; while Duffin’s was decidedly apolitical. Duffin who overcame the challenge of clubfeet as a boy, turned out to be a fine athlete, while Behan was chubby, slovenly, and after awhile toothless. Both men were residents of Dublin, but Duffin went out of his way to avoid the drunk and boisterous Behan when he would see him stagger down the street. In spite of this Behan was quite an influence on the budding actor. Duffin said: “I like what he had to say.” Behan according to Duffin did not tolerate any hypocrisy or sham.

Duffin said that the playwright wrote one great play “Borstal Boy” that was set at the Borstal School; a reform school Behan was a resident of. Duffin feels that Behan had other great plays in him, but he died at the tender age of 41, so they never saw the light of day… much less Broadway. He recounts that Behan wrote “Borstal Boy” when he was poor. Duffin opined: “Success is the worst thing that can happen to a writer. When he was rich he stopped writing. He became more popular for the character he was than the writer he was.” Duffin recalled that when Behan wasn’t drinking he was quite a charming and funny man, but when he downed more than a few it affected his “chemistry.” Behan was a Diabetic, and alcohol consumption had severe repercussions for him mentally and physically. Duffin remembered: “He had a long-suffering wife Beatrice who loved and stood by him. She literally wiped his “arse” for the 7 or 8 years that they lived together.”

Behan was involved with the Irish Republican Army. Duffin said that the IRA that Behan was involved in was a lot different from the very violent one that took over in the 70’s. Behan’s IRA did not indiscriminately kill. Although they could be vicious, Duffin feels:” It was more romantic—more patriotic. After 1969 or so the IRA turned to indiscriminate violence, and my sentiments turned against them.” Duffin describes himself as a pacifist, more of a lover—although he has had his share of fights.

Many writers like Dylan Thomas, Eugene O’Neil F, Scott Fitzgerald have turned to alcohol for comfort and maybe to open the floodgates of creativity. I asked Duffin about this. He said: “The writing life is a lonely life. When the writer picks up a bottle it is a lot easier. Maybe it does release some creativity. But in Behan’s case it probably was heredity.”

Duffin has a long resume as an actor with appearances in such classics as “Raging Bull,” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Recently he was in the movie “ The Departed” with Jack Nicholson that was set in Boston. He played “Jimmy” the barman to Nicholson’s gangster character. Of his experience with “Jack” he said: “Jack was very much to himself. Very quiet, just being ‘Jack.’”

When we moved our conversation to the Diesel CafĂ© right next to the theatre, Duffin shared anecdotes about Cardinal Law who he said berated him severely about bringing his Behan play to the Cardinal’s hometown some years ago. It seems, according to Duffin, that the Cardinal took objection to the hard drinking and talking Behan and was worried about the negative influence the play would exude. Duffin reportedly said in reply: “I don’t think he was a pedophile though.” Duffin recalled Law turned white as a ghost and left. This was in 1988 or 1989 before the scandals became public. There were also stories about former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, and Whitey Bulger, who saw his play more than a few times.

Duffin, like Behan, calls a spade a spade, and doesn’t pull his punches, which is a refreshing quality in these oh-so-politically correct academic environs we live in. If Duffin’s performance for me is any indication of the play he stars in, get your hands on tickets now!

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update *The play runs through March 31st at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theatre. Davis Square Somerville.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Doug Holder, Harris Gardner and Jennifer Matthews At Squawk March 15 9 PM

Featured Poets

Doug Holder

Harris Gardner

Jennifer Matthews

A Talk with Squawk
February 18, 2005 by Doug Holder
Somerville News

On any given day, at the Sherman Cafe, in Union Square, you are bound to run into any number of poets, writers, and artists nursing their respective cups of java.

On this particular Saturday I ran into the former owner of House of Sarah Books in Inman Sq. and June Gross who co-wrote the play “The Dangers of Empathy.” But, who I was really waiting for was Lee Kidd and Jessa Lynne, of the “Squawk Coffeehouse,” a long-time venue of music, poetry and performance housed at the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church just outside Harvard Square.

Since 1988, the coffeehouse has presented such folks as the poet/writer Ed Sanders, the singer and 60’s activist John Sinclair, the jazz musician and Kerouac confidant David Amram, and a host of local poets and musicians. Their other brainchild is “Squawk Magazine” an art and poetry journal that they have put out with artist/poet Mick Cusimano and others. There are 57 issues of the print magazine, and now “Squawk” is solely online, but a new print run may be in the works.

Lee Kidd, one of the founders of the “Squawk” enterprise, is decidedly a Renaissance man. Since 1976, he has owned and operated a language school in Harvard Square that specializes in foreign language immersion. Kidd is not just a self-educated bohemian. He attended Harvard Divinity School; he is a Fulbright scholar, and has been published in “The New Yorker.”

Jessa Lynne has an equally fascinating background. Originally from the Milwaukee area; she moved here looking for a counterculture venue when she heard of the “Naked City,” an earlier incarnation of “Squawk,” which was located at the “Allston Mall” in Allston. “I was impressed with the warm and open environment,” she said. Since then, she has graced the stage at “Squawk.” She has performed skits, political satire, dance and other modes of expression.
Lynne works at Harvard, and also has a gig where she portrays historical figures like Susan B. Anthony, Emilia Earhart, and other notable women, at libraries and schools in the area. Kidd said that “Squawk” has changed a lot from 1988 to 2005. Before it was basically music and poetry, now there is anything from jugglers to book signings, he said. “We are more eclectic now. We have a coffeehouse consciousness, a mix of people from the homeless to Harvard professors,” he said.

Kidd and Lynne are optimistic for the future of “Squawk.” Kidd said, “There will a great golden age of music and poetry in the third millennium, and we'll be part of it.” “Squawk” meets every Thursday night at 9 p.m. at the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church, 1555 Mass. Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge. More information is available at

SQUAWK Coffeehouse, an open-mike venue for musicians, poets, & other performing artists.

Every Thursday night, from 9:00 pm to 12 midnight,
located in the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church, 1555 Mass. Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA (between Harvard & Porter Squares, right next to Harvard Law School's Pound Hall), or call (617) 776-3625.

Sunday, March 04, 2007



This is the archive of the "Lyrical Somerville" column in "The Somerville News" ( Somerville, Mass.) edited by Doug Holder. The column features a poem by a select poet each week. To submit your work to the "Lyrical" send it to This archive is in progress. There are several years of columns to archive.

Oct. 14, 2009: Kirk Etherton "Perfect Day"

Sept. 30, 2009: Len Solo "Karner Blue"

Sept 23, 2009: Tino Villanueva "Sending Out A Note"

Sept. 16, 2009: Kate Chadbourne " Never Alone"

Sept. 9, 2009: Heather Angell "Tephra"

Aug 26, 2009: John Flynn " Gathering Contradictions In A Cheap Room."

Aug 12, 2009: Steve Glines. "Into the Heart of Winter"

Aug 5, 2009: Deborah Gage "Girl Place, MFA"

July 29, 2009: Bert Stern. "Buffalo, 1938"

July 22, 2009: Keith Tornheim "Three-Kiss-Funk"

July 15, 2009: Mary Rice "Mandalas"

July 8, 2009: Linda Larson "Dixie, 1960"

July 1, 2009: Ruth C. Chad "Regrettably, Mother..."

June 24,2009: Ann Hutt Browning "An Ordinary Life"

June 17, 2009: Elizabeth Swados "Houdini's Private God"

June 10, 2009: Fred Marchant " For the Matinee"

May 27, 2009: Paul Bura " The Drunk on the Train"

May 20, 2009: Celia Gilbert "Coming Back"

May 13, 2009: Reza Tokaloo "Seeking the Leaf," "Letting Go"

May 6, 2009: A.D. Winans " 71 Going On 72"

April 29, 2009: Doug Holder "Mr. Freimour"

April 15, 2009 Lainie Senechal "Verdant" "Aubade"

April 8, 2009: Diana Der-Hovanessian "Angel in Somerville" "How to Ruin A Poem"

April 1, 2009: Cameron Mount "Abandoned Chair"

Mar. 25, 2009: Bridgit Brown "Back and Forth"

Mar. 18, 2009: Zvi Sesling "Breathe, Smell"

Mar. 11, 2009: Bridgit Galway "New Yoork 1960"

Mar. 4, 2009: Donna Bechar "Fog"

Feb. 25, 2009: Cynthia McGinty "The Congregation of Union Square"

Feb 11, 2009: Ellaraine Lockie "First Five Months in Venice"

Feb. 4, 2009: Susan Rosenburg "Trying To Bring It Back"

Jan 28, 2009: Rebecca Schumejda " Four Months From Now"

Jan 14, 2009: Carolyn Gregory " Holy Fool"

Jan 7, 2009: Leah Angstman " i don't respond to hey baby"

Dec. 24, 2008: Miguel Miro "North Star"

Dec.17,2008: Ed Galing "intitation"

Dec. 10, 2008: Irene Koronas "Family Tree"

Dec.3, 2008: Marilyn Jurich "Her Brother Feeding at The Breast..."

Nov 26, 2008 Sam Cornish "Sinatra"

Nov. 19,2008 Afaa Michael Weaver "In the Walking"

Nov 12, 2008 Kim Triedman "Best Laid Plans"

Nov 5, 2008 Lisa Kaufman "His House"

Oct 28, 2008 Martha Boss "to keep from splitting"

Oct 22, 2008 Nicole DiCello "Red Shift"

Oct 15, 2008: Jim Foritano " The Surly Waiter and You"

Oct 8, 2008: Michael Todd Steffen " A Blank"

Oct 1, 2008: Ruth Kramer Baden "Nuevo Ano"

Sept 24,2008: Linda Mannke "Little Sapling"

Sept 17,2008: Larry Kessenich "Shopping Cart"

Sept 10, 2008: Lucy Holstedt "Autumn"

ept 3, 2008: Dorothy Shubow Nelson "Recognition in Central Square."

Aug 27, 2008 Barbara Bialick "Sitting Alone in the Au Bon Pain--Davis Square"

Aug 20, 2008

Aug 13,2008 Ed Galing "Family Reunions"

Aug. 6, 2008 Deborah M. Priestly "I Fired My Therapist"

July 23, 2008: Julia Carlson " Advice to the Lovelorn"

July 16, 2008: Steve Lappen "Galloping"

July 9, 2008. Pam Annas " Find the line and cross it"

July 2, 2008 Bob Silverberg " A Self-Centered Writer Named Hank."

June 25, 2006 Linda Larson " Narcissus"

June 18, 2008: Ryk McIntyre " The Jesus of Ugly"

May 28, 2008: Elizabeth Quinlan "Promise Supermarket"

May 21, 2008: Gary Duehr "The Big Book Of Why"

May 14, 2008: Ed Galing "Boardwalk"

May 7, 2008: Doug Holder " Spring: This Ain't A Love Poem"

April 30, 2008: Jennifer LeBlanc " unrestrained"

April 23, 2008: Elizabeth Gordon McKim "Saas Fee Bridge"

April 16, 2008: Edie Aronowitz Mueller "The Fat Girl"

April 9 2008: K. Peddlar Bridges "Bikers are a strange breed"

April 2 2008: Ellen Steinbaum "Fortune"

March 26 2008: Tim Gager

March 19 2008: Barbara Helfgott Hyett "Consider Killing Him Instead"

March 12 2008: Kirk Etherton "Composition"

March 5 2008: Dorian Brooks "Pollution"

Feb. 27 2008: Philip Burnham, Jr. "1963"

Feb 20 2008: Chad Reynolds: " Women are from Venus, Victor is from Mars."

Feb 13 2008: Susan Rosenberg "Memorial Service At The Cemetery"

Feb. 6 2008: Doug Holder " The Bun"

Jan 30. 2008: Michael Graves "Mother"

Jan 23. 2008: Barbara Bialick: " The Silvery Spiral"

Jan 16. 2008: Lisa Beatman. " Good Bones."

Jan. 9 2008: Ed Galing "Diner"

Jan. 2 2008: Reuven Goldfarb "72 Virgins"


Dec 26 2007 Richard Wilhelm "White Birch"

Dec. 19 2007: Ron Southern " Mary's Child"

Dec. 12 2007: Harris Gardner. " Among Us"

Dec 5 2007: Mary Bonina "Sleepless"

Nov. 28 2007: Dale Patterson. "In Transit"

Nov 21 2007: Michael Todd Steffen "Looks"

Nov 14 2007 Pamela Annas "Waitress"

Nov. 7 2007: Jenna Humphrey "The Weapons We Choose"

Oct 31 2007: Marc Goldfinger. "Sylvia Plath Flies Over Northampton"

Oct. 24 2007: Julia Carlson. "Hotel Caribe," "A Love Poem"

October 17 2007: Robert K. Johnson " Out There."

October 10 2007: Mignon Ariel King "Ken's Pub: When My Father Was Alive."

October 3 2007: Norma Roth "Soldier's Lament"

September 26 2007 Jack Powers "Birds"

September 19 2007 Jasen Sousa " Small Breasts"

September 12 2007 Jennifer Matthews " Captures The Light"

September 5 2007: Afaa Michael Weaver. "Radio Days"

August 29 2007: Ed Meek "Denis Martin"

August 22 2007: Taylor Altman. "Before Rush Hour."

August 15 2007: Linda Larson. "Bowery Time."

August 18 2007: Catherine Wang Hsu "Fishing A Wish"

August 1 2007: Dori Cameron. "Prince Diana"

July 26 2007: Lolita Paiewonsky: "Illusions of Movement."

July 19 2007 Freddy Frankel: "Black Jew/White Jew"

July 12 2007 Christopher Cunningham. "I Notice Wildflowers"

July 5 2oo7 Ifeanyi Menkiti. "Pretty Lady" "South of Fifth Avenue"

June 27 2007: Susanne Morning. "Yellow."

June 20 2007: Taylor Stoehr. "Reply to Chief Chang" "Too Many Words"

June 13 2007: Helen Bar Lev:" In The Old City of Jerusalem"

June 6 2007: Ruth Sabath Rosenthal: "For Sarah"

May 30 2007: Anne Barnett: " White Asparagus Child"

May 23, 2007: Mary Claire. "The Silver Sea." Marcia Felth. "Substances of Life.

May 16, 2007: Mort Brenner: "Rite of Passage" Mark Leonard: "Billy Collins Creative Process"

May 9 2007: Elizabeth Leonard. "Beantown Commute."

May 2, 2007: Jason Tandon: "Ars Poetica: While I Wait For Takeout At The Chinese Restaurant."

April 25 2007: Julia Carlson "Anorexia"

April 18 2007: Jade Sylvan "Paris"

April 11 2007: Richard Wilhelm " Continuance"

April 4 2007: Helene King "A Crown of Thorns" "St. Patrick's Day"

March 28 Llyn Clague "The Kenyon Review"

March 21 2007: Thade Correa " Winter Morning Poem"

March 14 2007: Flavia Cosma "So Many Clocks In The House."

March 7 2007 : Don DiVecchio " The Walk Down Newbury Street"

Feb 28 2007: Jared Smith "Dark Machinery of Maybe"

Feb 21 2007: Deborah M. Priestly "In the Backyard Waiting"

Feb 14 2007: Jacques Fluery "Learning My Mother Tongue."


Jan 31 : Molly Lynn Watt "Aspiration"

Jan 24 : Gloria Mindock. "She's Not A Good Mother, Joe."

Jan 17 : Anne Brudewald. "Cat"

Jan 10 : Doug Holder "Jack's Joke Shop."

Jan 3 : Jennifer Matthews " Trees in December"

Dec. 27: Tim Gager "Rabbit Maranville."

Dec 2o: Steve Glines. "The Last View of Mortal Man."

Dec 13: Abbott Ikeler " Pistachios"

Dec. 6: Josh Cook. " Verse1 In The American Book of the Dead."

Nov. 29: Pam Rosenblatt. "Any Neighborhood."

Nov. 22: Michael Cantor. "Lament"

Nov. 15: Richard Wilhelm. "Behind Windows."

Nov. 8: Joanne Holdridge "Measure of Man"

Nov. 1: Doug Holder "The Undertaker Takes His Lunch."

Oct. 25: Roxana Boboc "Blues For a Little Girl."

Oct 18: Blossom Spigner "The Wrong Words."

Oct 11: james de crescentis "Clear Cutting The Heart"

Oct 4. Danny Sklar. "Books"

Sept 27: Tim Gager "Drinks at Five to Ten P.M. "Euthanized"

Sept 20: Alan Catlin. Plans.

Sept 13: Sue Red. Miss Muse.

Sept 6: Beatrzi Alba Del-Rio. "Walking Slowly By Andrew Craigie Spring House, CA. 1860 in Somerville."

Aug 30. Diamond Riley "Our Father"

Aug 23. Doug Holder. "Davis Square, Somerville: A Colonial Woman at the Au Bon Pain"

Aug 16: Gloria Mindock "Stunned"

Aug 9: Alison Ide Pech "Nursing Musings"

Aug 2: Robert K. Johnson " Why Ruth Is Not A Good Poet"

July 26. Edwin Arlington Robinson. "Richard Cory"

July 19: Lyn Lifshin. "I Wear My Hair Long."

July 12: Ed Miller. "The View" "Letter to McMahon ll"

July 5: Patricia Brodie. "Invested"

June 14: Lisa King. "The Death of Stars."

June 7: Susan B. Weiner "My Mother's Nails."

May 31: Marc Goldfinger. "Jumping Billy From Cambridge."

May 24: Danielle Remingo. "The Valiant Officer."

May 17: Doug Holder. "A Sherman Oatmeal Scone."

May 10: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "Speak Out."

May 3: Tomas O'Leary. "Gathering The Cast."

April 26: Gloria Mindock. "Walking In El Salvador." "Glass Picture, Rosario Church, San Salvador"

April 19. Raffy Woolf. "A New Drug That Will Never Make it to the Shelf."

April 12. John Hildebidle. "Sheer Persistence." "Denver Omelet, Sausage, Hash Browns."

April 5. Ashley Roy. "Misreading Motives." "Affectionate"

April 22: Mary Beth Abel Hughes. "Monuments'

March 15. Jane Etzel. "Shifting Sands."

March 8: Mike Booth. "Buffing The Casket."

March 1: Walter McDonald. "A World of Books."

Feb. 22: Barbara Bialick. "September 24"

Feb 15: Ann Fletcher. "This Old House"

Feb 8: Molly Lyn Watt. "Songs of Consuming." "Eyes."

Feb1. Matt Rosenthal. "Momentum."

Jan 25. Simon P. Augustine. "When I am an Old Man."

Jan 18. Doug Holder. "Poem for the Sherman Cafe"

Jan 11. Sarah Hannah. "Quincy Quarry"


Dec. 21. John Curtis. "Red Line Blessing For An Unborn Child."

Dec 14. Iole Damaskinos. " A Clash of Cultures."

Nov. 23. Doug Holder. "Wrestling With My Father." " Wallace Ave., Bronx,1965."

Nov. 9. Tomas O'Leary " Down-Time at the Tir Na Nog"

Nov. 2. Tina Louise Kayal. "Walking The Sands Alone."