Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kate Chadboune: An Irish Gal for All Seasons

Kate Chadbourne with her constant companion

Kate Chadboune:   An Irish Gal for All Seasons
Interview with Doug Holder

 Kate Chadbourne is about all things Irish. She radiates warmth and a passion for Irish folklore, music, literature, poetry, food…in short everything the Emerald Isle has to offer.


 Chadbourne is a singer, storyteller, and poet whose performances combine traditional tales with music for voice, harp, flutes, and piano. She holds a PhD in Celtic Languages and Literature from Harvard where she teaches courses in Irish language and folklore – but the heart of her understanding of Irish folk tradition comes from encounters with singers, storytellers, and great talkers in Ireland. She has been a “tradition bearer” in the Revels Salon series and in the Gaelic Roots Concert Series at Boston College. Her music was featured recently on NPR’s programs, “Cartalk” and “All Songs Considered,” and songs from her latest CD, The Irishy Girl, are played on Irish radio programs throughout the country. The Harp-Boat, a collection of poems about her father, a Maine lobster man, won the Kulupi Press 2007 Sense of Place Chapbook Contest and was published in 2008. Whether she is singing, telling stories, teaching, or sharing a poem, she aims to leave her audiences moved, enlivened, and eager for their own adventures.

I had the pleasure to speak to her on my Somerville Public TV show  Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: Kate you have a PhD in Celtic Studies, you have taught at Harvard--- you are a scholar. But in fact you said you learned more from your informal education—talking to regular folks in Ireland than in your scholarly pursuits.

Kate Chadbourne: I think you need to learn from both. You need to do your book learning, but then you have to get out and around. I was walking in the hills of eastern Ireland and I meet this cheerful, little man. I was fresh out of doing folklore research at the Folklore Archive in Dublin. I asked him: “What do you do for fun in the evening?” He replied, “Oh, we talk, play cards or fight.”  And it so happens I was looking at things like ritualized conflict and there it was. So this was the payoff from the scholarly work. So I listened to what people were saying about their lives. And this is when it all comes together. I am mad about the music, poetry and the storytelling of the Irish. I want to hear it in life. Like when you are in a pub, and the fiddler is playing slowly, and you observe the etiquette of the moment—and it comes together.

DH:  You have an award-winning collection of poetry “The Harp Boat” that is about your late lobster man father in Maine. The sea, I am sure you will agree is a good source for poetry- we are often transfixed by it. Did your father instill in you a love of poetry?

KC: My father would have said he was the farthest thing from a poet and yet there were rhythms in his speech and his swearing that were poetic. Or just the way he could complain. I really got a sense of season and time. My father was with nature. Hey—you reach a certain point in life, and this all comes together.

DH : You play the harp—quite impressively—how did this come about?

KC: I have worked with harpers for 10 or 11 years now. When I was doing research in 2003, a friend looked at me and said: “ You look like a harper.” So when I was back in the states, my ex-husband bought a harp, because it was his dream to play one. So I kept my hands off it. He never played it, but eventually I did. I was going to play music in an assisted living home and I asked him to borrow his harp to make some chords. And that was the beginning of my affair with the harp. I lost my husband, but I gained a harp. (Laugh)

DH: How do you integrate your music and poetry?

KC: I integrate it all the time. When I tell a traditional Irish story, I bring up some poetry. I am crazy for putting poems to music. Not so much mine but others’. I do it with poems that speak to me. I get seized with the desire, and then I hear it in my head. I just love the process. Song writing is like poetry writing. You are trying to access this bedrock of truth and feeling.

DH: You started this online website the Bardic Academy  http://www.bardicacademy.org   Tell us about this.

KC: I view it as a resource for writers and musicians. It is a website for my school where I give lessons in voice, harping, poetry, piano playing—singing in the Irish language. I also compose well-wishing poems, to make my music useful. People send me letters—about a sick loved one, their wife, etc...—I hold it my mind—then I let it rip on the piano—I send a recording to the person.

DH: Reading your poems I get the sense that you do not manipulate nature, but you sit back and learn.

KC: I love that. I have a great deal of trust in nature—human nature too. I love the integrity and holiness of the world.

How are Sea and Ocean Different?

Ocean is the realer thing-
brine with real salt that dries the lips
and sun off the wave knits a web in the eye.
Men spend a life drenched through their waders,
hauling up empty pots, eyeing the chickens.
Good ones hanging offshore; the hull needs work.

Sea is the wind between two planets,
the silver place on ancient maps,
spuming with narwhals and dolphins,
collared with green lace and hung with pearls.
Ships there go with quiet sails,
and the wind is kind to travelers.

I have sailed a life at sea
while my father works the ocean. 

--Kate Chadbourne

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