Robert Burns I confess is someone I knew very little about until last night. Seminal Scottish icon and poet, this dashing lad had us all by the throats. Never mind that he’s been dead for just over 200 years. In commemoration of his birthday we turned out for L magazine’s sponsored event at the equally seminal IONA last night in Williamsburg.
The invite in my hand says a ‘sampling of Scottish food, drink, music and poetry,’ unfortunately for me the part that it leaves out are the mad men I am about to meet in traditional kilt, the sheep intestine on offer and the drunk sprawling lads and lassies keeling over their Drambuie’s and national icon. Yet again I’m glad, because last night was one of the most amazing times I had in ages, and one must thank kindred folk, the power of words and the laconic disposition that the Brooklyn gentry serve up in wonderful dollops and the bonfires in their back yards.
It’s early evening and as I finally make my way into IONA’s (it’s name literally translating into a burial place for Scottish kings) I can make out the visage of beaming red heads, sprawling lines for the drink of the day –DRAMBUIE, and the thunderous applause the crowd give each time an orator gets up and thunders through Scotland’s treasured poet- Robert Burns.
I instantly find myself mesmerized and transported to my own days as a student in Sydney, Australia and London, UK with all the Anglican/antipodean jingoism, drinking habits and very ruddy red faces. In some way, me and the 300 people here tonight have come back home. Come to have a look at that part of ourselves that keeps us lively and quite partial to the talent sprung forth from the UK hinter lands.
Trying to get a handle of my new found friends sensibilities and dare I wonder depths of drunkenness I proceed to work the room:
SCV: What brings you here tonight?
Robert: I wanted to be mesmerized.
SCV: Can one still be mesmerized by poetry?
Robert: Well you tell me. (looking around the room)
SCV: Yes, maybe that’s just the alcohol.
Robert: Bollocks, it’s Robert Burns. You just ain’t paying attention.
Turning to Ricardo and Elizabeth.
SCV: What do you know about Robert Burns?
R & E: Not much, but we like him anyway.
Pausing to catch a stanza; (from ‘to a Haggis’)
see him eat his trash,
As feckless as a withered rush,
His spindly legs and good whip-lash,
His little feet
Through floods or over fields to dash,
O how unfit.
SCV: What do you make of all that?
R & E: Inspiring. Amazing.
SCV: What is the role of a poet today?
R & E: To make the regular sound interesting.
R & E: I think because we all live a regular life and I think we all want to be inspired.
Turning to Jean and Diane.
SCV: What do poets write about?
Jean: Love and despair.
SCV: What is love?
Jean: I’m still trying to figure that out.
SCV: Have you figured out what despair is?
Jean: It’s what love leads to…
SCV: What’s a role of a poet today?
Diane: To take us back to our roots. I think in so many ways we’ve lost our roots, and it’s important to know what our real identities are.
SCV: Not Gossip Girl?
Diane: That would be our aspirations.
Passing by the gentlemen in their kilts raising and smashing their Drambuies, the loyal dj mimicking line by line, and the back door that leads me to the outdoor garden and the most amazing little bonfires.
Accosted by Mattley, IONA’s resident Wednesday and Friday night dj I am made to hear about his love affair.
“So there I am, the most beautiful woman in the world, long blonde locks from one side of her head to the other, this killer overbite and me spinning, watching , hoping that she can tell I’m desperately falling in love with her, the lyrics flushing out of my mind, the wrong record on the turntable;”
Nothing I can do
To change your mind
I’m so in love with you
You’re too deep in
You can’t get out
You’re just a poor girl in a rich man’s house
Yeah, baby, I’m crying over you
Don’t you know promises were never made to keep?
Just like the night, dissolve in sleep
I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true
I’ll come to your emotional rescue
I’ll come to your emotional rescue…
SCV: So did you get her?
Mattley: Fuck no! She was a goddess, I’m just a dweeb on a turn table.
SCV: Okay, so what does it say on the back of your shirt?
Mattley: I was waiting for that one.
Prompting his shirt in front of my face- Robert Burns;
He had cunning with words and captured the spirit of the country,
Whatever making ate the woes or increases the happiness of others is my criterion of goodness;
From there it was the Scotsman Edmund flashing knives, humor and his special love of haggis- (yes- sheep innards)
Edmund: So there I was with my kilt, and I had just a bypass the week before, flashing my knife and I go to put it back in the place of my sheath (indicating it inside his dark blue tube socks) and I miss, cutting half my leg away, and you have to remember I’m also on blood thinners and all this blood is gushing, oh what a sight. AYE, what’s wrong with ye, why ain’t you eating your haggis?
SCV: Tell us Edmund, what’s your love affection with Robert Burns?
Edmund: Aye, ‘cause he (hiccup) DRINKS MORE THAN YOU and me. And if you aren’t sure, I am always willing to teach you.
Finally sitting down with some new found friends, I sat there marveling at the ferocity of spirit, the warmth of the bonfires and the notion that love and despair are sometimes one and the same, but in the hands of Robert BURNS the hymns in your brain…
IONA; Scottish and Irish bar