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March Hare celebrants from left: Charlie Payne, Allan Byrne, Pamela Morgan and Des WalshEnjoying On the Job Training at the March Hare in Corner Brook

by Charissa Reeves

On the weekend of March 10 to 12, I had the opportunity to enjoy the March Hare in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Conceived by the late legendary Newfoundland playwright and poet Al Pittman and his friends Rex Brown and George Daniels it started off as a one poetry night reading to try and sell beer. Since then it has grown into a five-day music and literary festival starting in St. John’s with a reading on Wednesday night moving to Gander on Thursday, then to Corner Brook for the weekend with a total of six events in the last three days.

The festival featured poets such as Des Walsh, John Steffler, Agnes Walsh, Michael Crummey, and internationally known Irish poets John Ennis, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain and Norwegian poet Arne Ruste. Also featured were journalist Stephen Brunt, and novelist Wayne Johnston. The weekend was jam packed with talent.

On the Friday afternoon a dual CD, and book launch, launching well-known Newfoundland singer-songwriter Ron Hynes’s first self-titled album and first songbook and Ennis’s new book of poetry at Casual Jacks Roadhouse on West Street.

Every year the Friday night at Casual Jacks is a tribute to a living poet this year was Irish poet Ennis. Tickets were in high demand, being sold the Saturday before with only 26 available due to the small size of the pub. The rest were reserved prior to the event by performers and people coming in from out of province.

The respect for the poets reading and musicians playing that night was incredible. When performers where on stage all one could hear was the rattle of coin at the bar, the ring of the cash register and the clink of ice in glasses as the bartenders served drinks. If someone murmured too loudly they were quickly shushed by another audience member.

The night started with a reading from Ennis’s new book Goldcrest Falling. Later, the bar, packed with people standing along the door way and around the edges of the room was silent as Pamela Morgan sang her song “West Moon To Waterford.” She wrote the song after performing in Pittman’s play West Moon when it went to Ireland in 2001. Morgan and Anita Best sang two duets together with Morgan on guitar singing the harmonies. John Steffler, a creative writing professor at local Sir Wilfred Grenfell College(SWGC) read a humorous poems about moose. Paul Dean told the story of his conception, birth and early childhood years in a light-hearted Newfoundland folk story style. Some of the highlights of the night musically were the Byrne brothers, Allan and Matthew, each performing separately and Stephanie Payne. Payne charmed the audience and thrilled us with her voice.

After the performers had finished and some of the audience had filtered away the party continued. Remaining musicians sat around one of the tables and started a sing-song with the patrons left.

The Mad Hatters Tea Party Saturday afternoon was for the kids featuring a performance by the College Actors Troupe, and a dance lesson teaching children and their parents how to do the Virginia Reel as Charlie Payne played his accordion.

Saturday night at the Columbus Club proved no less stimulating than the first evening. Once again poets and musicians from the first night charmed the audience, hushing the crowd sometimes and making them roar with laughter others. Des Walsh read a poem he had written after a previous March Hare when Michael Ondaatje was performing as well. Walsh had ribbed Ondaatje for supporting anti-sealers in the Globe and Mail. Walsh had the audience roaring with laughter in his poem about Paris Hilton and the English Patient joining the seal hunt protest. “Stroking each others carcasses, with their legs wrapped around misinformation,” read Walsh. When the program was over musicians once again hung around with those of the crowd who stuck around to party and make music.

Sunday afternoon was strictly musicians at the King Henry Pub located in the Glynmill Inn. The feeling in the room was melancholy, yet still appreciative. A close friend of many of the musicians had passed away. Some of the artists dedicated songs. Morgan sang an original about friends lost over the years. Her voice was haunting as she sang, “Petals from your precious flower strewn across my memory.” The afternoon wrapped up with all the performers gathering at the front of the stage to sing the song “The Grey Funnel Line” with the audience joining in for the chorus.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the event and I strongly recommend anybody not to adverse to a snowy vacation in March to check out this celebration of words and music.

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