Josie Gray, Tess Gallagher

A fiddle in the boat: Two stories from the West of Ireland (bilingual introduction, Russian translation)

Published in: 21. Sniper
PresentationReproduction of the Article

Josie Gray and Tess Gallagher

Irish artist Josie Gray began painting as he neared the start of his eighth decade. Before this, he had worked as a fruit salesman, barman, farmer and hauler in various family businesses. The beginning of his artistic practice was accompanied by growing public awareness of another of Gray’s gifts: his talent for storytelling, a traditional genre in Ireland. As a veteran in the field, Gray began recording his tales — colorful accounts of the local scene — and committing them to print. All this transpired thanks to the timely mediation of American poet Tess Gallagher.

Tess Gallagher’s name is known to many who love and study literature, not only in America. The poet is highly regarded both for her own creative work as well as for engagement with the literary legacy of her late husband, writer Raymond Carver, since his premature passing. As for Ireland, Gallagher established what became a lifelong tie with the Celtic isle beginning with time there in the mid-’70s. For Josie Gray, she became a muse, nudging him toward manifesting his unique talents.

It all started quite simply. Meeting Gray in 1994 and noticing his vivid visual receptiveness to nature, Gallagher suggested he try painting. Since then, Gray’s and Gallagher’s creative partnership has flourished. Today it includes an abundance of Gray’s paintings, many twinned by lyric poems by Gallagher. The process of putting oral tales on paper, however, involved a form of co-authorship. A first joint collection of short stories, Barnacle Soup, was published in 2007 in the U.S. and Ireland.

Charmed by the unassuming, calm manner of Gray’s spoken spinning of episodes from his life, namely Gallagher first persuaded him to allow the taping of a first couple of stories. Such recording runs askance of Irish custom, which frowns on limiting personal household legends to any one form. But Gray overcame and adapted, recording stories and crafting the results — transcriptions, then manuscripts born of creative exchanges with Gallagher.

In her literary editing, the poet sought to reinforce the nuances of Gray’s spoken inflection. She also gave rein to her intuition, sparked by the storyteller’s spirit. As a result, both voices join in the stories.

The spirited manners and mischievousness alive in western Ireland speak authentically in the tales concocted by Josie Gray with Tess Gallagher. The poet hopes these veracious literary miniatures will encourage new storytellers, still to be discovered.

Our translations of two Barnacle Soup stories — “A blind tongue” and “A fiddle in the boat” — appear in the Russian edition of this issue (see the “Reproduction of the Article” tab at right).

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