Yeats 150

[LIT] Irish immortal poet William Butler Yeats is 150 years old this year and an all-day birthday party is scheduled for him Thursday, October 1, at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. The party will feature readings of some Yeats’s poems by Irish Classical Theatre artistic director and actor Vincent O’Neill, with musical underplay and interludes and sung renditions of some of the poems by 10,000 Maniacs vocalist and violist Mary Ramsey; films about Yeats, courtesy of the Irish Film Institute, including the lauded 2014 production A Vision: A Life of W. B. Yeats; and talks by O’Neill and Irish arts aficionado Patrick Martin on “Yeats and the Abbey Theatre,” and by Buffalo State College professor Laurence Shine on “Yeats and the Esoteric: Yeats and Women.” The party runs from early afternoon until evening. All events are free and open to the public. Sponsors are Cinegael Buffalo, riverrun, and the Burchfield Penney. 

The readings and musical accompaniment are actually a preview of a currently-in-production CD recording by O’Neill and Ramsey to tie in with a further component of the Yeats sesquicentennial celebration—still in the development stages—called The Yeats Project, a collaborative production by the Irish Classical Theatre, Lehrer Dance Company, and Torn Space Theater Company, of two of Yeats’s plays, The Land of Heart’s Desire and At the Hawk’s Well, incorporating dance and mime and ritualistic dramatic and movement elements (reminiscent of Japanese Noh theater techniques, which influenced Yeats in the creation particularly of At the Hawk’s Well). The Yeats Project is scheduled for next April at the Irish Classical Theatre. 

O’Neill said the poems on the CD and in preview Thursday night would include selections from Yeats’s four major thematic and stylistic periods: the early years Celtic myth preoccupation; middle years Maud Gonne and associated personal and poetic romanticisms and disappointments; the revolution and the republic; and old age and memory. 

The longest of the four films is about an hour in length. The shortest, The Song of Wandering Aengus, is basically a reading of that lovely Yeats poem by actor Michael Gambon. The Oscar-nominated Yeats Country and Coole Park and Ballylee, are basically travelogues of Yeats’ native northwestern County Sligo—tucked between the two great mountains, Ben Bulben and Knocknarea—with attention to scenes and scenarios related to the poet and his poems, usefully quoted and expounded. 

The roughly hour-length film, A Vision: A Life of W. B. Yeats, directed by Alan Gilsenen, is in a cinematic style that might be described as “visionary.” Consisting of mostly still images of places and matters of significance to the poet and poetry, and voiceover narrative derived entirely from his writings, including poems and prose. Biography, memoirs, letters. The schedule is roughly as follows. Beginning at 1:30, Laurence Shine’s talk, followed by the three shorter movies. Then beginning at 6:30, the Vincent O’Neill and Mary Ramsey readings and music, followed by the O’Neill and Patrick Martin talk, followed by the Gilsenen film.



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