By: Mike Pesarchick, Editor in Chief
Dozens turned out to the Montante Cultural Center on Tuesday for the 17th annual Hassett Family Reading, an evening of Irish poetry and music featuring the works of William Butler Yeats.
Joseph Hassett ‘61 led the evening’s conversation alongside Canisius’s Dr. Mick Cochrane with discussion of Hassett’s newest book, “Yeats Now.” Vincent O’Neill of Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre, Mary Ramsey of the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs and Ireland’s ambassador to the United States Daniel Muhall also attended.
In “Yeats Now,” Hassett discusses how Yeats was able to convey different thoughts and emotions of life on a line-by-line basis in his poems. “A lyric can take on a second beauty, out of literature into life,” said Hassett, who is an expert on Irish literature with a doctorate in Anglo-Irish Literature from University College Dublin in Ireland.
The evening featured several of Yeats’s poems and songs, such as “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” “The Stare’s Nest By My Window” and “The Second Coming.” The poems were read by O’Neill with violin accompaniment from Ramsey, who also sang songs such as “Down By the Salley Gardens.” Their talents earned rounds of applause from the audience.
Muhall, speaking via Zoom from Ireland’s embassy in Washington, D.C., discussed how he has used poetry in his daily diplomatic work for more than 40 years.
“Every country has to present itself to the world. … I came to the conclusion that Yeats’s literature was a great way to show ourselves to the world,” said Muhall, who also serves as president of the Yeats Society’s Sligo, Ireland chapter. “Literature speaks to the world in a language that they want to hear.”
Muhall has posted an Irish poem every day on his Twitter account for years and said that rich words and literature may be one of the most important factors in his work.
“Diplomacy is a matter of finding the right words,” he said. “Look at the North Ireland Peace Accord — it’s peppered with places where words answered the challenge of the world.”
Hassett and Dr. Cochrane used the poems to further their discussion of “Yeats Now” and the poet’s life. Though he was a lawyer by profession, Hassett said that his background in the fine arts was key to his success in life.
“The great thing about a poem is it gives you a framework for thinking about yourself,” he said.
The Hassett Series began in 2003 as part of Canisius’s Contemporary Writers Series. It is named for Canisius alumnus Paul M. Hassett, who died in 2008.