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Way with words Irish poet selected to interact with Buffalo, Williamsville students

How can young readers develop a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of poetry to other art forms?

Suppose for a moment you were to enlist the talents of a world-class poet, bringing him (or her) to actively correspond and creatively interact with students from a wide range of backgrounds in your school and other schools in your community on yearlong interdisciplinary projects of the students' own design. Under the tutelage of their own arts faculty and teaching artists from the community, the young people would develop their own compositions and performances based on the poet's work. Finally, you could have them share the stage with that world-class poet for a one-night-only reading and performance that raises the standard for student productions to near-Olympian heights.

That has been the formula for the success of the Buffalo/Williamsville Poetry, Music and Dance Celebration, which this year marks its third anniversary as a joint venture of the Buffalo and Williamsville public schools (the event previously had a four-year run under Williamsville sponsorship). This year's celebration will feature a free public performance by award-winning, Irish-born poet Eamon Grennan and more than 200 students from 37 Buffalo and Williamsville schools at 7 p.m. Thursday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Grennan received one of the literary world's highest honors, the Academy of American Poets Lenore Marshall Prize, for his 2002 collection "Still Life With Waterfall" (Graywolf Press). He is an ideal choice for a program that celebrates not only the interrelatedness of all the arts, but also the power of language to both convey and transform our experience of the natural world.

Over the course of his more than 30-year career, Grennan has created a body of lyric poetry in which vivid, precisely constructed word pictures and sensation images yield to greater awareness of their own self-conscious painterliness and fragility in spoken language.

Rather than retreating into despair or a false aestheticism, he transforms this crisis of representation into an affirmation of the here and now, this concrete and indisputable moment in space and time that we fully choose to inhabit.

Born in Dublin in 1941, Grennan grew up strongly influenced by the long-suppressed Gaelic poetry of his literary forebears -- he still attributes the "sonic grid" and musicality of his work to patterns of Gaelic vowel sounds. But by 1964 he had left University College in Dublin for graduate school at Harvard University and a succession of U.S. teaching jobs. Prompted at least in part by his self-described need for periodic "voice transfusions," he continues to divide his time between Poughkeepsie (where he's professor emeritus at Vassar College) and a rural "damp cottage" in the west of Ireland.

That cottage figures prominently in his most recent published volume, "The Quick of It" (Graywolf Press, 2005). An almost perfect distillation of Grennan's poetic ethos, the book consists of 65 untitled poems, each of which is exactly 10 lines long. All of the poems are rooted in keen observational detail, mostly salient descriptions of birds and animals that the poet encounters on his daily treks across the Irish landscape. Lurking behind each carefully crafted image of flora and fauna, however, is its shadow, the presentiment of death.

"As far as I am concerned, poetry is about elegy," Grennan has written. "Every poem is a memory of some kind, a celebratory elegy."

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