Brother Augustine Towey, a longtime pillar of the local theater scene and founder of Niagara University's theater program, has dedicated his life to the stage.
But throughout his half-century career of teaching, playwrighting and directing, Towey has also been quietly toiling away at a significant body of poetry.
"I think if I had another life to live or another vocation, I might spend it teaching poetry or helping people to love poetry," Towey said. A celebration, reading and recording session of Towey's collected poems is slated for Monday in Niagara University's Leary Theatre.
Twenty-three local actors and personalities, along with Towey, will read from his newly released collected poems, "The Poem You Asked For." The reading and subsequent recording will help finance the ongoing renovation of the university theater.
Irish Classical Theatre Company Artistic Director Vincent O'Neill, who will introduce Towey's work and serve as a reader, praised Towey as a fine and accomplished poet.
"We all know Bro as an educator and a director, but this is the other side to Bro," O'Neill said. "He's extraordinarily sensitive and [has] a beautiful feel for language and word magic."
Even in Buffalo's healthy poetry scene, this gathering represents a rare and relatively high-profile marriage of poetry and theater. It will include several familiar faces, including newscaster Maryalice Demler, and well-known actors such as Paul Todaro, Norman Sham and Lisa Ludwig.
Both Towey and O'Neill agree that hearing poetry read aloud -- as opposed to reading it on the printed page -- lends a certain sincerity and emotion to a medium many write off as esoteric or simply uninteresting.
"We have this syndrome in theater, which we call the gin-and-tonic brigade," O'Neill said. "People think it's esoteric in some way, eclectic and distanced from everyday experience. Unless they've been introduced to it, they tend to steer clear of it when they . . . decide what they're going to do for the weekend. I think poetry even more so is regarded as somehow rarefied and outside of our experience, and nothing could be further from the truth."
That's especially true with Towey's poems, many of which brim with lyrical descriptions of nature and art, and reflect on love, childhood and even advice for former students.
And from Towey's perspective, certain of his poems truly come alive when read out loud. A section of his collected work, called "The Anna Poems," contains pieces dedicated to Towey's mother, who was born in Ireland. They'll be read by the actress Josephine Hogan.
"They were in memory of my mother, and also they were written in imitation of her voice," Towey said.
He ends his poem "Goals and Expectations" with this stanza:
"I will be happy, if permitted, with some minor cliffs, some poems; / Small, unshuttered rooms of light, windows, gardens / With fountains, an unanticipated meter, a hard-won rhyme: / Far enough finally, these short-distanced voyages of the heart."
WHAT: "The Poem You Asked For," a reading of poetry by Brother Augustine Towey
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: The Leary Theatre, Clet Hall, Niagara University
TICKETS: $10 suggested donation