Brother Augustine Towey, C.M. remarks at the Arts Council Buffalo/Erie County awards luncheon, Mar. 21, 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen, no one comes to such moments alone. Parents, teachers, colleagues, writers, classmates, friends, fellow artists, students, enablers, -- all share in this moment and partake of this honor.
I know they are all here with me, and I especially wish to share this honor with my dear colleagues Sharon Watkinson and Tim Ward. For them as well as myself, I thank the Arts Council for bestowing on me this much-respected honor.
This honor is also a burden, -- a pleasant one, -- for it reminds us, all of us, once more that each time we felicitate an artist we bring to mind the very fact of art itself, its never-ending process, and those age-old questions that we seem to need to ask again and again: Why does poetry or theatre matter? What do any of the arts accomplish?
There was a time when poetry was thought to supply the conjunction between good and bad, to be that daylight between dark night and dark night, to sound a moral depth to our experience. But much of that moment passed when our experience of the Holocaust showed us that in the afternoon atrocities could be executed and in that very evening those same executioners could blithely attend a concert of Mozart.
The world suffers similar ruptures, such catastrophic dissociations after every one of our benighted and so-called brief skirmishes for democracy. Where are poetry and the poet in the midst of all this? Now our sentiments about the effectiveness of poetry and art seem naïve. Today we might more likely stand with Auden when he said:
Poetry makes nothing happen.
A way of happening, a mouth.
Nevertheless Seamus Heaney, the Nobel prize poet, reminds us that "if it is a delusion and a danger to expect poetry . . . to do too much, it is a diminishment and a derogation of them to ignore what they can do."
In Shakespeare's The Tempest "Caliban's description of the effect that Ariel's music produces in him could be read as a kind of paean to the effect of poetry itself. . . . Caliban is telling Stephano and Trinculo not to be worried about the mysterious tune that is coming out of the sky above them . . . Caliban says be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not.
‘Sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not.' "That as a description of the good of poetry . . . will do. . . . The good of poetry is in the thing itself."
We stand as artists in a time which again finds the world bent and broken, and while, like all the king's horses and all the king's men, we can not put the world back together, we can perhaps sing -- again like Auden:
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
Pray with me that the healing may start. I thank you again for this honor.