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Poet Erica Hunt at Karpeles Manuscript Museum

What is the relationship between poetry and community action?  How does aggressively speculative writing influence the "real world" in which we live?  Does an oppositional poetics inevitably lead to an oppositional politics?  These are but three of the many questions posed by the dynamic work of poet Erica Hunt who visits Buffalo Friday, Oct. 24th to read from her work at 8 p.m. at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, 453 Porter Avenue as sponsored by the UB Poetics Program.

Ms. Hunt brings a unique perspective to these issues as President of the Twenty-First Century Foundation (
Welcome to, a leading New York City-based philanthropic organization that facilitates strategic giving for black community change nationwide and the author of three collections of formally innovative and socially-conscious poetry: Local History (Roof Books, 1993), Arcade (collaboration with artist Alison Saar, Kelsey St. Press, 1996), and Piece Logic (Carolina Wren Press, 2002).

"Poetry makes a path out of ordinary language, contesting the ordinary claims about the 'real'," Hunt has written.  "Ordinary language is frequently instrumental, instructional, direct, prescriptive and remunerative, the language of enlistment and persuasion. But it is in the non-instrumental language of poetry in which the lapidary, the spare, mysterious, disjunctive, molecular, muscular, anagrammatic (and so on) provide previously undetected links to thinking and acting on alternatives and to building a just society."
"As is true with many poets, I am drawn to language for its music, for languages capacity to limn thought, its connection to experience, its power to still and magnify the world while one writes/reads the world/book. But equally, I have been interested in techniques that purposely unsettle the crisp ride and appropriate shade of register and vocabulary... I write poems that teeter on the verge of legibility, blur private and public, set boundaries anew and implicate us as practitioners of this moment and the next."

One of Hunt's best known poems, "The Voice of No" seems to anticipate the mind set of Hurricane Katrina era America even though it was published in her volume Arcade nearly a decade earlier:

             No need to be contrary, I put on a face.
             No use for muscle, the workers stand on line for hours.
             No need to read, 24 hours of the shopping channel.
             No fire, we have the illusion of doing what we want.

             Is that any way to talk with your tongue pressed against glass?
             The tv set is barking this Sunday morning off
             when we acquire an instant memory,
             and round language, where the ends justify the ends.
             We rummage among the many
             unplugged connections

             looking for that darn
             fraction of a percent of the landscape
             you say it is possible to live in,
             who will miss
             it when we divide up
             the sun, devour the
             young rather than
             give up our good seats.
             The postcards
             are bought out,
             the lp is skipping
             and anyway
             rescue is sure to be slow.
             In place of a raft
             we paddle
             ladders past the
             litter of drifting bodies.

--R.D. Pohl   


Clifton also at Buffalo State College Wednesday

No sooner had we posted our previous item on the reading by poet Lucille Clifton at Erie Community College-City Campus next Thursday, than we learned that she would also be also be reading at Buffalo State College's Campbell Student Union Social Hall at 4 p.m. next Wednesday, October 29th.

In this 90 second video clip (
"Since you asked..," with Lucille Clifton ) originally recorded by the PBS affiliate WGBH in Boston, she discusses how she first became interested in poetry and literature as an adolescent growing up in Buffalo in the late 1940's.

--R.D. Pohl

Poet Lucille Clifton to read at ECC-City Campus

Buffalo area native Lucille Clifton, winner of the National Book Award for her collection Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (BOA Editions) and the recipient of one of the literary world's most prestigious awards, The Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly Prize in 2007, returns to Buffalo next week to read from her new collection of poems Voices, which was published last month by Rochester, NY based BOA Editions. 

Ms. Clifton will read from her work at 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 30th in the Minnie Gillette Auditorium of Erie Community College, City Campus.  The event is free and open to the public.  Here is a link to the
Erie Community College - ECC Today event description.

Born as Thelma Lucille Sayles into a working class family in Depew, NY in 1936, Clifton was raised in Buffalo (her family lived on Purdy Street) and graduated from Fosdick-Masten (now City Honors) High School.  She attended Howard University and Fredonia State Teacher's College (now SUNY Fredonia) from which she graduated in 1955.  She married her late husband Fred Clifton in 1958, and moved to the Washington, DC area in 1960.

She is the author of 13 collections of poetry including Good Times (selected by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 1969), Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980, and Next: New Poems (both of which were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1988, marking the first time in history any author had two books selected as finalists in the same category for the award).  Widely praised for its "poetics of understatement," her work is notable for exploring her African-American heritage and themes of family, community, and survival from illness and oppression often from a feminist perspective, but always informed by the preternatural awareness of the female body.
Clifton--who now lives in Columbia, Maryland--has also published more than 20 books of children's literature, most of them focusing on African-American history and stories about the black family.  Following a long series of teaching appointments, since 1991 she has been Distinguished Professor of The Humanities at St. Mary's College in Maryland, where she also served as state Poet Laureate from 1979 to 1985.

--R.D. Pohl

Opening the door to art


Sometimes a door is not just a door. For the endlessly creative handypeople at Buffalo ReUse -- an organization that advocates for the salvaging and inventive redeployment of construction material and household objectes -- a door can morph into any number of other objects: scrap wood for other building projects, a makeshift desk straddling two saw-horses or, in the case of the upcoming exhibition "ReFind," art.

The show opens Thursday and runs through Oct. 30 at the Grant Street Gallery (220 Grant St.). Like its inaugural version last November, the show will feature work from several area artits who have used salvaged materials to create a variety of sculptures and other artworks. The center of this show will be 20 separate doors converted into other objects by 18 local artists (apparently one door was not enough for one or more of 'em). Check out the ReUse site here and call 885-4131 for more information.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Image courtesy Buffalo ReUse)

Electric Tower goes purple


It's the season of art auctions in Western New York. And this week, another worthy charity, the Family Justice Center of Erie County is making a splash by illuminating the Electric Tower downtown in purple, which -- for reasons connected to a woman who lost her life due to domestic violence -- is "the official color of domestic violence awareness." The building turns purple starting tonight at dusk and reverts to its plain old day-lit white tomorrow morning.

This luminescent stunt is by way of advertising the Justice Center's charity auction, "A New stART," which gets under way at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in Asbury Hall at Babeville. Funds will go to the center, which helps victims of domestic violence and their children. Admission to the auction (includes wine, beer, hors d'oeuvres!) are $35, and more info is available at 558-5281 or at

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photos from

UPDATED: Artists take on Palin


From Gawker via Modern Art Notes: Sarah Palin street art.

This is generally a non-demoninational, non-political blog, but in an era when politics and art are converging like never before, it's probably wise to include some stuff from the other side. And there's a ton:


--Colin Dabkowski

Gansworth play to be staged in NYC's Public Theater

--R.D. Pohl

(Photo: Eric Gansworth in 2006. Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)


There's more good news about Canisius College professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence Eric Gansworth, whose critically acclaimed A Half Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function (Syracuse University Press) we reviewed in this space in March.

A reading of "Re-Creation Story," Gansworth's first piece of writing for stage, has been selected to conclude The Public Theater in New York City's second annual Native Theater Festival (, which runs from November 12 to November 15.  The Public Theater, founded by Joseph Papp in 1954 as the Shakespeare Workshop, is one of the nation’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, producing new plays, musicals, productions of Shakespeare and other classics at its headquarters on 425 Lafayette St. and at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The Public Theater brought Buffalo-born Michael Bennett's "A Chorus Line" to Broadway and has also had longtime affiliation with political satirist and Buffalo native Mark Russell.

In a recent e-mail, Gansworth described "Re-Creation Story" as "a multimedia piece that, in its staged reading manifestation, will include projected visuals including 70 paintings, some from my general body of work, but more than 50 created specifically for this piece.  It will also include some original music from Alex Freeman, a Juilliard DMA (doctor of musical arts) composer who currently teaches at Carleton College in Minnesota.  The play is a contemporary commentary on the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois Six Nations] Creation Story and on the relationship, in general, people have with their belief systems, and the ways those relationships inform our everyday lives."

The Public Theater's news release describes "Re-Creation Story" as "Gansworth's personal exploration of the Haudenosaunee creation narrative ... [in which] he playfully alters the oral tradition’s fluid nature to reflect issues relevant to contemporary Haudenosaunee life."  Following the performance, Gansworth will join Daniel David Moses (fellow playwright), Leigh Silverman (director) and Edward Wemytewa (playwright/performer) in a discussion titled "Bringing Oral Tradition to the Stage."

Gansworth, an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation who was born and raised on the Tuscarora Indian Nation near Lewiston, is Western New York's most prolific indigenous artist and writer, and an increasingly prominent voice on the national scene. In less than a decade, he has published three novels (including Mending Skins, winner of the 2006 PEN Oakland--Josephine Miles Award) and three collections of poems, with each volume staking out a more ambitious and fully realized vision of the predicament of indigenous peoples living both on and off the reservation. Last year, Nation Books published Sovereign Bones, an anthology of new Native American writing edited by Gansworth.

The cheering section

Over the weekend, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Concertmaster Michael Ludwig was the soloist in John Corigliano’s “The Red Violin” Concerto.

In my review Sunday, I noted that the audience seemed to embrace the piece. It was true. The crowd – not a big crowd, admittedly – jumped up when Ludwig was through, and gave him and Corigliano, who was in attendance, a resounding standing ovation. At intermission, in the lobby, a few people said they liked the piece. Which I thought was wonderful. I personally found the piece challenging to listen to. But I was happy to see that people seemed to like it.

This morning, I got an email from a listener who told me that a lot of people were grumbling about the piece. She said the standing ovation was intended for Ludwig’s performance and not for the composition.

Which makes me wonder about what other people out there think about standing ovations. What do they mean to you?

I see standing ovations as an emotional reaction: You were moved, you loved what you heard, you stand up and cheer. I do not think people separate the dancer from the dance. And, as I wrote to the woman who emailed me, I don’t think they should have to, in the heat of the moment. What does a standing ovation mean to other listeners out there? Do you give them because you are wild about what you heard, or, I don’t know, out of politeness? Was I wrong to take this standing ovation as an indication that people liked the Corigliano concerto?

Do you think people are too free with standing ovations? I have heard whispers of this here and there.

Let’s go in another direction, too. Have you heard any of the John Corigliano the BPO has been performing recently? What do you think of it?

What have you thought of other contemporary music you have heard the orchestra play?

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

'Legally Blonde' uncensored


Adam Zelasko, "Legally Blonde" cast member and Orchard Park native, gets ready to sing at a cabaret benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at Shea's Smith Theatre on Friday night.

Buffalo has been a grand and gay week. And by gay, i mean both 1920's gay and 2008 gay.

--"Chorus Chornicles," the "official" blog of the national tour of "Legally Blonde: The Musical."

Having covered the Broadway tours that blow through Shea's Performing Arts Center for almost two years, I've often wondered how all those New York-based cast and crew members keep themselves entertained in our fair city. I assumed: a trip to Niagara Falls, the requisite indulgence in wings and beer, the occasional outing to one of our area's musical theater-friendly watering holes.

I had no clue about: wet underwear contests, reality show stars dancing with underage boys at drag bars, "random crunked men" and, because if it's on a blog it must be true, Ryan Gosling's mom. No kidding. Among other even more risque and impossible-to-print observations and factoids about the young cast members' time in the 716.

A fun observation from the blog's author, presumably someone in the chorus:

All in all, Buffalo rocked our socks off. Now, if the BILLS can win today and our trumpet player can break the record of playin 40% of the show correct 40% of the time........this could be the most perfect week ever---and (cue the 80's synth music)WE"VE ONLY JUST BEGUN.

And there is so much more. Try not to click here, and read at your own risk.


--Colin Dabkowski

(Photo from "Chorus Chronicles")

The healing power of art

Today's story in the Spotlight section focuses on the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts health care program, in which 12 area artists work at Women and Children's Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The program is an ambitious attempt to bring the arts into a hospital setting in hopes of improving the quality of life for patients, staff, families and even visitors.

Check out the story, and the slideshow above (or a larger version), and then think back to the last time you had a long wait at the hospital or even your doctor's office. Would you have appreciated a troupe of artists engaging you in a song or dance? Would it have helped alleviate your worry, even just a little bit, to try your hand at painting a picture? Or do you think that the idea of doing art in a hospital setting is just a bunch of hoo-haa?

Please share your thoughts!

--Colin Dabkowski

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