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Who would be on your "Ladies First" list

     In Sunday's Spotlight cover story, we singled out a handful of Western New York women for their accomplishments in fields ranging from politics to law to accounting.

     But we know that list wasn't comprehensive.

     So we're throwing open a discussion about other women in the region who have achieved notable "firsts" in their fields.

     Who would you put on that list, and why?

     Tell us about the women you admire.
     -- Charity Vogel

"Synecdoche, New York": Fraud, genius or something else?


If ever there was a film that cried out for an open public forum, it's screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's debut as a director, "Synecdoche, New York." (Read my review here.) Is it a fraud perpetrated by a self-appointed movie intelligentsia? Or a work of enduring genius? Or something in between?

Whatever it is, there isn't a single scene in the movie that isn't open to somebody somewhere having something new and fresh to say about it.

Here, if ever there was one, is a movie we can all teach each other about.

So class is in session. Please raise your voice and be heard. Everyone who's seen the film is ready for you.

--Jeff Simon

(Photo: Michelle Williams and Charlie Kaufman on the set of "Synecdoche, New York.")

Turkeys on parade

Did you ever get the idea that Burt Bacharach had a particularly troubling childhood? Happy Thanksgiving!

Props from a Toronto blog

A little affirmation of the artistic profile of the 716 (as if, after this weekend's massive celebration at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, we really needed it) comes from this photo caption on the Toronto blog A Walk On Earth:

Under the new Frank Gehry addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which shows the Libeskind Crystal fanboys what a real museum addition should look like (or so I gather from the photos I’ve seen- I haven’t been inside yet). Though I still think they should have spent the money on the collection: the best art in Toronto is still at the Greyhound terminal a few blocks east, where you can catch a bus to the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo, NY.

--Colin Dabkowski

On Peter Ramos's "Please Do Not Feed the Ghost"

"Blacking out in some basement cafe', crowded/ And alone in the sad mid century, I come back & go on," writes Peter Ramos in "John Berryman in my Dreams," the opening poem in his aptly named debut collection Please Do Not Feed the Ghost, published this past February by BlazeVox Books.  Ramos, an assistant professor of English at Buffalo State College, read from his work this past Saturday as part of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center's grand opening celebration.

From the first lines of this collection to its next-to-last poem "Waiting for the Firstborn," in which Ramos constructs an elaborate analogy between the sonogram image of his first child in utero and shadowy black and white TV images of NASA astronauts walking on the moon in 1969, Please Do Not Feed the Ghost reconstructs scenes and images from his late 20th century American childhood and youth in suburban Baltimore set against the backdrop of narratives drawn from the collective memory of that era shaped by television and the popular media.

Although Ramos is a child of the late 60's, his frame of cultural reference extends back at least two decades earlier to the post-World War II world of his parents.  In "Watching Late Night Hitchcock," the long poem that serves as the backbone of this collection, family history and the voice of his New England bred maternal grandmother are juxtaposed with classic suspense film tropes and his Venezuelan born father's salsa inflected assimilation of 1950's era Rat Pack lounge lizard cool.   Even the poem's references to the high modernist masters Pound and Rilke have a distinct "period" feel.

The strongest poems in this collection are those that deal obliquely or directly with the poet's father's alcoholism and its influence on the family, including those in which the poet's alter ego reenacts his own lurid fantasies of urban night life.  Reading through the book is like leafing through a stranger's family photo album--the secrets and intimate clues are betrayed by nuances of  language and gesture--but the overriding narrative speaks to absence, loss, and what is irretrievable, obscured by memory. 

In the collection's title poem, Ramos writes:

October, color gone from the wheat
and you straggle back, howling
in your pulled wool, your work boots,
come to yuck it up with me, your mouth
full of loam, jacket lined with rot, crazy
as the leaves.
Each time I try to sleep you off, hoping winter
will stamp its feet, sober you up.
But the hallways soften. You
stuff me full of mothballs.

Unlike the sepia-toned romanticization of ethnic identity in mid 20th century Baltimore we see in Barry Levinson's film "Avalon," Ramos's internalization of the latency in his father's voice drives his conflicted sense of his own Latino heritage.  In "Immigrant," the last poem in the collection, he describes a late night phone call:

Pick up, you say to yourself.  It's your father
who provoked on account of his broken dialect
so much reserve and suspicion

the old voice across the long distance
gentle, no less compelling
the accent lingering.  Even this late

he calls--and likes to--the same way
he still kisses you, still offers the finest cuts
of meat in the dream.

--R.D. Pohl

The Burchfield Penney's coming out party

More to come later on the Burchfield Penney Art Center's epic, 31-hour opening to end all openings this weekend, but in the meantime, check out this video diary of the festivities:

--Colin Dabkowski

Poet Katy Lederer on writing and poker (Butler Library)

"Both writing and poker function as economies of status and prestige, and both require a survivalist's iron will," poet Katy Lederer has written.  So does working for a leading Manhattan based hedge fund, which she did until this past September, when she serendipitously began her current book tour.

Lederer is the author of two highly regarded collections of poetry--Winter Sex (Verse Press, 2002) and The Heaven-Sent Leaf, which was published last month by Rochester, NY based BOA Editions, Ltd., one of the literary world's leading independent publishers.  She visits Buffalo this afternoon to read from her work at 4:30 p.m. in Buffalo State College's Butler Library as sponsored by the college's Rooftop Poetry Club.

Lederer is perhaps best known for her acclaimed memoir Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown, 2003) which Publishers Weekly included on its list of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2003 and Esquire Magazine named one of its eight Best Books of the Year.  The literary daughter of a family of polymaths--her father is popular author (Crazy English and The Miracle of Language) and syndicated columnist Richard Lederer and her brother Howard Lederer and sister Annie Duke are both world class professional poker players--she describes Poker Face as "a literary memoir by a poet who happens to be related to high-stakes gamblers... As far as what the book might offer those obsessed with poker: it is an entertaining, often bittersweet narrative about a family that was fundamentally and dramatically transformed by the game. Indeed, I often describe the book as the story of how poker saved my family, and I think it is extremely interesting to think that, in some cases, vice might be, finally, more redemptive than virtue."

Lederer graduated from the University of California-Berkeley and the Iowa Writers Workshop, although she dismisses the rumor that she paid her way college on her earnings at the poker table.  She is currently the poetry editor of Fence magazine.

Joining her in reading this afternoon will be award-winning poet and translator Andrew Zawacki, author of Petals of Zero Petals of One (Talisman House,2008), Anabranch (Wesleyan), and By Reason of  Breakings (Georgia University Press).  A former fellow of the Slovenian Writers’ Association, he edited Afterwards: Slovenian Writing 1945-1995 published by Buffalo poet Dennis Maloney's White Pine Press and he is editing and co-translating Ales Debeljak’s new and selected poems, Without Anesthesia (Persea, 2009).  He teaches at University of Georgia and co-edits the magazine Verse.

--R.D. Pohl

Conference examines Myung Mi Kim's "Dura"

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Myung Mi Kim's Dura, her book length poem composed of discontinuous syntactic fragments, disoriented images, sound patterns, and serial writing forms arranged into sequences that attempt to translate the experiences of Korean immigrant women at the end of the 20th century.

Since then Kim has relocated from the west coast to Buffalo, where she is currently the director of the Poetics Program at the University of Buffalo, and Dura has come to be seen as a pivotal work in her language-centered "nomadic" poetics and radical praxis.

This afternoon a UB Poetics Program conference featuring a  reading by Kim will mark this anniversary and the reissue the Dura (which was originally published by Sun & Moon Press) by Nightboat Books.  The conference will held at the UB Poetry Collection, 420 Capen Hall on the university's North campus.

Here is a schedule of the event, which is free and open to the public:

2:00 - 2.45 p.m.--a panel of UB Poetics Program graduate students discuss the impact of Dura.

3 p.m.--Keynote presentation by Josephine Park, professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

3:30 p.m.-- Keynote presentation by Krzysztof Ziarek, professor of Comparative Literature at UB.

4 p.m.-- Roundtable discussion including Park and Ziarek.

4:30 p.m. -- Reading by Myung Mi Kim.

--R.D. Pohl

Real Dream Cabaret at the Burchfield

We're not normally in the business of re-posting press releases here on ArtsBeat, but this one for a Real Dream Cabaret show at the opening of the new Burchfield Penney Art Center is almost a work of art in itself:


--Colin Dabkowski

2008 National Book Award winners announced

Novelist Peter Matthiessen and poet Mark Doty and were among the winners at Wednesday night's 2008 National Book Awards Ceremony held at a posh Manhattan financial district dining establishment that was once the corporate headquarters of National City Bank, the predecessor of today's beleaguered Citibank.

Matthiessen won the National Book Award for fiction for his compilation Shadow Country (Modern Library), a re-edited and condensed version of his 1990's trilogy Killing Mr. Watson (1990), Lost Man's River  (1997), and Bone by Bone (1999), based on accounts of Florida planter Edgar J. Watson's death shortly after the Southwest Florida Hurricane of 1910.  Buffalo readers may recall that Matthiessen read from the trilogy in a memorable Buffalo reading at Hallwalls nearly a decade ago.

A co-founder of the Paris Review in 1953, Matthiessen had previously won the National Book Award in nonfiction for The Snow Leopard, his 1978 account of a two month journey across the Tibetan plateau of the Himalayas with a group of naturalists.  He is also noted for In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983), his detailed study of the Leonard Peltier case set against the backdrop of American Indian issues and history, which was challenged by a libel lawsuit that eventually reached the Supreme Court before being dismissed.

Doty received the National Book Award in Poetry for his collection Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins), one of three collections of poems he has published over the past 2 years.  He had previously received the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and the T.S. Eliot Award for his 1993 volume My Alexandria.  He is also the author of three critically acclaimed memoirs, Heaven's Coast (1996), Firebird: A Memoir (1999), and Dog Years (2007).

Annette Gordon-Reed won this year's Nonfiction award for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton & Company), her carefully researched, much praised history of three generations of the slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Judy Blundell won the Young People's Literature award for What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic Books).  You can read a complete list of the winners, view highlights of the awards ceremony and learn more about the organization that administers the awards at
National Book Foundation, Presenter of the National Book Awards .

--R.D. Pohl

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