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Lee Ann Brown brings wordplay to "Big Night"


"All I need is a little resistance/ to come / to terms," wrote Lee Ann Brown in "Resistance Play,"one of the best-known poems from her debut collection Polyverse (Sun & Moon Press), which received the New American Poetry Series Award in 1999. Brown, who teaches at St. John's University in New York City and is the editor of  the Gertrude Stein-inspired Tender Buttons Press, is the featured guest at the first "Big Night" event at 8 tonight in Just Buffalo Literary Center’s new joint home with the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative at 468 Washington St., near Mohawk St.

 All I need is to read you
And see how our poems differ
where they intersect

then fill in the blanks
for a new poem

Small daily
resistances insist
on the
corrosion of conformity

Re sister your self
as also an act of kindness to the others
who enjoy you

You who you pleasurably
enjoy your register of pleasure you  

 
Few first collections speak so convincingly to both the outlier spirit and "open source" approach to contemporary poetics, but Polyverse's greater influence may have been to foreground the concreteness of language, a sense of playfulness, and pleasure (the title itself was a contraction of Freud's notion of "polymorphous perversity") as primary objectives of contemporary women's writing. Brown's enthusiasm, wit and her willingness to experiment with a multiplicity of constraint-based formalisms and compositional techniques made her one of the most admired poets of her generation.
 
Brown's second collection, The Sleep That Changed Everything (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), marked an even more adventurous turn in her work, incorporating tropes and lexicons not only from literary and pop cultural sources, but also from the physical sciences and a wide range of traditional lyric and regional speech patterns, including those of her native South. Former UB Poetics program director Charles Bernstein referred to the book as "a sprung formalist ode to the 'open possibilities' of song."
 
More recently, Brown -- who was born in Japan, but raised in Charlotte, N.C., before heading north for undergraduate and graduate degrees at Brown University -- has worked with her husband, the actor and director Tony Torn, on 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time,her song cycle of "subverted hymns and ballads" comprised of variant transcriptions (or as she calls them "mis-transductions") of traditional church hymns, Girl Scout songs and Appalachian folk ballads staged as a multi-voiced performance piece.
 
She now splits her time between her teaching job at St. John's, the eclectic New York City poetry scene and her native North Carolina, where she and her husband have co-founded the quixotically named  "The French Broad Institute (of Time & the River)," a multimedia performance venue on the site of an old church in Marshall, N.C. For tonight's "Big Night" event, she plans to read from The Book of Practical Pussies, her collaboration with artist/illustrator Michelle Rollman and eight other poets published by Tender Buttons Press and Krupskaya Books.
 
--R.D. Pohl
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