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Poet Linh Dinh headlines "Big Night" tonight

There are many ways to describe the work of Vietnamese-born poet and fiction writer Linh Dinh. He's been described as a working-class poet, an erotic poet, a poet who writes about found objects, cultural detritus and just plain garbage in his poems. He is not a poet who tries to prettify life's ugliness.

Officials of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have denounced his work as decadent, reactionary and "foreign" in its thinking.  When he has returned to Vietnam, usually to solicit work for his highly regarded volumes of Vietnamese poetry in English language translation, copies of his own books have been confiscated at the airport. His readings in Saigon have drawn large audiences, though many of his listeners have turned out to be undercover police officers.
His short stories are surreal but economical, like an uncanny twist in a nightmare. One reviewer described his work as "poetry that makes you wince."  Various others have described his work as darkly comic and "transgressive," although that isn't necessarily how he would describe himself. Like Whitman, he's described himself as a "poet of the body," and of such a condition of existential exile, that -- paradoxically -- he occasionally finds himself writing so extravagantly as to contain multitudes.
Linh Dinh is the headliner in Just Buffalo Literary Center's first BIG NIGHT program of 2010, which begins at 8 tonight (Saturday) at the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative, 468 Washington St. (near Mohawk St.) in Buffalo. Sharing the bill with him are media and performance artist Al Larsen, fiction writer Ken Sparling, and food by gourmet chef and BlazeVox Books publisher Geoffrey Gatza.

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Pelton's "Bartleby, The Sportscaster" touches 'em all

Take a one of the classic novellas of American literature: a work that speaks to the vagaries of compliance and non-compliance, passivity as a moral instrument of both resistance and surrender, and the eccentricities of hermeticism toward which a particular kind of genius is drawn.

Transpose it forward from a 19th century Wall Street law clerk's office to a no less idiosyncratic subculture: the broadcast booth of a turn of the 21st century minor league baseball franchise in small town New England.

Insert an oddly-poignant metafictional digression, in which the "author" draws striking parallels between Herman Melville's Bartleby, The Scrivener and the "narrative arc" (so to speak) of his own first marriage.
Reconfigure them in one of the last vestigial idioms of improvisational speech left in the contemporary American vernacular--the voice of the baseball play-by-play announcer--and you have Ted Pelton's Bartleby, The Sportscaster (The University of Colorado's Subito Press), his Melville-meets-Mel Allen foray into the postmodern allegorical turf first explored by Robert Coover in his 1968 novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.: J. Henry Waugh, Proprietor.

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A pianist for the ages

Wild The world has lost a great virtuoso pianist, Earl Wild. Wild, who died Saturday at 94, was remarkable for a number of reasons. He played in public right up until a couple years ago. He had a formidable technique, and he played in the epic, lavish style of many of the old-fashioned virtuosos, pianists associated with classical music's golden age.

But you could not call Wild a "link" to a bygone tradition. "I think the only link we should talk about is the missing link, and I don't know who that is," Wild wisecracked to The Buffalo News in 2001. "Journalists do that. Every time a pianist is my age, they always think that if he had any talent, he's a link."

Known for taking big chances on stage before big crowds, Wild laughingly denied any pre-performance jitters.  "My nervous system was like an insect," he told The News. "It's a marvelous nervous system. It can withstand anything." 

A journalist's dream, Wild reminisced freely during that same interview about playing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. "He liked to sit by the piano and watch my fingers," he said. "And so I would always play fast pieces." 

He also recalled playing at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. "It was a terrible night and I had to get out of the automobile in the park by the zoo and walk up the hill and thumb a ride in my tails and traffic was stopped," he said, giggling a little. "Thank God I started early. I was soaking wet up to my waist."

Wild was handsome in a rugged, white-haired, Robert Frost sort of way. Wherever he went, he created a stir. Late in his life he developed an affection for Buffalo. He came here in 2001 to play on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series, and it was an outrageous, over-the-top concert that had everyone buzzing. He was supposed to have given an encore performance a couple of years later, but illness prompted him to cancel.

Meanwhile, he came to visit several times, recording several albums on his Ivory Classics label here at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where the Tick concerts were held at the time. The CDs are available on his Web site and through these performances, his friendship with Buffalo will live on. Two years ago, Wild also readily consented to talk to me for the book I am working on about Buffalo native Leonard Pennario. They did not know each other well but Wild joined Pennario one year on the jury of the Van Cliburn Competition.

"How old is Leonard now?" I remember Wild asking me.

"He's 83," I said.

"Oh," Wild laughed. "He's a baby."

Earl Wild was a magnificent pianist and a wonderful man. His memoirs are scheduled to be published this year by Carnegie Mellon Press.

— Mary Kunz Goldman

There and then to here and now: Ehmke on Cage

Ron Ehmke performs on Sunday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center as part of a 23-day festival dedicated to John Cage. (Charlie Lewis / The Buffalo News)

I dropped by day three of the Burchfield Penney Art Center's 23-day John Cage festival on Sunday to check out performances by Ron Ehmke, Kyle Price and J.T. Rinker. I have to identify myself here as something of a Cage neophyte and say that I am attracted by the philosophy behind the performances and the festival in general, without knowing as much about the composer's work as I'd like to. That said, there are 20 days left in the festival, and I intend to get my fill of Cage before it's over.

Out of what I saw today, Ehmke's relatively conventional storytelling performance was what grabbed me most. 

Cage, who was of course one of the 20th century's great explorers the musical unknown, could hardly be described as conventional. So I was surprised to learn, from Ehmke, that the composer was also an accomplished, compelling and funny storyteller. That's something that obviously appeals to Ehmke, who, through his solo performances and work with such outfits as the Real Dream Cabaret, embodies all those attributes. (Hear an audio interview with Ehmke after the jump.)

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Novelist Junot Diaz on Obama's woes

Junot Diaz, author of the brilliant short story collection Drown (1996) and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has weighed in on the seeming loss of momentum of the Obama administration on the anniversary of the president's first year in office.

From his vantage point as professor of creative writing at MIT and contributing editor to the Boston Review, the Dominican-born New Jersey native had a ringside seat to the Brown versus Coakley special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate, with its catastrophic results for health care legislation and Obama's agenda.
In the current issue of The New Yorker, he's written a short piece on the success of the Tea Party Movement, and Obama's faltering conversion from inspirational candidate of "change" to pragmatic, progressive policy wonk, losing the narrative thread of his administration along the way. 
In One Year: Storyteller-in-Chief, Diaz writes, "It has always seemed to me that one of a President’s primary responsibilities is to be a storyteller. We all know the importance of narratives, of stories;...Stories are how we shape our universe....Stories rule us, they find us, they bring us together, they bind us, and, yes, they can pull us apart as well. If a President is to have any success, if his policies are going to gain any kind of traction among the electorate, he first has to tell us a story."

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Interim CEPA director: gallery will emerge 'stronger than ever'

CEPA Gallery visitors take in an exhibition at the downtown art space in 2005. (News file photo)

On Tuesday, the board of directors at CEPA Gallery appointed Sean Donaher, formerly its artistic director, as interim director. The organization has been in turmoil lately because of the resignation of former executive director Lawrence Brose over federal pornography charges.

Donaher, though he will only hold the position temporarily, is both an obvious and prudent choice for a gallery trying to maintain its reputation and poise during what must be an incredibly difficult period. In addition to being the brains behind the Big Orbit Gallery on Essex Street, Donaher has helped to conceive and curate some of CEPA's most compelling recent shows, including "Conversation Pieces," a three-person show featuring Brian Ulrich, Justine Kurland and Alice O'Malley and last the 2008 show "Trans-Evolution: Examining Bio Art," among many others.

As the gallery mounts a search for a new director, we can be reasonably confident that the organization will continue steadily under Donaher's control. The board would also do well to consider Donaher himself as a viable candidate as it seeks to fill Brose's shoes.

In an e-mail to gallery supporters, Donaher made a brief statement on the organization's recent troubles and its immediate plans to deal with them. It follows after the jump.

--Colin Dabkowski

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A singer grows up

Rinat There has been a switch at the Canadian Opera Company, and the star of the upcoming opera "Carmen" is now the Israeli mezzo soprano Rinat Shaham (pictured at left, in the middle). The singer previously scheduled, American mezzo Beth Clayton, had to withdraw for health reasons.

Buffalo knows Rinat Shaham. She gave an enchanting recital on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series in 2004. Though she was the "up-and-comer" on that year's series, she left a vivid impression. She accompanied herself in a campy rendition of Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," and she also did a few songs from "Carmen," including the "Habanera."

At the time, I remember writing in the paper my honest opinion, which was that her "Carmen" numbers were more sweet than smoldering. Perhaps it was the setting, which was Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Perhaps Shaham had growing up to do. In any case, she went on to do something right, because five years later, she has made the role her own. She has played Carmen at the Opera de Montreal, Minnesota Opera, the New York City Opera and other venues.

"The new Carmen at Glyndebourne, Rinat Shaham, is a sensation. From the moment she slinks downstage, douses her head in the water barrel, and tosses it back in a spray of defiance, she has taken possession of the stage and everyone on it." That comes from a British review.

Wow! Maybe Shaham took The Buffalo News' critique to heart! Here she is in 2006, singing the Seguidilla -- the song that prompts Don Jose to untie her hands. I would say she has a handle on the role!

One of the pleasures of concertgoing is to be able to catch an artist before that artist makes it big. Shaham seems to be on her way to the top.

Catch Rinat Shaham starring in "Carmen" in Toronto on Jan. 27 and 30 and Feb. 2, 5, 7 and 9. For information, call 416-363-8231.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


'He reads books that are beyond his grasp'

Hughes - The Shotgun Method (installation)
"The Shotgun Method," an installation by Tom Hughes. Part of two exhibitions opening on Jan. 23 at Buffalo Arts Studio. Photo courtesy Buffalo Arts Studio.

Just ran across this bio by Buffalo artist Tom Hughes, whose exhibition at Buffalo Arts Studio is opening on Saturday. It made me laugh:

Tom Hughes was born in Buffalo in 1972, raised in Niagara Falls, and educated at the University at Buffalo, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Married to the best wife of all time, Tom has two startlingly astute children. His family lovingly tolerates him. He reads books that are beyond his grasp. His Dad is a poet.

Sometime around 2001, he was consumed by a great big metaphor.

--Colin Dabkowski

Aspiring board members: the Arts Council wants you

The beleaguered Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County, which was thrown into a period of uncertainty after the departure of Executive Director Celeste Lawson earlier this month, is intent on getting back in the game immediately.

Board member Daryl Rasuli, who has effectively become the organization's spokesman in the wake of Lawson's firing, e-mailed today an infomercial-esque recruitment pitch for future Arts Council board members, which follows below:

Have you been just sitting around watching the TV and really wanting to do something meaningful in your life?
Now is your chance. The Arts Council of Buffalo and Erie County is embarking on its vision to regain its position as a protector and provider for the cultural arts community. It’s expanding its board. If you have a passion for protecting and developing the cultural fabric of the community and can commit some time and expertise to re- building this important art institution please call 856-7520 or email a brief bio/vita/resume to  

There you have it. Proof positive that the Arts Council is not yet quite beyond saving. The powers that be at the AC, such as they are, at least recognize that a wholesale reorganization of its long-weakened board is necessary before any private or public source will even entertain the idea of tossing money the Arts Council's way. Even with that realization, it's going to be a steep climb for the organization to return to relevancy and, one hopes, genuine effectiveness as an multi-functional advocacy group. 

But it's a good first step.

--Colin Dabkowski

Georges Anglade, founder of PEN Haiti, dies in earthquake

Georges Anglade, the Haitian-Canadian writer, scholar and political activist who founded and served as president of the international writers association PEN's Haiti Center, was among the victims of Tuesday's devastating earthquake, International PEN President John Ralston Saul reported on the organization's Web site Thursday.

Anglade and his wife, Mireille Neptune, were killed when the house in Port-au-Prince's Turgeau quarter they were staying in (several reports indicate that it was Neptune's ancestral home) collapsed, the couple's daughter Pascale Anglade reported. The couple left their home in Canada in December for a three-month visit in Haiti, and were in Port-au-Prince to attend an international writers' conference that was to begin on Thursday, according to their daughter.
Anglade was born in Port-au-Prince in 1944 but fled his homeland to escape the tyrannical regime of Francois "Poppa Doc" Duvalier and emigrated to France in 1965, where he studied geography and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Strasburg in 1969. That same year, he was hired as professor of Geography and Demographics at the University of Quebec at Montreal, a position he held until his retirement in 2002.

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