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Hoa Hguyen brings "disarming" poems to BIG NIGHT

Hoa Nguyen -- the featured guest at tonight's Just Buffalo Literary Center's "Big Night" event -- writes short, smart, highly specific poems that read like pointillist compositions of idiomatic speech. One reviewer has described them as "disarming little poems: on the one hand, at home with the wacky and large leaps; on the other hand, in search of mystery, gravity, and beauty all at once."  Another critic, perhaps more given to theory, described her most recent collection Hecate Lochia (Hot Whiskey Press, 2009) as "an extended metaphor about the perils of motherhood in the age of late capitalism and neoliberal philosophy."

The best way to get a sense of how language moves, bends, and bifurcates in her work, though, is to read or listen to it.  Take, for example, this telepathic flash from her poem "Line": 

        myself in the movie of my life


        myself alternatively yellow or brown

        born in a land where people are

        the shape of risk      my daily drink

Hoa Nguyen (pronounced "Hwa Win") was born in Vĩnh Long (near Saigon), Vietnam in 1967.  Her father was an American diplomat who worked for State Department, while her mother, raised by her Buddhist grandparents in the rural Mekong Delta, left home at age 15 to "perform as a stunt motorcyclist in an all-woman, traveling circus troupe."

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David Alpaugh on "The New Math of Poetry"

The notion that writing and performing "poetry" is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can't pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a "chapbook" for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of "publication."--David Alpaugh in "The New Math of Poetry"

Poet-critic David Alpaugh, whose 2003 essay “The Professionalization of Poetry” first roiled the waters of controversy when it was published in two parts in Poets & Writers Magazine, and, subsequently, a contentious debate when he presented it at the 2004 Associated Writing Programs Convention in Chicago, is back with The New Math of Poetry, a provocative new critique in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
In it he argues that the enormous proliferation of published poetry over the past two decades in online magazines and journals, independent presses and print-on-demand books, as well as in poetry related blogs only serves to reinforce the control of literary culture by an oligarchy of elite, professional degree-conferring creative writing programs, their high profile professors, and career-conscious graduates.

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White Pine, BOA titles shortlisted for Best Translation Awards

White Pine Press has a long and distinguished history of publishing poetry in translation. For nearly four decades, the Buffalo-based independent press founded and edited by poet Dennis Maloney has published works by such luminaries as Pablo Neruda, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and Gabriela Mistral while helping introduce American readers to such important voices in world literature as Tomaz Transtromer of Sweden, Antonio Machado of Spain, Alfonsina Storni of Argentina, and Rolf Jacobsen of Norway.

While White Pine has also published a substantial number of important American poets and fiction writers, the art of contemporary literature in translation remains a key element of its mission.

Just 90 miles east in Rochester, perennial award-winning BOA Editions Ltd. has followed the equally ambitious agenda of its founder -- the legendary poet-publisher Al Poulin, Jr. (1938-1996) -- by including world poetry in translation in its diverse catalog of voices representing excellence in a wide range of poetic traditions.  BOA is also the publisher of Buffalo area natives Kazim Ali, the late Lucille Clifton, and the late UB poet-professor John Logan.

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Kuitca on Kuitca

In today's Spotlight cover story, I wrote about the current Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition, "Everything: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008," a comprehensive retrospective of work by Argentinian painter Guillermo Kuitca.

In addition to being visually arresting, Kutica's work has some pretty diverse and complex influences and philosophical implications. I tried to pack as many of those, as straightforwardly as possible, into today's story, but, of course, such a wide-ranging exhibition as "Everything" loses much in translation to newsprint. For anyone interested in delving into the exhibition's background, read after the jump for the extended transcripts of my interviews with Kuitca himself, as well as Albright-Knox Chief Curator Douglas Dreishpoon and Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos.

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Google Books Settlement "fairness hearing" under way

As we await reports from the twice-delayed "fairness hearing" for the revised Google Book Search Settlement today before U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan, over 500 amicus curiae briefs and statements to the court have been filed by interested parties supporting or opposing the class action agreement between Google, the Author's Guild, and the Association of American Publishers.
The proposed settlemen offers individual authors -- whose work had previously been digitized without permission by Google Books under the rationale of "fair use" -- portions of a $125 million class action settlement of copyright infringement claims in exchange for a sweeping and controversial agreement permitting Google to digitize all English language books, including those currently out-of-print or whose copyright holders can not be located. Under the terms of the agreement, Google would create an independently governed digital book rights registry to monitor downloads and produce new revenue streams for authors, publishers, and itself. 
Because of the class action nature of the agreement, Google, a publicly traded private corporation, would be granted what would amount to near-exclusive rights to digitize any English language book unless its author and/or publisher specifically opted out the agreement. Current and future competitors in the field of digital publishing -- i.e., Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, or any of the nonprofit organizations that have been established to compile digital libraries -- would continue to be required to negotiate the rights to digitize and distribute books on a book-by-book or author-by-author basis. 

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Fashion at the Olympics

Vancouver Olympics Figure S
Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin at the European Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 21. AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev.

There was some talk around the office this afternoon about the writing of Washington Post fashion and culture critic Robin Givhan. I've been a fan of Givhan since I read her breathtaking, uncommonly eloquent review of a Kara Walker show at the Whitney Museum in 2007. 

Thus reminded of Givhan's work, I searched on the Wasington Post's Web site and ran across this gem from Jan. 31, a rumination on the fashions we've been seeing at the winter Olympics in Vancouver. In it, she deconstructs the costumes of Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who have come under fire from members of the very group of aboriginal Australians whose culture they were trying to appropriate. Givhan writes:

Serious folks who represent the aboriginal culture have announced to the media that they are offended. As well they should be, if for no other reason than the costumes are hideous. But the bigger issue is whether the idea itself is offensive. Should Russian skaters be using Australian aboriginal culture at all? Is any sort of appropriation inherently mocking?

Food for thought from a fascinating writer.

--Colin Dabkowski

A Canadian movement gets its due

Francoise Sullivan, a member of the Automatiste revolution, an important artistic movement in Canada. Photo by Kathy Beaty / The Toronto Star.

Today's Toronto Star features a very nicely written story by Murray Whyte about Canada's so-called "Automatiste Revolution," and about two shows in Ontario that take what Whyte characterizes as a long-overdue look at a movement that in many ways helped to define modern Qebeqois and Canadian society.

One of those shows, "The Automatiste Revolution," now at the Varley Art Center in Unionville, will travel to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where it opens on March 19. The other, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, features the work of Francoise Sullivan, a choreographer and abstract painter who is one of the last living members of the original group of Automatistes.

Look for more on the show as its Buffalo opening approaches, but for now, this preview is a good primer.

--Colin Dabkowski

A theatrical love affair with Niagara-on-the-Lake


Keith Elkins and Jennifer Fitzery in the Playhouse of American Classics production of "The Heiress."

For my story on Friday about a production of "The Heiress" at the Playhouse of American Classics, I interviewed a fascinating woman by the name of Judy Goetz Sanger. Late last year, she had e-mailed Terence and Lorena McDonald, founders of the PAC, to let them know that the author of "The Heiress" was, in fact, born and raised in Buffalo and, what's more, that he was Sanger's father.

Because of space limitations, I wasn't able to fit in all of Sanger's fascinating stories about her father's upbringing in Buffalo, or her somewhat incredible journey to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Fortunately, the Shaw Festival, which drew Sanger to Southern Ontario in the first place, published Sanger's account of her love affair with the theater-crazed village. It follows after the jump, or you can download the PDF version.

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UB announces Artpark exhibition

BNL features Barenaked Ladi
News file photo / Sharon Cantillon

Ani DiFranco put it best. During a concert last summer on Artpark's main stage, the singer said, "It's kind of sad -- there's not much art at Artpark these days."

She wasn't exactly right -- there are still plenty of artworks on the grounds of the storied institution, a gallery run by the Buffalo Society of Artists, and more than a few family-oriented art workshops to boot -- but DiFranco's comment struck at a certain truth. For a certain generation of Buffalo artists and art lovers, Lewiston's summer hot spot for concerts and arts events has become a shadow of what it once was, at least where visual art, sculpture and art residencies are concerned.

The glory days of Artpark, in the '70s and '80s, will be the focus of a recently announced exhibition that will open in September in the University at Buffalo Art Gallery.

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Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

Lucille Clifton, the Buffalo area native and author of more than 20 books who won the National Book Award in 2001 for her collection Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, and in 2007 became the first African-American woman to be awarded one of the literary world’s highest honors, the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Foundation, passed away this morning in Columbia, Md., after a brief illness. She was 73.

Ms. Clifton, who was almost certainly the most important poet born and raised in the Buffalo area in the 20th century, was a major voice in American poetry, and her work over a four decade long career touched the lives of countless readers.

Watch this space in the days to come for more about Clifton's life and work, and her enduring legacy in this community.
--R.D. Pohl
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