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Lisa Robertson events canceled

Much as we regret having to invoke the title of what is perhaps Canadian poet Lisa Robertson's best known work in doing so, last night we received word that her visit to Buffalo to deliver an afternoon lecture and  evening reading today sponsored by the UB Poetics Program has been canceled due to "The Weather."

Ms. Robertson's flight plans to Buffalo were disrupted by the snowstorm that swept across the East Coast at mid-week, bringing snowfall totals at Baltimore-Washington's Thurgood Marshall International Airport, through which her flight was routed, to a seasonal record 79.9 inches.

You can click here to view an updated calendar of events sponsored by the Poetics Program and the UB English Department for the balance of the Spring 2010 semester.

--R.D. Pohl

Marking the extraordinary life of Alison Des Forges

Human rights advocate and Flight 3407 victim Alison Des Forges. Photo by Harry Scull Jr./ The Buffalo News. 

I attended a powerful performance of "Miracle in Rwanda" that was given Thursday in tribute to the life and work of Flight 3407 victim, former University at Buffalo professor and international human rights advocate Alison Des Forges, about which I'll write more for a review that will appear in Saturday's paper. In the meantime, I thought I would post a couple pieces of audio from the post-show program.

In the first, Aloys Habimana, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a friend of Des Forges' and Human Rights Watch employee, delivers a short address to mark today's one-year anniversary of the crash that ended Des Forges' life and those of 49 others.

The second piece comes from Roger Des Forges, a UB professor and Des Forges' widower:

The program continues today and Saturday with a series of screenings and lectures.

--Colin Dabkowski

If at first you don't succeed: a conference on failure in the arts

For Gary Nickard, a University at Buffalo professor, former director of CEPA Gallery and member of the provocative art/performance troupe Monsters of Nature and Design (which I have written about in this space and in my ArtsBeat column), is what you might call a proponent of failure.

His work as a theorist and artist has yielded a number of different projects, the most recent and perhaps most visible of which was a performance with UB grad and London-based artist Craig Smith on the lawn of the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Before that was a performance during which he and some collaborators destroyed a pair of pianos on the back steps of theAlbright-Knox Art Gallery (and before that at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, in a well-attended performance at which audience members took home fragments of the destroyed pianos as souvenirs).

On Friday, Nickard and a group of like-minded artists and professors will present a mini-conference on the positive side of failure. The whole affair gets under way with a panel discussion featuring Nickard and associates Colin Beatty, Craig Smith, Benjamin Van Dyke and Gayle Young. That will be followed, at 1:30 p.m., by a keynote lecture from Karen Lewis, a professor of architecture at Ohio State University. It all goes down in UB's Center for the Arts screening room, room 112.

Rather than try to parse Nickard's approach to the concept of failure, I will reprint the fascinating rationale for the conference from Nickard's recent announcement, after the jump.

--Colin Dabkowski

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Novelist Lily Hoang and poet Lisa Robertson visiting Buffalo

Two women at the forefront of innovative writing in North America visit Buffalo over the next two days for a series of readings and lectures that are free and open to the public. Although Lily Hoang and Lisa Robertson belong to different generations and ostensibly work in different genres, both are noted for their ability to adapt and reconfigure traditional narrative and lyric forms into work that challenges and expands our understanding of language, gender, and difference.

At 7 p.m.this evening, award-winning Vietnamese-American novelist Lily Hoang -- widely considered one of the most important American fiction writers under age 30 -- will read from her work in the library in Huber Hall at Medaille College, 18 Agassiz Circle as sponsored by Medaille's the Write Thing Series.

Ms. Hoang is the author of Parabola -- the winner of Chiasmus Press' "Un-Doing the Novel" contest in 2006, in which she foregrounds and "disorients" the trajectory of a traditional coming-of-age in a Vietnamese-American family story in as a plottable mathematical function -- and Changing, her [Italo] Calvino-esque reworking of the hexagrams of the I Ching to represent tableaus of a Vietnamese family gone mad in the United States, and out of whose seemingly random arrangement, the reader freely constructs an accretion of family history and practical wisdom. 

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Remembering Gabrielle Bouliane

On last Friday afternoon, we were saddened to learn of the passing of Buffalo area native Gabrielle Bouliane in a hospice in Austin, Texas, following a five-month battle with a rare and particularly aggressive form of cancer. She was just 43 years old.
Ms. Bouliane was perhaps best known to the Buffalo-area literary community as a writer, performer, videographer, and the founder, host, and driving force behind the Nickel City Poetry Slam, a joint venture  with Just Buffalo Literary Center and Albright-Knox Art Gallery that from 2006 to 2008 sponsored a monthly Poetry Slam competition culminating each spring in a tournament that selected a four-person team representing Buffalo in the National Poetry Slam finals. 
What was perhaps less fully appreciated was the key role she played as the principal videographer, documentarian and archivist of the entire poetry slam movement in the United States from the mid-1990s until 2008 through her work with Poetry Slam, the not-for-profit organization that sponsored and marketed the national competition, and created what was essentially a North American circuit for spoken-word artists and performance poets. 
Indeed, it was Bouliane's insistence that the best way to advance the poetry-slam movement and spoken-word performance as an art form was to continue to make the video content she shot and produced available for free streaming online that led her to break with Poetry Slam (which wanted to begin charging for downloads) in 2008.  She moved to Austin, took a job as production manager of the Austin Film Festival, and began her own startup venture, LIVEPOETS.COM, that would continue to produce poetry performance videos available for free streaming online, while simultaneously developing and producing a series of poetry features for distribution to public television stations and the educational media. Her illness, diagnosed in September, put an end to those plans.

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Survey says: taking stock of declining audiences


In this week's issue of The New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross takes stock of the decline in the public appetite for classical music in America. In his column (unavailable online for non-subscribers), Ross cites a recent study released by the National Endowment for the Arts, a problematic document which I wrote about last month. The study shows, rather unsurprisingly, that audiences for classical music are in the midst of a protracted dive that, for a host of reasons, classical music institutions have not been able to stall or reverse.

Ross, not unlike like the orchestras, string quartets and opera companies he covers, seems to be looking high and low for any approach that might usher a new and younger generation of musical thrill-seekers into the art form's fold. He urged organizations to find "a deeper transformation," asking what ought to be the key question among arts groups of any kind as they search for a way to sustain themselves in the future: "There's a growing feeling in the classical business that the customary way of presenting music must evolve if new devotees are to join the ranks. But how? Can you refresh the ritual while remaining true to the music?"

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Oscars: the more the merrier?

"Abundanza" is what they used to call it in the old pizza commercials.

As it is with pizza toppings, so let it be with Oscar nominees for Best Picture. I like it. But then I like my pizza with double cheese, double shrimp, sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms too.

But then I've always liked the idea of 10 nominees for Best Picture when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first announced they were going back to the old system rather than sticking with the usual constricted and constipated 5.

When, for instance, they named 10 in 1939, sometimes called "The Greatest Year in the History of Movies" (whose winner was a little art film yoiu may remember called "Gone With The Wind"), the 10 nominees included "Dark Victory,", "Love Affair," "Goodbye Mr. Chips," "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," "Ninotchka," "Stagecoach," "Of Mice and Men", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Wuthering Heights."

Room enough, then, for high style comedies, "women's pictures" (as they were quaintly called back then) and full-throttle tearjerkers  along with more conventional "quality" stuff we now think of as "Oscar-bait."

So, in the final 10 nominees we've now got, are you ready, "The Blind Side," and "District 9" and The Coen Brothers "A Serious Man" along with the movies everyone and their uncle Festus knew were going to get in "(Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," Up in the Air," etc.).

Personally, I might have wished, instead of "The Blind Side" to see another of the year's great animated films ("Coraline" maybe) to join "Up" in the final 10 nominees for Best Picture but everyone always knew that when the Academy set up a whole separate Oscar for animated feature, that was going to cut down the number of Best Picture nominations for animated films no matter how worthy.

The idea here was to go a little more populist and good for them, I say. If they want to give Sandra Bullock a Best Actress nomination for "The Blind Side" instead of something snootier, you won't catch me arguing.

I do wish, in the final 10, they'd found some room for "Brothers," but then everyone always knew that in a contest between the war vet films "Brothers" and "The Messenger," the nominations would go to "The Messenger."

Nor, sadly, was there any way of keeping "Inglourious Basterds" out of the nominations it doesn't begin to deserve, simply because of past histories and the proven Oscar mojo of Harvey Weinsten, even now.

I'd have liked to see, yes I'm serious, Kenny Ortega's "This is It" in the final 10, for the tender portrait of a screwed-up performing genius that it was, but I knew that one had a snowball's chance in hell.

Some preliminary reactions, then, from me.

How about you?

--Jeff Simon

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