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Ishmael Klein at BIG NIGHT!

Ishmael ("Ish") Klein is not your typical poet, self-taught video artist, and puppet maker. Indeed, she may be the only graduate of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers Workshop to work extensively with hand puppets. 

The longtime Philadelphia-based Klein (she recently moved to Amherst, Mass.) is a one-woman art institute of quirky, do-it-yourself creative projects that are at once both broadly comic and oddly compelling. The closer you look at and read her work, the more you come to realize that she is a master of narrative mock innocence juxtaposed to far darker themes and deeper anxieties through the genius of comic timing.

The clever, child-voiced, and disarmingly witty Klein may be the perfect headliner to close out Just Buffalo's popular and highly successful BIG NIGHT! event series for its fall season at 8 tonight in the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. (near Mohawk Street). Admission is $ 5; free to members of Just Buffalo and its affiliate organizations and to students with valid identification.

Klein is the author of a widely reviewed first collection of poems called Union! published last year by Canarium books that had nothing to do with organized labor, but instead took its inspiration from the ethos of the Soviet/Russian "Soyuz" space program ("Soyuz" translates as "Union") in which the isolation of terrestrial voyage is a metaphor for spiritual longing, and the destination is a kind of cosmic fellow-feeling.

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Poloncarz: Collins' claims are 'nothing more than political hyperbole'

Today, Erie County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz issued a report analyzing the Erie County Legislature's proposed amendments to the 2011 county budget, which restore $4 million to the libraries and $1.2 million to local cultural agencies. The amendments, which were funded by cuts in other areas of the budget that the Legislature deemed nonessential, were charactarized by Erie County Executive Chris Collins as irresponsible. Furthermore, in a series of radio advertisements and robo-calls, Collins suggested that the Legislature's amendments (which actually decrease the county's 2011 budget by about $100,000), would result in a tax increase.

Legislature democrats and the local cultural community strenuously countered that notion, characterizing it as a scare tactic meant to frighten constituents into supporting cultural funding cuts. Now Poloncarz, a political rival to Collins, has released a report analyzing those additions. Poloncarz found that the "cuts and adoptions were enacted appropriately by the Legislature, within its full power, and no tax increase should occur as a result of the Legislature's actions."

"Any statements that the 2011 Amended Budget, as adopted by the Legislature, would result in a tax increase are not based in fact and are nothing more than political hyperbole," Poloncarz wrote earlier in the report.

Read the whole thing here:

--Colin Dabkowski

Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance speaks out

Today, the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance held a press conference in the Market Arcade Building to send a message to residents and legislators about the centrality of cultural funding to the quality of life of Erie County. The event was held as a response to a recent spate of radio advertisements in which Erie County Executive Chris Collins attempted to convince listeners that the Legislature's restoration of cultural funding would result in a tax increase. This, according to Legislature democrats, cultural supporters (and, well, free-thinking people everywhere), is nothing more than an unfounded scare tactic.

The county executive, in his recent ads and now robo-calls, also tried to cast cultural support as a "special interest." It is in one sense a special interest, in that many of the people advocating for financial support are doing so from their positions as directors and employees of cultural organizations. But it is also a vast and widely supported public interest, in that the people who support culture in Erie County number in the millions. That support, because it is relatively diffuse compared to activities like Sabres and Bills games, and spread across so many cultural organizations (which number so many precisely because there are so many people to patronize them), has evaded the attention of our elected officials. That is, hopefully, until now.

At the press conference, Kramer and Torrell spoke for the crowd in voicing their opposition to the idea that the cultural community in Western New York represents some tiny, disconnected elite whose concerns have nothing to do with that of a large segment of the community. This is flatly untrue, as the numbers show.

Below is a video featuring comments from Randall Kramer and Laurie Dean Torrell which captures the feeling out there as the Legislature's crucial veto override vote approaches on Tuesday. (Apologies for the shakiness of the video, which was crudely shot on my phone.)

--Colin Dabkowski

Live Chat on all things music with Jeff Miers

Feldman to read tonight in Earth's Daughters Gray Hair Series

Before we came with our radiance
and swords, our simulacra of ourselves,
our injurious destinies
and portable exiles, 

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Perry Nicholas and Geoffrey Gatza read at Daemen

Perry nicholas loc Perry Nicholas  Enser
Poets Perry Nicholas, left, and Geoffrey Gatza. (Photos by Dennis C. Enser and Sharon Cantillon / The Buffalo News.)

A new poetry series run by local poet and Daemen College English professor Peter Seidlecki will host its third edition tonight with a reading by poets Perry Nicholas and Geoffrey Gatza. The reading will take place inside the college's new Research & Information Commons building (known as the RIC), 4380 Main St. in Amherst, at 7:30 tonight.

Nicholas is one of Western New York's most popular poets, and his work has been frequently featured on The News' Poetry Page. Among many other honors and publications, Nicholas received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2008 for his work as a professor of English at Erie Community College.

Gatza (interviewed here in Jane Kwiatkowski's PeopleTalk feature), is another big player on Western New York's poetry scene, serving as the publisher of BlazeVOX books and as an accomplished poet in his own right. He'll read from his recently published book "Secrets of My Prison House," as well as new poems. Here's one of Gatza's poems, the first from his recent collection:

The Sandra Bullock Story that Stunned us All

At the height of all this
The fears turned to joy

Maybe in another lifetime
We can have beads on our birthday

I may be old but I am not dead
I am staying alive
In the golden crayon of choice

As simple as designing new waste
I hear babies cry

You can safely say
The crowd goes wild

Get your tickets today

--Colin Dabkowski

Alice O'Malley in the spotlight

A photograph of Maggie Gyllenhaal by Alice O'Mally, part of a portfolio in the New York Times Style Magazine. (Photo from

Alice O'Malley, the Buffalo-born photographer whose portraits of downtown personalities in New York City have been gaining her increasing attention and acclaim in the art world, has an extensive spread in the current issue of the New York Times Style Magazine. O'Malley's work has been exhibited recently in CEPA Gallery, and, earlier, in the stunning show "Community of Elsewheres" in the Nina Freudenheim Gallery. Below is a glimpse of that series, with images courtesy of the Nina Freudenheim Gallery:

In her work, O'Malley has attempted to capture the fading artistic spirit of downtown New York City, once an enclave for peniless artists and personalities, now a gentrified area more amenable to the super-rich. (That is, aside from the odd rent-controlled apartment.) Her spread of black-and-white photographs in the magazine is trademark O'Malley: raw, honest, simplistic and yet shot through with a feeling of otherworldly fantasy. (The fashion aspect of the portfolio, described in a letter from the magazine's editor as series of "intriguing and talented beauties in wistful resort frocks," we'll leave up to others to critique.) It's well worth checking out.

--Colin Dabkowski

New Music Releases this week

Natasha Bedingfield, Strip Me (Epic)
Bruno Mars, Doo-Wops & Hooligans - Vinyl Edition (WEA)
Ray Charles, The Genius Sings the Blues (eOne)

Duffy, Endlessly (Mercury)
Bob Dylan, The Original Mono Recordings - Vinyl Editions (Columbia)
Einsturzende Neubaten, Strategies Against  (EMD)

Feist, Look At What the Light Did Now (Interscope)

/>Flyleaf, Remember To Live (A&M)
Hedley, The Show Must Go On (Mercury)
Hinder, All American Nightmare (Universal Republic)
Eric Johnson, Up Close (EMD)
Ministry, Ministry and the Co-Conspirators: Undercover (Cleopatra)

The New Mastersounds, Masterology CD and Vinyl LP (Sundazed)
/>The Plain Wite T's, Masters Of the Younger (Hollywood)

Ravi Shankar & George Harrison, Collaborations - 3 CD/1 DVD Limited Edition (WEA)

Sufjan Stevens, All Delighted People (Asthmatic Kitty)

/>T.I., No Mercy (WEA)
Robin Trower, The Playful Heart (V-12)
The Yardbirds, Little Games - CD and Vinyl LP  (Sundazed)

--Jeff Miers

QEW Regional Poetry Slam tonight at 2nd Cup Cafe

What is a "sacrificial poet"?

I've been writing about the Buffalo area literary scene for over a quarter century, but have never heard the term. There's been a lot of talk about budget cuts in the arts lately, to say nothing of the withering of liberal arts programs in higher education. But I never thought it would come to this.

Fortunately, my talented friend N'Tare Gault assuaged my worst fears. The hard-working founder of the Njozi Poets and dynamic spoken word artist in his own right patiently explained to me the meaning of the term in his press release for tonight's QEW Regional Poetry Slam running from 5 to 9 at the 2nd Cup Cafe, 36 Broadway (near Ellicott Street) in Buffalo.

"A 'sacrificial poet' in the competitive culture of poetry slams is a poet who helps calibrate the judges," Gault explained. "They're not actually in the competition but they are timed and get scored as if they were. This is done so that the first person in the competition is not dealing with 'cold' judges resulting in a lower score than they might otherwise deserve.  To be invited to be a "sacrificial poet" at a poetry slam is actually an honor and connotes a position of esteem in the community."

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Culturals to the county exec: 'You're a mean one, Mr. Collins'


This week, shortly after the Erie County Legislature voted to restore funding to local cultural institutions, libraries and urban youth programs, County Executive Chris Collins immediately went on the defensive, casting the legislators' move as irresponsible and suggesting that they believe "money grows on trees." That response triggered a flurry of Facebook comments from those in the local cultural community, wherein the county executive was compared to well-known villains like Ebenezer Scrooge, Snow Miser and, naturally, the Grinch.

So just for fun -- as a teaser to my Sunday column on the next steps in the budget debate -- here's a rumination on Collins' cultural philosophy, with sincere apologies to the institution of poetry and to the late, great and clearly inimitable Dr. Seuss:

Every Who down in Buffalo liked culture a lot.

But Chris Collins, who lived just north of Buffalo, did not.

The man dismissed culture, the whole institution.
He considered supporting it wealth redistribution.

It could be that his life's not artistically rich.
It could be, perhaps, that his vision's off-pitch.
But I think the most likely reason of all
May be that his knowledge is pitifully small.

Our council of lawmakers sees culture more clearly,
For they have not treated it quite as severely.
On Tuesday, they voted to restore its money,
And changed the grim forecast to partially sunny.

But there Collins sits, on his Rath Building perch,
Prepared to connive his way out of this lurch
By wheeling and dealing and threatening vetos,
Swatting arts fans away like so many mosquitoes.

"They're mounting their plays!" he said with a glower,
"They're painting and sculpting! They've got way too much power!"
He slithered and slinked, his head nearly spinning.
"I must find a way to keep culture from winning!"

"But how?"

So he thought up a lie and he thought it up quick,
The old "Democrats raising your taxes" trick.
Now Kevin Hardwick and his Republican fellows
Should view Collins' statement as a last desperate bellow.

Change scene, to the theaters of our little region
Where the Christmas productions now running are legion,
The Whos hard at work with their props and their actors
And crowds sending gales of applause to the rafters.

And, oh! The money those crowds are spending!
On restaurants, on parking and all manner of vending.
Sure, our local economy's stuck in a sputter
But without the arts it's aimed straight for the gutter.

Now the Grinch -- err, Chris Collins -- continues his stressing
That the arts are no better than window dressing.
"The cupboards are bare!" he declares, not admitting
The gigantic surplus on which he is sitting.

And what of our unbalanced subsidy culture?
Big bucks to Bass Pro, not those artistic vultures?
To Collins these arguments fall by the wayside
In a "plan" for the future where culture is freeze-dried.

It's time the government got on the arts train:
Our cultural leaders are the ones in the fast lane.

Few Whos hold out for a big change of mind
From a man who would rather leave artists behind.
But this Grinch, as a dude, is really quite smart
In some matters of shrewdness and business -- not art.

It's not that his brain is two sizes too small.
It's his stubborn refusal to listen at all.

--Colin Dabkowski

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