"Someone is writing a poem," wrote Adrienne Rich in her 1993 essay by that same title. "Words are being set down in a force field. It’s as if the words themselves have magnetic charges; they veer together or in polarity, they swerve against each other. Part of the force field, the charge, is the working history of the words themselves, how someone has known them, used them, doubted and relied on them in a life."
"Part of the movement among the words belongs to sound—the guttural, the liquid, the choppy, the drawn-out, the breathy, the visceral, the downlight. The theater of any poem is a collection of decisions about space and time—how are these words to lie on the page, with what pauses, what headlong motion, what phrasing, how can they meet the breath of the someone who comes along to read them? And in part the field is charged by the way images swim into the brain through written language: swan, kettle, icicle, ashes, scab, tamarack, tractor, veil, slime, teeth, freckle..."
Tonight Just Buffalo Literary Center's BIG NIGHT Series presents a tribute to Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), the award-winning poet and major transformative figure in 20th century American Letters, literary activism, and contemporary feminist and lesbian writing, who died on March 27. Among the featured celebrants of Rich's life and work are two of Just Buffalo's own Literary Legacy Award winners, Alexis DeVeaux and Jimmie Gilliam. The event begins at 8 p.m. at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. (at Mohawk St.). Admission is $5, $4 for students, Just Buffalo members, and members of its affiliate organizations.
"In a political culture of managed spectacles and passive spectators, poetry appears as a rift, a peculiar lapse, in the prevailing mode," writes Rich in "Someone is Writing a Poem." Indeed everything about the trajectory of her six decade long career, from the high modernist imitations of Yeats and Auden in her 1951 Yale Younger Poets Award winning debut collection "A Change of World" through the personally and politically charged dynamics of her National Book Award-winning "Diving into the Wreck" (W.W. Norton, 1973) and "The Dream of a Common Language" (Norton, 1978), to the valedictory tone of her recent collections "Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004–2006" and "Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010," suggests a movement away from the formalisms of literary patriarchy towards an engagement with the particulars of language and experience that is specifically feminist in its poetics.
Precisely because of this sense of personal transformation and political engagement in Rich's work, there are no two better representatives of this sense of writing as a form of social activism in our own community than Alexis Deveaux and Jimmie Gilliam.
DeVeaux is a University at Buffalo-based poet, playwright, novelist, short fiction writer, editor, lecturer, performer, educator, activist, prize-winning essayist and author of children's stories whose best known scholarly work "Warrior Poet"--her 2004 W.W. Norton biography of Rich's friend and colleague Audre Lorde--was the recipient of several awards, including the Gustavus Meyers Outstanding Book Award (2004), the Lambda Literary Award for Biography (2004), the Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award for Non-Fiction in 2005.
Gilliam, a former co-editor of Earth's Daughters magazine and Professor Emerita at Erie Community College, where she taught English Literature on the College's City Campus from 1971 to 1995, is co-author of the poetry volume "The Rime & Roar of Revolution" (as Jimmie Canfield, with Bob Dickens, 1975) and author of the prose poem/novel "Ain't No Bears Out Tonight (as Jimmie Gilliam Canfield, 1984) and Pieces of Bread (as Jimmie Canfield Gilliam, 1987). She is the founder and mentor of the “Women of the Crooked Circle,” one of the Buffalo area's most successful writers groups, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in January.
Joining Deveaux and Gilliam on tonight's BIG NIGHT program is poet, musician and songwriter Damian Weber, whose most recent album is his self-released "Soul Night". As has become the custom at all BIG NIGHT events, gourmet chef and BlazeVOX Books publisher Geoffrey Gatza will supply his always popular spread of event-themed food creations to the celebration.