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Charles Bernstein returns for "UB Poetics at Two Decades"

Three pieces in Charles Bernstein's "Attack of the Difficult Poems" (University of Chicago Press, 2011) bear immediate relevance to this (Friday) evening's "UB Poetics at Two Decades" Roundtable Discussion and Poetry Reading at 7:30 p.m. at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. (at Mohawk St.) in Buffalo.  The event is free and open to the public.

In "Poetry Scene Investigation," a 2002 conversation with critic Marjorie Perloff, Bernstein responds to a question about the formation and first decade of the program by pointing out that it was a particular response to the situation poetry found itself in during the late 1980's and early 1990's: ignored and dismissed (except as a curiosity) by the mainstream print media, self-marginalized by what Bernstein had already famously derided as "the Official Verse Culture," and segregated into separate poetry reading and poetry writing curriculums and cultures at most colleges and universities.

"Poetry is too important to be be left to its own devices," he observes in the interview, and pointedly adds, "Maybe close reading  [i.e., reading that demands the full attention of the reader, but does not presume the hegemonic authority of the text] would get a better rap if we called it PSI: Poetry Scene Investigation.  Of course, that would mean treating the poem as crime, but maybe it is: a crime against mass culture."

In his essay "A Blow Is Like an Instrument: The Poetic Imaginary and Curricular Practices," Bernstein points out that the roots of the Poetics Program can be traced back to UB English Department of the 1960's , where then chairman Al Cook hired Leslie Fiedler, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and a list of other literary artists too long and illustrious to be included here, not primarily to teach creative writing courses, but rather to teach literature classes, and, in particular, literary classes in a Ph.D. program.  

After Bernstein and Susan Howe--who had been scheduled to participate this evening's 20th anniversary event, but had to withdraw due to illness--joined Robert Creeley on the UB English Department faculty in 1989, they sought to formalize the creation of a  Ph.D. program in Poetics that did not force students to chose between becoming either poets or scholars (however much of a professional double bind that may imply), but rather, suggested as Bernstein writes, "that the one activity may enhance the other, for those so inclined."

In "The Practice of Poetics," an essay that does not refer specifically to the UB Poetics Program, but can be read as a justification for foregrounding the study of poetics in any liberal arts curriculum, Bernstein observes that "Poetics is an ethical engagement with the shifting conditions of everyday life."

Contrasting ethics ("a dialogic practice of response in a civil society") with morality ("a fixed code of conduct and belief"), he writes: "Ethics is ironic, morality sincere.  Ethics secular, morality religious.  Poetics is the ethical refusal of morality in the name of aesthetics."

The essay opens with two paragraphs that speak directly not only to Bernstein's influence on the UB Poetics Program, but also on the larger community of Buffalo area writers and artists his ideas have had a significant role in shaping over the past two decades:

While poetics brings to mind a long history of laws of composition, poetics can also stress poiesis--the actual making or doing: poetry as process.  Every doing carries the potential of something new, emergent, something not already predicated by poetics.  Practice overtakes theory, practice changes theory.  And not just writing practice but also performance.

To practice poetics is to acknowledge the inevitability of metaphor, the linguisticality of perception, the boundlessness of thought, the passion of ideas, the beauty of error, the chains of logic, the possibilities of intuition, and the uncanny delight of chance.  In contrast to the syllogistic rationality of expository writing, poetics is situational, shifts with the winds, courts contradiction, feeds on inconsistency...

While tonight's round-table discussion was originally intended to provide a colloquy between Bernstein and Susan Howe on their perceptions and observations about the UB Poetics Program at age 20, in Howe's absence, UB Gray Chair Professor in Poetry Steve McCaffery and former director Professor Myung Mi Kim will join Bernstein for the discussion and subsequent reading.

--R.D. Pohl

Original "Rent" stars perform at Buffalo State

Anthony Watching Adam Jan 2011
Adam Pascal, left, and Anthony Rapp, original stars of the hit musical "Rent," perform on April 20 in Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall.

When the Broadway production of "Rent" closed in 2008 after a 12-year run, it did not die. Last year, the show went back up in an off-Broadway theater and it’s got an extremely healthy touring life. In January, MusicalFare Theatre will become the latest small professional theater to mount its own version of the production.

And at least two of its original stars, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, are still trading heavily on the success of "Rent" in a touring performance that combines stories about the show with renditions of a range of Broadway songs. The pair performs at 8 tonight (April 20) in Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall (1300 Elmwood Ave.).

"Rent" devotees will recall Rapp’s performance of the bescarfed, preppy filmmaker and narrator Mark in the original production and Pascal’s gruff-voiced portrayal of Roger, the testy aspiring guitarist, ex-heroin addict and proto-hipster with a heart of gold. Together, they’ll perform acoustic and electric versions of songs from "Rent," "Spring Awakening" and "Aida," along with "fresh interpretations of Sondheim songs."

Tickets are $30 to $35. For more information, call 878-3005 or visit

-- Colin Dabkowski

GustoTV: Original Rent stars at Buff State tonight

Stars of the original Rent musical Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp perform live at Rockwell Hall on the Buffalo State College campus tonight. News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski sets the stage:

Squeaky Wheel to screen films, animations by Nancy Andrews

Still On a Phantom Limb
A still from Nancy Andrews’ film "On a Phantom Limb," which screens in Squeaky Wheel.

In her films and animations, Nancy Andrews sets out to draw the undrawable. Death, for instance.

Her critically praised 2009 film "On a Phantom Limb," which combines animation, live action, puppetry and other techniques, was inspired by the artist’s near-death experience several years earlier. It screens, along with Andrews’ 2010 film "Behind the Eyes Are the Ears," at 8 tonight (April 20) in Squeaky Wheel (712 Main St.).

Andrews’ work, the subject of two solo exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and part of many international collections, combines unexpected forms and media to produce films that pose probing questions about human aspirations. For instance, according to her bio: "What is our place in the universe? What do we really know? How do we try to grasp the past, or the future?"

For those seeking answers to those and more earthbound questions, Squeaky Wheel will offer a post-screening Skype Q&A session with the artist following the screening. The evening gets started at 7 p.m. and costs $7, $5 for members. More info is at or 884-7172.

-- Colin Dabkowski

Duerr returns to conduct the BPO

Robert Duerr is back in town, and he is conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus tonight (April 20) in "Songs of Eternity: A Choral Spectacular." Born in North Tonawanda, Duerr is the celebrated conductor who founded and led the critically acclaimed Pasadena Chamber Orchestra for almost 10 years. He also has conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Los Angeles Opera and other prestigious venues.

Tonight’s concert opens with "Dona Nobis Pacem," the majestic cantata by Ralph Vaughan Williams. After intermission, Duerr conducts the beloved Requiem of Gabriel Faure. This is one of the best-known settings of the Roman Catholic Mass for the dead. The music turns up everywhere from movies like "Interview With the Vampire" and "American Beauty" to the crime series "CSI." Most famous is the ethereal "Pie Jesu," embraced by both classical singers and pop singers for its beauty and sense of timelessness.

"Songs of Eternity: A Choral Spectacular" takes place at 8 tonight (April 20) in Kleinhans Music Hall. Admission is $30-$40. For info, call 885-5000 or visit

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

GustoTV: 'Speed-the-Plow' at Subversive Theatre

David Mamet's acerbic, expletive-laden and relentlessly neurotic piece of theater 'Speed-the-Plow' opens tonight at Subversive Theatre. News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski describes the production:

GustoTV: 'Ancestral Voices' opening at Road Less Traveled

"Ancestral Voices," a drama by Buffalo-born playwright A.R. Gurney, wraps up Road Less Traveled's season with a run from April 20 to May 13. Here is News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski on the production:

And here is RLTP director Scott Behrend on the production:

Rush to perform at FNC

 Rush brings its "Clockwork Angels Tour 2012" to Buffalo for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in First Niagara Center.

Tickets are $46.50, $66 and $91 and go on sale at 10 a.m. April 28 through the box office, online at or charge by phone at (888) 223-6000.

GustoTV: Simon says 'Bully' is an important film

Lee Hirsch's film "Bully" opens Friday in area movie theaters. It focuses on the issue of teen bullying through the lens of five families. Look for Jeff Simon's review in tomorrow's Gusto and hear his thoughts on the film in this episode of GustoTV:

Irish poet O'Donoghue to deliver Canisius College's Hassett Reading

Bernard O' Donoghue, a leading figure in both contemporary Irish poetry and Anglo-Saxon literature scholarship, will deliver the Canisius College Contemporary Writers Series' ninth annual Hassett Reading at 7 tonight (Thursday) in the Montante Cultural Center, 2021 Main St. The event is free.

O'Donoghue, a native of Cullen, County Cork, who has lived much of his adult life in Oxford, England, holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Lincoln College, Oxford, and is currently a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, where he teaches Medieval literature.  He is the author of nine collections of poetry including "The Absent Signifier" (Mandeville, 1990), “Gunpowder” (Chatto & Windus, 1995), winner of the United Kingdom's Whitbread Award for Poetry, "Here Nor There" (Chatto & Windus, 1999), and "Outliving" (Chatto & Windus, 2003).

"I am rather against ‘confessional poetry’ as it is called, which seems to me to lack modesty by focusing on the events of one’s own life as if that is what is significant," O’Donoghue told a Romanian interviewer in 2006.  A leading scholar on the medieval literature of the European courtly love tradition and editor of "The Courtly Love Tradition" (Manchester University Press, 1982), he has published a contemporary verse translation of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (Penguin, 2006), and is widely quoted as preferring the Anglo-Saxon elegies such as "The Seafarer" and "The Wanderer" as his "model for the perfectly formed lyric poem." 

He is also author of the critical study "Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry" (Prentice Hall, 1995), and two more recent volumes of poetry, his “Selected Poems” (Faber and Faber, 2008), and “Farmers Cross” (Faber and Faber, 2011) from which he will likely read tonight.

--R.D. Pohl

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