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Poet John Beer brings 'The Waste Land' to BIG NIGHT

Just Buffalo Literary Center's popular BIG NIGHT Series of readings and media art events continues at 8 p.m. tonight with its first program of 2013 at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington Street (near Mohawk Street).  The featured guest is one of the most heralded new voices to emerge in American poetry over the past decade.

John Beer--a former Chicagoan who now lives in Portland, Oregon and teaches creative writing at Portland State University--is author of the much-praised “The Waste Land and Other Poems” (Canarium Books, 2010), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America and endorsements of such fellow poet-critics as Lewis Warsh, D.A. Powell, Kent Johnson (who calls it "the most important first book in American poetry since [John Ashbery's 1956 debut collection] 'Some Trees'"), and Ashbery himself, who avers that "only a genius" could carry off publishing a first book by that hallowed title.

A vertiginous swirl of consciousness streams, public and private idiomatic speech fragments, overheard conversations, and self-reflexive poetic tropes juxtaposed with a totalizing predilection that drives Beer's poetics toward the rhapsodic, much of "The Waste Land" reads like what critic Marjorie Perloff calls "21st Century Modernism" riffing on 20th century modernism's greatest hits.  The title poem, in particular, is part parody, part tribute to T.S. Eliot's linguistically prepossessing classic, but eventually develops its own integral semiotics and semantics, its own iconic dictums and images, and its own fitful accommodation with beauty.

"I set out to write a treatise on failure, and it turned out my subject was love. Call it my confusion," writes Beer in his "Thesis on Failure," another of the poems in this collection that toes the tightrope between intentional self-parody and vestigial sincerity.  Whenever you think that Beer is methodically deconstructing the literary subject in his poems, he moves the linguistic  goalposts on you, and his formalist kicker sails one right through the uprights. "One catches oneself, inevitably, in the trap set for the speeding bird. What renders the rent net holy," he writes.

Joining Beer on the BIG NIGHT program will be media artist and educator Terry Cuddy, and videomaker Goda Trakumaite. Cuddy, who studied media arts production at the University of Buffalo, lives in Auburn, N.Y., where he writes, plays and records music with his wife Beth in the group A Cast of Thousands.  His current project is an animated version of his one-act play “Dr. Steadfast’s Last Migraine.” Trakumaite is Director of Programming & Outreach at Buffalo’s media art center, Squeaky Wheel.  A former philosophy student, her describes her creative work as involving “reading, writing, drawing, video-making, and doing things outside.”

As with all BIG NIGHT events, BlazeVox Books publisher and gourmet chef Geoffrey Gatza will create a special spread of hot and cold food items for the evening.  Admission is $5, $4 for students, Just Buffalo members, and members of Just Buffalo's affiliate organizations.

--R.D. Pohl

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