Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Buffalo poets gather for change today at Silo City

Are poets in fact "the unacknowledged legislators of the world," as Percy Bysshe Shelley suggested in his famous 1821 essay "A Defence of Poetry," or was W.H. Auden closer to the truth when he wrote in his 1940 poem "In Memory of W.B. Yeats":

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

This is the kind of seeming paradox on which poetry thrives, for it is only out the complexity of the world that poetry resolves and clarifies; just as it is precisely out of the impulse to reduce the world to simple facts, causes, and effects that poetry reveals the dazzling richness and diversity of possibilities in the world: it performs our uncertainty and our doubt. 

Can poets and poetry effect progressive political, economic, social and environmental change in a global, 21st century context?  Perhaps not in the Romantic sense of moral improvement that Shelley argued, nor even in the formal one that Auden, in his deference to Yeats, allowed .  But even the most hardened skeptic would concede that language constructs and transforms our relationship with the world, and poets transform our relationship with language.

So today, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., when over 125 Buffalo area poets, five bands, a number of area visual and media artists, and many hundreds of poetry listeners and activists gather at Silo City, the abandoned grain elevator site at 92 Childs St. along the Buffalo River, to participate in "100, 000 Poets for Change," a global event focusing on poetry as an instrument of social happening on September 28th in over 500 cities in more than 100 countries around the world, perhaps the "change" we should be listening for is not one that recapitulates the grammar of the old order--how we have grown accustomed to parsing the issues of this species' continued survival in terms formulated for us by corporations, politicians, and think tanks--but rather in the phonemes and syllables of an art form with a somatic connection to epics of the ancient world, to the rhythms of the heartbeat and breathing, and to the kinship with all living things.

Today's marathon reading at Silo City--one of the most robust in the entire 100,000 Poets for Change movement worldwide-- has been organized by Barbara Cole and Noah Falck of Just Buffalo Literary Center, the sponsoring organization that has permitted the Buffalo area celebration of "100,000 Poets for Change" to expand beyond the admirable dimensions the 2011 Buffalo organizers of the event, Susan Hutton and David Landrey (who will do the introduction and host the opening hour of this year's event), were able to establish as a benchmark for the local event.  In the true spirit of democracy and the inclusive nature of the event, each of the participants will read from their own work or the work of others on the theme of "change"  for four minutes at one of two stages--in the former Perot grain elevator and on the Buffalo Riverfront--punctuated by a short set of music (all on the Riverfront stage) by one of the five participating Buffalo-based musical ensembles to close out each hour.

To scan down the list  of participating readers is to recognize a virtual Who's Who of Buffalo poetry and Buffalo poetics, from 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry Carl Dennis, to such well-known and well-published Buffalo poetry community leaders as Ansie Baird, Sherry Robbins, Ann Goldsmith, Jorge Guitart, Gary Earl Ross, Perry Nicholas and Celia White, a strong contingent from Buffalo's indie press, book arts, and scholarly scene including BlazeVox's Geoffrey Gatza, Holly Melgard of Troll Thread Press, and David Hadbawnik of Habenicht Press, Earth's Daughter's magazine co-editors Kastle Brill, Jennifer Campbell, Janna Willoughby-Lohr and Ryki Zuckerman, leading voices in Buffalo's spoken word performance community including Erika Haywood Gault, N'Tare Gault, and Brandon Williamson, to the poet-teachers of the various Buffalo area college and university writing programs, including Canisius College's Janet McNally, Alan Bigelow of Medaille College, and Peter Ramos of Buffalo State College, as well as Judith Goldman and Myung Mi Kim of the UB Poetics Program. 

Perhaps even more importantly, interspersed among the recognizable names are several dozen younger poets from a wide range of backgrounds, including students from Buffalo's City Honors, Oracle Charter School, and from Amherst High School.  They represent this community's future, both as heirs to the legacy of its poetic heritage (think: Buffalo-born poets and writers Lucille Clifton and Ishmael Reed), and its over-a-century long commitment to progressive social justice causes (think: Mary B. Talbert and the Niagara Movement).  To see the complete schedule of readings and performances, visit

The international celebration of 100,00 Poets for Change (or 100TPC, as it is sometimes referred to) was first conceived of and organized by Guerneville, California-based poets Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion (previously best-known for their founding and editing of Big Bridge Press and the poetry website in March, 2011, as a worldwide set of events to take place simultaneously on September 24, 2011.  Without substantial resources, event guidelines, or a specific social or political agenda, the event tapped into a widespread interest among poets representing different cultures, traditions and languages around the world to speak to their commonalities rather than their differences, and to engage both their local communities, and the larger national and international audience for poetry in a dialogue about how poetry might contribute the advancement of  cultural and political change "within the guidelines of peace and sustainability."  The success of the initial celebration, which reportedly inspired  700 events in 550 cities in 95 countries, validated Rothenberg and Campion's intention to continue 100TPC as a decentralized network of locally-organized events representing each community's response to the theme.  For more information about the global event, including reports from many different sites around the world, visit

--R.D. Pohl
comments powered by Disqus