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'The Most Dangerous Book' author Birmingham to visit Burchfield-Penney Friday

Kevin Birmingham, the Harvard University based lecturer, literary scholar and recent author of "The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses" (Penguin Books) will give a talk about his much-discussed new book this Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Auditorium of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. The talk is free and open to the public.   Talking Leaves Books, a co-sponsor of the event, will be on hand with copies of Birmingham's book for purchase and signing after the talk.

The Birmingham appearance is part of an afternoon long program that is described as a belated Bloomsday celebration at the Burchfield-Penney. It begins at 2 p.m. with a screening of "Following James Joyce...Dublin to Buffalo," a film commissioned by the National Library of Ireland for its Centennial Bloomsday Exhibit in Dublin.  The film, produced and directed by Patrick Martin (of Cinegael Buffalo and riverrun inc.) and Stacy Herbert, and narrated by Laurence Shine, Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at Buffalo State College, traces the trajectory of Joyce's career and legacy in Dublin, Paris, Trieste, Pola (Croatia), Zurich, and finally, Buffalo, where his manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, ephemera, and other personal materials are archived in the James Joyce Collection of the University at Buffalo Libraries.
 
At 3 p.m., a stellar group of Buffalo-based actors, including Vincent O'Neill, Loraine O'Donnell,  and Gerry Maher, will present readings of selected passages from "Ulysses," as hosted and introduced by Buffalo State College's Laurence Shine. The screening and readings are also free and open to the public.

In the run-up to its publication last week, Birmingham's book received a great deal of enthusiastic praise from reviewers--tempered by some fairly vehement criticism from longtime Joyce scholars and academics--for its broadly accessible style and somewhat more dramatized presentation than is customary in scholarly works.  The most pointed criticisms have almost all been directed at the five page passage in Birmingham's four hundred and thirty-two page book in which he adduces a greater degree of evidence than has ever been gathered in a single scholarly presentation concerning the now widely held view that Joyce suffered from syphilis for the last three and a half decades of his life.  Specifically, he establishes that one of the medications Joyce was prescribed in the last decades of his life was used exclusively for the treatment of the symptoms of syphilis. Perhaps more speculatively, Birmingham argues that the condition had a marked effect on not only Joyce's deteriorating eyesight and general health, but also on his taboo-breaking sense of the body in his stream-of-consciousness writing as well.

Birmingham has described his book as a "biography" of Joyce's "Ulysses," tracing it from its first conception in 1904 by a then 22 year old Joyce, to its controversial serialization in the American literary journal The Little Review from 1918 to 1920 (which resulted in the journal's prosecution and confiscation on obscenity charges), leading up to the quasi-heroic publication of its first edition (of 100 copies) by Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company in Paris in 1922, and the long, difficult, and richly episodic legal struggle the novel faced in order to be distributed and sold in the English-speaking world, culminating in the "epoch-making" decision by U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey in December of 1933 that concluded "Ulysses" was neither obscene nor pornographic, and could lawfully be imported and published in the U.S. by Random House.

Although this narrative is familiar to many Joyce readers and scholars, most reviewers have noted that the most notable achievement of  Birmingham's "The Most Dangerous Book" is to demonstrate and contextualize how "Ulysses" came to be both the most widely recognized  masterwork of, and the cultural standard-bearer for, literary modernism in the 20th century.  Nearly every discussion we have about "difficulty," innovation, and progressivism in literature and the arts, as well as the role of freedom of artistic expression in a democratic society is today framed by the challenges the book faced in finding its way to its readership and reputation, and the precedents--legal and otherwise--established by its publication and widespread acceptance.

--R.D. Pohl
  

Poet Philip Metres to headline Silo City Reading Series launch

Award-winning Cleveland area based poet, scholar, activist, and Russian language literary translator Philip Metres will be the headliner at the first Silo City Reading Series event of the summer season this Saturday night at  100 Childs Street in Buffalo's grain elevator district.

The reading, which also features Buffalo-based artist, writer, and Bon Aire Projects co-founder Jon Rutzmoser, music by the new music collective Wooden Cities, and a paper art installation by visual artist Maude White, is part of the larger Silo Sessions launch party and fundraiser featuring over 30 performances by bands, solo musicians, poets, spoken word and media artists on three different stages in the Silo City complex.  The performances begin at 5 p.m. and extend through 11 p.m., with Metres scheduled to read at 10:15 p.m. at the Marine A Elevator stage.  For a complete listing of the schedule and location of the performances, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/391085154367528/

The  Admission is $15 at the gate, or $10 through the Kickstarter project page (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/447847035/silo-sessions) that has been created for the Silo Sessions launch.

Metres, a professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland, where he teaches American Literature and creative writing, is the author six books of poems, including "A Concordance of Leaves" (Diode Editions, 2013), abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine Press, winner of the 2012 Arab American Book Award in Poetry ), "Ode to Oil" (Kattywompus Press, 2011),  and "To See the Earth" (Cleveland State University Press, 2008).  He is also author of  the critical study "Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941" (University of Iowa Press, 2007), and translator of  "Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (Ugly Duckling Press, 2004) and "A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky" (Zephyr Press, 2003).

He co-edited the anthology "Come Together: Imagine Peace: An Anthology of Peace Poems" (Bottom Dog Press, 2008), and is the creator of the award-winning "Behind the Lines: Poetry, War, and Peacemaking" blog.  Among the numerous other awards and honors he has received are a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship, and four separate individual excellence awards from the Ohio Arts Council.

For more information on the Silo City Reading Series, which returns to its regular "art party" format on July 11  with a reading featuring Detroit-based poet Tarfia Faizulla, visit http://silocityreadingseries.com/.

--R.D. Pohl
  

Buffalo Reading Invasion returns to Bidwell Parkway Monday

Buffalo Reading Invasion, the flash mob-inspired series of quiet, bookish gatherings that celebrate the role of reading, public space, and community in our lives begins its 2014 run of summertime monthly events Monday night, June 9th, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. along Bidwell Parkway, headed east from Elmwood Avenue toward Buffalo Seminary and Potomac Avenue.

Geoff Schutte, the Tapestry Charter School High School Honors Program coordinator who founded Buffalo Reading Invasion in 2012 and remains its principal organizer, encourages the entire reading community to bring a book or magazine, a chair or blanket, and several friends or family members for an hour of quiet reading and fellowship in one of Buffalo’s best-loved public spaces. Visit http://buffaloreadinginvasion.com/ for further details.

--R.D. Pohl