Three poets with Buffalo connections who have gone on to international acclaim will highlight a four-day festival starting Thursday in the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
The dozens of poetry-related readings, performances and screenings, collectively dubbed “Words” and timed to coincide with National Poetry Month, will explore Buffalo’s wide-ranging contributions to the international poetry and literary worlds.
The headliner of the event – if poetry festivals can be said to have headliners – is Ishmael Reed, who spent much of his youth in Buffalo before going on to attain worldwide fame as a poet, songwriter, editor and inveterate critic of American politics and culture. Reed, who won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 1998, has written dozens of volumes of poetry and prose as well as song lyrics for many jazz and blues musicians.
News Arts Editor Jeff Simon, who will lead a public conversation with Reed at 6 p.m. Saturday before Reed’s reading at 8, described him as an “all-around enlightened troublemaker” who “has probably done more to unclog the hypocrisies and stupidities of American culture than any other writer of his generation.”
Also appearing during the festival are poets Ed Sanders and Steve McCaffery, both of whom have connections to the University at Buffalo’s vaunted poetics program.
“Ishmael Reed, Ed Sanders and Steve McCaffery are a part of the Buffalo leadership legacy in literature,” Burchfield Penney Director Anthony Bannon said in a statement. “Through their genius, each in their way project the complexity of culture in our time. Through their work they explore core values and how do we stand in the world.”
Sanders, a member of the rock band the Fugs and a key figure in the New York City literary scene during the 1960s and ’70s, participtaed in an important lecture series at the University at Buffalo in 1983. He will have a public conversation with Bannon, a longtime friend, at 2 p.m. Sunday. At 3:30 Sunday, he will read his famous piece “Poem From Jail” – which he wrote on several sheets of toilet paper while incarcerated for protesting the launch of nuclear submarines – as dancers from LehrerDance perform a piece choreographed for the occasion by Jon Lehrer. Local poets Michael Basinski and Annette Taylor also will take turns reading sections of the poem.
McCaffery, a professor in UB’s poetics program, has several volumes of poetry to his name and a reputation as one of the leading figures in Canada’s avant garde poetry scene. He will be featured in a conversation with Basinski, UB Poetry Collection curator, at 4 p.m. Saturday followed by a performance of his poetry with the music group Wooden Cities.
Throughout the weekend, members of the local poetry community will read Charles Burchfield’s writings as well as their own work on the Burchfield Penney’s front lawn facing Elmwood Avenue. The festival also will feature a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Burchfield’s “Poets and Writers” program at 7 p.m. Thursday, a performance from pianist Doug “Trigger” Gaston at 5:30 p.m. Friday and a performance from the local group Buffluxus at 1 p.m. Saturday. A full schedule of events is online at burchfieldpenney.org.