Friday, January 28, 2011

Performance on the Page

National Poetry Series winner Douglas Kearney, who visits on Feb. 1, talks with poet Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo about the reasons for incorporating bold graphic design elements into his latest collection The Black Automaton (2009). In short they are (at least in part) an attempt to replicate the effect of Kearney's powerful performances on the printed page.

XB: In some of your more visual poems, like the “Black Automaton in Tag” series, there is a feeling of chance, almost like “Choose your own adventure” poetry. Can you speak about that?

DK: Those “choose your own adventure” poems came from people telling me that they would not have gotten the poem if it were not for my performance.They meant it as a compliment, but a part of me could only hear that to them the emotion and ideas of the poem were not in the language itself. That means that it wasn’t well written; it was really well performed. So I wanted to go back to the lab, and try to write poems that would demand the eye, demand a reader. And not only demand it, but reward it. I wanted to try to create a poetry [where] the page itself would become a stage. And so, the text of the Black Automaton poems that you are talking about is partially about scoring a way of reading.

What’s interesting is that I wrote [those poems] not using Word, but using design programs that would allow me to put text anywhere I wanted. I composed it by putting a text box in a spot, and I’d be like, “OK, text here. No, that doesn’t work. Let me move that.” I wanted to create this page that would perform itself. And what I began to realize when I would look at [those poems], I had no idea how I would read them. If you are looking at the “The Black Automaton in what it is #3: Work it out,” I have no idea, necessarily, how to make the fact that the word “work” is repeated four times inside all these brackets sound. It really becomes an investigation of how we read a thing.

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Ape or Angel?

You may sample some of V. S. Ramachandran's brilliant new book, The Tell-Tale Brain (2011), using the "Inside the Book" feature of the W. W. Norton website.

Ramachandran visits on January 31.

Here's a brief excerpt from the book's Introduction:

"Any ape can reach for a banana, but only humans can reach for the stars. Apes live, contend, breed, and die in forests—end of story. Humans write, investigate, create, and quest. We splice genes, split atoms, launch rockets. We peer upward into the heart of the Big Bang and delve deeply into the digits of pi. Perhaps most remarkably of all, we gaze inward, piecing together the puzzle of our own unique and marvelous brain. It makes the mind reel. How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and chance brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate—your brain—that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, is the greatest mystery of -all."

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This Is Your Brain on Art

V. S. Ramachandran, who visits the Writers Institute on Monday, January 31st at 4:15PM, is one of the key figures of the new science of "Neuroaesthetics," which seeks to understand what the mind finds pleasing about art.

In 2009, Psychology Today devoted an article to the subject which also features a list of "10 Perceptual Principles of Great Art." According to Ramachandran, these principles came to him while he happened to be visiting a Hindu temple during a sabbatical in India, an experience he recounted on BBC4 Radio in 2003.

"Attempts to define art are nothing new. But Ramachandran is seeking to define it from the perspective of the brain, and he's in the midst of a brain-imaging experiment he believes will help. Subjects lie in an fMRI machine and view examples of kitsch—art objects ridiculed for their shallowness or sentimentality—as well as fine art, like the canvases that hang in museums. A Christmas lawn ornament of Santa Claus might be juxtaposed with a Michelangelo sculpture; an image from a Hallmark card might be compared to a Rembrandt painting. By measuring brain activity, Ramachandran hopes to find out why visual stimuli that seem so superficially similar can generate such different aesthetic reactions."

"The interesting thing about kitsch is that it often looks like art," explains Ramachandran. "But it's not art, because it doesn't trigger the same intensity of feeling." He suggests that while kitsch often relies on the same tricks as great art—universal principles such as the peak-shift effect and the peekaboo principle—these tricks aren't as well executed. "Anybody can learn these visual rules," he says. "But you still need talent and training in order to turn them into fine art."

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

V. S. Ramachandran now in Recital Hall, January 31, 4:15PM

Due to a surge in interest, we will be hosting eminent neuroscientist and bestselling author V. S. Ramachandran in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center on the UAlbany uptown campus. Ramachandran's new book is The Tell-Tale Brain (2011).

The event will take place at 4:15 PM only (no evening event).

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Spring 2011 Visiting Writers Series

The New York State Writers Institute is pleased to announce its new Spring 2011 series which will feature an exciting roster of leading authors in a wide variety of genres and fields. The list includes three winners of the Pulitzer Prize, including New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd, one of America's most influential political and social commentators; presidential biographer Edmund Morris, author of an acclaimed trilogy on the life of Teddy Roosevelt, and the official biographer of Ronald Reagan; and playwright and filmmaker John Patrick Shanley, who received an Oscar for the film Moonstruck (1987), and a Tony for the play "Doubt" (2004).

Three events addressing scientific subjects are also particularly noteworthy, including visits with V. S. Ramachandran, bestselling author and one of the world's leading neuroscientists, speaking about his new book The Tell-Tale Brain (2011); science writer James Gleick, author of the major bestseller about chaos theory, Chaos (1987), and of a new book, The Information (2011), a history of the Information Age; and Seth Mnookin, leading American journalist and author of The Panic Virus (2011), a new book on vaccines and the autism controversy.

Poets will include Rosanna Warren, daughter of Robert Penn Warren and winner of the Poetry Award of Merit of the National Academy of Arts and Letters; and young African American poet Douglas Kearney, 2008 National Poetry Series Winner, reading together with UAlbany professor and authority on Nuyorican poetics, Tomas Urayoan Noel.

The semester will showcase the accomplishments of four exceptional young fiction writers, including Julie Orringer, author of the New York Times Notable Book and surprise bestseller The Invisible Bridge (2010); Karen Russell, one of the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35," and author of a new book set in the Everglades, Swamplandia! (2011); Russian-American satirical novelist Gary Shteyngart whose new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, was named one of the top 10 books of 2010 by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times; and Susan Choi, Pulitzer Prize finalist for American Woman (2004), about the Patty Hearst kidnapping.

Distinguished guests occupying one-of-a-kind categories will include major science fiction and fantasy author John Crowley, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the World Fantasy Convention in 2006; Ben Katchor, MacArthur "Genius Award" winning cartoonist and author of The Jew of New York (2000); Elijah Anderson, major American sociologist and key figure in the field of urban ethnography, with a book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy (2011), that advances a new theory about race relations in American cities; and Ed Sanders, poet, journalist, musician and transitional figure between the Beat and Hippie generations, presenting his new memoir, Fug You (2011).

We are also pleased to cosponsor (with the Performing Arts Center) a one-person theatrical adaptation of Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Link to schedule here.

1/31 V. S. Ramachandran
2/1 Douglas Kearney and Tomas Urayoan Noel
2/10 Julie Orringer and Karen Russell
2/17 Gary Shteyngart
3/3 James Gleick
3/10 Maureen Dowd
3/15 Edmund Morris
3/22 Seth Mnookin
3/24 Performance of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
3/29 John Crowley
4/6 John Patrick Shanley
4/10 Ben Katchor
4/12 Rosanna Warren
4/14 Susan Choi
4/26 Elijah Anderson
5/5 Ed Sanders

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Like Us! (on Facebook)

The Writers Institute's Facebook page is back up after its unintended erasure. Please "like us." The coming Spring 2011 schedule of events promises to be quite spectacular. Stay tuned....

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