Our Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

As a precaution to help limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and care for our community, Just Buffalo Literary Center has postponed a number of events, and we will follow the guidance of Buffalo Public Schools in terms of Just Buffalo Writing Center programming.

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Whoever said memes can’t be art doesn’t have a sense of humor, or of art for that matter--and they definitely haven’t met Travis Sharp.  That idea was one of the jumping-off points at the Drawing Words & Writing Visual Texts workshop he ran at the Just Buffalo Writing Center in early October. Sharp, a PhD student in the Poetics program at SUNY Buffalo, centered the first day of workshop around the visual and physical structure of letters and words. At first, the prompts were straightforward: ●      Draw a vertical line. ●      Draw a lowercase “l”. ●      Draw the uppercase “I” upside down. The language used here is crucial. Sharp asked the students, Ryan and Theo,  to “draw” instead of “write” letters. Without saying it, Sharp rejects the confinements of what can or cannot be drawn or a drawing. The task is visual in its instructions, and eventually becomes more abstract: ●      Draw a face. ●      Draw the word “face”. ●      Draw the word “word”. ●      Draw the word “poem”. ●      Draw a poem. The ambiguous reasoning behind the instructions creates space for a myriad of interpretations--both for what it means to draw and what it means to write poetry. What does it mean, for example, to “draw” a poem? Do you draw lines in the form of stanzas? Do you draw words escaping from a brain? A heart? It’s hard to convey what exactly the directions mean, but it allows the results to be endless. “It’s not really explaining something but it’s creating some sort of experience that you can talk about.” Sharp said, on the topic of writing from the vantage point of the visual.  On the second day of workshop, he inverted that prompt. First, by projecting images from Matthea Harvey’s If the tabloids are true… a book of photos and artwork accompanied by poetry. The collection is beautiful but eerie, especially  in the way it unsettles our expectations of how things should be. from Matthea Harvey’s "If the tabloids are true…" There’s an uneasiness in seeing something warped from its usual context, like a mermaid with scissors for a tail, or a set of tiny chairs and human figurines paralyzed in blocks of ice. from Matthea Harvey’s "If the tabloids are true…" The two students attending the workshop, Ryan and Theo, took different paths: Have you ever heard someone say If you choke on ice, All you have to do is wait? What if you get frozen with ice? Just wait Wait until it melts so I can move Wait until the cold stops Stop Please stop Get this ice out from between my thighs and handbag. But I just have to wait. Tick tock I’m getting bored I think this ice is starting to reach my heart I can feel my blood freezing My veins closing My heart stopping Stop Please stop How long must I stay waiting? -Ryan Theo on the other hand saw the ice as an opportunity to speak on the obvious, and not so obvious, as he explained to the group that day. The obvious being the objects trapped in ice, and the not so obvious being the elements not present in the photo.   I tried

Do you have any second parts in your life? Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Points of Departure (see WBFO's coverage here) opened with the above question posed by Bishnu Adhikari. It was question that did not require a response but demanded some thought, much like everything else that morning. In collaboration with Journey’s End Refugee Services and Just Buffalo’s Words on the Street initiative, immigrants and refugees took the stage to share poems about their experiences in making America and Buffalo a new home. Drawing inspiration from the portals in Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West, three doors stood as the backdrop for the presenters. The doors brought about curious onlookers visiting or exiting the library. The doors did not merely merit a glance, like Adhikari's question, it demanded more: a closer look. One door was inscribed with a collaborative poem written by teens who attend the Just Buffalo Writing Center: Dear new neighbors Welcome to our city Make yourself at home I hope each step you Take upon Buffalo Soil makes a sound like When palms meet in a Handshake. Another door, created by artist Paris Henderson, featured abstract black and white patterns. The last door was plastered with the word “journey” in various languages, the native tongues of those who were encouraged to go up and write it. Soon enough it became clear how much of everything felt like an invitation, or, more pointedly, an open door. Do you have any second parts in your life? Bishnu, a Buffalo resident since 2009, pulled everyone out of the trance of anticipation waiting for something, anything, to let us know things have begun. It was the first brisk morning in months, and attendees were in a type of shock from the cold that doesn’t escape you until something more stimulating takes hold. Bishnu’s opening helped bridge a connection of our relationship with time and place. Initially from Bhutan, Bishnu arrived at many second comings in his own life. They cam in the form of studies that led him to India; an eviction that led him to Nepal; and then as a Buffalonian and translator for Journey’s End. It was the wind, he said, that carried him from place to place. So he spoke to it. Oh beautiful wind in the sky, flying so fast and so high Seeing the grassy meadows, green mountains and hills Sit before rivers and valleys above my birthplace Where I endured my young age And kicked me out of my home Forcing me to leave everything that I loved. Dragging me away from the position. I sobbed. I was so worried and sad. But now I am with real human beings Who are great supporters To start enjoying my life again Oh wind in the sky Please fly there and share my story. Despite the many roles and various homes Bishnu had, he always considered himself to be a writer and lyricist. The Notes app on his phone wis filled with Nepali writing, which he later translates for an English-speaking audience. One thing you notice about Bishnu is his attention to his surroundings. He mentioned Buffalo’s beauty to me twice in our conversation. But he made sure to

An alien abduction, an anthropomorphic squirrel, and a collection of disjointed body parts all walk into a workshop – or rather, come out of it. These were the images that the “Art Comix” workshop conjured on the evening of September 13th in the Just Buffalo Writing Center. The workshop’s students had the option to draw inspiration from a number of selected poems, or create a new one through the lens of what settling for the first time in Buffalo, as someone totally new to the city, would feel like. Some of the poems that sprang from this prompt will be showcased on September 22 at Points of Departure, where refugees and immigrants will be welcome to share their experiences as new members of the community and the fabric of America. Max Weiss, who headed the workshop with help from Writing Center Coordinator, Robin Jordan, offered this caveat: “Take risks, even if they don’t make sense,” Weiss said. For Weiss, the workshop was meant to help students navigate the marrying of visual art and narrative as a form of storytelling, which he believes to be a more intimate form of expression than even his previous craft of songwriting, which took him down to Nashville for a stint as a guitarist after college. “With music you may need an audience whereas in comics, you could collaborate, or you could do everything on your own,” Weiss said. “I’ve been able to have a lot of fun with myself creating independently, and so I left Tennessee and as soon as I got back I found this place.” As Weiss made his rounds of the table where students worked, he carefully eavesdropped on the creative process of his students. Many of them drew directly from the poems they’d written two days prior in response to that same mystifying prompt; how does it feel to be a stranger in your own waking world? Perhaps a sense not too far removed from the lived experiences of most budding young adults, but distant enough to be an alien concept for many native-born American kids. From there, cue an hour of clacking on typewriters, Keith Haring-esque figures sprouting on the page, an analysis of Exodus 34:14, and debates on the best animal characters to ever hit a screen. One student, Cora, meticulously carved an array of circles and narrow ovals, gradually building them into full bodies with arms and faces. In the first fully fleshed-out strip, an anthropomorphic squirrel spills an “Ugh” into a speech bubble. In the strips that follow, the squirrel is approached by her friend, a cat, who is from the neighborhood. The comic was labeled with the temporary title “title.” The naming of her work is usually done gardening style, so to speak. This means she typically starts with a idea that comes to fruition as she tends to her craft, growing into a fully-formed piece with a fitting title. This is a gradual, careful process; she pays especially close attention to the slope of her lines by using her ruler

  In March, young writers of the JBWC, Hannah and Trinity, performed at University at Buffalo’s North Campus as finalists of the UB English/Poetics riverrun Poetry Prize. As part of the Robert Creeley Lecture and Celebration of Poetry, the winner was announced by judge and Just Buffalo’s Artistic Director, Barbara Cole, following the finalists’ readings. The winner, a senior from Nichols School, performed her winning poem alongside our JB poets. Below are a few excerpts from Hannah and Trinity’s poems: From “THE FIRE YOUR MOTHER HUGS FOR WARMTH” by Hannah Surrender to the waves. Time and time again, love backwards and forwards and inside out. You are the shirt left on the floor, bruised. That’s inevitable, really. From “full of it” by Trinity you’ve got tricks and i’ve got ways to avoid them. you’ve got a talent for taxidermy, but i won’t be your next glassy-eyed, cotton-stuffed baby deer. (note: Photographs by Bruce Jackson)