April 25, 2015

Albany WordFest - Open Mic, April 17

Our host Mary Panza
This is always the wildest night of the WordFest, & once again was held at the UAG Gallery on Lark St.  Folks had been signing-up online for weeks with the 7:00PM to 10:30PM time slots completely filled by Friday night. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who signed-up showed up. This year, by my guess, a little over a third of those who signed up were a no-show. But who cares? What matters is those who did show up to read, including a few who weren’t even on the list.

Debby Mayer

Unfortunately I missed the first 2 poets, Judith Prest & Jessica Rae, 2 fine area poets you can sometimes find at open mics, & arrived as Alan Catlin was reading about a party in a backyard, Sylvia Barnard read about aging & the passage of time, while Debby Mayer explained “Why I Let My Dog Hang Her Head out the Car Window.”

Charles Straney entourage

There were some early no-shows on the list & host/MC/Ring Master/Dominatrix Mary Panza, often abetted by MC-in-training, Julia, established the ritual of calling out “They’ll rue the day!” whenever a name was called & no one answered. But Joe Hesch was there to read, as was Howard Kogan (his poem about imagined lives, “Bit Player,” perhaps my favorite of the night); Charles Straney should come more often & read more of his barn poems, while Joe Krausman makes it to lots of open mics & did a rare “accounting poem.”

Thom Francis with Molly & Julia

Cheryl Rice had poems for Groucho & her uncle, A.C. Everson had “new ones!” she proclaimed (later posted a marvelous video montage of the event); Brian Dorn read about all 40 poetry venues he visited this past year, & Jay Renzi’s phone rang while he read.

Brian Dorn reading, Don Levy lurking

L-Majesty mixed pomegranates & playgrounds, then Tim Verhaegen introduced us to his parents, “The Fuck Family,” & Bob Sharkey did a poem from past WordFests, & Don Levy was, well, Don Levy looking at “Hot Dudes Reading.” Steve Minchin had a gay tally sheet, Adam Tedesco got all auto-biographical on us, while Tess Lecuyer was proud of all new poems.

Ian Macks was a new face but read new poems & those from a chapbook, & Poetyc Visionz also had a new poem “The Black Experience,” while Anthony Bernini read of woodchucks, aging, youth & a tornado, then Caroline Curran included a marvelous piece of fiction about a clash with a student in class wearing headphones, & the poet going by the name Mystic breezed in with a cluster of short poems.

L-Majesty & his audience
I used my time to read, not my own poems, but poems of 2 friends who could not be there, the odd, reclusive poet from the West Coast Lee Pursewarden & former Metroland’s Readers’ Poll 2nd place Best Local Poet, Gary Murrow (both with poems in the new edition of Up The River). J.L. Weeks, a stranger, read untitled pieces from many late nights, &, of course, R.M. Engelhardt read dark pieces, new poems from a new manuscript “The Bones of our Existence.”

The no-shows kept piling up & Shannon, who hadn’t signed up, got a chance to read about frogs & phone booths & happy endings. The last poet of the night was also a fill-in, Lizzie, who did 2 poems, the last a funny piece on therapy, ending the evening with a smile — for many reasons.

There was one more event left to the 2015 WordFest, & if I can decipher my pages of notes, I will write about it next.

April 24, 2015

Albany WordFest - Third Thursday Poetry Night, April 16

I am always pleased & honored to the have this third Thursday series I run at the Social Justice Center included in the annual WordFest schedule; in one way or another this has happened for years. Tonight we had 18 people signed up for the open mic & to listen to returning visiting poet Michele Battiste who was the featured reader.

& I was very happy to see that Mary McCarthy signed up to be the first poet in the open mic; back after a too-long absence she read a poem for Easter, decrying the violence in our society, even in religious images. Jill Crammond also was back with a poem based a her daughter’s list of spelling words, with a nod to William Carlos Williams. Dave Kime made long drive north taking on, without the mic, a deconstruction of both Republicans & Democrats into acronyms. Kim Henry made it to still another open mic this week, read an untitled piece on child molestation, appropriate for next week’s Take Back the Night. Don Levy read a poem titled “Hibernation” (or, What I did in the Winter). Susan Riback showed up to read from her little notebook a poem about Spring & “tapping” I.V.s. Jessica Rae read a poem about how to respond to her least favorite question, “What Do You Do?” Shannon Shoemaker sat right up front & read an untitled, short, new piece, about chasing endings.

Michele Battiste read in this Third Thursday series when it was at Café Web back in 1998, later in other readings elsewhere in the area, & we were so glad to welcome her back during her visit here (to her “poetry tribe” she said). She started with 2 Moon poems, the first based on artwork done as war-shields, “The Rebel Tells of her Creation” in a variety of versions, then “When the Light Falters” with the Moon as being out-of-practice. From her new book Uprising (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) she read 3 poems, each in the voice of a different persona, beginning early just after World War II, then in the voice of one of the Jewish survivor/refugees in 1951 ("Miksa Beckmann"), & then one from the period during the chaos of the Hungarian Uprising in October 1956. This book is a stunning example of what some critics have dubbed “docu-poetry” (or, as Ed Sanders called it “investigative poetry”) in which the poet writes about moments in history, incorporating the voices & experiences of people who lived through those moments.  Michele has used her extraordinary skills & talents to make the story of the Hungarian revolt real.
She ended her reading with a poem from a new chapbook, LEFT: Letters to Strangers (Grey Book Press, 2014) that grew out of a writers’ group of which she was a member, each poem in the book in the form of a letter to a member of the group, wonderful, playful, quirky poems. How proud we are of this poet who first shared her work with us on the stage of the QE2 back in November, 1997.

I returned us to the open mic reading my new poem “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” Then Kevin Peterson read a Neruda poem then one of his own that a friend thought was like the Neruda poem, both tender love poems. Kat returned for the second time, from Saratoga, to read her poem “Gathering Our Seed.” Alan Catlin followed with a poem “The White Giant’s Thigh” (or, you can take the poet out of the bar, but you can’t take the bar out of the poet). Karen Fabiane was next & read a poem she began in 1975, eventually finished in spite of changes requested by an editor, the deliciously irreverent “I Fucked St. Joan.” Joe Krausman’s poem was a counting piece for which he had to use his fingers. Bob Sharkey read his tender poem about his granddaughter & her doll, “Walking with Baby.” This year’s Metroland Reader’ Poll Best Local Poet, Brian Dorn, read a piece appropriate for WordFest “Her Attributes.” A.C. Everson, who ushers at local music venues, read a poem from Saturday night’s gig about watching young children running, having fun. We ended the night with a new face & voice, Don Fons, who read a poem “Will You Forgive Me?” that he said was written in his “pre-rapper” days.

It was another fantastic night of poetry & poets here on yet another Third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY — 7:30PM, $3.00 donation that supports poetry events & the Social Justice Center.

April 21, 2015

Albany WordFest - Metroland’s Best Poets, April 15

Each year Albany WordFest acknowledges the winners of the Metroland’s Readers Poll Best Local Poets with a reading featuring the lucky/hard-working word-smiths. This year the winners were, in 1st place, Brian Dorn, 2nd place, Mary Panza, & a tie for 3rd place between Elizabeth Gordon & Jay Renzi. The reading was held at The Women’s Building, 373 Central Ave., with R.M. Engelhardt, who is frequently (i.e., almost always) on the Best Local Poets list, as the host.

Elizabeth Gordon started off with a cluster of Haiku, then read the post-seasonal “Taking Down the Xmas Tree.” Her last poem is one of my personal favorites, about being new on the job (& a woman holding her own) “Carpenter’s Helper.”

Jay Renzi popped up out-of-the-blue last year on the Metroland list, but has now been coming around to some of the open mics. He began with a poem he does with dancers “Blessing the Virgin Oil,” then on to a newer poem “An End to Discord” (or, the door to Fraggle Rock). He then read a selection of mostly short, rhyming poems from his latest chapbook Remembering the Smoke -- you know, poets hang out at bars, drink, smoke & pick up strange women.

Mary Panza, who has been in the poetry scene here long before she was legal, read her classic “This is Not an Angry Poem,” then a poem that I must’ve heard before but was surprised when she quoted Charles Olson (!) “Understanding Christopher” (who was not in the audience), then her wonderfully vicious take-down of Shel Silverstein “Fuck the Giving Tree.”

Brian Dorn has for the last few years been going to more poetry readings than I get to. He read a small bouquet of his usual rhyming poems, then launched into the epic “40 Venues” which is a tour of all the places where readings are held that he has been to -- formidable.

There seemed to be some discussion as to whether there was an open mic, or not — it hadn’t been announced as such -- but some of the community folks in the room seemed to think so.

When the floor was opened up to other poets only Amani, who is part of the Nitty Gritty Slam team, stepped up to do a far-ranging piece from her phone, on Mother Nature Turn Down for What, but then that might not be the title.

But yet another WordFest event in the books & (lots) more to come, we’re just getting tuned up.

April 20, 2015

Albany WordFest - Haiku Battle, April 14

The Tuesday night event was held in the re-modeled dining room of Justin’s on Lark St.,  Samson Dikeman the host. Last year I defeated Samson to win (!) the Haiku Battle, not something I do very often.

But tonight it was a different story — same fine Haiku. The format is single-elimination rounds, best 2 out of 3 wins the round. In the first match-up it was Brian Dorn doing Haiku written with the other poets in the room as subjects, but he was knocked down by Melody Davis’ Nature Haiku. In the 2nd matchup, sex (K.P.’s Haikus) beat my love Haikus.
New-guy up-start Wayne Murphy was easily taken down by Jacky K. & housemates Steven Roberts & Jimmy Snay went toe-to-toe with Jimmy taking the match.

In the 2nd round Melody’s breakup Haikus took out K.P., while Jacky K. won her match with Jimmy Snay, her texting & ex’s Haiku beating his Winter weather.

In the final round it was the best of 5. Jacky K. was the winner with breakup, sex/love & Mulder & Scully winning the hearts of the judges over Melody’s efforts with Nature & 9/11.

I’m not sure that Bashō would approve (or even understand) but the rest of us had a grand time, cheering, groaning, heckling & just enjoying ourselves. Not sure what Jacky K. got for winning, other than our undying admiration (& lust, perhaps); perhaps it was like the Metroland Readers’ Poll — “that & a token…”  Bragging rights do count for something on the street.

There was more of the week left, so let’s see how many more readings I can get to — & write Blogs about.  WordFest 2015 continues.

Albany WordFest - Up the River Launch, April 12

The start of the week-long poetry orgasm that is Albany WordFest began appropriately (or, in appropriately) enough at McGeary’s Irish Pub on Clinton Square on this Sunday evening with a launch of issue 3 of Up The River: A Journal of Poetry, Art & Photography. It was a great way to entice poets out who never come out — give them a copy of the zine with their poem in it & ask them to read! Mary Panza did her best to herd these cats to the mic, & Kevin Peterson did his best to remember to read their bios from the book.

Malcolm Willison read a revised version of his poem in UTR, “Setting Out,” then a funny poem about a drone “Home to Roost.” Howard Kogan read a poem about “Heaven” (it is like working security at a casino he thinks), then the poem in UTR “Advice to Poets.” Nancy Klepsch’s poem in UTR is “A Queer Horse” with it’s reference to a Robert Frost poem, then she performed what she had earlier this afternoon at the Arts Center “We All Pray for Different Reasons.” R.M. Engelhardt made a rare appearance to read his poem from UTR “Two Derelicts” then a stroll down memory lane to the QE2 with his poem “Ode to the Wolfman.” Tom Riley did not read his poem from UTR, instead read a late Winter poem “Out the Window” & “A Song for You.”

Cecele Allen Kraus read a poem about a country store “Turning Point,” then her poem in UTR “What’s Mine Is Yours” (about a childhood friend who was a cutter). Alan Catlin, who also edits an online literary journal, Misfit Magazine, read from UTR “Dancing with Lunatics,” then a poem re-working the Hitchcock movie Rear Window. Thom Francis, el presidente of AlbanyPoets, read his entry “Listerine” then “April” (the only 30/30 poem, he said, he has managed to write this year). Karen Schoemer read her UTR piece a tender poem tracing the stages of her daughter growing up “Summer Peaches About Its Wane,” then a relationship poem “Sanctuary.”

Robert Phelps made the long trip up the river from Beacon, said it was his first time reading poetry in Albany, read a couple poems, “The Jew & the Black Boy on the A Train,” a villanelle “After the Grief,” then his contribution to UTR “Sunday Morning on the River Road.” Frank Robinson’s poem in UTR is a love poem to his wife “The Winter of ’88,” then a piece in which he announced his candidacy for President of the United States in a string of well-chose election campaign clichés. Former Metroland 2nd Place "Best Local Poet" Gary Murrow wasn’t able to be here today so Mary Panza asked me to read his entry in UTR, the short poem “A Valentine” (none of my poems were accepted for UTR, but they did include a photo I took of poet Paul Weinman at the QE2 in 1989).

A most auspicious start to this year’s Albany WordFest with poets & poems from near & far. So, with the help of god, a pen, a camera & the internet I will be bringing you more Blogs about the goings on this week up & down the poetic streets of Albany.

Like we say here, “In Albany, Everyday is Poetry Month.

April 19, 2015

2nd Sunday @ 2, April 12

This was the first half of a poetry double-header, with the start of the week-long Albany WordFest taking place later in the afternoon (more on that in subsequent Blogs). But it is a fact that the poetry scene in this area is an on-going, year-long event, & this open mic at the Arts Center was the 4th poetry event I had been to this week.  It seems like every month is a WordFest.

Bob Sharkey, a regular at the area poetry events, was first up to read with a piece from 10 years ago, a poem about traffic in Latham “Bemused Snake Transfixed by Distant Bell,” then a brand-new poem, 8 lines from John Ashbery, 8 lines of his own “Black & Tan with Ashbery.” Peggy LeGee read a piece summed up by her first line “I can’t worry about socio-paths & psycho-paths …” Joe Krausman is another frequenter of open mics, read a poem he found that he forgot he wrote “Defense of Poetry,” then “Ode to My Arthritis” (said he doesn’t have arthritis, he just made it up). Don Levy began with a poem describing his family’s dinner on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death at “The King David Deli,” then his funny poem about getting sick watching a sex-education film in school “50 Shades of Vomit.” Cathy Abbott read two very short poems of her own, “Tacky Pataki” & “Rotaries,” then “The West Wind” by John Masefield.

Kate Laity (had the best Spring outfit so I have to include her picture) read, surprisingly, poetry, first her pastiche of William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is just to say..” but with books, not plums, then recited the famous opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the Middle English. I read my newest poem “Didn’t We Do this in Saratoga?” & my co-host, Nancy Klepsch, read her poem about a friend’s paintings “The Modernist House” & a performance piece celebrating the sound of words in Hebrew, Hindi, whatever, “We All Pray for Different Reasons.” Jay Renzi read a very short witty couplet, then a piece that he said was the the only collaborative poem he’d written, “Someone Else,” written with some honey he met in a bar & didn’t even bother to get her name.

Jim Slattery was next, read a short story titled “The Boy with a Thousand Arms” but not by him. Karen Fabiane began with a new poem like a letter “I’ll Get You Tomorrow” & a poem from her chapbook from Bright Hill Press also like a letter, this to a guitar player she knew.

Dave De Vries was new here, his piece “Nostalgia” was about wishing he could press “Reverse” on his life, like he can on a tape-player, then another piece titled “Waiting.” Lynn Dean’s poem “Heart Paint” was a list of (metaphoric) colors. William Robert Foltin read 2 poems written in past Aprils, the first on touch & kisses, the second titled “Dancing.” Sterling Post slipped in at the last minute & was added as we were about to end, he read the family memoir “After Christmas Dinner” & a tribute to the jazz musician John Coltrane.

2nd Sunday @ 2 is a reading for writers of prose & poetry held at the Arts Center of the Capital Region on River St. in Troy at, like it says, 2:00PM on the 2nd Sunday of the month. Free. Your hosts are Nancy Klepsch & me, Dan Wilcox.

April 17, 2015

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree & Sky, April 10

The first of the season’s readings at Pine Hollow Arboretum, sponsored by Rootdrinker Institute & hosted by Alan Casline, tonight walking with a stick.

First a little open mic before our featured poet, Alifair Skebe. I was the first on the list & read my poem “Believe, Believe” a tribute to & incorporating Bob Kaufman’s poem of the same title. Another Bob, Bob Sharkey, read a poem “Walking With Baby” about walking with his granddaughter walking with her doll, then a journal entry about the Mayor of Cohoes. Tim Verhaegen did a slam-style piece playing on the word “alone,” then a poem about being an outsider; Tim had recently been to the Nitty Gritty Slam, competed for the 1st time & came in 2nd! The father of the Arboretum, John Abbuhl, read, as he usually does, from his little pocket notebook that he said was titled “On the Bridge of Morning Sun;” his jottings are philosophical, “What None Could Take Away,” “Connection” (all there is), “Certainly,” & “What Do We Know” (what we know is that without John’s place we wouldn’t be having these readings). Frank Robinson read a piece titled “The Image” on “pseudos” from his collection of essays & reviews Angels & Pinheads (Verity Press International, 2013).

A sure sign of Spring, when we can park on the lawn, is the start of this reading/open mic series, & a great start with the first featured poet of the season Alifair Skebe. She began with wearing a mask & a poem/song for the Pythian priestess. Her reading included many poems celebrating the season, it seems, such as “Emily’s Garden,” “A Dry April Day,” “American Pastoral” (& childbirth), “Spinning Paper” (another way of thinking about butterflies), & poems of birds, & flies & bees, even “One Southern Woman” with its rich images of Louisiana dirt & food. But there were also poems about our mortality, a conversation with a veteran, the poet as fruit fly (“Life & Death”), “This Body,” & a poem responding to Muriel Rukeyser & referencing Emily Dickinson (again) “The Dead & Dying Poem.” Alifair’s work is intelligent & artful, rich in imagery, but the kind of poems we need more time with.

Back to the open mic after a break, Thérèse Broderick began with a poem about being with Frank at Caffè Lena, then a commercial about her group that meets 1st Thursdays & you can find them, I think, on meetup.com (Albany Area Poetry Chat). Ron Pavoldi’s poem “The Big Bang Theory” was about death & war in the jungle. Susan Riback put us on the Space Station with “Have We Forgotten,” then a poem for Spring, & a third “Living Alone,” also reading from a pocket notebook.

Jill Crammond read about the “Family Dinner” then a poem in a new persona “The Widow Receives a Bouquet.” Mark W. O’Brien took on another poet’s voice to read “7 Things Every Hipster Should Know about the Poetry Show.” Joe Krausman paid tribute to poet Paul Weinman & his reading at Borders nude & his chairs made out of sticks “Just Sticks,” then read a poem about needing someone who is both a nurse & an editor, & a piece about “Going to a Doubleheader” (not baseball).

Our disabled host, Alan Casline read regally from his chair, a poem based on childhood memories of food “Conversation Just Before Midnight” & a poem about what we need to know of “Toad Lore.”

This series continues on the 2nd Friday (mostly) of the month at the Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitor Center, 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY, 6:30PM — featured reader & an open mic.