October 24, 2014

Writers Institute Reading Series, October 21


It was a rare night of poets at the University at Albany with Kimiko Hahn, Edward Hirsch & Marie Howe, introduced by Writers Institute Director Donald Faulkner.

Kimiko Hahn read from her books Toxic Flora & the 2014 Brain Fever: Poems, which she described as books “triggered” by science, by reading The New York Times Science section, beginning with “The Blob” set in the 19th Century & the Daddy-Long-Legs poem “Just Walk Away Renee.” The poems she read from the new book were short, self-consciously based on prompts from her reading, or from her own experience (such as “Gag” about a conversation with her therapist), or dreams (“The Dream of a Pillow,” “The Dream of a Knife Fork & Spoon”). An interesting experiment was “Erasing Host Manipulation,” her erasure of the text of one the Science Times articles.

Edward Hirsch began with “To Poetry,” the dedication in his brand-new &, as they say, “monumental,” A Poet’s Glossary. He read a bouquet from his selected poems & some new pieces, such as the gentle humor of “Self-Portrait,” “The Partial History of My Stupidity,” & “A New Theology.” Also, “God & Me,” & “Variations on a Psalm” (#77), which seemed to set up his theology against Kimiko Hahn’s science. I noted that the audience, for all the poets, were “respectfully” silent & didn’t clap for the poems, only at the end. I wondered, like Hirsch’s last poem, if this would be “What the Last Day Will Be Like”?

Marie Howe is the current New York State Poet & has done some projects to bring “poetry” out into the larger community. She read mostly new work & most of that were poems in the voice of Mary Magdalene, dramatic monologues that reminded me of the gone Enid Dame’s Lilith poems, based on un-Canonical writings, such as the Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi. The poems were anachronistic, mixing & weaving the ancient stories with modern detail, such as the intricate poem about the 7 devils from the Gospel of Luke. Of course her biggest hit of the night was her poem about Magdalene talking about all the penises she has known (as we used to say for a “3 Guys from Albany” performance, “ when in doubt pull out the dick — poem”).

The following Q&A was generally uninspired, with Edward Hirsch getting cranky about young Polish poets now writing like Frank O’Hara or John Ashbery rather than the hallowed Czeslaw Milosz.

Sorry Ed, I get it, I don't want to write like Milosz either.

For the full series (few poets), check out The Writers Institute website.

October 23, 2014

Third Thursday Poetry Night, October 16


It seems the fabled tour bus was unable to find a parking space, but a few poets arrived by city bus, by car, & by foot. & with a short sign-up poets were even allowed to read 2 poems, & a few did.

I invoked the Muse by reading a poem from his memoir, Courage, Coward, Courage!! Steps Along the Way, by activist/union organizer Ed Bloch, who left us in August; Ed had read once here in July 2010.

First up to the mic was Alan Catlin with a couple poems, or rather 1 poem in 2 parts “Twilight of the Gods” about the hell of war, then part 2 about the grim aftermath for the warriors. Jamey Stevenson had spent some time working in Scotland, read “Dundee Dismantled” then “Pulp” an angst-ridden rhyme.

BK was a new face & voice & read poems on the evening’s continuing theme of war, the first poem about being a refugee learning English “ESL Lesson,” then read a “dirty poem” about learning about sex as a youth. Sylvia Barnard had only brought one poem, just written today, about her late mother, “Learning Greek” & referencing Homer’s Odyssey. It’s getting too dark to play golf in the evening so Anthony Bernini stopped by to read a poem about love “Letters of Young Lady Bird & Lyndon” based on early letters between President Johnson & his future wife. I ended the open mic with a new poem, that I dedicated to the memory of Ed Bloch, “A.J. Muste.”

Tonight’s featured poet, Elaine Cohen, is the author of the biography, Unfinished Dream: The Musical World of Red Callender & of a poetry chapbook, Solita: A Sojourn in Mexico, which she read from. “Journeying,” the first poem in the book, is about a bus trip to Oaxaca, the trip continuing with “Land of Shining Clouds.” “La Noche De Los Rabanos” (The Night of the Radishes) continues the description & her broken heart. “Mornings” is in the grand tradition of morning songs, then “Uprising” was on the night’s theme of war, then the heat of May in “Monte Alban,” & the charming title poem “Solita” (which is read to a jazz orchestra on Alan Chan’s CD Shrimp Tale).  Then on to a manuscript “Snapshots from a Family Album,” a piece about her grandmother’s funeral “First Loss,” a biography of her mother “Snapshots of Miriam 1910 - 2005,” going through her mother’s things with her sister “Legacy,” & ending with a whirling poem from a workshop “A Stranger in the Mirror.” Elaine & I exchanged poems & letters many, many years ago & I’m pleased that we have met again & again exchange poems.

The Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center takes place on the third Thursday of each month, with a featured poet & an open mic before & after the feature — 7:00PM sign-up, 7:30PM start, $3.00 donation.

October 15, 2014

Sunday Funday Reading Series, October 12


This day turned out to be a poetry double-header for me. The open mic in Troy (reported in my Blog) ended early enough & this reading at The Low Beat started late enough for me to be at both. I even had time to socialize & hug Susan Brennan, former Albany poet now in Brooklyn. This series is run by the folks at Pine Hills Review, faculty & students at the College of St. Rose. Today’s theme was “Learn to Read,” authors reading from works that inspired them, & at times their own work as well. Poet Samson Dikeman served as Master of Ceremony (& he was too).

Lucyna Prostko was the 1st reader, with poem by Czeslaw Milosz (1911 - 2004) read in Polish, then in English translation, then her own tribute poem “After Milosz.” She also talked about the poet Denise Levertov (1923 - 1997), then read a dream poem inspired by her reading, “Two Friends with the Landscape of the Imagination.”

Jessie Serfilippi talked about being inspired by the poetry of Gretchen Primack to write animal-rights poems & read one by Primack. I’ve seen Jessie perform her work at poetry open mics in town & wished she had read one of her own poems too!

Jesse Calhoun followed with a long, dense, tedious reading from the 1850 book The Law by Frederic Bastiat, no time, apparently, for his own work.

By contrast Shira Dentz read only her own work from the recently released door of thin skins (Cavan Kerry Press), described as “A hybrid of poetry, prose, and visual elements, … a tale that unfolds in a psychotherapist’s and a state prosecutor’s office and the mind of the poet regarding it all.” She read a couple sections, “The Porch,” “Hands,” others, the text often deconstructing along the way. She said this was her first reading in Albany in a bar setting — she needs to get out more.

Susan Brennan also has a new book out, numinous (Finishing Line Press),  which I had purchased a few weeks ago & like a lot — urban &, well, numinous. She began by reading Frederico Garcia Lorca’s “Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)” then on to section 7, a long prose poem, from her poem “Night Walk.”

Daniel Summerhill is another young poet who has made appearances on the local poetry scene. He read from a notebook a high school teacher gave him to inspire him to write, then from a poem inspired by the work of Langston Hughes. He ended with a recent poem, inspired by the music of Santana, “Bennie’s Blues.”

Barbara Ungar’s inspirations were many. She began with “My First Address,” then the title poem from Charlotte Bronte, You Ruined My Life (The Word Works, 2011), as well as “Only Emily” (Charlotte’s equally talented sister), & “Midsommer.” She ended with a crowd-pleaser from her forth-coming book Immortal Medusa “Athena’s Blowjob.”

The final poet, Jackie Craven, said she is inspired by reading Charles Simic, read his “In the Library,” then her own library poem “Priority Mail.” Then broadening the theme she read a poem about learning to read as a late-bloomer, & a piece (“Auto-corrected”) using the errors of auto-correct to write a poem any Dadaist would be proud of.

This mini-series continues for a couple more Sundays at The Low Beat — check it out at The Pine Hills Review.

2nd Sunday @ 2, October 12


Fighting my way through the crowds in Troy for the Chowder Festival I made it to The Arts Center to host the Poetry + Prose open mic, my other-half host, Nancy Klepsch, partying it up at a wedding somewhere. It was a day of return of poets who have read here previously, both recent & in the past.

First up was Peggy LeGee with the accurately titled “Asperger’s Rant,” on “the blame game” & on being labeled. Faye, who had been here last month, was back with a long, tender piece to a friend, “I remember…” Mike Connor followed with a seasonal walk on Peeble’s Island “Past Peak,” then performed a slam poem by Buddy Wakefield “Pretend.” Bob Sharkey read what he described as a combination of poetry & prose, “Winter,” in which his characters Mary Bean & Earl read the obituaries, then a cento on death & colors based on lines from the 2014 Best American Poetry “The Velvety Heart.” I was next with my new poem “A.J. Muste.”


Jessica Stephansen returned to read a richly detailed descriptive piece about a trip to Mexico. Howard Kogan read a poem “for the season,” the philosophical “Canada Geese.” We were pleased to see Kate Laity back after a long absence & she read an excerpt from prose thriller, “Smallbany,” that’s included in a new anthology she has edited, Drag Noir.


William Robert Foltin made an appearance as the “265 year-old CC Rider” doing a meandering monologue in the guise of Christopher Columbus with a bad imitation of Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci. Anything can happen here in the Black Box theater.

& it does, each 2nd Sunday @ 2 — 2 poems or prose no longer than 5 minutes — Free! — at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY.

October 13, 2014

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


Among the trees at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, our words like seeds. Alan Casline, celebrating a wedding anniversary with his wife Jennifer, was our host.

Joe Krausman was the first of the open mic poets, with a trio of poems on mortality, beginning with a trip to the doctor’s office “The World to Come,” then another poem on aging & then “Misfits” with the line “some day you’ll die forever.” Tim Verhaegen followed with a characteristically outrageous piece, “Timmy Trouble,” about gossiping & how he gets in trouble for it. Mike Connor read a poem on divorce by Tony Hoagland, then a piece from an early Blog years ago about this time of year, then “Inner Ink” a poem pondering the nature of tattoos. AC Everson began talking about being “over-exposed” on the pages of Metroland, then a piece about a trick-or-treat papier-maché family, then “Lisa Bitch the Reluctant Witch” & “Ode to a Smeared Spider.” John Abbuhl, the proprietor here at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, read some philosophical musing from his pocket notebook, ranging from the nature of “reality” to living forever through out work.


The night’s featured poet, Paul Doty, came here all the way from Canton, NY. Many of his poems reflected this rural environment, such as “Riding Mower,” the expansive, Kerouac-inspired “Driving in Northern NY” & the more diminutive poem about walking with his sons “Salamanders.” Other poems about his sons were “Box Kite” & “American Primitive” (together in a diner). He ended with a supermarket poem “Girls Need Pistachios” & another combining the Latin poet Horace & his father “Ars Poetica on a Barber Chair.”


After the break John Abbuhl showed us what the fruit of the Pawpaw tree looks like.

Howard Kogan read an intricate poem, “Petit Madeleine,” inspired by Proust, taking us through his new medication, memories of his mother, a Ferris wheel, death & how to spell “nauseous.” Mark W. O’Brien read about life among farmers “Good Shit When I See It,” the minuscule “Thru the Trees” & “Into a Small Dark Space” on the mystery of sardines. Alan Casline has been writing poems based on the I Ching for years, read from his forth-coming collection 64 Changes, “Duration” (on hexagram 32) & “On the Lake Following Thunder” (hexagram 17), & a poem from memory about hitchhiking in the Adirondacks. I read a recently unearthed piece written in 1997 responding to a prompt to write about the soundtrack of February 2, then my newest poem “A.J. Muste.” Bob Sharkey has been writing quirky pieces involving Mary Bean (& Earl) for some time, read about taking her to a wake, then a cento based on a 2-year project recording references & phrases about “race”, “I Don’t Know What Race Card She’s Talking About.”

The evening ended with 2 new voices trying out the open mic scene. Lauren Brown read a couple pieces in rhyme, the first written last night “Make It Real” (at a lake) then “I Am the Call.” Mickie began with “Anniversary” about a hike & remembering her father’s death, then she read a couple of what she calls her “parking lot poems,” written on the backs of grocery receipts, etc. (a quiet place to escape from her family), one a letter to her father after he died, then “Let It Go.”

The season is ending for this series, with one more meeting in November before the snow flies, sponsored by the Rootdrinker Institute.

October 10, 2014

Frequency North, October 9


The first of the semester’s series of readings, all prose this time around.


Professor Daniel Nester welcomed the audience, which filled the Standish Room to standing-room-only & introduced the reader, Chloe Caldwell.

Caldwell read from the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books, 2012) & from a new novella Women (SF/LD Books, 2014). Although she said “That Was Called Love” (from Legs Get Led Astray) was an essay, it sounded more like a memoir, or a lightly fictional auto-biographical story, listing the apartments she/the narrative lived in from Brooklyn to Seattle, addressed to her girl-friend like a love letter. Then it just ends.

She followed that with a selection of pages from her novella about a relationship between 2 women & their breakup & the narrator’s various dating experiences afterwards. Back to Legs Get Led Astray she read “My Mother Wanted to Be Betty Boop,” with her mother in the audience. It was also a memoir, with stark, personal details that characterized all the pieces she read.

When I first saw the schedule of Frequency North readings I wondered, “where are the poets?” Caldwell’s writing, while certainly “prose” often contained sections that could be read as poems, her preferred style being anaphoric lists, such as what friends in NYC were texting her in Seattle, or the segment from her last piece, each sentence beginning, “My mother…”

Check out the schedule of the remaining readings at the St. Rose website.

October 9, 2014

Live from the Living Room, October 8


Our genial, straight-friendly host Don Levy welcomed our featured poet, Catherine Norr — who strangely enough is the host of another reading & open mic on the 2nd Wednesday of the month (& this is the 2nd Wednesday) up in Schenectady. I’m sure her co-host, Jackie Craven, ably held down the fort, so to speak (it’s held at Arthur’s Market, 35 North Ferry St., Schenectady).

Catherine described her book, Return to Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2014) as “half memoir, half the noise of life.” She began with a descriptive childhood memoir about growing up in New Orleans “Mississippi Riverside Chat,” then another memory, of playing marbles, “Recess,” from an earlier Benevolent Bird chapbook. The other poems were the marvelously rebellious “Color Barrier,” “Differentiation” (a pantoum about her twin brother), “La Belle France,” “Hospital Rooms,” the title poem, “Return to Ground,” & “Awakening and All That Jazz” about the Lake George Jazz Weekend. A nice set of poems that inspired some conversation about life & poetry & the places we have been from the other poets here in the Garden Room.

Sylvia Barnard read a trilogy of poems, from her collection Trees, about her grandmother, “Pilgrimage to Vermont,” then a poem describing a photo taken in her grandmother’s store, & the graveyard “My Grandmother’s Bones.” I followed with a poem from a couple years ago about an open mic in Provincetown “Imagining the Mews,” then my newest piece “A.J. Muste.”

Luis Pabon started with a poem on domestic violence from an abused son’s point of view “Internal Bleeding,” then a gay love/sex poem with references to Emma Lazarus “The Newer Colossus.” Bob Sharkey read what he called a “silly” poem “Dream of 9/11/14” about being part of the 1%, then a piece from his continuing saga of Earl, Mary Beam & other recurring characters “Bad Times.” Our host, Don Levy, concluded the evening with a couple of his recent poems, the intense “I Want To Understand” about a gay-bashing in Philadelphia, then the hysterical (“he makes my cheeks hurt from laughing” said Luis) poem about finding crappy poems on the internet “Googling Rain Poems.”

I always try to get to this reading, & even with only a few of us there we have a great time listening to poetry, talking about the poems & how they impact on our lives — the 2nd Wednesday of each month, in the Garden Room (downstairs) at the Pride Center of the Capital District on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY, 7:30PM.