August 27, 2014

Third Thursday Poetry Night, August 21

Summer in the City, Albany (NY), that is, at the Social Justice Center on a noisy Central Ave.

A little open mic, after invoking our gone Muse Charles Bukowski, before our featured poet, Rebecca Schumejda.

First poet up was Jamey Stevenson, who had been in the Albany scene a few years back, in fact had been a featured poet for Third Thursday in 2007 when we were at the Lark St. Bookshop, & since then has been in Scotland; his poem was about a confrontation on FaceBook with members of the GOP. Alan Catlin followed with a poem about not writing poetry like the actor James Franco (or the characters he plays). Joe Krausman started a discussion on prose poems, then read “Sunk by Gezunkis” a meditation on medicine & mortality. Matt Galletta has new book “in the mail” & read “Careers in Finance” about his old high school teaching job. Sally Rhoades’ poem “A Silence” was about quiet time in a canoe.

Rebecca Schumejda’s new book of poems from Bottom Dog Press, Waiting at the Dead End Diner, is page-turner of linked poems about the workers & customers in a diner. But she began with “Wedding Waltz” dedicated to her husband from an earlier chapbook. Then on to a selection from Cadillac Men (NYQ Books, 2012), poems about owning a pool hall & the characters who hung out there, “Sober on a Snowy Day,” & “First Steps” (her daughter's first steps in the pool hall).  Then on to poems from the diner book, “The Weed Whacker,” “No One Cares,” “The Idiot Pill,” “Tips,” & “After Shift Drinks.” A representative selection of her fine work, that was interrupted at one point by a man who wandered in from the street to preach about the greatness of god, until he was escorted back to the street — life in the big city.

Back to the open mic after a short break & I read an older poem, the inadvertent memoir “The Cardinal.” Bob Sharkey followed with a Frank O’Hara type “Poem,” an August day in Albany. Jan Farrell’s tender, wistful “Butterflies Dancing in the Dark” is her most recent poem.

Kwesi had read here in the open mic back in May & tonight recited a defiant poem “Devolution.” Sylvia Barnard was the last reader of the night with a poem from her recent trip to the UK & her first visit to “Liverpool.”

Join us each third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, $3.00 donation, a featured poet, bring a poem for the open mic.

August 22, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #76, August 19

It was the “Night of Champions,” when all the first place winners of the Slam from the season come together to compete — for the money, the bragging rights & the belt! But the belt was missing, hidden down South under the bed of last year’s winner “Saymo” (or SayLess?). It didn’t matter, there were 6 winners to compete. But first the open mic, with Kevin Peterson as our host, who started us off with a quick, drive-by “Quake.”

I read an old piece “Death by Yuppie,” then “A Cardinal & a Poet Walk Into a Bar.” Avery’s poem was not much longer than his title, “The Broken People Dance.” Joe, who was to compete later in the Slam, did a long Slam piece from memory by someone whose name I didn’t catch.

Jimmy has become a regular here & did 2 pieces in short-line rhymes, “The Black Hole” & “The Stars.” Poetic Visionz performed a piece about relationships, “Confessions of a Man.” A new face, Daniel, performed from memory the devotional “Private Eyes of Prayer.” Samson Dikeman treated us to a reading of “An Unkind Poem” by Charles Bukowski.

Although signed up as “SJR” (his initials?) it was Steve with a reading of his hysterical auto-erotic poem “Flight Attendant.” Bless used the names of hip-hop dances to talk about breaking the rules by being himself. Ainsley Pinkowitz introduced her poem about a sexy, awkward guy by saying “I wrote it 4 days ago so I don’t have a good title for it yet” (or was that the title?). Shannon Shoemaker read a tribute to her cousin Drew stationed in Afghanistan. Laura said this was “the most personal poem” she’s read out, the break-up piece “The Difference.” The final open mic poet was the virgin (reader) Michaela with a poem about being out on the river with friends.

el presidente Thom Francis took over as host for the Slam, with the contenders the 1st place winners from this season, at least those who showed up: Bless, K.P., Avery, Elizag, Joe, & P.V.  Shannon was the sacrificial lamb/calibration poet with her classic dyke-on-a-bike poem, “Tongue in Cheek.” Normally there should have been last year’s champion (Christopher the Poet/Saymo) here to defend his title & belt, but he was AWOL. It was my 1st time hearing Joe, who managed to get 2 10s in the 2nd round, as did Bless, but it was K.P. & Bless battling it out, both with short, flash, drive-by pieces. & the season’s Champion was K.P., with Bless 2nd & P.V. 3rd.  But with no Belt for the Winner, it was ironic that K.P.'s piece in the 1st round was about "getting panted", so I hope he's able to keep his pants on, at least in public.  & ultimately it was a good representation of Albany’s finest Slam poets, bringing to a end the 3rd year of Nitty Gritty Slam!

Now on to the 4th year, with Nitty Gritty Slam every 1st & 3rd Tuesday at 730PM for the open mic, followed by the Slam, at The Low Beat on Central Ave. in Albany, NY — brought to you by

August 18, 2014

Sense of Place: Local Writers Read, August 17

This was the final reading of the weekend long “Rensselaerville Festival of Writers” & was held in Conkling Hall. The readers included invited local guest writers, & the winners & finalists of the juried Regional Writers Contest. I had the honor last year of reading in this program.

Claire North
The readers were introduced by Claire North, who was also the 1st reader; she read what she described as a long poem, “It’s Mattress Burning Time,” a prosy narrative set in the past & based on stories she heard from aunts who had been nurses in Appalachia. She was followed by Peter Bourdreaux who read an excerpt from a short story set on a farm in the past, narrated by a young girl, “In a Field of Black Pearls”. Maryann Ronconi’s short story “The Van Arnsdale Secret” was actually an extended joke with the punch line “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb.”

Norman Cohen

The next 2 readers were the “First Place Winners.” Norman Cohen read a touching love poem titled “The Helderberg, a One-Sided Mountain.” Howard Kogan read 2 poems, “Mittens” about an old farmer, & a poem about trapping raccoons “Old Jack.”

Mary Armao McCarthy
The final readers were, appropriately enough, the “Finalists.” Diane Kavanaugh-Black’s poignant memoir of a dying friend was titled “Climbing Mountains.” Mary Armao McCarthy illustrated her humorous essay “Living With Wild Life” with a cartoon drawing of a skunk & kept us laughing. Irene Mitchell read a series of poems, “Softly Through the Woods,” “To the Heart’s Architect: Building Our Home at Schodack Landing,” & “Wake Up” (on the train between NYC & Albany). The final reader was Barbara Louise Ungar with 2 poems from a forthcoming (2015) poetry collection Immortal Medusa, “Black Fly My Love” & the ephemeral “Green Fire.”

It was an afternoon of pleasant, often funny, sometimes tender stories, but the topics were completely rural, as if the New Yorkers’ caricature of “Upstate” New York as filled with farmers, hicks, cows & black flies were true -- as maybe it is?. But where were our urban writers & poets of place?

August 16, 2014

"Sunday Funday" — The Pine Hills Review Reading, August 10

This was the 3rd in a series of readings for The Pine Hills Review, the literary magazine of The College of St. Rose’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Although scheduled to be held at The Low Beat on Central Ave., the place was locked when we arrived, but next door at Pauly’s Hotel where the bartender was hoping for some quiet time with the usual Sunday afternoon drunks, the college students convinced him they would even tip for water & he let them read.

Program advisor Prof. Daniel Nester introduced the host, Slam-champ poet Samson Dikeman, who introduced the readers. The “theme” for the readings was lies, which became fraught with irony as the largest single genre among the 9 readers was personal essay memoir. Which I guess just goes to prove what I have always said, “All writing is auto-biographical, except if your spouse is in the audience — then it is Art.”

First up was another Albany Slam champion, Kevin Peterson, with what he described as “a non-fiction piece” about learning to play poker as a kid & being an ass-hole.

Next up was the director of the Social Justice Center, poetry-performance artist Victorio Reyes with a couple of “Rants” from his series of rants, the first a litany of heroes that he said was “not a poem but a rant” the another about what he’s “for” & “against.”

Jessica Serfilippi, who has been know to make an appearance at Albany’s Slam, read a poem “Lies I’ve Been Told,” perhaps more true than its title would lead you to believe.

Conor White brought us back to prose memoir (or “bullshit” as he said) with a childhood memory of being convinced his mother was Black (it was sort of an Irish joke), & a piece about the Boar’s Head Meat supplier in the supermarket where he worked.

Kate Cohen’s essay about kids learning to lie was “for parents” & about the useful skill of lying to power.

Shawn Berman performed a piece of stand-up comedy titled “10 Pick-Up Lines that Have Gotten me a Restraining Order...” written for the new St. Rose MFA program in Stand-Up Comedy.

Mimi Lipson read an excerpt of the short story “Lou Schultz” about a dysfunctional family traveling in Florida from her short story collection The Cloud of Unknowing (YETI books, Portland, OR, 2014).

Hallie Goodman read yet another memoir, “The Lying Game,” about the bar scene in LA.

Alyssa Colton read a monologue in the persona of Queen Ann of England, then a personal essay she described as a “poem” (hey, I can’t tell where the line breaks are), “Swinging is a Gateway Drug” where “swinging” means on a swing as a child, but somehow Dr. Phil got in there too.

An official launch reception & reading for The Pine Hills Review is scheduled for September 5 at The College of St. Rose. Check the St. Rose/Pine Hills Review website for complete information. & send them some stuff, they accept submissions year round. Good luck.

August 8, 2014

CAPS Marathon, August 2

The Calling All Poets Series at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, NY is a regular monthly poetry reading & open mic & once a year they hold a marathon reading by poets who have read in the series. This year the marathon ran from Noon to 11 PM on Saturday, August 2. I made it down there for a little over half of it, including pizza at the break.

Co-host Robert Milby
I got there as Franklin Schneider was regaling the audience with poems that were based on funny word play & puns. Then, to my surprise, a brief open mic broke out. Shahi Shafi read a piece he was working on here about here (& came back later with more), then I read a couple poems, then Robert Milby, one of the hosts, ran through the week’s list of notable poet birthdays, followed by the other co-host, Glenn Werner who read a couple poems, one based on a photo of an ant drinking water.

Lynn Hoins read poems about writing poetry. Ken Holland’s poems were about weather — weather vanes, climate change, etc. David Messineo promoted his 20-year project of the history of America from 914 years ago, & his book Historioptican. Mona Toscano was part of a group within the Marathon & addition to reading her own poem that mixed in Romanian folksongs, introduced others from her writing group, Lou O’Neil, Christine Mannino & the philosophical Lawson Upchurch.

Marianna Boncek read a wonderful selection of poems inspired by her job teaching in the schools, touching stories of students & staff. Dave Kime stepped away from the mic, as he is wont to do, to declaim his loud, political/sociological commentary. Tony Pena’s urban punk poetry got the audience involved in his piece “Monte Hall & the Door of Death.” & finally the pizza arrived, for a short break before the Marathon lumbered on.

One of my favorite mid-Hudson writers, Guy Reed, read a cluster of pieces on Death, & it was worth the trip — as was the venerable poetic patriarch Donald Lev, with his characteristic self-referential ironic/humorous pieces, including one about reading in Albany at the Robert Burns statue in 2012. Ron Whiteurs is another poetic destination & tonight did only one extended piece, “To Inhale or Not to Inhale,” an auto-erotic memoir of sniffing gas in the Bronx, mixed in with fantasies of Mel Gibson.

Co-host Glenn Werner & Wanda Shafer
All the high points seemed to be clustering at once as Wanda Shafer read next, poems of rich, magical, dense language, with intricate use of rhyme, such as “Enigma” & “The Phoenix.” Poetry publisher Steve Hirsch included a long poem “My Own Infinity” exploring the concepts of America, religion & why nothing lasts. Roberta Gould’s poems were shorter, sometimes humorous, often political. Rafael Kosek began with poems by others, then on into her own. Marina Mati began with a poem for Calling All Poets, then read a mix of political & love poems.

Shane Cashman’s poems were urban, TV-based & included a collage of comments on a YouTube video. Chris Wood was one of the few poets who recited a poem from memory, although he did read some of his poems. Greg Correll read his poems, from a tablet, about being a single Dad. Robert Phelps read from his chapbook, largely descriptive vignettes, including a piece that made rain political & the amusing “The Nuns at Pizza Hut.” Rosalinda McGovern read poems that sounded like jokes, often splattered with wise-cracks, such as her piece on the city of Newburgh.

Another brief open mic session, with Shahi Shafi returning, then the comedian/impressionist “Wild Bill,” whose “Wicked Witch of the West” I thought sounded more like Sesame Street’s Grover. Hayden Wayne’s outfit matched his hippy-cosmic-androgynous sermonizing & rhyming cosmic love clich├ęs. Larry Sansone, who had been working the video controls, is Beacon’s current Poet Laureate; appropriately enough he read Beacon Main St. poems. Christopher Wheeling had been taking photos all night long, read short, serious, descriptive poems.

To finish up the many hours of the Marathon, our co-hosts each read. First Glenn Werner read a collaborative piece, “Malcolm X,” he had written with poet Will Nixon, & then “In the Blitz” about his mother’s experience in World War II. Robert Milby drew the Marathon to a close, first reading a poem by Irish poet Michael Longley, then a selection of his own hothouse poetry, serious, intense & filled with antique language.

It was, to my mind, a grand event, exhausting I’m sure for the hosts & staff, with a good crowd of listeners & waiting/finished poets for most of the time I was there. But the best part is that CAPS continues each first Friday of the month, 8PM, $5.00, with 2 featured poets & an open mic (2 poems), at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main St., Beacon, NY.

August 4, 2014

Poets Speak Loud!, July 28

It was one of those multi-event Mondays for me & I got to McGeary’s back room after the open mic had started, missed Sylvia Barnard’s poems & only caught part of Joe Krausman’s poems. Of course our host Mary Panza gave me a hard time about being late (was she a grade school nun in a past life?) & I signed up at the end.

A new reader Dennin Ellis read a rhyming piece “The Veteran.” Pamela Twining came up from Woodstock & read “Jazz Baby Blues,” a piece of post-World War II history & sociology.

Andy Clausen was the featured poet & he read from his 2013 collection Home of the Blues: More Selected Poems (Museum of American Poetics Publication) beginning with the incantatory list “I Hear You.” Then a couple of travelogue pieces, “It’s Shivaratri Time In Old Hardwar” & “O” (in Thailand). “Found Art” was a poem inspired by reading the newspaper, “A Doctor’s in the House” was a joyous sexual romp, & “He Was A Man” was a tribute to the Beat hero Neal Cassady. He finished with some selections from his long rant “Insurgency.” It was a treat to listen to Andy again proclaiming his poems in Albany.

Continuing with the open mic was Adam Tedesco who read 2 poems, the poetic recipe (of sorts) “Omelette” & the dream-like “Sassy.”

Another new reader, Colleen Lyons, also read 2 poems, “Nubs” with its images of tattoos & “Funny.” Pat Irish had 2 very short jottings, one on World War I (on this the 100th anniversary of its start), & “A Fall Day.” Speaking of war, I read my 2011 poem “Chatham Peace Vigil” then Tom Nattell’s historical-prophetic “Hiroshima.” Brian Dorn who had gotten there even later than me read 2 poems that he has never read out before, the love poem “Arousing Reflection” & “Pain & Poetry” (thinking of death on the edge of Niagara Falls).

& that was it for this month here at McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY, but Poets Speak Loud will be back here each month on the last Monday. Check for details.

July 31, 2014

Poets in the Park, July 26

The third & final program in this year’s series of Saturday evening readings in Washington Park under the gaze of Robert Burns. It was another beautiful Summer evening in the great Northeast. The poets were Geraldine Green from the UK, & George Wallace from Long Island & NYC. Geraldine was at the end of a 3-week tour of readings here in the US for her book of poems Salt Road (Indigo Dreams, 2013) . She lives in Ulverston, Cumbria, UK.

Geraldine read first, poems from Salt Road & from earlier collections. She began with “Me & Jeanine” a working-class poem about her 1st job as a trainee typist in a shipyard. Her next piece, “All Day I Sit in the Woods,” peaceful, contemplative, was based on a poem by Louise Erdrich. Next she read a couple selections from her 2009 collection, Poems of a Mole-Catcher’s Daughter (Palores Publication), the title poem originally written in the Cumbrian dialect but read in the more understandable English, & a poem “to the mad-ones” who get locked up, about her Uncle Joe making up poems walking along the lane. Appropriately enough she read a tribute poem to Walt Whitman here where we celebrate Uncle Walt’s birthday each May with a reading of “Song of Myself,” then “Hanging On” in the persona of a battered woman. A couple poems about the sea: the title poem from Salt Road (all sold out before she got here) about finding a sunflower as she was walking out into the bay, & a memory poem about swimming amongst mackeral in the Irish Sea. She ended with a portrait & tribute to the city “Liverpool” where her husband Geof is from.

George Wallace had read in Poets in the Park back in 2009 (& gave up part of his time then to let visiting Geraldine Green read a couple poems) & George & I have been paired up a number of times at poetry venues here in New York State & in Connecticut. While Geraldine’s style is more meditative, private, George is very much an incantatory, public poet. His first poem was “The Blues” piled up images & metaphors (“… 365 hands feeling you up …”) as he does in so many of his poems. “Sometimes You’ve Got to Knock a Man Out to Wake Him Up” was dedicated to Woodstock poet Andy Clausen, then the ultra-American “Belt Buckles & Bibles” based on travels through Kansas & Oklahoma, & the true narrative, “Riding with Boom-Boom” (New York bluesman Larry Ports attacked by the cops in October, 2013). Another poem about an encounter with NY cops he dedicated to me, about an encounter with Zuccoti Park. “I Want to Go Where the Garbagemen Go” is a poem I’ve heard George read previously, & can listen to again, anywhere. He ended with the high-speed “This Redhead of My Sudden Acquaintance” (“after Neal Cassady”) from his 2009 collection of "new American poems" Poppin’ Johnny (Three Rooms Press).

& so we bid farewell to the 2014 edition of Poets in the Park & hope that when we find ourselves here again next year (deo volente) that the weather will be just as fine as it was this year, & the poetry too!
May the Muse be with You.