December 29, 2017

Third Thursday Poetry Night, December 21


Photo by Mary Panza
This was the 20th Anniversary of this monthly event that began on December 18, 1997 at Cafe Web on Madison Ave., continued through Changing Spaces Gallery on Hudson Ave., then the Lark St. Bookstore, & to the Social Justice Center where we have been since July 2006. Tonight also included the annual holiday tradition of the visit from “Sanity Clause” with a gift of poetry for all the readers — of which there were 19! Another tradition is the invoking of the Muse, & tonight, as each December third Thursday, with the reading of “Holiday Poem” by Enid Dame (1943 - 2003).

Unfortunately, our scheduled reader for tonight, Nancy Dunlop, was unable to make it so it was just one grand open mic.

& it began with Sylvia Barnard, who had just celebrated her 80th birthday, & who read a nostalgic Thanksgiving poem, “Family.” Alan Catlin read a New Years Eve poem “Too Drunk to Walk Sober Enough to Drive” from his bartending days. Then after sitting on Sanity Clause’s lap he turned the tables & gave Sanity Clause a printed broadside signed by Salman Rushdie.

Kristen Day
There were lots of readers tonight who haven’t been here in a while, the first of whom was Kristen Day who read a poem about her grandmother “4 Fucking Dollars.” Tim Verhaegen returned to also read a family piece, this about his family’s commentary on the appearance of others. Sometimes someone just wanders in from the street, as was the case with Walter Letsinger, who performed an untitled piece from memory about Death.

Howard Kogan finally made it here on a third Thursday with his poem “Heaven” (“which is like casino security…”). Mary Panza’s poem was a memory piece, a portrait like an old black & white photo from our younger days. Charlie Rossiter read his satirical take on the holiday letters we frequently get this time of year.

"Screamer"
Another poet returning, perhaps just to sit on Sanity Clause’s lap, was "Screamer" (Amy Fortin), to read a 10-year old poem/letter, on the disappearance & death of her friend Josh.  Don Levy has sat on Sanity Clause’s lap previously, & tonight, before sitting again, read his wistful poem about his neighbors, “The Bro Dudes Across the Street.” Joe Krausman read a timely piece, “Molesters Beware.” The next poet, BK, will be a featured poet here in February, & read about an auto accident from the Summer, & our concerns as a parent to protect our children. Another poet making a rare appearance here to sit on Sanity Clause’s lap, Kim Henry, was able to dig out an older poem for her mother, about her plants. I read a new poem for my granddaughter Jane about her name for me, “Call Me P.”

Howard Kogan & Sanity Clause (photo by Sally Rhoades)
Julie Lomoe was up next, with books for sale for last-minute Xmas shopping, to sing “It’s the Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year” available on her website.   Karen Fabiane didn’t read an Xmas poem but another piece about a visit with a friend “Night She Drink.” Sally Rhoades is a regular on Sanity Clause’s lap & tonight brought the cookies, & she read a political poem “What Children’s Voices are Hearing” about a friend’s conversation with her son. Barbara Kaiser was another returnee to this open mic, tonight to read a poem about a mouse “House Guest” & going to sleep. Dick Melita was here for the first time for his first open mic, doesn’t write poetry but remembered a short poem he wrote in the manner of Ogden Nash “69” — then told us later that “the first hands to ever touch me were those of William Carlos Williams,” to the great delight of all the fans of that great American poet. Bob Sharkey was the night’s ultimate (last) poet to read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “To Jesus on His Birthday,” appropriately enough.

You will have to wait a year for the next visit from Sanity Clause, but we are always at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, on the third Thursday of each month, 7:30PM, for an open mic & featured reader. Your donations support the SJC, other poetry events in the city & helps pay the featured poet.

December 18, 2017

St. Rocco’s Reading Series, December 16


The latest incarnation of this movable-feast was held at the Hudson River Coffee House in Albany & featured 3 women writers, Misha Pam Dick, Anna Moschovakis, & Bernadette Mayer. The announcements & hosting of the event was shared by Kenyatta J.P. Garcia, Douglas Rothschild & Aimee Harrison, from the St. Rocco’s Poetry Collective.

Misha Pam Dick read from each of her 3 books. The first, Deliquent (Futurepoem Books, 2009), I believe I heard her read from at the 3rd Annual Welcome to Boog City Festival in Brooklyn in September, 2009. They are short, prosy descriptions of urban encounters. For that book she was identified as Mina Pam Dick. Her second book, Metaphysical Licks (Book Thug, 2014) is a hybrid prose/poem novella, with the author identified as Gregoire Pam Dick, referencing the lives & work of Georg Trakl, the Austrian poet, & his sister Grete. Her third book,  this is the fugitive (Essay Press, 2016), focuses on the work of another Georg, Georg Buchner, particularly on Woyzeck. It is similar in style to the earlier works, but the writing much more compulsive, driven.

Anna Moschovakis wrote a blurb for this is the fugitive, & apparently drove up with … Pam Dick from NYC. She read, as she said, “a prose,” a manuscript titled “The Capacity to Be Alone,” a meditative narrative about writing a novel (including a long list of alternate titles), a terminated pregnancy, with a digression on viewing a book as one’s “child,” with references apparently to the British pediatrician & psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.

The final reader is more well-known to local poets for her readings & for her challenging workshops in her home in East Nassau, Bernadette Mayer. She began with a few pieces from A Bernadette Mayer Reader (New Directions, 1992), “Marie Makes Fun of Me at the Shore,” “Tapestry,” & “Thick.” The next piece seemed to be a manuscript, that sounded like a recipe “Shadow Biosphere.” She even read an apocalyptic Trump poem. She & Philip Good ended the night with a collaborative piece, “Alternating Lunes,” appropriately enough read alternating. While the first 2 readers were serious & read quite deadpan; Bernadette Mayer, among other things, eschews unrelenting seriousness, with her readings punctuated with a smirk, a smile, & her characteristic chuckle.

The St. Rocco Series takes place on, mostly, a monthly basis, at various & sundry venues around town. The next one will be on Saturday, January 20, at 7:00PM at Urban Aftermath Books, 295 Hamilton St., Albany, with readings by Michael Leong, & Amanda Huynh.

[In case you’re wondering, Saint Rocco, whose Feast Day is August 16, is the patron saint of bachelors, & dogs, among other things.]

December 13, 2017

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, December 6


The joint was jumpin’ for the featured poets, Marilyn Day & Leslie Neustadt, but also for the open mic poets. Of all the poetry open mics I go to each month, this event consistently has the longest list of readers. The great crowd was sheppared by our host Carol Graser, who got us off on the right step by a short poem by the poet Ruth Stone (1915 - 2011).

Barbara Ungar made a rare appearance in the open mic with 2 topical pieces, “Your Mother Serves Tongue” (on the abuse of women), & “Après Moi” (with the repeating refrain “Let them eat …”).

Susan Kress read a memoir of her parents, of her stealing from her father, “Thief.” Kate McNairy’s first poem was about stars & lust “Zodiac” then a related (perhaps) poem “Upon Turning 63.” Debbie Bogosian, a volunteer here at Caffè Lena, read a couple of rhyming Xmas poems -- ’tis the Season you know. Rad Wilson was new to me, read a poem on fishing (& death), & one on physics titled “God the Spooky Quantum Ghost.” Suzanne Rancourt read a piece mixing images from a dream & from a gallery in Canada “Swimming Bear,” then a more edgy one in an urban setting “Walking In Winnipeg.”

Speaking of “edge,” Naomi Bindman’s first poem was titled “The Lunar Edge,” then one about thinking about a breakup & looking at a budding tree “May Surprise.”

The first of the night’s 2 featured poets was Marilyn Zembo Day. I hadn’t seen Marilyn out reading in quite some time & the poems she read tonight were longer, with more of a topical/political edge, than I remember of her readings in the past, such as her first poem that she said was a sestina, “Paint Boxes & Whorls,” about a rape, a much-needed rant, then on to another titled “We Were Never Meant to Survive,” inspired by a poem by Audre Lorde. Another poem was inspired by a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Priestess Shines with Gratitude & Stature. Not surprisingly there were poems from workshops, such as one on the elections of last year, “Wake Up Call” & an emotional piece on the current opiod addiction crises “Vulnerability Study.” & on the lighter side, an older piece on her passion for cook books.

Leslie Neustadt began with the title poem from her collection Bearing Fruit (Spirit Wind Books, 2014). A number of her poems were also on political topics, such as “Unholy Commerce” (on Khmer Rouge sex-trafficking), one on Kurdish women fighting ISIS, another about a North Korean who was a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, one read because of the President’s announcement today about moving the US Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, “Trembling at the Threshold of Jerusalem,” & a found poem taken from an Alt-Right publication. “Exodus” was a poem from a dream, “Health Alert” was on Trump (again), “Incurable” was a cancer poem, while “Healing History at Schuyler Flats” was about uncovering a slave burial ground. Others a bit lighter included “Tabula Rasa,” “Salt Wars” on her son’s cooking, & “Baptism” for her grandchildren.

After such powerful poems from both features, we needed a break to catch our breaths, then back for the open mic, with Carol reading her poem “The Appendix,” another in her series of objects-as-persona. Terry Bat-Sonja began with a poem to her late husband, then a humorous “Oh this Poor Poem.” I was pleased to hear Alyssa Benaro read again, tonight a touching, musical narrative, “Steps,” about a young boy, whose twin had died. Marilyn McCabe read 2 pieces based on a friend’s research of single-cell organisms, “Adaptation to Extremes” & “The Santa Barbara Basin Dead Zone.” It was good to see Mary Kathryn Jablonski here tonight & to hear her read a new poem, “Monsters.”

Rodney J. Parrott read a piece about Trump, what he described as “a wake-up call to our better halves.” Leslie Sittner likes to write rhyming humorous pieces, tonight she read “The End of Fall” & “Ranting for the Health of It” (about the annual Medicare enrollment). Once upon a time Jodi Frank read at lots of open mics in Albany, but I haven’t seen her out in a while, so it was fun to hear her tonight; she read “I Want to Let Her Down Gently” (to her sister re: Santa — & refugees), then a poem she said was the first poem she ever read out at one of my open mics “Smooth Socks.” Amejo Amyot is one of the founders of Women Writers & Artists Matrix, she read a tribute poem “To Leslie” then a poem from a workshop (seems to be a theme tonight) “Birkenstocks” & I was surprised when she announced that this was her first open mic reading(!).

Another surprising first-timer was Linda Murphy who read a celebratory rant on the January women’s march “We March.” Judith Prest’s first poem connected with two of the night’s threads, “Steel” was written at a poetry class & it was based on an Audre Lorde poem; she also read a piece titled “What I Want.” I read just one poem, a new piece “Golden Shovel for Split This Rock.” Sally Rhoades read a couple of poems about her family, “Riding Shotgun” about her Aunt, then “Chapter 2” with family stories — & with her sister in the audience hearing for the first time Sally read her poetry.

Another first-timer here tonight was Harper Brace with 2 Autumn poems, “Sunday School” & “Jessica’s Letters.” Don Levy was his bold self with a poem about poets at the old QE2 in Albany “I’m a Fucking Poet” & “Just Say No to Nazis.” Kristen Day, Marilyn’s daughter & a good poet herself, sang a song for her mother (& father) the Kenny Loggins’ classic “Danny’s Song.” W.D. Clarke read one of his Robert Service style ballads, “This Christmas Tale.” Dineen Carta read from her book Loving the Ache (2015), the topical & powerful poem “Please” with its opening line “These are not my tits…” & the post-Christmas “Her.” Gloria returned to read “Prayer,” a poem from 2014 about her 2nd rape, asking to be reborn as a tree.

It was a bright shining night of self-assertive poetry, with the 2 featured poets, Marilyn Day & Leslie Neustadt, setting the tone — & the open mic poets stepping up.

The Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic takes place each first Wednesday of the month, starting at 7:30PM, at the historic Caffè Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs — put a poem in your pocket.

December 7, 2017

The REV presents, November 30


"Blackout Poetry," an April 2016 project by the Sage Community
in the Carol Ann Donahue Poetry Room in the Shea Learning Center at Russell Sage College, for the last REV event of the semester featuring a reading and Q&A with visiting poets Erica Mena and Levi Bentley. This is the new series coordinated & hosted by Albany poet Matthew Klane.

Erica Mena used her book Featherbone (Ricochet Editions, 2015) as the "meat" in the sandwich between new work. Featherbone is a book-length poem playing off the ancient story of Icarus, but as a female Icarus, drawing “on cyborg feminism, ornithology, anatomy” as well as the Greek myth. The brief passages she read also seemed also to be about the metaphysical transformation in blood & bone, as well as the play of silence & sound. Of the newer pieces was one written after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, mixing in Spanish words in a work on the meaning of citizens & colonizers. The ending piece was from a longer work entitled “Or the Dark Fillamenting,” a work about darkness, more abstract, but also a progression in images & themes from her earlier work.

Levi Bentley read from just a couple pieces, beginning with an extension from an earlier work called, I think, “Bucolic Eclogue.” What was read tonight focused on Claudia & Hen, an “I” in a struggle of language & imagery, mixing in personal history & memory, while being a part of a missionary family in Nepal. Then from another “project,” “Fish Moves” (or, perhaps, “Fish Songs”) which was described as moving toward animality, imaging what it would be like being a fish, an exploration of identity (a central theme with both poets), then on to a snippet from a project called “Fence Lines” that may become a work with photos & words.

Erica Mena & Levi Bentley
The reading was followed by a Q&A session, the audience mostly students, with some faculty, from Russell Sage (& an odd outsider). The questions focused on the role of political issues in both poets’ work, & about the imagery of identity in their work. The poets were collectively, white, queer, trans, Puerto Rican, & they pointed to the problem of picking one identity, against being more complex. A similar issue confronted their “experimental” poetry, that it too can’t be multi-faceted, can’t have a complex identity. Both poets’ work talked around, through, & in this issue, both for the work & for the person.

This series began in the Fall & indications are it will pick up again in the Spring semester. The Fall semester was run in conjunction with English and Modern Languages courses (in Creative Writing and Protest Literature) and explored the theme of “truth to power.” The events are co-sponsored by The Russell Sage Review (The REV), the department of Arts & Letters, and The Sage Colleges Libraries, and supported by the Carol Ann Donahue Poetry Fund.

Stay tuned for what the new year will bring.

December 5, 2017

Troy Poetry Mission, November 29


Back at O’Brien’s Public House, I did not want to miss the rare appearance of the incredible poet Rebecca Schumejda. There was a scant handful for the open mic, but, again, some making a rare appearance. Our host was R.M. Engelhardt with a preachy piece on poetry & social media, “Tips on Becoming Incredible.”

Making a rare appearance in Troy, Alan Catlin read a collage-style poem on drugs & movie stars “Hollyweird,” the title poem of a new collection, then a more recent & gentler “The Good Life.” Picking up the Hollywood theme Rob jumped back in with a haiku on the death of Charles Manson. I followed with 2 poems published this past year in Hobo Camp Review, “Lew Welch in Albany” & “Traveling America.” Also making a rare Trojan appearance BK Tuon read “Sunday at the Beach” about his young daughter’s encounter with an aggressive little boy.

Betty Zerbst read the 2 poems she read in the recent “Day of the Poet” competition at the Colonie Library, a couple of rhyming pieces, “The Trees of My Childhood,” & a bio-in-verse of her father “He Was a Boy.” Editor of Hobo Camp Review, James Duncan, read from his latest book We Are All Terminal But This Exit is Mine a childhood narrative “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Rebecca Schumejda is one of my favorite poets writing today, locally or nationally. She read tonight from her brand-new book of poems from NYQ Books Our One-Way Street that continues & expands the working-class tales from her previous books, Cadillac Men (NYQ Books, 2012) & Waiting at the Dead End Diner (Bottom Dog Press, 2014). She began by way of introducing some recurring characters with some poems from the 2 earlier books, “Where the Game Takes You” & “The Table Swallows Wally the Whale” (from the pool hall poems), & from the diner book the poems “No One Cares” & “After Shift Drinks.” From the new book she read “The Past is a Gold Cross Necklace,” “357 Prospect St.,” “Hurricanes” (a bar) & “When Someone Wins.”  Looking forward to the continuing saga in her new book.

Thom Francis was a last-minute add to the list, read a breakup poem from 20 years ago, “Still.” Rob ended with his latest version of yet another encounter with God, this on the bus, “How the Cosmic Entity Deals with Assholes.”

Check out this monthly reading & open mic at O’Brien’s Public House on 3rd St. in Troy, each last Wednesday of the month, sign-up at 7:30PM, reading starts about 8:00PM.

December 1, 2017

Poets Speak Loud!, November 27


This was an open mic with all the right elements: a great feature, an open mic with regular community poets we all enjoy, new voices, & a host that keeps (dis)order, Mary Panza — not to mention the food, drinks & attentive service from Mark. The feature(s) tonight was a poetry/sound-scape duo of poet Mike Jurkovic & guitar maven Nick Bisanz. But first a segment of the open mic.

First up was Sally Rhoades with a couple of older poems, “I Will Be Your Poet Tonight” & a poem remembering her mother “Glazed Donuts.” I read a Thanksgiving poem of sorts from my 2011 chapbook Poeming the Prompt “The Birds’ Poem of Thanks” then an old sex/love poem “Gods.” Joe Krauseman read a poem about a banana stickup “Highway Robbery,” followed by a poem considering Shakespeare’s quote “What’s In a Name.” Brooke Kolcow returned again to read 2 energetic pieces, “Cheery Love Poem While Meeting His Family,” & “What Will You Do with an MFA?” (she can check out my 27 suggestions here on YouTube).

A new voice tonight was Pam Ahlen  who was just passing through with her husband & found us online; before reading her poems (Mary let her do 3!) she told us about the annual Bookstock Literary Festival in Woodstock, VT at the end of July, click on this link for info. She began with a poem titled “Finding Superman,” then one about birds in her yard “Stopover,” & a political piece “The First 100 Days.”

It was time for the featured duo of Mike Jurkovic & Nick Bisanz. Poetry & music, like the old Beat’s poetry & jazz, has the advantage of if you don’t like poetry, or understand it, or even hear it, it can be fun just to listen to the music. Nick’s guitar licks were especially respectful of the words in not over-whelming them, although there were points where Mike’s words were not intelligible, due to not enough volume on his mic. Mike has done his time as a reviewer of rock music so this was a logical match. His poems are a mix of the grim, dirty, dystopic world, alcohol, & cynical social commentary, well-matched by Nick’s guitar licks quoting rock classics, & his own warped improvisations. The poems included bar encounters, such as “8 Stools Down,” “Topeka,” & a meeting with a girl he knew 50 years ago “Putnam Valley Serenade.” I thought I picked up on a piece imitating The Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women.” A great variety of poems with ringing guitar work, no mosh pit, no light show, no tickets I can’t (& don’t want to) afford. Good show.

There were a few open mic poets left, also worth the price of admission. Bob Sharkey read a piece about a fight in a laundromat “Waiting for the Load to Dry,” then a funny piece on what a white nationalist world would look like, “After Doing on Peanut M&Ms in Game 6.” Brett Axel made a rare appearance with a poem riffing on his sister’s favorite stuffed animal “Ranilla,” & the instructions on “How to Write Pastoral Poetry.” Karen Fabiane read new poems “Laughter in Cakes” & “After the Meadow,” mixing reality & myth, saying she was “gonna read them until they make sense.”

Poets Speak Loud! happens each (most) month on the last Monday — no reading in December — but come back in January, 7:30PM at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square in Albany, NY, follow them on AlbanyPoets.com.

November 28, 2017

Nitty Gritty Slam, November 21


This was NG Slam #119 or #122, no one was quite sure; my notes from a NG Slam in May indicate that was #127. A cadre of the hard-core Slammers have been meeting lately in an effort to re-vitalize Albany’s competitive Slam with plans to go to the Nationals.  Tonight there was a short open mic list & an equally short Slam list here at The Low Beat on Central Ave.

Amani started us off with a long poem from 3 years ago about suicide awareness, & how to make our Heaven on Earth. I followed with an old poem set in the old Justin’s “Jim Morrison,” then a new poem to my daughter Anna “Waiting for Jacqueline Robinson.” Elizag read from her 2014 collection of poems Love Cohoes “What I Hate About Cats.” Liv read one of her social commentaries about the contradictions among the hip that she is so good at, one beginning “Dear Hipster Eatery…” Sean J. got the audience clapping with a short piece that he stumbled through.

There were 4 signed up for the Slam & some confusion, it seemed, as to how to run that through to the end (more on that later). Amani was the “sacrificial poet” to calibrate the judges & did a piece on urban gardening. Elizag scored a 10 with “First Date,” then D. Colin got 2 10s with a piece about her first period. Liv did “prodigal” from her chapbook, & Sean J.’s machine-gun delivery was appropriate for “Death by War.”

The scores weren’t announced but Round 2 consisted of all 4 back to read from the highest to the lowest — D. Colin, Elizag, Sean & Liv, who this time got 3 10s.

The Final Round began with Sean, then Liv, both with self-assertive pieces that seemed to be the theme du jour, with Liv getting 1 10, then D. Colin blew them away with a perfect score (there were 3 judges) with a political/personal piece “On the Pulse of Ancestors.”

Then just to extend the evening, D. Colin did a “Victory Lap” with 2 pieces, one on her name & the popular piece “Little Black Girls” jumping rope.

I’m glad that some folks are working to bring more organization & direction to the Slam scene here. As with all arts groups I think it is important that it not result in being perceived as a closed group, & that the flow of the night & scoring be spelled out for the audience, since hopefully there will be new people unfamiliar with Slam rules & practices showing up. I think that each round be an elimination round. Taking tonight’s rounds as example, after the first round of 4, the second round should consist of 3 performers, ending up with 2 going head to determine the winner. If there are more than 4 in the first round, the second round could go to 4 & the third (final) to 2. That’s enough poetry for anybody for one night.

Watch for notices about upcoming Slams on social media & the local poetry calendars, such as on AlbanyPoets.com. Anyway, I hope to get out to more of the Slam events in the coming year & help cheer on a local poet to the National Slam Championships.