April 26, 2017

Albany WordFest: Readings Against the End of the World, Friday to Saturday, April 21 - 22

The original version of Readings Against the End of the World happened annually from 1984 to 1993, pre-dated internet, cellphone photography, Blogs — for the back-story see my full write-up here & photos at my Flickr! site. There has been talk for years to bring this series back, but now the time (i.e., the abject political situation, like that of the Reagan era for the original Readings) & the access to space & support was right.

& the timing was perfect. For a number of years Albany WordFest, coordinated by AlbanyPoets.com, has been held the 3rd week of April, which sometimes coincides with Earth Day on April 22. It was as if Tom Nattell's stardust was dust sprinkled on us all to make this happen again, with the Science March on Saturday (Tom was a trained research scientist) & with the down-to-earth logistics arranged by Jil Hanifan of the UAlbany Writing Center. & student volunteers pulling all-nighters.

Photo by Sally Rhoades
We began on Friday, April 21 at Husted Hall on the UAlbany Downtown Campus, sometime after 7:00PM with 3 Guys from Albany (Charlie Rossiter & I) performing one of Tom Nattell’s last poems (& perhaps his last performance piece) “I Beat My Drum.” Then other veterans from the original Readings Against the End of the World, Darby Penney with some poems written at work, Ken Denberg reading of Winter & hawks, Nancy Klepsch who included her Tom tribute poem, & Charlie Rossiter who began his set with his inspiring “Reading Black Snake Solos listening to Haydn” accompanying himself with claves, to fill up the opening hour.

The schedule of 15 minute slots was filled up to 2:00AM, which is not to say there weren’t some no-shows along the way, but don’t expect to read here about every poet on the list — I like poetry, but, as Groucho Marx once said “I like my cigar but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

There was Sally Rhoades reading her poem about Joy Harjo (online here), & in her pink pussy hat reading about “Flamingos in Cyprus.” Mark O’Brien (also online) read a variety of old & new poems. R.M. Englehardt, among his usual poems, read a long environmental-themed poem about stupid monkeys. Tess Lecuyer took us on “a trip around the Sun” with poems written in each month.

Nancy Dunlop read her “Sentence Snatcher” piece, as well as other poems on writing, ending with “a prayer for poets.”  Thom Francis filled in, after Don Levy sent a text to host Mary Panza that he was having allergies & wouldn’t be there, then Avery, on the schedule later, also filled in & included a rhyming poem he was going to do if he followed Brian Dorn. At this point it was about 10:00PM & me & my guests (Charlie & Mary Ellen) needed a break, so home we went, some bourbon & to bed.

Charlie & came back the next morning, around 10:00AM, having missed a few regulars on the open mic scene, such as Howard Kogan, Joe Krausman & Julie Lomoe, & at the tale-end of a break for yet another gap. This is not at all unusual for the RAEW; it was common during the original series, particularly during the wee hours of the early AM, the schedule expanding & contracting (even wheezing sometimes) like an old accordion.

Anthony Bernini arrived not only with his entourage to swell the audience, but also wearing an original RAEW tee shirt — I had mine on & Charlie wore an even earlier version. Anthony read a poem he had read at RAEW on April 28, 1990 “The Banks of the Stream,” & included, as many did, a political poem, “After Election Day on 5th Ave.” Carol Graser also included a recent political piece, “On the Women’s March in Washington,” among poems about her mother’s closet, health insurance & Girl Scout Cookies.

Tom Riley, after being teased by host Mary Panza about his poems for the AlbanyPoets journal Up The River, Tom read poems from “59 years of accumulating people & things” & living in the house where he grew up. Cheryl A. Rice came up from Kingston to read “a couple of random poems,” including a project about the Ziegfield Follies of 1919, & her obsession with The Wizard of Oz, as well as a memoir of early years in Kingston.

We were ahead of schedule so Mary Panza read from a series of text messages & Facebook posts from Don Levy to stall, then, as the saying goes, “Speak of the Devil,” in strolled Don (with such magic power, I’m relieved Mary didn’t mention Donald Trump or Marine LePen), just in time to fill in for another no-show (“they’ll rue the day”). Don’s poems were classic Don including a reaction to a homophobic woman’s Facebook post about gay Disney characters “This Modest Mom,” & a poem about riding on the bus (subject of many of his Facebook posts).

Carol’s Girl Scout cookies poem was an assignment from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop & Karen Schoemer also read her poem in response to the assignment, a villanelle with the line "Spring is backwards" (which would make it gnirps I think), also a poem about an exhibit of photos by Diane Arbus. Mike Jurkovic, who had driven up from downstate with Cheryl eschewed the mic, as he is wont to do, for his poems, beginning with the reminder that “Gravity Gets Us All.”

The next hour, & more, was filled with readings by the Writing Center tutors. Unfortunately, they did not always clearly introduce each other, I guess assuming others knew who they were, but the rest of us did not — some of the names I “caught,” others I may have got wrong, feel free to post corrections in the comments section — & most read the works of others. The notable exception was the youngest reader who read wonderfully, albeit shyly, onomatopoeic pieces about rain, colors & “The Faucet” (when was the last time you thought to write a poem about a piece of plumbing?). Then her Mom read Ernesto Cardenal’s “The Word.” Joe read odes by Pablo Neruda. Kat (?) also read some Neruda (in both Spanish & English), as well as Tom Robbins, & poems by a friend & her friend’s Mom. Stacey (who said she had been here since 5AM) read poems from a huge, fat anthology, poems by Carl Sandburg, Joy Harjo, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich. Brenna read poems by the British poet Stevie Smith, while Amy Vincent read from a friend’s manuscript, a series of short poems titled “Plainspeak, Wyoming.”

Following that, Samuel Weinstein, who has read a couple times in Troy & at the Social Justice Center, introduced his friend Jacqueline, who read; one of Samuel’s poems was written when he was 10 years old, titled “Cheese.”

Frequent Albany open mic poet Thérèse Broderick began with an essay on Poetry & Science (the Science March was happening downtown here, & across the Earth today), then some poems published in the UAlbany journal Barzhak.

Speaking of the Science March, I had planned to take time off to be there, so headed out, got some lunch then joined thousands of other citizens in West Capitol Park, science-protectors of all ages. Plenty of students, parents, folks with imaginative signs, all of whom could have felt comfortable at the Readings Against the End of the World. The best sign I saw was one that bridged that gap: “Science is the Poetry of Reality.”

Later, I returned to the Readings as Siobahn Hotaling was reading some tender, anxious New York City-based love poems. Victorio Reyes shared some erasure poems based on hip-hop tracks, other poems for Sandra Bland, Jessica Hernandez, others, Rant 1 & 2, & a take on a Billy Collins poem “Emily D. & Some Dude.” Victorio introduced the next reader, Laurin DeChae, who began with Audre Lorde’s “Black Unicorn,” then other poems.

Tim Stowell, who was actually signed up, said this was his 2nd reading ever, & read the only poem he had read in public, about the death of a son, then took us on a tour of the favorite childrens’ books of his sons; in an interesting connection to the earlier schedule Tim included a poem written by Avery Stempl for the mother of his deceased son, Ben. Kareem the Dream was also on the schedule, & had to be coaxed into doing a second piece, both were hip-hop social justice commentary — the schedule was in a dead zone of multiple cancellation on the way to the final hour of the organizers’ readings. We took a break, then —

The final hour, or so, began with me. I bookended my reading with poems by Tom Nattell, one of his “Christopher Columbus Fantasies” & the Spring-time “Aviary Baptism;” in between I included a poem about one of Tom’s earliest planned readings at the QE2, “Where Were the Professors?” which is, sadly, still so relevant. In some ways it even applies to some of the folks involved in this project who read earlier but then never bothered to return to support other readers, to show solidarity with poets, students, & other poetry lovers who hung out, clapped for the readers, & celebrated the power of the creative act, theirs & those of others.

Jil Hanifan, who was so instrumental in putting the pieces together to make this happen, who served as tag-team host with Mary Panza, was next, with a selection of her urban wildlife poems about vacant lots, rabbits, Iroquois “little people,” even witches, & one of my favorite poems “St. Christopher’s School Bus.”

It was only (or mostly, or absolutely) appropriate that the reader to bring us on home to 7:00PM was the sleep-deprived Mary Panza, with a selection of 3 of her “House Wife Tuesdays” blogs to be found on AlbanyPoets.com. As it should be, it was Mary Against the World, or at least against the school mates & Moms who bullied her daughter (who, I must point out, handled herself very well — olives don’t fall far from the tree, etc., etc.).

& then it was done — after 24 years, another Readings Against the End of the World — for now, the world has not ended, “the creative act” has prevailed, & Tom Nattell’s stardust was sprinkled on us all.

So, as Uncle Wiggly once said, “if the rising seas don’t wipe out Los Angeles & New York City, & if the crazy-hair guys, Donald Trump & Kim Jong-un, don’t drop The Big One on us all, we will see you next year for Readings Against the End of the World, 2.2.


[Note: More photos can be found here in the Readings Against the End of the World album on my flick site.]

April 24, 2017

Albany WordFest, Thursday, April 20

Back when the Albany WordFest was a weekend event, the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center, which I run, was designated the “Unofficial Official Start of WordFest.” But now that WordFest is a week-long event, we are folded into the fold (so to speak). & it was great evening with new names/faces, the valiant regulars & an inspiring featured poet, Kathleen McCoy. But first we invoked the Muse, tonight, sadly, one of our own, the recently gone Moses A. Kash III; I read from one of his self-published zines & a manuscript page, as well as talked about his presence in the community.

First up for the open mic was a regular, Richard Jerin, to read a tribute poem to his “Friends.”

 Lois Sorrell was a new face & read another poem about friends, another kind, the ones who are judgmental & superficial, & not supportive. Kate McNairy read a short poem of love & sex, “He;” she has a new chapbook out from Finishing Line Press, Light to Light. Alan Catlin set the tone for the evening by reading an elegaic poem for his son’s 4th grade teacher, “The Burning Songbook: Requiem for Mixed Chorus Solo Voices & Orchestra.” Julie Lomoe’s poem was about singing in the chorus at the Troy Music Hall “Blinded by the Spotlights” trying to see the audience.

Tonight’s featured poet, Kathleen McCoy, read from her book of elegies for the women in her life, on the occasion of the death of her mother a few years ago, More Water than Words (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She began with “Hy-Brasil” a mythical island off the coast of Ireland (for a colleague who died of cancer), then a poem for her mother the version of “Green & Burning Oak: Glas Agus a Dhó” in the new chapbook, which is the tile poem of her 2016 Word Tech Edition collection, from which she read next. “Lindow Man” was a meditation on a bog mummy, then an elegy for her horse from 30 years ago, “The Chosen One.” “Dream of the Holy Hands” was a shaped poem, & “Demeter & Persephone” a poem for her daughter. At this point my recorder failed & what other marvelous poems she read after that, I have no record. But I do have these books to return to & the memory of her reading to remind me of her cadences.

After a short break to buy books, I read my Haibun recently published on Mark W. O’Brien’s Blog, 36 Views of Ononta’kahrhon “Last Train to Clarksville.” Brian Dorn read “Tears of Lake George” about the tragic sinking of the tourist boat Ethan Allen & the death of 20 passengers. Sue Oringel chose from 3 Spring poems to read “An Exorcism of Sorts” about Spring cleaning making room for her life. Sylvia Barnard read a new piece “2 Blind Mice” curled up in the drain cup of her sink, continuing what Sue said was “elegy night.”

Betty Zerbst came down here with Richard Jerin, she new here but has been writing poetry since a teenager; she read “A Letter Back in Time to Myself at 17” a autobiographical summary.

More WordFest to come & more third Thursdays, here at the Social Justice Center, 7:30, a donation supports poetry & the work of the SJC. A featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

April 23, 2017

Albany WordFest, Wednesday, April 19

The 3rd night of the WordFest was the bi-monthly Albany Poets Presents! at Restaurant Navona on New Scotland Ave. in Albany, NY. It is a showcase for a writer who has had an impact upon the life & work of AlbanyPoets’ el presidente Thom Francis, who serves as host for the event. Tonight that poet was R.M. Engelhardt. Indeed, Rob was one of the founders of AlbanyPoets, & the host & coordinator of a number of series of open mics in the region, including Vox, School of Night, Saint Poem &, currently, Troy Poetry Mission.

Rob, in signature black, & a long dress, began his reading with a characteristic piece combing words, booze & coffee, “Interview with a Poet Isolationist,” & into a series of pieces that turned out to be one poem about being a romantic outsider, a favorite theme, as he in the next piece romanticized about being “old.” Then back to using titles (which I appreciate for note-taking), “Into the Great Unknown,” “Winter Smoke” (clove-flavored I’m sure), the long “Saint Poem,” one to his wife (who was not here) “Murmur,” another characteristic divine encounter “God Says,” a preachy “Coffee Ass Blues” about changing the world, an attempt at humor “Ah Poetic,” more preaching in “In the Kingdom of Night, or Be Thankful” & ending on another fantasy as an old man “Forget the Dust.”

"Robert Engelhardt," QE2, 4/22/91
The unique feature of this event is the Q&A with the writer after the reading, that always begins with Thom Francis asking “what got you into writing?” Rob’s answer was simple, “Comic books.” Then on to questions about going to the QE2 where not there was not only an ongoing punk music scene but regular poetry events. Other questions related to Rob’s early involvement with a poetry series at the suburban pastry & coffee shop, Stephanucci’s, & his other poetry venues. Rob explained that he wanted to do “something different,” thus his attempts at themed readings, such as the Edgar Allen Poe events around Halloween.

Rob has been active on the poetry scene off & on since 1991. He was perennially listed on the defunct Metroland’s list of Best Poet’s list somewhere in the top 3 year after most year. His latest venue is Troy Poetry Mission at O’Briens Public House on 3rd St. in Troy on the last Wednesday of each month — it says “7:30PM” but there’s no point in showing up too early, it’s on Rob time.

Albany WordFest, Tuesday, April 18

The 2nd night of WordFest was the annual Haiku Competition at Nitty Gritty Slam held at The Low Beat on Central Ave. Amani was our host here, as she is each month, setting us up with “poetry is revolutionary.” She did a did an up-beat, strangely new-age-y piece that she said was “from y’all to y’all” titled “Remember Who You Are.”  [Guest commentator, 3B at the bar, had these notes: "Spitting over some John Denver ambient.  Lot of words."]

There was, in addition to the Haiku Slam, an open mic, but I did as I usually do, just signed up for the Slam.

Mariah Barber was the first of the 3 open mic poets, started with a love-fantasy for a rap star, then a happy poem for the happy couples, & a poem for Michael Brown, from her book, Of Mics & Pens & Gods & Other College Courses (self-published thru Create Space, 2017).  [as 3B said, "I feel old; she won't be on Breitbart anytime soon."]

Liv McKee tried out an unedited piece about her family in New Jersey, “Heading South,” written today.

& last was Amanda Boyd with a couple of short pieces inspired by a word-of-the-day app, a poem on “Camber,” & one on “Gumption.”

[3B summed up the the  open mic: "A short & powerful open mic -- Wilcox's favorite words to explain himself."]

There are lots of ways of running a slam for Haiku but the most simple to my mind is to do head-to-head between 2 poets, which is what happened, with right-hand/left-hand scoring. Anyways, it was Amanda & me, then Liv & Mariah, then Liv & Amanda, then me & Mariah, & me & Amanda — there I was once again, as I was last year, the winner, but by only 1 vote, a tight fight. The usual Haiku topics of Nature, but others on women, even on war, & humor & poetry. It was fun & if you know me you know how much I like being with a bunch of women — it was most sweet.

The Nitty Gritty Slam continues each 1st & 3rd Tuesdays at The Low Beat, always an open mic & sometimes a Slam as well. Check the schedule at AlbanyPoets.com. More WordFest each night this week.

Albany WordFest, Monday, April 17

Back again to the Hudson River Coffee House for the start of Albany WordFest 2017, another reading put together by Havey Havel. There were 5 poets scheduled to read.

First to the mic was a frequent reader at downtown open mics, Sylvia Barnard. She began with some older Easter poems from her 2012 book Trees, “Easter 1988” & one on the Anglo-Saxon goddess “Eostre” who gave her name to our holiday. A more recent poem, “March,” was from a trip to England, then a couple poems, & some Haikus, set in Albany in Washington Park, including “Shiobahn In Washington Park Age 46.” There was a poem for her great-great-grandparents & one about the submerged land in the North Sea “Doggerland.” She read a poem for a recently deceased friend who had an imaginary spouse, then a trilogy of poems based on stories a friend had told her about growing up in Denmark during World War II, & a poem about a dead friend who is still on Facebook.

Another familiar face on the scene, as well as at readings her at the Coffee House, is Brian Dorn. He also began with Easter poems, one, “Skyline,” imagining The Egg at the Empire State Plaza decorated for Easter, another told the story of the Resurrection in a short rhyme. His poems were all about Albany people, places & things, including the history of modern era minor league baseball teams, TV personalities (Rachael Rae & Billy Fuccillo), & Gaslight Village & Frontier Town. He ended with a chant-like tribute piece that he wrote for featured reading at Arthur’s Market in Schenectady.

Jacqueline Kirkpatrick isn’t as frequent on the scene as she had been a while back so it was good to hear a chunk of her work tonight. Said it would be “dark” reading & indeed it was, beginning with “Not an Easter Poem” with its flashback of being beaten, then a series of short, grim poems. On to “Essentially” in all its implications, an appreciative poem to her team “Paramour,” one on being drunk in NYC after a concert, “Honesty” (writing a love poem) & others. Just wish she would come out to the open mics more often.

Speaking of not being at community events, these days Daniel Nester is mostly seen in the halls of Academe. Tonight he read from the 2 volumes of God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press) in which the titles of each of the pieces are the titles of tunes from the Queen albums (if you need a quick refresher course on the band, here is a good place to start). Given the time when the band was active (& Freddy Mercury was still alive), & the writer’s age, the poems were filled with juvenile fantasies, masturbation, & drinking.

Poetyc Visionz, eager for affirmation, had to ask the audience 3 times “How you doin’?” (it had been a long night already). He said his favorite of his own poems was “7” so he thought he would do 7 poems, ending with “7”. His poems are the stuff of motivational speakers, with titles like “Be Great Full,” & imagining a place (on the 9th cloud) where dreams come true. He also performed a narrative piece whose plot was predicated on puns based on the names of celebrities, in another poem he used persistent alliteration to spell out “multiple talents.” For the poem “Poet” he divided the audience into 2 sections for the audience participation to sound out “po” “et”. The infamous “7” is a bit of spurious facts & faux mysticism, finding the number 7 in everything (are there really 7 “parts” to the heart? & I think it’s 9 holes for the human body).

A broad, eclectic mix of poets for the start of Albany WordFest 2017.

April 19, 2017

An Evening of Poetry & Prose, April 12

This event at the Hudson River Coffee House was under the umbrella of The American Initiative for Jewish-Muslim Love & Peace, a reading of Muslim & Jewish poets. It was coordinated by Havey Havel who was also the MC.

The first reader, Jarrar Hussain, said this was his first reading, read “I Miss You” a lament in memory of his loved ones, then one about his father, another in a funny, teasing mood to his wife.

Ejaz Hussain is a published poet writing in Urdu & Punjabi. He read a poem beginning “my eyes reflect the beauty of my love…” a sad poem, the a poem for the Spring season.

Jay Deitcher began with a prose piece in the form of a letter from “a very Jewish character” to an administrator on his job, very cranky & rambling. The a poem in rhyme “Shiva.” He said this was his first public reading.

Alaa Muhiddin was born in Syria, came to the US as a young child & is now a student at UAlbany. She began by reading the work of her father, Yasin Aref, who is currently in prison as a result of an FBI sting operation that resulted in a raid on the mosque in Albany, Masjid as-Salam, where he was the imam. His autobiography, Son of Mountains: My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect was published in 2008. Alaa read her father’s poems about his arrest & being in prison, including “Guilty by Birth,” & the ironically titled “Freedom.” Also, poems originally written in Kurdish in the 1980s & 1990s, as well as some lighter love poems. She read some of her own poems in a variety of moods, including one to her father, another on the destruction of her father’s village where 5000 people were killed & refugees had to walk from Iraq to Iran, & some short, rhyming upbeat poems on love & desire.

Ejaz Hussain came back to read a few more poems, including a ghazal on love, one titled “I Had Time Living in the World,” & one about vicious people.

Joe Krausman was the last, & best known, of the readers. He read some poems that were much-published, “The Passionate Accountant to His Love,” or that he made money on, “Ship Wrecked.” & others that he’s read out & about at local readings, including “Riding Shotgun for Wells Fargo,” “Limits,” “My Heart is an Onion,” “Imagination,” “A Thrill is in the Air,” & others.

These Evenings of Poetry & Prose are coordinated by Havey Havel on a irregular basis — stay in touch at AlbanyPoets.com.

April 18, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Saturday, April 8 — Grand Finale

In addition to the great roster of readers throughout the last few days, the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival includes the Darryl Fisher High School Creative Writing Contest, this the 13th year of the event. Prizes were presented tonight to the winners in both categories, Poetry (by Joshua Grasso) & Fiction (by Mark Walling). There were prizes presented for 1st, 2nd & 3rd place & 8 honorable mentions in each category to high school writers from all over the state. The complete list of winners can be found at the Scissortail Blog.

Following the awards the final reader of the festival was perennial Scissortail favorite, Rilla Askew. She is best known for her fine novels chronicling the history & people of Oklahoma, as in her novel about the Tulsa Race Riot, Fire in Beulah, & the more recent Kind of Kin. She has a collection of essays forthcoming from the University of Oklahoma Press, Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place.

Today, she brought the festival to a close with a reading of “Snake Season,” using personal memory & stories of her family to ponder the effects of climate change, & using the image of a rare ice-storm to wonder about how we all inch slowly, but inevitably, towards death. A story-teller & a philosopher.

& so the festival also came to an end. But the friendships continue, the writers continue to write & the scissortails continue to flit across the highways & fields of Oklahoma.

Thank you Ken Hada & the faculty, staff & students of East Central University for another festival of sharing words.