August 23, 2016

Book Launch: Canyons, August 19th


It’s been a busy poetry week (check out my Blog if you don’t know what I’m talking about), but Friday night was open after a martini happy hour so I was off to Troy to a storefront on 2nd Street, Publications Studio, for a performance/reading/book launch for Canyons, a new book by Albany poets, artists, publishers James Belflower & Matthew Klane.

Matthew & James are known for organizing the Yes! reading series at the Albany Center Galleries & for their innovative pairing of readings with music, visual art, even dance. They are both writers of works that stretch & twist the boundaries of what we consider “texts”. Matthew is one of the publishers of flim forum press & both he & James have a number of chapbooks under their belts from various small, experimental presses.

Tonight’s performance included a table full of electronic devices & their attendant cables & wires that James used to produce a sound-scape from recordings of birds, conversations, street sounds as well as the requisite electronic bleeps, pops, screeches & feed-back, while Matthew & James took turns reading sections of the text, & with a multi-layered image projected on the store-front’s wall. It was a decidedly different experience from the book itself, though not divergent.

Canyons is a beautifully produced book (by Patrick Kiley at Publication Studio, Troy, NY) of text, images & text&images inspired/engendered by the explorations of the Grand Canyon by “Wes” Powell in 1869 (& later in 1871/2). I can’t tell how much of the text is sourced in Powell’s writing or the photos (taken for stereoscopes of the time), but Canyons is more of an independent work of art rather than a document of American history. I’m still enjoying my copy.

You can find images from Canyons & more information about the book at James Belflower’s website.  He also indicated that the recording of the sound-scape of the performance would eventually be posted there as well.

August 21, 2016

Third Thursday Poetry Night, August 18


A hot night at the Social Justice Center, but some very cool poetry, with great support from members of the activist community for the featured poet, Schenectady poet & activist Martin Manley. Each month I invoke the Muse by reading a poem by some gone poet who is no longer here & this year the gone poets have been lining up faster than I can invoke them. Tonight’s Muse was the poet & activist Daniel Berrigan who died earlier this year; I read his poem “My Name” from the great anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness Against Forgetting, edited by Carolyn Forché.

Richard Jerin had been waiting for me when I arrived to set up so he ended up as the 1st poet on the open mic list; he read a piece titled “It’s Not Made Up” inspired by last month’s reading here by Amani O+. Philomena Moriarty, who will be the featured poet here in December, said she hasn’t written many poems about her day job as a psycho-therapist, but read one tonight on that theme titled “Restoration.” Sylvia Barnard read a poem about antiquity (& talked about her first job at LeMoyne College where she barely crossed paths with Daniel Berrigan); the poem, “Doggerland,” was about the ancient land bridge connecting Great Britain to mainland Europe. Malcolm Willison came over from Schenectady with a 2-part poem inspired by a piece in the New York Times “Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service” & writings about PTSD, “No Thanks/That Other Place.” Karen Fabiane read a poem titled “I’m Insane” complete with a pork pie hat & foot massages & etc. I followed with a new, seasonal piece, “When Donald Trump Farts.”

Martin Manley was tonight’s featured poet, an activist & poet from Schenectady who read from his new book Flint Knives. He paid tribute to his mother, Doris Vanderlipp (1924 - 2014), by reading one of her poems, “Ideas.” Before her death she had help create his book by typing & editing his hand-written manuscript. He also paid tribute to others in the community who helped with his book & to the myriad progressive organizations with which he as been involved over the years. The poems were arranged chronologically from 1973 to the present, mostly short, pointed observations on the human struggle for justice, like the jottings in a shirt pocket notebook of a church custodian & walker of picket lines, which indeed they are. He ended with a piece not in the book, written just a few months ago.  If you are interested in getting a copy of Flint Knives, email me at this Blog & I will hook you up, or look up Flint Knives on FaceBook.

Mojavi showed up too late to sign up for the open mic but I tacked him on at the end, & was glad he made it, to read a sad, bitter poem “Grieving from Paper.”

Join us at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY each third Thursday for an open mic with a featured reader from the local & regional poetry scene, 7:30PM a modest (or extravagant) donation supports poetry events & the work of the SJC.

Poetry at the Altamont Fair, August 18



photo provided by Mark O'Brien
This was billed as the 30th anniversary of poetry at the Altamont Fair, for some years now run by Alan Casline. It was formerly run — & perhaps founded — by the late William Robert Foltin. My earliest documentation of the event is photos from 1992 & includes not only a characteristically hirsute image of WRF, but also a photo of Charlie Rossiter reading with baby Jack in a back-pack baby carrier. No babies this year.

We were in the Carriage Museum, with its historical facades, at The (Poetry) Hotel Altamont, with Alan Casline as MC.

Mike Jurkovic made the drive up from the mid-Hudson region & read poems from his last 2 books, including the marvelously metaphysical “Half-Shitty Days.” Albany poet Alifair Skebe read poems from a forthcoming collection from FootHills Publishing, Thin Matter, full of nature & light, birds & the Hudson River. Alan introduced Bob Sharkey as “upstate New York’s most experimental poet.” Bob included his poem about reading the book Scary People to his granddaughter & the equally scary “Things” that were in the back of W.T. Grants. Mark O’Brien read some memoir poems & a chicken version of a famous Poe poem, “Edgar Allen Wyandotte.”

Anne Rokeach, although she never met WRF, connected to him through the open mic at the Colonie Town Library that he founded & that is still going on. She read a poem from one of that group’s “word” assignments, as well as a poem for her dead dog, & one for “You.” I included in my reading my “Altamont Fair Poem” that might have been written for that reading back in 1992. Diane Sefcik’s poems were on themes from native people, including a pine grove, the desert, red ochre & the tradition of the “Give-away.” Alan Casline read a brief segment from his series “The Exile Poems” about the central figure of the poem at the end of his life.

After a break for some beer & equally poetic conversation we re-convened for what Alan has dubbed “The Legends Round Robin” in which we take turns reading poems by gone poets, local & international. The poet so honored included Catherine Connolly, Art Willis, the recently gone Dan Lawlor, Jim Williams, Mabel Bennett, Tom Nattell, Will Christman, Daniel Smythe, Tomaz Salamun, Hornell Long & William Robert Foltin.

All things considered I’d rather read at the Altamont Fair than be read at the Altamont Fair.

August 20, 2016

Albany Poets Presents!, August 17


This series continues at Narvrona Restaurant with our host Thom Francis presenting Albany poet, performer & poetry entrepreneur Mojavi. I have known Mojavi since the earliest days of open mics in Albany & he was one of a handful of the artists who worked to link the black & white communities to share out work.

By way of introduction Mojavi talked about his early days confronting the nascent Albany poetry scene, braving the QE2 open mic, going on in the late 1990s to create Soul Kitchen at Clayton’s, then the Urban Guerrilla Theater at The Linda, then on to a piece that was a true story of the cruelty of children, his stutter & a teacher who taught him to speak. “I Will Save Myself” was a 10-part piece on his ex, then a moving letter to his son. On to poems of sex, love & sex & love, everything from the curvy ladies to a kid needing a hug. His last piece was one of his classic Slam performances, “The 1st & Last Time I Smoked a Joint.”

During the questions & answers with Thom Francis, Mojavi talked more about his childhood problems with speech, how he began at age 7 to write in notebooks so that he didn’t have to talk. He also talked in more detail about Soul Kitchen, even recalling a performance there by “those 3 white guys” Three Guys from Albany. He said Urban Guerrilla Theater was a chance to do his own thing, follow his vision & link up with some really good people. He was also part of the earliest Nitty Gritty Slam Team giving him a chance to take his art to other parts of the country.

Albany Poets Presents! is an on-going series every-other month at Navrona Restaurant, 289 New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY during which a poet/performer who has had an impact upon the local community is showcased with a reading, then an interview & questions & answers from the audience.  For more details check out AlbanyPoets.com.

August 14, 2016

Arthur’s Market Open Mic, August 10


There’s always a good turnout here & especially so with the friends & family of the featured poet, Judith Prest (“if your friends & family don’t come to your readings, who will?”). Our host Catherine Norr keeping order.

There’s an exciting collection of young poets here at Arthur’s Market to talk, workshop & just plain hang out before the open mic & many sign up to read. First up was Sydney Lussier with a couple of journal type entries on “Mislaid Lessons” & on her anxiety of hanging out with friends. This was Megan Sherry’s first time here & she read a piece titled “Exoskeleton” remembering a friend who died last year. Sam Maurice explained that he attempted to write a female Hemingway hero, the result titled “For Everything Lost.” Samuel DeSantis read a complex piece, “That Dragon Cancer,” about a woman, roaring rain, & the disease like an invasive plant.

Shayla Clarke read 2 pieces from her laptop, “Will of the People” about a wished-for magical world, & a more personal piece on the misery of trying to compete “Xed out.” Margaret Bryant read a poem from her book written in a workshop run by Judith Prest, communicating with a rock. Richard Jerin was back with a poem about pen pals learning about each other, another about following a rainbow. Leslie Neustadt (who will be the featured poet here in September) read 2 found poems from the New York Times, “How to Plunge into the Abyss” & “Any Hidden Face.”

Judith Prest read poems from her books Elemental Connections & Late Day Light as well as unpublished pieces, beginning with “Chocolate.” Elemental Connections (Spirit Wind Books) is her latest collection & contains not only her poems but her photos as well, nature poems with herons, the Adirondacks, the ocean in a beautifully produced book. From the 2011 Late Day Light (also Spirit Wind Books) she read poems as memory — of her youth during the Viet Nam War, a poem for her son, one in the voice of her great Aunt speaking from an asylum — & her memories as her entourage. It was a great way for her to celebrate her birthday, reading her poems to a rapt, appreciative audience.

Our host Catherine Norr returned us to the open mic after a break with a new poem, “August.”

Next up, the poet who signed up as Asher Wilcox read her poem “Little Red Bird” based on Emily Dickinson’s “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” (Johnson #254), then a very brief & sad “Broken Sky.” I followed with one just written today “Finding Pokémon” then a poem for the season “When Donald Trump Farts.” Ann Stocker read a descriptive piece on the death of a bird, then one she described as “unfinished” titled “A Way of the Cross” about her aunt.

Taylor Pangman read an intricate piece with images jumping from one to the other, titled “Counter Activity.” Raaf could only find 1 of the poems, about a baby platypus, that he intended to read. This was Dan Vollweiler’s first time here & began with “a silly poem” “Ode to Political Wingnuts,” then another silly piece in rhyme “Getting Dressed in Mom Jeans.” Jackie Craven read an old poem, the ironically titled “Priority Mail,” about waiting for books at the New York Public Library.

Susan Jewell’s poem “On Giving Carl Dennis a Ride to the Hilton” was based on a recent, true incident in Saratoga & filled with not only literary allusions but also warnings from her mother. Malcolm Willison read from his intriguing series of descriptive poems about a house in Key West, FL once owned by Elizabeth Bishop, “Afterword” (#13). Karen Fabiane ended the night with one of her classics, “Seeing You Again,” then a new, in-progress piece about intimacies after a party.

This regular monthly reading & open mic takes place at Arthur’s Market in the Schenectady Stockade Section on the 2nd Wednesday, sign-up at 7:00PM, start at 7:30PM, with your host Catherine Norr.



August 11, 2016

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, August 3


During the restoration of Caffè Lena on Phila St. the open mic is being held at Northshire Bookstore on Broadway, & tonight the guest host, filling in for Carol Graser, was — me! I was glad to be able to help out Carol, but doubly pleased because the featured poet was my friend from Ada, OK, the poet Ken Hada, who is also the Director of the annual Scissortail Creative Writing Festival at East Central University in Ada. In honor of the great Okie poets I’ve met at Scissortail I began the night by reading the poem “A Moment in Life” by the late Jim Spurr, who ran a monthly open mic on the third Thursday in Shawnee, OK (which has continued).

Local poet & artist Barbara Garro was the first on the sign-up sheet & read a poem titled “Swan Song.” Sally Rhoades has made the trip to Oklahoma a number of times, & read a couple of related poems, “Fireflies in Cicada” & one from a series written on the Sunday morning after each Scissortail Festival.

He’s back! Charlie Rossiter made his first appearance at a local open mic since moving recently from Chicago, & did one of his old favorites about reading Quincy Troupe & listening to Hayden (complete with drumming on the wooden podium), then a memoir piece “Campus Politics.” When Eric Krantz arrived to sign up he said he had “something completely different” which he did, a humorous political piece, “Di-Di-Oxin,” based on a Hanukkah song.

Ken Hada was back at the Caffè Lena (such as it was tonight) stage as tonight’s featured poet. He began with a new, philosophical piece that quotes Seneca “I Would Like to Say.” His latest book is Persimmon Sunday (Purple Flag Press, 2015). He said the poems in the book are arranged by the 4 seasons, & he read a selection filled with hawks, song birds, the night sky, fish, even rodents & cornstalks. From his 2013 collection Margaritas and Redfish (Lamar University Press) he read 3 poems, including a tale of getting to know wary men at their favorite fishing hole, “Yellow Cottonwoods.” I particularly like his early collection Spare Parts (2010, Mongrel Empire Press) from which he read the short, poignant “Security Guard” & “A Prayer for Old Men.” After reading “Words,” a poem from a new manuscript, he returned to Persimmon Sunday to end with “First Frost” & the title poem. Ken’s reading was warm, contemplative, just like the man himself.

After a short break, I returned to the open mic with a new, political piece “When Donald Trump Farts.”

One of the pleasant surprises of the night was the young poet Nicole Presti who read an intricate piece about celebrity role models who are not, about how to behave in the world, with an impressive use of rhyme for emphasis. Rodney Parrott, who is a regular at these open mics, read another piece from his chapbook Momentary Romances. R.K. Cowles brought a stack of books (notebooks?) to the podium, then did just a couple of short, quirky pieces, spending time to flip through the books looking for poems as part of his performance.

The final — & reluctant — performer made a most rare appearance in front of the mic, cajoled by his wife (Sally Rhoades) & others; Hasan Atalay read a political satire song about Hillary Clinton, “At 70,” based on Janis Ian’s hit “At 17” — the folks who rejected it for a satirical revue missed the boat on this one.

The poetry open mic normally held at the historic Caffè Lena on Phila St. on the first Wednesday of the month has been held at the Northshire Bookstore the last few months. I’m not sure when the expected return to Caffè Lena will be, but stay tuned for the location & keep the first Wednesday open on your calendar for poetry in Saratoga Springs.

August 5, 2016

Poets in the Park, July 30


This was the last of the season, again with a fabulous local poet & an equally fabulous national poet — Bunkong Tuon & Sarah Browning. We were in Washington Park in front of the Robert Burns statue — before the rain.

B-K Tuon started by paying an appreciative tribute to the local poetry community for its support, then went on to give a fine reading that showed why we like his work (not to mention why we like him). His first poem was “First Snow” from his book Gruel (NYQ Books, 2015). His poems are infused with his experience as a refugee, someone who has gone on to a middle-class life & become a professor of English at Union College. His poem “ESL Lesson” was from his younger days & addressed a confrontation of Cambodian & Vietnamese refugees, whose families could have been on opposite sides in the war, & the poem “Fishing for Trey Platoo” which was also from his book. The new poem, “On a Motorbike in Saigon,” was from an experience during a semester abroad with students. “Heavy like a Sack of Rice” was a horrifying monologue in the voice of a migrant sea-slave worker, based on a New York Times article, while “How Much Does Poetry Make?” was a lighter piece from his refugee family’s point of view, & “Still Water” (from Misfit magazine) told of an adult encounter with bullies while walking with his grandmother. He ended with a poem that he read for audience members with whom he had been discussing language before the reading, “Reciting Alphabets” about learning Khmer from his grandfather.

I first met Sarah Browning when I attended the first Split This Rock Poetry Festival back in 2008; she is a co-founder (with Melissa Tuckey, who read at Poets in the Park in 2013) & currently is the Executive Director of the festival. Today she had been chased up the Thruway by the rain storms heading this way. She began her reading with a couple of poems about the US invasion of Iraq & the city of Baghdad from her book Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007), then on to a couple also in the book about growing up on Chicago’s Southside, “Southside Mermaids” & “That Summer.” The poem “Calling Down the Airwaves” was like a commentary on the Trump candidacy with a character named Hate. Then on to some poems from her forthcoming book titled (currently) Killing Summer, the title poem in 3-parts on racial violence & death in our cities, & “Langston Hughes Joins the Merchant Marine 1923” (& gets rid of all his books except Leaves of Grass!). Sarah described how she is a descendant of slave-owners, & read a couple poems exploring her feelings about this, the poem titled “This is the Poem” telling a friend about her ancestry, & “Drinking as a Political Act,” remembering her father’s mint julips & its plantation origin. She ended with “In Your Darkness” a marriage break-up poem, & then the related, but more humorous “Dr. Bigbeef, or Internet Dating Over 50.” We were so glad she made it here through the storms & the storms here held off for her reading.

It was a stellar season of Poets in the Park, & I hope to be back next year to carry on the tradition started oh so many years ago by Tom Nattell (who I think must’ve helped to save me a couple of primo parking spots this year). Thanks to the Hudson Valley Writers Guild for financial support & to all the folks in our literate, literary community for their support.