September 25, 2016

Third Thursday Poetry Night, September 15


The calendar can be an odd duck, but not so strange once you have observed it’s peculiarities over time — this week the 2nd Wednesday of the month (yesterday) was followed by the third Thursday (today) & that meant the monthly open mic at the Social Justice Center in Albany. But first, I invoked the Muse, another gone poet, one I only recently found out had gone back in December, Wendy Battin (1953 - 2015), & read her poem about what I call “Oil War 1” the 3-part “Mondrian’s Forest” published in Sam Hamill’s anthology Poets Against the War.

First up on the open mic sign-up sheet was Richard Jerin, “happy to be here” he said, reading from his notebook a piece titled “01” a remembrance of 9/11. As it happened, Richard, & the next 3 readers had read last night at the open mic at Arthur’s Market in Schenectady. Alan Catlin, many years a bartender, read “Friday Happy Hour at the College Bar” about the first Gulf War on TV. J.J. Johnson also read a political piece, this from recent news, the rhyming “Deaf, Dumb & Deplorable.” Don Levy was the last of the readers from Arthur’s Market last night with a heavily researched bit of Gay History “The Origins of Brunch.”


Another series of similarities this night was 3 of us folks with some variation of the name “Daniel.” The first of that unique group was Daniella Toosie-Watson who recited her moving childhood memoir “Linguistics of Broken English.”

Our featured poet was Daniel Summerhill, just back from a poetry tour of the U.K. Tonight he read from both his books & started with “Ode to 1920” from Brown Boys on Stoops (2 Pens & Lint, 2015), then “Meditations on a Bookshelf” (written during a class) from Crafted (Genesis Press, 2016), & a poem to his young daughter “13 Letters to Genesis.” “Woodstock” is a poem about what it means to be an artist, then on to the challenging “Ode to Elijiah” done from memory, & ended with “’93 Camaro” about being homeless with his mother. But this was not enough, as the audience, cheered on by Amani, called him back for a rare Third Thursday encore.  He read “Life-Support” about being an artist, a sweet dividend. Daniel Summerhill is one of those rare poets who not only performs his poems well, but also writes real poems worthy of reading. But I was sad to hear he was leaving tomorrow morning for the West Coast, glad he had blessed this City with his words while he was here.

After the break I started off the 2nd half of the open mic with a poem from this Summer “Finding Pokémon.” Then I was followed by the return of Jan Farrell who read “Nightlights” (about stars) to “help everyone sleep well.”

Alan Casline read what he called "an experimental piece" titled “Slow Ground Blues.” Sylvia Barnard, who got here too late to sign up 1st, rose to talk about a visit to her old home town in Western Massachusetts where she found an old map from 1885, then read the poem about the map mixed in with her childhood memories. Bob Sharkey read a poem titled “Attica,” from 16 or 17 years ago, remembering that murderous event from 45 years ago this month. Brian Dorn was back reading a favorite, in rhyme of course, “In God We Trust.” Former-feature here Amani O+ rounded out the night with a brief piece about her ongoing, unrequited crushes on poets.

So join us at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Avenue, Albany, NY each third Thursday of any month at 7:30 for a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us, your modest or immodestly generous, donation supports poetry events & the work of the SJC. Bring a poem, too.

September 22, 2016

Arthur’s Market Open Mic, September 14


Back up to Schenectady on the 2nd Wednesday for this series with our host Catherine Norr & tonight’s featured poet Leslie Neustadt but there were a bunch of eager folks signed up for the open mic.

First up was Richard Jaren with a 2-part poem “Promises” that can’t be kept. Carolee Bennett was back out again to an open mic to reprise the sad & tender poem she read Sunday at the Arts Center in Troy “Let It Be.”

Ginny Folger read a variation on a nursery rhyme titled “3 Misses Muffets” then a piece on aging & actuarial tables “16 Minus 6.” That must have started something because Judith Prest read a poem titled “What Gets Us In The End” & then funny versions of what all poets are familiar with “Rejection Letters.” Barbara Traynor continued the aging theme with a poem titled “Enough.” Donna Dakota read a funny, clever narrative piece “Standing on the Porch of the World’s Perfect Poet.” Taylor Pangburn’s poem “Rehab” was about attending a staff meeting.

Leslie Neustadt, tonight’s featured poet, began with a signature poem, “Mishmash” reveling in her Jewish culture, from her book Bearing Fruit (Spirit Wind Books, 2014), & returned throughout her reading to other poems from this collection, including “Bitter Greens,” “Sand Hogs,” “Child of My Child,” & the revealing “Teshuvah” about abuse by her father & her lifetime of healing. She also read some new, “raw” (as she said), poems from classes & workshops, poems from dreams, on disease (“Incurable”), poems about her mother-in-law, her mother & from a new series of found poems from the pages of the New York Times. It’s hard to pin down this eclectic poet.

Catherine Norr returned us after a break to the open mic with one of her own poems, paying tribute to Leslie, “Matzoh” about asking the questions at Passover.

The long-time Schenectady poet Esther Willison made a rare appearance & read “My Screen Door” (as a metaphor of her life) then a poem in praise of Nature in the style of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. The more ubiquitous Schenectady poet, Alan Catlin, took us in unlikely directions in his poem “Haydn at 4 AM,” then from series of memories of that day “Remembering Working on 9/11.” I followed with my poem “Song of the Tallest Tower” written between the 1993 World Trade Center bombing & 2001. Don Levy is not a sports fan but admitted to like watching young men leaping off cliffs in his poem “Divers,” then explained a bit of gay culture in “Bear Facts” (“bears” are large-sized men, like Don).

Cynthia Finnegan introduced herself by saying she was “not a poet” that what she was reading was “just words” that she wrote on the death of her son, like a letter in rhyme — sometimes “just words” are a poem. Samson Dikeman, who in the past was frequently at open mics in Albany, read a descriptive piece, “Breakwall,” about watching couples at Lake Ontario. Malcolm Willison’s first poem was also descriptive, #11 from his series about Elizabeth Bishop’s house in Key West “Demolition by Neglect,” then a sober “Forecast” of the end of life on Earth.

Shae Fitzgerald’s love poem “Enough, Enough, Enough” was filled with images of the heart, while in her poem “Blood Moon” she became one with all the others looking at the Moon. Candice Arney began with a quote about faith, then read 2 poems also praising faith. Tzipporah Harris read a poem about vacation (written at a women’s writing workshop) “When My She is My He.” J.J. Johnson read 2 recent poems “about hatred” he said, “Planting Dandelions” & ripped-straight-from-the-News “Deaf, Dumb & Deplorable.” Carol Graser put an amusing cap on the night with a poem as a reality TV show “What If Emily Dickinson.”

The open mic at Arthur’s Market in the Stockade Section of Schenectady takes place each 2nd Wednesday of the month, starting at 7:30PM, with a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us, with our host the affable & sometimes musical Catherine Norr.

September 20, 2016

Harmony Cafe, September 12


Once again Michael Platsky, the host of this weekly event, invited me back to be a featured poet here among the poets & players of Woodstock. Michael began the night with a reading of his poem “Ashes Not Dust” to Woodstock habitué Roxie Dawn.

Alison Koffler, one of the fine Woodstock poets, tonight read a poem based on the seasonal tale of Persephone “Koré Yet Again.” Cheryl Rice’s moving poem about 9/11 & what we can do to make the world better, “Morning Prayers,” can be found on her FaceBook page. Donald Lev is the patriarch of the poetry scene, former editor & publisher (with the late Enid Dame) of Home Planet News, & has a regular spot here on the open mic list as #4, but tonight no one signed up to be #1. His poems were characteristically wry, short & quotidian, “What It Is” (a nose), “Listening to Old Music,” “Conundrum” (what day is it?), “Accessibility” about the NY Daily News,” “On the Destruction of the World Trade Center,” & “Wheels.”

So that is what I had to follow as the featured poet. I began & ended with political poems (respectively “When Donald Trump Farts” & “If Peace Broke Out Tomorrow”) with “Another Tuesday” about the coup against Salvatore Allende & the aftermath of the destruction of the WTC thrown in, & lighter poems in between, such as the recent “Finding Pokémon” & poems from Gloucester Notes (FootHills Publishing, 2015).

Leslie Gerber followed with a piece about elks in heat (“Definitive”) then a series in some sort of a Korean form on “freestate love” & a poem by the dead Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. Lenny Brown read some historical poems, “Stephan the Dissenter,” “Tsunami Fukushima” & one on Robin Hood. Quintessentially Woodstock Pamela Twining invoked football for a poem on death (“Touchdown”) then a childhood memoir poem titled “Tom Boy” about learning about sex.

Post Traumatic Press publisher Dayl Wise began with a political poem about drones, then on to “Savanna Georgia” in the persona of a person in the slave market, & ended with a poem titled “A Father’s Responsibility.” Rich Rhinehart did a piece in hip hop rhyme wondering who he is… Philip Gurrieri struck a shaman pose speaking into his stick for a free-style rant with biblical references that turned 2 audience members into toads (by mistake, I'm sure). Woodstock icon Andy Clausen bounced off one of my themes with a piece on the coup in Chile “A Be-Bop Bill," & a Burroughs-style routine.

The last reader was the very tentative Laurel Manley with the wonderfully tender “Exodus” & “Light Year Time.”

I don’t know how Michael Platsky does this Monday after Monday at the Harmony Cafe (at the Wok’n’Roll on Mill Hill Rd.) in Woodstock at 8PM — a featured poet & a spirited Woodstock-style open mic — please be generous to support the featured reader.

September 19, 2016

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, September 11


Back for our 7th season (!) at the Arts Center in Troy, your hosts, Nancy Klepsch & I, were pleased to see so many of our regulars, even some who had not been here in quite sometime.

First on the sign-up sheet was Peggy LeGee with “My Letter to Werner Herzog,” a piece about her struggles with gender, & the “Tranie Christ.” Dan Curley read a story told to him by his father about that old staple of the medicine cabinet “Iodine.”

Joel Best began with “Dialogue,” then a funny piece filled with advice & bumblebees “Our Trip to the Moon.” Bob Sharkey read for us a 21st Century American version of what the Japanese call “haibun,” prose & poetry, about his youth & meeting his wife in New York City, “In the Beginning.”  Carolee Bennett was back after a hiatus with 2 poems, “Let It Be” fishing for trout & remembering her Mother, & then one that combines some of her frequent themes, family relationships & a fascination with outer space, “Juno Goddess of Marriage Struggles to Face Her New Career as a Spacecraft.” I followed with an old poem written after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 & before 9/11/01, “Song of the Tallest Tower.” Nancy Klepsch began with an experiment in not making too much sense, a piece shaped by dreams & desires, then a poem on the recurring gun violence “This Is Not My Beautiful Place.”

Kate Laity introduced her prose fantasy, “How to Seduce Anyone” as “frivolous” but it contained an important message from a Fairy Godmother: “don’t be evil.” Tim Verhaegen was allowed to keep his puppet from Friday night’s puppet show & read the same, sad memoir of his grandfather, back in the Summer when Tim turned 6 & “everyone was still alive.” Howard Kogan read 3 memories of working in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Jil Hanifan’s first poem was in the persona of a bus driver in post-apocalypse Albany, then another urban piece “4 Rabbits.” Karen Fabiane read new poems based on email & phone conversations, “Lark St. & Madison” a memoir of gay bars & of 2001, & a poem about the the sequelae of a foot massage. Elizabeth Gordon was back from a poetry tour & also read a memoir of gay bars, including finding the Pulse nightclub “A Hiding Place for the Orlando 49.”

A fine start to our 7th season at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, where we gather to read poetry & prose each 2nd Sunday at 2 — & it’s free.


September 14, 2016

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree & Sky, September 9


This month at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, in addition to the usual open mic, the “featured poet” was a puppet show titled “Perious Frink & the Great Barrel Race” presented by The Birdbrain Players, with audience participation.

But first, a little of the open mic with Alan Casline, the brain behind the Birdbrains, as host. I was the first to read (again), 2 related piece, “When Donald Trump Farts” & “The Anals of Perious Frink.”

Christine W. read a couple of untitled pieces, the first a meditation on civilization prompted by seeing a wasp next destroyed by an animal, the second, thoughts on love & relationships inspired by watching the waves at the ocean. John Abbuhl, founder & President of the Pine Hollow Arboretum, read a short, philosophical essay titled “The Universality of Consciousness” then W.S. Merwin’s poem “The Laughing Thrush” to which John had appended his own ending quatrain.

Bob Sharkey is a fan of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems & read “From Ephemera in My Copy of Lunch Poems” like a time-capsule that even contained a flyer for the Third Thursday open mic when it was at the Lark St. Bookshop, then a piece that recalled the uprising at Attica prison 45 years ago this month “At the Fair.” Peter Boudreaux was standing straight to read “The Party” & the random lines of “Infinity.” Mark O’Brien read “September Prompt” which was from a poetry workshop, one of those long, complicated set of instructions that make me think the workshop leader was putting everyone on, sort of an anti-prompt.

The evening’s featured performance was by The Birdbrain Players, a hand-puppet romp titled “Perious Frink & the Great Barrel Race.” The cast & crew included Alan Casline, Jennifer Pearse, Annine Everson, Mark O’Brien & Tom Corrado, & some wonderfully colorful sets, & a story & lines that had the actors themselves, not to mention the audience, in hysterics that threatened the already anarchic production with entropy & chaos. & speaking of the audience, we were encouraged to join in as part of the crowd scene, puppets & people piled together on top of the barrels. It took a while to recover.

When the open mic resumed, puppetter Tom Corrado had barely recovered enough to read, but he did, a couple of his latest “Screen Dumps,” #306 (beer & contrition & poetry) & #308. Tim Verhaegen read a touching personal essay, a memoir from his childhood about visiting his grandfather in the trailer in which he lived behind Tim’s aunt’s house — he knows how to tell a good story. Tim Lake read two pieces from 2007, “Chinese Junk” 3-parts based on paintings of a Chinese boat, & from the 2007 collection The Annals of Perious Frink he read his entry “Finding Linden.”

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree & Sky continues into the Fall before the Winter break at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, featured poets, an open mic, all for a modest donation.

September 12, 2016

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, September 7


Host Carol Graser was back in the temporary spot in the Children’s section of the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs as the Caffè Lena site on Phila St. undergoes rennovations. She started us off right with a poem by Czeslaw Milosz (1911 - 2004).

I led off the open mic with 2 recent poems, “Finding Pokémon” & the driving directions “How to Find Clit Court” (a real street in Colonie, NY). Barbara Garro read a piece about using the computer at the local public library, “This Writer,” then a poem on “The Hollow Life.” Eric Krantz managed to squeeze in 3 short pieces, the rhyming humor of “Enigma,” a more serious “There is No Closure,” more rhymed humor about being wakened by the Muse, “The Downside of Poetry.”

Tonight’s “featured poet” was actually a poetry group that started out in 2012 in the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, with 4 writers making the trip tonight to read. Some read from their 2015 collection Border Lines.

Claire North read just one piece, “It’s Mattress Burning Time” from stories she heard from an aunt who had been a nurse/mid-wife in Appalachia, full of humorous & gross details.

Carol Cone also used humor in both her pieces, the first “Mapping the Situation” was set up like an ad for an application to help one find an item in a suitcase. The other a real-life description of “Driving in the Fog After Dark.”

Also with humorous pieces, Marianne Rahn-Erickson read a narrative of a battered wife sent to an asylum “How Granny Got Loose,” then an urban tale from her youth “The Sweeney Boys Are Missing on FaceBook.”

Jon Matthewson apologized that he hadn’t written any poetry in recent months because he is engaged in a project to read all the stories & books of mystery writer Ellery Queen, in chronological order. The older poems that he did read were engaging & intricate. “The Stove Fan Master of Voices” was built on blues themes & used blues-like repetitions, while “Multi-Layered Mona Lisa” was not just about scientists discovering the versions of the famous painting but with references to the Higgs boson.

Back to the open mic, Jesse did a brief break-up pantoum, then a free-style in hip-hop rhymes that was mostly about itself. Effy Redman has returned to Saratoga Springs, & recently had a piece published in the New York Times, & tonight read “The Wall” about a place in New York City where she would sit when she was lost & homeless, then a happier piece about being back here, “Solitude Lyric.” Rachel Cullen was visiting here & said she had just started writing again (she had been a feature at the Caffè Lena open mic a few years ago) & read 2 post-break-up poems “When the Silence Settles” & “Past Tense Comes Naturally.”

Drew read from his phone “Lost” about missing a good friend. Hannah also read from her phone, a rambling, unedited piece written on the 1st day of Spring, tracking her free-flowing emotions. Our host Carol Graser took a turn with a descriptive poem “Beach on the Great Sacandaga Lake.”

Tim Snider has been a regular fixture at the Caffè Lena open mic & announced that he is moving out of the area & so was allowed to read 4 short poems, all on biker themes (of course), explaining biker lingo in rhyme: “Biker,” “Leathers,” “The Code” (on being “old school”), & a final piece on his bandana (“I look like a cowboy…”) that he removed & tied in respect to the mic stand when he finished. Safe travels, Tim!

As of now, it appears that the renovations at the Caffè Lena site on Phila Street will be completed in the middle of November, & because Northshire Bookstore, starting in the Fall, closes at 7PM, the fate & location of this 1st Wednesday open mic for the next couple of months remains uncertain. One will just have to wait & see.


September 8, 2016

Yes! Reading Series, September 3


The new season of 1st Saturday readings at, for the time being, the Albany Center Gallery, began with 3 young, experimental writers, Annie Christain, Kenyatta JP Garcia, & Susan Landers.

Co-host Matthew Klane introduced Annie Christain, who had read at the Third Thursday Poetry Night back in March, & whose new book Tall As You Are Tall Between Them is just out from C&R Press. She read a generous selection from the book, including poems inspired by her teaching in China, “The Sect Which Pulls the Sinew: I’ve Seen You Handle Cocoons” & “LAPD, Blue Child, and Low Daily Rates: No One Was Killed in the Square.” She introduced “Inside a Handbasket in the Burlesque Theater” as “a sound poem;” the poem "A Maple Gets Red” plays off a photograph from the wedding of John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Her poems, while often containing pop culture references & some ironic humor, are difficult on 1st (or 2nd) hearing, but she is a savvy enough reader to provide for each some introductory context so that the listener is not completely lost hearing them for the 1st time.

Co-host James Belflower introduced Kenyatta JP Garcia, who in contrast to Annie’s reading, gave no introductions to his work (except once he mentioned a poem he was not going to read). He began by reading from a pocket-sized notebook, then from his phone, free-flowing, associative automatic writing without titles, read fast, but some carried along by chant-like repetitions. He also read from a printed manuscript titled “Last Word” that contained references to pop & gay culture, & some welcome bits of humor. Again, like Annie’s, work that a listener/reader would benefit from revisiting again when collected into a book.

Susan Landers read from her book-length work of “investigative poetry” Franklinstein (Roof Books, 2016). Sub-titled “Or, the making of a modern neighborhood,” it is context, the story of the Germantown section of Philadelphia where the author grew up. Although built on historical research & a reading of archival documents, there is much memory in it too, including a memoir of her mother’s death. & also in contrast to the other readers’ work, there was a very strong presence of “I.” It is a story of white flight, & racism & the church’s role in the frightened, collapsing community. The title is a reference to Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin & to Gertrude Stein — indeed some of the sections she read were composed of the repetitions Stein often used. Two very American inspirations to a very American story which I am looking forward to reading in its entirety.

As I alluded to above, the fate & location of the Albany Center Gallery, & thus of the Yes! reading series is uncertain & to be decided probably in the next few months. However, until you hear otherwise the readings are scheduled through December for the 1st Saturday of each month at the Albany Center Gallery, 39 Columbia St., Albany, NY. Check out their FaceBook page  to stay up to date.