December 8, 2016
A packed house in The Cheese Traveler to celebrate Alifair Skebe’s new book & to hear her read a selection of her poems. If one is to have a poetry reading, better to have it in a small space as opposed to some huge stadium, better to say “the place was packed” than “there were a lot of empty seats.”
I had already been enjoying the book, having ordered my copy directly from Foothills Publishing. She began with poems from 2 other chapbooks, “Poppies” from Love Letters: Les Cartes Portales/Post Card: Les Lettres d’Armour (Basilisk Press, 2004), a maddeningly laid-out flip book, & “Kiva” from El Agua Es la Sangre de la Tierra (Finishing Line Press, 2008).
The advantage of having this reading at The Cheese Traveler, 540 Delaware Ave., Albany, NY is the fine selection of refreshments served before & after the poems, the cheese, olives & wine that were as poetic as Alifair's words.
December 2, 2016
Monday night has become a busy poetry night, but I opted to drive down to Woodstock to the Harmony Cafe at Wok ’n’ Roll, mainly to hear again the intriguing poetry of Adam Tedesco. This weekly event is run by host Michael Platsky.
Of course, it being Woodstock, there were 6 or 8 poets already signed up, but the #1 slot was still open — so I took it. I read the oh-so-current poems “The Elect Shun Mourning & Celebrate” & “When Donald Trump Farts.” Pamela Twining followed with a rant “High Holy Days,” then a piece titled “Proof Positive” (that freedom is possible). Teresa Costa didn’t read one of her own poems, instead one by poet Bob Kaufman “Benediction.”
There is a tradition here that the grand ole mensch, Donald Lev, reads 4th, just before the featured poet; he began appropriately enough with “The Beginning of History,” then a tribute poem for Roberta Gould “The Dogs’ Story,” “The New Great Communicator,” “Upper West Side Scene,” “The Works,” “Inauguration Day,” & “Lunch” like manna.
Leslie Gerber seemed to do a “mini-feature” beginning with a poem written after Denise Levertov, others, including some from his new book The Edge of Sleep. Lenny Brown began with a song “The Racial Glacial Memory,” a poem titled “Cosmic Intelligence” on the election, a drug-induced philosophy “What’s the Matter,” & another piece on the election. Ron Whiteurs is always a hoot, poems with sex & funny rhymes, & title cards like a Vaudeville act, “My Credo” & “The Gism Jerk Gang.”
This weekly reading & open mic takes place on Mondays at 8:00PM at the Harmony Cafe of the Wok’n’Roll restaurant & bar in Woodstock, NY.
November 29, 2016
This is an annual event held at the Schenectady County Public Library, sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & the Friends of the Library, & is coordinated by Catherine Norr & Alan Catlin. I was the MC for the event this year. There were 6 writers in a variety of genres, poetry & prose, a reflection of the great variety of literary talent we have in this area.
Appropriately enough, first up was poet Brian Dorn who not only attends most, if not every, poetry open mic in the area, but is also one of the organizers of the annual Day of the Poet contest held at the Colonie Library the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He read a sample of his rhyming poems from his collection From My Poems to Yours (The Live Versions).
Next we turned to prose & Susan Morse who began with an essay/memoir from childhood about the death of her dog, “Escaping Limbo.” Then she had us in hysterics over a mis-understood plan for a tree for the annual Festival of Trees at the Albany Institute of History & Art with a piece titled “Merry Cat-mas.”
Back to poetry from Sarah Provost, whose collection of poems is titled Inland, Thinking of Waves (Cleveland State University Press). She read poems of childhood & hurricanes, as well poems of love & sex just to spice up the afternoon.
Carl Filbrich is the author of a mystery novel set in Las Vagas, The Heavenly Casino from which he read the first chapter effectively teasing us. The story centers around a Las Vegas reporter, John Holiday, & the murder of preacher who had planned on opening a Christian-themed casino.
Jordan Smith has published 7 collections of his poetry, including the 2011 The Light in the Film (University of Tampa Press) & the digital Clare’s Empire (the Hydroelectric Press). His poetry covered a wide range of figures & topics, from John Brown to coffee, Mozart, the election & the death of Garcia Lorca, even some references to his own fiddle-playing.
We ended with more poetry from Judith Prest. She read mainly from her new collection of poems & photographs, Elemental Connections, generally short poems, & managed to squeeze in some political poems as well. As a nature photographer she has also published an attractive calendar for 2017, from Spirit Wind Press.
This Community of Writers reading in Schenectady is a welcome start to the holiday season (it is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year), particularly if you want to start your Xmas shopping early with books from local authors.
November 25, 2016
If it weren’t for our featured poet, Karen Schoemer, it would’ve been guys-only in the house. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do like a little diversity in the audience. But first I had to invoke the Muse, another gone poet, this the recently gone Dan Lawlor, who would on occasion attend the Sunday Four Poets series (itself now gone as well) in Voorheesville, & I read his poem “The Waterfall,” happily provided to me by Alan Casline.
Speaking of whom, Alan Casline was our first reader in the open mic with a rhyming “Song of the Game of Shadow.” Mark O’Brien’s poem “Tell Me You Remember” was like a letter to a loved one. Richard Jerin has become a regular here & read a dream poem titled “I Write to the Wind.” Bob Sharkey read about a drive through farm land looking for a place to pee “Between the Blue Lands.” Joe Krausman has been finding poems he didn’t remember writing, such as “She Just Stepped Out” inspired by a woman who stepped off a mountain in Kashmir.
The Third Thursday Poetry Night happens at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY at 7:30PM with a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us each month on the, not to be redundant, third Thursday. Bring a poem.
November 18, 2016
Bertha Rogers, the impresario of the Bright Hill Literary Center of the Catskills, organized this event as the “First Annual Day for Veterans & Communities.” All the readers were veterans who had served in the US military.
I had met Marc Levy through our mutual friend & Vietnam veteran Dayl Wise, who with World War II veteran Jay Wenk had also been scheduled to read but were unable to be here. Marc has a detailed website, Medic in the Green Time, that not only includes his own work — writing & photography — but that of other veterans. He read a number of pieces from his experience in Vietnam -- about being on patrol, portraits of young Vietnamese boys & girls, on making GI coffee & eventually "Heading Home." He also described his project of recording his dreams, both of Vietnam & post-war, including one with Donald Trump in it. His poems are descriptive, deeply personal, event secret, & always moving.
Suzanne Rancourt is a veteran of both the Marine Corps & the Army. She read from a large manuscript of loose, un-paginated sheets, bedizened with multi-colored tabs & stickies. The poems were interwoven with her commentary on her life & musings about art, writing & healing, including on her experience of being raped & her own murderous rage in reaction to a break-in at her home. She said that a lot of these poems hadn’t been read out before. She also discussed her experiences as a practitioner & scholar of Express Arts. At one point she had members of the audience randomly choose poems from her unbound manuscript & her poem “On My Way Home” ended up being read twice, a message perhaps from the poetry gods.
Like Marc, Richard Levine is also a Vietnam combat veteran & began his reading with some poems from that experience, including the grimly descriptive “Field Bandage” & “Triage.” He also read from his 2012 Bright Hill Press chapbook A Tide of a Hundred Mountains the poems “A Mother Welcomes a Son Home from War” & “Disturbing the Peace” about 2 veterans in a bar in Brooklyn. He also read some new pieces, “Fire a Village,” “Graceland” a chilling piece about seeing someone who looked like a comrade who had been killed in Vietnam (with references to Michael Herr’s Dispatches & “the rock’n’roll war”), & “Reaching to the Horizon” about the war 30 years after. Richard divides his time now between Brooklyn & upstate New York.
I read a variety of pieces that addressed war, both that of Vietnam & our more recent invasions, & peace, beginning with an old rant “Richard Nixon Must Die” & ending with the painfully current “When Donald Trump Farts” — perhaps the two poems could be mashed up into one mega-political, anti-fascist epic, “When Donald Trump Farts Richard Nixon Dies” (or any combination thereof).
I was proud to be a part of such a program of poets & artists whose work I admire, especially that of the indomitable pink-haired Bertha Rogers.
The Bright Hill Press & Literary Center is a whirling literary & artistic vortex located at 94 Church St., Treadwell, NY — check it out when you can.
November 14, 2016
We all agreed that it was a good thing to gather for a night of poetry on the evening of the morning after the night before, away from talking heads & charts & numbers & maps. Our host Catherine Norr broke out in song to get us into the open mic. Richard Jerrin began with a poem written in the cold (with his gloves on?) one of love & longing, then a longer fragmented piece titled “He’s New.”
Another of the young students, Shayla Clark, read 2 pieces having to do with identity & defining herself as an artist, “Artist’s Rivalry” & “Ethnic.” Rocko read a short piece on misunderstanding “Whatever Was Meant.” Brian Dorn responded with a poem (in rhyme, of course) about uncertainties “Whatever Will Be.”
Catherine Norr returned us to the open mic after a break with poems from her book from Finishing Line Press Return to Ground, one of my favorites, “Mississippi Riverside Chat” then the title poem, drawn from a dream. Carol Graser read from her book The Wild Twist of Their Stems (FootHills Publishing) the chant-like “I Give You Birth.” Don Levy is quick on the draw & already has a poem about the elections “The Thing from The Poseidon Adventure is Called the Morning After.” I also read a post-election poem, but one written many elections back, “The Elect Shun Mourning & Celebrate.”
This series is in the Stockade Section of Schenectady at Arthur’s Market each 2nd Wednesday at 7:30PM, an open mic & usually a featured poet. Free.
October 31, 2016
Rob began in the spirit of Halloween (he had brought a talismanic copy of the poetry of E.A. Poe but no one read from it) by reading a poem by Tim Burton about Vincent Price. As often happens, I ended up as 1st on the open mic list, also with a Halloween poem “Zombie Gourd” & one on the election day horrorshow “When Donald Trump Farts.” Brian Dorn approached Halloween with his poem titled “Dark in Me,” then the love poem “Her Attributes.” In the Halloween mode, Tim Lake read a poem about the deceased William Robert Foltin “Killing Frost Descending” then a memoir written in France in 2011 “Flexible Flyers.”
Speaking of France, Mary de la Torre was back in town in the guise of the gentleman assassin, Pierre Francois Lacenaire (1803 - 1836) complete with blood stains on her white, lace-trimmed blouse on her breasts with a poem read first in French, then in English “Blood Karma,” then an erotic poem “I Want.”
R.M. Engelhardt brought us back to the open mic with a couple of his poems, “Insurrection in Bohemia” & the political preaching of “Dear Candidate.” Karen Fabiane actually descended even further into the far corner of the room to read her poems, first one written today “At Best” with cooking for a pot luck & a drum circle, & another, “Sometimes People.” Devon Simms recited & performed “Nativity,” a Xmas nightmare poem that included the smashing of a creche.
a recycling wishing bird is bones and buttons.” Perhaps Matthew Sekellick missed Rob’s note on the sign-up sheet, “2 poems,” as he tacked on a few more after his first 2, which were just fine, the first a list of titles of plays he hasn’t written, & the political piece “Where Are the State Funerals For…” (the workers).
It was a fine night of poetry, but no Poe. This series is slated to continue on the last Wednesday of each month at O’Brien’s Public House, 43 3rd St., Troy — 7:30PM sign-up, 8:00PM (or thereabouts) start.