August 24, 2015

Where I Sit by Donald Lev — August 22


Donald Lev is a poetic treasure not only here in the Hudson River Valley, but also in New York State, indeed the entire Nation of Poetry & otherwise. His (& his late wife Enid Dame’s) work publishing the poetry tabloid Home Planet News brought many poets, established & neophytes, together since 1979.


He gave a reading & book-signing this day from his new book Where I Sit (Presa Press, 2015) at The Golden Notebook, independent bookstore, in Woodstock, NY. A Saturday afternoon in August in Woodstock is quite a, shall we say, trip, but the upstairs reading room of the bookstore was peaceful, with a number of local poets there to sit & listen. All of the poems in his new book are no more than a page long, with many only a few, gnomic, lines, such as “Jazz Lyric:”
I’m at the end of my rope and I’m
Swingin’
These poems are seasoned with the melancholic humor of old age & being alone, but finding solace in words. He read about a dozen poems, commenting briefly on their setting or origins, many of which I suspect are retellings of dreams. Perusing the book later I was pleased to see one, “Washington Park, Albany” commenting on his own reading in the Poets in the Park series in 2012.

If your poetry library is lacking a volume by Donald Lev this is a good place to start, then work backwards to some of his earlier books. It will make you smile, & maybe pick up your own pen.

August 23, 2015

Third Thursday Poetry Night, August 20


The mythical Tour Bus got lost tonight, with its load of poets & listeners & never made it, but those of us who were at the Social Justice Center for the featured poet, Michael Platsky, or to read our own poetry, or simply stumbled in from wandering The Avenue, had a pleasant, brief night of poetry. Tonight’s Muse, both in poetry & music was Sun Ra. I recently bought the 2011 Kicks Books edition of This Planet is Doomed: the Science Fiction Poetry of Sun Ra, & read from it tonight his poem “this universe is endless.”

The open mic was one of the shortest on record, with Brian Dorn doing 2 poems from his new collection From My Poems to Yours (The Live Versions) (Shires Press, 2015), described as “an endless book of rhyming poetry,” the poems chosen by audience members calling out random numbers for pages, first page 69 “Freedom’s Name,” then page 42, “Round and Round.” I had brought only 1 poem, something written a number of years ago for the first time I read at the Altamont Fair, an annual series started by the late William Robert Foltin, my urban response “Altamont Fair Poem.”

The featured poet, Michael Platsky, runs the weekly (on Mondays) open mic at the Harmony Cafe in Woodstock, NY where I have had the honor of being the featured poet a few times. His poetry follows in the Beat footsteps of childhood pissing-buddy Allen Ginsberg. Evoking Brooklyn his first poem was “Astroland” in Coney Island, a rambling memoir, then on to the elegiac “Letter to Ginsberg.” “Body at Rest” was a recent expansive portrait of the Port Authority in NYC. Another elegy was “88 Days” about his Dad’s ashes, recalling the history of their relationship, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame, the White Mountains, basketball courts of Brooklyn & his Monte Carlo. “America 2011” was a look back to Ginsberg’s poem “America” & was written in response to Occupy Wall St. & first read in Zuccotti Park. He closed out, appropriately enough, pondering Death, again, “The Real Question.”

No matter how big (or small) the audience, we are here each third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 for a donation that helps pay the featured poet, supports other poetry programs & the Social Justice Center — bring a poem for the open mic.

August 19, 2015

Nitty Gritty Slam #100, August 18


Nitty Gritty Slam is 100! Albany’s longest running Slam venue, & tonight was the Night of Champions where last year’s champion gets to defend his (metaphoric) belt against a roomful of this past year’s Slam winners, including members of the Nitty Gritty Slam Team just back from the national competition in Oakland, CA. Of course Reality is always a shade different than the PR. I was sitting at the bar of The Low Beat to observe it all.

el presidente of AlbanyPoets was off on a (well-deserved) vacation, so his help arrived late while the rest of us were wondering who was going to come up with a sign-up sheet, who was going to take over. Fortunately, Kevin Peterson arrived soon after, found an official sign-up sheet & hosted the open mic.

Ainsley, a regular here, was first up with a stirring piece about gender confusion at age 7, with her line about checking out another’s pants becoming a riff. I followed with an old, seasonal piece the “Altamont Fair Poem.” L-Majesty’s urban rhapsody, “Green Street Blues,” was a bit of imagined memory, new to me. Poetyc Visionz began with an informal discussion of impressions of his & the Team’s time in Oakland, then on to a heavily alliterative performance piece.
Speaking of performance, one of Albany’s most compelling spoken word performers, The Poet Essence, made a rare, & welcome, appearance, with a crafted poem about “45 Movie Titles” (really).

Kevin, who was the defending champion, was a bit perplexed about how this would work, particularly how he could be the host & defend his belt (the actual belt is/has been in South Carolina with a former champ for a couple years now) by competing. He introduced the Slam competitors, Poetyc Visionz, L-Majesty, Eliza, then Amani as the sacrificial poet, who took over as Slam-master, freeing up Kevin to compete. There were only 3 judges, just enough. The scoring was a bit hard to hear & follow at the bar, what with the playing of background music between each performer, but perhaps one wonders if that was intentional, &, besides, no need for me to know the scores.

What with only 4 Slammers, Round 2 was the same as Round 1, just in a different order. Eliza distinguished herself in both Rounds with Slam pieces which were pretty much real poems as well, both having to do with lovers, the first using the ocean & the second your heart/my heart as central images.

The Final round brought Poetyc Visionz & Kevin Peterson head-to-head, with P.V.’s more traditional Slam piece on the number 7 taking the belt from K.P., though his piece about his Dad, “Gravedigger,” was moving poetry.  I never did find out who was in 3rd (or for that matter, 4th) place.

In the photo, from left to right, P.V., L-Majesty & Kevin Peterson in back, Eliza & Amani in front.

& so the Nitty Gritty Slam moves on into the next century — each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat on Central Ave., just a door down from Quail St., supposedly at 7:30PM.

August 17, 2015

Live from the Living Room, August 12


This series at the Pride Center of the Capital District is well-known as generally relaxed, informal &, of course, straight-friendly, with Don Levy the welcoming host. Unfortunately, tonight’s featured reader, Thomas Dimopoulos, had to cancel & that meant canceling the tour bus filled with his fans & other poets for the open mic. Don suggested a round-robin type of reading, so I started it with an old piece, but timely for this week, “Altamont Fair Poem.”

My grand-daughter, Emily Wilcox, was visiting for a few days; she is a poet & brought along a couple poems for her first-ever poetry open mic, beginning with “Red,” a poem about her (former) favorite color. Don Levy read his tribute poem to the late Paul Weinman, “White Boy.”

My turn again with a short poem I’d written on the paper table cover in one of my favorite places for lunch, The Hidden CafĂ© in Delmar. Emily followed with the celebratory “That Shooting Star;” quite a debut for what we call around here a “poetry virgin.”

Don read a prose poem, “Deaf Girl Playing,” by the late James Tate, then concluded with one he had written on his recent trip to Paris (from which he brought me a marvelous souvenir beret), probably the best poem I’ve ever heard on writer’s block, “Constipation.”

It was a quiet night of poetry, but for me exhilarating to be able to introduce the poetry scene to the next generation of Wilcox poets. This event takes place each 2nd Wednesday of the month at the Pride Center of the Capital District, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM, a featured poet (usually) & an open mic for the rest of us.

August 13, 2015

Therese’s Balcony


On a morning such as this,
on Spring St. in the grey morning air.

On this morning as I look up
hoping to see you at your window
I see your blue towel on the railing
like yesterday's sky left out
to dry in last night's rain.

On a morning such as this,
in Paris in 1911, in Springtime
when the morning is still with mist
on the Rue D'Avila, M. Atget,
with his box with glass plates
his magic wooden cabinet
traps his tiny Paris, tiny buildings
in tiny mornings.

On this morning on Spring St.
I watch you close your windows
and come out on the fire escape.

On a morning such as this
M. Atget gazes up.
As she steps out on her balcony
the steam from her tea coils
to rise with the morning mist
through his lens she is upside down
her white dress seems to hang in the air.

You watch morning come to the city
I watch you touch your hair, your lips
your hem brushes your feet.

"Good morning," M. Atget calls, and asks her name.
"Je m'appelle Therese"
the mist begins to burn off
he wipes dust from the lens.

"Good morning, Therese; how beautiful..."
"Yes, but it will be hot soon."
On a morning such as this
when the lens closes she is gone.

When M. Atget looks for her again
in the flat plate of glass
the cloth on the railing is grey
like the morning hung out to dry
but she moved and is gone
a white mist left on the glass.

On this morning on Spring St.
I want to touch your hand
instead, my hand touches
the morning, you wave;
it is as if I will always
see you like that
on a morning such as this.

(published in Open Mic: The Albany Anthology, 1994, the Hudson Valley Writers Guild)

August 9, 2015

Poets Speak Loud!, July 27


When I arrived early for happy hour & dinner at McGeary’s, I could hardly make my way to the bar, it was SRO, & I thought, “Wow, Jessica Rae, the featured poet, is really packing them in.” But, alas, it was just a pre-show crowd for a concert at the nearby Palace Theater. By the time it was ready for poetry, the crowd had cleared out, the regulars at the bar were happy, & we Poets had the backroom to ourselves.

Mary Panza was the host once again, & had signed me up first while I was having dinner at the bar with Joe K. I remembered the 70th anniversary of the first test of the Atomic Bomb in July 1945 with a poem written for the 50th anniversary, “Cleanse this City,” then the epithalium written for Jack & Haley’s July wedding. Sylvia Barnard, with unnecessary apologies for reading this wonderful poem yet again, read “Siobhan in Washington Park Age 46,” then a poem written this AM that no one had heard yet about the recent readings at the Robert Burns statue “Poets in the Park” (Thank you, Sylvia!). Joe Krausman’s first poem was set at the New York State Museum “River Blindness,” then a piece about needing a “nurse-editor” for his body & his work.

Steven Minchin, who will be the featured poet in August, began with a surreal story of a train & a shredder, that if it had a title I missed it, followed by “Grand Marshall We’re Lost” where he can’t remember last night. Brian Dorn did 2 familiar pieces, “Plain to See” & “From My Poems to Yours.” Elizag/Elizabeth Gordon performed “Why I Went to My Family’s July 4 Gathering …” a list poem confronting racism & violence in America.

This was Jessica Rae’s first featured reading. I’ve been hearing her poems, tentative at first then more bold & assertive, over the last couple of years at open mics in the area & was pleased to be here to for her 1st full-length reading. She ran through a variety of her themes, personal, political & just plain poetical, beginning with the rhymed, anaphoric “What Is Poetry?” Then some poems about self-image & how/what we present to the world, “What Do You Do?,” “Identifying Me,” & “The Parts of Me that Write Poetry.” Then an interesting architectural experiment “Small.” Sliding into a series of rants she began with the grumpy personal “Hot Summer Night” then a piece aimed at those who have undermined her “My Confidant,” the similar “Don’t Be Foolish,” & the break-up poem “It’s Permanent” (“… you fucked up, … it’s too late”). She then read poetic list of tulips in the park, & on to the poetry version of her protest song “The Rape of Our Mother.” She ended with more rants, but these tempered by humor, “Cupid is Stupid” & the Dr. Seuss-inspired “I Am Not Your Thing.” Well done, Jessica Rae.

Back to the open mic Tim Livingston, a member of the band Last Conspirators, read a Blog description of a trip to Graceland, “Lisa Marie’s Swing Set.” Carrie Czwakiel came back to read 2 poems book-ending a relationship, “Without You” (about her ex before they were married), then “No More” (responding to insults after a divorce). Adam Tedesco proclaimed “This Is My Mushroom Poem” & indeed it was, & then “The Open House Has Been Cancelled” with the advice to the love-lorn “love is a kind of arson.” Karen Fabiane likes to string dark images together as in “Oceans Everywhere” from her book Dancing Bear, & “Orphan” (at her doorstep).

I love it when at an open mic these young poets finally get the courage to come to the stage, read their notebook apologies or poems based on a band’s tune, as did Cass Shaw with her untitled work. Janey Weeks poems had titles, like the urban, shadowy “A Place to Fall” & “Elements, AKA Fuck You” which perhaps was a love poem. More seasoned Sally Rhoades read about being in her p.j.s, looking at the Moon “Just After Midnight” & about being in a pub in NYC remembering the past “3 Sheets to the Wind.” Poetyc Visionz arrived late to end up at the bottom of the list, reading (not yet memorized) the just-written “When Words Meet Sound” & then a memorized piece on being crazy in love “Infinite Definition.”

Not only do Poets Speak Loud! but new poets keep showing up too, at McGeary’s on the square across from the Palace Theater on the last Monday of most months, 7:30PM (or thereabouts) — good poetry, good food, good service, a good time.

July 31, 2015

Poets in the Park, July 25


The final Poets in the Park for 2015 featured Woodstock poets Alison Koffler & Dayl Wise, who had last read here in 2007. The weather spirits looking kindly on us, with just a few sprinklings of rain to remind us they were there.

Alison & Dayl did a group/team reading, alternating poems back & forth, for a most pleasant program of exchanged words, moving chronologically through their lives. Alison began with a memory of her grandmother with the poem “House & Garden;” Dayl’s childhood memory poem focused on eating lima beans, & another about his early longing for the Morton Salt girl, both from a series called “My Mother’s Pantry.” Alison’s pre-pubescent longing was for Charleton Heston in “The Planet of the Apes.”

“Val & Me” was Dayl’s poem about growing up among Italian grandparents. Alison’s poem “Inheritance” was about her parents letting her be an artist, & their own failed aspirations, & at an anti-war demonstration in Washington. Dayl read about getting his first Army haircut in 1969, then about being “In Country” first grim images of war, & invading Cambodia, & dreaming of home while sleeping in the jungle.

Unfortunately at this point my recorder failed & I can only offer general comments based upon my faulty memory. The poems became less grim with Alison & Dayl at one point reading a group poem that included short poems or pieces from each's work. One of Dayl’s poems was a cluster of unfinished, barely-started poems that actually worked quite well together. Alison read a poem about the trees of the Bronx & several portraits of their new dog acclimating itself to their home.

All in all a most fitting end to this series, adding to the great variety of voices, themes & styles that is the world of poetry around us. Hope to see you next year at Poets in the Park, deo volente (as my father would say).

The program this year was again brought to you with the help of funding from the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & funding & logistics by The Poetry Motel Foundation.