April 29, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Open Mic, April 22

WordFest had its beginnings as an open mic & the festival has been faithful to this each year with a huge, sometimes marathon, open mic, this year — again — at the UAG Gallery on Lark St. Mary Panza, with help sometimes from her daughter, Julia, served as host, ring-master & dominatrix. Each poet had 5 minutes, some took more, some less, but nobody overdid it, a tribute to the fear that Mary strikes in the heart of long-winded poets.

Alan Catlin began with, of course, bar poems, & a bus stop poem. Tim Stowell admitted he was a poetry virgin & read a sensitive piece “I Thought I Was Aware” about someone dying. Sally Rhoades had a trio of poems that included ones about Joy Harjo & about a full moon. Carole Rossi read about Nature & witches. Nancy Klepsch unwittingly set up a theme with one of her poems “The Invisible Lesbian” from a quote by Eileen Myles. 3 year-old Molly Job made her first attempt to read a poem, then froze (but came back later). In the vaudeville tradition of “you don’t want to follow the kid or the dog act” I was next with a trio of new poems. Don Levy was his political self, warning tongue-in-cheek that “Obama is Coming for Your Guns.”

Tim Stowell on camera
At this point we experienced the first of the traditional no-shows, but there are always poets waiting in the wings for their chance to fill in. Joshua B. stepped up with a just-written  rhyme & then a free-style rhyme. Shannon Shoemaker read the poem she had read at the first WordFest in Thatcher Park. Returning to the theme introduced by Nancy Klepsch Tim Verhaegen did show-&-tell with photos as he read “Talking Shit About Eileen Myles & Other Famous Gay Poets by an Obscure Unknown Gay Poet.” Frank Robinson was hopeful about America & about waking up this morning. Thérèse Broderick read poems about her daughter when she was little. Cheryl Rice’s poems mixed Frida Kahlo & her family, & an old soldier’s story of World War II.

Ed Rinaldi lurking
Tess Lecuyer read a villanelle for Thom’s dog Lilly at the 2010 WordFest. Brian Dorn told us the “23 Reasons Why This Poem Doesn’t Rhyme.” Allison Davenport, a new voice, read poems that she has never read to anyone about her husband’s illness. A.C. Everson who spent the evening in the front row filming the readings, read poems about working in a nursing home & about being an usher at area concerts. Anthony Bernini read about hawks & about glioblastoma. L-Majesty decided at the last second to clean up his act & included poems on food & on his father.

Molly Job, with ample assistance, finally got her poem out (which I hope AlbanyPoets will publish on its website because I missed it). Jonathan Bright read quirky poems about binge-watching TV, & college weirdness. Siobhan Hotaling was another new voice, with poems on food & sex, love & a snake in her bed (sounds ready for more open mics). Steven Minchin read poems about/from “Ever After.” R.M. Engelhardt was, of course, very serious about Poets & Poetry. But he was followed by Annie Sauter who was both sexy & read about sex. Karen Fabiane’s poems were more cerebral & stream-of-conscious. Julie Lomoe read about the local library’s book sale.

Siobhan Hotaling
To fill in for a couple more no-shows, Mary Panza brought up 2 women she had met at the Monday night reading at the Hudson River Cafe; Mary Dickinson Compton read about looking out the window & pondering the letter “I;” her friend Janie Oliver read a couple of self-assertive pieces. Still another new voice was Christine Walkuskie read a Whitman-esque, expansive poem about the New York City subway.

Ed Rinaldi came in from lurking outside & used his hand to count out the rhythms of his poems. Robb Smith brought us to a X-rated close by introducing his new book, available on Amazon.com, Granny Porn (some of us are getting there).

What a night of community poetry! A truly open open mic, with lots of new voices, ranging in age from 3 to 73 (or perhaps beyond).

April 28, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Third Thursday Poetry Night, April 21

Once again I was pleased & honored to have my monthly reading & open mic at the Social Justice Center be folded into the larger, week-long Albany WordFest. I invoked the muse of the gone-too-soon poet C.D. Wright by reading her poem “Obscurity and the Amateur.” Then on to the open mic.

Alan Catlin brought a “pocket poem” he picked up at the library (part of a program for National Poetry Month) Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” then read one of his own from a series of prompts for April, a grim portrait of a meth-addict “April.” Sylvia Barnard read again her poem about the Biblical seer “Anna.” Philomena Moriarty read about a visit to the Florida beach Boca Grande, the poem “Fish” a huge grouper landed by boys.

Poet Dave” was here for the first time, & read a long piece “Unity” about love & humans working together. Pearse Murray turned a short story into a poem titled “Formation” about a child who became a composer so he could invent words.

The featured reader was mid-Hudson poet Tina Barry. She brought — & sold — copies of her collection of poetry & short fiction Mall Flower (Big Table Publishing, 2016), & read a generous selection from the book, beginning with the title poem. Then a poem on divorce “Going South” about a family trip as a child (her sister was in the audience tonight), & a couple sad poems about Dads, “One Bag of Popcorn,” & “Chanukah.” “What’s All This?” was a look back to the less wonderful episode of her teenage years, then one about a disappointing morning in bed, “Your Last Rooster.” She read about visiting an aunt with Alzheimer’s “No Word for Enchantment,” & one not in the book, about her uncle, “Come Back.” A nicely put together reading, & later I was glad to have the book, to read these again, & more.

After a short break, the open mic continued & I read a new poem about books, “Decomposition.” Joe Krausman followed with a poem by Mary Oliver “Wild Geese.” Karen Fabiane, a future-feature here on the third Thursday in June, read the labyrinthine “After Reading the Book Review.” Carole Rossi read about the various uses of a “Bonfire.” Brian Dorn read in rhyme, “Writing Poetry” in honor of WordFest. Our final poet for the night was Richard Propp who read a story worked into a poem about studying German & Classics “Getting F-ed in College.”

Third Thursday Poetry Night happens at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY each third Thursday at 7:30PM, a donation supports poetry & the Social Justice Center.

April 26, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Albany Poets Presents!, April 20

The third in the continuing bi-monthly series at Restaurant Navona on New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY -- this is a relaxed setting for a showcase of an individual poet. I like to get there early, enjoy dinner, wait for the audience to arrive. In February I was pleased & honored to have been the showcased poet.

Tonight’s poet was Wil Gibson, a West Coast wandering troubador, traveling across country doing readings, selling books. He & his companion were delayed on the road by traffic but that just meant there was more time for the rest of us to hang out, even a visitor from D.C. who found the event on the AlbanyPoets calendar. Thom Francis, el presidente of AlbanyPoets, was our host.

Wil Gibson did a free-wheeling reading, beginning with memoirs of his childhood, his mother dying when he was 13 years-old. He read from chapbooks & notebooks, including the poems “Street Corner Gods, Parts 1 & 2” from his undated chapbook Pilgrim from Red Bench Press of Eureka, California, with his traveling buddy Alex Horspool on ukulele.

Alex switched to an alto sax for Wil’s tribute to the gone Beat poet Jack Micheline (1929 - 1998) “A Poem for Razors & Sea Lions,” as well as others. Alex himself read a brief poem from his phone.

Wil's poems frequently referenced “god” & his mother & he is solidly in the Beat tradition, such as “The Right Foot of God” & “To My Students Who Ask Me How to be a Writer.”  In the Q&A session with Thom Francis & the audience, he pointed to his white-trash/truck driver/homeless/drug addict background, but, in addition to the Beats, pointed to Kurt Vonnegut, Stuart Dybek, Gil Scott-Heron, & Tom Waits as inspiration. He lives in Humboldt County, CA but is nostalgic for Chicago & Portland, Maine.

Albany Poets Presents! happens every other month, check the calendar at AlbanyPoets.com for details -- & Support your Wandering Poets!

April 23, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Haiku Battle, April 19

A WordFest tradition for the last 4 or 5 years, this was held as part of the regular twice-a-month Nitty Gritty Slam at The Low Beat. As I settled at the bar next to Kevin Peterson, who ended up as the referee of the battle, I was eager to take on as many Haiku-ists who might show up. Amani O+, our host for the night, had 3 judges lined up & she was ready to go.

Brian Dorn sidled up to the bar, like how they do it in the cowboy movies — or is it in the Samauri movies? — not sure what the proper metaphor would be for a Haiku battle. But that was it. It was gonna be a head-to-head shoot out at The Low Beat Corral — or a sword fight on the slopes of Mt. Fuji — whatever.

Amani as the Nitty Gritty Slam host did her own recently written Haiku to get us started, then our referee Kevin Peterson read one of his Haiku. Kim Dreizehn, our faithful bartender, surprised us with a “Justin's Haiku” (the now-defunct bar where the Slam Battle was held last year).

Then Brian & I took our spots at opposite ends of the stage. Brian’s Haiku frequently referenced other poets, other venues, while I tried to mix mine up with Buddhist Haiku, poetry Haiku, sex & love. We traded rounds through about 7, until Kevin called a final, deciding round.

When the dust settled, the swords sheathed, the sweat wiped from our brows, I was the winner, Brian a formidable opponent. A night of words & fun -- & no blood.

The Nitty Gritty Slam (not the Haiku Battle) takes place each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat, a Slam & an open mic for anyone, about 7:30PM — get there early & get in cheap.

April 22, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Reading at the Hudson River Coffee House, April 18

A day off from poetry, then back in Albany to dive into the week-long Albany WordFest for the second night of readings. Got to the coffeehouse on Quail St. after the reading had started. Harvey Havel was the host & had put the program together. I missed the first reader & got there as Professor Daniel Nester was reading from his memoir of his perpetual adolescence Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, & Other Unlearnable Subjects.

Next up was the ubiquitous Brian Dorn with his signature rhyming poems from his collection From My Poems to Yours, including the title poem, among others, “Sad Poems,” & a wonderful rendition of “Poetry Is Sexy,” accompanied by his wife Laura.

Annie Christain had been my featured poet in March at the Third Thursday & it was good to hear her again, even some of the same poems I enjoyed the first time around. She likes to experiment with different, & unusual, material such as a poem “based on coded personal messages” she explained with the equally odd title “Jokes About Nepalese Villages Often Include Goats.” I was glad to hear again her sound poem “Inside a Handbasket in the Burlesque Theater,” & the imagined back story of John & Yoko’s honeymoon photos “A Maple Gets Red.”

John Thomas Allen is a poet whom I’ve only seen read at events that Harvey Havel puts together, & rarely elsewhere in our busy poetry scene. He said he had just self-published a book of his writings & seemed unnecessarily apologetic about it. A piece titled “The Nun’s Leggos” was a bit of automatic writing, with odd adjectives to make it sound more surreal. In fact his work has that surreal quality in the style of André Breton, with a hint of William S. Burroughs cadence thrown in. One piece referenced the surrealist Robert Desnos, another Frank Stanford, & all seemed tinged with Roman Catholic images & references.

More WordFest coming up all week. Check AlbanyPoets.com for a full schedule.

Split This Rock, 2016 Evening Reading, Saturday, April 16

This was my last event at Split This Rock, the evening reading back in Grosvenor Auditorium at National Geographic. Sonya Renee Taylor, Member of the Split This Rock Board of Directors was the M.C., & the night’s remembered gone poet was Maya Angelou.

Gaelyn Smith was the Youth Poet for tonight, with an introspective poem in which she said “nothing I write has a gun or a body in it…” & pondered whether it was selfish to write while others die. As with the other youth poets who read throughout the Festival, her work, like theirs, should convince any doubters that great poetry will continue to be written, as long as these young writers keep writing.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, whom I’d seen earlier at the Gwendolyn Brooks panel, read 3 quietly moving poems, a love poem “Matters of the Heart,” a poem published in the April 2016 Poetry “When I Think of Tamir Rice while Driving,” & “What We Know of Horses” about his brother in prison. What struck me most was that Betts confronted the issues of race & race murders in a meditative way that others who had read earlier confronted with spit & shouts.

Speaking of quiet readers Ocean Vuong has a soft, almost whispered voice, that can lead you to a contemplative place of vivid images. He started with a poem he says he always starts with, “Head First,” in the voice of his mother if she could write a poem, then the poem he had read on Friday about his parents “A Little Closer to the Edge,” & “To My Future Son.” He finished with an equally meditative, & richly imagined “Ode to Masturbation,” to the occasional whoop & holler from some members of the audience.

Nikky Finney also showed how to write about racism in America in bright, descriptive images without smashing us over the head with her rhetoric. She began by mentioning the writer/activist Gia Shakur & read her “Ultimatum,” then her own poem as Elder giving instructions to young, black poets. Another richly descriptive poem was about 3 young black boys playing, leaping, a poem of joy but with a dark edge. Another was a love/sex poem in surreal images of the earth & fruit. She ended with 2 poems for black females, “Abondant” for the first female Iraq war death, who was a suicide,” & a new, unfinished, rough draft, as she described it, “Pirate Jenny” for the Black Girl Genius movement.

Another fabulous reading, at the end of a fabulous day, at the end of fabulous Festival — Thank movers & shakers & planners of Split This Rock! (did I say it was fabulous?).

Keep at it.

April 21, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 Afternoon Reading, Saturday, April 16

Back to the Grosvenor Auditorium at National Geographic for the afternoon featured reading, Teri Cross Davis of the Split This Rock Advisory Committee the M.C. She began with a tribute to the gone poet Philip Levine with a recording of him reading his poem about standing in a work line recognizing his brother.

Youth poet Henri Lozano recited a moving portrait of his hard-working, old-fashioned grandmother.

Dawn Lundy Martin read from her most recent book Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, then a powerful multi-media piece on racism with a film projected behind her, starting with the image of a near-naked black man putting on red high-heels & dancing in them, images of riots, & the names of murdered black men & women.

Martha Collins read from her new book Admit One: An American Scrapbook, a prodigiously researched book-length poem about the history of scientific racism from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis through the eugenics movement of the 1920s. She read a couple sections, including the one dealing with the story of Ota Benga, an African pygmy “human exhibit,” mixing historical documents with poetry in the tradition of investigative poetry. It was one of the few books I bought at the festival (one has to make choices).

As you would expect from someone who is a 2-time Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion (2012 & 2014), Dominique Christina gave the most strident, if unrelenting, performance. Her poems dealt entirely with racist/misogynist murder & death, such as a poem based on the real-life person that Maya Angelou based one of her characters on, a poem, “Stones,” for murdered girls from Saudi Arabia to here, & the heart-breaking litany “Mothers of Murdered Sons.”

As good as this was, there was another reading to follow later in the evening.