June 16, 2017

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, June 7

Another packed house for poetry in Saratoga. Our host, Carol Graser, started us off with an early poem of Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” Then on to the open mic list.

Rodney Parrott read excerpts from Langston Hughes’s still poignant “Let America Be America Again.” Barbara Garro was dressed as “Mother Goose” to read 2 new Mother Goose rhymes, “Little Suzie Sycamore” & “It” (makes me wonder if Mother Goose does “it”).

It was refreshing to see Susan Riback reading at an open mic, beginning with a piece about perusing one of those airline magazines on a British Airways flight, then a piece on computer dating “Passport to Confidence.” Austin Halpern-Graser was back once again with his stand-up comedy routine, this on growing up & being away at college. Eric Krantz read a memoir about taking his aged parents back to Queens to look at the house they used to live in. & speaking of houses, Thomas Dimopoulos read a story about a homeless guy in Saratoga Springs from his collection Saratoga Stories: Magic & Loss (available at Northshire Bookstore on Broadway).

Tonight’s featured poet was Alifair Skebe, whom I find it difficult to get enough of. In & around her own work she shared poems by others, such as Dwayne Wilder, Susan Deer Cloud, & David Landry. Her own poems included “With Tiger Force,” “Kerrville” (from the early Love Letters: Les Cartes Postales), & a poem based on Lucille Clifton’s “What the Mirror Said.” From Thin Matter (FootHills Publishing, 2017) she read “Mirror Riddles,” “Poem for ISI[S][L],” “Seen This Before,” “When I Died” (based on Emily Dickinson), “US War Production Board,” “Freedom,” & the tour-de-force political piece “The Dead & Dying Poem” after Muriel Rukeyser’s “Twentynine Poems.” Alifair also has a new chapbook just out from Benevolent Bird Press The Voyage of the Beagle, an excerpt (An Interlace Poem), short pieces using the text from Charles Darwin’s work, from which she read “Here You Are.” Always different & always worth hearing.

After a break, Carol Graser returned us to the open mic with her poem “Ghosts of Ambitions” on writing & being a poet. Carol Jewell read a very short poem (5 words) titled “Puzzle” then read “Poem without a Title.” Serena tempted us with the wonderfully provocative “Do You Want It?” in which she explored euphemisms for having sex, then a piece written to buoy up a friend “And So God Lived God Became.” It was good to see some of these regional poets like Katrinka Moore who doesn’t make it out to open mics to read, tonight “King Lear In a Nutshell.” Dawn Marar’s poem “On the Road to Damascus” was an ironic piece on danger from a visit to Syria, “Knots & Bolts” on seeing an old lover. Anna Feldstein, one of the Caffè Lena workers, read “Late Train” an unsettling story about an encounter on a train & remembering a father she never had. Maya read a complex love poem remembering a love “70 in February in Upstate New York.”

Brigit Gallagher is a high school English teacher who inspired & brought some of her students tonight (& last month as well); she read a piece inspired by her young daughter “Every Kindergarten Girl is a Feminist.” Dan Bonville read a couple poems in rhyme, one for boys “Life of Reduction,” the other about the Sun “Summer.” Will read 2 pieces out of his battered notebook. I read selections from Inauguration Raga (A.P.D., 2017). Mary Kathryn Jablonski does not read out near enough so it was a thrill to see & hear her tonight read “On Hearing that Crayola was Retiring ‘Dandelion’.” Nicola Marae Allain read from a series of poems based on growing up in Tahiti, rich in lush images & characters.

Thanks to Ms. Gallagher — & to the Caffè Lena ambiance in general — there were tonight some talented young people reading excellent poems; one of those was Becky Steele with a poem composed as a series of questions “Silence.” A more experienced poet, Joe Bruchac, contributes frequently to the open mic & tonight read a poem about the sacred place we know as the Black Hills. Jesse Mews does a combination of memorized pieces enhanced by free-style, usually without titles, tonight’s pieces were about being awake at 4:00 in the morning, the other on observing a pigeon in an alley. Another young woman poet, J. (or was it Jaye?) Woods read a piece about an ex “Letter from the Arctic Circle.”

Ava Champion said she usually writes short fiction (which I’m sure would’ve been OK to read) but instead read one of her poems “Smothered Love.” Sage was our last poet for the night with a poem about needing inspiration & passion “I Can’t Write Poetry” then a series of questions “If Not…”

This reading is held each 1st Monday of each month in the newly renovated space of Caffè Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, NY, at 7:30PM — $5.00. It includes featured poets & an open mic for the rest of us.

June 10, 2017

Nitty Gritty Slam - Open Mic, June 6

I was in the mood for a night at The Low Beat & poetry. Turns out it was a “going-away-party” for Amani O+ who is taking the Summer off to work on Soul Fire Farm in Grafton (not that far away), turning the hosting duties to a couple of other women poets, including Mariah Barber, whose poem “Fuck Butterflies” Amani read to get us going.

In many ways it was rough night for my note-taking, with the names of the open mic poets sometimes lost in the background music, or not clearly said by the rotating string of guest hosts. I did the best I could.

I was first up, reading “John Lees,” a memoir of sorts of my days in the Army that I like to read around Memorial Day. Poetik began with a letter to Donald Trump, then “Grab a Chain” a piece on vulnerability. Then a string of rotating hosts introducing the poets, some of whom seemed to be known to others, but needed to be introduced themselves for folks like me who had no idea who they were. Victorio Reyes did his rousing piece “This is a Rant Not a Poem” parts 1 & 2, then he also had “An Open Letter to the 45th President.”

Mariah introduced Andrew who read the provocative “WMB” (i.e., “weapons of mass bondage”) then a piece on being in New Orleans. MzTu was back & read poems from her new book which title I missed, the first “Anger Became My Friend,” then a torrid relationship poem “360 degrees” (the temperature, I think).

Another poet new to me was Morgan Haywood who read a piece written today “To My Soul” about a shitty day. The next reader (Ashley?) said she was trying out stage names, but I missed that too, began by singing, then read a sad break up poem. Liv McKee, who will be one of the readers in this year’s Poets in the Park (July 22) did a couple of short poems on love, a piece titled “I Always Get What I Want” then a Haiku series for the unborn, & another love poem.

Amani was introduced as the featured poet by Mariah, for a self-indulgent good-bye-but-I’ll-be-back reading, beginning with her signature piece, “Amanita,” about being assimilated & asserting her heritage, done as an audience participation piece. Then on to poems about her cats moving into a new place, about falling in love at a Slam Championship (“He Came With Love”), about Soul Fire Farm “Mother Nature Turned Down for What,” & a piece titled “Patience.” In between she talked about her time here at Nitty Gritty Slam, & about her visit to Cuba. Later she came back to do more poems, but in between Mariah did some “commercial break poems” written to the sound of rain on the roof, & about her family.

Nitty Gritty Slam continues each 1st (open mic) & 3rd (Slam) Tuesdays at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY — $5.00 (but if you are a student, ask, I think you get in for free).

June 7, 2017

Poetry Theatre - American Music Festival, June 2

The Albany Symphony American Music Festival was held May 31 to June 4 with multiple events each day. I decided early on that I would get a full festival pass rather than just attend 1 or 2 performance as I had in the past. By the time Sunday rolled around I had been to 7 performances from Thursday on, including this Friday evening poetry event. Poetry Theatre was held at the Troy Kitchen, where Poetic Vibe takes place each Monday. The event was run under the auspices of “Next Gen,” apparently a way for the ASO fund-raisers to tap into the affluence of the upwardly mobile millennials (I think we used to call them "Yuppies" back in the last Century).

Interestingly enough, Poetry Theatre turned out to be a local poetry event where there was nobody I knew. Oh, I recognized some of the folks associated from past ASO events, but I didn’t know them & they didn’t know me. & most folks there were much better dressed than I was. Yet, like some other notorious Trojan poetry events, they started more than a half-hour late, but unlike some other notorious local poetry events kept the poets on a short leash. Perhaps the delay was intentional as the event was really a meet-&-greet, & quite likely the first poetry reading for everyone there, except for the poets & me. There were 3 readers, apparently also, appropriately enough, “millennials.’

Justin Cook, ASO Marketing Manager, finally introduced us into the 1st movement with poet Erica Kaufman, who is the Associate Director of the Institute for Writing & Thinking at Bard College (who knew there would be a director for thinking at an institution of higher learning?). She began with the last poem from her book Instant Classic (Roof Books, 2013) based on, quite tangentially Milton’s Paradise Lost. Then on to a new book in progress, Post Classic, based on Homer & Gilgamesh, a series of short poems, in faux persona “I”s. She seemed to be put off by the ambient noise from the food court half of the Troy Kitchen, which is de rigeur for poets experienced to reading in bars & coffee houses.

Brooklyn poet Danniel Schoonebeek began with selections from his first book of poems, American Barricade (YesYes Books, 2014): “When a Thief Dies,” “Whole Foods” (a fantasy of looting of the store, quoting Milton (again) at the end), & a poem referencing Emma Lazarus. Perhaps he was the token bomb-thrower in the party of the future Robber Barons, as he continued with poems from his forthcoming book Trébuchet (from University of Georgia Press), including one titled appropriately enough “Trojan,” & one about facts about Andrew Jackson, & the title poem hurling nasty things on publishers & the ruling class, all his poems filled with the thrill of outlandish images.

Both of the first two poets read poems heavy with an a prominent, but not always autobiographical, “I” & the poems of Sara Wintz, from Rhinebeck, continued that trend. She read from a work-in-progress titled “Everyday Fashions,” then on to a string of short poems without titles, juxtaposed with the vendors of the Food Court calling out numbers for the customers’ orders, sort of like the piling up of everyday details for importance that characterize her poems. An intriguing & characteristic piece in this manner was a love/sex story about looking for the Cedar Tavern on a date in the Village, “On the Night We Met in New York.”

For me, it was then on to EMPAC for the annual Dogs of Desire concert tonight & many more performances throughout the end of the week. Perhaps if the ASO decides to include a poetry reading as part of its annual American Music Festival next year they can be convinced to include some of the local wordsmiths in their program & attract local poets to their festival so that I won’t have to be so all alone.

May 29, 2017

Harmony Cafe Reading & Open Mic, May 23

This long-running, weekly series, run by Mike Platsky, at the Wok’n’Roll Restaurant in Woodstock used to be held on Mondays, now held on Tuesdays. Mike always books an interesting mix of featured poets (I’ve been a featured poet in the past) & tonight’s featured poet, Barry Wallenstein is someone I remember seeing read, with a bass player, at a series in Westchester County back in the early 1980s. Of course, there were lots of poet-friends to chat with & hear read in the open mic.

Mike Platsky started us off with a tongue-in-cheek piece titled “I Just Wrote This On A Napkin At The Bar” & dedicated it to Leslie Gerber who took great delight in it. Alison Koffler read a piece about woman in a store in the Bronx “Diamonds,” then a poem about imaginary frieds “Kendra Brings Her Griffin to School.” I read sections from Inauguration Raga (& actually made a sale on that basis), then the newest addition to “What Makes America Great” #20.

Jay Wenk read a piece pondering writing & other writers “I Am Connected,” then a descriptive poem about a picnic in a cemetary “Decoration Day.” Donald Lev has a special, reserved space (as well he should) on the sign-up list as a sort of warm-up act for the featured poet. Tonight he read a varied bouquet of mostly short very old poems & some newer pieces, such as “An Unusually Long Wait,” “The Challenge” (about being alone), “Performance” (written 25 years ago), “Glory,” “Music & Poetry” (Orpheus walks into a music store), & the 2-liner “Jazz Lyric.”

The feature was poet Barry Wallenstein performing with Luigi Archetti (guitars) & Mario Marchisella (percussion) as Drastic Dislocations. I had seen Barry Wallenstein perform in November 1985 at the riverrun bookstore in Hastings-on-the-Hudson where he read poetry with the jazz bassist Fred Hopkins (whom I had seen even earlier in my East Village days at the Tin Palace). Their pieces were rehearsed performances, not just the poet reading while the musicians improvised behind him. They began with “The Bullit Councils the Head,” a piece from their CD. Then a piece titled “Love Point Blank” & “Swamp Girl” where Marchisella plays an old manual typewriter wired to sound, then “The Imp Speaks” & “The Man Upstairs” with Archetti on slide guitar & Marchisella on what is called on the CD a “Stylophone.” For “The Legend of the Wild West,” a sex & death story inspired by Belle Starr, the poem was accompanied by cowboy-styled drums & guitar riffs; interestingly enough Wallenstein had performed this same piece years ago when I saw him in Westchester. A couple more pieces, then he ended with what seemed to be a favorite, a piece for his father “What Was, Was” (also on their CD).

After a break, Roberta Gould continued the open mic with 2 new poems, a description of a man delivering bread on a bicycle “I Was There” & a love poem on the absurdity of greed. Dayl Wise began with a poem by Viet Nam veteran Jan Barry “Earth to Earth” from a book-in-progress with fellow veteran Walt Nygard, then one of Dayl’s own poems, like being in Fastasia. Pamela Twining read 2 memoir pieces, the first about choking on a candy as a kid, the second (is there a connection here?) about sex in a car while driving West. Appropriately, Andy Clausen followed with a poem by A.D. Winans in funny rhymes about what he’s gonna do, then his own in the same vein “Poetry Smoetry,” the long poem his forte. After Ron Whiteurs bailed & didn’t read, Gary Siegel began with a rhapsodic “And the Night Comes” & then an ode to the singer Suzanna Abdulla.

Duff Allen is known for his long introductions & for reading long excerpts from novels-in-progress — once, some years ago when Cheryl Rice was the guest host at the Monday night Colony Cafe open mic, Duff came on stage & began a long, long intro to his latest chapter when suddenly an air-horn sounded: Cheryl had timed him when he stared speaking & he had timed out his 4 minutes without even finishing his introduction; Cheryl received a resounding applause & the undying respect of us in the audience as Duff stormed off the stage; let’s just say we could’ve used Cheryl, her timer & air-horn tonight.

Harmony Cafe open mic is at Woodstock's Wok'n'Roll Restaurant on Mill Hill Rd., 8:00PM on Tuesdays -- a featured poet & an open mic, leave a donation.

May 25, 2017

Third Thursday Poetry Night, May 18

It was our annual conflict with the Corporate Run whose route splits the City along Madison Ave. & forces habitual Park parkers to find other parking spots. The effect is that folks shy away from the area of the Social Justice Center on Central Ave., including yours truly who dropped off the equipment (music stand, amp, etc.) earlier in the day & took the bus down — & still had to walk across town.

So tonight the one-poem rule was relaxed & poets could read 2 poems. But first to invoke the Muse, tonight poet David Meltzer (1937 - 2016) who had died at the end of December, 2016; I read selections from his poem “Beat Thing: Commentary” that had served in part for the inspiration for my poem "Inauguration Raga."

First up for the open mic was Sylvia Barnard who read about “2 Blind Mice” in her apartment, then a descriptive poem written from the 8th floor of the Rheumatoid Arthritis Center. Philomena Moriarity followed with a poem inspired by involvement with Non-Violent Communication workshops “The Spaces Between Us,” then a funny one from her iPad “My Son is Alarmed by the Hat.”

Lorraine Grund has been absent for some time from the poetry scene but came back tonight in a bright Summer dress, said her “first poem will be a nervous note about my poem” then read her poem, a mini-autobiography as a mother/activist “What I Can’t Say.” Karen Fabiane read 2 poems, said she did 29 poems in a "30/30" month, “Untouched for Years” working on an old painting, & “The Potato,” also part of the 30, with Ripoche & bodhisattvas, love & a garden. I brought up the rear with “The Day God Invented Wine.”

I had first heard our featured poet, Peter Marcus, at Caffè Lena last year  & have enjoyed his book of poems Dark Square (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2012) since then. He said he had prepared a program of poems on the theme of “social political issues, history ... a grim reading.” He began with poems on the theme of genocide, “S-21” from a trip to Cambodia, then a poem from a trip to concentration camps in Poland, & a poem based on a famous poem by Paul Celan “After ‘Tenebriae’.” Another poet mentioned was the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos. Of course there was a Trump poem “Election Day: Trump Unrelenting," then “Belonging” with a Mussolini comparison, “Marathon” on the attack on the Boston Marathon, & an unsettling piece on the iconic photo of the Viet Namese girl (Phan Thi Kim Phuc) running from a napalm attack “The Pornography of Napalm.” He ended with a poem about plastic debris in the ocean “The Milk Shore.” A poetic social justice reading at Albany’s Social Justice Center.

Third Thursday Poetry Night happens at the Social Justice Center at 7:30PM on, you got it, the third Thursday of each month, a $3.00 donation (or more!) supports the work of the Social Justice Center & helps keep poetry programs happening in the Capital District.

May 22, 2017

Bennington Translates: Eliot Weinberger, May 17

I’m a fan of the translations, essays & poetry of Eliot Weinberger so when my comrade-in-poesy & now Bennington, VT resident, Charlie Rossiter, told me that Weinberger would be giving a lecture in the series Bennington Translates at Bennington College we made a date to go. After drinks & a lovely dinner at the home of Charlie & his wife, Mary Ellen Munley, & their guests from Oak Park, Illinois, we drove to the nearby campus, to the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) symposium room.

Mr. Weinberger was introduced by Marguerite Feitlowitz, founding director of Bennington Translates. He had prepared a lecture, but began it with reading a piece about dreams from the Lacandons, native people of Chiapas, Mexico. The lecture was titled “Ancestry” & was an erudite, scholarly meditation taking off from the poet Nathaniel Mackey’s book Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015), which Mackey explains in his preface, “samples two distantly related black musical traditions, the West African griot epic The Dausi … and trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s hard bop classic ‘Blue Bossa’ …”

Weinberger led us through the story of “Gassire’s lute” (a myth of the Poet) & the lost city of Wagadu (as first presented to the West by Leo Frobenius), then on to the myth’s appearance in the poetry of early & mid-twentieth century poets, including Ezra Pound’s Cantos, to Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, the poets of the Negritude movement, even to Robert Johnson’s blues & the legend of the crossroads. He described it as “following one small word in many poems…”

This led to a consideration of writing & “crossing borders,” & the use of stories, ideas, sentiments from cultures not our own; he said, “in the arts anything can belong to anyone who thinks & takes the time to learn it.” Weinberger also discussed 2 ends of the poetic spectrum, the autobiographical “I” poets versus the poets concerned solely with the words, finding both lacking. Talking about the old saw, “write what you know,” Weinberger countered that Poetry is Imagination (sounding to my ears much like William Blake).

He ended with a long, chant-like piece “The Stars,” a collaboration from his book An Elemental Thing (New Directions, 2007), followed by a short question & answer period which ran from the erudite to the hyper-theory-ridiculous (to which Weinberger simply said that he didn’t understand the question).

One of my favorite books on the art of poetry & translation is Eliot Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, which examines 19 different translations of one of Wang Wei’s poems, sometimes translated as “The Deer Park.” It was originally published in 1987. Before coming over here I went to retrieve my copy to get it signed only to realize that I’d given it away (which shows how good I think it is). Happily, when speaking to Mr. Weinberger before the lecture he told me that there is a new edition just out from New Directions, which was for sale at the reading. The new edition includes “more ways” & some, at times hilarious, commentary.  I highly recommend it to any poets, but particularly to those interested in Chinese poetry or translations in general.

Nitty Gritty Slam #127, May 16

On the third Tuesday of each month the Nitty Gritty Slam (which also takes place as an open mic only on the 1st Tuesday of the month at The Low Beat) holds a, well, Slam, hosted by Amani O+, aided & assisted by Alfonso Rodriquez. But there is also an open mic. That’s more my speed.

Amani opened up the night with a reading of “Black G.U.R.L. Fly” from her book Here We Are At The Gate: Book 1 of the Amani O+ Rebelutionary Series. I read a couple poems, “What Makes America Great #14” (from a series of true stories from the Trump Era), then an even newer poem “The Day God Invented Wine.”

Mz Tu also has a book out & read 2 poems from it, “Eaten Alive” (a lion & a gazelle) & one about conflict on the job “The Confederate Symbol.” L-Majesty’s piece, “Malacaust,” about the website Grindr. Ramon had 2 pieces, a personal one using images of prison, then a political poem on the Statue of Liberty.

One of the features of The Low Beat is Selena’s Kitchen, serving up plates of chicken, rice & beans & other dishes. Amani & Alphonso read the menu as a savory performance piece. Elizag gave us her “7 Reasons Why I Can’t Write 30 Poems in 30 Days.” Alfonso was back with a solo piece, “Better,” on the death of his mother. Poetik read about magic, “make room for the best things…” Aliya/Ay She Writes began with a short piece of self-affirmation with wings & broomsticks, then another on low self-esteem.

In between it all, DJ Trumstrand kept the room filled with sound. On to the Slam, with Olivia McKee serving as the “sacrificial”/practice poet for the 3 judges to score & ended up with a near-perfect 29.5.

There were only 4 poets signed up for the Slam: Mz Tu, Elizag, L-Majesty, & Mariah Barber, so all 4 did the first 2 rounds, Mariah scoring a perfect 30 in the first round. But after the 2nd round it was Mariah & L-Majesty to go head to head for the final round in a closely scored contest with Mariah taking 1st place, L-Majesty 2nd & Elizag announced as the 3rd place winner.

The Low Beat is at 335 Central Ave. The Nitty Gritty Slam is there on the 1st Tuesday for an open mic & the 3rd Tuesday for the Slam & an open mic, starts 7:00/7:30PM.