July 17, 2014

Pine Hills Review Reading, July 13

This was the 2nd reading in this series, starting just as the World Cup was starting. The reading was at The Low Beat, on a Sunday afternoon, & following the time-honored rule that if you want to have a good crowd for a poetry reading schedule lots of readers — this afternoon there was a 6-pack of writers, what one could say was “an invitation-only open mic.” Pine Hills Review is the literary magazine of The College of St. Rose’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.

To start us off Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Daniel Nester introduced the host of the reading, Senior Editor & Albany Slam star Samson Dikeman. The theme of the reading was “Smallbany,” poetry & prose about living & working in Albany. Ironically, the first reader, Elizabeth K. Gordon (aka Elizag) read a trio from her recent book of poems, Love Cohoes (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books) -- close enough.

Katie Vermilyea (who also lives in Cohoes) read a memoir piece in short segments about being single & back in Albany, ranging from meeting “Brad” in the train station & a break-up, celebrity watching, to meeting “Graham” from Albany in Chicago. (Do guys really have names like that these days? Did their parents name them after TV characters?)

James Belflower was the most experimental of the afternoon readers. His poems (?) ranged from a take on punk music & the “No Pepper” sign at Valentines (now here at The Low Beat), to a commentary about a friend’s humorous use of “fuck you”, to a piece that started by talking about W.S. Merwin writing without punctuation then morphed into a take on “virtual reality” & reading the punctuation as part of the text.

Miriam Axel-Lute was more traditional in her poems, each referencing places & events in Albany, from the river (“Wednesday Hudson”), to “Tilting at Roosts” & Albany’s “crow wars,” to a piece about old trolley tracks on Delaware Ave., “A Winter Melting” where the highway & a public housing tower being torn down were both characters.

Frances Cortez O’Conner read a personal memoir about apartments she had lived in from New York City, to Albany, to having a baby & moving out to the ‘burbs in East Greenbush — a take on the classic American Dream success story.

The final reader, Elisa Albert, read from a personal essay in progress, a memoir that took us from working at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, to a family history of Jews in Pennsylvania, & ultimately a commentary on the act of writing.

There is another reading scheduled in this series for Sunday August 10, 3PM, again at The Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany, NY) & a launch reception & reading on September 5 at The College of St. Rose. Check the St. Rose/Pine Hills Review website for complete information. & send them some stuff, they accept submissions year round (just like an S&M chick I knew in NYC years ago).

Poets in the Park 2014, July 12

Back at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY for poetry in July. We’ve been doing this for 24 years, or more, depending how you count earlier summertime poetry series, all inaugurated & originated by Tom Nattell. I’ve been hosting it now since 2005.

Tonight’s reading was well attended, on a breezy, pleasant Summer eve. And during my introduction (that includes the history of the world, or at least that of Poets in the Park), in addition to the usual loud traffic, motorcycles & helicopters, a small motorcade of enthusiastic honkers drove by, led by an open convertible with young woman in a bright gown waving from the back seat — life in the big City!

Nancy Klepsch was the first reader. Nancy & I co-host the 2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose Open Mic at the Arts Center in Troy. Nancy has been a long-time member of the local poetry community, & worked with Tom Nattell to produce Poets Action Against AIDS, & read in the Poets in the Park series back in 1991. She began her reading with a poem dedicated to Tom, “Invocation,” then to one inspired by another local poet, Elizabeth Gordon, “The LGBTQ - LMNOP in Me.” From these “older” pieces she moved to some “super-new” poems: “The Modernist House,” to an untitled love poem, & to a poem based on a phrase in a Robert Frost poem imagining what a “A Queer Horse” what he might have said. “2nd Sunday” was about our open mic in Troy, it was a retrospective of the readers & of the year in her life. Other poems were based on visits to P-Town (Provincetown, MA for those of you who are land-locked): “Miss Richfield 1981” (a P-town drag queen), “I Wish You Had Lost Your Boarding Pass” (about GaĆ«tan Dugas the airline steward who purportedly spread the AIDS virus), a poem to Harvey Milk & herself (& others) “We Need an Army of Harveys,” & the contemplative “Beachhead.” She ended with a poem on technology, reacting to her students, “My Cells.”

The night’s 2nd reader was Slam performer Luis “L-Majesty” Pabon. L-Majesty has been moving (& titillating some) here on the local scene for a few years now. His poems come out of the hip-hop scene with plays on words, carried along by the musicality of rhymes. He started off with a Slam piece, “Imaginary Friends” (having out-grown them, he now has his own back), similarly “How It Is” was about growing up & learning what reality is. He read the cynical “Shots” about the gay (or any hook-up) bar scene from his forth-coming book Tendencies, & the lush, erotic “Ode to a Blood-Orange.” “When A Poet Dies” was dedicated to the late Maya Angelou, a commentary on tributes to dead poets that do not recognize the real, human life behind the work. He ended with an erotic fantasy poem about working at Shop-Rite “Mr. Grocery Man” — a rich use of images of vegetables & fruits.

There was an attentive, appreciative, generous crowd that night, enjoying the poetry & Summer breeze in the Park. Poets in the Park — Saturdays in July, at the Robert Burns statue. Free!

July 13, 2014

Live from the Living Room, July 9

Just managed to avoid being caught in the rain to get to Don Levy’s open mic & reading, & other poets kept joining us.

Steve Minchin was the featured poet; Steve is the Administrative Coordinator here at the Pride Center of the Capital Region. He said he was reading “a few smattering of poems from over the years,” most of the poems short, under a page. He included a couple of poems about the train to New York, “Tear” & “No It’s Just Rails,” & read a couple from a series of “O’Heaney poems,” bar pieces channeling Frank O’Hara. Other notable mentions were the relationship poem “This is a 2-Man Tally Sheet” & a longer piece about hanging out with a friend, “Grand Marshall We’re Lost.” An interesting poem about the ocean & surfing was a still hand-written work-in-progress. His final poem was a tribute to friends in “an alternative relationship” “Introducing a New Ever-After.” Steve has recently started coming to open mics although he has been writing poetry for years, it’s good to have his voice added to the scene.

Don Levy (left), Shannon Shoemaker (center)
There were just a few of us for the open mic & I was first with 2 new poems, “The Sestina Sestina” & the play on dictionary definitions “A Cardinal & a Poet Walk into a Bar.” Julie was new & slipped in late, & began with a complex poem for her Mom, then a rhymed piece on a relationship, “Bridge.” Our host Don Levy brought us back to an earlier era with “ Me & Anita” (Bryant), & a poem on the band The B-52s & Death, “Planet Clare.” Shannon Shoemaker did both of her poems from memory, the short love poem “Frogs” & “I’m My Father’s Daughter.”

“Live from the Living Room” takes place at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, at 7:30 PM, with a featured reader & an open mic — always “straight friendly.”

July 6, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #73, July 1

I arrived at The Low Beat a little late, the open mic already in progress, Elizag on stage with a sermon to young people (god, I hated it years ago when the old folks preached at me). Poor Avery lamented that “she fell asleep on me…” Speaking of aging, Emily Gonzalez read “The Phenomenology of My Body.” Shannon Grant read some exquisite notebook angst about listening to a song, worrying about a lover. Aaron read a piece he said was written at the bar, “Just for Play.”

The night’s featured poet was up from Suffern with her entourage; Rachel Therres co-organizes Suffern Poetry & had performed as part of the Suffern Slam team during WordFest in April.  Her introductory poem said “I don’t want to moon over you” (& she didn’t). She did a mix of Slam pieces & some real poems, beginning with the list poem “30 Rejections,” then on to a piece about being from Baltimore. A Slam piece about her sister & comparing herself at the same age I recall from her performance in April. From her phone she read an anti-love poem “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Love Scorned.” She had a neat little fold-up broadside for sale, Anatomy of Brick, & read from it “Demands & Dedications” (even when she does a real poem it still sounds like Slam). Then on to a poem to her Mom, & ended with a list of catastrophes, about being told to smile. It was a good mix of poetry & performance & great knees.

It was a 9-contender Slam, most of them new names, but first a familiar one, Kevin, as the sacrificial poet/lamb who did o.p.p. (i.e., other people’s poetry, which is forbidden in Slam competition, but this was only for calibration purposes). The first round seemed front-loaded with Rachel’s entourage, but then AlbanyPoets are hospitable to visitors, & the judges scored, for the most part, “competitively” (as they say). It began with Eric (“hard & sleek”) reading, as did Jimmy his Slam parody silly rhymes, then Joe playing on computer terms, Jamey re-surfacing in the scene & lingering confused on stage, Samson, Trey (spelling?) with a love poem, Steve with another outrageous take on Slam (“Flight Attendant”), Amy with classic Slam (“someone fucked America”) & returning champ Amanda with a love poem.

5 were eliminated, so Round 2 found Amanda (lonesome love), Amy (from “cunt” to “vagina” in 3 minutes), Samson (on words & labels), & Joe (feeling bad about lost love) duking it out.

il papa Thom Francis, Amy, Amanda & Joe
In the final round, Amy went first (after the shoot-out), with another breathless list, this a love poem about dates & scored the night’s first 10 (meaningless, since the high & low scores are dropped). Amanda scored the 2nd — & 3rd — 10 of the night with a subway poem read way too fast, as is her style, & that 2nd 10 put her on top. 3rd place went to Joe.

The Nitty Gritty Slam, with an open mic & sometimes an outside feature, happens on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of each month at The Low Beat on Central Ave. (Valentines re-located, re-incarnated) — check AlbanyPoets.com for details. Good beer, too.

July 4, 2014

Poets Speak Loud!, June 30

It was the last Monday of the month so I headed back down to McGeary’s for happy hour, dinner & the poetry open mic.  Tonight: 2! Count ‘em 2! Featured poets: Pat Irish & Samson Dikeman. Sweet Melissa took care of all of our drink & food orders & host Mary Panza took care of the rest of it.

For the open mic I was up first with a new piece that I read for Samson “The Sestina Sestina.” Sylvia Barnard followed with a childhood memoir “House Spot” then a brand-new piece from Willett Street “The Dead Tree.” Brian Dorn read his anti-war poem “Out of Wack” then a love poem “Suspended in Time.” Cheryl A. Rice read 2 poems for Michael (because he wasn’t here), “Aquarium” & “I Was You Were.”

The first of the night’s double feature was Pat Irish who read the lyrics to his rock opera “The Front Desk.” The piece consists of 24 songs covering the course of a shift at a hotel. Pat had performed the piece with guitarist Nick Bisanz back in April at Pauley’s Hotel as part of the Albany WordFest.  While the words & images are compelling, humorous at times, like most song lyrics the are somewhat banal & flat without the music to carry them along. Let’s hope that Pat & Nick can find other venues to perform this work as it should be.

Tess Lecuyer continued the open mic with “Sonnet for a Watercolor” from 2003, then a new poem about a conversation, about a camera & the Moon. It was good to see Jan Tramontano back from Florida; she read 2 poems about the birth of a grandson, “Matrushka Dolls,” & “Anticipation” with its scenes from New York City in the 9th month. Avery read an upbeat sermon (written today he said), “Be Good to Your Family” (I’m waiting for him & P.V. to open the Church of the Feel Good Positively Positive).

Samson Dikeman filled the house with his family & friends for his featured reading. He read a mix of newer & older poems, starting with the new “Always Something Left Behind,” then a road poem for Jacky K. “Both Hands on the Wheel,” & one of his “oldest” poems “Breakfast in California.” “Check Out Line” is something we have all been in, sort of, & “Fruit Salad Concerto” was a tribute to John Cage. “Shut Up & Kiss Me” was just that, “Suburban Frenzy” was a brand-new poem, then he ended with “The Future is Just the Other Side of a Hill.” I continue to look forward to Samson’s work, & to beating him again at the Slam.

Mike Jurkovic was Cheryl’s chauffeur up here from the mid-Hudson area, & apparently is “Pat Irish’s idol;” he read about listening to the voices on his “Ear-buds,” then a favorite poetic topic “Irony.” Emily Gonzalez’s poem “Exile” was about moving from the noise of the ocean to the quiet of the River, then she read about seeing a “Great Blue Heron.” Adam Tedesco began with a grim portrait kind of poem, then read about driving fast “Popular Mechanics, or They’re At it Again.” Steven Minchin read a poem about an encounter outside a GAP, then the family picture “Pulsing Juxtaposed Kin.” Aron (Algorhythm) came in late & ended up last on the list with a philosophical meandering about the meaning of Life, written today.

This is what we do on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY, sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com — it’s not just poetry —

July 3, 2014

Reading by Leslie Neustadt, June 25

This was a reading at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center for the launch of Leslie Neustadt's book Bearing Fruit (Spirit Wind Books). Leslie’s connections in the community span far & wide so it was standing-room-only. Ironically, she had laryngitis, but it did not impair her reading & if she hadn’t said anything I wouldn’t have noticed, but it gave her an opportunity to pay tribute to the “collective voice” of her community. She went on to acknowledge her sister Laurie Ellen Neustadt whose death showed her how to transform her life with meaning, to do it as as “a sort of unmasking.”

The interesting thing about her work (& her reading tonight) was that as someone who has endured serious health problems, chronic illnesses & the sequelea of incest, her poems are not depressing but face each issue as a challenge, even as a celebration of what it means to be a living person. Most of what she read was from Bearing Fruit, but she included other poems such as “Baptism” to her 2 Catholic grandsons & the tribute “Dinner at Cafe Gratitude with Diane DiPrima & Audre Lourde.” The poems ranged from her background & family history (“Mishmash,” “To Go to Transylvania”), to the unnerving “Teshuvah” (on child abuse), to a poem about being a lawyer, “May It Please the Court,” on to others about miscarriages & births (“Segalit,” “First-Born,” “First To Go,” “Turning Point”). She included a tender poem to her husband “After My Husband Has Seen 25 Patients” & a poem about another of her passions, doing collage, “Awash With Images.” Leslie’s poem “Water Is My Temple” reminded me of Enid Dame’s writing about the Shechinah, the feminine presence of God in Jewish lore.

Making the “collective voice” real, Leslie included 3 other poets who had been in workshops with her, with poet/workshop leader Susan Comninos serving as host. First was Esther Willison with a series of mostly short poems, including “Praise” in the style of Gerard Manley Hopkins, & the funny “Tongue Depressors.” Jackie Craven’s poems included a wonderful proposal “We Need a Thousand Words for Kiss.” This was Patrice’s first reading (a “virgin” we say at open mics) & her sole piece was a funny rhymed narrative about a squirrel in her house.

Bearing Fruit, subtitled “A Poetic Journey,” is attractively produced by Judith Prest’s Spirit Wind Books of Duanesburg, NY & the cover art is by Leslie Neustadt. The entire purchase price of each book goes to nonprofit organizations supporting cancer research, patient health, the prevention of child abuse, and expressive arts.

June 26, 2014

Third Thursday Poetry Night, June 19

To begin this third Thursday night I, as I am wont to do, invoked the Muse, tonight the gone bohemian character & poet Maxwell Bodenheim (1892 - 1954) by reading from his 1930 collection of poems Bringing Jazz. Then on to the open mic.

First up, as often, Alan Catlin, with a dramatic monologue about a farm family dying out, the widowed mother living alone. Sylvia Barnard reprised her 3-part poem based on a friend’s stories of growing up in Denmark on the eve of World War II, “Anna Poems.” Emily Gonzalez followed with a poem on aging “The Phenomenology of My Body.” Joe Krausman’s poem “The Greying” was also on that topic.

The much younger poet Anna Kreienberg’s poem was a satiric family portrait in 2-parts, “Aunt Sharon & Uncle Scott Still Live in New Jersey.”

Matthew Klane is the co-host of the Yes! a Reading series (with James Belflower) & is publisher of Flim Forum press. He writes quirky, playful “experimental” poems that he reads carefully enunciated to bring out the puns & word-play. He began his reading from his flash-card poems series “Of the Day,” hilarious word-poems, he said -- & they are. Then on to something else entirely, an experimental “question-mark” he described as “a ghost story,” with the lights off appropriately enough, title “Druid Craft.” The story, if that’s what it is, was hypnotic, filled with images as if from a cut-up of Poe, or Lovecraft. Then on to something titled (I think) “Three Early Related Beginnings & a Fragment” & “Two Early Beginnings & a Torn Fragment Related” & “Passages from the Notebook” all punctuated by sounds from the street & colored by the unintentional atmospheric echoes of the amplifier.

We took a short break & turned the lights back on, & I read my new poem “The Sestina Sestina,” a sort of history of poetic forms in 20th Century American poetry, sort of. Don Levy read a poem inspired by a comment I wrote on Carolee Bennett’s Blog, his poem titled “Kiosks on Lark,” with it’s references to another Albany poet, R.M. Engelhardt. Sally Rhoades' poem cried out “I Want to be Swathed in Beauty” among the simple elegance of April. Amazingly there were 3 “Bobs” signed up tonight & the first of the them was Bob Sharkey who celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems by mixing O’Hara’s “Yesterday Down at the Canal” with Bob's own poem “Yesterday Down at the Piano in Front of McGeary’s” about the public piano project in downtown Albany (loved how he punned “Shit” with “Shiite”). Jessica was tentative about reading a new poem she was still working on (but it’s only an open mic where we try things out), maybe a song, maybe spoken word, on the the railroad tankers bringing oil through Albany, “Bomb Trains.”

Then on to the rest of the “Bob’s.” Bob Gumson’s piece “Nowhere With a Token” was a humorous excursion into 50-Cent style rap. The final poet, the final Bob was Bob W., reading from his notebook a consideration of what is in the water a “Barracuda.”

& so ended another night of poetry on the third Thursday of the month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., 7:30 PM, with a featured poet & always an interesting open mic for community poets.