April 22, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 5, April 18

When the first WordFest happened in 2001 it was an open mic. Since then WordFest has grown & changed over the years to include in various years a book fair, featured readings, book launches, rock & poetry extravaganzas, a Slam invitational, even a cook-out, but always & forever open mics where anyone in the community can sign up, read, become a poet instantly, or not. WordFest 2014 took over the 3rd week of April in Albany & this night, Friday, was the grand marathon open mic at the UAG Gallery on Lark St. You can find the list of poets who had signed up for each 5 minute slot at AlbanyPoets.com, but that’s not the whole story. Who showed up? Who didn’t? Who showed up but hadn’t signed up & still read because somebody else didn’t shown up? The full story is here, more or less, depending upon whom you believe.

I was there from the beginning to the (bitter) (incomplete) end (end) & what follows are just brief comments, observations, notes that I was able to deceiver days later, or just make up if needed.  I admit to only what I’m willing to type.  If I left out a mention of your best poem or something brilliant you said that I missed while I was taking a pee, please comment. Then you will be as famous (?) as I am & we’ll all be beautiful, but none of us will be mentioned in Metroland in the Morning. & I’m sorry if I didn’t speak to you during the reading. If I had I would have been distracted & there wouldn’t be so many photos (you can see them all at my Flickr! site) & I wouldn’t have enough notes to write this Blog.

Mary Panza was the host, beginning to end. Nancy Klepsch was up first, reading “Invocation” (for Tom Nattell) & “We Need an Army of Harvey’s” (i.e., Harvey Milk). Alan Catlin read from a new chapbook Beautiful Mutants. Charles Straney’s poems were about everyday. Alan Casline shared some jazz-inspired poems a la Jack Kerouac. We haven’t seen Shaun Baxter at an open mic in a long time, so glad to hear him read his Icarus in Albany poem. Howard Kogan’s single poem was “In the Beginning.” Mizana read poems from her phone on aging & time. Surprise, surprise, Don Levy’s poems were about eating & homophobia. & then I was not surprised to hear Carol H. Jewell read one of her signature pantoums. Joe Krausman jumped from cyberspace to the Bible to baseball.

Susie said this was the 2nd time she has read her poems out & had a nice Jewish boy for you. Cheryl A. Rice included a recent poem about being sunburned in Costa Rica. Tim Verheagen had us in stitches with his (now) legendary memoir “The Fuck Family.” L-Majesty’s poems were about sex, drinking & sex. Glenn Werner was experimental & political. Adam Tedesco referenced jazz trumpeter Olu Daru (& son Nasir Jones) & read the 2nd pantoum of the night. It was good see Karin Maag-Tanchak again & hear her poem about moving & finding old photos. Mike Jurkovic mixed poems of New York & Handel. Tess Lecuyer expanded the catalogue of the night’s forms with a sonnets & a villanelle. Back once again, former Metroland Best Poet R.M. Engelhardt read some of his classic poems.

Carolee Bennett read a retrospective poem & another of love & comets. Matt Galletta battled a humming microphone, included a poem about rock music, “In the Garage.” I had not signed up but there were some no-shows, as expected, so Mary fit me in to read some poems by Gary Murrow, who was on the short list (#3) of Metroland’s Best Poets in 2012 & who seems to have a hard time making it out to these readings. Bob Sharkey read a mix of his trenchant, creaky poetry & prose. Jill Crammond included an Easter poem that she dedicated to me. A.O.R. arrived with his entourage & said he will be competing tomorrow in the Slam Invitational as part of the WordFest at The Linda (Blog to follow).

Steven Minchin has read occasionally in open mics & one of his poems was titled “Cosmonauts Foam in their Seats” if I got it right. Among the poems Shannon Shoemaker read was her signature Slam piece about not doing Slam. Dan Rain was a fill-in with a poem about a survivor of the Tsunami. Still another fill-in, Melody Davis, read from her book Holding the Curve. Miss S. read one of her eco-poems, & another about songs from her Pandora list. Brian Dorn read (rhyming) spiritual poems for the holy weekend. Thérèse Broderick read the 2 poems included in Issue 2 of Up The River. Frank Robinson, Thérèse’s husband, read poems from his new chapbook Love Poems (guess who the poems were about). Sylvia Barnard read Easter poems from her poetry collection Trees.

Miriam Axel-Lute followed in a similar vein with poems based on a passage in the book of Matthew. Avery read fast, as he often does. Samson Dikeman included a sestina for the night’s forms catalogue. Mark W. O’Brien spent a long time looking for a religious poem. Pamela Twining read a long, Beat-name-dropping rant, then another long one. Christoph Hanna was in a similar mode, beating a dead horse. Harvey Havel read from the beginning of his new novel Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt (Publish America).

Steven Lange
Following that, there was an extended list of poets who weren’t there for roll call, then a poet who said he hadn’t read before at an open mic, Sidlak Malaki, reciting a long monologue. Suddenly the place had filled back up, but not with the poets on the list -- it was Steven Lange with an entourage of fellow medical students to hear him read an extended poem that used lots of medical terminology they all seemed to know. 

& that was it. Mary Panza declared the reading over & we wandered off into the night, at least those of us who hadn’t wandered off already. A great night of words, images & characters — some of them the poets them(our)selves.

April 21, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 4, April 17

In past years when WordFest took place over a weekend, the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center was often “the official unofficial start of WordFest.” This year with the series a full week of readings this regular monthly poetry event was fully official. The Center was packed, standing-room-only, for Pro. Daniel Nester’s class as the featured poet(s), going by the handle “Josie and the Dropboxers.” It’s not what you think, the students apparently use the internet service Dropbox to post their assignments.

Since it was Holy Thursday I selected as our Muse William Blake & read his 2 poems titled “Holy Thursday.” Then on to the open mic with Alan Catlin up first, from his Selected Poems, “What We Talk About When We talk About Love” based on a Raymond Carver story. Philomena decided to "be really risky," reading a revealing poem “Being Fat is Like…” Bob Sharkey read an excerpt from a longer piece -- making a movie, tankers hauling crude.

David Weeks
New voice, David Weeks, made it over from Troy for the 1st time, & read a poem written for both of his sons, “The Beauty of Fatherhood.” Emily Gonzalez’s poem was “Unnoticed, for Sebastian” for Sebastian Barr’s photos about abandoned buildings.

Tonight’s feature poet was a cluster of poets from Daniel Nester’s class at the College of St. Rose in Poetry & Performance, going in 3 sets. Note: see my Flickr! site for photos of all of the poets.

Jenna VanWely
Set One:
Caryleanna Guyatte’s poem was “Annoying” about her "so-called" boyfriend. Katie Cummings read a flarf poem based on Google search results for “Wanda,” “Victor,” “strawberry,” & “beef.” Danielle Viaña read a sestina way too fast which was part of the word-salad fun. Robert Reyes couldn’t be more different, his poem wondering “When Can I Relax?” Jenna VanWely’s piece was a list poem self-portrait “I Am.”

Conor White
Set Two:
Christina Bourne had her hoola-hoop with her for her reading of “The Hoola-Hoop Sestina” then demonstrated some moves. Rachel Brandenberg wrote a love poem to her younger sister, full of humor & tenderness. Ty Versocki works at a bookstore & her poem “Behind the Book-Seller” was composed of things she heard in the store over a number of days. Conor White revealed his sordid “Ricey Secret” in a humorous, self-effacing poem. Kyle Simcik read “Rap 101.” Shawn Berman likes playing around, plays a lot of video games & knows how to fight, he said, among other random things in his poem.

Marlee Christine
Set Three:
Rachel Gagnon’s nightmare poem was titled “Athena Out of Darkness” intensely read. Marlee Christine read a sestina about love, “My Bug-a-boo,” a favorite form it seems of this group. Nancy Wall read a serious auto-biographical list poem “I Remember.” Stephanie Clowe also read a flarf poem, full of randomness. Krissi Harrington’s poem — & perhaps her too — was “Proud to be a Bitch,” a feminist manifesto.

I suspect that many of these poets did not consider themselves “Poets” when they signed up for Nester’s course, but after tonight they all should know they are Poets.

After a break I read my poem for the season “What Passover Has Taught Me.” Then Isaiah Agojo, who is also a student at the College of St. Rose & in recent months has been video-taping readings & interviews with local poets read a long, intense poem about himself that eventually became about rape & child molestation. Metroland announced last week that according to its Readers’ Poll Brian Dorn was the Best Poet, & in honor of WordFest read “Words.” Joe Krausman, at least in my opinion, is one of Albany’s Best Poets, read an eco-/sex poem “Pandering to Pandas at the National Zoo.”

Alex Sherman-Cross
Alex Sherman-Cross, a former-feature, read what she said was “a little bit of a rough poem,” about missing his dick & his kiss. Miss S., also known as Jessica, read a short, 2-part poem, about freedom from a relationship. Another new voice, Angel Perez, did a poem from memory, a prayer for protection. Kevin Peterson read a poem to his grandmother who passed away recently, a poem of love & humor & vodka & angels. The last poet of the night, Brooklyn Collins, was still another new voice with a great name & an untitled poem about her trust issues, a brave little piece.

WordFest or not, this reading & open mic takes place on the third Thursday of each month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 PM, $3.00 (more or less) donation — a featured poet & an open mic for community poets (1 poem!).

April 18, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 3, April 16

Each year the readers of Metroland, Albany’s weekly entertainment tabloid, vote for the area’s best restaurant, best country band, best pizza & best Poet. While past research has determined that the number of votes cast each year may not be that great the local poetry community waits with bated breath (this may be slightly over-stated) to see who the top 3 winners are, to see who is the “Best Local Poet.” The winners this year were Brian Dorn who during the past year has been to at least as many poetry events as I have, Jay Renzi whom no one had ever seen at a reading, & Mary Panza who everyone has seen at a poetry reading one time or another in the last 25 years. And each year AlbanyPoets honors these winners with a public reading during WordFest.

We gathered this night at the historical Pauly’s Hotel just next door to The Low Beat where we had gathered the night before for the Haiku Slam, with AlbanyPoets el presidente Thom Francis as our MC.

Best Local Poet Brian Dorn began the night with poems from his chapbook From My Poems to Yours, with the title poem, then an ode to subtle beauty “Plain to See” & the nostalgic “Ghost Town.” Then he read a sequence of poems about the Capital District, Albany (“Paradox City,” “Huge,” “Skyline” (imagining the Egg decorated for Easter), & a poem to Rachel Ray), to the North Country (“The Ethan Allen” on Lake George & “Eyesore” the old Frontier Town), to Schenectady (“The City that Lit Up the World” & a poem to Olympic wrester Jeff Blatnick “Happy Dude). He ended with a letter to Metroland, a thank-you note & proposal for more more poet categories, as is done with the local bands. Brian is one of the hardest working poets in the area, attending readings all up & down the Hudson valley from the North Country to Kingston. He earned his title.

Jay Renzi on the other hand was not only new to those of us who attend local readings & open mics but he confessed that we were new to him, having generally kept to himself in Troy writing his poems in pubs. He began with “The Place Where the Poets Dwell” from his chapbook The Thorn & Thistle, written as Joseph Renzi, a series about a fictional tavern & its patrons. Most of his poems were quite short, only a couple of stanzas at most, & they rhymed — did I mention that Brian Dorn is a rhymer too? When was the last time Metroland had 2 rhyming poets on its list? Other rhymes were the new “Kitchen,” “Tangletown” about a neighborhood in Seattle, & “ A Fair.” He stated that he sometimes performs with dancer Laura Teeter & he read 2 of the poems she has choreographed, “Dawn” & “This is Not the Devil.” He read a piece about a Dutch cemetery he wrote for the “30/30” project, “The Dutch” that starts in rhyme then breaks into free verse. There was a short piece about a Bloody Mary & beer, the 4-line “Sundial,” “Stay In this Place for a While & the very short pub poem “Clever & Shout.” I hope that he will try out a few of our local open mics.

Mary Panza has a lock on a spot on the Metroland list as perhaps one of Albany’s best-known local poets. She began tonight's reading with her entry from the 1995 anthology Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 (Manic D Press), “Size Still Matters.” Then from her collaborative chapbook with Gina Grega Hair Buffet (Hairpie X Press) “What Was Lost in Translation was Made Up for in Bullshit,” “Mercy,” & “Shooting the Weebles with Who-Ha.” Then on to her irreverent take on Shel Siverstein, “Fuck the Giving Tree,” ending with the drive-by “The Cock-Kicker Manifesto.” A classic Mary Panza performance — wham, bam, thank-you m’am.

The music for the evening was the guitar duo of Nick Bisanz (one of the “Best Kept Secrets in the Capital Region” according to Metroland) & Pat Irish performing Pat's “The Front Desk,” an extended rock piece of linked songs telling the story of the night clerk in a hotel, a mini- (& minimalist) rock opera, the duo performance reminding me of Lou Reed & John Cale’s “Songs for Drella” & Pat’s voice & intonation recalling the early ‘90s group Trotsky Icepick.

WordFest 2014 continues. More pictures at my Flickr! site.

April 17, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 2, April 15

The Nitty Gritty Slam is held on on each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat on Central Ave. here in Albany, NY, & that means this week it falls into WordFest & the annual Haiku Battle, with featured visiting performer DDE The Slammer.

The host for the open mic was Kevin Peterson & first up was a brave new soul Stephen Roberts who read a tender love poem “Like a Rose Like You.” Avery performed a piece progressing through the colors of his aura. Emily Gonzalez did 2 poems, a childhood memoir of her mother’s sheets, “Cool Red Satin” & a poem for Sebastian Barr’s photos of abandoned buildings “Unnoticed.”

Isaiah Agojo, who was videoing the readers, read a haiku from high school, then a slam-style piece “Why Don’t You Say you Love Me.” Miss S. who has been here before as Jessica S. read a few haikus, then a poem from a prompt “My Pillow.” Thom il papa Francis concluded the open mic with 2 older pieces, a love poem to his insulin pump “Machine,” then a collage poem using lines sampled from a poem by R.M. Englehardt.

The night’s featured performer came all the way from Indianapolis, on tour, DDE The Slammer, & that’s what he delivered. He began with an evocation of youth “Nintendo Power,” then on to the more grim side of Slam, a piece about killings in Indianapolis, “The Bright Side of Death.” During the social commentary “Good Time Girls” he got heckled good-naturedly Albany-style. He did a rant about another poet’s performance, then a piece on being a Mexican in Indiana, a verbal gunman. He ended with another preachy rant “Barstool Cannon.”

Kevin v. Tasha
Then on to the night’s major bout, the Haiku Slam. I had boldly signed-up, a sheaf of haikus in my sweaty hands. Each round was the best 2 out of 3, with 3 volunteer judges (one of whom just wandered with a friend for a drink). The first rounds pitted Elizag against Steve, me against Albert C.,  Jim against Emily, Brian Dorn against Samson (a tour-de-force of on-the-spot compositions) & Tasha Davis against Shannon Shoemaker. In the second round I went up against Elizag (a formidable foe), Emily against Samson, & Kevin (who had gotten a “buy” for the 1st round because of the odd number of contestants) against Tasha.

Next, Samson went against Kevin in a wild & wooly round of personal attack haikus. Then the surprising final round where I went toe-to-toe with Samson, in which Brian Dorn loaned Samson a haiku in which “haiku” rhymed with “fuck-you.” But when the dust settled I moi!ME! was the haiku poet left standing, & I had beaten Samson’s brilliant scurrilous haikus with a bitter-sweet flower haiku:
     blue, green sleeping in
the garden — Forget-me-not
     not just a flower
It was a wild ride & many good (& a few real stinkers) haiku spewed into the air.

While this event was held under the umbrella (literally, since it was snowing wetly when we headed home) of Albany WordFest 2014, the Nitty Gritty Slam is held on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday of each month in our new, rockin’ venue The Low Beat on Central Ave. in Albany, NY. Check AlbanyPoets.com for complete information.

April 16, 2014

Albany WordFest — Day 1, April 13

The kick-off, the 1st round, the ceremonial 1st pitch, the face-off, the launch of Up the River, the opening lines of WordFest in the backroom of McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY. I was breathless. Unfortunately the copies of Up the River were still coming up the river & won’t be here until later in the week, but the poets were here.

el presidente Thom Francis welcomed us to this week of words, then introduced the 1st of the night’s hosts, Jill Crammond. Jill started us off with a poem by David Budbill, “The Three Goals”  (More of Budbill’s work can be found in the 2012 Foothills Publishing anthology In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien, edited by Charles Rossiter). But back to the poets of Albany & the other contributors to Up the River.

Adam Tedesco was first with a Whitmanesque (as in Walt) statement “Pay Me No Mind” (“I am all these things”). Cheryl A. Rice’s poem “Skype Poet” was a memoir of TV written last week. Therese Broderick’s poem “October Surgery,” was followed by Mimi Moriarty’s “Sleeping in my Sister’s Bed” another hospital poem; Mimi also read “Written After a Line by Emily Dickinson.” The poems Mike Jurkovic read are not in Up the River, the political “New York Swallows History” & “Owl” about a photographer of trains & his thieving wife. Shannon Shoemaker read a poem inspired behind the old Lark Tavern “Of Hummingbirds & Sunday Supper.”

James Shultis read 2 relationship (“I” to “you”) poems, “If It Were Warmer Our Arms Could Come Out & Take Them Away With Them” & the much-simpler titled “Focus.” & that was it for the poets in the new Up the River.  Oh, & Jill's hair was perfect.

Kevin Peterson took over to host an unannounced open mic, starting off with his own poem “Dreaming of Super Heroes & Wrestlers.” Tess Lecuyer followed with haiku. Bless performed a breakup piece about his rough winter, with the message to love yourself. Shannon Shoemaker also had a new, untitled breakup poem. Avery performed his Kripalu commercial. Emily Gonzalez read a new poem, a memoir of going to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Jacky K. read her bitter poem on her husband fucking “Beatrice Miller” on their wedding night.

Samson Dikeman read a poem based on a news story about pedestrians in San Francisco being treated as second-class citizens. Carolee Bennett’s poem about the loneliness of Space “Since They Manned the International Space Station…” was perhaps inspired by the movie Gravity? Don Levy read about an encounter “In the Pool” in Florida, talking prescriptions. James was back with a poem commenting on bike polo & teeth. A virgin poet, Millie, ended the night reciting an angry Slam-style poem “My Creed a Warrior’s Creed.”

WordFest was off to a great start. More photos can be found at my Flickr! site.

April 15, 2014

2nd Sunday @ 2, April 13

We, my co-host Nancy Klepsch & I, were surprised at the number of folks who showed up on the first really warm day of April to listen to poetry rather than work in their yards. Maybe they’re all city folk.

I began with my tribute to Bob Kaufman’s poem “Believe, Believe,” including a recitation of his poem.

Then a new poet here, Sarah Wellen, read a descriptive “Family Weekend” & “The Uneasy Truce” from her book of poems Reflections. Cathy Abbott read a memoir that included an episode about being fired for painting a stool that her boss then sat on while the paint was wet. Mike Connor brought with him his fan club to hear him read a Spring poem “May 1” & a poem written as a get-well card to a friend’s mother “Irene’s Journey.”

Another new voice, Nate Kristen, read a couple of poems of self-examination, “I Know I’m Not” & “High on Scotch” (home alone writing). Howard Kogan got us laughing with his poem about shopping in a hardware store, an “ode to aging” titled “Words Fail Me.” Ron Drummond gave us a Shakespearean experience, reading from Ted Hughes’s introduction to an edition of selections from the Bard a passage on Hermetic philosophy in Shakespeare, then a wonderfully sonorous reading of Sonnet #55, & a brief passage from a play her wrote in which Shakespeare is a character. Ron has been a regular here since this series began, reading a variety of texts, from sci-fi, to philosophical considerations, to personal laments, some of which have been published or show-cased in public readings, but sadly today he announced he would be moving from Troy to Ithaca (sounds like he's following Odysseus). We will miss his unique voice here, but I am confident he will keep writing his unique prose & sending it out into the world.

My co-host Nancy Klepsch read next with a Spring & flowers poem “Mr. & Mrs.” then a piece from one of two chapbooks she is trying to get published, ”None of Our Brains.” Jil Hanifan gave us 2 found poems, the 1st from a scientific/engineering text “Harmonious Poems with Prescribed Singularity of Unbounded Domains” (not sure if I got this correct), & “Emily & the Internet” (about recently-discovered fragments of Emily Dickinson’s writing). William Robert Foltin arrived late & ended up on the bottom of the list & read his 2 poems, the first about farmer’s committing suicide, the second a tribute to “a beautiful teacher.”

This open mic for writers of poetry &/or prose (2 poems or a max. of 5 minutes of prose) takes place in Troy NY at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, on River St., at 2PM on the 2nd Sunday of most months (except July & August). It’s Free!

April 14, 2014

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree and Sky, April 11

Now that the snow is gone (?) & we can park on the lawn of the Pine Hollow Arboretum it means it’s the start of this year’s series Poets of Earth, Water, Tree and Sky sponsored by Rootdrinker Institute & hosted by Director Alan Casline. The featured reader was Martha Deed, but first the open mic.

& I was first on the signup sheet, & I read an older piece “Now, Listen” & my poem/tribute essay to Bob Kaufman’s “Believe, Believe” (April 18 is Bob Kaufman Day). Joe Krausman began with a piece that re-worked the Scriptures (perhaps in honor of the impending Passover holiday?), then a piece on the magazines in the check-out lines at Super-Markets “Mixed Messages,” & a short poem from memory exhorting us to “jump in.” Tim Verhaegen regaled us with another hysterical piece about his family, this about a phone conversation with his twin “Oh Brother You Are Such an Asshole.” Mark O’Brien read a collaboration he wrote with Tom Corrado, “How the Sky was Empty,” then a memoir piece “Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man, Circa 1971,” & a poem reacting to the tragic industrial explosion in Texas last year, “April Has Been Cancelled.” Thérèse Broderick read a poem inspired by a flower theme park in Dubai, “More Real Than a Mirage.”

Thérèse’s husband, Frank Robinson, read 2 poems from his new book, Love Poems, “The Poetry is You” & “Thérèse 5.1”. Nice to see Thérèse blush. Susan Kayne was new here, introduced herself as a former breeder of horses who is now an animal (horse) rights activist & her poem was the tragic story of “An Average Colt’s Life.”

The featured poet Martha Deed drove here from Western New York. She read a varied set of poems dealing with Nature, politics, references to & experiments with other poets, & even some humor thrown in. “Housatonic Sam” was a funny poem about a coyote howling at 4AM for social justice, while “Visiting a Rattlesnake Farm” was set in Crawford, Texas, home of “W” Bush. “Mining Boots Just In” was about a stop on a road trip in Kentucky, then reworked under the influence of John Cage. Another poem mixed lines from a speech by “W” with her own lines; she also collaged lines from a poem by her daughter, about her daughter’s experience interviewing for the NSA. Other poets referred to were Adelaide Crapsey & James Tate. She also read a couple poems from her project to write 65 poems for age 65. She ended with a moving piece about a conversation on a Paris train, “The Wounded Man at War…” covering loss & poetry readings. A nicely put together reading of poems in a variety of styles & subjects.

After a break, Sylvia Barnard read a poem, “Cycling through Denmark” based an a childhood story a friend told her. Sue Riback drew on her daily work in a nursing home for a couple poems, one a list of characters, the other focused on a couple still together after 60 years, then “17th Century Flu Season” consisting of a list of remedies that would make you wish you hadn’t eaten during the break. Edie Abrams read a bouquet of post-retirement poems, “Who Am I?” “My First Day at Hebrew School” (as a volunteer) & “It’s Magic” (her experience reading for the RISE program). Alan Casline read as the last poet what he described as “some Thursday night poems,” a poem about a morning walk with the dog “Snowfall Mounds the Yard” & a bit of parataxis “Mountain Sky Bird.” (Parataxis, is that when your dinner party is so big you have to call 2 cabs?)

This series, held at the Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitor Center 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY, 6:30PM, continues on Fridays roughly a month apart through November.