July 24, 2015

The Summer Writers Institute Reading Series, July 20


Readings have been going on up at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, home of the Writers Institute’s Summer Writing Program, since the end of June, but this is the first one I’ve been able to get to. It was sort of a random choice & also a chance for me to have dinner at Sperry’s with a poet friend.

Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall slowly filled with mostly young students, but a few older poets from the community & others, such as Henri Cole, from the summer program faculty. April Bernard, from the Skidmore English Department, introduced Bob Boyers who introduced the first reader, novelist Cristina Garcia. Boyers’ introductions, gushing fountains of praise, are a tradition itself here at the summer program, & tonight he read from 3 hand written pages ripped from a spiral notebook.

Cristina Garcia is a Cuban-American novelist who had been a student here at the Summer Writers Institute back in July of 1990. She began tonight with a segment from a work-in-progress with the tentative title “Young Visitor” set in Berlin in 1942, about a Jewish woman hidden in a sarcophagus to escape the Nazi’s. Then she read from her latest novel King of Cuba (2013), the first segment a funny episode about Fidel Castro as a child asking about growing up, about growing a big dick. Another segment was in the voice (& read with a funny Hispanic accent) of a female guard at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. Her first novel (1992) was titled Dreaming in Cuban.

Earlier in the day I had heard news stories nearly every hour on NPR about the opening today of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC & the US embassy in Havana, normalizing diplomatic relations after over 50 years. I had been expecting Boyers in his introduction, or Garcia, born in Cuba & a former journalist for Time Magazine in Miami, at some point to mention this historic event that is so close to her work, & her life, but neither did. Politics, or academic indifference? Who knows?

April Bernard read her own 3-page introduction to Wayne Koestenbaum, describing her long personal contact with him from their undergraduate days. I didn’t realize until hours after the reading that I had seen Koestenbaum read a number of years ago at the College of St. Rose. Tonight he read from the forth-coming (in September) The Pink Trance Notebooks that he described as “poetry” drawn from segments from his diaries, “sketchbooks in effect,” he said, “paratactic,” 2 segments, “Trans-Notebook #2: Nerdy Questions about Perfect Pitch," & “Trans-Notebook #3: A Testicle Descends, a Lark Ascends,” with references to not only Ralph Vaughn Williams, but also to Verdi operas, both pieces like strings of gaudy plastic beads without a necklace. He ended with a reading of his essay “Debbie Harry at the Supermarket,” more professional cleverness going nowhere, except perhaps to all tomorrow’s parties. Or, as Leonard Cohen once said “Other forms of boredom advertised as Poetry.”

I guess I just picked the wrong night to check out the Summer Writers Program at Skidmore. At least it was free -- & I had had a nice dinner with my friend.

July 23, 2015

Poets in the Park, July 18


This was actually the 2nd Poets in the Park this year, the first was held July 11, featuring the Nitty Gritty Slam Team (Amani, Elizag, Daniel Summerhill & Poetyc Visionz) with Thom Francis as the guest host. I was back on this night with Paul Pines & Karen Schoemer as the readers & a wonderfully attentive audience of Alban poets & listeners.


Paul Pines began with poems from Fishing on the Pole Star (Dos Madres Press, 2014), the description of “A Family at Sea,” then “The Last Marlin,” & “Concepcion Island.”  Then from Divine Madness (Marsh Hawk Press, 2014) beginning with a quote from Plato’s Phaedrus, poems #13, #15, #17 all from the first section “The Serpent in the Bird.” Then a few poems from his latest book Message from the Memoirist (Dos Madres Press, 20145), “Time Travel at 70” him self as a car, then one of my favorites “The Death of Eddie Jefferson” about the “Daddy of the Be-Bop vocal” who was a habitué of Paul’s NYC jazz club The Tin Palace, a poem commissioned by the Hyde Museum “Andrew Wyeth Enters Heaven, Part II” & ended, appropriately enough, with the “lighter poem” a found poem “Field Theory According to Mel Blanc” ("that's All folks").  During Paul’s reading there was a brief blessing of rain, like “the gift of vision” described by Black Elk, but not enough to scare anyone away.

Karen Schoemer shares with Paul a connection with music, he to jazz, she to rock. She began with a descriptive poem about a garage sale titled “November Sun,” then a work shop poem based on one by Jack Gilbert “On Alyosha” on silence. “Sycamore Bar” described an afternoon in the bar & tenderness, then a piece “Studio City” that she does with her band the Schoemer Formation (imagine, she said, Reckless Eric playing the fuzz bass). Two more poems, “Summer Perches Above Its Wane” was a tender piece tracing her daughter growing up, & she ended with her most recent poem “Help” a childhood memoir referencing the Beatles.

This was the second of a series of 3 readings in the Park this year, continuing the series created by Tom Nattell back in 1989 -- free & open to the public, just like the Park.



July 21, 2015

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 16

Although it was a Summer night it was not too hot to close the door to keep the sounds of the night-time Avenue out on the street. Before we began the open mic I invoked the Muse, the recently gone  Paul Weinman, iconic, quintessential poet of Albany, one of the most widely published poets in America in the 1980s & ‘90s, often writing as "White Boy". I played a selection from the CD Volume: a compilation of poets (Grrr Records, 1995) in which he read “My Eyeballs" & "Flies on the Ceiling” recorded at Margarita’s on Lark St. 9/13/94 & “White Boy Strips Naked” recorded on 3/14/95. That Open Mic in the Sky is getting pretty crowded & just got a lot more rowdy.

On to the open mic, with one of Paul’s compatriots in the early ‘zine scene, Alan Catlin, who paid tribute to Paul by reading a poem that was a description of a street person “Home Schooled” from his latest chapbook, Beautiful Mutants (NightBallet Press). Joe Krausman had signed up 2nd, but had to leave before he could read; he left me his poem about Paul, “Just Sticks,” a tribute to Paul’s later avocation of making chairs from tree branches, some small enough for a potted plant or a child’s stuffed animal, he dubbed “orphan chairs,” leaving them anonymously around town.


Sean Heather McGraw was here for the 1st time, read a poem, “Keeping a Secret” accompanied by playing a penny whistle. Jessica Rae said her poem was "something silly" she just wrote, in the style of Dr. Seuss, “Not Your Thing.”

Melody Davis, tonight’s featured poet, read from Holding the Curve (Broadstone Books, 2013), which she said was kind of a journey, but tonight read it from the back, starting with the childhood memory “Sermons.” Then a couple of poems I hadn’t heard her read before, “My Constellation of Bad but Thrilling Choices” & the Greek myth-inspired “Danaë.” Said she likes to write villanelles & read the driving poem “It Only Starts.” The title poem “Holding the Curve” in the past & present also included images from driving, & then “The Kids from Next Door” & “Ode to Sunset Park” from her time in that Brooklyn neighborhood. “Mom Tells Me there is No Reason to Live” is a brand-new/just typed up poem about her mother as was “Brett & Mom in Assisted Living” a funny dialogue based on a misunderstanding. Back to the book (but still talking about the brain) she finished by reading “I Imagine the Famous Brain Surgeon, Dr. Quiñonez, Operating on My Mind.”  While this is about the third time I've heard Melody Davis read, her performance was fresh, different than her other readings, the poems always interesting, while she connected with the audience with warmth & humor.

After the break I paid tribute to Paul Weinman by reading an old poem of mine set in the QE2 where Paul often read, “Where Were the Professors?” Don Levy (who had also been there at the QE2) read about his 1st TV crush “Rockin’ with Robin.” Shannon Shoemaker showed up with her notebook & read a short untitled poem of memory of lost love. Karen Fabiane’s piece was somewhat longer, the dramatic dialogue at a bar “Junkie Pathétique.” Chad Lowther preferred to perform last, & did, an improvised piece dedicated to his friend Kendra titled “Nothing” a meditation on pain.

So ended another Third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, but we’ll be back on the next third Thursday at 7:30P, the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY — $3.00 donation supports poetry events, pays the featured poet & supports the Social Justice Center.

July 19, 2015

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree, & Sky, July 10


& words — before & after the featured poet, Alan Catlin. The host/MC was Alan Casline (that’s not a typo).

Now, I arrived when there were 4 or 5 poets signed up for the open mic, but the #1 slot was still open — reminded me of the old days at the QE2 — I read my poem “Arts Festival, Delray Beach” inspired by Alan Catlin’s book of poems Alien Nation (March Street Press, 2011), then a bar poem “Jim Morrison.” Bob Sharkey read a poem by the recently deceased James Tate, then the descriptive “Bus.” Tim Verhaegen handed out copies of his 2 poems, the “portrait of a memory” “Summer Nights in Amagansett,” & the edgy & humorous “Cats & People.”

Paul Amidon read a tale of a flood titled “Old George” then the childhood Little League memoir “Play at the Plate.” Tom Corrado read a poem he wrote for his birthday with the help of a computer algorithm using 70 lines randomly chosen from his poems. Mark W. (O’Brien) began with “Redemption” a poem based on an Irish proverb (does it matter which one?), then a poem about an old TV program, & another “Reclusion” on an old house that had once stood at the conjunction of routes 85 & 85A.

Alan Casline introduced Alan Catlin by reading from his his 1980 chapbook Joyce in Hades: A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Catlin countered by reading his most recent 2 poems, “The Open Mic Poet Who Reads in Arabic…” & a portrait of a passenger on the Schenectady bus “Jesus is Loved.” He followed that with some poems from a trip to England, including one at Thomas Hardy’s cottage, & a couple from the Hepworth Sculpture Garden. Alan’s new book is Beautiful Mutants from NightBallet Press & he read the grim “Wasted” (observations on jury duty), & the equally grim “Death in the Afternoon on Becker St.” He said his new book scheduled to come out next year, American Odyssey, contains poems on artists & he read a couple responding to Mapplethorpe photos & one based on a Ralph Steadman cartoon. He ended with a couple poems from a work-in-progress based on movies, with the working title “Hollyweird.” There’s always new work from Alan Catlin, & his new book Beautiful Mutants continues his saga of gritty urban tales.

After a break Joe Krausman continued the open mic with the ironic “Vacation” (no matter where we go we can’t get away from ourselves), & “Born Loser” in the voice of the wife of a compulsive gambler. Sally Rhoades read a poem written in Union Square NYC watching someone “Walking the Dogs,” then a poem about the full moon. A.C. Everson’s 2 poems were about children, one for her granddaughter’s 2nd birthday, the other “Under the Sun” a naming game poem.

Although she is used to being on stage as singer, performer this was only Sybil Alison’s 2nd time reading her poetry, which were her song lyrics, “Dead of Winter” (homeless on the Upper East Side), “The Audacity of Hope” (another social justice piece), & the more personal “I Saw You.” Our host Alan Casline read a piece titled “Want the Warrior Not the Wound,” then a poem using William Blake’s 4 visions applied to the Tawasentha, & an old poem about the Sun, wind, a bird & his notebook “Burning.” Jessica Rae ended the evening with a new poem in-progress “Trees & Memories,” & a poem where a “Magical Blue Heron” is a messenger.

It was another fine evening of poetry among the trees of the Pine Hollow Arboretum, Slingerlands, NY. Usually a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

July 17, 2015

Live from the Living Room, July 8


Well, sort of: we actually were in the “Garden Room” but close enough & no one seemed to mind. Our straight-friendly host, Don Levy, introduced the featured poet, East Nassau’s (& America’s) own, Bernadette Mayer.


Bernadette began with an nod to the classics, Catullus’ poem #42 (or XLII), a great rant about a stolen notebook, then on to 5 poems from the recent Benevolent Bird Press chapbook, All Fall Down; one that she read, “Butterfly of Love,” she said that she didn’t like the title, but its supple description of a vagina reminds me of Eileen Myles’ sexy titled “Sappho’s Boat.” Then on to some sonnets from the rare 1989 Sonnets (Tender Buttons Books). She ended with a long string of Epigrams from Scarlet Tanager (New Directions). A nice variety of new & older work, as if Viking published a “Portable Bernadette Mayer.”

I started the open mic trying out a brand-new poem for my son Jack’s up-coming wedding, “For Jack & Haley/Haley & Jack” & was pleased with the good response.  Kim Henry read 2-parts of an auto-biographical family memoir, "Kimberly Parts 1 & 2."  Samson Dikeman followed also with a childhood memoir on the theme of why he writes “I Told You 14 Times There Is Nothing in the Drawer.” Adam Tedesco was the first poet of the night to reference whether I had heard the poem they were about to read; I don’t recall hearing before his 1st poem, a series of questions, but was pleased to hear once again “Clouds.” Bob Sharkey’s 1st piece “Coming Back” was a string of travel images, followed by a film-noir police interrogation “Subject 56-10.” Sylvia Barnard also referenced the fact that I had heard both of her poems previously, but no matter, they are good enough to hear again, “Siobhan in Washington Park Age 46” & “Anti-4th of July Poem” (based on an email from a Canadian friend). Chad Lovejoy read from his phone “Leachate #10” from a series based on texts about Albany’s Pine Bush preserve.

Miriam Axel-Lute began with a sexy piece on re-building “Rebound,” then referenced me hearing before her poem about never taking “no” for an answer “Syro-Phoenician Woman” (based on Matthew 15:21-28). Billy Stanley read from his notebook “Whistling in the Rushes” playing on the old controversy between Whistler & Ruskin, then a piece about what what to write, what to think “Bernadette at 3:30 in the AM.” Our host, Don Levy, ended the night with 2 poems, the high school memoir “G.B.” then the wonderful poem for his Dad who had sports-aspirations for his uninterested son, “Jock” (who knew that Don was named for the great Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale?).Such nights of poetry continue each 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7:30PM, at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, on Hudson Ave., in Albany, NY — a local or regional poet followed by an open mic for the community, for a modest donation.

July 10, 2015

IWW Fundraiser Reading, July 6


This was a fundraiser to support the local IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) Chapter’s support of the upcoming Joe Hill Road Show, coming to the 8th Step at Proctor’s on July 30. The featured reader tonight was Martin Manley with an informal open mic/round-robin, hosted by Greg Giorgio. It was held at Arthur’s Market in the Stockade Section of Schenectady, a relaxed cafe setting with a performance area, books & magazines scattered about, & a selection of tea, coffee, soft drinks & a modest selection of food, including sandwiches, salads & paninis.

Greg started with a short spiel on Joe Hill (1879 - 1915), labor organizer, song-writer, then introduced me to read a couple poems. I started with a poem by another labor poet, Vincent Ferrini, reading from Before Gloucester, edited by Ammiel Alcalay & Kate Tarlow Morgan (Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, 2013) which printed poems from some of Ferrini’s early books. I read “What the Books Left Out” from the 1944 Blood of the Tenements, then one of my poems, written for the Occupy movement, “One Day Longer.”


Greg then brought up local activist Martin Manley, who read from his book Flint Knives: Selected Poems1973 - 2014 (The Troy Book Makers, 2014). The book contains over 90, mostly short, poems selected from Martin’s oeuvre of almost 700 poems. They are arranged chronologically in the book & he began with the first poem from 1973 “Struggle,” then read about 10 poems or so, including the title poem “Flint Knives” (& perhaps the longest in the book), taking us up to 2014. His themes are typically political, but not exclusively, reading poems about love or observing nesting birds. Following that, during a brief Q&A, he talked broadly on Irish politics & the early history of wars in Afghanistan.

Peace activist Mabel Leon was asked by Greg to come up next, & Mabel read 2 poems from a collection by her sister-in-law Barbara Leon, including the marvelous “Praise Poem for Congolese Women.” Greg read a poem by local poet Michael Purcell, whom he had met recently in a bar in Albany, “I Won’t Work Anywhere…”, then brought out his own fat journal bulging with paper ephemera to read a poem for Big Bill Haywood in rhyming ballad form, like the poems of Robert W. Service. I came back with my own “praise poem” “The Communion of Saints.”

Greg Giorgio & his notebook
Martin was asked back to read some more, read from 1978, other poems, including the 1981 “Greetings from the Death Squad.”

Mabel read Barbara Leon’s “Vision Off Point Lobos.” Then Bertha Krieger & a friend sang a verse of the famous “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.” Martin read from another section of the book, including the poem “Los Gringos.” HIs poems are often aphoristic, notebook jottings, but many run to a page or two — a provocative collection of a life’s work.

Greg ended the night readings his favorite poem by Martin, the 2013 brief poem that begins “A thousand years ago…” It was a fitting way to end a pleasant evening of poetry & politics among comrades.

Arthur’s Market is also the setting for a monthly poetry night with a featured reader & an open mic held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month.

July 7, 2015

Poets Speak Loud!, June 29


With our usual host, Mary Panza, on the beach, & Thom Francis (il papa) home with his daughter, I was called upon to be the guest host for this monthly open mic, & to present tonight’s featured poet(s), the 2015 Nitty Gritty Slam Team. It was quite a full house with not only candidates for the open mic but a number of folks here just to listen (& enjoy the good food & drinks). Our server tonight was the terribly young & wonderfully pretty & efficient Chelsea.

Sylvia Barnard led us off with a poem to her daughter “Siobhan in Washington Park Age 16” then a piece she described as an “anti-4th-of-July poem.” Adam Tedesco described his first poem “White Mountain Ranges” as a “trans-contemporation,” then read “Clouds” based Diane DiPrima’s Revolutionary Letters. Jessica Rae (who will be the featured poet at Poets Speak Loud! in July!) read an older poem “North & South of the Border,” followed by her song, an eco-poem written as a song, that she read rather than sang, “Bomb Trains.”

Robb Smith comes to more readings than he reads at, but tonight read an excerpt from a longer prose piece, this part of a forth-coming memoir that included Brancusi’s “Endless Column,” Wilhelm Reich, & Dylan Thomas. Joe Krausman found in his archives a couple of poems with drawings on the page, “Life is a Movie,” & “Counterpoint.” Steve Minchin read about writing (or not writing) poems, “Watching No Love Poems,” then what he described as an untitled, old piece. Julie Lomoe, was selling her brand-new novel, a soap-opera vampire thriller Hope Springs Eternal, & read a dialogue poem “Me & My Shadow.”

The Nitty Gritty Slam Team, tonight’s collective featured poets, did a mix of individual pieces & group pieces, giving the audience a representative taste of what they will be bringing to the National Slam competition in Oakland, CA in August. Amani was the first up with an angry poem considering “rats” in various forms, dedicated to “activists who find themselves weary at times.” Daniel Summerhill read from his new chapbook Brown Boys on Stoops a poem for his grandfather “Folk Tales” (unfortunately he didn’t have any copies with him to sell, but you can order it here). Elizag followed with a poem about her mother & choices “Coin Toss.” Poetyc Visionz likes to do performance pieces using numbers as the trope, this one numbering clouds & dreams & about taking care of yourself.

The team (P.V., Elizag & Daniel) tried out a group piece that is still in draft, about how we lump people together on appearances but how different we are inside, unseen. Amani did an individual a piece I’ve heard a couple times (don’t know if it has a title) dedicated to her grandmother, about her roots & food & color. Daniel also did a piece I’ve heard before, “Ode to Elijah,” a nephew with autism, playing on different meanings of “fighting.” Elizag & Amani then practiced a Elizag’s funny piece “Dear Young People” with the young guys chiming in. Then Poetyc Visionz was back with his piece bouncing off the number 7.

It was good to hear those folk in a non-competitive setting, where for some reason their poems while retaining the energy & confrontation of Slam also seemed to speak more from the heart. Go to AlbanyPoets.com to find out how to support the Nitty Gritty Slam Team’s trip to the Slam Nationals.

Being the host for tonight I invoked the droit de seigneur & read next, appropriately (or in-appropriately) enough, my “Slam Poem.” Sally Rhoades read her moving poem to her father “The Sky is My Witness,” then a poem from 2008 “Roadside Poppies.”

A new face & voice, Carrie Czwahiel, had arrived early & was patiently waiting to read a defiant memoir about being a preacher’s daughter, then a profile rant for a dating site, stating how it is. Karen Fabiane read a couple poems from her 2nd chapbook Seeing You Again (Grey Book Press, 2014), the outrageous “I Fucked St. Joan,” & the title poem from the chapbook.

Annie Sauter read a long piece (but in big print), a memoir, Beat narrative set in the mid-Hudson region, tossing pages on the floor as they were done, “He Sent Her A Thank-You Text.” Jesse Hilson was another new voice here, began with a series of advice aphorisms for absurdist situations, then a strange piece from his college days, from porn to iconoclasm “The Fugitive Completeness.” Ed Yetto was our last reader, just bringing along his journal, the first piece an untitled “something,” then an equally untitled, unedited notebook ramble just written — it’s an open mic, you read anything!

Poets Speak Loud! happens the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s, an open mic with a featured poet, starting thereabouts 7:30PM. Always good food, refreshing drinks, great service (thank you Chelsea!) — & poetry! Where have you been?