March 28, 2017

Community of Writers, March 26

Community of Writers is a periodic reading series sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild to showcase the talents of the diverse writing community of the Capital Region. This reading was held in the 2nd floor Community Room of the Albany Public Library, Washington Ave. Branch (full disclosure: I organized & was the host of this particular reading). Today’s reading included a novelist, Tom Swyers; a poet, Nancy Klepsch; & a journalist, Steve Barnes.

Tom Swyers is the author of Saving Babe Ruth, which was the 2015 recipient of two Benjamin Franklin Book Awards: first place for “Best First Book, Fiction” & second place for “Best Popular Fiction,” & the recently released The Killdeer Connection. He began by talking about the creation of the cover for The Killdeer Connection through public comment, & on the writing of a “legal thriller” as well as its marketing in today’s highly competitive world of fiction. His new novel is of particular interest to readers in the Albany area because of its plot’s connection to the oil fields of North Dakota & the “bomb trains” that take the oil into Albany. Interested readers can get a free download of the novel by going to

Nancy Klepsch is a long-time Capital Region activist, poet & teacher, now living in Troy, NY. She is the co-host (with me) of 2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, at the Arts Center in Troy. She began with her poem “Before You Know Gratitude” inspired by a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, then to a spirited performance of a tribute to Albany poet Tom Nattell. Her reading included a number of poems published in poetry journals, including Up The River (“A Queer Horse”), Barzakh, Oberon Review, & Sinister Wisdom. Her poems could be political as with “Great Again,” or loving as in “The Invisible Lesbian.” She ended with another tribute to a gone friend, “Crispy Kreme” full of dreams, death & laughter.

Steve Barnes  is a much-read columnist & reporter for the Albany Times Union whose Table Hopping Blog draws more than 400,000 readers a month. This afternoon he shared a number of columns/Blogs from the past to highlight the variety of the work he has done, & to serve as springboards into entertaining discussions about food, rock music & how reviews get written so quickly. He began with a glowing review from 1999 of a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, then showed how he could just as entertainingly write a scathing negative review, this of a Japanese restaurant in Albany. Another funny piece was about the NYS Assembly’s attempt to ban added salt in restaurants. A piece on the death of singer John Denver turned into autobiography, & one on rock star Meat Loaf had the audience in stitches. He ended with a tender piece on planning holiday meals with his widowed mother, both funny & tearful.

It is because there are so many talented writers, in all genres, here in New York’s Capital Region that the Hudson Valley Writers Guild can offer such programs. The Hudson Valley Writers Guild fosters an active community of writers and readers by encouraging the development of local authors and providing opportunities for them to share their talents with local audiences.  For more information about the Guild, & to support by joining visit the Guild’s website.

March 21, 2017

Third Thursday Poetry Night, March 16, 2017

Albany was under a “Snow Emergency” which meant parking was restricted to the odd-numbered side of the street, perfect for the Social Justice Center at 33 Central Ave., but that meant ALL the cars were on that side of the street. The tour bus of poetry enthusiasts never made it, but there were plenty of others to hear Dawn Marar & to read in the open mic. But first I invoked the Muse of the spirit of the season with an old Irish poem, “Fair Cassiday.”

Joe Krausman read a poem he recently found in his files, “Trapped Without Intermission,” about an uncomfortable night at the theater. Alan Casline announced that the first of the season’s readings at the Pinehollow Arboretum will be on the first Friday in April, then read some sections from “Ottawa City Blues,” descriptive pieces written in March a couple years ago. Mark O’Brien was already in his (green) uniform for tomorrow, read a haibun not yet on his Blog, “A Helderberg Journey.” Faith Green came to support her friend Dawn, read a work-in-progress, the anaphoric list poem “I Wonder.”

Our featured poet tonight, Dawn Marar, has been in the area for years, but, alas, does not read out frequently enough. Tonight, we got to hear a number of her intriguing, engaged poems. She began with a poem titled “Snowomen” with a nod to Wallace Stevens, thinking of Aleppo & birches. “New York Agora” was about the 9/11 memorial in NYC, then to a short, political piece “A-E-I-O-U.” On to a Summer poem, a day in the life of a writer preparing a manuscript, studying Arabic, dreams, & the everyday, “Heavenly Bodies.” Dawn also wrote a haibun, based on a photo on Mark’s Blog, titled “Cross Border,” written after she returned from the January Women’s March, playing on the text ot “America the Beautiful.” Next, a descriptive poem written the day before the election in San Francisco about the wild parrots, & more. She ended with a poem in her invented form, the American pronghorn, a variation on the ghazal, autobiographical, political, looking back to the Reagan era, & to the current election “Endgame.”

After a break, I read a poem from my new series “What Makes America Great” this #14, all true stories.

By far the youngest poet here tonight was Samuel Weinstein who read from his smart-phone a rhyming fantasy of an encounter on the street. Alifair Skebe read from her manuscript “Thanatos & Psyche” a new poem for the coming Spring season “Psyche Meets Orpheus in the Underworld.” Our last poet for the night was Nancy Dunlop with a quirky poem “I Took the Sign Down,” another poem tinged with the politics of the time.

So all the wimps out there who didn’t come tonight missed a wonderful group of open mic poets & the fabulous featured poem Dawn Marar. But we will be back as the snow melts, each third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany at 7:30 — your $3.00 (or more!) donation helps pay the featured poet, supports other poetry events, & the work of the Social Justice Center. Please join us & read.

March 20, 2017

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, March 12

Back at the Arts Center in Troy, but upstairs today & a full house, with co-host Nancy Klepsch.

Howard Kogan started us off with his poem “King Kong” a memory of the movie when he was young, & a poem “Talking at the End of Time” in an assisted-living place. I was next & read selections from Inauguration Raga (A.P.D., 2017).

Peggy LeGee was in her “cat-mode” to promote her new graphic arts chapbook, Moochie the Dumpster Kat (#1) (with art & lettering by Raymond Lowell), read “Death of a Very Fast Cat” & from the chapbook. Dave DeVries’ first poem, in rhyme, was titled “Crossing the Rubicon” then a series of random thoughts “My Peculiar Perceptions.” For this week’s St. Paddy’s Day Mike Conner read a poem by Seamus Heaney, then another by an Irish friend Brian Dodds “In Mullen’s Field.”

Harvey Havel read a short piece of prose fiction about an athlete facing racism on a school team. Cathy Abbott was quick, with a political haiku, then a selection from a book by a cousin. Bob Sharkey read a real-life story, “The Pipeline,” about refugees from South America trying to get into Canada & stranded in Plattsburgh.

Zan Strumfeld was the first of the new faces/voices here today & she read a moving prose piece about a boyfriend & finding a lump on his neck. Dan Curley’s poem “Cocooned” was for his daughter, then & now, while his 2nd poem encouraged us to “Make a Culture of Laughing.” Co-host Nancy Klepsch read a funny piece about Garrison Keilor, or rather about thinking about him, then a political piece for the time. Kate Laity’s flash fiction was titled “Spirits in the Night.”

Another new face, Michael Lopez, read a couple poems of “Faith,” the first descriptions of street people “What Ails Them,” then one about the “Shroud of Turin.” Karen Fabiane read 2 new poems in her familiar, oblique style, “Some Other People,” & “Even Without Grace.” Jil Hanifan’s long poem “St. Christopher’s School Bus” was full of glittering descriptions of the drivers & passengers. Joe Krausman’s poem “Limit” included a quote from the I Ching, & his 2nd poem was on being alone. R.M. Engelhardt arrived late once again to read a profoundly dark “America Sighs,” then a brighter poem for his wife, “Murmur.”

Easy to remember, 2nd Sunday @ 2, is at the Arts Center on River St. in Troy, NY & one can read poetry or prose — what else is there?

March 14, 2017

The Readings Against the End of the World

(I am thrilled to hear that the 24-hour Readings Against the End of the World will once again, since  1993, be held in Albany -- April 21 - 22.  Sign-up starts March 21 at, where you can find the details about this & the week-long WordFest.  The following story was originally published in a shorter version in The Story of Albany: Told by the Times Union and its readers, sponsored by the Albany Public Library & published by the Times Union in 2009.)

I left Albany in 1964 when I graduated from high school and headed to college in New York City, and in Albany at that time, there were no bagels and no poetry readings. Now there are plenty of both. One of the local figures who helped get Albany’s vibrant poetry scene going was Tom Nattell. I’ll leave the history of bagels in Albany to someone else.

I returned to Albany in 1986 and eventually found myself at the beginning of the poetry open mic scene that has put Albany on the nation’s poetry map. But in 1986, there were only a few poets who read at the music open mic at the 8th Step on Willett St. However, the energizing force was the annual Readings Against the End of the World, a fund-raiser for the Albany Peace & Energy Council. Tom Nattell coordinated the event, beginning in 1984, a response to the Reagan-era ratcheting up of the nuclear arms race. It took place on a weekend at the end of April (or beginning of May), around Earth Day, from Friday midnight to Saturday midnight at various locations, starting at Richard Genest’s Half-Moon CafĂ© on lower Madison Ave., then the Social Justice Center, finally at the 1st Presbyterian Church, above the 8th Step. space, on Willett St. I had discovered the RAEW just before moving back to Albany, reading in it for the first time at 8:45 AM in 1986. After I moved to Albany I helped with the fund-raising & volunteered the day of the readings right up to the last one in 1993.

In 1988, Tom asked me to a take a photo of a rag-tag group of Albany environmental, anti-nuke, peace activists, poets and performers, a publicity shot that then appeared in the local newspapers as promotion for the RAEW. Year after year I would help out with the pre-event phone-tree soliciting funds for the event, taking publicity photos weeks before, doing introductions at odd hours during the readings, folding up tables and chairs at the end. And Tom would be there, constantly, 48 hours straight, he claimed.

Many local and regional writers and performers participated, including Harry Staley, Judith Johnson, Enid Dame, Donald Lev, R.M. Engelhardt, Mary Panza, Don Levy, Alan Catlin, Maurice Kenny, Barbara Smith, & others.  And the occasional “celebrity” would show up: Ed Sanders of The Fugs performed a number of times and I have a photo of William Kennedy reading in 1987. It wasn’t just writers reading. Tom always included a “Children’s Hour,” usually at mid-day and other time slots included dancers, folk singers, magicians, and all kinds of collaborative pieces mixing words, music, visual art, movement & props and gimmicks. You never knew what you would see when you showed up, any time of the day or night. By the last RAEW in 1993 about 170 performers were signed up for 10 minute time slots each.

Tom had a sense of when enough was enough (or too much). In 1993 he quietly ended the Readings Against the End of the World after its tenth event. In a Times Union article by Amy Biancolli published just before the reading, Tom was coy, “Things start and things end, and if this (the readings) turns out to be the last one, it was meant to be the last one.” As word got out that this was indeed the last one, there was of course talk of others taking it over, but no one did. There have been other, similar marathon reading events after, but none ever achieved the energy, the number of performers, or the staying power that Tom, APEC & the army of volunteers achieved over the 10 years of the Readings Against the End of the World.

During the interview with Amy Biancolli Tom had also said, “I’ve got other things that I work on and other things that I like to do…” In fact, by this time Tom was running a monthly poetry open mic at the QE2 rock club on Central Ave. and had recently formed the poetry performance group, 3 Guys from Albany, with Dan Wilcox and Charlie Rossiter, and he would go on to write a popular bi-weekly column for Metroland, Albany’s arts & entertainment weekly. “Things start and things end…”

Tom died of cancer in January 2005. During his last month he arranged for his archives of the 10 years of the Readings Against the End of the World to be stored (and available for public scrutiny) at the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives at the University at Albany. Included are files of newspaper clippings and other documents, hours of mostly un-edited video tapes of the readings and binders full of photos. If you ever participated in the Readings Against the End of the World, you’re in there somewhere.

March 13, 2017

WOMPS, March 9

The Word of Mouth Poetry Series is a monthly event at The Art Bar Gallery in Kingston, & is run by Teresa Costa. I’d been wanting to get there for some time for a reading & finally made it for Roberta Gould, whose poetry I like a lot, & for someone I hadn’t heard previously, Karen Corinne Herceg. I had been to the Gallery before for art openings, & there is a bar serving wine & beer, small plates & cheese, as well as always captivating art on the walls.

The features went first, after Teresa read from the Wiccan Book of Days.

Karen Corinne Herceg read first, a long selection from her new book Out from Calaboose (Nirala Publications, 2016). She read a long set of 3 or 4 poems from each of the books’s 5 parts. The poems, as her website says, “explore personal healing as well as broader considerations of political, social & ecological awareness” which I guess covers it all. From what she read tonight her poems were about former lovers (“Too Long 1971”) & the dissolution of relationships (“In My Travels”), even a beheading. There was a poem that honored folk singer Pete Seeger (“Hudson History”), & poems about her mother (“2 Olives Please,” “Loving Hands”). The title poem concerned our own personal imprisonments. Her poems, often narrative, were discursive descriptions, usually with a dramatic conclusion in the last line.

Roberta Gould, on the other hand, was less tidy, more quirky, impressionistic, less narrative. She read poems written since last Fall, starting with one written today, “Substitute.” Her personal ruminations were quirky commentaries, such as “Prepared” (with a kerchief on her head), or “On Receiving a Personal Promotion in the Mail.” She has a definite, appealing surreal side, not just in her dream poems, such as “Piano Tuner” or “Which Way.” & often a bit of humor as in “Choices” & “Manchester Dog Show Valentines Day.” “The Rosendale Overpass” was an elegaic pantoum. Of course, the political was an ever-present table spice, as in “Roman General” & “Demagogue.”

Following all this we needed a “short” break. Then on to the open mic portion with a generous selection of some of the best open mic-ers in the mid-Hudson region.

Alison Koffler is one of my favorites & she read from a new series of poems about imaginary beasts, one set in South Carolina “Beast of the Low Country,” another set in the Catskills “The Beast of the Turning.” Another favorite, whose poetry collection Moses Parts the Tulips (A.P.D., 2013) is still available, Cheryl A. Rice read about her “Forsythias.” Speaking of A.P.D. (another poet Dan) I was next & read selections from my new chapbook Inauguration Raga  in the hopes of promoting & selling copies (sold 1 copy).

Donald Lev, the grand-ole-man of the mid-Hudson poets, read a whole cluster of poems, but he never seems to go too long because his poems are so short; he ranged from jottings on New Years Eve, to checking his booze, to Bob Dylan, refugees, Donald Trump (of course), & a poem for George Wallace, the poet, on Van Gogh — Go Donald!

Another mid-Hudson grand-ole-man, Fred Poole, was able to get here & read a poem of memories of NYC & fear “Alexandria & the El.” There were a few open mic poets I hadn’t seen before, the first of whom was Davida who read a couple of dream poems of imagined, ancient days when there was “no word for Time.” Ron Whiteurs was less etherial with a musical poem titled “Juiced” about a Woodstock jazz musician (whom he refused to name).

Leslie Gerber read poems on dead ones, including 2 on animals, praying to the spirit of his dead dogs (“Foam on Running Water”), & “Soil”on the 104th anniversary of his father’s death. Another reader new to me was Suze Bottigliere with an excerpt (that included lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”) from a longer prose piece “3 Days with Jean-Paul Sartre.” The night was capped by another new voice, Barbara Johnson, who didn’t bring her own work, but read a poem by Myrna Stone.

The Art Bar Gallery at 674 Broadway, Kingston, NY is the site for WOMPS on the 2nd Thursday of the month, with featured poets, an open mic for poets, a bar with snacks & bottle beer & wine. Yum.

March 12, 2017

Nitty Gritty Slam, March 7

This was the Open Mic night part of this bi-monthly (1st & 3rd Tuesdays) Slam/Open Mic at The Low Beat on Central Ave. Amani, our host, started us off with a affirmation poem about “feeling your awesome.”

The first one on the sign-up sheet, Raymo, announced “I’m not a poet,” then did a 3-part free-style piece, “Hurt, Dirt, Shirt” including sections about his mother being beaten, his fighting back as a young boy. Amani slipped in another performance, then I was up & read sections from my new A.P.D. (alternating poetic device) chapbook Inauguration Raga, then “What Makes America Great #102.”

Poetyc Visionz performed a playful piece riffing on the names of celebrities. JJ, who was here for the first time, read a rhyming poem. This was also the first time here for Jeremiah Paterson, who tried a piece from memory, but had to abandon it. Black Sinatra, with sound by P.V., did a rap on letting her go. Liv took us out of the City with a piece about walking in the woods. Poetyc Visionz was back with a piece that played on song titles.

Sammy read an emotional “Unsent Letter to my Dad."  B. Burgess began with a narrative, then a short poem on Y2K, & finished with a comedy rap on, of all things, race wars.

During the open mic Amani had been circulating a sheet for the creation of a group poem, or as the Dadaist had called it, an Exquisite Corpse, & at the end read it with a couple of compatriots, a romp through the chance juxtaposition of lines that just can’t help but be amusing.

Nitty Gritty Slam is at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 1st & 3rd Tuesdays at 7PM.

March 7, 2017

Book Talk Series, March 7

The Friends of the Albany Public Library hold a weekly event at the Washington Ave. Branch at noon which I frequently attend, that includes, in addition to coffee & cookies a review or a talk about book. The books are often non-fiction history, or biography, or political topics, sometimes a novel, even on occasion poetry. & on occasion an author will talk about her or his book. Today, Joseph Cardillo, PhD talked about his book Body Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Energies for Your Best Life.

Self-help books are, shall I say, not my cup-of-tea & I rarely write about these noon-time book talks, but back in the late 1980s & early 1990s there was a poet & rock musician named Joe Cardillo whom I’d seen perform at local venues, including at the Reading Against the End of the World. He taught writing & was reputed to be a “poetry guru” to students at "Harvard-on-the-Hudson."  So I attended the Library talk today to see the re-branded Joe Cardillo, poet & rock star, as Joseph Cardillo, PhD, self-help guru.

It was pretty much as I had feared. Complete with a Power Point presentation, he talked about “mental flow” & "Energy" defined as "power/force" &/or "information," & about managing the “body intelligences.” There were insightful quotes such as “you are energy, your world is energy, & everything in your world is energy”, & “The key is drawing the right energy for the right task.” & of course there were charts (included in the book) to figure out Your Energy Needs, & another, bigger chart with an equally long title about “How Energy Affects You & How.”  There was the customary celebrity name-dropping, including former football player Michael Strahan, & morning talk-show hosts whose names I didn't recognize.

Joe Cardillo (r.) with Elaine McHenry, RAEW 1990
It made me think of the poet William Blake’s quote, “Energy is Eternal Delight.”

In looking for photos of Joe Cardillo from back in the day, I found a journal entry from March 1988 about an event organized by Tom Nattell at the QE2, “The Peoples’ Poetry Reading,” at which Joe was on the program with Paul Weinman & Judith Johnson. Joe performed his poems backed up with a guitar & a piano.  I noted in my write-up that he was “wrecked,” tossing around lots of “fucks” & other “rough language,” until chastised by a woman in the audience who shouted (interestingly enough, given his topic today), “watch the women’s energy, Joe.”

Anyway, it seems that it is all performance, whether poetry or rock'n'roll or motivational speaking,
but now Joe is selling many more of his self-help books than he did his poetry or his music CDs.