July 19, 2016

Poets in the Park, July 16


The second in the 2016 Poets in the Park featured Mary Eliza Crane & Victorio Reyes. There was a wonderfully attentive, diverse audience of over 25 listeners. This series has been going on since, depending how you configure the beginning, 1988 or 1990; it was the dream-child of Albany poet & activist Tom Nattell & continued by me since 2005 after Tom’s passing.

Mary Eliza Crane is a poet from the Pacific Northwest, but was originally from the Northeast, had worked as a young nurse at Albany Medical Center. In past years she has read at Caffè Lena & at the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center. She began amusingly enough with a poem with a refrain “She doesn’t like poetry.” In fact a number of her poems referenced reading poetry or poetry books, including a couple pieces on a workshop she attended (& dedicated to "anyone who has spent too long in poetry workshops") “The Red Wheel Barrow” & “Outlaw Poet.” Nature also figures large in her work, both in descriptive pieces with big-horn sheep, & Grosbeaks, & in eco-poems with a political edge, such as “Calamity” which imagines the first person walking on land, & a love poem “Wetland.” She also read a poem on the occupation of Palestine, & one with the evocative title “Dawn at the Bay of Pigs.” & I really liked her last poem “Ring of Fire” about the volcanic rim of the Pacific (where she lives) that went from the macro (geology) to the micro (herself & her life). I was glad she came back to this coast to read her poems in the Park.

Victorio Reyes is well-known locally in the poetry & activist community, & was the former director of the Social Justice Center. He had read in Poets in the Park back in 2006. He began with a tribute to poetry elders & ‘70s R&B “Telegraphing.” His piece “Rant” includes the disclaimer “this is not a poem.” Most of his poems, with their overt political content, were rants, in the best, most descriptive use of the term, but there was a tender poem to his own Puerto Rican heritage & a poem based on Justin Torres’ novel We the Animals. Others were dedicated to the victims, Rachel Corey (“Caterpillar”), Oscar Grant (“Insufficient”), Sandra Bland (“A Note Passed to Sandra”), Trayvon Martin (“30 Miles North”), and Michael Brown & Ferguson, MO (“Poems Can’t Revise”). Then he ended with a poem that was not part of the “literary tradition” “Rant, Part 2.” If you don’t see Victorio in a poetry venue, you might find him teaching at UAlbany or Siena College, or speaking out a rally against racism & for social justice.

Poets in the Park will continue with one more event this year, on July 30, See you at the Robert Burns statue, 7:00PM.

July 14, 2016

Arthur’s Market Open Mic, July 13


Back up to the Stockade section of Schenectady for this monthly open mic, hosted by Catherine Norr. There already was an long list of open mic readers when Don & I arrived, & we ended up on the tail-end of the list. Poet Barbara Ungar was the featured reader.

There is usually a bevy of students gathered before the open mic for a workshop & they are frequently the first to sign up. Shayla Clark was first with a list of the mundane tasks on a typical day “Not Again,” then a piece titled “Theatrical Romance.” Samuel DeSaintis read an untitled descriptive piece about a storm. Sydney Lussier began with a poem about her own insomnia, then read abut her brother caring for his daughter with CP. Kate McNairy has a new book, Light to Light, coming out in the Fall from Finishing Line Press, read a poem titled “Mother” & another, short piece about a someone dressing up a dog. C.J. read “Formally Familiar.” Richard Jerin introduced himself as being new to the area, & has been only writing poetry for about 4 years; both of his pieces, “Promises” & “Keeping My Innocence” used repetition to hang together. Victor Negren Cerettini’s poem “Anxiety” was much too abstract, particularly for this subject.

Barbara Ungar said at the start that she was not going to read from any of her books, but instead would read from recent work. She began with the poem that is the working title of her next collection, “Spiritual Housekeeping,” a humorous list poem playing on the specifics of those terms. Another list poem was “Maria Lactans,” imitating Frank O’Hara’s “Ave Maria.” Some of her inspiration comes from pondering the fate of the environment; the poem “Global Weirding” included images of lobsters freeing their fellow lobsters from traps, while “On a Scale of 1 to 10” was about being upset watching the pain of animals on the TV series Nova, & “End Notes to Coral Reefs” was a found poem using a children’s book on reefs. “How the Light Gets In” used the Japanese technique of using gold to repair cracks in pottery as a metaphor, & her tender tribute to her teacher, the poet William Matthews, “Dear Bill,” used his own words. “The Other Barbara” was a poem to herself (a workshop assignment), & she ended with a poem inspired by her son, “Things to Ask Your Mother” (‘though not the kinds of things I ever thought to ask my mother). A preview of a book to come.

After a break to buy Barbara’s books, Catherine Norr started off the 2nd half of the open mic with a piece read in her version of a New York accent “Table-top Microphone,” then a look back to cooler days “Whiling Away Snow Days.” Malcolm Willison began with what he called “an old train poem,” the richly descriptive “Envoie,” then a memoir about a hike in the woods for a deceased friend. Leslie Neustadt does not read at open mics anywhere near often enough, tonight read 2 poems from prompts, one about her mother from a workshop run by Barbara Ungar, the other from a workshop with Jil Hanifan, mixing Hebrew & English, “Trembling at the Threshold of Jerusalem.” Ginny Folger also read a poem from one of Barbara’s workshops, the elegy “To His Ashes.” Jackie Craven described the intricate assignment for a poem for an upcoming workshop with Henri Cole & her attempt to fulfill it, “Why I Throw Stones.” Her friend Susan Jewell responded to the same assignment with “Territorial Prompt.”

Alan Catlin read, for Barbara Ungar, “My Dream Date with the Brontë Sisters” from his new book from FutureCycle Press American Odyssey, then a poem written yesterday, about jury duty, “Excused.” Bunkong Tuon did not read any of his fine poems, but instead paid tribute to his friend, the poet April Selley, who died this morning, by reading April’s poem “For Once the Dwarf Gets the Girl.”

Don Levy had gone to San Francisco recently & read an almost abstract-expressionist poem “SFMOMA,” then one of his more characteristic pieces responding to comments online & on Face Book, this from someone wanting a parade for straight people, “Straight Pride Day is Everyday.” I ended up as the last reader, first with a poem about what happens to books when they age, “Decomposition,” & a short, instructional poem, “Metaphor.”

This series, which has been going on for about 2 years, has a good following & is well-attended. It happens on the 2nd Wednesday of each month at 7:30PM at Arthur’s Market, 35 N. Ferry St., Schenectady, NY.

July 12, 2016

Poets in the Park, July 9


The first of the 2016 Poets in the Park was, alas, not in the Park, but in the Social Justice Center due to rain & predictions of thunderstorms. But even without the statue of Robert Burns looming behind us, it was a most poetic event.

Catherine Arra is author of 2 chapbooks of poetry, Slamming & Splitting (Red Ochre Press, 2014) and Loving from the Backbone (Flutter Press, 2015), & she read from both, as well as more recently written poems.

She started with a selection from Slamming & Splitting, the poem “She Says” where the conflict starts, then a clever bit of metaphor, “Traffic,” about exiting a tight parking space & a marriage, then the title poem mixing science with poetry, & “Married but Separated Prayer” on the death of her mother, her mother’s ashes & trees. As a transition she read an amusing poem from her first year of teaching 7th grade “Transparent Pants” about responding to a student's boner & learning how to teach.

 Then on to some love poems from Loving from the Backbones. “Sustenance” was filled with images from the stuff of daily living, while “When He Comes” was a wonderfully explicit erotic poem, as was the title poem in a more subtle, reptilian way. Her newer poems included observations about Florida such as the poem in character “God’s Waiting Room” & the descriptive “Water Aerobics.” She ended with her most recent poem “From the Bowl Like Mercy Itself” a meditation on the small & large disasters of life.  Catherine's poems are sexy, filled with images from the life we know &, did I say sexy?

Jan Barry began by talking about some of his ongoing projects working with veterans, such as Warrior Writers, & Combat Papers, describing the work of Eli Wright making art with barbed wire & with masks. Back in 1972 he co-edited with W.D. Ehrhart Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, the title ironic because that was the U.S. government’s term for the campaign in Vietnam.  It was the earliest collection of such writing by veterans of that war.

He began his reading with a song lyric/poem by Darden Smith from a song-writing workshop that Jay said had inspired him to think about a new book of poems. His own poems began with a series on holidays, “Memorial Day” thinking of parades & gardening, “Memorial holidays,”&  “Commemorating Peace” on Armistice Day & Arbor Day. “Saving Art” was set at a “monsoon” at the Clearwater Festival, & “Early Warning” was about another storm, this an October snow storm. He often travels across country & read a series of short descriptive pieces poems from that: “California Traffic,” “Wild Life Signs” (set in Arizona), “Route 50 Across Nevada”, “Home on the Range” (about his Aunt in West Texas now in a nursing home), “Grand Lands” pondering landscapes of America ruined by industry, & the last poem in the planned book “Utah” about it’s beauty. A book I already want to buy before it is even done.

It is Summer in the great Northeast so we are never certain what the weather will be. Poets in the Park has 2 more events, July 16 with Mary Crane & Victorio Reyes, & July 30 with Sarah Browning & Bunkong Tuon. The readings are planned to be at the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park at 7:00PM on each of those dates, & you will need to bring a chair or blanket to sit on. But if it is raining we will be at the Social Justice Center at 33 Central Ave. instead. It’s free, brought to you by the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.



July 8, 2016

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, July 6


The historic Caffè Lena building on Phila St. is undergoing renovations this Summer so the reading & open mic series has moved to Northshire Bookstore on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. I got there a little late, missed the first reader or so, & didn’t get to sign up. But there were lots of folks filling the 2nd floor children’s book section & reading space, many of whom I’d not seen over on Phila St. As always, Carol Graser was our host as usual.

I arrived as Suzanne Rancourt was introduced & she read the richly descriptive memoir “Pastries on Lark St.” & a poem titled “When She Sings Birds Fly.” Dawn Marar made a rare appearance at an open mic with 2 poems about dancers, one about childhood dance lessons. Philomena Moriarty read 2 piece not in her recent book, one a memoir of a family house in Kerry “On Being Irish,” & “Starships” (on great minds).


The first of the night’s 2 featured poets was Marilyn McCabe, who has a new collection of poetry, Glass Factory from The Word Works press. She read mostly short poems on the human condition & about connecting with others, with titles like “Thoughts on System Theory,” “Self-Sight,” & poems on loss & love. She also read from a series based on the site-specific and land art sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (“Goldsworthy Variations”), a poem, “Mercy: Bird in Hand”, based on art based on her poems, others on mortality, on recovery from loss, & ended with “Eden, An Alternate Version.” It was a thoughtfully arranged, well-planned reading.

Cheryl Clarke also has a new book out from The Work Works, By My Precise Haircut. She began with “Reprise (for Allen Ginsberg)” a meditation on sex & America that just sort of faded out.  The poem “Body Double” was an AIDS project poem, while “Capitol Car Chase” was about the unfortunate U-turn Miriam Carey took at the White House in 2013 that got her killed. She also read from a series of poems based on slave narratives, then a poem for a jazz singer “19 Lines for Easter,” then returned to sex, & writing, with her last poem. When she began to read I thought she looked familiar so when I spoke to her after the open mic I asked if she had read at Split This Rock. She said she was there, ran a panel discussion on the poet/activist Pat Parker that I had attended.

Wanda Birch said this was her first open mic, & read from a series of poems based on letters written during the Civil War. Tim Snider, who usually reads rhyming pieces, read a prose piece on hate, titled “And More.”

I hadn’t seen Nancy Denofio read in many, many months but tonight she was back with a prosaic political conversation. Bob Sharkey began with his touching piece about reading to his granddaughter “Scarrey People,” then a poem on innocence “I, Dash Man.” Carol Graser read “Book Donation” about her work at East Line Books. My co-host at the Arts Center, Nancy Klepsch, also made a rare appearance reading a poem on gratitude then her funny, tough poem “The Invisible Lesbian.” Rodney Parrott is a regular, read a long narrative poem about a trip to the laundromat, rewarded with a woman’s panties.

W.D. Clarke stayed on theme with “The Collector” a piece in rhyme about the theft of woman’s “bloomers.” Jeanine Lafferty read 2 poems about working on a CSA farm. Another regular, Barbara Garro, read a poem about one of her paintings, then a piece titled “Memento Mori” (which reminded me of Patti Smith’s line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”). Jan Tramontano made a surprise appearance in the Northeast & got away with reading 3 poems, all about waiting for her new grandson — such a proud grandma!

The Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic continues for the Summer, at least, at Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY still on the 1st Wednesday of the month — note the earlier start time: 6:30PM signup, 7:00PM start, no cover while at the bookstore, but donations for the cafe gratefully accepted.

Nitty Gritty Slam, July 5


Well, Nitty Gritty anyways, an open mic night on the theme of “independence” in all its aspects, at The Low Beat, hosted by Amani & Jay — even an exquisite corpse poem for the audience to create. There was a sign-up sheet, some got added, & some of us who hung around went around twice.

Amani did a mix of her own pieces, some read, some recited, & a skit with Jay about a phone call from a school about a child who is rebellious, just like his mom raised him. Early on I did my “love version” of “Labels & Names”, & “Going Postal;” later, did “One Poem.”

Liv (or Olivia) was a bit closer to the theme with piece about being in Palestine & Israel, thinking of the Palestinians & the connection of their suppression to white supremacy; later performed a piece titled “The Ice Poem” about attempting to make peace with her mother. Both were delivered in a Slam style, both too long, seeking that 3 minute finish line. Perhaps “long” is a matter of perception. Ramon said he had “3 short pieces” but the first one was longer than, say, my 3 pieces put together; in half-rhymes he explored the frustrations of a black PhD student, of wet sex/love, &, later, a narrative piece in rhyme titled “The Preacher & the Un-Preached.” I really need to hear what he would call a “long” piece for comparison.

A couple of young women did single pieces from memory. Esha (? spelling) did a song/poem, linking images & rhyme, either from memory or free form, a good performance nonetheless.

Cleo also gave a good, energetic performance, also involving song, “to the kings of algorithm.”


At one point Jay & Amani read the audience-composed poem, the exquisite corpse — hope they saved the copy. As at other events where such works are created I wish the organizers would post the results somewhere online — here, perhaps?

Amani & Jay ended the night with another audience participation piece, this a reading of quotes from Frederick Douglass, followed by the call-&-response, “Freedom — Now!” Now this is the way to celebrate “Independence Day.”

Nitty Gritty Slam is held each 1st & 3rd Tuesday, open mic, sometimes a Slam, sometimes a featured poet, at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, $3/$5, starts about 7:30. Have a beer & read some poetry.

July 4, 2016

An Evening of Poetry & Prose, June 30


This was the latest of the quarterly(?) readings coordinated & hosted by Harvey Havel at the Hudson River Coffee House. Tonight there were 4 readers, in addition to Harvey himself, a variety of prose fiction, essays, poetry, both rhymed & unrhymed.


Harvey Havel read first, a short story titled “The Sleeper Cell,” a story of a pre-9/11 terrorist underground in New Jersey, waiting for the day of the mission.


Thérèse Broderick read from a new series of poems, “Idylls on Cutting the Grass with Scissors” (I’m not kidding about the scissor landscaping!), descriptive, even conversational (with the plants she is cutting), & a haiku. She also read from Albany-born poet Gregory Orr (check out his poems in the latest issue of American Poetry Review).


Joe Krausman described the poems he read tonight as mostly about desire, with a bit of aging thrown in. His poems ranged from being turned on by young beauties, to Mary Baker Eddy, to Hollywood script writers, & the women’s magazines at the supermarket. All told with humor & the occasional rhyme.


Brian Dorn, who has been a regular fixture in this series, read from his collection of poems From My Poems to Yours: the Live Version. His poems are rhymed expressions of love & a positive outlook on life, & like Joe, knows the value of a little humor in rhymes & to how write positive poems without being preachy or maudlin.

Mary Panza gave a rare public reading of some of her Housewife Tuesday Blogs from the AlbanyPoets.com website. She began with an early one, “Doomed,” on the pajancho, then one about her daughter, another about aging & choosing to spend more time on her face than trying to get skinny, & one on (of course) PMS. They are funny online, even funnier with Mary strutting her stuff.

You just have to stay tuned to messages from the poetry world to find out when the next reading in this series will take place, & who will be reading, but it will most likely take place at the Hudson River Coffee House on Quail Street in Albany, NY.

June 30, 2016

Poets Speak Loud!, June 27


On the last Monday of the month, after the weekly peace vigil in Delmar, I like to drive back into Albany to McGeary’s, have a drink & dinner at the bar, then head to the back room for the monthly reading & open mic. Tonight’s featured poet was the ever-more-lovely Carrie Czawkiel. But first, the open mic, hosted by Mary Panza.

Sylvia Barnard was the first reader with a memory piece, slightly revised, “Travel,” then a new piece for the assassinated British member of Parliament, “Tribute to Jo Cox.” I was next with an older poem about an experience in an airport “Southwest Flight 2095, Seat 8A” (Hot pants!) & poem about writing a poem on my break at work (from back in the day), “Those Big APR Poems.” Annie Sauter read “Cable Fever Word Fail,” then a fantasy ramble “Sleeping with Spider Man’s Flannel Sheets.”

The open mic here a McGeary’s seems to be a favorite of Carrie Czwakiel, & one of the earliest places she has read her poems so it was a pleasure to hear her as a featured poet reading more than 1 or 2 poems. She said that her reading tonight was a series of poems that she wrote about getting away from her abusive ex-husband, beginning with a piece from memory, “No More.” The poem “Reflections in the Mirror” was about quieting the voices of self-doubt, while “Poison” was about removing the toxin of her ex. She included a raw version of a piece based on “Five” by the band Machine Head. Perhaps the best of her pieces was what she called “a forgiveness poem” with contrasting images of good & bad, about how “a drunk killed the man I loved.” She ended with a poem titled “Life is Beautiful,” a nice arc to the reading. While these poems could be classed as “therapy poems,” her use of language & images suggest that if she broadens her themes as she continues to write we should expect some engaging poetry from Carrie in the future.

Back to the open mic, Randee Renzi (in fabulous shoes) continued Carrie’s main theme with “Stronger Than Your Fists,” then an old poem, seeking poems “to take you down a road of dreams.” Duke$ (that’s how he signed up) tells a story with a moral about a bird, a cat & pile of shit. Tom Riley read a couple of poems from a series he is writing about where he lives, the first, “A Body in Motion,” portraits of friends, then a similar, but longer piece about a lesson learned from a friend. Karen Fabiane read a new piece she had read at her recent feature at the Social Justice Center, “The Best Thing You Said Was I Am Really Tired of It Now,” then, as requested by Carrie, “I Fucked St. Joan.” Karen will be the featured poet here next month.

Poets Speak Loud! happens on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Clinton Square, 7:30PM (or thereabouts), with a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us, sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com. See you there.