February 26, 2015

Third Thursday Poetry Night, February 19

Tonight, the Social Justice Center had expanding walls as the poets, fans & classmates of our featured poet, Sarah Sherman, kept pouring in. The sign up sheet filled up with more new names than the usual roster of regulars, many of them from one of Prof. Daniel Nester’s classes at the College of St. Rose. But first I invoked the Muse, the recently gone Philip Levine, by reading his poem “An Abandoned Factory, Detroit.”

The first reader up, Danielle Lowe, was brave to step up to the mic for the first time, with her short poem “Definition of Love.” Avery’s poem was a response to prompts & he others were using, these apparently from photos. Stephen is a regular at the Nitty Gritty Slam, but this was his first time here, & he read a valentine, “Sweetheart.” Jimmy, also from the Slam but new here, reprised his gross piece of rhyme from the other night “Poke Your Nose.”

Jimmy returned as support with the next reader Lori Snay who read her list poem “I Believe.” Tom Mooney continued the stream of new readers with “Dreaming Haiku.” Jacky, certainly not a new reader, read a piece about her mother’s suicide attempt years ago. Another veteran reader, Joe Krausman, read “Timepiece” based on an ad from the New York Times. Jessica Rae has become regular here too, & tonight read from her journal a vignette titled either “The Cabbie” or “Impermanence.”

Tonight’s featured poet, Sarah Sherman, has of late been helping to promote other’s work through her work at the Pine Hills Review & by running open mics at a couple of local bars. She began with a letter to the writer Rebecca Solnit titled “Becoming,” about becoming a writer, about her father, & about being in love, done as part of her work in the MFA writing program at the College of St. Rose. Then on to some "body poetry," a poem from a class last year, “Octography” filled with violent images, then “Below 95” about hypo-thermia & lost love. She ended with another essay, “Their Words Not Mine,” weaving in the words of other authors with her own, a poem of yearning & love.

After a short break, on to the ever-growing list of open mic poets. I led it off with this year’s “Birthday Poem 2015.” Then on to the roster of mostly young, new voices, with Juliana Wuerdeman reading her rhymes, “Morning Off.” Eva Cunningham also read a morning poem, “New Day,” about the varied activity in the world at 5AM. Abrie Moise read “13 Ways of Looking at a Heart.” Rachel Demarais’ list poem was titled “I Remember.” Daniel Summerhill read “False” a poetic self-portrait, of sorts. Returning to the love-poem theme, Sierra Rose read a list of what she “will always remember.” The 4th “Daniel” of the night (if you’ve been keeping count), Danielle Stankus read a series of playful rhymes, “Our Trip that Went Viral.” Ercan Kilic’s poem, “A New Beginning,” was also short & full of rhymes. Karen Fabiane read “Two Parts of the Wayward Poem” from her Bright Hill Press book Dancing Bears. Samson Dikeman was back with a poem about fishing on a lake in southeastern Vermont “Float Bridge.”

Courtney Bernardo also had a poem of memory “When I Was 10.” Olivia Spicer’s poem was titled “I Am Grey” filled with lush imagery. Adam Tedesco’s poem “Zabriskie Point” was short & grim. Steven Minchin mixed it up with a performance piece about hugs, “Ready, Embrace,” & Avery took him up on it at the end. At this point we had run out of room on the sign-up sheet & the remaining poets had signed up along the margin, starting with Lorraine Grund, who finally made it here to the Social Justice Center, & who read “Piece by Piece” about confronting the demons of grief.

Angelina Grund (also her first time here) did a clever pastiche of the “Declaration of Independence,” re-arranging the text to add new, ironic meaning that the well-known document. Brian Dorn repeated a poem “Whatever Will Be” that he has done before, then the current revision, “snow is on its way.” Jan Farrell read a poem she had found in an antique scrapbook. Colin kept it short & sweet with “Your Very Own Room in the New House” another memory poem to end the night.

It was one of the most crowded nights ever at the Social Justice Center, a great, diverse list of readers & many here to just listen — thank you everyone who came & supported Sarah Sherman, this program & the Social Justice Center. We are here at 33 Central Ave. every third Thursday, 7:30PM with a featured poet & an open mic, $3.00 suggested donation — more if you got it, pay what you can if you don’t.

February 19, 2015

Nitty Gritty Slam #88, February 17

It was cold out there on the streets of Albany, but I hadn’t been out for 2 days & so headed to the Slam at The Low Beat. Our host for both the open mic & the Slam was Kevin Peterson, with a small but enthusiastic audience of mainly regulars (or irregulars, as the case may be).

L-Majesty was the first poet up with an intense, graphic piece titled “Masturbation” (which sent some casual visitors to the bar scurrying out the door). Ainsley read a piece about reading a message from an ex asking for a make-up date perhaps. I followed with what could be a Slam poem “This Birthday is Not Divisible by 10.”  Our host, K.P., read Dorothy Parker’s brief poem “Resumé.” Illiptical performed for the open mic a Slam-style piece on the “natural world.”

Samson Dikeman slipped in at the last minute with a poem about listening to a sleep tape “Breakfast in Bed” & then, for me (he said), “Things to Do While You Are Young” (hope there is still time).

There were 5 poets signed up for the Slam, 2 of whom we have just seen in the open mic & that was a significant percentage of the audience so only 3 judges were used. Of course, with a full house & 5 judges as is usually the case, it is in reality only 3 judges since the top & low scores are tossed. & as much as I dislike giving points to poems/performances, I stepped up to be one of the judges. Kevin was coerced to be the sacrificial/calibration poet, then on to Nadie, L-Majesty, Stephen (doing Oh Mustangs!), Illiptical, & Jimmy (with the gross-out poem of the night, “Poke Your Nose”).

Steven bit the dust. Jimmy’s rhyme was about a trip to Ireland (& farting in church), Illiptical’s love poem to Wisdom was slam-style driven by rhyme & images, L-Majesty gave us a TV-commercial for a “Virtual Home-Wrecker,” while Nadie read from her phone again a relationship piece about stumbling.

Nadie, K.P., Illiptical, L-Majesty
The final round was L-Majesty & his imaginary friends up against Illiptical’s revolution, for a close-call victory by Illiptical, with Nadie getting to go on stage as the 3rd-place winner.

The Nitty Gritty Slam continues each 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month as AlbanyPoets builds its 2015 team. But there is also an open mic for those not inclined to do the Slam, or do both — at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM, $5.00, or less with a recent student ID (my 1966 Fordham ID was not accepted at the door).

February 15, 2015

Live from the Living Room, February 11

Hard to get a parking spot with the snow emergency in Albany, but that didn’t deter poets from finding our way to the Pride Center to hear featured poet Edie Abrams & to read our own poems in the open mic.

Edie Abrams is one of the co-hosts at the monthly reading/open mic, Sunday Four Poetry, held in Voorheesville at the Old Songs Community Center. Tonight she had time to stretch out & read a number of poems. She said she picked out some poetry from when she first moved up here, beginning with the first poem she read to the poetry group at the Voorheesville Library in 2003, “Not Deutschland,” from a nightmare about a plane trip to Germany. Next she read “Happy 90th Birthday Pop” & on to a string of untitled poems about her mother, her grandmother, about moving to Voorheesville from NYC, her recent retirement, a tour of the Y (& relaxing in a tub after), about sweating & going bra-less in the Summer, & about snow dancing the Hora. The poem “She Doesn’t Want To” was about a student in the school where Edie is a volunteer aide, while “The Hole in my Thigh” was about a cancer. For the season she included a Valentines poem, then read an exercise from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop in which the assignment was to write like Jack Kerouac. She ended with her latest poem “Treading the Soft Snow” then circled back to another early poem, a narrative that played on the catalog of clichés, “The Cowboy.” Good to hear a substantial sampling of Edie’s work, spanning the years.

For the open mic I read an older piece “Winter Argument” then on to a this year’s “Birthday Poem 2015.” Sally Rhoades talked about the annual Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, Oklahoma & read a poem inspired by her trip there last year, “Silence,” then a new poem “A Full Moon.” Jessica Rae read a very short love poem “Fickle,” then “Farewell” whose title says it all. Our host, Don Levy, finished off the night with a poem a dinner in memory of his Dad, “The King David Diner” & a funny piece about a sex education film in high school “50 Shades of Vomit.”

Then we had to return to the snow-covered streets of Albany. But there is poetry — a featured reader followed by an open mic — each 2nd Wednesday of the month at 7:30PM at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, on Hudson Ave., in Albany, NY, enter the doorway under the stairs.

February 14, 2015

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose Open Mic, February 8

What to do on a cold & snowy Sunday afternoon? Nothing warmer than poetry among friends at the Arts Center in Troy, Nancy Klepsch & I are the hosts.

& it was great to start off with a new face & voice, James Mitchell who began with a poem about a friend’s struggle with addiction, “Void,” then read “Oh that Feeling” about looking at a beautiful woman. I followed with 2 new poems, “Birthday Poem 2015” & “McDonalds with Love.”

Harvey Havel read a passage riffing on the rivers of East Pakistan from his novel The Orphan of Mecca, book 1 of a trilogy. My co-host Nancy Klepsch confessed that she loves the rapper Biggy & read her paean to his work, then a workshop exercise, “Worlds Tornado,” playing with the sounds of letters.  William Robert Foltin read 2 poems for Valentines Day, a piece on oral sex “Slow Dancing,” then a poem on cheap champagne & love “Caricature.” Jos. D. Renzi (that was the way he signed the sheet) read a ritual rhyme “Blessing the Virgin Oil,” then “Come Night” from his new collection Remembering the Smoke (by "Jos. D. Renzi").

Tim Verhaegen read another of his humorous & touching essays, this one about puberty & being gay, “Jimmy’s Transformation.” Karen Fabiane read from her book Seeing You Again the poem “Orphan,” filled with images of the beach & shore birds, then the “somewhat new” poem about a couple separating “Real Gone.” Sally Rhoades read “On a Night with a Poet” in multiple parts, celebrating herself, memories of her father, based on reading the poems of Maurice Kenny.

Come join us the the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2:00PM, bring poems, prose to read, at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy, NY — Free!

February 12, 2015


Moments before I was to be born
we were in Washington Park
in Albany in January in the cold, again
the burning sage, candle flame not enough
to keep the flowers from freezing. But
the blazing hearts & hot breath of words
lifted the beret up to the Poet’s lap.

Later, more lines of verse, whiskey, beer
even cake, remembering the poets gone
the old poets here, younger voices
& pens now write us into future Januaries.

February 10, 2015

Cold Fest, February 7

One way to get me out on a cold, snowy night, in a string of cold, snowy days & nights, was to have a party, sponsored by Rootdrinker Institute at the home of Alan Casline & Jennifer Pearce. There were drinks, enough hors d’oeuvres for dinner, & dinner -- & a table full of desserts. Poets galore with a few non-poet spouses dragged along as well.

After dinner we gathered at the fireplace for a poetry “round robin” but first a brief drum circle instigated by drummer Sue Spencer who had accompanied the peripatetic Michael Czarnecki, publisher of Foothills Press, from Western New York State.

The first round of the “round robin” actually began as an oscillation around the circle of poets, each reading 1 poem, back & forth from clockwise to counter-clockwise & back again. If I hadn’t been sitting in the most comfy chair in the room I would’ve gotten dizzy. I was there to party not to “work” so I didn’t keep notes, just enjoyed the variety of styles & tones & subjects, from haiku, to rhymes, to humor & great serious ponderings, just like any open mic. There was a second round to which Alan designated the “owl” as the titular bird rather than the robin (hmm, would the tit-mouse have been a more appropriate titular bird?).

A few pictures will have to suffice for the documentation of this event. Thank you Alan & Jennifer, & all the poets who attended & read, for a wonderful evening.

January 30, 2015

Annual Tom Nattell Memorial Open Mic & Beret Toss, January 26

First A Little Bit of History

The first Poets Speak Loud! reading was held on January 31, 2005 (the last Monday of the month) at the Lark Tavern in Albany, NY. That day of the month was picked to honor poet & activist Tom Nattell who had run a poetry open mic on the last Monday of the month at the QE2 Rock Club across town. Tom had been asked to be the first featured reader for this new series but he died that very morning, of cancer. That night the open mic turned into an impromptu memorial. At the end of the reading a band of poets marched to nearby Washington Park to place Tom’s beret on the statue of Robert Burns, the site of an annual series of readings in July, Poets in the Park, started by Tom in 1988 & continued to 2004 (& beyond). Each year since 2005 the Poets Speak Loud! reading is held on the last Monday of January & poets gather before the reading for the “beret toss” at the Robert Burns statue. This year was no different — sage was burned, flowers left, a candle lighted & the beret tossed until it landed on the statue.

& Now The Open Mic

& each year I serve as the host for the open mic, now held at McGeary’s Irish Pub on Clinton Square. This year the last Monday fell on my birthday so a raucous 69 acknowledgment became part of the mix, complete with cake courtesy of AlbanyPoets Vice-President, Mary Panza, the usual host here.

I began by reading Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasy #61, then my own poem “Theology 101, for Tom Nattell.” Kevin Peterson is too young to have been at the QE2 readings, but he is a big part of the poetry scene now Tom helped to create here; he started with a performance piece on lucid dreaming, then a poem written here last month inspired by seeing an elder poet dozing off, a tender tribute to the “old poets.” Pat Irish began with an anecdote about Tom being punched at a demonstration, then read the lyrics to his own “Generic Protest Song.” Sally Rhoades talked about first reading at the QE2 & Tom’s support of local poets, then read her poem “Broken Lives,” then another on being at President Obama’s first Inauguration.

Tim Verhaegen showed up with a poem about the common experience of “PMSing at a Critique Group” then a “Nature poem” about a battle between geese & swans to the music of Elton John on a Saturday night. Brian Dorn followed with a tribute to my birthday, “Sixty-Nine,” conflating my birthday with the year 1969 & other random statistics, such as “69 is also the number of poems you could read if you went 69 time to Dan Wilcox’s Social Justice reading” (Thanks Brian!). Mary Panza inserted herself (who could say No?) at this point to tell her own Tom Nattell story of being asked to leave Tom’s Memorial service, then asked everyone to sing Happy Birthday to some old Poet still alive in the room.

RM Engelhardt made a rare appearance on the scene with a mix of poems & comments beginning with a new poem, an “original cliché,” about an old writer at the bar, then off to a what was perhaps a religious joke (“Jesus Loves You”) if you believe in such things, & ended with “The Poem Remembers” for Tom. I read one of Tom’s “shit poems” (“Aviary Baptism”) then brought up Avery who read the useful list poem “How to Figure Out Your Life.” Anthony Bernini’s iconic poem “You Have Four Minutes” about the QE2 open mic is immortalized on the CD Volume: a Compilation of Poets, Live ( Grrr Records, 1995); tonight he read a sonnet “For Tom” with images of Tom’s rattles & drums, then a birthday poem for me (thanks, Anthony).

Adam Tedesco, another of the younger poets on the scene picking up the slack, read a love poem of sorts, “I Am a Man,” then “Who Told You” about when bad shit happens. Dan Coleman, a poetry virgin, had been lurking over my shoulder all night to make sure his friends at the bar would be there when he read -- a couple of pieces in rhyme, one from January 1987 “Winter” then another old piece about the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC “They Come to this Wall” — & he friends, & the rest of us, clapped.

Nick Bisanz continued the theme as he read one of his song lyrics, this about soldiers as cannon fodder. I followed with my elegy “Chasing Tom.” Earlier I had read Tom’s postcard poem to me from Escalante, & his last poem (“Short or tall/flowers/are Wonderful”), & now I ended the night with Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasy #32,” his words beginning & ending the night.

Poets Speak Loud! is an open mic with a featured poet (usually), on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Clinton Square, Albany, NY, 7:30PM, for a donation, & sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com — good food, cool drinks & attentive service.