April 17, 2018

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, April 4

Carol Graser, the host of this monthly open mic, started us off with the sad news that Eric Krantz, one of the regular open mic participants, whom I last heard here back in September, had died in March. You can find reports about his readings here at my Blog by entering his name in the search box. In his honor Carol read Joy Harjo’s “Eagle Poem.”

The first of the open mic poets tonight was Marilyn McCabe who read her poem “Pro Patria” that was inspired by a poem by Octavio Paz. Joe Bruchac recited a poem about remembering in a language of the native peoples. Nicola Maree Allain read a piece from her narrative about her childhood in Tahiti, then, from a new series, an introspective poem “Clarity.”

I was thrilled & surprised to see Harry Willis here tonight; back in — I won’t mention the year — Harry & I were in Basic Training for the US Army together, then reconnected on the streets of Albany when we both worked for the State of New York. Harry has published a novel & tonight read 2 philosophical poems, “The Struggle” “The Game” (on golf). Mary Sanders Shartle read from a collective chapbook the poem titled “The Sump Pump & Other Signs of Spring” with a dragon from a Wagner opera. Dawn Marar read from her recently published collection from Finishing Line Press, Efflorescence, a poem about a souvenir she picked up on one of her visits to the Middle East, “Sea Creature.”

Last month’s reading at Caffè Lena had been cancelled due to Upstate New York Winter weather & tonight’s first of two featured poets, Jessica Cuello, had been scheduled to read. So she was here tonight. She began with some poems from a series about Jeanne d’Arc, including a poem in the persona of Jeanne d’Arc “Jeanne d’Arc Thinks of Her Virginity,” then one of Jeanne d’Arc’s mother, & her (imagined) mid-wife. Then on to her latest book of poems, Hunt (The Word Works [Nancy White, the North Country poet often here, is the President & a Co-Editor], 2017) (winner of the 2016 Washington Prize), a series of poems based on Moby Dick. Each poem is based on a chapter of this whale of a book, itself a study of an obsessive compulsion that can be, perhaps, life-long, a derivative obsession to which a number of poets have succumbed.

Anthony Bernini is a long time habitué of the Albany poetry scene & a poet whom I have published in my series with A.P.D. (All Poets Die, A Perpetual Drunk, etc.), thus I confess to him being one of my favorite poets (& a friend). He began with Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise,” thinking of the anniversary of the murder of Dr. King, then on to a memoir poem of growing up in the Lower East Side of NYC “Smith Housing Project 1962.” He said that the next cluster of poems was about violence, including “Remember the Alamo,” “Ground View of a Dying Soldier” (a photo at the John Ringling Museum in Florida), “Heart of the Matter,” “Small Craft Lost off Cape Cod,” & “The Sirens.” Switching gears, he read “A Voice in the Night,” “The Intrusion” (watching his bird feeder), “Fretting for Gaia” (for the worries for the Earth), & ended with what he called “a half-assed sestina” “The Frightened Dog.” As always a well-put-together reading by one of the area’s best poets.

After a break (during which many of the audience, those, shall we say, of the academic bent, left), Carol Graser returned us to the open mic with her recent poem, from a news article, “Man Caught Walking in Frozen Mohawk in Protective Custody.” Jeff Stubets read a story, told in rich, graphic details, about a roommate’s alleged telepathic powers, & the food in the refrigerator, “Feeding the Guru.” Dan, who said he teaches English, did a rap piece riffing off To Kill a Mockingbird. Alyssa Benaro, who has become a regular here, impressed me again with a poem responding to the Parkland, FL shooting “Dear Grad,” then an equally bold “We Were People” — the future is bright with young poets like this.

Chrystal Horn, who said she has no TV, read a piece titled “On Television” then “Clear Plastic Castles” about packaged foot. August Rosenberg also read about food, a celebratory poem “The Meaning of Life,” then another piece “All the Way Up.” Suzanne Rancourt began with a gentle piece on an oak leaf “At First Glance,” then a more cutting one about a “half-man, half-shark” on a plane “Achilles Comes to Shore.” Susan Kress’ poem about waving, “In Deep Now,” was inspired by a Stevie Smith poem. Jackie Craven read a new, domestic poem “The Secret Lives of Socks,” then a funny piece with political references “Woozy in the Pool at Mara-Lago.” I read an old political rant, “Richard Nixon Must Die,” because it mentioned Dr. King (& one can substitute any President one feels inclined to). Rodney Parrott was also stridently political in an extended Tweet to Mr. President, while the poet has his toast & marmalade in the morning. Will Keiver read a rhyming poem, “Kitchen Debaucher.” G. Douglas Davis (otherwise known as D. Alexander Holiday) read the 1st part of a poem in rhyme “Mother to Son,” then from his recent book Kith & Kin: A Klannish Klownish Tragik Komedy the poem “Who Cares.”

Jim Eve runs the Calling All Poets series down in New Paltz & was in the area so stopped in tonight; he called himself “a poetic straight man” & read his anthem “We Poets.” W.D. Clarke, who has a new book out, Still More Tales, read a poem not in the book “Gary Evans” about a serial killer with Saratoga connections.

Peyton Roche, the first of 2 with that last name, read about lemons & the lessons of life “The Ceremony Begins.” She was followed by Gloria Manthos who did an invocation to her poems, then read fragments of new stuff with the recurring line “end the war machine” — I’m working on it, Gloria.

Avery Roche, yes, the brother of Peyton (who had referenced him in the introduction to her poem) read a piece with angry images from a prompt, then “Untitled Document” about trying to write a poem & read at Caffè Lena. Mark G., a volunteer here, was the last reader with a poem written in response to a teacher’s challenge years ago, “What Do a Bird Do?”

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic is on the 1st Wednesday of each month at the historic Caffè Lena on Phila Street, Saratoga Springs, NY, a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

April 15, 2018

NYS Writers Institute: Rosa Alice Branco & Alexis Levitin, April 3

Over the last 30 plus years the NYS Writers Institute has presented free programs of readings & seminars of world-class writers that are free & open to the local community, helping to create & foster a literary culture within our diverse artistic community. This is a gift from from Albany writer William Kennedy & of a string of directors & dedicated staff. The current Director, Paul Grondahl, & his staff are continuing this tradition & the program this particular afternoon was an example of the quality & reach of international writers that the Writers Institute brings to the Capital Region.

On this day, we gathered in the Standish Room of the Science Library, standing-room only with many students, as well as community members, in attendance. Two students in the UAlbany Portuguese Program provided a bi-linguial introduction.  Rosa Alice Branco, a Portuguese poet, read from her book Cattle of the Lord (Milkweed Editions, 2016), translated by Alexis Levitin, a distinguished professor at SUNY Plattsburgh. I had first heard Professor Levitin here in 1988 reading his translations with the late Portuguese poet Eugenio deAdrade.

Rosa Alice Branco (right), Paulina Almeida (left)
Throughout the reading there was an engaging back-&-forth between the writer & the translator &, ultimately, with the audience. Senhorita Branco read a generous selection of poems from her book, each of her poems in Portuguese preceded by Prof. Levitin’s translations. I was fascinated by the music of the words, looking at the text in Portuguese while listening to the poet read. Her poems frequently used images from the Christian New Testament & tradition, though not in a religious way, but in unexpected, often everyday usage, such as in the poem “Proof of the Soul” in which the first line is “You left the resurrection half undone.” Her poems contained images of death (“graves”), meat, sex, love, dogs (“The Dog That Had Me”), even a cat poem (“Only the Cats”). Paulina Almeida, dancer & performance artist, joined in to accent some of the poems with her voice or body movement, most notably on the humorous “The Vespas of Palermo” that is punctuated by the “bzz” of the scooters named after wasps. It was a thoroughly entertaining reading/performance by 3 actors in 2 languages, three if you count dance as a language.

Alexis Levitin
Normally I find the Q&A sessions at the end of readings tedious, but again Senhorita Branco & Prof. Levitin were informative, helpful, & humorous in their responses. Branco telling us she has been reading voraciously since she was 4 year old, thus the influences on her writing are many & varied; she praised her working relationship with Levitin, but was frank in saying she did not like her French translator's versions of her poems. To a student’s question about jobs in translation Levitin was also frank about that while you will not make much money it will be good for you, your soul, if that’s what you want to do. He too talked about the pleasure of translating Branco’s poems, & how helpful she was in the process. It was inspiring to hear these two artists talk about their working together.

This was one of the best readings I’d been to in some time & the joy continues as I return to the poems of Rosa Alice Branco, & the translations of Alexis Levitin, in their book Cattle of the Lord.

For more information about the NYS Writers Institute's programs you can find it at their website https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/index.html

April 13, 2018

Poetic Vibe, April 2

You would think that with this fabulous poetry event taking place every Monday that I would get there more often, but Monday’s are a busy afternoon for me, & there is the monthly Poets Speak Loud! on the last Monday. So it has been a few months since I’ve gotten over here to the Troy Kitchen. But I made it, again. What keeps this going month after month is the host D. Colin (see my recent Blog about her reading at the NYS Writers Institute).  Tonight she started us off with her exuberant manifesto “For Every Black Woman Who Has Been Called Angry.”

Then on to the sign-up sheet with Lil Snow, who had set up some sound behind his first piece, a personal anthem playing on his handle, then another piece which I thought was just copying the gangsta/violence clichés, his first piece stronger because it was more his own.

Ahmad (whom I’d seen recently at The Low Beat doing beat-box backup for Elizag) began with just a short snip of a new rap, then another performed way too fast for me to understand. I was next & I am no longer fast, just sort of half-fast, & I read an old piece for this day’s sad anniversary (the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), the political rant “Richard Nixon Must Die.” Ema Rose read a love poem, like a love letter, then sang. Kaylyn Sampletort’s poem “Adolescence” was a tribute to a little brother who died last year from an over-dose.

Shane was up & out with a short piece & I almost missed a photo, “Smoke Session.” In contrast, the next reader, “Sincere Presence,” went on & on, a rambling, self-indulgent intro to a project of, ironically, short 6-word “stories,” more like silly/profound aphorisms that went on & on, (until I came up with my own 6-word reaction: Less is more, more is less). Joshua read from his book from his 8 1/2 years incarcerated, writing from the dark side, then on to the lighter side of love. Hamlin’s “Daydream” was a break-up poem with something called the 80/20 rule as the conceit.
Delaney Williams was a “virgin” reader with a piece on gender, imagining the girl she likes, then on to the self-assertive “Pessimist Prerogative.” Another new reader, Justine Murphy, read a couple of intense pieces, “Going Vinyl” & “Low Tide…”. Lady D, who referenced the old venue in Albany at Clayton’s Restaurant “Soul Kitchen” read a love poem titled “True Love.”

Maya did a short piece in rhyme about herself. Poetyc Visonz did a new piece on his high after seeing the block-buster movie Black Panther, recycling some of his images/thoughts from his more familiar pieces, like the number 7, chakras, etc. Callahan, who had been hanging out at the bar when I got here, did a rambling bar-talk true-life story, of course. Poetik, who often hangs out quietly in the dark until her time to impress, did today a piece from a 30/30 exercise she is doing, this on her teenage years, then a poem titled “Fuck the Shit” from her new book. Charles O’More sang a piece by, I think, B’Yonce. & then it was time for D. Colin to read the group poem, actually what the Surrealists called an “exquisite corpse,” that had been making the rounds all night — what an interesting anthology a collection of these poems would make.

It’s amazing that Poetic Vibe happens every Monday at the Troy Kitchen on Congress St. in Troy, about 7:30PM, sometimes a featured poet but always an energetic & eclectic open mic. Don’t tell me you haven’t been here yet?

April 5, 2018

St. Rocco’s Reading for the Dis-Possessed, March 31

The last time I went to one of the readings in this series earlier in the month (you can check out my Blog here), one of the featured poets had been delayed due to transportation out of NYC & the reading started late -- hey, shit happens.  This time the start was delayed about 35 minutes, with organizers themselves not showing up until after the start time. In fact one of the out-ot-town features who arrived early asked me, “where is everyone?” How would I know?

Eventually the reading started started with J.P. Garcia, one of the board of organizers, doing a somewhat giggly introduction for the first reader Marty Viola-Cain. The first piece was titled, as he described it, “Bil[dung]sroman,” then a longer narrative, read fast, a memoir of high school titled “Into the Black Hole,” hard to tell if these pieces were prose or something else that may or may not have a title. The last piece he read was titled “This is My Confessional Poem,” repeating this phrase, perhaps a love poem.

Douglas Rothschild, the founder of this series, when he finally arrived was wearing a pink bunny hat, which unfortunately messed up his coiffure when he took it off.  He introduced the next reader Cara Benson with a long, rambling self-referential monologue more about him than the person he was introducing. Cara is a long-standing community member -- poet, activist, & prison-educator. As a consequence, her work combines common-place narratives of everyday life, such as “Frequency” about answering the phone from the shower & “Self Talk” at the computer, to the directly politician “Civilians” using words banned by the Trump Administration Centers for Disease Control. She ended with the more overtly “political” “What Would Emma Goldman Do?” mixing marching at the Capitol, reading at a microphone, moving to a new place, playing Scrabble, a visit to her therapist, etc. She was by far the most interesting & entertaining of the 3 readers.

The final reader was Steven Seidenberg, who read from his most recent book Situ (Black Sun Lit, 2018) started at the beginning of the book. It was a heavy dose of philosophy, abstractions, written in the 3rd person, sounding like the musing of a Molloy-like character from a Beckett novel, about saying & not-saying. It made me think that if you are organizing a reading, do you want your most boring text to be the last piece, or the first?

This may be the only reading in the world named after a laundromat, & it is fitting that an event with such a Dadaist appellation would be run by impresario Doug Rothschild who, with his preternatural dark mustache & wispy comb-over, is a new-Century cartoon version of  Tristan Tzara. Watch for more in this series of readings at local coffee houses (or laundromats) near you.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks!, March 29

Albany Poets presented an evening of poetry, spoken word, and stories featuring the first team from Albany to ever compete at the National Poetry Slam, at The Low Beat on Central Ave.

Thom Francis, el presidente, served as the M/C & gave a brief history of the Nitty Gritty Slam that started out at Valentine’s on New Scotland Ave., then moved over to Central Ave. here at The Low Beat, & of the first team from Albany to compete in the national Slam championship.

ILLiptical (Michael Sloman) did a set of mostly political pieces, beginning with one about being from a family of Holocaust survivors, one titled “Spirit Akin” on Native American issues, inspired by reading Sherman Alexis, a piece titled “Vegan Knowledge,” among others.

Shannon Shoemaker started by saying she is currently working on "a post-apocalyptic lesbian novel," then moved on to what she said is her favorite Slam piece, “My Name is Shannon Shoemaker” in which she takes on Slam stereotypes. Once at Valentines Shannon & I talked about putting together poems for a reading (or a Slam) & I quoted Charlie Rossiter to the effect that when in doubt pull out the dick poem. Shannon then went on to write an outrageously funny piece using that line for its central conceit, & she end her set with it tonight.

Elizag (Elizabeth K. Gordon) talked about her involvement in Slam starting back in 2011, & how she broke her foot as they left for the Charlottes Slam venue. Her poem on the shooting of Trayvon Martin was written as a group Slam piece, tonight she did it alone, then went on to “Beat Ball” accompanied by Ahmad doing beat box. One of my favorites is a piece on learning to say “motherfucker” & she ended with “Stereotype Threat.”

D. (Danielle) Colin has carved out her place on the poetry scene as the organizer & host of the weekly Poetic Vibe in Troy each Monday. She started off with her joyfully self-affirmative piece about her hair, then on to a poem in her forthcoming book “Mourning Sons.” She got the audience to join her in “I Cry for Little Black Girls,” & ended with a powerful confrontational piece “For Every Black Woman Who Has Been Called Angry.”

The evening ended with Poetyc Visionz (Darian Gooden) who was introduced as the “Pastor of Positivity.” He began with a new piece on the history of racism & on the re-interpretation of “nigger” (one of his favorite techniques is to take a familiar image or term & turn it inside-out), then a tribute to music, particularly that of Prince & of Michael Jackson. A piece beginning “Making magnificent metaphors…” was followed by “Not Just Another Love Poem” (love poems seem not to do well in Slams), & ended with one of his classic pieces with audience participation, splitting the word “Po - et” in which he tends to become more a “preacher” rather than a “pastor.”

It was a good evening of community poetry, in whatever style or genre you want to call it.

April 3, 2018

Cloudburst Meeting & Poetry Round Robin, March 28

A bit early in the season for the Pine Hollow readings, but this was a meeting to discuss the annual Cloudburst Gathering in Western New York scheduled for May, with visiting poets Michael Czarnecki & Gwen Zimmerman — & pizza & beer. After the meeting we gathered in a poetic circle for about 3 rounds of poems.

Gwen Zimmerman’s poems were descriptive pieces, including one about mopping the kitchen floor. My pieces were a mix of old & new, one for the season “What Passover Has Taught Me.” Mark O’Brien’s poems were all childhood/family remembrances, one coming out of Bernadette Mayer’s poetry workshop. Alifair Skebe had to leave after the 2nd round; “Cantata Spring Chorus” was written, she said, in Texas, the other was “a very proper sonnet” with family memories & made up words. Michael Czarnecki is the publisher of FootHills Publishing & he read from his new book You: Spontaneous Poems #3, which had been selected from his daily output by Gwen Zimmerman.

Joe Krausman read poems on both philosophical & everyday themes, from “Bacon & Eggs” to “Reflections at the Close of Summer in the Garden of Good & Evil.” Paul Amidon read from what could be a future collection of poems about & around Lake Abenaki in the Adirondacks. Dianne Sefcik read about stars & grass & “a spontaneous poem” akin to Michael’s. Our host, Alan Casline’s poems included a Cloudburst poem & even one from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop (makes me think that poems written by local poets at Bernadette’s workshop would make a captivating anthology).

A pleasant low-key, undramatic poetry gathering where everyone read sitting down, no mic, no spotlight, just words & ears. But watch for the seasonal start of Poets of Earth, Water, Tree, & Sky soon.

April 1, 2018

Poets Speak Loud!, March 26

Not quite to the so-called #National Poetry Month but then we’re always doing readings here, especially like tonight on the last Monday of the month, at McGeary’s in Albany. Mary Panza, vice-President of AlbanyPoets is our M/C. & the featured poet was the beloved Bob Sharkey.

The audience was slow to build & as often happens the #1 slot on the open mic list was available, so that was me; I read the very new “The 9 of Cups” & the much older “What Passover Has Taught Me.” I suspect that Sylvia Barnard would’ve signed up 1st if she had gotten there before me, she ended up as #2 & read a new work-in-progress quoting Psalm 31, combining the Biblical & the classical, then “Cat Print” based on a photo in an archeological magazine. Nick Bisanz is always here for the open mic (for some reason) & rarely reads, but tonight read the lyrics by a Bethlehem PA rocker named Andy Crack about some homeless folks there named Wild Rose Winnie & Out Side Lee.

Doug Holiday likes to share the work of poets we might not have heard of, poems he is fond on, & tonight read “I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman” by Susan Griffin from Poems from the Women’s Movement, then read one of his own, “The Apologia,” from his new book Kith & Kin; a Klannis Klownish Tragik Komedy (written as G. Douglas Davis, IV). Dawn Marar’s book Efflorescence is just out from Finishing Line Press & she read a piece about a souvenir from Jordan with a picture of Jesus “Baptism.”

It is interesting how poets once frequent on the open mic scene will re-surface after an absence, drawn back into the action as if by the force of a poetic vortex; tonight Rich Tomasulo re-joined us after a number of years & he read a poem titled “Assimilation” about being from a family of immigrants, with memories of childhood. Don Levy, who has never left the scene from the very beginning, read about taking on the Nation Rifle Association in “To the Students of Parkland” & then re-read the poem (rated “G” for “Gay”) “My Hardon for Adam Rippon” — which is as outrageously hilarious the 3rd time I’ve heard him read it as it was the first time, another in the long, long line of Don Levy’s “gay fantasy poems.”

Bob Sharkey is a quiet, unassuming poet in the local scene who attends many open mics regularly, has been featured in many, & who coordinates the world’s best poetry contest, the annual Stephan A. Dibiase Poetry Contest. He was tonight’s featured poet for a reading of what he called “walking around poems” (inspired by Frank O’Hara’s famous Lunch Poems). His poems included “After Ali Died” (NYC), “Sweet Heart” (Albany), “Return to Gold Meir Square” (NYC again), “Monument Square” (Porland, ME), “At Dunkin’ Donuts” (Albany), then from his chapbooks the title poem from The Yellow Fairy (self-published, 2004), & “While Caged Animals Arrive” from Surface at Sunrise (Benevolent Bird Press, 2012).

Joe Krausman, who is also a frequent attendee at open mics, read 2 poems submitted to recent poetry contests, the rhyming “Race Against Odds,” that he said he has never read out before, & the prize-winning “Deceptions” which won 1st prize in this year’s Raynes National Poetry Contest organized by Jewish Currents magazine; the prize is named for the family of the late Albany writer & teacher Helen Raynes Staley. Julie Lomoe read a story titled “Round Midnight on Troy Ave.” then a piece set in a doctor’s office “Terminal Beige.” Caroline Bardwell has been playing around with poetic forms, read us “A Pantoum About Paul” then a clever piece about bending a poem “Memoirs of a Ghazal.”

Noah Kucij is another local poet who hasn’t been able to make it out to many open mic of late but who had been a featured reader in the past; tonight he read “Route” a descriptive piece about commuters on a bus, then a poem for his 3-year old daughter “The Philologist’s Daughter.” Karen Fabiane ended out the night with 2 poems, “Cat Blinks” & “Collars & Cuffs” that she has been reading out recently, which is what we do at open mics to try poems out, in their various versions as we poets do what we do & work on them.

& Poets Speak Loud! is one place to do that, each last Monday of most months at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square in Albany, 7:30PM, your donations help pay the poets. For more information check out AlbanyPoets.com.