September 11, 2014

Live from the Living Room, September 10

Once the tour bus stopped circling the block there was a good audience for the night’s feature poet, Matt Galletta, launching his new book The Ship is Sinking (Epic Rites Press) (hmm, a bit of oxymoron there?).  Matt’s poems are short-lined, wry, sarcastic commentary on suburban life, in fact on life in general; he makes his point quickly then moves on. “Inflated” was about that know-it-all neighbor in Delmar, while “Architectural Salvage” was about urban decay in Troy. A couple pieces were childhood memories, the nostalgia of making music (“In the Garage”), or a bitter commentary on his parents’ marriage (“My Father’s Severed Head”). His one “cat poem” was not about the cat at all, but about the “Litter Box” & I particularly liked the mix of memory & politics in “Election Night,” a fine poem, as was the one on hearing his daughter’s first laugh, “These Are the Miracles.” He even included a couple poems on poetry readings, “The Comedienne” & “Stockholm Syndrome.” Track Matt down at readings & buy his book.

After our host, Don Levy, took our money, we began the open mic. I read a couple poems from a former Metroland “Best Poet” who has rarely (if ever) shown up at readings, Gary Murrow, his “Theology Class” (dedicated to another local poet, R.M. Engelhardt) & “Masters of Fine Arts.” Bob Sharkey followed with a cento composed of lines by local & other famous poets, on the theme of race, titled “I Don’t Know What Race Card She is Talking About.” Adam Tedesco read 2 poems, the sad, anaphoric “A Real Life Durango” & another sad piece for a drowning victim in Troy, “Not Knowing the Hudson.”

It’s always fun when Tim Verhaegen shows up & tonight he started off with a funny, self-deprecating piece, “PMSing at a Critique Group,” then on to the more tender “Holding Out,” the title of a song by Melanie, that he sang a bit of at the end. Shannon Shoemaker said she has been writing “tiny little untitled short pieces” that she read 1 of, then a poem to a nephew stationed in Afghanistan, “To Drew.” Our genial host, Don Levy, finished out the night with a couple of newer pieces, the teenage memoir “Growing Up Watergate” & a poem pondering the changes in his urban neighborhood “Peek-a-Boo Moon.”

“Live from the Living Room” takes place downstairs in the basement garden room of the Pride Center of the Capital District, 322 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, with a featured poet at 7:30 PM, followed by an open mic, for a modest donation. & it’s always straight friendly.

September 7, 2014

Pine Hills Review Launch, September 5

We’ve got a lot of spoken word venues here in the ur-Albany, but until recently not many print/online sources for writers. Earlier this year The Pine Hills Review  joined locally Up the River & Misfit Magazine as a more permanent record for our work than the ephemeral utterances at open mics (I've had poems accepted at all 3 venues). Postings have been appearing online at Pine Hill Review since early July so I’m not sure what was being “launched” this night, but it it was great fun just the same. The event was timed to correspond with Albany’s First Friday Art Walk & held at the Massry Gallery of the College of St. Rose for the 2014 Faculty Show Art + Design. All the Editors, Senior Editors, Managing Editor, even the Editor-in-Chief were there, as well as a generous selection of the somebodies & nobodies of the area art scene.

The center piece of the evening was a reading by fiction writer Elisa Albert & poet Greg Pardlo. It was standing-room-only, mainly because there were no chairs. & first we had to have the introductions: Jeanne Flanagan, director of the gallery, introduced Editor-in-Chief Prof. Daniel Nester, who introduced Senior Editor Jennifer Austin, who introduced the first reader Elisa Albert.  Later, Senior Editor & poet Samson Dikeman introduced Greg Pardlo.

Elisa Albert read from her new, forthcoming novel After Birth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 2015). As the blurb online says, “A widely acclaimed young writer’s fierce new novel, in which childbirth and new motherhood are as high stakes a proving ground as any combat zone.” The sections she read had to do with mothers & babies & dissertations, birth stories told in groups, etc., the kind of stuff that always made me glad not to have to hang around with these middle-class mommies, it was bad enough being at parties with them.

Greg Pardlo was a visiting poet last semester in the College of St. Rose MFA program in creative writing. He began with a crowd-pleaser, “Double Dutch,” from his 2007 Copper Canyon Press book Totem. Then on to a cluster of poems from his new book Digest (Four Way Books, 2014), beginning with a meditation on violence in the supermarket, then another on raising kids beginning with his asking for a tattoo at 13. “Copenhagen 1991” was a “kind of ghazal” about Led Zeppelin, dedicated to his student Albany-poet Carol Jewell. Race is often a theme/issue in his poems & “Wishing Well” was about an encounter with a street person at the Metropolitan Museum, & “Written by Himself” was a collage of lines taken from slave narratives.  I'm looking forward to more from the new book.

Check out Pine Hills Review online & send them some poems — keep them busy. & check out the College of St. Rose website for upcoming readings in Daniel Nester’s Frequency North series. It’s free.

Caffè Lena, September 3

I haven’t been able to make it up here to historic Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs for a couple months but tonight the stars (not the horses) were aligned (unfortunately my favorite restaurants were closed for a post-racing break). The featured poets, Mike Jurkovic & Paul Pines were worth the trip.

But first a bit of the open mic, with our host Carol Graser beginning by reading a poem by one of our great gone poets Gwendolyn Brooks.

A.C. Everson brought chocolate kisses for her & Carol’s birthdays, then read a funny monologue as a hearing-impaired telephone operator. Alan Catlin started with a poem that is a favorite of equinophile Lyn Lifshin, “Dreaming of Horses” then read “Why I Don’t Write Like James Franco.” B.K. Tuon read a memoir piece, “Lessons,” about teaching his cousins to fight. Jonathan Hefter read a couple poems about “elders,” both written as gifts, “A Man Sitting” & “With Age.” Tim Snider likes to rhyme, read “Old School: Bandana” & “Limerick for a Clown” written for Robin Williams.

Mike Jurkovic is out & about promoting his new chapbook from Post Traumatic Press (Woodstock) Eve’s Venom, but started with other poems, jumping quickly from one untitled piece to another, before getting into the poems from Eve’s Venom. His poems are short, none more than a page, often 1st-person narratives, with a surrealistic twist, such an an encounter with “The Girl and her Parachute” or the hyper-real traffic incident described in “Plum Colored V-Neck” or the “Bio-Hazard” of being on Amtrak. He also included some other poems not in the book like a poem on Blaise Pascal “Writers Almanac” & the equally writerly collaborative piece written with Marina Mati in an emergency room “Poem with Marina.” So glad that Mike made it this far north to bring his poems to Lena’s.

Paul Pines on the other hand is a North Country homey, now. He read exclusively from his compelling new book Fishing on the Pole Star (Dos Madres Press, 2014) that he described as “a narrative distillation of years of fishing…” taking us on a tour beginning with breakfast & the ethics of fishing in “A Family at Sea.” From there to “Columbus Point Meditation,” “Walking the Beach with Captain Brad,” “Conception Island,” & one of my favorites, “Live Bait Buddha.” “Deep Drop Fishing” brought the poet back to other fishing sites in his past. “The Lure Bordello” has a Jungian theme in addition to it’s joking punch-line, & the poet as psychotherapist is apparent in “The Fisherman as Psychotherapist’ & “Old Man Pan” (another Jungian archetype). He ended back at the ethics of fishing with the stunning poem “Marlin Strike.” Perhaps it is his background in jazz, but whatever it is Paul always gives "good reading," to paraphrase Paul Krassner.

After a book-buying break, Carol brought us back to the open mic with her own poem, the prayer-like “Ascend into Blue.” Joe Hesch read what described as “an old man poem” about kids drumming “What Goes Around,” then a meditation on mattresses “Curbside Memoir.” Jackie Craven read a couple poems written in a poetry class, both tasty, “Obloquy to an Olive” & “To My Tongue.” Ellen Finn’s intense poem “Dear Brooke” was written as a dream letter. Carl offered a splash of rhyme & humor with “Biloxi Singles Call” & “Advice & a Whistle to a Lady Going to Egypt.” Catherine Norr began with the descriptive poem “Magic Bubbles” then to a memoir of thunderstorms in New Orleans “Laurel Street.” Therese Broderick also read a poem about a childhood memory “Early Driving Lesson.” I read an older poem “Rain” that references Pindar & Black Elk, then a jazz sound-poem “Saturday Hawk.” Cheryl A. Rice said she is almost finished exploring the idea of 9/11, read a recent poem on that theme “Blue.”

I haven’t seen Thomas Dimopoulos read in some time, a former regular at the QE2 open mic in Albany years ago, tonight he read a piece pondering the shadows of memory about an old man waiting for the dinner bell. The poet who signed up as “Storm Cat” began with a poem about hawks “Totem Song” then a love poem of sorts “Witch Goddess.” Barbara Garro read a prosy piece about having a “massive migraine” & losing her jacket while on a bus tour of the “Dingle Peninsula,” then the brief, breezy “Dying.”

Once again a evening of varied & engaging poetry at Caffè Lena, Phila St., in Saratoga Springs, NY — 1st Wednesday of the month, 7:30 PM, $5.00 — featured poets & an open mic.

September 2, 2014

Yes! a Reading Series, August 30

I got down to the Albany Center Gallery a little late, missed the early readers from the last issue of Fence, but caught the 2 features. The program was a joint effort with Yes! & with Fence Books, housed at the NYS Writers Institute at the University at Albany, Rebecca Wolff, Editor (who was in attendance).

Laura Sims read from her book My God Is This A Man (Fence Books, 2014)  which she described as drawing from the language of murders, from such well-known serial killers as Ed Geins & Albert DeSlavo, as well as other more obscure figures. Listening to the words, without access to the printed text, the language was sometimes short, fragmentary, with other times longer pieces built up of repetition & accumulated fragments, with the poet turning lots of pages. Speaking of pages, the printed text is a poster child for the paper mills, with spare lines on largely empty pages. At the end she threw in some touching thoughts about her epistolary relationship with the novelist David Markson & read one excerpt from Fare Foreward: Letters from David Markson (PowerHouse Books).

Lee Ann Brown began with an extended reading from her 2013 Fence Book In the Laurels, Caught.  She said it was based on the talk & culture of the Appalachian region of North Carolina, citing the poet Jonathan Williams as an elder, many in tiny poems, like notebook entries of found language, observations & anecdotes. She also read from her phone from an exercise/prompt writing about 2 words placed side-by-side, then finished with a piece, “like a mis-translation” she said, of Shakespeare’s sonnet #117.

This series is co-ordinated, hosted by, etc. James Belflower & Matthew Klane, & is held sporadically at the Albany Center Gallery, 39 Columbia Street, Albany, NY. The best way to find out about Yes! is through FaceBook.

August 31, 2014

Poets Speak Loud!, August 25

Once again Mary Panza called us to order in the back room of McGeary’s for featured poet Paul Pines & a full card of open mic readers -- starting with Sylvia Barnard with a couple poems from her recent trip with her daughter & son-in-law to the U.K., beginning with “Liverpool” then on to “The Great Bed of Ware” (where many people would sleep at once).

Elizabeth Ryan made the trip over from Pittsfield to check out the poetry scene here, did a poem from memory, then one about the tattoo on her right arm that shows a squid fighting a whale. Melissa Cairns also came from Pittsfield, with a sexy reading of a soft poem on fear v. love “Leaning Together,” then “12 Things I Wanted to Say to My Father.” I followed with a tribute to my friend Ed Bloch who had died yesterday, my poem “for Hugh Thompson Jr.,” then Ed’s poem “I Saw a Jap” from his memoir Courage, Coward, Courage!! Steps Along the Way.  Ed Bloch was World War II Marine veteran active with Veterans For Peace, the Interfaith Alliance & other social justice groups; he once read in the open mic at my Third Thursday Poetry Night on July 15, 2010.

Paul Pines once owned a bar, The Tin Palace, in NYC’s East Village that was my favorite neighborhood hang-out in the mid-1970s, I lived 2 blocks away. Since then he has been writing & publishing his poems in the North Country & organizes the annual Lark George Jazz Festival. He read a selection of poems from his many poetry collections, beginning with “Homo-Logus” from Breath (Ikon, 1996), then from New Orleans Variations & Paris Ouroboros (Dos Madres Press, 2013) a couple poems about paintings “Whistler’s Blue” & “Tryptich” (at the Musee D’Orsay). “Hoops” (from the 2007 Ikon book Taxidancing) references the great Oglala Sioux shaman Black Elk. A poem from Last Call at the Tin Palace (Marsh Hawk Press, 2009) was addressed to a poet & begins “You want to be Orpheus…” He ended quietly with 2 poems from Divine Madness (Marsh Hawk Press, 2012), one about Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven’s 7th Symphony at the end of his life, the last filled with the sound of woodpecker’s in the wood’s changing light. It was a wonderful mix of the rich & varied meditations that make up the poetry of Paul Pines.

The remaining open mic poets were as rich & varied, continuing with the new voice of “Nick the Knife” who read about a stop at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, “Sunset at Brewer’s Bay.” Brian Dorn read a couple of love poems he had never done before, “Sublimely Connected” & “Profusely Attracted.” Joe Krausman’s 2 poems were the yin & yang of "stuff": “Mine” (having too much) & “Coming of Age” (having nothin’). Sally Rhoades ended the night with “The Sky is My Witness” about being a poet, & then a birthday poem to an old friend.

Poets Speak Loud! — but you can read quiet poems too — takes place on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY, 7:30, or thereabouts -- a featured poet & an open mic. Good food, drinks & service.

August 27, 2014

Third Thursday Poetry Night, August 21

Summer in the City, Albany (NY), that is, at the Social Justice Center on a noisy Central Ave.

A little open mic, after invoking our gone Muse Charles Bukowski, before our featured poet, Rebecca Schumejda.

First poet up was Jamey Stevenson, who had been in the Albany scene a few years back, in fact had been a featured poet for Third Thursday in 2007 when we were at the Lark St. Bookshop, & since then has been in Scotland; his poem was about a confrontation on FaceBook with members of the GOP. Alan Catlin followed with a poem about not writing poetry like the actor James Franco (or the characters he plays). Joe Krausman started a discussion on prose poems, then read “Sunk by Gezunkis” a meditation on medicine & mortality. Matt Galletta has new book “in the mail” & read “Careers in Finance” about his old high school teaching job. Sally Rhoades’ poem “A Silence” was about quiet time in a canoe.

Rebecca Schumejda’s new book of poems from Bottom Dog Press, Waiting at the Dead End Diner, is page-turner of linked poems about the workers & customers in a diner. But she began with “Wedding Waltz” dedicated to her husband from an earlier chapbook. Then on to a selection from Cadillac Men (NYQ Books, 2012), poems about owning a pool hall & the characters who hung out there, “Sober on a Snowy Day,” & “First Steps” (her daughter's first steps in the pool hall).  Then on to poems from the diner book, “The Weed Whacker,” “No One Cares,” “The Idiot Pill,” “Tips,” & “After Shift Drinks.” A representative selection of her fine work, that was interrupted at one point by a man who wandered in from the street to preach about the greatness of god, until he was escorted back to the street — life in the big city.

Back to the open mic after a short break & I read an older poem, the inadvertent memoir “The Cardinal.” Bob Sharkey followed with a Frank O’Hara type “Poem,” an August day in Albany. Jan Farrell’s tender, wistful “Butterflies Dancing in the Dark” is her most recent poem.

Kwesi had read here in the open mic back in May & tonight recited a defiant poem “Devolution.” Sylvia Barnard was the last reader of the night with a poem from her recent trip to the UK & her first visit to “Liverpool.”

Join us each third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, $3.00 donation, a featured poet, bring a poem for the open mic.

August 22, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #76, August 19

It was the “Night of Champions,” when all the first place winners of the Slam from the season come together to compete — for the money, the bragging rights & the belt! But the belt was missing, hidden down South under the bed of last year’s winner “Saymo” (or SayLess?). It didn’t matter, there were 6 winners to compete. But first the open mic, with Kevin Peterson as our host, who started us off with a quick, drive-by “Quake.”

I read an old piece “Death by Yuppie,” then “A Cardinal & a Poet Walk Into a Bar.” Avery’s poem was not much longer than his title, “The Broken People Dance.” Joe, who was to compete later in the Slam, did a long Slam piece from memory by someone whose name I didn’t catch.

Jimmy has become a regular here & did 2 pieces in short-line rhymes, “The Black Hole” & “The Stars.” Poetic Visionz performed a piece about relationships, “Confessions of a Man.” A new face, Daniel, performed from memory the devotional “Private Eyes of Prayer.” Samson Dikeman treated us to a reading of “An Unkind Poem” by Charles Bukowski.

Although signed up as “SJR” (his initials?) it was Steve with a reading of his hysterical auto-erotic poem “Flight Attendant.” Bless used the names of hip-hop dances to talk about breaking the rules by being himself. Ainsley Pinkowitz introduced her poem about a sexy, awkward guy by saying “I wrote it 4 days ago so I don’t have a good title for it yet” (or was that the title?). Shannon Shoemaker read a tribute to her cousin Drew stationed in Afghanistan. Laura said this was “the most personal poem” she’s read out, the break-up piece “The Difference.” The final open mic poet was the virgin (reader) Michaela with a poem about being out on the river with friends.

el presidente Thom Francis took over as host for the Slam, with the contenders the 1st place winners from this season, at least those who showed up: Bless, K.P., Avery, Elizag, Joe, & P.V.  Shannon was the sacrificial lamb/calibration poet with her classic dyke-on-a-bike poem, “Tongue in Cheek.” Normally there should have been last year’s champion (Christopher the Poet/Saymo) here to defend his title & belt, but he was AWOL. It was my 1st time hearing Joe, who managed to get 2 10s in the 2nd round, as did Bless, but it was K.P. & Bless battling it out, both with short, flash, drive-by pieces. & the season’s Champion was K.P., with Bless 2nd & P.V. 3rd.  But with no Belt for the Winner, it was ironic that K.P.'s piece in the 1st round was about "getting panted", so I hope he's able to keep his pants on, at least in public.  & ultimately it was a good representation of Albany’s finest Slam poets, bringing to a end the 3rd year of Nitty Gritty Slam!

Now on to the 4th year, with Nitty Gritty Slam every 1st & 3rd Tuesday at 730PM for the open mic, followed by the Slam, at The Low Beat on Central Ave. in Albany, NY — brought to you by