April 18, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 3, April 16

Each year the readers of Metroland, Albany’s weekly entertainment tabloid, vote for the area’s best restaurant, best country band, best pizza & best Poet. While past research has determined that the number of votes cast each year may not be that great the local poetry community waits with bated breath (this may be slightly over-stated) to see who the top 3 winners are, to see who is the “Best Local Poet.” The winners this year were Brian Dorn who during the past year has been to at least as many poetry events as I have, Jay Renzi whom no one had ever seen at a reading, & Mary Panza who everyone has seen at a poetry reading one time or another in the last 25 years. And each year AlbanyPoets honors these winners with a public reading during WordFest.

We gathered this night at the historical Pauly’s Hotel just next door to The Low Beat where we had gathered the night before for the Haiku Slam, with AlbanyPoets el presidente Thom Francis as our MC.

Best Local Poet Brian Dorn began the night with poems from his chapbook From My Poems to Yours, with the title poem, then an ode to subtle beauty “Plain to See” & the nostalgic “Ghost Town.” Then he read a sequence of poems about the Capital District, Albany (“Paradox City,” “Huge,” “Skyline” (imagining the Egg decorated for Easter), & a poem to Rachel Ray), to the North Country (“The Ethan Allen” on Lake George & “Eyesore” the old Frontier Town), to Schenectady (“The City that Lit Up the World” & a poem to Olympic wrester Jeff Blatnick “Happy Dude). He ended with a letter to Metroland, a thank-you note & proposal for more more poet categories, as is done with the local bands. Brian is one of the hardest working poets in the area, attending readings all up & down the Hudson valley from the North Country to Kingston. He earned his title.

Jay Renzi on the other hand was not only new to those of us who attend local readings & open mics but he confessed that we were new to him, having generally kept to himself in Troy writing his poems in pubs. He began with “The Place Where the Poets Dwell” from his chapbook The Thorn & Thistle, written as Joseph Renzi, a series about a fictional tavern & its patrons. Most of his poems were quite short, only a couple of stanzas at most, & they rhymed — did I mention that Brian Dorn is a rhymer too? When was the last time Metroland had 2 rhyming poets on its list? Other rhymes were the new “Kitchen,” “Tangletown” about a neighborhood in Seattle, & “ A Fair.” He stated that he sometimes performs with dancer Laura Teeter & he read 2 of the poems she has choreographed, “Dawn” & “This is Not the Devil.” He read a piece about a Dutch cemetery he wrote for the “30/30” project, “The Dutch” that starts in rhyme then breaks into free verse. There was a short piece about a Bloody Mary & beer, the 4-line “Sundial,” “Stay In this Place for a While & the very short pub poem “Clever & Shout.” I hope that he will try out a few of our local open mics.

Mary Panza has a lock on a spot on the Metroland list as perhaps one of Albany’s best-known local poets. She began tonight's reading with her entry from the 1995 anthology Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 (Manic D Press), “Size Still Matters.” Then from her collaborative chapbook with Gina Grega Hair Buffet (Hairpie X Press) “What Was Lost in Translation was Made Up for in Bullshit,” “Mercy,” & “Shooting the Weebles with Who-Ha.” Then on to her irreverent take on Shel Siverstein, “Fuck the Giving Tree,” ending with the drive-by “The Cock-Kicker Manifesto.” A classic Mary Panza performance — wham, bam, thank-you m’am.

The music for the evening was the guitar duo of Nick Bisanz (one of the “Best Kept Secrets in the Capital Region” according to Metroland) & Pat Irish performing Pat's “The Front Desk,” an extended rock piece of linked songs telling the story of the night clerk in a hotel, a mini- (& minimalist) rock opera, the duo performance reminding me of Lou Reed & John Cale’s “Songs for Drella” & Pat’s voice & intonation recalling the early ‘90s group Trotsky Icepick.

WordFest 2014 continues. More pictures at my Flickr! site.

April 17, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 2, April 15

The Nitty Gritty Slam is held on on each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat on Central Ave. here in Albany, NY, & that means this week it falls into WordFest & the annual Haiku Battle, with featured visiting performer DDE The Slammer.

The host for the open mic was Kevin Peterson & first up was a brave new soul Stephen Roberts who read a tender love poem “Like a Rose Like You.” Avery performed a piece progressing through the colors of his aura. Emily Gonzalez did 2 poems, a childhood memoir of her mother’s sheets, “Cool Red Satin” & a poem for Sebastian Barr’s photos of abandoned buildings “Unnoticed.”

Isaiah Agojo, who was videoing the readers, read a haiku from high school, then a slam-style piece “Why Don’t You Say you Love Me.” Miss S. who has been here before as Jessica S. read a few haikus, then a poem from a prompt “My Pillow.” Thom il papa Francis concluded the open mic with 2 older pieces, a love poem to his insulin pump “Machine,” then a collage poem using lines sampled from a poem by R.M. Englehardt.

The night’s featured performer came all the way from Indianapolis, on tour, DDE The Slammer, & that’s what he delivered. He began with an evocation of youth “Nintendo Power,” then on to the more grim side of Slam, a piece about killings in Indianapolis, “The Bright Side of Death.” During the social commentary “Good Time Girls” he got heckled good-naturedly Albany-style. He did a rant about another poet’s performance, then a piece on being a Mexican in Indiana, a verbal gunman. He ended with another preachy rant “Barstool Cannon.”

Kevin v. Tasha
Then on to the night’s major bout, the Haiku Slam. I had boldly signed-up, a sheaf of haikus in my sweaty hands. Each round was the best 2 out of 3, with 3 volunteer judges (one of whom just wandered with a friend for a drink). The first rounds pitted Elizag against Steve, me against Albert C.,  Jim against Emily, Brian Dorn against Samson (a tour-de-force of on-the-spot compositions) & Tasha Davis against Shannon Shoemaker. In the second round I went up against Elizag (a formidable foe), Emily against Samson, & Kevin (who had gotten a “buy” for the 1st round because of the odd number of contestants) against Tasha.

Next, Samson went against Kevin in a wild & wooly round of personal attack haikus. Then the surprising final round where I went toe-to-toe with Samson, in which Brian Dorn loaned Samson a haiku in which “haiku” rhymed with “fuck-you.” But when the dust settled I moi!ME! was the haiku poet left standing, & I had beaten Samson’s brilliant scurrilous haikus with a bitter-sweet flower haiku:
     blue, green sleeping in
the garden — Forget-me-not
     not just a flower
It was a wild ride & many good (& a few real stinkers) haiku spewed into the air.

While this event was held under the umbrella (literally, since it was snowing wetly when we headed home) of Albany WordFest 2014, the Nitty Gritty Slam is held on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday of each month in our new, rockin’ venue The Low Beat on Central Ave. in Albany, NY. Check AlbanyPoets.com for complete information.

April 16, 2014

Albany WordFest — Day 1, April 13

The kick-off, the 1st round, the ceremonial 1st pitch, the face-off, the launch of Up the River, the opening lines of WordFest in the backroom of McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY. I was breathless. Unfortunately the copies of Up the River were still coming up the river & won’t be here until later in the week, but the poets were here.

el presidente Thom Francis welcomed us to this week of words, then introduced the 1st of the night’s hosts, Jill Crammond. Jill started us off with a poem by David Budbill, “The Three Goals”  (More of Budbill’s work can be found in the 2012 Foothills Publishing anthology In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien, edited by Charles Rossiter). But back to the poets of Albany & the other contributors to Up the River.

Adam Tedesco was first with a Whitmanesque (as in Walt) statement “Pay Me No Mind” (“I am all these things”). Cheryl A. Rice’s poem “Skype Poet” was a memoir of TV written last week. Therese Broderick’s poem “October Surgery,” was followed by Mimi Moriarty’s “Sleeping in my Sister’s Bed” another hospital poem; Mimi also read “Written After a Line by Emily Dickinson.” The poems Mike Jurkovic read are not in Up the River, the political “New York Swallows History” & “Owl” about a photographer of trains & his thieving wife. Shannon Shoemaker read a poem inspired behind the old Lark Tavern “Of Hummingbirds & Sunday Supper.”

James Shultis read 2 relationship (“I” to “you”) poems, “If It Were Warmer Our Arms Could Come Out & Take Them Away With Them” & the much-simpler titled “Focus.” & that was it for the poets in the new Up the River.  Oh, & Jill's hair was perfect.

Kevin Peterson took over to host an unannounced open mic, starting off with his own poem “Dreaming of Super Heroes & Wrestlers.” Tess Lecuyer followed with haiku. Bless performed a breakup piece about his rough winter, with the message to love yourself. Shannon Shoemaker also had a new, untitled breakup poem. Avery performed his Kripalu commercial. Emily Gonzalez read a new poem, a memoir of going to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Jacky K. read her bitter poem on her husband fucking “Beatrice Miller” on their wedding night.

Samson Dikeman read a poem based on a news story about pedestrians in San Francisco being treated as second-class citizens. Carolee Bennett’s poem about the loneliness of Space “Since They Manned the International Space Station…” was perhaps inspired by the movie Gravity? Don Levy read about an encounter “In the Pool” in Florida, talking prescriptions. James was back with a poem commenting on bike polo & teeth. A virgin poet, Millie, ended the night reciting an angry Slam-style poem “My Creed a Warrior’s Creed.”

WordFest was off to a great start. More photos can be found at my Flickr! site.

April 15, 2014

2nd Sunday @ 2, April 13

We, my co-host Nancy Klepsch & I, were surprised at the number of folks who showed up on the first really warm day of April to listen to poetry rather than work in their yards. Maybe they’re all city folk.

I began with my tribute to Bob Kaufman’s poem “Believe, Believe,” including a recitation of his poem.

Then a new poet here, Sarah Wellen, read a descriptive “Family Weekend” & “The Uneasy Truce” from her book of poems Reflections. Cathy Abbott read a memoir that included an episode about being fired for painting a stool that her boss then sat on while the paint was wet. Mike Connor brought with him his fan club to hear him read a Spring poem “May 1” & a poem written as a get-well card to a friend’s mother “Irene’s Journey.”

Another new voice, Nate Kristen, read a couple of poems of self-examination, “I Know I’m Not” & “High on Scotch” (home alone writing). Howard Kogan got us laughing with his poem about shopping in a hardware store, an “ode to aging” titled “Words Fail Me.” Ron Drummond gave us a Shakespearean experience, reading from Ted Hughes’s introduction to an edition of selections from the Bard a passage on Hermetic philosophy in Shakespeare, then a wonderfully sonorous reading of Sonnet #55, & a brief passage from a play her wrote in which Shakespeare is a character. Ron has been a regular here since this series began, reading a variety of texts, from sci-fi, to philosophical considerations, to personal laments, some of which have been published or show-cased in public readings, but sadly today he announced he would be moving from Troy to Ithaca (sounds like he's following Odysseus). We will miss his unique voice here, but I am confident he will keep writing his unique prose & sending it out into the world.

My co-host Nancy Klepsch read next with a Spring & flowers poem “Mr. & Mrs.” then a piece from one of two chapbooks she is trying to get published, ”None of Our Brains.” Jil Hanifan gave us 2 found poems, the 1st from a scientific/engineering text “Harmonious Poems with Prescribed Singularity of Unbounded Domains” (not sure if I got this correct), & “Emily & the Internet” (about recently-discovered fragments of Emily Dickinson’s writing). William Robert Foltin arrived late & ended up on the bottom of the list & read his 2 poems, the first about farmer’s committing suicide, the second a tribute to “a beautiful teacher.”

This open mic for writers of poetry &/or prose (2 poems or a max. of 5 minutes of prose) takes place in Troy NY at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, on River St., at 2PM on the 2nd Sunday of most months (except July & August). It’s Free!

April 14, 2014

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree and Sky, April 11

Now that the snow is gone (?) & we can park on the lawn of the Pine Hollow Arboretum it means it’s the start of this year’s series Poets of Earth, Water, Tree and Sky sponsored by Rootdrinker Institute & hosted by Director Alan Casline. The featured reader was Martha Deed, but first the open mic.

& I was first on the signup sheet, & I read an older piece “Now, Listen” & my poem/tribute essay to Bob Kaufman’s “Believe, Believe” (April 18 is Bob Kaufman Day). Joe Krausman began with a piece that re-worked the Scriptures (perhaps in honor of the impending Passover holiday?), then a piece on the magazines in the check-out lines at Super-Markets “Mixed Messages,” & a short poem from memory exhorting us to “jump in.” Tim Verhaegen regaled us with another hysterical piece about his family, this about a phone conversation with his twin “Oh Brother You Are Such an Asshole.” Mark O’Brien read a collaboration he wrote with Tom Corrado, “How the Sky was Empty,” then a memoir piece “Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man, Circa 1971,” & a poem reacting to the tragic industrial explosion in Texas last year, “April Has Been Cancelled.” Thérèse Broderick read a poem inspired by a flower theme park in Dubai, “More Real Than a Mirage.”

Thérèse’s husband, Frank Robinson, read 2 poems from his new book, Love Poems, “The Poetry is You” & “Thérèse 5.1”. Nice to see Thérèse blush. Susan Kayne was new here, introduced herself as a former breeder of horses who is now an animal (horse) rights activist & her poem was the tragic story of “An Average Colt’s Life.”

The featured poet Martha Deed drove here from Western New York. She read a varied set of poems dealing with Nature, politics, references to & experiments with other poets, & even some humor thrown in. “Housatonic Sam” was a funny poem about a coyote howling at 4AM for social justice, while “Visiting a Rattlesnake Farm” was set in Crawford, Texas, home of “W” Bush. “Mining Boots Just In” was about a stop on a road trip in Kentucky, then reworked under the influence of John Cage. Another poem mixed lines from a speech by “W” with her own lines; she also collaged lines from a poem by her daughter, about her daughter’s experience interviewing for the NSA. Other poets referred to were Adelaide Crapsey & James Tate. She also read a couple poems from her project to write 65 poems for age 65. She ended with a moving piece about a conversation on a Paris train, “The Wounded Man at War…” covering loss & poetry readings. A nicely put together reading of poems in a variety of styles & subjects.

After a break, Sylvia Barnard read a poem, “Cycling through Denmark” based an a childhood story a friend told her. Sue Riback drew on her daily work in a nursing home for a couple poems, one a list of characters, the other focused on a couple still together after 60 years, then “17th Century Flu Season” consisting of a list of remedies that would make you wish you hadn’t eaten during the break. Edie Abrams read a bouquet of post-retirement poems, “Who Am I?” “My First Day at Hebrew School” (as a volunteer) & “It’s Magic” (her experience reading for the RISE program). Alan Casline read as the last poet what he described as “some Thursday night poems,” a poem about a morning walk with the dog “Snowfall Mounds the Yard” & a bit of parataxis “Mountain Sky Bird.” (Parataxis, is that when your dinner party is so big you have to call 2 cabs?)

This series, held at the Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitor Center 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY, 6:30PM, continues on Fridays roughly a month apart through November.

Live from the Living Room, April 9

Some poets know how to do it right — Adam Tedesco, tonight’s featured poet, packed the audience with his wife, mother & an assortment of (female) friends; I was quite envious. Our host, Don Levy, did a series of announcements as we settled in then on to our featured poet.

Adam Tedesco said he doesn’t like to talk about his poems, which has its own aesthetic value of letting the work stand for itself. But the work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it all comes from some place, & at a reading it goes by once quickly & knowing where it comes from sometimes helps us understand it. Adam’s poems can be complex & oblique in their associations & references so I don’t always “get” them, but always enjoy the play of language & images. Although, he did interject little personal asides before each poem which may or may not have anything to do with the poem, such as “the unwritten subtitle to everything I have written is Fuck the Police”. There were a couple of love poems, “Leaning Forward” & “Everything is Awesome” & perhaps the anaphoric, twisted images of “When Love Comes to Town.” Some poems were philosophical ponderings, as “Endless Joy,” “An Explanation of Life,” & the irreverently theological “Nothing Stands Between Us.” And there were the wild sex, drug & alcohol influenced “Hello Do You Have a Sister?” “Ace of Spade,” & a poem that was an inventory of drugs & friends & the nights. & other poems — good to hear more than the usual 1 or 2 at open mics.

Don passed his hat for donations then I read 2 urban responses to Earth Day, “How I’m Doing My Part to Preserve the Adirondacks” & “Earth Day 1991.” Brian Dorn read a love poem he has not read out before, “Suspended in Time” & another that is a favorite, “Plain to See.” Don described Samson Dikeman as “bendy” then Samson read the social commentary “Check Out Line” & an impressive “A Sestina for Spilled Coffee.” Avery’s first piece was a Spring-time shit poem, “Some Love Flowers Others Not So Much,” then recited a tribute to the rock-band Led Zeppelin, “Time to Flip the Record.”

Back in the area for a visit with family was Emily Gonzalez, who read a poem by Vicki Carp, “The Consequences of Waking,” then her own poem based on a mis-reading of the title, “The Consequences of Walking,” an urban stroll along Lark St. & beyond. Jacqueline K. began with a recently written, untitled piece on shattered love & the aftermath of sex, then another grim memoir “Nine Down for Miles Davis.” Our host Don Levy read a pop-culture memoir “Hullabaloo” then the poem he wrote on his recent visit to Florida, “In the Pool.”

We gather each 2nd Wednesday in the downstairs “Garden Room” of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, 332 Hudson Ave., for an open mic with a featured reader, 7:30 PM & a modest (or immodest) donation.

April 13, 2014

Frequency North, April 3

This was the last of the season’s reading at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY, with both poets, Sharon Mesmer & Jonah Winter, having entries in series co-ordinator Daniel Nester’s 2013 The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing).

The first poem Sharon Mesmer read, titled “I Want to Expose Myself for the Love of the People,” introduced her style (outrageous language trying to be funny with bizarre juxtapositions sometime useful, sometimes as gratuitous as the language) & her persona (self-absorbed punk, or as the title of one of her books, Annoying Diabetic Bitch). So when she read her 2nd poem “What Happens If Your Eyeball Falls Out of Your Socket” it sounded just like her 1st poem. Her sestina, written for the anthology, “Super Rooster Killer Assault Kit,” turned out to be Google-generated “flarf poem” (so Google it) filled with pop culture references & — you got it — outrageous language. In fact when she read an assemblage of “beautiful poetry” to counter criticism that she only writes “ugly poetry” it actually sounded like all the others. The title of her last poem could’ve been the title of her reading, “Song of Myself.” I remember when I discovered Dada when I was in high school & my friends & I sat around composing poems from random word-searches in the dictionary (pre-Google) & laughing at our cleverness. Maybe I should dig out those old notebooks & perhaps I too can get a good-paying poetry gig in Academe.

One thing that could be said about Jonah Winter’s reading is that at least his poems were more varied than Mesmer's, although they could also be characterized as “cleverness personified.” He read his 2 sestinas from the Nester anthology, “Sestina: A Cowboy’s Diary” (based on an actual cowboy’s diary) & “Sestina: Bob” (only 1 end rhyme, “Bob,” rather than 6) as well as a couple others: another limited-vocabulary sestina based on a student’s response to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, the other sestina in the form of an infomercial for increasing one’s vocabulary. Other silliness were a series of poems in the persona of an ignorant 13-year old boy, a poem from a beard’s point-of-view “Ode on Santa Fe,” an (actually funny) satire “The Lord’s Pledge Drive” & an audience participation piece “Psalm” where he got us to make the “poetry grunt” as needed.

Perhaps over the Summer Dan Nester should meet with St. Rose College administrators to initiate still another money-making scheme for the graduate program, an MFA in Stand-up Comedy. Such a program may bring in even more money than the MFA poetry program.  Then perhaps one could double-major in both poetry & Stand-up & then get high-paying gigs at both Comedy Clubs & Colleges like St. Rose throughout the country. Hmm, if it wasn’t so much work I might consider it myself.