December 8, 2016

Thin Matter Book Launch & Signing, December 3

A packed house in The Cheese Traveler to celebrate Alifair Skebe’s new book & to hear her read a selection of her poems. If one is to have a poetry reading, better to have it in a small space as opposed to some huge stadium, better to say “the place was packed” than “there were a lot of empty seats.”

I had already been enjoying the book, having ordered my copy directly from Foothills Publishing. She began with poems from 2 other chapbooks, “Poppies” from Love Letters: Les Cartes Portales/Post Card: Les Lettres d’Armour (Basilisk Press, 2004), a maddeningly laid-out flip book, & “Kiva” from El Agua Es la Sangre de la Tierra (Finishing Line Press, 2008).

She then read from Thin Matter what she called “a labyrinth of poems,” suggesting we let her reading wash over us, mixing her metaphors, & beginning with the poem “Halo.” The poem “Desire” was originally a broadside & she said the poem could be read differently each time, which gave sense to the page-layout in the book. Others read included a dream-like “Spinning Paper,” another that was a piece of a multi-part poem, & the almost obligatory “Hudson.” I’m continuing to read through these intriguing, sensuous poems, enjoying the wash of images & ideas.

The advantage of having this reading at The Cheese Traveler, 540 Delaware Ave., Albany, NY is the fine selection of refreshments served before & after the poems, the cheese, olives & wine that were as poetic as Alifair's words.

December 2, 2016

Harmony Cafe, November 28

Monday night has become a busy poetry night, but I opted to drive down to Woodstock to the Harmony Cafe at Wok ’n’ Roll, mainly to hear again the intriguing poetry of Adam Tedesco. This weekly event is run by host Michael Platsky.

Of course, it being Woodstock, there were 6 or 8 poets already signed up, but the #1 slot was still open — so I took it. I read the oh-so-current poems “The Elect Shun Mourning & Celebrate” & “When Donald Trump Farts.” Pamela Twining followed with a rant “High Holy Days,” then a piece titled “Proof Positive” (that freedom is possible). Teresa Costa didn’t read one of her own poems, instead one by poet Bob Kaufman “Benediction.”

There is a tradition here that the grand ole mensch, Donald Lev, reads 4th, just before the featured poet; he began appropriately enough with “The Beginning of History,” then a tribute poem for Roberta Gould “The Dogs’ Story,” “The New Great Communicator,” “Upper West Side Scene,” “The Works,” “Inauguration Day,” & “Lunch” like manna.

I usually see Adam Tedesco at poetry venues in Albany, where we both perhaps should have been tonight. But he enthralled his Woodstock audience with the twists, turns & leaps of his poem. He began with a couple poems, “Lingam” & “Apologia,” printed like broadsides on large sheets of paper. Sometimes he read titles, sometimes not, & all with a minimum of introductions, letting the poems speak for themselves — or not. There was a piece based on a Guns’n’Roses song, a couple of mushroom poems, including one about the 4th of July with his wife, Lisa, a couple of poems with his daughter as a character, one on the children’s book series by Roger Hargreaves (e.g., Mr. Messy, Mr. Silly, etc.), & a couple of aquatic eco-poems “Manatee Habitat” & “In Our Aquatic Phase.” I was picking up on Buddhist images in a number of his poems & was pleased when he read a selection from his recent Reality Beach chapbook, Heart Sutra. An eclectic, wide-raging reading.

Leslie Gerber seemed to do a “mini-feature” beginning with a poem written after Denise Levertov, others, including some from his new book The Edge of Sleep. Lenny Brown began with a song “The Racial Glacial Memory,” a poem titled “Cosmic Intelligence” on the election, a drug-induced philosophy “What’s the Matter,” & another piece on the election. Ron Whiteurs is always a hoot, poems with sex & funny rhymes, & title cards like a Vaudeville act, “My Credo” & “The Gism Jerk Gang.”

Christian began with a piece of obsessive, single word rhyming from memory, & then a cluster of short pieces from small pieces of paper. Richard Comerford did a rare reading, a piece titled “Opportunity” from his notebook, then the famous Longfellow poem “The Children’s Hour.” Philip Gurrieri did his sham shaman act with a free-form ramble & a big stick. Andy Clausen capped off the night with his rant “I’m A Bluesman” accompanying himself on harmonica, filled with his favorite phrases, & references to Bangkok, Prague & The Wailers — pure Woodstock.

This weekly reading & open mic takes place on Mondays at 8:00PM at the Harmony Cafe of the Wok’n’Roll restaurant & bar in Woodstock, NY.

November 29, 2016

Community of Writers, November 20

This is an annual event held at the Schenectady County Public Library, sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & the Friends of the Library, & is coordinated by Catherine Norr & Alan Catlin. I was the MC for the event this year. There were 6 writers in a variety of genres, poetry & prose, a reflection of the great variety of literary talent we have in this area.

Appropriately enough, first up was poet Brian Dorn who not only attends most, if not every, poetry open mic in the area, but is also one of the organizers of the annual Day of the Poet contest held at the Colonie Library the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He read a sample of his rhyming poems from his collection From My Poems to Yours (The Live Versions).

Next we turned to prose & Susan Morse who began with an essay/memoir from childhood about the death of her dog, “Escaping Limbo.” Then she had us in hysterics over a mis-understood plan for a tree for the annual Festival of Trees at the Albany Institute of History & Art with a piece titled “Merry Cat-mas.”

Back to poetry from Sarah Provost, whose collection of poems is titled Inland, Thinking of Waves (Cleveland State University Press). She read poems of childhood & hurricanes, as well poems of love & sex just to spice up the afternoon.

Carl Filbrich is the author of a mystery novel set in Las Vagas, The Heavenly Casino from which he read the first chapter effectively teasing us. The story centers around a Las Vegas reporter, John Holiday, & the murder of preacher who had planned on opening a Christian-themed casino.

Jordan Smith has published 7 collections of his poetry, including the 2011 The Light in the Film (University of Tampa Press) & the digital Clare’s Empire (the Hydroelectric Press). His poetry covered a wide range of figures & topics, from John Brown to coffee, Mozart, the election & the death of Garcia Lorca, even some references to his own fiddle-playing.

We ended with more poetry from Judith Prest. She read mainly from her new collection of poems & photographs, Elemental Connections, generally short poems, & managed to squeeze in some political poems as well. As a nature photographer she has also published an attractive calendar for 2017, from Spirit Wind Press.

This Community of Writers reading in Schenectady is a welcome start to the holiday season (it is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year), particularly if you want to start your Xmas shopping early with books from local authors.

November 25, 2016

Third Thursday Poetry Night, November 17

If it weren’t for our featured poet, Karen Schoemer, it would’ve been guys-only in the house. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do like a little diversity in the audience. But first I had to invoke the Muse, another gone poet, this the recently gone Dan Lawlor, who would on occasion attend the Sunday Four Poets series (itself now gone as well) in Voorheesville, & I read his poem “The Waterfall,” happily provided to me by Alan Casline.

Speaking of whom, Alan Casline was our first reader in the open mic with a rhyming “Song of the Game of Shadow.” Mark O’Brien’s poem “Tell Me You Remember” was like a letter to a loved one. Richard Jerin has become a regular here & read a dream poem titled “I Write to the Wind.” Bob Sharkey read about a drive through farm land looking for a place to pee “Between the Blue Lands.” Joe Krausman has been finding poems he didn’t remember writing, such as “She Just Stepped Out” inspired by a woman who stepped off a mountain in Kashmir.

This was Todd Johnson’s first time here & he read a lush poem of loss “Murmur.” It’s been quite a while since W.D. Clarke joined us here at the Social Justice Center but we were pleased to hear one of his rhyming narrative ballads, this based on a true, Western story, about the burial of “Tommy.” My poem was also a true tale, set at the Old Songs Festival“Who Lost A Bra at the Folk Festival?”

Tonight’s featured poet, Karen Schoemer, was the lone woman in the room tonight, & the first thing she did was to take control & ask the guys to fill up the front of the room rather than sitting in the back. She began with the poem “Solstice” talking about feelings in a relationship & filled with the everyday details of the world around her, which set the pattern for the rest of her poems, such as “Diane Arbus” which began describing a photo exhibit, but then about herself. A couple of the poems used the setting of a bar as a jumping off place, as in “Sycamore Bar” in which the smell of whiskey reminded her of her father, & “Hotel La Pinta” written to go with music. She is ever the observer in her poems, like “A Room with a Prayer” about a woman but then spinning out to a grim urban setting. & she is always the center of her poems, hard to tell if she is talking about others or herself, or just some poetic persona, like in “What’s Inside What I Already Know” or the aptly titled “Narcissus.” She ended with the dream-like “November Sun” which was the winner of the 2015 HVWG Poetry Contest.

The Third Thursday Poetry Night happens at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY at 7:30PM with a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us each month on the, not to be redundant, third Thursday. Bring a poem.

November 18, 2016

Writing War & Peace, November 12

Bertha Rogers, the impresario of the Bright Hill Literary Center of the Catskills, organized this event as the “First Annual Day for Veterans & Communities.”  All the readers were veterans who had served in the US military.

I had met Marc Levy through our mutual friend & Vietnam veteran Dayl Wise, who with World War II veteran Jay Wenk had also been scheduled to read but were unable to be here. Marc has a detailed website, Medic in the Green Time, that not only includes his own work — writing & photography — but that of other veterans.  He read a number of pieces from his experience in Vietnam -- about being on patrol, portraits of young Vietnamese boys & girls, on making GI coffee & eventually "Heading Home."  He also described his project of recording his dreams, both of Vietnam & post-war, including one with Donald Trump in it. His poems are descriptive, deeply personal, event secret, & always moving.

Suzanne Rancourt is a veteran of both the Marine Corps & the Army. She read from a large manuscript of loose, un-paginated sheets, bedizened with multi-colored tabs & stickies. The poems were interwoven with her commentary on her life & musings about art, writing & healing, including on her experience of being raped & her own murderous rage in reaction to a break-in at her home. She said that a lot of these poems hadn’t been read out before. She also discussed her experiences as a practitioner & scholar of Express Arts. At one point she had members of the audience randomly choose poems from her unbound manuscript & her poem “On My Way Home” ended up being read twice, a message perhaps from the poetry gods.

Like Marc, Richard Levine is also a Vietnam combat veteran & began his reading with some poems from that experience, including the grimly descriptive “Field Bandage” & “Triage.” He also read from his 2012 Bright Hill Press chapbook A Tide of a Hundred Mountains the poems “A Mother Welcomes a Son Home from War” & “Disturbing the Peace” about 2 veterans in a bar in Brooklyn. He also read some new pieces, “Fire a Village,” “Graceland” a chilling piece about seeing someone who looked like a comrade who had been killed in Vietnam (with references to Michael Herr’s Dispatches & “the rock’n’roll war”), & “Reaching to the Horizon” about the war 30 years after.  Richard divides his time now between Brooklyn & upstate New York.

I read a variety of pieces that addressed war, both that of Vietnam & our more recent invasions, & peace, beginning with an old rant “Richard Nixon Must Die” & ending with the painfully current “When Donald Trump Farts” — perhaps the two poems could be mashed up into one mega-political, anti-fascist epic, “When Donald Trump Farts Richard Nixon Dies” (or any combination thereof).

I was proud to be a part of such a program of poets & artists whose work I admire, especially that of the indomitable pink-haired Bertha Rogers.

The Bright Hill Press & Literary Center is a whirling literary & artistic vortex located at 94 Church St., Treadwell, NY — check it out when you can.

November 14, 2016

Arthur’s Market Poetry Open Mic, November 9

We all agreed that it was a good thing to gather for a night of poetry on the evening of the morning after the night before, away from talking heads & charts & numbers & maps. Our host Catherine Norr broke out in song to get us into the open mic. Richard Jerrin began with a poem written in the cold (with his gloves on?) one of love & longing, then a longer fragmented piece titled “He’s New.”

One of the group of young writers who frequently gather at the long table to workshop & socialize, Brittany Moesbe read a piece of short prose fiction “Envelope” about reluctance to open a letter from a past love. Carol Jewell is the master of the pantoum & read 2, “The Ox Herder,” & “Cento Pantoum #2” an impressive tour-de-force of repeating lines from a variety of poets (& a variation on the form she has staked out as her own). Ginny Folger addressed what many of wanted to do this morning “Sleeping in Late of a Morning.”

Another of the young students, Shayla Clark, read 2 pieces having to do with identity & defining herself as an artist, “Artist’s Rivalry” & “Ethnic.” Rocko read a short piece on misunderstanding “Whatever Was Meant.” Brian Dorn responded with a poem (in rhyme, of course) about uncertainties “Whatever Will Be.”

Melody Davis was the night’s featured poet. She began with a series of haiku from her collaboration with visual artist Harold Lohner, “One Ground Beetle,” currently at The Word & Image Gallery” in Treadwell, NY, then on to poems from her 2 books. From The Center of Distance (Nightshade Press) she read a poem of New Orleans, “The Camellia Grill, & from Brooklyn “Persistance.” From Holding the Curve (Broadstone) she read another Brooklyn poem, the grim “Casualty,” then the much more hopeful “Why I Teach Children Poetry,” a poem about watching CSI with her daughter, and a poem filled with math images “The Trigonometry of Children.” “Sugar” is a self-portrait “crown of sonnets” filled with the images of sweets, taking her through the ages 9 to 13, then she ended appropriately enough for this night-after with the last poem in the book, “Blessing.”

Catherine Norr returned us to the open mic after a break with poems from her book from Finishing Line Press Return to Ground, one of my favorites, “Mississippi Riverside Chat” then the title poem, drawn from a dream. Carol Graser read from her book The Wild Twist of Their Stems (FootHills Publishing) the chant-like “I Give You Birth.” Don Levy is quick on the draw & already has a poem about the elections “The Thing from The Poseidon Adventure is Called the Morning After.” I also read a post-election poem, but one written many elections back, “The Elect Shun Mourning & Celebrate.”

Jackie Craven read a piece of short prose, a poetic bread recipe from “Mrs. Knickerbokcer” from her new book of short fiction from Omnidawn Publishing Our Lives Became Unmanageable.  Susan Kress read “on the theme of hopeless dread”, the ghostly “Open House.” Bill Notro said he usually writes songs, then read a dark murder story in rhyme that hadn’t been set to music, then another rhyme, just written now, another “morning after piece” of a more aggressive orientation. Oh well.

This series is in the Stockade Section of Schenectady at Arthur’s Market each 2nd Wednesday at 7:30PM, an open mic & usually a featured poet. Free.

October 31, 2016

Troy Poetry Mission, October 26

This was the 2nd gathering (I’d missed the first) of a new poetry series at O’Brien’s Public House in Troy, run by former Albany poetry impresario R.M. Engelhardt. The reading took place in a ballroom-sized space off the main bar area. There was no stage, or sound equipment for that matter, so it was hard to decide where to sit, & where the readers would would perform. But we figured it out.

Rob began in the spirit of Halloween (he had brought a talismanic copy of the poetry of E.A. Poe but no one read from it) by reading a poem by Tim Burton about Vincent Price. As often happens, I ended up as 1st on the open mic list, also with a Halloween poem “Zombie Gourd” & one on the election day horrorshow “When Donald Trump Farts.” Brian Dorn approached Halloween with his poem titled “Dark in Me,” then the love poem “Her Attributes.” In the Halloween mode, Tim Lake read a poem about the deceased William Robert Foltin “Killing Frost Descending” then a memoir written in France in 2011 “Flexible Flyers.”

Speaking of France, Mary de la Torre was back in town in the guise of the gentleman assassin, Pierre Francois Lacenaire (1803 - 1836) complete with blood stains on her white, lace-trimmed blouse on her breasts with a poem read first in French, then in English “Blood Karma,” then an erotic poem “I Want.”

Tonight’s featured reader, the first in this new series, was long-time area performer Jason Martin. He began with a piece about growing up in the Adirondacks, as he said, “one of those stories that rhyme” with guitar. Not all of his pieces were with guitar, such as the anti-government eco-poem, “Effects Not Proven,” or the manic “Last Night at the Office” based on Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” & speaking of Dylan Jason ended back on guitar with Dylan-style lyrics, accent & mumble. If there had been a stage, Jason would have commanded it as he did the wide-open space of this dance hall — & I wish I had video of his footwork as he played his guitar, the still shot just doesn’t do it justice.

R.M. Engelhardt brought us back to the open mic with a couple of his poems, “Insurrection in Bohemia” & the political preaching of “Dear Candidate.” Karen Fabiane actually descended even further into the far corner of the room to read her poems, first one written today “At Best” with cooking for a pot luck & a drum circle, & another, “Sometimes People.” Devon Simms recited & performed “Nativity,” a Xmas nightmare poem that included the smashing of a creche.

Ed Rinaldi showed up (he only lives a couple blocks away) to read “Hone In” inspired by a photo, & an eco-poem from his Blog “a recycling wishing bird is bones and buttons.”  Perhaps Matthew Sekellick missed Rob’s note on the sign-up sheet, “2 poems,” as he tacked on a few more after his first 2, which were just fine, the first a list of titles of plays he hasn’t written, & the political piece “Where Are the State Funerals For…” (the workers).

It was a fine night of poetry, but no Poe. This series is slated to continue on the last Wednesday of each month at O’Brien’s Public House, 43 3rd St., Troy — 7:30PM sign-up, 8:00PM (or thereabouts) start.