September 30, 2014

Sunday Four Poetry, September 28


After the Summer off, we were back at Old Songs Community Center in Voorheesville, NY for a new season of readings & events. Our host Dennis Sullivan introduced the new season & gave out the new flyer/program, reading “Ventana,” by Nicaraguan poet Alfonso Cortés (1893 - 1969).

First poet for the open mic was Philomena Moriarty with a non-linear poem influenced by young poet Bianca Stone, then the seasonal “A Rising of the Harvest Moon,” & a poem thinking about “great minds” “Starships.” Carol Jewell read a Provincetown/beach poem “My Mary Oliver” then one of her many pantoums, this a cento composed of lines from other poets. I followed with another seasonal poem, “Tashlich” then a poem on poetry “Those Big APR Poems.” Paul Amidon read 3 poems, beginning with one that seemed to describe memory as a mental hospital, then “204 Boundary Ave.” a memoir of childhood, & a consideration of aging, “Dance Recital.” AC Everson read a piece on repeating herself from on ongoing series Adventures in Aging, then another play on words, “Bound with Phrases of Clichés Oh My.” Alan Casline read 3 short pieces, “In Return,” a description much like our later gathering at Smitty’s “Around a Public House Table,” & “Shady Town.” Tom Corrado read his latest “Screen Dump” #119 — the chapbook he gave me recently only goes to #112.

Katrinka Moore read 3 poems from what looked like 3 of her books, the poems “Swimming in Air” (like dust), a Japanese lesson “A Few Words,” & a poem about shape-shifting. Sue Oringel began with her poem “Pain” based on one by Emily Dickinson, then “Something Seems to Last” (it's the electric kitchen knife) & “Autumnal” that moved from the season to the bedroom. Edie Abrams' poem “In 10 Years” was a prayer of thanks & a plan, written in memory of a doctor friend. Brian Dorn read excerpts from a new piece, “Hallowed Ground,” written for his upcoming feature at Caffè Lena, in which he quotes song lyrics of past performers at the cafe & then mixes in his own lines.


Edie coaxed her husband Saul Abrams into reading for the first time, from a collection of poems by Giacomo Leopardi (1798 - 1837) the descriptive"Saturday in the Village". Dennis Sullivan read a characteristically philosophical piece, harkening back to Corrado’s Screen Dumps, “The Non-Sequitur is Highly Under-rated.”

The afternoon’s featured poet was Barbara Ungar. She read from her published poetry collections & from her forth-coming book Immortal Medusa, as she said, “some greatest hits & some new work.” From Thrift (WordTech Editions, 2005) she read “Self Diagnosis” (based on the MMPI) & a letter from a friend after death, “From the Cutting Room Floor.” From The Origins of the Milky Way (Gival Press, 2007), 2 poems about her son, “Isaac Laughing” & “Mine.” Her newest book is Charlotte Bronté, You Ruined My Life (The Word Works, 2011); she read the title poem & “Rosemary’s Divorce.” She finished out the set with poems from her new collection, the first another Rosh Hashanah poem of political/social commentary, then an ode to microscopic “waterbears” or tardigrades, & a poem on teaching Homer’s Odyssey “Athena’s Blowjob,” ending with the title poem “Immortal Medusa” on growing younger.  Nicely done.

The new schedule for the Sunday Four Poetry Open Mic includes readings with open mics, & a couple of poetic Symposia through June, “dedicated to the convivial understanding & practice of Poesy’s gift to human joy.” Or so they say.

September 29, 2014

Books of the Dead: A Memoir with Poetry by Alan Catlin


If you’ve ever been to poetry readings in the Capital District, particularly to my Third Thursday reading at the Social Justice Center, or have read much of the small press zines in the last 25 years or so you would have heard or read poems by Alan Catlin. He is one of the most-published poets in America, & keeps cranking them out, telling his stories in the language even the barflies at the Washington Tavern can understand. &, full disclosure, Alan is a personal friend who has over the years steered innumerable poetry zines & many of his own books my way, & a colleague & former board member on the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.

Again, if you’ve heard Alan’s poems over the years you are bound to have heard about his late mother, a schizophrenic former patient at Pilgrim State Hospital (like Allen Ginsberg’s mom, Naomi). Books of the Dead: A Memoir with Poetry (Pure Heart Press, Main Street Rag) brings all that together under one cover. Actually, it is 2 memoirs, one centered around cleaning out his mother’s hotel room after her death, “The New York City Book of the Dead,” the other about taking care of his father’s & step-mother’s estate after their deaths in Florida, “The Central Florida Book of the Dead.” Both are a combination of prose sections & poems, like a twisted, claustrophobic 21st Century Basho haibun.

His story of cleaning out his mother's things from room 641 of the Martha Washington Hotel for Women in New York City is voyeuristic & chilling. Alan includes some of his mother’s own writings as a Fun-House mirror/window into her world, including letters she wrote to him & her musings on health from her compulsive reading. Her writings are upsetting as we witness the line fracturing between the “normal” world of a mother’s advice & the schizophrenic’s short-circuited delusional world. Equally frightening is the tale of a grandma letting her 3-year old grandson steer the car, or her attacking her son’s wife, prompting an angry banishment. These are the impossible decisions family members must make to deal with someone they love but who poses a danger to themselves & others.  It is a sad, mind-wrentching story of an embattled son in a role-reversal with his troubled, impossible mother.

“The Central Florida Book of the Dead” takes up the final 3rd of the volume & has the surrealistic feel of Kafka’s The Castle, with the poet & his family trying to make their way through the insensitive bureauacracy of hospitals & the bizarre Dali-like landscape & characters of Florida. A political commentator would make it a cry for a National Health Care system, one that doesn’t enrich the insurance industry, one that covers working people & poets too. Alan’s book is a example of how a sensitive, engaged poet, can turn a personal memoir into both poetry & a commentary on pressing social issues of the times.


September 23, 2014

2nd Sunday at 2: Poetry + Prose, September 14


The start of our 5th year at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, with my co-host Nancy Klepsch, this time not in the Black Box Theater, but down the hall in the conference room.

Kathy Kokolias started us off & announced that her book Spandex & Black Boots is now available on Kindle, then read a prose piece written from a prompt to write about the night sky in which she was looking at Orion, thinking of the seasons & the cycle of Life. Peggy LeGee read 3 poems, pondering her life, “Testosterone” (that she still has & is thus still considered male), “The Lives of our Life” (on the "blame game"), & “Working Class Hero.” I read 1 poem about a visit to the beach a few years ago, “Transits.” Mike Connor was next with 2 connected poems, the first about meeting someone online, then pondering the new life together “Dilemma or Adventure.”

Bob Sharkey read a poem about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, then “Dream 9/11/14” about being part of the 1%, his employees picking grapes. Howard Kogan engaged us with a poem about having a conversation with a 14-year old neighbor at a tombstone “Meeting Emily & the Twins on a Winter Walk,” then “A Gossipy Ode to Ancient Astronomers” with the great line, “is this a poem or an excuse?” Nancy Klepsch read a poem about paprika, “Spicy Girls,” written in a recent poetry workshop.

Adam Tedesco read 2 grim poems from his home turf in Troy, “The Katydids” & “Not Knowing the Hudson” that he had read at Don’s open mic, “Not Knowing the Hudson” (this friend would have been 33 this week). Tim Verhaegen read another of his outrageous family memoirs, this about his brother & friends (not) going to a Peter Frampton concert in 1976.

The final reader, the youngest, Fay, began with an angry piece of self-proclamation, then another piece “Expectations,” both read from her cellphone.

A good start for our 5th year, each 2nd Sunday at 2:00PM at The Arts Center of the Capital District on River St. in Troy, sometimes in the Black Box Theater, sometimes in the Conference Room — bring 2 poems, or 5 minutes of prose to read — free!

Pine Hollow Arboretum, September 12


Back for the open mic at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, with the featured poet, Mark W. O’Brien, who was back from Ireland (you did know that he went to Ireland recently, didn’t you?). Tim Verhaegen started off the open mic with a piece written yesterday about a panic attack on a recent visit to East Hampton, then a poem about a song from the 1960s singer Melanie, “Holding Out.” Our Arboretum host, John Abbul, read a poem “From Them” then a paragraph from an essay on “Truth” then a poem on our connection to the past “My Hand.” Mike Connor read 2 of his own poems, “Goodbye Summer” & “Dilemma or Adventure” (on getting engaged at 59) & then a poem by Seamus Heaney, a famous Irish poet. Joe Krausman’s “Scene in a Subway Car” was about a woman texting while making out, then a companion piece in funny rhyme on email love, & another poem on men in fake childbirth.

Our featured poet Mark O’Brien had a fine time in his ancestral home, being a true Irish poet. He performed from his work “Blackwater Suite” with Gail Allen on guitar. He introduced the work by saying it included new words to old standards in the grand folk-song tradition, even including singing in that ancient Irish musical form, Reggae, & with versions of “Amazing Grace” & “Tom Dooley.” The poems & songs were about the emigration of his family from Ireland to America.  If you are a member of Rootdrinker Institute you will be getting soon a copy of Mark's chapbook; otherwise, you will have to buy it when you see him.

Following a break, Bob Sharkey continued the Irish theme with “The Clum’s Corner Manifesto,” another piece on Irish heritage & immigration, & a “scolding” by one of his ancestors, old Catherine Wayland. Tom Corrado read another of his “Screen Dumps,” this #115 musing on mediocre red wine & going on from there; ask him for a copy of one of his Screen Dump chapbooks. A new voice, Katrinka Moore, read a story of a girl, “A Chance to Redeem All Sorrow.”

Folksinger Deb Cavanaugh said she has been working on memoir pieces & read about all her moves & those of her childhood instrument “The Piano.” Alan Casline, our warm & gentle host, read a couple of seasonal pieces, “Lap Water Off the Roof…” that he dedicated to poet Dennis Sullivan, who wasn't here, then a harvest prayer from the Hittite. Brian Dorn read a poem about himself as a child pondering who he will be “Creative Sonnet,” then the sensual love poem “Sublimely Connecting.”

The Pine Hollow series will be coming to a seasonal end after the November reading, so there are a couple of sessions left. Sponsored by The Rootdrinker Institute the program includes featured readers & an open mic, at The Pine Hollow Arboretum, 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY.

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.