Astrologers tell me I have a "Virgo Ascendant," apparently why I pay attention to such details as whether the accent is acute or grave. Of course, if I was from France it would matter, but in America it usually doesn't, & in Saratoga Springs, like so many other things there, it apparently is just one of those meaningless pretentions to something, like over-priced dinners or flouncey hats.
So when I got a flyer recently at Caffe Lena ("It's time to renew your poetic license") my eye was immediately drawn to the end of the very first sentence: "For the last two years, the New York State Council on the Arts has been picking up the tab for the open poetry mic here at Caffe [accent grave] Lena." Now I know there must be a way to do the accents properly in HTML, which this Blog uses, but haven't figured that out yet. In any event, this paper document clearly had an accent grave over the "e" of Caffe. Not just once, but 7 times; every time "Caffe [accent acute] Lena" was mentioned. Also, & not so by-the-way, it's not a "open poetry mic," it's a poetry open mic, a small but semantically meaningful difference, just like the accent. It's enough to make me pay attention to whatever else might be wrong with this picture.
Now I have a lot to say about arts funding, in this region, in this state, & Nation. I've been running an open mic for poets on the third Thursday at various locations around Albany since December 1997, as well as special events, & setting up poetry readings with the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & for 3 Guys from Albany. I admit to at times applying for, & even to accepting, funding for reading & performing poetry. Money is good, as most will admit. And artists should be paid for what they do. But if you figure all the time & effort it takes to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole to get them to cough up a few bucks (& then have them tell you how to run your program in the bargain) you net about a-buck-three-eighty, as they say.
The key to running any event (especially here in the great North East) is having a place to put it, a venue, a home. You can only do Poets in the Park about 3 months out of the year. The reason the old QE2 open mic was on a Monday night (the last Monday) was that on Monday nights Char, the owner, was paying the bartender to stand around & watch TV. If you have a poetry open mic & 5 poets showed up & bought 3 beers (that's 3 beers between them, you know what cheap bastards most poets are), that was still 3 more beers than you would normally sell. It's not charity, it's good business. That's why poetry open mics at bars and cafes are on weeknights, never on the weekends. The business of business is money.
And those of us with long enough memories will recall that Caffe Lena was not exactly enthusiastic about having a poetry series. Over the years there had been attempts at various open mics, including some music open mics, that hadn't lasted very long. So Carol had to work hard to convince the folks at Caffe Lena to give it a try, & with the support of the poetry community in the region it has been a success. Quite frankly there are few reasons for me to drive 45 minutes from Albany for a poetry reading -- there are plenty here where I live. But I, & others, felt that it was important that this open mic succeed -- & it has. The reality is that if Caffe Lena management decides that the first Wednesday is prime folk night & kick out the poets, Carol would be able to find another venue in the area; poetry will survive in spite of Caffe Lena or the New York State Council on the Arts.
The open mic at Caffe Lena was happening for a couple years before the NYS Council on the Arts "picked up the tab" (excuse me, but don't my monthly contributions & purchases help towards that tab?). And contrary to the flyer's assertions that "With the Council's support, the Wednesday Night Open Poetry Mic [there it is again -- doesn't anyone look at what Carol's flyers call this event?] has flourished," the open mic has flourished from the first night 4 years ago due to the poets & fans & listeners who show up each month. And with the support of the folks who run Caffe Lena, & their volunteers (great cookies!).
Certainly it is a matter of money, the venue has to pay bills. And I have nothing against fund-raising, poets should be paid. I pay my featured poets at the third Thursday reading & at Poets in the Park -- not from grants, but from passing the hat, from the support of the community. But the poets who show up each month are already supporting the event, indeed they have been the only ones who have kept it going . For my part I would be willing to pay more at the door & more for the coffee (it's good coffee). But who are the "writing groups" or "poetry friends" that are being solicited for funds? They're the same ones who are also trying to squeeze a few bucks from that great "supporter" of poetry, the NYS Council on the Arts. There is a lot, a lot of money in Saratoga Springs (try renting a motel room for a night in August), & people there like to brag about it. But if they can't support poetry, fuck 'em. We'll find someplace that will.