August 15, 2007

Hudson Valley Poets Fest, August 12

This was actually a 2-day event; I was scheduled to read on Sunday, so drove down earlier to catch as many other poets as I could. It's on Route 213 in Rosendale, in the Widow Jane Mine on the Snyder Estate. It's got to be seen -- a huge cavern carved out of the side of a hill, cool, dark, making you wish it were 90 degrees to enjoy the contrast more, the stage set up on the edge of the water that perfectly reflects the light coming in from outside. (Going down to the site was like following a 3-year-old, all the signs kept saying, "Mine," "Mine.") The ground is slippery from moisture & the occasional drop falls from the ceiling onto your head or into your drink. A canopy shields performers from drips & serves as a stand for the lights. This year there was a 30-page collection of poems by the featured readers (myself included), funded with a decentralization grant from the Duchess County Arts Council, with a great cover illustration by Carol Zaloom. The energetic host & organizer is Mike Jurkovic.

The poetry collection has an introduction that provides a history of the event, pointing out that "This years Hudson Valley Poets Fest marks the seventeenth year that the Century House Historical Society has joined with the Hudson Valley poets to present readings in the Widow Jane Mine." I first became aware of this event as the response of Mike & other Hudson Valley poets to the Woodstock Poetry Festival's lack of local talent amid the Festival's roster of high-priced poets. This reading continues, while the Festival is long gone.

In some ways, these events are difficult to attend: I'm torn between listening to the readers, saying hello to friends & other poets, buying books, perusing the proliferation of flyers, grazing the pot-luck food & looking for a place to pee. But I did get to hear a lot of fine poems. Each poet had about 10 minutes; of course, some taking longer, some much less, so I won't (can't) mention every poem read.

But, for me, it started badly. As I got there Carl Welden was on stage, & a little goes a long way; unfortunately, there was a lot -- over-acted vignettes copied from the Firesign Theater, an example of how performance can overwhelm material. But the day only got better. In fact, the next writer, Thad Rutkowski, showed how entertaining one can be with good material read well without all the theatrics, such as Thad's funny set pieces on his name & one on his haircuts.

Likewise, George Wallace, whose work I follow on his blog on MySpace. (George & I once read together at the old Cross St. Atelier in Saugerties.) He likes lists & Beat street descriptions that carry you along on the strength of the words & images, like his big, hopeful, patriotic "Ecstatic State Building."

Guy Reed once ran an oddity: an open mic for prose writers. He read a variety of poems, prose vignettes, prose poems, micro fiction, all that stuff. Again, the simplicity of good material, read well.

Everyone loves Donald Lev. He read a some poems taking us through the months, one of his movie poems (on "To Have & Have Not"), &, of course, one by Enid Dame, the moving "Prayers."

Will Nixon followed, beginning with a couple poems by Saul Bennett, who left us about a year ago. Will's short poems touched on sculpture (both bubblegum & at the mall), Fireworks & PTSD, & his childhood. I was next, reading the poem in the collection ("Theology 101 for Tom Nattell") because Mike Jurkovic was the poet mentioned in the poem, then did a selection of some new poems.

Although Cheryl Rice's name had been whited out from some versions of the flyers, that doesn't make her disappear. A nice mixed bag of her poems, even a movie poem, on "The Third Man." She had some new "chaplets" for sale, I Was You Were (but get a magnifiying glass). Cheryl was followed by one of the (few) open mic poets that Mike slipped in when there was time, Harvey Havel reading from his novel.

T.G. Vanini started off a short musical interlude with his fiddle, then followed by a trio I missed (doing most of those things I mentioned above).

Samuel Claiborne's poems are thoughtful, discursive, with a straightforward presentation (I remember liking his work last year as well). Our host, Mike Jurkovic read a couple, one on a movie theme, an action movie that should have been his time for meditation. And this seems as good a place as any to mention Robert Milby, that whirling dervish of mid-Hudson poetry readings, who wasn't on Sunday's program, but was there & could be heard calling out from the 19th century, "Here hear," or "Right on," or "Righteous," or some such words of acclaim & encouragement. He has a new book out from FootHills Publishing, Ophelia's Offspring that I bought, many poems I've heard him read up & down the Valley.

William Seaton read a sequence of old & new, sometimes with intros & titles, sometimes without, & sometimes I didn't know the difference. Then he was followed by Amy Ouzoonian bouncing around the stage, contemplating jumping in the stream (actually, I had wanted/needed to pee in it), read about a man, a woman, a pigeon, poems from the Charlie Parker festival, her poem "Country Girl" in the collection, & one she just wrote about the cave. I've always liked her work too.

Rebecca Schumedja hoped to pick up some of Amy's energy, but then Rebecca was "reading for 2" as they say; another divorce poem -- that, & the movie poems, made for the sub-themes of the afternoon. Then, poet paying homage to her sister poet, Michelle Hill read in rhyme "What to Expect When You're Expecting" for Rebecca, then some others ("Art Opening" is printed in the collection), proving once again how good you can be & just do a short reading without a lot of headbands & goofy voices (you got that Mr. Welden?).

So I left as I had come in, on acting/performance as Terence Chiesa took the stage in one of his many, clever incarnations. I had heard a bunch of excellent poets, readers & that's entertainment for me.

This is a great, annual event & I'm already looking forward to next August. Watch for it ( I'm keeping one copy of the collection of poets, & sending one off to England with Annine, passing the other one on. Someday they be worth hundreds on eBay.