July 31, 2007

Poets Speak Loud July 30

(This is Marty as first-time host at the Moon & River Cafe in Schenectady, June 26. Tonight is his first featured reading.)

at the Lark Tavern with part-host Thom Francis & boss-lady Mary Panza, on the Full Moon, or close enough (it was actually last night) to feel the full effect.

& it was like a poetry stacked sandwich between 2 pieces of Dain bread, since "Dain Brammage" began & ended the night: began with "Laughter is the Best Medicine," rhymes about hanging with a friend with the blues, & ended with with his lurid Barbie poem.

I'm worried about Shaun Baxter -- he read a poem about homemade wine & another about drinking whiskey, plus he's a vegetarian & eats a lot of soy: he's going to be a short old man with a calcified liver & big tits.

Ah, James Schlett, brought an island of quiet. His introductory journal entry reflected on his poem "What Are You Looking At She Says" (in Northampton). Then "Baptism" on his heart & the morning dew in Washington Park. He always lets us know where he is in his poems.

This was the first featured reading for new-comer Marty Mulenex. He has been going to a lot of open mics & he has paid attention. His reading was planned, went along in the allotted amount of time, & had a good mix of poems. He started with one about the full moon, which was like a song of hope. Marty likes to play with rhyme without getting trapped in it. He included some of his political pieces, like "Embedded Scars," "Disregard What's Right," & "Exempted Criminals" (hmm, sounds a bit like some of the horses running at Saratoga this week). He also likes to write about the things he sees at the places he goes to, like Lake Ontario, or the Tulip Festival, or clouds in the sky, like all poets do -- even one for National Bicycle Month (May). Other poems he's tried out at open mics sprinkled in, ending "At Ease." As we were too.

Somehow Anthony Bernini slipped in without me seeing him, then out before I knew he was gone. He read a poem from the new Poetry magazine, then his own "Weights & Measures." You have to listen carefully, even when he reads slow. Anthony, where have you been lately? We miss you.

John Raymond was back with one we've heard before, "Mother's Day," which he said was "my moderately psychotic edible [that's what I heard, "Oedipal" is what he meant] poem." That's why it's OK to read it at different venues, so we get it eventually.

Here's where the effect of the Full Moon started to break on through -- new face, Meagan Baker, under a fedora like the dark side of the Moon, read a poem that was sent to her by a friend who got them from "a psychotic poet in Portland" who writes lurid, erotic poems on the wrappers of Butter Fingers candy bars. "Judy in the Sky with Diamonds" was about diamonds (of course), but also the deep hidden parts of a female's body, tongues & ... I thought this was one of those poetical put-ons that poets like to do to hide themselves (like Fernando Pessoa), but she repeated the story & read the poem again after the reading for some folks who had arrived late, & I saw her take them from an envelope with stamps on it. I think it's for real.

So then Mary, back at the mic, of course made her comments, then I said "some real snarky shit," then it started to break down until she brought it back under control with her whip.

Poor Chris Brabham had to follow all this, but did so with grace in an ode, "New Born Prince," to his not-quite-yet new born son, a warrior & descendant of African kings.

Of course, the "snarky shit" continued when I got up to read (I had signed up, on a dare, as #28 tonight), but I settled down & read "August 1945" about the Bomb, & the new piece you can read here on the Blog, "Dot Dot Dot."

Then Dain again, then yak, yak yak while we paid our checks. Quite a surprising night for all, especially to the girls who had just walked in for dinner as Meagan was reading about looking for diamonds in some girls snatch.

Last Monday of every month, at Tess' Lark Tavern, Madison Ave., Albany, 7:30 (that's correct), brought to you by albanypoets.com.

(the ellipsis poem)

I stared at this girl on the street
she was wearing only ... and ...

I smiled & she smiled back
“Hi,” she said, “I like your ...

In my bedroom she ...
& grabbed my ...
we ...

When she left, she thanked me
& I kissed her ...

July 29, 2007

Yesterday's Machine: The Poetry and Musings of J. L'Autre and other people who are J. Dalaba, Dead Man's Press, Inc. (?)

I bought a copy of this chapbook from Jason at the NightSky Cafe & it turns out it's a good thing I did, which I'll get to in a minute. I like to be able to read some of the poems that I've been hearing from poets at open mics so I try to get their chapbooks when they have them. As a small press publisher myself I'm well aware how few poets actually buy chapbooks of other poets & I know that selling one at a reading is a thrill. I've heard Jason read a number of the poems in the book, like "Blend," "Sex & Math" (which has little of either), "Wonder Woman," & "COSM" (which I thought was called Chosen when he read it -- still don't get the title). In fact, in an earlier Blog on the WordFest I cited Jason as the first poet that night that Mary Panza had to cut off; but it turns out he actually finished the poem ("The Secret Utopia of Mole-Man Jack"), though rushed by Mary's looming presence. You can check it out at on the podcast at www.albanypoets.com.

Ultimately I'm glad to have his poems (& photos -- which are provocative, if somewhat murkily reproduced, but then this is what I guess is called "goth poetry"). Although I must admit to being put off by one of his idiocyncrasies of using ellipses (you know, those ...s) in fully half the poems in the book. Grammatically, an ellipsis is used to show an omission in a text & is indicated by ... (3 dots). In some creative work it is used to show a pause, a hesitation, or an incomplete statement in conversation. Here, their use seems inexplicable.

In poetry, such pauses or breaks are often indicated by line breaks, stanza breaks or simply space. In some of these poems the dots go on & on, up to 13 dots, & they even occur at the beginning of lines. Granted, a poet can display his or her poems on the page as they want (as, for example, Charles Olson), but there is usually a discernible pattern &/or justification for their indiocyncrasies. I can't figure it out. But then, perhaps the random use of ellipses is a characteristic of "goth poetry," since I've seen a similar use of these dots in the work of another notable goth poet on the scene.

Again, I'm glad to have Jason's poems in hand. But now I'm at a loss to tell you how to get your copy. Usually books, even cheaply produced chapbooks, have a title page, or someplace in the book, with the name & address of the publisher; I mean, they want you to know how to get a copy of the book. Apparently, the publisher is "Dead Man's Press" from a logo & (probably invalid) copyright notice on the back cover. There is no title page. The first page is really an acknowledgment & "Warning!" (the title & author only appear on the cover). But the "warning page" page does list 3 internet addresses, 2 of which are MySpace sites. The first website (www.Schoolofnight.com) contains no information about the press or the book, but does link you to the other 2 MySpace sites. One of these is supposedly Dead Man Press & the other is Jason's MySpace site. The publisher's site contains no information about ordering the book or where it can bought, but does link you (from a blog entry) to Jason's site (phew!). So if you want to buy the book, go to Jason's site (www.myspace.com/theinterestedparties) & send Jason a message to ask where you can get it (but you need to be a registered MySpace user to do that). By the way, the MySpace internet addresses listed in the book are incorrect.

Poets deserve to get their work out there (even if few will eventually buy it), but this alleged publisher is doing a disservice to Jason by making the book impossible to find.

[Shaun writes that "Yesterdays Machine is availible in the local section of Borders on Wolf Rd. As are works by other local poets." So there.]

Poets in the Park, July 28

Well, we did it -- made it through all 4 readings of Poets in the Park without a rainout! This Saturday was particularly touchy because Alison Koffler & Dayl Wise were coming up from Woodstock & the weather predictions were iffy & changing all week. But there we were with evening sunshine at the Robert Burns statue.

Fortunately for Dayl Wise he had a stack of his just-published collection of poems by veterans, Post Traumatic Press 2007, because he left the folder with his planned reading on his kitchen table. He read his poems from the collection, recalling his experiences in Viet Nam & Cambodia in 1970, mixed in with his life now, like the "flash-backs" so characteristic of PTSD. I'm particularly fond of "Walking My Dog While at War." Dayl also read the works of other veteran-poets, including the virgin work of Jim Murphy & Jay Wenk. I was honored to be included when Dayl asked me to read "A Pain in the Neck" from the collection.

Alison Koffler read mostly from her new chapbook Animal Trance. Perhaps her signature piece is "Coyote is Coming," one I've heard her do at other readings, but is always chilling. Animals & nature are frequent subjects, such as "Zoological/Society/Meeting" & "Short Scene with Dog and Fish," but recently Alison has been writing about her experiences as a teacher in The Bronx; her "Unmeasurable by Standardized Testing" is a tribute to the daily life of teachers & students, the kind of poem I'd like to see more of. And I must thank her for her fine "Baghdad/Woodstock," her version of my poem "Baghdad/Albany" -- there is no better tribute, thanks, Alison.

And Thank you to all the poets who read this season & thank you particularly to the audience members, both intentional & unintentional: the wanderers with their dogs, ice cream cones, or on their way to the Playhouse, for listening & contributing to the success of the series. And thank you to the City of Albany DGS workers who keep the park so nice all year long.

You can find out how to get copies of Post Traumatic Press 2007 edited by Dayl Wise & of Animal Trance by Alison Koffler by sending an email to dswbike@aol.com or visiting the website PostTraumaticPress.org.

Join us next year at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY, Saturdays in July for Poets in the Park, deo volente.

July 26, 2007

Poets in the Park, July 21

Earlier in the week the meteorologists had been predicting an unsettled, if not actually wet, Saturday. But as the weekend got closer the predictions kept getting better & we had a near picture-perfect evening for the reading. When I arrived there was a crew of young musicians (guitars, trumpets & singing saw) hanging around the statue, jamming. They were cool with the idea of a poetry reading & I was cool with them continuing to play as a found warm-up band. They call themselves "Sgt. Dunbar & the Hobo Banned" (designated as Metroland's Best Freak-Folk Band); look for them soon at Point 5.

Erik Sweet is the editor of Tool A Magazine (toolamagazine.com) & co-curator of the reading series "Behind the Egg." He read the opening of Nabokov's Speak Memory which was a fitting entree into Erik's own musings on time & existence, or on connecting to the world in "Thugs Yelling" (as the sounds of the city swirled about us in the park). He mused on the untold story of "The Modern Chair" & on literary & other kinds of transmissions in "Well, Shall We Go?" A wonderful, tight reading of poems that we really need more time with.

Barbara Louise Ungar shared with us poems from her two books & some new poems too, poems stretching from her early days right across the park at 80 Willett St. to her life with her young son. Her books are Sequel, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press, 2004, & Thrift, WordTech Editions, 2005. Her poems have a strong narrative bent, grammatical sentences, like writing letters, often with a punch line, even the "found poem" based on the MMPI (which I once tried to fake, but couldn't). As a mother, her anti-war poems are part of her poems for her son, as well they should be. And the bad influence of Jane Eyre, ending up in divorce & a custody battle with a "brute." Then she "danced into the sky."

Poets in the Park, Saturdays in July, 7PM at the Robert Burns statue.

July 23, 2007

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 19

(Tim Verhaegen earlier this year reading at Caffe Lena -- needed the hat that night.)

Another great night at the Social Justice Center, some poets/audience members came fresh from the artist talk at AIHA, & the "every-other-Thursday-night-poets" descended the hill to support their friend Tim Verhaegen, the featured poet. My muse was "the old poet of the city", C.P. Cavafy.

Last night's NightSky host Shaun Baxter had "A Letter to Harry Potter" (Shaun works at one of those corporate bookstores that was going to be open late Friday night).

Mary McCarthy was "Packing" for vacation, Jan Tramontano read about our "friend", "The Anti-Muse," & Mimi Moriatry's sister uses the F-word, she said. Not like the bag-lady "Sermon in the Bus Shelter" Don Levy told us about.

The Voorheesville poets clustered around the feature, not for protection, but to set him off, the way the place settings set off a fine meal (is that a little over the top?). Anyhow, Tom Corrado's poem "Partial Deafness" described what it is like to wear a hearing aid (& a couple heads nodded in agreement, thus we know they were working). Then Mark O'Brien did a poem in the accent of Bobby Burns (as in the site of Poets in the Park).

I actually have a photo of Tim Verhaegen, the featured poet, back in 1996 at an open mic at Border's, with hair!. Then he disappeared, at least to the open mic scene, to reappear last year. In the meantime he was meeting regularly with the Every Other Thursday Night group, working on his poems. Tonight he read some old favorites, like "Italian Kids" & "Match Box Cars," as well as the new "Hannah's Revenge," his mother & his growing up a major theme in his work. As is gay relationships, in "New Man." He also included some short pieces that were stories of his own & some told to him by friends over dinner, "Mothers & Fathers." Tim sprinkles his poems with rhymes, or rather weaves rhyme in & out, & uses other repetitions, of lines, phrases to good effect like in music. He used to worry about reading "gay poems" to a (mostly) straight audience, but we are all different in our own ways & that is one of the joys of open mics (& poetry in general): to hear, experience that difference. While I'm well aware that there is still plenty of homophobia in our society, at least in Albany the mainstream is not homophobic & there is acceptance in the community for the diversity of lifestyles & choices of others. For example, at the "Live from the Living Room" series (2nd Wednesdays) at the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center, there are usually more "straight" people there than gay. Tim gave a fine reading (I personally appreciate that fact that he obviously practiced & timed his reading) that I know many in the audience enjoyed very much, & admired & appreciated his openness.

I like to follow the break after the feature & tonight did Tom Nattell's "Hiroshima" rather than one of my own.

The Voorhessville poets continued with the the diva of V-ville, Barbara Vink letting it all out with "What I Want" (the title cries for an exclamation point). Then Dennis Sullivan gave us the more sedate version with the just-written "13 Rules for Living a Sane Life." Dennis will be the feature here on October 18.

It was 40 years ago, Alan Catlin reminded us with "The Summer of Love." And 40 years since the Newark riots as well.

Joe Krausman pondered being an "old guy" with the just-written "In the Parking Lot."

Our poetry-virgin for the night (every open mic needs one) was Ed Block, another "old guy," who read "The Paradox," about the recent marriage of 2 young career Marines who are resigning their commissions & getting out.

Austen, after wandering about, did some stand-up comedy, followed by his mother, Carol Graser who read a 10-year old poem, "Siblings," that included Austen, sort of.

Moses Kash III took a while to get started then pondered "Why Am I Called A Negro?" (I could make the obvious joke, but I won't).

A.C. Everson breezed by with the short "Summer Dream."

Bob Sharkey referenced Dennis Sullivan's poem read at WordFest, with his own shot (hmm), "Siena Library Poem" -- those Siena guys!

Marty Mulenex ended the evening with a poem about being drawn to a place in the park, waiting for the poetry to begin.

Every Third Thursday, Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 start.

July 20, 2007

NightSky Cafe, July 18

(I have a stack of photos of Annine performing over the years, with musicians & with her pinatas & I thought I had one of the dragon, or a distant cousin, that she did tonight, but, alas, the dragon was not there, or was not recognizable. So for those of you who have not seen Breakin' My Art, here is an action shot from Cafe Web in October, 1999.)

Our host, the Harry Potter-ish Shaun Baxter began with a poem from Garrison Keiler's Good Poems, & later during the night read from his postcard project, including Mimi's "March to the Airport", a rhymed piece, & "Invocation" -- all like real poems, not just some maniac's dribblings on Shaun's free postcards. He also later did his combination dog poem & bar poem, "Tiny Dogs."

I have no special claim on the first spot on the sign-up sheet, but since the "old days" of the QE2 have found that poets often skip that number when they sign up, so even when I arrive late, I'm often #1. I read "Cleanse this City" & "The Night Sky," both on the Blog if you scroll down.

Alan Catlin had just typed "The Pursued" and also read "The Action Stewarts, Schenectady NY" & challenged the folks there to guess which branch of the convenient store chain it was -- I don't live in Schenectady so I don't know.

There seemed to be a "Mother segment" briefly with Tim Verhaegen reading a harrowing & funny account of his mother's rebellion, a true feminist happening, in "Hannah's Revenge," then John Raymond read an autobiographical "Mother's Day."

I was surprised, when I walked in, to see Jim Masters at the Cafe. Jim has been at "Live from the Living Room" at the GLCC for the last couple months (check out some of my earlier Blogs), but nowhere else, one of those folks who are places less for the poetry than the place. But it seems the (poetry) bug has bitten & sometimes it takes a neophyte to do something no one else has done: he read from Genesis -- in Hebrew -- briefly to set up his poem, but I'm certain that in all the poetry readings I have ever been too, this was the first time anyone actually read from the Hebrew Bible. We've had Hebrew words, quotes in Hebrew, but never an actual passage read in the language of Moses. His poem took off from that, from the idea that the world was "good" before it got turned "topsy-turvy" as he drew parallels to his own life.

Then Carol Graser read "Great Gobs of Time," a mother's musings.

The feature was A.C. (but we know her as Annine) Everson, whose poems are typically short, pithy, frequently rhyme, & are always amusing, touching, poignant. And she is always "breaking my Art," as she did tonight with a dragon pinata. She led up to the destruction with poems about her Meniere's disease, her addiction (to "Scrabble"), her sister's carrot cake, tributes to poets & musicians -- she touches your heart before she breaks her Art. Some unsuspecting diners in the cafe took home not only unique refrigerator magnets but memories of a unique night out.

This was only the second time I saw Candice perform -- the first time was last fall at Valentine's (a treasured night). While she did poems from memory, my memory, even with my notes, is obscured by my (what shall I call it?) infatuation? fascination? lust? -- "Orchards" about her grandmother, her meme, who had recently died; & "Callous" from walking, but to where, what?. Good poems, yes.

Bob Sharkey knows Maine & read "Fog Talk" by the recently deceased Maine poet Philip Booth, & his own "Looking for an LL Bean Model," a classic that I've referenced in one of my poems about open mics.

Chris Brabham had a new piece, "Egos (the deadliest tumor)" -- indeed.

Jason Dalaba had his new chapbook with him for sale, Yesterday's Machine (which I hope to get to comment on in a separate Blog soon) & read from it "For Lack of Want" & "Postcard 1."

Thom Francis read a new piece where he was inside the head of a trucker.

The end of the night was a new, young poet who goes to school in Vermont (she said), Maggie, who had just written her piece "on the trunk of a car," actually on numerous half-sheet size pages that she tossed to the floor after reading them (shades of Karl Gluck at the QE2 when Maggie was in diapers), a rambling untitled piece starting off about what a poet's heart is, then on to a dead friend & around & around in that wonderful youthful abandon of ranting & piling up images that can sometimes lead to brilliance. Maybe she'll be around for the summer.

Another night at the NightSky with the nice guy, Shaun Baxter -- every 3rd Wednesday, Union St., Schenectady, NY.

Poets in the Park, July 14

Both of this night's poets, Chris Brabham & Caitlin Meissner work in the "helping" field & both read poems about what that means for them as people & poets, this on another clear Saturday night in Albany at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park.

I've been listening to Chris Brabham at open mics for a number of months so hearing him as a feature was like listening to a "greatest hits" album. He confronts social/personal issues in direct statements, with images & phrases from daily life. The poems "No Justice, Just Us," "Will the Real Nurses Stand Up" summarize themselves in their titles & then bring the message into our faces as their lines pile up. And his deep, rich voice is perfect for "The Angel of Death Un-Plugged." It is always Chris talking to you, it is important, & you better listen.

I first ran into Caitlin Meissner over a year ago at the slam event at the Bayou Cafe. We both got quoted, on opposite sides of the slam issue, in the Post-Star from Glens Falls. But I haven't seen much of her performances. I have her chapbook, "Brick/byBrick," & her work is out there on the Net. She cut her teeth on Slam, still has the rhythm & accent of a slam poet, but discovered real poetry along the way. As a performer she can add spark to poems such as "Sister Song" but doesn't overwhelm it in spit & attitude. Of course, poems like "To the Woman Who Wants My Lover and Believes He is Only With Me Because I Am White" rose up out of the slam scene, are real slam poems but show how "slam" can be poetry too.

"Who Wants to Talk About Oppression" is one of those pieces that we don't care whether it is poetry or prose; it is in her chapbook, but Caitlin said she had never read it out before, & we are glad we were in that audience to hear it. Check her out at myspace.com/caitlinmeissnerpoetry. She has a CD too.

These are two young poets whom we need to pay attention to, & hope that they keep on writing.

Poets in the Park continues July 21, 7PM, with Barbara Louise Ungar & Erik Sweet.

July 15, 2007


On the 50th anniversary of the first explosion of the atomic bomb few visitors show up in the desert except some nuns with protest signs;
in Washington D.C. someone throws symbolic blood on the parts of the Enola Gay the government dares to show;
on the 50th anniversary of the A-bomb, in Ireland, we drive into the Nuclear Free Zone of Cork City;
and France sails into the South Pacific to do it again and Greenpeace says "No!" for all of us;
while in Ireland not one bottle of Beaujolais is sold on Bastille Day.

Back in Albany whole neighborhoods begin to glow against their wills

History turns inside out like the hole ripped in the wind over Japan in August --

Fisherman cast everyday nets into the South Pacific because
the French with nothing to test never left Paris
the entire planet has always been a nuclear free zone
the Smithsonian hosts a flower exhibit and no one shows up
in New Mexico the desert is as quiet and empty as it has always been, there is no marker no plaque
and it is darker, darker in the starlight, than it could ever be under any cloud.

July 14, 2007

Live from the Living Room, July 11

at the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

Don Levy, the elegant host, started us off by that great summertime poem, "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island" by Frank O'Hara, which was written on July 10 1958!

The night was "Sum Sum Summertime" theme, with no feature. I had wanted to wear a speedo, but Don dissuaded me, after all it is the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. So I wore my summertime straw hat & my Coconut Joe tee shirt & read 2 hot poems of summer, "Cutting the Lawn for the Ex" & "Park Fantasy."

Tom had shown up early, signed up, left to get something to eat & made it back to read. He did 3 poems from memory, hip-hop, driven by rhyme, the first about Hunter Thompson, then musing on living before we die by meditating (or was that just a result of the rhyme?), and the last a political rant on our culture. Lots of energy but ... I suddenly realized how close these obsessive hip-hop rhymes are to the the poems by Edgar Guest I used to read in my father's thin blue copies. I'm going to have to research this: wouldn't it be a pisser if after about 100 years poetry had come full circle through the modern then post-modern eras to 4-beat predictable rhymes on mundane, cliche topics? Who'd had thunk?

I had thought about writing about the issue of "themed readings," based on some email comments from Tim Verhaegan, then he showed up with a new poem & said he'd used the theme as an exercise (I took the easy way out & just went to my files). "Summer Theater" is an more than an "exercise," it's gay sex on the beach (sounds like a drink).

But Mimi Moriarty took the theme seriously and read one about skinny dipping, "No Moon," then "Elephant House Margate New Jersey" & one about her birthday in September that starts with the line from Paul Simon, "Summer leaves & my birthday is here."

Jim Masters had read his poems about an old clock at previous readings here, now has been inspired to write more about his current life. He read "The Banner" about Kevin Bruce's hat/banner/totem carried in the Pride parade, and intergenerational "Watching TV at the Center."

Dain Brammage showed up with compatriots from Prysmatic Dreams, Maximus Parthas & Tribal Raine (see prysmaticdreams.com). Dain read about a stand-in muse who just walks off in "Going With the Flow" -- I know the feeling -- then a series of "Activist Haiku."

Dain & Maximus Parthas performed Max's "Youth" ("I used to know you..."), & did it well. Then Max did a rant about censorship & another in which he introduced himself to us. I hope that Tom, who had performed earlier, was listening. Although Max's poems had all the standard slam-poem & hip-hop struttin' & rhymes performed from memory/patterns, there was more variation in his rhythms, more use of his own images rather than rapper cliches. Still, it was more performance than poetry, more attitude than ideas. Just check the website; each of the poets linked there have stage names, like the examples here. And in an inadvertent commentary (always the best kind) on the sameness of slam poetry, one of the poets asked Max after the reading if he was on the CD in the special Slam Poet issue of Rattle Magazine because he sounded just like one on the CD (he's not on it).

Tribal Raine performed reluctantly a piece about earning respect as a poet, starting off, "I come to spit fire...". Slam, but good slam.

I enjoyed hearing Don Levy read one of his very early poems, "Summer Sonata," with a lot of youthful alliteration & strange creatures, the "lunch bird" & the "breakfast bird." Actually a charming poem which Don should practice & read more often. He also read a section from his long poem about looking in windows as he walks by, and "The Secret Lives of Super Heroes" (come to think of it, they have funny names too, just like the Slam Poets).

July 12, 2007

Support your Local Poet (?)

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.

July 11, 2007

Poets in the Park, July 7

Poets in the Park has been celebrating poetry in July at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY since 1989. The picture at left shows the originator of the series, Tom Nattell, during the 2004 series. Before he died in January 2005 Tom asked me to continue Poets in the Park. The 2007 season will have readings on Saturdays July 7 through July 28, starting at 7:00 PM, free & open to the public. The Robert Burns statue is near where Henry Johnson Blvd. passes through Washington Park and crosses Hudson Ave.

The first reading in the series, on July 7, was “Under Cover: Albany Poets read Albany Poets” in which the poets each read the poems of other local poets. Thom Francis of Albany Poets, Inc. (www.albanypoets.com) served as the host.

Shaun Baxter read Mary Panza's poems tentaively, whimsically, not like Mary's in-your-face style -- a brilliant choice. But there were more similarities than one would think, in the bar settings, the intense irony, the deconstructing of our experiences, even with the reversal of gender (but then in 40 years Shaun, who eats a lot of soy, may grow breasts, & chances are they could be bigger than Mary's). Then there was the play on the ellipses, the "dot dot dot".

Carol Graser "channeled the erotic poems of Dain Brammage" as Thom described it, but Carol demurred. But strangely, again, the poems could have been written by Carol if she were Dain, without the chewing tobacco.

Next, I read Carol's "Tribe" & "Vagina" because if I were Carol these were the poems I would do. I tried to recall Carol reading when I rehearsed the poems & when I read them it was difficult to look up at the audience & see her sitting there. Also, I like to perform poems that I could never have written, like "Vagina" & its assault on the sound of that curious word. Then as I reached the last lines there were cries from the audience, but, alas, it was not due to my stellar reading -- some random maniac pulled down our "Poets in the Park" sign with it's 10 foot neon pole & ran off. Thom said, "Someone had a bad day," & my son Blake mused that he "doesn't like vaginas."

Mary "effen" Panza read Shaun's poems. "He's so sensitive," she said. His poem about bumming a cigarette from local street person Dean could have been written by her yesterday. She did a marvelous rendition of Shaun's "tribute" to Goth poets.

Dain Brammage ended by reading my poems, "Slam Poem" & "The bass player's thoughts." What did he mean by my "mischevious ways"? Dain has his own Slam poem ("Slam"), & I particularly liked to hear the slower cadence of "The bass player..." & his interpretation of the ending. Thanks Dain!

And I was particularly happy to have my son Blake there to meet my friends, see me in action, & hear my poems read by Dain.

Caffe Lena, July 4

The fireworks were not outside in the rain in Saratoga Springs on July 4th, & inside historic Caffe Lena the words were sparkling, brilliant (some times), loud (some times), but not really explosive ('though there were plosives uttered), or incendiary. It was a wise move by the host, Carol Graser, to hold the event inspite of the holiday because 13 poets read at the open mic, there were many others in the audience, & the feature, Thom Francis gave a typically inspiring reading.

It was a thrill for me to read both versions of "July 4th in the Year of the Terror," one by Charlie Rossiter & the other my response, both dating from 2002, actually on the 4th of July, since I've read them a few times at recent open mics. I'll retire them until next year, promise.

I think Shaun Baxter was responding to some flip remark that was made a while back at another open mic about dog poems, or animal poems, & read 2 on that theme, "Tiny Dogs" (in a bar, remembering a bar), & "My Cat Will Be Dead Soon." Shaun's a real animal lover.

Jeff Jurgens did a cut-up poem from his LA days, "Dear Me D. Ah," if I got it right. When he got up to read he adjusted the mic, moved it, then proceeded not to use it, itself a bit of performance poetry.

She said she had read at Valentines a while back & sure enough there was Lisa Manzi's photo from August 2005 in my collection. Tonight she read "White Flag," from a Jasper Johns painting & a new poem without a title, I think was about a relationship, failed relationship, you know, what everybody writes about. But I hope it's not another 2 years before we get to hear her again.

The featured poet was Thom Francis, el Presidente of Albany Poets (www.albanypoets.com), who said the 4th of July was like his Christmas. I guess they are both birthdays, though baby Jesus is much older. The last time I heard him as a feature was at the Lark Tavern, the special edition of the Experimental Cabaret on April 21, as part of WordFest. Tonight, there were no visuals projected behind him, nor wailing guitars, just Thom's words "to confront the big, bad-ass world out there". Appropriately, he did a number of poems with the word "America" in them, including "American Dream," and "Homeland" which has been recorded on what Thom described as "an anti-Bush CD." He included the poignant "Radio Man" & the neon crucifix of "Finding God," both can be found in the first issue of the new regional version of Chronogram, which I think I discussed in an earlier Blog. Others about a school shooting, his father, "The Widower's Take", "Doctrine," "Translucent Me." Thom doesn't give a lot of readings & shows up at more open mics than he reads at, but when he does, you should be there -- good, entertaining poems that have something important to say. Take that, bad-ass world, you lost.

Carol Graser had performed at the recent, expensive Saratoga Arts Festival & as often happens in that town (& elsewhere, to give elsewhere it's due) Poetry was the ugly step-sister, in another poet's phrase; her poem "Arts Festival" described reading in a poorly amplified hall while a noisy band played upstairs. Those "artistes" planning such events haven't got a clue. She also read a villanelle that used to be called "Red;" what the title is now, I don't know.

The-poet-who-seems-to-be-having-so-much-fun-on-stage-that-you-think-he's-reciting-Cab-Calloway is really Richard Cowles. He did an effective piece, "An Old Scratched-Up Poem" like playing a beat up LP (for those of us old enough to remember such things), doubly effective with his stammer.

Eric Hauenstein was back with an "anti-patriotic" "America" &, written today, "Independence Day".

Don Levy did his recent work "Fundamentally Wrong" & "Try Not To Be So Morbidly Obese" -- Don can make anything funny, and sexy.

Mike Ballinger was just back from Italy & read us the sights, sounds & smells of the city of Florence, &, of course, a poem for a lady, "She Hums" -- hmm.

Carol had said 2 poems, Barbara Garro did 3, depending on how you count a haiku (& the other 2 were relatively short), "Memories of Love" & "Lost in Love" -- like stuck in a groove (the LP image again).

Tom Nattell's former house is on the market & Mary Panza read "Ring Around the Yogi" about showing the house to her young daughter. Oh yeah, here's where the "ugly sister" term came from: "Pretty Flowers for the Ugly Sister" -- more on this in a future Blog.

A.C. Everson wrote a short poem just sitting here tonight dreaming of economic equality.

Marty Mulenex was "Hanging Out with a Friend" & wrote about it, & saw a water pump across the Hudson River & wondered "Is That a Fisherman?"

The youngest was last, Sue's granddaughter, Nina Cerniglia described the orange glow of "The Color of the Halloween Night."

Always the 1st Wednesday at Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY, 7:30PM.

July 3, 2007

Albany Poets Present the No-Gimmick Open Mic, July 3

[This is el Presidente fiddling around, at the Bayou Cafe, when there was an attempt at Slam.]

The only gimmick was the host, Thom Francis, but he's the President so nobody fucks with him anyway. So the night at Valentines started with beer drinking, the guy-bonding kind, with Kim 13 telling (woman) bartender stories of 17-year old punk rockers in the men's room with someone else's Mom. Sometimes playing Nintendo in a van with sweaty young guys is just not video games, I mean, why do they call it a joy stick?

So then it turns into one of those nights you can only imagine, really. I clearly remember Dain Brammage scribbling a poem at the bar that I enjoyed hearing (all this is out of order since my notebook got covered in beer at some point & "I lost the best poem I ever wrote".) Some poets actually wandered in from the proverbial tour-bus, scrambling for the bottom of the list -- hey, there is only one last poet folks!

I read a couple bar poems, like the recent "Photo at the QE2", & "The Punk Rocker's Panties," which at that point I wasn't sure there were any.

A surprise was the reclusive Delores D. who read a poem about an incident in the Ladies Room of the Spectrum theater when when she was in high school, then a journal entry whine about a lost girlfriend. We know where she's been, but why not out here more?

Passing through, Bill Powell stumbled (almost literally) into Valentines with his spiral notebook (it looked like someone drove over it). Then read a tribute to that forgotten 20th Century poet, Mina Loy; says he's not a Ph.D. & doesn't "look" like it, but one never knows, do one?

Keith did his Dylan imitation of "Highway 61" -- I always wondered if it was really about Canal St. in NYC? For a cover, pretty good. Speaking of which, Keith took care of the sound for us & of course knew what he was doing.

We had been talking films at the bar & when he got up to read Shaun Baxter read a poem based on Robert Altman's film "3 Women," sort of, maybe, not really -- but you never know with Shaun.

A short night & I was done (2 beers & didn't use the bathroom once) but a night I could only imagine (& who was that rinsed-out blonde on my left?).

First Tuesdays at Valentines, approximately 7:30 but don't hold me to that. Come & drink beer & maybe some poetry will break out.