November 27, 2007

Poets Speak Loud!, November 26

[Erik Sweet reading some time ago at Red Square -- in Albany, not Moscow.]

The boss lady Mary Panza took over the hosting duties here at the Lark Tavern, & what a night, with new poets, & the return of others, & poet-hosts booking future features -- just what's supposed to happen, & it didn't go on forever.

But I picked the wrong stuff to read here, but then that's what the open mic is for, right? My 2 poems were about the Brick Elephant up in Valley Falls & a couple of performances & installations there put on by Mary Jane Leach, "Eight Hermit Thrushes," & "In Church." Not enough sex, death or politics for the venue, ho hum.

Shaun Baxter had no such problem with his 2 popular pieces, "For Our Single-Celled Relatives" & the great mix of baseballs, apricots & cat shit, "Pitching Practice."

It was great to see Simone Sneed back in town & on stage -- she was my last featured poet at Changing Spaces Gallery before I moved to the Lark St. Bookshop & I don't think I've seen her since. Apparently in the meantime she's been honing her spoken word craft & is now back in town. Her first piece was "originally a love poem that went bad." The second piece took us from poets as prophets to prophets as poets reminding me of Rahssan Roland Kirk singing of "blacknuss."

The featured poet, Erik Sweet, co-curates the "Behind the Egg" series at Point 5 with Daniel Nester. He's also one of Albany's "invisible" poets, writing & editing zines but not getting to the stage very often. His poems were philosophical ponderings grounded in the things of our lives we all recognize, like Atari 64, or the meditation on "The Modern Chair," or the movies of Bill Murray (which was on the nature of poetry, & sadness), or the great chain of being in "The Love of Things." There was Erik on stage quietly talking to us & blowing our minds.

I didn't realize until now how apt the title for Margot Malia Lynch's poem was: "The Archeology of Inner Space" (sounds ponderous) but it took us through many layers, like an excavation, from goddesses, to crystals, on to the real problem of getting away from him. I don't think she had ever read here at the Lark Tavern before.

Don Levy's new poem was based on his attendance at Bob Wright's poetry series in Athens (NY), "Do Not Feed the Poets." Among the reasons why,"... they'll do anything for cheese ... it only makes them smugger ..." (a new word). His second poem was the hilarious commentary on inspiration, "Why I Blew My Muse." Oh yes.

Chris Brabham didn't need the mic he dismantled to read the sonorous "Death of the Crimson Scourge."

"The Storm" must have a real name but I didn't get it; it was her first time here. She did 2 "love" poems, such as they were, leaving us whooping it up -- "Who's the Fool in Love?" & the bad sex "bullshit known as foreplay" "As We Lay."

& there were more poets there who didn't read, sign up, but hung out & we all had a good time, before, during & after. No open mic here in December (it would fall on New Year's Eve). Third anniversary & 4th annual beret-toss on the last Monday in January (that's 2008), with your guest host, Dan Wilcox -- hey, that's me!

November 23, 2007

So much depends upon
this is Just to Say

I have eaten
the white

that were in
the red wheel

and which
were glazed
with rain

so lascivious
and still

Zounds!, November 21

This was a "featureless" reading, no eyes, noses, eyebrows, lips -- nothing but a flat oval with a dark hole for the mouth & 2 blank spaces for the eyes -- wow, did we have fun! Actually, it was as simple as the featured reader was not able to be there -- but, hey, as everyone knows, we were there for the open mic -- Yeah! & our host, Shaun Baxter, actually adjusted the mic stand down at one point. He began with a reading of Gary Snyder's nifty poem "Axe Handles" -- what we need to ponder.

Shaun gave us permission, being featureless, to read 3 poems & I re-did once again for the last time for a while you should hope, a couple poems based on conversations with poets that I'd been doing at open mics, then, for Thanksgiving, "Briget of Kildare's Tablegrace" -- anyone who wants a copy, email me & I'll send it on.

Karen Guzzardi-James had read on Sunday at the Community of Writers event & was back with a mixture of love & penetration & "Lunacy", then "You Move Me," the celebratory litany catalog of "you move me like ..." (hey, if you haven't actually written it, you would still feel it). Bob Sharkey looked back to Halloween, then a tender poem of love & thanks, "Your Eyes", & then "Saffron & Flames."

John Raymond only read one of his own poems ("Barbecue Girl" at the Memphis airport, one of those archetypes Jung didn't live long enough to discover), but read 2 by one of my personal favorites, Octavio Paz from the New Directions Selected Poems: "Poet's Epitaph" (page 2) & III. from "The poet's work" (page 10). Dig it.

Barry Finley, a local peace & social justice activist, has been making the open mics lately, & actually pitched "Gertrude Stein v. the Bard" then reprised his Mark Felt poem from last week, with a couple of tiny pieces in between. A former feature here, Jason Dalaba, read from his chapbook Yesterday's Machine the dream poem "Lost Boys," then "Welcome to the Planet of Meat & Trees" (in a faux pompous accent, to my thinking, but then later someone else complimented Jason on his "actor's voice" -- so what-the-fuck do I know??), then "Postcard I." which wouldn't fit on a postcard anyways.

I'm not pre-disposed to rhyme, particularly with short metrical patterns, but I've grown to like W.D. Clarke's poems in this style, particularly because rather than recounting some teen-age angst, or the rage of a relationship gone bad, he uses the rhyme to carry a narrative line. "McGowan's" told the story of a bar his grandfather went to & the gone stories of the "veterans & drunks." Then the love-story of "The Private & the Major," & a lament for "Forgotten Veterans."

There is no one like our second-short host to put a new spin, a new point on, you add your own cliche, on existence, like the cat-shit in "Pitching Practice" or the respect "For Our Single-Celled Relatives" -- there's billions of them!

November 19, 2007

A Community of Writers, November 18

This is part of an annual series sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, with this event at the Schenectady County Public Library sponsored by the Library, the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, Electric City Poetry Productions, and the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library. The program was moderated by Miki Conn from the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, who you could barely see over the top of the big podium the Library likes to use for such events.

Ron Pavoldi is a poet associated with the Voorheesville group, Every Other Thursday Night Poets (see a link to their website at the bottom). His poems were colloquial stories of friends & family members. Kelly de la Rocha read an essay about her "mission trip" to Guatemala delivering medicine & care to the people, then a poem "After the Storm" about a similar trip to Biloxi, Mississippi. She also had photos on display from those trips that she was selling to raise money for the missions there.

Karen Guzzardi-James had read at some area open mics in the past; her poems, mostly rhymed, were about romantic love & it's pain & disappointments, as well as a touching poem about her love for her young daughter, who was in the audience. David Kaczynski is well-known in the area as the Director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. He introduced his poems by stating that he was attempting "to rehabilitate abstraction ... to write the perfect abstract poem." But his work demonstrated that poetry demands, needs, rides on the wheels of images -- "no idea but in things," to quote the good Doctor.

For the last 3 years at least the Hamilton Hills Arts Center has been on the Community of Writers program, & for the last 3 years at least they have largely been represented by no-shows. Even with Miki Conn being the moderator & bragging about how everyone at the Center was "creative", the only reader from the Center to show up, & he only read one poem, was Tosh Majors; Miki filled out the space by reading from A.A. Milne (didn't know he was at the Center). Maybe the problem is that, unlike the other readers who are each listed individually, the Center is on the program as "Representatives from Hamilton Hill Arts Center." Maybe the members would be more encouraged to show up if their individual names were listed. Maybe next year.

Peter Heinegg was introduced as a professor from Union College with a string of articles & books but what he read were 2 amusing anti-religion poems, "God doggerels," that in their clever rhymes & short lines reminded me of similar themes in William Blake. Rosalyn R. Sollecito read a pleasantly written essay about the service of women during World War II.

Jennifer Wells' poems dealt with social issues such as AIDS & social inequality. Bill Poppino had 3 poems that sounded like prose essays, on motorcycles, border patrol & the early years of aviation.

The program was taped for public access cable TV in Schenectady, so if you're in that cable area you can watch it yourself (& send me any corrections).

November 17, 2007

Third Thursday Poetry Night, November 15

Our muse was the Chinese poet Tu Fu (712-770), & I (Dan Wilcox) was your host once again at the Social Justice Center.

It seemed to be a night of looking for poems & of former World Trade Center workers, it's always something.

Sylvia Barnard couldn't find the revised version of "The Frog Pond," but we enjoyed whatever version of the return to the farm where she grew up we heard. Michael Hare had been at the last Caffe Lena reading (q.v.) & read us another from Saratoga Lives, this time a contemporary character.

Alan Catlin read his poem about a Viet Nam vet, "No Smoking," from the new Guerilla Poetry Project anthology -- check out GPP at One never knows who might be a local GPP Operative, do one?

Next was the mini-segment of people who formerly worked in the World Trade Center. Joan McNerney worked in the 3rd sub-basement, now lives up here, has a chapbook, Having Lunch with the Sky out from A.P.D. (another poetry day, etc.), read the computer lingo "Virtual Love". Barry Finley also worked at the WTC at about the same time as Joan, & in the same agency I worked for at the time! Some people say "small world;" I say, "We're all connected." Barry read his poem to the real Deep Throat, "I Never Really Knew You Mark Felt."

The featured poet Margot Malia Lynch looked elegant in her black dress & heels but her performance seemed less dressed than she was, as she fumbled through her notebook looking for poems. But then this is one of my "pet peeves" -- the paper-shuffling poet. Although she did joke about it, saying it was a performance piece -- "la-la-la". Then again, she was a bit rattled by a random guy who came in from the street in a rain poncho who kept asking her to repeat her first poem. All but her last poem ("Rocking Me to the Sky") were untitled, or at least she didn't share her titles. Her poems had a strong "I" presence: her feelings, her exuberance -- "I wear this poem like an emotion" -- written in a run-on style like automatic writing, & often with implied music behind her, a rock band.

One final "peeve" has to do with my favorite peeve, slam poems. My basic position, as many of you know, is that, for the most part, slam is more performance (i.e., acting) than poetry. So Margot introduced her only political poem, saying she had performed it at a slam, but "it's not really totally from the heart ... don't think it's that good... " Proves my point. I agreed with the political sentiments expressed; too bad she didn't.

I followed the break with a new poem, "Luna Mobilis," minus the footnotes. W.D. Clarke was back with a rhyme from memory on the casualties of war, "Urchins."

Therese Broderick has been doing her poems from memory too & "One Part per Million" contained a lot of numbers that essentially are irrelevant to a real princess who can taste the wine. Moses Kash III closed out the night with what he called a prose poem I think was called "Genesis," with some sung & chanted lines that he apparently has sent to Hillary Clinton. Do you think Moses is looking for a job in her administration? Minister of Culture?

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

November 15, 2007

Live from the Living Room, November 14

[John Raymond reading at the NightSky Cafe in September.]

The featured poet tonight is one of my local favorites, John Raymond. He began with "Chicken" in which food becomes sex; "Reflections on Nothing" (which is in Other: Eight); "The Damned" (a fly caught in his window); the great sex tale of "End of a Fling"; "South"; another break up poem, "Surgery"; a camping poem, "Whiskey & Rain Water"; & the recently written cold city poem, "November." He ended by reading Richard Thompson's great song, "Vincent Black Lightening 1952." John has been coming out to open mics more & more lately -- you need to catch him. If I hadn't already had him featured at the Social Justice Center I would definitely sign him up.

We continued with the open mic portion of the night with our straight-friendly host, Uncle Don Levy. Another new voice on the scene, Matt Galletta read a poem about seeing pictures of an ex girlfriend wrestling in chocolate pudding, "This Will Happen to You".

Dan Wilcox (that's me) read 2 poems he's been reading together at open mics lately, "Poetry Prompts" & "Consumerism" because one of the sources of one of the poems was in the house. Jim Masters said he had nothing to read of his own so gave us a blessing of "The Breath of All Life" from The Book of Blessings.

Bob Sharkey told us he revised his poem "Arrowhead" after trying it out at an open mic & realizing he needed to give his brother his own poem; he also read a new poem, putting himself into an Edward Hopper painting (I wrote a poem many years ago where I step out of an Edward Hopper painting).

Hadn't seen NicoleK at a reading for awhile, & she continues to write these angst-ridden relationship poems (aren't they all?), both tonight untitled, one about letting go, the other overwhelmed by him. Anthony Bernini hasn't been around for awhile either. He read the "The Sirens" & the more up-beat love poem "The Wedding Vow". You have to listen closely to Anthony's poems; better yet, listen many times.

Our host, Don Levy, read a new piece, "Bathhouse Blues," where he juxtaposes the history of the NYC gay bathhouse scene with his own growing up. I was in NYC in the mid- to late- 1970s & just about anyone I can think of who frequented the baths then is dead; it was a scary time. With Thanksgiving Day coming & the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz looming, he read his piece written from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the East, "Begone Before Someone Drops a House on You."

& begone we were, at least until next month: 2nd Wednesdays, Gay & Lesbian Community Center on Hudson Ave. in Albany.

Walking, a response to Paul Bray's column in the Albany Times-Union, November 11

For a long time I used to walk to work, it was the best part of my day. My habitual route took me down New Scotland Ave. to Washington Park, through the Park, past Moses & Bobbie Burns, on to State St., sometimes down Spring St., sometimes down Washington Ave., to One Commerce Plaza. I estimated the distance at about two and a half miles. For most days of the year I could do it. But if it was below 20 degrees, or raining or snowing, or the sidewalks were impassable due to the Winter’s accumulation of snow, I would take the bus. And most days I took the bus home after work.

But the mornings were the best. Friends would pass by & offer me a ride. I would tell them, “No thanks, this is the best part of my day. If you see me walking, beep & wave, but if you see me standing at a bus stop you can offer me a ride.”

It was like Zen or the yoga of walking; sometimes I would reach the park & not recall anything I’d seen since leaving home. Many a personal dilemma or work problem got sorted out, sometimes consciously, often without me being fully aware of it. And I’ve written many poems that way. “Therese’s Balcony” (about Spring St.), & “Joe Krausman” were directly inspired by what happened on my walk; and “Baghdad/Albany,” about the invasion of Baghdad in March 2003, was “written” in my head during many mornings, then finally put down on paper late one night with hardly a cross-out or change. I once gave myself an assignment to write whatever was in my head when I first sat down at my desk at work in the morning. Of course, what got written was largely a response to what I had seen on my walk to work, sometimes a full-blown poem, sometimes just word play. A few of these short pieces were eventually published in a small chapbook by Boog Literature.

Now that I am retired from my job, I don’t walk every morning. When I am going downtown to the Library for the noontime book review, or on Wednesday to the peace vigil in front of the Capitol, I will walk. And I often walk to the local Price Chopper just about a mile away, maybe stop at the Muddy Cup for a cappuccino, or get a book from the Pine Hills Branch of the Library. While I miss my daily walk-to-work, I try to walk to as many places as I can & as often as possible, glad to live in a city where walking is still an option.

Writers Institute, November 13

I finally got to a couple programs offered by the Writers Institute of SUNY at Albany as part of their China Semester. The afternoon program paired up the Institute's Don Faulkner with Chinese author & scholar Da Chen. Don gave a brief summary of the Tang Dynasty as the Golden Age of Chinese Poetry & introduced the 3 great poets from that era, Li Po, Wang Wei & Tu Fu. Da Chen played the bamboo flute & talked about the importance of singing/chanting & calligraphy was to the poets. He translated & discussed 2 of Wang Wei's poems, "Floating Down the Han" and "In the Mountains." He also demonstrated calligraphy by writing out Wang Wei's poem. There were students from Schenectady High School in the audience & one student got to take home the poem as a souvenir.

Later in the evening there was a reading by 2 young Chinese-American poets. Leslie Chang's work was the quieter, more meditative, more influenced by traditional Chinese poetry of the two. She read 5 poems she described as "exploded sonnets" from a series, as well a number of poems about being in China, mentioning Suzhou, where I had been in 2004. Lisa Chen's work was more like what one often hears at open mics, often political, strident, funny & sexy. She leaned towards making up "facts", as in "Some Things You May Not know About Chinese" & "Your Great Grandfather Worked in an MSG Mine" (in South Dakota). In one poem she made up answers to the the questions on an INS (or whatever they are called now by this zenophobic administration) form.

Check out the Writers Institute programs at

November 12, 2007

Frequency North, November 8

This is the visiting writer series curated by Daniel Nester at the College of St. Rose in Albany. The readings are held in the library which easily makes for an over-flow crowd, although tonight's audience would be substantial by anyone's (except the Knickerbocker Arena's) standards. Not just students, but faculty, Deans, & community folk.

The reading paired 2 writers standing far apart on the writing spectrum. St. Rose faculty member, Hollis Seaman introduced Nalini Jones who had once been her student. Jones' first book, a collection of linked stories, What You Call Winter was published this year by Knopf. She read "bits & pieces" from the stories which are set in an Indian/Catholic suburb of Bombay, told in a straight-forward, direct style, basically a classic story-telling experience.

When Wayne Koestenbaum got up to read he complimented Jones for her "unmannered" stories. And then proceeded to demonstrate what one would mean by "mannered" writing. His most recent book is Hotel Theory in which a meditative essay on hotel life is printed alongside a novel about Liberace & Lana Turner. If that doesn't say "mannered" I don't know what does. My impression from the segments he read was, per my notes, "clever, self-conciously humorous intellectualisms." He also read some poems in essentially the same mindset. For example, his poem "Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films" is a list of porn film titles using the word "Jewish" or "Jew" so you really get the joke from the title & the poem is a lot of unnecessary cleverness.

Why do I always writer more about the stuff that annoys me than the stuff I like? I guess for the same reason there are more anguished love poems than happy ones.

November 11, 2007


I wake up in the morning
turn and put my feet on the floor
The day has begun
I could wander in the woods
forever like Lew Welch, or
walk downtown for a cappuccino
watch the day unfold
the sidewalk littered with prompts
like the lost leaves of Autumn

Print poems v. Perf' po v. Vispo

[Dan Wilcox with his soul scroll in a poem box at the Lionheart in June, 1999.]

In case you missed it, the response to my November 5 Blog, "Print poems v. Perf' po" included comments from Mary Kathryn Jablonski who rightly reminded me about visual poetry, i.e., poetry made into visual art work. How could I forget? Some of you may remember my "soul scroll in a poem box" that I used to unroll at readings & was even exhibited at the old Center Galleries in an art-book exhibit. Anyway, Mary Kathryn's comments included a link to her (currently quiescent) Blog, but in her comment the link is mangled (I once cited her Blog in my Blog about the March 7 Caffe Lena reading).

The link to her Blog is The February 2007 entry contains a link to the visual poetry exhibit that was at Skidmore. Also check out her interviews with Denise Duhamel & others.

November 9, 2007

Caffe Lena, November 7

[An avuncular Tim Verhaegen earlier this year at a reading in Albany's Gay Lesbian Community Center.]

Another great night at one of the premier poetry venues in upstate New York. Our host, Carol Graser, began by reading a poem from an issue of the Berkeley Poetry Review, "Therapy," by Christy M. Fleming. Later Carol mentioned that their fund-raising campaign for the poetry program was going well, getting close to their goal. Visit the Caffe Lena website to find out how to help out (other than showing up as often as you can).

As the old blues song says, "the usual crowd was there," and Bob Sharkey began with a poem about a fire in Maine, setting a minor theme for the night, "Gooseneck Beach 1947." Alan Casline came up with the Voorheesville crowd to support Tim Verhaegen & dedicated "At the Toy Show" to Tim; also, read an Adirondack nostalgia poem, "The False Path."

I was particularly affected by Joan Gran's simply stated "A Jaded Year," about a gift received that was meant for someone else. Paul Amidon let us inside the head of an auction bidder, then "Ryan's Rooster."

Last month here I flirted with 3 lady poets, so tonight read "Poetry Prompts" that was in response to our discussion, & the oldie "Planting Tulips" because that's what the park workers were doing this morning in Washington Park when I walked through. W.D. Clarke presented 2 rhymed poems for Veterans' Day: "Myrtle the Fertile Turtle" (a WWII B-24 bomber), then his first poem, from the Viet Nam era, "Johnny O", a John Doe letter & suicide.

Richard Cowles, tonight as "The Poet Gone Wild," has gotten in trouble before for going long & being tedious. Tonight's piece, "The Baby Sitter's Lament," was also long, unrehearsed & actually contained a line that was the best commentary on his piece, "What are you doing now?"

If you have been reading this Blog anytime in the last few weeks you are well acquainted with Tim Verhaegen, tonight's featured poet. He did 2 major themes: his relationship with "Mary Jane" & family poems. Tim likes short, simple statements, the rhythm of his poems often starting with "I" or "he" or "She". The "Mary Jane" poems took us from his introduction to pot at age 10, through the "end of the honeymoon," the "divorce" with its panic attacks, to being out of the fog. Many of the family poems we have heard before, like the harrowing "Dad's Car" & "Unexpectations" but good to hear them in a group. He ended appropriately enough with "Finally." He was well supported by his Voorheesville poetry group friends.

Carol Graser did a new piece on being at a zoo with kids in Halloween costumes. Reprising the style, if not the actual poems, of his reading last month at the Social Justice Center, Dennis Sullivan did 2 poems with Tom Corrado on tuba & Alan Casline on bodhran. Then Tom Corrado was back on stage with his funny, heartfelt piece "On His Partial Deafness" -- say, what?

Mimi Moriarty returned to the fire theme, its beauty & the art of destruction, "The Way it Burns," then the Thanksgiving recipes of memory, "Circle." I hadn't seen Michael Hare before, but he has a series of poems about historical fictional characters from Saratoga that he has self-published, Saratoga Lives (see it at, & he read 2 pieces from it.

Therese Broderick tried out a couple pieces from memory, & did them well, one about Halloween & the other a found poem, "Marine Snow", -- "very slow". James Schlett (who was surprisingly restrained earlier this evening) began with a journal entry prompted by someone's remark that his poems "have no meaning." He took us back to Grafton pond & leaping fish the "Literal Distraction" from Chinese poetry.

I was swept up in the simplicity & the tenderness of Ivette Brown's images in her 2 poems about her late husband, "Early November One Morning" & "A Real Fairy Tale." Mike Ballinger's poems both used memory, one, like Proust, inspired by the smells of a farm, the other reflecting on the images of "Lascaux" in his own handprint.

Perhaps it was the 4 courses in Shakespeare, or the two on English Renaissance poetry, but my eyes, etc. tend to glaze over when I hear self-conciously poetic, stilted language, like "sylvan hills" & "memory confounds;" Gary Yaeger's work is a study in contrast in the use of rhyme with the work of some of the other poets tonight who used rhyme in their poems, but in more modern language. It's certainly not for lack of working at it.

And the final poet of the night was a new voice, Nancy Muldoon with a blast at "American Culture" & the art of collecting, whether "Pink Slips & Speeding Tickets" or drunken boyfriends, illustrating the marvel of an open mic where poetic styles span the centuries.

First Wednesdays, at historic Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs.

November 7, 2007

Albany Poets Presents!, November 6

As advertised, this was the challenge laid down by Mary Panza to perform the best dramatic reading of the worst song lyrics and you win a featured reading at the Poets Speak Loud open mic at the Lark Tavern in the future, even if you have already featured. So the hardcore showed up, with the best of tunes & worst of tunes.

Our host, el Presidente, Thom Francis started us off with with Neil Diamond's "I Am I Said." Thom had devised an interesting method for scheduling readers: no sign-up sheet, instead we each got a numbered raffle ticket for each song we wanted to do (but only Keith & Thom went twice -- the rest of us confident in only one worst song).

John Raymond did "The Impression I Get" by the Mighty Mighty Bostones; like many of the night, something I'd never heard or at least didn't recognize in the context of Valentine's naked stage. He was followed by Keith Spenser's first entry, the long narrative "Paul Revere" by the Beasty Boys.

Dain Brammage was the first of the "food" sub-genre with the classic rock "Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy" with the great visual of his obviously love-filled gut. I (Dan Wilcox) was up next, hoping for victory with the obviously bad lyrics of Harry Nilsson's "You're Breaking My Heart" ("... so fuck you"). Oh well, it was 1972.

Actually, by most accounts the official worst song lyrics of all time, performed tonight by Don Levy, is Richard Harris' "MacArthur Park" -- what's with that cake anyway? And Thom Francis almost couldn't finish Paul Anka's "Having My Baby." Someone actually pays for this stuff.

I've always had an affection for Blondie since the time I saw them perform at CBGB, even like Debbie Harry's disco stuff, so Keith Spenser's rendition of "Rapture" reminded me that the rap-like Man-from-Mars section was preceded by a lyrical section whose words I never knew or understood -- which I guess means there are more bad song lyrics out there than we know.

Chris Brabham was a winner with "Fishheads" -- which is really, really bad. Actually, Mary picked 2 winners: Chris & Dain, which proves the power of "food", such as it is. The winners will be the featured poets in April at the Lark Tavern. Congrats to them both. Look for this as an annual offering from AlbanyPoets.

Check out the AlbanyPoets website soon for info on the annual "Airing of Grievances & Feats of Strength" next month at Valentines, first Tuesday.

November 5, 2007

Print poems v. Perf' po

Buried in the tsunami of comments on my Blog of October 26 were some musings by Therese Broderick about performing poetry at an open mic. Therese is a thoughtful poet who likes to ponder the many & various issues of modern poetry both in & out of our community. Her comments reflect some of the issues that I have confronted over the years in practice & thought (this is not meant as a point-by-point response to Therese's comments, I'm just bouncing off them randomly).

Some poems are best left on the page while others can be successfully performed, & I think there are even a few that only work on stage, their flaws too blatant, too documented on the printed that they should only be performed. This became apparent to me in the early years of the QE2 open mic when I tried out some of my poems on the audience. The poems with the "literary" tricks that require close, multiple readings, or that use literary devices like footnotes usually don't work with a listening audience where the poem is over & gone in one recitation. An early poem I wrote without thinking of the listening audience, "Richard Nixon Must Die," actually worked quite well on stage because of its use of parallelism & repetition, not to mention its shock images (e.g., Tricia Nixon's collection of stolen panties). I soon began half-consciously incorporating such techniques when writing poems so that they would work well on stage. After all I wasn't having much success getting poems published, but could always read them at an open mic & at least a dozen people could experience them.

Approaching this from the other direction, I use open mics as a way to try out, field test if you will, my poems. I test out the poem & my manner of performing/reading them so that if & when a reading opportunity arises I will be able to put together a program of tested work to give the audience its money's worth. Based on my experience at open mics I've re-written poems, changed the way I read them, or incorporated "performance" such as props, music, multiple voices, etc., or even not used the poem at all in a performance. And believe it or not, I have many poems that I never read out. Although, as I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps there are reading settings where the quieter, or more intricate -- I'm struggling to find the correct adjectives that aren't demeaning to the reading scene -- poems that I don't (usually) read at open mics. Perhaps you've been to that reading.

A final point is that of memorized poems v. reading them from a page. When performing with 3 Guys from Albany I would do my poem "The bass player's thoughts..." from memory, but clutching the text in my hand both as prop & as "Dumbo's feather." As a writer, I like seeing a text used -- we work hard at preparing that text & it should be honored. Committing a poem to memory, or free-styling as many hip-hop poets do, can be liberating. But as with jazz improvisation, free-styling is usually not really "free" but a collection of practiced riffs strung together in the heat of the moment, sometimes exhilarating, often mundane. And -- you can find this somewhere in my past Blog entries -- sometimes a memorized performance can be more acting than poetry, more show than substance, a wonderful aesthetic experience, but not what I paid for, more show-off than sharing.

Anyways, thanks to Therese for prompting this.

November 1, 2007

Poets Speak Loud!, October 29

At the Lark Tavern with host & attendance-taker, Mary Panza (who didn't even read).

So I, Dan Wilcox, ended up being #1 on The List again & read a couple new poems inspired by conversations with other poets, "Consumerism," & "Poetry Prompts." I was followed by Scott Casale, who hasn't been around for a while. Both his poems seemed based on random phrases & images, "Stop Writing a Piccolo's Refund," & "Amarillo Bleu," where the second stanza is a re-arrangement of the first stanza.

Dain Brammage was brought on stage to demonstrate the challenge that has been tossed before us for next Tuesday's "Albany Poets Presents" at Valentines', to give a dramatic reading of the worst song yet; don't ask me what Dain's song was, but it contained the line "the world needs wannabes." I've got my song picked out & have been practicing my anguished tone. For information check out

Josh McIntyre told us the results of being allergic to bees in "Last Day in the Garden" (& I thought it was a cynical reference to the end of his bachelorhood), and another poem. Lacy O. doesn't often read so it was a nice surprise to her tonight: 2 untitled pieces, one written by a friend in Wisconsin, the other her own, commenting that "... we're not as evolved as we think ..."

The tall-man with an attitude, Bob Wright showed up, pissed us off with his strutting "tall-man poem", then made us laugh about New Jersey; he has a great occasional reading series in Hudson & has been around for years.

The featured poet, Phillip Levine, was forsaking his own open mic (at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock, every Monday) to come to Albany. I like his romantic wistfulness, tinged with cynical humor. He introduced his first poem ("... a woman on the subway moving towards you ...") by saying, "Perhaps this has happened to you," & of course it always has. He read poems playing on the common sayings, the cliches, we all speak in, & one to his acupuncturist, poems on memory, on what Poets do ("Poet" as stand-in for everyone), & included his moving anti-war poem, "Rivers & Gardens", which he said was an attempt to speak about war without yelling at the opposition). Other poems, &, of course, his ongoing -- up to over 1000 now -- series of poems on playing cards: short, aphoristic & koan-like. It was great he could get "time off" to share his work with Albany folk who don't make it to Woodstock. Worth the trip from anywhere any Monday night.

Perfect for the season, James Schlett read "Ten Thousand Leaves," culled from a letter, he said. When not commenting on my Blog Tim Verhaegen has seemed to found time to continue revising "War" & also read one of my new favorites, "Finally" (see my comments on this poem on earlier Blogs).

Sometimes procrastination is good -- if I had written this Blog when I got home from the Lark Tavern Monday night it wouldn't have given Therese Broderick a chance to revise her poem, "Ortega's Obelisk", (which she had just written that day) & put it up on her Blog (see the link below "Ekphrasis in Poetry"). But then the one you read is not the one she read.

Someone said, "You're So Stubborn," but perhaps not to Frank Robinson who said that that poem was not autobiographical -- who said all writing is autobiographical (free second poem at the Third Thursday for the first person to give me the citation)?; & another of my favorites, "The New New Colossus," based on the Emma Lazarus poem everyone knows.

Chris Brabham said "fuck you" to his stressors & took his bike to the horizon with "Devil's Day Out," & began "Fear's Last Stand" with a scream, vanquishing fears -- perfect for Halloween. I thought I had something to fear from NicoleK when she began "Carnage Devised" but it was only a pumpkin she was carving up; another poem mused about the "delicious" silence before the knock. We are waiting...

Last Monday of the month at Tess' Lark Tavern, Madison Ave., Albany. Yes.