January 29, 2008

Poets Speak Loud!, January 28
the Tom Nattell Memorial Benefit Reading & Annual Beret Toss




[If you look carefully you can see the beret on the top of Robert Burn's head & the flowers on his book -- from 2005 & the movie that Tom is still directing.]


So the host tonight was Dan Wilcox (that's a me) & I was thrilled to do it, knowing I wouldn't have been there if Tom hadn't gotten this shit-storm of poetry going back in the bleak days of the ReaganWinter '80s. Tom was there tonight, of course, hanging out, drinking his "swamp water" concoction, having some kind of chicken for dinner & bounding up on stage in his neon-performance sneakers. So I started off with one of Tom's shit poems, "Aviary Baptism" then later on in the reading channeled him again & did "How To Shit on Yourself with the Help of a Tree."

Of course, with the very first poet up I got his name wrong, but it's correct here: Bryan Clogg, a brief racial meditation ("we're all pink inside") but we all need to check back on what Eldridge Cleaver had to say on "black racism." Closer to the political bone, Shaun Baxter re-did (Yeah!) once again "Global Warming" then "Poem for Billy Collins" on the 12 spots of a Lady Bug. Then Julie Lomoe invoked Tom at his last reading with "Open Mic on Lark St. 2004" (thanks Julie).

Uncle Don Levy reminded us that homophobia is still out there with "Out of the Mouths of Gay Penguins & Wizards" & his equally hysterical fat poem, "Trying Not to Be Morbidly Obese." Next month's feature at Poets Speak Loud!, NicoleK stepped away from relationship angst with "Snake" & a not Winter riffing on the shapes & connections of numbers in "3". Josh McIntyre takes some good natured ribbing on being a newly wed, then gave us "Gurus Never Dream" "Gurus Never Dream".

The first virgin of a lush virgin night was "Chaka the Feminist" (that's how she signed up), then had us "Breathe" & ponder "Sex or Love" & want a cigarette afterwards. The next virgin, Chad W. Lowther did a couple of word-play poems slipping in & out of rhyme & hip-hop that I couldn't follow, but did enjoy, if you know what I mean.

The usual host of this event is Mary Panza, taking a night off to tell us how everything is in order "In a Post-partum World" & then go after Johnny Braveheart (was he there?) with "The Revolution Doesn't Pay Shit." And back at someone else's open mic after many months with his signature serious poems about all the bad things in the universe, "In the Kingdom of Seas & Silences" & "Human" (dedicated to Tom) was R.M. Engelhardt.

Sahli Cavallaro just does not read out enough, & showed why she should with the hot "Roses in a Cave" (ah, those pink petals) & her take on Match.com, looking for the archeologist she hasn't met yet, "Dig Her Coming Home." Somewhere along the line I read my new, evolving piece "Communion of Saints" with its lines for Tom:
Saint Tom, Green Poet & worker in the peace garden
make our poems work, then sing & laugh.


& somewhere in there we had a staggering-off-the-street visit from TJ, while the Alex & Mary hovered to bounce him out. Hey, he only did 1 short poem.

Another virgin, William Eng, did a poem to a dead friend, "The Things We Want to Be a Poet Of" & "What's he Thinking" about a date. Shannon Shoemaker has been gone so long it seemed like she was a virgin; she did a "Turning Over a New Leaf," a new work in progress, then, from memory the all-time-favorite sad Valentine poem I think is called "Melancholy". Also from memory, Michael Grimes, another virgin, more philosophical musings.

Of course Alan Catlin was there & did a poem with a long title I didn't get about his visit to the Berkshire Museum about an early use of the bogey man term "terrorist", then read Al Markowitz's (Blue Collar Review) "Dirt," a topic dear to Tom (we all pay tribute in our own ways.) Joe Hollander, at about the time the alleged President was delivering his on TV, did what I take was a state of the union address about the collapse of America, "On the Road to Success," then a poem on ice-fishing (a first for me!). Bessam Sam tagged-teamed on the theme about poverty in America, with "White," from memory.

Former feature here & elsewhere, Chris Brabham listed the pleasures of life as a reasons why he does poetry the way he does, then a sweat-provoking erotic poem, "Man Shake," that makes me think about chocolate milk shakes in a new way. New guy, Barry Goldman, picked up on that with "Swirls of Sex Vines." Our bouncer, Alex Albino, talked about different transitions with "Pestering" & the notebook poem, "Phoenix Rising Yoga Session."

The token professa, Daniel Nester, read a poem by the nearly forgotten (African-)American poet, Robert Hayden (who also edited a great anthology of "American Negro Poets", Kaleidoscope), then from his own book, The History of My World Tonight, "Arraignment of a Beach Boy." We ended the night with 2 random virgins, Remy D. who got off to a bad memory start then made it through, a rhymed narrative of sorts. And Ashley Bruno filled out the night with abstract poems "Existential Anxiety" & untitled ponderings on God & love (but as WCW said, "no ideas but in things").

I ended with my poem "Chasing Tom" & Tom's own "Save It" (without the tubes).

Hey, I shouldn't be so picky -- it was great night: old friends, new friends, new faces, returning prodigals, virgins -- poetry in Albany on a Monday night in January, who'd had thunk. Then the motley crew to march on to visit Robert Burns, smudge him & us with sage, & a green beret to warm Bobbie's head through the night (with thanks to el Presidente) & Tom was/is there/here. [The beret was still there Monday afternoon.] And thanks to the generous folks who filled Tom's neon hat with recession dollars for the Tom Nattell Peace Poetry Prize.

Poets Speak Loud! every last Monday [just like the QE2] of the month, Lark Tavern, Albany, 7:30.

www.albanypoets.com