Well it wasn't quite the PCF it was back in 2000 or 2001 when WordFest was given the nickname; tonight was more organized. There were 6 scheduled acts, ranging from poetry to poetry with music, with video, to poetry with music & video. It was an interesting mix from the sublime to the ho-hum, like most poetry readings I've been to in the last millennium. Unfortunately half the program was, in the words of Walter Mosley, "a world where poetry is a contest at best & a competition at worst."
Beginning that contest was Dain Brammage who got lost in the fumes in some of his poems. For the poems he did remember, it ultimately was too much of the same thing: same delivery, same inflections, same gestures, same sentiment -- all the things that folks find wrong with Slam. As he says in his poem "Slam", "it's not in the writin' it's in the recitin.'" The "recitin'" was all the same; he should spend more time on the "writin'".
Max Parthas had come all the way up from South Carolina for the weekend (see previous Blog entries for Friday night & for the Third Thursday). He read one poem (or was it 5 or 6); it was hard to tell. All the pieces were recited in the same manner, full of preaching, self-righteous indignation, and bragging self-promotion. If you had happened to doze off (as I saw one poet in the audience had) & woke 2 poems later you would think you were still in the same poem. It was an effective performance style for the right 3-minute slam poem, but a full 20 program needs some variation in tone. And the irony was that one of his topics ("beefs" he said) was religion & preachers -- if I had wanted preachin' I would've gone to church.
We got a break with NicoleK, backed up by "VJ Jon". A marvelous, entertaining break I must say, with an effective, sometimes interactive use of video. There were home movies of Nicole as a child, & the poem "Snapshots" used the very images she was describing; also, shots of her rearranging her closet, the hiarious "Fuck the Dutch" vignette, & her other hates: rain & snakes. Her video version of the devil in Starbucks poem was worth the price of admission (oh yeah, it was free, but if there had been an admission it would have been worth it) with Nicole playing both roles in the video.
I've always admired the work of "The Poet Essence," but she too falls into the trap of too-much the same-performance as the other slam poets. Her most effective peace "Crooked Change" sounded better when done alone a week later at "Poets Speak Loud." She is an impassioned social critic; her messages would have more punch if the delivery was varied.
The last 2 performances used guitars with the poets. Mary Panza, poet, & John Weiler on guitar & feedback, were the pared-down group "The Johnny Bravehearts." Mary's program included old favorites like "Girl Busts Finger," "Foreign Girls in Unitards," & the viciously accurate "The Adventures of an Asshole," as well as the new fire-bombing of Shel Silverstein (somebody had to do it), "Fuck the Giving Tree." Mary was loud & demonstrative enough, but once again John Weiler's volume threatened to overwhelm the words. And the fact that Mary often had to shout into the mic made her performance a bit breathless -- not necessarily a bad thing.
Appropriately, the last group of the night, "The House Band of the Apocalypse" brought it all together: poetry, music & video. The act was carefully constructed & obviously rehearsed. Thom Francis on words, Aaron Christensen on lead guitar, & Keith Spenser on bass. Except for some brief start-up problems with the sound, the band was not too loud for the words. Thom, like Nicole, used some old home movies as background, but also included shots of the World Trade Center burning & of the flooding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, even shots of driving along Hackett Blvd. in Albany. In general there was a good match between the word & the images. I've heard his poem "The Radio Man" a number of times & was surprised, & pleased, to hear it split, the 2 parts read at different points in the performance, framing the other works.
And so as the moon set over Lark St., & the poets scurried to a bar, another Albany WordFest drew to a close. Who knows what new mayhem next year will bring? Stay tuned to www.albanypoets.com & find out.