This was a week-long series (actually 8 days since it started on June 1) of tributes, readings, & late-nights. I drove over on Friday to attend, staying through Sunday with my friend Tom Nicotera (more about him later). I brought home pages of printed programs, a stack of chapbooks, & about 8 or 9 pages of notes, not counting what was scribbled on the program sheets. And a new poem-rant for the folks at the festival. The organizers created a MySpace site that listed the venues, bios for the poets & lots of chatter -- check it out at http://www.myspace.com/beatpoetryfestival
Friday Night, June 6
But how fitting that the first venue I got to was the tribute to Women Beat Authors held at the Hall Memorial Library in rural Ellington, CT. We arrived a little late, just as the elegant Julia Paul was reading Hettie Jones' "Hard Drive." In reality, there were few women writers published at the time Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al. were cranking out their stuff. Hettie Jones essential contribution was editing Yugen & Totem Press with Leroi Jones; it was only much later she made a name for herself as a writer, writing about her involvement with the Beats. Diane di Prima is the woman poet most often identified with the Beats, but others that went unmentioned here included Daisy Alden, barbara-ellen, Brigid Murnaghan, Margaret Randall, Barbara Guest -- though not all were strictly speaking (like many of the guys too) "Beats". Oh well. Julia was one of the few poets who consistently paid homage to our Beat mothers & fathers during the festival (later she read di Prima's "Rant"), & this night's reading was particularly strong in that.
Christine Beck honored the theme by "channeling" Hetties Jones, Eileen Kaufman, Caroline Cassidy, & Joan Haverty (not Jan Kerouac as noted in the program) & later Susan Allison gave a stunning performance as Anne Waldman, complete with a flowing scarf.
But the night's other poets could have been reading for Ms. magazine, with nary a nod to either the mother/sisters honored at this reading or even the theme of the festival. Katherine Polenberg's poems were gritty, urban, working-class narratives that she punctuated by tossing the pages to the floor. Intense, sexy Kathryn Erlinger is a literary grand-daughter of the Beats, but the closest she got to them tonight was drinking beer in the public library; check her out at http://www.myspace.com/katiekaboom1981. Chamys Crane (writes as "Blue), who said she had read in the North Beach joints frequented by the Beats, did mention Bob Kaufman but later said she had meant Jack Micheline. Her long, discursive poems were like letters to boyfriends about her sexual encounters.
The program ended with a group performance by all the readers doing random lines from the women Beat writers, accompanied by Tom Nicotera on the bodhran.
Later, there was supposed to be a "Beat Inspired Comedy Open Mic" that (fortunately) didn't happen so we just had a beer & headed back to Tom's to stay up late rehearsing for Saturday.
Saturday, June 7
The first event of a long day of 4(!) readings (& a scorcher it was too) was a tribute to William S. Burroughs, at the Faxon Branch Library in West Hartford, hosted by Tom Nicotera. Tom, in a suit & tie & fedora, channelled Burroughs while Victoria Muñoz read a summary of Burroughs' life, then performed her own tribute (while I played her tenor saxophone). Victoria (on tenor) & I (on alto) also played short jazz interludes between each of the readers. Terri Klein conjured up Dr. Benway then read a funny piece of her own about her uterus running away. Continuing the medical theme (a fav of WSB) Anne-Marie Mara did a piece about a colonoscopy & others generally humorous & in rhyme. Marcia Lewis quoted Burroughs in between her own pieces, done with hand-puppets, other props, including a sunflower (she is a librarian after all). You wouldn't have know that performance poet Zork ("I am not a poet" at a poetry festival) was performing at a William Burroughs tribute if you hadn't read the sign outside.
The following open mic of community poets had its best moment when one short woman stood on a library copy of Ginsberg's Collected Poems so she could see over the podium while reading from Allen's "Kaddish." But what don't these folks understand about "one poem or 2 pages" ? More than one poet read 2 poems because they were only 2 pages combined -- that's not what the instructions mean! That included the poet who goes by the name "Sympetalous." He characterized his first piece, as an "introduction" then read a 2-page homage to jazz musicians. These folks need someone with a hook (or a club) at the open mics.
From there were scurried down the road to Middletown to catch the "Buddhism and the Beats" event at the Russell Library, moderated by Stephanie Elliott, one of the organizers who made this week-long event happen. Unfortunately, most times when folks thanks the organizers, Stephanie's name was left out, but we know how much work she did (Thanks, Stephanie). We arrived late again as Roy Lisker was in the midst of his long, cranky essay about a Beat reunion in Lawrence KS. Next was an unscheduled reader who paid tribute, as well we should, to Bob Kaufman, but he went on too long & inexplicably said he was going to read "2 short poems" by Bob Kaufman & the first one went on for pages. Must be something in the water that confuses these CT poets about "long" versus "short".
For some reason, 2 performers were scheduled back-to-back with the previous reading. Terri Klein, just down from the Burroughs reading, once again gave an entertaining performance; this time her link to the theme was her errant son's journey through Naropa Institute & his subsequent wanderings in the Beat tradition. With the length of the Lisker reading & the unscheduled Kaufman tribute, the last 2 poets were cut short because the Library was closing (& there were other Festival events to get to in Middletown). John Gardiner did a multi-voice improv piece with the assitance of Tom Nicotera, Julia Paul & Victoria Muñoz. The final reader was Tom Nicotera who paid homage reading from Kerouac's Scripture of the Golden Eternity & from Lew Welch. Terri & Tom both used in their readings the assistance of young bass player Sam Rosenthal.
We had time for dinner at a wonderful, relaxed Mexican restaurant, then to the Buttonwood Tree for the Allen Ginsberg theme event. The Buttonwood Tree is a marvelous bookstore & performance space that has survived for years in Middletown. I've performed there in the past with 3 Guys from Albany & recently with Charlie Rossiter. I'm sure Allen Ginsberg would have loved the place. The moderator was John Basinger who read from Charles Olson's essay "Projective Verse," out of a battered copy of Donald Allen's classic anthology New American Poetry, 1945-1960 -- perfect!
Roy Lisker was back again, to read a long, rambling, incomprehensible narrative poem. He had originally been billed as reciting "Howl" from memory. It may have been shorter if he had. Now in case you forgot, I had said the theme was Allen Ginsberg. The next performer, Kenneth Lundquist Jr., clearly "forgot" or never knew the theme in the first place & had no idea what he was doing here, or that it was a Beat poetry festival. He read 2 inane rhymed poems sandwiched around a performance art piece in which he arranged brick halves on the stage area. Even in a program of performance art it would have been a head-scratcher. Fortunately Lisa C. Taylor brought us back to the world of post-Beat poetry. She held up an old edition of Howl, said it was a first edition. But it was perfect bound & had a price of $1.00 printed on it; my old copy which is an 8th printing is saddle-stapled & it's price is "75 cents." I hope she didn't pay too much on Ebay for it.
The work of George Wallace is even more solidly in the Beat tradition (you can check out his poems on his blog on (http://www.myspace.com/ggwallace) with colloquial, working-class narratives, poems that truly belong here at this festival.
I had a rare feature spot last on the program, & recited Ginsberg & Blake & in the middle, 2 poems directly influenced by Allen: "Put Down the Government Rag" & "Richard Nixon Must Die."
"Charles Bukowski Night," the final event this poetry day, has the distinction of being the only event on the Festival's MySpace site for which there was a street address listed ("73 Ferry Street"). For us out-of-towners that was handy, sort of. Anyway it marked the first appearance of one of the Festival organizers, Yvon Cromier, who was the host/moderator/ring-master. While few, if any, paid direct homage to Bukowski, let alone read from his work (I said, before reading my poem, "I don't have any Bukowski poems with me"), the event itself was quintessential early Bukowski. Gatekeepers Tavern is a working-class bar with with union stickers & old picket signs behind the bar, short, cheap drafts & confusion about wine, where the owner works the bar & the regular patrons were wondering who the fuck were these poets. There was an open mic, some features & more open mic & I didn't keep very good notes. I was too busy drinking, talking, hanging out. The open mic poets generally read one, punchy poem, usually about sex or drinking or both, & were selected from the list not by the order they had signed up but randomly, leaving some to wonder "When the fuck am I going to read?" I do remember Victoria Muñoz leaving the audience panting with her breathless poem. There seemed to be a confusion over which of the listed featured poets were actually there & I hear that later there was a blues guitar player. But I did catch 2 of the features. Dyllan Michael tried to get the bar crowd to "shut the FUCK up!" but after all we were on their turf. Zachary Moll was one of the out-of-towners (Ohio) who seemed to be everywhere; but this venue was too raucous for his quiet poems, read a bit too fast. I know there are many more stories from that night, both imagined & real, but you won't hear them here -- maybe nowhere. I left before the ruckus & anything I could say was pure gossip.
Sunday, June 8
While this day's card had only 2 readings on it, it was as full of poetry as yesterday's. The first, at the historic Mark Twain House in Hartford, was hosted by another of the Festival's organizers, Colin Haskins. He began with an "invitational" open mic with LisaAnn LoBasso (from California) reading "Upon A Sick Child" (she had read at the Burroughs reading & in the bar yesterday), & Dan Provost with "21s Century Wretch." We'll hear more from them at the next & last venue, as well as the others in the "invitational." Throughout the program there were musical interludes by Minta White & her gold colored flute -- particularly a over-blowing piece by Ian Clark.
The first of the scheduled featured poets was Yvon Cromier, who began by reading a poem about Spiderman by his young cousin. Yvon's poems were solidly in the Beat tradition, inspired by music, particularly jazz, & by Kerouac, vivid descriptions written on the spot. "Yellow Paint" was about a forgotten juke joint by the railroad tracks; also liked a poem about praying while washing his face.
Nathan Graziano read a series of funny, terse, well-written poems about teaching & his fellow teachers, from his book, Teaching Metaphor; and a tender, carefully constructed poem for his wife on their anniversary, "The Paper Ark." I was supposed to read with Rebecca Schumejda in Albany in February but we were snowed out. She had poems about her friends, her baby, her father, & an engaging series about the characters in the pool hall she runs with her husband in the Kingston, NY area.
The next featured poet, Kathryn Kelly, like Julia Paul who followed her, had been everywhere I had been since I got here, & she most assuredly knew why she was here. Interspersed her own poems were those of Diane diPrima & Gary Snyder. Her poems dealt with issues of war, including PTSD in a Viet Nam war vet, & the rape of Bosnian women. I wish I had a copy of her untitled "shadow hands" poem. Julia Paul also paid homage in her carefully put together reading, poems about renegades & about journeys. She also read a Diane di Prima poem, "Requiem," & work by Denise Levertov, Lenore Kandel & Joyce Johnson. A nice juxtaposition of a poem about sneaking into New York City to go drinking, & one about spending the afternoon in a bar in Sante Fe with her 87 year old mother. I collapsed into silence & frustration hearing her poem about children in Haiti eating cookies made of soil.
With time left, Colin continued the "invitational open mic" with appearances by Chamys "Blue" Crane, a long piece to his father by Jim Deuchars, Katherine Pollenburg on Zombies, John Dorsey with a loud rant by S.A. Griffen, "Sympetalous" in his characteristic declamatory style, another rant by Michael Grover, Les Allen's short "Love," Jason "Juice" Hardung, Zachary Moll, Tom Nicotera explaining "Why I Kept My Mullen," & ended with local poet Beverly Titus lamenting a favorite bar/music venue that burned down.
From there we found our way deeper into downtown Hartford to a brew pub, City Steam, in the basement at their comedy-night spot -- a good place for a monthly "poetry club" someone pointed out. John Dorsey (the "Ambassador of the Beards"), was the host for the last event of the Festival, "Gregory Corso Night", read Corso's great poem "Marriage" & told about being taken under Corso's wing, going to a race-track as a minor with him.
Dan Provost, the first of 3-scheduled, almost the only, featured poet, from Worchester, MA, a former semi-pro football player began by physically attacking the stage (apparently a reference to some episode earlier in the week), but progressed to poems about working with disabled folk I brought home his chapbook from Inkstained Dagger Press, Weathered Woman. John asked "Blue" to read the poems of Lisa La Tourette, a featured poet who had not shown up. When Lisa finally did show up & read about 4 poets later, her reading of her own poems was flat, a perfunctory walk-through -- Blue had done a better job of reading the poems. "Juice" (Jason Hardung) read some raw, Beat-style, short poems, extending the clever image.
I read just one poem, "Baghdad/Albany." Tom Nicotera followed & included Corso on baseball (Home, later I dug out Mikhail Horowitz's classic, Big League Poets: "Gregory COCKY CORSO was a wild wordslinger who used to Beat the Straights with regularity in the '50's..."). Jim D. Deuchars read from Katie Kaboom's chapbook Explosive Devices for Girls; she was on her way back to Kansas City, MO.
We finally got to hear some poetry from Festival organizer Colin Haskins, including the just-written "The CT Sleep Deprivation Poetry Festival" (a good all-purpose name for any future event). Les Allen did poems on dreams & Death, then Terri Klein got us all singing a sea-chanty about fastening her grandma's bra. I'd missed LisaAnn LoBasso when she read at the Women Beats reading, but was glad to catch her at these open mics & I took home her book In the Swollen. Radiant Julia Paul did poems bouncing off Neruda & Plath. Michael Grover had earlier been designated "president of the Beards," did some more rants.
Our host, John Dorsey, also has a declamatory style & gave us a sampling of his poems. Russ Garland, apparently a local poet, said he was getting back into reading again & brought a stack of notebooks & poems to shuffle through. I finally got to hear another of the key organizers read her work -- Stephanie Elliot had been host at a reading Saturday, but it was good to hear her as part of this final open mic & to thank her for her hard work.
Zachary Moll read from his book 8. And once again Kathryn Kelly's intense, crafted poems, & the Irish proverb, "Life is a dirge." John Dorsey closed out the Festival with a cluster of his poems.
Which brings me back to the where were the Beats? To my mind we should have ended with a poem or cut-up or even just a quote from one of the fathers or mothers we were supposedly paying homage to. Throughout the Festival there were few personal anecdotes, though some of us are old enough to have been touched personally, or even remotely, by the real human figures that created this great body of literature. John Dorsey had a close, personal relationship with Gregory Corso, & shared some of that tonight; at my reading I told of singing Blake's "Sunflower" in my car with Allen Ginsberg; & there one or two other stories. But overall there were less specific mention of the Beats & their works than you would expect from an event billed as a "Beat Festival." Yes, there were some marvelous tributes (I am thinking particularly Julia Paul, Christine Beck, Susan Allison, Tom Nicotera, Terri Klein, Kathryn Kelly). But many of the featured poets came & left the stage without a mention of a single Beat writer. But perhaps the homage is more implicit than explicit, in our work & the work of even younger poets, in the very existence of such a Festival celebrating the spoken written word, in Libraries & bars & community spaces like the Buttonwood Tree, rather than in the recital halls & lecture centers of Academe.
Keep writing poets!!