This annual series of poetry readings was started by Tom Nattell in 1989 & has been held at the Robert Burns Statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY, since 1990, generally on Saturdays in July. I read in 1991; in 2004, just before he left us, Tom asked me to continue the series. I have Tom's hand-painted sign, his music stand, his shaman pole with neon streamers & his day-glo donation hat.
The first reading was on July 12. Magically (or not)
Robert Burns showed up to read one of his most famous poems, "Auld Lang Syne", celebrating his statue's 120 years in the park, then he revealed his self as Mark O'Brien who read one of his own.
Georganna Millman lives in the Catskills, in Phonecia & is very much a poet of place. She began with a tender poem to her husband, then one on tinctures & herbal remedies that she prepares from local plants. There were a couple poems about her father, including one from an assignment in a poetry workshop with Carolyn Forche in which she inventories her father's pocket knives. There were poems with a county fair, blackberries, a moose, white deer, wild horses ("Evolution," a simple, intense poem that a local famous poet of horses could learn from), a hawk-owl & the Esopus Indian Utsayantha.
W.D. Clarke tells stories in his poems in the style of Robert Service & Rudyard Kipling. Some are his own from his service with the 101st Airborne division in Viet Nam, others from the hundreds he has heard from other veterans. He included tributes to "Forgotten Veterans," to Henry Johnson, the World War I Medal of Honor soldier (& the Boulevard named in his honor runs right by where he was reading), to World War II bomber crews, to "The Boys from Troy." He included poems about the Civil War & about General Custer & his wife, & about the recurring dreams of "The Night-time Army."
July 19 was an evening of family readings, brother & sister, father & son.
Mimi Moriarty & her brother Frank Desiderio read their poems in sets of alternating poems linked by theme or image. There were fires in California, Holy Communion, Bible stories, their Grandfather & his grapes & homemade wine, on their mother's death, on their Father as a carpenter & baseball, on "Ash Wednesday" & their father's death, on meditation, & 2 versions of After-Life. A very effective way to present these poems, holding our attention & engaging our emotions.
Then all the way from Chicago, my 3-Guys-buddy, Charlie Rossiter along with his son Jack did a mixed poetry & blues program, starting with "Reading Snake Black Solo & Listening to Haydn" with Jack on bluesy guitar. Charlie is a master of nostalgia (see his chapbook, The Night We Danced with the Raylettes) & did poems about his long-ago college days, & from his childhood. Livng in Chicago there was "Chocolate Drop," his white-boy black exotica blues, and "Beware," with slam-in-your-face-preachiness (wonder what it would get at the Green Mill?). He also included a couple of 3 Guys favorites, "The Ex" & "Manhattan Blue" (while I sat & watched).
Kathryn Kelly, one of the poets scheduled for July 26, was coming over from Connecticut with Tom Nicotera, almost got here, when Tom's car broke down. But 2 strangers gave her a ride & got her to the Park on time; in fact she got there before the other, local reader.
James Schlett is well-known here in the open mic scene. His poems are generally short philosophical musings on life, love, using Nature as his setting & metaphors; he often intersperces journal entries that sound like the poems. He included Fall & Summer poems, referencing Washington Park, Grafton Lakes, the Rhode Island Shore, even New Paltz.
Kathryn Kelly's poems were longer than James', more narrative. She began with a poem about the painter George Seurat, then poems about her brother, her daughter, a Viet Nam vet, & one about the raped women of Bosnia. While she "apologized" for reading "political poems," with this audience, in this setting, with this MC, no "apology" was necessary -- they were strong poems, no matter what the label. Her poems about her partner, Hugh Ogden, who died in December 2006, were moving & eerie with synchronicity -- as she read one poem where Ogden was described as "coming in like a storm" the wind picked up, dark clouds rolled in, & a few drops of rain fell as the words of the poem described rain. Her "Shadow Hands" poem, which always sends chills up my spine, was a powerful way to end her reading. Earlier in the week I caught the last reading of the Writers Institute summer program at Skidmore College & heard James Logenbach read a poem describing Hugh Ogden's death. Make of that what you will.
The traditional rain-date for the Saturday Poets in the Park has always been the following Sunday. Considering the weather in the great Northeast, we have had few rain-outs, though one notable rain-out 2 years ago ended up with Bernadette Mayer having her reading at my house, 3 weeks later. This year I was able to arrange for the use of the Social Justice Center, where I hold the Third Thursday Poetry Night, as our rain site so we could hold the readings on the Saturday. And we had to use it once for the last in the series, August 2.
Philip Good began with some of his short, quirky, wry "Tea Poems," then read from his new manuscript with the working title of "Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation" (who else remembers Richard Hell & the Voidoids?). Each of the 11 pieces was titled, "Untitled..." -- on art, on the politics & nature of poetry, science, playing on words, images, ideas, & referencing global positioning, even Bernadette, & our ubiquitous storms.
Susan Brennan's poems were longer, more narrative. She began with one by Robert Burns poem, a fitting end to the series that began with a Burns' poem. Susan had read at the old QE2 open mic back in 1990 & included tonight a couple poems of high school memories, of driving from that era. Now she is a yoga teacher & her poem about the headstand pose brought in her memories of her mother & was as much about breasts as about headstands. She also managed to get a couple of poems from doing Jury Duty in Brooklyn & ended with "Last Prayer of the Day," a fine poem about working at the Brooklyn Co-op.
Since 2005 the series has been run by the Poetry Motel Foundation solely on donations. Thanks go to the Hudson Valley Writers Guild (www.hvwg.org) for co-sponsoring us this year so that some of the readers received funds "through COMMUNITY ART$GRANTS, a program funded through the State and Local Partnership Program of the New York State Council on the arts, a State agency and the Arts Center of the Capital Region." Other readers received funds from you, the folks that put money "in the hat."
Thank you! We'll be back next year (deo volente).