March 29, 2008

Poetry @ the UAG, March 28

This collaborative series between Jawbone & Albany Poets continued in spite of the Spring break at the University, with the host Chris Rizzo.

Carol Graser is the fine, popular poet who is the host of the monthly open mic at historic Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. Her carefully prepared program included poems from her book, The Wild Twist of Their Stems (FootHills Publishing), & other poems, a few rarely read, like "12 Years" & the tender love poem that began "there is a land in me of you..." Others were old favs such as "Discourse on Myself Addressed to the Patriarch," These Colors" (responding to the proliferation of flags), "Ecology," & the moving description of her father's PTSD, "Pope Air Force Base". Accessible work that is sometimes funny, often takes poetic leaps, & always engaging, getting better all the time.

Jacqueline Jones LaMon traveled from Adelphi University where she is an Assistant Professor of English. She began with poems from her book, Gravity, U.S.A. (Quercus Review Press), from her name, to her son, her father, even to mis-carried children. "Turnaround," about conversation on the bus between L.A. & Las Vegas, is a subtle abcdarian, even negotiating the tricky "x". She also read from a series in progress on missing children, sometimes from the family's view, sometimes over time ("The Age Progression Artist Pencils in Thicker Lashes"), sometimes in sonnet form, & often with long titles. She ended with "Ariel", a poem about the destruction & aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While carefully crafted her poems are not by any stretch "academic"; they are entertaining poems that confront the personal & the political with images from real life.

Still another fine reading in this series. More to come.

March 27, 2008

"What I Did on My Spring Break":
Split this Rock Poetry Festival

["What are those numbers?" I asked. "They're not numbers, they are ages," said Nathaniel Siegel, the ages of the U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq. Outside Busboys & Poets.]

That is if I had a spring break -- I can't say enough good things about this event: a great gathering of poets/activists/teachers in Washington DC for Poems of Provocation & Witness. There are a lot of poets out there who mouth the easy cliches of "Bush bad, freedom good" but who have never been seen at demonstrations, vigils, actions -- this was not the place for them. The people here are the ones who make things happen. I took 22 pages of notes, there was a helpful, detailed 35 page program, I picked up some handouts, clipped some newspaper articles & bought some poetry books, but you really don't want to read 25 pages of commentary, so I'll try to hit some highlights & you can check out the website & the Washington Post story

The kick-off event on Thursday, March 20, was a reading by Sonia Sanchez at the headquarters for the festival, Busboys and Poets, a cafe & bookstore on 14th St NW at the corner of V St. -- check it out, & the entire U St. area, next time you're in DC. Sonia was the perfect elder to open the event -- the figure of the engaged, activist poet. Her poem, "Peace," is in the Beloit Poetry Journal chapbook, the kind of poem that on the page is like trying to read a musical chart, but in performance takes you along to where the poet wants you to be. You need to check out The editors are Saints Lee Sharkey & John Rosenwald.

There were some Albany connections early on. Kazim Ali was a student at SUNY Albany in the early '90s & read at the Albany Art Gallery on Jefferson St., now has a poetry collection & a novel out & I've been reading his essays in American Poetry Review. He co-led a workshop titled "Yogic Path to Poetry and Conscious Action" with Susan Brennan (I found when I got home 2 photos of her reading at the QE2 in 1990) & Jeff Davis, who does yoga workshops & other community events in the Woodstock area. I also attended a workshop later, "Off the Page and Into the Streets -- Reports from the Field," run by Susan and fellow Brooklynite Nathaniel Siegel. Nathaniel gave out samples of his "tokens," small paper objects with messages, like a picture of Gandhi, or a "Declaration of Interdependence." He is engaged with an art project that is stenciling the ages, in chronological order, of the US military killed in Irag.

The panel on "Poetry, Politics & the Rant" was right down my alley. The moderator, Jose Gouveia, who had done his PhD dissertation on rants was also a fellow biker-poet with Colorado T. Sky, a one-eyed Viet Nam vet, who cited Warren Zevon & gave one of the best metaphysical statements of the event: "you gotta die of something, but what matters is the kind of skid marks you leave on the way out." Also on the panel were Martin Espada & Alicia Ostriker. Espada gave a wonderful reading opening night & here gave some examples of "good" rants: Neruda's "General Franco in Hell" & his own "For the Jim Crow Restaurant in Cambridge MA ..." (he said you tell a rant is coming because the title is long). Ostriker was our Jewish mother, quoting her "older brother" Blake about why we are doing this: "... to encourage those who do." Yes! She referenced "Howl", June Jordan & Grace Paley. In the Q&A, a discussion developed about what was called the "war on content" & Alicia told the joke of the week: Q: what do you get when you cross a member of the Mafia with a Language Poet? A: a offer you can't understand.

I would be remise for not mentioning the workshop I attended with Sarah Massey, from Massey Media, on Media Skills: at other conferences such valuable information, advice, encouragement would have cost 4 to 5 time as much -- an invaluable fine-tuning tool -- thank you, Sarah.

I can't comment on, or even mention, every great poet I saw famous or otherwise, but will try to run quickly through the field: DC icon E. Ethelbert Miller the great-uncle of the DC Poets Against the War; Naomi Shihab Nye leaving everyone wanting a cookie after her poem "Gate A4." Bopping, pierced, everybody's lesbian daughter, Alix Olson (check out "Dear Diary" in the BPJ Chapbook). DJ Renegade aka Joel Dias-Porter, & on another night, Patricia Smith, seminal slam poets who read good poems well without the slam-poet posing, back when "performance poet" simply meant reading your poems well & not droning on with your voice rising at the end of each line -- no histrionics, no spastic hand gestures. Stephen Kuusisto, a DC poet who is visually impaired & read with the assistance of an earpiece plugged into his laptop, adding a new level of self-referential comment. Pamela Uschuk, Kenneth Carroll & Belle Waring were a couple of other poets I hadn't heard before, but was glad to be there for. Mark Doty is at lots of festivals but that is because everyone likes him, he can be sensitive & intense & shares the poets he likes. And Carolyn Forché was as beautiful as I've ever seen her, & moved us with "The Lost Suitcase," "The Museum of Stones" (in the BPJ) & the new poem, "What Comes" (she said, "to be exposed to the coming of what comes" as grand a statement about her recent health problems as anyone our age could make.)

[Reading poems by Lucille Clifton: Coleman Barks, Pamela Uschuk, Sarah Browning at mic, Belle Waring, March 22]

The closing reading on Easter Sunday was at an auditorium at George Washington University with a reading by Galway Kinnell & DC poet Naomi Ayala. Throughout the event there were gaps where scheduled poet had cancelled for health reasons: Sam Hamill, Lucille Clifton & Sharon Olds (Kinnell, in a moment of inadvertent pornography said Sharon had bronchitis & "we had to practically screw her down into her bed to keep her from coming"). So DC poet Naomi Ayala filled in admirably with a fine reading -- I regret not knowing her work, but will (Curbstone Press).

The last event was a silent peace march to Lafayette Park across from the White House for a "cento" (as explained by Sarah Browning, meaning "patchwork"), a group poem where each person could read one line of no more than 12 words. At some point this may be up on the website. I doubt that George or Laura were listening or watching, but somebody was as evidenced by the antennas & cameras mounted on the roof of the White House.

During the festival there were a couple of open mics run by Regie Cabico but they were marred by in-group early signups & late insertions of buddy poets. But that was about the only negative thing I can cite from the festival.

I must commend the festival organizers for a wonderful, fruitful, inspiring experience. I regret that I never found a chance to tell Sarah Browning how beautiful she is but I expect she know that. Melissa Tuckey gave me her chapbook (from Pudding House Press) & Jaime Jarvis was always there. I kept bumping into Yael Flusberg, a curly yogini.

And then there were the poetry friends from elsewhere, & the new friends who just happened to sit down at my table, or next to me at the bar, or those who just exchanged smiles, or notes, or advice or directions. See you on the line.

March 25, 2008

Poetry @ the UAG, March 14

[Deborah Poe in February at the UAG Gallery.]

This is a fabulous collaboration between the SUNY Jawbone Reading Series, Albany Poets, and the UAG Gallery.

This reading was an exciting setting of 2 women poets, NicoleK, a local open mic poet & Deborah Poe, a PhD candidate at SUNY Binghamton.

NicoleK (as I like to call her in my Blog to foil student Googlers [I guess it's a verb now]) read a series of mostly short poems about her observations, gripes, angst, relationships, even her father. She had packed the audience with friends & family (as all poets should). A couple of the poems were from what she called "the Valentine's Day Chronicle," not about love at all but the lame things that can happen on such a romantic day when you're alone & pissed off. Another recurring theme was Starbucks, where she spends some time correcting papers, observing the other patrons & writing in her notebook. "The Day I Lamely Told Off the Devil in Starbuck's" reminded me of the classic poem by Sharon Preiss, "The Devil's Stalking Center Square." I also liked her "Snapshots" of herself over time. One of her friends videotaped part of the reading & you can watch it from this link:

Deborah Poe had read here back in February with the group from Flim Forum Press for the release of the collection, A Sing Economy. Tonight she read from (if I got it right) "On Parenthetical Ontology" -- a fascinating if perplexing series of poems, intellectual, conceptual -- & from "The Elements," to which I could more easily relate. "Copper" was based on the Anaconda strike in 1920, & "Mercury"'s history of poisoning, & "Potassium" on silence & desire & breath, with a few others, including some from memory.

March 18, 2008

Frequency North, March 13

At The College of St. Rose, Albany, NY, curated by Daniel Nester.

The third in this year's series of four readings featured Gregory Pardlo & Darcey Steinke.

Gregory Pardlo's book of poems, Totem, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2007. The poems he read tonight were accessible, discursive & often about his own experience. His "Landscape with Intervention" dealt with the appropriation of images, art versus corporate control. A couple poems used historical content, such as "Restoring O'Keefe," a wonderful piece about Georgia O'Keefe's brief affair with the writer Jean Toomer; another, "Vanitas: Camden Ferry," combined his musings on the ferry with the underground railroad. One of his more personal pieces, "Suburban Passionale," brought me back to my days delivering newspapers, but whereas his customer was a neighborhood beauty smoking pot & listening to Miles Davis, the best I could come up with was the housewife buttoning her blouse giving me a blessed view of her lace bra as she opened the door.

Darcey Steinke has written a novel, Suicide Blonde, & short fiction, but tonight she read from a memoir, Easter Everywhere (Bloomsbury, 2007). She read 3 excerpts, one about visiting a poor family to deliver food with her minister father at age 3 (!), another at age 5, and the third, & most compelling because of its humor, about going to speech therapy for a stutter at age 13. None of the pieces showed any evidence of the "stumble back toward faith" that Nester described in his opening remarks. And how she can remember anything from age 3 begs the question of memoir v. novel. It's like if any of Kerouac's novels were published today, they would be marketed as "memoirs" by the corporate booksellers. The thinly disguised autobiographical novels of the past have become today's thinly disguised fictional memoirs. Nonetheless, Steinke's work was well-written & enjoyable.

Check out for more information.

March 13, 2008

Live from the Living Room, March 12

[Featured poet Chris Brabham reading at Poets in the Park, July 2007.]

With our host Don Levy, in the comfort of the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

The featured poet was Chris Brabham with a variety of new & old poems, about poetry: "Why Poetry," "The Poet," with its refrain of "listen to the poet"; love poems: "Timeless," & "Give Me a Love." There was also a "Thank You Father," & the powerful question, "Whatever Happened to Nursing?" Then the old favorites, like "Justice or Just Us" & "The Angel of Death Unplugged." I wonder how many votes Chris got in Metroland's Reader Poll? Whatever he got, it should have been more.

Mimi Moriarty should have been the feature last month, but the reading was cancelled because of the ice storm -- she'll be back soon. She read 2 poem with Jewish themes, "Identification Card US Holocaust Museum," & "Blasphemous Poem."

Tim Verhaegen reveled in being in this location & read "2 Gay Men on Valentine's Day," then a gender-questioning "Elevator Quiz."

I referenced the recent poetry tour in Connecticut with Charlie Rossiter by reading a poem about an exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the reverberated off Mimi's poems with "What Passover Has Taught Me" (now up on

Jim Masters (also a future feature here) read 2 pieces on spirituality, one a response to a friend's email on the topic, another a reaction to reading about the Kabbala.

We were thrilled to see Anthony Bernini back. He read a section from Campbell McGrath's "Nights on Planet Earth." Then a new poem, "New Found Lake Rising."

The new poet to slink in was "Kindred" who got away with 3 poems (there was a 2 poem limit), all done in a stylized Spanish hip-hop rhythm, "Invitation," the Spanglish "La Calle," & an untitled piece on relationships. Consistent with his gangsta hat & bling he waved me off from taking is photograph (he's probably right: when the FBI seize my extensive collection of photos of poets he would've been in it -- but now I can't sell it to "Entertainment Tonight" when he becomes a famous rap star).

Our host, Uncle Don, sent us home with "Why Open Mics," his response to Chris' poem & one by Mary Panza, then "The Wonderful World of Beyoncé" for those of us who ever wondered if there was one.

Hey, it's the second Wednesday of every month, the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center on Hudson Ave. in Albany -- & it's straight friendly (with free female condoms in the bathroom).

March 12, 2008

3 Guys from Albany
"Raelettes"/No-More-War Tour
Charlie Rossiter & Dan Wilcox
New York & Connecticut, March 5 - 8

After the gig in Albany at Valentines, Charlie & I headed over to Connecticut to hook up with our host, Tom Nicotera, then on down to the open mic at Molten Java's down in Bethel on March 5. There were about 11 readers, with the host Robin assisted by Victoria Munoz -- who was a fixture throughout the subsequent events. Victoria is a friend of Tom Nicotera's & we would stay up to ungodly hours talking & gossiping & arguing & etc. until Victoria would drive off & we crashed for what was left of the night (morning). At Molten Java's Charlie & I did a half hour feature & answered questions. Bethel is down by Danbury & the open mic is every Wednesday, with different hosts.

On Thursday, March 6 we had a gig at the Prosser Library in the center of Bloomfield, CT. We had a great audience, encouraged & facilitated by our friend Tom, with logistics by the efficient & attentive Library staff. We did a 45 minute program & again took questions.

Friday night, March 7 was in many ways the best gathering of poets, being a party at Tom's house, not a performance. But Tom, who hosts readings in the area, had a sign-up sheet for open mic poets as well as a short play parodying Hamlet & Madame Butterfly. Among the poets who read were Lori Desrosiers who hosts a reading on Mondays at Jester's Cafe in Westfield, MA; the afore-mentioned Victoria, who is also a member of the poetry & music group Not Just Any Tom, Vic & Terri with Tom Nicotera & Terri Klein (who not only read but also acted in & partially wrote the evening's play). I also need to mention the poetry of Joan, Victoria's flute-playing friend, the haikus of Stan Forrester, & the fine poems of Julia Paul. Of course our host, Tom, was always ready with a poem or to accompany another poet on his trusty bodhran.

Saturday, March 8 Charlie conducted a workshop on "Truth: the Soul of Poetry" at the Buttonwood Tree, a fabulous performance space, community arts center, & bookshop in Middletown. Of course the point of the workshop is that poems are made up, they are Art, & whatever "truth" we give them is the validation of our own experience (if that sounds like bullshit, it probably is, but also the truth of poetry -- & we did have a lot of fun at the workshop). Later there was an open mic & our half-hour performance as the featured poets. Tom Nicotera was the host & read his poem "The Man from the Asylum" that references a scene from Fellini's Amaracord & is famously quoted in Charlie's poem, "What Men Talk About." Some of the poets had been at the workshop earlier read in the open mic, like Christine Beck, who read -- among others -- a poem about an accident while horse-back riding when she was 12 years old; Chandra Hale who included a simply but forcefully stated love poem, "Days Like This;" & the wonderful Julia Paul who read poems about the people eating dirt ("Geophage"), & the mysteries of "Truth Lies & the Hand Bags that Held Them." Also, "Sympetalous" (don't ask I don't know), who was also at the party open mic read poems in the same slam-performance vein as at the party; &, of course, Victoria (who loaned me her lovely alto saxophone when I discovered a series of problems with my ancient instrument).

All in all a great tour setting up important contacts with the CT/MA poets, making new friends & finding new audiences.

Be on the lookout for information about the Connecticut Beat Poetry Festival to be held in the Hartford area June 2 to 8. I'll keep you posted.

The Miracle of the Green Beret

At the January "Poets Speak Loud" at the Lark Tavern (see the Blog) we placed a green beret on the head of the statue of Robert Burns in Washington Park in Albany in memory of poet & activist, Tom Nattell. This year it remained up for weeks, secured by el Presidente! with duct tape. A few days ago I drove by the statue & there was no beret on Bobby Burns' head.

But today as I was walking through the Park on my way to the peace vigil I notices something on the grass in front of the statue -- it was Tom's green beret! Covered with sparkling drops of water, but none the worse for the wear. So now we have a beret for next year.

The photo was taken January 29, the day after the beret toss.

March 11, 2008

Albany Poets Present! March 4

[3 Guys from Albany (Charlie, Tom & Dan) returning from the Mid-West Tour.]

It was the usual open mic with some poetry performance/music groups clustered around 3 Guys from Albany (Charlie Rossiter & Dan Wilcox), hosted by el Presidente, Thom Francis. I expect that you will soon be able to find this on the Albany Poets website, www. -- duh!

The Johnny Bravehearts are Mary Panza(on words & attitude) with Monica Roach on electric cello & John Weiler on electric guitar. Unfortunately, the poet (Mary P.) had to almost scream to make herself heard above the music (mainly the guitar). While Mary's poems tend to hit you over the head (or in the balls), sometimes it is the range in her voice that can carry the effect. With a loud, wailing guitar her voice has to elevate to a near continuous shout.

Open mic poets were set in as needed between the performance acts, with Shaun Baxter's almost-classic "Global Warming" the first up. Alan Catlin followed with "Mr. Lucky," then Kevin Lee Gilbert with a poem he described as "short, to the point & reasonable," which it was (I think).

Charlie Rossiter was on his way through town for a series of readings in Connecticut to promote his new book, The Night We Danced With the Raelettes from Foot Hills Publishing ( These are poems about "occurrences in and around College Park, Maryland in the 1960s, for the most part to the best of my recollection." So I joined him for a 3 Guys from Albany set in which we included a tribute to the other "3 Guy", Tom Nattell, ending the set with Tom's poem "I Beat My Drum."

The evening continued with open mic poets. Nicole Karas described a visit to the GYN office, then Tom Molinaro did a characteristic rap-style poem, post 1984. Chris Brabham performed his giving-the-finger-to-his-stressors-while-on-his-motorcycle poem.

The House Band of the Apocalypse is Thom Francis "on poem", with Aaron Chrisiansen & Keith Spenser on guitars. Thom's poems were mostly quietly meditations with respectful guitars behind him; the guitars had a chance to wail when Thom stepped back -- an effective combination where the poet was not overwhelmed by the music/noise.

John Weiler put down his guitar & brought it all back home with the funny poem about a lobster shoot -- no kidding!

It was nice to have Charlie back in town & a fun venue sponsored by AlbanyPoets to start us off on our Connecticut tour.

Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center, February 21

A friend recently asked about the poetry readings at the Cafe Web, formerly on Madison Ave. in the right-hand side of what is now The Muddy Cup. I reminded him that this Third Thursday Poetry night now at the SJC is the same reading -- that when Cafe Web closed, the readings (held on the Third Thursday of each month) were moved to Changing Spaces Gallery on Hudson Ave., then to the Lark St. Bookshop, & now at the SJC on Central Ave., a continuous series for over 10 years. So here we were again on a cold night in February, still invoking a muse who tonight was Aimé Césaire, his poem "Word".

As usual we did some open mic poets before & after the feature. Sylvia Barnard read her Greek-inspired poem, "Elysis." Alan Catlin read "Self-Portrait of the Author Afraid of His Self-Portrait" from his new chapbook with the same title published by March Street Press ( Listed on Amazon too.

Michael Hare has been reading around from his book, Saratoga Lives (see some of my previous Blogs on this) & tonight shared a vignette about a worker for the city, "Freddy Doyle." Thérèse Broderick, whose ekphrastic poetry link is listed below in the "Links" read an example of the genre, based on a painting by Grant Wood, "Death on the Ridge Road."

Bob Sharkey reminded us how we dress this time of year with "Layers" of the country names of the clothes he was wearing for the last few weeks.

Tonight's featured poet was Michael Bostick whose chapbook, Mou-si: Life Lessons and Thoughts Set to Poetry is from RoseDog Books ( His simply crafted musings discuss his "dysfunctional life" & his struggle to rise out of it. He read some poems from his book, but the bulk were from a new manuscript he hopes to publish soon, including some love poems & a poem on his mixed heritage. It was a pleasure not only to see a new poet struggling to find his voice (which is one of the constant joys of open mics), but also one confronting his demons.

I started off the second half open mic with my on-going homage to my shamans, "Communion of Saints." Then Bryan Clogg was back with a poem about working at music festivals. Then W.D. Clarke told us the story in rhyme of "Henry Lincoln Johnson," the black World War I hero, fitting since we were only a few doors down from Henry Johnson Boulevard.

Joe Hollander experimented with a random collection of military & cultured phrases for an instant poem. Moses Kashi (the new version of "Moses Kash III") was perplexed by the President dancing with Africans & wrote "The Inside Rath of President Bush & Moses -- what a thought to take home with us.