September 29, 2008

Jawbone, September 26

This is a long-running series of readings run by grad students at the University at Albany (SUNY) English Department. In fact, my very first featured reading many years ago, at about 40 years old, was in this Jawbone series soon after I moved back up here from NYC. At that time the readings were held up on the University campus; in recent years it has moved downtown to various venues -- the Fuze Box, Red Square. Since last year the art hotspot on Lark St., the UAG Gallery, has been the host site, the series' best location yet. And since then Albany Poets has become a partner in organizing the readings.

Tonight's host was Mary Panza, keeping order.

Cara Benson, a recent grad of Goddard College's MFA program, is the editor of She read a couple of very different long pieces, but started off with a poem, "What does It Mean to Say Forever?" based on a line from Neruda. "The First Person" was just that, a long automatic writing exercise (read too fast) talking about herself, everything from peeing in the shower to Mexico, to "I order out loud in restaurants" (don't we all? pee in the shower too). Her second long piece, starting with a quote from poet Brenda Hillman, was as random as the "I" poem but harder to follow, read in various voices, & she got tangled up in the pages a couple times.

Cheryl A. Rice is the poetry diva of Kingston & a recent refugee from world of Verizon. Her work is less random, about recognizable events in her life. She read from a couple early chapbooks, Egypt (Flying Monkey Press) & A Thousand Candy Vaginas (Palaver Press). She ponders such things as what a Scotsman wears under his kilt, & the cultural collapse of Whitman's America. At a poetry reading she fantasizes "Taking Off Billy Collins' Clothes." And her poem "Common Breath" (also about a poetry reading) contained my favorite line of the night: "Kingston is my Paris." I like how she writes about the work place, including "Mr. Frarely" & the sad danish of "Remembrance;" & she is the only poet I know who has written about someone's MySpace site.

The contrasting styles of the poets made for a most pleasant evening of poetry. There are more events coming up, so for a full schedule go to, or & free coffee from Scratch Bakery-Cafe, 452 Madison Ave.

(photo of Cara Benson at Point 5, Albany, 10/6/07; photo of Cheryl A. Rice at Cafe Web, Albany, 2/17/00)

Frequency North, September 25

Daniel Nester has been coordinating this series at the College of St. Rose for 4 years now & has brought some wonderful writers who do not appear on the NY Times bestseller lists. He gets a decent size crowd, but usually mostly students & faculty. This night the room on the second floor of the Events & Athletic Center at St. Rose was SRO -- the Times-Union had run a 2-page, centerfold spread in its Preview section this morning with an interview with David Rees, one of tonight's readers. In addition to the usual crowd, there were lots of community people -- artists, activists, & the cultured curious. What a fabulous start for this year's series.

The program was a study in humor, the personal & the political. Rachel Shukert's schtick is that she is a not-so-nice Jewish girl from Nebraska. What she read (&, by the way, read much too fast) was from her memoir Have You No Shame?, sections about looking for work in NYC & an attempted seduction, with cookies, by a Hasidim baker.

David Rees is a political cartoonist who modifies clip art as he trashes the Bush administration; he has published 3 volumes of his Get Your War On strip. He showed & read samples using an overhead projector. Check out the interview by Amy Halloran in the Preview section (Sept. 25 - Oct. 1) of the Times-Union.

For a schedule of upcoming Frequency North readings check out

September 22, 2008

Third Thursday Poetry Night, September 18

[Michael Hare reading from his book at Caffe Lena last year.]

It was a short night at the Social Justice Center. The proverbial tour bus got lost on the way & ended up touring Times Square. But the talented group that did show up included some of the regular stalwarts as well as a new participant. We actually ran through the entire open mic sign up list before the featured poet, Michael Hare.

Alan Catlin started us off with a bar observation, "Nocturne." It's the start of the academic year so Sylvia Barnard's poem was about the variety of students arriving for their first class. I always try to get the accents correct on Thérèse Broderick's name; tonight she read a poem with a title in French, "Les Larmes."

Todd Fabozzi hadn't been here before & read from his new book of poems, Umbrageous Embers (The Troy Book Makers) a political poem, "Opposite Day". Ed Rinaldi read a sensuous poem with Summer as a woman. & I ended the open mic with my new poem, "The Cardinal."

Our featured poet, Michael Hare, has been reading out at open mics from his book of poems, Saratoga Lives (Equipoise Press, 2007). There are over 200 characters, each with a poem of about a page in length, speaking on 4 different days from 1801 to 2005. They are rich & poor, white & black, real & imagined, even an elm tree. Tonight he gave us a sample from each of the 4 sections, with Mary Darcy reading poems spoken by women. Michael had put together a thoughtful selection, each male figure paired with a female character. Both he & Mary let the poems speak for themselves with a minimum of theatrics, Mary's understated accents adding color without becoming caricatures. Too bad those on the proverbial tour bus missed it.

Every third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany; 7:00 PM sign-up & putting up chairs, 7:30 start.

Rootdrinker Institute & Benevolent Bird Press

For some months now I've had on my desk (rising & falling through the various strata) a stack of chapbooks, broadsides & newsletters from Alan Casline & his DIY small press, Benevolent Bird Press, & his Rootdrinker Institute. The "statement of purpose" from the Rootdrinker Newsletter says that they "encourage artists, musicians, writers, and crafters to use local images, lore, and legends, along with the artistic inspiration and creative visions of those people who before them by advocating interest in nature, local history, and local traditions." Gee, sounds like Emily Dickinson, or Walt Whitman, or William Carlos Williams, or Charles Olson, even Frank O'Hara.

The chapbooks include Heat Wave by Barbara Hatch Vink, Harvesting Silence by Dennis Sullivan, Alan Casline's own Some Thursday Night Poems, & a funny, spurious The Annals of Perious Frink, a compilation from the local writers in Casline's stable (some already mentioned).

The broadsides are attractive works 8 1/2 x 11 inches, short poems illustrated by one of Alan's photos or hand-printed block prints (as are many of the covers of his chapbooks). The poems tend toward "Nature" poems, but then that includes human Nature as well as birds & snow & rivers. The broadsides include poems by Alan Catline, Art Willis, Dennis Sullivan, obeedude (Mark O'Brien), Barbara Vink, Dale Hobson, Albert Glover, Tom Corrado, Cathy Anderson, Stephen Lewandowski, Mike Burke and Alan Casline.

Also in the pile was a collection of "history, folklore, poetry, natural history, art, photography," Normanskill: Watershed Anthology, designed & edited by Alan Casline. It is a very attractive & informative gathering of, well, what it says, "history, folklore, poetry, etc." A sequence of my early love poems are situated along the Normanskill & one of Alan's color photographs actually captures our "secret spot." The anthology includes work by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the section from the beginning of The Song of Hiawatha that mentions the Tawasentha (today's Normans Kill); an essay & poem by early 20th Century "farmer poet" W.W. Christman; essays by Allison Bennett & Cathy Anderson; & poems by Mimi Moriarty, Art Willis, Alan Casline, Barbara Vink, Tom Corrado, Dennis Sullivan, Edie Abrams, Mark O'Brien; & reproductions of paintings by Kay Levine.

Together these documents & poems & visual art are what is best about this DIY age & it's inherent paradox: the technology makes it possible for anyone to put out attractive, well-make work in simple, inexpensive formats. Rootdrinker & the Benevolent Bird Press is preserving & presenting the work not only of some of our fine local poets, but also the work of lesser-known or forgotten local writers & historians. Talk to Alan the next time you see him at a poetry event (he's the big guy with the big hat), or write to him for information:

Alan Casline
P.O. Box 522
Delmar, NY 12054

September 13, 2008

Yo-yo-ing on the Northway, September 11

Actually quite a wonderful night, up & down the Northway between Albany & Saratoga Springs, like Benny Profane on the Times Square Shuttle (cf. V by Thomas Pynchon). I went up to see/hear Jay Rogoff read at the Skidmore College Surrey Williamson Inn to a packed audience of Skiddies & Saratoga poets & faculty & staff.

Back in July I attended a reading in the Writers Institute Summer Program with poet James Logenbach & his wife Joanna Scott. I never wrote about that reading but if I had I would have commented on Bob Boyer's introductions of the writers to the effect that I am content to be an unknown, street poet because I would never want to become famous enough to read at a program at Skidmore & have Boyers introduce me -- I'd rather die in obscurity (& certainly will). His carefully crafted comments show a familiarity with the writer's books, at least his/her most recent (or most notorious) work, but are often long, both in time & on self-conciously clever praise. I'm waiting for the day for the guest poet to say, "Thanks Bob for making my ass all wet & cushy, now, in the time left, I have this one poem to read."

Jay Rogoff, who teaches at Skidmore, read mostly from his new book of poems, The Long Fault (Louisiana State University Press). At the beginning he commented that "a poet has to have some responsibility for the world at large." His poem are carefully, artfully crafted, sometimes in forms (rhyme, half-rhyme, counted syllables, even in Alcaeics -- sending me back to my Greek texts), sometimes in more open forms. Poems not from the book included a new sequence he is working on, "Enamel Eyes," about French ballet in 1870 (he is the dance critic for the Saratogian during the summer season at SPAC), & a series of short poems growing out of poems to his wife. I was amused by "Jane Austen Inventor of Baseball," & touched by his elegy to A.R. Ammons, "A Break Down," "Memorial Chapel" & "Poets Park Mexico DF."

Afterwards, at the reception I ran into a tender poet I'd heard read at Caffè Lena, Yvette Brown, then said good bye to my friend, & headed down the long, dark highway, under a dappled moon, to Justin's on Lark St., back in Albany. Of course I found a parking spot right in front (this ain't New York you know) & caught 2½ sets by the singer/poet/chef/artist Nicole Peyrafitte & bassist Mike Bisio. I found a seat with Krausman & reveled in French torch songs, classics such as "Autumn Leaves" (lyrics by Jacques Prévert), Edith Piaf ("La vie en rose," "Non, je ne regrette rien"), poems by Arab poets, Nicole herself, & Pierre Joris. Check out her website

Mike Bisio is the acrobatic white son of Mingus, as much fun to watch as to listen to -- I tried to imagine the calligraphy the end of his bow would make if dipped in ink, the pizzicato punctuation of his fingertips -- he can make that big thing weep & sing. His CD Sideways (with Bob Gluck on piano & Dean Sharp, drums) is from

& then Nicole ended her performance with "Just a Boy" & the line that tied up the night for me: "the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love & to be loved in return."

That same dappled moon followed me home.

September 12, 2008

"Live from the Living Room" September 10

[One of my favorite pictures of Kristen Day, sketching Bernadette Mayer at a reading at my house.]

At the Capital District Gay Lesbian Community Center, another "straight-friendly" gathering under the aegis of Uncle Don Levy.

Tonight's featured poet was Kristen Day, a favorite who was out of the loop for a while but in recent months has been back. She also has "the 2nd largest collection of photos of unknown poets", or so I say. Her poems spring directly out of her own experience & for that we are grateful as she confronts the demons around her. She began with a poem about dueling remotes with her brother, "13& Old Enough to Stay Home with my Brother," "Dog," "Food Court," "E2" (the locked ward at Albany Med.), a reaction to a meeting at work, & the all-too-familiar cell phones on a plane "Wasted Words;" another hospital poem, "Slipped," & the popular "Pick-a-Poem" rant; "Bad Mood," from her chapbook, not really self-destructive, as were the last 2 poems, "To Dr. Nash" & the powerful piece about the destruction of the World Trade Centers, "The 6:20 and the 2:45."

After the break I read an old poem, "James," responding to a Judith Johnson poem about her dead cats & a gay student, then a newer piece about my son Jack -- 2 "J" poems I guess. Bob Sharkey read a longer piece, "Perspective #3," a "why are we here poem" as he said, with an elephant in his childhood backyard -- it must be symbolic of something.

Tim Verhaegen read about a handsome boy in "Provincetown Painting" & family dynamics (his forte) in "The Dance." It was good to see Anthony Bernini again & hear him read "Berefted" & a poem about the view from Grand St. of the Chrysler Building in NYC, "The Monument." Earlier we had my response to a "dead cat poem" & Kristen's elegy for her dead dog, now Thérèse Broderick read about seeing a dog rise from the dead, "Weeping in Egypt."

Our magnanimous host, Don Levy read his new "If the White House is a Rockin' Don't Come a Knockin'" (an imagined press conference by the Jonas Brothers), then another pop-culture blast with "It's the End for Your Gossip Girl." He ended with a short segment from a work-in-progress, "Rubbing Noses with Sarah Pallin" (you get the idea).

Every 2nd Wednesday, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY (in case you are wondering which Albany that could be).

Albany Poets Present! September 2

At Valentine's -- no competition from a band tonight, just a handful of poets at the bar, Thom Francis with the clipboard.

Sylvia Barnard, Albany poet, is also a long-time professor of classics at the University at Albany. She read a poem about the new students coming in to her class; also, a tender poem about her daughter getting her mother's bookcase. I read a new poem, "The Cardinal," & "Painter's Eyes."

Julie Lomoe had stopped by for the reading here a couple months ago but that was when we were displaced by a loud band, so she was back tonight to promote & read from her new murder-mystery, Eldercide ( Publishers).

Joe Hollander only likes to read one poem at open mics, which tonight was "The Captain" (about "someone who is missing from the poetry scene" -- hmm?), but was coerced to read something else, & found a random page from a medical experiment manual he found on his way here. And Ed Rinaldi was buying beers too at the bar & read "Outside my Beliefs," "Consumerist Rising," & some prosey meanderings "At the Kitchen Table at Midnight..."

Then we hung out & talked for a while before ambling home. Poetry & beer, what could be better?

First Tuesdays, Valentines near the beginning of New Scotland Ave., in Albany, NY (just to differentiate from the 18 other Albanys in the USA).

September 9, 2008

Third Thursday Poetry Night, August 21

We've had a string of featured poets with new books & tonight it was Will Nixon's turn; his book of poems, My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse, was recently published by Foot Hills Publishing. But before we get to that, tonight's muse was the recently departed Mahmoud Darwish (check out Pierre's Blog for an obit & some poems).

Sylvia Barnard was back early from her summer trip to England because of the death of her mother at 99 years! She brought her classical scholarship to bear on a new political poem, "The New Athenian." Bob Sharkey thought he heard Buddy Bolton shout at the "Shell Beach Station." Benevolent Bird Press publisher & Rootdrinker Institute jefe, Alan Casline, pondered "By Summer Greens Dispersion."

Mimi not-so-cranky-not-so-old Moriarty read her "cranky old lady poem" "Floater." It was a night of new readers, 2 to be exact, & the first was Doug White with an intricate meditation on grammar, punctuation, "Way Comma." Chris Brabham brought us back to recent tragic events in Albany with "When the Bullet Takes the Flight."

Will Nixon gave us a sample of 8 poems from My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse, including the title poem. The poems are a collection of vignettes & meditations, from childhood, through life in the city & in the woods, good stories that are pleasant to listen to & read. Others that he read: "When I Had It Made," "Dyslexic," "Easy Out," "Blood Brothers," "Insomnia," "Trespassing at the Leap," & "Miles." You can find our more about his book, & order a copy, at:

After the break, I started off the return of the open mic with an old piece, "I Meet an Old Friend on the Subway." I read recently that New York City is ending the "Poetry in Motion" program on the subways & this poem was inspired many years ago by seeing a poem by Lance Henson on a subway train. Frank Robinson read a philosophical poetic exercise on the paradox of a wish to want nothing. The other new reader was Diane Maiwald (who had read recently at Caffè Lena), on being empty & wanting to feel whole. Thérèse Broderick, appropriately enough, ended the night with a poem from her "artists dying" series, this one about her father, a color-blind painter.

We are every Third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM (7PM sign-up, if you want to get there early).

September 4, 2008

Colony Cafe, August 18

I was on my way back from visiting the grandchildren in Pennsylvania & stopped in Woodstock for the regular Monday night reading at the Colony Cafe on Rock City Road, hosted by Phillip Levine.

Ron Rybecki appeared first as "David Baxter" (then later played a role in the heckling of Allen Midgette). One of the old-time Woodstock characters, Max Schwartz, read from a notebook on Death/Life, with frequent page-turning & flipping glasses. Richard Boes read from chapter 4 of his novel/memoir, Last Train Out, watch for publication soon. Donald Lev, editor of Home Planet News, read a couple of his poems then an unpublished poem, "Rude Tides," by Enid Dame.

Allison Koffler was featured here recently (with her husband, Dayl Wise); she read a "coming of age poem," "Mis-use Can Result in Fire or Death by Electrical Shock" & a poem for Bread & Puppet founder, Peter Schumann. Dayl Wise followed with new "Odes about things I used to carry": "Ode to Steel Helmet," & "Ode to Toothbrushes."

There were 3 featured performers, 2 poets & a "raconteur," which is French for "bull-shit artist." The first of the poets was Dayl's friend & former room-mate, Marc Levy, who now lives in Gloucester. He has been writing "mostly prose," he says, of late, & read on leadership & war -- on President Bush (why don't you shut up), on Muhammad Ali, on Chess, & a 20 year-old dream. Quietly powerful pieces that deserve larger audiences.

The second poet was one I've yet to grow tired of hearing, Carol Graser, reading from The Wild Twist of Their Stems as well as newer pieces, & including her classic "N + 7 Prayer" (on the "Our Father"), & "Pope Air Force Base."

Allen Midgette was torn between responding to impatient hecklers & those hungry for prurient stories of dead celebrities. In fact he was torn between what stories to tell: (almost) getting picked up by Montgomery Cliff in Italy, getting stoned & laid in Warhol's factory, rubbing up against big stars.

But it was getting late & I had to leave so I missed the rest of his stories & the rest of the open mic, mea culpa.

Check it out, every Monday.