November 26, 2008

Poets Speak Loud, November 24

On the last Monday of each month, after the peace vigil in Delmar, I drive back into Albany, park in the Sea of Mud behind the Lark Tavern, & go in for dinner. Usually Greg & Ed & Tim are tossing back the Guiness & sorting out the forces that move the world of Art & Music -- & whatever else lands on their table. Sometimes I find a table alone but often someone is there alone too to welcome me. Tonight Mary & Thom were by the stage so I squeezed into the long bench next to them. Nicole, ah, Nicole, knew what to bring me. I ordered a special & settled in for the evening.

It was a short night of only 6 open mic readers, & our featured poet, Will Nixon, but it was fun -- & if you doubt my word you should show up sometime.

Michael Mooney was new & I think there more for the fun than the poems; he read a joke about 3 State workers walking in to the Lark Tavern & seeing Jesus at the bar. Or maybe it was Rob (he showed up later but didn't sign up).

Shaun Baxter began with a poem by John Updike, "Perfection Wasted" read for his father, then read the only poem Shawn said he ever wrote about his father, the folk wisdom of "Cars & Doctors." Josh McIntyre stayed in town for the open mic & read about now, in "Recovery," then one about forgiveness, "Resistance" -- quiet wisdom in short poems.

Will Nixon, from Woodstock, has been featured here quite a bit lately -- at the Social Justice Center in August & just last week at Live from the Living Room, promoting his book from FootHills Publishing, My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse. Tonight he read mostly from an unpublished manuscript of poems based on the movie The Night of the Living Dead; other poems not in the book, such as "The Night I Saw the Clash" & "Love, Falling In." I've enjoyed his readings here & in Woodstock from the book, but was pleased to hear other poems tonight.

I haven't seen James Schlett in a while, need his nature poems to quiet the urban rattle sometimes; he read one about a storm. The lone female poet of the night, A.C. "breaking-my-Art" Everson did a poem about Xmas "Lights". I had picked my number on the sign-up sheet at random & ended up last for a change with a couple of old poems about young women out in the bars, "Yellow Cab" (a QE2-era poem) & "Ordering Lunch."

Don't look for the open mic in December because it won't happen, but on the last Monday in January 2009 it will be back, followed by the annual Tom Nattell Memorial beret toss at the Robert Burns statue. I'll be the host -- dress warm -- 7:30PM, Lark Tavern, Madison Ave., Albany, NY

November 22, 2008

Third Thursday Poetry Night, November 20

This was a night when the proverbial poetry Tour Bus arrived & arrived early -- Naton Leslie brought a group of students from his poetry class at Siena College into the big bad city to read poetry at the open mic. I actually started at 7:31. Our muse was Hayden Carruth, who left us recently; I read the last 2 sections from his long poem "Contra Mortem." He was one poet whose use of form did not overwhelm his lines.

Alan Catlin started us off, as he likes to do, with "Empties." Then Kristen Day added to my "one poem" rule with "5 Things That Irritate Me at a Poetry Reading." The first student of the night, Philip Anthony Hartshorn II, continued the number theme with "The 7 Sonatas of the Night," (a love poem).

Then 3 more students, Joseph A. Mastrogiovanni with the social commentary of "Handicapped;" Christian Jacobs "Sea of Flowers" sounded like a portrait, as was Ashley Anderson's chilling "Monkey Lady."

W.D. Clarke was back, with advice to guys in rhyme, "The Pipe Smoker." And Bob Sharkey paid tribute to singer-activist Harry Chapin.

The featured poet was Matt Galletta whose work I have enjoyed at open mics in the area. He read a variety of short pieces, some found poems, & did about 2 1/2 of the things that irritated Kristen at poetry readings. His Zen take "On Workshops" actually offered some good, if satirical, advice, & his flash fiction "Detective Story" took advice from Raymond Chandler to the extreme. Coupling this with another poem about lover's robbing a bank, I wonder if he has a secret life of crime. HIs poems are simply & directly stated, often wistful & humorously ironic. His last poem, "Snakes on a Poet" based on the movie by a similar name, ended with the statement that the audience "politely applauded," & we did.

After the break, I read my new work, still being picked at, "Dancing on the Mandala." Back to the open mic, Alan Casline is only 2 letters off from our first reader tonight, & read a series of short stanzas on gardening. Ed Rinaldi hit us hard with "Molestation as Dark Bread." Joe Krausman was just as grim with a meditation on parents' fear sending children out into the world. Moses Kash III commented on "Election Night" world-wide.

Another student poet, Bob McHugh, read a tale of an argument in a diner with a girl-friend (these students seem to have learned the important lesson of late 20th century poetry of finding subject matter in anything). Anthony Bernini read a tight piece, "Buck Road" (in Worthington, MA). Brooke brought us back to "October".

And the last student reader of the night Catherine Semel-DeFeo read clever, intricate "Nonsense." Our last poet, Roberta Adams, had been at the reading at East Line Books on November 8 & came to check out the scene, read about "Morphing into Mom."

In an old poem I once wondered, "Where were the Professors?" Naton Leslie proved tonight he was not one of those about whom the poem was written. The students who read were inventive, witty, engaged with the world & a lot of fun. I hope some them brave the big city on their own & come to more of the open mics. It's our (poetic) future.

Every third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM.

November 18, 2008

Community of Writers, Schenectady County Public Library, November 16

This is part of a series of readings coordinated by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, for which they received funds from the Arts Center of the Capital Region in the usual circuitous, bureaucratic route. It's great to pay the readers. Today's event was moderated by Bill Poppino & there was a long line of readers in many genres stretching over 2 hours.

Mikki Conn from the Hamilton Hill Arts Center was the first up, & read a memoir by her mother, Margaret Cunningham, who was in the audience, about the struggle of a black family looking for housing in the 1950s (the picture shows Mikki Conn, left, with Margaret Cunningham, center). Leonard Slade is a well-known local poet who teaches at the University at Albany; he read a series of poems from his new book Jazz After Dinner.

Susannah Risley read a chapter from a novel about a French-Canadian family. Catherine Norr (pictured) had a number of her poems about her mom, her twin, her lover; she also had a new chapbook from Benevolent Bird Press, Color Barrier. Emil Jarczynski read a first-person short story about going to a dance class. Sandra Manchester's narrative poems were about her parents, a memoir of a rooming house, & a fever.

Each year the Hamilton Hill Arts Center participates in the reading with a group of writers associated with their arts & writing programs. Jasmine Kendricks read poems by Taj Majors, who had to leave early. "Treasure" read a long set of unevenly rhymed inspirational platitudes. Arrima Abdullah Matlock (who said she also goes by the name "Chicago Davis") read a powerful prose piece about a young Muslim girl going through a crises of identity being gay). "Simply Divine" (pictured) gave the most dramatic performances of the afternoon with two poems.

Winifred Elze read fast from her mystery novel The Borgia Prince (Troy Book Masters) setting us up for the murder; it uses Schenectady as its locale. Nan Johnson (pictured) was one of the editors of The Washout Review in the 1970s & '80s. She read some amusing poems observing friends & family members. Catherine de Salle read a couple poems & a short story about fancy underwear, "The Cleaning Lady's Pearls".

One of the purposes of the series is to highlight the variety of literary talent in this area & this program certainly did that. Check out the Guild at

Jawbone, November 14

The last in this semester/season's series, with our commanding host, Mary Panza.

Ed Rinaldi, thanks to some poetry & writing courses, has been coming out to the open mic scene a lot lately, so it was fun to hear him in a full, stretched out session. Most of his poems are short & he had me scribbling away in my notebook trying to keep up. Refreshingly, he touched on the everyday themes that get lost sometimes -- high school memories, love (for his wife, children), "divinity type poems" as he says (but the undercurrent of spirituality ran through most of his work), writing in quiet, & an interesting series personifying Summer & Autumn. Sometimes he described his poems as like picking scabs ("Unfettered Memories"), another time they "oozed". And I liked the phrase, "drinking from the cup of trembling...").

On the professorial end of the program, Chris Funkhouser returned to Albany from New Jersey where he teaches at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Chris was a part of the Albany poetry scene back when he was a graduate student here in the early 1990s. His work tonight was combined video from Sao Paolo, with morphing text movies, music & Chris reading his texts. In this age of TV & video games the advantage of such work is that we (visually) pay attention, even when the images repeat in endless variations. But I think the downside is that the text itself gets lost, the words become a barely perceived sound-track. But the art keeps expanding, stretching the possibilities & Chris's work tonight was an engaging example of that.  (The photo shows Chris on the right, with Don Byrd & friends.)

Hopefully, Jawbone & Poetry @ the UAG (with the able coordination & logistics from AlbanyPoets will be back next semester. Stay tune.

November 14, 2008

Debriefing: Three Poets Examine the Aftermath of War, November 8

This was a reading that I was a part of along with Mimi Moriarty & Bob Sharkey at East Line Books in Clifton Park, NY. The blurb on the flyer stated, "Dan Wilcox served during the Vietnam War. Bob Sharkey was a conscientious objector. Mimi Moriarty is the daughter of a WWII veteran. Their poems reflect awe, outrage, humor, respect and resilience."

Mimi put together a program of paired poems, sometime Bob & Mimi, or Dan & Bob, or Mimi & Bob, including a poem by Iraq War vet Brian Turner from his book Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005). Mimi included some poems from her chapbook, War Psalm (Finishing Line Press, 2007) & others, including the fortunately fading dream poem "The Feminization of George W. Bush."

Bob included poems from his new series on (unintentionally) ironic statements made by new Iraq war veterans, showing how much poetic material is out there just to listen to. He has been trying out these poems one-by-one at open mic so it was a pleasure to hear them clustered together.

In addition to poems from my "Peace Poems" chapbook, I read the Oil War I era broadside "Peace Marchers at the Viet Nam Memorial" & we did a group performance of the collaborative poem "Why Are We Here."

It was great to perform for an audience of mostly non-poet "citizens," the so-called ordinary folk drawn out for the Veterans Day weekend & for their concern for world peace. Personally I was thrilled to make some new acquaintances & to be part of a program that brought poetry to people that don't ordinarily go to poetry readings. Also, to be once again at Robyn Ringler's East Line Books, 1714 Route 9, Clifton Park (across from Snyder's Restaurant).

(photo by John Amidon, Veterans Day Parade, Albany, NY)

November 12, 2008

Academy of American Poets Awards Ceremony, November 7

This was was a ceremony/reading honoring this year's award recipients, with the likes of Robert Pinsky, current Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Frank Bidart, etc. wandering around. Not that I am a particular fan of this breed of poets, but it was an opportunity to go to NYC for a day, run into friends, wander the village, see some of the poetry super-stars in the flesh, etc. I didn't bother to take pictures, you can find them all on

It was like being a tourist on Mount Olympus, not the current multi-lingual tour buses climbing the Greek hillside, but more like the Homeric version where gods major & minor, & those aspiring to become gods, strut across the stage bestowing gifts on each other. Indeed reading between the lines one could see it was poets picking their friends, close collegues, collaborators, associates, promoting MFA programs, an incestuous community breeding more like themselves. It was like, "We's takin' turns & it'll be my turn next year."

Many of the poems read of course were difficult, if not impossible, to follow on first hearing, being so refined & mannered, as is the fashion. But while the Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto (whose work was read by his translator, the awardee Patrick Barron) was described as a "madman," his poem "To the World" was one of the most enoyable & certainly the most playful of the evening. Similarly, the poems of Henri Cole (the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize), described as "sonnet length," were elegantly stated without self-concious obscurity. The one poet who I would have liked to hear more from, the quietly understated Brigit Pegeen Kelly, read a poem by Yeats & another by Dylan Thomas, & 2 of her own. I appreciate the idea of "sharing the stage," but her work deserves a wider audience (her poem beginning "It was not a scorpion I wished for..." was eerie & chilling), so hers was the one book I bought (The Orchard, BOA Editions, 2004). There is no need to promote the likes of Dylan Thomas or Yeats, everyone knows their work.

The major award (the Wallace Stevens Award) was to former Poet Laureate Louise Glück, $100,000 (!), for which she didn't even make an appearance at the wine & cheese reception afterwards. For that kind of money she should have walked around the reception & tongue-kissed every sycophant poet in the room, then bought them dinner.

You can go to the Academy's (so aptly named) website & read about all the recipients & the awards & what they were for. By my calculation they gave out that night $171,000. For that kind of money they could give 171 poets a $1000 each, or 1,710 poets a $100 each, instead 7 got what they got. I don't begrudge them their awards, but certainly $100,000 is excessive, the equivalent of about 2 to 3 good salarys, or about 4 low-paying jobs.

To all my fellow poets & habitués of the open mics I say, keep writing but don't quit your day jobs, or spend your award money before the Academy calls. After all, Wallace Stevens was an insurance man, Walt Whitman had to publish his own books & the only MFA that Emily Dickinson had was a mighty fine ass.

Woman Words Reading, November 6

This was a reading by a group of writers from the local women writers collective, "Woman Words" founded by Marilyn Zembo Day, who was the MC of the reading. It was held at East Line Books in Clifton Park run by Robyn Ringler. The room was filled with the (women) poets & supporters with a small cluster of us guys lurking in the back.

Marilyn began the reading with a poem referencing other members of the group, "Please Tell Me" (your stories). Judith Prest started with a poem patterned on one by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "I Am Waiting," then a couple poems for her son (one where she wants to paint him, reminding me of D. Alexander Holiday's poems at Caffe Lena the night before), ending with "How Rocks Dance."  Kristen Day read a bunch of crowd-pleasers, "Food Court," "Wasted Words," "Summary of a Meeting," & the rousing rant "Pick a Poem."  

Jan Tramontano teased us with the opening sections of her just-finished novel, Inherently Bogart (any agents or publishers out there?). 

Kittie Bintz addressed "Even Song to the Moon," then the poems "In Choosing Images," "The Snow Came Early" (with it's chant-like repeating line) & "Spring Fed 

Judy Clough's prose memoir was about one of those angst-ridden, embarrassing adolescent moments in dance class.  

Leslie Neustadt delivered a monologue, "Plethora of Parts," about the different ages of her life that are still with her, often at the wrong moment. Leslie Tabor followed with poems,
 "Archangel" (a familiar Albany character), "Varieties of Death," & 2 about storms, "Lights Out," and "Wind Toppled." 

Thérèse Broderick, whose Blog on Ekphrastic poetry is linked below, read 4 poems inspired by paintings in an exhibit of Latin American painters at the New York State Museum.

Marilyn finished out the reading with a non-chronological memoir, "Probably Sober," and, appropriately enough, "Won't," about enjoying writing, reading.

It was a great thing that Robyn Ringler opened up her space to this reading. She has a wide variety of titles, used, new, & out-of-print, all in wonderful shape. Check out the website

November 10, 2008

Caffè Lena Open Mic, November 5

Our host, Carol Graser, began with a short statement from a young woman at a detention center that defined poetry & open mics, "When people get together & say how they feel..."

Nancy Muldoon is a free-lance writer, read short poems "Freedom" & "American Culture" that were done before we knew it, a good way to start. I followed with an old post-election piece, "The Elect Shun Mourning & Celebrate," whose grim mood did not, this year, match my own post-election hope, & a new, in-progress piece, "Dancing on the Mandala."

I haven't seen D. Alexander Holiday around at readings in a while, but I recently picked up his latest book of poetry, All the Killers Gathered: Poems for my Daughter (Xlibris). He read the chilling description of Family Court in the Bronx, "If I Were An Artist," then read a related poem "If...," by Emma Cottrell from the Arabesques Review.

Richard Cowles appeared as "the poet writing his own introduction..." with 2 mercifully short & humorous performance pieces, "Foolish Accident" & "Not a Bit Curious," which included him running out of the room. Ryan Crothy went over the limit with 3 poems, all memorized, in rhyme & all by long-gone poets (I wonder if he writes his own stuff?).

Nancy Defoio read "The Sick Boy at the Table," & the childhood narrative "Mama's Pills." W.D. Clarke did the funny rhyming "Grandma," & the veterans' favorite "The Company Shit-Burner."

I think if I go to enough readings by Jay Rogoff, tonight's featured poet, I would eventually hear all the poems in his new book, The Long Fault (Louisiana State University Press). Tonight, only 4 out of the 10 poems from the book that he read he had read at his Skidmore reading (see my Blog for September 11), & they were ones I was glad to hear again ("Poets Park Mexico DF" is a perfect poem to end his readings as it is to end his book). I particularly liked "Aspirations," begun during Oil War I, & the poems about a teenage photo of his wife, "Looking Out" & "Shadow." He also included some poems from a forthcoming new book of poems on dance themes, The Code of Terpsichore, on dancing, of course; a couple of sonnets, "Latin Class," which I so much want to read, & the funny, sexy puns of "In the King's Arms." & here is one professor who hangs around for the open mic & to sign books at the end of the night. You'll get another chance to hear him read in February at the Social Justice Center Third Thursday Poetry Night.

I'd met Faye Bell elsewhere in Saratoga Springs, but this was the first time I heard her read her poetry, a wonderful poem of memory, clocks, & Time, "Regrets." Barbara Garro read "The Welcoming Kitchen" & an actual "Nightmare" (always interesting material for a poem). Thérèse Broderick's interesting Blog (linked at the bottom of the page) deals with ekphrastic poetry & one poem she read, "The Washer Woman," was based on a landscape painting. Her other poem, "I Single Saw a Woman Sitting," appropriated text from a book on old riddles.

Josh McIntyre's "Heaven on Earth" was a love poem, & then he read a short survey of the seasons, "Weather Whipped." Danielle Pierotti was new to me, read a grim poem, "The Wedding" then one about headaches. Pat Finnegan, a Viet Nam vet, read the rhyming "Prodigal Sons" which combined memories of going to Viet Nam with the corporate lies behind that conflict (& all wars), "Miami Beach 1972" which recounted the protests there by veterans against Nixon, & a third (for which he had permission from Carol), a more hopeful poem, "Morning."

Yvette Brown read a tender just-written poem on the anniversary of her husband's death. Bob Sharkey said he tried to compress his life into the one poem, "Perspective #3." A Skidmore student at the Caffe for the first time, Madeline Hennessey, read a response to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart then a great flow of words in "Noun;" very impressive work from this young student.

Then other impressive work from another Skidmore student, Bob Langford, in a sermon on living life to the fullest. I think the last poet of the night, Gary Yeager, wasn't here earlier when Carol laid down the 2-poems rule so he recited 3 poems (almost) from memory, one by Yeats, one by Kipling & his own ballad "The Pumpkin My Sister First Saw" (I'd rather hear his work).

The first Wednesday of each month at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs.

November 3, 2008

Poets Speak Loud!, October 27

The last Monday of the month gathering at the Lark Tavern, with Mary Panza as our host(ess).

I had been there early for dinner so signed up first & read "The Lady Bishop" (published last year in Gender on Our Minds out of Southern Connecticut State University) & the tiny "Channelling Richard Brautigan." Sylvia Barnard followed me, commenting on the Episcopal Church's selection of a woman Arch Bishop that my poem had been about, then read "To My Father at his 110th Birthday" or what would have been.

One of my favorite pastiche writers, Shawn Baxter, did a version of WCW's "This is just to say..." but with a pumpkin instead of plums, then he provided us with a list of "Ineffective Ways to Kill a Zombie" (Halloween around the corner). Todd Fabrozzi read 2 poems, "Mutants" & "Holes & Poles" from his book, Umbrageous Embers.

Tonight's feature was free-lance journalist & Metroland columnist, Miriam Axel-Lute. She read "a mix of old & new," beginning with responding with kindness in a "Prayer for the Evangelist on the D Train." Then "Mezuzah on 181st St." (perhaps where she was going on the D train). Other poems included "Westport Graveyard," a couple poems for her young daughter, a poem by slam poet Marty McConnell ("After All of this, Fire"), "Apartment Heat," "Living Close Together," and, ending loud!, "Karma." I like Miriam's work with it's images from the world of real things & her political/cultural engagement & I've featured her in my Third Thursday series. While a "performance poet" she is that in the best of terms, where the performance does not overwhelm (or has to) the poem.

Frank Robinson performed his ironic "Rant" perhaps for one of the last times, under the patriotic bunting. Speaking of poems that may (hopefully) not be performed much longer, Don Levy read "Rubbing Noses with Sarah Palin;" before that he caused some audience members to lose all composure with his reading of the oh-so-gay "Why I Never Had a Foreign Affair."

Chris Brabham's booming bass voice is perfect for his "A Sentimental Cannabalist" & the popular "The Angel of Death Unplugged." William Eng writes his poems right there in the audience, as he did tonight with a poem about a family gathering, "301 Lakeview Road," & one about his first Halloween, hidden & watching. Shannon Shoemaker ended the night with the relationship poem, "Confession" & some notations from a "Night Alone in a Bar."

Sponsored by, at the Lark Tavern on Madison Ave., Albany, NY.