December 29, 2009

Season's Readings, December 20

This was a special Holiday reading held at Perfect Blend Coffee House at the Four Corners in Delmar. It was sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & was coordinated by the Guild's new 2-headed President, Carolee Sherwood & Jill Crammond Wickham. Each reader was asked to read a Holiday-theme poem by a poet other than themselves & one of their own. This made for an eclectic mix that held everyone's attention. Carolee did the intros, with bits from pop culture sprinkled in between the poets, like decorative red & green sugars, including Sally's Xmas list from the Charlie Brown series, & quotes from the Girswalds.

The first poet was Steve Trimm who read Robert Frost's "Good Hours," then his own poem about being at Frost's grave. Rod Aldrich bravely read a poem in Irish by Sean O'Reardon about women's Christmas in Ireland, then the English translation & his own "Christmas Eve at the Peace Pagoda."

Jan Tramontano said she has been writing a series of poems on "qualities" & read to us her piece on Compassion (a quality for all seasons), then a poem by Hafiz. Cecele Krause began with Dorianne Laux's "Cello," & read her own villanelle, "For Dinner with Friends." As I did at the recent Third Thursday open mic, I read Enid Dame's "Holiday Poem" ("We don't need the solace of bought objects/We need each other's light.") & my poem "Christmas Eve, 1945."

Mary McCarthy read a poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, "The Place Where We Are Right;" her own poem was a list of her holiday preparations & resolves, including trying not to eat chocolate, or, at least, not too much, or... It's rare that anyone reads Alfred Lord Tennyson at open mics, but Mimi Moriarty did, his "I Stood on a Tower," then her own childhood memory, "Waiting for Santa."

Bob Sharkey combined Edna St. Vincent Millay's "To Jesus on His Birthday" with his poem about being caught in a "Blizzard" while out shopping in Maine. Jill Crammond Wickham read William Carlos Williams' "Winter Trees" then told us she wasn't going to read her "June Cleaver winter poem" because she didn't bring it & her husband couldn't find it -- we will have to wait.

Carolee Sherwood brought the afternoon to an end with her New Years resolutions poem, "Metamorphosis," & the happy ending of the great "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

A grand & most pleasant afternoon of poems, friends, warm drinks. Congratulations to the new President(s) of the HVWG for putting together a wonderful Holiday program -- it could be the start of a new holiday tradition.

For a gallery of photos from the reading visit my Flickr! site.

December 28, 2009

Third Thursday Poetry Night, December 17

The holiday edition at the Social Justice Center with "Sanity Clause" in the house. Each open mic poet got to sit after they read on Sanity Clause's lap, tell what a bad-boy they've been & get a gift of poetry. But it was a very, very disappointing night for Sanity Clause since the only poets in the house were men (& many of them quite large) -- there were no, I repeat NO, women poets & therefore NO women to sit on Sanity Clause's fine lap. Sanity Clause his-self must've been very bad all year to have such negative Karma.

After I read Enid Dame's wonderful "Holiday Poem" as our muse for the night, Alan Catlin was the first poet on the list. Since there were only 8 poets signed up this night, each got to read 2 poems for a change. Alan read the only poem he has with Christmas in the title, based on Stan Rice's painting, "Christmas in a Time of Wolves", then "Work Anxiety Dreams" (from a retired guy). Josh McIntyre read 2 short poems, "Calling" (a poem coalescing), & "Radio" with songs capturing life.

Don Levy said he must'v seen a pig fly & read 2 Winter poems, "Winter Wonder Films" (written last night), "The Fashion Police Says, Freeze Sucker." W.D. Clarke read a Summer poem, "The Sun Bathers" then one of favorites, "The Pipe Smoker." Jason Crane read David Chorlton's "The Invisible Demonstrator". Jason's son Bernie Crane was the night's youngest poet (& shortest) read "Everytime I Climb a Tree" by David McCord.

Moses Kash III made his way up to the mic with his cane, & read a prose poem, "Somethings Are Very Bold Because it's Christmas & New Years," musing on the Obama presidency. Gene Damm read a short poem, "Motivation," by Edward Michael Odour Soprowitz. I ended the open mic portion of the program with my poem, "Christmas Eve, 1945."

Our featured poet, Tomas Urayoán Noel, was scheduled months ago for this reading a week from Christmas with nary a thought of the significance of his surname. He began with a New Year's Day poem from A.B. Spellman's chapbook from the 1960s, The Beautiful Days. His offering for the season was his song "Police in Iraq" (think "Feliz Navidad"), then read poems from his book Kool Logic (Bilingual Press, 2005), "Nursing Home Injuries," "DobleTendre/Double Feature" (alternating Spanish & English), "Quicksand," the political commentary on the impact of Late Capitalism, half-sung rock'n'roll "Kool Logic/La lógica kool." Then a couple poems from the Spanish language book, Boringkén, with a sound track (the book comes with a CD). He ended with a voice-recognition software generated version of the first 13 poems of Cesar Vallejo's Trilce, a long, interesting experiment that would have been better appreciated early in the reading, but at this point many in the audience were already fading. An energetic, fascinating, multi-language reading nonetheless.

Your donations at this reading series supports the featured poets, the Poetry Motel Foundation, & the Social Justice Center -- each third Thursday, 33 Central Ave., 7:30PM.

December 20, 2009

Bookmarks - The Memoir Project Reading Series, December 7


This was the last in a series at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. (See my Blogs for the May 11 & November 16 readings.) I was one of 7 readers this night in the Center's clattering "black box" theater. The curator, Kathryn Allen, introduced the reading but each author come up to read without individual introductions. The theme was "Relationships;" like the term "memoir", that can be just about anything you want it to be.

Emil Jarczynski read his long dance class story, "First Step," in 2 parts, with a couple of poets in between. George Drew read a pleasant mix of his characteristic poems, beginning with "I Don't Know the Taste of Chitlin' Blues," some poems stopping by a couple of graves, a tribute to a friend ("Hey Jack"), & ended with Motown in the Detroit airport.

This was my first chance to hear a big chunk of the poetry of Jill Crammond Wickham, who has been coming around to open mics of late. She read a cluster of mostly short poems, starting with contemplating marriage & motherhood in "Girl Meets God;" she included poems to her children, a couple of "June Cleaver" poems, the fun litany of "Who Says a Working Mother Can't Write," & others, often wryly humorous & commenting upon our curious 21st Century concept of the family & the roles of women.

After a break I read a mix of poems to my grandmother ("The Blues"), my parents ("Going Postal"), my father, my kids, ending with "Chasing Tom," all relationships of one kind or another, curiously no love poems. Kathryn Allen read an essay titled "Don't Speak Memory," thus tying it to the theme, that was primarily an anti-intellectual screed against Vladimir Nabokov, particularly against Lolita. Personally, I don't think most child molesters spend much time reading Nabokov.

David Nichols read an amusing memoir of his Irish mother & Scots father & their daily oatmeal. Donna Miller also read a short, tender memoir of her grandmother, prompted by finding a box of her things while in the process of moving.

This has been an interesting series, bringing together novice & experienced writers/readers. But once again the Arts Center has treated writers as poor step-children. For example, there was a nice wine & cheese table, like you find at art openings, put out for the audience & writers -- financed by those of us who read. Most people know I'm not adverse to throwing a party for poets, but when the Arts Center holds itself out as one of the hubs of culture in the area (after all, that's it's name, isn't it?), one would expect more. Do the painters & sculptors whose work is exhibited at the Arts Center have to provide the refreshments for their opening reception?

(I may be wrong on this, but I understand that the Arts Center got grant money for this Memoir Project. If so I wonder what it was spent on; in addition to providing the party, none of those who read got paid.)

But my biggest gripe is the crappy publicity for the writers. If you go to the Arts Center website you will note that the information about the visual arts exhibits includes the names of the artists whose work is in the galleries. But when you read the notice about the Memoir Project readings there is no listings of the readers in each of the events. The "curators'" names are listed, & those of the memoir writing workshop leader, but not the names of the actual writers (i.e., artists). I was notified by the Arts Center back in April that I would be part of this reading, so this is no last-minute event. The writers deserve to have their names listed in the Arts Center publicity just the same as they list the names of the visual artists who are exhibited there. Obviously they -- Arts Center administrators & "curators" -- have not paid any attention to other literary events, readings & open mics in the area & so have no idea that writers are artists too.

December 9, 2009

Caffè Lena Open Mic, December 2

Our host, Carol Graser, started us off with May Swenson's "The Exchange." The good night continued on, with some of the regulars, new voices, dancers, & a wonderful feature.

George M. Fisher started off the open mic with a couple of his characteristic narratives built on memories, one about the drowning of a childhood friend, the other about being stationed in "Okinawa" in the Air Force (where Carol also spent some time as a child). Todd Fabozzi read from his new book, Crossroads, "Hanging Out" & "Rush Hour."

Mary Kathryn Jablonski introduced "H1N1" as "an uncharacteristically funny poem" in which she wryly compared (& combined) the "duck & cover" exercises of her youth with the precautions of the flu epidemics. Nancy Denofio read a long family narrative that took place in 1934, "The Death of John the Fruit Man."

The Young Performers' Creative Dance Company was back, this time with a 2-part presentation -- first a brief dance to a student's poem, "Pain," accompanied by guitar; the 2 dancers wore black, with white gloves & a white ribbon that glowed under a black night, with the central figure wearing an upside-down mask. The audience was asked to write a line or 2 in response to the poem, then, after the break, the dancers were back to perform to the collaborative poem read by Lilly Loveday.

Meg Kearney, Director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA, and Director of Pine Manor’s Solstice Summer Writers Conference, began with a poem by a 4th grade poet, Cameron Penny -- good to give voice to those who aren't heard. From her first collection of poetry, An Unkindness of Ravens, (BOA Editions Ltd., 2001) she read her "Creed". The rest of her reading was from the just released Home By Now (Four Way Books, 2009). She began with "Carnal" & it's unsentimental animal images, which I found strangely similar to "First Blow Job" ("pure metaphor" she says). The politics of a "post 9/11" world were confronted at different levels with "Septemer 12, 2001: View of Downtown Manhattan From My Bedroom Window," "In the Days of Code Orange" (preferring "a code the color of wine" yes, yes), to "Home Now," that brought in New Hampshire, that was connected again in "New Hampshire, Late Winter II (2007)." Even the self-referential "George Says Stop Writing About Yourself" included a brief image of the WTC towers. She also read "On Learning that Henry Ford was an Anti-Semite," & concluded with the longer narrative, "So this Grasshopper Walks into a Bar." Which reminds me of a joke ...

Carol Graser continued the open mic reading "Beneath the Thick News," combining the war & images of home, the kids, & then "The Black Cat" who was hit by a car. Margot Lynch is a poet of the 2nd person, her "On the Edge" was free flow of her thoughts on art, the ocean, herself. Alan Casline read a couple of choruses of his homages to Kerouac's Mexico City Blues. W.D. Clarke's ballad was a Scottish tale of "Otis' Teeth."

Alan Catlin's "Guernica" was a political metaphor & a dangerous bar, & his other bar poem, "New Years Eve Bash" was a ghost tale ripped from the pages of the newspaper. James read 2 short pastoral poems from strolls in his beloved Columbia County, "Duet" & "Twilight Stroll." I think Jill Wickham's 2 poems were related, though I don't recall her saying so, "Hemorrhage" dealt with her mother & father & a stroke, while her second poem was titled "At the Onset of Hibernation the Bees Begin to Speak". Barbara Garro paid homage to the full Moon with a poem to Kali as the Divine Mother, then "Poet," her blurb.

Carolee Sherwood left her poems home (or in the car, or the dog ate them) so she read "poem pieces" from workshop exercises from her journal. I read "My Sather Gate Illumination" from this summer's visit to Berkeley, CA. Bob Sharkey's poem, "And She Never Left Us a Farthing" was about the folks in a small town. This was the first time for Mark Munser who read us his Cowboy poetry, with its rhymes, "Bronco's Life" about being reborn as a (riderless) bronco, then one about escaping from a "Honky Tonk Mama." Thus the variety & the beauty of open mics.

Check it out on the first Wednesday of each month at the historic Caffe Lena, on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, NY.

December 6, 2009

Poets Speak Loud, November 30

This month the host was "Tony the Intern", completing his semester as the slave/gopher/victim of AlbanyPoets. He read a short piece of prose about being at the Pine Hills Deli, deciding "I can live without music."

I was first up at the open mic with the older "Poem Beginning with a Line from Paul Blackburn" then the very new "This Dream Is Not About You" (or anyone else in the open mic). Todd Fabozzi read from his just-out book of poems, Crossroads, "Love's Pain" & one on our consumer society, "More."

Carolee Sherwood read new poems, "Jalopy, Dear" & one about a sexy talent some lovers have either playing with earlobes or ideas (or both?). Don Levy took us back to his childhood watching TV in his jammies with "Captain Ralph," then once again his anti-Maine poem "On Golden Douchbag."

The feature tonight was the poetry & music duo Murrow, Thom Francis (words) & Keith Spenser (guitar). The set included some of the Thom's best, including a couple about his father, "She's an Angel" & its companion piece ending with a flag over her face, the blank-page/writer's block poem &, of course, driving. It was good to see them as the poetry feature & not surrounded by other bands. Keith's guitar riffs don't overwhelm the words adding just enough sound-spice. And the duo's occasional use of computer loops & mixed effects is not over-done.

Continuing the open mic, a new face/voice, Avery, did a poem on wanting to write a poem today, then the hip-hop parody, "Walking Life's Paths." Tess Lecuyer's skillful sonnet was "for women in big romance novels." Sylvia Barnard's poem was just written, but was about her experience in Cyprus in 2003 after the barriers came down. Ed Fennell's first poem was either "Four" or "For", then one about standing at his own grave, "Myself."

Shannon Shoemaker has been writing new poems, "Brought Low" & one for Don Levy "Tongue in Cheek" in hip-hop rhyme about "a dyke on a bike". Brian Sullivan was back with more short prose, what he called an untitled dialogue, "2 white Russians & stale milk" sounded like a title or just the first line. Amanda was another virgin, did a long, untitled preachy rant against every social ill in America, poetry v. common sense, then "Voice," humped by a stranger.

Every last Monday at Tess' Lark Tavern on Madison Ave. in Albany. Come early for dinner, stay to listen & read a poem, presented by AlbanyPoets.com.

December 3, 2009

Yes, Reading!, November 21

Jonas Williams is a PhD candidate at SUNY Albany. His fiction has appeared in Columbia: A Journal and elimae. He is working on a book about creative writing pedagogy. He first read a selection of what he described as "dystopian muck fiction" including a Finnegan's Wake-like "Do Over". Then he read a longer selection of pieces he said were not dystopian muck fiction, but he didn't have a label for them yet. Sounded similar to me. Playful wordplay, such things as a dialogue with initials, some one page fictions. In "Ranch Ready Crop Tops" he made up words then used them in the piece & you could actually follow (& laugh) what was going on. And he looked like he was having fun too.


Tara Emelye Needham lives in Albany where she teaches courses in creative writing, literature and cultural theory while pursuing a Ph. D in English at the University at Albany. Her poems were easy to follow, political & humorous & even gentle at times, with titles like "Memory of a Deer" (about a collision with one), "Working Class Poet" & "Convalescence." "Convoy" was a about rising gas prices in 2008 that somehow worked in the composers Schoenberg & Webern. "Neutrinos" ("not a cereal" she said) came from a workshop with Bernadette Mayer, & "Low Key Reverie" was a pleasant way to end.

For more information about the series & sample poems from the poets see the Yes, Reading! website.

November 29, 2009

Third Thursday Poetry Night, November 19

Once again at the Social Justice Center. I invoked the muse of the recently star-dusted Lenore Kandel, then our poets lined up. Since the Tour Bus got lost in the back streets of Ravena, we had the rare 2-poem night. You had to be there to benefit.

Alan Catlin did an animal poem "The Dogs on the Beach" (but not your fuzzy, warm animal poem); then read a 5-part poem at Cape Canaveral, Florida, 1986. Sylvia Barnard was going to cheat by reading "a poem in 2 parts" but now could be honest about reading 2 poems, also harassed me with animal poems, "Frogs" & "Ducklings" in Cambridge; there are animal poems & then there are animal poems.

Therese Broderick said "How It is Said", twice, on a death & life . She was followed up by her husband, Frank Robinson, with nods to Therese, "Teenager Looking at Comic Strips" (he rewrites one of her poems), & a literal-minded description of what he was seeing.

Anthony Bernini was "shocked" to be able to do 2 poems tonight, but only read 1, "Border Streams" (a stream in Troy). But I read 2 poems, "Kandinsky's Red Spot" & "This dream is not about you," both recent works.

The featured poet, Barbara Adams, had a bunch of her friends to cheer her on (if your friends & relatives don't come to your readings who will?). She read "backwards," from a new manuscript first. She started with "Butterfly Mood" (that includes an appearance of a deer, another "animal" poem); "In the Oyster Bar" with an old friend, "Squatter's In Eden" (the title poem of the manuscript) is Eve's musings, "Dry Rain," "Thieves" in the British Museum, a poem on Sappho's poems & the "death of poetry", "Closure" (a love poem), & "Sonnet to a Lazy Lover with Apologies to Poor Will." Then on to poems from her previous books, including "Helen's Ghost" on her mother, "Self-Portrait of my Dad," "Prescription," & "Baby Skin, Notes for a Grandchild".

Then after all the announcements as we were just ending, Cyrus who had wandered in from the street to use the bathroom recited a love poem -- life in the big city. & poetry at the Social Justice Center, every third Thursday, 7:30 PM.

November 23, 2009

Community of Writers Series - Hudson Valley Writers Guild

This year the Community of Writers series sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild included 3 readings in area public libraries: October 24 at the Albany Public Library, November 5 at the William K. Sanford Town Library (Colonie), & November 22 at the Schenectady County Public Library. The project was made possible in part 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 Council of the Capital Region.

The reading at the Albany Public Library presented 3 local writers in different genres. Harvey Havel is a fiction writer who has published novels & most recently the collection of short stories, From Poets to Protagonists; he read a short fictional memoir about trying to pick up women. Amy Biancolli is familiar to local readers of the Albany Times-Union, where she was a movie critic & arts writer, & currently is a film critic for the Houston Chronicle. She read one of her recent columns & discussed the biz of a film critic. Alan Casline read a piece that incorporated his "3 hats" as a poet, editor & small press publisher, weaving his poems throughout his discussion.

The reading at the Colonie Library included student storytellers from the Maple Hill Middle School in Castleton Stephanie Muller & Emily Bonin, memoirist Susan Morse & author Eric Luper. The main event was the reading by the winners of the HVWG poetry contest. Local poet & HVWG Board member Alan Catlin introduced each of the winners who read us their winning poems & a couple others. First Place winner was Cecele Allen Kraus for "Love Blooms" (after John Ashbery), second place to Will Nixon for "The Prophet of Protrero Hill", & third place to Kathleen C. Elken for "Worn Irish Lace." There were also 3 honorable mentions who read as well, Kathleen A. O'Brien, Susan E. Oringel and Marie-Elizabeth Mali.

There were 12 readers at the Schenectady County Public Library on November 22, moderated by Catherine Norr. Alan Catlin introduced Schenectady County's new Poet Laureate, Steve Hillard Swartz, who read mostly humorous poems with pop culture references & mostly subtle & unobtrusive rhymes. Other poets who read were Melinda Morris Perrin with a string of nature poems, & Malcolm Willison, who included his poem to the Hudson River, "North River." One poet not included on the printed program was Ginny Folger, from the Library's writing program. Most of the rest of the readers read memoir-type story/essays, or history. Sylvie Briber contained both in her dramatic account of tracking down the story of a mid-19th century occupant of her house. Wonja Brucker read about being a young girl in Seoul during the Korean War. Bonnie Harlan-Stankus' stand-up routine was about her mother attempting to return a rice-steamer to Macy's. Sarah Howes told about her happy 4th grade, while Jack Rightmyer described the misery of high school under the Christian Brothers heavy hand. Bill Buell read about the founding of GE & William Patrick read from Saving Troy about his time spent with the Fire Department there. The one foray into prose fiction was from the youngest writer/reader, Rhema Boston, whose stunning piece contained simple, vivid descriptions of rural life & a moving scene between a mother & a daughter.

Many of these folks knew each other from interconnecting peer writing groups, particularly the SCPL Creative Writing Program.

For pictures from these events go to my Flickr! site.

November 19, 2009

The Memoir Project, November 16

This was the third in a series of readings at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy (NY) going back to May. Tonight's theme was "Family" & was hosted by Marion Roach Smith.

Dona Brent read a series of vignettes that sounded like stand-up comedy bits, complete with a Bronx accent. Each little piece, titled with the apartment number, was about the tenants of that apartment in a building on White Plains Rd. in the Bronx where the author grew up.

Desiree M. Roberts' piece, about the onset of her blindness & it's impact on her siblings, was read by Marion Roach Smith. In it, the family goes for genetic testing to see if any of the other members carries the gene that caused the author's blindness, & their reaction when none do.

Tina Lincer was another author whose piece sounded like a comedy routine. "Cheap Thrills" was about her mother's penchant for bargains & coupon clipping, & how those skills have returned to the author in the midst of the recession.

Rosemary Christle-Renaud's account of caring for her mother with dementia was filled with the irony of her taking on the day-to-day duties while her mother (& the rest of the family) battled over declaring the mother "incompetent".

Elisabeth Henry's piece was the only one told in the third person, skillfully blending the account of a still-birth of a child with a story about raising chickens.

Everyone likes stories about other people's lives, but for my taste I like to see the hand of the artist in work presented to the public, not just for therapy. Someone once said that all writing is autobiography, which we recognize in all the great novels of the past. Somehow today we value the "authenticity" of memoir over the craft of a good story. Personally I think it's just marketing & pandering to the same impulse towards voyeurism that sells gossip magazines, & makes Oprah, & Jerry Springer & "Entertainment Tonight" so popluar. I prefer the art of On the Road to the "memories" of Angela's Ashes.

November 17, 2009

No Gimmick Open Mic, November 13

... so I didn't go anywhere after the Jawbone reading & just hung around the UAG Gallery while the University folks headed out & the rest of us settled in for the open mic (run by AlbanyPoets.com) hosted by Mary Panza.

Todd Fabozzi had the perfect seque from one reading to the other with "University of the Streets" from his just-out new book, Crossroads: radical poetry; "The Other America" was about the colonization of native people, then he presented what might happen if "Darwin Twitters Nietszsche".

RM Engelhardt's new poem "2012" has him as tired of the Hollywood Apocalypse as the rest of us; his next poem, as he said, was "Excedra, Excedra, Excedra" an old poem from one of his books, but I couldn't find it ... I read my new poem "Kandinsky's Red Spot," then the older pieces "Poets Talk" & "Her Ass."

The Albany virgin for the night (we always need one) was Marla Segol, imagining "Dream Horses," then "To an Old Lover" who keeps intruding into her thoughts, & then something about mulberries.

This is AlbanyPoets' series on the 2nd Friday of each month at the UAG Gallery on Lark St. (Albany, NY) -- just an open mic, no themes, no features, no free weed, no respect -- perfect.

Jawbone, November 13

This series seems to be resuscitated at the UAG Gallery, though I didn't catch a mention of anything upcoming after this. Anyways, Anna Eyre, who is a grad student in English at the University at Albany, did the introductions to what was a study in contrast.

James Belflower was the first reader. He is the author of Commuter (Instance Press) & he had read back in October with Anna Eyre in the Yes, Reading! series. He read a new piece, "Bird Leaves the Cornice," which seemed to combine a discussion about birds with text from an architectural manual, including a discussion of contour lines. Then he read from the Prologue & an excerpt from the first section of Commuter, having to do with bomb making, like something out of the Anarchist Cookbook. Now I guess this entry will make it on the NSA watch list, if I'm not already.

The poems of Lucyna Prostko were more the human/experiential side of poetry, rather than the manipulation of text or ironic philosophizing side. She read selections from each of the 3 sections of her book, Infinite Beginnings, the 2007 Poetry Book Award from Bright Hill Press, but just published this year. The first section was about the people & the village she came from in Poland. The second section was about her grandmother's, Paulina, experiences in World War II; the third section her more recent experiences, including her husband's experience in the Serbo-Croatian war ("Landscape After the War"). Faced with the choice of buying one book, I bought hers.

I was pleased to see that this series was back, but it was nearly indistinguishable from the Yes, Reading! series which of late has been held at the Social Justice Center: same 2-poet format (no open mic), same audience, even one of the same reader (but different hosts).

But this was only Part 1 of the evening ...

November 13, 2009

Yes, Reading, November 7

Another in the continuing series, tonight solo-host Colie Collen introduced the 2 poets who both have new chapbooks out from Brave Men Press.

Chris Tonelli read from No Theater, which played on images from Japanese Noh Theater with images of masks, short poems (one page each) with one-word titles.

Janaka Stucky's Your Name is the Only Freedom, again, has mostly short, one page poems (but his titles are longer). He gets his images from the Nag Hammadi texts, vodka & the Hindu goddess Kali coming in at the end.

The chapbooks from Brave Men Press (variously Northampton & Boston) are very nicely produced with letterpress covers, crisp text, about 5 1/2" X roughly 6 3/4". Worth looking for.

At the Social Justice Center in Albany, NY.  Check out the series at http://yesreading.wordpress.com/

Static After the Storm, November 6

I had been invited to read by Dan Stalter, along with others from the Albany poetry scene, at this event put on by The Intangible Collective. It was a night of spoken word followed by Hip Hop sets from Brainstorm/Dustwun Productions & NYC MC's Fascious, Bamboo MC, & B-Nice, at Valentines on New Scotland Ave. in Albany, NY. I was there on a kind of rushed night for me & the place was already packed when I arrived, clearly the oldest guy in the place.

Some of the younger poets from the Collective performed ensemble, with poems/lyrics memorized, like those talent shows on TV that are so popular (back even before my youth there was the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour" on radio). One thing I've noticed, & commented on this Blog previously, about hip-hop inspired spoken word is the tendency to preach, or harangue, typically using broad, abstract concepts like "oppression" & "pollution" (they like these female rhyme endings). I'm usually in agreement politically with these poets (I haven't heard any right-wing rappers yet), but I just don't respond well to preachers.

So when a couple of young guys are on stage telling me what's wrong with the world & what I need to do to change it, preaching, not doing poetry, I get rebellious, even when I agree. If it had all been worked up with images, & subtlety & not just rhyme & hammers I might have responded better. & it's not that I'm adverse to political poems, as anyone who knows my work can tell you ("sex, death & politics" are my 3 main themes -- what else is there?). So when it was my turn to read I scrapped the poem I had planned on reading & went for the first of those themes, snarky & sexist. I was rewarded by Mary Panza calling me a "bad boy." She, Don Levy, & Murrow were among the older poets who performed, including Miriam Axel-Lute, whose poem on refusing to be a quiet woman should have taught the crowd how to get your message across without finger-pointing & breaking in skulls. A few of the other poets gave good, poetic performances, including Shara Bender & Dan Stalter.

Earlier that day I had been reading an issue of American Poetry Review & found a short poem by Jane Hirshfield, "Returned from Long Travels." It is 15 short lines, unpunctuated, a bit more spare than her other work. There was also a short essay in APR's "The Poet on the Poem" series in which Hirshfield talked about this poem. In her essay, she describes traveling to Syria, Jordan, Israel, Ramallah, and Turkey, talking to young students about their lives in these difficult, war-torn places. The students told her she should tell people in the USA, "...that we are just like you, we want respect, we want to fall in love, we want to study. ... Tell them we are Syrians, not 'Arabs,' not terrorists. Tell them we are afraid..." Hirshfield then goes on to explain that the poem was written immediately after that trip, & she goes on to link the poem to her experience in the places she visited & the politics there.

Without the accompanying essay I would have no idea on reading the poem itself that there was any political content at all behind it. The poem, without the essay, is a failure as anything except self-indulgent poeticizing. The essay, which doesn't depend upon having read the poem, is an effective statement about the commonality & frailty of existence, & the struggle for Justice.

I'd rather the preaching was left in the churches, temples, whatever; it's easier for me to avoid it: I just don't go in. Same with the limp, precious poetry: leave it where I know I can avoid it. But poetry -- indeed, all Art -- can be effective in making meaningful statements about philosophy, religion, politics, any Big Idea, as well as being aesthetically pleasing. It doesn't have to be "either/or", rather, as I heard Anne Waldman say, it can be "both/both."

November 9, 2009

Caffè Lena Open Mic, November 4

Carol Graser, our host, started off the night with a poem by Pablo Neruda, then on into a night of the cafe's variety of open mic poets, dancers, & Nicole Peyrafitte, the performance artist as the featured poet. The dancers were a troop of 4 young ballet students, "Lily Loveday & her Dancers," who performed a haiku to guitar accompaniment -- so good they had to do it twice, in the grand tradition of haiku performance.

The string of poets in the first half (in addition to the dancers), included "virgin" Tom Pikel with his riddle on the 40th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac, & Daniel Wilt whose wild-boy demeanor (& bad form of cutting out after he read) was belied by his stultifying 4-beat meter & rhyme, as well as Carol Kenyon & her dream, David Moak (whose "Compost Composit" is similar to my philosophy of writing), Sue Jefts (good pieces she described as "Fall poems"), the venerable Alan Catlin (whose poem for Erika, "Dwarf-tossing in Queens" was an anti-dote to last month's more somber piece regarding the same waitress), the political/topical/animal piece by Erika Shoemaker, & George Fisher's 2 "older" pieces, both involving memories of his father.

I have been a constant supporter of the work of Nicole Peyrafitte (& her friend) since she began performing her work after moving to Albany in the early 1990s. In fact, she & Pierre were guests at "the Poetry Motel, Hotel, B&B, Convention Center & Spa" the last couple days, & we all drove up together tonight. Besides, my bias always show. Her performance wove songs & poems & topics, a catalpa tree, the sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a singing bowl & kazoos, using English & French, even Occitan (also called Provençal or Languedoc) in the poem "To Ride the Line", even the mighty "river that flows both ways," "Mahicanituck." A varied & energetic performance from this bi-continental treasure.

During the break I scooted next door to check out the progress of what would turn out to be the last World Series game this year (even in the 3rd inning the Phillies were losing), & missed some of the open mic. I returned just as W.D. Clarke was finishing his poem. Todd Fabozzi read a couple from his book; James Schlett read a cluster of "Jersey haikus" & "Tipsy;" & I read 2 short "dirty-old-man" poems (as Carol characterized them).

Pierre Joris mixed autumn leaves & a double scotch in a haiku & included "Altars of Light" from his book h.j.r.; Ellen Finn's poem was titled (I think) "Drunk Chunky Donkey in the Dark;" & Nancy Denofio gave us portraits of patrons at the "Brandy Wine Diner, 1959".

Barbara Garro's 2 poems were wistful, nostalgic & had one-word titles, while Carolee Sherwood's poems had long titles (e.g.,"Cantina: Poetry & Fiction in Saratoga the Evening Carolyn Forché Reads from a Manuscript in Progress"). Ariela was another of the night's virgins, with "He's Not Dad," & a poem combining getting out of bed & growing up.

Jill Wickham took words out of a horoscope & re-wrote it, using it as a "skeleton" then read "Speaking of Skeletons." The last 2 young poets arrived late & probably didn't hear the "2 short poems or 1 long poem" limit. George read some travel musings, & then Brian Ellsenbeck also read some journal entries traveling in New Mexico, & another highway poem.

If you go there next month you'll probably have an equally good time, & hear some equally good (or not so good, or whatever) poets, in the grand mix that is an open mic, especially this one on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs on the 1st Wednesday of each month.

November 8, 2009

Guanyin and other poems, by Gene Damm

Gene Damm has been around the poetry scene here in Albany as long as I remember, in fact I remember him as a fellow student at SUNY-Albany (as it was called back then) in the late 1960s. He has now published a book of his poems, Guanyin and other poems (The Troy Book Makers, 2009). Recently he did a reading/book-signing at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza to promote it.

He has gathered together about 80 poems, only 1 more than a page, in various voices & personas, including his own. As expected from a book with the title the name of a Chinese province some of the poems are versions or imitations of Chinese poetry. I was pleasantly surprised to find a variation on a famous poem by Wang Wei ("A Mountain" in Gene's version). There is even a poem in Chinese which strangely doesn't seem to be translated. But he also plays with French settings & I even noted wistful nostalgia as in the poems of C.P. Cavafy in "Nocturne" & "The Nude Maja."

Guanyin and other poems is available at The Book House & at Market Block Books in Troy, or ask Gene about it the next time you see him out & about at a poetry reading. Support Your Local Poet.

KANDINSKY’S RED SPOT

A red spot fell on the floor
in the Guggenheim Museum
someone’s lost cinnamon candy
or a pill to stave off arthritis pain
a red spot on the speckled marble floor
inscribed in circles
a red spot exiled
from one of Kandinsky’s paintings
hanging on the wall
one of Kandinsky’s larger circles
compressed & boiled down
a red pill you take once a day
the Idea of Art alchemized.

November 6, 2009

ALL HALLOW’S EVE, A RECKONING: The Tribute To Edgar Allan Poe, October 30

Actually, if you notice the date, you will know that this event was held on the eve of All Hallow's Eve (where the word "Halloween" comes from). It was a benefit for the Albany Damien Center & held at the Fuze Box on Central Ave. in Albany, NY., hosted by Albany poetry impresario RM Engelhardt.The Poe-connection was, I guess, for his scary stories, not any particular anniversary (Poe was born January 19, 1809 & died October 7, 1849).

The early performers of the night did versions of Poe's work, beginning with AC "Breaking My Art" Everson performing Poe's "The Raven" then smashing a raven piñata. Then the poem itself was deconstructed by Terry Bat-Sonja (as Ophelia), who by the end of the night was back to sit on stage to read some shorter works by Poe, "Eulalie," "The Lake," & the sonnet, "An Enigma."

Then came a series of "bands" or troops or duos, beginning with Murrow, first Thom Francis & Tony "The Intern" performing Poe's "The Bells." Then Murrow in its usual form with Keith Spencer on guitar & Thom Francis doing his own poems. They were followed by John Weiler reading Poe's "The Conqueror Worm" then John on slide guitar with Mary Panza as The Johnny Bravehearts doing "Annabelle Lee."

The Black Heart Contingency was "Mr. Grey" (Will Nivins) & "Mr. Dark" (our host, RM Engelhardt). I couldn't quite make out what they were doing since the guitar was so loud as to mostly drown out Rob's fake English Southern accent. But I'm quite sure there isn't any Poe poem that goes "la la la la la la la..." etc. At some point I heard him say something about the Psychedelic Furs (which explains the English accent); I don't think it was "Pretty in Pink." It was during their set that Joanna Brown Flynn & her lovely friend, both in white goddess robes, danced & staggered about the floor, a welcome distraction.  Somehow I missed Terry McClain as he was announced from the stage; maybe I was taking a pee.

After that the evening seemed to break down, with J. Dalaba & Dan Stalter doing their own poems & Rob asking, "anyone want to read a Poe poem?" I hung outside with the smokers for a while, got another drink, talked to other non-reading poets in the audience & watched the goddesses make out.

When I left as the fake absinthe party was starting I ran into another group of poets hanging outside on the street (an old QE2 tradition), former Albany poets Leo! & Emily Gonzalez with local artist & poet Marcus Anderson. It was fun to catch up on the news & see these folks again (& not have to deal with goofy costumes). But with "Goth Night" on a regular basis in Albany it seems like Halloween happens a couple times a month -- at least they don't come to my house looking for candy.

Poets Speak Loud!, October 26

Our host, Mary Panza brought the crowd, including inadvertent diners, to order. The first poet, Marc Nadeau, had been hanging around for a long time waiting for the open mic to start & led off with an apocalyptic-America rant. I was bumped to number 2 & read "Planting Tulips" for the season & "Prayer" for all the young housewives in the audience. Carolee Sherwood had a different take on Autumn leaves & writing in "Revision" then read a poem she said was on the color red, but I got lost & now need to read the poem.

RM Engelhardt read a couple poems from his book The Last Cigarette, one, of course, about Truth & the other with Goth girls in it for Halloween. Don Levy's Halloween remembrance, "The One Time I'm Not Interested in a Trick," was about when he was egged on Halloween when he was 12 years old. Todd Fabozzi's poems "Suburbanites" & "HMO" are from his book Umbrageous Embers.

The featured poet was the performance group Not Just Any Tom, Vic and Terri, from Connecticut. These folks are my friends with whom I've performed & partied & hosted at my house. They are Tom Nicotera, Victoria Munoz & Terri Klein. I like their work & they didn't disappoint the Albany crowd, performing a selection from their CD, including Tom's "Why I keep My Mullein," "When I think of You," Victoria's "Poets Erotica," the helpful "Things Not to Say on a 1st Date," "Hedonism 101," & the wonderful ensemble version of Hamlet's "Alas, Poor Yorick" soliloquy. Glad they made the trip, too bad they couldn't stay over. They have CDs available; ask me.

I noticed that Sean Gallagher had shown up with former slam poet Dan Stalter, but if I hadn't seen them together I would've guessed it, because when Sean performed his slam-style poem in tribute to Orson Wells' "War of the Worlds" he did it with the same accent & intonation that Dan Stalter does with his slam poems. Tess Lecuyer read 2 very scary poems, "Hamiliton St. Sonnet" about going down the Hamilton St. hill on a skateboard (or being in love), & the Halloween "Your Curses."

The afore-mentioned Dan Stalter performed a poem in his signature accent/intonation about a car & a relationship. Then Shara Bender did a sex & revolution slam poem in that same accent/intonation (guess what, she came with Dan & Sean); she also did a chilling piece on a friend OD-ing on pills. I'm suspecting that Sean & Shara have been coached by Dan on their performances, picking up his style & performance accent, or that all 3 of them have had the same slam coach, cloning the next generation of poets. I'd rather hear their own voices come through with their good poems & spend more time on "the writin'" rather than "the recitin'."

Brian Sullivan was back with another short short story, "The Cad in the Hat." & speaking of being back, Brigid Schmidt showed up (in a "Winking Witch" tee shirt) after a too-long hiatus from the scene to read a poem involving her family, "Poetry's Mother."

Another poetry filled last Monday at the Lark Tavern (on Madison Ave.) in Albany NY. Bring a poem -- & an appetite: the food is great! & so is the waitress.

November 3, 2009

Sunday Four Poetry, October 25

Our lone host was Dennis Sullivan, who did just fine, with a series of open mic readers before the featured poet, Jay Rogoff. So I was at the top of the open mic list with a chance to do 3 poems, "Red," "The Lilacs" (a city nature poem), & a moon poem with footnotes. Gene Damm read from his new book, Guanyin (Troy Book Maker's), a series of short poems (when you see Gene ask to buy his book, or contact the Book House).

Tim Verhaegen had poems about his grandmother & about his mother ("Is She Crazy of Just Plain Mean?"), & then read the wonderful "What If I Said." Dennis Sullivan read the tender "Reflections on a Bodal Moon," then an homage to the nuns who taught him as a child, & the deep "Shall I Pull Up a Piece of the Ocean Floor?" Alan Casline introduced us to a poem by Elizabeth Coatesworth then took a tour of the poem (Alan's invented form), then some Kerouacian Blues poems from a recent NYC trip.

Philomena Moriarty did old poems about being a facilitator for a therapy group, reacting to what people in the group were going through, even one about a dream a group member had. Larry Rapant said his poem about sex & smoking a joint was from 1977 in Syracuse, at the time he met Jay Rogoff, then read "Anal Clutching," about the shitting images not to be in the poem. Obeeduid (Mark O'Brien) who had on a Steeler's logo tie, read "Weekend in the City," & "Hoops" based on a poem by Yeats.

Not that I'm a groupie or a stalker, but this is about the 4th time in about a year that I've been to a reading by Jay Rogoff, which includes when he was featured at the Third Thursday Poetry Night. But like a good jazz performer, he is the kind of poet one can hear more than once & still enjoy. He read mostly from The Long Fault (Louisiana State University Press), which he described as woven with his obsessions with history, art & the human imagination, including such favorites as "The Guy who Passed Me Doing 90 MPH and Playing the Trumpet," "Jane Austen, the Inventor of Baseball" & one of my personal favorites, "Memorial Chapel". "Death's Suit" he said he had never read before. In the midst he read from a new chapbook of sonnets, & a new poem about his grandson & Michael Jackson, "Legacy". At the end he read, as he often does, "Poet's Park, Mexico DF," a good ending. Not a performer, but a good reader of his poems that I always enjoy, just right for a Sunday afternoon.

This convivial event is on the 4th Sunday of each month at 3PM at the Old Songs Community Center, 37 S. Main St., Voorheesville, NY -- with a schedule of featured poets up through June, & an open mic at each gathering.

October 30, 2009

How to Be Inappropriate Book Party, October 23

Just a quick note about this event (& the book, by local prof Daniel Nester) at Valentines. Since there was pizza, lots of drinking & Karaoke that night, my notes dissolved in beer -- but I did get a few pictures. Noteworthy stage performances, in addition to Nester reading mercifully short segments from the book (we all were impatient to sing), were Tony-the-Intern doing "I Am the Walrus," & Katie Vermilyea giving it her best shot in Pat Benatar boots -- with lace stockings! Of course, I was fantastic doing "Wild Thing" & "I Wanna Be Sedated," both with key lyric changes -- hey, you had to be there, & you missed it.

I read How to Be Inappropriate (from Soft Skull Press & currently available at the Book House) mostly during commercials while watching the baseball league championship series. The book has the expected inappropriate topics like farting & a "study" of ExtenZe (if you don't know, Google it), but is really a clever marketing device to get undergraduates to buy the book for the 2 really fine, thoughtful (& largely appropriate) memoirs clustered towards the end of the book. "Goodbye to All Them" is the story of the author's leaving New York & the poetry scene & finding a home in Albany. "Garden Path Paragraphs" takes us through the complex issues involving him & his wife trying to conceive a child (NO, he did not need instructions on how to do it), the eventual birth of their daughter & the beginning of finding what "Fathering" means. In fact, Miriam was there this night at Valentine's briefly but we never did find out what song she would've performed if she had the chance. Perhaps the theme song from "Sponge Bob Square Pants"?

Wize Wordz, October 22

Bless had just been the featured poet at the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center last week & handed out flyers for this event, at Ballinger's on Howard St., so I just had to check it out. There was a slow start as folks found their way in, but we eventually go going, doing a couple rounds before taking a break.

Bless started us off, pointing out the "soapbox" stage, & wondering, "Sometimes I ask myself why I do what I do... why do you speak?" I realized the audience needed something hot, so I did "Phone Sex" (the poem, not actually calling someone up) from memory. Passion Poet followed me with "Alter" (or it could be "Altar") about her need to perform, to be on stage. Sam Perkins was being autobiographic, looking back, "that's alright" (which is the audience response to each poet who performs, when Bless calls to us after the poem).

Suddenly I was back, & did my love poem to "The Lilacs." Then Sam Perkins sang about "traveling this road of mine" which became a hymn to girls in turtle necks. And Passion Poet continued her story about her history, her love of poetry in "Ego."

After Bless did "Jazz" he started something with a guy-poem about not apologizing, which got Passion Poet's ire up & she responded by telling us what's a real man. Tanesha brought us back to the real world of police murder in "Almost a Will."

Sam Perkins gave us the 2 sides of love with a loud cry that "you're gonna love me" then a fabulous poem on love dying, how "we really don't dance anymore..." Nickey Black came in on the tail-end of the love debate with the bitter "Fuck Love." And Bless tried to redeem himself with a deep love poem.

The night continued, I'm sure, but I had to leave, & I will be back, hopefully, on the next 4th Thursday at Ballingers (in the downstairs/basement bar), 7:30 it says, but it's on "CP-Time" (as folks say) so plan on starting late. Worth waiting for.

October 29, 2009

Bowery Poetry Club, October 18

I was privileged to read at this hotspot of NYC poetry in the 4th Sunday poetry slot, with open mic, hosted by George Wallace. Once before, a number of years ago, the 3 Guys from Albany had performed on this stage. I was just a few blocks from where I once lived many years ago, & if memory serves me right, this space was some sort of industrial supply store. Where have the bums gone?

Susan Maurer was the first feature, reading from her new book Perfect Dark, available online from ungovernable press. Her topics ranged across the globe, from swan Boats in Boston, to being on Amtrak, to "Mozambique," to a zinc mine in New Jersey with day-glo rocks, to hanging out "With the Unbearables." It was refreshing to hear her say about one poem that she wasn't sure what it meant.

I paid tribute to my NYC past with "Matins & Lauds" from Meditations of a Survivor (A.P.D., 1991), then read last year's "The Cardinal." I was thrilled to have some of my children there & so read for them "Jack Sketching" & "To Madeleine" (thanks, kids). I returned to Albany with "The Wall." The dreaded audience-particiption piece was "Labels & Names" & I ended with "Peace Marchers at the Viet Nam Memorial."

I had seen Linda Lerner, the third featured poet, read a while back at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock. Her poems are generally short, urban, often taking down those stuck on themselves, like professors lecturing on the blues, or performance poets, or "Mr. avant-garde Comes to a Brooklyn Diner." Her city images came through best in "The City Feeds Me Hungry," or the ordinary day of 9/11 in "The Scream," & "Riding on Amtrak to NYC from Philadelphia."

I didn't see a sign-up sheet, George just scanned the audience for the poets & asked them if they wanted to read. As a result, I'm not sure I got all the names correct (& sometimes George didn't say the last names), so feel free to send me any corrections if necessary & I'll make them as I get them. After a poem describing the Lower East Side, Miriam Stanley had a cluster of love/sex poems, including sex in a pool & in Central Park. Loren O'Brien considered the dilemma of going "Back to Him." Patricia Carragon read poems on a tapestry, & about subways among others, later traded books (Journey to the Center of My Mind, Rogue Scholars Press).

Roxanne Hoffman's poems fluttered around birds, "A Red Feather Song" & "Space as Poor Sparrows" in Autumn. Andrea wondered "Are You Getting this All Down?" as broccoli & her self disappeared in her poem. Russ contrasted Vermont ("Green Mountain Meditation" on the elections) with NYC & Cornell West. Then the great thrill of seeing our Albany friend Nicole Peyrafitte (now living in Bay Ridge) come to the stage to sing, just like she was back at Justin's on Lark St.

What a great day -- friends & family in the audience, new poetry friends, some even eager to come to the mytho-poetic land of Albany, who would've thunk? As I was leaving, the next poetry act was setting up, none other than Anne Waldman, but I was tired & hungry & we had to leave. Maybe one can rent a room over the Club & just live there?

October 27, 2009

Third Thursday Poetry Night, October 15

I invoked the muse of César Vallejo (1892 - 1938) with a reading from his Trilce (in translation by Clayton Eshleman), then on to the open mic for a while. Alan Catlin started us off with a Halloween-related poem, "Mechanical Lazarus." Tim Verhaegen was back & read "What If I Said" deconstructing conversation, effective even when read only once. W.D. Clarke was anxious to get on the road to get to Canada but stopped by to read his short poem about "Taps" ("Butterfield's Lullabye" is the original title of that tune). The birthday-boy Don Levy read his poem about the Duggar family with 19 kids, poor Mom.

Bless, our featured poet, is an experienced spoken word poet who came out of the NYC slam scene. But his work is real poems recited with feeling & honesty & without unnecessary theatrics or a lot of explaining. He began with "sweet jazz sounds" that are his influences, saying he doesn't need the poisons of smoke & alcohol to write or perform. Then one about a conversation with a homeless guy, who picked his pocket. Then his take on "The Perfect Life": do we really want it? "Traffic" was a tale of being stuck in the madness & rush "to get there" but then realizing the delay was due to a child being hit by a car. He is now hosting Wize Wordz open mic at Ballingers, 42 Howard St., on the 4th Thursdays, that I will get to next week & report back.  Tonight, he left the audience wanting more, the best compliment.

I followed the break with my poem from the summer, "Respect." Moses Kash III followed me with "Gee, Thanks for the Party." The appropriately acting Matt Galletta read, again, his poem "Shooting Cats." Sylvia Barnard read "To Harry Patch," the last British World War I veteran who died last year, anti-war in his later years.

Anthony Bernini had his driveway sealed & "The Scent of the Earth" was the poem that followed. The venerable Ted Adams is often in the audience at community readings, but tonight was the first time he was signed up to read, & he recited a love poem to a tree. Shirley Brewer was back again visiting from Baltimore with advice on "How To Kill Time."

We do this each third Thursday at the Social Justice Center in Albany (on Central Ave. between Henry Johnson Blvd. & Lark St., starting about 7:30 PM.  Your donation helps support poetry programs by the Poetry Motel Foundation, & helps the Social Justice Center.

October 25, 2009

Live from the Living Room, October 14

Our straight-friendly host, Don Levy, began with reading "Buffalo Bill" by e.e. cummings, whose birthday is today, & "90 North" by Randall Jarrell who died on this date in 1965.

The featured poet was Jason Crane, whose poems, he said, had been rejected by all the best poetry journals (sounds familiar). His poems are simply stated, straight-forward accounts of events in his life, like the neighbor's new baby coming home, or meeting family he hadn't know, or watching the election returns, even about his bookshelves. He read a long work in progress based in New Orleans that described the approach of hurricane Katrina; "Robbie Burns' Hat" on the annual "beret-toss" memorial ritual in Albany; & "Luxury Hotel" from his experience as a labor organizer. He also shared his love-poet side with "The Menagerie," a poem about meeting his wife, & the gentle narrative of love & sex, "The Soft Friction of Sliding Glass." Jason is also the master of The Jazz Session website, interviews with jazz players, reviews & musings.

I lead off the open mic with 2 jazz themed poems in Jason's honor, "The bass player's thoughts..." & "Acrostic Jazz," for Thelonious Monk. Bob Sharkey shared his thoughts on the first sight of his daughter & the fear of all that can wrong, then read "For Herself & her Soul" with images of autumn animals, geese & the war. Sally Rhoades was just back from a trip to Cyprus & included a poem about dressing up in words, being fashionable with books.

Thérèse Broderick's poem "Smile" was a word game using as many combinations of the letters in her title as she could come up with. Matt Galletta knows how much I like animal poems & so did his ironic "Shooting Cats." Don Levy, on the eve of his 49th birthday, read "Old Man Levy He Just Keeps Rolling Along," the poem he read recently at the UAG Gallery, but with a new title.

This is a cozy, intimate event each month, with a handful of poets gathered around, informally chatting, listening to poems, gossiping. I recommend it (on the 2nd Wednesday of each month at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY) knowing all too well that if everyone came to it, its character would change -- but then that's not necessarily a bad thing either, as Heraclitus once said.

October 23, 2009

David Chorlton, October 13

Alan Catlin had alerted me that David Chorlton would be passing through the Albany area so I invited him to come & read at a "salon" at my house, in an intimate setting with select Albany poets. David Chorlton has lived in Phoenix since 1978 but he was born in Austria & grew up in Manchester, close to rain and the northern English industrial zone. He is the winner of Slipstream's 22nd Annual Poetry Chapbook Competition for his chapbook From the Age of Miracles.

David is lean, grey-haired & craggy, with just the right touch of an accent to complete the image of the poet. But it is his work that proves he is a poet. This night he gave a brief, well-planned reading from work in his chapbook & other poems. He has found a way to combine political statements with images in poetry without the abstract big words (you know, "Justice," "Beauty," "Truth," "Soul," etc.).  See his "Letter to Pasolini" ("...how a communist could fit inside a sports car..."), "The Invisible Demonstrator" or "Letter to Puccini." He loves the desert ("Nothing") & referred frequently to the writings of Edward Abbey. Contemporatry poets writing philosophical musings or political cant can learn how to turn their scribblings into poems by reading what David Chorlton has written.

In "Postcards from the Time of Waiting" he writes,

While we wait
we read anything we don't need
to remember. Printed words
have become grains
of sand in an hourglass.


Not these.

Albany Poets Presents: No Gimmick Open Mic, October 9

I'd missed the first of this new series last month so made a point of getting here to check this out, in one of my favorite venues, the UAG Gallery on Lark St. The host, of course, was Mary Panza.

I signed up first & read with a nod to Halloween, "Zombie Gourd," then the sexy "The Beach" & "In the Oval Mirror." Cynthia Solywoda did a poem in her made-up language, followed by the translation; then "Sweet Jane's Descent" a song for a prostitute with the great line, "it's never easy being easy;" & ended with a piece for an Iranian girl killed by mistake.

"Murrow" is Keith Spencer on guitar backing up Thom Francis' poems. Thom faced a new day, a new blank page, then a poem to an angel with her wings tucked away. Don Levy had a new poem written last night for this new series, "You Have to Have a Gimmick," addressed to politicians & poets; "Getting Older by the Minute" on his up-coming birthday, & the Partridge Family tribute(?), "If the School Bus is a Rockin' Don't Come a-Knockin'." Chris Borzek has come to a few open mics & his poems are plagued by awkward meters, goofy rhymes ("clarity/parity"), & forced metaphors (a rose in a desert in the Winter?). But he is bold in trying his work out & just needs to read some poets writing in the last 50 years or so, & listen to what others at the open mics are reading -- & his own inner voice which I'm sure doesn't talk like that.

Michael Purcell likes to confront political & social themes in his meanderings, like his "Alternative Reality TV" with made up sponsors, or "Heroes," with the occasional appearance of God in a Mother's Day card. Bob Sharkey is one of the local poets that younger scribes need to listen to; tonight he tried out flash-fiction in "Greatest Miser Ever Was," then read again "All for the Masses," which improves with each hearing, & one about visiting an old friend in the country, "Going Up."

This is a relaxed, casual new series, a good way to start your 2nd Friday evening each month, still plenty of time to catch some music elsewhere or lurk the pick-up scene, at the UAG Gallery, Lark St., Albany, NY.

October 20, 2009

Frequency North Series, October 8

The first of the season's readings at the College of St. Rose, which is coordinated by prof. Daniel Nester, was an interesting mix of prose: magically written non-fiction & over-imagined fiction.

Peter Connors read from his memoir Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead. He considered that great philosophical question that has made egg-heads spin for ages, "Aren't all Deadheads just a bunch of middle-class white kids?" Like all good histories should, he began with the Beats & the disintegration to Hippies, to "straights" striking back & on to entrancing descriptions of concert experiences. Good story telling no matter what the genre label. Oh, yeah, "not all Deadheads are alike."

Jessica Anthony read from her debut novel, The Convalescent. The story is built around a main character who is a short, hairy mute who sells meat out of a bus. A classic outcast that all kinds of outrageous incidents can be created around. It sounds forced & she read too fast.

Shows you that reality, even tinged with psychedelia, can be more interesting than forced imagination.

The series continues into the Spring semester, find 'em on Face Book.

Caffé Lena Poetry Open Mic, October 7

Our wonderfully relaxed host, Carol Graser, started us off with Stephen Dobyns' "Why Fool Around," then on to the open mic, to fool around or not.

Rapper Chazee (not sure I got the spelling) started us off with "Last Hope;" good to hear some hip-hop in the mix tonight. Carol Kenyon was back, with "Amelia By the Sea" about my favorite place, Cape Ann. Alan Catlin read "Near Death in the Afternoon on Becker St.," the title poem from a new book currently in production, then a poem about "Ericka from Far Rockaway" & 9/11 & the Queens airliner crash.

David Mook's poems started with disasters on this planet, then pondered things cosmically in "The Descent of Man." George Fisher's poems were gritty working-class stories of students in the ghetto ("Portrait") & "Ribs" that described working in a meat-packing plant, with a touch of the biblical. Melinda Perrin was new here, & read peace poems about Aung San Suu Kyi ("Vigil") & closer to home about Jikonsaseh, the Seneca Mother of Nations.

Tonight's featured poet was Stuart Bartow, a regional poet that we don't see out at readings. He read a selection of poems that fit loosely with the theme of Halloween, including watching the old movie "The Ghost & Mrs. Muir" with a friend (& mis-remembering it), "Better Ghost;" "Frankenstein, Unfinished;" & remembering black & white TV movies in "Karloff's Mummy" (he also read "Nephrititi's Mummy"). "Centaurs" was about night-riding horses as a kid (& available as a broadside if you purchased his book Reasons to Hate the Sky (WordTech Editions, 2008)). Other poems referenced Borges, Graves' The White Goddess (one of my touchstones I need to get back to), & Einstein in a poem on a lawn. I'm not a big fan of cat poems, but that's because such poems are usually about the poet's pet; Bartow said he liked cats, but his "The Ninth Cat" was about feral cats & so it escaped cloying sentimentality.

Our host, Carol Graser, read a tribute, in sestina form, to the frequently-arrested peace-activist Linda LeTendre, "Change" (keep at it Linda). W.D. Clarke read a funny story in ballad form he heard from his great-uncle, "The Collector," about a panty thief. In my notes next to the entry about Marilyn McCabe's poem "Wasp Nest" I wrote "Vallejo" so she must've have referenced the work of the great Peruvian poet, César Vallejo.

Todd Fabozzi read "Black Gold" & "The Levee of Indifference" from his book Umbrageous Embers (The Troy Book Makers, 2008). Bob Sharkey read a poem in which he combined a great blue heron, lace curtains & a circus fire (hey, that's what poetry does), then "All for the Masses" that he's been reading around, al-Queda at Hoffman's Playland.

Ellen (who probably has a last name but I didn't catch it) read "The Man in the Moon" which was not a night sky poem at all. James Schlett is generally a quiet poet so he read an excerpt from a letter to a friend about the quiet within, then "Relief" on another form of quiet, read quietly, of course. In honor of our featured poet (who didn't read that many "nature" poems anyway), I read "(How I'm doing my part to) Preserve the Adirondacks" & my urban nature poem "The Lilacs." Thérèse Broderick finished the night with a poem about Austin, Texas, "City Limits" (not a bad town for poets: I was there once for 4 days & found 2 poetry open mics).

Another wonderful night of community poetry at Caffè Lena. But it seems to be phenomena of these poetry readings that when a professor-poet reads (Stuart Bartow teaches at Adirondack Community College), his/her colleagues who come to hear them read, leave after the break as if they could only tolerate the open mic poets in the beginning because they were waiting to hear their friend read. This happens all the time here & tonight was no exception. To Stuart Bartow's everlasting credit he stayed to the end even though his buddies escaped as soon as they could. But the community poets stayed, & I guess that's what matters.

Every 1st Wednesday at historic Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY -- come & read.