July 27, 2009

Poets in the Park 2009

This is the 20th anniversary of Poets in the Park, which was created & run for years by Albany poet & activist, Tom Nattell. This year we started off the series at our rain site, the Social Justice Center, but were able to hold the rest of the readings at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park. Once again the series was co-sponsored by the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, with funds from the Community Arts Grants through the Arts Center of the Capital Region.

It's been a rainy summer and the first reading on July 11 was moved indoors. Randall Horton began with some poems from his book The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag, 2006), persona poems about & in the voices of his family. He moved on to poems from his forth-coming Lingua Franca of Ninth Street, about his days in Washington, DC. With titles like "Minor Characters in somebody else's Melodrama" & "Listening for the Perfect Sound" these too are also stories & character studies but urban & gritty. He ended with some newer work, also urban but more meditative, like "Looking Down at the City at Night" & "Testing the Limits of an Ontological Breakdown."

Mary Kathryn Jablonski is well-known to the poetry folks of Saratoga Springs & was featured here at the Third Thursday Poetry Night last year. She began with a clever new piece, twisting proverbs to "preverbs." Then a couple poems about her father & growing up on a farm, "Coffee & Cigarettes" & "Stone". Another new poem was "Josephine Sky." She included poems from her chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met (A.P.D., 2008), the incantation to Pawlett, VT, "Mare Vaporum" & a selection of the husband letters. She ended with the haunting dream poem, "Heart Nebula Running Dog."

The night of July 18 was breezy but clear & we were back in the Park. LisaAnn LoBasso was on tour of the Northeast from her home in Bakersfield, CA & had read recently in New York City, at the Riverwood Poetry Festival in CT & at Caffe Lena. I had met Tom Nicotera many years ago through my friend Charlie Rossiter & in recent years we have been connecting at poetry festivals & readings here & in CT. LisaAnn & Tom got together at my house before hand to put together a collaborative performance of words, harmonica, bodhran, & multiple voice.

Tom's poems were about the dust in his room, weeds in his yard, flowers such as "June Poppies" (for his daughter at 5) & a sunflower at a construction site, as well as the usual love & divorce poems, including advice about "Things Not to Say On a First Date" ("would you like to go to a poetry reading?").

LisaAnn read poems of relationships, past & present & imagined, & about the interactions of family. Her performace of "Ojai Deliverance" (with Tom on harp) was her best ever of that piece. Also a chilling rendition of "At Night" with the contrast of sleeping babies & violence, read in tandem with Tom's satiric "As If".

Tom's version of Blake's "Tyger, Tyger" sung with bodhran, was able to drown out the performance at the Park Playhouse. And LisaAnn's sung sound poem "Melt" drifted off into the summer air like the taste of watermelon.

We were back in the Park on July 25, another pleasant night. Lori Desrosiers, from Westfield, MA took pictures of the audience & began with pieces about her grandmother & her mother from her chapbook Three Vanities (Pudding House Press), including a historical piece about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. She also read some newer poems such as the one about her parents meeting ("Last First Kiss"), lessons from her mother in "Womanly Ways" & a poem on fate, "Conducting in Thin Air," family anecdotes at the heart of her work.

An unannounced extra was a poet from the U.K., Geraldine Green, who had traveled with George Wallace, so I asked her read a couple poems. She said that where she came from was only about 50 miles from where Robert Burns was from. She read a tribute to gardeners, the recently written "Many Gardens," & a descriptive tribute to the city of Liverpool.

I have read with George Wallace a number of times, most recently at the Riverwood Poetry Festival in CT. He is a busy promoter of poetry, including hosting the Sunday afternoon series at the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan. His poems are longer, expansive, weaving narrative & description & read in his raconteur, dramatic manner. But you often end up at another place from where the poem starts, as in "Stopping for a Piss in Missouri." His style is obviously influenced by that of Jack Kerouac, to whom George paid tribute in a poem about Gunther's bar in Northport, where Jack hung out in his bedroom slippers. These poems hold up well, even with repeated readings.

I am very pleased to be able to continue this series that Tom started 20 years ago & hope to continue on next year, Saturdays in July, at the the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY. And if you are curious as to why there is a statue of Robert Burns here in Albany, come to the Poets in the Park next year & I will tell you.

This project is 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 Center of the Capital Region.