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

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.