September 29, 2010

Poets Speak Loud!, September 27

This series has been resurrected at McGeary's down on Clinton Square in Albany, far from the Lark St. scene where it had a home at Tess' Lark Tavern since January 2005. We all hoped the Lark would rise again but, like the phoenix, we would never know what form it would take. But here we have a "room of one's own" as Virginia Woolf would put it & it worked just fine. (On a personal level I admit to pining over Nicole the waitress, but Meaghan was pretty & efficient & perhaps we too can build a lasting relationship.)

Tess Collins welcomed us back with kind words & hugs, then Mary Panza got down to the business she does so well, moving the poets along (if anyone can herd cats, she can). I started off with the able assistance of 2 suburban housewives (Jill Crammond Wickham & Carolee Sherwood) for my Coyote poems, whether or not people care about coyotes. The house was filled with Lark Tavern fans & regulars, like Joe Krausman, who read about his heart ("Biochemistry") & a prose poem about his Army days, "Before Inspection. Todd Fabozzi did a could of political poems, "The Machine" on Albany & a broader political rant on America.

North-country girl Jill Crammond Wickham had 2 hunting poems in anticipation of the season, "From the Deer Hunter's Handbook, or Advice to the Groom" & "Hunting Poem About Gutting a Carcass Already Bled Dry," in case you ever needed this information while wandering down Lark St. Josh McIntyre was much more simple with his short pieces, "Leaks" & "Night & Day." Carolee Sherwood began with an image of a yellow dress hanging on a fence downtown ("The Last Weekend in September"), then "From the Handbook for Surviving a Fall," 2 recent poems as should be evident from the titles.

Cheryl Rice began with a blissful story of "Halloween in Kingston" then on to the Roy Rogers inspired "Trigger at Auction" [from Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues: "I told Dale, 'When I go, just skin me & put me on top of Trigger.' And Dale said, 'Now don't get any ideas about me'." -- Roy Rogers.] Tess Lecuyer began writing a sonnet that turned into a villanelle (naturally) for Lilly the weiner dog at the Albany WordFest. RM Engelhardt had 2 very serious poems, "The Procession" that he said is a response to/based on a poem by Thom Francis, than an older piece "When."

A special treat tonight were 2 poems by Robert who is the cook here at McGeary's, introduced as "Albany Poet's Big Daddy," who read 2 what could best described as "recovery poems," "The Unseen Enemy" & "My Pain" -- hey, who was watching the burgers? Bob Sharkey gave us a just-written invocation for this new venue, "The Poets" then a little prose piece, a faux memoir excerpt from Discursive about working as a kid in Maine. Marilyn Day introduced a new definition of the word draft by stating her poem ("Fire") "…is a draft because I haven't brought it to my critique group yet." Hmm.

The recently married Bless maybe got himself in trouble with some short borrowed lines about being married, then recovered enough with his right-on poem about our attitudes about being stuck in traffic, with its unsettling punch line. Avery's poem's title was like a poem in itself, the poem an enthusiastic rant about using your breath wisely, then the equally up-beat "From Me to You What Happens When You Smile" (Yes!).
 AC Everson ended the night with "Slice of Life" written last night, then a short piece about going through "the change." Like Heraclitus said, first you step into the Lark Tavern then it becomes McGeary's -- thank you Tess & all her marvelous staff.

Poets Speak Loud presented by every last Monday at McGeary's at Clinton Square (near where Melville lived), in the back room.

September 28, 2010

Sunday Four Poetry, September 26

The scheduled performance was of Apollonius of Tyana as part to the the extended "Black Mountain North Symposium" but due to technical issues it could not be produced so the hosts (Dennis Sullivan, Edie Abrams, & Michael Burke) asked me to fill in as the featured poet. I had just been there I thought, but it was during their first season, in May 2009. This was the start of their 3rd year of this exciting & gentle series bringing a variety of regional poets to this happy venue, so I said yes, & am glad I did.

Teacher & poet Art Willis, a friend of many present, died earlier this week & many of the poems this afternoon invoked his presence, as poetry is a memorial for time passed.

But first there is the open mic, & this afternoon the place was packed. Edie was our host & bringer of flowers that you can see in the pictures. Jason Crane began with his poem "The Last Piece of Ice Under the Sky" published as a broadside by Benevolent Bird Press, then the new love poem "Estonia." Carolee Sherwood's poems were recent, "The Feeling that Winter is Near" & the temporarily titled "Wednesday Night Poetry Reading" (seems like a good title to me, like the poem itself); she will be the featured poet here on March 27, 2011. Dennis Sullivan pointed out that all 3 finalists in Smitty's Tavern Poet Laureate contest last year were in the house today, Carolee was second place. Tim Verhaegan began the afternoon's meditation on death with a list of what his father used to say, "His Wise Words," then a poem about a child, "Elisha" then an elegy for Art Willis.

Dennis Sullivan read Art Willis' poem "Sketchy" then his own tender poem about Art "I Tucked My Friend in Bed Today" (for Judy W.) -- available as a broadside for the taking. Mark O'Brien, reading from his iPad, read a poem dedicated to Dennis Sullivan, then a short one for Art Willis, "Sturm und Drang" & ended with the tombstone poem, "This Foul Act." Howard Kogan, who was one of the Poet Laureate finalists last year as well, read from "draft 26" of his poem "Dreaming of Leah," memoir of his grandmother, & mother. Barbara Vink, the reigning Smith Tavern Poet Laureate, read "The Weatherman," which she wrote for the late Voorheesville poet John Rankin, but read as an elegy for Art Willis. Joe Krausman followed with 2 food poems, "Table Manners" & "Ode to Cheese." Larry Rapant, another regular here, read "A List of Things I Won't Do Today," then some random stanzas, & a short, flash take on religion.

Anne Lapinsky (new to me) read a couple poems inspired by her garden, one on beets & the other, "Cardinal Flowers," written after spending some time on the Catholic mountaintop retreat in Chestertown. Susan Riback made a welcome appearance with 2 poems, "Meditation on Orange" & "An Early Spring Day." Mike Burke also paid tribute to Art Willis by reading Art's poem "Poetic Instrospection," then his own poem "To Skip" which turns on the last line. Tom Corrado read just one poem, "Intaglio" (Tom is also a painter). Alan Casline read a just-written experimental poem with repeating lines/phrases, "Lady Looks," then what sounded like an elegy, "Who By Right Carries My Body to My Rock Cairn."

At this point, Edie Abrams introduced (again) the venerable Mike Burke, who kindly & effusively introduced the afternoon's featured poet -- me, Dan Wilcox.

My program was mostly poems I'd written since I last was a featured poet here, with the exception of 2 older poems by request. I began with the tongue-in-cheek poem about the Poetry Motel Hotel Convention Center & Spa, "The Spa," then on to the very recently written "Old Postcard from New York." Dennis Sullivan requested I read "The Lilacs" & I was very happy to accommodate him as it is one of my favorite poems. Then a cluster of poems with "poem" in the title, "On a Poem by ee cummings," "'Poeming'," & the Frank O'Hara-inspired "Poem." "Pindar's Shrimp" was the obligatory Gulf-oil-spill poem. For "Coyote" I had the able assistance of Susan Riback & Carolee Sherwood, 2 real suburban housewives to read the lines of the suburban housewives; "Coyote 2" was written from the point of view of the suburban husbands.

 I ended with, as I can only end with this poem, "The Bra Poem" -- the picture is self-explanatory (& the poem itself is posted on this Blog). Walt Whitman said that great poets need great audiences & I must say I certainly had a great, attentive, appreciative, intelligent audience here today, which made being the featured poet all that much more fun.

The series continues on the fourth Sunday of each month at 3PM at Old Songs Community Center, 37 S. Main, Voorheesville, NY, through next July -- well worth the trip from anywhere.

Benevolent Bird Press has published some of Art Willis' poetry, so if you are interested in seeing his work, contact the publisher, Alan Casline at P.O. Box 522, Delmar, NY 12054.

September 27, 2010


I sing the praise of bras:
      sport bras, training bras
      uplift bras, padded bras
      nursing bras, magic bras
      strapless bras, full-figure bras

I’ve known more bras than the women who wore them
in all colors & shapes & sizes, just like those women themselves

the sexless bras of my mother
Jacqueline’s flower hippy bra
the unthinkable bras of nuns
green bras cupped like my hands
Elaine’s red bra on a blanket in a meadow

the white bras of Babs
Mary’s rose petal pink bra
saffron bikinis of dancing dakinis
the nighttime black bras of Michele
the jogging bra of June mornings
the burgundy bra I miss so much

Bras surround me everyday, in hiding
peeking beneath summertime blouses
their outlines like the topographical map of the Grand Tetons
taking on the color of the map itself
the outlines of bras I can only imagine

bras hidden in drawers all across America
bras like radio stations I haven’t tuned in yet.

September 26, 2010

Ghost in the Machine, September 24

This is the former "Vox" open mic series at the Fuze Box on Central Ave., now re-named "Ghost in the Machine: an Open Forum-Mice for All Performers & Artists" in order to capture a wider range of performances, some of which we sampled tonight. The host is Albany poet R.M. Englehardt.

The format was a 10 minute time limit for performers, with a 2 poem/10 minute time-limit for poets (so, poets, bring 2 long poems). With only a few performers the night moved right along. Rob also announced that there was a sheet for an "exquisite corpse" on the counter, that folks were encouraged to join in & the finished product would be read at the end of the night. When I looked at the sheet there was already a long entry by someone, but they hadn't folded over the sheet to hide the entry, so I wasn't sure what was going on.

Rob began with a poem by one of Baudelaire's contemporaries as an invocation, written on the back of an advertising poster for absinthe. The first open mic person seemed to have left the building, so the next was Danielle Moreau, who sang unaccompanied a couple songs she had written for a band she is in; I think they would have worked just fine read. I followed with my 2 new "Coyote" poems.

R.M. Engelhardt read "Procession," a somber, serious poem, that he said was in response to a poem Thom Francis had read here last month about papier mache poets (i.e., "Paper Messiah" I think), then a couple of older pieces, "Dedication" & "Evening."

 Next was the night's performance artist, "Barbie Claus," playing a toy guitar plugged into a keyboard & intoning completely unintelligible lines because of the bunny mask covering his face -- it might've been something good. Nicole Ryan, the night's "virgin" performer, read notebook jottings she described as "crap from inside my head."

The night's band was "Broken Glass & Cigarettes," fronted by Jonny Von, with Cody Bingham & Mic Cybulski. I'm no rock historian but I would characterize it as "poseur rock," sounding as near as I could tell a bit like the Psychedelic Furs. I picked up their demo CD & a collection of writings by Jonathan M. Heller (aka Jonny Von), "Dirty Semen Spectacles." At this point I had to bail out & left before the reading of the "exquisite corpse." Maybe Rob will post it on his website.

Every 4th Friday, starting about 8:30PM, at the Fuze Box, 13 Central Ave., Albany, NY.

September 25, 2010

Jay Rogoff, Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, September 21

I've heard poet Jay Rogoff read a number of times & he's been the featured poet at my Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center. I enjoy his poetry & hearing him read, relaxed & always with good humor. Tonight he was able to stretch out with a nearly hour program as part of the annual series of the Adirondack Center for Writing. He was introduced by Mary Kathryn Jablonski, herself a fine poet I've heard read in this very setting, & elsewhere.

Jay was able to range far & wide among his published books, as well as his pending The Code of Terpsichore. He framed his selections with poems from a recently published, Twenty Danse Macabre (Spring Garden Press), a lovely produced letter-press chapbook. These are sonnets, some grim some humorous. He also read from The Long Fault (2008) the crowd-pleaser "The Guy Who Passed Me Doing 90 MPH and Playing the Trumpet" (which is in alcaics as he pointed out), but also a couple I haven't heard him read from this collection, including the haunting villanelle "Absorption". A few poems from The Cutoff (1995), then from the manuscript of the forthcoming The Code of Terpsichore. These are poems having to do with the poet's involvement (in reality, in fantasy, in dream) with the world of dance (Terpsichore is the ancient Greek goddess of Dance), combining dance, art & even sex -- what could be better. He included a couple of "very old poems" before ending with more from Twenty Danse Macabre. In the middle he stopped briefly for questions, which I found to be an effective way to give the audience "a break" without losing them. But then who would ever leave early from a Jay Rogoff reading?

The Adirondack Center for Writing does most of its programming in the North Country (they are headquartered at Paul Smith's College), but includes an occasional reading such as this in Saratoga Springs, for which I am grateful. I'm sure we can expect more readings from Jay Rogoff in 2011 when his new book comes out -- don't miss him.

September 24, 2010

Big Tent Haibun

Leaving my apartment to walk the dark sidewalk of Second St., the stars would be at my feet, the crushed wine bottles & other dust of the East Village. It was 1975 & my destination was the Tin Palace on Bowery & Second St., my neighborhood bar. On weekends jazz musicians, famous & otherwise, would play there with a cover. During the week there was usually a trio, often Jim Roberts, playing for me & the bartender. Sometimes I would show up with a date, & often not the same one as the last time. I think of the sounds of jazz, our conversations, even the sounds we made in bed, reverberating through space, even now.

the constellations await our music:
saxophone sighs, lost whispers
even the forgotten names.

September 22, 2010

Third Thursday Poetry Night, September 16

Our visiting featured poet, John Roche, came from Rochester, NY to read tonight, & represent the Black Mountain North Symposium to be held in Rochester October 1 -3, as part of the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Charles Olson. Thus I read Olson's "Maximus to Gloucester July 19" from the first book of the Maximus Poems as our Muse for tonight.

Our first open mic poet was Sylvia Barnard who reprised the poem she read last week at the GLCC, "Christopher Slaughterford," the story of an English murder. Alan Catlin left home without the poem he had intended for the night, so read another bar poem with an intruder coming in out of the rain, "They Are Selling Postcards of the Hanging." Bob Sharkey (who had a Gloucester connection) read "Understanding Anita," recently published in Poiesis #4 from Propaganda Press, Palo Alto, CA. Edie Abrams (also had a Gloucester connection) read a tender poem "Art Willis on a Beautiful Autumn Day" about the local poet. W.D. Clarke's poem, in his characteristic ballad form, was the humorous tale about "Uncle Albert's Venus."

John Roche had sent to me a while back his book of poems, Topicalities (FootHills Publishing 2008), & came with a recommendation from Alan Casline. He began with a poem written during the Iraq War "Cultus", & no apologies for political poems, especially in the Social Justice Center. Then a couple of October poems, "Exchange," Columbus Day sales & the taking of native lands (that Alan Casline has written a poem in response), & "Haints of October." A recent poem, "Bee Sting," was written on the way back from the Worchester Olson festival. "Hermeneutics" considered our short attention spans, & the poet's role. Another road poem, driving back from Ashville, listening to Jack Clark read poetry with jazz, was a Beat enthusiasm of words. In "Baghdad Boogaloo Revisited: Blues for Obama," the musical word play was a political rant (& could've been called the "Pashtun Polka"). He ended with "Here's For All" a poem about open mic poets.

After the break I started off with a new poem "Coyote 2." Alan Casline read "Tour of John Roche's Poem 'Exchange' " which was alluded to above. Dennis Sullivan dedicated "The Cause of All Wars," with its Biblical quotes, to Mark O'Brien. And that poet read next under the nom de plume Obeeduid the wistful poem "This Foul Act." Moses Kash III read way too long as the night's last poet, a rambling quasi-autobiographical meditation framed by men on the Moon.

You never know what you're going to get at open mics, so check it out.

Every third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 PM -- bring a poem to read.

September 17, 2010


The fasting cat
       dreams of dinner
mindful of the year’s
       baby birds
newborn mice

September 15, 2010

Live from the Living Room, September 8

(Sorry about the delay in posting this; I was going to type it up over the weekend while I was in Gloucester, but never got to it -- I had many things not to do while walking the sand.)

A roomful of poets in the living room of the GLCC for the featured poet, Bless, who did some favorites I've heard before & some new work too. He began with his meditation on jazz sounds & drinking & smoking & what cut short the lives of many of the great musicians we listen to (Adrena then talked about the poem, the introductions Bless never gives). Then a piece, "Awareness", written in response to a friend's shock that he was doing a reading at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center, cutting through homophobia & prejudice. Then the wonderfully ironic piece about talking with a homeless man, then finding his pocket picked. Another new piece, actually the first time it was performed, was "Religion" (on death). He ended with a consideration of ignorance & how it can keep people apart. Often poets who address the kinds of issues that Bless takes on end up sounding like your mother or father or the Sunday preacher pointing a finger. Bless can preach with images, with cadenced phrases, that teach without berating, with open hands not finger-pointing.

On to the open mic & I began with my poem for Rosh Hashanah, "Tashlich," then a new piece "Coyote" with, I was told in no uncertain terms, too long of an introduction (but I did want to acknowledge Alison Koffler's influence on the poem). Jason Crane read William Stafford's poem, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other" (Stafford has been popping up lately in local blogs, as well as here tonight), then his own "White Man's Burden." Carolee Sherwood's 2 poems, "September" & the dream-like "Interrupted" are both up on her Blog (with commentary, of course).

Tim Verhaegan's 2 poems were very different, the first "Mourning Morning Meltdowns" on deaths in his family, & the satiric commentary on "circuit boys" & "bears" in "Provincetown Week." Bob Sharkey read "fairly recent pieces" from his summer trips, a meditation on slavery & Thomas Jefferson (that contains the first poetic mention of his new granddaughter), "Monticello," then a prose excerpt about the leftovers in a hotel room from a trip to the West Coast. Sally Rhoades' poems dealt with memories, the first how dancing dredged up old memories of sexual abuse, then one about taking a journalism course as a young student.

Sylvia Barnard said her poems also loosely fit under the category of "what I did on my summer vacation." She retold the old murder mystery of "Christopher Slaughterford," then "Old Quad Corpus Christi College, Cambridge" (old indeed, it was built in 1350). Jill Crammond Wickham was also back from her summer vacation in the Adirondacks, with "Dear Loon" in 3 sections, then a 2-parter postcard poem on a traveling Adirondack photographer. Our host, Don Levy, finished us off with a hilarious imagining of his mother stuck in France a year & returning totally Frenchified in "My French MaMa."

Every 2nd Wednesday on Hudson Ave. in Albany -- comfortable, chatty & relaxed (& always straight-friendly).

September 8, 2010


“Give Truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham...”

and my breath to the sea
                                      like its sound
[breathing in ...]                  breathing out
asanas like beach glass
the surf returns [...] the beach
              the sea takes shells, my thoughts
the year’s conquered inequities
                                   back to the depths

the gulls hang on the wind like        words

“ that you swore to our ancestors from long ago.”

if the sea is the [Torah]
then what am I?
                 a [...] fish?
eyes like God’s – never closed

I toss no coins
                        just sit
breathing in – I breathe in
breathing out – I breathe out

back again
                     this year
as the waves themselves return, return

[to the] depths

Gloucester, September 2004
(The “Tashlich” prayer is said on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashana
by a pool o f water that preferably has fish in it.)

September 7, 2010

Albany Poets Present!, September 7

We were kicked back upstairs to the hot room (a head-banger band downstairs), Ed, Keith, Thom & I hung out talking trash until "Screamer" showed up & she joined in too. The tour bus never arrived, nor any of the poets who read Friday night at the Fuze Box, so we went on with the open mic without a sign-up sheet, starting with
Ed Rinaldi reading from his Blackberry (or whatever is the generic equivalent). His short poems were "Dutch Mechanics Prostituted," then one about working the night shift at a convenience store (just like Elvis), & one he introduced as a "psychedelically inspired idea that Dan Wilcox likes to play the horses" -- I try to get to the track at Saratoga once a season, but I missed this year & generally do not play the ponies, but, hey, it's poetry, it's all made up.

Since she was the token female the consensus was that "Screamer" (Amy Fortin) should go next & she read from a good old-fashioned hand-written journal "A Short Reminder to Myself," containing good advice to believe in herself, then "Six" about a young neighbor girl without Amy's advantages asking her lots of questions, a gentle & touching poem.

I followed with the recent (typed, laser-printed) "United Flight 302," then a poem in hand-written draft in my poetry workbook just burst forth today on my porch based on reports of coyote-sightings in some of the affluent suburbs, "Coyote."

As I finished Bless wandered in "just to listen" but there was not much to listen to except the thundering from downstairs. I must say Keith's new sound system is very crisp & I look forward to pushing poems through it in a more congenial setting. Check for a calendar of events.

September 6, 2010

Caffe Lena Open Mic, September 1

It may be September, but it's still racing season: had to fight for parking, the Adelphi Hotel bar crowded with the horsey set, but it didn't affect the good quality of poetry at the monthly open mic. Our host, Carol Graser, began with an excerpt of a poem by Muriel Rukeyser.

Margaret Bryant led off the night with 2 poems from her book, Aligning Stems, which came out in March, "Rush Hour" & another on a young girl, a refugee of the Cuban Revolution. Alan Catlin (the first of the night's "birthday poets") said he was trying to bring "the bar & poetry closer" (hmm, seems like many poets spend too much time too close to a bar), with a poem mentioning Sartre ("People") then another poem about a bar it sounds like one should avoid, "The Hole." Todd Fabozzi read 2 from his second book, Crossroads, the political satire, "A Token of Gratitude" & a poem on his Italian heritage to honor our featured poet (Nancy Nenofio), "Blood." Barbara Garro's poems deconstructed what the vacuous comments really mean in a poetry critique group. Carole Kenyon had only one poem, "Peace Soldier Paradox."

The featured poet, Nancy Duci Nenofio, read from her new collection of poems, What Brought You Here? (Limited Editions Press, 2010), an attractive book with both color & black & white illustrations, some her own family photographs. And some of the poems she read tonight were family memories as well, such as "The Corner Yard" (1950, she said) & "At the Bus Stop - 1956." But memory plays a big part in the other poems she read tonight as well, "You Asked Me to Dance," "What Brought You Here," "A Red Light Warms a Soul," "The Carnival," "Dancing in the Sunlight," and "Roses on a Pillow." Ask for her book in your local independent bookstore.

After a break, Carol Graser returned us to the open mic, reading one of her own fine poems from The Wild Twist of Their Stems (FootHills Publishing, 2007), "Children's Concert in Congress Park." It was also A.C. Everson's birthday, but instead of one of her own poems, she read the lyrics to Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows." This was Rachel Grace Willen's first time here (did I hear she was from Idaho?), her poem "Judging Eyes" full of teen angst about others making hasty judgments; then the long titled poem I mostly missed, "From My Current Vantage Point…" (as seen from the window of a speeding car). D. Alexander Holiday took a bit longer than anyone else (the rule is 2 short poems or 1 medium to long poem) with a long piece from Juan Felipe Herrera, then 2 of his own poems from his memoir In the Care of Strangers.

A rare mother-daughter sequence followed with Lorraine Grund (who had read here sometime in the past) going first, with a driving poem, "Sing & Don't Cry" followed by "Scattered Stars Outshine the Moon." She was followed by her daughter Angelina Grund with a poem about her grandmother, "Open Your Eyes." Josh McIntyre followed with 2 short poems, "Leaks" pairing pens & faucets, & the quiet domestic love poem that I like, "Fasting."

Carolee Sherwood was back with a relationship poem (big surprise) written in March playing off a mine collapse, then an uncharacteristically gentle untitled (love?) poem. I followed with just one, an old piece "For Allen Grindle's Crows." Jason Crane's first poem was about baking a cake & following the directions, then watching a poem read "Barefoot."

It is always a thrill to see a poet read for her or his first time, & that was Joanne Mitchum tonight, with a memory poem , "Tattered & Torn," then one about a wife writing to her husband in the military describing their child's "First Words." The Poet with Nothing Left to Lose (aka Richard Cowles) did a very short "Spam" then a piece on the poet William Bronk. Brittany Aston's poem written in the hospital, "I Am," asserted herself against the world, while her second piece was an apology to her friends. Ellen Finn first read a very short story written by her Aunt about Ellen when she was 3 years old, then read her own poem based on the story, from her point of view. Our last poet of the night, Gary Yaeger brought us home with one of Robert Service's ballads.

Another varied & interesting open mic night at historic Caffe Lena -- first Wednesdays, 7:30PM, on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, NY.

September 2, 2010

Reading & Open Mic at Full Circle Bookstore, August 29

Full Circle Bookstore is the largest independent, locally owned, general interest bookstore in Oklahoma. They have been in business now for more than 30 years and are located on the first level of 50 Penn Place in northwest Oklahoma City. It has an old-fashioned feel with interconnecting rooms & a coffee bar. The open mic host was Carol Koss, who said she was originally from the Bronx but has been in Oklahoma for many years.

3 Guys from Albany were the featured readers & we went first with a sample of our poems carefully chosen for the bookstore setting, holding back our finale (Tom Nattell's "I Beat My Drum") until after the open mic, as is the custom here. Charlie included his celebration of Southern hospitality, "It Was a Damn Fine Alabama River Wedding" (from All Over America: Road Poems, FootHills Publishing, 2009) as a tribute to the damn fine Oklahoma hospitality we were experiencing, & I did "Baghdad/Albany" hoping some Oklahoman would steal it & write an Oklahoma City version.

Carol Koss began with a poem like a prayer by a recently deceased friend, then read her own poem, "Body of Work."  Jim Spurr runs a poetry series in Shawnee on the third Thursday of the month (so it's unlikely I'll be able to get to it); both his poems used ironic humor to drive home their political points, "Lying is Fun" & "God Meant for Some of Us to Live Better than Other People."

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish's poem is so new she hadn't printed it out yet from her computer, so she read from her laptop "Variations on Brown," her response to the Arizona immigration law. Dixie Yoesting poems were "Questions" then the love poem, "Geomagical."

Both of Sandy Aoli's poems were about visiting, "Labor Day Visiting 5th St." & the vacation poem "The Necessary Angel Visits Warwickshire." Kristyn Raid's first poem was about being fingerprinted to be a substitute teacher, then a love poem, "Proximity & Perpetual Motion." Julia McConnell, who later gave Charlie & me a ride to our motel, read a monologue about a party for a gay woman going into the military, full of the irony of "don't-ask-don't-tell" & working-class necessity.

The trio led by Steve Beeney, with Scott Hooker & vocalist Debbie Tiehen did 2 songs, "One Little Indian" for Custer & for the oil-giant BP, then an effective combination of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" with "Home on the Range." In the midst of this heat, Dena Madole had 2 poems about summer & the heat in Oklahoma. Joyce Wakefield's "Hymnal" was one that was stolen, while "Logic" deconstructed medical advice & offered alternatives for wild women.

We came back with a poem each & our finale, then on our way. Great fun in Oklahoma City -- there are poets everywhere, so watch out.

September 1, 2010

Oklahoma Speaks, August 28, 2010

The final program of the Oklahoma Laborfest was held at the Lyric Theatre Auditorium in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District on Saturday night.

“Oklahoma Speaks” was inspired by the Howard Zinn production “The People Speak” on the History Channel in 2010 which featured writings from historical documents written by people active in grassroots movements throughout U.S. history. “Oklahoma Speaks” included a selection of historic texts written by Oklahoma’s public leaders, grassroots activists, writers and everyday people who worked for the good of Oklahomans past, present and future. The aim of the program is to not only educate the audience and remind working Oklahomans of their state’s history, but to honor these great women & men who gone before us & made a path for us to follow as we continue their work for the goals of labor.

The program included music by local performers, Mary Reynolds & Louise Goldberg, & The Red Dirt Rangers in between the readings. Of course, we sang along to Wood Guthrie’s “Union Maid,” “Hard Travellin’” & “I Ain’t Got No Home.” But also to Florence Reese’s “Which Side Are You On,” Merle Travis’ “Dark as a Dungeon,” the traditional “Ezekial Saw the Wheel,” as well as other labor anthems.

The selections we read were from the writers in the Oklahoma Federal Writers Project (WPA), Wood Guthrie, Kate Barnard, Oscar Ameringer, Agnes “Sis” Cunningham, Will Rogers, John Steinbeck, Eli Jaffe & others. The readers included scholars, poets & writers, labor activists, students, even a pastor. The writings included political speeches, oral history, sermons, humor & personal stories that brought tears to the eyes. All the historic documents were researched, selected & arranged by Rachel Jackson, with help of Jim Bligh, Bryan Jackson, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Matt Barnett & Karen Chapman. There are photos of each of the readers on my Flickr! site.

It was a moving, thoughtful & rousing event, with laughter, tears, songs & righteous anger at poverty, greed & injustice. One of the goals the organizers did not mention for this event was to energize us in continuing the on-going work that lies before us to change the world to one of justice, equality & compassion. I’m hoping the spirit I felt in that auditorium, in fact all festival-long, will continue, at least until another such event helps to enliven me again.

Labor omnia vincit!