October 29, 2010

False Memory, BookMarks: the Memoir Project Reading Series -- October 25

This is the first in this year's series at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY. I was the (as they like to say) "curator" of this night's program. I had been sent a selection of poems from 6 area poets, with their names redacted. All the work was excellent so I decided to have all 6 read. It turned out that all were women & most were poets I have heard (& written about) at local open mics. One poet had a conflict & couldn't be there to read. Since this was an event I organized, hosted & participated in I can't or shouldn't say how fantastic the readings were, but then it's not me, but these fine poets, who generated the glittering work.

A word on the theme. "False memory" is not meant in the clinical sense, but that all artists "make it up." Artists, & especially writers, use their life experiences in their work to one degree or another, changing details, taking things out, putting things in -- indeed, that's what makes it "Art" rather than simply reminiscence. I like to say that all writing is memoir, except if your spouse is in the audience, then it is "art", it's made up.

Carolee Sherwood, a frequent reader at area open mics, started the night with an almost theatrical program of poems & linking commentary on the theme. She began with the apocalyptic "Once the Men Were Gone," & continued with a poem-letter to Beth "who was dead for a while." She described an affair with an actor when she was in her 50s (I don't think she is quite there yet) & another with Picasso (or was it his Minotaur? or both?). So it was difficult to tell if the poem "That Feeling that Winter is Near" or "Slip-Knot" for example were "more true" or not, or that "To Girls Who Smile as a Way to Survive in the World" (about the April Albany WordFest) "really" happened.

Elizabeth Gordon wanted to begin with a piece for 2 voices, the pincer-like/double-threaded "The Urge to Dance," so I joined her, unrehearsed. Many of her poems were based on family memories, of her father (e.g., "He Rose"), or an aunt telling the story of being molested as a child ("Aunt Theresa's Fire"). A couple poems mixed bad memories with images from popular horror movies, "Going into the Shed" & "Creature from the Black Lagoon." As she seemed to sum it up at the end, perhaps memories are like going into "a field of dandelions…"

I was pleased to see that Mary Kathryn Jablonski had submitted her work to this project, since I've been a fan (& publisher) of her poems over the years. She began with quotes from Wallace Stevens & Pablo Picasso (again tonight!). Many of her poems, too, used childhood memories of growing up on a farm, such as "Fidelity," "Elderberries," & of her father ("Coffee & Cigarettes") & mother ("Josephine Sky"). Her poem "Escape" included the paradoxical "you need to have the right kind of memory for forgetting" while "What Remains," with its image of Italy, seemed to be about learning to forget. I'm glad she included 2 of my personal favorites "Praecepe, the Beehive" & "First Snow."

After a short break, I read 3 short "Wonder Woman" poems by Diane Cameron who unfortunately had another commitment tonight. When I had read the anonymous entries I was sure I had heard these poems somewhere at an open mic. But, no, it must've been someone else's Wonder Woman poems. I guess you could say that the idea of Wonder Woman is "in the air."

But I have seen Sue Jefts read at open mics, particularly at Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs. Her poems often use her presence in the outdoors as a starting point for her musings, such as "Driving to Missouri" & "Walking Home" or "Days." A rare foray into politics, "Coming to Terms," was inspired by environmentalist activist & author Bill McKibben. "Returning to the Earth" with its piles of tactile images was inspired by Pablo Neruda's "Odes to Things." Her poem "Festival of the Madonna of the Bikers" was an attempt to get away from "nature writing" & effectively combined images from Catholicism with motorcycles. She ended with breath: "After Meditation" on breath itself, & "This Breath" about poetry & words as breath, like the end of a yoga session.

The last poet for the night, Jill Crammond Wickham, proudly announced "false memory is my thing." Each of her poems were about telling stories, or as she styled it "revisionary mythmaking," in one form or another. Some of her titles were a challenge for us note-takers, such as "In the Telling of an Anecdote the Wife Remembers …" (it wrong), or "If this were a True Story I Wouldn't be Standing in the Kitchen Whipping the Soufflé into a Fury," or "This Will Be the Home You Remember Growing Up In…" And while some poems re-told family stories ("Origin of Marriage," "Fort Ticonderoga," "Hemorrhage") we can't be sure whose story is "true".  Jill even retold a story from Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not, but of course had to make up most of it. It's all Art.

If I wasn't the one who put this night together & selected the poets I'd say how great it was, but then those of you who were there can judge for yourself. The series continues through April at the Arts Center, 265 River St., Troy, NY

October 28, 2010

Sunday Four Poetry -- October 24

Another wonderful afternoon of poetry & convivial camaraderie, with the featured poet going on first for a change, with tag-team intros by the over-dressed Mike Burke, Dennis Sullivan, & (later for the open mic) Edie Abrams.

Jim Williams, the featured poet, began with self-deprecating comments about not knowing much about poetry, then read a villanelle (about writing a poem) & a Petrarchean sonnet (on his cancer, with a humorous twist). He also included in his reading a bouquet of triolets run together, also about his cancer, then a humorous dialogue with Karl Jung "Poetry Won't Make You Happy or More Prosperous…" & a poem musing about writing poetry & suicide. Striking off in other directions he read a longer memoir poem about his sexual exploits while attending anti-war demonstrations in the 1970s, & a re-telling of the Oedipus myth (Freud v. Jung ?). But by far my favorite piece was a love poem about cleaning his rug, the stains like the scars on his heart, nice conceit. He ended, as an encore of sorts, with a solo instrumental piece on guitar.  Jim's poems are available in chapbooks from Benevolent Bird Press, Box 522, Delmar, NY, 12054.

The first of the open mic poets was Philomena Moriarty with 3 poems, the last of which "How St. Anthony Works, a Theory" that she later needed to put to the test for a lost notebook. Mike Burke was "Pissed" in a hotel bar until humbled by an armless beggar. Obeeduid (Mark O'Brian) read from his iPad the Oedipal "Dad Was Right You Had Great Gams." The not-seen-enough-at-open-mics Sue Oringel took us through the past to now with "Autumn." The reigning Smith's Tavern Poet Laureate, Barbara Vink, took us to a Thanksgiving dinner with the old folks. Then the 1st runner up, Carolee Sherwood, contemplated the meaning of patio stones in "Outside the Cafe on One of the Last Warm Days," then on love lost, the change of the seasons & a passing ambulance in "October 18."

I followed with my newest poem, the Eliot pastiche "October Land," then the seasonal "musical" performance/public-service announcement, "Put Down the Government Rag." Tom Corrado took us on a steam locomotive "At the Clinique Counter with My Daughter," then examined "Random Inattentiveness." Thérèse Broderick has been working a gift-book of poems for her daughter's birthday (sure hope she's not interested in reading this Blog), read "Elizabeth Verité."

Ann Lapinski's poems were from a class she took at the Arts Center, one about her father ("The Picture on the Living Room Wall"), & "The Wolf" (reworking "Little Red Riding Hood").  Howard Kogan (who was 3rd place in the Poet Laureate contest in April) read 2 poems of childhood, "The Way We Met," & the implications of "King Kong." Paul Amidon said he hoped the Yankees would've won last night so he could read this poem, which he read anyways, "English Class Report," about listening to the World Series in school, then his own timely, seasonal poem "Elections;" commenting on his "poetics" (referencing the Sunday Four Poetry program in January, 2011) he read "Poems as Children."  Alan Casline read a pair of somber, contemplative (outside) poems from April, 2009, "Contemplation of Buddha Looking Out" & "Sitting on a Wet Moss Mound."

Speaking of outside poems, Sheldon Carnes showed up in his tree outfit & recited a fable about the controlling the Earth. Dennis Sullivan was almost skipped, read 3 poems, each with a different color, "Red," green ("A Day Makes a Difference" but not about the color), & blue, a love poem in Barcelona, looking to the end.

A series that continues each 4th Sunday of the month at the Old Songs Community Center on Main St. in Voorheesville, 3PM, which if you haven't been to, you should.

October 24, 2010

Jayne Cortez, with Denardo Coleman -- October 23

This was another stellar event in the Sanctuary for Independent Media's Fall schedule, the jazz poet Jayne Cortez & drummer Denardo Coleman. She often performs & records with her band The Firespitters, but tonight it was just words & drums & that was jes' fine, more: it was great.

Of course, it was night filled with jazz rhythms, words, names, drums, beginning with her tribute to the Cuban drummer, "I See Chano Pozo." Other drum/poems included "If the Drum is a Woman" (a response to Duke Ellington's suite, A Drum is a Woman), & "Drums Everywhere Drums." "Samba is Power" almost got me out of my seat, my feet & hands beating along with the words. "Taking the Blues Back Home" & "Sunny Side of the Page" were other music tribute poems.

Her poems are built, like music, on repetition, parallelisms & frequent, compelling similes, lists & litanies. Their messages are right out front so she dispensed entirely with introductions -- if you didn't get it you weren't listening. Cortez can deliver the message without the finger-pointing of a preacher. And so she performed pieces about pollution (spiritual as well as environmental), about lying foreign policy, & oppression. In addition to "If the Drum is a Woman" she had a marvelous poem beginning "Everytime I think about us woman…" where she becomes a tree, & the message to us all "Find Your Own Voice" ("…& use it/use your own voice & find it"). She was about to quit when the crowd demanded an encore & she obliged with a short piece, "I'm gonna shake like a violent rain storm…"

Many of the poems she performed tonight I found in her 2002 collection from Hanging Loose Press, Jazz Fan Looks Back. During the books signing I overheard Jayne Cortez say she'd only been her once before. In "the world's largest collection of photos of unknown poets" I found a couple shots of this famous poet when she read (no band, no drummer) at the Writers' Institute in February, 1989.

Jayne Cortez should come back more frequently -- & the next time bring the band.

October 23, 2010

Third Thursday Poetry Night -- October 21

Once again the third Thursday rolled around & this month the featured poet at the Social Justice Center was Jacqueline Ahl, along with a fine collection of poets in the open mic. In honor of my recent visit to Gloucester & the Charles Olson Festival I played Willie Alexander's CD Vincent Ferrini's Greatest Hits & invoked the spirit of Vincent Ferrini as tonight's Muse reading his poem "A Good Harbor Tale".

It was good to see Jan Tramontano again on the open mic scene, just back from a road trip across America with her husband, & she read "At Land Between the Lakes" (a park between Kentucky & Tennessee) from on the road. Our "plummeting SUNY Classics professor" Sylvia Barnard read a short dream poem perhaps generated about the cuts in the humanities programs which have affected her personally. Bob Sharkey's poem was about found documents he picked up on the street, "Purge the Absolute," a dialogue. Golf season has ended so Anthony Bernini could join us again, reading his poem "The Warmth" that he read at WordFest. W.D. Clarke's "The Rhymer's Confession" takes off from a Robert Service poem (surprise!) & is his own personal manifesto.

Jacqueline Ahl began with "Diesel & Drums" that she described as her carpe diem poem, referencing Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman, & a 2002 poem "Chronicle" on the ticking away of Life.  Her major work of the night was dramatic performance poem for 2 voices, "Mailman Falls in Love with Agoraphobic," which she performed with the assistance of Ray Faiola; the title is a quick summary, but the writing was full of sharp back & forth between the characters, postal puns & the eeriness of letters delivered years later.  She ended with a poem in multiple parts, "Choose Your Own Adventure," on the complexity of love & friendship -- know it well.  

After the break, I read a new poem that has been years in the imagining, a pastiche of the beginning of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," mine called "October Land," on the end of the baseball season. Moses Kash III followed with "The Ivory Tower" (about loving God) written in 1999. Carolee Sherwood read a rare, for her, political poem, "Boy Leaps from Burning Building," a moving piece from this mother of sons. Jason Crane ended our night with a poem "Inside my Head", another poem than the one on the page (while I was distracted outside with a woman looking for a homeless shelter he graciously ended the evening for us -- thank you Jason, but I think you forgot to say, "May the Muse be with you").

Every third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, 7:30PM, $3.00 donation.

Form & Function

Technique technique
Technique technique

Technique technique
     Technique technique
Technique technique

Technique technique
Technique technique
Technique technique
Technique technique

Technique technique technique technique
Technique technique technique technique
Technique technique technique technique
Technique technique technique technique
Technique technique technique technique
Technique technique technique technique


October 20, 2010

"October Land" -- Poetry Blog

I've been threatening to write this poem for years, ever since an October long ago, immersed in baseball playoffs, league championships, the World Series, I stole T.S. Eliot's line in his poem "The Waste Land" October is the baseball month… Finally, last night while watching the day's 2nd baseball game on TV, I appropriated the first stanza from the poem, complete with a new translation of Eliot's (un-translated) quote from the Satyricon of Petronius. Of course, one would expect Pound to be a better batter than Eliot.

I've used Eliot's poem like a "drying rack," replacing socks here, underpants there, with my own just-washed words.

October Land
“I saw with my own eyes Rodriguez in the batting cage, & when the boys said to him, ‘A-Rod, what do you want?’ that one replied ‘I want to win’.”

(For Ezra Pound, il miglior fungo.)

1. The End of the Season

October is the baseball month, breeding
Homeruns out the dead land, mixing
Statistics & cheers, stirring
Singles with double plays.
Winter bored us, only
Football on TV, basketball
Eating up the Spring.
Summer surprised us, coming over Lake Michigan
With a shower of rain; we stopped in Memorial Park
And went on in sunlight, into the Stadium,
And drank beer, and bought a scorecard.
I am not really a Yankee fan, I’m for the Mets.
And when we were children, staying at Grandma’s,
My cousin, he took me on the subway,
And I was frightened.  He said, Marie,
Marie, it’s the next stop.  And up we went.
In the upper deck, there you feel free.
I kept score, much of the night, until the teams went south in Winter.

October 18, 2010

Community of Writers -- October 16

This is an annual series sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild that brings local & regional writers into area libraries. This event was held at the Albany Public Library Main Branch (& was co-ordinated by me).

Kathe Kokolias was the first reader & she began by talking about her experiences living in Mexico, & then reading one of the personal essays from her forthcoming memoir, What Time Do the Crocodiles Come Out? She turned to her first book, Spandex & Black Boots: Essays from an Abundant Life, to read "Adolescence Revisited."

Elizabeth Floyd Mair is a freelance journalist who writes personal essays as well as feature articles on authors, filmmakers and musicians for the Albany Times-Union. She described the ups & downs of interviews, & taking challenging assignments to write about things she knew nothing about. Then on to a personal essay that took us from her childhood freedom to worrying about all the things Mom's have to with a 2-year old.

D. Alexander Holiday has read his poetry at the major venues in the area, & so began with a poem, "Washer Woman Blues." HIs books include Letters to Osama, I Use to Fall Down, & All the Killers Gathered. But it was Holiday's most recent book that he spent his time talking about & reading an extended section. In the Care of Strangers is subtitled The Autobiography of a Foster Child & is the story of a painful coming of age story of a young boy in the literal care of strangers in foster homes & hospitals. A moving story that is a testament of the strength of the human spirit.

For more information about the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & other such programs check out the website www.hvwg.org.

October 16, 2010

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Sunday, October 10 (10/10/10)

Every story has an ending & this is a happy one, tinged with the sadness of endings. We gathered in the black box of Blackburn Performing Arts, for a trio of performances, dance & words & music.

The first piece was "Blue Suit" a theater piece with dancer Kate Tarlow Morgan doing movement & Ammiel Alcalay reading from the poems of Robert Duncan (I think). Then a performance of Olson's "dance play," "Apollonius of Tyana" with Sarah Slifer shedding layers down to white shorts & top, her circumambulation of the stage describing Apollonius' travels, with Mark Wagner serving as the narrator, & 3 musicians.

The final performance was by Gloucester rocker Willie Loco Alexander (on keyboard & vocals) with a drummer & 2 dynamite r&b saxmen playing a variety of covers & originals, including some pieces set to the words of Vincent Ferrini & Charles Olson, such as the sing-a-long, "Life is the Poem." I've bought the CD.

All that was left was the partying at Alchemy on Duncan St. I just hope that the folks at the Dodge Festival had as much fun in Newark as I did here, for a lot less money. Thank you Gloucester & the Charles Olson Society.

October 15, 2010

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Maximus Walk with Readings, Sunday, October 10

The weather was perfect -- clear skies, warm in the sun, the air cool enough for light jackets, sort of a metaphor for this near-perfect festival. And in many ways this was the quintessential Olsonesque reading of the festival, walking the streets of Gloucester, tracking the sites here/not-here, poetry &/as civic activism, the generation that knew the poet & the next generation who gets what it's about.

Before the walk started I sat on the granite ledge of the Cape Ann Museum talking with a couple from Worcester, then with Ed Sanders about his archives, & spent the tour with my dear friend Jean Dugan -- it was that kind of day.
The first reading was across Pleasant St. from the museum at a building under contention, just a few doors down the street from City Hall.  Dave Rich read the biographical poem about from David Pearce from Maximus II, 196. Then we were led to the Middle St. location across from the YMCA that was built on the site of the Solomon Davis house & the subject of Olson's "A Scream to the Editor" (originally published in the Gloucester Daily Times 12/3/65), reprinted in Charles Olson: Letters Home edited by David Rich (Cape Ann Museum, 2010) read/proclaimed by Peter Anastas.

The Fitz Hugh Lane house on Harbor Loop was the site of the next reading where James Cook read Olson's letter of 10/16/65 (Charles Olson: Maximus to Glouceter, edited by Peter Anastas, Ten Pound Island Books, 1992). Peter said this letter contains everything Olson is about, his "specificity". Then he did Olson's letter "A Beef About Homer's Stamp" from the same book. We owe Peter thanks for this connection to the real, physical, loud, big figure of the poet.

We were led next to the maritime/industrial area, standing by the business of Gloucester, the fishing (& tourist) boats, overlooking new public space, its use being debated among the citizens. Kevin Gallagher read "Maximus, to Himself" (I, 52), with its grand ending:
It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet
Then Henry Ferrini read "For RC" & Chuck Stein read from the Dogtown section of Maximus IV, V, VI.

On to St. Peter's Square for Jim Cocola from Worcester to read the tansy button "Letter 3" (I, 9). Jim is working on a map of the places mentioned in Maximus.
Carol Weston peered through her round magnifying glass to read a very short section (II, 2) of the long "Maximus from Dogtown - I". Then the trek past abandoned fish processing plants (also under contention as developers & citizens fight over its future use) to the working class neighborhood of Fort Square, looking out over the harbor, Ten Pound Island, & the ocean beyond.
Gathered beneath the windows of Charles Olson's former apartment at 28 Fort Square James Cook read III, 188 & urged the crowd to look out over Ten Pound Island, as Olson must've when writing this poem in February 1968, & Kevin Gallagher brought us back to Book 1.

We ended up on Main St. across the street from the historic Blackburn building. Peter Anastas read Olson's 1968 letter-to-the-editor/poem "Rocking Meter over Desolation" reprinted in Charls Olson: Letters Home. A couple more pieces, including Henry Ferrini reading the short nautical note of II, 132, then James Cook ended with Olson's dream-poem of Gloucester places "The Librarian" (see Archaeologist of Morning).

So much more to see, to find, and this was perfect for a Sunday in Gloucester.

October 14, 2010

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Diane DiPrima

Henry Ferrini shared this link to his video of Diane DiPrima reading her poem "Rant" on Saturday, October 9, 2010 in Gloucester, MA.  I found the text in Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems (City Lights Books, 1990).


October 13, 2010

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Saturday, October 9 (Part 2)

After the panels, there was a showing of Henry Ferrini & Ken Riaf's definitive Polis is This: Charles Olson & the Persistence of Place at the Cape Ann Community Cinema, 21 Main St. The film contains lots of ghosts, including poets like Robert Creely & Vincent Ferrini, who are no longer with us, some of the footage shot at the 1995 Charles Olson Festival.

As the sun set we were back at the Independent Christian Church for a reading by Michael Rumaker & Diane DiPrima, where we were for the Marathon reading last night. In a way this was the "crown jewel" of the weekend. Michael Rumaker had been at Black Mountain College when Olson was rector & has written a book about his time there, Black Mountain Days. Diane DiPrima was there in the early days of the Beat scene, wrote Memoirs of a Beatnik, tons of poetry (& still cranking them out) & published Olson's poetry in the early days.

Peter Anastas served as overall moderator & introduced Lisa Rich, who introduced Michael Rumaker by reading a provocative passage from his one-act play Queers.

Michael Rumaker, after enduring technical problems with his mic, solved by duct-taping together a mic stand & a candle snuffter, read from his memoir Black Mountain Days about first meeting Charles Olson. He was patient, gentle, good-humored & told a good story. Reading from Pizza, a collection of his poetry, he said "Charles would have hated this poem" ("For Charles Olson"), but we loved it.

The microphone issues were somewhat resolved for Diane DiPrima's reading. She was introduced by Gloucester's Poet Laureate Ruthanne Collinson. Diane gave a long reading, beginning with a 1956 poem to her unborn daughter, then on to a couple of poems relating to Olson, one on the question of Muses for male & female poets, & the wide-ranging "For Charles from Marshall in a Year of Drought." Then a series of her "Revolutionary Letters" & other political poems, right up to "About Obama" written in May. She concluded with a cluster from her "Loba" series, currently working on Book 3.

A night of Elders paying tribute to one of their Elders, as the bardic tradition is passed on from generation to generation, old poets to young poets, a word-chain in the meat-chain.

October 12, 2010

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Saturday, October 9 (Part 1)

Saturday was the busy day with 2 "Town Meeting Discussions" at the Cape Ann Museum, a showing of Henry Ferrini's film Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place, and a reading by Diane DiPrima & Michael Rumaker, so I'm breaking up this entry into 2 parts.

The morning meeting, or panel discussion, was titled "Remembering Olson" & all but 1 member of the panel had actually met Charles Olson & they in turn talked about how they met. The one "biological connection" was Charles Olson's son, Gloucester carpenter Charles Peter Olson, who gracefully acknowledged his place here & deferred to the recollections of the panelists. The other panelists were Ammiel Alcalay, Diane DiPrima, Chuck Stein, Peter Anastas (moderator), Thorpe Feit, Michael Rumaker, Ed Sanders & Roy Skodnick. Each panelist discussed how they met Charles Olson & their first impressions, but the common thread was that everyone said something to the effect that he talked "for hours." Chuck Stein pointed out that Olson had a way of speaking to one's essential self.

The second panel was titled "Olson's Project" with some of the morning's panelists. They were Charles Peter Olson, Fred Dewey, Diane DiPrima, Ammiel Alcalay (moderator), Chuck Stein, Kristen Prevallet, & Kate Morgan. I had to leave early but the tone was set early. Ammiel noted that if Olson is central to 20th Century thought (as many scholars contend) then we -- gathered here in Gloucester -- are central too. Kristen Prevallet took us to the "junk DNA"'s syntax & biological sentences, linking us to Olson's "all that matters moves." Dancer Kate Morgan led us through a physical exercise meant to demonstrate the key concept of "proprioception," which I for one was grateful -- that's what it's all about.

The museum also had a small exhibit of rare copies of early editions of The Maximus Poems.

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Marathon Reading, October 8, 2010

This was held at the historic Independent Christian Church at 10 Church Street in Gloucester.

It was an exciting & eclectic reading by poets from near & far, each reading something by Charles Olson & sometimes their own work too, hosted by Gloucester's own James Cook.

I arrived as Ed Sanders was ending his performance singing Olson's piece, "setting out on the sea" (Maximus Poems, II, 203). Ed was a constant presence throughout the weekend sharing is his memories of Olson & his years in Gloucester; his archives are an unknown American treasure.

The other readers were Carol Weston (another constant presence this weekend) reading with a big round magnifying glass, John Landry with "a reading from the Book of Charles," Donald Wellman ("so much of my work is indebted to Charles Olson"), John Galloway, Kristen Prevallet, Ricardo Cazares Grana reading from his Spanish translation of the Maximus Poems, Dale Smith, Michael Kelleher, Dave Rich (editor of the recently published Charles Olson: Letters Home) reading 3 of Olson's public, civic letters, the enthusiastic Michael Peters (who has been rooting among the Olson papers), Fred Dewey, Jonathan Skinner (Maximus Poems, III, 2), Christopher Rizzo (who came over from Albany with Michael Peters), Chuck Stein (reciting 2 brief Olson phrases from envelopes in his possession), Ammiel Alcalay (Maximus Poems, III, 137), &  rocker Willie Alexander's rousing performance piece on the Gloucester mail carrier, "Fred Buck's Footsteps."

Charles Olson Centennial Celebration -- Thursday, October 7, 2010

There have been a number of celebrations of the American poet Charles Olson this year; December 27 is the 100th anniversary of his birth. But of all the festivals this was the one I had to be at, since Gloucester is the place where he defined himself as a poet of place, the Maximus of Gloucester. He was born in Worcester, MA where there was a festival earlier this year & some folks peripherally connected to his stint at Black Mountain College in North Carolina organized an event in Rochester, NY (?!), but this was the place to be, where many poets still writing today first met Olson, where he spent his final years as a poet, historian, mentor, walker of the streets & civic activist.

It was clearly a festival of "raw poetry" in spite of the presence of a number of academics throughout the weekend. More than one speaker drew a distinction between the "cooked poetry" of poets such as Robert Lowell & Sylvia Plath & the "raw poetry" of Gloucester poets Olson & Vincent Ferrini. It was a useful, if simplistic, distinction.

The Olson Study Group organized by The Charles Olson Society of Gloucester had been holding forth on Thursdays at Gloucester The Bookstore on Main St. since early September, & having readings since the beginning of October. I arrived for the Festival weekend on Thursday, caught the tail-end of the discussion, chaired by Peter Anastas & James Cook. But I was there for the reading by Gerrit Lansing & Chuck Stein.

Gerrit Lansing is a long-time Gloucester resident who has been a mentor to younger generations of poets & scholars, edited the early journal Set & was the proprietor of a used bookstore on Main St. Throughout the weekend one could see many younger poets greeting & paying respect to his gentle eminence. His reading included "Across Space and Time" (published in the Winter 1961-62 issues of Set). It was a nice mix of poems, including the connected love poems of "Hunting from the Rock," the amusing "Egg Breakfast" & the sexy "Tabernacles."

Chuck Stein is a scholar & poet, author of the Jungian study of Olson's work The Secret of the Black Chrysanthemum. I've often found that it is more interesting to hear him talk about his writing process than to hear the product. Tonight he read from "Money Has An Enemy," a perplexing narrative "code piece" involving "Wrench-Boy" & "Wrench-Girl," what he accurately described as a "peculiar opera or animated cartoon."

More to come.

October 2, 2010

Postcards from NYC, by Al DeGenova, Charlie Rossiter & Dan Wilcox

(Al )
One hundred degrees today, Manhattan is a clay oven – through the café window I watch women rushing passed in summer attire, bare shoulders and legs glistening, the warm breeze lingering under their skirts – inside, a cheap steak and dry Malbec, an expensive cigar and a leather couch, Jack Daniels neat, wood paneling, jazz trio in a corner next to the bar – piano man oblivious to all except the long-legged waitress, the black angel smiling, the cool air-conditioned midnight.

dark doorway
greasy brown bag
eating alone

Listening to music in Washington Square Park with Dan,
wishing I had my congas.

Walking neighborhood streets with Dave Kirschenbaum
looking for a cup of coffee at 3 a.m., the city that
never sleeps, sound asleep, at least in that part of town.

The Statue of Liberty, a long way down
from the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.

Our half-million voices for peace march down Broadway,
but Bush still bombed Iraq.

Outside the Nuyorican Poets Cafe discussing the gig--
they liked us all right, but they liked themselves better.

At a poetry reading I mention Weeds--
the New York poets agree
they'd be afraid to read there,

(Dan )
On Second St. the sidewalk to the Bowery
was a constellation of night shreds
ground glistening under our feet.
The saxophone petitions, the piano sighs
at the Tin Palace have yet to reach
the edge of the stars now. Our whispers
lost words, your name goes with them.

(Al )
We sleep in a film noir
economy hotel room, flashing
lights on billboard outside our
third floor window –
steady flow of 1 am traffic,
the garbage is emptied
at the curb below – I wait
for the ghost of 2 am muted trumpet, you
sleep heavily.
My almost sleeping mind-landscape
is a park bench in Central Park, I’m smoking
a cigar, in my right ear a tenor sax downwind
plays the Sonny Rollins songbook
with the energy of 1959 – to my left in the distance
a statue of William Shakespeare – the elms
are healthy, the sun warm, the air
heavy, the breeze steady.

First Time in NYC

I went straight to the Village
where I encountered

store after store festooned with buttons
     and bumper stickers advocating
     peace, justice and free love
     as well as causes I'd never heard of

street vendor trays of bootled tapes
     so good he played samples on a
     boombox--this was before the internet

Cafe Le Mama

the smallest hotel room I'd ever seen

a million used books on a mile of shelving
     at the Strand

Gotham Book Mart where my literary forebears
     once gathered

zombie drunks wandering Grand Central Station
      waiting 2 a.m. for my train to go home

I walked North. Instinct said to get as far away
from the burning & collapse as I could.

And when the radios said trains
were leaving I walked there too.

The train went North, full to the doors, no tickets
no conductor, just fleeing passengers

until the train was empty again, and we
were home, safe, watching the news.

[This poem is part of an arts project, the Fifth Annual Chicago Calling Arts Festival.  The poem will be performed at the "Waiting 4 the Bus" series at Cafe Ballou, 939 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL on October 4, 2010, at 7PM.]