March 31, 2012

Poets Speak Loud!, March 26

Back on my home turf to one of the most "spirited" open mics in the area, perhaps because our host, Mary Panza, is usually spirited herself. With our featured poet, Leslie Michelle, herself, waiting in the wings, Mary began the open mic.

Leslie Gerber (proof that that first name is not gender-specific) read a poem by Tara McCarthy "The Considerate Boyfriend," then his own about "Meeting the Famous in Manhattan." Being the season that it is, I just had to read my favorite Spring-time poem, by e.e. cummings "In Just Spring --" then a new piece inspired by the 100th birthday of the Oreo cookie, "Ode to the Oreo." Jay Wenk read his meditation on history, the grim "On the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, March 25, 2011." Cheryl A. Rice read from her chapbook, Coast to Coast, the poem "You Let Me" (a kiss in the parking lot of the old Lark Tavern), then a recent poem on the death of her partner Michael's father, "Irises." Ed Rinaldi has been writing a poem a day for 2012 & read a couple, "Waiting for My Bones to Dry" & "A Child Never Asks to be Born," & you can read them at his Blog.

Leslie Michelle is a regular at UGT & at the Nitty Gritty Slam, often serving as a judge. Tonight we got to hear her stretch out a bit from the usual 1 or 2 poems we usually hear from her. She began with a poem written after her mother's illness, when she was out on her own, "Woman," then what she said was one of her favorite poems (from a time when she was homeless), "Why Can't You?" ("… live with it"), & a poem for her ex-husband, "When Blue is Love Jonesing." A poem written for a UGT Power of Praise event described a spiritual journey, pondering the nature (& the name) of the deity. She ended with a relationship poem titled "Foolish" in which the guy takes & takes but the woman gets her life back. We like happy endings.

Speaking of relationship poems, Carolee Sherwood began with one that both described a relationship as a runaway train, & was about writing the poem, "Don't Try This at Home We Are Trained Professionals on a Closed Course," then "How the Body Decomposes, a Love Poem." The youngest poet here tonight was Lexi with a love poem in rhyme, but filled with cuts & pain. Shannon Shoemaker's new piece also had cutting, & "the hollow shadow of a ghost." Kevin Peterson's poem "Clancy's" was a sketch of a woman in a dive bar in Saratoga; "Train Ride" was about his grandparents, in 2 parts, one for each set. Avery's first piece was in pop/rap rhymes, "Your Words Ripped Through Me Like Tumbling Bullets through Ripped Flesh" (another relationship poem, oh well), then the long, fussy shopping list for which he took much heat later on, "Someday Something Better" (maybe, if he's not too fussy we all agreed). Elizabeth Gordon (Elizag on the Slam stage) followed Avery's example with another list poem, this like a bureaucratic form with many checkboxes to answer the question "can we be lovers?"

Much to talk about tonight in the aftermath!

Poets Speak Loud! every last Monday of the month at McGeary's on Clinton Square in Albany, NY, 8PM -- but come early, the food is great, the service attractively attentive. Read about it on

March 30, 2012

Split This Rock -- The People

Thurgood Marshall Center
One of the joys of this Split This Rock Festival that is beyond the price of admission is meeting, & re-meeting, & then talking with other participants, presenters or audience -- we are all poets here. I’ve been to all 3 of these Festivals & my circle of friends has grown & grown. Even if it is 2 years since I’ve seen them, when I meet a friend from a past Split This Rock Festival it is with great joy & warmth, a hug, a kiss, & a big smile. That's what I'm here for, as much for the conversation, the words.

This year there was yet another Albany poet hanging out at Split This Rock, Carolee Sherwood. Our tastes in panels & workshops were decidedly different so we didn't share much, but we enjoyed the readings in the evenings together, had lunch a couple of times at Busboys & Poets, & an occasional drink in the evening.  I hope she enjoyed it even half as much as I did.

Sarah Browning, Executive Director
Another poet with a looser connection to Albany was Yael Flusberg, a DC resident & member of the Board of Directors who combines writing & yoga in her work & has many (woman) friends in the Capital District through the IWWG.  I had attended Yael’s workshop on yoga & poetry at the first Split This Rock. Susan Brennan was back this year; she had read poetry in her younger days in Albany at the QE2, still has family in the area & read in Poets in the Park in 2008. Another Poets in the Park reader (in 2009) who I ran into & had dinner with, & with Carolee, was Lori Desrosier, the editor & publisher of Naugatuck River Review. And there was Kazim Ali who as an undergraduate student at the University at Albany (then called SUNY Albany) read in Don Levy’s poetry series at the Albany Art Gallery on Jefferson St.

Jill Brazel doing her job.
Sharing images with my favorite ripped-knees photographer, my Canon-comrade from Chicago, Jill Brazel, has been a tradition for these Festivals -- we take pictures of each other year after year (is there a clinical psychological term for that?).

Of course there are the fabulous & beautiful folks who worked/work so hard to bring this Festival together each year, & who I am so glad to see every-other year: Sarah Browning, Melissa Tuckey, Alicia Gregory, Bob LaVallee, Jaime Lee Jarvis, & others from the Board & Planning Committee (Thanks for another great Festival).

Rachel McKibbens, Melissa Tuckey, Susan Brennan
& the folks I have met here for the first time & who knows when (if ever) I will see again, George from Madison, WI & Sonja de Vries, who I shared dinner with here back in 2010, from Kentucky (& who brought her sister his year), & countless others whom I flirted with at the bar at Busboys & Poets, or met at a workshop or reading or just hanging out waiting for someone to sign a book.  I'll see you in 2014.

Then there were the famous poets where we share a connection: Sam Hamill with my friend Charlie Rossiter in Chicago, Patricia Smith whom I interviewed in Albany, NY at Poets in the Park, Douglas Kearney who was snowed out from a reading in Albany, Georgia Popoff who was an early supporter of 3 Guys from Albany, & the countless others we really want to sit down with over beer or coffee & just talk & talk.

Words come from people & what we do is connect to people & so the words connect & the people connect & that's why we do this. Right?

Check it out at

Split This Rock, March 24, Evening Reading

Back in the auditorium of the Carlos Rosario International School for another fine reading. Before the reading I was chatting with Sarah Browning & having her sign my copy of her book, Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, when Sonia Sanchez came over to ask Sarah to sign her Split This Rock program. We talked briefly, I praised her Shamanistic performance here the night before, & she asked me to sign her program too. Unfortunately my program was in my bag a number of rows back so while Sonia Sanchez now has my autograph, I, sadly, do not have hers.

The MC for the reading was the effusive Reggie Cabico, who introduced the night's recording of June Jordan reading "Dear Somebody," like having her in the room, as perhaps indeed she was, especially in the hearts & work of all the poets has touched.

DC Youth Slam Team poet Asha Garder gave a charged performance of her piece on domestic violence, "Daddy Dearest." The young poets are out there.

Rachel McKibbens, who came up through the Slam poetry scene (as well evidenced in her work), read work from her book Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009). Most of her poems were tales of violence, such as the 2 poems from what she called her "escape trilogy" from bad domestic situations at different stages in her life, finally making it on the 3rd try. Amidst the violence, her images were often humorous in a Surrealist way, as in "Tom Boy" about bringing a mermaid home, or the title poem of her book, "Pink Elephant" (her brother's costume one Halloween that became an image of comfort for her). She mentioned that today was her son's 10th birthday & read "Central Park Mother's Day," & a poem about his birth, "Finally the Author Gets Personal."

The power of Alice Walker's words come through quietly, even when she was half-hidden by her laptop that she was reading from. She deftly & seamlessly wove commentary, more often political, but personal too, together with the poems, from her work in progress The World Will Follow Joy, beginning with the funny, adoring "What Makes the Dalai Lama Lovable?" Then to a different type of musing, "If I Was President…" the first person she would call, to the "troublemakers." Similarly, her poem "The Joyful News of Your Arrest" is addressed to Prof. Cornel West. "The Foolishness of Captivity" is a letter of advice to a ruler on how to escape from what she called "the Devil's hands." "Despair is the Ground Bounced Back From" was dedicated to parents, others, who have felt the death of children. She ended with 2 more political pieces, a poem of praise "Occupying Mumia's Cell," & the political manifesto with a list of heroes, "Democratic Womanist." & somewhere from Alice's musings I picked up this quote, "Every revolution needs fresh poems…" A quiet voice of truth can be very powerful.

March 29, 2012

Split This Rock, Afternoon Reading, March 24

This reading at the Carlos Rosario International School, up 11th Street from U Street, included 4 poets from the Beloit Poetry Journal special edition for Split This Rock, José Padua, Khaled Mattawa, Minnie Bruce Pratt & Marilyn Nelson. The MC was Split This Rock Acting Assistant Director Bob LaValllee. The June Jordan clip they played tonight was her reading her bitterly ironic poem about chopping down the cherry tree, turning American mythology inside out.

This afternoon's Youth Poet from the DC Youth Slam Team was Alexis "Wordplay" Franklin with an in-your-face, hit-you-over-the-head slam piece "For Fatherless Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide…"

José Padua's poems were unsettling narratives relieved with humor enough to take the edge off (or put it on in another way). He began with "P. Funk Reshapes the Redneck Landscape of the Town I Live In," then on to a poem about talking to his wife's doctor as Nick Cave. The recent poem "An End of the World Cult of My Own" was followed by "7 & 7" about George Allen, both the politician & a boyhood schoolmate of the same name who beat his brother, an intricate meditation on anger & powerlessness. He ended with "Pizzacto Five" on learning English & his mother learning Japanese, cultural clashes & surviving in America's racism.

I had seen Khaled Mattawa earlier in the week at a panel here, now had a good chance to hear a bigger chunk of his poetry. He began with a poem of remembrances, "Summertime Cavatinas." Then on to poems from his latest book, Tocqueville (New Issues), "On the Difficulty of Documentation" (not as dry as the title sounds, images of woman carrying water), "Ecclesiastes" with the contrasting repetition of "the trick…" & "the rule…" & concluding with a reading of the complete "After 42 Years."

Minnie Bruce Pratt read a variety of poems from both her new book Inside the Money Machine & from the Beloit Poetry Journal 2012 Split This Rock Chapbook, including talking about drones ("The New Commuter War"), police brutality ("Breakfast Again"), fracking ("Burning Water"), as well as the more intimate parts of life in "Waking to Work" & "The Difference between Inside and Outside." And work, again, in "Making Another Phone Call," "A Temporary Job," & "Turning the Switch Off."

Marilyn Nelson ended the afternoon reading with one piece in the form "rondeau redoublé" (she likes working in forms), "Millie Christine" about conjoined slave twins --  a metaphor for the one/divided states, & on the freak-show of exploitation & racism. A good use of a form to carry the story along.

Afterwards I wandered off in the rain with poets Carolee Sherwood & Lori Desrosier (lucky me) to a cute little neighborhood cafe we found at 11th & Lamont, 11 Room, for dinner & the inevitable, ongoing, poet-conversation, combining high intellectual analysis, literary criticism & gossip.  It was exquisite.

March 28, 2012

Split This Rock, March 24 -- Panel

Perhaps one of the most moving, or at least emotionally complex, panels I attended was "White Poets Writing About Race: An Invitation to Conversation" held at the DC Center for LGBT on U St. The place was packed & folks kept trying to get in.

Ailish Hopper, Jake Adam York, Martha Collins, Susan Tichy, Tess  Taylor
The panel was chaired by Martha Collins, whose books White Papers (Pittsburgh, 2012) & Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006) explored the issues of race from a white woman's perspective. Also on the panel were Ailish Hopper, Tess Taylor, Susan Tichy & Jake Adam York. Martha said that the topic would be explored from not "why," but "how" with a more roundtable approach rather than long presentations from the panelists. So there was a lively, wide-ranging discussion that sometimes veered off more into group therapy.  Apparently this same panel had been presented at the recent AWP conference in Chicago.

Susan Tichy described "the personal as an instrument," that there is no "right way" to talk about family, race, etc., & there is no right way to be silent about it either. Another point made in the discussion was that we, as writers, can't beat ourselves up when writing about any of these sensitive issues, that we can't get it perfect. I also particularly liked Jake's reading of his poem "City of Grace" about Jackson, Mississippi.

Interestingly enough I bought Sarah Browning's book of poems Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007, 2011) while at the Festival. She has a number of fine poems in this collection on race issues from a white woman's perspective that could serve as models for other poets who want to write from their own history & want to confront the world around them today.

March 27, 2012

Split this Rock!, March 23

The first workshop of Friday for me was titled “Writing the Disaster,” held in the Langston Room of Busboys & Poet. It was moderated, & recorded for subsequent radio play by Marc Steiner of WEAA 88.3FM, Baltimore. The participants were Patricia Smith, whose 2008 book of poems Blood Dazzler was about the human & environmental aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, & Mark Nowak, whose book Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009) confronts the Sago & Sunjiawan mining disasters.

M. Nowak, M. Steiner, P. Smith
The back & forth discussion, with trenchant questions from the audience to expand the topic, soon centered on the contrasting methods of the 2 poets. Mark talked about gathering the actual stories of workers about the closing of Ford plants in the US & South Africa (see my earlier Blog) giving the workers a place to tell their own tales. Patricia, on the other hand, had no personal connection to New Orleans, but used, as she said, what she had learned as a poet to get close to the Katrina story, the poems as conversation. Ultimately it seemed that both are needed: the real stories from the workers themselves, & the practicing poet's skills to channel or transform these stories, to reach audiences that otherwise would not hear them.

Both poets stressed that it was important not to be boxed in by the type of writing, to lose the "attachment to genre" (as Mark put it, explaining that he does "labor history with line-breaks"), & as Patricia said, "we're all story tellers."

Patricia also shared some poems in her quietly intense performance style, one in the voice of an undertaker whose clients are increasingly young men killed by bullets, another, "Still Life with Toothpick."

The afternoon workshop I attended was titled "Poet's Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process" & was held in a conference room in the Thurgood Marshall Center on 12th Street, NW. One might call it the Beloit Poetry Journal panel, as it gathered 3 poets, Douglas Kearney, Khaled Mattawa & Minnie Bruce Pratt from the BPJ's 2012 Split This Rock Chapbook & was co-chaired by editors John Rosenwald & Lee Sharkey. The poets were asked to describe their "leap from political engagement/insight to the poem on the page."

D. Kearney, K. Mattawa, M. B. Pratt, J. Rosenwald, L. Sharkey
Each poet read briefly & commented on their poems, beginning with Minnie Bruce Pratt reading "Turning the Switch Off" (from the Chapbook), & another about caring for her ill partner, "What Do I Do Next?"

Khaled Mattawa read an excerpt from his poem in the Chapbook, "After 42 Years" on the capture & death of Moammar Gadhafi. He described literature "as a space for contrariness & a space for conscience," also, poets as ones "capturing the echoes."

Douglas Kearney's poem in the Chapbook is in 5 parts, each dealing with separate aspects of the way "black babies" are perceived, focused on the recall of Costco's "Lil Monkey" doll. He read the sections titled "We don't operate in that kind of thinking," the dramatic section, "We have a really diverse, family operated company …" with it's "performative typography" (see my previous Blog on his reading) contemplating the question of Evil, & the first section, again bringing up the spirit of Trayvon Martin.

There's something implicitly counter to the recent AWP Conference (Academic Writers Project) here at the more plebeian Split This Rock, although the comparison sometimes became explicit, as it did at the first panel I attended when Philip Metres & Jennifer Karmin described an un-official human mic at the last day of the AWP Conference in Chicago. However, every once in a while I did hear what I would call an "AWP question," asking about such (non) things as "authenticity versus innovation," etc., though these moments were rare. If Split This Rock is anything it is diverse.

Following the afternoon sessions (most of) we headed over to the Supreme Court building behind the Capitol for Split This Rock's customary confrontation of the seat of power. At the first Split This Rock we demonstrated at the White House, the last time we were at the Capitol, now we were at the 3rd Chamber of government, the Judiciary. Our message was directly counter to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case: we proclaimed "Money is not speech! Poetry is speech." And we gathered to create a Cento, a group poem composed of random lines of poetry of no more than 12 words recited person (real people, not corporations) by person. I spoke Walt Whitman's grand line from the end of "Song of Myself," "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." You could hear the hammer ring against the pillars of power.

March 26, 2012

Split this Rock!, March 22 -- Evening Reading

Executive Director of Split This Rock, Sarah Browning served as our MC for the first evening reading, held at the Carlos Rosario International School, a brisk walk up 11th Street from U. Street. The 2012 Split This Rock Festival is dedicated to the memory of poet, activist, teacher June Jordan. Sarah invoked June’s memory & that of Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, & the long list of other murdered black men & women throughout history, then played a recording of June reading one of her poems in the voice of Valentine Jones.

Each of these readings included a performance by a young poet from the DC Youth Slam Team. Tonight, Lauryn “Poetic Hyst” Nesbitt gave a stunning recitation of her piece beginning, “It’s taken me weeks to write a first line…” about disrespect of students in school. Watch out for these young poets, they are coming up fast.

The last few days I had been reading the poems of Kim Roberts in both the current issue of the Beloit Poetry Journal (a chapbook anthology of Split This Rock poets) & in her most recent collection Animal Magnetism (Pearl Editions, 2011), & tonight she read from both. She began with 4 of the medical museum poems from Animal Magnetism, “Blood Letting,” “The Apothecary Doll,” another about the skeletons of a giant & a dwarf at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, & “IUDs”. She finished with a poem from the Beloit Poetry Journal, “The International Fruit of Welcome” (pineapple, if you must know), & a new poem, a childhood memoir, “A Boy Named Schmudge.”

Douglas Kearney began by flopping himself onstage to demonstrate how James Byrd Jr. was dragged (face down, by his feet) behind a pick-up truck, then read his poem “Big Thicket Pastoral.” Two of his poems referenced modern musicians, the intense, repetitive “No Homo” from a phrase of Lil Wayne, while a poem on domestic violence, “Live Evil,” referenced Miles Davis. In between he performed “The Black Automaton #3” (from The Black Automaton, Fence Books, 2009, 2011) described as a work song. He ended with a dramatic (actually, they were all dramatic) piece on the Middle Passage in which he used, among other borrowings, lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Kearney presents his poems with shouting, whispering, stuttering repetitions, his voice rising & falling as needed, true performance poetry not constrained by a single style of performance as often seen on stage. His performance also helped me to understand his often puzzling layouts on the page. I had been puzzling over his poem in the Beloit Poetry Journal until I realized they should be “read” as musical scores, or scripts for performance.

Finally, how do I even begin to write about Sonia Sanchez reading? I didn’t audio or video record the reading (though the folks at Split This Rock did) & sometimes I was so enthralled I forgot to take notes. But there she was, “the conscience of poetry” as Sarah Browning described her, the Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, a giant hiding behind the lectern. She began expressing thanks for being “in this place called Washington DC” & with a commentary & a poem -- as throughout the edges were frequently blurred into one continuous stream of performance -- (“man is an alien in this world…”) reading for Trayvon Martin (as others have, & will, throughout the Festival) & another 17 year-old boy dead. “A Poem for Sterling Brown” was written after reading in The New York Times about a 3000 year-old mummy. A poem dedicated to the folks at Split This Rock on the themes of death, loss & words, wove in singing lines & scat-singing, lingo & sound words, like a voodoo ceremony in a Baptist Church. Then on to “Peace Poem for Maxine Green,” & a poem for her father & her brother, interrupting, or glossing, the stanzas with commentary. Her concluding performance started off recounting some of her conversations with June Jordan, as she came from behind the lectern, microphone in her hand, more scat & voodoo words, chanting, crouching, touching the stage, like a Shaman, ending with “JuneJuneJuneJune… JorJorJor… Done!

Sonia Sanchez made the hammer ring tonight at Split This Rock.

Split this Rock!, March 22 -- Workshops & Panels

Back again in Washington, DC for the fabulous Split this Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness. After attending the first one in 2008 I went on record (over & over again, as I am wont to do) to proclaim this “the best poetry festival, ever,” & vowed to come back. I did in 2010 (the festival is held every 2 years), & am back again this year. As I initially write this Blog in my hotel room, I’ve got to say I am once again having a great time: great poets & activists, great, informed/engaged audiences, tons of poetry books to buy, even great food (especially at Busboys & Poets). All of the venues are in the historic U St. district.

Appropriately enough the first panel I attended was titled “Poetry as Activism, Activism as Poetry: Poetic Interventions in the Public Sphere.” The panel was chaired by Philip Metres, who talked about the Peace Show in Cleveland, OH, an annual Labor Day alternative to the Air Show there, as well as a student project to collect stories from peace activists. His presentation focused on poets as writers & as people who are connected to the community.

Jennifer Karmin, from Chicago, showed images from some of her street performances, including one in which artists rented parking spaces to set up art projects & performances on the street. She also described collaborative events, like the Walking Project & “4000 Words 4000 Dead,” both of which take place on the street in public places.

Ken Chen is the Director of the Asian-American Writers workshop & talked movingly & graphically about working with immigrants’ rights organizations in Arizona, witnessing assembly-line like plea bargaining for captured immigrants in chains. See

Mark Nowak began with drawing the distinction, & comparison, of the poem as a noun (a thing), & the poem as a verb (action). He is currently working with international organizations on a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (similar to, & expanding on, the law passed in New York State). He described his work in running creative writing workshops as an organizing tool for workers in Ford plants, both here in the US & in South Africa.

Later in the day I attended the "Tribute to Sam Hamill and Poets Against the War" held in the True Reformer Auditorium. Sarah Browning, Executive Director of the festival, served as host & MC. After reading one of Sam Hamill’s poems she read a couple of her own from her own fine collection Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007, 2011).

Marilyn Nelson read the poem/letter “To Bill & Chris” by Hamill, a meditation on printing books & changing technology. She also read her poems “Honor Guard,” a moving story of an illegal immigrant’s military funeral, a commentary on existence & on being human, “Nothing Stranger.”

Martin Espada began by reading “Blasphemy” which he dedicated to Hamill -- poetry can save us--, then his poem about returning to his old Brooklyn apartment many years later, & ended with his poem, "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100," that is in the Poets Against the War (Nation Books, 2003) anthology, before introducing the honored poet himself.

Sam Hamill brought about a fire-storm of poetry in response to the fire-storm of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 when he responded to Laura Bush’s invitation to read poetry at the White House by inviting folks to send him anti-war poems to read instead. Thousands of poems later, & a best-selling anthology, Poets Against the War is an example of the community of poets rising up with their varied voices to say “No!” to war.  Laura Bush called off her planned poetry symposium.  The poems Hamill read today ranged over a series of issues confronting us, including a New York poem written in September 2001; the long, angry & pensive “Body Count;” “The Road to Rama” (on displaced Palestinians); “Eyes Wide Open” on an anti-war exhibit of military boots; a poem about a murder in Mexico during the on-going drug wars; a poem on immigration “Border Song;” & ended with an image from 1963 as a Buddhist immolates himself to protest that war. Even (especially?) with the overt political context (after all this is Split This Rock, isn’t it?) his poems are filled with stirring language & the rich images of the best poetry.

The rest of the festival was filled with other engaging, provocative panels, & readings. Split This Rock calls poets to a greater role in public life & fosters a national network of socially engaged poets. From its home in the nation's capital, it celebrates poetic diversity & the transformative power of the imagination.

Check back at this Blog for more entries on this fabulous Festival.

March 21, 2012

Nitty Gritty Slam #14, March 20

Starting only about a half hour late, el presidente, Thom Francis began the open mic with his poem of being "… in your cold embrace …" "Shackle" followed by Prof. Daniel Nester's long piece about being run over by a lawnmower when he was 19 & suing the manufacturer. Leslie Michelle's poem "Poetry High" was just written tonight, right here.

D. Colin, Slamin'
Then Mojavi jumped in with the duties as host. Jess Listen to my Words read a new poem from her notebook, the deathly "A Mirror." Ed Rinaldi's poem "Old Pain" was for Spring (which began today!). Mojavi read a new poem, "Intervention," ripped from the pages of today's newspaper on the shooting of Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, FL.

I had seen Rainmaker (Peter Charles Seaton) perform at UGT last week & he was back tonight as the Nitty Gritty Slam's first Featured Poet. He began with a bar poem/love poem, playing on names of drinks & beers, strung together in his breathless, surging ahead style. Also in the same style was "Move Me" (on spoken word performance), & the political "Uncle Sam is my grandfathter…" He thought he was done, but Mojavi called him back to the stage to perform an erotic piece, "Please Let Me" done in a slowed down version of his usual style.

When Dain Brammage took the stage to host the Slam (& perform his "Slam Poem" with unbidden help from the audience, i.e., me) he had forgotten to select a "sacrificial lamb", so Rainmaker came back again to perform another piece in his interchangable style.

Elizag, Dain Brammage, D. Colin, Victorio
I thought I was a shoe-in for the second round with only 5 signed up, but with the last-minute addition of another walk-in poet my chances grew slimmer. Still, my 4th slot reading of "One Poem" earned me a respectable 26.1. In the second round, D. Colin's perfect 30 was marred by an over-time penalty, but she went on to win the final round, going toe-to-toe with Eliag; Victorio had sewed up the 3rd slot. In my opinion (which I know ain't worth much without a judge's clipboard & marker), D. Colin's final round poem on Haiti was a much better piece than her second round poem that got 10s.  But I guess that's Slam for you, real poems don't get a 10, as someone once said.

Full scores, etc. are at  Come back on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month at Valentines in Albany, NY for the Nitty Gritty Slam, starts with an open mic at 7:30PM, $5. will get you a stamp on a body part.

March 20, 2012

St. Poem Reading Series, March 19

There was a group gathered in front of the UAG Gallery on Lark St. at 7:30 for the 7:30 sign-up, but the gallery was dark, so we wandered off, collectively & singly, but then wandered back & there was Rob dragging out the sign & the lights were on & some folks were signing up & Beat Generation Night was about to begin. Actually, it was mostly Kerouac/Ginsberg night.

Our host, RM Engelhardt, began with a short lecture & history of the Beats then read Jack Kerouac's "Spontaneous Prose."

Ed Rinaldi talked about Jack Kerouac's influence on his work, then launched into his own poems, "At the Corner of Wood & Sublime," the kitchen poem "At the Moon with my Poem in Her Mouth," & "The Shad Run." Rob was up with a somewhat serious reading of Allen Ginsberg's hilarious "America." & I followed with a botched recitation from memory of Bob Kaufman's "Believe, Believe," then my own poems "Midnight Fog" & the "hot-pants poem" from my Florida vacation. Rob returned with Kerouac's "How to Meditate."

The night's poetry virgin was Justin with a fine experiment using repetition (& referencing Lorca), "Frisco in the Fifties," then a class assignment to try to not make sense "Visions of Jack." Rob talked about the "old days" of his open mic at Stephanucci's coffee shop, of Jack's cats & Rob's own encounter with a cat.

Nick was another new voice tonight, with a cluster of poems, some like random notebook jottings, like "Hummingbirds" (on night & hash), & "Night is Gone," & the more developed "I am the Monster Under the Bed." The night ended with 2 renditions of Allen's poems, first Rob doing "Father Death Blues" (but check out this version of Ginsberg hisself on YouTube), then Avery Stempel reading part 1 of "Howl."

It was good to know that young poets are still reading Jack Kerouac & Allen Ginsberg, but, unfortunately, all too like the Beats there were no women poets reading tonight. But they could have, because as the gallery was closing up Mojavi arrived with a posse/entourage that included some of Albany's fine poets, both male & female. Maybe next time.

Every 3rd Monday at the UAG Gallery, figure 8PM (or thereabouts) start time.

March 18, 2012

Urban Guerilla Theatre, March 16

This was a special UGT titled "Herstory" for Women's History Month hosted by Tenesha Smith (but of course Mojavi was there too). In fact, in addition to the usual performances of spoken word, music & comedy, there was a fashion show by Shekihah Beauty with 4 gorgeous (of course) models, & a presentation of awards to women for community service. I didn't catch every act, but those I did were well worth the admission price.

MC: Tenesha Smith
Among the performers were Poetyc Visionz, comedienne Carlisle Carey, Midori (?) with a poem to a strong black woman, her mother, & Tenesha Smith wondering "Where My Sisters At?" Jentri did a hip-hop piece "Herstory as the Event," then some songs from CJ, Kat-so Poetic first did a double positive piece praising women as queens, then on what's it like to be normal after being molested, & Rainmaker did one of the best pieces of the night, a tribute to his great mother with a great flow of images from the islands.

Jess Listen to my Words wove a love poem into a poem about waiting for the results of a biopsy ("Yesterday"), ILLiptical did a couple pieces with a beat behind him, "Invisible Woman" & "Sentence Complete" (to his wife), & Leslie Michelle read a tender poem that she had read to her mother just before she died.

Bklyn Shay was back with a piece on unity, Shatieka Ross included "Rest in Peace" from her 2009 CD, & Alessia (?) Ortiz, with her stunning voice sang & read a couple of journal entries, one on the strength of women, the other on love gone bad.

Among the women getting awards for their work in the community were Payton Johnson Harrison, Leslie Michelle, Bklyn Shay, Jessica (aka Jess Listen to my Words), & tonight's MC Tenesha Smith.

This is where you need to be on the third Friday: the Linda, 339 Central Ave., Albany, NY for Urban Guerilla Theatre.

March 17, 2012

Third Thursday Poetry Night, March 15

So we gathered once again, this time on the Ides of March, at the Social Justice Center not to stab Caesar but to read poetry. It looked like a short night but as the evening progressed more readers showed up. Tonight when I invoked the Muse it was the recently departed Wisława Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Alan Catlin had gotten there earlier & signed up first to read a piece he had written at last week's Write Here! Conference at the Arts Center in Troy, "War Stories," about a school friend who goes to West Point.  Avery showed up with a description of "Field Hockey Practice" (in Clifton Park).  Joe Krausman came up with a new word in his poem about looking for a companion, nerzeditor, i.e., a combination nurse & editor.   D. Alexander Holiday, instead of one of his own poems, read the short poem by Kenneth Patchen, "Nice Day for a Lynching."

Tonight's featured poet, Tess Lecuyer, has been around in the Albany poetry scene for many years & should have been featured in this series long before now. Now that she is back out reading her fine poems at open mics on a regular basis, it was time to have her here. Tess likes to play with forms & she read a number of sonnets, beginning with "Crow Sonnet 1" (in the Park), then another "On Jason's Bag," leading to "Lilly Villanelle" from WordFest a few years ago. Then on to a cluster of love poems, "Climb," "The Co-Dependent Sonnet," & into the end of the affair with "Leaves," and "And Your Little Dog Too." "May Day Chant" is an old, seasonal poem Tess said she had no memory of writing. As a fan of old, gnarly fairy tales, she wrote her own gnome story in her poem "Spectacles," then ended with a ballade about her experience years ago as a counselor at Camp Little Notch. It was a wonderful, lyrical turn around the poetical world of Tess Lecuyer -- nice work.

After the break & the ritual taking of money, I read "Birthday Poem 2012". Sylvia Barnard's poem "River" comes from her weekly bus trip across the Hudson to teach Latin. Miriam Axel-Lute's column in today's issue of Metroland was an examination of the contradictions of neo-classical economy, the same theme she confronted poetically in "Demand Curves Always Slope Down." Sally Rhoades read "a prayer poem" so that they will get back to fixing their house.

Moses Kash III found a ride from his new residence in Troy & brought along a recent letter/poem he wrote to President Obama. Dan Rain's unfinished, untitled piece was about see-saws (or, as some said, teeter-totters). Appropriately Eric Randall read his "unconventional love poem" from his iPhone, the poem titled "Apps of the Heart."

We are at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY each Third Thursday, 7:30PM, for a featured poet & an open mic. Your $3.00 (or more) donation helps pay the featured poet & supports the work of the Social Justice Center.

March 16, 2012

Poetry + Prose Open Mic, March 11

I am pleased to co-host (with Nancy Klepsch) this monthly free event at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. A number of us had just been here the day before to participate in the Write Here! Writers Conference sponsored by the Arts Center & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.

The very first reader of the day was a virgin, John O., who read an excerpt of a piece of prose fiction about a robbery, contemplating heroism. I followed with 2 poems from my January vacation in Florida, "Arts Festival, Delray Beach, FL" & the hot pants poem, "Southwest Flight 2095, Seat 8A." Bob Sharkey began with an anaphoristic list poem, "Where is Baby Lisa?" then a poem about his decision as a youth to do alternative service to being in the military, "April 16." Ron Drummond read from a long letter to a love in Portland, full of longing & angst.

Stephen Leslie drew from his experience working in hospice to read 2 pieces, "A Woman of Many Surprises," & "True Story" (about Harold who sees a cow in his dining room). David Wolcott read from a chapter called "The Last Final Exam" from his ongoing memoir. D. Alexander Holiday just read 1 poem, not even his own, this time it was Joy Harjo's "Strange Fruit" about a lynching in California in the 1980s. Reading from her handwritten notebook, Sally Rhoades continued on with the next installment of her prose piece "The Outpost." & co-host Nancy Klepsch closed out the afternoon with the answer to "Why I Listen to Biggie Small."

This open mic is usually the 2nd Sunday of most months, at 2PM at the Arts Center on River St. in Troy. However, in April it will be on April 1 (not fooling) because Easter falls on the 2nd Sunday. Please join us.

March 9, 2012

Metroland's Readers' Poll, March 8

An early harbinger of Spring, like that first crop of dandelions, is Metroland's Readers' Poll, from Best Car Wash to Best Poet. After years of dumpster diving, bribery & computer hacking to find out the actual final tallies for Best Poet (Metroland just tells you who wins, not how many votes anyone gets), I decided to make my life easier & do something different this year.

Metroland's Best Poet RM Engelhardt
But first -- Metroland's Readers Poll Best Poets for 2012 are: Colin Halloran, RM Engelhardt & Gary Murrow. Engelhardt has been on Metroland's Readers Poll as Best Poet since the category was created, & deservedly so for not only reading his poems at the occasional open mic, but for years of hosting his own open mics throughout the community, currently at the UAG Gallery on the third Monday of the month.

So then who are the other 2? My personal theory of this poll is that one becomes Best Poet the way one becomes Best Pizza: get the most votes. There is no criteria other than getting everyone you know to vote for the candidate of choice. One does not even have to be a poet to win Best Poet, or even to have ever read a poem in any of the Capital District's many poetry venues. I had planned for the last year to make this point, with the help of others in Albany's art community, with Gary Murrow, but  Colin Halloran snuck in & stole my thunder.

I go to lots of poetry open mics in the area; you can know exactly where I've been simply by following this Blog. But I have never heard of, or heard, Colin Halloran at any of the venues here. I do not have a photo of him in the 15,000 plus photos I have of unknown poets. There may indeed be a poet "Colin Halloran," & if so he's got a lot of friends in the Capital District, or at least enough to muster up at 1 more vote than RM Engelhardt. But if he's around here in April he can be one of the featured poets at AlbanyWordFest.

Now, as for Gary Murrow -- who is he? He is no one, he does not exist, but was "born", or at least his name was conjured up, last year after the Readers Poll came out, to prove my point about Best Pizza/Best Poet. His is a made-up name touted throughout the poetry & entertainment community solely for the purpose of getting in the Best Poet list on the Readers Poll. "Gary Murrow" may be on the Best Poet list, but he is not a poet, not even a person, he is just a name on a ballot. Want to be Best Poet? Don't waste your time writing poetry, just get all your friends to vote for you.

& thank you Colin Halloran for doubly helping me to make this point.

Maybe next year I will make up a fictional pizza place to win Best Pizza!

March 8, 2012

Nitty Gritty Slam #13, March 6

Unlucky 13, el presidente Thom Francis had to hold down the electronic duties alone & host the open mic (as Mojavi took over the duties of the Slam Bastard) -- the rest of the crew taken out & shot by competing slam venues from across the Region (at least the poets survived).

Before I get into the sad tale of the Slam, let me comment briefly on the night's open mic. D. Alexander Holiday is getting more & more Dadaist in his latest poems, tonight the purely alphabetical sounds of his "KKK Poem" (poignantly after reading Joy Harjo's poem "Strange Fruit"). There was Leslie Michelle with her poem "The Human Heart" & host/MC/el presidente Thom Francis with "Relevance Gone" & "Third Can."

But the big hit was the night's virgin, the birthday girl @ sweet 65 Deb Adler, with the snowtire poem "Going Away" & a poem to the birds, "Letter to Camp." In fact she was such a hit that she volunteered as the "Sacrifcial goat" (or lamb, to be more kind). Her poem "Overture Coda" about her parents meeting on a Pittsburg streetcar singing a song by Schubert got a very respectable 25.5 for a real poem.

OK, so how much proof do I need to proved that, like I've always said, (1) I am not a Slam poet, & (2) "real poems don't get a 10"? Since there were only 4 of us in the Slam it was a (pace Dain Bramage) 4-4-2 Slam, with Shannon Shoemaker & me in the first round going dick to dick. By the second round I knew I was done, with a combined score of (only) 54.5. All night long there had been high scoring, with a proliferation of unnecessary & un-warrented 10s (none for me, of course).

But when the dust settled at the third round, Poetyc Visionz was in third place, while Shannon (in the money) Shoemaker & Kevin Peterson (to whom I had to explain the meaning of "KP") were tied. OMG! What to Do? (WTD?) So a final (repeat) round ended up with Kevin over (hmm...) Shannon.

Hey, don't knock it. No other Slam venue in Albany has gone to 13 events -- check it out (virgins welcome) on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday of each month at Valentines on the beginning of New Scotland Ave., just off the Park, 7:30 Pm -- pay up $5.00 at the door.


Happy Birthday, honkie!

I don’t know who said it first
who called the first middle-class
Black an “Oreo cookie,” which
took a while to register with me
the “Black on the outside
White on the inside” not something
I would pay attention to, but

that tough guy in a magnificent
Afro, leather jacket, beret & rifle
sure made it sound less than sweet
less than what I should have for a snack
after school, leastwise with a
glass of white milk.

March 7, 2012

Chronogram Open Word, March 3

Because in the 21st Century everything is an acronym, I suppose you could say that this reading series in Kingston (NY) is udderly mooving, & that's no bull. I've been to this reading a few months back, but tonight I was one of the featured poets. There were some old friends in the audience, & some new faces/new voices too.

Our Chronogram host, Phillip Levine, started off the night with what he identified as a slam poem, "Woman on the Subway" (about a 9.2). Tony Pena read 2 poems from his self-published collection Opening Night in Gehenna, the grim, urban "Finer Things," & the sad & tender "Head in the Clouds." Tim Dwyer read a poem from what he described as the unpublished work of Irish poet Donald Michael Furey, then his own poem on an Irish theme, "Train Boat Train."  Ron Whiteurs had to wait for the flush of a friend in the bathroom to begin his 2 pieces, one on roosters & chickens, "Pecking for Seeds & Crumbs," & the sentimental & cliched "Rogue Dogs," read from a large display type version. Donald Lev read a series of short (some very short) poems, among them a dream-like "Lost Again," & the very recent "Arizona: A Brief Visit, 1958," then ended with a poem from his very new book, A Very Funny Fellow. Jay Wenk read a moving poem on "100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire."

I was pleased to be asked to be a feature at this series, another in a string of engaging open mics hosted by Phillip Levine. I read a poem each from my chapbooks Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D., 2011) & boundless abodes of Albany (Benevolent Bird Press, 2010), a couple of "peace poems," including "Baghdad, Kingston" by Cheryl A. Rice, then a cluster of poems written during a recent Florida vacation, ending appropriately with "At the End."

Alan Salant is an old friend of Phillip Levine's & although he has published a collection of poems, The Expedition Sets Out (The Oliver Arts and Open Press, 2011), he doesn't read his poems out & this was his first public reading. He included a few poems from his book in his reading but most were not. Interestingly enough, there were 2 poems both in 16 short parts, "Inequality is an Art," ironic & philosophical, on visiting the Occupy Wall St. site, & "Finally the Inner Revolution," musings on music in urban conversations & cats liking jazz. It was a good, straight-forward reading of thoughtful, introspective poetry, well appreciated by the audience.

Back to the open mic Andrea Stolte read an untitled piece written today, a spooky piece about getting old, merging with her mother. Jennifer Bennett sang the lyrics to Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." Then Tim, who was locked out of the out-of-tune piano had the audience recite lines from which he picked up a phrase to riff on. & our host, Phillip Levine, read "Hooked", built on a litany of NYC coast-line names.

Chronogram Open Word happens on the first Saturday of the month at 7PM at the BEAhive, 314 Wall St., Kingston, NY. The $5.00 cover charge gets you some wine too!

March 4, 2012

Poets Speak Loud!, February 27

It has taken a while but I'm losing my nostalgia for the Lark Tavern, the grieving process is coming to an end, with the success & vibrancy of this series at McGeary's. Perhaps it is the cozy back room where poets listen to poets, where the shocked dinner patrons can eat in peace & enjoy their conversation out in the main dining area. Or it is simply that the good & snarky energy of this venue has taken root here, as it had at Tess' Lark Tavern.

Our host, Mary Panza, started us off with a poem, which she rarely, if ever, does this in memory of her mother, a paean to skills that matter, "And the Women Cooked." Sheldon Carnes made a rare appearance (with his Apache drum flute) to do a poem in the persona of a dog(?) crossing the road. Carolee Sherwood did a couple of breakup poems, an old one about a made-for-TV autopsy, & the new poem playing on the word "murder," "Crows on the First Cold Night of February."

Tess Lecuyer started with an old Spring Equinox poem (jumping the gun a little), then another old poem titled "Strays." Ed Rinaldi is working at a-poem-a-day & read one about the reasons he writes poetry, then another, "To Know What's For Dessert." We all sang "Happy Birthday" to Cheryl Rice who read a couple of horse poems, "Horseshoe" (hanging over her kitchen door), & the nostalgic, family memoir, picture-poem "Water Trough Bench."

Tenesha Smith was the featured poet, whom I've only heard at open mics so it was good to hear a big chunk of her work, including some I've heard before. She began with a piece of flash-fiction, a childhood memoir about her grandmother, "Ripening on the Vine," then on to poems with "Trail of Change." She said her favorite poem of hers (& one I've heard her do before) is "Pussy," a testament to what she (all women) are more than. There was also a chilling poem about the NYC shooting of groom-to-be Sean Bell, "Almost a Widow." In "Spider on the Ceiling" a spider in the shower shows her her own strength in surviving, & in "Terrible Stories: Why I Beat My Kids" she talked about passing that strength down to her children. Tenesha performs her poems well without theatrics, but with the strength of her words & of herself.

Shannon Shoemaker began with a poem titled "Valentines Day," then brought the house down (& started a continuing conversation) with the poem she performed so well at the last Nitty Gritty Slam, the strap-on/whip-it-out poem inspired by my old piece, "To My Penis."  I followed (as well as I could) next with a total change of pace, last year's "Winter Light" & "Not Yet Spring." Sylvia Barnard dug out an old broadside put out by the University at Albany English Department in 2005, & read her poem from it "January 2004," then my poem (!) from the broadside, "Reading Bei Dao at the Great Wall."

Avery did, in his effusive style, 2 long pieces with long titles, the first a riff on the Muppet rainbow song & other borrowed ideas, "On the Magnetism & the Oscillating Personal Relationship …" then a slam-like word flow read fast, "My Spoken Word, Can You Her What I Am Saying?" Mojavi also had a piece with a long title, "So What … & the Letter Beef," about the "poetry wars", then into the more pleasant topic of a love poem.

Leslie Michelle brought us some humor & word play telling us she is "Sick of Twitter." I think Dain Brammage is either stuck in 3rd grade, or looking to repeat it, reading us 2 recently written cinquains. Poetyc Visionz ended the night (or, as Mary said, "bring us out of this…") with a piece from his CD Poetyc Visionz Presents L.I.F.E. - The Meaning, complete with backup singers.

There are lots of reasons to come to this open mic on the last Monday of most months at McGeary's on Clinton Square, in Albany, NY: good food, friendly staff, an attentive (if rambunctious) audience & great poetry (that is, if you show up).