November 29, 2012

MFA Student Reading, November 28

Barbara Ungar & Jeanne Flanagan
This was a noon-time reading held in the Massry Center Gallery at the College of St. Rose in Albany by the students in the first class of the new MFA in writing program, an advanced poetry workshop. The reading was of poems written around/inspired by the current exhibit, "Ellen Driscoll Core Sample." The works on display were mostly drawings, paintings, some very large, others rendered as a series of folding pages for the single installation piece, an upside down landscape of oil rigs made of plastic bottles. The class' professor, Barbara Ungar, first introduced the gallery's director, Jeanne Flanagan, who welcomed us & spoke briefly about the work on display.

Professor Ungar served as M/C & read at the end. The first student to read was Matt Allegretti, with 2 poems, "The Drowning World" full of oozing oil & man-made disasters, then sex among the ruins in "Take Shelter." Jill Crammond, a frequenter of the open mics, read "The Mother Mistakes Her Son For an Empty Soda Bottle" & "The Artist Needs Titles, Refuses to Name Her Work" in which the poet compares that to not naming your children (Jill never has a problem with titles). Sadie Hickman read a poem about another disaster, the on-going fire in an abandoned coal mine in the (now-abandoned) town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Barbara Ungar read the poem "In an Art Gallery" by Carol H. Jewell (some of these students have day jobs they can't leave during the day).

Jeanne Flanagan takes the group shot.

Jacqueline Kirkpatrick, who has distinguished herself recently at the Slam at Valentines, read a poem based on a line in a poem by Al Gore (!), "An Inconvenient Shepherd." Sarah Sherman had a different, more personal response to the upside down installation, the poem "Upside Down Thanksgiving," thinking of her grandmother watching over the holiday preparations. Another Albany open mic poet, Carolee Sherwood, read a poem about the Gulf oil spill, "Spill," that included not only oil-drenched birds but lust & desire as well. Barbara Ungar read a couple of her own environmental poems, "Lament" on global warming, & an abcderian poem on animals on the endangered species list, a found poem, "Things Do Not Look As Dismal As They Did."

Good work by all, even the Professor. Check out my Flickr! site for photos of the individual students.

November 28, 2012

Poets Speak Loud!, November 26

Sometimes it is difficult to write about this event. Not because I don't know what to say, but that my notes start to disintegrate towards the end, either due to the spirit, or spirits, of the night. If I leave something out, please feel free to comment with your corrections, additions, whatever. Of course, it's just as likely that your recollection is as faulty as mine, whatever.

Mary Panza served as our host & instigator for the night. She began by announcing that our wonderful waitress here on the last Monday of the month, Allison, who is in the military & is being deployed overseas so this was her last last Monday with us. Walt Whitman said, great poets need great audiences -- but we also need great waitresses: thanks Allison, & be safe.

Tess Lecuyer began the open mic with the marvelous poem she read at the Third Thursday Poetry Night, "Wild Pumpkins."

Sylvia Barnard's poem "Boston Public Garden, November 2012" was written today (!), which she followed with "Russell Square, London" written in 1975.
Don Levy also gave us a tour of London with his imagining of "The Queen & I," followed by the elegy, "Twinkies." 

I was up next, repeating "This is Not Trick or Treat" followed by a very ancient piece, "The Pool Shark," read for tonight's featured poet …

… who was Rebecca Schumejda, reading from her long-awaited collection Cadillac Men (NYQ Books, 2012), poems about a pool hall she & her husband once owned, & the characters who hung out there. She began with a poem about her daughter, "First Steps," then on to an introduction to some of the characters, first Mikey Meatball ("Table of Truth"). Next was Spanish Fly in "Afterall This is a Bad Neighborhood," "Wheeling & Dealing," & " Because a Smart Man Can Dignify a Lousy Moniker." The eponymous "Bobby Balls-in-Hand" shows us what's it like to be a loser. She ended with the pool-hall regular, Aristotle, in the metaphysical poem "Sober on a Snowy Day." I've said it before & I say it again, buy this book, it's like a short story collection, only shorter -- & more fun.

Back to a continuing list of open mic poets with Shannon Shoemaker reading an old piece from 2010, filled with the cold moon & loneliness of lost love.

el presidente Thom Francis' poem "Stuck" was from a prompt, no less.

Jill Crammond, who is the prompt mama at Up the River, a Journal of Poetry, Art & Photography,  read a love poem to a fisherman, "The Last Thing This World Needs is Another Poem About Flowers," & the villanelle, "Jude (10) Schools His Mother on Psychedelics".

Carolee Sherwood's poem was from a prompt from a headline, "Salmon Swims Across Flooded Road" (to be eaten by a dog), then to another "dinner poem" (or is it romance?) "The Surprise of 2 Red Roosters."

Kevin Peterson began by reading from his pocket notebook a short list of "things people have called me since I've started growing in my mustache" (of course, one doesn't grow a mustache, one just doesn't stop it from growing), then a poem he said wasn't a "slam poem," but had the heft & attitude of one, an angry put down of a sad girl on a train.

Sally Rhoades read from the 2007 High Watermark Salo[o]n journal, "The Cardinal" & the poem for her daughters, "Roosting."

Avery returned us to the Twinkie theme with the distraught poem "Meanwhile at the Hostess Outlet," then the descriptive piece on a flock, I mean murder, of crows.

Poetyc Vysonz ended the night with the new piece he did at the slam last week, part 2 of "Upside Down Inside Out."

I'm sorry I couldn't do justice to the entre poete remarks of our hostess but you just had to be there, it was fast & furious, funky & not true, or at least almost not true -- you had to be there. Poets Speak Loud is at McGeary's on Clinton Square most last Mondays (not in December), about 8PM, sponsored by

Sunday Four Poetry, November 25

Back again to this most pleasant of reading series, a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There were about 20 folks in the Old Songs Community Center for the open mic & today's featured poet, Phillip Levine.

First up to the open mic was a peace vigil companion from Grannies for Peace, Dorothy Richards, who read a series of haiku in the Japanese style; a first-timer we were glad to welcome. Joe Krausman began with a diversion on translating, then into a poem that uses Thanksgiving travel in a grim/humorous way, then the equally quirky "Tsunami." Dennis Sullivan, our host for the open mic, began with a poem he wrote for "E.A.", filled with images from the Catholic version of Xtianity, including the remarkable line, "… prepare to take one in the groin for Jesus" (!), followed by a poem on forgiveness, written during storm Sandy, "I Chose Liberty." Obeeduid began with a long introduction, about Xtian monks in ancient Ireland creating illuminated manuscripts, to the poem "My Great Hunger," invoking the idea of the Gaelic language (or "Irish" as it is also called) being fashioned from the leftovers of the other languages of the Tower of Babel (explains a lot about why Irish is so unpronounceable).

A word-sculpture by Alan Casline
Alan Casline referred back to Native images & stories in his poem about 2 springs that spoke as books, & read a new poem, "Before the Predicted Storm," backwards as suggested by a poet friend (it worked!). Tom Corrado presented a word-play dialogue, with his characteristic puns, "The Nuanced Perceptions Survivor in Nine and a Half Acts." Edie Abrams explained that she has written 2 poems in response to poems by Dennis Sullivan, that her poem to the one he just read she will read in December, then read her response to his frequent use of "hoi polloi" by declaring us/we not philosopher kings.

Arlen Westbrook was back again, this time with an anti-war poem from written during the 1960s, "All Fall Down." I followed with a recent poem that considers my less-than-compassionate reaction to others, "Shredded Pants," then my response to the prompt to write a scary poem, "This is Not Trick or Treat." Mimi Moriarty read her recent poem "Learning Vietnamese," a tender picture of music & sharing among women who share much without the common language to explain it all, a marvelous piece. Howard Kogan read what he called "2 vaguely theological poems," the first from a workshop with Bernadette Mayer, a poem from the point of view of a firefly, then a stunning poem about looking for god, "Blue Heron."

Rick Harrienger was also back (as "Sir Charles" so as not to be confused with "charlie") with poems in ballad rhymes, "The Warrior's Song" (from his experiences in Viet Nam) & a holiday theme poem, "Reflections in a Fire," or, as he proclaimed, "so what if I make it rhyme." Philomena Moriarty read a duo of disaster poems, "Corpses" (for the victims of Hurricane Katrina) & "Fukashima 50."  Ann Lapinski rounded out the open mic with the more gentle "The Magnolia."

Phillip Levine is one of those activist poets who not only writes poems but makes things happen in the poetry community, running a weekly series for a long time at the Colonie Cafe in Woodstock, the ongoing monthly Woodstock Poetry Society reading series, another monthly series in Kingston & serving as the poetry editor of the regional magazine, Chronogram. He read from a wide-spectrum of his poems, including 2 influenced by the work of James Joyce, "Soon" (inspired by Ulysses) & "Hooked" (in the style of Finnegan's Wake), also "Small Things" from a recent profile in Ulster magazine. Sometimes his intros became long diversions that filled up his time & got in the way of the poems, but he managed to squeeze in a series of pieces on writing, "The Clown at the Chalkboard," "Poet on Point" & the related "A Riderless Horse." His poem "Colors" was for a woman who at the time was threatening suicide. He ended with his familiar card-trick/aphoristic poems, short pieces written on playing cards, shuffled & chosen at random.

This series continues on the 4th Sunday of each month at 3PM at the Old Songs Community Center up in Voorhessville, NY, a modest donation -- & a trip after up the road to Smith's Tavern for pizza or sandwiches & beer, or whatever. How else do you want to spend your Sunday afternoon?

November 22, 2012

Nitty Gritty Slam #31, November 20

or, since this was "Ladies' Slam Night," this might be called "Nitty Titty Slam." Only women were permitted to sign up for the Slam, but the other half of human existence was allowed to read in the open mic, with Mojavi arriving just in time to host the open mic.

 First up was Alyssa Nieman, with a breathy reading of a piece about building a sand castle. Tasha read a poem from her cellphone about a friend with depression. Since it was "Ladies' Night" I pulled out "The Bra Poem" & the bra (sorry, I don't have pictures, but someone must). Jess ListenToMyWords read from her notebook a poem to her sister. "Hey Girl" from Emily Gonzalez is a stark piece about a woman in rehab. Kevin Peterson read a new piece for his brother, "Rock Paper Scissors Shoot." Eugene O'Neill/"Truth" performed rap to a background tape, could've been anything. Poetyc Vysonz had fresh ink too, "The Last Shall Be First," part 2 of his frequently performed "reversal poem," history turned inside-out. I think Avery's poem "Avoidance is a 9-Letter Word" was about taking a shit. Mojavi, from his cellphone, wondered "How Much for a Kiss?" Christopher the Poet was back in town with what sounded like an erotic poem, but it was about weed.

Sarah reading a sestina at a Slam
el presidente Thom Francis was the host for the Slam, 6 women poets (Sarah, Shannon Shoemaker, D. Colin, Elizag,  Jackie K. & Alyssa), with different rules: 4 rounds, no elimination (girls hate that), with varying time limits, with the 2nd round at 1 minute perhaps the most interesting. I was one of the judges & no one got less than an 8.0 or more than a 9.1 from me, with the self-referential "I slam/I don't slam" poems getting the least points, no matter how great the delivery or entertainment value. There were a few real poems, including at lead-off sestina by virgin poet Sarah, who left after 2 rounds, & a couple of titillating pieces by Jackie K.

Thom Francis (right), with "Charlie's Angels":
D. Colin, Elizag & Jackie K.

When the dust settled the winners were Slam team members D. Colin (#1) & Elizag (#2), with Jackie K., MFA student 3rd. As far as I'm concerned, every night is "Ladies' Night" with me, but then you all know that.

Nitty Gritty Slam is every 1st & 3rd Tuesday at Valentines on New Scotland Ave., check out for a schedule, then show up & read/perform. $3.00 for students, $5.00 for the rest of us.

November 21, 2012

Community of Writers, November 18

[Disclaimer: This event is sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, of which I am the President. While some folks have labeled my Blogs as "reviews" I like to characterize them as "reports" & I have never made any claim to "objectivity," since I am an active participant in many of the events that I report on.]

As it turns out, this was the 10th annual Community of Writers at the Schenectady County Public Library, which has happily co-sponsored the event with the HVWG. This year there were 10 authors in various genres who read, including a couple of amazing young writers from whom I hope we will be hearing lots of good writing in the future. The Schenectady County Poet Laureate (yes, Virginia, the position does exist) Stephen Swartz got us off to a good start with rousing ode to the city of Schenectady in the style of Allen Ginsberg, & dressed in what he called a "Romney meets the Village People outfit." Bob Cudmore didn't so much as read as recount in the style of a story-teller 3 stories from his recent book, Stories from the Mohawk Valley.

Erin Billings read an early section from her novel Sincerely (Open Door Publishers, 2012), written last year when she was 15 years old (!). Poet Sharon Stenson read a cluster of poems, ranging from "A Country Garden" to "Roadkill," including a sestina about Clipper ships. Patrice Kindl gave a fine, in-character reading from her novel set in the 19th century, Keeping the Castle. Chaitali Banerjee read an essay about observing a great blue heron while bird-watching at the Old Niskayuna railroad station. April Seeley, who has read her poetry here in past years, today read a short fiction piece, "Sand," about young friends growing up & what friends do to help each other, seasoned with a touch of humor.

Ryan Smithson is another young writer who has been reading excerpts from his moving memoir Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009) at a number of local events; today he read a late chapter, "Words on Paper." Victor Smith read suspenseful & humorous excerpt from his novel Huntington Pass (Author House, 2011), involving the character Buck Avery breaking into a funeral home. The afternoon had been hosted by poet Alan Catlin, who concluded the event with some of his poems, including some inspired by trips with the library group, some poems on the theme of "white" both dreams & nights, a "found poem" from a conversation by 2 Viet Nam veterans, & ended with "Memorial for Tom Nattell in 3 Parts," short parts in fact that sounded very like some of Tom's short poems.

The Hudson Valley Writers Guild is proud to have had this long & productive association with the Schenectady County Public Library (& the Friends of the Library) in bringing local authors to the library audience & we hope to continue to do so for many years.

November 20, 2012

Third Thursday Poetry Night, November 15

On a night of many events, competing poetry readings, a jazz concert, etc. we still had a decent crowd of indecent poets for the open mic & for our featured poet, James Belflower. I invoked the Muse, "the old poet of the City" (as Lawrence Durrell dubbed him) C.P. Cavafy, then on to the open mic. 

First up was Alan Catlin, playing off the city poem of Cavafy, with his own "neighborhood poem" "Parallel Lives." A new face & voice tonight was Arielle Gumson with a poem in rhyme about the need for people to work together (her father told her she should come here). Comrade-in-(dis)arms Dayl Wise came up from Woodstock tonight & read funny piece about taking Ho Chi Minh to a Mets game.

Shirley Brewer came from an even further distance, Baltimore, MD & was there with Rezsin Adams; she read a poem written for Ted Adams that she had read at his memorial service almost a year ago, "Staircase Anthology."

James Belfower, tonight's featured poet, is one of the organizers of the Yes! reading series. After checking for Johnny Cash fans in the audience, he read a single long piece "Johnny Cash at Folsom," an exploration of myth & how we make it, he explains. The piece includes quotes from the taping of the concert, ponderings of prison movies, & stones & words, lines from the songs, the lines often broken off, the way a tape machine will truncate a line or word. An interesting piece.

After the break I read a new poem written in response to a prompt to write "a scary poem," written just after Halloween & just before the election, "This is Not Trick or Treat."

Jan Farrell has been coming to the open mic of late, but this was her first time reading, a nature poem "The Quiet Life of a Recent Wave." Tess Lecuyer has been reading on this street for a long time, a brand new poem, "Wild Pumpkins," another nature poem, on making a jack-o-lantern, & more. Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia read in the open mic last month & was back (wishing Ted Berrigan a happy birthday), a wild ride titled "Don't Lose the Sun." The evening ended with last month's fine featured poet, Anna Eyre, with a piece from her Snow White series, her mirror on the wall.

Another night of varied poetry at the Social Justice Center (33 Central Ave., Albany, NY), just like any other third Thursday, 7:30PM, donations support the featured poet, other poetry venues & the Social Justice Center.

November 16, 2012

2nd Sunday at 2 -- Poetry + Prose Open Mic, November 11

My co-host Nancy Klepsch could not be here today so I had to wing it alone, but it was easy. While some of the open mic readers were here early, others came in later, adding to the bottom of the list.  I began with an old poem for the day (Veterans Day), "Peace Marchers at the Viet Nam Memorial."

First timer Bruce Ottmer read a string of rhyming poems, to his late wife Clare, who was a painter, & to his cat, even one for a dog, complete with a painting by his wife; he got carried away & didn't have time for the poem he wanted to end with ("Ode to an Artist") but had copies for us all. Kathy Smith was more careful about her time & began with "In the Distance," again a dog -- I was beginning to worry if this would be a theme today -- but she went on to a recent poem "Midnight After the Hurricane in the Garden Near the Airport." David Wolcott read from his prose memoir, an excerpt from a chapter titled "The Wooden Shoe," about a commune he lived in in Vermont around 1972.

Bob Sharkey read an ekphrastic/museum piece, "Offering Bearer," from his new chapbook Surface at Sunrise (Benevolent Bird Press, 2012), then a prose piece, "The End," from a series about the fictional bar The Iron Ear. Joe Krausman read "The Answering Machine," funny & metaphysical, then the crazy poem "My Son the Meshuggahna." Sean Heather McCraw's first poem, "Tomasina," was about the seasonal appearance of a turkey in the neighbor's garden, then a remembrance of being 17 & waiting for the surf to take her away, "Nightwaves, a Memory." Ron Drummond began with 2 sentences on crows in his yard, then a long piece celebrating Obama's election victory in 2008.

Poetry + Prose takes place on the 2nd Sunday at 2PM at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St. in Troy, NY -- it's free!

November 14, 2012

Book Launch for Cadillac Men, poems by Rebecca Schumejda

Finally, the book of poems we have been hearing from for years at her readings is out from the great New York Quarterly Books. This reading was at Half Moon Bookstore on Front St. in Kingston, where Becky has hosted many readings over the past few years. She read with Cheryl A. Rice & Nathan Graziano.

Cheryl A. Rice has a new chapbook out from her Flying Monkey Press, Kingston is Burning, but most of the poems she read were not from the chapbook. But most any poems from Cheryl are worth hearing/reading, from the bar poem, "Poets Night Out," to the consideration of alternative lives in "Delorean," to wedding poems ("Exhibit B" & "We Live in a World") to the sexy "Hot Tub." The one poem she read from the chapbook was the one the title of the chapbook is taken from, "Baghdad/Kingston" that is based on/inspired by my poem "Baghdad/Albany."

Nathan Graziano also has a new book out, the collection of short prose pieces, Hangover Breakfast (Bottle of Smoke Press). He read mostly from the book, short, first-person narratives, usually with humor, often referencing pop culture, such as his opening piece, "The Teenage Couple Who Has Sex in a Slasher Flick." One of his sub-themes seems to be puking, as in "Confessions of a Recovering Crier" & "Bad News." And how could he not write about being a poet ("The Published Poet")?

The small back room of Half Moon Books was not only packed with most of the mid-Hudson Valley's literati, but also with a noisy flock of little girls whose insistence chattering & clattering was ineffectively on occasion shushed by one of the moms in the room. But the readers kept on, & Becky even confessed later she didn't mind the distractions.

Anyone who has been at any of Rebecca Schumejda's readings in the last few years as heard poems from this series now collected as Cadillac Men, about the characters & events in a pool hall Becky & her husband once owned. She introduced us (again) to such characters as Mikey Meatballs ("Table of Truth"), "Bobby Balls-In-Hand," Dee ("Going Our for Ice-Cream") or Aristotle ("Sober on a Snowy Day"). There was even a poem about her daughter as a toddler among the pool tables, "First Steps." Good stories, good poems & always good to hear.

These books (& others by local writers) area available at Half Moon Books, Front St. ("every city on a river has a Front St."), Kingston, NY.

November 11, 2012

Pine Hollow Arboretum Reading, November 9

This was the last of the season's readings here in Slingerlands, NY where we park on the lawn. Tonight's featured poet was Bob Sharkey, whose new chapbook Surface at Sunrise has just been published by Benevolent Bird Press. The publisher, Alan Casline, was also our host. He proposed the theme as "jumping the shark," to be interpreted however we like. He also asked some of the poets to describe their favorite TV comedy episode.

AC Everson linked the theme to Cape Cod where she recently distributed her parents' ashes, did 2 poems, "Vain Creatures," & "Patriotic Musings." Sally Rhoades began with a poem published in the 2007 journal High Watermark Salo[o]n, "I Love to Dawdle," then a tribute to her waitress Mom. I followed with 2 new pieces, the street observation "Shredded Pants" then a "scary" poem "Not Trick or Treat." Jill Crammond read a couple of mother/daughter poems, one about picking up a hitchhiker in the North Country with her mother, the other (also North Country) "Leaving the Wedding with My Daughter, a Fish Tale in Many Parts." Joe Krausman began with the disaster poem "Panacea," then a poem for Bob Sharkey that plays on "shark."

Bob Sharkey, who is a regular on the local poetry scene, gave a nice mixed-bag reading, beginning with the new piece "Prayer for New York" & a chunk of a poem by Anne Sexton, read for New Jersey. He followed with a poem from Surface at Sunrise, "The Dutch Girls." Bob has been experimenting with an invented form of 64 words & read some prose & poetry using that limitation, including a review of his favorite 8 poems from Best American Poetry 2012. He has written a lot about his hometown of Portland, Maine & read his favorite poem from that group, "Monument Squre," a catalogue of the characters her saw there. He ended his reading with 2 poems from the chapbook, "An American Dream" (which had inspired the poem Joe Krausman read earlier) & Bob's own favorite from the book, "While Caged Animals Arrived." This was a most-welcomed chance to hear a big chunk of Bob's work, rather than the 1 or 2 pieces usually allotted to an open mic. I'm pleased to have his new chapbook, Surface at Sunrise, too.

After a break, Tim Lake made a rare appearance, reading "Home for the Holidays," a 2011 meditation on the homeless & rabid shoppers on Black Friday, & the up-to-date "Contemplation After Layoff." Obeeduid's poems dealt with stones, the round rocks in strata with reference to the Seneca emergence myth in "The Great Hill People" & a meditation on gravestones in "The Book of the Dead." Alan Casline also read a story of a stone, the tale of heroic State Workers in "Perious Frink & the Secret of the Stone." Our host at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, John Abbuhl, read a bouquet of his philosophical nature poems from his little notebooks, the poems titled "Wolf," "Fulfillment" (his most recent poem), & "Universality." Edie Abrams was the last poet up with a poem "The Hudson" that contrasted walking a dog there & more recently along the Normanskill, then a new poem (in-progress), a meditation on being Jewish "November 9, 2012."

Watch for this wonderfully relaxed series of readings to start up again in April.

Prompts? Or …

I'm not sure when it started, this fascination with what are now being called "prompts" for writing poems, particularly for these exercises in writing a poem each day in certain months of the year (which is another subject). Most poetry workshops I've been in, including one's I've led myself, have used some topic or subject or prod to get folks to focus on writing, to get away from the search for the grand theme. Sometimes it's the artwork in a gallery or museum, or a list of words, or a stack of postcards or photographs. It works, & we usually surprise ourselves with what we come up with. Visual artists do it all the time -- you take a painting class & there is a nude model, or a still life set up for you, or you're on a hillside somewhere & told to paint what & how you see it. But then, wise painters mostly leave those exercises stacked against a wall, while we poets in this Age of the Blog, feel compelled to post our efforts online, still wet & screaming. But then again, the reality is that most people don't read those Blogs anyway.

Full disclosure, I've written daily during the poem-a-day months of November (& April), even published a chapbook in 2011 of a selection of the poems written during November 2010 (Poeming the Prompt). But few of the other poems written then have seen the light of day, & even fewer have been revealed in what could only be characterized as strange light. I recognize the usefulness of such exercises, for some people more than others, like the way I keep a poetry workbook & a pocket notebook, & always, of course, a pen. 

Then again, there are some poets locally & online whose work I admire & read regularly who use the prompts to write good poems on themes & topics they deal with all the time.  The prompts just point them in directions they may not have taken, or revive images & ideas lurking beneath the surface (or tucked away in notebooks).  So I guess what makes me uncomfortable about prompts are when I read those poems that never would have been written (& never should have to have been read) had it not been for some twit with a big idea & a website, & marketed for someone sitting around a split-level in East-by-Jesus wondering, "what am I ever going to write about?"

These thoughts were prompted (there's that word again) by reading a list of poetry prompts on a wonderful new Blog devoted to a planned print journal, Up the River, & written by my friend Jill Crammond.  One of her suggestions was to "Write a poem inspired by a headline." Now I've written many poems, mostly political, but some humorous or philosophical or outrageous (i.e., "The Lady Bishop"), in response to reading a news story (or TV news, e.g. "Baghdad/Albany"), but I would not have ever characterized the sources of these poems as "prompts." It was just that -- a news story, a source, an inspiration, I was reacting to something out there in the world that had moved me & then wrote about it. Why is it necessary to tell someone that headlines (i.e., the world around you) is a good source of inspiration for poems?  You either get it or you don't; I mean, the kind of people you have to tell that to probably wouldn't write poems anyway.  When I write a poem about something I read in the morning paper, it is not a trick to wake up the Muse, it is a kick-in-the-ass to me the poet from the Real World. Does one need a prompt when your lover walks out the door? When a child dies?  When a storm hits (think of the boatload of Katrina poems, the stack of World Trade Center poems)?

I agree that artists shouldn't just sit around waiting for that random kick-in-the-ass, but perhaps instead what we poets must do is to train our eyes to see these so-called "prompts" in the everyday world, to become aware of the wealth of inspiration around us daily, to learn to see with what someone has called "haiku eyes." If we do that then when the frog jumps we know that it means a lot more than just a splash in a pond. We take out our notebooks, our pens & write.

November 5, 2012

Nitty Gritty Slam #29, October 30

A crowded night upstairs at Valentines for a rare 5th Tuesday slam & open mic. & a raucous night it was too with lots of sex poems, even some drug poems. Something in the water/beer?

Mojavi was the host for the open mic & I went first, doing the open mic so I could perform with props/instruments, my dowel claves, for "Put Down the Government Rag," a seasonal piece. L-Majesty did a love poem & sang "You Send Me." "Hat Guy" read from his laptop about trying to get oral sex.

Alyssa's poem was a lecture to an ex- about making lust. Brett Petersen read "Cock" which actually was about his poems, I think. Sexy Jess made the audience swoon with a sexy poem "Fine Shade in my Pink." Rain Dan read a poem about a hitch-hiker, the first line "I thought you were a real hippy…" Christopher the Poet was back in town & recited his "Letter to My Unborn Children" but got tangled up in "rewinds." Kevin Peterson read from his blue notebook a poem about dosing friend against his will, I guess a confession. Poetyc Visionz recited his sermon on stereotyping. & Mojavi read a piece about the evil spirits that are assigned to us (or so he says).

Many of the same poets, including me, also signed up for the open mic, so tonight it was an 11-4-2 Slam. There was more love & sex, with Billy doing a piece about zombies on the airways, in what I would've said for a "costume" (included a straw hat with horns) but he didn't get disqualified, although L-Majesty did lose points for going over the 3 minutes. I did my poem "The Lady Bishop" & ended up in a 4-way tie for what I think was last place.

At the end of the 2nd round it was Alyssa in 4th place, Christopher the Poet in 3rd, & Poetyc Visionz & Algorhythm duked it out in the final round, Algorhythm's alphabetical tour-de-force netting him a 30, beating out PV's bible-quoting poem about love.

Regularly on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of each month, the Nitty Gritty Slam is also held on the 5th Tuesday, if there is one, at Valentines on New Scotland Ave., in Albany, NY -- $5.00, $3.00 with student I.D.

This is Not Trick or Treat

The homeless black cat is on my doorstep
again her green eyes stare at me from
the leafless, loveless lawn. Do I know you?

She is the wrong choice on Tuesday
the lever only the 1% should pull
she is fracking & global warming
& pre-emptive strikes, & the invasion
of Afghanistan, of Iraq, the entire history
of Latin America, of South East Asia
of apartheid, Palestine, the Middle Passage

she is an entire warehouse of international
Halloween costumes dressed in the flag
"God Bless America," "The Star-Spangled Banner"
"The Pledge of Allegiance" -- cum-stained sheets
of red white & blue & high school graduates
who are the Future Dead of America

she is drones circling overhead looking for
Ayotallahs or Peaceniks, me & the aged
Quakers on the street corners of America

[Now, if I was inclined to respond to the Poem-A-Day thing, this would be Day #3, but, then, you know, I'm not.]

November 4, 2012

Sunday Four Poetry, October 28

I love driving up the hill to this reading on Sunday, not the least because we end up at Smitty's afterwards for food & libations & lively conversation. But the poetry is pretty darn good too. Today the featured poet was Lori Desrosier, but first, the open mic. 

I started off (as "#2" on the sign-up sheet) with a poem from Lori's journal Naugatuck River Review, written by a cyber-friend Lee Pursewarden, published in the Winter 2012 Issue 7, "Dreaming of Prompts," (a tour-de-force of piled up writing prompts), then my own tongue-in-cheek "Top Tips for Anxiety-Free From Prompts." Dennis Sullivan, our Patriarch & Herodotus here in Voorheesville read a poem for his impending grandson, "Notes for a Boy About to Board the Train." Obeeduid read 2 poems about spending time in graveyards looking for (& at) the tombstones of his ancestors.

Don Levy returned us to the thrilling days of yesteryear's TV with a poem referencing Underdog, "Have No Fear" (who else but Don could write such a poem?), then the outrageous "Obama at the Nursing Home."  Jim Williams extended the window with 4 poems, the post World War II "Europe Blinks & Goes Home Early," the modern Western "100 Ways to Die in Wyoming," then a prayer-like love poem deep in the woods, but ending with a bitter political poem. Jan Tramontano read a poem about a neighbor whose daughter was killed in an accident, "Hibiscus," & the descriptive "The Dog Walkers."

A new voice here, Arlen Westbrook, read poems from earlier in her life, the bright descriptive "India at Dawn on a Road in the North," & "Meditation During A dig on the Mohawk River" (on what is found there). Sean Heather McGraw was back with what sounded like a love poem, "Ice" then a piece on pain-killers from a broken jaw & a broken heart, "Dawn Breaks." Bob Sharkey drew laughter from the audience (as well he should) with his hysterical list poem "7 Actions for Age 65."

Alan (Frederick) Casline read 2 poems, dated like diary entries, "Does a Disaster Have a Side?" & the poem about a leaf, "Through Him the Gale of Life Blew HIgh." Rick Harrienger read rhyming pieces, beginning with being abandoned by the muse, then to the poem "Tempo" with its life advice, ending with the Autumnal "The Aviary Sanctuary." Jill Crammond's poem "A Town Witch Tries to Make Friends" is a divorce poem, as was the poem about her son & the D.A.R.E. program, "Jude (10) Schools His Mother in Psychedelics."

Today's featured poet was Lori Desrosier, the editor of Naugatuck River Review, "a journal of narrative poetry that sings." She has a new book forth-coming from Salmon Press in Ireland, The Philosopher's Daughter, & that's what she read from. Her poems are mostly short & for most she gave brief introductions so we could know what's coming. It helps when one is only hearing a poem once. Of course there were a number of poems about her father, such as "Conducting in Thin Air" & "Last First Kiss," but also poems of other childhood memories such as the descriptive "The Room in the House at Croton" & the school memory of "Last Seat 2nd Violinist." Her brother made an appearance in a couple poems ("In the Croton Wood 1965" & "Hastings-on-Hudson") & of course her mother (& divorce) in "Mother City" & "Womanly Ways." She also paid tribute to the Hudson River in a cluster of 3 poems, including the descriptive "Train Ride in Winter." Her last poem, "That Pomegranate Shine" is a stunning affirmation of her womanness, from bride to mother. I'm looking forward to when her book comes out early in 2013.

& as we are wont to do, we adjourned to Smith's Tavern for libations & sustenance & plenty of conversation, poetic & otherwise. The 4th Sunday of most months in Voorheesville, NY at the Old Songs Community Center, 3PM -- a donation pays the poet & supports Old Songs.

November 2, 2012

Yes! Reading Series, October 26

 Headed downtown for my 2nd (or is it 3rd?) reading of the day, to the Social Justice Center, just as the folks were setting up for the night's event. Or should I say, trying to set up? The plan was to show slides of the paintings of Terry Zacuto, but the digital projection was coming out upside-down on the screen. Of course, wise-ass me suggested turning the projector over but they (Matthew Klane et al.) persisted until they found another solution. I also suggested that it wouldn't matter since Terry's work was mostly abstract anyway. I think it was Henry Miller who said he didn't want any art work that couldn't be hung upside-down. Eventually we did get a viewing, without commentary, of a series of Terry's paintings, colorful abstracts that would have been better served by some sort of musical background.

James Belflower introduced Gracie Leavitt who began with some poems from her chapbook, Gap Gardening (these signals press, 2012), "Song of a Superfund Site" & a poem about a lawn, "Thin Cover." Switching to poems from a manuscript she read a short piece "Unresolved Pastoral" & on to a longer "Turning On an Erotic Scene." A new longer piece, "My Career in Personal Growth & the Heartbreaking of Right Now," was a good example of what a typical line of her poems sounds like. Her poems sounded like cut-ups or collages, but she gave us no clue to her technique. In fact the list of titles on the back of Gap Gardening sounded like one of her poems. I think when you are reading challenging, experimental work to an audience who will hear each piece just once, it helps to explain the technique, to get a handle on what's going on.

The poems of David James Miller, the publisher of these signals press, were even more formidable on one-time-hearing. He read from a new manuscript titled "Cull." His work was fractured, short phrases, often single words with pauses in between that if read at a normal pace his reading would have been about 5 minutes. It seems pointless to even cite titles since they are meaningless without the context of the piece (or perhaps even with the context). At the end he read some new poems off his cellphone which made me realize that is the perfect medium, like Twitter, for such barely syntactical expressions.

Of course the audience sat in rapt silence during the readings, applauding only at the end of each poet's reading.

The evening ended with a complex, musically abstract electronic recital by Al Margolis & Doug Van Nort, beginning with barely audible vocal & electronic sounds, gradually cresendoing -- it would have gone great with Terry Zacuto's paintings.

Yes! Reading series occurs during the University semesters at the Social Justice Center on a somewhat random schedule -- find them on FaceBook.