September 8, 2013

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, September 4

Our host, Carol Graser, was quite surprised when Sarah Craig, Director of Caffè Lena, took the stage & presented Carol with a book of poems honoring Carol & her 10 years of running this event here. Carol was admittedly flustered by the attention as she read the late Seamus Heaney's poem "Blackberry Picking." Then on to the open mic.

Mary Kathryn Jablonski made a rare public appearance to read her tribute to Carol, "UG2BK" (i.e., "you've got to be kidding me…") about Josh McIntyre's proposal of marriage on stage here to Beatriz (who was here as I arrived with their young son). Marilyn Day read a new piece written today, "Fairy Tale Twins," a lyrical look at fairy-tale clichés.

Nancy DeNofio read her tribute piece for Carol, "One Long Two Short," a long memoir of an open mic at Caffè Lena. Tim Verhaegan began with the lyrical "Her Great Big Window," then read his tribute to Carol, "Poetry Mother." Josh McIntyre, who was already mentioned above, read his poem to Carol, ironically titled "Proposal."

There were 2 featured poets tonight, the first, Rachel Cullen, from Idaho Falls, Idaho, identified as a "Slam poet." But interestingly enough she not only read her poems but her introductions as well. Her poems were mostly first-person cries of teen angst & high school rivalries, such as the list poem "I'm the Kind of Girl," "Judging Eyes," "Me Without You," & "I Wish I Could." She confronted the cruelty of families in the poem "Skinless" but became quite preachy, hitting us over the head with a fable about accepting those who are different from us in "Picture It Now." Not sure how well she would do in the cut-throat world of East Coast Slam, but if she keeps writing & remains true to herself she should be able to channel her energy into some powerful, mature poetry.

Michael Steffen was certainly the more "mature" of the featured poets. Many of his poems referenced pop culture, such as "Adios Sweet Larry" (the hokey-pokey), "The Guy Who Followed the Beatles" (on the Ed Sullivan Show), "Every Inch of My Love" (Led Zeppelin), & "Lincoln Continental" (the car in which JFK was shot), as well as the horrors of day-time TV, ""Home with the Flu," & the autobiographical "Vengeance" on mutilating Barbie. Other poems dealt with clichés, marriage & couples therapy, & some drew their inspiration from paintings, such as Matthias Grünewald's "The Crucifixion" & Van Gogh's "Irises." His poetry collection Bad Behavior was published by Brick Road Poetry Press in 2012.

After the break, Carol Graser, admitting she rather likes have folks read tribute poems to her, read one of her her own poems "The Calculator," a wonderfully playful piece about a calculator who wants to sing.

The night's virgin reader was Marcella Hammer who read a break-up poem, "Dear John" &  a fable of the gods, "The Immortals." Kristen Day, who will be the featured poet here in October, began with a haiku for a plugged ear, then her moving dream poem on the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, "The 6:20 & the 2:45." Sarah Craig came back with her tribute poem to Carol, likening the open mic to a rich & varied pot luck dinner, then shared with us a poem found in the Caffè Lena archives, "Phila Street 1960," perhaps written by Lena herself. Andy returned to recite a long, philosophical rhyme "A Solipsistic Lullaby."

Barbara Garro began with a motivational poem "Leaps Without Bounds," then read her tribute poem "Carol Graser Queen of Poetry Open Mics." I followed with my tribute, "The Wild Twitter of their Stencils," an n+ exercise on Carol's poem "The Wild Twists of their Stems." Andrew Sullivan's poem delved into the nature of a couple's relationship, "Our Quiets." J.J. Johnson returned after a 5-year hiatus from the open mic scene to read the poem he read at his first open mic 10 years ago, "Death of a Virgin," then a recent poem reflecting on the history of racial segregation, "5 Months & 50 Years."

While there is no requirement that when you come to the Caffè Lena poetry open mic on the 1st Wednesday of the month that you read a poem to Carol, I'm sure she would be quite thrilled if you did. It was a night of great fun & words & a fitting salute to 10 years of wordful open mics here on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs. Come join in the fun.

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