February 25, 2016

Writers Institute February 11, 16, 18

The New York State Writers Institute is one of the great literary resources here in the NYS Capital Region, bringing an A-list writers to the University at Albany, & to the community-at-large, for no charge for their readings, seminars, lectures, even movies. This was all seeded by a “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation in 1983 to Albany Pulitzer Prize winning author William Kennedy, who continues to serve as Chair, ex officio. Each semester there is an extensive schedule of writers & programs & over the years I have seen/heard/met such writers as Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ken Kesey, Lawrence Ferglinghetti, Ed Sanders, Nadime Gordimer, Derek Walcott, Jean Valentine, Carolyn Forché, I can go on & on. But the City of Albany & the surrounding area is also the home of other active, dynamic literary & arts organizations that also present events on a weekly, monthly schedule. So there are frequent conflicts among events & I tend to go to the community events where the numbers are smaller.

However, sometimes there is a perfect storm of poets at the Writers Institute & I’ve just got to be there. Such a conjunction included a visit from my 3 Guys from Albany buddy Charlie Rossiter; the celebration of the new New York State Writer & Poet; a poet who had read at my Poets in the Park series; & poet another poet I felt I just wanted to hear, all within a week — whoo - ho!

(left to right) Edmund White, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marie Howe,
William Kennedy, UAlbany President Robert Jones
It all began with a visit from Charlie on the night of the ceremony on February 11 to present The New York State Edith Wharton Citation of Merit to State Author Edmund White, & The New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit to State Poet Yusef Komunyakaa, so off went Charlie & I to Page Hall. Charlie & I are both fans of Koumunyakaa’s poetry, & I think that White’s biography of Jean Genet is a model of how to write about an author & their work. It was an evening of accolades & readings &, as happens at these events at the Writers Institute, a chance to speak to to the writers informally afterwards.

This was followed on February 16 with the appearance of poets Randall Horton & Jacqueline Jones LaMon to do a seminar & reading. Randall had been a Ph.D. student here at the UAlbany when I had featured him in the Poets in the Park series in July 2009. I was only able to make the afternoon seminar which was mostly a Q&A with most the questions from students. Both Randall & Jacqueline have been Fellows at Cave Canem & Jacqueline is the president of Cave Canem, & both talked about the importance of the organization for emerging black writers & about the valuing of mentoring of each other.

Then on Thursday, February 18 I attended an afternoon reading by Sherwin Bitsui, whose work I did not know. The event was already on my calendar when I saw a notice on social network sites from Nicole Peyrafitte urging folks to go to this reading.  He read to a packed room in the Science Library (where the Writers Institute is housed), from his books Shapeshift (2003) & Flood Song (2009), as well as new work. The poet is a Diné (Navajo) from Arizona & his work reflects the desert, the geography & the people, with images from the modern world, mixing water & gasoline, wire & sagebrush, engaging poetry with roots in the poetry of surrealism.

Thank you Writers Institute for bringing these (& other) writers here — & thanks for being here.

February 23, 2016

Nitty Gritty Slam #112, February 16

I hadn’t been to the Nitty Gritty Slam since last year, well November 2015 to be accurate. Tonight there was a new crew in charge, Amani hosted the open mic & Jayton Landon was host of the Slam. As often happened in the past most of the folks in the Slam also participated in the open mic.

Amani was just back from a trip to Cuba (!), read a new poem “Embargo” then a beach poem, but almost overwhelmed by a noisy bar. Ian Macks read next, a couple poems about living in Troy & commuting to work on the bus. Ainsley read Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night” for her grandfather who had passed on Valentine’s Day. I followed with the new-ish “Joe the Bartender.”

Due to the small crowd & only 3 Slam participants there were only 3 judges. Amani served as the “sacrificial poet.” The 3 contestants were Ainsley, Ian Macks & the late-arriving Poetyc Visionz. Again, due to the limited field there were 3 rounds with all 3 poets in each, with the cumulative score establishing the winner. There were no white-boards, 4x6 cards, or any of the usual accoutrements of a Slam. The host would simply ask each judge for their score & a sister at the bar would tally them. There also didn’t seem to be a time-keeper, but I could be wrong about that, since Jayton commented to Ian after one of his poems that he “had 3-minutes” that he didn’t have to cut it short. But it was just that his poem ended when it ended; to his credit Ian didn’t just go on & on, as many Slammers do, trying to fill the 3-minute time limit.

Jayton, Ainsley, Ian & P.V.
P.V. was clearly the winner with 2 of his pieces getting perfect 30s. But both Ainsley, who came in #2 & Ian at #3, got respectable scores in the mid to high 20s, boldly trying out some real poetry. Ian actually read some notebook ponderings that got him a 28.

After it was over a visiting poet from Philadelphia, Anthony, was brought up, who did some pretty conventional hip-hop rhymes with all the ole rap clichés thrown in.

It was pretty clear that the Nitty Gritty Slam is devolving, even to the point that during the usually stylized Slam introduction the 3-minute time limit was not mentioned, nor could anyone remember Marc Smith’s last name. At the end it was announced that the Nitty Gritty Slam would now be an open mic only on the 1st Tuesday of each month & a Slam on the 3rd Tuesday. But still at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM, $5.00.

February 18, 2016

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, February 14

It was a grand gathering of poets & prose writers at the Arts Center. Not only was it Valentines Day, & the usual monthly open mic, but the book launch of 2, An Anthology of Poets & Writers from The 2nd Sunday @ 2 Open Mic for Poetry & Prose, produced by my co-host Nancy Klepsch & her partner Lauren Pinsley for the brand-new Riverside Community Press. Many of the writers reading today have work in 2 but there were also many new faces/voices on the sign-up sheet. There was wine, juice, cookies, tangerines, wine & cake — & a non-edible bust of Robert Frost. 19 signed up for the open mic.

First up was Bob Sharkey with a funny take on “Anorexics at the Gym,” then a New York City poem “Return to Golda Meir Square” playing off an earlier poem of his about the same place. Peggy LeGee said it was “cold outside, but warm inside” & read a biological-theological-personal essay “What is Love?”

Maureen McCauley read another installment of her high school memoir that began with a more recent adventure of being caught in a bus shelter in a snow storm. Don Levy paid tribute to 2 recently-gone artists, to David Bowie in the poem “Starman,” & to a local poet in “Prose Poem for Karl Gluck.” Cathy Abbott began with a very brief Valentines poem, then a poem about phone call about Medicare. Howard Kogan read a very old poem “My Wife 4 Months Pregnant & I Take a Walk” & encounter a snake.

Mike Conner read a Valentines email in rhyme for his wife “Better Now,” they played with imagining different poetic forms as different methods of painting “Word Painting.” Pat Berger read a sad memoir about her sister. Matt Ryan read a couple of poems in rhyme, “A Series of Debts” & a “Not As I Do” (with its refrain, “a profound silence ensued”). Kate Laity also paid respects to the late David Bowie, a futuristic report “The State of the Church of Bowie in the Year 2525” (published in Pulp Metal Magazine).

Sandra Rouse read the poem “The Country of Love” (lost love in Japan) & a memoir “Song to Childhood” (she has a recent book of poems & paintings, Inklings, from The Troy Book Makers). Dave DeVries entertained us with a poem in rhyme of unrequited college love “For You.” Tim Verhaegen read a personal memoir of being inadvertently inappropriate on his first day at Cobleskill College.

Allison Paster-Torres made her first appearance here & read a bit of poetic social commentary on the perfect one-night stand. Sally Rhoades read a tender love poem/wedding poem/family litany “Walk With Words” then a more recent piece “Sitting with Joy Harjo.” Jay Renzi did a “drive-by” with 2 short rhymed love pieces, “Vestige” & “You Bury Me.”

Nancy Klepsch read a new piece about a new character/persona, Rubylith, or Lith, as in “Lith Becomes Planet Partner with a Multi-National” then a the assertive rant “The Invisible Lesbian.” Joe Krausman’s 2 poems were humorous, rhymed takes on recent scandals in the New York State legislature, “Tarnished Silver” (i.e., Sheldon Silver) & another piece on Dean Skelos, complete with a quote from Virgil. We almost forgot Karen Fabiane, somehow crossed off the list, but appropriately enough she read the 2 poems in 2, “The hardship of loving” & “Noticeably Difficult.”

Speaking of 2, it is a stunning debut for the Riverside Community Press, 64 crisp pages, with the work of 16 writers, in pocket-sized 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 (mimicking City Light’s “Pocket Poet” series). Copies are available now at Market Block Books in Troy & at other venues soon.

& this series, 2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, continues at the Arts Center of the Capital Region on River St. in Troy on — you guessed it — the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2:00PM, free!

February 14, 2016

Live from the Living Room, February 10

The next-to-last reading in this long-going (since 2006?) series at the Pride Center of the Capital Region on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY run by Albany poet Don Levy.

Tonight’s featured reader was Jay Renzi who mixed it up with what he called “2 basic concepts,” his so-called “toy poetry,” & longer, anachronistic mythological pieces. The toy poems were short, usually rhymed, often commenting on male/female relationships, with titles like “Sexy Trouble,” “Good to See You” (on an ex-girl-friend), “Absinthe,” & “The Lesser Loves.” His longer pieces were from a 9-part poem titled “The White Goddess,” based on Robert Graves’ study by the same title. The 4 parts he read were largely philosophical with the trappings of 19th Century imagery & language, based on his imagined antiquarian Welsh heritage, the anachronistic tone enhanced by an over-done Boston accent. He ended with a piece titled “The Wast Land,” & — Surprise! — said he was heavily influenced by T.S. Eliot. Fortunately Renzi’s version was only a page.

Then on to the customary open mic. I read first, the brand-new “Birthday Poem 2016” & for the first time “Metaphor,” which caused some consternation. Brian Dorn read from his collection From My Poems to Yours (The Live Versions) 2 “social justice” poems, the first for Donald Trump & Bernie Sanders, “Standard of Living,” then an “eco-poem” on the mess of the planet “The Ends of the Earth.”

Sylvia Barnard reprised her marvelous poem about seeing Picasso’s “Guernica” in Spain, then a new poem about an antlered stag wandering into a church, mixing the images. Avery read a sad poem written this morning based on a news item “Unexpected Early Morning Phone Calls Rarely Bring Good News” then another new piece “I Remember His Grip” about his grandfather.

Mary Beth hadn’t expected to read, had shown up to hear Jay Renzi, but when she admitted to a poem in her pocket we badgered her into reading; it was an untitled piece about finding a certain level of peace wandering around the deserted King Fuel site along the River in Troy. Our host, Don Levy, paid tribute to our recently gone friend, Karl Gluck, by reading Karl’s poem “Statement of Purpose” from his 1993 collection Phantasmagoria, then he read his own memoir about going to a party in Queens, NY with Karl “A Prose Poem for Karl Gluck.”

There is only 1 more reading/open mic in this 2nd Wednesday series, to be held on March 9,  2016, 7:30PM at the Pride Center on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY, featured poet Sue Oringel, with, of course, an open mic for the rest of us.

February 8, 2016

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, February 3

Back to Caffè Lena for the first time in 2016, & the place was a-buzz with questions about the recently-reported up-coming remodeling of the historic folk music center. We will have to wait & see. In the meantime our host, Carol Graser, started off the night with a poem by the new US Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, then on to the open mic.

Brian Dorn read his funny & self-deprecating “23 Reasons Why This Poem Doesn’t Rhyme.”Eric Krantz was new to me, & he began with a poem titled “Red Wing Blackbirds,” then a funny, rhyming poem to a fiancee, “Why Not Take All of Me.”

Carol Shupp Star was a volunteer here tonight & signed up to read a Winter poem, “Moon Silouettes” then “Life, the Boy Becomes a Man” (about an infatuation over time). Joe Bruchac read a couple of poems from his books, one titled “Seasons End” about looking to the generations in the future & then the descriptive “When Sky Clears;” when he finished he passed one of the books to Barbara Garro in the audience for a birthday present. Charles Straney read 2 thoughtful pieces, the first titled “What Defeats a Man,” & “Skunks.”

The first of the night’s featured poets was Stephen Lewandowski, who began appropriately enough with “My Name” from Under Foot (Mayapple Press, 2014), then to “Who Am I?” about researching his father’s family. A couple poems were set in the outdoors, one about an old hunter lost in the woods, another about geese, & “Night & Day” was dedicated to the Wisconsin poet Antler. “Hidden” was another poem from Under Foot, & he ended with 2 poems from a new book, Last Settler in the Finger Lakes, one on the science of the study of lakes, & the last, “Embodied,” on the erotic. A nice sampling of work.

Alan Casline of the Rootdrinker Institute, Benevolent Bird Press & the poetry series at the Pine Hollow Arboretum was the other featured poet. He read mostly from his 2015 book from FootHills Publishing, 64 Changes. But he started with a poem on the many poetry open mics he has attended, “The Unlikely Train Wreck."  64 Changes is based on the I Ching & Alan favors the Richard Wilhelm/Cary F. Baynes edition so sometimes during his reading he used the titles from his own book & sometimes from Wilhelm, leaving this recorder flumoxed. After a brief intro about the I Ching he explained that he had cast hexagrams this morning for himself, for the Casline family, for Caffè Lena, for Stephen Lewandowski & for the USA & read the poems from his book for the corresponding hexagrams, or the one resulting from the changing lines (#57, “The Gentle (The Penetrating Wind)” came up a few times). Then he ended with a new poem “Flower of Day.”

After a break, our host Carol Graser returned to the open mic with her poem “House” who is a woman apparently. Wyler Graham got away with 3 poems because his first one was only a 2-liner, then a funny, sometimes rhyming piece “10-Year College Reunion,” then another rhyming piece from his college days “Up in Arms.” Mark W. O’Brien read one of his poems from the 2013 Rootdrinker Poetry Anthology Prometheus Chair, then a poem from his tablet I think was titled “Phrases from Aware.” In honor of Alan’s 64 Changes I read an old, but refurbished poem “Hexagram 13.” Rodney Parrott read a couple of pieces on love, the first more like an essay with images of horses, candles, tongues, another on going, but wanting to stay forever.

Jodi Davis brought her father here tonight so read a poem about learning to ride a bike without training wheels, then from memory “Anticipation of Killing a Fly” written in high school. Lee Gooden read “Prefaces,” social/political commentary inspired by the writings of Hannah Arendt & a conversation heard in a McDonalds. It was Barbara Garro’s 83rd birthday (I may be wrong about that) & had received a number of best wishes throughout the night, read a poem based on a painting “The Heart of Darkness” then a preachy piece titled “Open Space.” Angela was a virgin reader & read a rhyming piece on Jesus & faith “Life’s Memory & Love.” Sally Rhoades shared my table, was the last reader, read about wanting to be outdoors & on the water “This One Night I Awaken,” then a morning poem “Sitting with Joy Harjo” (her book of memoir, not the poet herself).

The poetry open mic at the historic Caffè Lena continues each month on the 1st Wednesday of the month, 7:30PM, with an open mic & featured poets, all for $5.00 — cheap coffee & cookies too!

February 2, 2016

Karl Gluck/Altan Ogniedov (1964 - 2016)

Albany Art Gallery, 2/26/93
That great open mic poetry reading in the sky is getting mighty crowded. I was saddened to hear of the death of Karl D. Gluck, who also wrote as Altan Ogniedov. Karl was an active member of the Albany, NY poetry scene in the very earliest days of the late 1980s, when he was a student a the University at Albany studying Russian language & literature. I used to greet him with the faux Russian I had learned from the Marx Brothers, “Pissanya.”

He was one of the editors of Open Mic: The Albany Anthology (Hudson Valley Writers Guild, 1994) which included 2 of his poems, “So What We All Wear Black” & “Untitled: for Kevin Factor & Mary Ann Murray.” I have a fat file of many poems & correspondence dating from 1988, including a poem he read at the QE2 in Albany (10/22/88) then crumpled up & threw it on the floor. I retrieved it, & others that he gave the same treatment to at other open mics. At a Halloween open mic at the QE2 in 1989 he stripped to his long underwear & a Mayakovsky tee shirt, then to just his underpants, to read a poem about being an exhibitionist; the picture of him in his long underwear was the one used in Open Mic & also appears on my Flickr! site.

Later on he gave me copies of his poems, including an early typed version of Phantasmagoria, with “Altan Ogniedov” as the author. A later version was photocopied, dated 1990, with author(s) as Karl D. Gluck “with Altan Ogniedov.” Eventually this was published as a more conventional poetry chapbook in 1993, by R.E.M. Press with the author as Altan Ogniedgov. In the earliest typed version there was an author’s bio stating Ogniedov was born in Russia in 1964. In the 1993 book version there is this note:
Altan Ogniedov is the alter ego of Karl D. Gluck.
Alton Ogniedov was born after Mr. Gluck’s disastrous love affair and subsequent failed engagement to a certain woman who resides in Moscow. It was this experience that brought about the poems in Phantasmagoria.
Mr. Ogniedov occasionally makes his presence known in Mr. Gluck’s life, forcing him to break into tears at work (as a translator for Russian immigrants and social workers) and other inopportune moments, as well as occasionally writing a poem in Russian for Mr. Gluck who, by the way, has entirely recovered from the “Moscow Incident.”
Albany Art Gallery, 12/7/89
He was the featured reader at the Albany Art Gallery series on Jefferson St., run by Don Levy, in December 1989 & he included in the reading 2 poems in Russian, with English translations, that he gave as hand-outs. His poems were melancholy, angst-ridden (he was in his mid-20s after all), but spiced with sardonic humor & often with references to Russian literature.

In 1991 he self-published a small chapbook of 8 poems, Brooklyn: Brutal Poems from Exile by Altan Ogniedov. Around 1990, after finishing at UAlbany he moved to Brooklyn, but was a frequent visitor to Albany & the poetry readings here. We exchanged a number of letters at that time as he struggled to make his mark on the New York scene. We met & went to a couple readings in the City on my visits there for my job. The most recent poems I have from him are from 2002, after he had married. He & his wife Lan had a daughter, Vivian, then divorced.  In October 2002 he returned to Albany for “7-Year Itch,” a reunion reading at Valentines (the QE2 gone by then) with many of his old friends.

It only seems just that I should end this brief tribute with a poem by Karl (or Altan as he would have it). This is the introductory poem from Phantasmagoria.

Statement of Purpose

I am a poet.
I write.
I know nothing
of computers —
never take the easy
way out.

I am a poet.
I write.
By hand.
In Gothic Blackletter.
On stone.
By candlelight.

I am a fraud.
I scribble in margins
of library books.
In pen.
I avoid bill collectors
and keep my good name
with close collegues
who always have something
“new” to say.
Voice activated IBM’s.

Late at night,
after a hard day
of selling matchsticks
or pencils
from a cup
on street corners
in the rain
I write.
By hand.
In Gothic Blackletter.
On stone.
By candlelight.
And I have
this stolen slogan:

Quality, not quantity.

We chisel a name
for ourselves
the old-fashioned way:

one crack
at a time.

Hey Karl, Pissanya!