April 29, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Open Mic, April 22

WordFest had its beginnings as an open mic & the festival has been faithful to this each year with a huge, sometimes marathon, open mic, this year — again — at the UAG Gallery on Lark St. Mary Panza, with help sometimes from her daughter, Julia, served as host, ring-master & dominatrix. Each poet had 5 minutes, some took more, some less, but nobody overdid it, a tribute to the fear that Mary strikes in the heart of long-winded poets.

Alan Catlin began with, of course, bar poems, & a bus stop poem. Tim Stowell admitted he was a poetry virgin & read a sensitive piece “I Thought I Was Aware” about someone dying. Sally Rhoades had a trio of poems that included ones about Joy Harjo & about a full moon. Carole Rossi read about Nature & witches. Nancy Klepsch unwittingly set up a theme with one of her poems “The Invisible Lesbian” from a quote by Eileen Myles. 3 year-old Molly Job made her first attempt to read a poem, then froze (but came back later). In the vaudeville tradition of “you don’t want to follow the kid or the dog act” I was next with a trio of new poems. Don Levy was his political self, warning tongue-in-cheek that “Obama is Coming for Your Guns.”

Tim Stowell on camera
At this point we experienced the first of the traditional no-shows, but there are always poets waiting in the wings for their chance to fill in. Joshua B. stepped up with a just-written  rhyme & then a free-style rhyme. Shannon Shoemaker read the poem she had read at the first WordFest in Thatcher Park. Returning to the theme introduced by Nancy Klepsch Tim Verhaegen did show-&-tell with photos as he read “Talking Shit About Eileen Myles & Other Famous Gay Poets by an Obscure Unknown Gay Poet.” Frank Robinson was hopeful about America & about waking up this morning. Thérèse Broderick read poems about her daughter when she was little. Cheryl Rice’s poems mixed Frida Kahlo & her family, & an old soldier’s story of World War II.

Ed Rinaldi lurking
Tess Lecuyer read a villanelle for Thom’s dog Lilly at the 2010 WordFest. Brian Dorn told us the “23 Reasons Why This Poem Doesn’t Rhyme.” Allison Davenport, a new voice, read poems that she has never read to anyone about her husband’s illness. A.C. Everson who spent the evening in the front row filming the readings, read poems about working in a nursing home & about being an usher at area concerts. Anthony Bernini read about hawks & about glioblastoma. L-Majesty decided at the last second to clean up his act & included poems on food & on his father.

Molly Job, with ample assistance, finally got her poem out (which I hope AlbanyPoets will publish on its website because I missed it). Jonathan Bright read quirky poems about binge-watching TV, & college weirdness. Siobhan Hotaling was another new voice, with poems on food & sex, love & a snake in her bed (sounds ready for more open mics). Steven Minchin read poems about/from “Ever After.” R.M. Engelhardt was, of course, very serious about Poets & Poetry. But he was followed by Annie Sauter who was both sexy & read about sex. Karen Fabiane’s poems were more cerebral & stream-of-conscious. Julie Lomoe read about the local library’s book sale.

Siobhan Hotaling
To fill in for a couple more no-shows, Mary Panza brought up 2 women she had met at the Monday night reading at the Hudson River Cafe; Mary Dickinson Compton read about looking out the window & pondering the letter “I;” her friend Janie Oliver read a couple of self-assertive pieces. Still another new voice was Christine Walkuskie read a Whitman-esque, expansive poem about the New York City subway.

Ed Rinaldi came in from lurking outside & used his hand to count out the rhythms of his poems. Robb Smith brought us to a X-rated close by introducing his new book, available on Amazon.com, Granny Porn (some of us are getting there).

What a night of community poetry! A truly open open mic, with lots of new voices, ranging in age from 3 to 73 (or perhaps beyond).

April 28, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Third Thursday Poetry Night, April 21

Once again I was pleased & honored to have my monthly reading & open mic at the Social Justice Center be folded into the larger, week-long Albany WordFest. I invoked the muse of the gone-too-soon poet C.D. Wright by reading her poem “Obscurity and the Amateur.” Then on to the open mic.

Alan Catlin brought a “pocket poem” he picked up at the library (part of a program for National Poetry Month) Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” then read one of his own from a series of prompts for April, a grim portrait of a meth-addict “April.” Sylvia Barnard read again her poem about the Biblical seer “Anna.” Philomena Moriarty read about a visit to the Florida beach Boca Grande, the poem “Fish” a huge grouper landed by boys.

Poet Dave” was here for the first time, & read a long piece “Unity” about love & humans working together. Pearse Murray turned a short story into a poem titled “Formation” about a child who became a composer so he could invent words.

The featured reader was mid-Hudson poet Tina Barry. She brought — & sold — copies of her collection of poetry & short fiction Mall Flower (Big Table Publishing, 2016), & read a generous selection from the book, beginning with the title poem. Then a poem on divorce “Going South” about a family trip as a child (her sister was in the audience tonight), & a couple sad poems about Dads, “One Bag of Popcorn,” & “Chanukah.” “What’s All This?” was a look back to the less wonderful episode of her teenage years, then one about a disappointing morning in bed, “Your Last Rooster.” She read about visiting an aunt with Alzheimer’s “No Word for Enchantment,” & one not in the book, about her uncle, “Come Back.” A nicely put together reading, & later I was glad to have the book, to read these again, & more.

After a short break, the open mic continued & I read a new poem about books, “Decomposition.” Joe Krausman followed with a poem by Mary Oliver “Wild Geese.” Karen Fabiane, a future-feature here on the third Thursday in June, read the labyrinthine “After Reading the Book Review.” Carole Rossi read about the various uses of a “Bonfire.” Brian Dorn read in rhyme, “Writing Poetry” in honor of WordFest. Our final poet for the night was Richard Propp who read a story worked into a poem about studying German & Classics “Getting F-ed in College.”

Third Thursday Poetry Night happens at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY each third Thursday at 7:30PM, a donation supports poetry & the Social Justice Center.

April 26, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Albany Poets Presents!, April 20

The third in the continuing bi-monthly series at Restaurant Navona on New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY -- this is a relaxed setting for a showcase of an individual poet. I like to get there early, enjoy dinner, wait for the audience to arrive. In February I was pleased & honored to have been the showcased poet.

Tonight’s poet was Wil Gibson, a West Coast wandering troubador, traveling across country doing readings, selling books. He & his companion were delayed on the road by traffic but that just meant there was more time for the rest of us to hang out, even a visitor from D.C. who found the event on the AlbanyPoets calendar. Thom Francis, el presidente of AlbanyPoets, was our host.

Wil Gibson did a free-wheeling reading, beginning with memoirs of his childhood, his mother dying when he was 13 years-old. He read from chapbooks & notebooks, including the poems “Street Corner Gods, Parts 1 & 2” from his undated chapbook Pilgrim from Red Bench Press of Eureka, California, with his traveling buddy Alex Horspool on ukulele.

Alex switched to an alto sax for Wil’s tribute to the gone Beat poet Jack Micheline (1929 - 1998) “A Poem for Razors & Sea Lions,” as well as others. Alex himself read a brief poem from his phone.

Wil's poems frequently referenced “god” & his mother & he is solidly in the Beat tradition, such as “The Right Foot of God” & “To My Students Who Ask Me How to be a Writer.”  In the Q&A session with Thom Francis & the audience, he pointed to his white-trash/truck driver/homeless/drug addict background, but, in addition to the Beats, pointed to Kurt Vonnegut, Stuart Dybek, Gil Scott-Heron, & Tom Waits as inspiration. He lives in Humboldt County, CA but is nostalgic for Chicago & Portland, Maine.

Albany Poets Presents! happens every other month, check the calendar at AlbanyPoets.com for details -- & Support your Wandering Poets!

April 23, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Haiku Battle, April 19

A WordFest tradition for the last 4 or 5 years, this was held as part of the regular twice-a-month Nitty Gritty Slam at The Low Beat. As I settled at the bar next to Kevin Peterson, who ended up as the referee of the battle, I was eager to take on as many Haiku-ists who might show up. Amani O+, our host for the night, had 3 judges lined up & she was ready to go.

Brian Dorn sidled up to the bar, like how they do it in the cowboy movies — or is it in the Samauri movies? — not sure what the proper metaphor would be for a Haiku battle. But that was it. It was gonna be a head-to-head shoot out at The Low Beat Corral — or a sword fight on the slopes of Mt. Fuji — whatever.

Amani as the Nitty Gritty Slam host did her own recently written Haiku to get us started, then our referee Kevin Peterson read one of his Haiku. Kim Dreizehn, our faithful bartender, surprised us with a “Justin's Haiku” (the now-defunct bar where the Slam Battle was held last year).

Then Brian & I took our spots at opposite ends of the stage. Brian’s Haiku frequently referenced other poets, other venues, while I tried to mix mine up with Buddhist Haiku, poetry Haiku, sex & love. We traded rounds through about 7, until Kevin called a final, deciding round.

When the dust settled, the swords sheathed, the sweat wiped from our brows, I was the winner, Brian a formidable opponent. A night of words & fun -- & no blood.

The Nitty Gritty Slam (not the Haiku Battle) takes place each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat, a Slam & an open mic for anyone, about 7:30PM — get there early & get in cheap.

April 22, 2016

WordFest 2016 — Reading at the Hudson River Coffee House, April 18

A day off from poetry, then back in Albany to dive into the week-long Albany WordFest for the second night of readings. Got to the coffeehouse on Quail St. after the reading had started. Harvey Havel was the host & had put the program together. I missed the first reader & got there as Professor Daniel Nester was reading from his memoir of his perpetual adolescence Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, & Other Unlearnable Subjects.

Next up was the ubiquitous Brian Dorn with his signature rhyming poems from his collection From My Poems to Yours, including the title poem, among others, “Sad Poems,” & a wonderful rendition of “Poetry Is Sexy,” accompanied by his wife Laura.

Annie Christain had been my featured poet in March at the Third Thursday & it was good to hear her again, even some of the same poems I enjoyed the first time around. She likes to experiment with different, & unusual, material such as a poem “based on coded personal messages” she explained with the equally odd title “Jokes About Nepalese Villages Often Include Goats.” I was glad to hear again her sound poem “Inside a Handbasket in the Burlesque Theater,” & the imagined back story of John & Yoko’s honeymoon photos “A Maple Gets Red.”

John Thomas Allen is a poet whom I’ve only seen read at events that Harvey Havel puts together, & rarely elsewhere in our busy poetry scene. He said he had just self-published a book of his writings & seemed unnecessarily apologetic about it. A piece titled “The Nun’s Leggos” was a bit of automatic writing, with odd adjectives to make it sound more surreal. In fact his work has that surreal quality in the style of André Breton, with a hint of William S. Burroughs cadence thrown in. One piece referenced the surrealist Robert Desnos, another Frank Stanford, & all seemed tinged with Roman Catholic images & references.

More WordFest coming up all week. Check AlbanyPoets.com for a full schedule.

Split This Rock, 2016 Evening Reading, Saturday, April 16

This was my last event at Split This Rock, the evening reading back in Grosvenor Auditorium at National Geographic. Sonya Renee Taylor, Member of the Split This Rock Board of Directors was the M.C., & the night’s remembered gone poet was Maya Angelou.

Gaelyn Smith was the Youth Poet for tonight, with an introspective poem in which she said “nothing I write has a gun or a body in it…” & pondered whether it was selfish to write while others die. As with the other youth poets who read throughout the Festival, her work, like theirs, should convince any doubters that great poetry will continue to be written, as long as these young writers keep writing.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, whom I’d seen earlier at the Gwendolyn Brooks panel, read 3 quietly moving poems, a love poem “Matters of the Heart,” a poem published in the April 2016 Poetry “When I Think of Tamir Rice while Driving,” & “What We Know of Horses” about his brother in prison. What struck me most was that Betts confronted the issues of race & race murders in a meditative way that others who had read earlier confronted with spit & shouts.

Speaking of quiet readers Ocean Vuong has a soft, almost whispered voice, that can lead you to a contemplative place of vivid images. He started with a poem he says he always starts with, “Head First,” in the voice of his mother if she could write a poem, then the poem he had read on Friday about his parents “A Little Closer to the Edge,” & “To My Future Son.” He finished with an equally meditative, & richly imagined “Ode to Masturbation,” to the occasional whoop & holler from some members of the audience.

Nikky Finney also showed how to write about racism in America in bright, descriptive images without smashing us over the head with her rhetoric. She began by mentioning the writer/activist Gia Shakur & read her “Ultimatum,” then her own poem as Elder giving instructions to young, black poets. Another richly descriptive poem was about 3 young black boys playing, leaping, a poem of joy but with a dark edge. Another was a love/sex poem in surreal images of the earth & fruit. She ended with 2 poems for black females, “Abondant” for the first female Iraq war death, who was a suicide,” & a new, unfinished, rough draft, as she described it, “Pirate Jenny” for the Black Girl Genius movement.

Another fabulous reading, at the end of a fabulous day, at the end of fabulous Festival — Thank movers & shakers & planners of Split This Rock! (did I say it was fabulous?).

Keep at it.

April 21, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 Afternoon Reading, Saturday, April 16

Back to the Grosvenor Auditorium at National Geographic for the afternoon featured reading, Teri Cross Davis of the Split This Rock Advisory Committee the M.C. She began with a tribute to the gone poet Philip Levine with a recording of him reading his poem about standing in a work line recognizing his brother.

Youth poet Henri Lozano recited a moving portrait of his hard-working, old-fashioned grandmother.

Dawn Lundy Martin read from her most recent book Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, then a powerful multi-media piece on racism with a film projected behind her, starting with the image of a near-naked black man putting on red high-heels & dancing in them, images of riots, & the names of murdered black men & women.

Martha Collins read from her new book Admit One: An American Scrapbook, a prodigiously researched book-length poem about the history of scientific racism from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis through the eugenics movement of the 1920s. She read a couple sections, including the one dealing with the story of Ota Benga, an African pygmy “human exhibit,” mixing historical documents with poetry in the tradition of investigative poetry. It was one of the few books I bought at the festival (one has to make choices).

As you would expect from someone who is a 2-time Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion (2012 & 2014), Dominique Christina gave the most strident, if unrelenting, performance. Her poems dealt entirely with racist/misogynist murder & death, such as a poem based on the real-life person that Maya Angelou based one of her characters on, a poem, “Stones,” for murdered girls from Saudi Arabia to here, & the heart-breaking litany “Mothers of Murdered Sons.”

As good as this was, there was another reading to follow later in the evening.

April 20, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 — Saturday Sessions — April 16

DC Worker Poets Occupy the Mic

The 3 sessions on Saturday started at 9:30AM (each session had 7 to 8 different events) but I slept in. But I got to one of the 11:30 sessions, “DC Worker Poets Occupy the Mic” hosted by Mark Nowak & including Worker Poets of DC.

He introduced Christine Lewis from Domestic Workers United who was in D.C. for another conference & is active with the United Association for Labor Education.  She read us a couple of marvelous poems, the pantoum “The Price of Migration Equals Slave Labor” & the brightly descriptive “Trinidad,” where she is from.

Mark talked about his experience doing writing workshops for workers not only in the USA but also in South Africa, where there is a stronger tradition of worker education programs. He directed us to WorkerWriters.org for more information. Then he gave us a brief writing assignment, as he had done earlier with the DC worker poets, after reading & passing out copies of a poem by Lourdes Galván “Landscapes that Remind Me of My Children.” He then asked us to write about something in our own lives that the poem, with its theme of hunger, reminded us of (I wrote about an incident with a street person & lunch).

(left to right) Carina, Rocky, Olu, Urika, Mazeema, Mark
Next he brought up writers who had been in the earlier workshop to read what they had written in response to the same assignment.

Urika read “Smalltown USA.” [Not sure I got the spelling correct of each person’s name] Mazeema read a poem titled “Blueberries.” Rocky wrote about a Summer job with a carnival, “High Dive.” Carina wrote about her native country, “Panama is a Very Unique Country.” Olu, from the D.C. Nurses Union wrote about the power in her pen & in her stories, the anaphoric “Washington D.C.”

Not only some very good poetry, but a start on a poem of my own.

The Golden Shovel: Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks

The next session was in the same room, the Ballroom of the Beacon Hotel. "The Golden Shovel" is a form created by poet Terrance Hayes in which he uses the words of Gwendolyn Brooks' poem “We Real Cool” as the end words for the lines of his poem. Other poets have picked up the practice, a testament to the continuing influence of Brooks. The panel coordinator was Wesley Rothman.

Ravi Shankar read from his introduction to the forthcoming Golden Shovel Anthology, of which he is the editor, shedding a bit more light on this 21st Century form.

(left to right) Rothman, Umansky, Verlee,
Shankar, Butts
I was pleased to see Leah Umansky again; I’d met here at a reading she did last year in Saratoga with Barbara Ungar & Nancy White. She talked about the power & politics of Brooks & her work, of her great example for other women, & read “The Love Orphan” from her new book.

Wesley Rothman talked about The Shawshank Redemption & about the criminal justice system, then read his Golden Shovel “Justice.”

Jeanann Verlee read Brooks’ “Song in the Front Yard,” & read her Golden Shovel based on that poem, “Careful the Blood.”

Reginald Dwayne Butts’ Golden Shovel was based on Brooks’ "Gay Chaps at the Bar."

The discussion afterwards clarified that any poet’s work can be used, & it could be an entire poem, or just a stanza, or a line that gets encoded in the Golden Shovel. I’ll give it try, perhaps on the Langston Hughes line from which Split This Rock gets its name — but don’t ask for it just yet.

April 19, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 Featured Reading, Friday Night, April 15

I mentioned in my Blog on the Thursday sessions that I was surprised to see the name of Albany poet Paul Weinman in the list in the program of poets who have passed away since Split This Rock, 2014, & was surprised  -- again -- when I saw his picture among the slide show of these gone poets that was shown in the Grosvenor Auditorium of the National Geographic building as folks gathered for tonight's reading.

Tonight’s Master of Ceremonies was Split This Rock Board of Directors Chair, Dan Vera, who started off the night paying tribute to the gone poet/activist John Trudell with a recording of Trudell reading “Shapes of the Earth.”

Again, the reading started off with a performance by one of the DC Youth Poets, tonight Cedric “Remedy” Harper, who did a piece about reacting to a black child’s laughter.

He was followed by the 2016 Split This Rock contest winner, Lauren K. Alleyne, who read her winning poem “Self Portrait with NeoNazi Demonstration” riffing on “black.”

Jan Beatty is one of the perennial hits at Split This Rock & she was back again with her sassy, funny, in-your-face-with-humor poetry. A few of her pieces took on her own tendency for anger, such as “Shooter” which was a list of men who had exploited/harassed her, a chilling vignette about a 12 year-old at an abortion clinic, “Abortion With Gun Barrell.” “Dear American Poetry” was also angry, scurrilous, & speaking of Poetry, read her poem “Stricken” from the April 2016 issue, again a poem with a gun in it but sad & tender. Also tender was “The Kindness” & the anaphoric “Against Suicide.” She ended with a sexy memoir piece about being pissed on at a concert by Jim Morrison, “Drinking the Lizard King.”

Jennifer Bartlett (see my Blog about the eco-poetry panel) was the next reader. She draws heavily on her experience with C.P. & just being a person living a world that has its own ideas about what she should do. Her first piece played on expressions like “to be crippled,” & comments like “your child must be angry because you are disabled.” Another piece was written for the annual New Years Day Marathon reading at the Poetry Project in NYC, a “controversial” piece about a relationship, & about being upset by a scene in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. (On the train on Sunday I ran into her & her son & we found that we shared a love of the work of Charles Olson.)

The final performer for the night — & he had to be the final performer — was Regie Cabico (who can follow him), who pranced unto the stage to disco music & flashing lights, wearing a feather boa & spangling pants. His first piece was titled “Lucifer Does Stand Up Comedy in the Garden of Paradise” (much like himself). His work is full of pointed humor, with his queer Asian point-of-view, such as the poems “He’s Gonna Fuck Him” & “Arctic Lover.” He also read his poem from the April 2016 Poetry “Daylight Saving Time Flies Like an Instagram of a Weasel Riding a Woodpecker & You Feel Everything Will Be Alright.” He ended by handing out chocolates to persons with chose Zodiac signs, & then reciting a poem as a Nina Simone tune played in the background.

Who says poetry isn’t fun?

April 18, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 — Friday Sessions — April 15

A Public Action — Take Poetry to the Streets

There is always a public action at each Split This Rock festival, & this year it was titled “Take Poetry to the Streets!” Or, as Sarah Browning called it, “dropping poetic love-bombs on the streets of the nation’s capital.” Prior to the event we were encouraged to write a poem “of love & welcome” or to find one by another poet that we would then read on the streets.

I was asked to be one of the group leaders, & led a group of 7 to the area around the Metro station at Dupont Circle to read our poems, & to hand out flyers that contained a poem or an excerpt of a poem as well as information about the festival. I re-wrote my old poem “Labels & Names” for the broader message of love & welcome & had made copies to hand out to the other readers & on the street. My fellow poets were Kelsay May, John Rosenwald, Melissa Tuckey, Martha Collins, Katie, & Sunu with her young granddaughter, Satya, who did not read poems but helped with the flyers.

As with most street actions like this, most people rushed by on their way to work or appointments with little acknowledgment of what we were doing, but one fellow in a blue Bernie Sanders tee-shirt stood with us & listened to the readings.  While some folks refused to take the flyer, others grabbed it on the fly, some did a quick glance at the flyer & the readers, & one person said, “Split This Rock? I love Split This Rock!” But we love-poem bombed the streets of D.C.

Then back to headquarters for more poetry.

Poet’s Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process

Ocean Vuong, Arcelis Girmay, Martha Collins,
Jennifer Bartlett & Lindsay Garbutt
Down to the AFL-CIO building for a reading of by Split This Rock poets published in the April 2016 issue of Poetry magazine (each person registered for the festival got a copy). Sarah Browning introduced Lindsay Garbutt, Assistant Editor of Poetry magazine, who served as the moderator.

First to read was Jennifer Bartlett, a disability activist, poet & biographer of the late poet Larry Eigner. I recall reading a piece by Jennifer on Larry Eigner in a Poetry issue last year. She read from her poem “The Hindrances of a Householder” in the Split This Rock Poetry issue.

Martha Collins was a familiar face & voice from past Split This Rock festivals, who writes on race issues from a white, middle-class perspective. Her poem, “Leaving Behind (November 2015),” from the journal, was a segment from a multi-year project to write about each month of the year, each section of the poem about a day of the month, & with the last word in each day’s section becoming the first word in the next day’s section.

Arcelis Girmay read her poem, “to the sea,” from the journal, in an afterworld sea, with references to Pushkin’s black great grandfather. She also read the last section of her poem “The Black Maria” (she had read the 1st section at last night’s feature reading).

Ocean Vuong read both of his poems from the journal, “A Toy Boat” & “A Little Closer to the Edge” (about, as he said, “witnessing” his parents from the time before he was born).

In the discussion & questions that followed on the topic of political poems, poets & audience members referenced a wide-range of poets: Denise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Robert Hayden, Walt Whitman, Jean Valentine, Larry Eigner, & Charles Olson.

Jennifer Bartlett said, “my whole life is a political poem,” while Ocean Vuong said that every poem he writes is like a new beginning.

A Preview Reading from Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Anthology

Martin Espada, Ross Gay, Tiffany Higgins,
Craig Santos Peres & Emmy Perez
Back again later to the AFL-CIO building for this reading by poets whose work is to be included in the forthcoming anthology of eco-justice poems, edited by Split This Rock co-founder Melissa Tuckey who served as moderator. She referenced the January 2016 issue of Poetry magazine that includes a number of poems by poets on this panel, with an introductory essay by Melissa. To start, she read Lucille Clifton’s poem “Generation,” & her own poem “Magnitude.”

Ross Gay had read last night & his poems this afternoon were just as exuberant, just as grounded in the earth, such as the poem “To the Fig Tree on 9th & Christian” or the one about putting his father’s ashes in a hole to plant a tree in.

Emmy Pérez read a ghazal, mixing Spanish & English, from a project centered on the Rio Grande, then another also on water issues, “Staying in the Flood.” After her own poems she read Linda Hogan’s “Milk;” Linda had been scheduled to read at the festival, & was included in the April Split This Rock issue of Poetry, but she had to cancel attending due to health issues.

Tiffany Higgins read from the January 2016 Poetry, first her translation from the Portuguese of Angélica Freitas’ poem “microwave,” then a electric reading of her own poem “Dance, Dance, While the Hive Collapses” complete with eery buzzing sounds. She is an environmental activist who later this year will be heading to Brazil to work against the flurry of dam-building happening there.

Craig Santos Perez had also read last night, in which he got the audience involved in the performance of the poem, & started off his reading this afternoon with a thank-you list poem “Thanksgiving in the Anthropocene” which included the audience holding hands & repeating lines from the poem. He read poems about the Cyclone Winston, another about the elephants, then “Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015” included in the April 2016 Poetry.

Martin Espada read the Spanish then an English translation of a poem titled “Los Rios” by a Latin American poet, then his own poem on “the colonization of the mind” about visiting Puerto Rico as a young boy, & a poem about a worker in the field poisoned by pesticides, “Federico’s Ghost.”

In the time left Melissa kept Linda Hogan in the room by reading Hogan’s poem “Bamboo.”

April 16, 2016

Split This Rock, 2016 — Featured Readings — April 14

One of the traditions here at Split This Rock is the evening featured readings. While there is a fee to attend the daytime panels, discussions & workshops, the evening readings are free & open to the public.

This night’s reading, at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium, was hosted by the indomitable Sarah Browning, & began with a tribute to gone poet Francisco X. Alarcón, with his image on the screen & his recorded voice filling the room.

And as is the tradition here, the night began with a reading by one of the DC Youth Poets, Bobby Johnson, with a spirited piece about a teacher honoring the black boys killed by reading their names, but not that of any black girls.

Next was the 2015 Split This Rock poetry contest winner, Sarah Brickman, reading her poem printed in this year’s program, “Letter from the Water at Guantanamo Bay.”

The first of the main features was Aracelis Girmay, & she began with a poem by Kendall Hippolyte, “It’s Like Wind.” She read from her book, from a cycle of poems about people crossing the Mediterranean Sea, “Prayer & Letter to the Dead.” Then from another cycle about a young, black astronomer being harassed by the police “The Black Maria.”

Craig Santos Perez is a poet/eco-activist from Guam. His reading was memorable for 2 pieces, among others, in which he engaged the audience, “Spam’s Carbon Footprint” in which he humorously worked in Guam’s obsession with Spam to the island’s fragile ecological status, complete with a can of Spam centerstage, & “Somebody Colonized the Pacific,” a poem of provocation in which the audience joined in shouting “who.”

The final poet for the night was Ross Gay, who used his time well performing the exuberant & cosmic “Catalogue of Unabsolved Gratitude” (also the title of his book), proving that one can, with energy & meaning — & good lines, of course — keep the audience’s interest in a long poem. He ended with a short poem about Eric Garner, how as a former parks worker he planted plants that help us to breathe.

What a reading — what a day — what a festival!

Split This Rock, 2016 — Thursday Sessions — April 14

Celebrating the Poetry of Pat Parker

A beautiful day in the nation’s capitol for the beginning of Split This Rock 2016 & signing-in is always a time for hugs, greeting old friends, & getting introduced to new ones. As always there are more sessions of interest than there are ways for me to be at more than one. At the last minute I switched over to a session titled “Celebrating the Poetry of Pat Parker” mainly because I wasn’t familiar with her life & work.

The panel was chaired by Cheryl Clarke who introduced Parker’s work by reading from her long poem “Women’s Slaughter.” Parker (1944 - 1989) was a black, lesbian feminist poet, active in Oakland CA.  While her books are currently out-of-print there is a planned edition of her collected works coming out later this year.

Kazim Ali read from his essay on Parker & her work from the Journal of Lesbian Studies, & read from her book Jonestown & Other Madness. He pointed out that Parker was involved with publishing other writers whose work would likely have been lost. He talked about how there was little or no separation between Parker’s writing about her personal life & the larger world of social activism.

Bettina Judd said she was introduced to Parker’s work by an essay by Cheryl Clarke. She read Parker’s short poem “Brother” & another section from “Women’s Slaughter,” commenting on Parker’s writing on domestic violence, & her work with women’s health issues in the Oakland community. You can find one of Judd’s poems here.

The discussion that followed centered on the issue of community & the changes due to economics & other factors over the years, & the need to continue to get the work out of marginalized/unknown writers.

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from this paradise into the next: Tributes to Poets Lost Since Split This Rock 2014

This was not the session I had intended to go to either, but I happened to read the list of names in the back of the festival program of poets who had gone since the last STR & saw that it included that of Albany’s own Paul Weinman. I asked Sarah Browning about it but she wasn’t familiar with Paul or how his name got on the list. I could not find any of Paul’s poems online (not surprising, since all of his work was published in ephemeral small-press zines in the days just before the internet), but at least my photos are there.

Sarah chaired the session, with the goal of creating a cento composed of lines from the poets honored, & beginning with the line from Francisco X. Alarcón (1954 - 2016) mountains/will speak/for you//rain/will flesh/your bones. Kim Roberts paid tribute to Belle Waring (1951 - 20115), who had read at the 1st Split This Rock, by reading Waring’s poem “The Forgery,” about an incident in the emergency room where she had worked as an RN, & Karen Alenier read “Roman du Poisson.” Kit Bonson read Eduardo Galeano’s short poem “The Body.” Kazim Ali brought C.D. Wright (1949 - 2016) into the room with her poem “Crescent.”

In lieu of a poem by Paul Weinman I talked a little about his work & told abut a few of the string of many anecdotes I could’ve told, grateful for the chance to do this. Others read poems by Justin Chin (1969 - 2015), & Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014). John Rosenwald talked about the tax-resistor work of Henry Braun (1930 - 2014) & of Galway Kinnell (1927 - 2014), Kazim read Galway’s poem “Vapor Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond” & Jeffrey Davis read “St. Francis & the Sow.”

Sarah returned to Francisco X. Alarcón to read his poem “Prayer,” then brought poet Jose “Joe” Gouveia into the room, reading the quote printed in the Split This Rock program, “Let us embrace our joys now, impatient for an end that comes as slowly as a single bare footstep against the wild fields” & recalling a memorable panel discussion with Joe on the topic of poetry rants.

A woman from South Africa talked about a little-known rural South African activist poet who has gone, Mafika Gwala. Another poet brought in was Carolyn Kizer (1925 -2014).

Sarah read the cento that had been constructed & said it would be posted (eventually) on SplitThisRock.org, but in the meantime, here is the photo of it.

April 15, 2016

Juan Felipe Herrera, April 13

Pre-opening night for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington D.C. was a lecture by US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera at the palatial Library of Congress. Some of us were sad to see that this was billed as “A Final Lecture”, but we were thrilled to hear from David S. Mao, Acting Librarian of Congress, in his introductory remarks that Herrera will remain on for a second term. I had seen him read recently at Skidmore College in March & was excited to see him again.

Tonight, his lecture was titled "Pioneers of Flowers & Song," a tribute to his mentors & compañeros in the poetry scene, many now gone. He read poems, showed photos, & told stories, beginning with Francisco X. Alarcón (1954 - 2016), a poet & translator of Aztec texts — “flowers & songs” being the Aztec translation of “poetry.” Herrera’s “lecture” was accompanied by photos including of paintings based on Aztec hieroglyphs, images from the great Mexican muralists, such as Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, & the poet/muralist Jose Montoya, as well as pictures of his father, mother, aunts, even his 1st grade school photo, as well as those of the poets to whom he paid tribute.

He repeated the wonderful story of his father learning English by buying words for a penny from a friend in the field, & a tale of his mother singing & reciting poetry while serving dinner, & the wonderful conjunction of Anthony Quinn, Pancho Villa & his mother leaving Mexico the same time. He read poems & excerpts from many poets, including Ray Gonzalez, Gloria Velazquez (“Superwoman Chicana”), Victor Martinez, Gary Soto, & others, even a poem by his uncle, “Street Conversation.” He talked about growing up & learning to write poetry, giving loose-leaf school paper to friends to write poems, to “re-write the map” as one put it, he said, “the world was our workshop.” Like the earlier reading at Skidmore, it was another wonderful reading/performance/conversation, more like your Chicano uncle telling you stories than what we have heard in the past by “Poets Laureate.”

Sarita Gonzalez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Elena Medina
As if that wasn’t wonderful enough, Herrera introduced us to New Pioneers of Flower & Song, 2 young Chicana poets, Sarita Sol Gonzalez, & Elena Izcalli Medina, poets he had discovered on his travels reading & speaking across the country. Sarita, 11-years old from Albuquerque, NM, read her poems “Remember” & “Mentors,” moving & mature work that had the audience cheering & on their feet.

Elena, 12 years-old from Chula Vista, CA read “Elegy” for her grandfather that began & ended with a brief ukulele accompaniment, a piece as much about immortality & social justice as about her grandfather, that had her in tears (& members of the audience as well). The night ended with Juan reading with Sarita & Elena an “exquisite corpse” done by email that they titled “The Earth Is Ours & Ask Us Many Things.”

I am pleased that Herrera will continue for another year as our Poet Laureate, but even more pleased that the young poets Sarita Gonzalez & Elena Medina have burst on the scene, & hope to have to buy their poetry books in the future.  All are Pioneers of Flower & Song.

April 12, 2016

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, April 10

For the National Poetry Month edition of this monthly series at the Arts Center in Troy there were 17 writers signed up to read, poetry &/or prose.

Sylvia Barnard was first on the list & read her poem about the only woman in the Bible who was identified as a “prophet” Anna, then the poem “Grave Stele” from a visit to the Kerameikos Museum in Athens. Sandra Rouse read 2 poems from her continuing series about birds, “Catch the Light” & “A Murder of Crows.” I followed with my poem about the end of Don Levy’s reading series at the Pride Center “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” then a new poem that was actual driving directions, “How to Find Clit Court.” Mike Conner read poems by others, one about using a rotary phone, the other Archibald MacLeish’s classic “Ars Poetica.” Howard Kogan read what he described as a combination essay & short story, poetic & humorous “Peanuts & Your Heart.”

Cathy Abbott shared 2 of her brief, quirky pieces, the first about “fools” then one directed at a “Cheater.” My co-host Nancy Klepsch read a revised version of her poem “When Rubylith Changed Her Name to Lith” that she had read last month, then read an interesting exercise from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop in which she deconstructed an essay. Kate Laity read a sad, short story, “Pink,” that can be found on the on-line journal Spelk. Kathy Smith’s “Rough Cut” was a dark piece about a boy & a horse, & “A Conversation” she said was a prayer deconstructed from a Leonard Cohen song. Matt Ryan joined us once again, read “Rehab” then the rhymed piece “Your Favorite Meth Band Sucks.”

I think this was the first time here for Bob Harlow & he began with a poem (based on a line from poet Weldon Kees, 1914 - 1955) about a party hostess, then a long, discursive piece about finding (gay?) men on a beach “Wellfleet, A Love Story.” Karen Fabiane read poems from her books, “54 Fuxx” about a trans-gender man, & “Chloe,” another love poem. Allison Paster-Torres read a new poem about a bar conversation “2 On the Rocks” & the funny list poem “10 Things Condoms Don’t Prevent.” Bob Sharkey began with “Essay on Poetry” but set as an anecdote in a doctor’s office, then a piece about one of his aunts, “Understanding Anita.” Somewhere along the line Nancy & I had skipped over Joel Best’s name on the list but he was good-humored about it; his first piece was like a fantasy tale set in a castle after some sort of revolution, then a piece that was the musings of a woman persona “Packing for the After-Life.”

Also skipped over, but returned to her rightful place, was Ainsley Pinkowitz, who told us the tale of exchanging diaries with a friend & former lover then finding it years later & wrote her reactions in a poem, then read a new love poem. Peggy LeGee read a rhyming poem about schizophrenia “Mind-Cluttered World,” then a self-assertive, humorous poem “The Traney Christ.”

Most months of the year 2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose happens at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy, NY — free! I think you can figure when & what time.