November 29, 2016

Community of Writers, November 20

This is an annual event held at the Schenectady County Public Library, sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & the Friends of the Library, & is coordinated by Catherine Norr & Alan Catlin. I was the MC for the event this year. There were 6 writers in a variety of genres, poetry & prose, a reflection of the great variety of literary talent we have in this area.

Appropriately enough, first up was poet Brian Dorn who not only attends most, if not every, poetry open mic in the area, but is also one of the organizers of the annual Day of the Poet contest held at the Colonie Library the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He read a sample of his rhyming poems from his collection From My Poems to Yours (The Live Versions).

Next we turned to prose & Susan Morse who began with an essay/memoir from childhood about the death of her dog, “Escaping Limbo.” Then she had us in hysterics over a mis-understood plan for a tree for the annual Festival of Trees at the Albany Institute of History & Art with a piece titled “Merry Cat-mas.”

Back to poetry from Sarah Provost, whose collection of poems is titled Inland, Thinking of Waves (Cleveland State University Press). She read poems of childhood & hurricanes, as well poems of love & sex just to spice up the afternoon.

Carl Filbrich is the author of a mystery novel set in Las Vagas, The Heavenly Casino from which he read the first chapter effectively teasing us. The story centers around a Las Vegas reporter, John Holiday, & the murder of preacher who had planned on opening a Christian-themed casino.

Jordan Smith has published 7 collections of his poetry, including the 2011 The Light in the Film (University of Tampa Press) & the digital Clare’s Empire (the Hydroelectric Press). His poetry covered a wide range of figures & topics, from John Brown to coffee, Mozart, the election & the death of Garcia Lorca, even some references to his own fiddle-playing.

We ended with more poetry from Judith Prest. She read mainly from her new collection of poems & photographs, Elemental Connections, generally short poems, & managed to squeeze in some political poems as well. As a nature photographer she has also published an attractive calendar for 2017, from Spirit Wind Press.

This Community of Writers reading in Schenectady is a welcome start to the holiday season (it is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year), particularly if you want to start your Xmas shopping early with books from local authors.

November 25, 2016

Third Thursday Poetry Night, November 17

If it weren’t for our featured poet, Karen Schoemer, it would’ve been guys-only in the house. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do like a little diversity in the audience. But first I had to invoke the Muse, another gone poet, this the recently gone Dan Lawlor, who would on occasion attend the Sunday Four Poets series (itself now gone as well) in Voorheesville, & I read his poem “The Waterfall,” happily provided to me by Alan Casline.

Speaking of whom, Alan Casline was our first reader in the open mic with a rhyming “Song of the Game of Shadow.” Mark O’Brien’s poem “Tell Me You Remember” was like a letter to a loved one. Richard Jerin has become a regular here & read a dream poem titled “I Write to the Wind.” Bob Sharkey read about a drive through farm land looking for a place to pee “Between the Blue Lands.” Joe Krausman has been finding poems he didn’t remember writing, such as “She Just Stepped Out” inspired by a woman who stepped off a mountain in Kashmir.

This was Todd Johnson’s first time here & he read a lush poem of loss “Murmur.” It’s been quite a while since W.D. Clarke joined us here at the Social Justice Center but we were pleased to hear one of his rhyming narrative ballads, this based on a true, Western story, about the burial of “Tommy.” My poem was also a true tale, set at the Old Songs Festival“Who Lost A Bra at the Folk Festival?”

Tonight’s featured poet, Karen Schoemer, was the lone woman in the room tonight, & the first thing she did was to take control & ask the guys to fill up the front of the room rather than sitting in the back. She began with the poem “Solstice” talking about feelings in a relationship & filled with the everyday details of the world around her, which set the pattern for the rest of her poems, such as “Diane Arbus” which began describing a photo exhibit, but then about herself. A couple of the poems used the setting of a bar as a jumping off place, as in “Sycamore Bar” in which the smell of whiskey reminded her of her father, & “Hotel La Pinta” written to go with music. She is ever the observer in her poems, like “A Room with a Prayer” about a woman but then spinning out to a grim urban setting. & she is always the center of her poems, hard to tell if she is talking about others or herself, or just some poetic persona, like in “What’s Inside What I Already Know” or the aptly titled “Narcissus.” She ended with the dream-like “November Sun” which was the winner of the 2015 HVWG Poetry Contest.

The Third Thursday Poetry Night happens at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY at 7:30PM with a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us each month on the, not to be redundant, third Thursday. Bring a poem.

November 18, 2016

Writing War & Peace, November 12

Bertha Rogers, the impresario of the Bright Hill Literary Center of the Catskills, organized this event as the “First Annual Day for Veterans & Communities.”  All the readers were veterans who had served in the US military.

I had met Marc Levy through our mutual friend & Vietnam veteran Dayl Wise, who with World War II veteran Jay Wenk had also been scheduled to read but were unable to be here. Marc has a detailed website, Medic in the Green Time, that not only includes his own work — writing & photography — but that of other veterans.  He read a number of pieces from his experience in Vietnam -- about being on patrol, portraits of young Vietnamese boys & girls, on making GI coffee & eventually "Heading Home."  He also described his project of recording his dreams, both of Vietnam & post-war, including one with Donald Trump in it. His poems are descriptive, deeply personal, event secret, & always moving.

Suzanne Rancourt is a veteran of both the Marine Corps & the Army. She read from a large manuscript of loose, un-paginated sheets, bedizened with multi-colored tabs & stickies. The poems were interwoven with her commentary on her life & musings about art, writing & healing, including on her experience of being raped & her own murderous rage in reaction to a break-in at her home. She said that a lot of these poems hadn’t been read out before. She also discussed her experiences as a practitioner & scholar of Express Arts. At one point she had members of the audience randomly choose poems from her unbound manuscript & her poem “On My Way Home” ended up being read twice, a message perhaps from the poetry gods.

Like Marc, Richard Levine is also a Vietnam combat veteran & began his reading with some poems from that experience, including the grimly descriptive “Field Bandage” & “Triage.” He also read from his 2012 Bright Hill Press chapbook A Tide of a Hundred Mountains the poems “A Mother Welcomes a Son Home from War” & “Disturbing the Peace” about 2 veterans in a bar in Brooklyn. He also read some new pieces, “Fire a Village,” “Graceland” a chilling piece about seeing someone who looked like a comrade who had been killed in Vietnam (with references to Michael Herr’s Dispatches & “the rock’n’roll war”), & “Reaching to the Horizon” about the war 30 years after.  Richard divides his time now between Brooklyn & upstate New York.

I read a variety of pieces that addressed war, both that of Vietnam & our more recent invasions, & peace, beginning with an old rant “Richard Nixon Must Die” & ending with the painfully current “When Donald Trump Farts” — perhaps the two poems could be mashed up into one mega-political, anti-fascist epic, “When Donald Trump Farts Richard Nixon Dies” (or any combination thereof).

I was proud to be a part of such a program of poets & artists whose work I admire, especially that of the indomitable pink-haired Bertha Rogers.

The Bright Hill Press & Literary Center is a whirling literary & artistic vortex located at 94 Church St., Treadwell, NY — check it out when you can.

November 14, 2016

Arthur’s Market Poetry Open Mic, November 9

We all agreed that it was a good thing to gather for a night of poetry on the evening of the morning after the night before, away from talking heads & charts & numbers & maps. Our host Catherine Norr broke out in song to get us into the open mic. Richard Jerrin began with a poem written in the cold (with his gloves on?) one of love & longing, then a longer fragmented piece titled “He’s New.”

One of the group of young writers who frequently gather at the long table to workshop & socialize, Brittany Moesbe read a piece of short prose fiction “Envelope” about reluctance to open a letter from a past love. Carol Jewell is the master of the pantoum & read 2, “The Ox Herder,” & “Cento Pantoum #2” an impressive tour-de-force of repeating lines from a variety of poets (& a variation on the form she has staked out as her own). Ginny Folger addressed what many of wanted to do this morning “Sleeping in Late of a Morning.”

Another of the young students, Shayla Clark, read 2 pieces having to do with identity & defining herself as an artist, “Artist’s Rivalry” & “Ethnic.” Rocko read a short piece on misunderstanding “Whatever Was Meant.” Brian Dorn responded with a poem (in rhyme, of course) about uncertainties “Whatever Will Be.”

Melody Davis was the night’s featured poet. She began with a series of haiku from her collaboration with visual artist Harold Lohner, “One Ground Beetle,” currently at The Word & Image Gallery” in Treadwell, NY, then on to poems from her 2 books. From The Center of Distance (Nightshade Press) she read a poem of New Orleans, “The Camellia Grill, & from Brooklyn “Persistance.” From Holding the Curve (Broadstone) she read another Brooklyn poem, the grim “Casualty,” then the much more hopeful “Why I Teach Children Poetry,” a poem about watching CSI with her daughter, and a poem filled with math images “The Trigonometry of Children.” “Sugar” is a self-portrait “crown of sonnets” filled with the images of sweets, taking her through the ages 9 to 13, then she ended appropriately enough for this night-after with the last poem in the book, “Blessing.”

Catherine Norr returned us to the open mic after a break with poems from her book from Finishing Line Press Return to Ground, one of my favorites, “Mississippi Riverside Chat” then the title poem, drawn from a dream. Carol Graser read from her book The Wild Twist of Their Stems (FootHills Publishing) the chant-like “I Give You Birth.” Don Levy is quick on the draw & already has a poem about the elections “The Thing from The Poseidon Adventure is Called the Morning After.” I also read a post-election poem, but one written many elections back, “The Elect Shun Mourning & Celebrate.”

Jackie Craven read a piece of short prose, a poetic bread recipe from “Mrs. Knickerbokcer” from her new book of short fiction from Omnidawn Publishing Our Lives Became Unmanageable.  Susan Kress read “on the theme of hopeless dread”, the ghostly “Open House.” Bill Notro said he usually writes songs, then read a dark murder story in rhyme that hadn’t been set to music, then another rhyme, just written now, another “morning after piece” of a more aggressive orientation. Oh well.

This series is in the Stockade Section of Schenectady at Arthur’s Market each 2nd Wednesday at 7:30PM, an open mic & usually a featured poet. Free.