February 8, 2017

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, February 1


Last month’s open mic was the first one back in the new, refurbished historical Caffè Lena, but I didn’t make it up to Saratoga Springs then. So it was my first time to see the changes.  No more narrow, treacherous staircase entry between 2 storefronts, the new entrance is up the block, wide, glass doors, a wide, staggered staircase to an entrance outside the performance space. Once in I noticed the stage is where it has been & that part of the room looks pretty much the same, with a new set of steps to the stage. Still the cluster of small tables & chairs, but no more L-shaped room for the audience, now you can see everyone in the room. & there are comfy couches along the back wall, where there are a series of lighted murals depicting Caffè Lena’s history.

Our host, Carol Graser, started us off on the right (i.e., correct) foot with Alice Walker’s poem “Every Revolution Need Fresh Poems.” Then to the open mic sign-up, a long list tonight, & the first poet up was Ivy Darling who read a poem written when she was 12-years old “Eldorado.” Ainsley, who comes out to the open mics in Albany & Troy said that this was her first time here at Caffè Lena, read a piece about being out partying with a friend with a drinking problem. Kate McNairy shared a poem of love & lust & mountain climbing in Winter “Final Assent” then a Fall poem. Sue Jefts made a rare appearance out of the woods & read a poem written after the Women’s March on January 21 “The Tremble.” Eric Krantz began with a rhymed poem, “Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal,” then another in even funnier rhymes on climate change “March Came In Like a Lamb,” then challenged the rules with a third poem titled “Rained Out No Bike Ride Today” that played on the phrase “rained out.”

Tonight’s featured poets, Carol Jewell & Allison Paster-Torres, are that rare breed of writers who are graduates from the short-lived MFA program in creative writing at the College of St. Rose. Both read a set composed of mostly short poems, with little, if any, introductions or glosses on their poems.

Carol Jewell has been coming out to the poetry open mic scene for some time now & I have enjoyed (& even been inspired by) her fascination with & writing of pantoums (more on that later). She said that her poems tonight were on the general topic of “what kills people.” This included a cluster of pantoums, such as “The Embrace,” “Snow” (with a cat), “Attachment” (on a therapist leaving), one about remembering the dead “The Dream,” & one about re-establishing a relationship with her sister “Revelation.” Cats also popped up in a another poem titled “The Pit.” There was sex (“Flashing,” “Furtive”), death (“Brother Memory,” “Carbon Monoxide,” “Survivor”) & poetry (“The Lines, after Adrienne Rich,” “Literary Devices”). Carol has also invented a new poetic form, the “cento pantoum” in which the pantoum is composed of lines from other poets (or your own) & she ended with 2 examples (“Cento Pantoum #1” & “#2”), the second of which was a composed from other poet’s pantoums.

Allison Paster-Torres also reads out at area open mics, but tonight she said she would be mostly reading poems not read out before (many of which were untitled). Love was a big topic (ain’t it always?) & many of the poems sounded like letters or notes (emails?) to the other, such as the poem beginning “the lover after you…,” or the one titled “Tomorrow When This is Over” & others included such things as Nutella & the planets. There were a couple of amusing list poems, “10 Things Condoms Don’t Prevent” & “A Few Things Resistant to Flames.” There was a complex piece, whose title I can’t decipher in my notes, that included a “marmelade Jeep” & references to William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Charles Dickens, Andrew Marvel & others. Even a sprinkling of poems about drinking with friends, or finding pills in her purse. She ended with an “old poem” about hanging out with a friend “The Train Bridge at 8th Avenue North.”

After a break, Carol Graser read one of her own poems “The Icicle” where the title character was not an object described but a character in the poem. Mike Basfore read a tender poem about/to his Mom. Joe DiBari began with a piece about being on a mountaintop in Winter, then to a relationship poem in half-rhymes. Anna Feldstein said her first poem, about being on a lake, was from 2011, while her second poem was written last night, a prose poem about a clock tower & bell. Jodi Davis read a memoir piece about teen-dating violence, then one based on the Greek myths of Aphrodite & Ares, “Love & War.”

Nicola Marae Allain read a prose narrative from her childhood in Tahiti about rescuing & helping to heal a dog that was violently knifed. Joe Bruchac’s poem “Winter Tracks” was to the memory of his father, then a new poem “At the Well” responding the odd notion that one can only have 100 friends. W.D. Clarke was back with 2 of his rhyming narrative poems, the first a tale from his youth in California “The Purloined Ham,” then one about a wedding “The Reception.”

Speaking of centos, Thomas Dimopoulos read one composed from lines from the songs of Tom Waits. Rodney Parrott announced that he has a Twitter page for aphorisms/tweets about the new President Donald Trump & invited folks to contribute, then read a few examples, more literarily aphoristic than most tweets. & speaking of pantoums & Carol Jewell, I read a piece inspired by her obsession with pantoums & in reaction to the prevalence of cats in her poems, the autobiographical “The Pussy Pantoum.”

This was Mz. Tu’s first time here & she gave a dramatic & breathless recitation about lust entitled “Reality & Forbidden Consequents.” James has been coming to the open mic here for years & is known for his haiku & tonight’s cluster included ones about Winter, being in bed, in a restaurant & about his daughter. Another habitué here is Barbara Garro who introduced her new book, Love Bites: a Collection of Poetry (Cambridge Books, 2016) & read the poem “Road Paved with Words” from the book, then a portrait of a “Medicine Woman.” [My reaction to the book’s title, Love Bites, is that the title has an unfortunate (& apparently unforeseen) double entendre in the sense that “bites” is a word that has the negative colloquial meaning of something bad, from its meaning of a wound inflicted by teeth, or an insect, of pain — so perhaps the author has written an entire book of poems about how love bites, or at least how disappointed she has been in her love life.]  Effie Redman brought us bravely home with a poem that I think was titled “Quiet Tulips,” a sort of portrait, or even a biography, of the flower hovered over by a bee, or perhaps a metaphor of sex.

& yes, the old graffiti covered bathrooms of the old Caffè Lena are gone, the new ones down the hall, but, pleased to say, the new graffiti has begun, so bring your Sharpies. & come some 1st Wednesday of any month at 7:30PM (sign-up starts at 7:00PM) for the poetry open mic at Caffè Lena on Phila St., a big new sign will point you to the correct door & check it out for yourself.

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