May 22, 2017

Bennington Translates: Eliot Weinberger, May 17


I’m a fan of the translations, essays & poetry of Eliot Weinberger so when my comrade-in-poesy & now Bennington, VT resident, Charlie Rossiter, told me that Weinberger would be giving a lecture in the series Bennington Translates at Bennington College we made a date to go. After drinks & a lovely dinner at the home of Charlie & his wife, Mary Ellen Munley, & their guests from Oak Park, Illinois, we drove to the nearby campus, to the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) symposium room.

Mr. Weinberger was introduced by Marguerite Feitlowitz, founding director of Bennington Translates. He had prepared a lecture, but began it with reading a piece about dreams from the Lacandons, native people of Chiapas, Mexico. The lecture was titled “Ancestry” & was an erudite, scholarly meditation taking off from the poet Nathaniel Mackey’s book Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015), which Mackey explains in his preface, “samples two distantly related black musical traditions, the West African griot epic The Dausi … and trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s hard bop classic ‘Blue Bossa’ …”


Weinberger led us through the story of “Gassire’s lute” (a myth of the Poet) & the lost city of Wagadu (as first presented to the West by Leo Frobenius), then on to the myth’s appearance in the poetry of early & mid-twentieth century poets, including Ezra Pound’s Cantos, to Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, the poets of the Negritude movement, even to Robert Johnson’s blues & the legend of the crossroads. He described it as “following one small word in many poems…”

This led to a consideration of writing & “crossing borders,” & the use of stories, ideas, sentiments from cultures not our own; he said, “in the arts anything can belong to anyone who thinks & takes the time to learn it.” Weinberger also discussed 2 ends of the poetic spectrum, the autobiographical “I” poets versus the poets concerned solely with the words, finding both lacking. Talking about the old saw, “write what you know,” Weinberger countered that Poetry is Imagination (sounding to my ears much like William Blake).

He ended with a long, chant-like piece “The Stars,” a collaboration from his book An Elemental Thing (New Directions, 2007), followed by a short question & answer period which ran from the erudite to the hyper-theory-ridiculous (to which Weinberger simply said that he didn’t understand the question).

One of my favorite books on the art of poetry & translation is Eliot Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, which examines 19 different translations of one of Wang Wei’s poems, sometimes translated as “The Deer Park.” It was originally published in 1987. Before coming over here I went to retrieve my copy to get it signed only to realize that I’d given it away (which shows how good I think it is). Happily, when speaking to Mr. Weinberger before the lecture he told me that there is a new edition just out from New Directions, which was for sale at the reading. The new edition includes “more ways” & some, at times hilarious, commentary.  I highly recommend it to any poets, but particularly to those interested in Chinese poetry or translations in general.

Nitty Gritty Slam #127, May 16


On the third Tuesday of each month the Nitty Gritty Slam (which also takes place as an open mic only on the 1st Tuesday of the month at The Low Beat) holds a, well, Slam, hosted by Amani O+, aided & assisted by Alfonso Rodriquez. But there is also an open mic. That’s more my speed.

Amani opened up the night with a reading of “Black G.U.R.L. Fly” from her book Here We Are At The Gate: Book 1 of the Amani O+ Rebelutionary Series. I read a couple poems, “What Makes America Great #14” (from a series of true stories from the Trump Era), then an even newer poem “The Day God Invented Wine.”

Mz Tu also has a book out & read 2 poems from it, “Eaten Alive” (a lion & a gazelle) & one about conflict on the job “The Confederate Symbol.” L-Majesty’s piece, “Malacaust,” about the website Grindr. Ramon had 2 pieces, a personal one using images of prison, then a political poem on the Statue of Liberty.

One of the features of The Low Beat is Selena’s Kitchen, serving up plates of chicken, rice & beans & other dishes. Amani & Alphonso read the menu as a savory performance piece. Elizag gave us her “7 Reasons Why I Can’t Write 30 Poems in 30 Days.” Alfonso was back with a solo piece, “Better,” on the death of his mother. Poetik read about magic, “make room for the best things…” Aliya/Ay She Writes began with a short piece of self-affirmation with wings & broomsticks, then another on low self-esteem.

In between it all, DJ Trumstrand kept the room filled with sound. On to the Slam, with Olivia McKee serving as the “sacrificial”/practice poet for the 3 judges to score & ended up with a near-perfect 29.5.

There were only 4 poets signed up for the Slam: Mz Tu, Elizag, L-Majesty, & Mariah Barber, so all 4 did the first 2 rounds, Mariah scoring a perfect 30 in the first round. But after the 2nd round it was Mariah & L-Majesty to go head to head for the final round in a closely scored contest with Mariah taking 1st place, L-Majesty 2nd & Elizag announced as the 3rd place winner.

The Low Beat is at 335 Central Ave. The Nitty Gritty Slam is there on the 1st Tuesday for an open mic & the 3rd Tuesday for the Slam & an open mic, starts 7:00/7:30PM.

May 18, 2017

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



This Mothers Day edition of the open mic at the Arts Center in Troy was held upstairs in the conference room, Karen Fabiane helped shed more natural light on us by moving the curtains. The co-hosts were, per usual, Nancy Klepsch & me, Dan Wilcox.

Diane Sefcik has been making it out to more open mics of late, she read a couple of animal poems, “Baboon” & “Elephant” & one from on the road in Iowa, “Rain.” Howard Kogan read once again the richly multi-cultural description of “Kitsilano Beach” in Vancouver, B.C., then the equally richly imagined “On the Eve of My Birth.”

Dave DeVries read a couple long poems celebrating the past, “American Made” contrasting the 1951 Chevy with his current 2013 Mini Cooper, then “1961” & baseball. Bob Sharkey also started off with a memoir piece “Ten Pounds,” & another of his variations on fortune cookies “Must Have Cost a Fortune.” I began with a new poem “Today’s Typo” based on a poem in American Poetry Review then, as a tribute to my mother, read “Going Postal.” Nancy Dunlop read a piece she had read at the Readings Against the End of the World, what she said was “an anti-Mothers Day poem,” “Persephone & Demeter,” then a poem on grieving & dying “Sisters.” Peggy LeGee read from the pad she had written the poem on, twisting & turning it like a performance piece “My Mothers Day Dedication.”

My co-host Nancy Klepsch read a poem that came out of Bernadette’s workshop, based on a conversation with Jil about an old Girl Scout manual, “Head Scout.” Karen Fabiane read 2 poems from a 30/30 poetry project, the first about a chance sighting on Cooper Square in NYC “Pepper,” the 2nd “The Tarts” basically a free-flowing description of what she was doing at the time: baking. Jil Hanifan read the mash-up “Departmental Politics/‘Commute’” then the 2-part piece remembering her prior life as a concert musician “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Mike Conner brought it all home with 2 poems about voices, one not by him about a mother’s voice, & then his own rhetorical introspection “Whose Voice?”

One more open mic for this season at the Arts Center in Troy, next month on the 2nd Sunday @ 2PM, than a brief break for the Summer. We will be back in the Fall.

May 15, 2017

Arthur’s Market Open Mic, May 10


It’s been a few months since I was last at this reading/open mic in Schenectady, what with weather, travel, & other commitments, so I was glad to get back there. Our host is Catherine Norr, who has a lovely singing voice & began with singing just a verse from the sad Irish song “She Moved through the Fair.”

Alan Catlin read “Recurring Graduate School High Anxiety Dream Poem” which he had attempted to read read last month, but had the wrong 2nd page. Richard Jerin read “There Are Blue Skies” & a lost-love poem, both with the introductions carefully written out.

Susan Jewell read a 2-part poem that she said was an experiment with tempo, an intense, fast-paced 1st part, followed by a slower, calmer 2nd part. Scott Morehouse said he is inspired by coming here to the open mic, read “Lip Reading” a portrait of an aging woman by a description of her mouth. Mary Panza read an untitled piece thinking about the past as she ages, then a poem for her daughter “The Little Blond.” Jackie Craven read “a science fiction poem” published in a feminist journal “Darwin’s Daughter in the Year 2135.”

Today’s featured poet was Philomena Moriarty who began with a selection of poems from her “spiritual memoir” My Moon Self (Bodhicitta Press, 2015), “If Poems Were Wishes,” “Walking on Rice Paper,” “Walking Meditation,” “Prayer Is…,” “St. Philomena,” & “Romance.” Then on to a couple of memoir poems, “Survivor” (as child in Buffalo taking chances), & “Shape Shifting.” She ended by returning to the book’s final poem “Benefaction.” Although I am familiar with the poems in Philomena’s book, it is always a pleasure to hear her reading them aloud.

After a break, our host, Catherine Norr, read her poem “Coffee Break” then a poem from a workshop in 2009 “Cento for All of Us.” Manuel Bonilla read “My Future Wife,” a letter of what he would say to her. Phyllis Kulmatiski read a descriptive piece, with touches of humor, about where they stayed in Cancun.

Issa Pulley’s poem “Buyer Beware” was a narrative in rhyme. Betty Zerbst also read poems in rhyme, “Farewell Tune” & “Back in Time.” Malcolm Willison read a sad, humorous piece, like a long song lyric, “Leftovers,” then a haiku. I read “What Makes America Great #26” (about the Chipmunk Cafe) & “The Day God Invented Wine.” Ginny Folger read a descriptive piece from a visit to Rome “Eternal City.”

Each 2nd Wednesday of the month there is an open mic at 7:30PM at Arthur’s Market in the historic Stockade section of Schenectady, NY. Next month’s featured poet will be Me! Hope to see you there.

May 9, 2017

Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest Reading, May 7



This was the 2nd year of the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest run by local poet Bob Sharkey & his family. It is a unique contest in that there is no fee, poets may submit only 1 poem, but it can be any length, any style, on any subject & may even be previously published. This year they received 155 submissions, down from last year’s numbers, but of an overall higher quality, according to Bob.



He had organized the reading with Honorable & High Honorable Mention winners, then the Winners, followed by other Finalists. In between Bob talked about his experience with running the contest. He selected Mark W. O’Brien to read first, “It Is In the Shelter of Each Other that People Live,” because the poem was like a blessing. Carol Graser followed with “Dissolving the Distance Between You,” then Jodi Ackerman Frank with “Dr. Kwan Kew Lai’s Refrigerator” (about a physician active in the fight against the Ebola epidemic).

Dineen Carta read her poem of 21st Century dating, the ironically titled “Lovestory,” Anthony Bernini “The Dance of Dish and Glass,” & Dianne Sefcik read an eco-poem “Pipe.” Bob noted that there were a number of entries of a political nature & one example was “Not My President” read by Karen Fabiane.

Fourth place winner was Andy Fogle, who could not attend, so Bob read Andy’s poem “Granted Dominion."  Third place was Phyllis Hillinger who read “What Was Once Solid.” Bob said that the largest category of poems were ones in exotic setting, & Second place winner Ken Holland read his poem, “The Osterias Are Tipping Prosecco,” set in Venice.

An added perk for the First Place winner, in addition to the check, was the opportunity to read more than just the winning entry. Cheryl A. Rice began with a poem written after the November election, “I Hear America.” Her winning poem, “Your Service,” was about her uncle, a World War II veteran, who is still alive & living in Florida. But before she read the poem there was a teary moment when she read a letter from him responding to her sending him a copy of the poem.

In mentioning the Best Out of State Winner, Marc Levy who could not attend to read his poem about recalling his experience in Viet Nam, “Anabasis By Night,” Bob talked about his friend Stephen A. DiBiase after whom the contest is named; Stephen was a Viet Nam vet much scarred by his experience there who urged Bob & his other friends to do all they could not to serve in Viet Nam. One friend spent time in a federal prison & Bob became a conscientious objector who did alternative service in the Albany Medical Center.

Paul Amidon was the first of the finalists, read “Directions for Success,” Thérèse Broderick read “Tents of Jordan,” & Tom Corrado explained that his poem “Where Utopians Sport Recoilless Doc Martins” was #334 in his ever-growing series “Screen Dumps.”

Virginia Bach Folger not only read her poem “Summer, Maine, 1968” (which gave Bob an excuse to talk about where he grew up in Portland, ME), but also read “Dream a Little Dream of Me: Visiting Louis Armstrong’s Birthplace” by another finalist, Catherine Norr, who was unable to attend.

& speaking of Portland, Maine, that’s where finalist Rebecca Irene drove down from to read her moving poem “Dear Daughters Our World Spins Round.” Nancy Klepsch read “Before You Know Gratitude,” then Joe Krausman had us laughing as he read “Organ Lessons.” Kathleen Smith read her poem “Litany,” & another out-of-town winner, Martin Willitts Jr. made the trip from Syracuse to read “Symphony.”

It was an especially good gathering of poets & poems, indicative of the high quality of work submitted to this year’s contest. By the way, Bob asks each entrant to the contest to mention the last book of poetry they had read & the poet mentioned by the most entrants was Mary Oliver, not that one could tell that by the poems read today -- each unique & indicative of the great diversity of the poets out there crafting their own poems.

May 8, 2017

Yes! a Reading Series, May 6


The last of the season (which seem to coincide with the academic year), at the new location of the Albany Center Gallery, Matthew Klane our solo host tonight.

Emily Barton Altman was the 1st of the 3 readers & she began with “Disassemblage” a long poem with ghosts, based loosely on fairy tales, then immediately into pieces titled “Of the Body” & “You Are Not in California.” These were short poems, read without any intro or seque, my first impression was that she doesn’t go to many poetry readings. A piece titled “A Performance” was unintentionally ironic, since her poems are definitely not performances — no gestures, no modulation of her voice, no engagement with the audience. She let the work stand for itself, but that is difficult when the poems fly by & the listener (as opposed to a reader) has no way to go back to it. It seemed to me that “Composition” was an elegy, & her poem “Bodies of Water” was like a conversation. She ended with a sonnet which was more intricate linguistically than her shorter pieces & although I liked it best I could’ve used to a guide to what I was hearing.

Both Emily & her partner Toby Altman are from Chicago, passing thru on a mini-tour it seems. Toby began from his book, Arcadia, Indiana (Plays Inverse, 2017), poems with Oedipus & the Sphinx as characters, more like short plays or linked monologues. From there on to a long poem full of wordplay & sex “Theory of Tragedy at the Crossroads of America” then from a new project on mid-century urban utopian projects, he also had a poem as a performance outline “Idea for Performance.”

Alifair Skebe read from each of her poetry collections, beginning with her 2004 Post Card: Les Lettres d’Amour/Love Letters: Les Cartes Postales, then a little from her long poem El Aqua Es la Sangre de la Tierra (Finishing Line Press, 2008). But mostly she read from the recent FootHills Publishing collection Thin Matter. Speaking of performance, Alifair is a good example of how to make a reading a performance without the bombast of a Slam, with her expressive gestures, modulation of her voice, eye contact with the audience, even stomping her feet a couple times, as well as odd printed signs glossing/foot-noting her poems at times. She included one of my favorites, “Desire,” a poem whose lines can be read in any order. Ironically, she offered a broadside of the poem for sale, freezing the lines into (one) order.

I do hope that Yes! will be back in the Fall with more intriguing, experimental poets from near & far.

May 7, 2017

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree & Sky, May 5


This seasonal series started up last month but I missed it. Glad to be back at the Pine Hollow Arboretum for another series, with the Bird, Alan Casline, as our watershed host.

First up for the open mic was Dianne Sefcik who began with a poem filled with rivers, trees & fish, “Looking for America Too” inspired by the work of Michael Robinson (1948 - 2010) Cree artist & poet, then a work-in-progress, an opening ceremony titled “Clear the Way,” & another ceremony poem “Fire Keeper.” Mark O’Brien also read 3 poems, “A Snake Must Have Bit Me,” “The Power of Maintaining Life,” & the poem that got him a check from the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest, “It is in the Shelter of Each Other that People Live.” I followed with the haibun I contributed to Mark’s Blog, “Last Train to Clarksville,” & then the new poem “The Day God Invented Wine” (that I promptly spilled my glass of wine on). Howard Kogan read a poem, “Old Men Talking,” from his series of poems based in Stephentown, NY, then a poem about the international nature of a beach in Vancouver, BC.

Mike Connor read a couple of descriptive nocturnal poems, “Evening Ramble” & “Night-time,” then a poem titled “May 1st” from his new chapbook, Seasonal Musings. The man-behind-the-trees at Pine Hollow Arboretum, John Abbuhl, read a short essay, “The Weakness Within Politics” from his on-going series, The Philosophy of Reality. Tom Corrado read about “what I talk about when I talk about poetry” in his series of “Screen Dumps” #360 & #361. Alan Casline read 2 poems, “Moving Roots” & “Red the Cow” that had been published in an anthology River of Dreams. Philomena Moriarty began with her newest poem, an exercise titled “The Spaces Between Us,” then a poem filled with ice, mud & snow “The Walk,” & a rediscovered poem for a friend who died of liver cancer “Parcels, for Jeanne.” Peter Boudreaux read a timely poem, given today’s date, “Cinco de Mayo,” musings while working in a garden.

The featured poet was Adam Tedesco, the founding editor of the new poetics journal Reality Beach. He read the entirety of his new chapbook, Ablaza (Lithic Press, 2017), a poem written for the first guy with whom he ever smoked a joint. It is a solidly first person narrative (of sorts) full of “I” & “we.” He was accompanied by James Matlock on guitar, whose dreamy repetitions fit easily behind Adam’s low-key, elegaic reading, filled with memory, musings & pot-soaked links & leaps, at a slow, stoner’s pace.

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree & Sky continues, sometimes on the first Friday of the month, sometimes on the second Friday, through November, 6:30 PM (or come early for the pot-luck — no, not that kind of pot — dinner), at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY.

May 5, 2017

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, May 3


The sign-up for the open mic at Caffè Lena starts at 7:00, but when I got there about 7:15 the list had gone to a 2nd page so, as an act of mercy to those who be still there at the end, I didn’t sign up. Carol later said there were 32 on the list. The room was packed but there were available seats at friendly tables. At first I thought they were all there for featured poet Bernadette Mayer, benefitting the 2nd feature, Kate McNairy, by giving her a great audience too, & indeed that was some of it. But it turned out an English teacher from the high school brought a flock of her students to read in the open mic which accounted for almost a quarter of the open mic list.

Our host, Carol Graser, started off the night with Jane Hirshfeld’s political poem “On the 5th Day,” then limited the open mic readers to 1 poem. Barbara Garro usually manages to get herself to the end of the list, but tonight was first, with a poem about a horse from what she described as “the second book of the Barbara Garro series.” Nicola Marae Allain read a tale about a bird finding its way back to Tahiti. Joe Bruchac followed with a piece titled “7 Samurai Revisited.” Kat’s piece was about trying to be humble & not drowned in issues, while Margaret Bryant read about the new music at weddings, missing the standards from her generation. Sally Rhoades read a poem about “the last moonshine on the snow.” Dan Wohlmeiler read a humorous rap piece, “The Nerd Life.” You can find the piece that Mark O’Brien read about his 1st grandchild here on his blog.

The first of the night’s 2 featured poets was Kate McNairy, who read from both her books from Finishing Line Press, the recently issued Light to Light, & her 2014 June Bug. Her poems are short, many less than half a page, & she read them without introductions, sometimes rushing through them, asking us to hold applause to the end. While many of her poems are based in Nature, there are the occasional poems about drinking bourbon, or rum tea, & some tender & often off-beat love/sex poems. When read, some of the poems go by too fast so it is nice to have her books to return to them later.

I have been at some open mics & other readings recently where the poet says “this is a poem from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop…” Even I have a couple like that. Bernadette began her reading with a timely poem from her 2005 New Directions collection Scarlet Tanager the feisty “To A Politician.” She also read from a collaboration with Laynie Browne from a book about bees, & from the 2016 Works & Days. She also has a “rap” poem, “Words that Rhyme with Disease," & read a poem written on her 70th birthday, “Walking Like a Robin.” “Soul Sermon” is a long, free-association ramble, while “The Great Outdoors” was about what the title says, as was “Tassawassa Blues” playing on “blue.”

At the break all the “professors” left, although most of the open mic poets were yet to read, an all-too-frequent happening here. Carol Graser continued the open mic with her hopeful political poem “Women March on Washington All Over the World.” Alan Casline also read a political poem, “At the Far End” with it’s refrain “I had no idea…”

Philip Good read a poem reacting to the recent film Paterson “Thanks For Making the Film Better, Ron Padgett.” Anna Feldstein read 2 poems, because she is a volunteer here & was in the kitchen & didn't hear when Carol laid down the “one-poem” rule. Kim Yasick did a love poem from memory “Like the Sea.” Serena’s poem titled “Sleeping with Books Instead” was an exploration of what “Serena” means. Julia Kelly, a high school senior read, a poem inspired by Bob Dylan’s song “My Back Pages.”

Sophie Kelly (Julia’s sister) did a piece form memory about the perception of her self “Entwined.” Henry’s poem about “what Narcissus means to me” was inspired by a poem by Tony Hoagland. Max read a bit of wordplay “The Breaks.” Bridget Gallagher was the high school English teacher who had not only brought her students here tonight, but it seems inspired them as well, read a Slam-style piece “A Belly-Scratcher in the Morning.” Thomas Dimopoulos read an elegy about the 1982 death of the ground-breaking writer, Lester Bangs, who taught the world how to write about rock’n’roll. Nancy DeNofio read a love poem “The Night Before.” Carol Shipstar’s poem was titled “Moonlight.” Rodney Parrott read from his daily Tweets about Donald Trump. Anthony Bernini’s poem was set in Florida on “Jensen Beach.”

This was Julia McDonald’s first reading & she enthralled us with “Prison of Convenience” about using public bathrooms. On Julie Lomoe’s 44th wedding anniversary she read a poem about her obsession with jigsaw puzzles, both real & digital. Rob Smith, who was also celebrating the aforementioned anniversary, read a faux memoir of San Francisco by a heteronym Ember Stokes. W.D. Clarke read a memoir in rhyme “With a Mother’s Love at Breakfast.” Phana (or was it Chana?) read a piece about the things she will tell her daughter. The final reader, Suzanne Margano, ended the night quietly with a descriptive sonnet.

While not always as crowded as tonight, this open mic is held on the 1st Wednesday of each month at the refurbished Caffè Lena, still on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, NY, 7:30PM start, so get there early & sign up.