May 22, 2017
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I do hope that Yes! will be back in the Fall with more intriguing, experimental poets from near & far.
May 7, 2017
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.