February 20, 2017

Albany Poets Presents: Mike Jurkovic, February 15


This was held at the Restaurant Navona on New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY.

Before I go to these events I like to find out when I first saw the poet who is the subject of this showcase/reading series. The easiest way to do this is to go through the photos in “the world’s largest collection of photos of unknown poets,” from back before the days of smart phone cameras when I was often the only photographer in the room. & there it was -- a photo of Mike Jurkovic at the A.I.R. Studio in Kingston, NY taken on February 15, 1997, or, as the Beatles once sang, “it was 20 years ago today…”

As is the custom here, the evening began with a reading by the honored poet, who began appropriately enough with a poem looking at language as dangerous. A couple poems on mortality included “Gravity Gets Us All,” & “Breathing Issue” from a hospital visit. Mike can be a soapbox poet (in the best sense) & read poems about the new administration in Washington, including “Cloud Land,” “I’m the Next Guy” (the one who wipes the toilet seats in Trump Tower), & a poem of revolt beginning “I can’t control myself these days…” Of course there was a poem for his wife, “Gather Here,” & one composed of lines that never made it in to poems, “Cleaning House,” & others titled “Still Live with Magnolias,” “Device,” “Passing Showers” (on extinctions), “Cheering the Ponies with God,” & “Cold Shot.” He included a poem about him, “Bored” written by Guy Reed, that sounded as if he could have written it himself, then ended with “Poetic Justice,” about Poet Laureate Billy Collins some years ago looking for a seat at the Woodstock Poetry Festival.

The reading was followed by an “interrogation,” beginning with Thom Francis’s customary question, “Why did you start writing poetry?” To which Mike answered that he was too lazy to become a musician. This led to a discussion of Mike’s wife Emily’s role in creating “Gary Murrow," & the 2003 WordFest “Psycho Cluster Fuck” — it was therapy. Mike then went on to describe the rise & demise of the reading series at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, & the move of CAPS to New Paltz.

To a question about how today is different from 20 years ago, Mike said that what’s changed is technology, that now the poetry scene is more active than ever. Nick Bisanz talked about growing up in the mid-Hudson area, about following Mike’s band & it’s influence upon him & his friends, about seeing them in the 1980’s at the 8th Step in Albany, & even quoted lyrics from one of the band’s song. In response to a question from Mary Panza Mike responded that “Mary taught me how to curse in poetry.”

Stay in touch with AlbanyPoets.com to find out about the next Albany Poets Presents.

February 12, 2017

Gloucester Writers Center Open Mic, February 6


I like to treat myself to a couple days on Cape Ann for my birthday, which is January 26. This year I decided to wait a week so that I could attend the Open Mic at the Gloucester Writers Center held on the first Monday of each month. I have been to a couple of these open mics this past year & have always enjoyed the variety of voices & experiences. Tonight was no different. Our host Amanda Cook & another woman talked about some of the events being planned for the GWC, including writing groups, as well a workshops on memoir writing & poetry.

The writers who filled Vincent Ferrini’s old living room were overwhelmingly old white guys, so I fit right in. & I was the first reader & read, for the first time anywhere, selections from my new chapbook Inauguration Raga. Sandra Williams, one of the 3 women to read, read 2 poems by Langston Hughes for Black History Month. Chuck Francis said he was working on flash fiction, read a piece about a friend who who stepped back from a ledge, another, “The Cribbage Player,” a memoir of an uncle. Evan Beilin determined that he was the youngest (29 years-old) person in the room, & read poems titled “Recovery” (from bad times) & “The Bi-Polar Bear” in rhyme.

Larry J.’s “12 Tomorrows” was a diary-like memoir, with a yorkie, Key West, & Vermont. Jim D. began with the biblical “The Cedars of Lebanon,” then read “Errant Thought,” & a piece on dreams & reality “There is No Strife Between.” Joe Rukeyser’s story “The Genii” was about internet dating & genome testing. Tony B. read a prose memoir about a funeral of a pastor. Mike McManus also read prose, this a scene from a novel-in-progress, a grim story of a veteran from the Iraq war with an opioid addiction. Gary Shane didn’t actually read, but talked about writing a book at work 20 years ago. Patrick Steele read a dream-story with drag queens “Driftwood.”

Robin Regersburg read a synopsis or brief of a screen play she is trying to market, “They Grow Up.” Ian read from his battered notebook what he said was a series called “Inappropriate,” & what he read was a collection of lines from songs by Dylan, the Stones, others, with his variations. Joshua S-F read from a work-in-progress about Cape Ann, lines & images of granite, immigrants & America. Our amiable host, Amanda Cook read a recent piece dated January 30, 2017 about her mother in a nursing home. Roger D. said it was his first time here, apologetic about being a middle-school science teacher reading poetry, read “The Greatest Spectacle on Earth” (about a poet reading his work in public), & a poem in rhyme from his published book of poetry. Phil Story read 4 poems, but all were quick, from linked haikus, to a seagull in Gloucester with a broken wing, to crows, then a memory of watching the Wizard of Oz on acid. Carmine Gorga didn’t read as much as talk about his economic theories & his book The Economic Process.

A most eclectic night of good writing — must be the salt air. The Gloucester Writers Center has an open mic on the 1st Monday of each month, 7:30PM, at 126 East Main St., Gloucester, MA.

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.

February 3, 2017

Poets Speak Loud! — The Tom Nattell Memorial Open Mic, January 30


The last Monday in January is always a special — & busy — night. It is the night that we celebrate the memory of Tom Nattell, Albany poet & peace/environmental/social justice activist. Tom died on the morning of January 31, 2005 & had been scheduled to read that night at the very first Poets Speak Loud! at the Lark Tavern.   The open mic that night turned into a poetic wake. Since then we remember him on the last Monday in January with a ceremonial beret toss at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park & then I host Poets Speak Loud!, now held at McGeary’s.

Mary Panza, the usual host, introduced me as tonight’s host & this year it was the very first time that Charlie Rossiter, fellow member of 3 Guys from Albany with Tom & me, had joined the celebration. Charlie had been living in Chicago at the time Tom died & only recently moved back to the Northeast. Tonight he was here with us. I began with a 3 Guys from Albany intro with Charlie (& Tom) & read my poem to him “Theology 101.”

It was a mix of young & old poets, many of whom had known Tom, & yet a number who never knew him, but are now partaking of the legacy he created for the poets of Albany. Carrie Czwakiel is one of those poets in the latter category, began with what she described as her 1st rhyming poem in years, on recovering from suffering, then another in the same vein “Perspective.”

Nancy Klepsch performed her marvelous chant “Holy Tom,” then a funny ramble “I Wrote this Poem Thinking of Garrison Keilor.” I threw in one of Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasies” because he would have loved to be writing poems today about Donald Trump. Mary Panza read her next entry to Housewife Tuesday on AlbanyPoets.com “Shit Show.” Nancy Dunlop read a poem dedicated to her husband’s good advice “Flaying into Walls,” then “The Sentence Snatcher” which she said was about alternate facts & that she dedicated to Tom Nattell. Sally Rhoades read a couple poems scented with politics, “Aghast at a World Lit Up by Protest” & “Flamingoes in Cyprus” inspired by a rare snowfall there.

I read another of Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasies” then Charlie Rossiter read his poem “Ready” about how Tom had rearranged his bedroom to be able to use his computer, be surrounded by his “shamans” (books), & be able to welcome visitors as he died. I followed with my tribute poem “Chasing Tom” with its epigraph from Timothy Leary, “We don’t want to get too serious about all this.” Tess Lecuyer said she hasn’t been writing many poems lately so read “Snow” by Anne Sexton. Adam Tedesco got political with a piece beginning “pretty soon they’re going to have to equalize it for the whites…” then philosophical on the subject of violence in “Bliss.”

Karen Fabiane read 2 poems “honoring Donald Trump,” “Grizzlies at the Door” & “Not My President.” I read a brief scatological poem Tom had sent me on a postcard from Utah. Joe Krausman waxed grimly philosophical with “Freak Accident” then a poem with a funny take on the amenities of jail “Freedom.” Julie Lomoe wore a pink Planned Parenthood scarf as a hijab & read a poem written afternoon “Donald the Bantam Rooster Speaks His Mind.”

James Duncan was a new face/voice in the crowd & began with a poem set in San Antonio & dedicated to his father “Sanctuary,” then read his Trump poem “Inauguration Afternoon.” R.M. Engelhardt came in late & thus missed the rules, read his tirade “I Hear America Screaming,” then a take on Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasies” & then a tribute poem “Think Beautiful, for Tom Nattell."

Charlie Rossiter & I did one of the last performance pieces Tom wrote, “I Beat My Drum,” then we gave Tom the last word with a recording of him performing his proto-eco-poem “Save It.” As Tom said, “Stardust is Us” & his spirit not only lingers on, but thrives!

Meanwhile, Poets Speak Loud! continues each last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square in Albany, 7:30PM, a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

February 2, 2017

Book Launch: A Chill in the Air, poems by Howard J. Kogan


This was a one-time event created by the esteemed & venerable Dennis Sullivan as a celebration in honor of Howard Kogan’s new book of poems, A Chill in the Air (Square Circle Press). But before Howard read, Dennis said we would have an open mic run like a Quaker Meeting — no sign up sheet, just stand to read, a one poem limit.

Joe Krausman was the first to his feet, read his circus-themed poem titled “A Thrill in the Air” (dedicated to Bill Clinton). I followed with a poem whose title also played against the title of Howard’s book, mine a political metaphor “A Shill at the Fair.” Alan Casline’s poem “May 11, 1975, Old Jake” was a nod to Howard’s poems about the conversations of old guys.


Ron Pavoldi showed up to read an old poem, sticking to the theme, “Wind Chill.” Paul Amidon had a chill of a different sort in his cynical piece “Humbug & Other Holidays.” Ice & snow was a focus of Mark O’Brien’s poem “A Helderberg Journey” that also included the warmth of the neighbors.

Christine Zacher was a poet I hadn’t heard previously & she read about being on a bike path & “Speaking of Hope.” Diane Sefchik considered “Maybe We Should Be Like Dogs.” Tim Verhaegen read one of Howard’s poems, “CD Launch” & made it sound like his own. Sally Rhoades read a new poem of hope & protest “Flamingoes in Cyprus.” Dawn Mara read about a her aunt’s use of “Grandma’s Purse.” Dennis Sullivan wrote his poem “How to Kill a Poet,” written on January 26, about Nero & President Trump. Brian Dorn read from his book his poem “Changing Ways” because it had the word “chill” in it. Joan Gran brought the open mic to a close with her poem titled “January Thaw.”

Howard Kogan prefaced his reading with his recollection of his introduction to the area’s poetry scene at the 2010 Poet Laureate contest at Smitty's Tavern, at which he was a runner-up & caught our attention. He read a generous baker’s dozen of 13 poems from A Chill in the Air, starting with a pigeon poem “Twilight in November” & later read another, “Homers,” on the themes of life, death & mates. Speaking of mates, his poems “Imagination,” “My Wife 4 Months Pregnant & I Take a Walk” & “Last Act” brought in his wife as a character, while his mother figured in “My Mother’s Salami Sandwich.” “A Close Family” was an ironic take on that well-worn phrase. His poems “Matinee,” “Closing” (about a favorite gathering-place in Stephentown) & “Senior Wellness” looked at his life in upstate New York. But some of my favorite poems of Howard’s are memoirs of his childhood on Long Island & in New York City, including the tender “Mickies,” “Tanta Chava,” & the Haibun style Holocaust memory “Namesake: A Prologue and a Prayer.” 

This moving reading was followed somewhat anti-climaticly by a brief Q& A session where Howard revealed he has always been writing but for a long time not publishing. He also talked about the challenge from poet Bernadette Mayer to write a poem that didn’t make any sense that he was unable to meet. This reading was a demonstration that we don’t have to always meet challenges tossed our way — & that we are glad Howard is reading out & publishing his poems so we can take them with us.  Buy the book -- Support Your Local Poet.