March 15, 2018

Spoken Word: Bertha Rogers & Richard Levine, March 10

I decided to make the trip down to Kingston to this reading at the Unitarian Universalist Society of the Catskills to hear a couple of my favorite poets, Bertha Rogers & Richard Levine, both of whom I’d featured at readings in Albany. The evening was hosted by Annie LaBarge who organizes the series. There was also an open mic around the featured readers.

Fred began the first open mic cluster with a lyrical piece to his family nose “The Nose Knows.” Matt Spireng read a take-off on the often heard phrase “Your Call Is Very Important to Us.” I followed with my take on last year’s eclipse “Spathe is the Plathe.”

Richard Levine was the first featured poet, reading largely from a new book titled Contiguous States coming out in the Fall. “Just Sleeping” looked back to his experience in Viet Nam & to dreams, then to a poem about seeing the eclipse in Hopkinsville, KY “I Am a Witness,” & an eco-poem “At Our Door” how the storms are beyond our control. Richard then invited Bertha Rogers up to do a bit of back-&-forth, her first poem set in Scotland “Walled Garden,” to which Richard responded with “Post Marks” about a fence & wasps. Then to poems on paintings, Bertha read a sestina on Paul Klee’s “Birds Wandering Off” & Richard read one on van Gogh’s “In a Blue Wood.” Continuing with his solo reading Richard read the title poem “Contiguous States” from his forthcoming book a love poem, then to a couple of his war poems, “Graceland” (which is always new whenever I hear him read it), & “5 Words” (“thank you for your service”) & how to respond to them. He ended with a memorial poem, “Is” about “past-tensing” his friend.

After a short break — cookies, coffee, & browsing the book table — we returned to the open mic. Judith Kerman read poems from a new collection she is working on titled Gymp: “After a Failed Surgery,” “Chair,” & an acrostic “Trying to Sleep.” Betty McDowell read about koi dead in her pond & eaten by crows, then another about helping a friend at the ER, & one titled “Thanksgiving Misgivings.”

Bertha Rogers was the night’s 2nd featured poet, & began with excerpts from her crisp translation of Beowulf (Birch Book Press, 2000), a beautiful letterpress edition with Bertha’s drawings; tonight she also read a bit in the original Anglo-Saxon. Then a back & forth with Ricard, Bertha a riddle from the Exeter Book, Richard followed with “Being Touched” (rescuing a bird), Bertha another riddle, & Richard with another poem with a bird “Believe This” about starting a garden. Then Bertha continued with more riddles from her translation from the Exeter Book, also known as the Codex Exoniensis, a 10th century anthology of Angle-Saxon. The riddles, which we all tried to guess, show what masters of the metaphor these largely illiterate folks were. She ended with more excerpts from her Beowulf.

The night ended with 2 more open mic poets. Bobbi Katz read the humorous “Old Woman Thinking About Robert Frost” from a series of “old women poems.” Our host Annie LaBarge read a childhood memoir about her brother & playing the piano “Heart & Soul.”

This series titled “Spoken Word” takes place monthly on Saturday evenings at the Unitarian Universalist Society of the Catskills, 320 Sawkill Rd., Kingston, NY, 7:00 PM, $5.00.

March 12, 2018

NYS Writers Institute: Joachim Frank, March 6

Joachim Frank at an anti-war reading, March, 2003
This was a double-header event for a chance to meet, talk with & listen to, former Albanyan Joachim Frank, who in 2017 shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Frank was a long-time UAlbany faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences; he is a physicist by training, but a long-time writer of fiction & poetry. During his decades in Albany, Joachim was a president of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, & read at open mics, the Readings Against the End of the World & at poetry readings protesting both Gulf Wars.

During the afternoon, there was a “conversation about a life in the arts and sciences” held in the D’Ambra Auditorium in the Life Sciences Research Building on the UAlbany campus. Most of the questions centered around the perceived, or real, conflict between Joachim’s creative writing & his scientific research, & around the different ways of writing in each field. He was a bit flustered at one questioner's use of the acronym “STEM,” a term prevalent at least in this area including on one area TV station. I thought, perhaps we should have less S.T.E.M. (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) & more C.R.A.P. (Creativity, Reading, Arts, Performance).

Later in the evening Joachim Frank read from his fiction at the Huxley Theatre at the NYS Museum Cultural Education Center, downtown. Both events were moderated by NYS Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl. The audience was a diverse group of Joachim’s Albany friends, UAlbany luminaries & colleagues, & community writers.

At Paul’s request Joachim began with a readings of his poem “Central Ave.,” a poetic walk up that iconic Albany street, written in 1978, 3 years after he arrived here. Then on to a short story inspired by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, “Metamorphosis of an Executive,” in which the chairman of Exxon Corporation is tossed into the oil spill then rescued & cleaned up like one of the fish. The short story “Myopia, or the Chest of Drawers” was a Beckett-like conversation about a manuscript between 2 friends in a cafe.  Joachim said he has written 3 unpublished novels & read an excerpt from one titled “Observatory” about an astro-physicist, his family & others being soaked in radioactive rain from Chernobyl.

Joachim Frank with Paul Grondahl
Again, he answered questions about writing & being a Nobel laureate in the sciences. At one point he discussed his efforts in his scientific writing to use metaphor as a way to illustrate or clarify the dense scientific concepts about which he was writing. Makes me curious to read one of those articles.

If you are not aware of the ongoing, mostly free, events of the NYS Writers Institute, you can visit their website to see their schedule & can sign up for their email newsletter.

March 9, 2018

St. Rocco’s on Broadway, March 3

St. Rocco’s is a poetry series that has been going periodically for about a year & a half at various locations primarily in Albany’s South End. This Saturday afternoon event was at Stacks Espresso Bar, 488 Broadway. 3 poets read, Edmund Berrigan, John Mason, & Natalie Eilbert. The reading was delayed briefly because of travel problems by Ms. Eilbert, & there was an abortive attempt to set up an amp & mic, but the place was small enough for the poets to make themselves heard without the mic. This was a good thing because there was no mic stand, which makes it difficult for poets reading from books or manuscripts juggling a mic too.

The co-hosts were community writers Alifair Skebe & JP Garcia. While we were waiting to start Alifair introduced JP for a “pre-reading” & he read from his new chapbook So This is Story, a section titled “Zero” a fragmentary piece like notes to a story.

JP introduced the first reader, “Edmund,”as if we were all suddenly good buds. Most of what Edmund Berrigan read was from a new manuscript currently titled “Sharing Error, Permission to Disembark,” the poems often like diary entries, discursive, often introspective observations of the everyday. There seemed to be a lot of waking up & day-dreaming poems, such as “3AM,” “Wake Up & Wonder.” There were a couple poems related to visual arts, “Bold Leaps from Canvas to Fabric” responding to art by Rosemary Mayer, & “Transformative Days” after the work of Francis Picabia. Coming from a family of poets he mined some of his family’s poems; “Unnatural Day” was based on the work of his father Ted Berrigan, & from his brother, “Lines by Anselm.”

John Mason’s poem shared the quotidian with Berrigan’s. He began with a descriptive alphabet poem written near the Hudson River, nature, mountains & sky. There were also birds (“Dominion”), a couple of cat poems, a couple about peeing, & a narrative imitating the work of Charles Reznikoff (1894 - 1976). “The Time of Lots” in the parking lot of a church & “Night Alley Walk” both dealt with time & clocks. There was a kitchen poem & one on soup cans, & “The Game of Life” for his brother who is also a poet. One poem played on the phrase “well thought” while one titled “Tide” played with made-up words. And in “Cana” & “Cana 2006” he contrasted the New Testament story of Jesus at a wedding with the modern attack on the Palestinian town by the Israeli military.

Natalie Eilbert began with reading from her book Indictus (Noemi Press, 2018), winner of the 2016 Noemi Press Contest. It deals with childhood memories, a fire & sexual assault, which she said was “difficult to write.” From that she turned to pieces from a new manuscript on nature/anti-nature, on the sick world, writing long poems now. In “Bildungsroman” she again alluded to the house fire. One section was titled “Dear Sister,” what she described as a series of bereavement poems. Another section, all titled “From the Lake,” included a childhood painting & medical issues, the Mall, blood & language, a move to Wisconsin & a confrontation with ecological disasters such as the denuding of a forest. But she too shared with the previous readers an attention to the details of everyday life as a way to comment on human consciousness.

The St. Rocco Poetry Series appears to happen irregularly so it seems the best way to find out about it is from their FaceBook page where you can also sign up for their mailing list & show your interest in reading in the series (or not).

March 8, 2018

Troy Poetry Mission, February 28

Back in Troy (last month’s event had been cancelled), with R.M. Engelhardt the host, & co-host James Duncan joining us in progress. It was a long night of poetry, with 2 featured poets filling up an hour & 13 signed up for the open mic. Rob began the night with one of his characteristic pieces “I Am the Darkness.”

The first of the open mic poets was Noah David Roberts from Kingston with a grim, Ginsberg-esque meditation on skin “Curbside.” Also from Kingston was Jordan Rogers with a somewhat over-wrought “Yelling to God, Part 2, Prophet.” By then James Duncan had arrived to read “Night Weather” a prose poem from his book We Are All Terminal But This Exit is Mine (Unknown Press, 2017). Faith Green has read here before, tonight read about girls & a family at the Mall “21st Century Fairy Tale, Part 1” & a list poem, “I Wonder.” Nancy Dunlop also read a list poem, “57th Birthday List” a long compendium of 27 aphorisms (ironically enough included in the long list was an aphorism to the effect that people who tell you to “listen” often talk too much).

The first of the night’s 2 features was another Nancy, Nancy Klepsch, with whom I co-host the 2nd Sunday @2 open mic at the Arts Center. She began with a couple haibuns, “Learning Target” on school shootings, & “Driving in Cars While Black.” Then on to a piece from a workshop with Bernadette Mayer “29 Questions.” The rest of the poems she read were from her book God Must Be a Boogie Man (Recto y Verso Editions, 2017), including such favs as “Before You Know Gratitude,” the title poem, “Rubylith as a Revolutionary,” & others, ending with the untitled last poem in the book exhorting the audience, “Tell me a story/Talk forever.”

D. Alexander Holiday said his reading, honoring Black History Month, was a commentary on what Louis Lomax called “non-Southern racism," recited poems by Dudley Randall & Joseph Seaman Cotters, & read Bunkong Tuon’s poem “Why I Chose Literature.” Then delved into pieces from his new book Kith & Kin: A Klannish, Klownish Tragic Komedy (written as G. Douglas Davis, IV). There was a hysterical surrealistic piece on the Columbus Day parade, with his past bosses in State government as “Klan members,” their kids dressed up in white hoods, & the equally surreal “Wizard of Odd.” He also read about being at an Irish Festival & the bizarre tee-shirt “Irish Livers Matter.” He ended with his funny piece from the book that takes its inspiration from the scene of Klansmen with seed bag hoods from Quentin Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained.

After the break, J.J. Johnson read a merciless anti-Trump rant “Heartless Beat,” (making one member of the audience clearly uncomfortable).

Amanda McDowell read an autobiographical story of her life from birth to now “Nebulizer Pantoum: I Am Enough.” Karen Fabiane read her classic “I Fucked St. Joan” then an apparently recently written sequel “Lady Red Bird’s Lament.” Betty Zerbst was able to leave her animals alone for a few hours & read her rhyming poems “Where Poetry Comes From” & a piece on Brian Dorn’s new Gloversville poetry place, “Dorn Space/Writers’ Market.” Megan Marohn was next but I couldn’t hear her through the wall of the Men’s Room — maybe next time.

Jeremy Olson began with a poem about the gym being like a church, then on to a 2-part piece, “Strange Sex” working in Hokusai’s Wave painting & tentacles. Julie Lomoe read a descriptive prose piece “Terminal Beige” about being in a doctor’s office, then an old favorite “Bi-Polar Gaia.”  Christian Ortega brought the night to a close with “Postscript” the final poem in his book Red Poems (Hispanic Paradox Press, 2014) which in the printed text is in all caps making one want to SHOUT while reading it.

The Troy Poetry Mission is held on the last Wednesday of the month (except when it’s not) at O’Brien’s Public House on 3rd St. in Troy (between Broadway & State St.), with a featured poet (perhaps) & an open mic, 7:30PM (but usually after 8).

March 4, 2018

Poets Speak Loud!, February 26

Always a feisty event, tonight no exception, with our host Mary Panza. Tonight’s featured poet was Stella Padnos-Shea, but first, some of the open mic.

Sylvia Barnard likes to be first so she can relax after & listen to the other poets, tonight she began with a work-in-progress an urban tale about walking thru the snow & and an encounter with a cabbie, then a poem about thinking of her daughter & son-in-law & Thanksgiving “Family.” I read my new “Birthday Poem” for this year & a slightly older piece “The Poet’s Coat.”

Alifair Skebe, who had been coaxed into reading by Mary Panza, read 2 poems from a mss., Poems in the Child’s Voice, “What I would Take With Me” (about planning to run away) & one set in Louisiana at age 7 “Searching Out the Crayfish.” Carrie Czwakiel read a poem about her grandma’s reincarnation “Bee Balm Garden,” then a poem from a few years, a provocative description about what she likes/doesn’t like about online dating. Thérèse Broderick read a poem from her forthcoming book Breath Debt, about her daughter in 2nd grade on 9/11/01 “To Carry Forward, for Elizabeth.”

Stella Padnos-Shea is a poet from Brooklyn, with an Albany connection. Most of what she read was from her book In My Absence (Winter Goose Publishing, 2016), but she started off with a poem about being in Albany with her daughter & her boyfriend, then one about an old photo of a Greek woman at Ellis Island, imagining it could be her grandmother. Many of the poems she read from her book were addressed to, or about, her daughter, “You Must Know,” “Looking the Part,” “In My Absence” & “Good Night Stars” (taking off from the classic Good Night Moon). Others included “Tumbler,” & “Groundswell.” I hope she visits Albany often & we get to hear her again.

Back to the open mic, Brooke Kolcow took us to the ocean in her poem “Maine Things” then read a list of the small wonders in “Poem for Smalbany.”

Returning to Albany after a long absence Luis Chaluisan did an impromptu piece about things going bad in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. D. Alexander Holiday read a political piece, “Gracias Fidel” from his new book Kith & Kin: a Klannish, Klownish, Tragic Komedy, then a poem about an adventure “An Observation of the Irish Festival.” Joe Krausman read a piece about a couple’s conversation in bed, on lying & “fake news,” then pondered “What’s In a Name.” Algorhythm made a rare appearance at a poetry reading, doing a hyped-up performance on the “last of the real street poets,” then a section from his longer piece “The Philosopher’s Stone.”

Always a fun night on the last Monday of the month for Poets Speak Loud! at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square in Albany, NY, 7:30PM — a featured poet & an open mic.

March 2, 2018

Gerrit Lansing Memorial & Birthday Reading, February 24 & 25

Gerrit Lansing, October, 2010
The Gloucester Writers Center had sometime ago scheduled a birthday celebration for the poet Gerrit Lansing’s 90th birthday, to be held February 25 & I planned to be there. I had met Gerrit when he gave a reading at UAlbany in 1988, then would visit him each year at his Abraxas Bookshop on Main St. in Gloucester, MA -- an erudite, friendly poet who seemed to know hundreds of poets known & “unknown.” After the bookstore closed, over the years on visits to Gloucester, I would see Gerrit at events such as the Olson centennial in 2010 & readings at the Gloucester Writers Center, a veritable éminence grise. Gerrit Lansing died on February 11, just shy of his 90th birthday.

A memorial service was held on Saturday, February 24 at Hammond Castle, a great crowd filling the huge, medieval-style room. Gerrit’s grand-nephews spoke, each remarking on the “Gerrit-shared community.” Then a string of local friends, young & old, made brief comments or read one of Gerrit’s poems; one woman read one of Diane DiPrima’s “Revolutionary Letters.” The M/C of the event was Amanda Cook who got the gathered to sing “Shenandoah.” There was mention of magic, the occult & the natural world. Someone said that Gerrit’s last recited poem was from Mother Goose, “Higgledy-Piddledy My Black Hen.” I wrote in my notes, perhaps a quote from someone, “the magic is in the poems.”

Afterwards, there was an equally grand gathering down the road at the Magnolia Library Center for a community pot-luck & a chance to hang out & talk with old friends, Peter Anastas, Don & Marge Byrd, Pierre Joris & Nicole Peyrafitte, & to meet new friends.

Amanda Cook
The next day, Saturday, February 25, the long-planned birthday reading was held in the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church. The M/C & organizer was again the indomitable Amanda Cook, who kept the long list of readers moving. The performances began with musicians accompanying the readings of Gerrit’s poem “The Castle of the Flowering Birds.” Some read poems of their owns, but most read a poem or 2 by Gerrit. Again, Diane DiPrima (who was too ill to make the trip) was represented, this time by Ammiel Alcalay who read from DiPrima’s Loba. Nicole Peyrafitte, Pierre Joris, Don Byrd & bassist Michael Bisio performed poems by Gerrit with Michael’s musical accompaniment. Nicole said that they wanted to perform together because they met in Albany, NY, which was Gerrit’s birthplace. Other readers included Joe Torra, Dave Rich, Michael Franco, Chuck Stein, George Quasha, Simon Pettet, Ruth Lepson & others (I didn’t always get the speaker’s name, either because they didn’t announce themselves, or when they did it wasn’t clear).

Nicole Peyrafitte, Pierre Joris, Don Byrd, Michael Bisio
A person who attended Gerrit in his last days & hours, Fang, a “death doula,” sang for us the song she sang as his heart was fluttering out, a song about going to the Western shore, a theme touched in some of the poems read. Carol Weston displayed 2 pieces of art she had made, one included a photo of Gerrit with his cat Hector, the other was a quote from Gerrit there is no inanimate thing. Other music included Ben Webster at the piano playing what he introduced as “Perpetual Motion run amok,” & Nathan Cohen on violin worked his way through J.S. Bach’s Chaconne, that Gerrit in his last days had insisted he play for him. Willie Alexander ended the afternoon at the piano with another musical version of Gerrit's poem “Song (The Autumn Festival)” that Nicole had performed, Willie’s a rocking 6/8 rhythm with the repeated line “All things go underground with glee”, then lead us all chanting at the end “Gerrit - Gerrit - Gerrit …” (Willie Alexander has recorded this song, which he titles “All Things Go” on his CD I’ll Be Goode (Fish Eye Records #6).

The best tribute a writer can have is for people to read their work. Similar to Whitman’s many editions of Leaves of Grass, Gerrit Lansing’s life work Heavenly Tree can be found in a variety of editions, many out of print, but the most recent & most complete edition is the 2009 North Atlantic Books edition Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth — order it from your local independent bookseller.

March 1, 2018

Albany Poets Presents: Carol Graser, February 21

This is one of the unique poetry events in the area, a showcase reading along with an interview/Q&A, as a way to present the poet in-depth to the audience. Tonight the subject was Carol Graser, the host of the Poetry Open Mic at Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs. Thom Francis, el presidente of Albany Poets, served as our host & interviewer.

Carol Graser reading at the QE2, July 29, 1996
Carol has been around in the poetry scene long before she began hosting her open mic, reading in area open mics since at least the mid-1990s. Her poems are filled with tenderness, humor & with a playful, even silly, twisting of language, sometimes all at once, & she is a master of the political manifesto/rant. She began with “Poem Read in a Dream,” then on to a wedding poem for her son “Dissolving the Distance Between You.” A couple poems from when she worked at a bookstore, the first in the “persona” of a haiku, & “In Congress Park on a Lunch Break” talking to the violets, then to an ars poetica of sorts “Ghost of Ambitions.” She included a couple poems about her mother, one a pantoum about holidays after her mother’s death, & a couple poems that sprang from workshops with Bernadette Mayer (a veritable genre unto itself), one with a political bent playing on sounds & images from an assignment to use made-up words. One of Carol’s specialties are poems in the voice of voiceless objects, such as the haiku mentioned earlier, & another about, & in the voice of, “The Appendix.” She ended with an inspiring political rant from last year “Women March on Washington All Over the World.”

Thom Francis likes to start his interviews of the poets with the question, “When did you start writing poetry?” Carol responded that it was when she was about 10 years old, for a 5th grade assignment, & found she liked doing it. Even now, she said, she works well with an assignment, as in the poems she had written while in Bernadette Mayer’s poetry workshop.

To another question she she explained that she also works well with poetry groups, where the members read & discuss a particular poem. She talked about her early years in the open mic scene, including reading at the old QE2 open mic in Albany run by Tom Nattell. She also talked about starting her own open mic at Caffè Lena back in 2003, worrying that no one would show up — it is still going strong on the 1st Wednesday of each month & gets a good crowd of local poets for the open mic & for the featured poet.

Albany Poets Presents takes place about every-other month at the Navona Restaurant on New Scotland Ave. in Albany, NY; come early & have dinner. Check the AlbanyPoets website for details & for the date of the next one & who the guest poet will be.