October 14, 2021

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, October 10

The mushrooms keep growing, the poems keep being written, & the poets keep showing up for the open mic. & Nancy Klepsch & I keep on being the co-hosts.

First on the open mic list was Rhonda Rosenheck, who read one of her “crime” poems as she did last month, sounding more like a “revenge poem,” in rhyme with Biblical references “Hoarding Death,” then an old, untitled poem she recently uncovered. Cheryl A. Rice made the drive up from Kingston with her partner Michael, her first poem, according to my less-than-adequate notes, was about “fish — as fish?” then a love poem about when she met Michael years ago during one of the Albany Word Fests, “Morning Has a Life of Its Own.” 

Our host here in Collar City Mushrooms, Avery Stempel, read a poem titled “A Single Crow” that he intends to paint in an upcoming workshop here, then a poem just written, “Thursday,” about all the things not done when Thursday comes around again.  Sue Oringel was glad to be back out at an IPR (in-person reading), read “Dirt” an ode, then a pantoum playing on the differences/inferences of “May Day.” Joel Best read only one piece, an intricate word-mix about forgetting titled “Last in Series.”

Tina Mazula returned, said she was reading some random notebook jottings from thinking about writing, then stopped to read a more finished piece, “Words,” a list poem of modifiers to the word “word,” then returned to her original jottings. My co-host Nancy Klepsch began with a draft rant about “America …” sounding a lot like Allen Ginsberg’s poem of that title, then one about art (& the lack of renumeration), based on a Fran Leibowitz bon mot “Artifice, or they Clap for the Money.” & I followed with a Halloween piece “Zombie Gourd,” then a short riff on “Troy.”

Julie Lomoe read a couple of seasonal pieces, an eco-poem titled “Abnormal Autumn,” & one about scaring away the neighborhood kids “Halloween Crone.” Therese Broderick began with a descriptive piece about “Rest Stop Near Exit 34,” then one titled “Gatha for the Cat.” Tim Verhaegen joined us this month with a tender piece about a conversation with his long-term boyfriend just before he died “My Bones,” then an effusive celebration of football “Heroes.”

Laura Ellzey drove over from Vermont & brought with her a couple of her “calligraphy poems,” Dumpster Kitten” written for her mother’s cat, & one written to tabulate how much of her life has been filled with poetry, “Poetry Entered In.” One could tell that Linda was the youngest poet on the sign-up sheet since she read her poems from her phone, the first about walking in the snow & thinking of depression, & another untitled one about her love of thunderstorms.

The poet who signed in as Za Za said that it has been 8 years since she read her poetry out, indeed I remember her from the early 2000s at open mics in Albany, she read an August poem “Tree Rat,” then a tender, nostalgic, untitled piece about not having any photos of her with a past lover. Naomi Bindman also made the trip from Vermont, began with a short poem, “Pendent,” inspired by Avery’s poem, then an excerpt titled “Circle of Healing,” mixing in images of her daughter’s childhood, her own hypnosis session, & her daughter’s fatal car accident in the rain, from a longer memoir.

Phew! a grand mix of styles, genres, moods, modes — the variety that makes community open mics so exhilarating. We gather here among the mushrooms at Collar City Mushrooms, 333 2nd Ave., Troy, NY, on the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2:00PM, open to the public, free (but donations appreciated for the mushroom themed snacks).

October 10, 2021

Caffè Lena Poetry Night, October 6

Caffè Lena has gone back to In Person Readings & to the famed open mic for local poets. They had persisted during the pandemic with live-streams of featured poets, then in-person readings, but no open mic, & have finally been comfortable enough to have the open mic. The host was, is tonight, Carol Graser.

This night the featured reader was Catherine Arra, whose reading was live-streamed & on YouTube. She is a sensitive poet who is a retired teacher from the public school system. As such her poetry is grounded in the “real world,” eschewing theoretical “poetic” techniques. 

She began with poems from her latest book, Deer Love (Dos Madres Press, 2021), about a relationship she established with a doe, that she named Forest, who visited her back yard, read the poems “Ode to Forest,” “Estrus” (a deer sex poem), & “Some Sweet.” The book includes the poet’s photos of Forest & other deer. I admit to not being a fan of animal poems, but these pieces, largely descriptive, are emotionally sensitive & avoid the sentimentality of similar work without making me gag.

For some of those same reasons I am a fan of Cathy’s Her Landscape: Poems Based on the Life of Mileva Marić Einstein (Finishing Line Press, 2020). She read “Mileva,” (Mileva was the first wife of Einstein, a partner in mathematics & the mother of his 2 sons), “Lieb,” “Corseted,” & “Old World.”

From her 2019 (Women in Parentheses) she read “Transparent Pants” about a student with “a boner” from her years of experience teaching. She ended with a poem from a manuscript “about being in corona solitude,” a persona poem based on the Tarot deck “The Moon.” I admit to being a fan of her work & had booked her to read in the Poets in the Park series in Albany in July 2016.

Then on to the open mic, which historically has drawn poets not only from the Saratoga Springs community, including students from Skidmore College, but also from the larger, upstate region. It was good to see that pattern continuing tonight. Our host, Carol Graser, started us off with the meditative, descriptive poem “Maybe Six Robins.”

Rachel Baum was the 1st of the night’s 1st time readers (i.e., poetry “virgins”), she read a piece titled “Montana 1975,” then one about being in Synagogue as a kid, “We Did Not Think About Prayer.” I followed with a couple of my “poem cards,” a poem from a reading right here at Caffè Lena “The Poet Listening,” then a recent one from a visit to Good Harbor Beach, “Beach Sutra.” James Niven read 2 poems from a forthcoming book, the 1st about tinnitus “The Sound of Injured Rabbits,” then “Moon” built on surrealist sounds & images.

The second of the night’s poetry “virgins” was Fiona Lacey, a young Skidmore student, with a moving, tender piece titled “Today I Hit a Trash Can,” diary entries addressed to her deceased mother about her own struggles. Amanda Blodgett read from her journal, what she called her “morning pages,” an entry titled “God,” then one about her 2nd-hand car “Charlie.” Elaine Kenyon’s 1st piece was an excerpt from a longer poem about herself, “I Am E,” then one titled “What Is This That Rises You Out of Bed?” — a very good question.

Apparently Ishan has read here in the recently re-opened open mic, tonight he read a couple of recently written untitled pieces, about longing & rain & thunderstorms. Jan Tramontano is a well-known poet & novelist from the area who had re-located to Florida, & now is back off-&-on in the area, she read from her new book The Me I Was With You (Finishing Line Press, 2021) a poem about her father “Undertow,” then a new poem, also a memoir, this about her grandmother watching TV, “The Guiding Light.” The final poet of the night, Judith Prest, read 2 poems from her book Geography of Loss (Finishing Line Press, 2021), “In the Apple Barrel Parking Lot,” & “Father” about the surprising results of a DNA test. Judith had also provided the cover art for Jan’s The Me I Was With You, the way the poetry community here intersects with each other.

While Caffè Lena has been able to persist with its acclaimed music & poetry programming during the pandemic it is most gratifying to see the return of poetry open mic with its diversity & range of writers. I guess the message is Keep Writing.

The Caffè Lena poetry night takes place on the 1st Wednesday of each month at Caffè Lena, Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY, 7:00PM, featured poet(s) & an open mic for community poets.

Friends & Foundation of the Albany Public Library Readings

Back in the pre-pandemic days, the FFAPL ran weekly book reviews & readings on Tuesdays at Noon at the Washington Ave. branch of the APL. The events were well attended & presented a wide variety of literary genres, including novels, non-fiction on a plethora of topics, even poetry. I have been blessed over the years by not only attending these sessions but also to be asked to present book reviews of poetry anthologies & biographies of poets.

Of course the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. As more & more people have been vaccinated things have opened up somewhat in the Albany Library system. One favored site has been the Bach Branch on New Scotland Ave., which, happily is only about 2 blocks from where I live.

Miki Conn

On September 9 I walked over to hear poet & author Miki Conn talk about & read from her books. She began by talking about the topic & the book by the title Integrating Delmar 1957: The Story of a Friendship (2011 & 2020), by Margaret B. Cunningham & Arlen R. Westbrook, & edited by Miki Conn. It chronicles a middle class African American family’s search for housing during the summer of 1957 and the results of the decision by a white couple to rent their house to them. The lasting friendship that developed is an important part of their story. The book is based on private journals kept by the two women, neither knowing that the other also kept a journal. 

She followed that discussion with a reading of her poems from Out of My Mind: A Quirky Look at Life through Poetry (2019), poems spanning from the 1970s to 2017, illustrated by her original artwork. Then on to her children’s book The Story of a House (2020) inspired by her own fascination with abandoned houses. 

You can find her books online & at local bookstores.

Eugene Mirabelli

October 2 was a beautiful Fall day with apples falling from the tree in the Bach Branch courtyard. This was a book-signing & reading by one of this year’s Literary Legends Gene Mirabelli (the other is Lydia Davis) to promote his novel Renato! (McPherson & Company, 2020). The publisher, Bruce McPherson, began by reading from the Introduction to the novel by Douglas Glover, “… Mirabelli has reinvented the peculiarly Italian, extravagantly melodramatic and often comic vision — the opera — in the novel form.”

Renato! brings together in over 500 pages Mirabeli’s 3 earlier novels, the earliest parts which were written in 1975. Mirabelli read from the beginning chapters of the first book The Goddess in Love with Horse, starting with the provocative first sentence, then briefly from Chapter 2, & a more extensive reading from the 3rd Chapter that begins the multi-generational saga that began in the 1860s at the time of Garibaldi’s unification of what was to become modern Italy.

Back when I was a student at what was then SUNY Albany I took a course with Eugene Mirabelli on 20th Century British poets. I think I would have enjoyed more a course with him on 19th Century Italian history. 

On October 16, 2021 Mirabelli & Lydia Davis will be (or have been) honored as the 2021 Literary Legends. Visit the website of the FFAPL to find out more about the continuing work they do promoting the stellar writers in this region. 

October 8, 2021

The Holy Local, September 29

With the Social Justice Center being closed during the pandemic then subsequently due to structural repairs, I’ve been thinking about starting another spoken/written word open mic mainly to get us back together in the same room, an IPR if you will (i.e., In Person Reading). Quite by chance, at a Friends of the Albany Public Library reading by Micki Conn, I met Mokka, a young woman who said that she has an art gallery in her home on Myrtle Ave., around the corner from Albany Medical Center. I visited the gallery a few days later, met her husband Ebu, & found the space to be the kind of small, community setting I had been thinking of, filled with art, some of it wearable, & filled with messages of peace, social justice & community. The High Ethic Stalwarts Gallery is on 345 Myrtle Ave., Albany, NY, just a few houses off New Scotland Ave.

“The Holy Local” is a phrase taken from Vincent Ferrini (1913 - 2007) one of the great poets of Gloucester, MA, so it was only appropriate for me to invoke him as this inaugural evening’s Muse by reading his poem “The Gold,” short enough to quote in its entirety:

The Gold 

The suddenness flowers have

startle the air

with their fire and ether

as we do with what is ours

because we are

the gardeners of each other.

First up on the open mic list was a regular at the Third Thursday Poetry Night, as well as other literary events in the area, Joe Krausman, with a couple of poems of sex & humor, “Two-Part Invention,” & “Sunnyside Egg.” I’m always pleased when a new face/new voice shows up at open mics & here we were for the first time here & the new face/new voice of Tamara Grey with 2 descriptive pieces, one written this Summer, another about the wind.

Sylvia Barnard

The next 3 poets are, like Joe, regulars at the Third Thursday readings as we await the re-opening of the Social Justice Center. Sylvia Barnard’s 2 poems were for a friend who had died, “Green Man” invoking the mythical British figure, then another about teaching at Doane Stuart School & thinking of her friend. Sally Rhoades said her poem that she read about the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland reflects on being often wrong, sometimes right, then on to a poem about dancers (“I dance…”) “We Are the Village.” Anthony Bernini, said he was glad to be back in person, philosophized about the meaning of “Old Fences,” then a piece entitled “Social Studies Note.”

Anthony Bernini

Joan Geist has recently relocated to the city streets of Albany, making it easier for her to get to open mics as they open up to IPRs, she hadn’t planned to read but ended up reading OPP (other people’s poetry), a poem about apartheid, & another titled “I Am Music” by that prolific poet Anonymous.

I finished out the night with a poem about open mics that I wrote when the Third Thursday Poetry Night was at Changing Spaces Gallery on Hudson Ave., “One Poem.”

The Holy Local will be back each last Wednesday (except for November this year), 7:30 signup/8:00 start, at the High Ethic Stalwarts Gallery, 345 Myrtle Ave., Albany, NY. Keep writing.

October 3, 2021

NYS Writers Institute Fall Schedule

One of the great advantages of living in Albany (or in the larger Capital District region of New York State) is access to the Writers Institute programming at the University at Albany. Now, I am an alum of the (formerly known as) SUNY Albany (BA English, 1969), but this is not some mis-guided loyalty to “my school,” but an appreciation to the years (since 1984) of free programming the WI has made available to anyone who could get here (& I’m only about 17 minutes away). Nothing like this existed when I was a student here (when there were no poetry readings & no bagels). Credit is due to author William Kennedy who used funds from his MacArthur grant to get this rolling, & to the staff & administrators over the years since that keep it going.

The program flyer for this semester lists readings, craft talks, films, conversations, even a book festival, up through November 30, with more to come in the Spring semester. The Director is Paul Grondahl whose roots both in Albany, & the larger community, are very deep; it shows in his commitment to support the larger (i.e., non-academic) literary community of the Region.

Randall Horton, September 14

On September 14 poet & formerly incarcerated person Randall Horton participated in a craft talk with poet & professor Sarah Giragosian, & later a reading & Q&A. PEN America described Horton as “the only person in the United States with seven felony convictions and academic tenure.” When he was a Ph.D candidate in English at UAlbany he read in July 2009 at Poets in the Park (his interviewer Sarah Giragosian has also read at many local venues, including The Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center, & Poets in the Park).

Randall’s books include the 2020 {#289-128} Poems, Hook: A Memoir (Augury Books, 2015), The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (Main Street Rag, 2009), & The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag, (2006). In response to Sarah’s question about how he found his way to writing, Randall explained that initially when he was in jail he got into a writing program to help reduce his time. One of his teachers asked him to “promise me you won’t stop writing.” Then he discovered the poetry of E. Ethelbert Miller & began a correspondence with him, but when he discovered the work of poet Patricia Smith it “changed everything.”

In his role as Editor-in-Chief for Willow Books, founded in 200, he works to bring the work of emerging writers to our attention. As he said at one point, writing makes him feel good about himself. Check out his website & his books. While you’re at it, check the work of Sarah Giragosian as well. 

New York State Author & Poet Award Ceremony, September 24

I’ve attended most of these award ceremonies since 1986, presenting the best of what New York State has to offer. This year the NYS Author is Ayad Akhtar, the NYS Poet Willie Perdomo

There was also an additional award this year, the Bruce Piasecki & Andrea Masters Award on Business and Society Writing, celebrating “young writers embarking on their careers who aim to ignite positive social change fueled by their writing." The award went to Daniel Sherrell. His book Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World (Penguin Random House, 2021), was described as “… a memoir, a love letter, and an eclectic work of criticism…” In the brief excerpt he read he quoted Dan Berrigan quoting Dorothy Day — what’s not to love about it?

The Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers (aka, the NYS Author) was presented to Ayad Akhtar “whose work explores the immigrant experience, Muslim American identity and the world of high finance” & who read from his novel Homeland Elegies (Little, Brown and Company, 2020). The write up in the program said that “Barack Obama named it one of his favorite books of 2020.”

The Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets (aka, the NYS Poet) was presented to Willie Perdomo “who examines and celebrates the Nuyorican and Afro-Latino experience, primarily in his home neighborhood of Spanish Harlem.” He read from his book of poems The Crazy Bunch (Penguin Books, 2019). He talked about being a poet so that he could read at construction sites, barber shops, community centers, that “sometimes a poet will stand up when you can’t.”

If you are not on the Writers Institute email/real mail lists, visit their website & sign up. 

September 26, 2021

2nd Sunday @ 2, September 12

We (Nancy Klepsch, the open mic poets & I) were back at Collar City Mushrooms, in Troy, for this Sunday open mic that had started out at the Arts Center further downtown.

1st on the open mic list was Kelly who was here for the 1st time last month, I guess we didn’t scare her off, with an untitled confrontational piece complete with a musical soundtrack, then to a lighter piece with funny rhymes titled “Back to School.” Avery Stempel, who as the proprietor of Collar City Mushrooms is our host here, read a couple pieces written, he said last year, “Drifting,” & one from his experience as a landlord, “What Do You Leave Behind?”

Only 1 day off the 20th anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, I read a commissioned poem titled “Another Tuesday” that recalled another September 11 — that of 1973 — when the democratically elected government of Chile was violently overthrown by a USA-supported coup, then read a brief piece titled “At EMPAC.”  My co-host, Nancy Klepsch, brought her guitar today & began with a piece about words colliding that channeled the protest songs of Patti Smith, then the lighter piece “Why Is The World So Beautiful?”

John Teevan read for the 1st time in public from what he described as a sequel to his previously published spy thriller Deception, Love and Espionage, a dialogue between the 2 main characters Valentina & Diego, a sequence titled “Revenge.” He was followed by Brenda whose 1st piece began “Just think how…” then a play on words beginning “Cut on the dotted lines…”

Julie Lomoe also debuted a piece reading “Ghazal for the Earth” for the 1st time, then the provocative (& frightening imagined) “Dance Nude in the Backyard.” Our last reader, Rhonda Rosenheck, read for the 1st time at the 2nd Sunday @ 2, the list poem “Things I Used to Have,” another for the New Year, & from a series of “crime poems” a sestina titled “The Woman.”

Our 2nd Sunday @ 2 Open Mic has a pleasant, hospitable new home at Collar City Mushrooms, 333 2nd Ave., Troy, NY, with even some new readers joining us — there’s always room for more.

September 24, 2021

Writers’ Mic, September 8

This is another of those open mics whose origins are pre-pandemic & has survived on Zoom, poet Jackie Craven is the host.

With the proximity of the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, I read my poem noting another September 11 — 1973 & the US-backed coup that toppled the elected government of Chile -- “Another Tuesday, then read “Writing Crows” which had been in the recent art/poetry exhibit, Poetic License, in Kingston, NY.

David Graham said that he has not been finishing poems lately but has been writing everyday; he read “Next Time Time You See Her” about a friend’s death & read at the funeral.

Susan Jewell read her latest rejection by Rattle magazine, “There Will Be Birds” with birds as messengers, then a poem just accepted to an anthology by Ironhorse Press (& a $50 prize), “A Herd by the Side of the Road Listen to Yeats.” 

You can always count on Scott Morehouse to inject a healthy bit of humor into an open mic, tonight he read “A Xmas Letter” putting a happy face on a dysfunctional family, with a break up & a new basset hound.

Marty McGuire said this was the 1st time she had done any thing like this, said she was a school counselor but wanted to be a stewardess, her poem “Tears on My Window” about being on a plane,” then the brief “Dust Bunnies.”

Jackie Craven read 2 sci-fi poems from a recently accepted chapbook, both inspired by her memories of her father’s garden, “Frankenstein’s Garden,” the other about his roses.

Tim Verhaegen showed up a little late, read again his tender poem about his Mom, “I Love Her,” & shared his screen with a photo of himself with his Mom, then read “Sex” a memory of his gay sex now that he is growing older.

This Zoom event takes place on the 2nd Wednesday of each month & you can find the Zoom link on the Facebook site Writers Mic