September 29, 2023

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

The poets’ monthly gathering among the mushrooms for an open mic. The hosts are Nancy Klepsch & me — seems like I was just here (in Troy), as indeed I was, yesterday, for River Poems (see the previous Blog).

First on the open mic sign-up was Bob Sharkey; the first poem he read was “An American Day” a Frank O’Hara-like record of “first I did this, then I did this…:” then a piece with his comments on yesterday’s River Poems & a tribute to the recently gone Jimmy Buffet “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Rhonda Rosenheck started off with a nod to the up-coming Jewish holidays with a poem about being pencilled into the Book of Life “#2 Pencil,” then one about seeing herself in a mirror while shopping down in Chatham, “Defective - a Love Story.”

I also had a poem on Rosh Hashanah from a visit some years back to Gloucester “Tashlich,” then one about the unusual names I collected during my day job “Vaseline Johnson.”

Joel Best read just one piece, “Dinner No Dancing,” describing a place where he had dinner with his wife, weaving in other memories.

My co-host, Nancy Klepsch, read a couple pieces from her (marvelous) 2017 collection of poems God Must Be A Boogie Man — ask Nancy about getting a copy of her book, if you don’t have it already.

Julie Lomoe once again sang her song, “Sympathy for Cleopatra,” for her new cat, the song based on the hit by the Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Kathy Smith
read a poem not in her new book (Let the Stones Grow Soft, The Troy Book Makers), with an interesting title, “Chicken Can’t Go Nowhere Anymore.”

One of David Gonsalves pieces was untitled (as they often are), the other short piece was titled “Afterthought.”

Avery, who makes this space available to us each month, read his poem “An Invocation” from the anthology Amongst the Mushrooms, which you can find here at Collar City Mushrooms.

Sally Rhoades read from her continuing series of memoir pieces “One Black Student” about a friend in high school, then a piece about she survived in her journey of life “Thistle.” & that was it for this month.

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose is a monthly open mic at Collar City Mushrooms, 333 2nd Ave., Troy, NY — bring a couple poems or a short piece of prose & join the fun.

September 27, 2023

River Poems, September 9

Host Nancy Klepsch in Herman Melville's living room    

The folks at the Lansingburgh Historical Society once again this year asked poet Troy poet Nancy Klepsch to organize a poetry reading as a fund-raiser at their headquarters in a house in which Herman Melville once lived. Nancy invited the poets James Duncan, Scott Laudati, & Darcy Smith to read as the program. I served as co-host with Nancy.

James Duncan
is co-editor (along with Rachel Nix) of the online Hobo Camp Review. He led off the reading with poems about Albany (NY) from his book Both Ways Home (Alpine Ghost Press, 2022) that explores his two hometowns of Albany, & of San Antonio, TX. His read about the Patroon Island Bridge, the Albany Skyway & the ancient people of this land (“The Place Where the Water is Never Still”), & included “River Walk” set in San Antonio. He recently published a chapbook about places along the Hudson River titled Tributaries (Maverick Duck Press, 2023) & read most of poems in that book. He included a poem from June 2017 by Meghan Marohn, a Troy poet & activist who tragically died in 2022, that she composed for James on a typewriter on the banks of the Hudson River as part of her Troy Poem Project & that served as inspiration Tributaries.

Scott Laudati
 his bio for me on a paper napkin: “Scott Laudati lives in Brooklyn. He has 3 books available outside. He has read Moby Dick twice!” He began with reading a poem that has been accepted for future publication by the afore mentioned Hobo Camp Review titled “Skinned Knees” for a dead friend, then poems titled “Grit” & one titled “Stoney Hill” (an apartment complex in New Jersey). Then on to a cluster of poems written while touring the USA, “Thus Passes the Glory of the World,” “Looking at Silver Lake,” “The Santa Fe Trail,” & “Clayton New Mexico.” You can find him on Facebook & other social media.

Darcy Smith
read at the Social Justice Center in Albany for the Third Thursday Poetry Night back in June but I didn’t get her book that night so I was glad she was here, to hear her poems again & get River Poems (Fernwood Press, 2022). This day she read 6 poems from her books, only 1, the graphic, moving “Tossed,” that she had read at her early reading. The other poems this afternoon were the Autumn poem “Set the Clock Backs Back,” “Writing the Lotus” (addressed to Sylvia Plath), “Skimming Stones,” “Skate Me a River,” & “Ars Poetica, No. 10 Hooks” (metaphor in the images of fishing). & there are plenty more poems in River Poems to savor.

For more information about the Lansingburgh Historical Society, including how to donate to support their work, see the link to their site in the first paragraph above.

September 20, 2023

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, September 6

Back here again for the monthly open mic, with tonight’s featured reader Rebecca Schumejda whose reading was live streamed. Carol Graser, our host, got us off to a good start with Martin Espada’s poem “The Republic of Poetry.”

Rebecca Schumejda began with a group of poems about the seasons, from her earlier books, From Seed to Sin (Bottle of Smoke Press, 2011), The Map of Our Garden (verve bath, 2009), & from Falling Forward (sunnyoutside, 2009) “Workman’s Prayer.” Her most recent book is Sentenced (NYQ Books, 2023) from which she read a trio of poems, & ended with a trio from Cadillac Men (NYQ Books, 2012). I recommend that readers of this Blog go to the Caffè Lena Youtube channel to see her performance from this night, & seek out any of her books, particularly the stunning, moving Sentenced.

The open mic portion of the evening is not live-streamed, so you will have to take my word for it; it was a rich night with 17 readers on the sign-up sheet. Rachel Baum read a sad poem about her father “Over the Rainbow.” 

Betsy Lynch, recently re-located to the North Country from Florida & was here for the 1st time, read a descriptive piece about last year’s hurricane in Florida, then to a sad memoir of the death of a brother & her father within in a month, then played a brief portion of the Irish song “The Parting Glass” on her flute. Darcey Anne Farrow was also here for the 1st time, she read a couple of pieces in rhyme, “A Note to Stephen” & “An Unbreakable Bond.”

Alan Catlin, one of the most-published poets in America, has been here many times before tonight, read from his new book based on photos by Diane Arbus How Will the Heart Endure, the poem “My Dream Date with Diane Arbus” & a poem about the photo of the “Jewish Giant” — Arbus one of my early photographer fascinations. I had followed Alan & his wife Val into Caffè Lena & signed up right behind him, I read a couple of Saratoga Springs poems, “& the Mary Lou Whitney You Rode In On” & one actually written in Oklahoma, “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” 

It has been a while since I’d seen Rich Tomasulo at a poetry open mic & I enjoyed the 2 poems he read tonight, “The Good Death” & “In Coconut Grove.” The 2 pieces that Joe DiBaci read sounded like song lyrics & I think they were, “Esmeralda’s Place” & “Roots of All Evil.”

After a brief break Carol Graser read one of her poems, “Laid Off Summer” about picking berries. Fred Ziemann followed with a piece titled “Asthma” descriptive of what is like during an attack.  Melissa Anderson’s poem “Desert Country” was about the wonder of being there, then read a poem on her dislike of thinking of the future, “5 Year Plan.” Rumera Jewett’s rhyming poem, “That Skin-Thin Floor” was about the loud noice  from downstairs.

The Piñata Queen, A.C. Everson, read a poem from last year titled simply “8 AM.” Rodney J. Parrott, who is nearly always here, read another segment from his “fiction memoir” “The Wanderer.” E.R. Vogel read a couple of his abstract, philosophical musings/ponderings. Maire Spellman’s first poem on regret & death was a sonnet, while her 2nd piece was about touching a waterfall.

Wendy Daniels read her poem titled “I Stand” about how the maze & frustrations of her daily life overcome her dreams & her loves, & her struggle against it. Sally Rhoades, who made an appearance in my poem from Oklahoma that I read earlier, read a piece titled “Thistle” & the memoir “What If My Father Was a Poet?” Leslie Vasquez ended the night with a love poem, a good way to wrap up this evening of varied & wide-ranging poetry.

The Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic has been held for 20 years now on the 1st Wednesday of the month, with a featured reader at 7:00PM followed by an open mic — sign-up to read in the open mic at 6:30PM — $5.00 — at 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY.

September 11, 2023

Salon Salvage, August 26

Turns out that this being the first one of this series that I’ve been able to get to was also their 1st anniversary -- I've missed so much. There was a string of readers on tour from Durham, NC, along with featured features, Devin King & Joanna Furhman. The poetry hosts for the series are Matthew Klane & Amy Zimmerman, & venue host/owner Danny Killion.

The evening started with short readings from the traveling band of poets on a tour of the Northeast. Susannah Simpson was bubbly, in a Summer outfit, recited her poems from memory, “Ocean” based on a lithograph, “Magic,” & one based on a prompt from Bernadette Mayer to write in questions.

Marta Nuñez Pouzols
read “Up that Hill” based on a horror short story, & a short piece about grief.

Aimee Harrison
read a short prose piece titled “Box Chains,” & another titled “Mira’s Party.

Matthew Klane introduced Devin King as being from Oxford, UK, but his accent was clearly North American, so there’s a story there we didn’t hear. What he read was compelling, a selection from his book Gathering (Kenning Editions, 2023), a fractured tale of a woman at at party in Chicago. The text was like a series of notes not yet fleshed out into a narrative, the story disintegrating into vague philosophical pondering. 

Co-host Amy Zimmerman introduced the poet Joanna Fuhrman. I remember seeing her in March of 2006 back when there was a regular reading series at the College of St. Rose, she has continued to publish poetry books. She started with poems from To A New Era (Hanging Loose Press, 2021) that she said was from a book that came out during the pandemic, including the title poem,  history as a circle; also a funny poem about her husband’s beard as a cat, another titled “Love Poem in a Failed State.” Then on to prose poems about the internet, with titles like “The Algorithm Ate My Lunch” & “These 6 Emojis Explain Yourself Right Now,” with vivid, almost comic images. She concluded with a poem titled “When My Mother Returns from the Dead She is No Longer Afraid of Rodents” from a new book in progress, sort of Brooklyn hipster wisecracks which make for entertaining reading.

Salon Salvage apparently takes place on the last Saturday of the month at the Weathered Wood Shop in Troy at 13 Second St. Interesting stuff you won’t find elsewhere around here. You can find them on social media, but also check out the listing on the Hudson Valley Writers Guild website calendar.


September 9, 2023

Caffè Lena: A Look Back 20 Years (& Beyond)

Carol Graser, July 23, 2003

"It was 20 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play …"

On September 23, 2023 Caffè Lena, the venerable, historic music venue (opened in 1960) in Saratoga Spring, NY will celebrate 20 years of its poetry open mic. The organizer & host for all those years is poet Carol Graser. You can read more about history of Caffè Lena on its website, but my interest & focus for this Blog is on the history of the Poetry Open Mic.

This Blog that you are reading on now was started in January 2007, after a brief time on MySpace. But even before the advent of Blogs I was documenting the poetry/open mic scene in, & around, Albany, NY with my camera (well before the current scene where everyone has a camera in their pocket), & the attendant notes I kept. The hastily recorded, often illegible, notes that I scribbled in dark bars & coffee houses in my pocket notebooks were later transcribed into larger spiral notebooks, while the photos were developed from film, printed as black & white (mostly) 4x6 prints, annotated on the back, & stored alphabetically in 4x6 archive boxes. Thus the record of poetry events at that time, at least in my archives, consists of photos, i.e. prints, & my hand-written notebook entries; it does not exist online -- at least until now that I have added the record of this historic event to my Blog.

Carol Graser had been coming to some of the poetry events in & about Albany & when she announced that she would be starting a poetry open mic at Caffè Lena there was a collective consensus among the rest of us, hosts & participants, that we had to pack the house that first night so that the folks at Caffè Lena would realize that there were a lot of poets in the area who would even drive the 45 minutes or so up to Saratoga Springs to attend an open mic there.

I've attached here photos of my notebook entry for July 23, 2003 & you can see there 30 readers, with about 16 from Albany. In addition, one can clearly see in the photo of the crowd outside Caffè Lena Albany poets Mary Panza, Tess Lecuyer, Emily Gonzalez & Leo! Carol Graser was the host of that first open mic experiment, & the featured poet that night was Franklin Whitney as well as a strong showing from poets in & around Saratoga Springs.

This test was apparently a success, convincing the Caffè Lena board to continue with the open mic on a regular basis; the next Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic was held a few weeks later on September 3, 2003, establishing itself in the 1st Wednesday slot where it has been ever since.

It should be noted that there had been a previous poetry open mics on the stage of Caffè Lena, but the only one I have documentation for was held on March 11, 1992, hosted by Franklin Whitney, who can be seen in the photo in the back row on the far left.

Caffè Lena will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Poetry Open Mic on Saturday, September 23, 2023 with a 4 hour open mic, hosted by Mary Panza, from 2:00PM to 6:00PM, followed by a reading later at 8:00PM with poets Martin Espada, Regan Good & Roger Wizen Smith. You can find out more about these events on the website.  Come celebrate Caffè Lena & celebrate Carol Graser for her long-run stewardship of the poetry open mic.

& the monthly open mic continues on the 1st Wednesday of each month at Caffè Lena, 47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs, NY. Doors open at 6:30PM for open mic sign-up, a featured poet goes on at 7:00PM, which is live streamed, followed by the open mic. $5.00 donation. 

September 5, 2023

Pine Hollow Arboretum Open Mic, August 18

This series that had been suspended for the pandemic now seems to be back on a monthly basis. This night there was no featured poet, but plenty of open mic poets to share their work. The reading was held round-robin style with each poet reading 1 poem in each round, some went all 3 rounds, others less.

Alan Casline
served as host/moderator & began the night with a poem by the founder of the Arboretum, the late John Abbul, M.D., the poem written February 19, 2001, “Belongings.” In other rounds Alan read a poem titled simply “Holy Moly,” the another filled with grim images “The Goddess of War;” somewhere’s in-between a poem dedicated to Mark O’Brien’s cellar, “The Old Cellar Blues.”

In the first round I read one of my 3x5 poem cards what could serve as an introductory piece, “Content Advisory;” then later “Confused About Pronouns,” & at the end the salacious “Author Photo.”

Paul Amidon only read in 2 rounds, a piece titled “Bus Ride,” about the regular riders as he went to visit his mother in a nursing home; then “American Dream,” an “old guy’s commentary.”

Francesca Sidoti’s first entry was a social justice piece titled “Skin,” later a gentle lullaby “Child’s Heart,” & the title poem from her book “Civil Twilight.”

David Gonsalves had just a couple of short pieces, which seems to be his specialty, one was titled “At the Gross Hotel,” the other, about a performance was untitled.

Tim Verhaegen often writes graphically, humorously about his youth growing up in Eastern Long Island. Both poems he read this night had that as its theme; the first titled “Grandfather Amagansett” evoked the history & nature of the place in a single character; in the 2nd piece “Thelma Talking Harry in East Hampton…” he effectively performed the voices of both characters.

Tom Corrado weaved an intricate literary web through the 2 pieces he read, the first “Disconnecting the Dots” inspired by a visit to NYC’s Strand Bookstore with references to the experimental novelist David Markson (1927 -2010) (who was born in Albany) & to Alma Mahler &, of course, Frank O’Hara, with his 2nd piece “particulars” from Shakespeare, chunks & sound dumps from Frankenstein & Tiki Tok, or so he said.

Joe Krausman seemed obsessed with rhyme, railing against some un-named critics who claims, Joe said, “rhyme is dead,” while we all know pop music thrives on rhyme, both the inane & the profound. All 3 of his poems had rhyme (both the inane & the profound), one from an old picture of him with a fiddle, another from memory about jumping in a river, & the 3rd simply another rhyme from memory.

Tom Bonville hung in until the end with 3 poems, a master of the childhood memoir, the 1st titled “Summertime” a memory of Yankee Stadium, that morphed into an old man’s rant about physics, “but what about baseball?;” then on to the 2 poems he read last night at the Social Justice Center, on the end of America, & on Jerry Lewis’ laugh.

Mark O’Brien had 3 poems to share, the 1st, “Every Angle” was based on a poem by Peggy Seely, then a couple of memoir poems, “Tres Amigos,” then one about the TV show “The Rifleman” which aired from September 1958 to April 1963.

So if you were there (also a title of a 1950s era TV show) on this night in August 2023 you would have experienced this reading in a different manner, but this is as close as I can get here on DWx, where, as it says, “it’s not the Truth, but it’s pretty darn close.”

See the calendar of events on the website for the Hudson Valley Writers Guild for information about this & other open mic events in the area — & come join us.

September 4, 2023

Third Thursday Poetry Night: Joel Best, August 17

Back at the Social Justice Center for the monthly open mic, with tonight’s featured poet, Joel Best. A good mix of community poets showed up, some who hadn’t been here in a while, others for the 1st time. But first to invoke the Muse, tonight the Albany poet & activist — for peace, for social justice & to protect the environment (& our asses) — Tom Nattell, I read his poem for the anniversary of the bombing by the United States of America of the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 “Hiroshima.”

First up to the open mic, as she likes to be, was Sylvia Barnard, who read about a recent trip back to the UK with her daughter, sea gulls on the beach on the Hampshire coast like her father’s cows in the Summer rain. Tom Bonville read “Going Going Maybe Gone” on the possible future of the US, then snuck in a 2nd poem (both short), on love & Jerry Lewis’ laugh. I hadn’t seen poet Andy Fogle here in a few years, so it was good to have him back, he said he has been working on a book of poems about the abolitionist John Brown, then read one of the poems based on a trip to John Brown’s farm in North Elba, NY with his daughter, “Snow Angels at John Brown’s Farm.”

Many years ago before I moved back to Albany I had a poem published in a zine published here titled Tin Wreath, the editor was David Gonsalves, & tonight he joined us to read a very short poem “Hide & Seek.” Melissa Anderson was back again to read a richly descriptive piece inspired by a trip to the desert in Saudi Arabia “Desert Country.”

I’ve enjoyed hearing Joel Best’s poetry at his regular appearances at the 2nd Sunday @ 2 open mic at Collar City Mushrooms in Troy. His collection of poems august, never had been accepted by Finishing Line Press but he eventually published it himself. He said that he doesn’t write topical pieces, rarely personal poems, instead he writes what he calls “altered mythologies, or fragmented mythologies,” writes a lot of lines then cuts & pastes to create the poem; most of his poems are short. 

Among the poems he read was “departed” (from august, never (2023)) which had been 

written for his church’s annual poetry service; another that could be called “mythological” was “a play at god,” which included a church, a graveyard ceremony, a dress, mixed like a dream, as most of his poems are. He said that the poem “Kunder Chunk” gets its title from the sound a heart makes after making love, & “On the Porch” was another sort of love poem. As a visual artist, Joel said he likes to do automatic drawings (surrealist that he is) & read a poem he titled “Automatic Writing” somehow mixing in a photo of naked mountain climbers. 

Joel had 2 self-published books for sale, Family Album (2022) that included as illustrations altered family photos, & august, never (2023), which he offered for sale this night for donations & then donated the sales to the Social Justice Center. I hope he keeps cranking out his poems & art; you can find some of his artwork as well as poetry on his website

After the break, & book sale, we continued on with the open mic. I led off with a new poem about “the Bomb” titled “A Poem for August 6th.” Joan Goodman got on the list & read a just written long piece in vignettes based upon her experience visiting folks in nursing homes & hospices.

The next 2 readers were once the featured poets at Poets in the Park, my only booking (so far) of a father & daughter team; Lance LeGrys (the father) read first, “Whiskey & Sparrows” about watching chipping sparrows from his deck, imaging them as golfers on the course. 

Alex LeGrys
(the daughter) read  “Co-Existence,” a portrait & an encounter.

The last 2 open mic poets were new to me, always a welcome event. Dirk de Jong wrote about his experience as an immigrant 50 years ago ”Beer from a Bottle,” about newness & strangeness & not feeling at ease. Barto Morales had just signed up at the last minute & read a love poem “The Universe Smiled at Me,” said he usually writes in Spanish, & this was one of his first efforts writing in English.

Join us each third Thursday for a reading by a local or regional poet & an open mic for the rest of us, your $5.00 donation supports this & other poetry events & the work of the Social Justice Center.  Bring a poem to read.