February 12, 2019

Know Reading: Nicole Peyrafitte, February 9

We had the Yes! a Reading series, now we have Know Readings — oh, wait, wrong homophone. This series features only one reader to give them time they say to stretch out a bit. That could be deadly with some poets, but certainly not Nicole Peyrafitte who is always dynamic, scintillating & often humorous. Of course, since this was run by the St. Rocco’s group there was the usual futzing around with equipment, running back for a mic stand, etc. But Nicole, & us, weathered it well.

The program was a mix of readings, chants, films & stills of Nicole’s paintings. She began with her 2015 book Bi-Valve (éditions PLAINE Page), entering the space chanting (en français) “Oh! Oh! Oh!Woman of Oô” The book itself is a colorful mix of her paintings & poems, even a recipe “Clams for 2.” Among the poems she read were “Golden Evasion,” “Black Pleasure,” “For & w/ Georgia O’Keefe,” “Vertigo,” & “I weave therefore I am.” She also showed a video of her performance of “Live Painting” at the Galerie Simoncini in Luxembourg, with Pierre Joris doing a live reading from his poem “Cormorant.” The first half ended with a trailer to her film, Mirage, about the work of contemporary artist/poet Basil King.

The Excelsior Pub on Albany’s Phillip’s Street, in the shadow of the Empire State Plaza, is a neighborhood bar with an refreshing list of craft beers, a tasty pub menu & eclectic maps on the walls — the NYC subway, the Adirondacks, anywhere in New York. The host, Douglas Rothschild, talked about the name of the over-arching series, St. Rocco’s for the Dispossessed, citing the Catholic Saint’s unique iconography, that of revealing a unhealed sore on his thigh, the result of the plague, thus the “dispossessed” appellation. St. Rocco (1295 - 1327) is identified as the patron Saint of dogs & bachelors, which some think are the same thing.

After the break Nicole returned to talk about her film titled Things Fall Where They Lie (which is also her mantra), as she explained that her hometown in France, Luchon, is on the same parallel as Albany. In fact when she & Pierre were still living her one of her signature performances was “Bi-Continental Chowder” during which she made a chowder while reciting her poems about Luchon & showing slides of the connections between there & her place her in Albany. Today she read from her field notes for the cast for her film, a cinéma verité, set in the Pyrenees, shot over the course of 7 days, with a theme/mood for each day for the actors to think about & respond. The notes quoted the philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884 - 1962), author of, among others, The Poetics of Space. Bachelard said, “Hygiene, then, is a poem,” & “the River is speech without punctuation.” She also showed a clip from a video made from their stay in Boise, Idaho of tumbleweeds, & ended with a another chant.

We were far from “dispossessed” here today in this pleasant pub on a Saturday afternoon, with the poetry & images of Nicole Peyrafitte.

February 11, 2019

What People Are Reading #1 - February 11

For years I have carried a book into a bar, coffee shop, bus, subway, my desk at work. At my childhood bar there was a professor at the University who would sit for hours reading medieval texts in French while the postal workers, truck drivers, real estate brokers, pharmacy clerks, you name it, swirled around him; hours later he would stagger home to his wife, kids, before staggering eventually into his grave.

I’ve thought nothing about it for years. In fact, I had lunch today at a bar with a copy of the Beloit Poetry Journal. Once at Ale & Oysters I was reading American Poetry Review with my lunch, the bartender doing a crossword puzzle. He said, “you seem to know poetry; I need a 4-letter word for a Roman poet, ending with “d”. He was pleased when I solved his puzzle with “Ovid.”

Tonight at The Point over a pizza, a glass of wine, I noticed a young woman reading a slightly banged-up book. I had a vision of a sub-set of Blog entries about what I see people reading & got the courage to ask her.

What Megan was reading was a novel Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. “It’s an OK read,” she said, “I like to read at the bar;” she said that she got it to take it with her when she traveled recently.

February 9, 2019

Dead O’ Winter All Genre Wide-Open Mic, February 2

Since moving to Bennington, VT from many years in Chicago, Charlie Rossiter (of 3 Guys from Albany fame) has been, in typical Charlie Rossiter fashion, injecting poetry open mics into the formerly bereft Bennington scene. He is the host of the Poetry/Spoken Word Open Mic at the Tap House in Bennington on the 2nd Tuesday of each month; in the Fall he hosts the 100 Thousand Poets for Change open mic & this event in the “dead o’ Winter” at the Bennington Unitarian Universalist church.  Being “wide-open” we heard poetry, story-telling, trumpet tunes, songs, drumming, a Buddhist text, &, of course, a singer-songwriter with a guitar.

I grabbed the empty #1 slot on the sign-up sheet & began with a piece from 1997 for an issue of Chronicles of Disorder titled “The Track of a Sound of a Day: Today & Over the Years - February 2, 1997” in which I mined my diaries for things done on February 2 over the years, then premiered my annual “Birthday Poem” this one an “un-intentional sonnet.”

Kenn Ash is a regular at the 2nd Tuesday open mic at the Tap Room, began with a love song which he sang & played his pocket trumpet, then one titled “My Worst Drug Was You.” You can also find Laura Ellzby each 2nd Tuesday at the Tap Room; tonight she read poems from workshop prompts, “Comparing Contradictory Thoughts,” “To My Beloved” (a litany of similes), “Window Panes,” & ended by singing a song in Spanish about a wasp in love with a Queen bee. Lynn Mazza read from the anthology Poems To Live By In Troubling Times poems by Marge Piercy, James Wright & Mary Oliver.

Proving how eclectic the evening turned out to be, Stephen Have set up his conga drums & played his harmonica & drummed. Since we were scheduled for a break, to mix & chat, he consented to be the background music.

After the break, Bruce Lierman told us a story asking us to “imagine a June night in the mid-West” years ago, out with his girlfriend, an embarrassing moment saved by a smile. Jerry Byrd read from the Chen/Zen text Xin Xin Ming, which perhaps could be summed up in the phrase “mind is Buddha.”

Our host, Charlie Rossiter, took a turn to read a new poem “If You See Something,” then one from his Chicago days “Night Life.” True-to-folk-singer-form, Ben Mackin began with a moment or two of tuning his guitar then sang an original tune titled “Empty Promises.”

If you are anywhere within driving distance to Bennington, VT (it is just 1 hour from my house in Albany) check out the events that Charlie Rossiter organizes to bring poetry to Southern Vermont.

February 5, 2019

A Night of Poetry: Featuring Local Poets & Special Guests, February 1

This event, presented by The Schenectady Trading Company, took place at Electric City Barn, & was coordinated & hosted by Schenectady poet Caroline Bardwell. The readers included Caroline, Sarah Giragosian & Noah Kucij. Caroline gave us some background on The Schenectady Trading Company & on the Electric City Barn, both of which you can find on Facebook. Then she introduced the first reader.

Sarah Giragosian is the author of Queer Fish, winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize (Dream Horse Press, 2017) & has read at a number of local venues, including the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center. She began with poems from Queer Fish, including a couple I hadn’t heard her read previously, “The Apocalypse Comes to Bodega Bay” & “Nursery Web Spider.” She has a new manuscript forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press The Death Spiral,  & read the stunning title poem, then others ranging from the Moon to the Galapagos Islands, ending with a love poem set by the Rio Grande “River Road.”

Noah Kucij has been in & out of the local poetry open mic scene for a number of years & was a featured reader at some local venues, including “Live from the Living Room” some years ago. A Schenectady native so it was not surprising that his poems dealt with his hometown, beginning with a poem, “In Memoriam,” about the now-closed Brandywine Diner, then a related piece “To the Girls Who Poured Coffee.” Although he read some poems on other topics, such as one about a sick puppy (“The Belt”), “Uses for a Brick,” or the striking conjunction of “Epileptic Valentine,” he sandwiched them between selections from a long memoir/descriptive poem about Schenectady titled “That Lights & Hauls the World.”

For the last year Caroline Bardwell has been showing up at local open mics to read her poems, many in traditional forms, as she writes & reads, finding her voice. It was then quite a treat to hear her read more than the 2 or 3 poems normally allotted to open mic readers. Appropriately enough she began with a tanka sequence about poetry that had a repeating, inter-locking line “poems are so much more than…” Then on to some poems from an imminent book of poems & photos On & Off the Trail, including “Summer” from her alliterative series on the 4 seasons, & a melancholy memoir “The Snowy Lean To,” & one I hadn’t heard previously “Cascade.” She ended with a cluster of poems from a series she is titling “An Exhibition of Emotions,” with poems on her Faith, on dance, & a sonnet with Biblical reference, as well as another sonnet titled “Unrequited,” & ended with a rondeau “A Dream Now Dead.”

It was an evening of good poetry in a fascinating new venue. Let’s see what the future brings.

January 30, 2019

Poets Speak Loud!, January 28

Each last Monday in January we celebrate the life & work & poetry of Albany poet & activist Tom Nattell, who left us in 2005, with an open mic (no featured reader) at McGeary’s Irish bar in Albany. But prior to that there are always a few hardy souls (it being January in the Northeast) who gather at the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park for the annual Memorial Beret Toss at the site where Tom ran the Poets in the Park program each July since 1989 — & it continues to this day under my direction.

The open mic with Dan Wilcox (i.e., me) & Charlie Rossiter (3 Guys from Albany) performing along with the voice of Tom for their signature opening to their performances. Then I read, as I do each year, my short elegy “Theology 101.”

Douglas Holiday talked about his early days in the Albany poetry scene, then read, not his own poem, but a poem by Hilton Obenzinger “The X of 1492,” an anti-Columbus, anti-imperialist screed. That reminded me of Tom’s Christopher Columbus Fantasies from 1992 SO I read one. A.C. Everson talked about her piñata days at the QE2 open mic that Tom ran, lamented not finding her Tom poem, but read instead “1st Day” written New Year’s Day.  

Christa DeMarco had only discovered the poetry scene back in July of this year, she read a couple of political poems, one titled “Give this Man a Dictionary & a Thesaurus” then another with a garden metaphor; she will be the featured reader here next month.  Guy Reed came up from Saugerties to join the festivities & mentioned he had stumbled on Albany, Minnesota in his travels (3 Guys from Albany performed there in November, 2005 as part of their epic “All-Albany Tour”); Guy then read a poem for his daughter “Apples” & a short piece “Oh But It Does.” Don Levy was there in the early days of the QE2 open mics (Tom once dubbed him “the safe-sex poet”), & Don tonight read a tribute “To Millie” about the recently gone Millie DiBlasi.

Mary Panza is the usual host for Poets Speak Loud! at which she doesn’t read but felt free to tonight to share a few of her poems, a newer piece “No One Escapes the Pain of Being a Person” then on to a couple of older pieces, the memoir of herself over Time “Those Black & White Photos,” & her response to an interviewers question “Why Poetry?” Cheryl A. Rice had spent a couple years in Albany in the 1990s & read a poem written after attending the open mic at the QE2 “My Central Ave.” then a piece titled “Traveling.” I gave Tom a voice here in the middle of the list by reading his poem "Tiananmen Square,” noting that this year will be the 30th anniversary of that uprising. Julie Lomoe also read her “Tom Nattell poem,” hers about Tom’s last reading at the Lark St. Bookstore “Open Mic Night on Lark St.” Mark W. O’Brien also paid tribute to a one of the gone poets, Catherine Connolly, who read at the QE2 open mic, by reading her poem “Ariel’s Birthday for Ted Hughes,” then one of his own “Dear Josephine.”

Photo by Mark W. O'Brien
Gene Barry came all the way from Ireland for this event & to read from his new book of poems Flaking the Rope (available from Amazon.com) “Stuffing Hanks” & “In the Black,” rich, lush images. Sally Rhoades spoke about her first reading at the QE2 open mic, then read a memoir poem of her family & herself as a youth “What Would I Be as a High School Poet?” & a piece on her other passion, dance, “I Had to Raise the Feminine.” Brett Petersen was another of the younger generation of poets here tonight; his poems were full of word & sound & image play, the first with a long title I didn’t get all of but began “Needle My Ogle Poodle Like …”, then “Let Breakfast Be Your Catechism.” Joe Krausman’s first poem’s title was a quote from William Blake “Exuberance is Beauty” & was about the perils of public speaking, then another that had been published in an anthology of accounting poems “The Passionate Accountant to His Love.”

Charlie Rossiter, who runs a monthly open mic in Bennington, read a poem “On Reading My Brother’s Facebook Post” pondering his childhood & the mentality of Trump supporters, then a poem in the manner of Kenneth Patchen about legs on a plane “If You See Something.” Avery paid tribute to Tom by reading from one of Tom’s chapbooks, Pell Mell - Words for Voice & Consideration (BOOG Literature,1992) “Save It” & “The Richard Nixon Library Fantasy.” Tess Lecuyer came out of the woods to join us tonight & read “A Love Sonnet to January.” Mary Ann Murray, who had also read at the QE2 in the early days, read a poem she had sent me a couple years ago, “A Note to Tom” then one from memory “Candle Power.” & I read another poem I’d written after Tom’s death “Chasing Tom.”

We gave Tom the last word tonight by performing a piece from The 3 Guys from Albany’s recording Tom’s environmental manifesto “CO2” with his own voice leading us on. A grand tribute to one who made all this poetry happen, his joy & activism rippling on to a generation of poets who never met him.

The rest of the year Poets Speak Loud! continues on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s Irish Pub on Sheridan Square in Albany, NY, 7:30 PM, with a featured poet & a wild open mic for the rest of us.

January 22, 2019

Third Thursday Poetry Night, January 17

For the first third Thursday of 2019 we gathered as we always do on the third Thursday of any month at the Albany Social Justice Center for an ope mic & a featured reading, tonight, by NYC poet/cab driver Cliff Fyman. Even on such a cold January night we had a unique gathering of poets representing a cross-section of the quality poets living & writing in the area. Unfortunately, 2018 was, literally, a killer for poets with this area being hit particularly hard, & I am backed up on my tributes. Tonight’s Muse of a gone-poet who could not be here was Jim Flosdorf who died in October at the age of 84. Jim was a naturalist, environmentalist, poet, artist, photographer; I read his poem “Renovation” from the 1986 collection Gates to the City: The Albany Tricentennial Anthology. Then on to the open mic.

Douglas Holiday was signed up first & he read, not his own poem, but “Inundated, after watching Hurricane Katrina coverage on CNN” by Hayes Davis from Ghost Fishing: an Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2018). Next up was Joe Krausman whose poem “Marilyn Monroe’s Dress” was about the worth of things, & life & death. Phil Good read selections from a longer piece titled “Slow Capture” on the digital universe, perhaps. Bernadette Mayer was here tonight & she read a spicy poem, like a soup, called “Parsley.”

Cliff Fyman wrote a series of poems that he called Yellow Cab written about driving a cab at night in NYC. Tonight he read from a section of a work in progress also about that experience. He said he would shape into poems the words the passengers would say to their companion or into their cellphones. Some were extended conversations, others snippets & phrases, that shows the brilliance of random remarks thrown together forming their own connections, from the mundane to the ridiculous. To be expected, many exchanges were about relationships, often gay men, some were arguments, & in the last segment he read, the passenger addresses him, the driver, trying to pick him up. In the recording of the reading there are frequent laughter & giggles from the audience who were obviously enjoying it. Cliff’s other books include Nylon Sunlight (2004), & Fever (2006) (with Bernadette’s footprint in red ink as the cover).

After a break & a donation — less than the cost of a cab ride — we returned to the open mic. I read an old poem from the days of the QE2 open mic titled “Yellow Cab.” Adam Tedesco returned to the Social Justice after an absence to read a poem titled “Backlit” descriptive of a camping trip & being born & family. Screamer (it’s only her handle, she doesn’t really scream) read “My Attempt at a Don Levy Poem” about a crush on the “fish boy” at a part-time job, just like one of Don’s gay-fantasy poems -- her attempt succeeded. The final poet was also a here after an absence, John Allen, who read a poem titled “Dialator” inspired Jeff Clark’s poems Music & Suicide; John had a hard time reading it from the small piece of paper he had written it on.

Join us any third Thursday of the month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY 7:30PM for an open mic for poets, with a featured reading by a local, regional or national poet. Your donation supports poetry events in Albany & the work of the Social Justice Center.

January 17, 2019

Getting Down to Brass Tacks, January 15

It’s a new year & it’s about time I got down to brass tacks & down to The Low Beat (there’s a song in there somewhere). I was surprised to see Mary Panza at the bar with the open mic sign-up clipboard rather than Thom Francis. But Mary said Thom was ill so she was filling in as the host tonight. There were a few folks sitting by the window but they said they were here just to listen. So we waited & then someone strolled in, & signed up, said his name was Phelix.

When it was time to start, Mary called us all forward closer to the stage for what I think is the smallest open mic that I’ve been to, at least that I’ve documented (here), not counting a couple I actually made up because no one actually read.

I went first & since everyone in the room hadn’t heard my poems previously (with the exception of Mary, & Kim the bartender) I read some older pieces, “Books Not Bombs” (the most recent poem of the bunch), “Ordering Lunch,” & the classic “Where Were the Professors?”

Phelix was next (& the last) with a piece perhaps titled “Hello Stranger” written in Rome, a nervous conversation with a star, & thinking of a lost love.

& that was that. But Getting Down to Brass Tacks, a poetry open mic, happens on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of each month at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM — visit the AlbanyPoets.com website for more information.