May 16, 2022

Caffè Lena Poetry Night, May 4

Always a good turnout of local poets for the open mic here, as well it should be — it’s the longest lasting poetry open mic in Saratoga County, perhaps in the entire North Country, &, correct me if I’m wrong, the only one. & our host Carol Graser always books stellar featured poets, from the local poets or poets in the Region. Tonight she started us off with a poem, “The Workshop,” by the gone poet Donald Lev (1936 - 2018), whom I first encountered in the mid-1970s in NYC in the East Village.

The pattern now at Caffè Lena is to have the featured poet perform at 7:00PM & live-stream it, then go on to the open mic. Tonight’s feature poet was James Henry Knippen who read 10 poems from his collection of poems Would We Still Be (Western Michigan University, 2021). I caught James read in the open mic here back in November 2021, & enjoyed his relaxed, nicely stacked reading tonight. You too can enjoy his entire reading here on the Caffè Lena YouTube channel. 

On to the open mic, with a local poet, a regular here, Rachel Baum the 1st up, to read “Absolute” that played on the meanings of the word, then one titled “The Gift.” Michael Carroll at some point in the night slipped me a copy of his self-published book of poems Scotch Sympathy, of which I recognized one that he read “Masquerade Mandate,” the other poem didn’t seem to be in the book & my notes say “An Advertisement for Elvis,” & on further research I realized I’d hear him read in the open mic here back in January.

Terri Lynn said it was her first time reading here, she read her own poem “Love Compost“ then a poem by her husband (don’t know if he was in the audience). Todd Fabozzi has been out of the picture for a while, said he has just produced Volume 4 of his series Poems & Anti-Poems (with a nod to Chilean poet Nicanor Parra) & read a piece from it “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Elaine Kenyon was a returning open mic reader with a poem about her wishes & regrets “A Wonder How.”

Elizabeth Threadgill was another returning reader & read a piece about “generational violence,” then one with the provocative title “The Air Between Us.” I missed the April reading here so brought a couple of Earth Day poems, the recent “2 Dreams” & the old “chestnut” from 3 Guys from Albany performances “Message from Space.” Victoria Twomey, an painter as well as a poet, & now a regular here, remembered a friend with “Flutter & Glow,” & a poet about seeing a dead animal on the side of the road “Glimpse.”

Effie Redman has been a welcome sight here for years, tonight did a piece meditating on leaves, gravity, & pain with the messaged to not look back. Nora read a short piece about Spring (finally here). Elissa read poems for the Ukraine women in the style of contemporary Afghanistan woman, a 2-line form called a “landay” (cf. I Am the Beggar of the World, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)). The final poet, Carlo read a piece titled “The Bird & the Stone.”

[Once again, I apologize to those who read if I have incorrectly reported your name; I tried to get a look at the sign-up sheet at the end of the reading to verify names but it was spirited away into the Caffe Lena backrooms; any errors about the titles/subject of the poems that were read are purely my own. You are free to send me corrections to either, which I will then edit this report, at] 

This long-going/ongoing poetry open mic at Caffè Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY takes place on the 1st Wednesday of the month, 7:00PM, sign-up at 6:30PM, $5.00, featured poet & a community open mic. 

May 15, 2022

Invocation of the Muse, May 2

This reading/open mic series started out in November at the re-opened Fuze Box on Central Ave., but it was a bumpy start. Last month it moved to this new performance venue, Lark Hall, in an historic Albany building. Long-time Albany residents remember it as the home of Maud Baum’s eba dance studio. It was built in 1916 as a meeting place for the Order of the Eastern Star, a lady’s auxiliary of sorts of the Masons. 

The host is R.M. Engelhardt, long-time impresario of poetry open mics in Albany & Troy. This space seems to be a great choice, but tonight there were issues with the lights. The stage has  apparently been set up with a lighting system for music performance & theater production (which I haven’t seen here), with moving, rotating lights, but didn’t seem to have a spot for a center stage performer (or at least the staff, a bar-tender, didn’t seem to know how to turn it on). I read early on the sign-up sheet & had to keep shifting my position to catch enough light to read from the pages I brought. This problem with the lighting was eventually settled by turning up the house lights (poetry open mics are not rock shows) & stopping the stage lights from constant movement. Thankfully, Rob has been around long enough to be able to give management a clear idea of what is needed for a smooth-running poetry open mic.

Rob invoked the Muse by reading the lyrics of (still-living) Nick Cave’s lyrics “The Moon is in the Gutter” & “Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow).” The I read, a Winter tale of skiing "Whistler 2001." I was followed by Maurice, who has been a consistent follower of Invocation of the Muse, who read pieces titled “The Weather Reports is the Same Distance from Me as the Therapies” & “A Poem Left from Last Nigh,” edgy poems perfect for this venue.

This was the first time reading for Joshua Wald (aka, Josh the Poet), with energetic hip-hop infused readings of  “Lend Me Your Soul” & “Missed Calls.” This was also Vincent’s 1st time (although it was also my first time here), he read from from his phone (which had distinct advantages with the uncertain light situation), booze infused poems “Whiskey Redemption” & “Secret in Liquor.” Patrick Williams had read back in the Fuze Box recently, tonight began with a working class poem, “Drip” the details of fixing a pipe, then a rhyming piece playing on the names & details of trees.

The night’s featured reader was an itinerant poet, K.R. Morrison from the Left Coast on a tour promoting her chapbook cauldrons (paper press, 2021). She is also a drummer in a rock band, a high school teacher, & the only person I know who could use (in her bio) the word “curations” twice in the same sentence. But the poems were intriguing forays into the world of mothers/daughters in the world, as people as artists. From cauldrons she read “Her Burden” (“In one week a woman can …”), “Charlotte Anne” a tribute to her mother who died in 2015, “One Nature Under Murder” for the COVID years, “Silver Lining” (“Silver lining is us, skylines of poets …”). She read 2 other poems not in the book, one written recently while on tour about her family, & one about the line of women ancestors in her “War Woman.” Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t sentimental memoirs, but edgy pieces playing on language, with chant-like repetitions.

Back to the open mic, R.M. Engelhardt read from his new book, the independently published Of Spirit, Ash & Bone — Poems Parables, which he said was “something entirely different & new,” but I didn’t hear that in the 2 pieces he read, in fact the piece “Scriptures” was reminiscent of his earlier work where he speaks directly to the reader in a preachy tone. Austin Houston read “A Prayer for Ukraine” (with a curse on Putin), then the philosophical conversation “The Talk with Father Time.” Joan Geitz also read a piece about Ukraine, a long political rant “Let Us Be Honest.”

Stepping into a long tradition of open mics in bars, tonight’s bartender, Leila, read 2 poems, a list of dreams beginning “I wish…,” then a love poem someone wrote for her. Rebecca Schoonmaker, one of the founders of the Upstate Artists Guild, trotted out her literary talents with 3 Haiku for Spring. Thom Francis read an untitled love poem written recently, then his poem about stirring up memories from the things in his pocket, glad to hear it again.

& that was it for this month. Invocation of the Muse now takes place in Lark Hall, on the corner of Lark St. & Hudson Ave., entrance on Hudson Ave., on the 1st Monday of the month, 7:30PM sign up, 8:00PM start, $5.00 (or more) payable at the door -- featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

May 11, 2022

Rockport Poetry Festival, April 24

As many of you know, I’m a great fan of Cape Ann, MA & when I saw on the Gloucester Writers Center weekly newsletter about this event I decided to go. The date was a Sunday, & since I had tickets for the Albany Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday night, I drove over Sunday morning. I got a later start than I had wished & so missed a “Bard’s Brunch” & the “Poetry at the Pond” at the Millbrook Meadow Park in Rockport. 

When I go to Cape Ann I always stay in Gloucester which is a 365-day working city, while Rockport is more of a Summer destination. But for years I had seen the Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge almost to the end of Bearskin neck, busy in the tourist season with its shops, art galleries & all the kinds of things that draws tourist in the Summer, & had always wondered what it would be like to spend the night there with its backside facing Sandy Bay. I booked a room for 2 nights. My room was perfect, a porch facing the bay, watching the tides & the gull & ducks.

After checking in I walked to the Rockport Public Library for “Global Voices,” not sure what was what. It turns out this was an international Zoom event, with a slowly building local audience in the Library auditorium. I didn’t know anyone there & most were what I’m now calling “grey-haired contemporaries,” &, course, there were the usual glitches with setting up a Zoom connection & the connection to the big screen TV for those in the live audience to see the readers on Zoom. But the problems were resolved & we settled in for short segments from poets from Dubai, from Palestine, South Africa, Switzerland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark & elsewhere. This was followed by a segment of readings by poets from the U.S.

Later there was a reception at Brackett’s Oceanview Restaurant on Main St. where there was a nice spread of light food & a cash bar. I talked with Roger Davis who is the host of the Open Mic out of the Gloucester Writers Center on the 1st Monday of each month, & he introduced me to Bob Whalen who had been the host of the “Global Voices” event at the Library. Then later I ran into a poet from Albany (we’re Everywhere!), or at least one who had been in the Albany poetry/music scene in the past, Jason O’Toole, who gave me copies of his work, Spear of Stars (The Red Salon, 2018), & a proof copy of Poison Moonlight (Blood Pudding Press, 2021). His mother, whom I was in high school with in a journalism class, still lives in the Capital District. As a result, Jason will be reading in the 2022 Poets in the Park series in July. 

Back to my room by the bay to dial in to a Zoom Open Mic, the finale of this one-day Rockport Poetry Festival. There were about 20 folks signed in & a dizzy array of poets & styles of poems.

Dan & Angela were the most performance oriented, as Angela rang a gong while Dan read a piece playing off Kerouac’s “Old Angel Midnight,” then Angela read her poems. 

Pamela Bailey read selections from her book. 

Barrie Levine read “Ukraine Haiku.” 

Muriel read some simple philosophy. 

Sandra Williams’ “Brothers” was from a picture of Christ & the Buddha. 

Amy Seabrook read about planetary music. 

Jorgelina Zeoli’s poems were on friendship. 

Nancy Hewitt has a new book of memoirs from Finishing Line Press

Jon Wesick breathlessly read a couple of clever, hyped up satiric pieces. 

James Inman’s piece about how folks around the world celebrate Easter was also humor, as was Franz's political piece.

Jennie Meyer shared some sci-fi based on Mary Oliver. 

I read a couple of my poem cards, they’re short. 

Kevin Perrin read pieces about Cape Ann & Holyoke.

Then my phone rang & by the time the call was over so was the open mic, & for that matter the Rockport Poetry Festival.

If you are interested in more information about poetry in Rockport, email; & be sure to check out the activities of the Gloucester Writers Center . 

May 7, 2022

Earth Day Reading, April 22

Once again the Friends & Foundation of the Albany Public Library (FFAPL) held a reading by local writers & activists on eco-themes to mark Earth Day; this year it was held on a crisp & breezy, but sunny day, in Albany’s Washington Park, at the Robert Burns statue. It was organized by Amy Forando, & the host was Alexis Bhagat, Executive Director of FFAPL, who acknowledged the presence of the first people on this land, & our responsibility to blessing their memory. 

The readings were divided into 5 section/topics.

First Reading: A Reading for the Land and the City

The first reader was the Honorable Kathy Sheehan, the Mayor of Albany, who expressed an interest in introducing poetry to open official City of Albany events, appropriate to hear at the foot of a statue of Scots poet Robert Burns.

Poet Allie Middleton dramatically read a selection of her poems.

Second Reading: A Reading for the River and the Waters

Pippa Bartollotti read selections from her novel The Symmetries (Vanguard Press, 2022), the first novel of a “cli-fi” trilogy.

I read from my poems, one titled “Water” included in Ghost Fishing: an Eco-Justice Anthology (The University of Georgia Press, 2018) & ended with a performance of the late Albany poet & environmental activist Tom Nattell’s poem “Save It.”

Third Reading: A Reading for the People and the Animals

Sarah Giragosian read poems from her poetry collections Queer Fish (Dream Horse Press, 2017) & The Death Spiral (Black Lawrence Press, 2020).

Barbara Chepaitis brought in a moment of levity with “dog poems” written by her pet after it ate a book of poems.

Cara Benson read a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Dog,” from his legendary A Coney Island of the Mind (City Lights Books, 1955) & introduced us to the “Kindship” series by David Abram.

Albany Literary Legend Elisa Albert read “The Layer,” a poem by Stanley Kunitz.

Fourth Reading: A Reading for the Wind and the Air

Alexis Bhagat read from a series of poems, facts, & lectures.

Douglas Rothschild did a free-form ramble on wind & politics, & poems on “air” & “wind” without which we wouldn’t be able to hear him.

Fifth Reading: A Reading for the Future

Appropriately enough, the last reader was literally part of the future, Rose, a poised & confident 8th grade student who read poems by Mary Oliver & Jo Harjo. 

As we continue the fight against pollution & the corporate exploitation & degradation of the environment, resistance against which was waged by earlier generations of environmental activists, so we, the current activists, must mentor, encourage, & pass on the work to the next generation, but hand-in-hand for as long as we, the Elders, last.

May 6, 2022

Third Thursday Poetry Night, April 21

At the Social Justice Center — Tonight’s featured poet, David Graham, had been scheduled 3 times in the first month’s of 2020 as the uncertainly of the pandemic spread faster than the virus itself. But here we were, alive & in-person, 1 poem each for the open mic. But first the traditional Invocation of the Muse, tonight the gone poet, former co-editor of Beloit Poetry Journal, Lee Sharkey (1945 - 2020), I read her poem “Cloth” a deceptively simple poem of memory.

Then a bit of the open mic. Jackie Craven, host of Writers Mic on Facebook on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, read from her new chapbook Cyborg Sister (Headmistress Press) about a not-quite-human sister, a poem titled “She Tries to Hide the Oily Scent of Her Maturation.” Tom Bonville read a poem about his father drifting away from him every new day, telling him he loves him. Catherine Dickert was here for the 1st time & read a poem about slipping away from a basement apartment at night to go down to the beach, a quietly descriptive, subtle narrative.

Leslie Gerber made a rare trip to Albany for the open mic read his poem “The Hospital for Permanent Adults,” a grim place to be. Joe Krausman has been a regular here, both pre-pandemic & now in our recovery phase, read his humorous take on getting older “Coming of Age.” Tom Corrado read one of the latest of his hundreds of Screen Dumps, this #621, the arrival of Spring in his characteristically random & unpredictable lines.

David Graham, our featured reader, spent many years in Wisconsin but is now back in New York’s North Country. He read mostly from his latest book The Honey of Earth (Terrapin Books, 2019) & talked about editing (with Tom Montag) Local News: Poetry About Small Towns from which he read Charlie Rossiter’s “Car Hendge.” Then on to his own poems “Ode to Baraboo, Wisconsin,” then a poem about a sign seen while driving the Interstate “How Would Jesus Drive?,” “Vinegar and Fizz” & (an elegy & tribute to his mother). He paused to read “The Gift” from another poet from the small town anthology. Then ended with one last poem from his book, “Most of the Time We Live Through the Night” (a quote from Robert Bly), a good note to end on.

After a short break to take up the collection to help pay the poet, support other poetry events, & support the work of the SJC, we continued on with with the remainder of the open mic list. I read a recent poem for Earth Day about the proliferation of ink-jet cartridges, “2 Dreams.” Austin Houston took us back to the earlier theme & read a piece titled “Death’s Waiting Room.” 

Sylvia Barnard found this unfinished poem in her computer this morning, completed the line, & read it tonight, about remembering a gone friend who helped her buy her first computer, another time watching him from her window. Dana Crawford was another first timer here & he read 2 really small poems including lines from Whitman, & about a visit to the dermatologist. Anthony Bernini was our final poet to read “Beneath the Bridge” a memoir piece about living nearly beneath the Manhattan Bridge, near a market for chickens.

We’ve been back since January, on the third Thursday of the month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:00PM sign-up & 7:30 start, with a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us — $5.00 donation. Join us, bring a poem (or other piece of writing, we can't tell where the line breaks are).

May 4, 2022

Writers Mic, April 13

The host, poet Jackie Craven, has been running this open mic on Zoom with a regular, returning stable of poets, mostly, but not entirely, from New York State, on the 2nd Wednesday of each month.

David Graham read from his most recent book The Honey of Earth (Terrapin Books, 2019), a persona poem in the voice of Queen Elizabeth, inspired by a newspaper headline “Crab Lobsters, Monkfish, Conger Eels, & Squid.“

Sue Oringel read a short personal essay, “Poetry in the Kitchen” making mango smoothies in her new machine. 

Nathan Smith read a memory piece written on a train along the Hudson, then another written last night at midnight, a happy poem imagining a future relationship. 

Susan Jewell read 2 deer poems, the first, “The Deer” compared their visual acuity with on her more narrow viewing, & “Of Couples” observing couples at the Cheesecake Factory & deer shit. 

Naomi Bindman, the Vermonter in the room, read “Imaginal Being” with images of a butterfly remembering life before changes, then the self-affirmative “Reminder.”  

For National Poetry Month (but, In Albany, Everyday is National Poetry Month) I read my poem “Believe, Believe” an homage to the poem with the same title by Bob Kaufman, then from my “poem cards” a poem-joke for Poem in Your Pocket Day, “April 29.”

Alan Catlin read pieces from a series of real stories, the first at age 28 as a bar man & guys wanting him to write stories from Attica, & another bar poem about a drunk cop.

Scott Morehouse, the resident humorist here read a piece titled “Stars in Their Eyes,” the story of a woman whose husband had become addicted to musicals (wink, wink), & the disintegration of their marriage. 

Bob Sharkey was back “here” again to read “Ground Hog Day” a descriptive poem with  robins eating berries, cedar waxwings in trees, & the poet looks for an omen, then from an entry in the Stephan A. DiBiase Poetry Contest by Catherine Field “St. Francis After Receiving the Stigmata,” & you can find the poem & the list of winners at the website.  

Kate McNairy brought us back to the deer poem theme with “To a Stag,” then “My Wolf”  that gets her out of bed, both poems from her chapbook My Wolf (Finishing Line Press, 2021).

Jackie Craven brought the night to a close with an “ode/anti-ode to technology” “Customer Service Has Put Me on Hold.”

& that was it for this 2nd Wednesday Writers Mic, but you can join this monthly Zoom open mic by finding the link on Facebook.

May 3, 2022

What Do You Say to a Poet About to Read?

We all know the expression “Break a leg” that is said to an actor about to take the stage. The equivalent for a ballet dancer is, translated, “Shit on the beach” (in French, equally graphic, it sounds to our English-speaking ears more elegant, exotic).

But what does one say to a poet about to give a reading? The expressions above (e.g., break a leg) are based on the magical premise that to wish someone “good luck” will actually bring bad luck. Thus to wish the opposite, “shit on the beach,” will bring a clean performance. What is the equivalent for a modern reader/poet?

At the recent Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, Oklahoma this came up as I wished encouragement for a reader about to take the stage & I wondered if “break a leg” would be appropriate. Someone suggested an alternative, “Don’t piss on the mic.” But according to magical theory that would cause the poet to actually piss on the mic, which of course one would not want for many reasons, electrical being only a very obvious one. Which then engendered the suggestion, “Piss on the mic.” 

How elegant. How obvious. How French. Piss on the Mic.

So, to all you open mic poets out there, or readers of fiction/non-fiction prose, or whatever you call it when we can’t see the line breaks, the next time one of your colleagues is about to take the stage & you want to wish them luck for their reading, don’t say “Break a leg”  —  be a poet, say “Piss on the mic!” They will thank you.