January 29, 2008

Poets Speak Loud!, January 28
the Tom Nattell Memorial Benefit Reading & Annual Beret Toss

[If you look carefully you can see the beret on the top of Robert Burn's head & the flowers on his book -- from 2005 & the movie that Tom is still directing.]

So the host tonight was Dan Wilcox (that's a me) & I was thrilled to do it, knowing I wouldn't have been there if Tom hadn't gotten this shit-storm of poetry going back in the bleak days of the ReaganWinter '80s. Tom was there tonight, of course, hanging out, drinking his "swamp water" concoction, having some kind of chicken for dinner & bounding up on stage in his neon-performance sneakers. So I started off with one of Tom's shit poems, "Aviary Baptism" then later on in the reading channeled him again & did "How To Shit on Yourself with the Help of a Tree."

Of course, with the very first poet up I got his name wrong, but it's correct here: Bryan Clogg, a brief racial meditation ("we're all pink inside") but we all need to check back on what Eldridge Cleaver had to say on "black racism." Closer to the political bone, Shaun Baxter re-did (Yeah!) once again "Global Warming" then "Poem for Billy Collins" on the 12 spots of a Lady Bug. Then Julie Lomoe invoked Tom at his last reading with "Open Mic on Lark St. 2004" (thanks Julie).

Uncle Don Levy reminded us that homophobia is still out there with "Out of the Mouths of Gay Penguins & Wizards" & his equally hysterical fat poem, "Trying Not to Be Morbidly Obese." Next month's feature at Poets Speak Loud!, NicoleK stepped away from relationship angst with "Snake" & a not Winter riffing on the shapes & connections of numbers in "3". Josh McIntyre takes some good natured ribbing on being a newly wed, then gave us "Gurus Never Dream" "Gurus Never Dream".

The first virgin of a lush virgin night was "Chaka the Feminist" (that's how she signed up), then had us "Breathe" & ponder "Sex or Love" & want a cigarette afterwards. The next virgin, Chad W. Lowther did a couple of word-play poems slipping in & out of rhyme & hip-hop that I couldn't follow, but did enjoy, if you know what I mean.

The usual host of this event is Mary Panza, taking a night off to tell us how everything is in order "In a Post-partum World" & then go after Johnny Braveheart (was he there?) with "The Revolution Doesn't Pay Shit." And back at someone else's open mic after many months with his signature serious poems about all the bad things in the universe, "In the Kingdom of Seas & Silences" & "Human" (dedicated to Tom) was R.M. Engelhardt.

Sahli Cavallaro just does not read out enough, & showed why she should with the hot "Roses in a Cave" (ah, those pink petals) & her take on Match.com, looking for the archeologist she hasn't met yet, "Dig Her Coming Home." Somewhere along the line I read my new, evolving piece "Communion of Saints" with its lines for Tom:
Saint Tom, Green Poet & worker in the peace garden
make our poems work, then sing & laugh.

& somewhere in there we had a staggering-off-the-street visit from TJ, while the Alex & Mary hovered to bounce him out. Hey, he only did 1 short poem.

Another virgin, William Eng, did a poem to a dead friend, "The Things We Want to Be a Poet Of" & "What's he Thinking" about a date. Shannon Shoemaker has been gone so long it seemed like she was a virgin; she did a "Turning Over a New Leaf," a new work in progress, then, from memory the all-time-favorite sad Valentine poem I think is called "Melancholy". Also from memory, Michael Grimes, another virgin, more philosophical musings.

Of course Alan Catlin was there & did a poem with a long title I didn't get about his visit to the Berkshire Museum about an early use of the bogey man term "terrorist", then read Al Markowitz's (Blue Collar Review) "Dirt," a topic dear to Tom (we all pay tribute in our own ways.) Joe Hollander, at about the time the alleged President was delivering his on TV, did what I take was a state of the union address about the collapse of America, "On the Road to Success," then a poem on ice-fishing (a first for me!). Bessam Sam tagged-teamed on the theme about poverty in America, with "White," from memory.

Former feature here & elsewhere, Chris Brabham listed the pleasures of life as a reasons why he does poetry the way he does, then a sweat-provoking erotic poem, "Man Shake," that makes me think about chocolate milk shakes in a new way. New guy, Barry Goldman, picked up on that with "Swirls of Sex Vines." Our bouncer, Alex Albino, talked about different transitions with "Pestering" & the notebook poem, "Phoenix Rising Yoga Session."

The token professa, Daniel Nester, read a poem by the nearly forgotten (African-)American poet, Robert Hayden (who also edited a great anthology of "American Negro Poets", Kaleidoscope), then from his own book, The History of My World Tonight, "Arraignment of a Beach Boy." We ended the night with 2 random virgins, Remy D. who got off to a bad memory start then made it through, a rhymed narrative of sorts. And Ashley Bruno filled out the night with abstract poems "Existential Anxiety" & untitled ponderings on God & love (but as WCW said, "no ideas but in things").

I ended with my poem "Chasing Tom" & Tom's own "Save It" (without the tubes).

Hey, I shouldn't be so picky -- it was great night: old friends, new friends, new faces, returning prodigals, virgins -- poetry in Albany on a Monday night in January, who'd had thunk. Then the motley crew to march on to visit Robert Burns, smudge him & us with sage, & a green beret to warm Bobbie's head through the night (with thanks to el Presidente) & Tom was/is there/here. [The beret was still there Monday afternoon.] And thanks to the generous folks who filled Tom's neon hat with recession dollars for the Tom Nattell Peace Poetry Prize.

Poets Speak Loud! every last Monday [just like the QE2] of the month, Lark Tavern, Albany, 7:30.


January 20, 2008

Third Thursday Poetry Night, January 17

[Our featured poet, Candice's, favorite photo, taken by "a graying Beat poet" at Valentines in December, 2006.]

Off to a good start this new year, the Social Justice Center has lights in the windows, the doors operate easily, but, hey, they still could always use a few extra bucks -- it's not corporate America you know. I (Dan Wilcox) was your irrepressible host & I enjoyed every minute of it.

The first poet up (in the #2 slot, since some joker had signed me up first) was Matt Galletta, who reprised (that's a funny music-scene word) "Restoring Order." Alan Catlin, via the #55 Bus, had his New Year's resolutions, the kind of thing I avoid. Don Levy also repeated his angry left ear's rejection of tapestry. & once again, to repeat myself, Shaun Baxter once again related getting our balls cut off to "Global Warming" -- a lesson in metaphor that bears repetition well.

"At the Marketplace" is in Jan Tramontano's chapbook Floating Island but tonight she added a real-life post-script from the news -- glad to have her back here after a few months absence (& she missed sitting on Sanity Claus's lap).

The first of the night's 2 (count 'em) virgins was Barry Goldman (who was here in the audience last month), with a "Dirge for Curry the Cat."

The featured poet, from Bennington, Candice Chouinard, began with Allen Ginsberg's "America" from memory. Her reading/performance was what is best about slam poets, where it still connects to its Beat roots in the hydrogen jukebox, & she put it together varying short & long pieces & just having fun doing it. The short "When We Were In Bloom," on the flowering of youth & sex, followed by a new piece for her grandmother, "Orchard," ("the last tree of my favorite fruit" to spirit her away & plant her to bloom again). "My Heart Pounds Like Air Brakes" which wasn't much longer than that, then the slam "Callous," done from memory, about a long, long walk to the Grand Ole Opry. A short "Saturday Morning," then a poem about when she read "Callous" at the Airing of the Grievances at Valentines & I took her picture, her favorite she said. & ended with her family drinking & gambling, "Long Shot." Then Candice shared cookies, like poems, during the break.

W.D. Clarke returned with another narrative about miners, the title says it all: "Phartz Louder." After that, I tried to give enough "palate cleanser" time for Therese Broderick to read about her "Color Blind" painter father. Mary Panza finally got a Thursday night baby-sitter, read a new episode in the Johnny Braveheart saga, "The Revolution Doesn't Pay Shit."

The night's second virgin, Bryan Clogg, was here & gone with "Caffeinated City" with barely enough time for me to snap the shutter. Actually, Bryan was brought here by Joe Hollander, a former (long-time ago) host of readings at the Hollywood, & who tonight did a short notebook piece, "The Fallen Tree."

Tom Molinaro (finally got his last name) was back with a hip-hop tribute to Hunter Thompson Jr. Moses Kash III finished out the night, bending over the music stand with a political/racial stream-of-conciousness, "The Sea The Ocean The Pond."

Every Third Thursday, sign-up starts at 7:00PM, open mic/reading starts at 7:30. If you can remember Third you can remember Thursday; if you can remember Thursday you can remember Third.

January 14, 2008

Woodstock Poetry Society, January 12

Perhaps it was the sunny weather, more like early Spring than January, or the fact that I hadn't been there in a while, or just that the open mic poets came from far & wide, or simply the 2 marvelous featured poets that made this such a wonderful day. Of course, the host Phillip Levine added to the spirit in his relaxed, smiley way.

I went first for the open mic & read, again, "My Last Bardo" (different audience). Dayl Wise's poem for his Dad, based on a found photo, seemed to end abruptly.

Donald Lev brought along copies of the new issue (#59) of Home Planet News. He read one of his "movie" poems, this one on "Atonement;" a short piece on a poem that should have been written, & "God is a Red Peanut." And, of course, one by his (& our) beloved Enid Dame, "Jonah's Sister."

Both featured poets did their job & brought lots of friends & relatives. Joe Bellaserro came to support Alison Koffler & read 2 of his own poems: "The Name" (a mother running all the names of the children together as one), & "Sunami" on aging & "the wave of annihilation."

Bruce Weber handed out copies of the broadside, Stained Sheets & read his poem that is in the new Home Planet News, "The Poet of Divas and Canaries and Renaissances (for Joseph Cornell)." You really need to experience Ron Whiteurs, with his diction & his cardboard titles, like in old vaudeville shows. His 3 related poems today told the story of Water Rat & "the really bad doings of Starfish Sam" (not really like a scene of Wind in the Willows, Ron).

A wonderful, captivating new voice was Theresa Morris with "Tracks" set in New York City (sounded like Soho), and a just-written piece pondering the dilemmas of being on jury duty -- where is she from?

The first of the 2 featured poets, Georganna Millman, has just completed a poetry collection that is seeking a publisher, "Formulari," about her years working in her husband's pharmacy in rural Hudson Valley New York & began with 3 poems from that -- "Happy Drawer" (the safe where the narcotics were kept, with clever plays & twists on the drugs' brand names), "Apothocary," & "Painting Swastikas." She read a couple poems for her sons, then a series of horse poems, some mixing Catskill history into the story. Also a sonnet for her husband, "Lines Written After 29 Years of Marriage," & she ended with her "Ars Poetica" that describes how a poem comes to a poet, as a wolf, it turns out. A wonderfully planned reading with just enough introduction so you knew where you were when the poem began. With any luck we won't have to wait too long for her book. Look for her at other readings this coming year.

And forming one of those accidental seques that are so magical, Alison Koffler, the second featured poet, began with her mythic/apocalyptic "Coyote is Coming." If you were at Poets in the Park this past summer you would have heard her read it there too. Then a couple of poems based on her experience teaching & administering a writing program in the New York City Schools. She lives in the Bronx & read a group of poems that were memories & musings on the Bronx, leaving one apartment (& boyfriend) for another, "Heartland Formation," the Grand Concourse, the D train. A recent poem, "Heart," mixed her memories of youth with a current medical exam, & then a poem about "poetic angst," "Short Scene with Dog & Fish" (with Molly on the beach). She ended with an untitled poem, returning to Coney Island, dedicated to her husband, Dayl.

Both featured poets had a simple, straight-forward style of reading their poems, but the vivid, descriptive images & accessible language made the work captivating & real. No performance posturing needed.

Then on with the remaining poets in the open mic. Barbara Ungar read a poem from her just-published collection, The Origin of the Milky Way (Gival Press, 2007), "Izaak Laughing" to her son who was right there with her, impatient to get back to playing with his toys.

Sylvia Gorelick read her "Autobiography," written yesterday, & based on Ferlinghetti's "Autobiography" from Coney Island of the Mind. Like the man once said, if you're going to write an autobiography, do it while you're young, it won't take as long.

Then her Daddy, a barefoot Sparrow, read "A Call," about his running (he was just standing there) for President, then his proposal to have Clown Clinics in districts spread throughout the country, enough to make him laugh. Vote Sparrow for President!

Every 2nd Saturday, 2PM, Woodstock Town Hall.

January 13, 2008

Live from the Living Room, January 9

[Matt Galletta (right) in November at the Captial District Gay & Lesbian Community Center. He wore a different shirt tonight.]

With our straight-friendly host, Don Levy, the room packed with Matt (our featured poet)'s groupies.

Tonight's featured poet, Matt Galletta, had free books for any takers, Shorter Than Fiction, 54 pages co-authored with John Ferraro, through one of those print-on-demand online systems. An attractive, perfect-bound volume, too slim for a title on the spine. Most of his poems came from the book, are straight-forward, simply-stated narratives that start with the subject of the sentence (what does this mean? Not much I'm afraid). It's their quirky point of view that matters. For example, "Nothing Was Ever Certain With Her" is either a cooking lesson or the story of a break-up. His comments on the poetry scene skewered professors in "An Honest Man" & made me nervous about sending out poems with "Lemons." "Class Photo" ponders the future of a 5th grader as a college rapist. He also read a couple poems not in the book, "Participation is 20% of Your Grade" (but I guess it doesn't matter what the participation entails), & the recently written poem referencing Hurricane Katrina, "Restoring Order." These & others not mentioned were thoroughly enjoyable. Matt had been scheduled to read later in January at the NightSky Cafe, but that series has been gagged by the management. Too bad. When you see Matt out & about, ask about getting a copy of the book.

After the break I read a poem from Poems from Guantanamo by Osama Abu Kabir. Then I read my January birthday poem, "My Last Bardo." Shaun Baxter, the venue-less host, did "Global Warming," which should be on Al Gore's video or in the Sierra Club or Greenpeace newsletters (if not on the marquee in Times Square).

Jim Masters didn't have his own poem to read last month, but this month had 2 new ones. "Spirituality" explored what lifts his soul, from the Gay Men's support group, to Mass, & much else, while "El Amor Bruja" spoke about bewitched, spell-bound love.

John Ferraro is the poet in the front half of Shorter Than Fiction & his poems resemble Matt's (or, Matt's resemble John's) in their plain-spoken, ironic descriptions of daily life. "Art" is about a naked after-sex conversation about Bukowski, while "Just Another Stupid Poem About Caitlin" is a description in the future tense of a day in the life.

Bob Sharkey can be plain-spoken too. "Overhead Cables Humming" a meditation on the "simple" beliefs of the 1950s; & "Road Trip" took place in a dream (I think).

Our ebullient host, Don Levy, read Karen Veglia's poem about a performance by 3 Guys from Albany at the Schenectady Library, "It's Those Poets" from her new book, then he finished off the night with a new piece about his ear-piece (hearing aid that seems to dislike tapestries), "My Angry Left Ear."

2nd Wednesday of each month at the Gay Lesbian Community Center on Hudson Ave., in Albany.

January 4, 2008

Caffé Lena, January 2

Onward. & a good way to start the New Year was with our host, Carol Graser's reading of Ellen Bass' poem "Pray for Peace."

The Saratoga Poetry Zone (at the Library) has had a good run of about 10 years under various leaders/coordinators. Mary Sanders Shartle is the latest & the last, as she announced that it will be no more -- no money to pay the features & no money for the director (you can't pass the hat at the Library), then she read a poem, "Blue Mountain Lake Overlook," in the voice of a character in a book she is working on -- only the first of the night's recurring north country theme.

Michael Hare gave us 2 more poems from his Saratoga Lives -- at this rate I won't have to buy the book, just keep showing up here. John Krause has been spending way too much time at Saratoga Springs City Council meetings & gave us what he has "Seen & Heard" in the form of a pastiche of Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas." And speaking of a visit, Dan Stalter was on a school break & did a slam performance of "Give Up."

Now when most poets start by saying their poems are "very short" I cringe, thinking, "As compared to what?" & when Richard Cowles said it, I cringed twice, but he was right, "One Step Away" & "Bush" (the "flip-side" of the nursery rhyme "Jack") were so short we almost missed them.

Naton Leslie has a new book out, Emmas Saves Her Life (Word Tech Communications, 2007) & is out & about promoting it, but as tonight's featured poet gave us a retrospective of sorts with a poem or two from his earlier books. He started with "Straight-Backed Chairs" & "I Saw the Light" from perhaps my favorite of his books, Moving to Find Work. Then the first of the night's ghazals, "Porcupine Ghazal." In introducing the poems from Salvaged Maxims (with its striking cover by local poet/artist Mary Kathryn Jablonski), Nate talked about the "triggers" for the poems, in this case maxims from English Common Law; he mentioned triggers a number of times. Triggers I guess is what happens when you get a prompt. The audience liked his short prose piece, "Bigger than Life," about movies & cowboys. He read a couple of sonnets from the jewel-like chapbook, The Last Best Motif, from Bertha Roger's Bright Hill Press, then a series of Emma poems from the new book, "Emma Waits Out a Spring Snow," "From Emma's Scrapbook," & "Emma Aims High."

After the break, Carol read "Ghazal for Time" (from her book, The Wild Twist of Their Stems). Her ghazal ends each couplet with the same word ("water"), but modern ghazal's are often just a series of long-lined unrhymed couplets doing variations on a theme, nothing like their original Persian forms. Fun to write.

Former feature Tim Verhaegen read about family in "Florence" & about being a youth at the ocean on Long Island longing for elation, "Madrugada." W.D. Clarke has channeled Robert Service with a modern gold-rush poem, "Bill Johnson's Tale."

Every open mic needs a virgin & Amanda Myer was tonight's, with her "first poem," a tender description of her grandmother & her apartment in Vienna. Then Christy Skevington (who didn't say it was her first time, but I don't recall seeing her before) read a poem about (prison) escape, "The Only Evidence of a Final Farewell."

Jeff Jurgens was back after many months with a memoir of childhood, "Powder-Puff Annie." Nancy Muldoon's first poem, "Window of Opportunity" almost slammed on our writing fingers before we knew it. Her longer "Bed and Breakfast for Dummies" was another of her screeds on American culture.

Sometimes poets call their poems "untitled," & habitually Josh McIntyre repeats his titles before he reads the poem (something my old ears appreciate) so tonight when he read an untitled poem, he repeated "untitled" (was he looking at me?). He also repeated the title of his second piece, "Recovery." I didn't repeat the title of my revised/corrected "My Last Bardo" but in my long introduction may have said the title twice anyways.

The night's final poet, Steven Tyson wasn't there when Carol limited us to 2 poems (the usual rule) so he managed to slip in a third, but they were good to hear, "Just Say No," "Suddenly" (is now) & a memoir of school, "Growing Up."

Earlier, Carol mentioned that they have had a successful fund-raiser for the poetry series, & that tonight's reading had been sponsored by the Delmar Poetry Group. If you forgot to send money there might be some information on www.caffelena.org, or just show up every first Wednesday at historic Caffè Lena, Saratoga Springs, 7:00 sign-up, 7:30 start (& she starts on time).

Happy New Year!

Just about a year ago I started this Blog as a way of escaping from MySpace, & now "what a long strange trip it's been." As of this writing the Blog has had 456 views over 138 separate entries -- poems, open mic reports, random updates, etc. I don't know whether there are 3 people out there who visit the Blog a couple times a day, or 456 people who have each visited it once. As the Chinese would say (in different words, of course), Whatever.

Thanks for your interest. I'm going to keep at it, Deo volente, & we'll see what 2008 will bring.

Sadly, we are starting the year with one less poetry venue. Shaun Baxter announced that the NightSky Cafe in Schenectady will no longer be having a monthly poetry open mic there. Shaun had run the 3rd Wednesday reading since about August 2006, with a featured reader, occasional poetry "assignments," & post cards to be mailed back with a poem (or not). He even put out a small chapbook collection of poems from some the poets who had read there. Shaun is a whimsical, literate, relaxed host who did an excellent job in getting a variety of featured poets from among the many community poets out there, & in my book this series ranked high on the list of "best open mics." But venues come & go, while poets keep writing. I just wonder: Who is the second-shortest open mic host now?

January 3, 2008

Spoken Word at Java Jazz, December 28

Java Jazz is a cozy coffee shop in the Main Square Plaza on Delaware Ave. in Delmar; the owners, Mary Alice & Cathy, are both activists in the peace movement. Since Autumn they have been scheduling various local performers -- folk singers, story tellers, & poets.

Tonight, the poets "Herbal Tea" & "The Storm." The Storm had read 2 of her poems at the open mic at the Lark Tavern in November; I think Herbal Tea was with her that night, but he didn't read. They performed their poems from composition books & note-pads, alternating back & forth, & I caught 2 out of their 3 short sets.

Their poems were mostly rhymed & half-rhymed hip-hop style, but not the strident, obsessively-rhymed, monotonous beat that we sometimes hear from the young street poets imitating what they hear on the radio. These poems were more introspective, about the dreams, aspirations & feelings of mothers & fathers raising children (& who were there at one of the tables), the difficulties & pleasures of adults being in love, in a relationship together. During the second set they did a collaborative piece about being together, the back & forth of the lines like the relationship itself. The Storm's love poem, "What Do you See?" was written last night & Herbal Tea heard it for the first time with the rest of us. Herbal Tea countered with his simply stated "Don't Blink" (because love could go away).

Their poems had the rhymes, the direct statements of pop lyrics, rather than crafted images like modern poetry, but for that reason it was easily understood on first hearing & accessible to the audience, which included some children & youths as well as adults. A relaxed, informal & at the same time touching performance.

The Storm & Herbal Tea perform regularly at Simply Fish & Jazz on So. Pearl St.

Check out Java Jazz at www.javajazzcafe.net.