June 29, 2008

Bob Sharkey's Retirement Poems

[Bob Sharkey reading at the Lark Tavern, April 2006]

Well, I went to a retirement lunch the other day & a poetry reading broke out -- Albany poet Bob Sharkey recently retired from his day job with the State of New York. I was happy to be there, with a couple of other Albany poets ("the 2 Ks"). Perhaps giving his co-workers a hint of what was to come Bob read a couple poems. Here they are -- & everyone toast to Bob's new life --

Lost Poems
by Bob Sharkey

Rosella tells us about working
12-hour shifts, meals at her desk,
beside the wall of thousands
of names and photos,
some of people she’d recognize
when she’d walk past.

Rick relates how his brother,
still in mud-splattered fatigues,
went into a headquarters company
mess hall and upset a lieutenant
who sent him to a major who asked,
“what do you do here, son?”

Carolyn describes the scene
behind her house.
Wet, wind-driven snow
whitening every branch,
bush, stalk of tall grass
and a lone red cardinal.

Kelly listens as I carry on
about the years passing along.
“It’s really all one long day,” she says.
It’s all one memorable day.

At Dunkin' Donuts
by Bob Sharkey

There’s a scary looking guy.
His tongue’s hanging way out.
At least he’s taking his meds.
I got here in a lunchtime stupor
with the tumble of years in mind.
How had they passed so quickly?
As if I need some punctuation,
young hand-holders pass by outside.
I want to be them. Not just him.
Her especially. I want to be her.
From a corner table, three young cops
belt out a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
The sun comes out unexpectedly after
days of grey, highlights the bright colors
of fruit and vegetables piled up
on a long table over at the intersection.
I head out past the big pink tongue.
There’s also a guy in a motorized chair.
He’s wearing a medical wristband.
Like a pair of abandoned wrecks.
I look for an attendant, for a van outside.
A woman on line’s doing the same.
The line’s long. She’s at the end.
The lot’s full. Everyone’s in a hurry.
Me too. I’d like to linger,
to uncover the mystery of the two guys.
There’s work and meetings. The sun.

June 27, 2008

Split this Rock Cento

Split This Rock Poetry Festival — Cento, March 23, 2008

On March 23, 2008, participants of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival walked silently from George Washington University to Lafayette Park in front of the White House. Once there, every participant stepped up to the mic and recited or read one 12-word line of poetry about peace that became the beautiful cento you see below.
(from http://www.splitthisrock.org/cento.html

I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between
bitterness and hope

Turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.

Let’s dance! Let’s dance! Give peace a chance!

Bless them, with the forgiveness only the dead can afford to offer.
In an age without heroes I just want to be a man.
I think I could turn and go and live with the animals.

We draw from a deep well of sorrow and shame—my country and I.
The erosion of voice is the build-up of war …

I don’t know Baghdad
But I do know Albany
And it’s burning.

Oh wasteful war—we could have been learning and listening together!
Who needs oil? The sun ain’t going nowhere.

Lies win you nothing but folded flags in tear-drenched laps.

Alabanza …
I will teach you.
Music is all we have.

Make generals do the fighting.
A child’s hand will overturn their chessboard.
We must emerge from pioneer ashes to penetrate the bosoms of indifferences.

I work so hard to educate
I mourn as bombs annihilate.

Today poets animate the public podiums held by politicians manifesting once sleeping dreams.

“Stop the war” we say
But for this war our taxes pay.

Beneath Mordor —
Atlantis rising!
Inanna emerging from the Iraqi underworld, again.

Even when dreams vanish cranes glisten like snow in a broken field.
In my country there’s a censure called “freedom”

America, my heart opened for you.
Belief in the love of the world …

I.e., reality’s bonemarrow
resides in its pieces.

Weep, you may weep, but you may touch them not.

Singer-poet raised silent stumps
Music mangled but not voice
Viva Victor Jara!

We need one single person not to fight. Won’t you be that one?
I can no longer watch as you eat the shadows of others.
Carrying your harp of sighs you breathe out the music of mourning.
After the war’s funeral let us not suffer renovated marginalization ever again.

Connection with other
important as autonomy
Alone, not alone in the war zone.

We no longer whisper sweet nothings
War cries make poor pillow talk.
Words of peace pierce the wounded air here, like sweet bandages.

Where are you, Prince of Peace?
We could really use you now.

Placing words like quicksand, stepping forward where word bridges hold.
My bird-wing arm is wrapped around your heart’s spun glass cage.

War is not the answer. Talking it over is the answer.
A world of peace and social justice, protection of the planet.

Let us walk through
inviolable borders
like rain finding its
destined continent.

If you dare, come now with me,
Fearless, confident and free.
Turn your wrath on war when its winds rise. Spit and let the flags fight.

Love is what it is …
The calming stream that warms us …

The bombs pound holes in the night. Night after night.
This is our watch just for having been born.

they speak of the art of war
but arts
draw their light from the soul’s well
dries up the soul

Maybe you shook the hot bone dice.
Promise me not to go silent all of a sudden.

Hung one, young America died and continue to die
Terrorists occupy THE WHITE HOUSE

ahhh peace
ahhh end this war now
ahhh peace
bring them home

Our country
Our shock
Our awe
Our shame
Our recompense
Our future

Draw me a future I won’t be ashamed to leave my son.

Why, in America, are the only choices I’m allowed always between lesser evils?
What will you do, America, when the dormant poet begins to speak?

Carry the wounded world like a dying child in our arms forever, giving sorrow to words.
Melt down the vessel full that served as mixing pot of grief.
Can we bring down heaven, plant it here where they love?

The invasion of boots is everyday
Occupation is violence
Operation self-determination is salvation—spring.

You’ve ruined lives like centaurs tearing up trees with world-wasting cries …
“Both, I will have them both!” declared this true-blue American.
This fifth Easter Sunday drops yellow down my throat—what must I do?

Mercy, Mercy
“America can’t leave ‘em go like this.”

Under the peace hungry eyes of the world,
Cherry blossoms witness the fifth anniversary of the Iraqi war.

Politics of death and taxes bring me here to grieve.

Blood on Blood—red matter fragments! What follows? Let it be—luminous, free!
A painter says red, white + blue. No more purple hearts for you.
So instead of war, we might have had much improvisational festivity.

Dichoso el árbol que es apenas sensitive
Y más la piedra dura …

This empirical wonderland is spinning off its evil axis
and I am pissed off.

Listen—the murmur
of 100 million stars
too distant to fear
any fighting.

Baghdad, once called the given garden—
a desert—stolen—water, medicine, citizen.

Easter, again, and the sky as blue as the oldest promise.

Blackwater, Boeing, CACI, Dyncorp, GE, General Dynamics, Halliburton, KBR, Lockheed, Raytheon, SAIC?
When your venomous cabal is gone, may the earth truly blossom again.

Weight-bearing has made us strong
Our bones metal
Muscles sinew hearts anealled

Can’t we try to win this peace? Because we’re never gonna win this war.
Weapons of mass construction—loving-kindness, diversity, joy!
War, you’re in our cross-hairs.

O voice of all-night wind and rain,
do you count the petals that are falling?

There is more beauty in words than in war.
The most deafening weapons in any war should be lyrics, not landmines.
Carry our well wherever we walk, saturating scars with living waters, promise.

O sister of nausea of broken ribs of isolation
what is the freedom I protect how is it mine

Mothers search the skies for their sons and daughters.
I dream of a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?”

Move within. But don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Melt, melt away ye armies—disperse ye blue-clad soldiers,
Resolve ye back again, give up for good your deadly arms.

May rooms of dryness find you fed … watched by every human love.
The light is always there, even on an empty page or in my dream.

Where there is no wisdom, the people perish.
I am grafted to the skin of this land and its blood

“Islands”: For God’s sakes
Don’t you know
they are connected

Look up—veil of cherry blossoms—peace rising.
Happy peacemakers know—even in sorrow, anger—we’re all children—one love.

1968: screaming screaming STOP this war;
2008: silent, silent STOP this war.

On a day of unreportable sadnesses we must reteach a thing its loveliness.
Go ahead open your hand ...
The lone night bird sings to the tortured between screams.

If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves.
Peace is within reach, over the horizon just beyond war.

The best lack all conviction while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Where the princes are principled and the poets empowered, there is the land where peace is possible!
Let there be peace on Earth, the peace that was and is meant to be.
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.

And the narrowest hinge of my hand parts to score all machinery.

The children are waiting to be heard, listen to their silenced cries.
We inherit ashes and transform these into the rich compost of poetic possibility.
Let America be America again.

All thinking people oppose terrorism both domestic and international …
The winding Potomac lazily drifts by the Pentagon, journeying towards the sea.

America, let the words of the poets ring in your head.
No sick winter shall blot out the stars of our defiance.

Heroes want hugs, but send bombs to buildings to excuse their absences.
We are borne with dreams in our hearts, looking for better days ahead.

I’ve never been to war, except inside.
Please stop war. We want peace and we will not fight.
Poetry made me brave. It tells me we can build our peace.

Enough, I say, enough.
5 years. How long until even the gods are ashamed.

Happiness exists, I can feel it.

Why are we here,
Because the heart needs to burn bigger than fear.

Mr. Bush, you’ve pushed war 5 Easters. Ask this: who would Jesus torture?
Dung beetle says, “I want dung, not blood.”

You have broken our laws, and our hearts, but not our spirit.
Lilacs are still ten dreams away.

… old fathers … consider the necessary eradication of the new fathering fathers (who are their sons) …
To be free why do we steal the dignity of others?

War is like cancer: It’s treated, but needs a cure.
All those ships that never sailed.

Hate never dispels hate
only love
each the other
one heart

And because everything we carry is really ours.

T’ai chi afternoon
What about sweet surrender?
Sink and relax.

Lieutenant! This corpse will not stop burning!

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

Look around
The intifada is coming
and we are the stones.

We will NOT be SILENT.
Yes, we do want to be well.

I dream a world where love will bless the earth.

We are warriors of the light
shine, shine, shine
love love love.

Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away.
The underthrum, the handing off from one voice to another.

Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
We are the sworn poets of every dauntless rebel the world over!


June 26, 2008

Live from the Living Room, June 11

[If you think this Blog is a bit out of order, it is -- I started to write it up, then went looking for a good beach picture, & forgot to post it. Sorry Don!]

So here is "a good beach picture," at least to my thinking:

This was the summer pot-luck, no-feature, wear your Speedo party -- I mean, I didn't wear a Speedo, but someone pointed out I wore the same tee shirt ( from Coconut Joe's) that I wore last year. It was so intimate this night that we never moved into the Living Room of the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center, instead we stayed in the Kitchen, with the chips, dip, soda & COOKIES!

I went first with, of course, "At Coconut Joe's," then the CT Beat Festival poem, "When You Finally Arrive Home," & the much shorter, "Painter's Eyes."

A.C. Everson was getting ready to go to Coney Island so practiced "The Year of the Mermaid," then a rap "Pessimistic Peace Pitch," & ended almost-appropriately (it was still Spring) with "Summer Night."

It was nice to see Shaun Baxter back & he read from Other:___ his "Tiny Dogs," then either a real or fake story about his father (I think it was for real), "Doctors & Cars" (they always know when you have extra money).

Kristen Day "Slipped", actually the name of the poem, then bashed abstract art at the Smithsonian & ended with "Bad Mood" (I don't think it was the art).

Uncle Don Levy drove us home (actually, I drove him home afterwards) with a performance piece by Luis Alfaro about the Circus Disco in Los Angeles, "Heroes & Saints;" Shaun urged Don to "read the funny one" (which is like telling George W. Bush to say something inane), so Don obliged with the very out "Is My Pride Showing or Am I Just Happy to See You." And we were.

Second Wednesdays at the GLCC on Hudson Ave. in Albany (NY), 7:30PM start -- usually with a featured poet first then an open mic where you can read more than one poem.

(Where did all those cookies go?)

June 25, 2008

Third Thursday Poetry Night, June 19

This was a special night, you might say a literary "2-for": the feature reading by Saratoga Springs poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski and the release of her new poetry chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, published by A.P.D. ("the Alternative Press for Albany Poets," yours truly, me, the publisher). They are marvelous poems & Mary Kathryn took control of the design & production making an (if I do say so myself, & I do) exquisite chapbook. I was so excited that I forgot to bring any of my own poems to read in the open mic.

Georganna Millman was the first open mic poet & read a poem for her husband, "Ruby-throated Hummingbird." Michael Hare's poem "Elm Tree on Maple Ave." is a tree describing the years going by. Alan Catlin's poem combining the JFK motorcade in Dallas in 1963 with running up Mt. Olympus might have been called "Alchemy" or it was just his way of categorizing it.

Just written today, Don Levy's poem was tentatively titled "Gay Marriage in the Future" -- I think we can expect him to come up with one of his characteristically snappy titles for future readings. Mimi Moriarty read about the internment of her father's ashes at Arlington National Cemetery, like a coda to her book War Psalm. Bob Sharkey was poet as (word) photographer with a poem/picture of "North Pearl St. 4PM."

Our featured poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski read Section II - Letters from the book, the 12 letters "To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met." The book also contains 5 introductory poems as "Prelude" (which she didn't read tonight). Her quiet, straight-forward reading style was a perfect fit for the poems, weaving threads of humor through explorations of memory, longing & the power of the poetic imagination. She seemed to have as much fun reading as the audience was having listening to her. (If you are interested in getting a copy of To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met email me through this Blog.)

After the break & the flurry of book sales & signings, Kristen Day read her short poem on abstract expressionism, "Priceless Painting at the Smithsonian" (hint: she didn't like it). W.D. Clarke wrote from the other side of Custer's last fight at Greasy Grass with "Their Last Stand." Moses Kash III's long political rant "Brighter Tomorrows" was written yesterday.

Another local poet/publisher Alan Casline read his poem "Broken Pieces of the World" which he compared to A.C. Everson's "Birth of Earth". As a tribute, Chris Brobham read "Thank you Father" (his father died last year). And James Schlett closed out the night with a little piece on memory & gravity, "Come Back Down."

Every third Thursday (but not always a book release party) at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany NY, 7:00PM sign-up, 7:30 PM start. Just one poem (unless you are the featured poet).

Poetry on the Hudson, June 14

In Athens (no Acropolis in sight), NY. Don Yacullo played piano in the storefront space that is the Athens Cultural Center.

Our host, Bob Wright, started the open mic with 2 poems, both rarities: one about golf, the other using some simple rhymes, which is not usual for Bob. I followed with my CT Beat Poetry Festival poem, then, with Don Yacullo playing some Thelonious Monk, did my Monk tribute, "Acrostic Jazz."

Don Levy responded to some recent news items with 2 poems, including the playful, "It's the End of the Rumor Mill for you, Gossip Girl." As only he can, stepping away from the microphone, Dave Kime declaimed "Flag" with the appropriate prop used in many ways (afterall, it was Flag Day). Lesley Gerber said he had some "nice fresh stuff:" "Music" where water & music is a bad combination, like in New Orleans, & "Subversives," a satire on the Bush administration.

The barefoot feature was Carol Graser, who began with a chronological string of poems from The Wild Twist of Their Stems, then her "flag day poem," "These Colors," the funny N-plus-7 play on the Our Father, & the powerful "Pope Air Force Base" (which can be found in an early chapbook, against the mad water current). She ended by returning to her book, reading "Speech Development" & ended with "Tribe." The kind of poems that I can (& have) hear again & again & they still remain fresh.

The second Saturday of the even-numbered months -- check out the schedule on www.poetz.com/hudson.

June 17, 2008

Jester's, in Westfield, MA June 9

I've been meaning to get to this venue but never got my ass in gear. While at the CT Beat Poetry Festival, I ran into Lori Desrosiers & she handed me her new chapbook, Three Vanities & reminded me of the reading on Monday. Well, I was staying over in CT until Monday anyways & Westfield was on my way back to Abany, & the featured poet was going to be Joan Pavlinsky -- so how could I not? Of course it was the hottest June 9th ever -- so we just didn't wear as much clothes, right?

Lori is the host of this series & she started off the night reading the poem "Wheel" by Suzie Patlove.

I read "Writing Crows," then my just composed tribute to the CT Beat Festival (read it at my MySpace Blog: myspace.com/dwlcx), & the oldy "The Patron" (for any painters in the house).

Local poet R.S. Herrick read a couple on the heat, "Walking on a Warm Night" & "The Haze of the Heat" & a haiku (gotta read them twice, they go by so fast).

Terri Klein, just off the Festival, still full of spunk, did one about girls on swings, "Against Gravity," & "Tag," the spray can type (or was it?).

Victoria Muñoz wrote a poem on the way up here, "Driven," an English/Spanish word list (is writing a poem while driving an offense like talking or texting on your cell phone?). Then a series of kisses: "Even in a Kiss" by John Jeffries & her own 2-part "Kisses in the Night" from her 2007 chapbook, During Your Reading.

Our host, Lori Desrosiers, read poems from her MFA manuscript: a pantoum (of course) "Grandmother's Hands," "Jalopy" (those beloved old cars from yesteryear), & "Counting Sheep."

I had first met the featured poet, Joan Pavlinsky, at Tom Nicotera's party back in March & then ran into her again during the Festival. She is one of those poets who paints, plays the flute, sings in a choir, in addition to having a real job helping people; in other words, one of those people who make you tired just listening to her schedule. Oh yeah, she also made an attractive little 4-page fold-over handout of some of her poems to give to each of us (titled These Woods). Her reading was a wonderful salad mix of steamy nights of "Longing" & "Wanting", nature poems of deer & the woods, poems from her work & about the mental health system ("Mental Status Exam"), the wonderfully titled "Too Much Wonderment About Her Fundament," even a love sonnet & one in the style of Dr. Seuss. And a great smile too.

This is a weekly series on Monday nights at Jester's coffee house (great food!) on Elm St. (the main drag) in Westfield, MA. But they are taking the summer off & will be back in September. You can find out about it, & other stuff, at http://www.poetrynewscalendar.com.

June 16, 2008

CT Beat Poetry Festival, June 6 -8

This was a week-long series (actually 8 days since it started on June 1) of tributes, readings, & late-nights. I drove over on Friday to attend, staying through Sunday with my friend Tom Nicotera (more about him later). I brought home pages of printed programs, a stack of chapbooks, & about 8 or 9 pages of notes, not counting what was scribbled on the program sheets. And a new poem-rant for the folks at the festival. The organizers created a MySpace site that listed the venues, bios for the poets & lots of chatter -- check it out at http://www.myspace.com/beatpoetryfestival

Friday Night, June 6

But how fitting that the first venue I got to was the tribute to Women Beat Authors held at the Hall Memorial Library in rural Ellington, CT. We arrived a little late, just as the elegant Julia Paul was reading Hettie Jones' "Hard Drive." In reality, there were few women writers published at the time Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al. were cranking out their stuff. Hettie Jones essential contribution was editing Yugen & Totem Press with Leroi Jones; it was only much later she made a name for herself as a writer, writing about her involvement with the Beats. Diane di Prima is the woman poet most often identified with the Beats, but others that went unmentioned here included Daisy Alden, barbara-ellen, Brigid Murnaghan, Margaret Randall, Barbara Guest -- though not all were strictly speaking (like many of the guys too) "Beats". Oh well. Julia was one of the few poets who consistently paid homage to our Beat mothers & fathers during the festival (later she read di Prima's "Rant"), & this night's reading was particularly strong in that.

Christine Beck honored the theme by "channeling" Hetties Jones, Eileen Kaufman, Caroline Cassidy, & Joan Haverty (not Jan Kerouac as noted in the program) & later Susan Allison gave a stunning performance as Anne Waldman, complete with a flowing scarf.

But the night's other poets could have been reading for Ms. magazine, with nary a nod to either the mother/sisters honored at this reading or even the theme of the festival. Katherine Polenberg's poems were gritty, urban, working-class narratives that she punctuated by tossing the pages to the floor. Intense, sexy Kathryn Erlinger is a literary grand-daughter of the Beats, but the closest she got to them tonight was drinking beer in the public library; check her out at http://www.myspace.com/katiekaboom1981. Chamys Crane (writes as "Blue), who said she had read in the North Beach joints frequented by the Beats, did mention Bob Kaufman but later said she had meant Jack Micheline. Her long, discursive poems were like letters to boyfriends about her sexual encounters.

The program ended with a group performance by all the readers doing random lines from the women Beat writers, accompanied by Tom Nicotera on the bodhran.

Later, there was supposed to be a "Beat Inspired Comedy Open Mic" that (fortunately) didn't happen so we just had a beer & headed back to Tom's to stay up late rehearsing for Saturday.

Saturday, June 7
The first event of a long day of 4(!) readings (& a scorcher it was too) was a tribute to William S. Burroughs, at the Faxon Branch Library in West Hartford, hosted by Tom Nicotera. Tom, in a suit & tie & fedora, channelled Burroughs while Victoria Muñoz read a summary of Burroughs' life, then performed her own tribute (while I played her tenor saxophone). Victoria (on tenor) & I (on alto) also played short jazz interludes between each of the readers. Terri Klein conjured up Dr. Benway then read a funny piece of her own about her uterus running away. Continuing the medical theme (a fav of WSB) Anne-Marie Mara did a piece about a colonoscopy & others generally humorous & in rhyme. Marcia Lewis quoted Burroughs in between her own pieces, done with hand-puppets, other props, including a sunflower (she is a librarian after all). You wouldn't have know that performance poet Zork ("I am not a poet" at a poetry festival) was performing at a William Burroughs tribute if you hadn't read the sign outside.

The following open mic of community poets had its best moment when one short woman stood on a library copy of Ginsberg's Collected Poems so she could see over the podium while reading from Allen's "Kaddish." But what don't these folks understand about "one poem or 2 pages" ? More than one poet read 2 poems because they were only 2 pages combined -- that's not what the instructions mean! That included the poet who goes by the name "Sympetalous." He characterized his first piece, as an "introduction" then read a 2-page homage to jazz musicians. These folks need someone with a hook (or a club) at the open mics.

From there were scurried down the road to Middletown to catch the "Buddhism and the Beats" event at the Russell Library, moderated by Stephanie Elliott, one of the organizers who made this week-long event happen. Unfortunately, most times when folks thanks the organizers, Stephanie's name was left out, but we know how much work she did (Thanks, Stephanie). We arrived late again as Roy Lisker was in the midst of his long, cranky essay about a Beat reunion in Lawrence KS. Next was an unscheduled reader who paid tribute, as well we should, to Bob Kaufman, but he went on too long & inexplicably said he was going to read "2 short poems" by Bob Kaufman & the first one went on for pages. Must be something in the water that confuses these CT poets about "long" versus "short".

For some reason, 2 performers were scheduled back-to-back with the previous reading. Terri Klein, just down from the Burroughs reading, once again gave an entertaining performance; this time her link to the theme was her errant son's journey through Naropa Institute & his subsequent wanderings in the Beat tradition. With the length of the Lisker reading & the unscheduled Kaufman tribute, the last 2 poets were cut short because the Library was closing (& there were other Festival events to get to in Middletown). John Gardiner did a multi-voice improv piece with the assitance of Tom Nicotera, Julia Paul & Victoria Muñoz. The final reader was Tom Nicotera who paid homage reading from Kerouac's Scripture of the Golden Eternity & from Lew Welch. Terri & Tom both used in their readings the assistance of young bass player Sam Rosenthal.

We had time for dinner at a wonderful, relaxed Mexican restaurant, then to the Buttonwood Tree for the Allen Ginsberg theme event. The Buttonwood Tree is a marvelous bookstore & performance space that has survived for years in Middletown. I've performed there in the past with 3 Guys from Albany & recently with Charlie Rossiter. I'm sure Allen Ginsberg would have loved the place. The moderator was John Basinger who read from Charles Olson's essay "Projective Verse," out of a battered copy of Donald Allen's classic anthology New American Poetry, 1945-1960 -- perfect!

Roy Lisker was back again, to read a long, rambling, incomprehensible narrative poem. He had originally been billed as reciting "Howl" from memory. It may have been shorter if he had. Now in case you forgot, I had said the theme was Allen Ginsberg. The next performer, Kenneth Lundquist Jr., clearly "forgot" or never knew the theme in the first place & had no idea what he was doing here, or that it was a Beat poetry festival. He read 2 inane rhymed poems sandwiched around a performance art piece in which he arranged brick halves on the stage area. Even in a program of performance art it would have been a head-scratcher. Fortunately Lisa C. Taylor brought us back to the world of post-Beat poetry. She held up an old edition of Howl, said it was a first edition. But it was perfect bound & had a price of $1.00 printed on it; my old copy which is an 8th printing is saddle-stapled & it's price is "75 cents." I hope she didn't pay too much on Ebay for it.

The work of George Wallace is even more solidly in the Beat tradition (you can check out his poems on his blog on (http://www.myspace.com/ggwallace) with colloquial, working-class narratives, poems that truly belong here at this festival.

I had a rare feature spot last on the program, & recited Ginsberg & Blake & in the middle, 2 poems directly influenced by Allen: "Put Down the Government Rag" & "Richard Nixon Must Die."

"Charles Bukowski Night," the final event this poetry day, has the distinction of being the only event on the Festival's MySpace site for which there was a street address listed ("73 Ferry Street"). For us out-of-towners that was handy, sort of. Anyway it marked the first appearance of one of the Festival organizers, Yvon Cromier, who was the host/moderator/ring-master. While few, if any, paid direct homage to Bukowski, let alone read from his work (I said, before reading my poem, "I don't have any Bukowski poems with me"), the event itself was quintessential early Bukowski. Gatekeepers Tavern is a working-class bar with with union stickers & old picket signs behind the bar, short, cheap drafts & confusion about wine, where the owner works the bar & the regular patrons were wondering who the fuck were these poets. There was an open mic, some features & more open mic & I didn't keep very good notes. I was too busy drinking, talking, hanging out. The open mic poets generally read one, punchy poem, usually about sex or drinking or both, & were selected from the list not by the order they had signed up but randomly, leaving some to wonder "When the fuck am I going to read?" I do remember Victoria Muñoz leaving the audience panting with her breathless poem. There seemed to be a confusion over which of the listed featured poets were actually there & I hear that later there was a blues guitar player. But I did catch 2 of the features. Dyllan Michael tried to get the bar crowd to "shut the FUCK up!" but after all we were on their turf. Zachary Moll was one of the out-of-towners (Ohio) who seemed to be everywhere; but this venue was too raucous for his quiet poems, read a bit too fast. I know there are many more stories from that night, both imagined & real, but you won't hear them here -- maybe nowhere. I left before the ruckus & anything I could say was pure gossip.

Sunday, June 8
While this day's card had only 2 readings on it, it was as full of poetry as yesterday's. The first, at the historic Mark Twain House in Hartford, was hosted by another of the Festival's organizers, Colin Haskins. He began with an "invitational" open mic with LisaAnn LoBasso (from California) reading "Upon A Sick Child" (she had read at the Burroughs reading & in the bar yesterday), & Dan Provost with "21s Century Wretch." We'll hear more from them at the next & last venue, as well as the others in the "invitational." Throughout the program there were musical interludes by Minta White & her gold colored flute -- particularly a over-blowing piece by Ian Clark.

The first of the scheduled featured poets was Yvon Cromier, who began by reading a poem about Spiderman by his young cousin. Yvon's poems were solidly in the Beat tradition, inspired by music, particularly jazz, & by Kerouac, vivid descriptions written on the spot. "Yellow Paint" was about a forgotten juke joint by the railroad tracks; also liked a poem about praying while washing his face.

Nathan Graziano read a series of funny, terse, well-written poems about teaching & his fellow teachers, from his book, Teaching Metaphor; and a tender, carefully constructed poem for his wife on their anniversary, "The Paper Ark." I was supposed to read with Rebecca Schumejda in Albany in February but we were snowed out. She had poems about her friends, her baby, her father, & an engaging series about the characters in the pool hall she runs with her husband in the Kingston, NY area.

The next featured poet, Kathryn Kelly, like Julia Paul who followed her, had been everywhere I had been since I got here, & she most assuredly knew why she was here. Interspersed her own poems were those of Diane diPrima & Gary Snyder. Her poems dealt with issues of war, including PTSD in a Viet Nam war vet, & the rape of Bosnian women. I wish I had a copy of her untitled "shadow hands" poem. Julia Paul also paid homage in her carefully put together reading, poems about renegades & about journeys. She also read a Diane di Prima poem, "Requiem," & work by Denise Levertov, Lenore Kandel & Joyce Johnson. A nice juxtaposition of a poem about sneaking into New York City to go drinking, & one about spending the afternoon in a bar in Sante Fe with her 87 year old mother. I collapsed into silence & frustration hearing her poem about children in Haiti eating cookies made of soil.

With time left, Colin continued the "invitational open mic" with appearances by Chamys "Blue" Crane, a long piece to his father by Jim Deuchars, Katherine Pollenburg on Zombies, John Dorsey with a loud rant by S.A. Griffen, "Sympetalous" in his characteristic declamatory style, another rant by Michael Grover, Les Allen's short "Love," Jason "Juice" Hardung, Zachary Moll, Tom Nicotera explaining "Why I Kept My Mullen," & ended with local poet Beverly Titus lamenting a favorite bar/music venue that burned down.

From there we found our way deeper into downtown Hartford to a brew pub, City Steam, in the basement at their comedy-night spot -- a good place for a monthly "poetry club" someone pointed out. John Dorsey (the "Ambassador of the Beards"), was the host for the last event of the Festival, "Gregory Corso Night", read Corso's great poem "Marriage" & told about being taken under Corso's wing, going to a race-track as a minor with him.

Dan Provost, the first of 3-scheduled, almost the only, featured poet, from Worchester, MA, a former semi-pro football player began by physically attacking the stage (apparently a reference to some episode earlier in the week), but progressed to poems about working with disabled folk I brought home his chapbook from Inkstained Dagger Press, Weathered Woman. John asked "Blue" to read the poems of Lisa La Tourette, a featured poet who had not shown up. When Lisa finally did show up & read about 4 poets later, her reading of her own poems was flat, a perfunctory walk-through -- Blue had done a better job of reading the poems. "Juice" (Jason Hardung) read some raw, Beat-style, short poems, extending the clever image.

I read just one poem, "Baghdad/Albany." Tom Nicotera followed & included Corso on baseball (Home, later I dug out Mikhail Horowitz's classic, Big League Poets: "Gregory COCKY CORSO was a wild wordslinger who used to Beat the Straights with regularity in the '50's..."). Jim D. Deuchars read from Katie Kaboom's chapbook Explosive Devices for Girls; she was on her way back to Kansas City, MO.

We finally got to hear some poetry from Festival organizer Colin Haskins, including the just-written "The CT Sleep Deprivation Poetry Festival" (a good all-purpose name for any future event). Les Allen did poems on dreams & Death, then Terri Klein got us all singing a sea-chanty about fastening her grandma's bra. I'd missed LisaAnn LoBasso when she read at the Women Beats reading, but was glad to catch her at these open mics & I took home her book In the Swollen. Radiant Julia Paul did poems bouncing off Neruda & Plath. Michael Grover had earlier been designated "president of the Beards," did some more rants.

Our host, John Dorsey, also has a declamatory style & gave us a sampling of his poems. Russ Garland, apparently a local poet, said he was getting back into reading again & brought a stack of notebooks & poems to shuffle through. I finally got to hear another of the key organizers read her work -- Stephanie Elliot had been host at a reading Saturday, but it was good to hear her as part of this final open mic & to thank her for her hard work.

Zachary Moll read from his book 8. And once again Kathryn Kelly's intense, crafted poems, & the Irish proverb, "Life is a dirge." John Dorsey closed out the Festival with a cluster of his poems.

Which brings me back to the where were the Beats? To my mind we should have ended with a poem or cut-up or even just a quote from one of the fathers or mothers we were supposedly paying homage to. Throughout the Festival there were few personal anecdotes, though some of us are old enough to have been touched personally, or even remotely, by the real human figures that created this great body of literature. John Dorsey had a close, personal relationship with Gregory Corso, & shared some of that tonight; at my reading I told of singing Blake's "Sunflower" in my car with Allen Ginsberg; & there one or two other stories. But overall there were less specific mention of the Beats & their works than you would expect from an event billed as a "Beat Festival." Yes, there were some marvelous tributes (I am thinking particularly Julia Paul, Christine Beck, Susan Allison, Tom Nicotera, Terri Klein, Kathryn Kelly). But many of the featured poets came & left the stage without a mention of a single Beat writer. But perhaps the homage is more implicit than explicit, in our work & the work of even younger poets, in the very existence of such a Festival celebrating the spoken written word, in Libraries & bars & community spaces like the Buttonwood Tree, rather than in the recital halls & lecture centers of Academe.

Keep writing poets!!

June 11, 2008

Caffé Lena Open Mic, June 4

Our pleasant, relaxed host, Carol Graser, read Pablo Neruda's "Dog" to get us worded up.

I was in my "QE2 spot" on the sign-up list (the #1 that nobody wants) & read my new poem "Shaken, Stirred" (title given to me by Don Levy & lots of guidance by a tender poetry friend). I hadn't seen Sandra King before; she did "a little rant" & "I'm Sick of Silly Love Songs."

Mary Kathryn Jablonski made a welcome appearance & read "Mare Serenitatis" & Letter 3, both from her forthcoming To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met (from A.P.D.). Another rare sighting was Jan Tramontano who read 2 family poems, "The Tattooed Bride" & a sonnet about her grandson.

I was not familiar with the work of the featured poet, Christine Gelineau, but enjoyed her pleasant, chatty, constructed reading. Her poems were short (although she has written a chapbook-length poem, North American Song Line, from FootHills Publishing). There were plenty of flowers: peonies, lilacs, even peaches; cliffs in Ireland; a couple of stunners about a brain hemorrhage ("Island" & "Brain Storn"); & a couple about horses ("Open Range" & "A Short Poem About the Long Poem," not just about genres, something parents would understand). One of things I like (& there are many) about this series are surprises such as this, hearing good poets I had never heard before.

After the break, Carol Graser read "Skateland" about watching a kid roller skating. Another Mary-3-name, Mary Sanders Shartle, read 2 poems about losing intimate objects, one a wedding ring, the other "Double Amputee Below the Knee." Mimi Moriarty read a poem about separation & surfers, then "Quilting." "The Poet Who After All these Years is Still Broke," Richard Cowles, did his spanking take on the "priceless" MasterCard ad, then spun himself into "Dizziness."

Oneonta Slam Team anchor, Dan Stalter, performed an old piece about being in love with a junkie (for those of us who have been there). Romantic favorite, James Schlett, was once again at a pond, this time with a honey & "Cottonwood" musings on love, snow, then a short meditative piece from New Paltz & the Wallkill.

Lena-volunteer Liam did a word stew piece about love & India, "Old Blues," with an addendum. In a complete change of pace that characterizes the chance meetings on the sign-up list of open mics, Patrick recited the ole chestnut, "Casey at the Bat" (predictably in an Irish-American accent -- I think someone needs to do this poem in some other accent than Irish or Brooklyn someday, say Indian or Yiddish -- it would be a hoot). The night ended with a piece of "flash fiction" by Jonathan Siegel (without the "Livingston"), a Russian intrigue, "To Odessa & Back."

Tonight's reading was sponsored by Frank Robinson & Thérèse Broderick (& by the sonnet & the villanelle). Carol is always looking for money to run this series, so check out the Caffè Lena website for information or, better yet, come to the open mic & pickup a donation form. Maybe we can get Mary Lou Whitney to sponsor a whole year of poetry readings.

1st Wednesdays at historic Caffe Lena in toney Saratoga Springs.

June 10, 2008

Albany Poets Present!, June 3

At Valentines with Thom Francis our quietly competent host, an open mic with The Poet Essence featured.

A new voice, Emily Epstein started off with 3 apparently untitled poems, stream-of-conciousness, some hip-hop rhymes, & piling up of details, images -- she read a little too fast at times, but otherwise fun stuff. I did the old poem "John Lees" & the new one "Combat Boots." Sylvia Barnard reprised her "Pilgrimage to Vermont." Quietly amassing a huge photo collection herself, Kristen Day evoked the faces & voices of "Phobic" & also "Birthmark" ("we all have them, don't we?" is a haunting line). Ed Rinaldi told us the story of "Friday Afternoon at the Sparrow Funeral."

Those of you who read my Blog know the respect I have both for the poetry/performances of The Poet Esssence & for her personal work in the community. I've posted a couple of her poems here on my Blog. And in spite of what I might have implied in the past, she is not a "Slam poet;" she is a better performer than that. This night she performed some new work in addition to others we have heard before. "When a Baby Dies" will be on her new CD & is for Kathina Thomas, the young Albany girl killed by a stray bullet recently. "The Silent Talks" is on her CD Persuasively Seduced. She also did "Crooked Change Smeared" & "Nigga Speaks" (speak back!). "24 Hours" about trying to save a homeless family is on her CD 4For Seasons. She ended with the activist anthem "It's Not Just Words" (on this Blog), then got called back for an encore (an encore at a poetry reading!!) of "Classified Woman" (on 4For Seasons). When you see that she is performing someplace, clear your calendar & go -- tell her "Dan sent me."

Every 1st Tuesday at Valentines near where New Scotland Ave. begins in Albany, 8:00PM.

June 1, 2008

Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration, May 31

A Big Thanks to all of you from the community who showed up at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park on a mixed weather, changeable Saturday night to help in the reading of "Song of Myself" to honor Walt on his 189th birthday (I didn't have that precise fact in my press release but someone at the Times-Union calculated the number & put it in the calendar listing).

In spite of the intermittent rain & threat of lightning, & with the encouragement of a "rational" optimist, we were able to finish the reading of all 52 sections of the poem. Thanks to Thérèse Broderick, Frank Robinson, Mary McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Lorre Smith, Mimi Moriarty, Sylvia Barnard, Kristen Day, Don Levy, Gene Damm, Bob Sharkey, Percival Miller, & Sue Cerniglia for joining in.

We hope to be back next year again -- in the meantime, join us for Poets in the Park 2008 on July 12, July 19 and August 2, at the Robert Burns statue, 7PM.

At "the Linda" - WAMC Performance Studio, May 30

[Alix Olson at the Split this Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, D.C. in March. Her tee shirt says "I ♥ Howard Zinn".]

I had seen Alix Olson perform at the Split this Rock Poetry Festival back in March (see my Blog in the March file), so when I saw she would be performing in Albany, I immediately ordered at ticket. Little did I know what a great show the folks at the Linda would put together. And somehow I failed to anticipate that I would be almost the only guy there (& certainly the youngest) in a mostly young, dyke audience -- not that I minded that at all.

Opening the show & MC was C.E. Skidmore with a blues-dyke guitar set, ending with a scorching sing-a-long of Prince's "Purple Rain."

I was pleased & thrilled to be taken by surprise by Broadcast Live, the local activist hip-hop/rock/jazz quartet, fronted by Tori Reyes (check them out at http://www.myspace.com/broadcastlive). They do poetry, social commentary (where the mighty dollar sounds like dharma), music. I especially like the knockout hip-hop version of Bob Dylan's "Master of War" -- showing how close ole Bob was to hip-hop before it was invented. I had no idea they would be there so it was like getting 2 for 1 at the Lark Tavern.

Also on the program was activist-singer-guitar-master Pamela Means. I once saw her long ago at Richard's Mother Earth Cafe on Western Ave. Since then Pamela has honed her guitar skills, even branching out into jazz guitar vocals (a wonderful song about being in Amsterdam). She & Alix tour together & tonight did a couple overlapping pieces together.

Alix Olson, in addition to her poems & between-poems commentary, wore her sentiments on her chest, as she did at Split this Rock, this time, commenting on the "gay marriage" controversy, her tee shirt said "No Divorce for Straights." She did a number of pieces I had heard her do in D.C., including the one about why she is a feminist (prompted by talking to a guy on a plane), "Dear Diary" (which can be found in Beloit Poetry Journal), & ended with the great litany to women heroes for her mother in which she exhorts the audience to honor "the women before you" by calling out their names. Another piece explored the mysteries of sexual identity by recalling "pre-gay" Catholic school. Delving into other emotions was a tender, sad memory of a breakup she performed with Pamela Means on guitar.

Alix is a first-class performer who tests my own prejudices concerning performers v. poets. Her political/sexual commentaries between poems are entertaining stand-up comedy with meaningful content, & her poems, while in the country of "performance/slam" poetry, are real poems with a delivery that is not stylized & is varied for the content. In that respect I found it strange that the audience was (apparently) exclusively from the lesbian community, & other than "Broadcast Live", who were on the bill, there was no one other than myself from the local poetry community & nary a "slam" poet to be found. Hey, they could've learned something -- I did.