February 28, 2009

Frequency North: Taylor Mali, February 26

This is the ongoing series coordinated & hosted by Daniel Nester at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY. Tonight, the 4-time National Slam Champion Taylor Mali performed before an SRO audience in St. Rose's St. Joseph's Auditorium. Not just the college's students in the packed house, but local poets, educators, middle- & high-school students (with parents), even an infant or 2.

While culture wars still rage in the literary world (see my own Blog for some examples), the great thing about the "po' biz" these days is its expansive diversity. This is evident not only at open mics, but also in the literary community at large. No one group dominates the scene, from the Slam poets to the Academy of American Poets, from open mics to the Writers Institute, from the hermetic scribblers to the obsessively self-published.

Taylor Mali, while often characterized as a "slam poet" is more appropriately described as a stand-up comedy poet, a performer, a sort of scruffy Billy Collins. In fact, Mali called Billy Collins his favorite poet & even recited one of Collin's poems ("The Lanyard"). His poems are easily accessible on first hearing, expertly delivered with a range of volume, tone & gestures for emphasis & more often than not with a hefty dollop of humor. Another performer who comes to mind in this vein is Henry Rollins. This is nothing new to our culture, the careers of Mark Twain, or even Oscar Wilde, in earlier generations were literary figures who earned money traveling the country, "giving lectures" as they called it back then.

But Mali might also be described as an "inspirational poet," particularly for those noble folk serving in the teaching profession. Scattered throughout his reading were poems about being a teacher, making the point that teachers can change the world, one student at a time. Poems like "The Miracle Worker" where he took his act down into the audience (a la Tom Jones, who was also performing in Albany tonight), or "I'm Writing a Poem that Will Change the World...", or the descriptive "Undivided Attention," or the come-back to a question at a dinner party, "What Teachers Make." Moreover, his patter between poems frequently referenced his experience as a teacher. His goal is to inspire 1000 people to become teachers -- he's up to about 300 now.

His other major theme was on how we use language. He started off with mixing the images & terms of relationships & having a dog in "How Falling in Love is Like Having a Dog" (come to think of it, a dog was central to another poem, a 3-legged dog named Bodhisattva). There was an hilarious pantoum uttered by a stoner, another poem on our, like, "aggressively inarticulate generation" you know; the clever last poem on the worst speller, & even the boyhood anecdote of "Holding Your Position" could be characterized as centered on the use of language.

Nearly every poem had some level of humor, from the amused chuckle to the uproarious laughter that interrupted the lines. But there was one profound piece, "The Entire Act of Sorrow," about reaction to a suicide, that was unrelieved seriousness, so much so that he moved right into the next poem without applause, without a pause.

In between he talked about his own writing for the "spoken word," about Collins' advice to write what you would never write about, about his favorite poets (besides Collins, Mary Oliver, Richard Wilbur, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell -- belying the stereotype of the slam poet as a child of the Beats), about rhyme. A couple of his poems were rhymed or used rhymed segments. But I was amazed that he said he would like to bring rhyme back. What about hip-hop? He did comment satirically on academic poets, borrowing Nester's black-rimmed glasses as a prop as he pretended to read from his book a poem not in the book, "4 Cantos for Hephaistos," with its appropriately uncertain ending, which he dedicated to "anyone who felt they were dragged here."

It was an enjoyable, entertaining evening. However, such a performance can be dangerous -- it could be intimidating for some poets out there, either fledgling writers uncertain about stepping on stage ("if that is what a poetry reading is, I don't have enough experience & I'm not good enough to do that"), or the more seasoned habitue of open mics who might feel they have to insert bad jokes into their previously unrelieved paeans to gloom & heartbreak. Is it in the writin' or in the recitin'? I guess it's like the punch-line says, "Some folks can tell a joke & some can't."

(There are a couple more shots from Taylor Mali's performance at my Flickr site.)

Poets Speak Loud!, February 23

With our red-wine dominatrix host, Mary Panza, at Tess' Lark Tavern (where else?).

So I guess I just had to go first, & with a room full of folks fine-dining & a 20-something birthday gathering for a girl named Sarah, I had to be loud & obnoxious, so I read the penciled notes I'd just written this afternoon for the poem "Things to Do with an MFA" -- look for it here, pulled together, soon.

A new, young poet was next; Jonathan Jones said he has a book (My World is Flat I think he said) but didn't have copies. He read 2 poems, the first I think was titled "Useful Tender" in hip-hop rhyme with references to Thelonious Monk; the second poem about an encounter on a bus, ending with donuts & dope.

A.C. Everson slipped in to do a couple pieces from memory, "Everybody" on burdens & losses, & the ever-popular autobiographical "Scrabble Slut."

The featured poet, Todd Fabozzi, has been coming around to open mics recently promoting his book of poems, Umbrageous Embers (The Troy Book Makers, 2008). He started off with a long piece I hadn't encountered either at his readings or in his book, "The City of Yesterday's Tomorrows," a history of the re-writing of his native city of Amsterdam, NY, an example of what Ed Sanders called investigative poetry. Another poem for Amsterdam was "The Wave for My City," as well as another political piece, this for the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, "Freedom of Speech." Others he read were "Poetry Reading," "The Gift," "Bankrupt," & "I Am." Fabozzi seems to have been keeping his poetry under his hat, so to speak, for a number of years, but now thankfully has put his work out in a fat book & is coming around to readings & open mics.

Mary introduced the next open mic poet as "the most dressed poet in Albany, the leather bound R.M. Engelhardt" who read his rant on poetry & poets, "Word Eternal" & a lyric by Michael Stanley that was notable for quoting another lyric by Bob Dylan.

Dominick Rizzo read a piece about a confrontation with himself in Europe, "3 Year Old 19 Year Old", then a poem about a couple's fight, "Arrogance, Hers & Mine." Chris Brabham 2 poems were about love from different points of view, "Timeless," & the raucous "That Ass of Hers" (obliquely bringing us back to the first poem read tonight, if "m-f-a" = "mighty fine ass.")

& if you don't believe me about any of this, you can check it out on video at the Albany Poets website, Thom Francis recorded it all.

Last Monday of every month, at the Lark Tavern on Madison Ave., Albany, NY -- next month, March 30, 2009, Don Levy!

February 24, 2009

The Return of Amiri Baraka, February 21

All the years I lived in NYC I never saw the poet, cultural commentator, gad-fly Amiri Baraka. I had read Leroi Jones in New American Poetry & Beat journals, followed Amiri Baraka's confrontations with racism & America's dominant culture but never got to see him perform live until February 1993 at RPI. Then, like the bad black penny he is, he came back to Troy again, to the wonderful, holy confrontational Sanctuary for Independent Media last week.
The place was packed & they had to bring in extensions & additions & do other magical things to get everyone in legally so the City of Troy wouldn't try to close them down again. Amiri Baraka did his poetry/rant performance/reading with alto saxophonist Rob Brown blowing solo bebop riffs -- Monk, the Diz, Coltrane, even a bit of the Prez, et al.

It was politics & poetry, poetry & politics -- "In Town" (with Monk's Mood); a series of "Lowku" (like haiku, but not bothering to count); a rant in response to his being fired as New Jersey's Poet Laureate, "Fashion This from the Ivory of the World," with its images of rats & vampires; the funny/caustic "Jungle Jim Flunks His Screen Test," on the evolution of the white colonialism of Tarzan to Jungle Jim; then the poem that got him fired as New Jersey's Poet Laureate (what were those folks thinking in the first place?), "Somebody Blew Up America," with its great questioning "Who...?" of the power structure behind America's assassinations, scandals, wars & disasters, with Rob Brown's rendition of Monk's "Mysterioso" as the obligato/commentary/footnotes.

He said he wrote 2 poems for Barak Obama but couldn't find them, so read "Whys" (or is it Wise?), with it's repeated "Africa..." & the line "at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there is a railroad made of human bones, black ivory, black ivory, black ivory..." But then he found & read the Obama poem he wrote after the election, that ends with Lester Young.

During the questions, he talked about his use of imagery from John of Patmos of the Book of Revelation, & how, as a child his mother made him memorize Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, how those words formed his consciousness & how wonderful it is that we are talking about Lincoln again.

How timely Amiri Baraka is, whenever he shows up, how wonderful to have him around still to come back here & challenge & threaten us, & how absolutely stupendous it is to have the Sanctuary for Independent Media amongst us -- go there, support it, they need it & so do we.

A Poet Walks into a Bar ...

A poet walks into a bar, perhaps "The White House Grill" or "The Capitol," & asks the bartender for the Stimulus Package. The bartender brings out a topless dancer, charges the poet a $10 cover & raises the price of beers to $7.50.

February 23, 2009

Richard Boes (October 8, 1949 - February 21, 2009)

Richard Boes, author of The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive & Last Train Out, died on February 21 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Albany, NY. Richard was a Viet Nam veteran whose struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he painfully & vividly chronicled in his books. In recent years he lived in Rhinebeck NY & read on many occasions at venues in the area, including the Colony Cafe & the Woodstock Poetry Society. I was privileged to read with Richard a number of times at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock, both in open mics & as co-features together.

Last year when he was at the VA medical center in Albany undergoing cancer treatment, I got to know him a little over coffee & driving around the city. He did readings & book-signings at Java Jazz in Delmar, most recently in December after his second book, Last Train Out, was published. He was working on his 3rd novel in his this trilogy, In the Valley of Dry Bones.

As Larry Winters, author of The Making and Unmaking of a Marine, & of the play, Nothing Means Nothing, wrote:

"When the Last Dead Soldier Left Alive, boarded the Last Train Out
he knew where it was going and how fast it would take to get there.
He rode proud, riding point for me and the Nam brothers still waiting at the station."

Peace, brother.

[Both of Richard Boes' novels are available from iUniverse.]

February 21, 2009

Third Thursday Poetry Night, February 19

Tonight's muse was the great Beat poet of San Francisco, Bob Kaufman, & we had a full house at the Social Justice Center.

As I was setting, up a group of young women came to the Center from Equinox up Central Ave., wanting to see what was happening. So when we started I introduced their counselor (they had an 8:00 curfew & had to leave right away), Amanda, who introduced the young poet, Sanaya; she performed from memory a hi-hop style poem of love lost, "Mystery." Like watching your child's first steps, it is always great to hear a poet at the beginning of her career -- & I hope to hear her again.

Another first timer tonight, Lauren, read her take on "Beauty & the Beast" (2 rhymers in a row). Tim Verhaegen read a rant on the politics of race & gender "Come Out with Your Hands on Your Head You're Surrounded." Josh McIntyre's pun "Plane Thoughts" pondered air travel. Traveling up from the Catskills, Georganna Millman brought the printer's proof of her new book (with a blurb from Jay Rogoff, our featured poet) but read something new, "Dogtown, Saving the Micael Vick Dogs" about loving her dogs as a form of prayer.

Jan Tramontano read a poem she had skipped last week when she featured at the GLCC, based on 3 photos by Jim Flosdorf, "Inspired by Relections" (perhaps, she said, an outline for a bad movie). Bob Sharkey read a poem on the election of Barack Obama, which he (& many others of us) thought he would never see, "That One."

Our featured poet, Jay Rogoff, does a good job of varying the poems in his readings, but the ones repeated are always happy choices. Tonight he read mostly from The Long Fault(Louisiana State University Press, 2008) beginning with the first poem, "Cain's Gift" & ended with the last poem "Poet's Park, Mexico DF," which I think is always a perfect ending to his readings. In between he read "Sublimated" on the second shuttle disaster, "Book Burning," the popular, funny "The Guy Who Passed Me Doing 90 MPH & Playing the Trumpet," "Flemish Adorations" (he commented that "everyone in Belgium looks like they came out of a 15th century painting"), the innovative high/low culture of "Jane Austen, Inventor of Baseball," "Absorption" on Mark Rothko's canvasses, & one of my favorites "Memorial Chapel." In between he read short recent poems on social justice with his wife playing a role in each: "Alchemy," the theological "The Good Death" with his wife's comments on art, & "At the War Museum" in London. I saw a number of nodding heads, smiling faces, the softly uttered "yes" at the end of poems so I know I wasn't the only one here tonight who enjoyed his pleasant, intelligent reading.

After the break I read my "white man's appreciation" poem "Africa" on the drifting continents. Then Gene Damm did a piece based on the Bible story "Susanna." Joe Krasuman just retitled his comedic brain-surgery poem "Silver Haddock," thus a poem in "regress" being re-written here tonight. Sylvia Barnard's poem "Beyond Babylon" was based on an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, & not so academic I thought.

In spite of (or because of) the voluminous publications of Alan Catlin he also has a history of winning contests with publications that then fold. He read a Bob Dylan referenced "When He Calls You Now" from the now-defunct Suffering Bastards. Don Levy returned to the theme of the new president, with "The Inauguration Poem I Never Got to Read." Kristen Day defined what is meant by "State Worker-ish."

Alan Casline, publisher of Benevolent Bird Press ("I made this book"), read a meditation on energy & entropy with lists of everyday things, "My Soul & I." Moses Kash III's poem written last week was based on the hymn "When Jesus Walks." The final poet for the night, R.M. Engelhardt, described his new book Versus as an "experimental book of poetry," thus no title-page, etc. & read "something entirely different" from it: "More Than."

We're here at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, every third Thursday, with an open mic (one poem!) & a featured poet -- no one gets turned away if they don't have the $3 donation.

February 17, 2009

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly -- Local Chapbook Review

I've got a stack of poetry chapbooks sitting on my table, among other lit journals, books, magazines, newsletters. Here, in an attempt to clear the decks, is a review of a handful of the chapbooks by local poets that have risen to the top of the heap. In a number of ways these 5 represent the spectrum of publishing styles that I've seen lately at area readings (as well as the recent small press bookfair at the the UAG Gallery in January). They range from the "quick & dirty" Kinko jobs to the slick, glossy print-on-demand that emulate the major publishers & university presses.

It used to be that if you wanted to self-publish your poems, after years of publishers' rejections, you had to really do-it-yourself: typeset & layout the pages, design the cover, find a printer you can afford, pick up the boxes of books, then schlep them around to bookstores & to readings. With the prevalence of computers the typesetting & layout became easier, but still some of the software that printers would accept is expensive. Now the frustrated poet, or impatient novice, can email a manuscript to one of many "print-on-demand" sources that can be found on the internet & they will do it all -- for a hefty fee, of course. The finished product looks like all the other poetry books on the shelves of Borders or Barnes & Noble: perfect bound, 4-color covers, crisp typeface on good stock, complete with an ISBN & bar-coding. And you don't have to store boxes of the unsold books in your attic because the technology permits the printing of copies as needed.

But more than ever the old cliche (but it's an old cliche) is true: "you can't judge a book by its cover;" or to quote another cliche, "freedom of the press is for the person that owns one." There is something to be said for the old days of the poets shopping their poems around, workshoping, either formally or just around the kitchen table with other beat-down poets, trying their poems out at open mics, getting a sought-after featured reading, continuously working through the whole process. Now, "if you can pay, you can play."

Dominick Rizzo is a young poet who has been showing up at open mics recently, reading from his book, The Spiral Staircase of My Life: a Selection of Poetry Defining My Thirty Years. This is a professionally produced volume of 88 pages published in December 2008 by AuthorHouse (www.authorhouse.com). Obviously Rizzo has been writing for a few years, but the poems collected here all seem to be pulled from the same early notebooks, where he writes about "beauty" or "emptiness" or "desires." I hope that his involvement in the writing community can help him develop & polish his work, finding images & metaphors & rhythms. He apparently has the writing bug, now he needs to work this into art & find his voice. He is contributing a portion of his sales to suicide prevention programs, so I hope he sells a lot.

Another attractive volume of poems from an internet printing service is W.D. Clarke's Soldier Ballads and Other Tales (2009) from Infinity Publishing.com (www.buybooksontheweb.com). Those of you who read this Blog regularly, or attend open mics in Albany or at the Caffe Lena, are familiar with Clarke's work. I included him in the Poets in the Park in July 2008. His rhyming narratives of soldiers & rough life in the West, from his own life & from stories other soldiers have told him, are written in the tradition of Robert Service & Rudyard Kipling. I am glad to have in my hands so many of the poems I have enjoyed hearing him read over the last couple years. The book itself is also perfect-bound with a glossy 4-color cover, crisply printed & attractive. My only criticism of the production is that the poems & the introductory notes are all centered on the page. They would look better with the traditional flush left margin. Such a layout always reminds me of collections of inspirational verse by minister wives. But, hey, I can't tell where the lines begin when he reads them.

On the other end of the spectrum is a saddle-stapled, untrimmed photocopy job by R.M. Engelhardt (as the author note on the last page states Engelhardt "was the host of Albany's most former well-known poetry open mic...", I kid you not). The cover says "Poems Versus" so I guess this is the title -- there's no title page. The pages are numbered unnecessarily (& in Roman numerals no less!) since there is no table of contents anyway. And worst of all except for the poems themselves, the text is printed in tiny type, laid out in 2 columns. If he was trying to squeeze all the poems into one chapbook, he still could have done it with a normal layout & readable font size if he eliminated the huge, inexplicable spaces between sections of the poems. If I hadn't seen all of Engelhardt's other self-published books I would say that this was a rush job thrown together precipitously in order to have a new chapbook out for some reading he was giving. If you want a copy you will have to track down Engelhardt since there is no publisher information (no title page, remember?), except a URL for a blog: http://albanypoetrm.blogspot.com.

The final 2 chapbooks in this review, from Benevolent Bird Press (P.O. Box 522, Delmar, NY 12054), are also in the DIY tradition but show what you can do with a little bit of attention to detail & loving care of the work. Alan Casline is the publisher as well as the director of the Rootdrinker Institute (same P.O. Box address) does some of the production work himself by hand. Interestingly enough for this review, there is no websites, email addresses or other evidence of the internet listed anywhere in these 2 books.

Tom Corrado's three is just that: 3 poems, printed on 8 1/2 X 11 stock, folded vertically to create a 4 1/4 X 11 chapbook, saddle-stapled, an attractive cover with reproductions of 3 of Corrado's paintings, even yellow endpapers (which never occur in the print-on-demand books). The poems themselves are good-humored ramblings in a wry tone, a mix of Frank O'Hara & John Ashbery, filled with images & things, real stuff, nary a big concept of "Truth" or of what "poetry must be" to be found on these slim pages.

Harvesting Silence by Dennis Sullivan looks more like a traditional poetry chapbook, its 52 pages perfect-bound, a simple, attractive readable design & simple wood-block cover, with end-papers of heavier stock than the cover itself. Sullivan is the kind of poet who starts with a simple, everyday image (a pen on the floor, the weather, a cookie jar) & takes you to places you didn't know you wanted to go, deep within memory & the meaning of existence. His poems are contemplative, in the broadest & most monkish meaning of the term. He has an interesting habit of not only dating his poems to the day, not just a month & year, but also noting the time (when he ended the poem? or started it? or just happened to look at his watch?).

There is a great variety of work out there being written & published by local poets. Unfortunately, as a publisher of poetry myself, I know that woefully few people, even poets, buy other's books. So get out there, buy the books, find out for yourself what other poets are writing, & keep on writing.

February 14, 2009

Poetry at the UAG, February 13

Valentine's Day Eve open mic for lovers & others, with host, Mary Panza, vice-president (with the emphasis on vice) of AlbanyPoets.com. Lots of citizens, virgins & other folks we hadn't seen before, in addition to the usual crew.

Matt De Joseph began with 2 rhyming, sad-love poems, "No Picture" (missing her but...) & "Drifting" without his girl. Matt Galletta also had a "not-love poem" about seeing pictures of an ex, "This Will Happen to You." Another not-love, regret poem from Dan Stalter from his chapbook.

Harvie Havel has been lurking around open mics lately & finally read tonight, a short prose piece he described as his "first date in Albany," an incident at a bus stop after an open mic at the Social Justice Center. Another new reader, Sean Gallagher said he has been writing a haiku a day for almost a year & read 10 frequently outrageous haikus "for a pathetic love life." I repeated my poem "I Want to Read My Love Poems to You..." &, on the flip side, the short "Love & Hate."

R.M. Engelhardt followed with "The Light" & one to a Mistress L., "Sacred." Dominick Rizzo read a love poem to his wife, "Next to Her," & litany or chant poem, "Never Fear." The night's surprise virgin was Brigid Schmidt who gave a wonderfully relaxed & competent reading for a first-timer, what she called "3 faces of love:" "Longing & Grace," followed by a poem about the sad end of a romantic meeting in NYC, then one about getting out of a marriage, "The Widow's Garments."

el presidente Thom Francis brought it home with a poem by Spencer Reece, "To You" from his book The Clerk's Tale. Then a few of us went on to Elda's for drinks, chatter & gossip & then home to wait for the Easter Bunny -- no, wait, wrong holiday.

[This series is running approximately every-other Friday up to WordFest in April, with 2 featured poets each night, but no open mic. At the UAG Gallery, Lark St., Albany, NY, 7PM.]

Live from the Living Room, February 11

With our host, the ever straight-friendly, Don Levy.

The feature was Jan Tramontano who has been holed up putting the finishing touches on her novel. Tonight she stepped out with her entourage to read some poems. She began with 3 poems based on the paintings of Stephen Hannock from an exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art, whose work characteristically includes text. She continued with a series of poems from her 2008 chapbook, Woman Sitting in a Café and other poems of Paris (JMT Press/The Troy Book Makers): "Picasso Playing God with Lovers," "Woman Sitting in a Café," "Not Dan Brown's Mona Lisa," & "In Rodin's Garden" (with a nod to her husband, Ron in the audience). Jan had also published an earlier chapbook, Floating Island from which she read the title poem, & "Lunch at the Full Moon Café." She ended with a poem to her little grandson, "The Sky is Wonderous" & one to Ron, "My Husband's Garden." It was nicely put together reading, & quietly delivered in Jan's gentle, good-humored style. A testament to her popularity were the friends who showed up to listen to her poems, but not read at the open mic -- perhaps we will hear from them another time.

After the break Matt Galletta read "The Gates," a poem infused with his customary quirky humor. Bob Sharkey's first poem, "Escapade," was about being at a work-related conference, then walking in NYC's Greenwich Village; then, "Before as Asked" about being a volunteer for the exhibit of the AIDS quilt at the State Museum.

Sandy read a poem for her Mom with memories of childhood berry-picking, then one about the busyness of caring for a new kitten. I read "I Want to Read My Love Poems to You..." a sort of an all-purpose love poem, then my newest piece, "Making Love."

Jason Crane was back again; his first poem was from his perspective as a Union organizer, on the life & hard times of a maid, "Luxury Hotel," then his reaction to being at the Tom Nattell Memorial Beret Toss, "Robbie Burn's Hat."
A.C. Everson had to get in the holiday "Hot Chocolate", then her signature Valentine's Day piece (without the customary piñata) about that nasty bastard Cupid, oh yeah.

Don Levy finished off the night with 2 new poems; the first about picking out DVDs, "Throw-down at the Albany Public Library," then his commentary on the news commentator Rachel Maddow, "Pardon Me But Your MSNBC is Showing."

Always the 2nd Wednesday of the month at the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center, on Hudson between Lark & Dove, 7:00 PM.

February 7, 2009

Caffè Lena Open Mic, February 4

The featured poet was scheduled to be Ed Tick but he was ill, or indisposed, or should I do the obvious rhyme? Our host (confessing to be slightly frazzled herself tonight), Carol Graser, began with a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, "Ars Poetica, Rally 2002."

Larry Hovish was one of the editor's of Albany's Salvage Magazine back a few years ago, now returned with a couple of poems on a recent love disaster, "Hiding" & "Witches" (of course!). Corliss gave us her annual drive-through with a long piece on her Christmas tree & the President's inauguration.

The big surprise/thrill of the night was The Young Performers Dance Company, under the guidance of Lily Loveday, who read 3 poems by students from an English as a Second Language class. The performing group included 2 young men with cellos, & a series of dancers, both solo & in duet, accompanying the poems. It was a short, stunning performance; each part -- spoken word, movement, & music -- combined to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Did I mention that these were all high school students? I'm including a couple of photos here, but you just had to be there.

The night's virgin was Lisa Morahan who read 2 short poems, "First It Came" & "Not a Joke" in a very self-confident, relaxed manner. This was most certainly not Marilyn McCabe's first time; her "Perseveration" was as fun & refreshing as the ice cream in the poem, that was also a meditation on god.

So tonight's replacement feature was W.D. Clarke, who used the fortuitous opportunity to promote his new book, Soldier Ballads and Other Tales (infinitypublishing.com). Clarke has read at most of the open mics in the area (including at Poets in the Park last July) & I have heard most (if not all) of the poems in his book. He gave a characteristically understated, pleasant, good-humored reading of his rhymed narratives. Many of his poems come from his own experience in the Army in Viet Nam & from the stories of other soldiers that he helps to archive at the New York State Military History Museum in Saratoga Springs. Others are based on his travels out west or reading the history of the west (as in "Their Last Stand"). His style is reminiscent of that of Robert Service or Rudyard Kipling (see "The Private & the Major"). An enjoyable reading whose time went by quickly -- the book is worth it too.

Alan Casline shared one from the spurious mountain character, "Perious Frink Smells the Scent of a Bee Keeper," as well as a tribute poem, "Frozen Waterfall." George Fisher read "The War Years," & a poem written in Washington Park in Albany, ever a source of inspiration. Therese Broderick's Valentine poem was about dusting off a copy of Rodin's "The Kiss."

Mimi Moriarty read a poem "My Sister's Heart" which tells you, sort of, what it was about, & a new one about her father, "Track Photo." W.D. Clarke's wife, Linda, graciously took my picture while I read 2 "Birthday Poems", one written last month, the other written in June, 1974.

James Schlett's poems were grounded, as they often are, in a place -- "Amber Light" in North Jersey & "Winter Romance" in Wilton (with the smell of perfume in the forest). Bob Sharkey also had a Winter poem, "Yes," that included birds & Saul Williams, then a prose poem "Because." A rare sight, Jodi Frank was as bubbly & light as I remember; she read 2 pieces based on things she had seen in Newsweek magazine, "Medic in Combat" & "Collective Light" -- she needs to be back here more often.

Always the 1st Wednesday of the month at historic Caffé Lena in Saratoga Springs. Also, look for the Caffè Lena Poetry Festival April 11, all day -- details soon at www.caffelena.org

February 5, 2009

Albany Poets Present!, February 3

At Valentines, with el presidente/host, Thom Francis having a busy night with all the new folks there -- open mic poets & their groupies. Thom began with the Charles Bukowski piece starting, "Poetry readings have to be some of the saddest things ever..." Oh well, I enjoyed myself tonight.

Even though I got there late, I ended up as the first reader (actually, if I had signed up #4 I would have still been the first reader, go figure --). So I read 2 "Birthday Poems": one from before some folks at the bar were even born & the other you can read on this Blog, a few entries back.

Next was Jeff Traite, who in the past showed up at the old Cafe Web Third Thursdays & who I still see on the streets sometimes; he read 3 short poems, "The Wayfarer Poem," "JFK & the Mystic," and "One" (with the great advice to "give many gifts...").

Dominick Rizzo had been at the Lark Tavern & brought along a copy of his new chapbook, The Spiral Staircase of My Life; "Jack or Jill" is a bar poem & "Light post" where love is fading, both from the book.

Another recruit from the Lark Tavern reading, Jason Crane, had said he would be back in "15 years" but here he was a week later. "67 Unopened Video Cassettes" was about meeting his biological father & his grandmother for the first time at 34), "Bookshelves" was also about fathers, & "The Soft Friction of Sliding Glass" was a sexy tale told in a dry, cold manner.

R.M. Engelhardt read from his new chapbook, Versus: "Money," about his "heroes", the street survivors that was somehow tied up with the last honey who walked out on him; also "Solace" & "In Cleopatra's Eyes" (a white Cleopatra at that).

Another poet who resurfaced tonight, Miss Sally, had read a couple times when my Third Thursday series was as Changing Spaces Gallery on Hudson Ave.; tonight she read all about love, painful & sad.

Moses Kash III read 3 poems about his visions -- "Birth" (pondering "some genius born today..."), "I Saw Myself..." & "All the Earth's Children".

Chris Brabham read a poem about the ocean, "Eternal Voyage," & his moving poem on urban shootings, "When the Bullet Takes the Flight."

Thom Francis finished the night with what he calls "the trucker poem," from memory, a popular piece with his band.

"Albany Poets Presents!" occurs on the 1st Tuesday of the month, at Valentines, on New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY. When people show up, we read poems; otherwise we drink beer & gossip.