May 28, 2009

Michele Battiste, May 22

It was a thrill to host my friend, the wonderful poet, Michele Battiste at my home for an evening of her poems & partying. I had been there at the QE2 in Albany in November, 1997 when she first took the stage to read her poems. (If you must know, she read a poem titled "Barfly" about a woman at a bar, and "Shadowing" about an old love.)  Since then she has gone on to win awards for her poetry & to hone her skills on life & study.

Tonight she was promoting her new book from Black Lawrence Press, Ink for an Odd Cartography. Her performance (it's never simply a "reading") included a few poems from the book, but others not there, such as her signature opening piece where she literally ties the audience together with thread, like a spider. She included a new piece she wrote as a participant in a project for poets to write poems about each of the first hundred days of Barack Obama's presidency, "What He Said". Her poems are smart & sexy with a hard-shell humor that softens to the most liquid of tender centers.

Michele also has a chapbook out from Pudding House, Raising Petra, & an early version of the poems "Mapping the Spaces Between" that are included in the new book, that was published as a chapbook with that title in 2004 by Snark Publishing (O'Fallon, IL).

She lives in NYC now & her readings are not to be missed -- buy the book too.

Third Thursday Poetry Night, at the Social Justice Center, May 21

Our muse tonight was one of my favorites, Barbara Holland, I read her poem "Autumn Wizard." You can find her on the web.

Alan Catlin read from a chapbook, Brain Damage, a narrative of yet another marginal character in trouble with drink & the police. Cheryl A. Rice rode up with the night's feature, she's also trying to grow an "Avocado." Don Levy has "3 Chins," his hysterical "3 es" poem (but he left out the "3 Chins from Albany"). Kristen Day found a similar theme in her screed "I'm On a Diet!"

Alan Casline's narrative "Painting Signs for the Arboretum" is also a meditation on the ponds. Ed Rinaldi showed up with his young daughter, Emma, a bit nervous about what is this "poetry reading"?, read "This Ambiguity" (for someone called Manley Johnson -- I suspect not the economist).

Our featured poet, Rebecca Schumejda (pronounced "Schmayda") finally got to read in Albany. She read mostly from her book Falling Forward (Sunnyoutside Press, Buffalo), but included a few poems from an earlier collection. "A Mother's Mantra," "Wedding Waltz" (on failing dance classes), "Shopping with Maria" for a wedding dress, then 2 about her father, "Falling into Hot Tar" & "Workman's Prayer"; "Five Ripe Tomatoes," then from a new series about running a pool hall in Kingston, a character study "Table of Truth," & ended with "Rosary Beads & Pool Balls." A relaxed, entertaining reading of simply stated, human poems.

After the break I read my new poem "For Natalie," my niece who died way too young last week. Next month's featured poet here, W.D. Clarke, gave us a taste with the tongue-in-cheek homage to, "Barrack's Life." Michael Purcell was new here, started with quotes from Albert Einstein, then read a poem he had written just this past Monday, the satiric "Alternative Reality TV." Dan Stalter was new here too at the SJC, but is no stranger to the spoken word stage, began with a haiku, then an intense, personal poem about a suicide letter on the back of a birthday card. Anthony Bernini reprised his midnight WordFest reading of "A Stowaway' Prayer."

Therese Broderick, the "poet with too many qualms" read her play on the word "Qualm." Then her husband, Frank Robinson, embarrassed her with a tender love poem about watching, "with fresh vision," Therese read at an open mic, just like tonight. Bob Sharkey kept the marriage theme going with "39 Years In," pondering "Christ turning water into mojitos" at a gay marriage feast. R.M. Engelhardt updated the death ritual with "Instruction & Invocations & Preparations for Crossing the River of Death." Moses Kash III extended our night with a long, rambling piece "Happy 4/20" starting with Easter & the Black Messiah.

Another grand night at the Social Justice Center, & every third Thursday of the month, at 7:30PM (sign-up begins about 7:00), just a small donation of $3.00 if you've got it.

May 24, 2009

Bookmarks, the Memoir Project Reading Series, May 11

This was the first in a series of programs that will continue to December at The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. Tonight's program was titled "Remembrance" (somewhat redundant in a series on "memoirs") & it was "curated" by Julie Gutman  (in photo to the right) & Donna Miller. The program was designed to solicit audience responses to a list of writing prompts based on the work of the readers. The Center even gave out little notebooks (like the ones Jack Kerouac stuck in his shirt pocket, I thought) & pens for audience members to write down responses. However, the frequent breaks, which often went too long, were more profitably used to network & chat; moreover, some of the readers selections went on just too long, with audience members waiting for the next break to bail out. Needless to say, by the end of the evening no one in the audience showed any interest in reading.

For the most part, the readings were engaging & the organizers attempted to link pieces thematically. The writers included frequent attendees at local readings, Mimi Moriarty & Alan Casline; Gary McLouth (see the picture to the left) who in the past had read at the Readings Against the End of the World & other community events, read a 
fictional piece in the voice of his father.

Other readers included Donna Miller (former president of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild), Julie Gutman, Anne Pfeffer, Phyllis S. Hillinger & Rev. Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

It was clear that the Arts Center did not know what to do with the hodge-podge of entries they received in response to their call for "memoir," as well as how to put together a program that didn't trap people in their black box theater for hours. This particular program was also clearly a test of one possible format. Personally, I think asking for audience involvement in a program already lasting 2 hours was too much. Hopefully these kinks will be worked out as the series continues.

For me, "memoir" is just a marketing technique. All writing is autobiographical (someone tell me who I borrowed that from?), & if Jack Kerouac was publishing his novels today, they would be marketed as "memoirs" rather than fiction. In fact, his first draft of On the Road with the original (real) names of the characters was published recently. Predictably it adds nothing to the thrill of reading the novel; the key to the characters was published years ago Jack's Book by Barry Gifford & Lawrence Lee so there weren't any surprises there either.

There are 5 more readings in the series, each with different "themes" & "curated" (these visual arts-oriented organizations still haven't figured out how to deal with the literary world on its own terms) by different local literary women. The dates are June 1 (Selfhood), October 5 (Travel), November 9 & 16 (Family) & December 7 (Relationship). I have been asked to read at the December 7 event. All are Monday nights, start at 7:00 PM & are at The Arts Center in Troy, NY, free.

May 14, 2009

Poets Speak Loud!, April 27

AlbanyPoets vice president, Mary Panza, managed to frighten off some dinner guests this typically raucous night, but then that's what she does; the rest of us stayed.

I started off for no particular reason with an old poem, "Sylvia Plath Slept Here," then the story of "Albany, Vermont." Then a virgin poet, Alan Siegel, with a cluster of "spiritual poems," as he called them, actually religious pieces which I'm sure he felt out of place with as the night wore on in its typical, unpredictable fashion.

Sylvia Barnard read her poem "Easter" that she had read as the last poet in this year's Albany WordFest, at 6:30 AM. R.M. Engelhardt's "Nocturne for Mrs. Mueller" was unique in that it was actually about someone other than himself, not about him pining over some honey, or pondering "god," or a philosophical meandering about all the emptiness around him. Then he returned to his favorite themes with "Another Bad Poem ..." (that was the title, not my description).

Slam star Dan Stalter was the night's featured poet, showcasing his new chapbook, Pull the Trigger and Drive, a flip-book with Sean Gallagher's a very neat monster (The Intangible Collective), with "Rebirth," "Face Down," & "White Flag." Also, "Penis," which is more about writing bad poetry, & his version of John McCain's concession speech, "No We Can't." Overall, lots of masturbation & coming down on Religion with both feet (maybe Alan Siegel should've waited before he signed up).

Todd Fabozzi was up with 2 pieces from his book Umbrageous Embers, "The Spirit to Suffer" & "America Is." Liliana Hernandez is a new voice with "Crooked Cops" in Oakland (like everywhere) & the sexy "Kissing a Girl" -- more, more. William Eng shows up at the Lark Tavern fairly regularly, but nowhere else (except his own apartment I guess), read a narrative of the park, "Summer Burn" & something he said he was finishing on stage, "Stop Watch."

Another new face/voice William Purcell did 2 pieces from his notebook, one on consumerism, the other written after 9/11/01, "Red White & Blue." Ah Amanda Rose, also read from a notebook, "Let's Pretend" then the excoriating "3 Minute Man" (it's not about me!).

Adding to tonight's themes Mets fan Dominick Rizzo did a poem he described as "totally different", about sperm experiencing anal sex, then one about being pissed off at his favorite team. Was there a connection here? Jonathan Jones is growing out of his new-kid status, has poems with spiritual themes set in the real world, the rhyming "Mustard Seed" & his tattoo show-&-tell, "Heavenly Folk." I expect you'll see him featured soon out & about.

The final poet Sue Cerniglia is a frequent member of the audience, rarely reads, but is an avid mandolin & string player who has just returned from a tour of Europe during which she & other musicians (including local Deb Cavanaugh) played at former Nazi prison camps, emulating the recitals that inmates would often have to play; her poem "The Sentiment in My Heart" was based on that experience.

Ah, the great experience of the expressions of the human heart that poetry open mics can, & often do, epitomize -- we all applauded, cringed, smiled & went to the bathroom. It beats the alternative.

Most last Mondays of the month (not May, often not December), at Tess' Lark Tavern on Madison Ave. in Albany -- you can find it.