July 29, 2009

[the Unibrow Tour] Stone Soup Poets, July 20

Back many years ago, I was a featured poet for the Stone Soup Poets in August, 1993 when they were at T.T. the Bears under the direction of Jack Powers. Tonight, I was at "Out of the Blue Gallery" in Cambridge for another Stone Soup Poets event. According to their website they have been at it for 38 years. Jack Powers, in the audience tonight, was showing the ravages of Time, but attentive to all the poets while the reading was under the capable direction of Chad Parenteau. It was an exemplary night of community poets & poetry with all that that implies & thus a fitting end to "the Unibrow Tour" for LisaAnn LoBasso.

Chad began with Philip Levine's "What Work Is" then Karen Gault, who had just arrived, read "Night Lights" & "Dream". Harvey Rudman was the first of the night's guitar player/singers. You might find some of this up on YouTube (or on a cable station in Cambridge or Lowell) because Bill Perrault was videotaping the event; he also read a couple poems, one about being in Italy, the other in silly rhymes, "I'm Tired." I read, to a new audience, again "The Spa."

Stephan Anstey, the publisher of the journal Shakespeare's Monkey Revue, read "One Bad Woman is All it Takes," & "Trippin' Moon." Randy Barigh read a rhyming nature poem, "On this Rock," then "The Battle for Evermore" about stars. Debra Priestly's just written "One" was full of sunflowers & touches. William Clark's journal narrative became a rant about the homeless. James Strauss' 2 poems were untitled, although someone in the audience suggested that he call his "silly" piece about "little gnomish men" "Politicians" (must've been from New York State). Laurel Lambert's short descriptive phrases from her battered notebook could've been just a series of lines or a long poem in the making -- why we poets keep scribbling in those battered notebooks.

Chris Robbins read again the poem he had read yesterday at Cafe Olio ("Granola Parfait"), but before that did a "just written" poem for children, "Magic One." Edward Gault (who had signed his wife up first for the open mic) read about a dream of winning the lottery, "Sweet Dream of Aphrodite." Margaret Nairn, who was caring for Jack Powers (shown in the photo to the right), read her urban poem of recycling trucks & city rain, then read Jack's "At Bat (for Johnny Urlich, a Southie Dude)" hitting against Mr. Death, from Jack's chapbook, The Inaccessibility of the Creator (Ibbetson Street Press).

This was the last reading on LisaAnn LoBasso's tour & it was appropriately energetic & tender, poetic & earthy. She began with "Another Love Poem," then on to "My Lost Uncle," "Ojai Deliverance" (oh how I missed Tom's harmonica), the intense emotion of "Upon a Sick Child," "For Micca...," "Retreat," "Elsie in Us," the 2 sugar poems: "Sugarloaf" & "Sugar Coating (A Love Poem & My I Do)" (written in April & not in her books), ending, as she does, with "Melt," the sweet sounds fading out for the last time in the air of this Atlantic coast city.

With so many poets on board, Chad took us right back into the open mic with Walter Howard's "White Goddess" & "Mid October 2002." Eric Nelson piled up images in his tribute to cormorants then deconstructed a news story on a runaway truck. Carol Westly paid tribute, this time to a World War I soldier, Keith Douglas, with photos & a dramatic reading of her poem "Time Eating." Chandler Goodallen read "death haikus" for Michael Jackson, David Carradine, & Farrah Fawcett, then a piece on friendship, & a poem, "Asylum," for Bill Barnum who has just slipped in.

Catherine Wang-Hsu's poems "River of Life" & "Pearly Rice" were quietly stated, descriptive, philosophical. The second guitar man of the night was Alex M. Eisen-Cuadra with a rhythmic original song. John Stern's "spoken word medley" of songs of the 1930s & 1940s was way too long (or did it just seem that way?). And then I almost died when James van Loy began his reading reciting a 1940s pop tune, but he went right into a personal narrative on death, then did a wonderful piece on Jack Powers, his comrade poet ("the best part of the trip").

Bill Barnum has been a fixture in the poetry/performance scene in the Boston/Cambridge area for many years. In spite of a tremor & quiet, slurred speech he gave a riveting performance of 3 short pieces that ran seamlessly together (I know there was a Centaur in there somewhere). I'd love to have an hour with the little red notebook he had with him & consulted just before he performed.

I was so pleased to have joined the final leg of LisaAnn's tour & thus to have ended up here tonight among such richness of words, history & legendary poets. May the Stone Soup Poets have another 38 years!

July 28, 2009

[the Unibrow Tour] Sunday Afternoon Words & Music, July 19

I decided to join LisaAnn LoBasso on the the last leg of her "Unibrow Tour" of the great poetry venues of the Northeast after her appearance at the Poets in the Park. She had 2 more gigs, both in towns & venues I wanted to check out. The first stop was in Plymouth, MA, at a pleasant Sunday afternoon at Cafe Olio. The cafe was located in an upscale development called Pinehills just south of the city of Plymouth. Singer/songwriter Rick Clerici was entertaining the audience as we arrived. The host, Louisa, then did a pleasant love poem, "Found Again," with Rick accompanying her on guitar.

LisaAnn gave another spirited performance as the featured poet, beginning with "Another Love Poem" then on into the death of day in the heat. Her other poems were "Their Dissipation," "Granite Oaks," "My Lost Uncle," "Ojai Deliverance," "For Micca and Her Photograph in her House," "Lost Hills," "Sugarloaf," & ending as she does with "Melt."

The host, Louisa, announced there would be a 1 poem limit for the open mic, a rule that I too have for my open mic at the Third Thursday Poetry Night. But as the poets took the stage I was shocked at how many violated this rule. Maybe "violated" is not the correct word, maybe "ignored," or perhaps, given the maturity (i.e., age) of most readers "forgotten."

The first reader was Alex Woodbury who read a short excerpt from a novel & seemed to stay within the time limit. Elizabeth Hanson announced she had 2 pieces, "they are short" she said. The first was not short (rule of thumb: any poem that is more than 1 page is not "short"), describing a scene from a movie, the second piece "Night Train." Renee Sweezo (?) also read 2 poems but they were short, "A Mess," & "Far Far from Shangrila." Paul Stone knew the rules, read "Listen to the Wind" from his book, How to Train a Rock.

Alice Kociemba runs a poetry series in West Falmouth on Cape Cod; she had "3 short poems": one about the demise of a hardware store, "Morning Air," & one about kayaking on Cape Cod. I was raised a good Catholic boy (though that's long gone) & I know how to obey the rules, so I read one poem, "The Spa." Chris Robbins came close to reading 1 poem: he started with what he called an "Irish haiku" then read a tribute to the Cafe Olio, "Granola Parfait." Louisa ended the afternoon with a poem about her car breaking down, "Muddle Life" (saying she was addicted to Harry Potter books).

Not sure when this series will continue or where it will be next, but it this afternoon was fun at Cafe Olio, 3 Village Green North, Plymouth, MA (at Pinehills).

July 27, 2009

Poets in the Park 2009

This is the 20th anniversary of Poets in the Park, which was created & run for years by Albany poet & activist, Tom Nattell. This year we started off the series at our rain site, the Social Justice Center, but were able to hold the rest of the readings at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park. Once again the series was co-sponsored by the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, with funds from the Community Arts Grants through the Arts Center of the Capital Region.

It's been a rainy summer and the first reading on July 11 was moved indoors. Randall Horton began with some poems from his book The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag, 2006), persona poems about & in the voices of his family. He moved on to poems from his forth-coming Lingua Franca of Ninth Street, about his days in Washington, DC. With titles like "Minor Characters in somebody else's Melodrama" & "Listening for the Perfect Sound" these too are also stories & character studies but urban & gritty. He ended with some newer work, also urban but more meditative, like "Looking Down at the City at Night" & "Testing the Limits of an Ontological Breakdown."

Mary Kathryn Jablonski is well-known to the poetry folks of Saratoga Springs & was featured here at the Third Thursday Poetry Night last year. She began with a clever new piece, twisting proverbs to "preverbs." Then a couple poems about her father & growing up on a farm, "Coffee & Cigarettes" & "Stone". Another new poem was "Josephine Sky." She included poems from her chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met (A.P.D., 2008), the incantation to Pawlett, VT, "Mare Vaporum" & a selection of the husband letters. She ended with the haunting dream poem, "Heart Nebula Running Dog."

The night of July 18 was breezy but clear & we were back in the Park. LisaAnn LoBasso was on tour of the Northeast from her home in Bakersfield, CA & had read recently in New York City, at the Riverwood Poetry Festival in CT & at Caffe Lena. I had met Tom Nicotera many years ago through my friend Charlie Rossiter & in recent years we have been connecting at poetry festivals & readings here & in CT. LisaAnn & Tom got together at my house before hand to put together a collaborative performance of words, harmonica, bodhran, & multiple voice.

Tom's poems were about the dust in his room, weeds in his yard, flowers such as "June Poppies" (for his daughter at 5) & a sunflower at a construction site, as well as the usual love & divorce poems, including advice about "Things Not to Say On a First Date" ("would you like to go to a poetry reading?").

LisaAnn read poems of relationships, past & present & imagined, & about the interactions of family. Her performace of "Ojai Deliverance" (with Tom on harp) was her best ever of that piece. Also a chilling rendition of "At Night" with the contrast of sleeping babies & violence, read in tandem with Tom's satiric "As If".

Tom's version of Blake's "Tyger, Tyger" sung with bodhran, was able to drown out the performance at the Park Playhouse. And LisaAnn's sung sound poem "Melt" drifted off into the summer air like the taste of watermelon.

We were back in the Park on July 25, another pleasant night. Lori Desrosiers, from Westfield, MA took pictures of the audience & began with pieces about her grandmother & her mother from her chapbook Three Vanities (Pudding House Press), including a historical piece about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. She also read some newer poems such as the one about her parents meeting ("Last First Kiss"), lessons from her mother in "Womanly Ways" & a poem on fate, "Conducting in Thin Air," family anecdotes at the heart of her work.

An unannounced extra was a poet from the U.K., Geraldine Green, who had traveled with George Wallace, so I asked her read a couple poems. She said that where she came from was only about 50 miles from where Robert Burns was from. She read a tribute to gardeners, the recently written "Many Gardens," & a descriptive tribute to the city of Liverpool.

I have read with George Wallace a number of times, most recently at the Riverwood Poetry Festival in CT. He is a busy promoter of poetry, including hosting the Sunday afternoon series at the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan. His poems are longer, expansive, weaving narrative & description & read in his raconteur, dramatic manner. But you often end up at another place from where the poem starts, as in "Stopping for a Piss in Missouri." His style is obviously influenced by that of Jack Kerouac, to whom George paid tribute in a poem about Gunther's bar in Northport, where Jack hung out in his bedroom slippers. These poems hold up well, even with repeated readings.

I am very pleased to be able to continue this series that Tom started 20 years ago & hope to continue on next year, Saturdays in July, at the the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY. And if you are curious as to why there is a statue of Robert Burns here in Albany, come to the Poets in the Park next year & I will tell you.

This project is made possible in part through COMMUNITY ART$GRANTS, a program funded through the State and Local Partnership Program of the New York State Council on the arts, a State agency and the Arts Center of the Capital Region.

July 26, 2009

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 16

No rain & a lovely night at the Social Justice Center, with a great array of poets, local, regional & national. I started off invoking the muse of Paul Celan, from the translations done by Pierre Joris.

The first 2 open mic poets are like a variation on a name, the first with the slightly longer name, Alan Casline; he is a student of local history, flora & fauna, & tonight read a short piece on Indian wars in the time of the Dutch settlers. Then Alan Catlin who is a student of a different style of local history, flora & fauna, that of the urban streets of Albany & Schenectady, read a poem about the goings-on on his street, "202". Up from Saugerties, "Normal" told a true story of avoiding the "green buses" of the military in 1963. Ed Rinaldi's short poem was about a summer insect about to bite. Thomas Brinson says he writes "poemoirs," & read an example, "Storm King Art Center." Don Levy was worried that "The Poets Are Swearing, The Poets Are Swearing" saying the "s" word, the "a" word, the "f" word. W.D. Clarke's comical ballad "The Camp" was about a youthful job that brought him to a nudist camp -- for "Seniors."

Tonight's featured poet, Dominick Rizzo, read selections from his book, The Spiral Staricase of My Life, mostly short poems, about love, his struggle with depression, even about addicted rock stars, & an alcoholic take on the nursery rhyme "Jack & Jill." He also read a number of new poems, including "I'm At War With Myself," "Don't Beat Yourself Up," "The Drunken Satire," & "Purple Roses." At one time poets would write their poems, send them around to magazines & literary journals & try them out at open mics, sometimes for years, before they gathered their best work together in a book-length collection or chapbook. Now, with the creation of the "print-on-demand" industry, some new poets are rushing their poems into print, sometimes cramming as many as they can into a no-longer-thin book of poems. Of course, this is one way for a writer to get his or her work out there to a wider audience. The downside is that much of the work goes untried, either in workshops, open mics, or the poetry journal marketplace, not having time to settle or age, like one does with wine, fine whiskey, or cheese.

After the break I read "Cleanse this City" to commemorate the first test of the atomic bomb on July 16, 1945. A new voice & face, Ed Fennell, read about Time, "The Weaver." Joe Krausman read "a poem in regress," an older poem being re-worked, "The Blaster." Therese Broderick's Blog documents her influences & inspirations of her poems, including "July" that she read tonight. Moses Kash III paid tribute to Michael Jackson in his prose poem "Another Brother Moses Across the Red Sea."

The poet who lives closest, Sylvia Barnard, re-did her poem written at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, "Portrait by Ammi Phillips," with copies provided by a berserk printer. LisaAnn LoBasso, on a poetry tour from Bakersfield, CA, lives farthest from the Social Justice Center, passing through town, read "Playing Peace" about trying to avoid the news of war, from her book Oleander Milkshake. Julie Lomoe read about her bi-polar diagnosis, intertwining memories with the DSM-IV. Jan Tramontano was back with a short poem for the end, "New World Order," inspired by her youngest grandson.

Poets from near & far. Third Thursdays at 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 start, a modest $3.00 donation, if you've got it.

July 24, 2009

Live from the Living Room, July 8

From the living room of the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center where Don Levy hosts this monthly open mic (2nd Wednesday). Tonight, before the featured poet, Don paid tribute to the recently deceased Harold Norse by reading his poem "You Must Have Been a Sensational Baby." In spite of which, this is a straight-friendly reading, in case there is anyone out there who might be worried about that.

The featured poet was Ed Rinaldi, whose poems are typically short notebook observations/descriptions, on poetry, love, memories (like the one written today, "Remembering What to Carry"), & on himself, his inner & outer struggles. He also included a tribute poem to Mary Panza, "Mary on Top a Troy Monument." There was also a little piece describing Autumn in an apple orchard that I took to be a love poem to the Earth. As he said in "Poems," they "ooze" from him.

I started off the open mic with a couple new pieces, "Albany, Kentucky" & "Mother's Day." Sylvia Barnard's printer went berserk so she passed out copies of her poem written at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, "Portrait by Ammi Phillips." Tim Verhaegan tried out again his memoir of "Wiborg Beach" & "Story." Dan Stalter did some "short poems for a change," as he said, including "Shame" written last night.

Carmen Mojica was "watching the weather change..." her first time here. A.C. Everson, after passing around a petition to keep the county nursing home open (hey, I'm gonna need it someday!), did one of her little ditties on birthday babies & sharing. Our "poetry virgin" of the night, Jeremy Iigness described "Cloudscapes" in rhyme, then a love poem, "In the Darkest Times." Sue Cerniglia comes to a lot of readings & open mics, but rarely reads; tonight she wrote a piece right here, "The Certainty of Things Not Done," & read a descriptive "Sun Shower."

Shannon Shoemaker rode her motorcycle in the rain to get here with 2 new poems, "Addiction" (about stalking a lover) & "The Last Poem" (which we hope isn't). Before Don Levy read Tim started to leave, thinking the night was over, then raced back in when he heard Don start his poem, "All We Have to Queer is Queer Itself" (about how he frightens straight men, some of them at least).

Join us, the 2nd Wednesday of each month, 7:30PM, 322 Hudson Ave., Albany.

July 22, 2009


My wife said,
                       “I’m not your mother
don’t give me a card.”

My mother
                         is no longer here
doesn’t get any mail.

The tulips
                         are wilting & the day
has been too cold.

I wonder
                          if mothers are happy
or do they just miss sex?

Caffè Lena, July 1

Our host, Carol Graser, said this was the biggest crowd they have had for the open mic at Caffe Lena -- she should know, she's been hosting the poetry open mic at this legendary folk music venue since about 2003. All I know is I got a cramp in my hand taking all the notes. It was the usual great mix of local & regional poets, with a few comedy acts (including by one of the featured poets) thrown in. Austin Halperin-Graser's routine on being home-schooled was actually pretty scary, making me think how crazy it would have been to have my parents home-school me -- yikes!

The featured poets were LisaAnn LoBasso (from California) on an early stop in her "Unibrow Tour" of the Northeast, & Tim Mason who seems to invade folk venues by combining poetry & comedy monologues for the poetry-challenged. LisaAnn LoBasso read selections from her two books, In the Swollen & Oleander Milkshake, including "Their Dissapation," the sound-poem "Melt," "My Lost Uncle," "For Micca & Her Photograph in her House," the chilling "For a Sick Child," "Ojai Deliverance," "Sugar Loaf," ending with a couple love poems, "Another Love Poem" & the recently written "Sugar Coating." A performance without trying to be a "performance."

Tim Mason did most of his poems from memory, which sometimes made it difficult to know when he was doing a "bit" or an introduction or whatever, like his routine about messing with a Texan's hat (didn't I just hear that on a country station?). I thought that his most effective work were those that sprang out of his experience, such as hiking a desert plateau, though even those were prone to a breathless hippy philosophy. In general his best work was when he was not trying to be a stand-up comic.

Among the open mic performers were Mimi Moriarty & Frank Desiderio (who had been featured here last year) doing a short set of their "companion poems," on poetry readings & on the attic. There was also a contingent from the Voorheesville Every Other Thursday Night Poets, Mike Burke (read from his new chapbook, Sonnets for a Summer Dog from Benevolent Bird Press), Dennis Sullivan, Tom Corrado, "Obeeduid," & Alan Casline. I read my tribute to last year's CT Beat Festival, for LisaAnn who had been there too.

Some of the regulars (more or less) included Liam, Mary Melvin with a memoir of "The Backyard Oak," George Fisher, Mary Kathryn Jablonski (with a new poem, "Kabuki"), Margot Malia Lynch, Yvette Brown (with a funny piece on voicemail), Barbara Garro, & W.D. Clarke (who also had a cowboy hat poem).

Georganna Millman was there with 2 poems not in her new book. Carol Graser did another of her artful political sestinas. Other poets included Carol Kergan, Salik, Patsy Berton (one of Carol's students hadn't listened to the 2 poem/2 pages limit), another student Brandon (who did follow the rules), Anna Stocker, Genevieve Legacy (whose self-portrait in a list of her things was good until it didn't stop), Rachel Ikins reading from her Blackberry, Todd Fabozzi from his book, Glenn with nature poems, Julie Barton, the always charming James Schlett, Maria Acosta reading Sonia Sanchez, Nancy Denofio at her mother's grave, Joe on life & death, & Margaret Bryant.

A great night out of the rain, & fun as always. & always the 1st Monday of each month. Check out the website for complete information.

Poets Speak Loud, June 29

Back at the Lark Tavern, surprising the diners who suddenly found a poetry reading breaking out, with our host, Mary Panza.

I read "The Cardinal" & the old sex-love poem, "Decoupage Me," sticky with glue. Don Levy's "Old Tee-Shirt" harkened back to the days of the QE2, then the new poem "The Younger-Older Poet." Brian Sullivan read "Blue is a Wonderful Now," a character study. C. Brossack's 2 poems were both short line rhymers, one in the woods at night, the other "Superman" (a love poem).

Todd Fabozzi read about a job ("Family Friendly") & "Clowns" at the Mall. RM Engelhardt re-did his "Instructions & Invocation..." poem, this time for Michael Jackson, & read about murder in the inner city. Michael Purcell's quote was from Henry David Thoreau then read about technology over-shadowing the human spirit, & "No Limits," on heroes & activists. Tess Lecuyer read from Annie Dillard (ah, Tess, we want your poems!). And I have no idea what Joe Hollander did, but it was interesting at the time.

The featured poet was introduced as "Ole Boy" but we've seen him before as Jonathan Jones. His work verges on song & hip-hop, with some social commentary/sermonizing; he did actually sing a couple times, in a fine voice. He too referenced the recent death of Michael Jackson, in his first poem (with a long title I didn't catch). "Pull Your Damn Pants Up" was a sermon on some of the more stupid elements in pop culture. One of the images I liked & noted from his poems was of driving on a journey & he is the driver; another was that we must play the cards we are handed. Good, entertaining work & a relaxed performer.

Most last Mondays of the month, at the Lark Tavern on Madison Ave. in Albany -- check out the AlbanyPoets calendar for complete information.

July 16, 2009

Sunday Four Poetry, June 28

The last of the season's readings (the series will start again in September) at the Old Songs Center in Voorheesville, NY was introduced by Dennis Sullivan who introduced Edie Abrams to introduce the poets.

Tim Verhaegan started us off with memories of growing up near "Wiborg Beach," then an interesting sociological commentary in "Story." Larry Rapant gave us some improvised words with scat-singing. As more people arrived & the place filled up Dennis Sullivan read a meditation on Time ("Prepared to Turn Out the Light"), then a poem about his "bible"/favorite poet, Wallace Stevens, & ended with rain & poets, "Saturday Picnic Atop a Hill."

Dave had a poem on the class of Harvard Class of 1942 & a meditation on ice cream & adaptation. I read my poem "The Priest," the form based on the song "Softly, Moses" by Erin McKeown. Marion Mena read a couple of her simply-stated nature poems, "Shad Run" & "The Lake Turns Over." Alan Casline (today in a tee-shirt with half a word on it) also writes a lot of short nature poems, read "Water of Vision" & "Buddha Needs a Bath" (or was that just part of the poem?).

Tom Corrado tried to set up a tangle of electronics & gave out copies of the poem he was going to read, but the whole thing became a "performance piece" as he kept shorting out the mic. Obeeduid (Mark O'Brien) also did a performance piece, unwrapping a multi-layered package, down to a tiny piece of paper that was "the wrong poem." MC Edie Abram's poem of family memories "I Met my Mother at 42" captured a common experience as we grow older.

Each summer Mimi Moriarty's brother, Frank Desiderio, comes east for a visit, & in the last couple of years they have been making the poetry circuit together with their "companion poems" performance. They have found that they write poems on the same topics quite independently & get together to build a set of poems on related topics, alternating poems in their reading. Their topics today ranged from the Garden of Eden, to coffee, politics (I especially like Mimi's "Eleven" that recounts 2 dreams on the same night, one of Bush/Cheney's lies, the other about looking after young "Frankie"), grief, snapshots, cars, even Superheroes (Frank: "Electro Woman" & Mimi: "Like the Hulk"). A wonderful program of well-crafted, moving, humorous, thoughtful poems. Look for them next summer.

This series will start up again in September, the 4th Sunday of the month, at 3PM at the Old Songs Community Center on Main St. in Voorheesville, NY -- always worth the drive.

July 14, 2009

Fernwood Restaurant, June 26 (Part 2)

So after the Faxon Library reading we (many of us) headed over to the Fernwood Restaurant nearby for even more poetry -- & some beer & food. Not sure what the dinner patrons thought of a poetry reading breaking out in the middle of a Friday night. The reading host was Mike Walker who opened up the night with a lush memory love poem. There were 4 featured poets to be followed by an open mic.

Wendy Battin read 2 poems, "Christine Falls on the Road to Paradise," & "Aubade," a fascinating book of hours, poems written about a night/early AM of insomnia, a long piece composed of short segments -- something worth revisiting.

"Sympetalous" tried out his Michael Jackson piece last night & reprised it tonight, with revisions. I'm not sure how many poems he read since they were each performed in the same way with the same flowing gestures & with the same performance accent & intonation, as well as written in the same way, each an unrelenting word stream. My notes do say "Roy Obison" so that was in there somewhere -- you just had to go with the flow.

During a brief break, Tom Nicotera, fresh from hosting down the street at the Faxon Library, serenaded us with his harmonica.

Elizabeth Thomas, the old-school slam poet, showed us how to combine good poems with an emphatic but not overdone performance. She included the poem "Lies My Mother Told Me" that had been read on radio by Garrison Keilor, "Revelation" (on a "God" tee-shirt), as well as "Celestial" for her husband & another poem as a tribute to poet Faith Vicinanza.

Melissa Emma was the least experienced of the poets reading tonight & did a short set with poems about a dead fox, sex in a slow, hot August, & a piece, "Courage," that she said she wasn't sure what it was. She just needs some more time at open mics to practice her readings & study the good & the bad of the other poets.

Speaking of open mics, I had to slip out before this one got started (it had been a long, double-header night), so you'll have to find out about it someplace else (or not).

On occasion at readings I will see a poet who, while another poet is reading, will be shuffling through her or his poems, preparing for their reading. It can be very annoying. Tonight, this sin was multiplied. Not only was one poet going through her folder of poems, but another was (silently) rehearsing his reading, complete with obvious (& documented) hand gestures & mouthing of the words -- and they were both at the same table, right upfront. I can only cringe at what the poet who was performing saw & thought. It was just plain & simple rude. If they needed to "warm-up," they should step out of the room or at least move to some inconspicuous back corner. Featured poets whose names appear in the programs have had plenty of time to prepare for their readings at home, & need to give the other poets who are reading the same level of attention they, I'm sure, are looking forward to for themselves.

Unfortunately, that was the last of the festival readings I could get to & had to head back home early next morning. But check out the Riverwood Poetry Festival website & when you see the notice about next year's festival (I hope there will be a next year), make your plans & go. These folks did a great job.

July 13, 2009

Riverwood Poetry Festival, June 26 (Part 1)

The first of the night's 2 readings was held a the Faxon Branch Public Library in West Hartford, CT. About 45 minutes before it was to start, a thunder storm knocked out power to the library, but the reading must go on & it continued in the entrance foyer, with a fading emergency light & then flashlights for the poets to read by. Our host was Tom Nicotera who moved the night along. This ran the spectrum from the cold, clinical academic book-making assignments to fun with language to the deeply felt personal experiences.

The first to read was Susan Kinsolving, who effectively short-circuited the audience applause for the rest of the night (except when each poet concluded their readings) by asking us to hold our applause until the end of her reading. Appropriately she began with a poem called "Summer Storm" & another about a storm in an exclusive California town. Her gift is to be able to rhyme unobtrusively while presenting clever, researched prosaic stories -- & in a flash I discovered a new genre: journalistic poetry. The best example was "Imitating the Anaconda" which sounded like an entry in an field guide, but with rhyme. Many of her poems were from her collection My Glass Eye, which if she has one was it not apparent from the cold, journalistic nature of the writing.

Dennis Barone is the new Poet Laureate of West Hartford & this was his first reading in that role. He read a piece about/to West Hartford, "Progress, a Fragment." Then he read from & discussed his translations of the Italian poet Emanuel Carnavali as a preface to reading his own poem in (faux?) Italian, without translating it. He also read pieces by Paul Auster & Carl Sandburg from the anthology Visiting Wallace Stevens, then on to his own poems. "Elegy" & "Adages" were both composed of short short pieces, then others. His poems often played on language, with a quirky, intellectual humor, often tinged (soaked?) in irony.

Marcia Lewis, a librarian at Faxon library, made a cameo appearance with 3 poems, "The Theory of Almost Everything," "The People in the Old Photo," "The Soul of Polka Dots." Each of them to one degree or another dealt with themes of impermanence & the transitory nature of existence, while we are all inter-connected, themes associated with Buddhist texts. The beauty of such a short reading is that it leaves the audience wanting more.

Marilyn Johnston's poems were the most personal of the night. First a series of poems about her late father & her late brother (a Viet Nam vet), confronting her grief & the issues that these men in her life had to confront themselves. Then from a new manuscript, "Weight of the Angel," poems about her mother & her grief. These were poems written out of the need to remake in art the experiences that make our lives. They were poems that make themselves, not written as a "project" or assignment. And all the more moving for that.

Dana Sonnenschein's selection of poems were also in 2 sections. The first from her chapbook of poems based on the work of the great American photographer, Man Ray, No Angels But These (Main Street Rag). I was particularly drawn to these poems by my own love for, & familiarity with, Man Ray's work, but the poet also is clearly touched by his work. The second group of poems were more like history & natural history story telling, great, entertaining stories nonetheless, of bears, another topic the poet clearly loves & needs to share with us. Included was "On Seeing Bears" the night's only concrete poem.

By the end of the readings, the outside light through the windows was almost gone & the emergency light was fading. It was an eclectic set of poets, perhaps a short lesson in (some of) the myriad styles, approaches & manners of American poets in the beginning of the 21st Century.  Once again be sure to check out the festival's website for more photos & information about the poets.

July 7, 2009

Riverwood Poetry Festival, June 25

The festival took place at various locations in the central Connecticut area from June 24 to June 28. I had read at last year's version, the CT Beat Poetry Festival, at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT with George Wallace (see earlier entries on this Blog & also on my Flickr! site). I got invited back again this year to the re-titled festival to read again with George & with LisaAnn LoBasso who had also read last year. We were at a double-header at the Wood Memorial Library in South Windsor. The earlier event was upstairs, featuring a group called "Partners in Poetry." But I arrived too late from my drive from Albany to catch anything but the schmoozing afterwards. Then on downstairs to the basement to the "Underwood Cafe" for a late night reading & open mic hosted by poet "Mother Superior" Julia Paul. She urged us to be rowdy & not to limit ourselves to the polite snorts of "gerbil orgasms" one usually hears at "polite" poetry readings. So we didn't. Julia had also asked each of us featured poets to list a color, a vegetable, weather, a car & an animal for her to use in our introductions.

George Wallace's intro was: black (for Michael Jackson), "mallioc" (whatever), desert rainstorm, Karmin Ghia, & gypsy moth. His poems are high-energy streams of phrases, words, ideas connected on many levels, sexy, urban (though he got us all saying "yee-haw" after "Right Square in the Middle of It"). He had us "Walking on 10th St." & on the BQE, as well as driving with "This Redhead," at his first dance, & with a bluegrass band in Virginia ("I Know a Dwarf When I See One"). A righteous writer & performer who will be at the Robert Burns statue in Albany's Washington Park in this year's Poets in the Park series.

Coming back again from Bakersfield, CA LisaAnn LoBasso had a red bra tucked in her handbag, the significance of which will become apparent soon. She was: Indigo, a tomato (for her Italian/American heritage), a hurricane (oh yeah!), a 1966 dusty-rose Mustang, & a feral horse. Reading from her books (which overlap in content) Oleander Milkshake & In the Swollen, her style lets the power of the words speak for themselves, but with enough emphasis, gesture & humor to create a stimulating performance. Her topics spin around herself, her family, as in "D--" (a letter to her cousin), or how we, then our children, carry our ancestors ("Elsie In Us"); they are sexy & lush, & scary too, for herself & her children. I like that 2 of her titles had "sugar" in them: "In Sugarloaf" & the love poem, "Sugarcoating." She too will be reading in the Poet's in the Park series.

My introduction was: purple, celeriac, grey (skies), 1957 Chevy, monkey. I began with my tribute to last year's festival, "When You Finally Arrive Home," then the old piece on "Dina's Hummingbird," the widely published (in Other__) "Dot Dot Dot," then more poems on poetry: "I Meet an Old Friend on the Subway," & "27 Things You Can Do with An MFA." I ended with a couple of performance poems with props, bubbles for "Dancing on the Mandala" & the obvious for "The Bra Poem" (LisaAnn's red bra would have been more dramatic, if that's the word, but I already had my own; I'm certain I couldn't have filled hers). Fortunately I was the last of the featured poets so the audience could look for its composure during a short break before the open mic.

Julia Paul began the open mic with "Diary of a Hot Tomato" which she dedicated to LisaAnn. Bev Titus's poems included one about Lancelot & the other a memory of an "Old Mill on the River." Delores Lawler read a sad poem about her deceased son & a funny, obsessively alliterative poem written because someone told her she "shouldn't". Emerson Gilmore responded to a poem by Hayden Carruth. Sherri Bedingfield read us "Crows" & "Love Struck" (ah!). Tom Nicotera used his Irish drum "When I Think of You" & "The Road to Enlightenment," then performed his hilarious "me/not" poem.

The first of the "Victorias," Victoria Rivas read her "Sermon to My Students on the Last Day of School," then "Distant Early Warning." Pat Hale read from her chapbook a poem called "Secrets." Lori Desrosiers read new poems, "Knocking at the Door of the Universe," then imagined an improbable perfect "Skinny Dipping." Kate Rushin read "The Trees of Syracuse" & a workshop assignment about her room at a retreat. Victoria Munoz took us through a mixed media display, "Walking & Thinking." Sympetalous was right up with the day's news with a piece on the death of Michael Jackson & an oh-so-breathless description of open mics he has been to. Steven Kelly, who had done the layout for the festival's program, was also the night's virgin poet, with his "My Queen Day." Colin Haskins, the festival's Executive Director, was unprepared to read, but gave us a piece on the Lord of the Rings, something on pepper mace, & one on fireflies.

I had a ball, not just being a featured poet, but hearing the fine open mic poets in all their variety & sharing the limelight with fine poets like George & LisaAnn. I was only able to stay for the next night's readings, but have heard that the festival continued on quite successfully. Check out the festival website for the program, pictures, summaries, accolades & commentary.

Michele Battiste at the Moon & River Cafe, June 19

Still another chance to hear one of my favs, this time in Richard Gennest's Cafe in Schenectady, NY. Michele Battiste did a short reading to promote her book, Ink for an Odd Cartography, among relatives & friends.

Of course she began with the magic & witchcraft of spinning a web around & through the audience, this time with red thread. In addition to poems from the new book ("Like a Sine Curve," "Climbing Brian," "Ode to My New Food Processor" & Ruby Skye") Michele also read a poem from a manuscript pending with Spire Press the poem "To a Heart Still Eager in the Viscous Vicious World;" she also included "Landscaping" which she said she had never read out before, & concluded with "What He Said," for her son.

If she had a fan club (do poets have fan clubs?), I would be president.

July 3, 2009

Third Thursday Poetry Night, June 18

Where were the women poets? Only the guys showed up to read, even our featured poet's usual cheering section was stuck in Canada. But, hey, it was such an unusual night in yet another way (the stars must have been in Uranus), it was a 2 poem open mic (ha, ha -- you missed it)!

Our muse was the recently deceased Harold Norse. Then Alan Catlin read two poems based on works, a book & a movie, about Viet Nam; his poem called "Two of the Missing," like the book he was reading, was about Errol Flynn's son; another, just written, from the movie "Apocalypse Now." Michael Purcell likes to start his readings with a quote, this one from Buddha; the first poem "Identity Theft" on our true, & false, identities & how to recover it, the next written after the Tulip Fest, "Dance."

Bob Sharkey's "To Make Himself Interesting" was about a strange, laughing character often seen along the streets of Albany (& who has showed up on occasion at the third Thursday reading); his second poem was inspired by the spring fashions in Macy's, "Summer Styles." I jumped in on number 4 with only 1 poem, a process poem using works by Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Une Fleur du Millay." I've read poetry with Thomas Brinson at readings of veterans' poetry & was glad he finally made it up here; his poem "Pop Pop Pop Ka-boom!" was about a 4th of July setting, Americans blowing up everyone else & memories of Viet Nam, then a sexy poem on the city full of beautiful bodies & a "dirty old man". Shaun Baxter was back again, just wrote a haiku on "Apocalypse Now," then "The Last Temptation of Darwin."

W.D. Clarke is the author of Soldier Ballads and Other Tales (Infinity Publishing.com). Many of his poems are based on his own & others experience in the military, such as "The Circumcision," based on a true story by a World War II vet; "Dustoff Crews" is a tribute to medivac crews in Viet Nam who rescued wounded soldiers, while "The Night time Army" is about being haunted by memories of being on "senseless missions." "McGowan's" is based on his relationship with his Grandpa, but about veterans too. Other poems from the book were "A Different Breed," "The Outsider", "The Gunfight" (at the OK Corral). Also the "tongue-in-cheek" poems, "Cigars & Women" & "The Pirate's Wife." One of Wayne's more humorous sub-themes was represented by the Viet Nam war based "The Company Shit Burner" & a poem not in his book, a meditation on outhouse construction, "The 2-Holer." His poems have a pleasant, homey old-fashioned story-telling quality, in the spirit (& form) of Robert Service & Rudyard Kipling, but in our more modern idiom, humorous & touching.

Every third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, always with a featured poet, but don't expect to read 2 poems the next time.