February 25, 2011

Frequency North, February 24

This is the on-going, occasional series at the College of St. Rose that brings in mainly younger writers doing interesting work, or, as host & series coordinator, Daniel Nester, described tonight's writers, showing "some of the possibilities of what modern poets can do." Of course that can be good, bad, or indifferent. For tonight's poets Melissa Broder & Aaron Belz that meant over-reaching cleverness.

Melissa Broder jumped right into reading her poems with nary a word of introduction or chatter, & so we never knew where these poems came from, certainly not from her book, When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother (Ampersand Books, 2010) (see what I mean about "clever") as I found out. The staples of her poems are pop culture references, some quite dated (e.g., "Ringo," "Sharon Tate Man Up," "Fugazi Trains"); seemingly random leaps from titillating image to next exhuburant image, & the aforementioned cleverness (the title of one of her new poems is "De Forest Station"). God made frequent appearances in her poems, more as a character than a spiritual/religious concept ("Lonesome Cowgirls," "Waterfall," "Championship"), as did vomiting ("H1-N1," "Waterfall," "Such Beautiful Clothes"), & occasionally horses &/or unicorns. Other than saying, "this is a new poem" or "I never read this out loud" she offered no context for any of the poems, which made it a struggle for me to figure out what most of them were about, even those with obvious sex references.

Nester introduced Aaron Belz as "a poet's poet" but half-way through his reading I thought he should have said "a stand-up comic's poet." What Belz read was the kind of remarks one usually hears at cocktail parties with lots of smart people: one-liners based on TV show titles ("Disparate Housewives"), or puns ("Ice Cream," "Hippy Slang"), or playing with clich├ęs. Literally, some of the poems were one-liners, perhaps broken up on the page, but essentially just a smart-ass remark. A few poems, notably "Either/Or," seemed like the kind that come out of a list of prompts (& suggested similar projects to me), & I was moved by the love poem meditation on Beauty, "Movement." So people laughed at the many jokes, as we should, & Belz was thus more "entertaining" (& accessible) than Broder, but ultimately just as disappointing.

Neither poet connected with the audience in a human, personal way & neither gave us any sense of where these poems came out of their lives, as if we are about to experience the Zombie re-birth of New Criticism. & even with Belz's jokes & the laughter there was no applause until the end of each reading. What is this with college readings & no clapping? Although tonight that was probably a good thing, saving time so we could get out of there sooner.

Check out the St. Rose website for more information on this series.

February 21, 2011

Third Thursday Poetry Night, February 17

A packed house with a class from the College of St. Rose, shepherded by the inappropriate Daniel Nester to hear tonight's featured poet/activist, Jackie Sheeler.  But first I invoked the muse, Tom Nattell & his poem written in 1967 about the Homeless Action Committee's attempt to establish an SRO (single room occupancy) for homeless alcoholics in Albany, "5 Save No" (the effort was successful, & the HAC SRO is at 393 North Pearl St.

But first, some of the open mic. Alan Catlin read his poem "John Lennon Died for Your Sins but His Clone Lives On" in honor of Yoko Ono's birthday (tomorrow). I let Jason Crane read 2 poems since he is about to move to NYC & this would be his last reading here, a poem in Japanese & in English ("Today is like other days…"), then "The Blues." Obeedude (Mark O'Brien) read from his iPad a poem of place about the Onesquethaw Creek, "When I Listen…"

Alan Casline still has his old comic books (wish I had mine!) & read a piece about comic-book reality, "Holy Moly." Mimi Moriarty brought NYC poems in honor of Jackie's reading & read "Subway Preacher" (just laugh, they'll move on). W.D. Clarke gave the students a taste of his modern rhyming ballads with the crowd-pleaser "Grandma's Leg."

I was "sharing" Jackie Sheeler with Daniel Nester's class where she had done a guest appearance earlier. She was also promoting her new book from NYQ Books, Earthquake Came to Harlem, from which she read. But she was inspired by Mimi's poem to start her reading with "Hereafter" where "Hell is a dentist's waiting room in Fargo…" Other poems invoking NYC were "Unknown Grave #2" about the unknown dead buried in Potter's Field, "God Enters the World" & "One Uncivilized Soul" both also referencing the world of junk. She brought her mother into the reading with "The Scissors of My Mother" (remembering her haircuts) & the hilarious scene of mother & daughter on diet pills tearing down "Wallpaper." She returned briefly to the scissors in "Dominant Hand" that led us to 2 final poems, both about living alone, "Solo" & "Teenage Roommate," ending on a note of global politics. It was a spirited performance of accessible, amusing, touching, & decidedly anti-post-modernist poems. Glad this was the night Jackie Sheeler came to Albany.

After the break I began the open mic with my new letter to the tiresome season, "Winter Argument." Stacey Stump was back after a long hiatus with a cluster of what she called her "Marriage Haikus."

The one student to read, Liz Corey, blew us away with an intensely moving poem about her father dying of a brain tumor & her traumatized response -- brought tears to these sentimental eyes, & others in the audience too. Daniel Nester was the first in the "Stuffy Professor" section of the open mic, with an excerpt from a longer piece about his having "small hands & feet" with its images of Philadelphia, "written" using transcription software. Speaking of Philadelphia, Nester went home with a goodie bag from Philly's WMMR,  courtesy of one of their DJ's, Blake Dannen. The night's 2nd "Stuffy Professor" was Sylvia Barnard who read a poem she wrote at a "Writing from Art" workshop recently held at the UAG Gallery, sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. [If anyone seriously believes that Dan & Sylvia are really "stuffy professors" then that means you haven't heard them reading their work out in the community.]

Avery read a book, the hilarious, short children's (?) book, It's A Book, by Lane Smith. A.C. Everson brought us home with the seasonal favorite "Cupid is a Bastard."

The third Thursday is always fun at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY -- featured poets from the local scene & regionally, even nationally; & an open mic for the rest of us. 7:30PM, $3.00 donation.

February 15, 2011

Poetry + Prose Open Mic, February 13

At the Arts Center of the Capital Region, co-hosted by Nancy Klepsch & me, Dan Wilcox. This new series seems to have caught on for a number of reasons, including space for prose writers & the fact it is held during the day on Sundays.

The first reader was poet Carolee Sherwood, with 2 poems, one leftover from Halloween (but read today, the day before Valentines Day, because it has a heart in it), "After the Thing in Me Dies We Perform a Made-for-TV Autopsy," & then the more recent "Apiary."  My co-host, Nancy Klepsch, read a poem written today, harkening back to the days when demonstrations were organized by flyers, not social-networking, "Rubylith as a Revolutionary." Kate Laity is one of the prose writers who has been showing ups regularly & had us laughing in a satirical piece, based on arts organizations' fund-raising appeals, where the Friends of Wonderland ask for support.

Tim Verhaegan continued the humor with a hilarious "obituary" of Charles Hoyt Verhaegan (his "twin brother's oldest brother"), who "was not expected to live long" but "miraculously pulled through" each time.  Ron Drummond gave us effusive readings of a draft of his "second invocation," this to Shakespeare, & the just written "Prayer About Water." Jill Hanifan's moving "Sister Stills Her Impulse" was new, from the writing workshop she is in, then "The Flower Bed" with the images of geraniums as sex & love.

Mimi Moriarty, who reads at many poetry open mics, read an excerpt from a short story, about a woman becoming absorbed into the life of birds out her window; I hope to hear more from this interesting tale. Nancy's co-host, me, read 2 older poems, for Valentines' Day, "Said Again" (about recycling your old love poems) & the (un-recycled) "Valentines." Heather Haskins read for the first time last month & liked the experience enough to come back today, to read the touching memoir, "Playing Chess with Jesus."

Howard Kogan is also good with humor, made us laugh with his first poem about picking the best from established religions to create his own "New Religion;" he described the poem, "Goodness," as "a frustrated Valentine," then ended with the chilling "No." Bob Sharkey read an excerpt from a longer narrative piece, set in the city of the imagination, Sustenance, with a book high-lighting character, Sonny, & plenty of ocean & lobsters (such as sometimes show up in his poems). Sally Rhoades read an excerpt from a short story about a character getting ready to go out; she said she wouldn't tell me the title & I said I wouldn't ask.

Such is the fun we have on the second Sunday of each month at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy, NY, starting at 2PM. Bring poetic prose or prosaic poetry or any combination thereof, & it's free.

February 10, 2011

Live from the Living Room, February 9

Now at The Pride Center of the Capital Region -- actually the same ole place with a new name. So it's a good thing I got there early because they had to turn 25 to 30 people away because of occupancy regulations, most of them teenage groupies (for Murrow) inappropriately dressed in mini-skirts & lace.

Murrow was the featured act; you know, Thom Francis on Words, Keith Spencer on Guitars. It was a relaxed, sit-down show of "greatest hits" & a few new pieces, beginning with the piece about "leaving this place called home," composed of a couple poems written 10 years ago. While that was "not a product of my divorce" Thom's next piece, "Shower" was, with its compelling images of holy water & a confessional booth in a shower stall. "Space" was a new piece built on things he heard at work. Untitled for many years (& many performances) "Third Can" is quintessential Murrow, with Keith's quiet, pensive bass guitar riff matching the poem's mood. I like the frustration of the life/poem pondering in "Write, Right?", & the classic, monotonous riff of driving the interstate in "Trucker" (with Keith's explanation of how they first put the piece together). They ended, as they often do, with "Female Pedestrian" (which I always thought was untitled & have called it variously in my Blogs), a crowd pleaser & crowd pisser-offer (depending upon the crowd). Murrow among friends, you might call it -- & no one rushed the "stage," such as it was.

There were but 3 of us for the open mic. I read 2 poems (Valentines' Day on the horizon), an old love poem constructed mostly of lines from Hank Williams' songs, "This Feels So Bad It's Got to be the Blues," & the more recent (& hopeful) love poem "Some Morning." It was quite a thrill to have Shannon Shoemaker back in the poetry room, & she read a poem about what many of us have been feeling lately, "S.A.D." (seasonal affective disorder), with a hope for more sun soon, then a new Valentines' Day poem, not quite so hopeful, "Bouquet." Our host, Don Levy, finished us off with a poem from his history of the days of the readings at the QE2, "Iffy's".

It's still Live from the Living Room, at the re-named Pride Center of the Capital Region at 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY, & it's still straight-friendly & still on the 2nd Wednesday of each month. It's comfy cozy.

February 6, 2011

Poets Speak Loud!, January 31

When AlbanyPoets started this series at the Lark Tavern on Madison Ave., the first reading was scheduled for January 31, 2005, the last monday of the month, in tribute to Tom Nattell whose legendary poetry open mic at the QE2 on Central Ave. was held on the last Monday of the month for over 11 years. Tom, who was dying of cancer at the time, was invited to be the first featured reader. He died the morning of the reading, so the open mic became an impromtu memorial service. Afterwards we marched to the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park to "toss" Tom's beret to the head of Bobbie Burns, in what has become a yearly ritual. This year, with the demise of the Lark Tavern & Poets Speak Loud! move to McGeary's down on Clinton Square, we held the ritual prior to the open mic. With flowers, a candle, some sage &, of course, an environmentally green beret "tossed" to the head of Bobbie Burns, we once again paid tribute to the Star Dust among us. Thanks Tom!

& in the tradition of that first open mic at the Lark Tavern, I was the MC/host whatever-you-call-it. We began with playing from the recording of the 3 Guys from Albany, & Tom performing his poem "Save It." I read "Theology 101" (for Tom) then on with the open mic poets.

Jason Crane said his introduction to the poetry scene was on one such night at the Lark Tavern, & read his poem he wrote about that night, then a very new poem, "January 25, 2011" (for Egypt). Jill Crammond is known for her "June Cleaver" poems & began what could be perhaps the Ur-poem in that series, "June Cleaver Finishes Off the Last of Her Husband" (with a cleaver no less!), then another pleasant piece, "The Christmas Lights Now Married to the Curtains Make Another Kind of Husband" (at least that's what I think she said).

Josh McIntyre likes to read his titles twice (his poems are short) but then when he had start again, he read the title twice, again, so if you didn't get it that the title was "Hush" you were either in the bathroom or fooling around. Avery's first poem was titled "A New Pair" & was about socks, & he was surprised when we drew a connection to his second poem (about wine) -- that's about feet too, isn't it?

Sally Rhoades had an old poem, "In My Mother's Garden" (for her teacher, Judy Johnson), from her days in graduate school when she first entered the poetry scene here under Tom's influence, the Readings Against the End of the World & the QE2 open mic. Big Daddy, our cook here at McGeary's, likes to sneak out from the kitchen to join the poets he's been feeding & read the list poem he called "Beauty" -- find it within.

I read my "Birthday Poem" from 2009, telling pretty much the same story as Jason's poem. Joe Krausman played a humorous variation on a famous tune from his youth, his version titled "I've Got Arrhythmia." Mary Panza, one of the driving forces behind this event, & the poetry scene here, read her new poem set in the Mall, "Because of You I Believe in Housewife Tuesday…"

I finished with "Chasing Tom" then played the recording of 3 Guys from Albany performing Tom's rap piece, "CO2," & at the request of Sally, once again Tom's iconic "Save It."

The beret was still there 4 days later.

Last Monday of the month (I've said that already) at McGeary's on Clinton Square in Albany, NY, sponsored by AlbanyPoets. com

February 2, 2011

Michael Dickel, January 27

Michael Dickel, poet, photographer and co-editor of the international poetry anthology Voices Israel 2010 gave a reading from his poetry at the Robert & Dorothy Ludwig Schenectady Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna, NY on January 27, 2011. I had heard that Dr. Dickel would be visiting from Israel & in New York State on family business & arranged the reading under the co-sponsorship of the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Schenectady JCC. I also arranged for the fine local poet, Leslie B. Neustadt, to read with him.

Leslie Neustadt read a short selection of her poems, on a variety of topics & themes, including the family stories of a father & daughter (told in the 3rd person) to her own "First Born." She wrote about the nature of Truth in "Bearing Fruit," & ritual dancing in "Dance of Deathlessness," & the making of necklaces that will outlast her in "Beads of Wonder." "Salt Wars 2010" was a political poem, while "The First to Go" was a good way to end.  Leslie has been reading in the Arts Center's BookMarks series lately.

Michael Dickel's reading was a nicely structured set of poems ranging from his growing up in Chicago & Minnesota to more recent poems about his current home in Israel. Many of the poems were in rural settings, "Across the Creek," "Ground Fog," "Tacit" (a cornfield), but "Blue Notes" took us into Chicago. He told us about the English language writing workshops in Israel from which the anthologies sprang, & read one of his poem from such a workshop, an untitled piece about his first visit to Israel, comparing it to his Mid-west home. The poems from Israel show a deeper wedding of landscape with history, such as "Oasis" echoing the Song of Songs, the re-telling of the biblical story of "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel," & the landscape poem, "As in a Dream I See a World that is Not There." The longer poems, "Crows" & "Forty-two Sacrifices" are both included in Voices Israel 2010 (as the winners in the 2009 Reuben Rose Competition). He brought us back with a recent poem about clearing out his father-in-law's house, then ended, appropriately, with "Sing this at the End."

Voices Israel is an annual anthology of international poetry; check out their website for more information. In fact I heard about Dr. Dickel's visit from an Albany poet, Pearse Murray, who has a poem in the 2010 edition. There's poetry everywhere, you just have to find it.