June 4, 2011

Harmony Cafe at Wok 'n' Roll, May 30 (Memorial Day)

This is the first time I've been down to this weekly open mic in Woodstock, run by Michael Platsky. This night there seemed to be a huge crowd, 22 open mic poets, in addition to the 4 featured poets, reading as a group, Thomas Brinson, Jay Wenk, Dayl Wise, & me. Once again honored to be reading with my military veteran brothers. But first some open mic poets. Michael even had a small digital timer to keep the poets within the 5 minute limit.

Michael led off with a couple of pieces for the holiday, the first about the meaning of the day (not shopping), then another about seeing a tattered flag float by in a stream. Richard Traitner read his poem "Night at the Window Light at the Door" in a breathless crescendo to the word "thunder," others, including images of war in “The Face of Wisdom.” C.J. Kreager’s poems were mostly short, humorous pieces, some playing off the trope “good news/bad news.” Daphne was waif-like & her surrealist poem “The Golden Horse” revolved around the phrase “from my window.” The well-known Donald Lev started with “Notes to an Imaginary Lecture by Joseph Campbell,” then musings at his kitchen table in “Pushing the Day,” a series of humorous observations in “Short Takes,” then a poem for Memorial Day.
Thomas Brinson did the introductions for us featured readers, starting with World War II veteran Jay Wenk whose first poem considered a photo of “mankind,” then talked about the personal terrors, the smells & techniques of warfare in the poem “I’m Not Gonna Tell You.” He ended with the section about Teddy the D.P. from his memoir Study War No More: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Fights the Nazis. The rest of us followed with a round robin of pieces, Thomas Brinson with a piece by Mark Twain on the folly of war, then Dayl Wise with “Thanksgiving ‘69” followed by a chilling piece set in the home of terrified Vietnamese peasants, & I read “John Lees” about an Army buddy who was killed in Viet Nam.

Thomas’ next piece, “Compassion,” was a portrait of person in a recovery program wracked by “survivor guilt” for not having gone to war. Dayl read 2 of his odes to things he carried as a soldier, “Ode to Zippo” & “Ode to the P-38” (the pocket can-opener). Since this was Woodstock I figured folks would understand my poem “The Hundred Thousand Ten Thousand Million Buddhas.”For the last round Thomas read a gloriously erotic piece of urban observations, then Dayl followed with 2 poems of civilian life invaded by memories of Viet Nam, one at a wedding, the other seeing road kill, & I ended with the fantasy “If Peace Broke Out Tomorrow.”

The open mic continued with Leslie Gerber reading poems by Siegfried Sassoon & Stephen Crane, then his own poem “Memorial Day” & his words to the tune “America.”
Although the next performer was signed up as “R.W.,” I know who it really was beneath the red wig, who claimed to have just gotten out of the happy farm, & read a piece about being at an airport & relieved his “you-know-what went underground.” Hmm… Ron Whiteurs was equally outrageous, with his signature title-sign for his poem, tonight, “Charge of the Tight Bridade,” an hysterical tale of 19th century soldiers & anal sex. Martin’s “Real Life on the Tube” was a commentary of TV programming. Phyllis’ piece, “The Wedding,” was a character sketch of a loud-mouth aunt. Dean Shambach, who used to run a poetry open-mic at the Tinker St. CafĂ© many years ago, talked about poet Maxwell Bodenheim, who had once give Dean a copy of a poem, then read one of his own he described as “a bitter poem.”

Diane E. read from Dana Goia’s book, Can Poetry Matter? Then reading randomly poems, including Weldon Kees, then a piece she seemed to be making up on the spot, which she dedicated to Dean for inspiring her, “Another Loss Another Cross.” Victoria Sullivan read an anti-war poem from October 2001, “The Reckonig,” then a poem by a made-up character who was a Viet Nam war veteran. Andy Clausen read, in his distinctive, deep voice, “Soldiers of Christ,” & “More than Siesta” in praise of “the day-time fuckers.”
I mentioned at the top of the Blog that Michael Platsky was using a digital kitchen timer to keep the readers in line. I hadn’t heard it go off yet, so the folks so far had seemed to stay within the 5-minute limit. However, the timer dinged during Sue Willen’s long political rant (after she had read the dictionary definition of “democracy” & read a tribute to Iraq war veterans, “Dry Heat”), but Michael just let the poem roll on, sort of like living in a “democracy” & not taking any political action. The next reader, another Michael, read a piece that combined a robin, a conversation & a war.

The night was getting long & late & I had an hour drive before sleep, so I slipped out before the last readers took the stage, for which I apologize. But it’s the type of scene I would like to check out once in a while, timer or no timer.
Every Monday at 8PM at the Wok ‘n’ Roll as you enter Woodstock.

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