July 29, 2011

Poets in the Park, July 23

The third in this year's series, with 2 out-of-town poets, Alan Berecka from Corpus Christi, Texas & Rebecca Schumejda from Kingston (NY, that is).

I'd met Alan Berecka at this year's Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, Oklahoma, but the connections to this area & this reading series are both personal & poetic/arcane. He grew up outside of Utica, for the personal, & his book Remembering the Body was published by Mongrel Empire Press out of Norman, Oklahoma by Jeanetta Mish, who once lived in this area, read her poetry here, & whose son Michael was born here. Alan started with a few poems from his earlier book, The Comic Flaw (NeoNuma Arts, 2010), beginning with some on the theme of the current heat wave, & his (over-read, so he said) "Pope poems" about being a student in Italy in the late 1970s in Italy, & touching/funny poems about his family, his father flipping the bird. Then on to work from Remembering the Body, narrative, meditative poems to his son, friends, his father ("What's Left"), a wise-ass (& sexy) response to Roethke, & particular favorites of mine "A Father's Confession" & "The Visit" (bringing the statue of Mary home). His poems tell good stories of family, religion & what really matters.

Rebecca Schumejda is a great friend of the Albany poetry scene, having been a featured reader here in many venues, including the Third Thursday Poetry Night, & has brought Albany poets down to the Half Moon Bookstore reading series she runs. She began with "Wedding Waltz" from Falling Forward (sunnyoutside press, 2008), then onto a selection of her gardening poems, some from The Map of Our Garden (verve bath press, 2009), other new ones on the gardening theme she is working on, such as the tender poem about her father & his ashes, "A Row for Sinners." The last issue of Chiron Review (really the last, since the venerable poetry rag has folded) included her poem "Plumbing" (interrupted here by the fire engines passing by). She described the new poems she read from a book she is working on as "depressing," but I found them, such as "The Deflowering Myth," like her earlier poems, to be tender, perhaps wistful, explorations of sex, family & relationships, sometimes sad, but certainly thoughtful.

It was a steamy night, but under the trees of Washington Park & the setting sun, it was quite a pleasant evening of the cool breeze of poetry & friendship. The series is co-sponsored by the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.

July 28, 2011

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 21

Not as hot in the Social Justice Center as I had thought it might be & keeping the door closed kept the Summertime hot air out & the Poets' hot air (or were they poetic cool breezes?)  in.  Overall an interesting night of new voices, returned voices & a fine featured poet, Avery.

But first a bit of the open mic, with Carolee Sherwood starting us off with a new poem of hers, celebrating another anniversary of her 26th birthday, "On Turning 39."  Christopher Locke was the first of the night's new voices; he has book of poems, End of American Magic, from Salmon Poetry in Ireland, & a number of chapbooks; he read "Waiting for Grace" (his daughter at the school bus). Another new reader, Brandie Hensman, had picked up a flyer at the Poets in the Park & was brave tonight to read her poem "Beautiful LIes."

Alan Catlin brought along a hot-weather poem, drinking poem, "War Movies." Sylvia Barnard said her poem, based on a real person, "A Poem for Deborah Squash," was a post-4th-of-July patriotic poem. & Joe Krausman brought us back to his childhood in Brooklyn, "On the Street Where I Live."

The featured poet, Avery (Stempel), brought copies of a brand-new DIY 16-page poetry chapbook, Seeds for a New Garden (subtitled: Writings to Inspire Change). All but one of the pieces he performed were in the book, starting with the first poem, "Getting Active." Included also were a few haikus that were sprinkled throughout the book, followed by "And there was much rejoicing," & "Tomahawk Cruise Missiles of Peace," a couple of his anti-war rants. On the page "Violent desolation with the needle's prick" is a shaped-poem, like a junkie's spike. "Take Care of the Mother" is a ecological screed for us to tread lightly. Another cry for ecological sanity was the poem he called one of his favorites to read because he can yell & scream & which had a title almost half as long the the piece itself, "A frozen image, snapped during a choreographed dance… or Breathe slowly in and out and do nothing at all." He ended with the lone poem not in his book, a piece he wrote about an open mic at Professor Java's that I missed, "An Open Mic Sans Dan Wilcox" (thanks Avery!). So when you see him at open mics around town, ask about his book, & buy a copy.

After the break I read a birthday poem, "This Birthday is Not Divisible by 10" for the folks in the audience celebrating recent birthdays. Nigel Fellman Greene, another new voice, blamed Avery for bringing him here & read his piece "Sinker" in rhyme on drinking & smoking & trying to write. Shannon Shoemaker read an old favorite, "Michigan," invoking another summer night, off the top of her head. Dain Brammage also did a poem from memory, "Epic," pining for inspiration from Calliope. The first of the night's 2 Sallys, Sally Rhoades read a new piece, "The Long Sweet Road of Marriage," on the little things.

Sally Leber ("Sally #2") returned to the poetry scene recently after a hiatus of years, good to have her back again, & read tonight a poem to her young son being taken away from her, a sad poem. Penny Meacham said it was so hot she felt like some poetry, "Om, A Love Poem," at the beach. The last poet for the night, as he frequently is, was Moses A. Kash, III with an untitled poem he had just written this afternoon, on the historical Moses & the political changes in current Egypt.

We're at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY every 3rd Thursday, sign-up beginning 7:00PM, with an open mic starting at 7:30PM, & a featured poet, all for a $3.00 donation, that supports the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Social Justice Center.

July 20, 2011

Poets in the Park, July 16

Another beautiful night in Albany's Washington Park at the Robert Burns statue. A good crowd of poetry-lovers & just folk stopping by, to hear Gary Metras & Cara Benson.

Gary Metras has a stack of poetry books to his credit & is the printer/publisher of Adastra Press, publishing letterpress books of poetry since 1979 out of Easthampton, MA. He began with a series of poems from his new book Two Bloods: Fly Fishing Poems (Split Oak Press, 2010). He began with a meditation (what fishing often becomes), the poem "The Horizon," then "An Offering" (to the turkey vultures), & what these fisherman often do, "Throw Them Back." A poem about meeting a young fisherman, "The Promise," followed by a poem about meeting a young doe, "East Branch," then the quintessential fisherman's poem, "The Lost Trout." He ended with a short selection of poems from his Greatest Hits (1980-2006) originally published by Pudding House press, but now available from Kattywompus Press.

Cara Benson was recently awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship for her work. She read 2 pieces, decidedly different in style & technique from Gary's poems. The first a stream-of-conciousness of leaping images, "Serial Confession, with Interruption" read fast, carrying us along from image to image, seemingly about the poet herself not a persona, & even quoting poet Philip Larkin at one point. Her next piece was an exploration of different texts, commissioned for "Theater of War in a House of Peace" at Skidmore College; she included the grim statistics of wars of the 20th Century (& beyond), interspersed with cold, philosophical commentary, & the names of killed soldiers & "hostiles," the piling up of words like the piling up of the war dead.

I was pleased with the different approaches of these 2 fine word-smiths for this event, giving the Summertime audience a chance to hear amid the sounds of traffic, motorcycles & helocopters the kind of sounds of words in the tradition of Robert Burns & other fine poets who have gone before.

Poets in the Park is co-sponsored by the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, & is free & open to the public -- just bring a chair, or blanket, to sit on.

July 17, 2011

Live from the Living Room, July 13

Another informal gathering of poets around the coffee table of the Pride Center, with our straight-friendly host, Don Levy.

The featured poet was Glenn Werner, who arrived with his entourage, & with copies of a new broadside of his poems, "Mongrel Poet #1," to sell. In fact, a number of the poems he read were from this broadside & it was nice to be able to bring them home with me. He opened with "Words About Words" a poem by a Latvian poet, then on to his own "What the Cherry Tree Said," responding to a line from Pablo Neruda. Throughout his reading he weaved in a number of his "Dream Abbreviations," short, occasionally humorous pieces based on dreams. Another recurring theme was modern painters, including "No. 14 (White and Greens in Blue)" based on a painting by Mark Rothko, & a poem using his persona Walter contemplating a Robert Motherwell painting, also a poem on a painting "The Angelus," & "Leto at Delos" with technology as its theme. Others he read included the NYC poem "Canarsie Line 5AM," "Spartacus" (working tech support), & a poem he said was inspired by a comment made by Don Levy on FaceBook. I've heard Glenn read "180 Bibles" before, a poem on changing technology, & was pleased he included it here, & was equally pleased by the wonderful new poem, "Walking Brooklyn Bridge." He ended with the philosophical "The goat sings itself ready for the pyre." Check out his website at www.mongrelpoet.com.

I started off the open mic with a poem that appeared a few years back in a journal called Gender on our Minds, "Homage to Lesbians" & the poem written last month "Imagining the Mews."  Sylvia Barnard has been going through her old poems & brought copies actually done on a typewriter (!), one about whining lovers, the other "Easter" (1988). Christopher "Pinky" Gazeent had travelled with Glenn, read 2 gay-lover poems, one in 5-parts, the other "The Factory." Adriana Delgado was also in Glenn's entourage, read 2 poems with lush images, & rich with repetitions, "Sunflower Seeds" & "The Sky Inspires Without Want."

Bob Sharkey read a couple of pieces inspired by a recent trip to the Southwest, "The the Monument" (a picture of the morning light), & page 21 of his ongoing work, "Sustenance" with Sonny & Earl. Carolee Sherwood read a couple of her new poems from her new collaborative Blog, "Triage" contemplating packing, & the urban crumble of "Reading poems to Warehouses." Shannon Shoemaker dreamed of Summertime happiness in "March 2011," then read the sad poem of lost love, "Your Pillow Doesn't Smell Like You Anymore." Don Levy ended with his recent poem on the New York State Marriage Equality Act, "Poem for Bigots" & the old favorite about growing up to be gay, "Everything is Coming Up Show Tunes for Your & For Me."

A pleasant urban poetic experience at the Pride Center on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY on the second Wednesday of each month -- usually a featured poet followed by an open mic; join us at 7:30 PM, our host Don Levy.

July 14, 2011

Professor Java's Wide Open Mic, July 11

Wide open, as in music, poetry, comedy, whatever can easily be performed in the limited space in the side room of Professor Java's coffee house on Wolf Rd. Frankly, I go to hear the poets. One of the reasons we have such an active poetry open mic scene here in the Albany area is that many (many) years ago poetry was the smelly step-child barely tolerated at (some) music open mics in town, so we built our own scene to showcase poetry without guitars. But it is nice to mix it up now & again.

At one point our host, Keith Spencer, mentioned that I don't often write about the music performers on my Blog. That's true, but not because I don't like music -- I happen to listen to & enjoy most types of music. & to the current scene's credit there is more variety in the music performed at open mics now than what I experienced years ago, where the first poem-length part of the performance was tuning up (not always successfully), then still another in a long string of "I'm going down that lonesome road" folk songs. But the reason I don't write as much about the musical performances is that I don't know that much about music & I don't always recognize the covers some performers are attempting, but mostly, poetry is my main, over-riding interest (next to stopping war).

That said, I would like to point out tonight's favorites, in no particular order.

I'm toying with the idea of how to apply bringing 2 guitars to a music open mic, as Greg Guba does, to poetry events -- bring 2 notebooks, do a wardrobe change, use different mics?  But then I've already done all that at one time or another. Greg always does a piece on his resonator guitar (not a Dobro -- I get it), & other songs on another guitar. I liked his cover of "Can't Find My Way Back Home" from the Blind Faith album with a freckled, nubile girl with pink nipples on the cover, an LP I bought for the cover many years ago, & grew to love the music.

Back again was Dwight, this time with his daughter Kendra, so it was "Dwight & Kendra" tonight, with another moving poem, beautifully put together with voice & guitar, about 4 Viet Nam vets -- good, simple lyrics; & in a nod to a poem I had done earlier, he began by reciting a poem, "Marriage."

& I liked "new guy" Herb Carter, Jr. & the big sound of his 12-string guitar (but it does take twice as much time to tune). Recognized his first song cover, but damned if I could tell you who it was, one of those '60s/'70s hippy bands, I think, then a good love song original, & another cover by a new group, "Head & Heart."

Other music performers included the return of the duo "The Midnight Society," using a "Stylophone" on one of their pieces; Seattle-angst rocker Alex Rohr; "The Normanskill Saxons" with 4 players tonight ("all 3 songs have never been performed by all 4 of us");
Shannon, who is usually hanging out in the audience, did a cover & an original; Mark Hecker strummed through 3 cover songs about father/son relations; & John Veith did instrumentals until he thought his time was up.  (& another thing, why do so many singers ape those false Southern accents? Leonard Cohen doesn't try to sing like Willy Nelson (& the other way around))

There were only a handful of us spoken word folks tonight & not very spread out in the program. I was first up with 3 Summertime poems, the recent "Imagining the Mews" & the older poems "Park Fantasy" & "Cutting the Lawn for the Ex." Carol Jewell is not at all intimidated by Keith & keeps cranking out those pantoums, this one on anger. Later in the night Avery also did just 1 poem, a piece about being at a drum weekend, sounding a lot like advertising copy with drum sounds, "A Composition for the Rhythm Section." Joe Krausman had trio of his funny/serious ponderings, "Specialist," "Internal Medicine" (actually about brain surgery & the little men inside our heads), & the cat poem (!) "Cat."

The 2nd Monday of each month, bring your notebooks, bring your guitars, harmonicas, keyboards, Style-o-phones, string bass, ukelele, saxophone, mandolin -- pretty soon there will be so much equipment we won't be able to move.

July 11, 2011

Poets in the Park, July 9

This event is sponsored by the Poetry Motel Foundation (me) & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild (I'm the President), & I'm the MC, so what do you expect me say about this? Is there someone else out there to write a report on how much fun it was?

The readers were 2 "Daniels" -- Danielle D. Colin Charlestin & Daniel Nester -- 'though as someone pointed out from the audience, there were 3 Daniels present, counting me. But enough of me.

I had first seen Danielle D. Colin Charlestin at some of the area open mics & was impressed by the power of her words & performance. She didn't disappoint tonight. She started with a couple of short poems, "Before Translation" & a piece she had performed at WordFest, "God in the Rain." The next couple of poems were about urban experiences, "On the Corner of Washington & Swan," a portrait of a woman whose life is "singing the Blues like Bessie Smith," & another poem about a poet she met on a bus. Then a cluster of poems about Haiti; I didn't always get the Creole titles. The first was written after a visit after the earthquake, in which she stepped away from the mic to sway & sing & clap. The next poem was about a river & watching chlldren swim, from her first visit to Haiti. Then the tender & expansive celebration in "Haiti I Never Left You," like an anthem to the land & its people. A simple, funny haiku was all that was left.

Daniel Nester (author of the collection, How to Be Inappropriate) was a change of pace, more in style & content than in feeling. He began with what he described as "the third poem I published," the account of finding an embarrassing childhood photo in the bottom of "The Ceramic Apple," then a piece on failed childhood musicianship, "Trombonliness." He read a group of short vignettes from a series he is writing about the people he knew living in Camden, NJ -- on music, smoking dope, weird characters smoking dope, & on smoking dope. Another series that he read selections from was the hilarious "Anatomy of my Mother," based on interviews with his mother, who basically raised him (quote/unquote). He ended with a poem based on the Biblical Proverbs, but I must've gotten the reference wrong; oh well, perhaps he just made it up, that's what poets do.

Anyways, if think this report is too glowing, just ask any one who was there & see what they tell you.

The readings are held at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park on Saturdays in July at 7PM. Get there on time to hear the history of the reading series, the life of Robert Burns & the history of Washington Park since the pre-Cambrian age (or thereabouts).

July 10, 2011

Writers Institute Summer Program, Skidmore College, July 8

Even before the horses get to Saratoga Springs, the Summertime tourists begin to fill up the town for the ballet at SPAC & the New York State Writers Institute Summer program at Skidmore College. I haven't taken any of the courses or workshops there, but try to make it for some of the readings in the evening.

Former USA Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky performed this night in the Gannett Auditorium, as he did last year, with jazz accompaniment by Todd Coleman on bass & Pat Labarbara on tenor & soprano sax. But first we had to endure the ritual introduction by Bob Boyers, who got chuckles from the audience when he said, "I might go on for a long time…", knowing full well he might.

Pinksy said he would take advantage of the jazz to do a "film noir" reading, & claimed the genre was invented by the French poet Charles Baudelaire writing about the decay of the city. He started off with a reading of his translation of a Baudelaire poem, trading choruses with the band, then read the original French while the band played over him for "camouflage" (a fine French word). He also read an urban poem by Robert Frost, "Acquainted with the Night," & what he described as a noir/romantic-comedy/urban poem, "Harlem Happiness" by Sterling Brown.

Then on to a trio of his own poems, beginning with the appropriately titled "Horn," about wanting to be a jazz musician in his youth, a love poem to the saxophone ("Listen says the Dante of Bop"). I particularly liked the combination of arco bass with the soprano sax with his poem, "Samurai Song." Then on to conclude with the history of saxophone in the poem "Ginza Samba."

I was brought up, poetically, on jazz & Beat poetry & have vivid aural memories of a recording of Kenneth Rexroth reading his poems with a jazz quartet, so this performance brought me back to those days. Pinksy obviously loves jazz & has worked hard with his talented, sensitive musicians to weave the music with the spoken word, using repetitions of lines, even whole stanzas, the way music repeats & folds back on itself. An exciting night in Saratoga Springs.

July 7, 2011

Albany Poets Present!, July 5

Surprise, surprise, there were already poets gathered at the bar at Valentines when I got there, & more arrived as the night wore on. As el presidente of AlbanyPoets.com, Thom Francis, expressed it, he was "shocked & amazed" at the turnout. There was even a poetry-virgin in the crowd.

Still, I ended up first on the list again, the perennially open slot, & read poems of love & lust as I am wont to do: "The L-Word," "Nocturne" & "Since Monday." Illiptical (The Wizard of Mars, to give his full name) did a piece dedicated to substitute teachers, "The Grinch Who Stole Your Class." Mojavi took us from sex ("Harder than a Diamond"), to "Separation," to the long hit "The First & Last Time I Smoked a Joint." Thom Francis read us a Carl Sandburg poem, over a dead child, in response to a current trial in the news.  Dain Brammage read about "Growing Up" & about death & dying.  Ben Golden stumbled through a piece "mistaken for a suicide note" titled "The Night Life."

The night's virgin was Jessica Fisher-Smith who began with "If I Had Taken the Ad," a personal rant that sounded like that old song, "You're So Vain," then read "Shadow Games," a series of tips for covering up physical abuse (as she did). Nadi Morsch began with a couple of the poems she had read at McGeary's, aphoristic & sarcastic, then a couple more in the same vein, "Never Mind I'll Bring My Own Flowers" & "This Constellation is Neither Permanent Nor Complete."

This open mic happens (or not) the first Tuesday of the month at Valentines on New Scotland Ave. in Albany, NY, 8PM.

July 2, 2011

Poets Speak Loud!, June 27

This series from AlbanyPoets continues at McGeary's. Tonight's featured poet, Sally Rhoades, did the right thing, packing the back room with her friends. & the host, Mary Panza, of course kept it going.

Somehow I ended up first on the sign-up sheet for the open mic, again. I read my poem "Missing Pieces" about Wren Panzella's paintings, then the short, erotic "Since Monday." Avery did the sounds of "The Construction Project." Poetic Visions was surprised to to be be up so quick, having signed up about #6, but nobody filled in the blanks. His first piece was like a riddle, with the answer, "my name is poetry;" his second piece, "Dreams are Not Realistic" exhorted us to be a dreamer. Anthony Bernini piled up images & tight word play (as he so often does) in his poem "The Intrusions."

It was nice to hear Sally Rhoades, dancer & poet, do more than the 1 or 2 poems she is limited to at open mics. She began with a couple of recent pieces, "Lantana" (for her mother-in-law) & "What If My Father Was a Poet." "Gathering the Dawn" is the title poem of a collection she is working on, & "The Pool" was a cool Summertime treat. She acknowledged our hard-working waitress, Megan, with "My Mother Was a Waitress." She read an old poem, "Studying the Street Music," then to a poem about dancing, "Around the Corner," & "Desire" as a fine-toothed comb. A couple of traveling poems, then "America Woke Up Last Night" on President Obama's inauguration. She ended with a poem in 83 works for her friend Annette, & the tribute, "Tom Nattell." A nicely put together selection of poems.

Returning to the open mic, Dain Brammge did a poem in rhyme, "Love Sick" then a cinquain, "Reading Into What is Not Said." Shannon Shoemaker had 2 breakup poems, the sweet one, "Poem for Star," & an angry rant (including a reference to the poetry/music duo, Murrow). Jill Crammond (whose hair was perfect, once again), had 2 poems for her Dad, the first about dreams of firemen, the other a story of him sharing a hospital room with a drug runner, "Wanted: Participants for Exciting In-Patient Study." Tess Lecuyer has been going through her old poetry notebooks & read a found-again poem, "For Noriko" then "The Poet Ascends."

The night's poetry virgin, Nadi Morsch, won us over with her bitting aphoristic poems (or was it 1 poem in 3 parts?), "I'm Leaving You" (or he's leaving me), &/or "Well Next Time Don't Fuck my Fiance," (the great line, "I like my Oreos like I like my women…").

It's another one of those events where what you think is going to happen does, then something else happens too. Last Monday of most months, at McGeary's, Clinton Square, Albany, NY.