September 27, 2011

Word Thursdays, September 22

This is a series, now in its 19th year, at the Bright Hill Center, tucked in the little town of Treadwell, NY, about an hours & half from Albany. I've been featured there, once in the early days in Bertha & Ernie's farmhouse with the 3 Guys from Albany, then last year on my own. I just don't get there enough. This time I was compelled because Albany poet Carolee Sherwood was the feature & in return for navigation over 2 mountains she drove. What a deal.

The open mic was an eclectic gathering of local writers, prose & poetry, often indistinguishable, but all equally engaging. Susan King started off with a continuation of a story she apparently read last month about her experience in a Red Cross shelter during the recent flooding from tropical storm Irene. My reading was more mundane, 3 poems from Poeming the Prompt.

Evelyn Duncan, who I've seen most times here, did a couple of poems that demonstrated how well humor can be done in poetry without being ridiculous, with "Mildred Moore's Funeral" & the self-deprecating "Treatise on Nature" (e.g., "when you've seen 1 tree you've seen them all" -- a girl after my own heart). Dorothy Bloom said she doesn't write poetry anymore, just her Blog & gave us a taste with a story about something that happened yesterday, "Fender Bender" that has the best use of the expletive "Fuck!" I've ever heard; then an untitled short essay about critters eating the flowers in her garden.

Judith Kerman read "Sub Rule", an ingenious abcderaian acrostic, then about the plight of a slug in "Global Positioning," & 2 pieces that were sung, "Star-nosed Mole" & another about a mermaid & deep-sea diver. Graham Duncan is always at Bright Hills Center, it seems, & read the tale of "The Old Soldier Keeps on Darning," then a poem about a plane crash, "The Local News," ended with a poem about how to get thru life, "a recovery piece" he said, "No Charge for This." Jim Williams read a memoir of the trolleys he saw as a boy, as vivid now to us in his telling as to him then in real life.

Our host, Bertha Rogers read a poem about being up in the early AM with the dog "Long Before Dawn," then the descriptive "Hawk," it's dive for death & food.

Carolee Sherwood had a good 25 minutes or so to spread out & explore her themes (or "obsessions" as she called them) of relationships, weather & dead deer (or is that a "dead dear"?). Her first poem, "Apiary" opened up the relationship theme, carried along by others such "Flying Over Snowy Mountains in the Morning Sun" & the moving-out poem "Triage." But then the ostensible weather poems such as "The Kind of Clever Day We Are Up Against," or "At Starbucks Waiting for Spring" seemed to ponder the nature of relationships too, & even the take on a W.S. Merwin poem, "The Way to the Store" & "Dear Reader" on Billy Collins method were really about relationships. "Scenes from the X-File on a Wife Who Didn't Really Die" & "Madness" brought in the dead deer, but then come to think of, weren't they all "relationship" poems?

Christopher Bursk began ("Why I don't Give Poetry Readings") & ended ("Ashes, Ashes We All Fall Down" & "Letter to a Great Grand Son") with poems not in his chapbook, but he bulk of his reading was from The Infatuations and Infidelities of Pronouns (Bright Hill Press, 2011). Based on Shakespeare's sonnets, these are also sonnets, of a sort, obsessing on pronouns & on memories of teen-age sex. The poems are bawdy, funny, but mostly embarrassingly touching (pun intended). Adults get the humor, but it's also the kind of book an young teenager would drool over & then hide under the mattress, & one his father should find to become nostalgic for those awkward days. As much about relationships, of you & I, as those poems of Ms. Sherwood.

Every time I come to this reading I wonder why I don't come here more often, & so should you. Check out the Bright Hill Center website for information.

September 26, 2011

Nitty Gritty Slam, September 19

This was the second gathering of this new Slam event, tonight upstairs at Valentines because some bands were scheduled downstairs. But this posed no problem for Slam poets who are typically loud & full of spit. You can get a full listing of the Slam participants & scores at the AlbanyPoets website.  I was happy with my 7th place in Round 1 & hope to do better in the future as my poetry improves (or I am able to bribe at least 3 of the judges).

Speaking of scoring, there are 5 judges from audience members, each Slammer is judged on a 10 point scale (with 1 decimal point); the highest & the lowest scores are dropped & so that the actual score comes from the 3 judges in the middle range. That means that if you get a "0" (as I did 2 weeks ago), or a "10" that everyone aspires to from a judge, it doesn't count, but you could still end up with a 29.9 (even a 30).

Mojavi hosted the open mic & in the middle did a distressing monologue about the negative effects on his gut of a meal at Denny's, it was painful. Others in the open mic were virgin Elaine Grabowski whose poem went by so fast I never got a picture), Jessica Layton, & Slam host Dain Brammage, who recited "Slam" (i.e., "it ain't in the writin' it's in the recitin' " & that's for sure). The "sacrificial poet," who is used to prime the judges was Illiptical with an apt piece about being afraid to watch Def Poetry.

Not all the poets in the Slam performed from memory, some of us read, such as me, L-Majesty, & Sleepy Brent Simpson (who would probably have beaten me if he had not lost a ton of points for going too long).

I was glad to see Elizag won; she has been attending a bunch of the local open mics lately, honing her skills. Who knows, maybe Albany will have a Slam team soon.

Nitty Gritty Slam takes place on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday of each month at Valentines on New Scotland Ave., 7PM sign-up. If you sign up for the Slam but don't get picked (it's limited to 8 performers) you still get to do a poem in the open mic.

September 24, 2011

Third Thursday Poetry Night, September 15

Our featured poet, Elizabeth Thomas, had to cancel but I will re-schedule her for 2012. But there are plenty of great poets in this area with a bunch signed up for the open mic tonight, with plenty more in the audience just to listen. & since there was no featured poet, everyone got to do 2 (!) poems tonight.

But first, the muse for the night was one of the father's of 20th Century poetry, William Carlos Williams (his birthday September 17). Alan Catlin paid tribute to another great 20th Century writer whose birthday was also September 17, Ken Kesey, by wearing a "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" tee-shirt. He read the last 2 poems he has written, "Knowing Bach at 4:30 AM" from his weekly Bukowski writing prompt exercise, then on to another American poet, "My Dream Date with Sylvia Plath."

A new voice & face here at the Social Justice Center was Luis Pabon with 2 sexy hip-hop style pieces, "Her Body is Some Body" & "Deep Tissue." I had picked out a couple of recent poems for tonight, but got a request from one of the non-reading poets to read "Poeming" & "The Lesson" from my chapbook, Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D., 2011). Anthony Bernini has a new book coming out soon & read "Know My Name," & another titled "Day Trip" (Anthony's book launch will be at Poets Speak Loud, at McGeary's on October 24).

Another new face & voice, at least here, was Elizabeth Gordon who frequents the 2nd Sunday open mic at the Arts Center & now goes by the performance tag of Elizag, who read (from her laptop, "tired of buying ink") a slam-style piece "Blue" class-warfare with a professor. Moses Kash III was here too, starting with acknowledging advice he has received over the years from writers, mainly from the Harlem Black Arts authors, then on to a recent piece, "I Have to Go Now Irene" on love & trusting the other. A last minute addition to the sign-up, just coming home from the job, was Marcus Anderson, artist & poet, with "8" on the burden of work.

Third Thursday Poetry Night is at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:20PM on, well, the third Thursday of each month, usually with a featured poet, always with an open mic.

September 22, 2011

Live from the Living Room, September 14

In the cozy parlor of the Pride Center, our host, Don Levy, presented the featured poet, Avery, to a small, intimate audience.

At Cafe Web, 4/20/2000
Avery began with reading a poem he did in at my Third Thursday open mic when it was held at its first location, Cafe Web, on Madison Ave.; the poem was titled "Blossoming Flower", a "motivational" piece in rap-type rhyme & rhythm. He followed that up with a poem that can be found on his FaceBook site, "On Equality," responding to the issue of gay marriages. His main piece was a long "letter-poem-story" (as he described in), "What Do You Choose?" in which he worked in pop song lyrics, mixed with philosophical ponderings & self-help style advice. He topped off his reading by bringing out his guitar to sings the Muppet classic, "The Rainbow Connection."

Starting the open mic, Carolee Sherwood read a poem from this past Spring that she hadn't read out yet, "Fly," then her newest poem, written only yesterday, & as yet untitled.  I followed, also with a poem from late Spring, "First Vegetables," then the older piece, "Those Big APR Poems."

Don Levy, a connoiseur of anthologies, read a couple poems from the old collection edited by Mark Strand, American Contemporary Poetry, the first by Randall Jarrell, then one by Kenneth Koch.

We were just about to go when Caitlin (also known as "Bacon"), who had been working the Center's cafe, read a short piece in progress from her laptop.

Second Wednesday of each month, the Pride Center of the Capital Region on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY, starts about 7:30 & a modest donation helps pay the poet.

September 19, 2011

Poetry + Prose Open Mic, September 11

We’re back, after a summer off, the open mic for all writers, of prose or poetry at the Arts Center of the Capitial Region in Troy, NY, with your hosts Nancy Klepsch & Dan Wilcox (that’s me).

No one signed up for the #1 slot (again!) so I took it (again!) & read my poem that is included in the exhibit in the Arts Center’s President’s Lounge of my photos, “Photo at the QE2, 1991” then a “postcard” poem referencing my escape from New York on September 11, 2001, “Leaving New York.” Bob Sharkey read some selections from his daily writing, pieces that included a narrative after the floods, & his characters Earl & Sonny remembering the Towers, then leaping images from the Taconic Parkway (it will be most interesting when Bob puts these pieces together, how the jigsaw puzzle will look). Tim Verhaegen’s memoir “The Dating Part: an Overview for the Straight Crowd” was a hilarious take on gay dating from about 1975.

A new voice for this venue, Julia Soto Lebentritt, read a poem that was a series of directions from when she lived in a tent in Vermont, “Julia’s Cloudburst Dance,” then 2 journal entries from when she lived in Manhattan, 1 from 1981, another from after 9/11, 2001. David Wolcott also read a memoir about 9/11, this from working in Washington, DC & witnessing the plane crashing into the Pentagon. (Note: we, Nancy & I, had decided that we wouldn’t characterize this as a 9/11 memorial reading, while knowing full well that some of us would certainly include it, but letting others, & ourselves, decide to do otherwise.) However, Carolee Sherwood’s poem “Boy Leaps from Burning Building” was not a 9/11 poem, but equally chilling, then she read an old poem not read out before, “My Bug Collection of Stories.”

Ron Drummond mentioned that he was one of many who had submitted a design for the New York City 9/11 memorial building, then read his parody of a draft of a Constitutional amendment against person-hood for Corporations, then a long, Proustian provocative paragraph from one of his short stories.

Jil Hanifan has just published a stunning, short selection of her poems & read the title poem, “Their Agonizing Speed,” then her agonizing, tearful homage to the saints of 9/11, “Psalm 141.” Co-host Nancy Klepsch closed out the reading with 2 poems, one like the recent floods in Troy, “The Woman Speaks of This River,” then “Planting” from Open Mic: the Albany Anthology (Hudson Valley Writers Guild, 1991).

Back again on the 2nd Sunday at 2PM at the Arts Center in Troy, NY free & open to poetry & prose.

September 18, 2011

Polis: este jardin zine launch, September 17

Of course I would go to Gloucester & stumble on a poetry reading, one with old poetry friends no less. I had been on Main St. after lunch & ran into Donald Wellman who asked if I knew about the reading. It was at the Gloucester Writers Center, the former home of Gloucester poet Vincent Ferrini in East Glouceser. I grabbed my camera & headed out there.

James Cook at Polis reading.
 This issue of Polis was edited by James Cook, Zachary Vincent Martin & David Rich, with illustrations by Greg Cook. The readers, who sometimes read from the zine & sometimes read something else were Donald Wellman, Joe Torra, Susan SklanJim Cocola, Peter Anastas, James Cook (who also read Zach Martin’s selection),  David Rich, Greg Cook (no relation to James), Danuta Borchardt & Gerrit Lansing. The reading included poetry, poetics, memoir, even translations, just like Polis itself, expansive just like the figure of Charles Olson himself, whom the zine (& the reading) invoked, along with the whimsical figure of Vincent Ferrini.

It was also great to be in Ferrini’s old home, with pictures & books, now a place for visiting writers to stay, & for readings. Check it out at it’s website here.

September 12, 2011

Yes! Reading, September 9

This series is back at the Social Justice Center, with helmsmen James Belflower & Matthew Klane, back from the mid-West. As James described it, this reading is "somewhere between the University & AlbanyPoets." This year they are changing their format slightly from the usual 2 readers to 2 readers with another art form performance, tonight the electronic music of Rambutan (Eric Hardiman).

As he began his piece, Eric placed 2 cassette recorders playing loops of bird songs & other sounds on the bookshelves on either side of the room, so that these somewhat anachronistic analog devices formed frames around his bent & twisted digital manipulations, both in space & in time (since he had to manually turn them on & off before & after his performance). Another somewhat ironic juxtaposition was Belflower's prepared introduction which sounded oh so much like what one hears delivered by one of the Professors before a University reading.

Matthew Klane's introductions, on the other hand, sound like, well, Matthew Klane's poetry -- fractured lines & words rubbing around each other; I suspect they were lines from the respective poet's work.

Heather Christle began with a couple poems from an early chapbook & it was apparent that the central figure in her work was "I"/"me", sometimes "we". This continued on with the poems she read from The Trees The Trees (Octopus Books, 2011). On the page the poems are short (less than a page) & printed as fully-justified blocks, with extra spaces between sentences & phrases as if these were line breaks. Listening, they were generally short, direct statements, often non-sequitars, as in the random thoughts about making borscht in her poem "Soup is One Form of Salt Water." At one point she said (after reading the bear poem "Je M'appelle Ivan") that she felt this book was about animals & men.

Dana Ward's poems, also often centering on himself (or "I"/"me"), were both longer & shorter than Heather Christle's. His longer pieces, such as "Like the Tiniest New York City of Itself" (a recent piece referencing Hurricane Irene) or the memoir "Regime Change" were meditative, philosophical, in well-constructed sentences. But he also read a chunk of shorter piece, just as meditative, but often more edgy, such as "Deforestation" on chewing pot, or the masturbatory "Sugar Cane."

Both readings were undramatic, letting the work speak for themselves without performance tricks, but the silence & passivity of the audience was unsettling, &, like the university readings, no one applauded until the end. So in that sense it was, contra-Belflower, more like a University reading than AlbanyPoets where even crappy poems get applause.

This is an irregular series held at the Social Justice Center. Check them out on FaceBook & online.   The schedule generally fits into the University semesters.

September 10, 2011

Caffè Lena Open Mic, September 7

The horses (& the horses asses*, at least most of them) have left Saratoga Springs, so it was safe to go back to Phila St. to Caffe Lena for the monthly open mic, hosted by Carol Graser. She started the night with May Swenson's incredible poem about waves, an impossible poetic goal to which to aspire.

Someone had left the first open mic slot blank so I ended up there, with an old poem, "Photo at the QE2, 1991" then the 9/11/01 inspired "Leaving New York." Carolee Sherwood had followed me up from Albany & followed me on the list with a poem containing Albany's Tulip Festival & the assassination of Osama bin Laden, "Do Not Be Startled," then "Plane Twilight" (or is it "Plain Twilight"?). After hearing Barbara Garro's 2 poems, "Dams" & "Learning to Love," I'm not sure who is happier, her dog or her ex-husbands. With a 2 poem limit, Kate McNairy had 3 "short" poems, "Deer," "The Bag of Bones," & "Crows."

The featured poet, actually a filling-in, was Carol Kenyon, who is a regular at this venue & such loyalty well deserves the feature slot. She read a variety of poems, opening with a series of short ones, then moving into some longer works. She dealt with getting older, & writing ("What Joy Writing"), the seasons (the Spring-time sonnet "Thrill" & the rhyming "Summer's Last Kiss"), & food (the revenge of the tuna in "Tyrant's Fish Tale" & a poem on Cheez Whiz). Her most daring, engaging work were a couple poems about being a woman, "Hormonal Sidelights" (or, as she glossed it, "female therapy"), & the lush, psychedelic female fantasy of "Big Rock Candy Condo." She concluded with a short line chant, complete with toe-tapping & finger-snapping, "Dream Scape 1" ending on the word "gone." It was good to hear such a big chunk of her various work.

After the break, Carol Graser continued the open mic with her poem "The Struggle to Return Home." Todd Fabozzi did a couple poems from memory, the same ones from the last open mic at McGeary's, "The Couple" & "No Matter What Kind of Love" (that title was mangled in my report on the reading at McGeary's -- sorry). Marilyn McCabe said this was her first time reading from her new book Rugged Means of Grace published recently by Finishing Line Press, but she didn't have any copies with her to sell. She read a poem about singing at Caffè Lena, "Open Wide," & another poem, "Consumed." Charles Watts read 2 pretty intense (in different ways) poems, "Missing My Daughter's Wedding," & "How to Keep Deer Away from the Garden."

Bob's poem was about a visit to his therapist, "Prescription for Stolen Wednesdays." Carl Castleman says he writes songs & read 2 of them, "Florida Road" & "A Thousand Trees" (on the passage of Time). Josh McIntyre was back after a summer of umpiring softball games with one of my favorite poems of his, about memory & music & poems, "Old Songs." Tracey Oatfield read 2 poems from a book, but I wasn't clear if these were his poems or those of someone else. Nancy Denofio ended the night with a long prosy piece invoking the days of broadcasting executions on the radio, "Public Enemy Number One."

This event happens each 1st Wednesday of the month at historic Caffe Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, great featured poets & local poets, sign-up at 7:00PM & start at 7:30PM, $3.00.

*  but as my grandmother, Anna Clark Wilcox, used to say, "There are more horses asses in the world than there are horses."

September 8, 2011

Nitty Gritty Slam, September 6

This was "Albany's first Slam in 10 years" claimed co-host Dain Brammage at the new slam venue at Valentine's. But poor Dain's brain must be addled, since as recent as March 2006 he was hosting a slam at the Bayou Cafe on North Pearl St. right here in Albany.  Or was that another "Dain Brammage"? Oh well, tonight the house was packed for the first in a new series of bimonthly events sponsored by AlbanyPoets, Urban Guerrilla Theater & Frequency North, an un-holy 3 if I ever saw one.

There was an open mic with the readers, like the slam, selected at random from sign-up slips in the hat, & also like the slam, limited to 3 minutes (but not enforced). The open mic host was Mojavi & the poets were Poetyc Vyzonz, Stephen Leslie with 2 Haibuns, Eliza G. with some poems composed from the text on the back of an aspirin bottle & Murphy's Oil Soap & the sexy-funny "Heterosexual Phase," Michelle Bula (a long drive to read 1 poem, "Hope Springs"), Bless "lyrically putting myself on the front lines for you,"

& Dan Rain using appropriated text for his tsunami poem "Harbor Wave." A pretty good selection of open mic poets & poems & reason enough to be there in itself.

The slam was an "8-4-2" with the 8 contenders chosen at random, with Miriam Axel-Lute chosen as the "sacrificial poet" that slam events use as a way to give the randomly chosen judges a chance to practice scoring before it matters. Her poem was the slam-respectable "Things Fall Apart."

Algorhythm's angry piece was done in short line rhymes, as was Jessica Layton's "Fuck you & your Jesus…" piece. Tammy Lopez started singing then just over-dramatized her shopping list of the world's injustices. Emily (Hamilton Creative Infinity) Epstein read way too fast a piece I think was called "Infinity." Shannon Shoemaker did her poem about love gone bad beginning with the line "I need a drink…" Kevin Peterson's poem "Waterworks" was about STDs, while my performance in tribute to John Cage was unspoken (of course), & Illiptical took it off the mic with "Their Eyes Watching Each Other."

There was a lot of silliness between rounds with goofy word guessing games; better to have the open mic poets between the slam rounds, I say, while the scorekeeper tries to work it out with a pencil.

Next down to 4 poets, 3 of whom will be in the money. Not me, for sure -- I had the lowest score of the 8 (sort of like the Houston Astros in National League standings). Illiptical did a poem on Grinch teachers, while Shannon Shoemaker followed with "dyke on a bike" in the suburban school parking lot poem the audience liked. Tammy Lopez came down off the mic & the stage with the same sort of breatless piece driven by rhyme, as did Algorhythm also off the stage.

Shannon, Tammy, Dain, Algorhythm, & Mojavi
So when the smoke cleared, Algorhythm was in 3rd place, & Shannon & Tammy duked it out for the last round, with Shannon first, another love-lost poem standing on the roof of the parking garage. Tammy was off the mic again, but now her voice much weaker & could've use it, a piece talking with a girlfriend about anger & vengeance, just under the limit. When the votes were tallied, the winner was Tammy Lopez & Shannon Shoemaker a not-shabby-at-all second.

You can find the scores on the AlbanyPoets website. But, as always, the winners were us in the audience &, of course, like most slams, more performance than poetry.

This was the first in this ambitious series of twice-a-month slams, at Valentines on New Scotland Ave., Albany (NY, just so you don't go to the wrong Albany), sign-up at 7:00PM, slam at 8, 5 dollars.

September 6, 2011

Poets Speak Loud! August 29

Another wild night at McGeary's -- it's beginning to catch on -- with Mary Panza (AlbanyPoets' Dominatrix) as the Host, with a full house. Somehow I ended up first on the sign-up sheet for the open mic, so I did a piece written some months ago but never read out, "The Noon Train," then "The Thunder" (in honor of dear-departed Irene). Joe Krausman read a piece in rhyme written today "The Urologist" (with a bit too-much information), then "A Letter Found in a Dumpster." Carolee Sherwood brought in her poetic heteronym, Bernadette with "Bernadette Breaks Mardi Gra," & a poem about girls competing, "Iceland's Volcano."

Andrena described herself as "a reluctant reader" & debuted (at least in public) her love poem, "Late Spring" meant to be read some months ago. Todd Fabozzi, who has 2 books of poems out, read the "rather new" "The Couple" (what he called "an anti-poem"), then another "anti-poem" commentary on gay marriage, "What Kind of Love," then the "poem" "The Labyrinth of Love's Lonely Outpost." The night's virgin was Ben who read "The Following Tree" (that talks too), then a poem in fractured rhyme about his grandfather, "Cellphones in Heaven." Kevin Peterson was another poet new to Poets Speak Loud! & did a long autobiographical/philosophical rap in short rhymes from memory.

The featured performer was Poetyc Vyzonz who did 2 poems then shared the stage. His first piece was "Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Best" & although he said he "was not a pastor" he does preach, like a motivational speaker offering life advice. His other piece, "Right Now," was read from his smart-phone, a picture of all the things happening now. Then he called up a selection of poets from the audience who each took a turn performing, some with prepared pieces, some free-styling:

Illiptical, Bless, Kevin Peterson, Carlos, Leslie, & Thom Francis, with Poetyc Vyzonz ending with a tribute poem, praising the beauty of his honey.

Back to the open mic Chris Rizzo read 2 selections, one angry, the other beginning with cliches, from a new piece he admitted he didn't understand either. Illiptical did "Must Accomplish" from memory (having done it at another venue from the page). Tess Lecuyer read a piece about a really cold December day, then a series of haikus, everything from cheese & Glenn Beck, to Mary Panza, to weather, even eggplants. Avery cracked us up with a his poem loaded with triangles, "Bikini's on the Beach" (yeah, I look too) & then a poignant one about photos washed up on the tide, "Retouched Memories."

Leslie read a piece written today, "Creative Destruction of the Hater, Part 2" (or, as she said, "taking your punk ass out!"). Bless' poem "Tag, You're It" was about one-night stands & the chain of HIV infections. Carlos was back too with "Heart's Desire" on relationship baggage, & a poem for unknown poets, "For Unheard Voices," both feeling like about the Slam limit of 3 minutes. Sally Rhoades' "Rain Drops Dancing on the River" was a description of just that, then "Ended April."

To end the night, Mary Panza brought back Poetyc Vyzonz ("because he was so generous with his time…") for one more, another motivational piece, "to the fellas," "Poetic Visions of the Perfect Mate" (I'd prefer to be surprised).

All in all, a most energetic evening where Poets Speak Loud! (& well). The last Monday of most months of the year at McGeary's on Clinton Square, well cared-for by Tess Collins & her staff. Check it out at