June 30, 2012

Inaugural Reading of the New Surrealist Institute, June 29

Tiffany Jones
This event was at Tierra Coffee Roasters in Albany, right where I started the Third Thursday readings at the former Cafe Web, lo on these many years ago. This was a reading by writers of both poetry & prose (& polemics, as befits Surrealists). Dating back to their beginnings in the mid-1920s the Surrealists have always been more about politics than the poetry, largely more the politics of the Surrealist organization(s). Andre Breton was constantly bringing new writers into the Surrealist liturgy while excommunicating others. This continued on into the U.S.A. with figures like Franklin Rosemont & the Surrealist Movement in the United States based in Chicago. Perhaps the Surrealists' greatest contribution to literature is the manifesto. There were glimmers of this in tonight's reading. Tiffany Jones did the intros.

Harvey Havel
But first up was Harvey Havel, whose short ficitions I've heard him read out previously, at the HVWG's Community of Writers & the Poetry + Prose open mic at the Arts Center in Troy. Tonight he read 2 short fiction pieces, the first about the strange results of experiments in breeding horses, the second about (literally) skeletons in the closet. Often, as in these 2 pieces, his stories are strange, often unsettling (surreal?) fantasies but well-written, told in crisp, clear prose that tricks the reader/listener into seeing the strangeness as normal.
Alaine Cohen

Not so the poetry of Alaine Cohen. Although she has performed on stage as a jazz vocalist, she said this was her first time reading her poetry in public (& thus, like the other readings, except Havel, strangers to any of the many other readings in town). Her first piece was an exercise in excessive alliteration. Her long piece "The Hickory Horned Devil Larva" was essentially the story of the metamorphosis of the larva into a butterfly, but the writing was over-wrought, with too many abstract, vague modifiers (she even used the word "surreal"). I guess she was included as a "Surrealist" because of her frequent use of incongruent adjectives & adverbs which usually is the first thing we notice about "Surrealistic" writing when we first encounter it.

Allen Parmenter
John Allen
Allen Parmenter may have been a Surrealist, at least based on the silly introduction he provided, but it was difficult to follow his work. He did not enunciate clearly, his words lost in his beard, & perhaps the fault of too much bass in the amplifier. I even missed titles of most of his poems, except for "The Idiot Knight," about former President George W. Bush, & "Whatever Happened to Dolly Zoom" (maybe). Some of his poems were very short, no more than images, that flew by in a haze.

John Allen also had a silly intro & was described by Tiffany as the "King" of the New Surrealist Institute, ironic considering the "revolutionary" nature of Surrealist politics; I guess there are a few monarchists left. His first piece was a short essay, "The New Surrealist Institute Towards a De-ossification of Thought," a look at his new group through the history of automatic writing & Surrealism & his own personal history vis-a-vis his confrontation with some of the classics pre-cursors of Surrealism. His poem "And the Frenchman Laughs" was about himself, but invoked images from the life of Rimbaud.

Tiffany brought the reading to a close with a paraphrase of her own piece, "What is a Soul-Mate" (whom she touchingly identified as John Allen). She then asked if anyone else wanted to read, although there had been no open mic sign-up, & was greeted by deep silence for a few respectful seconds, & so she brought the evening to a close. At which point a guy who had come in part way through the reading said he wanted to read John Allen's last poem & came up to the mic; barely a minute before Tiffany had asked if anyone wanted to read & he didn't speak up. Moreover, he was wearing a steel gauntlet such as found on a suit of armor & some sort of metal sculpture encasing his neck (mind you it was about 84 degrees outside). I knew I had to get out of there, & did.

Help, help the Surrealists are after me!

June 28, 2012

Jon Sands Reading & …, June 25

I can't be in 2 places at once, but I tried to be at 2 different readings on both ends of the evening. Conflicts happen because we have here in the Capital District of New York State a very diverse, active local arts scene, & probably more poetry events each month, per capita, than anywhere else in the U.S.A. I grew up in this area when there were no conflicts because nothing was going on -- I'd rather have the conflicts.

So I headed over to the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY to see a performance by Jon Sands, a poet from Brooklyn. He is the author of The New Clean (Write Bloody Publishing, 2011) & has a background in theater. His performance was spoken loud with elements of slam style but without the clichés & he has a wonderfully plastic, expressive face. After his opening poem, a high school memoir about going to Waffle House, I got a bit nervous when the next 3 poems were in the persona of various black characters, waiting to see if he was going to break out the make-up. I breathed easier as he quickly moved on to his over-riding theme of childhood memoir.

He had the audience laughing & twitching in his hands with "My Gender Identity Timeline Volume One: The Early Childhood Years," with his confrontations with penises & vaginas (in the book). Also in the book was the last poem he read, the tender memoir, "Elegy." He is wonderful at storytelling, most of the poems with some level of narrative & humor, even such as a simple thing like a fan encounter in Trader Joe's (with André 3000).

It was a mixed audience of young & old, few of which I recognized as the poetry crowd, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves & actually bought books.

From there I crossed the River to McGeary's to catch the tail-end of Poets Speak Loud!, arriving in time to hear Mojavi promoting the new Albany Nitty Gritty Slam Team & then do a couple poems. I even had time to be the last poet of the night, reading a new piece, "Hemingway" (set in Valentines, thus the connection to the Slam). Later I went to the AlbanyPoets website & watched the recording of the live-streaming they had done that night. Has this Blog become yesterday's papers, redundant, inaccurate & passé? Stay tuned & find out.

June 26, 2012

Third Thursday Poetry Night, June 21

Sadly our featured poet, Anna Eyre, at the last minute could not make it tonight, but that only meant that the "one-poem rule" became a license for 2 poems for the open mic poets. But before that, the invoking of the Muse, tonight the painter & poet Dorothea Tanning (1910 -2012) -- I read her poem "Artist, Once" from Coming to That (Graywolf Press, 2011).

Alan Catlin was up first again, remembering "Walking Home in Winter, Utica NY 1969," then a more recent piece on the arrest of the last of the uptown gunners in Schenectady, "Mr. D. He's Dead." Bob Sharkey read "64 Shades of Meaning," a string of words & commentary, then a piece dedicated to the late Nadia Trinkala, "Meditation in Orange & Indigo While Listening to Abbey Lincoln & Stan Getz." Joe Krausman's first poem, "Suppose," was about writing, then he pondered mortality in "Things Passing."

The 2 poems Tess Lecuyer read can be found on her FaceBook site, "Haiku to My Sticky Summer Self" & "Pebble Blessing Sonnet." Emily read her wonderful poem, sprinkled with Spanish, for her mother, then from her cell-phone, "Potpourri," the dried up flowers of love.

Amy Nelson Hahn had been here last moth for the first time & she came back! She read a poem from her Blog about a beautiful Albany sunset, "How It Is," then a poem by her ancestor, the colonial poet, Anne Bradstreet (1612 - 1672) "To My Dear & Loving Husband" (which she plans to read to her soon-to-be husband at their upcoming wedding). Avery followed with verbal portrait of "The Beasts of L.A.," followed by an effusive poem about brewing tea. Anthony Bernini ("being well trained") had only 1 poem, "Where the World Turns," upsidedown it seems. I ended the night with a poem written at the beginning of June, "The Transit of Venus."

This reading is every Third Thursday, most usually with a featured poet, & always with an open mic, 7:30PM, at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, a modest donation supports this & other poetry event & the work of the Social Justice Center.

June 22, 2012

Nitty Gritty Slam #20, June 19

There has been a recent change in the rules here, allowing poets to read in both the open mic & the Slam, of which no one took advantage tonight. Avery began the open mic with his piece in praise of dance then sat down; open mic host Mojavi brought him back up to do a second piece, an effusive ad for a weekend retreat chanting. I followed with the more mundane "Transit of Venus" & just for a little spice, "Ordering Lunch." Shannon Shoemaker did her classic "Dyke on a Bike," & the introduction since she wasn't doing the Slam.

Emily leaving the stage.
Emily Gonzalez read 2 moving poems, "Scattering Ashes" & "Hey Girl" (about a girl in rehab). In between poets Mojavi ragged on DJ Dan Nester for his selection of music, said "it's dangerous how much he knows about black music." Nester countered with threats of playing Barry Manilow. Barefoot Elizag ("because the stage is holy") did her explosive "Motherfucker" (because it always goes over time in the Slam). Mojavi joined in with the urban sights & sounds "around my block." Daniel Nester read a couple more sections from his memoir of his youth, these about working in a carwash (wonder how come that tune didn't make it into the mix?). Kevin Peterson performed "Alternate Side Street Parking," working on it for the Slam team.

The Slam tonight was "a blood sport" to select the 4th Slam member, & there were 6 folk signed up, so the night boiled down to 6-6-4, with the combined scores of the 1st 2 rounds used to select the last round. The new Slam Master was el presidente of AlbanyPoets.com his self, Thom Francis, taking firm control.  & I was the "sacrificial lamb," reading "Peace Marchers at the Viet Nam Memorial"to a good reaction, but the 25.0 score still would have been a low one for tonight.

The Slam Team & Alternates:
Elizag, Kevin, D. Colin, Prolific Wisdom,  ILLiptical & Shannon
It was a good mix of contenders, starting with a new voice, Billy, who did love & longing poems in both rounds. Victorio was back with some of his signature political rants, & made it into the last round. Prolific Wisdom also made it into the final round with pieces that ran from the political, to a love poem to poetry, to preachy advice. Carlos Garcia began with a love poem/wedding proposal, but faltered in the second round on his autobiographical piece. D. Colin began with a wonderful piece I've heard before about a homeless woman on a bus, but her piece about Haiti in the final round, "We are Beyond It," was definitely over the top. ILLiptical the Wizard of Mars was certainly the loudest, even in his happiness-in-marriage poem, & in the final round was off the stage, off the mic & still rattled the windows. When the dust settled, it was D. Colin in first place, earning her a berth on the Slam Team, with Prolific Wisdom & ILLiptical earning spots as Slam Team alternates.

Nitty Gritty Slam is at Valentines, in Albany, NY every 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month, 7:30PM, $5.00 ($3.00 with student ID).

June 17, 2012

A Very Funny Fellow, a Review of the book by Donald Lev

Back when I lived in NYC, skulking on the fringes of the downtown poetry scene, before I ever thought of photographing the poets, I heard Donald Lev read as part a marathon reading in a loft on Lafayette St. Others I recall reading that night were Enid Dame, June Jordan, & Kathy Acker.

And after I had moved to Albany & taken over the poetry interview video series started by Charlie Rossiter, "The Poetry Motel," I brought Donald & his wife Enid Dame up to Albany to tape interviews with them & feature them at a reading at Cafe Web. Donald has remained a fixture of the mid-Hudson poetry scene, reading at all the great venues, & continuing to periodically crank out his tabloid poetry zine, Home Planet News.

That said, this then is less a review than an appreciation of Donald's latest book of poems from NYQ Books, A Very Funny Fellow. I like him & his work too much to be an objective critic. And any one who has been to one of Donald's readings, even before this book was published, will read familiar poems & hear his distinctive, laconic Brooklyn intonations coming off the printed page.

The poems are mostly short, never more than a page & often less than half a page. I have heard Donald read from a series of movie poems & some pop up here, such as "East of Eden," "Art -Deco Blues" & "Homage to the Playwright." These are sometimes combined with his dream poems, as in the just mentioned "East of Eden." Once in a while (as in "In this Dream…") a poem is identified specifically as a dream poem, but often I can only guess, pencilling "dream?" in the margin of my copy of the book. Donald walks in the long tradition of poets who turn real dreams into poems & writes poems that turn the everyday into dream-like scenes & narratives. Two of my favorites are "I Kept Missing" & "Breakfast with Prufrock."

Another poetic tradition that Donald successfully exploits is the poet writing about the role of poetry, what it means to be a poet. This includes making fun of poetry, as in "Titanic" or "A Wind Was Blowing" or the tiny apocalyptic "Untitled." At the end of the longest poem in the book, "When I Seek an Image," the poet concludes, "All that ever was for me is here,/ sitting in my chair, seeking images."

And of course, while "Lines in Winter" is explicitly dedicated "for Enid," her ghost hovers behind many of the poems, indeed throughout the entire work, like that movement in the shadows we catch out of the corner of our eye while reading late at night.

Like the nearly bookend poems "A Window" & "This Big Window" these poems are windows into the days & dreams & memories of this poet known as Donald Lev.

[Donald Lev will be reading in the Poets in the Park series in Albany, NY on July 14, 2012, 7PM with Albany poet Don Levy.]


There it is before you:
you’ve grown into
the specter of your father
the age when you knew him

the wrinkles, the grey, the hat
pushed back off the forehead

alone, among your children
when the aches and pains begin
like the thoughts of stopping

when the images start to blur
like the newspaper in the morning
when the memories start to splinter
like what remains of your teeth
or to coalesce like the cloud
in the center of your eye.

June 14, 2012

Professor Java's Wide Open Mic, June 11

I hadn't been to this venue in many months, & certainly not since Kevin Peterson took over the duties as host, not because of any particular reason, just a string of conflicts. This is one of the few (only) music & poetry open mics that I do go to, mainly because there is usually a strong contingent of poets to stand up to the guitar tuners. In fact, tonight, there was only 1 music group, regulars who help keep this venue alive.

Emily Gonzalez was the first poet up, with a decidedly urban piece about a woman going to rehab, "Hey Girl." The music tonight was 2 guys from "the Normanskill Saxons" spending time tuning, selecting the right key harmonica, then a series of pleasant, toe-tapping improvisations (including a "solo," with guitar accompaniment). I was up next with 3 very recent poems from my equally recent visit to Cape Cod -- "The Transit of Venus," the related "Transits," & a spin-off/pastiche of Lewis Carroll, "Not the Walrus & the Carpenter."

Part way through the event a little girl & her Dad & Mom wandered in & wondered what was going on, & were non-plussed when we told them it was an open mic. In fact, Dad, who said his name was Geo (or G.O., whatever) said he would read if someone could find him something to read. Carissa offered her old service manual for a VW Rabbitt, from which he read a short selection, such poetry these technical writers write, then Kevin offered up an iPad with "In the Curve" by the Avett Brothers. Geo(G.O.) was a good sport.

The final poet was Avery starting with a piece about life as dance (as Hakim Bey says, "Dance 'til you calcify"), then a description of his basement apartment as "The Mold Palace," a piece from 1998 "The Skidder," & his love poem to his chain saw, "My Gleaming Weapon." From then on the evening broke down to paying our checks & marginal card game in which everyone seemed to be a loser. I just watched.

Professor Java's Wide Open Mic is on the 2nd Monday of each month at 8PM at Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary  on Wolf Rd. in Colonie NY, sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com.

June 12, 2012

Poetry + Prose Open Mic, June 10

The final gathering of the season, before we take a teacherly break during July & August, on a Summer-like day of 2 parades -- Albany's Gay Pride Parade & Troy's Flag-Day Parade, you might say Albany knocked the "L" out of Troy's parade.

It was fitting that most of the readers were folks who had read variously throughout the year & equally fitting that there was a also first-timer present. My co-host was out celebrating, I'm sure, & I was pleased to end the season with such a group of my poetry friends.

Erik was new here, quiet, read 3 contemplative poems that I want to hear again, to follow, to hear more of. Hope he wasn't put off by our shenanigans. Carolee Sherwood, who hasn't been here in a few months, read 2 new poems from this week, "Venus in Transit" & "On the Mend," both to be found on her new Blog site.  Bob Sharkey shared some notes/pieces from his new 2-year project to record all references he hears to the word "race" in all its denotations & connotations, what he is calling now "The 26th of February Project" -- expect more, & more & more.

Tim Verhaegen read a long prose piece ("it's all true") tracing a trajectory from a picnic & his task to report all gossip back to his friend Libby, to his friends' illness & his sympathetic pain, his hyper-vigilance & circling back again. David Wolcott took us aboard his father's (now his) sailboat, The Mistress, on Lake Champlain & a meditation on history, about "Split Rock." I read my new piece "The Transit of Venus," my letter to the editor of the Times-Union "Washington Park Flowers," & the convoluted "The Poet Listening."

Ron Drummond, a writer of science-fiction & philosophical/scientific prose has been a main-stay of this series & last month had wanted to claim the "Last Reader" position, but was elbowed out, so it was fitting that on this last of the series he was the "last reader." Joking about his "6-eyes" he began with his most recent bio, certainly too long for a real journal blurb but entertaining, then on to selections from his longer piece "13 Improvisations."

This series for writers of prose & poetry will continue on September 9 on the 2nd Sunday of the month at 2PM at the Arts Center of the Capital Region 265 River St., Troy, NY -- Free!