April 30, 2013

WordFest 2013, Day 6: Open Mic, April 19

Way back in ancient times (i.e., 12 years ago) when Word Fest started, it was just a stumbing toddler in Thatcher Park in the Fall, a grand open mic of everyone & anyone who wanted to & could sign up, a poetic, shall we say, cluster fuck, the alcohol induced birth of the brain-child of Albany poet & impresario R.M. Engelhardt. Now, here we were again, safely ensconced in the UAG Gallery on Lark St. for the grand Open Mic as part of the week-long 2013 WordFest. It was more poetry than even a poetry-junkie like me could stand (spoiler: I didn't make it to the end).

Thom Francis, il papa, AlbanyPoets.com
But then some poets didn't even make it to the beginning. This year's open mic was scheduled from 7:00 PM to approximately Midnight. Traditionally "no-shows" occur at the late hours, that nobody wants anyway. Tonight there seemed to be a particularly thick no-show rate in the first 2-hours (1 poet posted on FaceBook due to illness, & another, Gary Murrow, is an habitual no-show -- even last year when he was one of Metroland's "Best Poets"). Of course, like I said, I didn't make it to the end, & so missed a couple of my friends. 5 hours of continuous poetry is too much for anyone, or as Groucho Marx once said, "I like my cigar too but I take it out of my mouth once in a while."

With the first 2 "fine lady" poets a no-show AC Everson started the night with a wonderful piece about buying a bra at Victoria Secrets, something I can relate to. Brian Dorn has been making the rounds of open mics in the last year & shared some of his fine rhyming poems. Howard Kogan is a personal favorite & I was glad to see/hear him here. Sam C. was really a stand-up comic who stumbled into a poetry open reading. But Tess Lecuyer is a genuine Albany poet with a mix of haiku & poems.

Reuben Bruchez, another new voice, included a haibun in his short set. He was followed by a string of some of Albany's finest poets (no matter what the Metroland readers say), beginning with Alan Catlin (as "Don Levy's warm up act"), then Don Levy himself & his new ballsy poem "Wayne's World," then Jill Crammond with a couple from her Mary (BVM) series of poems. Then still another neAudrey McKey (picking up an abandoned time-slot) with a couple of emotional poems. Bob Sharkey followed playing on the "race" word, then Carolee Sherwood with a couple new poems & one from WordFest 2010, a different person then.
w voice,

James, another fill-in from the streets, read a couple of relationship poems. Julie Lomoe read of the goddess of disorder & her mother & Senator Joe McCarthy. One of my photos caught Jackie K. flailing, perhaps when reading about a wedding-night betrayal. Joe Hesch didn't seem to know how much time he had & thus squeezed in a lot of poems. L-Majesty read from his phone one of his signature sex poems & sang one too, which got the audience hot. Kevin Peterson began with some inappropriate haikus he never got to do at the recent Slam, then read a long & very real & very inappropriate email written by someone in a sorority to her sorority sisters.

Ian Mahoney's poems had a high school reunion, dope men & a King of the Dishwashers. Darby Penney took us back in time, first with a pastiche of Ginsberg's "Howl" then to Richard Nixon. David Wolcott read a memoir of driving while tripping, what he would have read at the recent "Are You Experienced?" memoir session at the Arts Center if he hadn't been the curator. Glenn Werner took us walking the Brooklyn Bridge, while one of Adrianna Delgado's poems had her "Dancing on the Guard Rail" instead.

One of the traditions of WordFest is to feature the year's Metroland's Readers Poll "Best Poets."  This year the winners were Mary Panza with me & R.M. Engelhardt tied for 2nd/3rd. We got a little more time than the open-mic slots (after all, we are the "Best Poets," aren't we?). I read some recent poems, beginning with this year's "Birthday Poem" & included a poem written some years ago about the Third Thursday open mic series, "One Poem."

R.M. Engelhardt, flourishing his banana for Don Levy, included some poems from his latest collection of poetry, The Resurrection Waltz ("Epitaph," "Alchemy," "Lexicon") & some not, such as "The Last Poem Written on Earth." Mary Panza began with her iconic "Fuck the Giving Tree" & invoked the ghost of Peter Falk with one of her Housewife Tuesday pieces, "Because of You I Believe."

I was beginning to fade, & there was still about an hour's worth of poets left (on the schedule at least) so I decided to stick around for 2 of my favorite mid-Hudson poets, before sneaking out for a beer (or 2) & bed. Mike Jurkovic performed in his usual effusive manner, one about an accident caused by a beauty in a plum-colored v-neck, & Cheryl A. Rice read selections from her recently published, Moses Parts the Tulips, Albany poems.

Then I left, leaving more poets & words behind me, plenty more that I had hoped to see, but it had been a long night at the end of a long week of great poets from the Capital District -- Long Live WordFest! Thanks AlbanyPoets for a great week of words.

April 24, 2013

WordFest 2013, Day 5, April 18 -- Third Thursday Poetry Night

They packed the house tonight at the Social Justice Center for the second standing-room-only event of WordFest. Of course it helped that there were 18 featured poets, students from the Poetry in Performance class at the College of St. Rose. But there were also 17 poets signed up for the open mic, loyal regulars, some returning poets & even a couple new faces/voices.

But first the invocation of the Muse, or rather, for tonight, Muses -- for the season I recited "in Just Spring…" by e.e. cummings, then for his birthday today, "Believe, Believe" by Bob Kaufman. On to the open mic.

First poet up was Alan Catlin with a poem about working the Washington Tavern on September 11, 2001 like being in hell. Bob Sharkey's poem was "Monday Evening," about a class on Chinese. Avery returned to his childhood when "I Found a Sword Today." I got the title wrong in a previous post for Sylvia Barnard's poem, the correct title is "Blues for Smoke."  Don Levy reprised his hilarious take on the NRA, "Wayne's World." Arielle Gumson was back yet again tonight with a poem she wrote yesterday, longing for her boyfriend. Bob Gumson was also back, his poem on confronting a blank page in the morning, on belief & faith.

For a few years now the featured poet(s) in April have been students in the Daniel Nester's class at St. Rose, the class now titled sensibly enough "Poetry in Performance." This year there were 18 students divided into 4 teams, each reading individual poems. I usually post on this Blog photos of the featured poet, but since there were so many you can find the photos of the individual poets here on my flickr site.

First up was "Team Tall," which it pretty much was. Emily Felter read "Papi's Poem," a sad memory. Kristen Mennella read a lost love poem "For Anyone Who Has Lost a Lighter." John Slater sneaked in "A Letter to my Father" a very short poem, then "2 Truths One Lie." Kaitlin Clark said she was "not really a member of team tall," read "I'm Sorry I'm Not Sorry for Asking for Help" ("...& do fucking load of laundry"). Amelia Renaud's poem "Ontario Street" was about trying to sleep in an apartment in a strange city, longing for home.

Next up was "Team Short," & first poet Lauren Schroeder read an urban poem, wondering abut the lives of people in an abandoned house. Kaitlyn Rooney's poem "'98" was about memories of growing up. Jenna Collins read "Driving John St. in Nassau NY" about young love. Tracie DeGonza's poem "Child as Teacher" was about trying to be a good teacher, remembering who she was.

"Team Awesome" tried to appropriate the title but I think everyone was "awesome" tonight. Alex Gagliano's poem was "The Dreaded Goodbye," sad & proud for her father going off to Mexico for his job. David Mellan read an anguished poem, "Elegy for Elizabeth." Hannah Stewart read a descriptive poem, "All About Me." Daniella Watson's "House" was a metaphor for her life, an impassioned well-controlled performance.

"Fierce Force Five" was the final (just to add to the alliteration) team, starting with the fiercely poetic Katelyn Silberstein's poem, also a description of herself, filled with vivid similes. Haley Anderson read a poem to "a former friend," a break-up letter with a touch of humor at the end. I have seen Alex Sherman-Cross at recent Slam competitions & her poem to a tree, about the long Winter & waiting for Spring, was recited & showed her time on stage. Karlei Fura's poem "3 Truths I Wish Were Lies" could be retitled "The Time I Puked from the Top of the Eiffel Tower," for sure. The last featured poet, Jenna Herbert, ended with 2 short poems, "Between Truth & Lies" & another break-up letter, "Apologies to an Egotistical, Self-Centered Dream Boy."

We still had a lot of open mic poets to go. After the break I started off with a recent poem on women in combat & the use of drones, "Nurture or Shooter." Grayson Edick followed with a long piece on love & sex mixed with violence & memories of war. Jan Farrell read a meditative poem based in the natural world, like the work of James Russell Lowell. Chris Hanna did a tiny piece from memory, "True Memory" (a quickie on the roof). Brian Dorn has now become a regular here, he read his poem of the month, "From My Poem to Yours." Tess Lecuyer read "After Dorothy is Gone" full of her usual lush images, needs to be re-read. Somehow Matt Galletta has gotten out of the house again to read "My Father's Severed Head," an ironic poem about a prank from his childhood.

A new voice tonight was Camerin who read an untitled relationship piece about silencing herself, then finding words to speak. Daniel Nester was responsible for bringing the marvelous featured poets here tonight, which was an achievement in itself, but he also signed up for the open mic to read a pastiche of my Blogs, "Dan Wilcox Reviews the Third Annual Winter Solstice Reading in Hell" about a poetry reading hosted by Virgil with such readers as Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, Gertrude Stein, & Walt Whitman -- hey, I could've written myself, if I was dead (Thanks, Dan). Kevin P.(eterson) got quite a reception from the (young) audience, & started to recite his parking-ticket poem (along with tips about parking), but then, as often happens, the poem disappeared & he stopped when it stopped (but there is a hug at the end of the poem). Marcus Anderson squeezed in a the end to read an older piece "Freedom," not just political, but spiritual, personal.

We don't always have standing-room-only here on the Third Thursday, but it would be great if we did -- come on out to the Social Justice Center each month -- 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30, a modest $3.00 donation, & bring a poem to read.

April 23, 2013

WordFest 2013, Day 4, April 17

This night's piece of WordFest 2013 was a free screening of the 2011 film Louder than a Bomb at The Linda on Central Ave. This is from the press release for the film:

"Louder than a Bomb is a film about passion, competition, teamwork, and trust. It’s about the joy of being young, and the pain of growing up. It’s about speaking out, making noise, and finding your voice.

"It also just happens to be about poetry.

"Every year, more than six hundred teenagers from over sixty Chicago area schools gather for the world’s largest youth poetry slam, a competition known as "Louder Than a Bomb". Founded in 2001, Louder Than a Bomb is the only event of its kind in the country—a youth poetry slam built from the beginning around teams. Rather than emphasize individual poets and performances, the structure of Louder Than a Bomb demands that kids work collaboratively with their peers, presenting, critiquing, and rewriting their pieces. To succeed, teams have to create an environment of mutual trust and support. For many kids, being a part of such an environment—in an academic context—is life-changing.

"Louder than a Bomb chronicles the stereotype-confounding stories of four teams as they prepare for and compete in the 2008 event. By turns hopeful and heartbreaking, the film captures the tempestuous lives of these unforgettable kids, exploring the ways writing shapes their world, and vice versa. This is not "high school poetry" as we often think of it. This is language as a joyful release, irrepressibly talented teenagers obsessed with making words dance. How and why they do it—and the community they create along the way—is the story at the heart of this inspiring film."

What I found fascinating was how much this film that "just happens to be about poetry" was more like a sports bio-documentary, which explains why it was once shown on the MSG network. In other words, it was about poetry as a sport, not as an art. While the phrase "the point is not the points it's the poetry" is repeated almost too much, the point of the film was the points, about how you win, ultimately about how .1 is the difference between winning & not winning. And that's indeed what Slam is all about -- the recitin' not the writin'.  But as someone did say in Louder than a Bomb, "the world is bigger than a poetry slam." Indeed it is.

April 21, 2013

WordFest 2013, Day 3 -- Nitty Gritty Slam #42

It was the WordFest edition of the regular Nitty Gritty Slam, a special Haiku slam, & perhaps one could also say the "Jackie Robinson Slam" (42 being his number). My kind of Slam -- hard to make a Haiku last 3 minutes. But first the open mic, hosted by Christopher the Poet, as effervescent as the bubbles in his whiskey & coke, squeezing more & louder applause from the diverse audience.

First up was Avery, the title of whose poem ("Odontodacytlus Scyllarus", i.e. the mantis shrimp) I never would have gotten if he hadn't given me a (signed) copy of his poem later. I followed with the much less challenging "Living in Wilcox." Brian Dorn dedicated his poem, "From My Poem to Yours," to WordFest 2013 & National Poetry Month (we do like to point out that "In Albany, everyday is Poetry Month").

Linda Miller was here for the first time & read a poem about baby-sitting her grandchildren, "Renewable Energy." Christopher the Poet performed one of his crowd-pleasers, "Letter from Home to My Children." Christian Phiffer came over from the Slam scene in Pittsfield & performed "new, untitled shit," a lost love slam piece comparing himself to a tomato. Jess ListenToMyWords also read a break-up poem, then her poem about a shooting in her neighborhood, "Nameless Bullets." There was so much heckling & teasing going on when Poetyc Visionz came to the stage (with a beer!) that I thought he would never begin the poem, but eventually he was able to get into it, "Disguised Opportunity." Algorhythm (who strangely did not enter the Haiku slam) ended the open mic with "a true story" of sex & drugs.

Jackie K., & Christian
The Haiku Slam was run by il papa Thom Francis of AlbanyPoets.com along the lines of sports contests with paired poets alternating up to 3 Haikus in single-elimination rounds. While the rules didn't state it, there was some heated discussion at the bar about what constitutes a "haiku," with some academic purists defending the Japanese form (strict 5-7-5), while certain grey-haired rebels championed the "American Haiku", citing Poets&Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, edited by Ron Padgett.

The contestants were Avery, Christian, ILLiptical, me, P.V., James Williams, Jackie K., K.P., & Brian. The themes ranged from booze, to the Boston Marathon bombing, to sex, to sex & booze, to Buddhism, to (my naiveté) love & desire. But, after all, this was a Slam & the themes that triumphed were self-referential, humorous Haikus about writing Haikus for a Slam. I was able to make it into 2 rounds (!), to be eliminated by Christian who went on to defeat Jackie in a final Battle Royale.

It seems only fitting at this point to offer a final nod to this event with a modest attempt at still another Slam Haiku:

poets gather to
read Haiku, slam 42:
Jackie Robinson

April 19, 2013

WordFest 2013, Day 2, April 15

One has to wonder "what the frack is going on?" but of course it is only WordFest 2013, with "Poets Against Fracking" at the UAG Gallery, day 2 of this week-long event sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com.

Kevin Peterson was busy taking notes & V-P ("very pretty") Mary Panza did the intros for this featured band of out-of-town bards. Quoting Kevin, quoting me, it was an "intimate gathering" cluster (non) fracking, the poets not all those who been advertised but some wonderful surprises, like Bertha Rogers & Annie Sauter.

Poet & environmentalist Annie Sauter began the evening with a single long "geology poem," a flowing-word rant, "In the Zone of the Wasted," personal & political.

I was pleased to see again my friend Bertha Rogers, the doyen of the poetry scene in Delaware County & Grand Dame of Bright Hill Press & the Bright Hill Literary Center. She read a variety of poems, beginning with "After the Oil Spill," "Verge," "Dragonfly," & a New Year's Day meditation on observing the natural world, "First Day Rondo."

Mario Moroni read his poems in Italian, while we followed along on copies he handed out of translations, "Earth, this Earth" (from his 2001 Icarus' Lands), & "Ballad 1" from a series, "Ballads of Maine."

Roger Hecht began with the most directly anti-fracking poem, "Questionnaire for the Governor," then two satirical, funny pieces, the literary "Variations on Lines by Williams" & the policitcal "Rumsfeld Sestina," based on lines from the speeches of Donald Rumsfeld.

A brief open mic followed with Brian Dorn reading an environmental poem, "Another Step." A.C. Everson read a poem in honor of her getting an A & being a student at an older age. I hadn't anticipated an open mic so did "If Peace Broke Out Tomorrow" from memory. Sylvia Barnard's poem was appropriate enough, "Wind," about seeing wind turbines in Sicily.

WordFest 2013 continues.

April 18, 2013

WordFest 2013, Day 1, April 14

Editor Jill Crammond (left)
with poetry co-conspirator Carolee Sherwood
As I have been wont to say during April, "In Albany, every day is Poetry Month." Especially today as the week-long WordFest 2013 starts, & this is my second poetry event of the day. It was the "book launch" for the new poetry journal Up the River, edited by Jill Crammond & sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com, with the back room of McGeary's (The Poetry Parlor) filled to illegal capacity by the poets in the first issue, each chomping at the bit to read their 1 poem. The hosting duties were shared by Jill, Vice-President (emphasis on "vice") Mary Panza & il Papa Thom Francis.

The following is my record of the poets & the poems they read, to the best of my hearing/knowledge -- you'll just have to wait until the journal is out before you can check the accuracy of this, of course I'll take corrections as needed in the meantime.

Dan Wilcox, "Coyote 2." Carolee Sherwood, "Seeing Another Dead Doe at the Side of the Road." Darcy Smith, "Shoreline Now." Judy Lechner, "In a Nursing Home." Ken Denberg, "Even Dog Odd Dog" (from a series of poems about a man & a dog, "both assholes"). Howard Kogan, "The River of Time." Lloyd Barnhart, "Wanted: River Keepers."

Victoria Sullivan

Victoria Sullivan, "The Lover" (shagging the handyman). Leslie Gerber (said it was the 3rd county he has read poetry in this weekend), "The Time of My Life in this Neighborhood." Roberta Gould, "For Dorothy." Tess Lecuyer (introduced as "Lily's godmother"), "Prompt Dates" (in 34 pieces). Cecele Krause, "Her Song," then she reads for Jan Tramontano, "Hibiscus." Judith Prest, "Wardrobe Alchemy." Mary Perez, "What the Snow Uncovers." Alan Catlin, "The Little Darlings" (from a work-in-progress, "Beautiful Mutants"). Brett Peterson, "The Room". A.C. Everson, "Bad Daughter" (about her Mom in her last days). Sally Rhoades, "My Father's Slippers." Carol Graser, "Portrait of a Poet Unhappy with the Size of His Hair."

Matt Galletta

Matt Galletta, "Mix Tape" (with "no way to rewind"). Avery, "On Marriage" (& baking a cake). Tom Corrado, "A Piece of Nothing." Carol Jewell, "Beast." Mark O'Brien (Obeeduid), "My Great Hunger." Julie Lomoe, "Open Mic on Lark St." (the last reading by poet Tom Nattell). Cheryl A. Rice, "Encounter with Frida Kahlo" (sex & images from the paintings).

Phew! What a start to this week of poetry mayhem -- stay tuned.

April 17, 2013

Poetry + Prose -- 2nd Sunday @ 2, April 14

Another Sunday at the Arts Center in Troy, with my co-host Nancy Klepsch & a roomful of eager readers of prose & poetry -- excuse me, not just another Sunday, it was a day of back-to-back poetry events as this regular monthly event was followed by the start of the week-long annual Albany WordFest.  Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

Brian Dorn was first with his rhymes, "Preach It's Wrong," followed by a love poem "Can't Escape" & an interesting use of rhymes in "Sad Poems." Mike Conner had been here before just to listen & check us out; we've must've passed the test because today he read "Bottled Memory," "The Hearth's Ballet" (about watching a fire), & "Seaweed Sanctuary."

Caroline Curran had read in the Albany poetry scene many years ago, now has moved back to the area & read about half of a stunning fictional piece about an autistic boy, "Headphones" -- hope she comes back with the other half. Howard Kogan had to give an intricate introduction, reading a Rilke poem then his own poem "The Amazing Grandchildren, After Rilke" (on observing "works of art"), then a poem he said "does not refer to anyone in the room -- hmm?). Mizara's first was a letter to all her ex-'s, "Saying Goodbye," while her next piece was a speech about gun control, "Lives Taken Away," while her last untitled piece was was the most poetic, about carrying her heritage forward, with lines like "I am the richest soil, the darkest oil …"

David Wolcott read from another chapter of his memoir, this about working in Eastern Europe writing Poland's new energy law after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the title for the chapter taken after one of Richard Haliburton's travel books, The Royal Road to Romance. In celebration of my recent trip to Oklahoma I read my poem from my last trip there 2 years ago, "Oklahoma Sunday," then a new poem "Nurture or Shooter." My co-host Nancy Klepsch also had a new poem, an intense, dense piece "I Wish You Had Lost Your Pass," then a intricate poem bouncing off Robert Frost & Langston Hughes, which says why I like so much sharing this space with her. Ron Drummond shared his success in being scheduled to  read in a gallery in San Francisco in May & then read from the liner notes he wrote for a recording of Anton Reicha's (1770 - 1836) G major string quartet.

Shannon Grant is another performer who has been around here for many years, most frequently in the singer-songwriter scene, but today showed up with poems about asserting herself as a woman & a performer, "Knight" (an ironic title) & "Rock Girl," a screed against the music industry's images of women performers. Kate Laity read a story from her novelette Unquiet Dreams (as C. Margery Kempe), a section about a "horse clock" she had in Ireland, the little hands, the big hands as characters. Sam Perkins was another returnee, having been here a year ago, with 2 related pieces, "Pendulum," & a work in progress that he sings about trying to find his way back home.

This variety, this diversity of voices is why we gather each 2nd Sunday at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, at 2PM. It's Free!

April 16, 2013

The School of Night, April 11

"The School of Night" is the name of an open mic series that R.M. Engelhardt has been running off & on at various locations in Albany for a number of years. After a lengthy hiatus it is now back on the 2nd Thursday of the month at the Pearl St. Pub on Steuben Place (& North Pearl St.) in Albany, NY. The open mic poets & a cluster of fans were gathered in the side room, dubbed the "Dirty Martini Lounge."

Rob gave a brief, general history of "The School of Night" then read poems by former Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (1892 - 1982) & by American surrealist Franklin Rosemont (1943 - 2009), a pairing that in itself was quite surreal. Mike Conner read some poems about the seasons & being outdoors, "Winter's Wolf" (working outside), "Late Winter Rain" & "Passed Peak" (a stroll on Peebles Island).

Another new voice/face was Nicole Ryan who read 2 untitled poems dedicated to a friend, Melissa. Before reading a poem by B.Z. Niditch Rob talked about the pre-Internet heyday of the zines that once flooded readings. Brian Dorn read 3 of his rhyming poems on various topics, "Divine Thoughts" (thinking for yourself), "Chemical Smile" (a love poem) & "From My Poems to Yours" (on the diversity of poetic expression).

Todd Fabozzi has not been reading out for a while, but tonight had a big chunk for us, beginning with a poem about responding to people's greetings, then one about his daughter's music teacher & the blues, a mistaken sighting on Dove St. ("I Thought I Saw William Kennedy"), a political piece ("Tea Party") & ended appropriately enough with "That's It You Son of a Bitch." Our host, R.M. Engelhardt, read a couple of new poems, "A Christmas in Hell" & another poem on drinking to become a poet, "Poetry Whiskey & Buk," & ended with old chestnuts, "Albany & Lark St. Haiku." I did a couple of relatively recent poems, "Trailer Park" & "Living in Wilcox." The last poet of the night, Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia read "The Sentimental Education" from what looked like an anthology or collection of poems, piling up images about repetitive educational techniques.

The School of Night is back -- sign-up on the 2nd Thursday at the Pearl St. Pub, see the calendar at AlbanyPoets.com for full information.

Live from the Living Room, April 10

Once again gathered in the living room of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, with our host Don Levy.

Tonight's featured poet Carole Rossi Kenyon read first, before the open mic poets. She had copies of her brand-new chapbook, Natural Selection, for sale & mostly read from that, beginning with the first poem "Phase Shift" then "Groove" sounding like young love with a rock musician. Then a couple of poems not in the book, "The Sex of Sound" (about playing a guitar) & "Good Morning H.P. Lovecraft." Then back to the book for the longing fantasy "The Calling" & a poem for her cousin Lori, "Big Rock Candy Condo." Residents of Fulton County took a bit of satiric beating in her poem "The Coming of Area 51 to the Mohawk Valley." On a more serious note was the poem/song "This Heart Was Made to be Broken," & the political piece, "In Honor of Lara Logan." She finished off with "Europa" (one of Jupiter's moons), "Evolver, "Anteater," "A Plan for Harold," & a poem not in the book that she dedicated to Don, "Beached Brain." Carole's book is a tidy, attractive collection, but I find that having all the poems centered on the page gives the poems the look of greeting card verse, which they certainly are not.

Sylvia Barnard was the first of the open mic poets with 2 poems written on a recent trip to New York City to see her daughter, Shiobhan: "Blues for Snake, Whitney Museum" & "Fashion & Impressionism, Metropolitan Museum." I read 2 of my new poems, "Living in Wilcox" & "Nurture or Shooter."

Delilah Grace Koi read a poem written this afternoon, about labels & how people identify themselves, then on a similar theme a letter addressed to her biological name/self, "Dear Marty." Don Levy read a poem responding to a FaceBook page, "Straight Appreciation Month" & a chance-encounter fantasy poem, "Port Authority Love Poem."

As is often the case here, each 2nd Wednesday of the month, a most interesting night of poetry.

April 12, 2013

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 6 -- Finale

Some of the Award Winners

One of the features of this Festival is the Annual R. Darryl Fisher Creative Writing Contest in poetry & fiction for high school students in Oklahoma -- see the link for the list of winners. Traditionally the awards are presented to the students at the final reading of the Festival. Ken Hada served as M/C, with awards being presented by Dr. Wahling (fiction) & Dr. Grasso (poetry), with brief remarks by Dr. Fisher himself for whom the awards were named.

Walter Bargen was the Festival's last reader & he was Missouri's first Poet Laureate in 2008. He was also the only reader here to wear a tie (but that just to be contrary). He began by telling us about his interview with the Republican governor of Missouri before being appointed Poet Laureate, with the warning not to embarrass the governor. Oh well, we all know Poets (& Poet Laureates) can be embarrassing. He then read a love poem "Yet Other Waters" on a theme by Heraclitus. His other poems were about aging & vacation RVs ("Forced Busing"), a tornado, a trucking accident ("Trucking Confessions") & a poem combining references to Abbie Hoffman, The Who & Woodstock with a father & daughter both with broken ankles. He returned to his role as Poet Laureate with a funny story of a radio interview & the equally funny poem "Poet as Grand Marshall of a Fall Parade." I bought a copy of his book Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (BkMk Press, 2009) so I could continue to explore the work of this interesting poet.

And that was it, except for the extended, serial good-byes. I hope to be back again & in the meantime plan to delve further into the work of the great variety of writers I heard in the last few days, both new & old friends.

But I would be remiss in my reporting if I did not comment on one of the great charms (among many) of the Scissortail Festival: the book table. Filled with the mostly small press wares of the poets & other writers reading it is a literary smorgasbord for all tastes & sensibilities. The table is run as a service for the writers reading here, with the writers/publishers getting the full fare, with no consignment fee, by Dr. Eril Hughes & her flock of young students. For those represented by major publishers there is a separate end of the table run by a local bookstore. & of course after the readings there were lines to get books signed. I bought some books, as did everyone I talked to, & I signed some of my books bought by folks who had been at my reading. I was very pleased with my sales but more by the ease of the process, the friendly smiles from the young women at the book table & by Dr. Hughes' adept control over the whole process.

Thank you, ECU for sponsoring the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival each year -- go Tigers!

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 6

Last day of the festival & I opted for the readings in the Estep Auditorium, mainly to hear my friend Alan Berecka, but glad I did once I heard the other fine writers too.

Jessica Isaacs said she doesn't like to do intros for her poems & as a result she was able to cram in lots of poems. She began with a short series of poems about a woman in a hospital & nursing home, including "She Dreamed of Running…" (from the nursing home). Another chilling poem painted images of "little poinsettas in the snow…" as an aftermath of a school shooting. "Kitchen Moths" told of a woman going out at night in her nightgown. Another amusing poem told of a plan for sex on a trampoline ruined by stepping in dog-shit. She read a cluster of poems on World War II, including "Black Rain," & ended with a poem about exploring her heritage, "Black Dutch" (i.e., Indian). Good poems read in an expressive & intense spoken-word style that brought out the power of her lines.

The short story that George McCormick read, "The Mexican," was about a youth working loading ice into box cars filled with oranges, & I soon realized I had heard him read an earlier version of this story when I was here 2 years ago. It was/is a memorable story, the new version tighter, but more nuanced, & pleased to hear it again.

Jennifer Luckenkill had a quieter style of reading her poems than Jessica Isaacs. Many of her poems were about homes, about houses she has been in, with titles like "The House of Learned Empathy," "The House that Remembers," "Saying Goodbye to the House," & "Whispering Pines" (the name of a house her parents had lived in before she was born). The poem "Oceanfront Property in Oklahoma" was a satirical take on global warming & she pondered the afterlife in "Maybe This is All There Is."

Alan Berecka lives in the Corpus Christi, Texas area, but grew up in upstate New York outside Utica. After we became friends 2 years ago at Scissortail, I included him in the Poets in the Park series in July in Albany's Washington Park.  He began with the poem "Departures" from his book Remembering the Body (Mongrel Empire Press, 2011), then on to a couple of poems playing on religious themes from a new manuscript, currently titled "With Our Baggage" (for now). A couple poems were about working as a telephone operator, including "Nearly Gay Pride" when he was made an "honorary Lesbian." Another poem on how others perceive us, all told with ironic humor as many of his poems are, was about being called an "Anglo" at work, "Born Again Polish in South Texas." Other poems recalled baseball & a summer job on a garbage truck & his father heckling at hockey games, "Battle Cry."

Such is the great variety of ways of looking at the world & then writing it down & reading it to attentive listeners that is the pleasure of this Festival. But there is one more event to come -- or, as the Uncle Wiggly books used to say, "If global warming doesn't flood Texas & open up waterfront property in central Oklahoma, I will bring you the story of the Finale to the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival."

April 11, 2013

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 5 (Part 2), Afternoon & Evening Readings

Fortunately the scheduling of the readers in the next conflicting, concurrent sessions was such that I could catch my favorites in the first half of one & the second half of the other.

After the session I had read in I stayed in the Estep Auditorium to hear my friend Larry Thomas, a former Poet Laureate of Texas, & a great raconteur. He read a selection from his new book Uncle Ernest (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013)  The book is a narrative of 39 free verse poems in 3 to 5 syllable lines, set in the East Texas backwoods & the confines of an asylum for the criminally insane.

Elizabeth Raby is another fine poet (I bought her book of poems This Woman (Virtual Artists Collective, 2012)) whose work I first encountered here in Oklahoma 2 years ago, & was pleased to see her & her husband Jim again. Today she read from what she described as a 4-generation memoir, about why & how she ended up as a poet, Ransomed Voices (the title is from Emily Dickinson). One section was called "The Second Coming," about her wanting to be Jesus, trying to be a peacemaker. Another section was in the voice of her grandfather, teasing us to want to read the complete work.

From there I scooted over to the North Lounge. I caught the reading by Arn Henderson whose poems played on themes of architecture & descriptions of towns, then on to sad, tender poems about the recent death of his wife, who was also an architect & artist, poems of love & loss.

I have know Jeanetta Calhoun Mish the longest of any of the Oklahoma poets, in fact, she is the reason why I got here in the first place. She once lived in Albany, NY & her son Michael was born in Albany, a true "guy from Albany." But she is a native Oklahoman, & when we re-connected a few years ago she enabled me & Charlie Rossiter to get to still another Albany -- Albany, Oklahoma that is. Today she read from a book in progress, "How I Became White," mixing family tales, historical documents & her own imagination. She also read "A Letter to My Cousin" addressed to the wife of former vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, after reading W.E.B. DuBois on the slave question & racism. She ended with a piece, not her own, what she called "a gift," a segment of a prose fiction narrative written by her son Michael -- you know what they say about apples not falling far from the tree. I suspect we will be hearing Michael reading here at Scissortail some year.

After a break for dinner, we were back at the Estep Auditorium for a reading by Oklahoman novelist Constance Squires. She read from her novel Along the Watchtower (Riverhead Books, 2011), set in Germany at the end of the Cold War, a section where a young girl sneaks out to a rock concert with a punk-rock, Nazi wannabe G.I. She followed that with a short story about a female Iraq war veteran, "Unscheduled Stop," traveling through the world's largest McDonald's between Tulso & Joplin. Compelling, well-written story-telling.

Jonathan Isaacs plays before
Constance Squire reading
This was followed by a gathering at the Page One Literary Art Gallery, complete with great snack food, punch, sweet tea & jazz by The Moonlighters Combo. Arrayed around the room were poems & short prose on easels as if they were visual art, as indeed in the broadest sense they were. It was a chance to talk & hang out with some of the writers I've been hearing in the last couple of days in a relaxed, pleasant setting. A good way to end the day.

Full bios of the authors can be found here at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival Blog.

April 10, 2013

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 5, Afternoon Readings, Part 1

Again, an afternoon of 4 sessions, 2 each running concurrently. But my choice for the first session was made for me since I was one of the readers. & what a grouping it was, in the Estep Auditorium. If you are going to read with other writers, hope they are really good & have lots of friends & fans & then you'll have a really big audience too. I was lucky. More so, lucky being introduced by the lovely English instructor Rebecca Nicholson-Weir.

The first reader was Bayard Godsave with an excerpt from a longer story, "Tell Me About Your Brother." The story was about a graffitti artist who becomes a political terrorist, written in the style of magazine journalism, like an article from Rolling Stone. I'm looking forward to someday reading the full story.

I always try to consider my audience when I prepare my readings, & try to give unfamiliar folk a sense of my work & my themes. I started with a poem I wrote leaving here 2 years ago, "Oklahoma Sunday," then introduced them to the Albany poets with "Where Were the Professors." I included poems from my chapbook Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D., 2012), & a couple of new pieces, the political "Nurture or Shooter" & the whimsical "Living in Wilcox." What great fun, what a high to look out into the audience to see so many wonderful poets I respect & admire beaming down on me.

Steven Schroeder is another poet I met at the last Scissortail festival 2 years ago. He often works with his daughter Regina in creating unique books printed on homemade paper, & with other artists. He began with "A Lecture on Metaphysics" in which a cloud speaks as God, from a recent book, Turn. He continued on in that vein, funny, philosophical, term-twisting considerations of religion & religious images, with "A Work of the Hands" & a untitled piece written just yesterday, on Jesus ("he spoke with authority, for God's sake"). He ended with a poem in 7 parts on Mary the Mother of Jesus, "Seven Sorrows," short poems printed on card stock with prints by artist Neese Aquilar, connected by last lines, circular -- I just had to get a copy.

The final reader of the set was Jim Spurr, who runs a poetry open mic on the third Thursday of each month in Shawnee, OK. I told Jim that I never can get to his reading because I am hosting an open mic the same night in Albany, NY. Jim said that was alright, that he never could get to Albany for the same reason. He began with a poem that describes how he feels about his Parkinson's Disease, "Live Loud Live Long." Another poem on the same theme, a rant of a street poet, contains a line appropriated from the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "pencil, paper, poetry is alive & it don't need no stinking permit." He read a poem about the end of World War II, thinking there would never would be any more war, & a poem, "Charlotte is the Name" in praise of an Oklahoma Girl. "God's Four Windows" was a dialogue between Spring & Winter. A few more poems, separated by amusing anecdotes, then the last poem about taking up Bible studies at his late age, about Time & searching for meaning, "Dante & the Nerd." Jim is another of the Oklahoma poets I had met on my first trip here & he remains one of my favorites (as he is for many here), & one of the Elders to follow on the path of Poetry.

More to come -- stay tuned.

April 9, 2013

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 5, Morning Readings

This morning again there were concurrent sessions & I opted for the North Lounge, readings by a new friend & an old friend.

Susan Gardner is an artist & poet & editor at Red Mountain Press.  She began with a poem she wrote in Spanish, then its English version, "Caja de Luz/Box of Light." The remainder of the poems she read were from her book To Inhabit the Felt World (Red Mountain Press, 2013). "Garden Bench" & "Montserrat Revisited" were longer poems, images draw from the natural world, while "Atlantic Flight" was more sparse, tense word play. Other poems were "Sticks & Stones," "Deep Water," the sadness of "Trilogy for My Daughter," & "Snowy Day." Another longer piece, "Partita," was in 3 parts, on relationships, sex, disease & forgiveness. She ended with what she called her "love letter to the New York Public Library."

I had met Ron Wallace on my first trip to Oklahoma, with Charlie Rossiter, to the Oklahoma Labor Fest & our trip to Albany, Oklahoma (yes, there is one), & again later at Scissortail. The kind of guy (cowboy hat & boots, Kenny Rodgers beard, ponytail) that challenges my urban East Coast prejudices while speaking to me from our shared working class poet backgrounds. & what's not to like about a guy who writes a book titled Hanging the Curveball: An Olkahoman's Love Affair with Baseball ( TJMF Publishing, 2012). He read the title poem, then a poem for his son Matthew ("Revelation"), & "Moonlight Grahm Steps Off the Field Again" (based on the Field of Dreams movie). Then on to his book of poem I Come From Cowboys, "Two in the Morning Train," "War Horses" (on the poets who have influenced him), "Gifts" (for Wayland Jennings), & "Comes Winter to the Night" (which he introduced by saying "loving baseball I have to hate Winter" -- oh yeah!). Then ending with 2 poems in both books, "Eastside Boys, We Ran" (growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Durant, OK), & the wonderful coming of age poem "Learning to Speak Choctaw."

I took the next session off to go over my set list for my afternoon reading (see the next Blog).  With all these fine poets reading I didn't want to phone in my reading (not that is something I would ever do).  So I sat by the pool tables in the Cole Campus Center, watching students bend over the table, breaking, scratching, & sinking the 8-ball -- & reading over my poems.

The featured reader before lunch was Anna Myers, whom I'd met at the bar at Vintage 22 last night. She introduced herself as "Ben's Mom" (Ben Myers who read yesterday), but it was soon clear that indeed apples don't far from the tree. Anna is the author of a string of middle-grade & youth novels, often based on moments in history. But first she read from her forthcoming autobiographical picture book, Tumbleweed Baby, a charming, funny story of being "found" & welcomed into her family. She said she often goes into schools to talk about her books & takes on the persona of key characters, putting on a shawl or jacket & speaking in their accents. She gave us a sample from her book Tulsa Burning set in the 1921 race riots & from Time of the Witches, set in Salem, MA in 1692. She also gave us a taste of her unpublished novel for adults, Trashing Women, & funny stories of her grandchildren that she is turning into a chapter book.  Like I said, thrilled by writing that I never would have thought I'd be so entranced by, if I may be so un-grammatical in my enthusiasm.

Full bios of the authors can be found here at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival Blog.

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 4, Andrew Hudgins

In addition to the group readings spread throughout the day, one of the hallmarks of the Scissortail festival is the featured readings each day. These are generally regional writers in various genres who have their own slot to read & talk about their writing & get their picture on the Scissortail poster (Note: I snagged one of the big ones at the end of the festival & carefully rolled it up & then left it in the rental car when I checked in at the airport -- wonder what the next renter thought of that?)

Most of us know that there are many (a gasillion?) poets out there we have never heard of so one of the benefits of this festival is hearing writers I've never heard of before. One example is the poet Andrew Hudgins. He was introduced by ECU's Steve Benton, who quoted from a review that described Hudgin's work as "orderly, accessible poetry." Hudgins began by reading sections from his forthcoming memoir, The Joker, including a passage about trying to tell a joke to poet Richard Wilbur. Then he read a bouquet of poems from 2010 collection American Renderings: New and Selected Poems. Many of his poems had to do with memories from childhood, such "Came Back" (his mother), "Haircut" (his father cutting his hair, then he cutting his father's), "In" (about "fog trucks" & dancing "ecstatic in the poison"), & "Blur" (pollen season). "Out" was a poem about a boy being lowered into a well to retrieve the body of a dead dog. "The Circus" was built around surreal images while "Cadillac in the Attic" was the equally surreal revenge of a tenant. A relaxed, humorous reading with moments of tenderness & the sublime. A poet worth looking into if you don't know his work.

Later, there was a grand gathering of us writers & readers at Vintage 22 Wine & Dessert Bar just off the ECU campus, with plenty of good snacks & desserts, & great conversation with new & old friends, fueled by good drinks. Vintage 22 has an upscale, trendy decor & we could just as easily been in New York City as in Ada, Oklahoma. & this was only the end of the 1st day of the Scissortail Festival.

April 7, 2013

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, April 4, Afternoon Readings

There were 4 afternoon sessions of readings, 2 each running concurrently so one had to make hard choices. For the first of the 2 readings I headed to the North Lounge.

The first reader was Carol Hamilton with a series of train poems & more broadly, poems of travel in general. The poems were drawn from her own travel experiences, traveling alone or with a companion. Her poem "Voice from the Darkened Plains" combined trains & the memory of a childhood flip-book. "Getting Small" evoked the experience of a child on a plane but became a metaphor for the way we see things, while the poem "Trail of Crumbs" was about following blazes while mountain hiking, like Hansel & Gretel. There were poems about being on a boat in the North Sea & on buses in Mexico ("Walls in Mexico"), walling ourselves out or in.

Joey Brown had us laughing through her essay about re-habing a house on her Sabbatical with her husband, "We Got a Guy for That…" taking us through a string of disasters, near-disasters, & the etiquette & politics of hiring a friend's handyman, of finding "a guy." Strangely enough, she had to later leave the conference early to get back to Missouri because she got a call that there had been a flood in the upstairs bathroom in her house -- talk about Life mimicking Art.

Jim Wilson was more serious, began with a personal essay, "A Study in Grey" about observing sandhill cranes at a sanctuary on the Platte River. He also read a chapter, "Beirut Spring," from his memoir about a 2011 trip back to Lebanon after 20 years -- pensive & meditative.

Clarence Wolfshohl had been the publisher of Timberline Press for 35 years until the end of 2010. He read from his book of poems, a collaboration with Mark Vinz (who could not be here), In Harm's Way: Poems of Childhood (El Grito del Lobo Press, 2013). But he began with a poem not in the book inspired by a compliment he got last year from a woman at the festival that brought up the memory of a girl from long ago, "Shoe Shine." He read Mark Vinz's poem "Saturday Matinee" then his own paired poem "Gunfight at the RKO Corral." Also poems about grade-school vaccination, about his mother & his uncle, & about having dinner at a friend's house, "Starved in the Barrio."

For the second afternoon session I headed back across to the Estep Auditorium in the Cole Campus Center to hear poet & activist Dorothy Alexander, whom I'd met a few years back at the Oklahoma Labor Fest, then we became FaceBook friends. Before the reading she told me about a long anti-fracking poem she has written, but too long to read here. She began with a tribute to Oklahoma artists, "State of the Arts in a Red State," then poems about her mother & father, & reading before electricity ("Lamplight & Literature"). She read a couple poems about typing, & "Early Ambitions" & "Leaving Cheyenne," about factory work, being in a movie, & being the first woman attorney in a rural county, "Undo Process." She is one of the Elders, still going strong in her red fedora & peace-sign necklace.

Brent Newsom's work stood out in contrast to Dorothy Alexanders's "non-fiction narcissistic narratives", his being fictive poems about a made-up town, Smyrna, in Louisiana. He called them "empathetic imaginations," a phrase that was repeated later in other sessions. Some, such as "Esther Green Plans a Funeral," were dramatic monologues. Others told parts of linked narratives, such as "Floyd & Patty" & "The Pecan Pie Takes a Week to Eat," about a womanizing auto mechanic. He ended with an interlocking "crown of sonnets" in the voice of the preacher's wife, the character Claudia Blackwood.

A.J. Tierney stunned us all with a non-fiction narrative she said "was 18 years in the writing," about her life as a high school senior in a home with her siblings & a bankrupt mother constantly scheming ways to get get out of debt. The section she read was about when she came down with Ball's Palsy while working a summer job in a law office, & defying her mother's attempts to get her to go for a job as a stripper.  Powerful stuff.

Phil Morgan, from Chickasaw Press, a last minute fill-in, read poems with powerful political & historical messages, such as "Today's History Lessons" about using profits from gambling to finance Social Security, & "Two Lane Highway" based on reading Washington Irving's biography of Mohammad. But by far the most moving piece was a series of linked poems based on Christmas Cards he sent to his brothers & his son, "Indian Man's Christmas Cards."

As the session ended & I headed out to rest & get dinner I was able to identify why I like this Scissortail Festival so much: there is no pretension, the poems are straight from the heart, from the gut, from the breath (& no big egos, as another poet pointed out), even when the work is clearly not directly autobiographical, it is still based on real people, on real emotions. As Ken Hada said later, "it's all about creativity, not competition." Amen.

Full bios of the authors can be found here at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival Blog.