November 10, 2013

Caffe Lena Open Mic, November 6

Our host, Carol Graser, began with invoking the Muse, reading a poem by the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz (1911 - 2004).

Rodney was the first of the (live) open mic poets with a new poem that reminded him of an old "micro-book" of his, then on to another philosophical piece on manifestations. Alan Catlin mixed his professional career as a bartender with personal recollections, the first poem "Hell on Wheels" (aka Helen Wheels), the second, a downward trajectory "From Bubbles to Bag Lady." Ellen Finn read a stunning poem playing on nursery rhymes, "What If the Sky Could Talk." Carl began with a short, concrete love poem, then another concrete poem, this a children's tale.

The first of the night's featured poets was Albany writer & performer Barbara Kaiser. She described her poems as short & that many are about writing. She said, "I write poems to amuse myself." Thus her reading was funny, playful, even whimsical. She began with poems about her childhood, memories of her mother & Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. The next segment of poems celebrated "domestic bliss," ranging from an argument about "Marriage" to washing machines & garbage pickup. But she also had plenty of room for her "wild poems" such as a poem about getting a doctor off the internet, or "BK's Rules for Living" or "Rules for Attending the Queen's Birthday Party."  She was clearly having a lot of fun reading her poems & I think the audience was too.

In contrast the other featured poet, David Messineo, was much more serious, reading from his tome Historiopticon, which he described as being about American history & time travel. His re-telling of moments in American history began with a series of poems, including a villanelle, heavy on Indian wars & tomahawks. His sorties into more recent times included poems about the Kinsey Reports, World War I & Armistice Day, on suicide as a result of attacks on gays, & the sinking of the Titanic. While he is touted on his Sensations Magazine website to be a "performance poet" his reading tonight was quite stiff, with stylized, theatrical gestures attempting to bring some life into tedious material.

Continuing on the open mic, Carol Graser read her poem about "Price Chopper."  Joe Krausman read a poem about mis-placing his life with his eyeglasses, then another poem in which he combined a "Jungian hat" with a "Freudian slip." W.D. Clarke followed with a rhymed ballad about someone being buried in a refrigerator, "The Fancy Casket."

He was followed by 4 students, members of the "Gomer Project" who each did a couple poems in which each of the 4 elements addressed each other. Unfortunately they didn't identify themselves so I don't have individual names for each of them, nor could I find them at the site they claimed to have. Perhaps they were only emanations of earth, air, fire & water.  The next reader, Isaac, is a high school student who has read here before, & tonight read from, as he said, "a pared-down version of a really long poem," "Tales of Our Downfall As Seen Through the Eyes of a Cannibal." As if to validate his work, Isaac's former English teacher, John, followed with an ironic "Ode to an Old Man." Andy read 2 poems he said he had written for a church group, predictably rhymed, "Thanksgiving Prayer" & "Fright Night's Plight." Inspired by Rodney's reference to his "micro-book," I read 2 poems from the tiny 1999 A.P.D. publication Behind the Barn: the Found Poems of "Jodi BlowJob".

Andrew Sullivan's poem "Hope Killed the Hopeful" was inspired by seeing the recent movie version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Jesse Muse recited 2 Slam poems, both based on drug experiences. Wayne said it was his first time reading, that he has been writing since 2003, & that he has published 1 book, with another about to come out; the poems he read were rhymed pieces, the first titled "Prevailing Darkness," the other about a suicide prevented by friends. Lisa read the long poem by Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again." Bringing up the rear was Barbara Garro with 2 prose pieces, "March of Times" & the tentatively titled "Fears' Mental Enslavement."

This series has been going on at Caffe Lena on the 1st Wednesday of each month for over 10 years -- an open mic for poets, with a featured reader, just $5.00.

1 comment:

David Messineo said...

Let's give your surprise unrequested "review" of my Caffe Lena set some perspective, Dan. I had driven 3 hours to Caffe Lena, not only to find my name incorrect on the promotional flyer, but to find myself paired off with a poet who self-proclaimed that she makes no effort at craft but essentially "just writes poems," a fact that initially did not thrill me at all. It surprises me that the host of a series at the Social Justice Center would find my elegy about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide from the GW Bridge, to be "tedious," not to mention the other poems I included about some of the unwritten histories of women, gay men, and others. That "tome" (which, as I recall, you didn't really take a moment to even peruse) has sold at recent readings in Nevada, Alaska, Thailand, and Australia, and those audiences clearly enjoyed the fact I'm travelling with unusual poems about American history. One difference is that those audiences were prepped well in advance with flyers that emphasized that point. I usually chat with my cofeatures after my readings, but when I complimented this one on her presentation afterward, she offered a quick "thank you" and briskly walked away. Several other audience members were frankly cold and unwelcoming to this "outsider." (I thank the few who were a bit warmer and offered sincere compliments on my set.) I stayed for the full open mic and enjoyed much of what I had heard. We recorded the poems I presented on video, and will gradually put those clips up on youtube, where wider audiences can decide for themselves if they like the poems. I appreciated the opportunity to feature in this series, and am sorry you didn't like my presentation that evening, Dan. It would have been more appropriate to say that to my face, rather than have me find it as an "Internet surprise" afterward. For those who would like to read a poetry book that sweeps through 500 years of American and pre-American history - opening with 1-2 poems per decade from the 1500s to the 2010s, please go to and type Historiopticon in the Search box for a free book preview.