February 28, 2014

Third Thursday Poetry Night, February 20

It was an interesting night of virgins, regulars, & welcomed old friends, &, of course, our featured poet, Philip Good, on a spontaneous night of eco-poetry. I invoked the Muse in the guise of gone poet Ted Joans (1928 - 2003) by reading his poem “Laughter You’ve Gone and …” dedicated to another great-gone, Bob Kaufman.

Schenectady poet Alan Catlin was first up with a piece about his neighborhood, “The Inconvenience Store.” Obeeduid came down off the hill to read/sing an old song that Bob Dylan once stole from. Joe Krausman was just back from Florida, read a short poem, “This Journey,” written on the plane. Tess Lecuyer read her ironic “Love Sonnet to February” for being short & cold. Bernadette Mayer, poet & work-shop leader extraordinaire, read the eco-poem “Today is the Beginning of the Maple Syrup Making Season,” from a sheet that contained “about 25 different poems.” Another eco-poet, Alan Casline, followed with one of his hexagram poems, #16 Enthusiasm from January 2010, titled “On a Cold Morning Walk.”

The featured poet, Philip Good, had a couple of very new books for sale, From Where We Watch Weather, recently published by Benevolent Bird Press, & the even more recent (published just today) Hibernation Collaboration, with Bernadette Mayer & Marie Warsh (Mademoiselle de la Staples Press). But he began with untitled #65 from Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation (Trembling Pillow Press, 2011). Next, he read what he said was the first of 2 political poems tonight, “Parents with Guns Kill Children” followed by “Weather Watch,” both from From Where We Watch Weather. “Imagine Where We’d Be Without an Imagination,” somewhat in the vein of Ted Joans, was dedicated to New Orleans poet & publisher Dave Brinks . Then on to some poems where he made no attempt to make sense, “Deep Blue Magic” (beginning with images of tattoos), the workshop generated string of words “Dorothea Tanning to Max Ernest,” “Radio Waves” & “Brand New.” “It Isn’t Polite” was his 2nd “political” poem, with its humorous take on global warming. His piece “Bernadette Wrote a New Biographical Note” served as an introduction to bring Bernadette Mayer up to read with him the collaborative “Thrift Shop Blues,” imagining clothes that turned color with the weather, & more. He ended with 2 short pieces from a series of Coffee Poems “Governor’s Coffee” & “Coffee for the Sake of Coffee.” His poems were playful, discursive, joyfully playing around with words & the idea of poetry.

After the break I returned to the open mic with my new poem “Peacocks in the Driveway.” Jessica, who has been known to read eco-poems as well, tonight read a poem about looking for peace in her life. Along the same line Keith Spencer read “Love Doesn’t Live there Anymore” from late in 2013.

Tonight’s virgin poet, her first time ever reading a poem in public, Heather, did a fine job reading about pondering Time & the journey of life. The last reader, Gerald, was new here (but had read recently at McGeary's), gave us a choice & read an old poem “One Step” about a suicide.

We are at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY every third Thursday for a featured poet & open mic beginning at 7:30PM for a $3.00 donation. Bring a poem.

February 25, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #64, February 18

Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?

 Back in town again, barely, but had to limp over to the new venue for the Slam, The Low Beat, on Central Ave. The rustic panelling reminded of those North Country places where everyone drinks Bud out of the bottle, the juke box plays only country music, & a fight breaks out every 15 minutes or so. No fights here tonight.

Thom Francis, el presidente, our host, with Kevin Peterson the MC for the open mic. Appropriately enough Avery was the first poet up, with a recent poem about finally getting a TV set in his new home (one can only imagine the elation on the part of his children!).

New face Stacey Kelton recited a poem, “Broken Promises,” from memory, by someone else. Nadine Morsch read a piece she said was written after drinking & reading Kerouac. Jessica S. read again her anti-fracking poem “The Rape of Our Mother.” Another new face, Isaiah Agojo, read a piece he said was for Valentines Day, about farting during sex.

Still another new face, “Storm Cat,” read 2 short poems, the rhyming piece “Breakfast” about drinking beer in the morning, & a poem on the meaning of colors. Keith Spencer read a couple poems from last year, “Monster” & the bleak, dismal “Love Doesn’t Live There Anymore.” Brian Dorn was also here checking out the new venue & read “My Exclusive Muse.” Another new poet going by the handle “Spliff Season” struggled through reciting “Time for War” & had to abandon it early. Poetyc Visionz told us that the “Essence of Rhythm” is poetry. Francis read from his smart phone what he said was an old poem about 17 flowers & dreaming & love.

Then on to the Slam, with el presidente as MC. After my battle on stage at the Green Mill I decided I had nothing to lose with the crowd here in Albany & signed up (but did a new piece, "Peacocks in the Driveway"). Illiptical was the “sacrificial lamb”/calibration test. Others slamming were Isaiah (read too fast), Stacey who suffered through a false start, Elizag back after an absence of many months, Samson, Algorhythm & Billy.

Samson & I tied for 4th place so the second round was 5 poets, including Billy, Algorhythm & Elizag. Samson edged me out, but neither of us made it to the final round. Billy was third, while Elizag & Algorhythm duked it out, with Algorhythm winning with an uncharacteristically short, political piece.

So, from now on, if you go to the Nitty Gritty Slam, do not go to Valentines on New Scotland Ave. (it’s closed), instead head over to 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY to The Low Beat, 1st & 3rd Tuesdays — open mic & Slam, for $5.00, cheaper if you have student I.D.

February 21, 2014

Green Mill Slam & Open Mic, February 16

I'm back in Chicago & it's a Sunday night so off we went to the Green Mill where “Slam” was birthed (& where 3 Guys from Albany were twice the features). Dinner first next door at Fiesta Mexicana with Charlie Rossiter, then into the Green Mill early enough to get good seats up front, with more than a full house later. After all the rules & regulations of the national Slam bureaucracy that we have to endure here in Albany, it was nice to see Marc Smith playing with the process he invented many years ago, & doing it his own way. Of course it was a spirited program from start to finish -- funky, outrageous, anarchic -- that's what the Green Mill is.

Marc Smith ("so What!") began with a signature piece, his El-train poem, complete with audience participation flipping switches, pushing buttons, blowing whistles, making the train go, just to get us energized. A running joke of the night was the absence of the usual band to play along with the poets, as if it really mattered, since Marc talked about them all night; it was like they were there in their absence, or something like that.

So on to the open mic. Marc had a jug of tags of open mic sign-ups for him to select from & the first up was Cariss (1) with "Manic Depression Urban Love Poem in 5 Seasons." Rob's poem was titled either "Casual," or "Cash-ual." Tomaylo's piece was about looking to return to the place of hope -- So far so good.

Then up to the mic was Gregorio Gomez, the host of the 2nd longest running open mic (or longest running open mic, depending upon whom you believe, Marc or Gregorio) at Weeds (Monday nights), with the funny, rhymed sex poem, "Passion Released," with the audience calling out the anticipated rhymes (a Green Mill tradition). I was up next & it things got even more dicey. I read my memoir of 1970s life in the East Village of NYC, my girl friends & stray cats, "The Pussy Pantoum." At the Green Mill, contrary to local practice here, finger-snapping is a sign one does not like or agree with what the poet is saying, not a hip-twit version of clapping; in addition there is the "feminist hiss" to show objection/dislike (2), & the universal foot-stomping for everyone to object. Well, I got all 3 in a crescendo to the point where I had to stop while Marc polled the audience whether I should continue my poem or not (the ayes prevailed).

Christine read a long piece mixing a fire in her apartment, her fantasy of a fire fighter, & her mother's death. Erin, her first time here, read a classic poem of love.
Phil the Rapper with Joe Hernandez

Phil the Rapper seemed to be a regular here & in the absence of the absent band had Joe Hernandez accompany him with beat-box vocals while he read a funny rhyming rap about being a guide dog. Joe Hernandez' love poem played on well-known movie themes & clichés, as complex as his beat-box rhythms. Michele's poem was also about love & intense desire. Nick (a girl, as Marc noted) did an energetic piece about finding a grey hair, a metaphor for something we're not supposed to do -- grow up.

The featured performers for the night was the Stu Mindeman's band performing selections from In Your Waking Eyes: Poems by Langston Hughes, Stu on piano, saxophones, trumpets, rhythm section, & 2 stunning vocalists. It was an interesting, if repetitive setting of mostly excerpts from Hughes’ poems.

Then on to the Slam. Marc had 8 names which he grouped into 4 pairs for single elimination, but first he did a Carl Sandburg poem -- we are in Chicago you know. Contrary to local (Albany) practice, here at the Green Mill the audience is the time-keeper (3), so it's a matter of what it feels like rather than what the clock says; there were 3 judges, apparently selected by Marc himself, all young women sitting up close to the stage.(4)

The first pair was Patsy, who apparently had been here in years past, her poem about raising kids, & my buddy Charlie Rossiter who did his famous "I-74 Street Corners of America" poem, & won that round!

The next pair was Doug Power & Kevin. Did I say how merciless the audience could be here? Doug did a piece about "the Anti-Christ of Canada" & the finger-snapping & hissing & foot-stamping early in his poem made the response to my poem "The Pussy Pantoum" seem like attentive silence, & when Marc polled the audience poor Doug had to sit down. Kevin won with a piece about meeting Amiri Baraka in The Tombs (NYC jail).

The next pair was Erica (Dreisbach) against "the guy from Detroit" whose name Marc kept messing up & I never got, for the record. But Erica's "this is not a poem, this is an exorcism…" beat his narrative of his first time in a whore house.

Derrick's poem on "organic" (it's not just food) began as an effective piece but the audience thought it just went on too long & he met the fate of the Anti-Christ of Canada, & additionally lost his spot to Brian who paid tribute to his influences, his "Poppas" Biggy & Tupac.

It was on to a final round. Charlie, his poetic heart as big as the country I-74 crosses, gave up his spot to "the guy from Detroit." But when it was all said & it was all done, Brian took the money with a piece on the shootings in Chicago & dedicated to Jordan Davis, with the chilling refrain, "where is the smell coming from & how do we stop it" -- indeed.  Interestingly, the price money swelled from $10 to over $20 from audience contributions.

The night ended with Marc doing a tour-de-force piece on the mix of Chicago, bouncing off the images from Carl Sandburg. When you go to Chicago, plan your stay to include a Sunday evening & take in the poetry & shenanigans at the Green Mill -- it will be the best $7 you ever spent. & say "Hi" to Marc for me.

[More photos from this event are posted on my Flickr! site.]

(1) Spelling, pronunciation, etc. were problematic all night, with Marc stumbling over the sign-ups & my less-than-perfect hearing & the noise, so any corrections are welcome.

(2) The male alternative/response is a groan.

(3) The maximum time for a Slam poem is 3 minutes (with a grace period of 10 seconds, after which points are deducted).

(4) Many Slam events use 5 judges, with the top score & lowest score are dropped so that in effect only 3 scores are counted.

February 17, 2014

After Hours Release Party, February 16

After Hours: a Journal of Chicago Writing and Art has been around for about 14 years, & this was a reading to celebrate Issue #28, Winter 2014. Edited by Albert DeGenova & P. Hertel, it represents the eclectic mix of Chicago poets, photographers & painters. The reading was held at Calles y Sueños, a store front performance space, gallery, community center at 1900 Carpenter St., Chicago, in the heart of Pilsen. The readers were those published in the current issue, or in the past.

Al DeGenova, who served as the host, read first, with “At the Ancient Pond” & “The Tides,” both in the the zine. David Matthews was next with his entry, the Chicago descriptive “Polish Bus Stop,” & another piece read from his phone, “Katzenjammers.” Jamie Wendt read about “Things You Saved For When I Got Older,” then a poem about a pigeon, “What a Refugee Leaves Behind.”

Melissa Walker’s piece in After Hours, “The Fall,” was an intense & tender meditation on Death, then the compelling “Rough Guide to Sacramento” & “Rough Guide to the Rain Forest.” My buddy Charlie Rossiter was up next with his poem from the mag, “Is It Love or Lies,” then a couple of pieces he has performed with the 3 Guys from Albany, his “cheap motel” poem & the sexy “I’m Yours.” Larry Janowski left us to read his published poem ourselves, instead read “24 Hours in the ER” & “Cane Mutiny.” Wilda Morris read “Mnemonic” (reconstructing memory), then the funny/sexy “The Bed,” & “50 Years After.”

Cherie Caswell Dost’s poems were Chicago tales, “For Vivian Maier, Dammit” & one about a polish house-painter. Robert Lawrence read the so-seasonal “Naked Trees in Winter” then an amusing poem about exchanging is body for a better one, as if it were “The Gift.” Tom Cosgrove wasn’t here, but his wife read his poem “Children Catching Fireflies.” Jennifer Finstrom’s poem from After Hours, “Obituary” was a compelling family tale about her grandfather, then read “Ariadne” & recited “Minotaur” from a series on the Cretan myths. Andrew Byrne read 3 memoirs from his childhood, “On Going to Mass to Serve Mass Winter Early Mornings,” “Geography” & “Paradise.”

A couple readers were not in the current issue but had been published in past issues of After Hours. Joe Weintraub read the hopeful “Sparrows in Early Spring.” Tom Roby read a cluster of poems in foreign settings such as the Italian Alps, the Cote d’Azur & Japan. The last of the open mic-ers, Dina Elenbogen is in the current issue, read her travel poem “On the Road” & some poems from a new poetry manuscript that she is working on.

The featured poet Jenene Ravesloot began her set with her poem from After Hours, “Alone.” The rest of her poems were an interesting variety of topics & style, many from a new manuscript on which she is working. For example, “It’s like…” was an imaginative list poem, while a bunch of other poems were what she termed her “noir poems,” such as “Elegy for a Roach,” “Flash,” “The Defectives,” & a poem as a made-up police blotter item. Others played with poetic forms: “Winter Ghazal Variation,” “River Sestina Variation” “Sonnet for a Winter Morning,” & “The Phone Rings Sestina Variation” (that sounded like a blending of a sestina with a phantoum). In between were a few Nature poems, such as “A Gift” & “Etude.” A touching childhood memoir poem, “Off to the George Diamond Steak House” was about having dinner there with her father.

It was quite an afternoon of poetry, veggies & chips & dip, & wine. If you want more information about this fine poetry & art journal from the mid-West, visit their website.  More pictures of the poets from the reading at my Flickr! site.

February 16, 2014

3rd Saturday Open Mic, February 15

I was invited to be the featured poet at this monthly open mic held on the 3rd Saturday of each month in the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois by my good buddy, Charlie Rossiter. It was a most pleasant set-up, complete with an “ambiance committee” to serve refreshments, beer, wine, cookies, brownies & smiles. It was a completely open mic, not just for poets, but prose writers & musicians participating as well.

 First up were Tony & Rochelle Zappia with a short & sexy vignette, “Not Too Naughty,” combining an anniversary with images from Christmas & Valentines Day, complete with hugs & kisses. Sue Piha read a personal essay on getting a degree in Religious Studies, & the different reactions folks had to that. Patrick Keninger began with a nostalgic memoir, “History Lesson,” about growing up in the suburbs, then gave us a taste of some spirited blues harmonica. Jan J. read 2 poems about growing up on a farm, “What’s In Your Barn?” (her father decorated the beams in his barn with Playboy centerfolds), & “Roots & Boots.”

Ming Xiao was in town from California for a science convention, found his way to Unity Temple with his guitar to play & sing some blues improvisations. Our genial host, Charlie Rossiter, was next with 3 short poems from his latest chapbook Cold Mountain 2000: Han Shan in the City (Foothills Publishing 2014), then read the lyrics to a song he & his son Jack wrote, “Indifferent to History.” The last open mic performer was Paul S. with a prose memoir from his youth, about an high school lover, their brief time together while he was in the Air Force, titled “If I Go I Can’t Come Back.”

After a short break, a little wine & conversation, Charlie was back to introduce me. I read a mixed program of new (“Peacocks in the Driveway,” “Birthday 2014”) poems & older poems. I included a short sample selection from my chapbooks, Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D.) & a poem from a 2001 3 Guys from Albany visit to Chicago, “Said Again” from boundless abodes of Albany (Benevolent Bird Press, & now available as a Kindle download). A few more fun poems, then ended with “If Peace Broke Out Tomorrow” from Baghdad/Albany & other Peace Poems (A.P.D.) You’ll have to ask the audience if it was a “good reading,” but I certainly had fun doing it.  & I even sold some books!

The 3rd Saturday Coffee House is held each 3rd Saturday (duh!) a the Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., Oak Park, IL, an historic Frank Lloyd Wright building, 7:30 sign up, 8:00 open mic, $3.00 to $5.00 donation. Bring poems, bring prose, bring a guitar, or a harmonica. As Charlie says, “You can rant, you can chant, you can shout “get it out,” get it down, get it off, off your chest, off the page, share your mission, share your glory, share your vision, tell your story, take a moment in the sun, the mic is open!”

[More photos from this event at my Flickr! site.]

February 13, 2014

Live from the Living Room, February 12

A small group gathered beneath the living room to listen to the featured poet, Andy Fogle, & to share some of our poems.

Andy Fogle is new on the poetry scene here, a high-school teacher with 2 young children, he's just now finding the time to get to some of the local venues. He read an interesting mix of mostly short older & newer poems, beginning with a short piece citing the Latin poet Horace, about his son in his early months. "Witness the Self-Protection" was an old experiment combining the sonnet with a villanelle. Another experiment was "Song of the Out of Body Child," while "Dusty" was also an old poem, a portrait of someone he knew. He read selections from a "nostalgic" sequence of short poems, "Thinking of Virginia & New York," then a couple of more experiments playing with language, "Excommunicated" & "Mostly from an Earth Science Worksheet on Depressions." Some of his poems were barely phrases, or brief images, like American haiku, including a series that were N+ experiments on one of his very short poems. He ended with a poem about Washington, DC, "Four Questions Plus Jurisdiction." It was edifying for us that Andy, before reading his experimental poems, would describe his technique or method, so that we could get a sense of what the experiment was about, & it was a pleasant way to get introduced to this interesting new voice on the local scene.

Andy's poems about Virginia made for a nice segue for Sylvia Barnard to her new poem "Dusky Sally" from a visit to Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello, Virginia, then to a related poem about an old local black community, "Rapp Road Community."

I followed with an old (1992?) piece about the Olympics, "Pindar" then a very new poem "Peacocks in the Driveway."

Our host Don Levy read a poem, published in the latest issue of the Price Center's newsletter, by Taylor Keith, a local high-school student, then his own poem "Hunger Games" about a homophobic Mormon hunger-striker.

Live from the Living Room, is an open mic with a featured poet each 2nd Wednesday of the month at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY (downstairs), sign-up at 7:00PM, feature at 7:30PM, followed by open mic.

February 11, 2014

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose Open Mic, February 9

Back in the black box theater of the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy for a variety of readers & words, with the hosts/MCs Nancy Klepsch & Me.

First one here & first up to the mic was Cathy Abbott with a poem about the Boston Marathon bomber, then another about attending her high school reunion. William Robert Foltin, host of an open mic at the Colonie Town Library, read his tribute poem "Nubian Princess," then a couple of Valentines/Spring poems, & some poems from one of his self-published chapbooks. Peggy LeGee was back with a couple of her introspective poems, "Speak Thy Night" & "Reincarnation."

Inna Ehrlich has been translating Russian poets into English & some of us local poets into Russian, including my poem "Kandinsky's Red Spot," which I read followed by Inna reading her Russian version. I also read Inna's translation of the Russian poet Petr Koritko's poem "Unwritten." Howard Kogan began with a tribute to the late Maxine Kumin, reading her poem "Watering Trough," then read what he described as "version 21" of his long, meditative poem, "In the Beginning" mixing baseball, poetry, his granddaughter, Mother Teresa & Olympic skaters. Mike Conner began with a poem about death, "The Dark," then one written after a day of working outside "Winter's Wolf," & ended with his version of a "Slam poem," "Rolling."

 Bob Sharkey indulged in both parts of this open mic with a prose piece, "Clay" sounding a bit under the influence of Joyce, then a wistful poem "How He Regarded Her." Ron Drummond's single piece was a long comment he had pasted on a friends Facebook page, full of self-analysis & the struggle to be a good person. Miriam Axel-Lute read her poems from a "tablet" (or some such electronic device), first a poem about her kids leaving for a parental visit, "Eat What they Leave," then another of her re-writes of a story from the New Testament, ending with a tribute to the late Pete Seeger, "May You Leave a Hole." Jon Lloyd returned to read 3 very disparate pieces, the fantasy story "The Man in the Saliva Suit," a piece in legalese on copyright law "Create a Commons," & a piece on depression "Joy in Slaughterhouse Five."

Shannon Grant had just 1 piece to read from her battered spiral notebook, "Galactic Gigantic," an infatuation poem based on a song. My co-host Nancy Klepsch began with "an old, old poem" on poets & friends "Invitation," then on to the latest version of the rousing "We Need an Army of Harveys," & ended with another old poem being revised, the rhythmic "Circle." Sally Rhoades was our final reader for the afternoon, with 2 pieces leaning heavily on memoir, the prose childhood story, "Youse Kids Had It Rough" & a poem inspired by a recent trip through the back streets of Miami, "Scrap Metal."

Most months of the year we gather here to hear prose & poetry on the 2nd Sunday at 2PM, the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY -- & it's Free!

February 5, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #63, February 4

The last Slam at Valentines before the place comes down, but a lot of folks stayed home, including el presidente. But Kevin Peterson & Mary Panza keep the event alive. Kevin was the host for the open mic.

First up was Pat Irish reading someone else's poem, "Foxholes of Hollywood." He was followed by Nick Bisanz enjoying his "Henry Rollins moment" with a tale of flirting at work, "The Young Guy, the Old Legend & the Middle Man." Last on this short list was L-Majesty with a philosophical pondering of whether love was blind, or art -- more from him in a minute.

Kevin Peterson & Algorhythm
The Slam list was short too, only 5 of us competing, definitely working to my advantage, for a change. Mary Panza was our MC & dutifully read the official "spiel" as prescribed (i.e., decreed) by el president. K.P. suffered through a lot of audience heckling to struggle through "How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich." Algorhythm did a piece about "a dope-fiend bitch." I got 24.5 points for "I Thought I Saw Elvis." Samson managed to get here from class just in time with a piece about being maligned. L-Majesty talked about his imaginary friends & in the past but now being an "Army of one."

The Winners & the Host:
DWx, Algorthym, Mary Panza, L-Majesty
Poor K.P. got bounced out of the 2nd round, which L-Majesty started with "Confessions of a Butt-Chaser." Samson suggested that the ASPCA should use sex (not with the animals) to make their commercials more appealing. When I travelled with the 3 Guys from Albany we had an adage for our playlist, "When in doubt pull out the dick -- poem," so I did, & got a whopping 27.4 for "To My Penis." While Algorhythm got less of a score than I for his poem in this round, his cumulative score put him & L-Majesty in the final round.

L-Majesty did a fine piece on his mixed heritage, "Blaktino Rican," while Algorhythm struggled to read a new piece from his phone. But, hey, 3rd is not too shabby for me.

& that was it for poetry at Valentines. The next time the Nitty Gritty Slam takes place it will be across town at the new Low Beat on Central Ave. Check out albanypoets.com for more info.

February 3, 2014

Yes! Poetry & Performance Series, January 31

In response to folks who characterize these posts as "reviews" I like to say, instead, that they are "reports," because I am often a participant in the events, such as the open mics, & I make no attempt to be objective. This night I was one of the featured poets at the Albany Center Galleries in the Yes! Poetry & Performance Series -- of course, I was great! But then so were Marilyn McCabe & Aaron Wittman, as well as our MC/hosts Matthew Klane & James Belflower.

Marilyn McCabe began with a showing of her poetry video "At Freeman's Farm," which includes her reading of the poem by the same title from her book Perpetual Motion (The Word Works, 2012) with images from the Saratoga Battlefield, & voice-over of interviews with military veterans of Viet Nam, Korea & Iraq. After some discussion about the making of the video, she read "Enemy's the Friend" also from her book, then a poem from a new manuscript, a poem about voting "We the People." A poet I always enjoy hearing, & especially glad to be sharing the reading with her.

Matthew Klane introduced me with one of his signature poem-intros, then I read a series of my more "experimental poems." Some were what some poets describe as "text jams:" such as "Une Fleur de Millay," "Secrecy Guards Oldest Pine …" (a blending of 2 newspaper articles), & a "jam" of 2 of William Carlos Williams' famous poems. Other experiments included versions of my poem "Kandinsky's Red Spot" & its translation into Russian by Inna Erlich run through the Google translator & then re-written; "October Land" (a pastiche of Eliot's "The Waste Land"); & "Saturday Hawk" a jazz poem." It was great fun.

& how sweet to be treated to a glass of English Porter & a brief description of how & what we were tasting, a short presentation by Aaron Wittman, the president of Albany Brew Crafters. Beer & poetry, sounds like heaven in the Albany Center Galleries.

The series continues into the Spring. To find out what's next you can "like" them on Facebook.

Here is Matthew Klane's poem-intro for me:
we applaud
some wisdom
found on the ground
@ the bus stop
when our thinking
has finally
in the park
@ the counter
on the phone
of the body
a language
we can all understand]

February 2, 2014

Writers Institute v. Frequency North, January 30

This day was a study in contrasts, or perhaps a small window into the grand diversity of today's world of writing.

In the afternoon I went to the Writers' Institute series on the campus of the University at Albany for a seminar by the poet Carolyn Forché. W.W. Norton & Company has just released the anthology Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001, edited by Forché & Duncan Wu. Her earlier anthology Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993) is what I like to call "my desert island book," a text to which I keep returning. Much of the audience were young students in poetry classes, including some who are studying Forché's long poem "On Earth" from her 2003 collection Blue Hour: Poems. Of course, there were faculty members & a grey contingent of community poets.

Carolyn Forche & Don Faulkner
It was a relaxed, spirited conversation about writing, putting together the anthology, “being a poet” (& a laughing commentary on “branding”), on political poetry (going back to her earlier poem “The Colonel”), some questions about “On Earth.” She said one of the surprises in doing Poetry of Witness was discovering the life & work of John Newton, a one-time slave merchant who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” With her warm, open manner & wide-ranging knowledge of poetry (& life) one can see why she is a popular reader & teacher. There was also a reading scheduled for later, but I was pleased I got to see Carolyn Forché in this more relaxed setting.

Jade Sylvan
Later in the evening I drove down Western Ave. to the College of St. Rose for a reading in the Frequency North series by poet/novelist Jade Sylvain. We are blessed here in the Capital District area to have such series as the Writers Institute & Frequency North readings that bring in leading writers for free readings. These 2 series complement each other: while Don Faulkner at the Writers’ Institute brings in the “A List” of New York Times best-sellers, Daniel Nester at the College of St. Rose presents some of the best & exciting of the newer generation of writers.

Tonight’s reading was also well attended, mostly by St. Rose students, with a scattering of folks from the larger writing & lesbian community. Jade Sylvan has been on tour to promote her newest book, Kissing Oscar Wilde (Write Bloody Press, 2012), which she described as a “novelized memoir about a poetry tour in France,” in prose, poetry, even a play. She read a generous selection that kept us enthralled, including (“by way of introduction,” she said) “Graves,” “Halloween: 2011 Boston” written as a single sentence, a chapter that was a list of early loves, & a key chapter, “Abstinence.” At one point she brought up to the mic one of the St. Rose students, Nancy, to read the slam poem mentioned in one of the chapters she had read. Her work is self-absorbed, about exploring who she is, how she fits in the world. The slam poem she read as an encore had a similar theme of recognizing your 14-year old self within.

So the contrast I referred to above was between the outward-looking “poetry of witness” & the inward gaze of self-exploration (& it’s twin sister look-at-me-ain’t-I-special). I've done both in my poems over the years.  I've come to realize that an engaged art is the product of both — an artist who examines who she or he is in the world while confronting the wider world around them, & then learning to respond to that world as an artist. & it now occurs to me that Jade Sylvan’s examination of gender & the other roles we play is the same discussion as that of “branding” earlier in the day with Carolyn Forché. We need it all.