March 31, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Thursday March 27 — Featured Reading

This was the first of the nightly readings held in the comfortable auditorium of the National Geographic Society. Sarah Browning, Executive Director of Split This Rock, used the opportunity as the official welcome & to take on the “poetry poo-bahs of the past,” as well as to attack the Government’s secrecy & data-gathering programs. She praised the editors of Poetry magazine for publishing in their March 2014 issue the unapologetic political poetry of so many of the poets on the Festival’s program.

As we gathered in the auditorium we were treated to a slide show of photos of some of the poets, the “Elders,” who had passed on since the last Split This Rock 2 years ago. Among those were Maggie Estep, Amiri Baraka, Juan Gelman, Seamus Heaney, Anselm Hollo, Bill Knott, Maxine Kumin, Patricia Monaghan, Jose Montoya, Adrienne Rich, Harvey Shapiro, Nguyen Chi Thien, Reed Whittemore, Jake Adam York, Chinua Achebe, Wanda Coleman, Jayne Cortez, & others. Sarah introduced this year’s tradition at the readings of playing a recording of one of these gone poets, tonight Adrienne Rich on speaking out.

Another feature at each of these readings was to start the event with a performance by a young poet from the DC Youth Slam team. Tonight it was a high school student, Amino Iro, performing 2 pieces, “The first thing I ever learned was to mind my manners…” & a poem from her chapbook (chapbooks already!) Things I Miss About Home, the poem about fighting with her cousin.

Dunya Mikhail, an Iraqi journalist & poet who has been living in the US for a number of years, started with poems from a new collection about to come out from New Directions in May, The Iraqi Nights. She read “The Shape of the World” in Arabic, then in English, then ”Second Life,” & “A Debate” which was like a fable about which parts of a plant own the Earth. Then she read poems from her moving 2005 book, The War Works Hard, “Pronouns” in Arabic & English, “The Prisoner” & again in Arabic & English the title poem “The War Works Hard.” (Wish I had thought to bring my copy to have her sign it.)

Next was a heavy dose of Slam performance & acting out by Danez Smith, although he actually read the first piece “Dear White America.” I don’t know if the next was titled “Gene-Sissy” or if that was his description of the piece about black trans-genered women killed by their own community, & mixing in Biblical creation stories & hymns. The black church was again the subject of “Church,” in which he took on the persona of a black preacher (& we the audience his congregation) as he humorously ranted about shouting out “god!” while having sex. He ended with more over-the-top performance humor with “Dinosaurs in the Hood.”

For a complete change of pace Joy Harjo began with an honor song played on a wooden flute to pay tribute to her grandfather who had come to Washington, DC for justice, then she continued with a modern trickster tale in which Trickster is a rabbit who makes a clay man who wants to steal it all. “No” was also a political vision, & in “Conflict Resolution” she used the categories in a conflict resolution manual to ironically comment on the lies the White Man told, followed by her singing a song that was sung on the Trail of Tears to hold each other up. She ended with her poem in the issue of Poetry, “Everybody Has A Heartache.”

Quite a day & I stumbled back downtown to my hotel, exhausted & happy. More to come.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Thursday March 27 — Workshops/Panels

I’ve been going to this fabulous biennial festival since the first one in March 2008 & have enjoyed every exhausting minute. And as I checked my email this morning before heading out from the Harrington Hotel, I got my morning poem from A Year of Being Here, “Gate 4-A” by Naomi Shihab Nye, a piece I heard her read here at Split This Rock in one of the past festivals — what better omen for the next few days!

I walked up through a cold DC morning to the Human Rights Campaign Equality Forum on Rhode Island Ave., Split This Rock’s headquarters for the festival, a new location after years of being in the U Street neighborhood. I picked up my name tag & tee-shirt, said hello to old friends, like Susan Scheid, Kasim Ali & Sarah Browning, met the new official Festival photographer Kristen Adair, & headed off to my first workshop in the historic Charles Sumner School.

Crossing the Boundaries of the Self: Writing Through Other’s Stories

Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives
The panel was moderated by Kyle Dargan. The first speaker was Yvette Neisser-Moreno who began with a poem about a Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, a victim of Hiroshima who struggled to make a thousand paper cranes. Yvette said that she had read 2 books & did other research to write this one short poem. But “that’s my gain,” she said. Her 2nd poem was titled “So This is How they Decided to Take Him,” about an 80-year old man kidnapped in Mexico, a friend’s grandfather. In contrast to her earlier poem, she said that she had little facts, did not know the man, & what information she didn’t have she made up.

Joseph Ross, Travis Roberts, Yvette Neisser-Moreno, Kyle Dargan
Joseph Ross first read what he described as “a love poem to David Cato,” who was a gay activist murdered in Uganda, then a poem about the mother of Emmet Till who decided to show his badly beaten body at his funeral. Joe emphasized that he didn’t know David Cato & that he, obviously, was neither black nor a woman, but said that in writing such poetry of bearing witness he was “acknowledging our inter-connectedness,” that such writing “disrupts the dominant narrative.”

Travis Roberts, a former student of the moderator, Kyle Dargan, has been a human rights worker in Rwanda & his 2 poems reflected his experience there, “What the Translator Doesn’t Tell Us” & “Say the Skulls” (set in a memorial to the victims of a massacre in a church). He said he wrote “about hope” & resisted the urge to over-dramatize the poem to get people to act, that one must respect the story for what it is.

Kyle Dagan’s poem “6:35 Mississippi Time” was a persona poem from the point of view of Medgar Evers’ wife, Myrlie, a poem he wrote as an assignment a number of years ago, that he wasn't sure he could write such a poem now as a more mature poet. His second piece was “Mugabe’s Glasses,” about Robert Mugabe, who he had heard was an avid reader, imagining the details.

The discussion explored the ethics of using someone else’s story, but came back to the issue of respect, in this grey area of art & history.

Rethinking the City: Poetic Strategies for Renewing Urban Space

Jennifer Karmin, Pireemi Sundaralingam
Later, on to the Wilderness Society around the corner on M Street for contrasting/complementary panels. This panel paired Chicago poet & activist Jennifer Karmin with poet & scholar Pireeni Sundalalingam. Jennifer, who has performed in Albany with the Yes, Poetry & Performance series, discussed & showed slides of some of the urban art & poetry projects she has been engaged in in Chicago & LA, such as her group “Anti-Gravity Surprise,” her famous 4000 Words 4000 Dead project, group actions at AWP when it was here in DC, & at Occupy LA. She ended with an Occupy-inspired audience-participation piece, "The Human Micro-Poem."  Jennifer’s work is the kind that makes one think what one can do back home.

Pireemi Sundaralingam is a poet & urban scholar & cited the interesting statistic that currently 82% of the American population lives in cities. She talked about the poetic challenge of making the familiar unfamiliar (cf. Shelley) & of becoming “a botanist of the sidewalk” (Baudelaire), concepts behind my own concept of “urban nature poetry.” She also described an interactive Google-map project in San Francisco that involves community people adding their own points of interest (i.e., where they first fell in love, had their first apartment, etc.) to a map of the city.

The Environment in Crises: Poetry & Action

This next panel took place in the same room (what I thought was a brilliant piece of planning) with Melissa Tuckey, a member of the Split This Rock Board of Directors, as the facilitator.  She began with a reading of June Jordan’s “Who Would Be Free.”

Anne Waldman, Ross Gay
After a brief plug for the Naropa Institute, Anne Waldman ran thru a list of current environment issues (the BP oil spill, the pipeline), then a machine gun flurry, as is her style, of concepts, quotes & ideas to document for the next generation that some of us now were not killing each other, urging us to find projects to inspire us rather than being paralyzed by the problems.

Ross Gray, who had started an open, community orchard, also had a list of questions & issues, & spoke of finding a “critical sorrow” & "an ethics of gratitude" which I found to be a useful suggestion for confronting the huge environmental issues that I, as an individual, often feel powerless in solving but still feel I must do something about.

Melissa Tuckey, Wang Ping
Wang Ping showed slides of & described her “Kinship of Rivers” project linking the communities of the Mississippi, Missouri & other rivers of the US with the communities of the Yangtze River in China. The project consists of creating “river flags,” like Tibetan prayer flags. She distributed pieces of cloth for us to create our own river flags. Later that night I used a red Sharpie to write the names of American rivers on a blue swatch that I gave to her the next day.

Melissa Tuckey proposed that we activists use eco-poetry as a way seeing & connecting “Nature” to the larger social-justice issues. She also announced that she is seeking eco-justice poetry for a planned anthology.

It was a busy, beautifully intense start to the Festival that (spoiler alert) would continue unabated all the way through to Sunday.

More photos can be found at my Flickr! site.

March 25, 2014

Sunday Four Poetry, March 23

It didn’t feel quite enough like Spring so a number of poets opted to go inside to hear poetry rather than walk around outside in the cold thinking about it. Dennis Sullivan welcomed us with a series of announcements & in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s birthday read #20 from A Coney Island of the Mind (“The pennycandystore beyond the El…”), then he introduced us to the work of Polish poet Cyprian Norwid (1821 - 1883). Then Edie Abrams took over the job of hosting the open mic.

Larry Rapant arrived on the stage wearing his gloves & began with philosophical introductory remarks on “Risk-taking,” then read an equally philosophical poem “Pray For Us.” I followed with a recitation of Bob Kaufman’s poem “Believe, Believe” then read my short essay in poem form on this poem, as mysterious bells chimed somewhere.

Dennis [O’]Sullivan read a meditative & tender piece thinking of those who live lives of acts of kindness, a psalm of universal love, “When I Sit with Pen in Hand.” Paul Amidon can be just as pensive, but in a more wry manner, such as in the 3 short poems he read, “End of the World,” “Weather Forecast” & “Books” (looking through a box of old ones). Bob Sharkey began with a piece that sounded like one of his on-going series of vignettes, “St. Patricks Day,” about an encounter at a Museum, then a reprise of “How He Regarded Her.”

Joe Krausman said one of his poems was a finalist for the Raynes Prize sponsored by Jewish Currents, but he didn’t know which poem it was; the theme for the contest this year was “Union” so when he sent his poem “Going to a Double Header” he changed its title to “Union;” then he also read his other entry “Teachers’ Strike,” but we don’t know which one it was. Philomena Moriarty read 3 poems written from 13 years ago up to now about her up-bringing, beginning with the horniness of “Blessed Be,” to her patron “St. Philomena” to the most recent poem about her Irish grandfather, “Openings.”

Pete Budrow, who had burst his poetic cherry here last month, was back for more with a poem titled “2 Things That I would Be Willing to Die For.” Tom Corrado’s “screen dumps” are poems that “dump the contents of his mind” at that particular point of time, i.e., free association, & he read #55, then a manipulated text/found poem based on a Times-Union article by Patrick Kurp, “Found Poem: Dan Wilcox circa 1990” (Thanks Tom!). Howard Kogan began decrying Winter with a poem about “Mount Misery,” then read a relationship poem “Moth” & the short, wry “Astronomy.” Rosalie popped up at the last minute to read a poem about an epiphany she had when out for a walk, “Connected.”

From these stellar moments Dennis introduced the featured poet, Tim Verhaegen, describing him as “a work in progress” that many of us have been witnessing for a number of years. Tim's poems & essays are intensely personal & (wonderfully) obsessively about his family. He began with a piece that combined both aspects, “Your Mother Doesn’t Remember Raising You” (he often appears in his poems in the 2nd person). “Old People” was a tender tale of his grandmothers & her friends when he was a child. The next piece was from his college days, pondering changes in his life, “A Boy Walks the Train Tracks Far from Home.” “Letters” was about the angst of looking through a box of old letters. His next 2 pieces had us all in hysterics, the first an essay about a memoir class, then his wonderfully irreverent tour-de-force “The Fuck Family” — there was laughter & tears of laughter, poetry & humor. Then he brought it back with a kindly homage to Dennis Sullivan for his support of Tim’s work over the years. A program worth twice the admission — oh, it was a donation, so I hope everyone dug deep.

At the end Dennis Sullivan commented on the quality of the work read today both by the featured poet & in the open mic, & everyone agreed it was quite an afternoon of poetry.

Most months of the year we gather here at the Old Songs Community Center in Voorheesville, NY on the 4th Sunday of each month at 3PM, but in April the series will be at Smith’s Tavern on the 4th Sunday for the Annual Poet Laureate Contest.

Third Thursday Poetry Night, March 20

In the spirit of this being the beginning (allegedly) of Spring, to start off the night I recited my favorite Spring poem, e.e. cummings' “In Just Spring —“. Then on to the open mic, with a full-slate already signed up.

First up, as he often is, was Alan Catlin, who read a St. Patrick’s Day poem taking him back to his days as a bartender in an Irish bar in Albany, the harrowing “Work-Anxiety Dream 10 Years After.” It was good to see Laura Hartmark back again after many months, she read a piece about grocery shopping & bargaining in an Arabic market in Brooklyn, “6 Cents Less.” Ginny Folger has been here before but this was her first time reading, a short Winter poem “Half-way Through February."  Alan Casline did a poem of “spontaneous verse” the 13th Chorus from his book of blues experiments. Mark W. O’Brien (formerly known as “Obeeduid”) has been invited to read at a poetry festival in July in Fermoy, County Cork in Ireland, so of course read an Irish-inspired piece, “The Hubris of a Pint of Plain.”

Our featured poet was Catherine Norr, promoting her new poetry chapbook Return to Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Catherine has been active in the local literary scene for a number of years & served on the Board of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. She’s also a singer & musician, so began her set with a little a cappella blues, oh yeah. The first section of her book is about growing up in New Orleans & she read “Spring After Teasing,” “Mississippi Riverside Chat,” “Color Barrier,” then “First Frost” about her father. From the second half of the book, “The Noise of Life,” she read “Return to Ground,” “The Fox and the Divorcee,” “Love Song,” “Class Reunion,” & “Awakening and All That Jazz.” Then a new poem, “Out the Back Window on a Winter Day,” about a cardboard box being blown across her frozen yard.  It was a pleasant set of poems & a good introduction to the book, if you don't have it.

After the break I read one of my poems from the poetry workshop with Bernadette Mayer, “The Fence.” Don Levy’s poem was straight (not sure if that’s the appropriate word, perhaps “gayly”) out of the morning sports pages, “98 - For Jason Collins.” Jessica was back to brave the mic with a poem titled “Old Piano.” Brian Dorn’s lines in rhyme “Whatever Will Be” were about rain. Bob Sharkey brought the night to a close, sounding very Joycean with a poem based on an over-heard conversation, “How He Regarded Her.”

Join us each third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY for an open mic with a featured reader. Just $3.00 donation that helps pay the featured poet & supports poetry in Albany & the SJC.

March 20, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #66, March 18

A unique Slam night at the Linda Auditorium, not our usual place — at touring band booked at The Low Beat kicked us up the block. A good stage, good sound, some of the regular contenders, a bevy of new faces to read, competitive judges — who could ask for more? Oh, yeah, beer — where was the beer?  At least that makes my notes that much more legible.

Mojavi was back to host the open mic & first up was a virgin! Susie read “Spinal Fusion,” a long, funny, Jewish-mother’s tale of surgery, with the tag line “Have I got a son for you!” Brian Dorn, who was also videoing the event, read his commentary on the gap between the Rich & the Poor, “Standard of Living.” Casey, who has slammed before, read a piece written this afternoon about a rape, or a car accident, or both. Pat Irish performed a short rhyme, “My Boston Girl.” Shannon Grant read an appropriately post-St. Paddy’s Day poem, “Drunk State of Mind.”

Rosalie Ruediger

Another virgin, Rosalie Ruediger, read an untitled poem about being alive after her heart was broken. Avery’s piece was titled “Exploring the Wilds, or Reversing the Roles,” a strange domestic scene with his kids, & the ex’s boyfriend. Kahiem was the last open mic poet performing a poem about “a whirlwind of bullshit” relationship.

Nadi Morsch
Then on to the Slam with el presidente, Thom Francis, in his new glasses as the MC, & Kevin Peterson as the sacrificial lamb/goat/poet performing someone else’s poem, that sounded like one of his. The 8 Slammers in the first round were a mix of the experienced & the new, with Bless starting off with his classic performance on social media, followed by virgin Gary & a rhymed “Holiday Happiness.” D. Colin read what sounded like a new piece on trying to find the right make-up, foundation in her color. Nadi Morsch was outrageous & ironic with a performance comparing Oreos & women. Mojavi was just as outrageous with a piece about his grandmother selling pot, & the expected punch-line of his wanting to be cut in. Samson had his own version of the tale of Adam & Eve, & I advised folks of the 27 things one could do with an MFA. The last virgin went by the beguiling handle Morr Tempting but her poem was a tender piece on watching her music students performing.

Samson, D. Colin, Mojavi
While I managed a respectable 24.9, it wasn’t enough to get me to the second round, but Samson, Mojavi, Nadi Morsch & D. Colin did. Samson survived round 2 to be in the money in 3rd place, while D. Colin & Mojavi duked it out in the last round, with D. Colin taking first with a 29.3 on the strength of another of her powerful pieces about Haiti.

The Nitty Gritty Slam, with an open mic, takes place every 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month, now at The Low Beat on Central Ave., just 2 doors down from Quail St. $5.00, less with a student I.D.

March 17, 2014

Frequency North, March 13

Another in the continuing series of readings by some of America’s writers who haven’t quite yet made it to the New York Times Best Seller list, as if that matters. Tonight’s reading was particularly interesting with 2 writers of compelling, moving poems, in contrasting styles, but in spite of appearances sharing common experiences. Or is that what America is really like? Professor Daniel Nester, coordinator of the Frequency North series served as host & MC.

January Gill O’Neil was originally from Virginia but now lives in Beverly, MA. She began with poems from her Southern childhood, “How to Make a Crab Cake” & “In Praise of Okra,” a poem about her Dad in the military “Service” & her mother as a nurse taking care of newborns, “Nightwork.” Next, a couple poems about her children, “Kerning” for her daughter (eating crayons), & “Advice for my Son on Entering Kindergarten” about being multi-racial. A new poem, “Brave,” mixed sections with images of being married immediately after 9/11/2001, with images of going to court for divorce years later. She ended with another cluster of family poems, “At Wolf Hollow” on wolves & children, “Night at the Rubber Palace” as a parent at the roller-skating arena, & another poem for her son, “Maybe the Milky Way.” January’s poems were discursive, with a touch of narrative, & meditative without being abstract, filled with images from daily life.

In contrast, the poems of Sean Thomas Dougherty, while often also telling a story, were more incantatory, piling up images, more performative, even Slam-style. I had met Sean many years ago in the poetry circuit, as early as 1995 in Syracuse, & later Sean stayed at my house after a reading at Changing Spaces Gallery & a night of partying in 2001. Tonight, he read mostly from his new book, All You Ask For Is Longing: New & Selected Poems 1994 - 2014 (BOA Editions, 2014) that contains selections from his books already on my shelf, but the new poems are worth the price of admission. He began with a family memoir, “Nine Innings to Go,” a poem about his black step-Dad being taken to see the Dodgers by his grandmother, but a story of racism & America & Sean’s own son. In a similar vein, “Double It” was a more contemporary story of a character in a pool hall where he works, while “Arias” was about the music of the sounds of his working-class neighborhood & the death of Pavarotti. He performed “Oranges” from memory, a sad song of love & sex & jazz in Manhattan. “Fuck Me Like Being Born,” a 10 in any Slam venue, was commissioned for a punk-rock performance. The title of “Song for My Father” was taken from the famous Horace Silver tune & it spiraled out from the image of his step-father in 1972, to all fathers, & back again to him as an old man, bringing tears & rapt silence to the audience. He ended in Slam style with another performance from memory of “Tiny Griefs,” stepping away from the microphone into the audience, the tender story of another poem recited by a young girl in a school in West Virginia.

I was glad to see Sean again, & hear his work, & to become acquainted with January’s fine work as well. This was certainly one of the best readings so far in this marvelous, ongoing series at the College of St. Rose in Albany — & they’re Free!

March 14, 2014

Cold Mountain 2000: Han Shan in the City by Charles Rossiter

Charlie Rossiter, my poetry buddy & fellow member of 3 Guys from Albany, has just had his labor of poetic love, Cold Mountain 2000: Han Shan in the City, published by FootHills Publishing. Charlie & I both discovered the poet Han Shan (died 850?) (literally “Cold Mountain” for those who want a lesson in Chinese) thru the translations by Gary Snyder of 24 of Han Shan’s poems, first published in 1958 in Evergreen Review #6. There have been a number of translations into English of Han Shan’s poems over the years, notably by Arthur Waley in 1954 of “Twenty-seven Poems by Han-shan” & Burton Watson’s Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-shan (Grove Press, 1962). But the definitive edition, to my taste, is the 2000 Copper Canyon Press The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated by “Red Pine” (Bill Porter) that not only includes the 307 poems of Han Shan but also the poems of "Big Stick" (Feng-kan) and of "Pickup" (Shih-te), monks in the Kuoching Temple at the foot of Mount Tientai where Han Shan would stay, the poems in both English & Chinese. A true desert island book.

But back to Charlie. In the 1990’s Charlie sent me some of his own poems inspired by Snyder’s versions of Han Shan. They were good. So good that they inspired me to try to my hand at it too. Charlie riffed off the themes & images of Han Shan. I returned to the versions I had (before the Copper Canyon Press edition) & wrote “variations” in which I imagined Han Shan as a modern, urban poet living & writing in Albany. I wrote back to Charlie suggesting this approach & this book is the result, or, as he states in his preface “These Cold Mountain 2000 poems are written imagining what Han Shan might say if he lived in a contemporary urban setting …”

This attractive, hand-sewn chapbook of 51 poems in the style of Han Shan also contains a dozen of Charlie’s other poems, some previously published (&/or performed with 3 Guys from Albany). My one beef with this edition is that Rossiter’s poems are numbered consecutively (as did Snyder) & don’t relate to the specific original poems of Han Shan. One of the great things about the Copper Canyon Press edition is a concordance, or “Findings List,” that correlates 7 different translations of Han Shan so one can compare each translator’s versions.

Beyond that quibble, it’s a great read. Actually, Charlie is not writing new versions of individual Han Shan poems, but (mostly) new poems in the spirit of that ancient Chinese poet. Han Shan/Rossiter writes about poetry readings, the role of poets in the world, hiding out/alienation from the world, the honies on the street, growing old, conflict with the “academics,” a veritable post-Beat, punk melange of urban & (sometimes) Nature-nostalgic themes. I imagined my Han Shan in an apartment near the top floor of the building on the corner of Henry Johnson Blvd. & Central Ave. in Albany, Charlie’s version seems more suburban.

 Here is #33:
A poet friend was in
from out of town
for a visit
so we lit some candles
on the back porch
to talk and drink.
In a few minutes
three or four hours went by.
Could’ve been written anywhere, anytime — that’s Cold Mountain & that’s Charlie Rossiter.

[I note that FootHills Publishing in 2012 also published In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien with poems by Sam Hamill, Michael Czarnecki, David Budbill, Charles Rossiter, & Antler, edited by Charles Rossiter.]

March 11, 2014

2nd Sunday @ 2, March 9

More Poetry + Prose at the the Arts Center, with a wonderful outpouring of writers, some old friends, some new. Nancy Klepsch & I were the co-hosts.

Bob Sharkey began the day with a little of each, a “prosy” untitled piece of satire about an imagined theatrical event, then a collage poem composed of lines from his reading of the Best Poems of 2014, “Lucky to Have Come This Far.” Peggy LeGee read 2 versions, one as a poem the other as a song, of “Dumpster Cat Homeless Cat,” then another poem about a cat “My Little Speed.” As luck would have it Ken Denberg read next from his manuscript of dog poems, with an introduction about the manuscript’s history of rejections; the poems read were “Good Dog Bad Dog,” “Wolf’s Dog Dog Bone,” & “Scratch & Bite.” Fortunately that was it for the pet poems for the day.

Darby Penney read next a selection from her marvelous non-fiction work co-authored with Peter Stastny, The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic (Bellevue Literary Press, 2008). Don Levy followed with 2 poems that interestingly enough were about not eating, “Hunger Games” about a Utah man’s short-lived fast to protest same-sex marriages, & a consideration of the meaning of a sign “No Gay Eating Here.” John Burton returned with some poems from his notebook about experiences in the military, the first an encounter with an old man in the desert, then another set in Somalia, & ending with a humorous haiku.

Mike Connor read a letter written but never sent to a woman in a candy shop, “Spoonful,” then a poem to Troy, “Street Politics.” Shannon Grant read from her tablet “Jealous,” then the assertive, defiant “Kill-Me Switch.” Howard Kogan read 2 pieces, the first a short story, the second a briefer poem, based on the same material about an friend from a group, & her death. Cathy Abbott’s first piece was about a sign of spring: baseball, then a poem about a bumper sticker “Flush Rush.” My co-host, Nancy Klepsch, read next tapping her foot to the rhythm of her lines, a poem addressed to Winter, a threat & a looking forward to Spring, the second poem in 2 parts, “My Cells,” played on reality & technology & data tracking.

Jil Hanifan drew on her musical training to write about what happens in a rehearsal of a classical orchestra, the piece composed of sentences each no longer than 7 words. I read a love poem written last year “Winter Peace.” Ron Drummond read a piece written in August, “A Riot in the Spring,” an intricately rhymed song for lovers. William Robert Foltin was the last reader, beginning with a couple of tales of his family, “Multi-Lingual” & “Katarina” (his mother), & the concluding “Sexy Party.”

As the title says, we are here at the Arts Center in Troy, NY on the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2:00PM for readings of both poetry & prose — free & open to the public.

March 8, 2014

A Celebration of the Life & Work of Pierre Joris, March 5

It was, according to Donald Faulkner, “all Pierre Joris, all afternoon & evening.” I was there for all 3 sessions, to celebrate my friend & a great friend to the poets of Albany (& the world). Pierre arrived in Albany in 1992 & taught at the University at Albany until 2013. A self-professed “nomad,” currently living in Brooklyn, he lived in Albany longer than anywhere else; his son Miles was born here. I don’t make any claims to objectivity in these Blog posts, but as they say in the media, “full disclosure” -- Pierre & his wife & collaborator Nicole Peyrafitte are friends & have stayed at my house when they needed over-night accommodations in Albany. My photos were on the cover of her 2009 CD with Mike Bisio, Whisk! Don’t Churn!

The Panel

Robert Kelly, Peter Cocelbergh
The first event was a panel discussion on the works of Pierre Joris, moderated by Donald Faulkner, Director of the New York State Writers Institute. First up was Peter Cockelbergh, a young Belgian scholar, poet & translator. Bouncing off Joris’ 1993 selected writings of Kurt Schwitters (co-edited with Jerome Rothenberg) pppppp, he described the many Pierres: nomad, poet (with an exegesis on “A Poem in Noon”), translator, editor, essayist & anthologist. He also spoke of Joris’ “poetics of community” in connection with the Poems for the Millennium anthologies, but for me Pierre’s "poetics of community” was about how from his earliest days in Albany he was a part of the larger poetry community, coming “down off the hill” to read & inviting community poets to the marvelous parties (or salons) that he & Nicole hosted.

Robert Kelly began discussing Joris’ talking style, or “parlando” as Kelly put it. He made the point that “the nomad is at home everywhere, the exile at home nowhere.” He spoke, as had Cockelbergh, about Joris’ generosity, then read a poem he wrote for him, “A Stream of Luxembourg.”

Don Byrd

Don Byrd spoke about being instrumental in hiring Joris, & about their friendship over the subsequent years, then read a piece mixing the personal, the poetic & the scholarly, “Pierre & I Sipping Bourbon in Albany Talking About the End of the World.” Byrd has also retired from teaching &, interestingly, is in the process of moving to Brooklyn.

Belle Gironda, Donald Faulker
The last speaker was Belle Gironda, a former student of Joris’ here at the University at Albany, & one who had been involved in reading in the larger poetry community when a student here. She currently lives in Asheville, NC. She described the pleasure of studying with Joris, then read a scholarly piece on Joris’s “From the Summer 1995 Notebooks” (A Nomad Poetic: Essays, Wesleyan University Press, 2003), a mix of notes on Heidegger, dreams, & poems.

I found it interesting that the younger academics both presented scholarly exegeses on the conceptual aspects of Joris’ work, while “the Elders” talked more pointedly to the personal & poetic.

The Conversation

After a pleasant break filled with greetings, hugs, kisses & lemon infused water, Tomás Urayoán Noel, another professor with one foot in the street community of poets, sat down with Pierre Joris to talk about his life & work. The conversation began about being a nomad, & about the diaspora of poetic voices, about Joris discovering Howl, Naked Lunch, & On the Road in Europe then choosing to write in “American” (over German or French) & come to the USA. Robert Duncan’s concept of “the multi-verse” (as opposed to the the “universe”) was central, with Joris stating “Language itself is a translation” of our experiences into words, & “A poem is all the translating it can give rise to.”
Tomas Urayoan Noel, Pierre Joris

Regarding performance/readings, Joris’ told a story of reading his poetry for the first time in Shakespeare & Co., the famed bookstore in Paris,  & being put down by the Beat poet Ted Joans, then being defended by James Baldwin.

Joris explained that while he often collaborates with others, notably with Nicole Peyrafitte, in the performances of his poetry, but doesn’t work with others when writing, he writes his poems alone. He observed that the new poetic technique of the 20th Century is the collage. The conversation continued about his translations of Celan, his own poetry (particularly the daily practice documented in “Canto Diurno”), & his views on teaching poetry, for which I refer you to the last lines of the article that appeared in the Albany Times-Union.

The Reading

Pierre Joris, Nicole Peyrafitte
Later in the evening we gathered again in the Standish Room in the Science Library, where we had been all afternoon, for a reading by Pierre Joris from poetry books published while he was living in Albany from 1992 to 2013, beginning with Winnetou Old (Meow Press, 1994), then on to selections from h.j.r. (Other Wind Press, 1999) in a multi-voice/multi-lingual performance with Nicole Peyrafitte, who throughout the reading was coordinating the projection of images of her painting & illustrations, many of which appear as covers of Joris’ books. Selections from the 1999 Backwoods broadside Out/Takes included some of the whimsical “typos of the day.”

Pierre Joris, Chris Funkhouser, 1993
He read from the 2003 Permanent Diaspora, the procedural piece “The Rothenberg Variations” written for Jerome Rothenberg’s 70th birthday, & selections from Meditations on the Stations of Mansour Al-Hallaj, sections 1 to 21 first published in 2007 by Anchorite Press of Albany, NY. On the screen there appeared a couple images of the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park, as Joris read “Poetry is Definition, for Tom Nattell” from the forthcoming Barzakh (Black Widow Press).

As a finale he read a piece composed last year for the BP oil spill, a ship-wreck (or “rig-wreck”) poem for choir, a bit of eco-poetry.

All day in one room with nomadic poetry that took us far from Albany, & back again. I look forward to more in the future, more poems, words, images, performance from both Pierre Joris & Nicole Peyrafitte.

You can find more photos from this celebration on my Flickr! site.

March 3, 2014

Poets Speak Loud!, February 24

Our monthly gathering at McGeary’s, with Mary Panza, for poetry, food, drinks & the friendly service of Tess Collins’ staff, especially our back-room waitress sweet Melissa.

The night’s featured poet, Melody Davis, read first before the open mic from her new book Holding the Curve (Broadstone Books), beginning with a couple odes, “Socks” & “Ode to Crime TV” (watching CSI with her daughter). Then a poem about her grandmother, “The Tao of Cutting Potatoes,” the tender “Why I Teach Children Poetry,” listing her students names & attributes, & a poem about her son, “Little Big Fat Liar.” The title poem, “Holding the Curve,” also mentioned her son, & driving & the trajectory of our lives, while “Screwed” was about getting the radio stolen out of her car in Brooklyn. A poem about another place she has lived, in rural Pennsylvania, was “Ridge and Valley Province.” Her dramatic monologue, “Sampson,” is written in the form of a villanelle, while among the “Three Variations on Buffalo Mountain” was seeing the sweep of weather as a woman’s hair across her lover’s body, & her last poem “Sermons” was about remembering the light, not the words, in church. It was a nicely done set of discursive poems, often with a barely visible narrative thread.

On to the open mic, with Jill Crammond signed up first, & a poem written today, about watching crime TV with her son, “Poem in Which I Play Abducted Girl #1,” then a poem about Winter, “Poem in Which the Pot & the Kettle Make Merry.” If the blond is here, can the red-head be far behind? Of course not! So up next was Carolee Bennett with 2 “comfort poems,” the first about sunshine & motherhood & remembering days at the lake, then a poem that includes her son’s broken arm, “Exactly 299,792,458 Meters Per Second” (i.e., the speed of light). Alan Casline had a new poem written today, “A Day of Thaw,” that included a conversation recently at the Social Justice Center, Bernadette Mayer, & killer icicles.

Obeeduid began with a long piece on the JFK assassination, then a piece on scribbling “Botany 101,” both read in the light of his tablet, & mercifully (he had already been up there a long time) decided not to read a 3rd piece. I was next with 2 recent pieces, “Peacocks in the Driveway,” inspired by a quote from The Nation magazine columnist Patricia J. Williams, then my annual exercise, “Birthday 2014.” Surprise, surprise, Tess Lecuyer read a couple of sonnets, “Love Sonnet to February” & an old sonnet for Romance novels complete with page references. Adam Tedesco first titillated us with a sex poem, “Super Knot,” then scared us to death with “The DARPA Dogs” about being pursued by robotic dogs from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. What a thought to go home with!

But we’ll be back — the last Monday of the month, 7:30PM at McGeary’s on Clinton Square, Albany, NY, sponsored by See you then.

March 1, 2014

Sunday Four Poetry, February 23

Voorheesville on a Sunday for poetry is a trip home. Our host for the open mic was Edie Abrams.

& I was the 1st up on the sign-up, read 2 new poems, “Peacocks in the Driveway” & Birthday Poem 2014.” Joe Krausman had a cluster of small philosophical poems, “Race Against the Odds,” “Swallows are Smarter than People,” & an odd-couple poem, “Bagels & Yaks.” Our bearded eminence, Dennis Sullivan, began with a quote from Jack Kerouac then read a poem about the act of reading as hitchhiking, another on fireflies & light & “My Room” for his son. Edie Abrams read about the purpose of poetry “Saturday With Nothing on the Calendar,” then “My First Day at Hebrew School.” A self-described “new poet, I guess,” Peter B. read a couple of untitled pieces, the first so short he had to read it twice.

I’ve known Dawn Marar in the local writing scene for a number of years, met her at a Writers Institute poetry workshop led by the Irish poet John Montague & have seen her at many readings, but was amazed when she said this was her first open mic; “Monitor” was a short descriptive piece while “No Mad Woman” was about a stalking incident in traffic. Howard Kogan on the other hand reads at lots of open mics, today with 2 poems about families, the 1st, “Happy Families,” the second, “A Close Family,” at the cemetary. Tom Corrado has been writing (& reading out) poems he calls “screen dumps,” i.e., word plays, non-sequiturs, & random juxtapositions & today read 3. In a different stream, Alan Casline read an historical piece going back to 1637, “The Norman’s Mill,” then a litany “Place of Corn.”

Featured poet Linda Sonia Miller’s book Something Worth Diving For was published by Finishing Line Press in 2012. But today’s reading was of other poems, mostly prompted by the natural world around here, often with birds & frequently meditating on the nature of poetry. “Missing Out” while not Haiku, was inspired by Haiku, as was “Thanksgiving, or Less is Sometimes More” with its references to Japanese poets Basho & Issa. Another poem was inspired by a painting of irises by Peter McCaffrey. The descriptive “November” & “Limitations” were characterized as “cabin fever poems.” Her longest piece, the ironically titled “Digging for Gold,” was an “investigative” poem about a community anti-fracking activist. She ended with a couple of weather-hopeful poems, “Thaw” & “Poem” (about Summer).

Most months of the year Sunday Four Poetry takes place on the 4th Sunday of the month at 3PM at the Old Songs Community Center in Voorheesville, NY, with a featured poet & time for an open mic.