April 29, 2014

5th Annual Smith’s Tavern Poet Laureate Contest, April 27

I arrived late & missed the first round, but since this is not an elimination contest, I got to hear the poets I missed again, & again. This contest requires poets to read in 3 rounds, with different maximum line lengths for the poems in each round. The (unenviable) judges were Susan Oringel (head judge), Ron Pavoldi, Terry Rooney, & Scorekeeper Georgia Gray. The host & MC was the very-much-in-charge Edie Abrams, who between poets challenged us with poetry trivia questions while the judges pondered their scores.

The poets read in a different order in each round, but I’ll combine my summary for each poet. Mark O’Brien’s poems were about a schoolmate who died “Kenny” & a poem on family “Looking at the Table to Keep the Memory of it Living.” Robert Harlow was the last year’s Poet Laureate (I had missed this event last year) read 2 very similar poems about love & dancing, “Tango Lessons” & “Instruction Manual.” Karen Schoemer performed her poems from memory, but kept the texts at hand, about cars & the City “Studio City” & “Hotel Mirror.” Tom Corrado did numbers 54 & 10 from his chapbook Screen Dumps.

Larry Rapant likes to gross us out & did with a poem about shitting “Anal Clucking” & the outrageous list of qualities for his tombstone (which will have to be as big as a billboard) “Confessional Poem.” Tim Verhaegen was more reflective with “Across the Graveyard” & the imagistic auto-biographical “Longing for a Man.” Paul Amidon’s poems were wry meditations on memory, “A Minute of Time” (about the memories that flood our minds before sleep) & “Uncle Frank’s Funeral.” Peter Boudreaux addressed the ubiquitous you, then considered the “2 Things I’d be Willing to Die For.”

Joe Krausman read a poem on synchronicity (one of his favorite topics) “Thanksgiving” & one of my personal favorites “Houdini on the Death of His Mother.” Victoria Sullivan made the trip up the River to read a poem about an absent lover “A Coming” & a powerful anti-war poem “The Reckoning October 2001.” I had met the wonderful young poet Anna Kreienberg in Benadette Mayer’s poetry workshop, & enjoyed hearing her today read the exuberant “Dear You” & the creative take on the story of John the Baptist “Oscar Wilde Wild Western Salome.” A new voice/face Jonathan Bright read a story of making abstract art from a piece of wood “Undeclared Until” & the tender story of his daughter’s surgery “Anesthetizing Belief.”

John Mellen, Robert Harlow, Paul Amidon & Karen Schoemer
It was a wonderful diverse reading of engaging, creative poems & when Wendy asked me “who do you think will win” I had to respond that I had no clue. I had my favorites but everyone was worthy of the laurel crown. So when the crown was placed it was on the pate of Robert Harlow, —  a poet who was mostly a stranger, in spite of being last year’s winner, to the rest of us. 2nd place went to Paul Amidon, 3rd place to Karen Schoemer, with a 4th place honorable mention (but no money) to Tom Corrado.

Thanks to the Sunday Four Poetry crew, Dennis Sullivan, Edie Abrams & the wandering Mike Burke for putting on a fine afternoon of poetry, & thanks to John Mellen & the crew at Smith’s Tavern for being such fine hosts & for the great, efficient service & good food.

See my Flickr! site for more photos.  

April 26, 2014

Yes! a Reading, April 25

The final event of this series at the Albany Center Galleries was the usual eclectic mix — music, flash fiction, poetry (& some wine too, of course), with the introductions tonight done by Matthew Klane.

I was pleased to see/hear former members of a favorite local band of the past “Knotworking” performing with Nick Matulis as “Swamp Baby” — Mike Hotter on guitar, Megan Prokorym on violin, Frank Moscowitiz keyboards, with Matulis doing vocals & guitar. It was dreamy, dark, breathless string rock, the lyrics unfortunately indecipherable in the mix, but the sound was great.

Joshua Keller is a student at the University at Albany & read a series of short fiction pieces, beginning with flash/micro pieces “Nursing Home” about residents seeing Jesus in the static of an over-dubbed VHS tape, a piece about childhood Care-Bears “Mobile,” & the terrifying “Wall Ball.” His last piece was a draft about being at Occupy Wall Street, but mocking his characters.

Jared Schickling said he was reading from his new manuscript “Above the Shale” about fracking. His poems mixed the language of physics & place. He introduced his piece “Transforming Power” with an extended quote from Latin but not the translation, again mixing the language of life, of parenting, with technology. His last piece was introduced with a discussion of the surviving verbs from the Pleistocene era, like his other pieces in multi-parts, but chilled by “redacted” repeated throughout. Political, but the message overwhelmed by the experimental.

I hope this series continues in the Fall with the new semester; thanks to Matthew Klane & James Belflower for this past year’s cluster of poets & artists. There is always an intriguing mix of words, sounds & images, & having it at the Albany Center Galleries adds another dimension even if the art is not yet hung. They have a FaceBook presence & check the calendar at AlbanyPoets.com. Or give me a call.

April 25, 2014

Up The River: Issue Two

For the second time in a year AlbanyPoets.com, has issued a print “journal of poetry, art & photography” Up The River in conjunction with the annual WordFest celebration. While the Capital Region of New York State is rich in readings, open mics, & other spoken word performances, print venues have been rare. Issue Two, edited by Jill Crammond, Kevin Peterson, & Thom Francis contains 62 poems from 43 poets. While there is a healthy dose of poems from poets in the Capital Region, most of whom would be familiar to anyone who attends open mics on a regular basis (or who read my Blog), the work of poets from all across the country are included.

Flipping through the zine I was intrigued by the West Coast poems of Richard Whitlock, “Subdividing Heaven and Earth in Downtown LA” & “Blue Notes for Fireball Whiskey & Ginger Ale,” but when I looked in the back of the book there was no bio (I do like finding out who these poets are as people). When I looked up his poems in the table of contents they were attributed to one Jeffrey Alfier, who is listed on the Poets&Writers website as a left-coast poet (one who also lists Richard Hugo as a “favorite author,” as does Richard Whitlock). But nothing like that for Richard Whitlock. Hmm? A bit of sloppy editorial production? Who is Richard Whitlock? Jeffery Alfier? I liked the poems whomever they were by. But, was this sloppy, or intentional, or something else?

The poems by the local poets are welcome additions to my shelf of pieces I have previously only heard at fleeting readings. But some of the out-of-area poet’s poems, while intriguing poems, were strangely similar to each other, aleatory, & synchronistically in close proximity in the book, notably the poets Art Heifeitz, Raffi Kiureghian, & John Grey.

Fernando Pessoa the Portuguese poet is reported to have as many as 72 “heteronyms” — personas under which he wrote poems, complete with individual biographies & distinct poetic styles. After all, it’s only words, & as they say about The Buddhist Theme Park, “It’s all an illusion.” No matter what, Up The River a fine collection of poems, ones I will keep at my bed side to indulge in before the reality of the night’s dreams.

Another thing I don’t get is the touting of being a “Pushcart Prize nominee” in a poet’s bio (not just in Up The River, but everywhere else these days). Small press publishers can nominate anyone they have published in the past year for a Pushcart Prize. Obviously it is to the publisher’s advantage to nominate someone, anyone, that they have published so that if, perchance, the poet wins the prize, the publisher benefits from the publicity & extra sales. I’ve been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, & as my father often said, “That & a token will get you on the bus.”  I have never gotten a prize (or a token) -- it’s like your Mother saying “you’ve been a good girl.”  If you get the Pushcart Prize, then brag about it.

Do buy Up The River, particularly if you don’t have many poems around your house, & even if you do, then Support Your Local Poet. Go to AlbanyPoets.com to order your copy.

April 24, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 6, April 19

The WordFest Invitational Slam was the culminating, climactic event of WordFest 2014, with a full card of 6 competing Slam teams from Albany, Buffalo, Jersey City, Suffern, Rochester, & Syracuse, at The Linda on Central Ave. in Albany. Albany’s Nitty Gritty Slam is into it’s 3rd year & has established itself as a presence in the world of Slam.

But first there was an impressive display of performance by young poets who are students at the University at Albany. Shareece Charles performed a break-up rant “Double Digits.” Sheila followed with “Love’s a Drug” (oh, yes!). Chole’s piece, “Chosen,” was on women’s images. Steve Valentine performed an intense Slam piece “Preacher Man.” All of these performers would’ve gotten respectable scores if they had been performing in the Slam.

The 5 judges were selected from the audience & moved to the front row seats, then the “sacrificial poet”/calibrator Anderson set us up with “Nothing Like the First Time.” Then on to 4 equal rounds (i.e., no eliminations), unlike individual Slams.

After the 1st round, which were all individual performances, a few things were clear — first of all knowing who the individual performers were was going to be problematic, with the teams shouting out the names amidst the applause, 2nd: it was readily apparent that this was a night of attitude, spit & shout (it was Slam, after all), 3rd: we were in a Revival Tent, filled with preachers & motivational speakers, not a lot of poets. Also, it was impossible to know where the night was going, as far as scores. Since there was no elimination the teams kept appearing in different orders & unless one kept track of the scores (“not my job, man”) one did not know who was in what place at which round. You had to pay attention, which was good.

But there was a lot of energy & competitive scores, for a change, ranging from 7s up to the 9s, with only a few 10s the whole night.

In the 1st round “Mike the Poet” from Team Syracuse performed a piece for his daughter. Joseph from Team Jersey City saw America as a strip-mall. The member from the Buffalo team played on multiple choices. Brian from Team Suffern did a quieter poem about a student in a physics class. The Rochester Team member’s piece was an emotional story of the grandmother voting. Mojavi represented Team Albany (“Nitty Gritty”) with one of my favorites, a poem about the people & issues on his block.

Team Buffalo
In the 2nd round the Buffalo Team did the first group piece, a neat play on various meanings of “Bills.” The Syracuse Team member described why he prefers Batman to Spider Man. Albany Team member Poetyc Visionz did a piece on love. Kayla from Team Suffern spoke of love/sex/molestation as if writing in a word-processing program. Rochester team member gave an angry performance wondering “who are in” as she walked the streets alone. Jonathan Salazar from the Jersey City team scored the night’s 1st 10 with a piece on a runaway father.

Rachel -- Team Suffern
Algorhythm from Team Albany began the 3rd round with a confused piece performed at break-neck speed. Members from the Rochester Team (2 women) did an angry breakup group piece. Suffern Team member Kayla performed an emotional piece about her relationship with her sister. A Buffalo team member recited a numbered autobiographical list poem. Christopher representing the Jersey City team spoke of memories of his mother dying of cancer. The Syracuse Team member read why “I hate you.”

Kevin Peterson -- Team Nitty Gritty (Albany)
In the final round, Thomas (?) from the Jersey City team described going from cocaine to an MFA. The Rochester Team did a group piece on hip-hop & music. The Suffern Team member did a social commentary poem contrasting the talk about sex by her father to her brother with her mother’s talk with her. Kevin Peterson from the Albany Team performed his well-know alternate-side-of-the-street-parking poem, with a different ending. The Syracuse Team group piece was a love poem, with some gentle humor for a change. The Buffalo Team member did breakup piece about his daughter dancing.

So when the final round was tallied, it was Team Buffalo (108.4) in 1st place, followed by Rochester (107.3), Jersey City (105.4), Albany (Nitty Gritty) (104.6), Suffern (103.9), & Syracuse (103.1). Another night of lots of words, appropriate for the final night of Albany WordFest 2014. AlbanyPoets.com is to be commended for all the work it took to bring these 6 Slam teams together tonight, & for the other 5 nights of poetry & spoken word performance that Albany experienced this week. Not to mention to the poetry open mics, Slams & printed work (Up The River) that they do throughout the year. Like I like to say, “In Albany, Every Day is Poetry Month.”

April 22, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 5, April 18

When the first WordFest happened in 2001 it was an open mic. Since then WordFest has grown & changed over the years to include in various years a book fair, featured readings, book launches, rock & poetry extravaganzas, a Slam invitational, even a cook-out, but always & forever open mics where anyone in the community can sign up, read, become a poet instantly, or not. WordFest 2014 took over the 3rd week of April in Albany & this night, Friday, was the grand marathon open mic at the UAG Gallery on Lark St. You can find the list of poets who had signed up for each 5 minute slot at AlbanyPoets.com, but that’s not the whole story. Who showed up? Who didn’t? Who showed up but hadn’t signed up & still read because somebody else didn’t shown up? The full story is here, more or less, depending upon whom you believe.

I was there from the beginning to the (bitter) (incomplete) end (end) & what follows are just brief comments, observations, notes that I was able to deceiver days later, or just make up if needed.  I admit to only what I’m willing to type.  If I left out a mention of your best poem or something brilliant you said that I missed while I was taking a pee, please comment. Then you will be as famous (?) as I am & we’ll all be beautiful, but none of us will be mentioned in Metroland in the Morning. & I’m sorry if I didn’t speak to you during the reading. If I had I would have been distracted & there wouldn’t be so many photos (you can see them all at my Flickr! site) & I wouldn’t have enough notes to write this Blog.

Mary Panza was the host, beginning to end. Nancy Klepsch was up first, reading “Invocation” (for Tom Nattell) & “We Need an Army of Harvey’s” (i.e., Harvey Milk). Alan Catlin read from a new chapbook Beautiful Mutants. Charles Straney’s poems were about everyday. Alan Casline shared some jazz-inspired poems a la Jack Kerouac. We haven’t seen Shaun Baxter at an open mic in a long time, so glad to hear him read his Icarus in Albany poem. Howard Kogan’s single poem was “In the Beginning.” Mizana read poems from her phone on aging & time. Surprise, surprise, Don Levy’s poems were about eating & homophobia. & then I was not surprised to hear Carol H. Jewell read one of her signature pantoums. Joe Krausman jumped from cyberspace to the Bible to baseball.

Susie said this was the 2nd time she has read her poems out & had a nice Jewish boy for you. Cheryl A. Rice included a recent poem about being sunburned in Costa Rica. Tim Verheagen had us in stitches with his (now) legendary memoir “The Fuck Family.” L-Majesty’s poems were about sex, drinking & sex. Glenn Werner was experimental & political. Adam Tedesco referenced jazz trumpeter Olu Daru (& son Nasir Jones) & read the 2nd pantoum of the night. It was good see Karin Maag-Tanchak again & hear her poem about moving & finding old photos. Mike Jurkovic mixed poems of New York & Handel. Tess Lecuyer expanded the catalogue of the night’s forms with a sonnets & a villanelle. Back once again, former Metroland Best Poet R.M. Engelhardt read some of his classic poems.

Carolee Bennett read a retrospective poem & another of love & comets. Matt Galletta battled a humming microphone, included a poem about rock music, “In the Garage.” I had not signed up but there were some no-shows, as expected, so Mary fit me in to read some poems by Gary Murrow, who was on the short list (#3) of Metroland’s Best Poets in 2012 & who seems to have a hard time making it out to these readings. Bob Sharkey read a mix of his trenchant, creaky poetry & prose. Jill Crammond included an Easter poem that she dedicated to me. A.O.R. arrived with his entourage & said he will be competing tomorrow in the Slam Invitational as part of the WordFest at The Linda (Blog to follow).

Steven Minchin has read occasionally in open mics & one of his poems was titled “Cosmonauts Foam in their Seats” if I got it right. Among the poems Shannon Shoemaker read was her signature Slam piece about not doing Slam. Dan Rain was a fill-in with a poem about a survivor of the Tsunami. Still another fill-in, Melody Davis, read from her book Holding the Curve. Miss S. read one of her eco-poems, & another about songs from her Pandora list. Brian Dorn read (rhyming) spiritual poems for the holy weekend. Thérèse Broderick read the 2 poems included in Issue 2 of Up The River. Frank Robinson, Thérèse’s husband, read poems from his new chapbook Love Poems (guess who the poems were about). Sylvia Barnard read Easter poems from her poetry collection Trees.

Miriam Axel-Lute followed in a similar vein with poems based on a passage in the book of Matthew. Avery read fast, as he often does. Samson Dikeman included a sestina for the night’s forms catalogue. Mark W. O’Brien spent a long time looking for a religious poem. Pamela Twining read a long, Beat-name-dropping rant, then another long one. Christoph Hanna was in a similar mode, beating a dead horse. Harvey Havel read from the beginning of his new novel Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt (Publish America).

Steven Lange
Following that, there was an extended list of poets who weren’t there for roll call, then a poet who said he hadn’t read before at an open mic, Sidlak Malaki, reciting a long monologue. Suddenly the place had filled back up, but not with the poets on the list -- it was Steven Lange with an entourage of fellow medical students to hear him read an extended poem that used lots of medical terminology they all seemed to know. 

& that was it. Mary Panza declared the reading over & we wandered off into the night, at least those of us who hadn’t wandered off already. A great night of words, images & characters — some of them the poets them(our)selves.

April 21, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 4, April 17

In past years when WordFest took place over a weekend, the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center was often “the official unofficial start of WordFest.” This year with the series a full week of readings this regular monthly poetry event was fully official. The Center was packed, standing-room-only, for Pro. Daniel Nester’s class as the featured poet(s), going by the handle “Josie and the Dropboxers.” It’s not what you think, the students apparently use the internet service Dropbox to post their assignments.

Since it was Holy Thursday I selected as our Muse William Blake & read his 2 poems titled “Holy Thursday.” Then on to the open mic with Alan Catlin up first, from his Selected Poems, “What We Talk About When We talk About Love” based on a Raymond Carver story. Philomena decided to "be really risky," reading a revealing poem “Being Fat is Like…” Bob Sharkey read an excerpt from a longer piece -- making a movie, tankers hauling crude.

David Weeks
New voice, David Weeks, made it over from Troy for the 1st time, & read a poem written for both of his sons, “The Beauty of Fatherhood.” Emily Gonzalez’s poem was “Unnoticed, for Sebastian” for Sebastian Barr’s photos about abandoned buildings.

Tonight’s feature poet was a cluster of poets from Daniel Nester’s class at the College of St. Rose in Poetry & Performance, going in 3 sets. Note: see my Flickr! site for photos of all of the poets.

Jenna VanWely
Set One:
Caryleanna Guyatte’s poem was “Annoying” about her "so-called" boyfriend. Katie Cummings read a flarf poem based on Google search results for “Wanda,” “Victor,” “strawberry,” & “beef.” Danielle Viaña read a sestina way too fast which was part of the word-salad fun. Robert Reyes couldn’t be more different, his poem wondering “When Can I Relax?” Jenna VanWely’s piece was a list poem self-portrait “I Am.”

Conor White
Set Two:
Christina Bourne had her hoola-hoop with her for her reading of “The Hoola-Hoop Sestina” then demonstrated some moves. Rachel Brandenberg wrote a love poem to her younger sister, full of humor & tenderness. Ty Versocki works at a bookstore & her poem “Behind the Book-Seller” was composed of things she heard in the store over a number of days. Conor White revealed his sordid “Ricey Secret” in a humorous, self-effacing poem. Kyle Simcik read “Rap 101.” Shawn Berman likes playing around, plays a lot of video games & knows how to fight, he said, among other random things in his poem.

Marlee Christine
Set Three:
Rachel Gagnon’s nightmare poem was titled “Athena Out of Darkness” intensely read. Marlee Christine read a sestina about love, “My Bug-a-boo,” a favorite form it seems of this group. Nancy Wall read a serious auto-biographical list poem “I Remember.” Stephanie Clowe also read a flarf poem, full of randomness. Krissi Harrington’s poem — & perhaps her too — was “Proud to be a Bitch,” a feminist manifesto.

I suspect that many of these poets did not consider themselves “Poets” when they signed up for Nester’s course, but after tonight they all should know they are Poets.

After a break I read my poem for the season “What Passover Has Taught Me.” Then Isaiah Agojo, who is also a student at the College of St. Rose & in recent months has been video-taping readings & interviews with local poets read a long, intense poem about himself that eventually became about rape & child molestation. Metroland announced last week that according to its Readers’ Poll Brian Dorn was the Best Poet, & in honor of WordFest read “Words.” Joe Krausman, at least in my opinion, is one of Albany’s Best Poets, read an eco-/sex poem “Pandering to Pandas at the National Zoo.”

Alex Sherman-Cross
Alex Sherman-Cross, a former-feature, read what she said was “a little bit of a rough poem,” about missing his dick & his kiss. Miss S., also known as Jessica, read a short, 2-part poem, about freedom from a relationship. Another new voice, Angel Perez, did a poem from memory, a prayer for protection. Kevin Peterson read a poem to his grandmother who passed away recently, a poem of love & humor & vodka & angels. The last poet of the night, Brooklyn Collins, was still another new voice with a great name & an untitled poem about her trust issues, a brave little piece.

WordFest or not, this reading & open mic takes place on the third Thursday of each month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 PM, $3.00 (more or less) donation — a featured poet & an open mic for community poets (1 poem!).

April 18, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 3, April 16

Each year the readers of Metroland, Albany’s weekly entertainment tabloid, vote for the area’s best restaurant, best country band, best pizza & best Poet. While past research has determined that the number of votes cast each year may not be that great the local poetry community waits with bated breath (this may be slightly over-stated) to see who the top 3 winners are, to see who is the “Best Local Poet.” The winners this year were Brian Dorn who during the past year has been to at least as many poetry events as I have, Jay Renzi whom no one had ever seen at a reading, & Mary Panza who everyone has seen at a poetry reading one time or another in the last 25 years. And each year AlbanyPoets honors these winners with a public reading during WordFest.

We gathered this night at the historical Pauly’s Hotel just next door to The Low Beat where we had gathered the night before for the Haiku Slam, with AlbanyPoets el presidente Thom Francis as our MC.

Best Local Poet Brian Dorn began the night with poems from his chapbook From My Poems to Yours, with the title poem, then an ode to subtle beauty “Plain to See” & the nostalgic “Ghost Town.” Then he read a sequence of poems about the Capital District, Albany (“Paradox City,” “Huge,” “Skyline” (imagining the Egg decorated for Easter), & a poem to Rachel Ray), to the North Country (“The Ethan Allen” on Lake George & “Eyesore” the old Frontier Town), to Schenectady (“The City that Lit Up the World” & a poem to Olympic wrester Jeff Blatnick “Happy Dude). He ended with a letter to Metroland, a thank-you note & proposal for more more poet categories, as is done with the local bands. Brian is one of the hardest working poets in the area, attending readings all up & down the Hudson valley from the North Country to Kingston. He earned his title.

Jay Renzi on the other hand was not only new to those of us who attend local readings & open mics but he confessed that we were new to him, having generally kept to himself in Troy writing his poems in pubs. He began with “The Place Where the Poets Dwell” from his chapbook The Thorn & Thistle, written as Joseph Renzi, a series about a fictional tavern & its patrons. Most of his poems were quite short, only a couple of stanzas at most, & they rhymed — did I mention that Brian Dorn is a rhymer too? When was the last time Metroland had 2 rhyming poets on its list? Other rhymes were the new “Kitchen,” “Tangletown” about a neighborhood in Seattle, & “ A Fair.” He stated that he sometimes performs with dancer Laura Teeter & he read 2 of the poems she has choreographed, “Dawn” & “This is Not the Devil.” He read a piece about a Dutch cemetery he wrote for the “30/30” project, “The Dutch” that starts in rhyme then breaks into free verse. There was a short piece about a Bloody Mary & beer, the 4-line “Sundial,” “Stay In this Place for a While & the very short pub poem “Clever & Shout.” I hope that he will try out a few of our local open mics.

Mary Panza has a lock on a spot on the Metroland list as perhaps one of Albany’s best-known local poets. She began tonight's reading with her entry from the 1995 anthology Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 (Manic D Press), “Size Still Matters.” Then from her collaborative chapbook with Gina Grega Hair Buffet (Hairpie X Press) “What Was Lost in Translation was Made Up for in Bullshit,” “Mercy,” & “Shooting the Weebles with Who-Ha.” Then on to her irreverent take on Shel Siverstein, “Fuck the Giving Tree,” ending with the drive-by “The Cock-Kicker Manifesto.” A classic Mary Panza performance — wham, bam, thank-you m’am.

The music for the evening was the guitar duo of Nick Bisanz (one of the “Best Kept Secrets in the Capital Region” according to Metroland) & Pat Irish performing Pat's “The Front Desk,” an extended rock piece of linked songs telling the story of the night clerk in a hotel, a mini- (& minimalist) rock opera, the duo performance reminding me of Lou Reed & John Cale’s “Songs for Drella” & Pat’s voice & intonation recalling the early ‘90s group Trotsky Icepick.

WordFest 2014 continues. More pictures at my Flickr! site.

April 17, 2014

Albany WordFest — Episode 2, April 15

The Nitty Gritty Slam is held on on each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat on Central Ave. here in Albany, NY, & that means this week it falls into WordFest & the annual Haiku Battle, with featured visiting performer DDE The Slammer.

The host for the open mic was Kevin Peterson & first up was a brave new soul Stephen Roberts who read a tender love poem “Like a Rose Like You.” Avery performed a piece progressing through the colors of his aura. Emily Gonzalez did 2 poems, a childhood memoir of her mother’s sheets, “Cool Red Satin” & a poem for Sebastian Barr’s photos of abandoned buildings “Unnoticed.”

Isaiah Agojo, who was videoing the readers, read a haiku from high school, then a slam-style piece “Why Don’t You Say you Love Me.” Miss S. who has been here before as Jessica S. read a few haikus, then a poem from a prompt “My Pillow.” Thom il papa Francis concluded the open mic with 2 older pieces, a love poem to his insulin pump “Machine,” then a collage poem using lines sampled from a poem by R.M. Englehardt.

The night’s featured performer came all the way from Indianapolis, on tour, DDE The Slammer, & that’s what he delivered. He began with an evocation of youth “Nintendo Power,” then on to the more grim side of Slam, a piece about killings in Indianapolis, “The Bright Side of Death.” During the social commentary “Good Time Girls” he got heckled good-naturedly Albany-style. He did a rant about another poet’s performance, then a piece on being a Mexican in Indiana, a verbal gunman. He ended with another preachy rant “Barstool Cannon.”

Kevin v. Tasha
Then on to the night’s major bout, the Haiku Slam. I had boldly signed-up, a sheaf of haikus in my sweaty hands. Each round was the best 2 out of 3, with 3 volunteer judges (one of whom just wandered with a friend for a drink). The first rounds pitted Elizag against Steve, me against Albert C.,  Jim against Emily, Brian Dorn against Samson (a tour-de-force of on-the-spot compositions) & Tasha Davis against Shannon Shoemaker. In the second round I went up against Elizag (a formidable foe), Emily against Samson, & Kevin (who had gotten a “buy” for the 1st round because of the odd number of contestants) against Tasha.

Next, Samson went against Kevin in a wild & wooly round of personal attack haikus. Then the surprising final round where I went toe-to-toe with Samson, in which Brian Dorn loaned Samson a haiku in which “haiku” rhymed with “fuck-you.” But when the dust settled I moi!ME! was the haiku poet left standing, & I had beaten Samson’s brilliant scurrilous haikus with a bitter-sweet flower haiku:
     blue, green sleeping in
the garden — Forget-me-not
     not just a flower
It was a wild ride & many good (& a few real stinkers) haiku spewed into the air.

While this event was held under the umbrella (literally, since it was snowing wetly when we headed home) of Albany WordFest 2014, the Nitty Gritty Slam is held on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday of each month in our new, rockin’ venue The Low Beat on Central Ave. in Albany, NY. Check AlbanyPoets.com for complete information.

April 16, 2014

Albany WordFest — Day 1, April 13

The kick-off, the 1st round, the ceremonial 1st pitch, the face-off, the launch of Up the River, the opening lines of WordFest in the backroom of McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY. I was breathless. Unfortunately the copies of Up the River were still coming up the river & won’t be here until later in the week, but the poets were here.

el presidente Thom Francis welcomed us to this week of words, then introduced the 1st of the night’s hosts, Jill Crammond. Jill started us off with a poem by David Budbill, “The Three Goals”  (More of Budbill’s work can be found in the 2012 Foothills Publishing anthology In the Spirit of T’ao Ch’ien, edited by Charles Rossiter). But back to the poets of Albany & the other contributors to Up the River.

Adam Tedesco was first with a Whitmanesque (as in Walt) statement “Pay Me No Mind” (“I am all these things”). Cheryl A. Rice’s poem “Skype Poet” was a memoir of TV written last week. Therese Broderick’s poem “October Surgery,” was followed by Mimi Moriarty’s “Sleeping in my Sister’s Bed” another hospital poem; Mimi also read “Written After a Line by Emily Dickinson.” The poems Mike Jurkovic read are not in Up the River, the political “New York Swallows History” & “Owl” about a photographer of trains & his thieving wife. Shannon Shoemaker read a poem inspired behind the old Lark Tavern “Of Hummingbirds & Sunday Supper.”

James Shultis read 2 relationship (“I” to “you”) poems, “If It Were Warmer Our Arms Could Come Out & Take Them Away With Them” & the much-simpler titled “Focus.” & that was it for the poets in the new Up the River.  Oh, & Jill's hair was perfect.

Kevin Peterson took over to host an unannounced open mic, starting off with his own poem “Dreaming of Super Heroes & Wrestlers.” Tess Lecuyer followed with haiku. Bless performed a breakup piece about his rough winter, with the message to love yourself. Shannon Shoemaker also had a new, untitled breakup poem. Avery performed his Kripalu commercial. Emily Gonzalez read a new poem, a memoir of going to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Jacky K. read her bitter poem on her husband fucking “Beatrice Miller” on their wedding night.

Samson Dikeman read a poem based on a news story about pedestrians in San Francisco being treated as second-class citizens. Carolee Bennett’s poem about the loneliness of Space “Since They Manned the International Space Station…” was perhaps inspired by the movie Gravity? Don Levy read about an encounter “In the Pool” in Florida, talking prescriptions. James was back with a poem commenting on bike polo & teeth. A virgin poet, Millie, ended the night reciting an angry Slam-style poem “My Creed a Warrior’s Creed.”

WordFest was off to a great start. More photos can be found at my Flickr! site.

April 15, 2014

2nd Sunday @ 2, April 13

We, my co-host Nancy Klepsch & I, were surprised at the number of folks who showed up on the first really warm day of April to listen to poetry rather than work in their yards. Maybe they’re all city folk.

I began with my tribute to Bob Kaufman’s poem “Believe, Believe,” including a recitation of his poem.

Then a new poet here, Sarah Wellen, read a descriptive “Family Weekend” & “The Uneasy Truce” from her book of poems Reflections. Cathy Abbott read a memoir that included an episode about being fired for painting a stool that her boss then sat on while the paint was wet. Mike Connor brought with him his fan club to hear him read a Spring poem “May 1” & a poem written as a get-well card to a friend’s mother “Irene’s Journey.”

Another new voice, Nate Kristen, read a couple of poems of self-examination, “I Know I’m Not” & “High on Scotch” (home alone writing). Howard Kogan got us laughing with his poem about shopping in a hardware store, an “ode to aging” titled “Words Fail Me.” Ron Drummond gave us a Shakespearean experience, reading from Ted Hughes’s introduction to an edition of selections from the Bard a passage on Hermetic philosophy in Shakespeare, then a wonderfully sonorous reading of Sonnet #55, & a brief passage from a play her wrote in which Shakespeare is a character. Ron has been a regular here since this series began, reading a variety of texts, from sci-fi, to philosophical considerations, to personal laments, some of which have been published or show-cased in public readings, but sadly today he announced he would be moving from Troy to Ithaca (sounds like he's following Odysseus). We will miss his unique voice here, but I am confident he will keep writing his unique prose & sending it out into the world.

My co-host Nancy Klepsch read next with a Spring & flowers poem “Mr. & Mrs.” then a piece from one of two chapbooks she is trying to get published, ”None of Our Brains.” Jil Hanifan gave us 2 found poems, the 1st from a scientific/engineering text “Harmonious Poems with Prescribed Singularity of Unbounded Domains” (not sure if I got this correct), & “Emily & the Internet” (about recently-discovered fragments of Emily Dickinson’s writing). William Robert Foltin arrived late & ended up on the bottom of the list & read his 2 poems, the first about farmer’s committing suicide, the second a tribute to “a beautiful teacher.”

This open mic for writers of poetry &/or prose (2 poems or a max. of 5 minutes of prose) takes place in Troy NY at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, on River St., at 2PM on the 2nd Sunday of most months (except July & August). It’s Free!

April 14, 2014

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree and Sky, April 11

Now that the snow is gone (?) & we can park on the lawn of the Pine Hollow Arboretum it means it’s the start of this year’s series Poets of Earth, Water, Tree and Sky sponsored by Rootdrinker Institute & hosted by Director Alan Casline. The featured reader was Martha Deed, but first the open mic.

& I was first on the signup sheet, & I read an older piece “Now, Listen” & my poem/tribute essay to Bob Kaufman’s “Believe, Believe” (April 18 is Bob Kaufman Day). Joe Krausman began with a piece that re-worked the Scriptures (perhaps in honor of the impending Passover holiday?), then a piece on the magazines in the check-out lines at Super-Markets “Mixed Messages,” & a short poem from memory exhorting us to “jump in.” Tim Verhaegen regaled us with another hysterical piece about his family, this about a phone conversation with his twin “Oh Brother You Are Such an Asshole.” Mark O’Brien read a collaboration he wrote with Tom Corrado, “How the Sky was Empty,” then a memoir piece “Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man, Circa 1971,” & a poem reacting to the tragic industrial explosion in Texas last year, “April Has Been Cancelled.” Thérèse Broderick read a poem inspired by a flower theme park in Dubai, “More Real Than a Mirage.”

Thérèse’s husband, Frank Robinson, read 2 poems from his new book, Love Poems, “The Poetry is You” & “Thérèse 5.1”. Nice to see Thérèse blush. Susan Kayne was new here, introduced herself as a former breeder of horses who is now an animal (horse) rights activist & her poem was the tragic story of “An Average Colt’s Life.”

The featured poet Martha Deed drove here from Western New York. She read a varied set of poems dealing with Nature, politics, references to & experiments with other poets, & even some humor thrown in. “Housatonic Sam” was a funny poem about a coyote howling at 4AM for social justice, while “Visiting a Rattlesnake Farm” was set in Crawford, Texas, home of “W” Bush. “Mining Boots Just In” was about a stop on a road trip in Kentucky, then reworked under the influence of John Cage. Another poem mixed lines from a speech by “W” with her own lines; she also collaged lines from a poem by her daughter, about her daughter’s experience interviewing for the NSA. Other poets referred to were Adelaide Crapsey & James Tate. She also read a couple poems from her project to write 65 poems for age 65. She ended with a moving piece about a conversation on a Paris train, “The Wounded Man at War…” covering loss & poetry readings. A nicely put together reading of poems in a variety of styles & subjects.

After a break, Sylvia Barnard read a poem, “Cycling through Denmark” based an a childhood story a friend told her. Sue Riback drew on her daily work in a nursing home for a couple poems, one a list of characters, the other focused on a couple still together after 60 years, then “17th Century Flu Season” consisting of a list of remedies that would make you wish you hadn’t eaten during the break. Edie Abrams read a bouquet of post-retirement poems, “Who Am I?” “My First Day at Hebrew School” (as a volunteer) & “It’s Magic” (her experience reading for the RISE program). Alan Casline read as the last poet what he described as “some Thursday night poems,” a poem about a morning walk with the dog “Snowfall Mounds the Yard” & a bit of parataxis “Mountain Sky Bird.” (Parataxis, is that when your dinner party is so big you have to call 2 cabs?)

This series, held at the Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitor Center 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY, 6:30PM, continues on Fridays roughly a month apart through November.

Live from the Living Room, April 9

Some poets know how to do it right — Adam Tedesco, tonight’s featured poet, packed the audience with his wife, mother & an assortment of (female) friends; I was quite envious. Our host, Don Levy, did a series of announcements as we settled in then on to our featured poet.

Adam Tedesco said he doesn’t like to talk about his poems, which has its own aesthetic value of letting the work stand for itself. But the work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it all comes from some place, & at a reading it goes by once quickly & knowing where it comes from sometimes helps us understand it. Adam’s poems can be complex & oblique in their associations & references so I don’t always “get” them, but always enjoy the play of language & images. Although, he did interject little personal asides before each poem which may or may not have anything to do with the poem, such as “the unwritten subtitle to everything I have written is Fuck the Police”. There were a couple of love poems, “Leaning Forward” & “Everything is Awesome” & perhaps the anaphoric, twisted images of “When Love Comes to Town.” Some poems were philosophical ponderings, as “Endless Joy,” “An Explanation of Life,” & the irreverently theological “Nothing Stands Between Us.” And there were the wild sex, drug & alcohol influenced “Hello Do You Have a Sister?” “Ace of Spade,” & a poem that was an inventory of drugs & friends & the nights. & other poems — good to hear more than the usual 1 or 2 at open mics.

Don passed his hat for donations then I read 2 urban responses to Earth Day, “How I’m Doing My Part to Preserve the Adirondacks” & “Earth Day 1991.” Brian Dorn read a love poem he has not read out before, “Suspended in Time” & another that is a favorite, “Plain to See.” Don described Samson Dikeman as “bendy” then Samson read the social commentary “Check Out Line” & an impressive “A Sestina for Spilled Coffee.” Avery’s first piece was a Spring-time shit poem, “Some Love Flowers Others Not So Much,” then recited a tribute to the rock-band Led Zeppelin, “Time to Flip the Record.”

Back in the area for a visit with family was Emily Gonzalez, who read a poem by Vicki Carp, “The Consequences of Waking,” then her own poem based on a mis-reading of the title, “The Consequences of Walking,” an urban stroll along Lark St. & beyond. Jacqueline K. began with a recently written, untitled piece on shattered love & the aftermath of sex, then another grim memoir “Nine Down for Miles Davis.” Our host Don Levy read a pop-culture memoir “Hullabaloo” then the poem he wrote on his recent visit to Florida, “In the Pool.”

We gather each 2nd Wednesday in the downstairs “Garden Room” of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, 332 Hudson Ave., for an open mic with a featured reader, 7:30 PM & a modest (or immodest) donation.

April 13, 2014

Frequency North, April 3

This was the last of the season’s reading at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY, with both poets, Sharon Mesmer & Jonah Winter, having entries in series co-ordinator Daniel Nester’s 2013 The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing).

The first poem Sharon Mesmer read, titled “I Want to Expose Myself for the Love of the People,” introduced her style (outrageous language trying to be funny with bizarre juxtapositions sometime useful, sometimes as gratuitous as the language) & her persona (self-absorbed punk, or as the title of one of her books, Annoying Diabetic Bitch). So when she read her 2nd poem “What Happens If Your Eyeball Falls Out of Your Socket” it sounded just like her 1st poem. Her sestina, written for the anthology, “Super Rooster Killer Assault Kit,” turned out to be Google-generated “flarf poem” (so Google it) filled with pop culture references & — you got it — outrageous language. In fact when she read an assemblage of “beautiful poetry” to counter criticism that she only writes “ugly poetry” it actually sounded like all the others. The title of her last poem could’ve been the title of her reading, “Song of Myself.” I remember when I discovered Dada when I was in high school & my friends & I sat around composing poems from random word-searches in the dictionary (pre-Google) & laughing at our cleverness. Maybe I should dig out those old notebooks & perhaps I too can get a good-paying poetry gig in Academe.

One thing that could be said about Jonah Winter’s reading is that at least his poems were more varied than Mesmer's, although they could also be characterized as “cleverness personified.” He read his 2 sestinas from the Nester anthology, “Sestina: A Cowboy’s Diary” (based on an actual cowboy’s diary) & “Sestina: Bob” (only 1 end rhyme, “Bob,” rather than 6) as well as a couple others: another limited-vocabulary sestina based on a student’s response to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, the other sestina in the form of an infomercial for increasing one’s vocabulary. Other silliness were a series of poems in the persona of an ignorant 13-year old boy, a poem from a beard’s point-of-view “Ode on Santa Fe,” an (actually funny) satire “The Lord’s Pledge Drive” & an audience participation piece “Psalm” where he got us to make the “poetry grunt” as needed.

Perhaps over the Summer Dan Nester should meet with St. Rose College administrators to initiate still another money-making scheme for the graduate program, an MFA in Stand-up Comedy. Such a program may bring in even more money than the MFA poetry program.  Then perhaps one could double-major in both poetry & Stand-up & then get high-paying gigs at both Comedy Clubs & Colleges like St. Rose throughout the country. Hmm, if it wasn’t so much work I might consider it myself.

April 11, 2014

Caffè Lena Open Mic, April 2

The start of National Poetry Month* (& National Frog Month) & this was the first of many open mics/readings in the region, with Carol Graser as our host. But first she introduced Susan Hahn to talk about “Saratoga Reads,” the community reading program, & the next read, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (the title an oblique reference to William Blake’s “The Nurse’s Song”).

Alan Catlin, the first of the open mic poets, kept us in town with “Listening to an All-Russian Concert at SPAC … (that took us on to thoughts about his mother), & a poem about Sandy the Bartender “The 300 Hundred Club.” I haven’t heard Margaret Bryant read in quite some time & she gave us a “more conventional face” to “Early Spring.” Tim Sneider read a couple of his mother’s poems (she would’ve been 95). Keeping on the theme of mothers, Carol Starr read “Apple Pie Memories” then a poem about differences, as a Special Ed teacher, “To Peter.” Nedra from the “Saratoga Reads” project read us a little of Hafiz to encourage our participation in all things exotic. Alan Casline read from his spontaneous pocket notebook verse the 4th & 5th choruses from “Ottawa Blues.”

The first of the night’s featured poets, Susan Riback, said she had read here 10 years ago in the early months of this series & so tonight in honor of that read a poetic retrospective of her life & poems, beginning, of course, with “My Birth” (she was born early). “Lessons from Norway” was about her youth. She recited Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” & a poem about her early days as a nurse “Will I Begin to Cry?” From her 2003 book Shaking the Sand Out: Poems of Motherhood she read “Words of My Angel Face” & “Dirty Laundry Blues.” “Wedding Anniversary” was a bitter-sweet look back. She ended with “Insomnia” & the funny “I Tried Love On.”

Catherine Norr began her set with an a cappella spiritual that she had written, then on to a selection of poems from her recent book Return to Ground. These included “My Mother’s Legs,” “Mississippi Riverside Chat,” “Color Barrier,” “La Belle France” (“a snap shot”), “Giving Thanks,” “Return to Ground,” “To Decide,” “Shoptalk,” “Seeing a Pattern,” “Within the Mandela,” & “Awaking & All That Jazz.” Two fine sets of poems from 2 fine poets.

After the break, Carol Graser returned to read her lush poem “The Porcupine.” Mark O’Brien followed with a poem about his mother’s beautiful legs, then a poem about a funeral for childhood pet parakeet.

Dale Going read a poem using the technical language of textiles about Impressionistic painting & dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art “Complacencies of the Peignoir.” Jonathan Hefter read a long piece in rhyme written, he said, in the style of the comic essayist David Rakoff. Thomas Fisher followed with 2 poems by David Whyte, read in imitation of Whyte’s English accent. Sue from “Saratoga Reads” read a bit of Rumi before giving out a DVD. Harry Hoy said his poem “The Old In & Out” was an “out-there” work-in-progress. Ellen Finn was back with a couple of very dark poems read without introduction, the violent “In the Darkness” & “When Death is at Your Doorstep.”

Judith Prest read an old poem “Telegrams from God” & a new one “What Gets Us in The End.” Rodney Parrott began with a quote from A.R. Ammons then a tale of mine workers dancing the night away. I followed with my poem based on a quote from The Nation columnist Patricia Williams “Peacocks in the Driveway.” W.D. Clarke delivered one of his funny-grim ballads of looking for gold out West, “The Chinaman’s Feet.” Effy Redman is often difficult to understand & her poems are complex as well, but worth the effort, both on her part & ours; her poem tonight was “Miscellaneous” which were images & scenes from childhood, perhaps one of our bravest poets.

Leticia is the producer of the film “Life On the Run,” with a lengthy introduction to her poem “Shimmering in the Light.” Barbara Garro’s “Surprise Visitor” was a quirky piece about a lady with hats, then a poem considering life as a gift or as a can of worms. Therese Broderick’s poem “At the Flower Theme Park” was about her recent visit to the United Arab Emirates. Gillial Dawson ended the evening with a birthday poem.

The variety of work here is always stunning & tonight was no exception. & it happens every 1st Wednesday of the month at Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, 7:30PM, $5.00 — cheap! — bring poems for the open mic.

* “In Albany EveryDay is Poetry Month”

April 10, 2014

Poets Speak Loud!, March 31

More Poetry! now back in Albany, back at McGeary’s for the open mic. It was supposed to be a “roast” of Mary Panza, but that was postponed until the Fall. But Mary was there to be the host & Ring Master of the open mic. It was a club-house reading with some long-time supporters & poets of the open mic scene, even A.C. Everson in her new role as videographer.

I was first on the sign-up sheet & read 2 new poems, “The Fence” (a product of a poetry workshop with Bernadette Mayer), then my entry to the Poetry Unites project, “Believe, Believe,” a tribute to the poem by Bob Kaufman. Julie Lomoe read an eco-poem written a few years ago, “Bi-Polar Gaia.” Joe Krausman pushed the format with a tour-de-force villanelle composed only of one-syllable words, then a cautionary tale of “The True Story of Jack & Jill.” Don Levy read a poem written many years ago, inspired by Edie Sedgwick & Gerard Malanga, “Mod Fashions,” then a more recent piece is his on-going commentary on homophobia, “No Gay Eating Here.” Tess Lecuyer began with a couple of old March haikus, then ended with a new March sonnet.

We’ve missed Kristen Day on the scene (she is reputed to have the world’s 2nd largest collection of photos of unknown poets); tonight she read the hysterical account of an conversation with her grandmother, “Four Fucking Dollars,” then “Everyday,” a list poem of the common phrases she says everyday. Anthony Bernini also made a rare appearance, all the way from Brunswick, with a poem based on a cartoon from The New Yorker magazine, “Sensible Pumps,” then a very new one, he said, “Desert Rivers.” Also with a new poem, written today, Adam Tedesco read “Molt” on the death of his mother’s friend, followed by the brutally ironic “Where I Lived & What I Lived For.” A late-arriving Algorhythm started by reciting one piece running off rhymes, on poetry & being down, then looses it, & does another piece in the same vein. It was all the same to us.

& that was it for this month, but if we all survive WordFest & our pens don’t run out of ink we’ll be back in McGeary’s back room on the next last Monday, about 7:30 — order dinner too. Check AlbanyPoets.com for a calendar of events.

April 8, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Sunday March 30 — Featured Reading

The final reading of this year’s Split This Rock Poetry Festival, back one more time in the National Geographic Auditorium, on a rainy Sunday morning, tired & exhilarated, inspired & spurred on. Melissa Tuckey, member of the Split This Rock Board of Directors & Planning Committee was our tender host, began with a reading of Langston Hughes’s poem “Big Buddy” from which the name “Split This Rock” came —
Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
and split it wide!
When I split this rock,
stand by my side.
Today we remembered poet Wanda Coleman (1946 - 2013) with a recording of her reading her poem “Angel Baby Blues.”

The first poet was a member of the DC Youth Slam Team Reina Privado reciting a moving, tender & bitter-sweet poem “How To Wear Your Mother’s Lipstick” — & her mother was there in the audience to greet Reina after her reading. It was difficult to take my eyes off them just 2 rows in front of me. Still another young poet “at the beginning of a great career” as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote to Walt Whitman.

Natalie Diaz greeted us in her Mojave language, then said she was going to read just love poems today. The poems she read were lush with images of fruits (apples & figs) & tasting & bodies, beginning with “Towards the Amaranth of Love or War,” then a sexy poem of watching her lover eat an apple, then “The Bells of Prague,” “These Hands If Not God’s” & “Ode to the Beloved’s Hips” like bells, like songs, anatomy & fruit — after that we all needed a cigarette (even those of us who no longer smoke)!

Sheila Black began with an explanation of her disability, which I won’t even begin to write about except that it forms a backdrop to her poetry, sometimes distant, sometimes right up there. Her first poem, “Migrant,” was a portrait of a woman set in southern New Mexico. Frida Kahlo, she said, was her first “disability pin-up" & she read “Los Dos Fridas, or Script for the Erased” about “being welcomed into the club of people” after corrective surgery. “My Mission Is To Surprise & Delight” was a poem about her daughter working at the Apple store (the title from her daughter’s tee-shirt). “Borrowed Light Here in the 20th Century” was an anti-war piece, while “How to Influence Dreams” was a poem written to her “Capitalist alternative side.” She ended with a poem of little images of driving through Texas with her youngest daughter, “Travels with Eliza.”

Shailja Patel was introduced as a Kenyan poet & activist. Her first piece was a collage of quotes from news accounts of Obama joking about drones, & her reading the names of children killed by US drones in Pakistan, the names written on a styrofoam cup in the same manner that prisoners at Guantanamo prison passed around poems. Her 2nd poem had an equally ironic twist, based on Twitter posts on gay rights/human rights. She also read briefly from her poetry book Migritude, “First States in Utopia” then recited a piece mixing Kenyan politics & a love song to a beloved, “Offering.” She ended with a piece from her Slam period “For the Verbal Masturbators” mixing dick jargon & politics.

And suddenly (or not) that was it for Split This Rock 2014. Melissa ended with thanks to, well, everyone & words from our Elder Adrienne Rich while we all held hands & there were even tears, like the rain outside.

I’m already looking forward to the 2016 Split This Rock — come join us.

April 7, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Saturday March 29 — Evening Featured Reading

It’s Saturday Night!Regie Cabico proclaimed as he pranced on stage to a disco beat in an iridescent silver clubbing outfit, setting his tone for evening. The tribute poet tonight was Jake Adam York (1972-2012) with a recording of him reading a civil rights poem.

The DC Youth Slam poet was Thomas Hill (aka, he said, “The Cinnamon Gentleman”). He did 2 pieces, the quietly stated “Sunday Morning,” read from his chapbook Chronophobia then performed a poem about reciting poetry on the DC Metro, filled with the characters & wild images of such a ride.

The venerable Yusef Komunyakaa read without intros to his poems, & without theatrics, just his rich expressive voice & the rich images of his lines. He read “Requiem” (New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina), “Fortress,” then “Ode to the Oud” invoking the images & history of Africa. Then 2 poems filled with images of the sea, one beginning “If I am not Ulysses…” (& images of bed as well), & “Islands.” Like all good poetry, his poems were like serious music — one can sense what they are about, carried along by the sounds & images, but they can be difficult to paraphrase.

Both Franny Choi & later Wang Ping did their performance poems from the microphone. Franny Choi began reciting her poem from Poetry magazine, “To the Man Who Shouted 'I Like Pork Fried Rice' at Me on the Street” in what I think was an extended version. “The Mirror” was a poem in the 3rd person, then “Letter from the World to My Eyes/From My Eyes to the World.” Some she read, such as “Too Many Truths,” some, such as the elegy “Notes on the Existence of Ghosts,” she recited. Another political piece was about oppression, of any kind -- police, military, even individual oppression, naming names. Her last piece, “Pussy Monster,” was a deconstruction/re-arranging of the Lil Wayne song into a list of the words of the song in ascending order of occurrence — can you guess what word, the last word(s) of the poem, was used most often?

Wang Ping was the first of the Festival’s featured poets to perform with music with DC-based musician Van, with wooden flute, congas & a guitar as needed. Her first piece, “A Haca Man Farms Rare Earth in South China,” was a tale of sludge, acid fumes & greed. Similarly “Dust Angels” which she read first in Chinese, then in English, was dedicated to Chinese immigrant workers & was about the dangers of their work & their exploitation by factory owners. Changing continents “On the Play Ground in Park Slope…” was about watching an adopted Chinese girl being yelled at my her Nanny. She ended with a poem about the Iraq war, “Tsunami Chant,” dedicated to peace protestors.

Then Regie brought all the poets on stage to boogie with him, even the reluctant Komunyakaa -- dancing away to the end of night. After all it was Saturday night.