July 31, 2014

Poets in the Park, July 26

The third & final program in this year’s series of Saturday evening readings in Washington Park under the gaze of Robert Burns. It was another beautiful Summer evening in the great Northeast. The poets were Geraldine Green from the UK, & George Wallace from Long Island & NYC. Geraldine was at the end of a 3-week tour of readings here in the US for her book of poems Salt Road (Indigo Dreams, 2013) . She lives in Ulverston, Cumbria, UK.

Geraldine read first, poems from Salt Road & from earlier collections. She began with “Me & Jeanine” a working-class poem about her 1st job as a trainee typist in a shipyard. Her next piece, “All Day I Sit in the Woods,” peaceful, contemplative, was based on a poem by Louise Erdrich. Next she read a couple selections from her 2009 collection, Poems of a Mole-Catcher’s Daughter (Palores Publication), the title poem originally written in the Cumbrian dialect but read in the more understandable English, & a poem “to the mad-ones” who get locked up, about her Uncle Joe making up poems walking along the lane. Appropriately enough she read a tribute poem to Walt Whitman here where we celebrate Uncle Walt’s birthday each May with a reading of “Song of Myself,” then “Hanging On” in the persona of a battered woman. A couple poems about the sea: the title poem from Salt Road (all sold out before she got here) about finding a sunflower as she was walking out into the bay, & a memory poem about swimming amongst mackeral in the Irish Sea. She ended with a portrait & tribute to the city “Liverpool” where her husband Geof is from.

George Wallace had read in Poets in the Park back in 2009 (& gave up part of his time then to let visiting Geraldine Green read a couple poems) & George & I have been paired up a number of times at poetry venues here in New York State & in Connecticut. While Geraldine’s style is more meditative, private, George is very much an incantatory, public poet. His first poem was “The Blues” piled up images & metaphors (“… 365 hands feeling you up …”) as he does in so many of his poems. “Sometimes You’ve Got to Knock a Man Out to Wake Him Up” was dedicated to Woodstock poet Andy Clausen, then the ultra-American “Belt Buckles & Bibles” based on travels through Kansas & Oklahoma, & the true narrative, “Riding with Boom-Boom” (New York bluesman Larry Ports attacked by the cops in October, 2013). Another poem about an encounter with NY cops he dedicated to me, about an encounter with Zuccoti Park. “I Want to Go Where the Garbagemen Go” is a poem I’ve heard George read previously, & can listen to again, anywhere. He ended with the high-speed “This Redhead of My Sudden Acquaintance” (“after Neal Cassady”) from his 2009 collection of "new American poems" Poppin’ Johnny (Three Rooms Press).

& so we bid farewell to the 2014 edition of Poets in the Park & hope that when we find ourselves here again next year (deo volente) that the weather will be just as fine as it was this year, & the poetry too!
May the Muse be with You.

July 28, 2014

Poets in the Park 2014, July 19

The second in this year’s series of 3 readings at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY featured poets Melody Davis, & Brian Dorn whose reading was complemented with dancers/movement artists, & the entire event complemented by an attentive audience in their lawn chairs.

Melody Davis read from her collection of poems Holding the Curve (Broadstone Books, 2013), & started with a poem about her son, “Little Big Fat Liar.” She said she had looked for & found among her poems some with a fire motif for this reading, like her poem about Boro Park, Brooklyn, “Akins’ 12th Avenue Discount Fruit & Vegetable.” Her poem “Walter, the Lawyer” which she said was “entirely true & entirely sad.” Her poems contain the images, the language of the mix of the city, such as the description of the real place in NYC “The Mill Luncheonette.” But the City wasn’t all of her poems, the villanelle “It Only Starts” was from a road trip to Tennessee, & “Sermons” responds to the memory of the light in a church in rural Pennsylvania. “Sugar,” a “crown” of 5 sonnets was another memory of her youth, of candy, of boys, pre-teen angst. She ended with the contemplative “Blessing,” also the last poem in her book. Her reading was expressive & entertaining for an evening in the park.

I had seen Brian Dorn’s multi-media program "We All" of poetry & dancers last year in Saratoga Springs so I invited him to include dancers in his reading in the park. He also included a word jumble which he invited the audience to unscramble & solve during the reading. He began appropriately enough with “Words.” Brian uses rhyme in his poems in musical, sometimes humorous patterns. Also his poems are generally short so he was able to squeeze more in. For his poem “Back in the Day,” a look at a “simpler” time, he was joined by dancer Will Dudley (“Fusion”).

Juan Soler moved to Brian’s next poem “I Need a Sign.” “Plain to See” was a poem about subtle beauty, while “Standard of Living” was a commentary on the income gap between rich & poor. Fusion was back for “Ghost Town” then Juan performed for the religious “The Love Poem.” “My Queen” used the images of a chess game in the 21st Century, then Fusion returned for the environmental poem, the ironic “A Step Forward.” “Give it a Try” was what he called a “pep-rally poem.” “Monkey Bars” was a comment on evolution, then Mark O'Brien, who hadn’t left yet for Ireland, solved the jumble — the word was “bazinga,” frequently used on the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” “The Ends of the Earth” was another environmental poem with Fusion, followed by Amy Soler dancing with Juan to the inspirational “This Day.” “Creative Side” pondered how he got here, then he ended with the spiritual poem “Your Footsteps.”

So this was not just Poets in the Park, but Poets & Dancers in the Park on still another fine Saturday evening in Washington Park under the poetic gaze of Robert Burns.

July 25, 2014

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 17

Another third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, with our featured poet, Susan Maurer, all the way up from New York City. I invoked the Muse, the late poet-activist Grace Paley, then on to the open mic.

Alan Casline was the first poet up with a few chronological selections from a longer poem “To & From the West,” the results of a recent cross-country drive. Mark W. O’Brien hadn’t left yet for his much-touted trip to Ireland, read “When You Think About Growing Old” from his impending chapbook from Benevolent Bird Press. Joe Krausman didn’t read one of his own poems but a poem by English publisher, poet, & philanthropist Felix Dennis (1947 - 2014), “I Just Stepped Out.” M.C. Hurd read her poem “Taken” without an introduction, a new voice/face here.

Our featured poet Susan Maurer read from her 2012 Phoenix Press International book Josephine Butler: a Collection of Poetry. Susan & I had read together in 2009 at a Bowery Poetry Club reading organized by George Wallace, a poet from Long Island who will be reading in the Poets in the Park series. She jumped around in the text to give us a flavor of the variety of themes & styles in the book, beginning with the vignette “Strolling with Salisubsilious,” then to an oblique commentary “Seashine.” Another poem about the sea was “The Secret Life of the Fishes: FL, 9/21/98,” then a descriptive poem set in Iceland, “Saga Class.” “Black Lion, 12/16/98: Nightscope” is a surrealistic account of another American invasion, & then to a poem about the sounds of demonstrations against the Republican National Convention in 2004 outside her window. She also dealt with environmental issues in a poem about the horseshoe crab. Other poems included “Yellow Wool,” “Beak Eats” about an octopus, “Little Audience,” “El Lobo” with its reference to the Back Fence bar in the Village, & the title poem “Josephine Butler” with its account of feminist heroes. Susan said later she really enjoyed her own reading because people “actually listened” — it’s what we do in Albany.

After the break I read a new poem “Medicine Buddha.” Sylvia Barnard also had a new poem on Albany history, “The Journey of the Furs.” Bob Sharkey read a descriptive account of fireworks & the blues at a holiday celebration. The final poet for the night was Jessica with a poem based on a prompt describing what she sees “From My Window.”

The third Thursday of each month is Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:00PM, with a featured poet & an open mic for everyone else, for a modest donation that helps pay the featured poet, supports other poetry programs in the community & supports the Social Justice Center.  Join us.

July 17, 2014

Pine Hills Review Reading, July 13

This was the 2nd reading in this series, starting just as the World Cup was starting. The reading was at The Low Beat, on a Sunday afternoon, & following the time-honored rule that if you want to have a good crowd for a poetry reading schedule lots of readers — this afternoon there was a 6-pack of writers, what one could say was “an invitation-only open mic.” Pine Hills Review is the literary magazine of The College of St. Rose’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.

To start us off Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Daniel Nester introduced the host of the reading, Senior Editor & Albany Slam star Samson Dikeman. The theme of the reading was “Smallbany,” poetry & prose about living & working in Albany. Ironically, the first reader, Elizabeth K. Gordon (aka Elizag) read a trio from her recent book of poems, Love Cohoes (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books) -- close enough.

Katie Vermilyea (who also lives in Cohoes) read a memoir piece in short segments about being single & back in Albany, ranging from meeting “Brad” in the train station & a break-up, celebrity watching, to meeting “Graham” from Albany in Chicago. (Do guys really have names like that these days? Did their parents name them after TV characters?)

James Belflower was the most experimental of the afternoon readers. His poems (?) ranged from a take on punk music & the “No Pepper” sign at Valentines (now here at The Low Beat), to a commentary about a friend’s humorous use of “fuck you”, to a piece that started by talking about W.S. Merwin writing without punctuation then morphed into a take on “virtual reality” & reading the punctuation as part of the text.

Miriam Axel-Lute was more traditional in her poems, each referencing places & events in Albany, from the river (“Wednesday Hudson”), to “Tilting at Roosts” & Albany’s “crow wars,” to a piece about old trolley tracks on Delaware Ave., “A Winter Melting” where the highway & a public housing tower being torn down were both characters.

Frances Cortez O’Conner read a personal memoir about apartments she had lived in from New York City, to Albany, to having a baby & moving out to the ‘burbs in East Greenbush — a take on the classic American Dream success story.

The final reader, Elisa Albert, read from a personal essay in progress, a memoir that took us from working at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, to a family history of Jews in Pennsylvania, & ultimately a commentary on the act of writing.

There is another reading scheduled in this series for Sunday August 10, 3PM, again at The Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany, NY) & a launch reception & reading on September 5 at The College of St. Rose. Check the St. Rose/Pine Hills Review website for complete information. & send them some stuff, they accept submissions year round (just like an S&M chick I knew in NYC years ago).

Poets in the Park 2014, July 12

Back at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park, Albany, NY for poetry in July. We’ve been doing this for 24 years, or more, depending how you count earlier summertime poetry series, all inaugurated & originated by Tom Nattell. I’ve been hosting it now since 2005.

Tonight’s reading was well attended, on a breezy, pleasant Summer eve. And during my introduction (that includes the history of the world, or at least that of Poets in the Park), in addition to the usual loud traffic, motorcycles & helicopters, a small motorcade of enthusiastic honkers drove by, led by an open convertible with young woman in a bright gown waving from the back seat — life in the big City!

Nancy Klepsch was the first reader. Nancy & I co-host the 2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose Open Mic at the Arts Center in Troy. Nancy has been a long-time member of the local poetry community, & worked with Tom Nattell to produce Poets Action Against AIDS, & read in the Poets in the Park series back in 1991. She began her reading with a poem dedicated to Tom, “Invocation,” then to one inspired by another local poet, Elizabeth Gordon, “The LGBTQ - LMNOP in Me.” From these “older” pieces she moved to some “super-new” poems: “The Modernist House,” to an untitled love poem, & to a poem based on a phrase in a Robert Frost poem imagining what a “A Queer Horse” what he might have said. “2nd Sunday” was about our open mic in Troy, it was a retrospective of the readers & of the year in her life. Other poems were based on visits to P-Town (Provincetown, MA for those of you who are land-locked): “Miss Richfield 1981” (a P-town drag queen), “I Wish You Had Lost Your Boarding Pass” (about GaĆ«tan Dugas the airline steward who purportedly spread the AIDS virus), a poem to Harvey Milk & herself (& others) “We Need an Army of Harveys,” & the contemplative “Beachhead.” She ended with a poem on technology, reacting to her students, “My Cells.”

The night’s 2nd reader was Slam performer Luis “L-Majesty” Pabon. L-Majesty has been moving (& titillating some) here on the local scene for a few years now. His poems come out of the hip-hop scene with plays on words, carried along by the musicality of rhymes. He started off with a Slam piece, “Imaginary Friends” (having out-grown them, he now has his own back), similarly “How It Is” was about growing up & learning what reality is. He read the cynical “Shots” about the gay (or any hook-up) bar scene from his forth-coming book Tendencies, & the lush, erotic “Ode to a Blood-Orange.” “When A Poet Dies” was dedicated to the late Maya Angelou, a commentary on tributes to dead poets that do not recognize the real, human life behind the work. He ended with an erotic fantasy poem about working at Shop-Rite “Mr. Grocery Man” — a rich use of images of vegetables & fruits.

There was an attentive, appreciative, generous crowd that night, enjoying the poetry & Summer breeze in the Park. Poets in the Park — Saturdays in July, at the Robert Burns statue. Free!

July 13, 2014

Live from the Living Room, July 9

Just managed to avoid being caught in the rain to get to Don Levy’s open mic & reading, & other poets kept joining us.

Steve Minchin was the featured poet; Steve is the Administrative Coordinator here at the Pride Center of the Capital Region. He said he was reading “a few smattering of poems from over the years,” most of the poems short, under a page. He included a couple of poems about the train to New York, “Tear” & “No It’s Just Rails,” & read a couple from a series of “O’Heaney poems,” bar pieces channeling Frank O’Hara. Other notable mentions were the relationship poem “This is a 2-Man Tally Sheet” & a longer piece about hanging out with a friend, “Grand Marshall We’re Lost.” An interesting poem about the ocean & surfing was a still hand-written work-in-progress. His final poem was a tribute to friends in “an alternative relationship” “Introducing a New Ever-After.” Steve has recently started coming to open mics although he has been writing poetry for years, it’s good to have his voice added to the scene.

Don Levy (left), Shannon Shoemaker (center)
There were just a few of us for the open mic & I was first with 2 new poems, “The Sestina Sestina” & the play on dictionary definitions “A Cardinal & a Poet Walk into a Bar.” Julie was new & slipped in late, & began with a complex poem for her Mom, then a rhymed piece on a relationship, “Bridge.” Our host Don Levy brought us back to an earlier era with “ Me & Anita” (Bryant), & a poem on the band The B-52s & Death, “Planet Clare.” Shannon Shoemaker did both of her poems from memory, the short love poem “Frogs” & “I’m My Father’s Daughter.”

“Live from the Living Room” takes place at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, at 7:30 PM, with a featured reader & an open mic — always “straight friendly.”

July 6, 2014

Nitty Gritty Slam #73, July 1

I arrived at The Low Beat a little late, the open mic already in progress, Elizag on stage with a sermon to young people (god, I hated it years ago when the old folks preached at me). Poor Avery lamented that “she fell asleep on me…” Speaking of aging, Emily Gonzalez read “The Phenomenology of My Body.” Shannon Grant read some exquisite notebook angst about listening to a song, worrying about a lover. Aaron read a piece he said was written at the bar, “Just for Play.”

The night’s featured poet was up from Suffern with her entourage; Rachel Therres co-organizes Suffern Poetry & had performed as part of the Suffern Slam team during WordFest in April.  Her introductory poem said “I don’t want to moon over you” (& she didn’t). She did a mix of Slam pieces & some real poems, beginning with the list poem “30 Rejections,” then on to a piece about being from Baltimore. A Slam piece about her sister & comparing herself at the same age I recall from her performance in April. From her phone she read an anti-love poem “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Love Scorned.” She had a neat little fold-up broadside for sale, Anatomy of Brick, & read from it “Demands & Dedications” (even when she does a real poem it still sounds like Slam). Then on to a poem to her Mom, & ended with a list of catastrophes, about being told to smile. It was a good mix of poetry & performance & great knees.

It was a 9-contender Slam, most of them new names, but first a familiar one, Kevin, as the sacrificial poet/lamb who did o.p.p. (i.e., other people’s poetry, which is forbidden in Slam competition, but this was only for calibration purposes). The first round seemed front-loaded with Rachel’s entourage, but then AlbanyPoets are hospitable to visitors, & the judges scored, for the most part, “competitively” (as they say). It began with Eric (“hard & sleek”) reading, as did Jimmy his Slam parody silly rhymes, then Joe playing on computer terms, Jamey re-surfacing in the scene & lingering confused on stage, Samson, Trey (spelling?) with a love poem, Steve with another outrageous take on Slam (“Flight Attendant”), Amy with classic Slam (“someone fucked America”) & returning champ Amanda with a love poem.

5 were eliminated, so Round 2 found Amanda (lonesome love), Amy (from “cunt” to “vagina” in 3 minutes), Samson (on words & labels), & Joe (feeling bad about lost love) duking it out.

il papa Thom Francis, Amy, Amanda & Joe
In the final round, Amy went first (after the shoot-out), with another breathless list, this a love poem about dates & scored the night’s first 10 (meaningless, since the high & low scores are dropped). Amanda scored the 2nd — & 3rd — 10 of the night with a subway poem read way too fast, as is her style, & that 2nd 10 put her on top. 3rd place went to Joe.

The Nitty Gritty Slam, with an open mic & sometimes an outside feature, happens on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of each month at The Low Beat on Central Ave. (Valentines re-located, re-incarnated) — check AlbanyPoets.com for details. Good beer, too.

July 4, 2014

Poets Speak Loud!, June 30

It was the last Monday of the month so I headed back down to McGeary’s for happy hour, dinner & the poetry open mic.  Tonight: 2! Count ‘em 2! Featured poets: Pat Irish & Samson Dikeman. Sweet Melissa took care of all of our drink & food orders & host Mary Panza took care of the rest of it.

For the open mic I was up first with a new piece that I read for Samson “The Sestina Sestina.” Sylvia Barnard followed with a childhood memoir “House Spot” then a brand-new piece from Willett Street “The Dead Tree.” Brian Dorn read his anti-war poem “Out of Wack” then a love poem “Suspended in Time.” Cheryl A. Rice read 2 poems for Michael (because he wasn’t here), “Aquarium” & “I Was You Were.”

The first of the night’s double feature was Pat Irish who read the lyrics to his rock opera “The Front Desk.” The piece consists of 24 songs covering the course of a shift at a hotel. Pat had performed the piece with guitarist Nick Bisanz back in April at Pauley’s Hotel as part of the Albany WordFest.  While the words & images are compelling, humorous at times, like most song lyrics the are somewhat banal & flat without the music to carry them along. Let’s hope that Pat & Nick can find other venues to perform this work as it should be.

Tess Lecuyer continued the open mic with “Sonnet for a Watercolor” from 2003, then a new poem about a conversation, about a camera & the Moon. It was good to see Jan Tramontano back from Florida; she read 2 poems about the birth of a grandson, “Matrushka Dolls,” & “Anticipation” with its scenes from New York City in the 9th month. Avery read an upbeat sermon (written today he said), “Be Good to Your Family” (I’m waiting for him & P.V. to open the Church of the Feel Good Positively Positive).

Samson Dikeman filled the house with his family & friends for his featured reading. He read a mix of newer & older poems, starting with the new “Always Something Left Behind,” then a road poem for Jacky K. “Both Hands on the Wheel,” & one of his “oldest” poems “Breakfast in California.” “Check Out Line” is something we have all been in, sort of, & “Fruit Salad Concerto” was a tribute to John Cage. “Shut Up & Kiss Me” was just that, “Suburban Frenzy” was a brand-new poem, then he ended with “The Future is Just the Other Side of a Hill.” I continue to look forward to Samson’s work, & to beating him again at the Slam.

Mike Jurkovic was Cheryl’s chauffeur up here from the mid-Hudson area, & apparently is “Pat Irish’s idol;” he read about listening to the voices on his “Ear-buds,” then a favorite poetic topic “Irony.” Emily Gonzalez’s poem “Exile” was about moving from the noise of the ocean to the quiet of the River, then she read about seeing a “Great Blue Heron.” Adam Tedesco began with a grim portrait kind of poem, then read about driving fast “Popular Mechanics, or They’re At it Again.” Steven Minchin read a poem about an encounter outside a GAP, then the family picture “Pulsing Juxtaposed Kin.” Aron (Algorhythm) came in late & ended up last on the list with a philosophical meandering about the meaning of Life, written today.

This is what we do on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany, NY, sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com — it’s not just poetry —

July 3, 2014

Reading by Leslie Neustadt, June 25

This was a reading at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center for the launch of Leslie Neustadt's book Bearing Fruit (Spirit Wind Books). Leslie’s connections in the community span far & wide so it was standing-room-only. Ironically, she had laryngitis, but it did not impair her reading & if she hadn’t said anything I wouldn’t have noticed, but it gave her an opportunity to pay tribute to the “collective voice” of her community. She went on to acknowledge her sister Laurie Ellen Neustadt whose death showed her how to transform her life with meaning, to do it as as “a sort of unmasking.”

The interesting thing about her work (& her reading tonight) was that as someone who has endured serious health problems, chronic illnesses & the sequelea of incest, her poems are not depressing but face each issue as a challenge, even as a celebration of what it means to be a living person. Most of what she read was from Bearing Fruit, but she included other poems such as “Baptism” to her 2 Catholic grandsons & the tribute “Dinner at Cafe Gratitude with Diane DiPrima & Audre Lourde.” The poems ranged from her background & family history (“Mishmash,” “To Go to Transylvania”), to the unnerving “Teshuvah” (on child abuse), to a poem about being a lawyer, “May It Please the Court,” on to others about miscarriages & births (“Segalit,” “First-Born,” “First To Go,” “Turning Point”). She included a tender poem to her husband “After My Husband Has Seen 25 Patients” & a poem about another of her passions, doing collage, “Awash With Images.” Leslie’s poem “Water Is My Temple” reminded me of Enid Dame’s writing about the Shechinah, the feminine presence of God in Jewish lore.

Making the “collective voice” real, Leslie included 3 other poets who had been in workshops with her, with poet/workshop leader Susan Comninos serving as host. First was Esther Willison with a series of mostly short poems, including “Praise” in the style of Gerard Manley Hopkins, & the funny “Tongue Depressors.” Jackie Craven’s poems included a wonderful proposal “We Need a Thousand Words for Kiss.” This was Patrice’s first reading (a “virgin” we say at open mics) & her sole piece was a funny rhymed narrative about a squirrel in her house.

Bearing Fruit, subtitled “A Poetic Journey,” is attractively produced by Judith Prest’s Spirit Wind Books of Duanesburg, NY & the cover art is by Leslie Neustadt. The entire purchase price of each book goes to nonprofit organizations supporting cancer research, patient health, the prevention of child abuse, and expressive arts.