January 30, 2015

Annual Tom Nattell Memorial Open Mic & Beret Toss, January 26

First A Little Bit of History

The first Poets Speak Loud! reading was held on January 31, 2005 (the last Monday of the month) at the Lark Tavern in Albany, NY. That day of the month was picked to honor poet & activist Tom Nattell who had run a poetry open mic on the last Monday of the month at the QE2 Rock Club across town. Tom had been asked to be the first featured reader for this new series but he died that very morning, of cancer. That night the open mic turned into an impromptu memorial. At the end of the reading a band of poets marched to nearby Washington Park to place Tom’s beret on the statue of Robert Burns, the site of an annual series of readings in July, Poets in the Park, started by Tom in 1988 & continued to 2004 (& beyond). Each year since 2005 the Poets Speak Loud! reading is held on the last Monday of January & poets gather before the reading for the “beret toss” at the Robert Burns statue. This year was no different — sage was burned, flowers left, a candle lighted & the beret tossed until it landed on the statue.

& Now The Open Mic

& each year I serve as the host for the open mic, now held at McGeary’s Irish Pub on Clinton Square. This year the last Monday fell on my birthday so a raucous 69 acknowledgment became part of the mix, complete with cake courtesy of AlbanyPoets Vice-President, Mary Panza, the usual host here.

I began by reading Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasy #61, then my own poem “Theology 101, for Tom Nattell.” Kevin Peterson is too young to have been at the QE2 readings, but he is a big part of the poetry scene now Tom helped to create here; he started with a performance piece on lucid dreaming, then a poem written here last month inspired by seeing an elder poet dozing off, a tender tribute to the “old poets.” Pat Irish began with an anecdote about Tom being punched at a demonstration, then read the lyrics to his own “Generic Protest Song.” Sally Rhoades talked about first reading at the QE2 & Tom’s support of local poets, then read her poem “Broken Lives,” then another on being at President Obama’s first Inauguration.

Tim Verhaegen showed up with a poem about the common experience of “PMSing at a Critique Group” then a “Nature poem” about a battle between geese & swans to the music of Elton John on a Saturday night. Brian Dorn followed with a tribute to my birthday, “Sixty-Nine,” conflating my birthday with the year 1969 & other random statistics, such as “69 is also the number of poems you could read if you went 69 time to Dan Wilcox’s Social Justice reading” (Thanks Brian!). Mary Panza inserted herself (who could say No?) at this point to tell her own Tom Nattell story of being asked to leave Tom’s Memorial service, then asked everyone to sing Happy Birthday to some old Poet still alive in the room.

RM Engelhardt made a rare appearance on the scene with a mix of poems & comments beginning with a new poem, an “original cliché,” about an old writer at the bar, then off to a what was perhaps a religious joke (“Jesus Loves You”) if you believe in such things, & ended with “The Poem Remembers” for Tom. I read one of Tom’s “shit poems” (“Aviary Baptism”) then brought up Avery who read the useful list poem “How to Figure Out Your Life.” Anthony Bernini’s iconic poem “You Have Four Minutes” about the QE2 open mic is immortalized on the CD Volume: a Compilation of Poets, Live ( Grrr Records, 1995); tonight he read a sonnet “For Tom” with images of Tom’s rattles & drums, then a birthday poem for me (thanks, Anthony).

Adam Tedesco, another of the younger poets on the scene picking up the slack, read a love poem of sorts, “I Am a Man,” then “Who Told You” about when bad shit happens. Dan Coleman, a poetry virgin, had been lurking over my shoulder all night to make sure his friends at the bar would be there when he read -- a couple of pieces in rhyme, one from January 1987 “Winter” then another old piece about the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC “They Come to this Wall” — & he friends, & the rest of us, clapped.

Nick Bisanz continued the theme as he read one of his song lyrics, this about soldiers as cannon fodder. I followed with my elegy “Chasing Tom.” Earlier I had read Tom’s postcard poem to me from Escalante, & his last poem (“Short or tall/flowers/are Wonderful”), & now I ended the night with Tom’s “Christopher Columbus Fantasy #32,” his words beginning & ending the night.

Poets Speak Loud! is an open mic with a featured poet (usually), on the last Monday of the month at McGeary’s on Clinton Square, Albany, NY, 7:30PM, for a donation, & sponsored by AlbanyPoets.com — good food, cool drinks & attentive service.

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