April 30, 2015

Frequency North, April 23

This was the second of the day’s “Standish Room readings,” this one in the Standish Room located on the 2nd floor of the College of St. Rose’s Events & Athletics Center, as part of the College’s ongoing reading series, Frequency North, coordinated & hosted by Prof. Daniel Nester.

Tonight’s reader was Stevie Edwards.  She gave us ample selections from both of her books, Good Grief (Write Bloody 2012) & Humanly (forthcoming from Small Doggies Press), beginning with poems from Good Grief. These poems introduced her to us as Michigan working class, for example “2 Trailer Park Girls Go Around the Outside,” “For an Uncle I Know Only Through Letters & Collect Calls” (because he is serving a life sentence in prison), “The Hippy Church I Was Raised In Doesn’t Believe in Sin.” Apparently she had read earlier to classes here & she read by request, a poem with advice on love, “3 Rachels.”

Moving on to Humanly, she said she was doing “weird ones,” among which were a series of poems about being in a mental hospital, including “Stepping Inside of November,” “What Was the Most Delicate Thing About the Psyche Ward,” & the poem that probably got her the gig here (Google “sestina Nester”) the sestina “In a Psyche Ward.” Her poems followed an arc from the psyche ward to the struggles after (e.g., “Waiting at the Temp Agency”), to, as she said, “the happy stuff at the end of the book,” a poem about going shirtless in a biker bar “Fabulousness,” a short love poem “Offering,” & another Rachel poem “Spell for Rachel’s 80th Birthday.”

This was a relaxed, unpretentious reading of poems that most folks could understand, if not relate to, even if you were not an academic or a student in the MFA program. Frequency North, like the Writers Institute, offers an opportunity for the community-at-large here in Albany to hear & meet established & up-&-coming writers of poetry & prose in relaxed settings, for free — such readings in New York City at venues such as the YMHA would cost $12 to $18. It beats tuition.

April 29, 2015

Writers Institute Reading, April 23

This was the first of the day’s “Standish Room readings,” this one held in the afternoon in the Standish Room of the Science Library at the UAlbany Uptown Campus, a seminar with poets Alicia Suskin Ostriker & local favorite Joan Murray. Later in the evening both poets would give a reading, but I attended the afternoon event so that I could go to another reading in yet another Standish Room at the College of St. Rose, just a couple miles down Western Ave.

Joan Murray, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Don Faulkner
Don Faulkner, Director of the New York State Writers Institute, served as the host & began by referencing the recent death of the American critic M.H. Abrams, & his classic study of European Romanticism The Mirror and the Lamp, in which Abrams showed that until the Romantics, literature was usually seen as mirror reflecting the World, but for the Romantics writing was more like a lamp, the light of the writer’s ideas shining on the World. He asked the 2 poets if they saw themselves as a lamp. Ostriker said she saw herself as a “vessel” while Murray said she doesn’t use metaphor, writes more directly. Then the questions went on from there.

Ostriker described her early writing in form until she discovered free verse, or as she likes to call it, “open form.” Topics ranged from women writing about pregnancy & childbirth as a modern phenomenon, to political poems, to MFA programs v. communities of writers.

I’ve been drawn to Ostriker’s work since I first saw her read in 1986 at a bookshop in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, & a few years ago saw her read & be part of a panel discussion at Split This Rock in DC. I am less familiar with Murray’s work, but she has a strong following in the area of women who had been in a workshop with her some years ago & have continued meeting as a peer group since then.

The Writes Institute has a regular schedule of free readings, seminars & films throughout the academic semesters. Unfortunately readings by poets were rare this past year.

April 28, 2015

Poetry Salon & Art Opening, April 19

The streets of Albany were not the only place that poetry was happening during April here in the Northeast. Up in the hills the Rensselaerville Library sponsored a series of events throughout the month, including workshops, open mics & poetry-related art projects. This reading today was held at the Way-Out Gallery & was basically an “invitational open mic” with each of the 12 readers, many of them it seems from right here in town, getting 5 minutes each.

Linda Sonia Miller served as the host, & brought up Ginny Carter first to pay tribute to the late Galway Kinnell, reading 3 of his poems, & talking about the time he was here reading his work & meeting the folk in town.

Tom Corrado served as the MC for the readers, reading selections of his very short poems from his chapbook 40 Women (Orb Press, 2013), in between each poet's reading. Alan Casline read poems about a landslide at the Helderberg escarpment, a slug, & corn. I read poems from my chapbooks Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D., 2011) & Coyote: poems of Suburban Living (A.P.D., 2014) in an effort to sell books later (in spite of the room filled with well-heeled Rensslearville ladies I only sold 1 book). Howard Kogan chose well, reading “Dick & Jane,” “A Close Family,” “Imagination,” all good poems. Katrinka Moore’s poems were short, meditative, including one in response to the poems on display downstairs in the art gallery (“Breathe”), & a cento (“Call into Being”).

Linda Sonia Miller began with a Rensselaerville-inspired poem, then a trio of sonnets, including the marvelous “April Debate.” Mary Ann Ronconi (another local) read a series of amusing pieces “How I Died (7 Deadly Fears),” a list of imagined deaths. Mimi Moriarty’s poems were all art-related/inspired, everything from a “Diner” in Canajoharie, to “Death as Art” inspired by an artist’s quotes. Cassandra was a fortunate last-minute add to the program, I particularly liked her poem “Izzy’s Beans” which was a recipe from a former prisoner, a dish I could almost taste. A couple of Claire North’s poems had an Irish obsession with death.

Peter Bourdreaux read his poems to the musical accompaniment of Tom Corrado, first on harmonica, then on flute &, for Peter's final 2 poems, on string bass — & the twang! of the E string coming off the bridge (ouch!). The final reader was Susan Kayne with a protest poem “Aquaduct 2011 21 Horses Die.”

Meanwhile downstairs in the gallery there was an opening showcasing the woodwork of Alberto Caputo, & the wordwork of artists young & old who had participated earlier in a workshop on visual poetry, combining text & other visual media.

Albany WordFest - Slam Invitational, April 18

The concluding event of WordFest 2015 was the Slam Invitational held at the Steamer 10 Theater, Albany, NY. There were 7 — count ‘em 7! — teams from New York & Massachusetts, including Albany’s own Nitty Gritty Slam Team that hosted the event. Thom Francis, el presidente of AlbanyPoets & the Nitty Gritty Slam manager (I guess) served as host/MC, which was no easy job with this boisterous audience.

Pilot Light Poets
The “teams” performed as individuals or as duos, but the individual performers were not introduced or named, identified only by the Team names, which were Pilot Light Poets (Pittsfield), Pure Ink (Buffalo), Nickel City (Buffalo), Roc Bottom Slam Team (Rochester), Rhyme for Reason (Syracuse), Underground Poetry Spot (Syracuse), & the aforementioned Nitty Gritty Slam Team (Albany). There were 4 rounds, no eliminations, the order of performance after the first round varied by the scores (I think).

Pure Ink
The first round almost drove me out, what with all the ole Slam clichés manifesting themselves so early on. Lots of loud, preachy pieces banging you over the head with their message for a full 3 minutes, often recited way too fast — as well as plenty of "poetry therapy" — sometimes all in the same piece. K.P. (from the Albany Team) shouted a piece on lucid dreaming which made me wonder, what would this poem sound like if read/recited in a normal, indoor voice?  Then I had that same thought about some other pieces in the following rounds.

Roc Bottom
In round 2, I began to have some hope for real poetry with the Nickel City poet’s piece on “fat kids” & body image when he started off in a quiet voice, but he soon went into his Slam voice & it became just another Slam performance. & the preaching & shouting continued with the other teams — I get it, racism & discrimination (for any reason is bad), so was Columbus & the genocide of native peoples. But I was cheered by the originality of a piece the Pilot Lights Poets entry did based on the Mario Brothers video game.

Nickel City
Round 3, after a break, began with a bad sign, the “sacrificial poet” used to calibrate the judges was Elizag who did a familiar piece on white privilege (that’s not the bad part), the bad part was that she got all “mother-fucking-10s” from the 5 judges. & the night went on from there. If there was an award for cramming all the Slam hot-button clichés into 1 piece (into a love poem, ostensibly, at that), it would go to Amani from the Albany Team, who also got all 10s (maybe that is the award). But the Underground Poetry Spot duo’s love poem was a welcome relief, as was, almost, the Nickel City poet’s poem for her daughter, if it hadn’t been delivered in unrelenting pressured speech. The moving piece titled “Open Letter to a Priest” from Pilot Light Poets, that I had heard in an open mic a while back, was delivered in a welcomed more modulated performance, but suffered from a time penalty.

Underground Poetry Spot
The 4th round predictably was full of 10s, but unfortunately their ubiquity negated their significance, judges had lost their ability to judge — maybe they were as exhausted as the rest of us? While the shouting continued, with some manic jerking around the stage, & a good piece that unfortunately didn’t stop when it was over (from the Nitty Gritty team), there was a thoughtful piece from Roc Bottom on the distractions of drugs & video games in the 'hood, & another, a powerful feminist statement (that got all 10s) “A Poem for a Co-Worker I Should’ve Hit with My Car” by the Rhyme for a Reason poet.

Nitty Gritty Slam Team
So when all the scoring was tabulated & the numbers crunched the winner was Pure Ink, with Roc Bottom in 2nd & Nickel City in 3rd place. I have no idea how I would have scored this, though I have my own particular top-of-the-heap poems, of which there were few amidst the many spit & attitude — & preachy — performances. At least here, unlike at some Slam invitationals I’ve heard of, the home team did not stack the judges & the results, & the visitors got treated fairly & with respect. I guess what I want to say is that “Slam” would be a lot more fun if it weren’t so god-damned competitive, & formulaic.

Rhyme for Reason
& so, with a big sigh of relief, but also a bit of a sad sense of it-is-over-for-another-year, I bid a bourbon farewell to Albany WordFest 2015. What can we say to Thom Francis & AlbanyPoets, & all the participants in this week-long event that can express how fantastic this experience was? The best tribute I can pay to WordFest is to draw a straight line through history from The Readings Against the End of the World organized by Tom Nattell from 1984 to 1993 to this annual event. If the World does not know that Albany is Poetry City by now, it must be smoking all that “free weed” that Tom promised.

So, if the academic poets & right-wing word-haters don’t take over & turn paper into smoke (as Uncle Wiggly once said, I think), we will continue on — writing poems, going to open mics, organizing readings & arts events & we will see you next year for WordFest 2016 — deo volente.

April 25, 2015

Albany WordFest - Open Mic, April 17

Our host Mary Panza
This is always the wildest night of the WordFest, & once again was held at the UAG Gallery on Lark St.  Folks had been signing-up online for weeks with the 7:00PM to 10:30PM time slots completely filled by Friday night. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who signed-up showed up. This year, by my guess, a little over a third of those who signed up were a no-show. But who cares? What matters is those who did show up to read, including a few who weren’t even on the list.

Debby Mayer

Unfortunately I missed the first 2 poets, Judith Prest & Jessica Rae, 2 fine area poets you can sometimes find at open mics, & arrived as Alan Catlin was reading about a party in a backyard, Sylvia Barnard read about aging & the passage of time, while Debby Mayer explained “Why I Let My Dog Hang Her Head out the Car Window.”

Charles Straney entourage

There were some early no-shows on the list & host/MC/Ring Master/Dominatrix Mary Panza, often abetted by MC-in-training, Julia, established the ritual of calling out “They’ll rue the day!” whenever a name was called & no one answered. But Joe Hesch was there to read, as was Howard Kogan (his poem about imagined lives, “Bit Player,” perhaps my favorite of the night); Charles Straney should come more often & read more of his barn poems, while Joe Krausman makes it to lots of open mics & did a rare “accounting poem.”

Thom Francis with Molly & Julia

Cheryl Rice had poems for Groucho & her uncle, A.C. Everson had “new ones!” she proclaimed (later posted a marvelous video montage of the event); Brian Dorn read about all 40 poetry venues he visited this past year, & Jay Renzi’s phone rang while he read.

Brian Dorn reading, Don Levy lurking

L-Majesty mixed pomegranates & playgrounds, then Tim Verhaegen introduced us to his parents, “The Fuck Family,” & Bob Sharkey did a poem from past WordFests, & Don Levy was, well, Don Levy looking at “Hot Dudes Reading.” Steve Minchin had a gay tally sheet, Adam Tedesco got all auto-biographical on us, while Tess Lecuyer was proud of all new poems.

Ian Macks was a new face but read new poems & those from a chapbook, & Poetyc Visionz also had a new poem “The Black Experience,” while Anthony Bernini read of woodchucks, aging, youth & a tornado, then Caroline Curran included a marvelous piece of fiction about a clash with a student in class wearing headphones, & the poet going by the name Mystic breezed in with a cluster of short poems.

L-Majesty & his audience
I used my time to read, not my own poems, but poems of 2 friends who could not be there, the odd, reclusive poet from the West Coast Lee Pursewarden & former Metroland’s Readers’ Poll 2nd place Best Local Poet, Gary Murrow (both with poems in the new edition of Up The River). J.L. Weeks, a stranger, read untitled pieces from many late nights, &, of course, R.M. Engelhardt read dark pieces, new poems from a new manuscript “The Bones of our Existence.”

The no-shows kept piling up & Shannon, who hadn’t signed up, got a chance to read about frogs & phone booths & happy endings. The last poet of the night was also a fill-in, Lizzie, who did 2 poems, the last a funny piece on therapy, ending the evening with a smile — for many reasons.

There was one more event left to the 2015 WordFest, & if I can decipher my pages of notes, I will write about it next.

April 24, 2015

Albany WordFest - Third Thursday Poetry Night, April 16

I am always pleased & honored to the have this third Thursday series I run at the Social Justice Center included in the annual WordFest schedule; in one way or another this has happened for years. Tonight we had 18 people signed up for the open mic & to listen to returning visiting poet Michele Battiste who was the featured reader.

& I was very happy to see that Mary McCarthy signed up to be the first poet in the open mic; back after a too-long absence she read a poem for Easter, decrying the violence in our society, even in religious images. Jill Crammond also was back with a poem based a her daughter’s list of spelling words, with a nod to William Carlos Williams. Dave Kime made long drive north taking on, without the mic, a deconstruction of both Republicans & Democrats into acronyms. Kim Henry made it to still another open mic this week, read an untitled piece on child molestation, appropriate for next week’s Take Back the Night. Don Levy read a poem titled “Hibernation” (or, What I did in the Winter). Susan Riback showed up to read from her little notebook a poem about Spring & “tapping” I.V.s. Jessica Rae read a poem about how to respond to her least favorite question, “What Do You Do?” Shannon Shoemaker sat right up front & read an untitled, short, new piece, about chasing endings.

Michele Battiste read in this Third Thursday series when it was at Café Web back in 1998, later in other readings elsewhere in the area, & we were so glad to welcome her back during her visit here (to her “poetry tribe” she said). She started with 2 Moon poems, the first based on artwork done as war-shields, “The Rebel Tells of her Creation” in a variety of versions, then “When the Light Falters” with the Moon as being out-of-practice. From her new book Uprising (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) she read 3 poems, each in the voice of a different persona, beginning early just after World War II, then in the voice of one of the Jewish survivor/refugees in 1951 ("Miksa Beckmann"), & then one from the period during the chaos of the Hungarian Uprising in October 1956. This book is a stunning example of what some critics have dubbed “docu-poetry” (or, as Ed Sanders called it “investigative poetry”) in which the poet writes about moments in history, incorporating the voices & experiences of people who lived through those moments.  Michele has used her extraordinary skills & talents to make the story of the Hungarian revolt real.
She ended her reading with a poem from a new chapbook, LEFT: Letters to Strangers (Grey Book Press, 2014) that grew out of a writers’ group of which she was a member, each poem in the book in the form of a letter to a member of the group, wonderful, playful, quirky poems. How proud we are of this poet who first shared her work with us on the stage of the QE2 back in November, 1997.

I returned us to the open mic reading my new poem “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” Then Kevin Peterson read a Neruda poem then one of his own that a friend thought was like the Neruda poem, both tender love poems. Kat returned for the second time, from Saratoga, to read her poem “Gathering Our Seed.” Alan Catlin followed with a poem “The White Giant’s Thigh” (or, you can take the poet out of the bar, but you can’t take the bar out of the poet). Karen Fabiane was next & read a poem she began in 1975, eventually finished in spite of changes requested by an editor, the deliciously irreverent “I Fucked St. Joan.” Joe Krausman’s poem was a counting piece for which he had to use his fingers. Bob Sharkey read his tender poem about his granddaughter & her doll, “Walking with Baby.” This year’s Metroland Reader’ Poll Best Local Poet, Brian Dorn, read a piece appropriate for WordFest “Her Attributes.” A.C. Everson, who ushers at local music venues, read a poem from Saturday night’s gig about watching young children running, having fun. We ended the night with a new face & voice, Don Fons, who read a poem “Will You Forgive Me?” that he said was written in his “pre-rapper” days.

It was another fantastic night of poetry & poets here on yet another Third Thursday at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY — 7:30PM, $3.00 donation that supports poetry events & the Social Justice Center.

April 21, 2015

Albany WordFest - Metroland’s Best Poets, April 15

Each year Albany WordFest acknowledges the winners of the Metroland’s Readers Poll Best Local Poets with a reading featuring the lucky/hard-working word-smiths. This year the winners were, in 1st place, Brian Dorn, 2nd place, Mary Panza, & a tie for 3rd place between Elizabeth Gordon & Jay Renzi. The reading was held at The Women’s Building, 373 Central Ave., with R.M. Engelhardt, who is frequently (i.e., almost always) on the Best Local Poets list, as the host.

Elizabeth Gordon started off with a cluster of Haiku, then read the post-seasonal “Taking Down the Xmas Tree.” Her last poem is one of my personal favorites, about being new on the job (& a woman holding her own) “Carpenter’s Helper.”

Jay Renzi popped up out-of-the-blue last year on the Metroland list, but has now been coming around to some of the open mics. He began with a poem he does with dancers “Blessing the Virgin Oil,” then on to a newer poem “An End to Discord” (or, the door to Fraggle Rock). He then read a selection of mostly short, rhyming poems from his latest chapbook Remembering the Smoke -- you know, poets hang out at bars, drink, smoke & pick up strange women.

Mary Panza, who has been in the poetry scene here long before she was legal, read her classic “This is Not an Angry Poem,” then a poem that I must’ve heard before but was surprised when she quoted Charles Olson (!) “Understanding Christopher” (who was not in the audience), then her wonderfully vicious take-down of Shel Silverstein “Fuck the Giving Tree.”

Brian Dorn has for the last few years been going to more poetry readings than I get to. He read a small bouquet of his usual rhyming poems, then launched into the epic “40 Venues” which is a tour of all the places where readings are held that he has been to -- formidable.

There seemed to be some discussion as to whether there was an open mic, or not — it hadn’t been announced as such -- but some of the community folks in the room seemed to think so.

When the floor was opened up to other poets only Amani, who is part of the Nitty Gritty Slam team, stepped up to do a far-ranging piece from her phone, on Mother Nature Turn Down for What, but then that might not be the title.

But yet another WordFest event in the books & (lots) more to come, we’re just getting tuned up.

April 20, 2015

Albany WordFest - Haiku Battle, April 14

The Tuesday night event was held in the re-modeled dining room of Justin’s on Lark St.,  Samson Dikeman the host. Last year I defeated Samson to win (!) the Haiku Battle, not something I do very often.

But tonight it was a different story — same fine Haiku. The format is single-elimination rounds, best 2 out of 3 wins the round. In the first match-up it was Brian Dorn doing Haiku written with the other poets in the room as subjects, but he was knocked down by Melody Davis’ Nature Haiku. In the 2nd matchup, sex (K.P.’s Haikus) beat my love Haikus.
New-guy up-start Wayne Murphy was easily taken down by Jacky K. & housemates Steven Roberts & Jimmy Snay went toe-to-toe with Jimmy taking the match.

In the 2nd round Melody’s breakup Haikus took out K.P., while Jacky K. won her match with Jimmy Snay, her texting & ex’s Haiku beating his Winter weather.

In the final round it was the best of 5. Jacky K. was the winner with breakup, sex/love & Mulder & Scully winning the hearts of the judges over Melody’s efforts with Nature & 9/11.

I’m not sure that Bashō would approve (or even understand) but the rest of us had a grand time, cheering, groaning, heckling & just enjoying ourselves. Not sure what Jacky K. got for winning, other than our undying admiration (& lust, perhaps); perhaps it was like the Metroland Readers’ Poll — “that & a token…”  Bragging rights do count for something on the street.

There was more of the week left, so let’s see how many more readings I can get to — & write Blogs about.  WordFest 2015 continues.

Albany WordFest - Up the River Launch, April 12

The start of the week-long poetry orgasm that is Albany WordFest began appropriately (or, in appropriately) enough at McGeary’s Irish Pub on Clinton Square on this Sunday evening with a launch of issue 3 of Up The River: A Journal of Poetry, Art & Photography. It was a great way to entice poets out who never come out — give them a copy of the zine with their poem in it & ask them to read! Mary Panza did her best to herd these cats to the mic, & Kevin Peterson did his best to remember to read their bios from the book.

Malcolm Willison read a revised version of his poem in UTR, “Setting Out,” then a funny poem about a drone “Home to Roost.” Howard Kogan read a poem about “Heaven” (it is like working security at a casino he thinks), then the poem in UTR “Advice to Poets.” Nancy Klepsch’s poem in UTR is “A Queer Horse” with it’s reference to a Robert Frost poem, then she performed what she had earlier this afternoon at the Arts Center “We All Pray for Different Reasons.” R.M. Engelhardt made a rare appearance to read his poem from UTR “Two Derelicts” then a stroll down memory lane to the QE2 with his poem “Ode to the Wolfman.” Tom Riley did not read his poem from UTR, instead read a late Winter poem “Out the Window” & “A Song for You.”

Cecele Allen Kraus read a poem about a country store “Turning Point,” then her poem in UTR “What’s Mine Is Yours” (about a childhood friend who was a cutter). Alan Catlin, who also edits an online literary journal, Misfit Magazine, read from UTR “Dancing with Lunatics,” then a poem re-working the Hitchcock movie Rear Window. Thom Francis, el presidente of AlbanyPoets, read his entry “Listerine” then “April” (the only 30/30 poem, he said, he has managed to write this year). Karen Schoemer read her UTR piece a tender poem tracing the stages of her daughter growing up “Summer Peaches About Its Wane,” then a relationship poem “Sanctuary.”

Robert Phelps made the long trip up the river from Beacon, said it was his first time reading poetry in Albany, read a couple poems, “The Jew & the Black Boy on the A Train,” a villanelle “After the Grief,” then his contribution to UTR “Sunday Morning on the River Road.” Frank Robinson’s poem in UTR is a love poem to his wife “The Winter of ’88,” then a piece in which he announced his candidacy for President of the United States in a string of well-chose election campaign clichés. Former Metroland 2nd Place "Best Local Poet" Gary Murrow wasn’t able to be here today so Mary Panza asked me to read his entry in UTR, the short poem “A Valentine” (none of my poems were accepted for UTR, but they did include a photo I took of poet Paul Weinman at the QE2 in 1989).

A most auspicious start to this year’s Albany WordFest with poets & poems from near & far. So, with the help of god, a pen, a camera & the internet I will be bringing you more Blogs about the goings on this week up & down the poetic streets of Albany.

Like we say here, “In Albany, Everyday is Poetry Month.

April 19, 2015

2nd Sunday @ 2, April 12

This was the first half of a poetry double-header, with the start of the week-long Albany WordFest taking place later in the afternoon (more on that in subsequent Blogs). But it is a fact that the poetry scene in this area is an on-going, year-long event, & this open mic at the Arts Center was the 4th poetry event I had been to this week.  It seems like every month is a WordFest.

Bob Sharkey, a regular at the area poetry events, was first up to read with a piece from 10 years ago, a poem about traffic in Latham “Bemused Snake Transfixed by Distant Bell,” then a brand-new poem, 8 lines from John Ashbery, 8 lines of his own “Black & Tan with Ashbery.” Peggy LeGee read a piece summed up by her first line “I can’t worry about socio-paths & psycho-paths …” Joe Krausman is another frequenter of open mics, read a poem he found that he forgot he wrote “Defense of Poetry,” then “Ode to My Arthritis” (said he doesn’t have arthritis, he just made it up). Don Levy began with a poem describing his family’s dinner on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death at “The King David Deli,” then his funny poem about getting sick watching a sex-education film in school “50 Shades of Vomit.” Cathy Abbott read two very short poems of her own, “Tacky Pataki” & “Rotaries,” then “The West Wind” by John Masefield.

Kate Laity (had the best Spring outfit so I have to include her picture) read, surprisingly, poetry, first her pastiche of William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is just to say..” but with books, not plums, then recited the famous opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the Middle English. I read my newest poem “Didn’t We Do this in Saratoga?” & my co-host, Nancy Klepsch, read her poem about a friend’s paintings “The Modernist House” & a performance piece celebrating the sound of words in Hebrew, Hindi, whatever, “We All Pray for Different Reasons.” Jay Renzi read a very short witty couplet, then a piece that he said was the the only collaborative poem he’d written, “Someone Else,” written with some honey he met in a bar & didn’t even bother to get her name.

Jim Slattery was next, read a short story titled “The Boy with a Thousand Arms” but not by him. Karen Fabiane began with a new poem like a letter “I’ll Get You Tomorrow” & a poem from her chapbook from Bright Hill Press also like a letter, this to a guitar player she knew.

Dave De Vries was new here, his piece “Nostalgia” was about wishing he could press “Reverse” on his life, like he can on a tape-player, then another piece titled “Waiting.” Lynn Dean’s poem “Heart Paint” was a list of (metaphoric) colors. William Robert Foltin read 2 poems written in past Aprils, the first on touch & kisses, the second titled “Dancing.” Sterling Post slipped in at the last minute & was added as we were about to end, he read the family memoir “After Christmas Dinner” & a tribute to the jazz musician John Coltrane.

2nd Sunday @ 2 is a reading for writers of prose & poetry held at the Arts Center of the Capital Region on River St. in Troy at, like it says, 2:00PM on the 2nd Sunday of the month. Free. Your hosts are Nancy Klepsch & me, Dan Wilcox.

April 17, 2015

Poets of Earth, Water, Tree & Sky, April 10

The first of the season’s readings at Pine Hollow Arboretum, sponsored by Rootdrinker Institute & hosted by Alan Casline, tonight walking with a stick.

First a little open mic before our featured poet, Alifair Skebe. I was the first on the list & read my poem “Believe, Believe” a tribute to & incorporating Bob Kaufman’s poem of the same title. Another Bob, Bob Sharkey, read a poem “Walking With Baby” about walking with his granddaughter walking with her doll, then a journal entry about the Mayor of Cohoes. Tim Verhaegen did a slam-style piece playing on the word “alone,” then a poem about being an outsider; Tim had recently been to the Nitty Gritty Slam, competed for the 1st time & came in 2nd! The father of the Arboretum, John Abbuhl, read, as he usually does, from his little pocket notebook that he said was titled “On the Bridge of Morning Sun;” his jottings are philosophical, “What None Could Take Away,” “Connection” (all there is), “Certainly,” & “What Do We Know” (what we know is that without John’s place we wouldn’t be having these readings). Frank Robinson read a piece titled “The Image” on “pseudos” from his collection of essays & reviews Angels & Pinheads (Verity Press International, 2013).

A sure sign of Spring, when we can park on the lawn, is the start of this reading/open mic series, & a great start with the first featured poet of the season Alifair Skebe. She began with wearing a mask & a poem/song for the Pythian priestess. Her reading included many poems celebrating the season, it seems, such as “Emily’s Garden,” “A Dry April Day,” “American Pastoral” (& childbirth), “Spinning Paper” (another way of thinking about butterflies), & poems of birds, & flies & bees, even “One Southern Woman” with its rich images of Louisiana dirt & food. But there were also poems about our mortality, a conversation with a veteran, the poet as fruit fly (“Life & Death”), “This Body,” & a poem responding to Muriel Rukeyser & referencing Emily Dickinson (again) “The Dead & Dying Poem.” Alifair’s work is intelligent & artful, rich in imagery, but the kind of poems we need more time with.

Back to the open mic after a break, Thérèse Broderick began with a poem about being with Frank at Caffè Lena, then a commercial about her group that meets 1st Thursdays & you can find them, I think, on meetup.com (Albany Area Poetry Chat). Ron Pavoldi’s poem “The Big Bang Theory” was about death & war in the jungle. Susan Riback put us on the Space Station with “Have We Forgotten,” then a poem for Spring, & a third “Living Alone,” also reading from a pocket notebook.

Jill Crammond read about the “Family Dinner” then a poem in a new persona “The Widow Receives a Bouquet.” Mark W. O’Brien took on another poet’s voice to read “7 Things Every Hipster Should Know about the Poetry Show.” Joe Krausman paid tribute to poet Paul Weinman & his reading at Borders nude & his chairs made out of sticks “Just Sticks,” then read a poem about needing someone who is both a nurse & an editor, & a piece about “Going to a Doubleheader” (not baseball).

Our disabled host, Alan Casline read regally from his chair, a poem based on childhood memories of food “Conversation Just Before Midnight” & a poem about what we need to know of “Toad Lore.”

This series continues on the 2nd Friday (mostly) of the month at the Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitor Center, 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY, 6:30PM — featured reader & an open mic.

April 16, 2015

Word Thursdays, April 9

The Bright Hill Literary Center in Treadwell, NY is an incandescent spot on the map of New York State run by the equally colorful Bertha Rogers. I was pleased to be asked back yet again to read, with New York City performer & writer Kathleen Cromwell. More so, pleased to get to know Kathleen & her husband the guitarist Spiros Soukis as we traveled from Albany out to Treadwell. Auden famously said that poetry makes nothing happen, but he is dead & wrong — poetry makes friendships happen. Bertha & her husband Ernie have been my friends (through poetry) for many years, & through her & her poetry programs I’ve made friends with so many other poets. So there.

First on the program was the Poetry Out Loud Mohawk Region Competition Runner-up Jane Clayton, a senior at Jefferson Central High School. She gave poised, thoughtful recitations of John Straley’s poem “Every Single Day,” Jamaal May’s poem for Detroit “There Are Birds Here,” & William Shakespeare’s Sonnet #29.

While Jane looked for her own poems to read to us, Bob Cernos read to us some of his work, beginning with an introduction in rhyme, then a tender poem to his wife “Come Grow Old with Me,” a poem on sushi, saki, sex & the Soul “The 4 S’s” & a poem about imagined “Previous Lives.”

Jane returned with a bouquet of her own poems (my problem with the Poetry Out Loud program is I’d rather hear what these high school kids are writing rather than a poem from a pre-selected, proscribed list from a "famous" poet) — “Flight” an poem of looking down & up, “Overpass” a love poem perhaps, “Captured” about a photographer & a bird, & a relationship poem “Plateau.” I hope to one day to have to buy her book of poems.

I didn’t know Kathleen Cromwell until Bertha paired us up to read & was pleased she had the foresight to ask me for a ride from Albany to Treadwell. She said that she had read at Bright Hill in 1993 when the readings were held in Bertha’s house (around the time that 3 Guys from Albany also performed there). She performed with her husband Spiros Soukis on guitar, talking about the Psyche & Eros myth from her book, then into a piece on Aphrodite, telling stories, her attributes. Kathleen’s performance was weave of memoir, poems, songs, including one sung in Greek from the film Boy on a Dolphin.

I was next, had prepared a reading that was a good variety of my poems, beginning with Bob Kaufman’s “Believe, Believe” then my poem/essay by the same name written for last year’s Poetry Unites program, then on to poems from the Scissortail Festival experience, “Oklahoma Sunday” & the recent “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” A couple of political pieces, a couple of poems to promote recent chapbooks, “The Transit of Venus” just because I haven’t read it in a while & I like it, “Birthday Poem 2015” & ending with a poem for the season “What Passover Has Taught Me.” It’s always good to read here.

After our reading Bertha told an interesting anecdote about a phone call she had received from Burton Raffel, who had done a famous translation of Beowulf in the early 1960s. Bertha has done her own translation of Beowulf, a lovely letterpress edition with original artwork by Bertha published in 2000 by Birch Brook Press & she thought that was Raffel was calling about that, but instead he called about the readings, art exhibits & other literary/cultural work she makes happen at the Bright Hill Literary Center. & if you don’t know about it, & the Word Thursdays Reading Series, check it out at her website. In the photos you can see some of the artwork of the Iranian-American artist Roshan Houshmand, “Text & Context,” currently on view at the Center.

April 14, 2015

Live from the Living Room, April 8

Back in Albany again I headed down to the Pride Center for the reading & open mic hosted by Don Levy.

The featured poet was Mike Cecconi from Utica, NY, his first time reading in Albany he said. He introduced himself with the title poem from his chapbook This Is My Inside Voice (VBLP Inc/Hodge-Podge, 2015), read very loudly, a self-referential Slam piece. Mike is a big guy & his style was more suited for a stage in a bar to overpower loud patrons then in this low-ceilinged room with only 4 other people sitting within inches — his inside voice nearly blasted us to the outside. He continued in the same vein, “Missing Links” was funny social commentary, using the language often used to discuss being gay but referring to golfers. “Oestra” proposed that Jesus had himself crucified to get away from his nagging, Jewish mother, & “The Art Bum’s Prayer” was a short bit of more religious satire. He dreamed of liberating the workers at a call center in “The Escape,” “Find It” was cynical self-help & when he declaimed “If I Had Abs” he used a marker to draw stripes on his belly. He ended with “Writer’s Blessing” another cynical blast. An energetic reading on which the volume control, alas, was broken.

There were 4 of us for the open mic & I went first, performed my poem “McDonald’s with Love” with a new variation, then the poem from Scissortail “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” It was a pleasure to see Kim Henry make a rare appearance, with a recent untitled poem for Take Back the Night, about a 14-year old being raped. Jessica Rae was with us again with 2 poems, a re-written “Stop the Hurt” about being yourself, then her political/sex piece on fracking “The Rape of Our Mother.”

Our host, Don Levy, read Theodore Roethke’s poem “Elegy for Jane” from The Pocket Book of Modern Verse, then a recent poem, “Sermon in the Pizza Parlor,” a funny piece in which Jesus likes the pizza, tells the owners how to run their business (He showed up a lot tonight in the poems).

Each 2nd Wednesday of the month we gather at the Pride Center on Hudson Ave. in Albany, NY, at 7:30PM for Live from the Living Room, a featured reader & an open mic, & warm, friendly conversation.

April 13, 2015

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival - Final Feature, April 4

One of the grand things the Scissortail Festival does is sponsor the R. Darryl Fisher Creative Writing Contest for Oklahoma high school students, with an award ceremony on the last day of the Festival. Mark Walling made the awards for the fiction category, & Joshua Grasso did the honors for poetry. You can find the list of winners, honorable mentions & the names of their schools & teachers here.

The final reader of the Festival was Heid E. Erdrich, who introduced herself to the audience in the language of the Chickasaw people, & thanks to the folks in Ada & at ECU for welcoming her here.

Appropriately enough her first poem was titled “Our Words Are Not Our Own” & was about how when we write we are not writing alone. The poem “Vermillion Hands Petroglyph” was like a prayer, about reaching out to touch what fascinates us, then a poem about “The Red River of the North” & one about her great-grandmother who was a herbalist, “Remedy.”

She read a couple poems from her collection Cell Traffic: New & Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2012), “Thrifty Gene Lucky Gene” & “Brain Scan” showing tensions between what we are given & what we would like to be, between science & traditions.

She went on to read some poems from a new manuscript, including one on taste “The Honey Suckers,” another making fun of the zombie craze, & one about a Renaissance Fair “At the Anachronism Fair.”

Unfortunately at this point Sally & I had to leave to drive to Oklahoma City to catch our flight home, having said our good-byes earlier so we could just slip out when we had to. It was a great 3 days here in Ada & more good poetry & writing than I could ever include in these Blogs. Thank you Ken Hada & all the great staff & students at ECU who made this Scissortail Festival once again a great success, & for your hospitality. & thank you to all the great writers who traveled here to thrill us all with your writing, & your friendship.

As Uncle Wiggly (& my father) would say, I’ll see you again, deo volente.

April 12, 2015

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival - Final Morning Sessions, April 4

Sunny Smith moderated the 1st morning session, of this, the last day of Scissortail.

 Rob Roensch was the first reader with a short story “The Second Most Improved Shoegaze Band in Edmond, Oklahoma” about traveling with the band around Oklahoma, filled with humorous situations, conversations among the band members, outrageous metaphors with an undercurrent of tenderness. Having traveled around with the poetry performance group 3 Guys from Albany, albeit somewhat more aging & greying poets, rather than 20-something rockers, I recognized a lot of the banter, the late night discussions. A very entertaining piece of writing.

Interestingly enough, the next reader, LeAnne Howe, was born in Edmond, Oklahoma; she is a member of the Choctaw Nation. Her work mostly deals with the experiences of Native people. Today she read from a new collection of poems in novel form “Savage Conversations,” based on the 1875 mental health records of Mary Todd Lincoln. It is set in the mental hospital & peopled by figures in her hallucinations, a “savage Indian” & a “wandering Jew” whom Mary Todd accuses of stealing her money. Also worked in are images from the President’s murder, often in conversation with her hallucinations.

Jerry Bradley's work was considerably lighter with poems as stories, often funny narratives. Two main themes that emerged were school poems (“Fire Prevention Week, “Burning Love” in the 5th grade, & “Primer” about falling in love with his 3rd grade teacher), & poems about relationships (“First Marriage” on Freudian slips, a fight with his wife ”In My Place,” & “Divining with Love”). There were also poems re-telling fairy tales (Cinderella & Rumplestilskins), & a moving piece at the “Chemo Ward at Texas Children’s Hospital.”

Leslie Ullman was perhaps the most “serious” reader of the Festival, beginning with the quiet “Undertow” & the pensive/descriptive “Water Music.” At one point the poet told us we should not clap, but then muddied the issue by saying it was OK if we wanted to, then dissipated into indifference. The audiences here have been uneven & inconsistent about clapping after each poem & I suspect it had to do with the make up of the listeners; from my experience I have found that in general listeners at “academic” readings tend not to clap after each poem, while those at community readings tend to clap after each poem. Anyway, her poems inclined to the more quietly philosophical, such as “Consider Desire” & the series of daily poems “A Crown of Speculation” for which there was a more quiet audience reaction.

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Ken Hada, Scissortail’s head honcho & shaman was the moderator for the final reading session (before the last featured reader & conclusion of what Ken called “a listening Festival,” as indeed it is). This was a lively & engaging set of poets to bring it on home, as they say at blues concert.

Speaking of the Blues, Donald Levering gave a reading of poems all linked to music. In fact he could have walked off after his first poem, “Before the Blues Blues,” a stunning rich stew of musical history linked by repeated phrases & lines, which he followed up by more of the same kind of expansive musical history list in “Barrelhouses.” There was a poem on John Coltrane, another on old time/country music, a poem about the old piano in his house, another on the movie “The Man With the Golden Arm” (a great jazz soundtrack), & another, “The Sounding,” about a woman composer, & the sounds of whales.

Carol Coffee Reposa followed with a rich & varied set of poems, from sonnets about the English Tudors, to the lovely “Serenade” which is a love poem to her grandparents. She included poems for her son Adam (“Tattoo”) & another for her daughter (“Mother Arm”), but blew me away with a piece remembering a beloved uncle, mixing images of him in his casket with going to a baseball game & fancy dinners: “My Uncle’s Song,” incorporating lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it brought tears to my eyes.

Larry Thomas, another of the Texas Poet Laureates, has been a (welcome) perennial here, described as "a buffalo" by Ken in his introduction.  He read selections from 2 poetry collections. The Goatherd (Mouthfeel Press, 2014) is a series of poems inspired by an actual goatherd & meditates on “Billy,” “Nanny,” lush & sensuous “Goat Cheese,” even on the “Munificence” of their udders, their flesh & skin, their guts used for the strings of violins. He also read from Art Museums (Blue Horse Press, 2014), which is a tour of the light & architecture & paintings in museums ranging from Houston, Texas to Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Fort Worth & Chicago, with a marvelous photo on the cover by his wife.

I first met Dorothy Alexander when I visited Oklahoma for the first time, at a poetry reading & open mic held in conjunction with the Oklahoma Labor Fest in 2010. In addition to being an exuberant poet she is a practicing attorney & social justice activist. Her 2014 poetry chapbook Fractured Earth: A Prophecy (Village Books Press, Cheyenne, OK) is an indictment of the practice of fracking. It was hugely appropriate that she was the last reader in the Festival, before the final Feature. She said Scissortail was her "Christmas time," with Ken Hada as Santa Claus, & Professor Eril Hughes (who coordinated the book table & volunteers & more) as Chief Elf (Ken & Eril can be seen in the background of the photo of Dorothy). Dorothy’s poems commented on this spirit, about struggling against fear (“Whistling in the Dark”), then a poem that she described as her Ars Poetica on those things that inspire her, then a moving workplace poem in which she describes how she finds solace in her work as an attorney, & a love poem to her partner Devey, concluding, as we began back on Thursday morning, with a poem for Jim Spurr who has indeed been our Spirit Guide here these last few days, “Poets After Life.” Thank you Dorothy.