May 27, 2015

Third Thursday Poetry Night, May 21

You can tell the really good featured poets before they even read by the size of the audience. The featured poet, Barbara Ungar, drew in lots of her students & loyal friends. After invoking the Muse, the gone Galway Kinnell, with his sexy poem “Last Gods,” we went on to the first part of the open mic.

Alan Catlin started us off with one of his “dream-dates” poems, “kind of rude” he said, about Virginia Woolf as a college classmate. Jacky Kirkpatrick read “The Summer of Nothing,” a dysfunctional family memoir. Samson Dikeman got a rousing welcome, then read “World’s Fair 1958” (in Brussels), on the stolen last work of Mozart. Billy Stanley free-styled, in his mud-rich accent, a political/cutural commentary. Don Levy’s poem, “Boring Old Gay People,” was inspired by a remark by the painter David Hockney. Sue Oringel made a rare appearance here, said she found a poem she written last year about the travels of dating, “Another Fairy Tale,” but added she is in a better place now.

Barbara Ungar has been promoting her new book, Immortal Medusa, & I was pleased to be added to her “book tour.” For her reading she mixed in poems from her new book with a quick romp through her earlier books, starting with one from her 1st book, a poem about being in graduate school & an affair with a chaos physicist, then “Feast,” from her “baby book,” with breasts like botas. From Charlotte Bronte You Ruined My Life she read a “a love-poem to my ex-husbands” “Why Don’t they Just Drop Dead.” From Immortal Medusa she began with “Dead Letters” — she’d just gotten one today —, then “Reading Rumi to Dolphins” about her students, “Whale Fall” (inspired by a trip to the dentist). “Ode to a Porcupine” quoted Li Bai & was an anti-war poem inspired by the stink of a dead porcupine, & “For the Weather” talked about the weather we used to have. She closed with the androgynous “Why I’d Rather be a Seahorse.”  During her introduction Barbara apologized for reading poems that I, or others in the audience, had heard her read recently, but one can always hear a good, entertaining poem more than once, just like when we go to a live performance of a musical group we like we want to hear our favorite tunes -- what would a Rolling Stones concert be without "Satisfaction"?

After the break I read a poem I like to do each year for the Memorial Day weekend, the war/anti-war fantasy memoir “John Lees” (on the Vietnam Memorial at 3W-83). I was followed by Lee Geiselmann who read “There Is A Moment” about being in an airplane & about love. Amber O’Sullivan continued with the Memorial Day theme, a military funeral “When It Was Done.”

Alyssa Cohorn’s poem was titled “War Song” & was about a relationship, not Memorial Day. Allison Paster-Torres read off her phone a poem about an urban conversation “Not that Kind of Girl.” John (he didn’t print his last name so I couldn't read it) (& he didn’t want me to take his picture) began with a long introduction about being inspired by the British surrealist poet John Gascoyne & eventually read a poem based on a lucid dream. Karen Fabiane read a long poem, the title piece from her little book The Dancing Bears.

Emily Willwerth’s poem was titled “Relative” ending feeling small. Jessie Serfilippi read a childhood memoir about watching the stars outside, being scared. Carol Jewell’s poem was untitled, about writing/not-writing a poem about the end of the semester. The final reader of the night, Jan Farrell’s, poem was a memory being with of her children around a campfire.

Each Third Thursday we gather at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY to read our own poems, & to listen to a featured reader, 7:30PM, for a modest donation supporting the featured poet, other poetry programming & the Social Justice Center. Join us.

May 24, 2015

Nitty Gritty Slam #94, May 19

Tonight was the “Grand Slam” featuring 8 poets who had competed all season, with the winners to go to represent Albany at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland, CA later this year. But first there was an open mic for all the rest of us, with Kevin Peterson as host (& with his supportive Mom in the audience).

I had gotten there on time which means early so I was signed up 1st on the list & read my telephone conversation poem, “Garrison Keillor.” Eliza Ryan made the trip over from Western Mass. to do a Slam-style list poem, on 3 things her mother taught her that she could forget/3 others she doesn’t want to forget.

The virgin Joe Stamp took the stage next with a bizarre litany of seemingly random questions in silly half rhymes. More experienced Ainsley read a poem contemplating a 3-some with her boyfriend’s roommate. Avery did a poem from memory written for a friend’s wedding this weekend “When You Find Someone.” Jacky read her poem from her phone, addressed to her Mom, about being born to be a slut. The performer known as “Midnight” drove over from Connecticut & did a Slam-style piece ending in shouting.

Salina was more gentle, telling a lover to “Leave Your Words” (at the door). Acosio, after some discussion with Kevin about the spelling of his name, & a leisurely adjustment of the mic finally got to his extended metaphor “Girl on a Swing.” Arthur had missed his slot earlier when he went out, but came back & Kevin let him read, which was a “pain/rain” broken heart poem.

The Slam had been announced & advertised as being just the 8 top scorers of the season, not an open Slam, so I thought it was bad form to allow some of those same performers to read in the open mic as well. Although, Samson did redeem himself with a lengthy (too long for a Slam), hilarious piece that was a history of the wrestling champions, a string of in-jokes for the wrestling fans in the audience.

So let the Grand Slam begin, with Thom Francis, el presidente, as ring-master. The “sacrificial poet” used to calibrate the judges was the aforementioned “Midnight” with a comedy routine on racism titled “An Open Letter to Aliens Who Want to Visit Planet Earth.”

The first round consisted of Amani, D. Colin (with a funny piece about her hair -- it is marvelous), Daniel Summerhill, Elizag, K.P. (with a piece he read from paper that was a real poem, about what’s it all about), L-Majesty (his fine piece beginning with imaginary friends, about believing in yourself), Poetyc Visionz, & Samson (a funny piece about ISIS recruiting white suburban teenagers). Out of that pack came the contenders in Round 2.

Perhaps it’s a function of the competition, but another poet pointed out later that although she hadn’t been to the Nitty Gritty Slam for a while she heard mostly work she had heard these poets do before.  In the 2nd round, Poetyc Visionz was first with another of his “numbers” pieces, then Elizag followed with her piece on white privilege, then Daniel Summerhill on what is an artist in this racist society, & Amani (her work typically piles up image after image & would be more compelling except that she recites it way too fast, & seems to filling up the 3-minute limit).

Thom Francis presents the 2015 Nitty Gritty Slam Team
When the dust cleared, it was Amani & Daniel toe-to-toe for the final round, & Amani won the hearts of the judges with a (too fast again) piece on how beautiful she is (true), over Daniel’s moving/inspiring piece about a nephew with autism; Elizag finished in 3rd with Poetyc Visionz 4th — & that’s the 2015 Nitty Gritty Slam team to compete at the Nationals. Support the team by coming out to Slam events & wherever else they perform, &/or donations to the team through — & find them on Twitter & FaceBook.

The poetry continues at the Nitty Gritty Slam & open mic at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY each 1st & 3rd Tuesday, 7:30PM (or later), $5.00.

May 18, 2015

Live from the The Living Room, May 13

Back in “the Garden Room” once again for some poetry among friends.

The featured poet tonight was Paul Pines, psychologist, poet, jazz impresario, with a reading from his new book Message from the Memoirist (Dos Madres Press), as Paul explained, memory as the storehouse of the Soul. He began with the poem “The Folded Triangle” (with the line “Forgetting is a merciful act…”) then on to “Andrew Wyeth Enters Heaven” with it’s musical repetitions, “like a recitative.” The prose poem “Baseball” took us back to the Brooklyn of the poet’s youth & Ebbets Field. Paul honored my request for the elegy “The Death of Eddie Jefferson,” about the innovative jazz vocalist who, as was the saxophonist Richie Cole also mentioned in the poem, was a habitué of Paul’s former jazz joint at Bowery & 2nd Street in NYC, the Tin Palace. The poem “Belated Apostrophe to T.S. Eliot” responds to Eliot’s anti-Semitism. One section of the book is titled “Toasts” which are just that & he read 2, “Spiritual Gifts” & the amusing “Field Theory According to Mel Blanc.” He ended his relaxed reading with the title poem, that was inspired by a weekend workshop on memoir, & incorporates Greek myths & the ever-present Plato. The book contains in addition to Paul’s poems some reflective art in color & black & white by Marc Shanker — worth adding to your library.

Then on to the open mic. I was first on the list with a new poem “What Is Your Pilgrimage?” (inspired by an essay by Alifair Skebe in the latest Rootdrinker Newsletter), & an older piece that quotes both Pindar & Black Elk, "Rain."  Kim Henry was a welcome sight & read 2 poems, both untitled, about looking at old photos from of her mother’s scrapbook taken by Kim’s grandfather during World War II.

Joe Krausman had 2 poems about dresses, “Marilyn Monroe’s Dress” & “My Mother’s Wedding Dress.” Jessica Rae first read a poem from a year ago “Tulip Fest” then a recent one “Parts of Me that Write Poetry.” Our host, Don Levy, ended the evening with 2 poems on similar themes, “Day of Silence” (on the bullying of LBGT youth), & “Bruce” a letter to Bruce Jenner.

This reading happens each month on the 2nd Wednesday at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, downstairs in the Garden Room at 7:30PM, with a featured poet followed by an open mic, for a modest donation. & always, as Don says, “straight friendly.”

May 17, 2015

2nd Sunday @ 2, May 10

Mothers Day in Troy but there were still a dozen writers, even some mothers, here to read, poetry or prose, with the dual hosts Nancy Klepsch & me, Dan Wilcox.

& I was up first with Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 “Mother’s Day Proclamation”, then my own short poem about a homeless woman in Washington Park “Whose Mother is That?” Peggy LeGee was next with a tribute piece, on death & eating, “Ode to My Grandmother on Mothers Day.” Bob Sharkey read an extended excerpt from his manuscript-in-progress “Sustenance” about a made-up city populated by mostly young people, in this section pondering the Move bombing in Philly & politics. Howard Kogan began with his poem “Missing My Mother,” then on to others work, a poem by Faith Shearin “Spelling Bee,” & the epilogue to Moby Dick.

Cathy Abbott read a couple of short, poignant pieces, one about understanding per mother.  Alane Hohenberg was new here, read a prose narrative about having lunch with her sister in the Moonshine Gulch Saloon, in Rochford, South Dakota.

Karen Fabiane’s “Junkie Pathetique” was a cynical conversation set in a bar, & then she read “But Now Gentle Folk Come.” My co-host Nancy Klepsch read from the 1994 collection Open Mic: the Albany Anthology her poem “Planting” then a recent piece from her workshop with Bernadette Mayer, the insult poem “The Equal Opportunity Insult Poem.”

Joe Krausman’s poem “Buddha Dreams” was new & was about that interval between deaths we call “life,” then a little piece on the circles of the season, & a poem about all the “could’ves but didn’ts” “Coming of Age.” William Robert Foltin was brief with his poems but long with his rambling, ending with a silly rhyme “Macho Man.”

Jay Renzi read a portrait of a place (just written today) “The Pastures,” then another poem “Sundial.” Druis Beasley stepped away from the mic to give praise to Mothers, who give life, then some pieces from long manuscript she has been working on for a long time, “Diatribe on Love,” “Dormant Seed” (of love), & the last piece in the manuscript “The Smile of Bright.”

This open mic for poetry & prose takes place on most 2nd Sundays, except for July & August, at the Arts Center of the Capital Region on River St. in Troy, NY at 2PM. It’s free!

May 10, 2015

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, May 6

Surprised when I got here to find a much larger host for this open mic, not the usual host Carol Graser on steroids, but the equally genial Alan Casline as guest host tonight. He began with a poem by Stephen Lewandowski, “Not Alone,” they way Carol always invokes the Muse with a poem by some other.

On to the open mic, with Rodney Parrott with “a poem about possibility,” a prosey story of a friend whose briefcase gets stolen, & returned, in Barcelona. Todd Fabozzi followed with a couple of “eco-poems” the first called “Progress” about the decline in bird populations & of poisons in the environment, & another “Swirling” on the legendary mass of plastic floating in the ocean.

Next was a group of young dance students & their teacher with 3 pieces, apparently written by Sarah, one of the students, who read "Layers" while the teacher read the others; the teacher explained that they were interpreting poems through movement & sound, which in itself sounds like a definition of poetry. Dave Defreese read the philosophical “Waiting” then a narrative piece, “The Vicar’s Wife,” based on a novel. Albany’s Don Levy read “Hibernation” about what he didn’t do this Winter, then the hysterical narrative of high school (hetero-)sex education “50 Shades of Vomit.” Kim Henry carried on the great tradition of State worker poets writing poems at work with a touching untitled piece written today, at work of course, a memoir of her mother & her green thumb. Margot Messing read a poem about St. Paddy’s day in Saratoga, “March Again.”

Susan Kress said her poem was a “kind of a fairy tale” & clearly based on Cinderella, from a different point of view, “When the Other Shoe Dropped.” Kat, who has made a couple of appearances at the Third Thursday reading at the Social Justice Center in Albany, read a piece on writing & healing “Gathering Seed.”

The featured poets tonight were the husband & wife poetry couple, Thérèse Broderick & Frank Robinson. Frank began with a poem from his chapbook of poems written for Thérèse, Love Poems, “Thérèse 5.1,” then his historical/sociological commentary “When I Was a Kid America Was Like Africa.”  Thérèse’s began with her prize-winning 3-part poem “Metal Arts I, II, III” — check it out here in The Heartland Review — based on text in a catalog of course offerings.  Frank was back with poems in “another poetic style,” “Going Home,” & a take on Emma Lazarus’s sonnet commenting, on the new fees for immigrants “The New New Colossus.” Thérèse followed with “Great Aunt Marie” & talked about studying the work of the poet Frannie Lindsay, then passes around copies of a poem printed both on conventional paper as well as on a cornhusk (like a poetic tamale?), & ended with “Steps for Gently Removing a Sock from Your Mother’s Aging Foot” from her 2013 Benevolent Bird chapbook Dislodged: Poems for My Mother’s Weeks of Subluxation.  Frank ended the session with the satiric “Mr. I Predict.” Thérèse & Frank often show up together at poetry open mics & it was quite appropriate, & entertaining, for them to share the stage as featured poets.

There was a short break during which, a la Woodstock, half the audience cleared out, snubbing the remaining open mic poets — but we were there for each other. Barbara Garro was very “throaty” with a cold, read the rhyming “Baby Spring” & the expansive “Ah, Love.” Tim Sneider choked up reading the title poem of his Changing Roads: Motorcycle Poetry and More (AuthorHouse, 2014).

Marcella Hammer did 2 poems on death, a series of “extended haiku” titled “Nelson Mandela” & “Reading List.” Bob Sharkey read his poem “The Letter O” that had been printed as a broadside by Benevolent Bird press & included in his 2012 chapbook Surface at Sunrise. James Schlett has a new non-fiction book coming out soon from Cornell University Press,  tonight he read a cluster of Haiku. Jessica Rae read her powerful eco-poem “The Rape of Our Mother” about fracking, then observations & descriptions on “Tulip Fest.” I read just one poem, from 2010, about May 1970 “44,000.” Jackie Craven had been patient to be the last reader of the night, with 2 poems about mirrors & the people we see in them.

This open mic is on the 1st Wednesday of the month at historic Caffè Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, 7:30PM, $5.00 -- a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

May 7, 2015

Poets Speak Loud!, April 27

Poetry Month & the ripple effect of Albany WordFest finally was coming to an end, with the last Monday of April at McGeary’s. Mary Panza kept order/disorder as our MC.

Sylvia Barnard was the first of the open mic poets with an introduction about women writing about childbirth, then a short 4-line stanza in rhyme written in 1796 by Naomi Chandler Barnard, & her own poem in response, using the same meter. I followed with my “poem in a bag” “McDonald’s with Love”, then the poem I wrote in Oklahoma, “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” Joe Krausman has been going through old files of poems & found one he’d forgotten he’d written, a sonnet in rhyme “The Pigeons in Eden Eat it All,” then the creepy “Ted Williams’ Head.” Jessica Rae read her powerful anti-fracking poem “The Rape of our Mother” which she explained was actually inspired by an engineer’s description of the fracking process, then a descriptive litany “Tulip Fest” with its disorderly crowd.

Back a few months ago (or was it only yesterday?) when there was ice & snow everywhere, Richard Levine was scheduled to be the featured poet but was ice-bound in Brooklyn. Today he had thawed out & made it here to be the featured poet. He began with a couple poems invoking Spring, one on dancing, the other about gardening, then on to poems from his chapbook The Cadence of Mercy (Finishingline Press, 2014), “Being Touched,” “Spirit,” the childhood memory “Saturday Night Fights,” “A Big Bang in a Small Place” (experience in Viet Nam), “The Drowned River” (the Hudson at Troy), others, & ending with the title poem about hitting a deer. His poems are plain-spoken, working class, filled with vivid images of everyday life.

Returning to the open mic poets, Annie Sauter read a very short poem from 1971 in San Francisco, then a very long poem “A Few Survived” about old friends visiting. Tess Lecuyer read a little trio of haiku on Spring from her poem-a-day project. Adam Tedesco’s first poem was titled “Doc Gooden” (like the Mets star from some years back), then a grim “Love Poem” with the phrase, “un-fuck yourself.” A new, young voice, Kathy, was convinced to read her sad poem for a boy who doesn’t even know she is there.

Another new voice, Libby, read a piece just written here with her Mom, random lines strung together. Poetyc Visionz had slipped in & read last, a new piece “Nine Clouds” on the illusions of life.

Poets Speak Loud! happens, most months, on the last Monday of the month, here at McGeary’s Irish Pub on Sheridan Sq. in Albany, NY, 7:30PM, featured poet & an open mic.

[A note on how many poetry readings there were here this month: I take notes about the readings I attend in a reporter’s notebook, & the one I’m currently using I started a month ago & am now half-way through it; the previous notebook took 4 months to fill — that means I’ve already been to 2 months worth of poetry readings in just 1 month. Phew! As we say, “In Albany, Everyday is Poetry Month.”]

May 5, 2015

Yes!, April 24

This was the last Yes! reading of the season, at a new venue, The Brakes Coffeehouse & Provisions on Lark St. Matthew Klane did the intros while James Belflower manned the live-streaming camera.

Emily Mitchell Ayers, owner of The Brakes welcomed us, talked about their new business, about trying to create a relaxed cafe setting with a vegan menu. It was founded with the intention to motivate and empower people to reduce their carbon footprint on the planet to stabilize the global climate. Have your coffee & help the planet too, I guess.

The first reader was Chris Schlegel who read from a sequence of poems he hadn’t read out before, a string of short poems that all seemed to be of about the same length. With titles like “Transfer Station,” “The Evening Redness in the West,” “Bob’s Morning Company” (somehow related to Antonioni’s film The Passenger), & “Not Berry Farm Molly” the pieces were like daily notes about his feelings & thoughts & what was going on outside (sounds like a definition of most poetry), short phrases, but read quite flatly.

Sarah Deniz Akant began with a poem for Matthew which imitated his fragmented, breathless style in his own readings & in his introductions at these readings. She read from a sequence from her first full-length collection Babette, forthcoming from Rescue Press. Some of the poems were done from memory, all untitled, fragmentary & enigmatic. & what was Cheburashka doing in there?

The final reader was Tony Mancus, who began with a poem written today based on a photo of Civil War enactors outside Ford’s Theater on Washington, D.C. Then on to fragmentary, perhaps descriptive, pieces published in the Seattle Review, & others from loose pages, all without giving titles, if indeed any of his work had titles. His descriptive poems are distant, cold, as if viewing a scene in a coffee house, & read in a flat, unexpressive style, about as far from slam/performance poetry as one can get while still talking.

This series typically brings experimental poets to the venues of Albany, helping to keep the scene varied & challenging, it’s own kind of diversity to the mix. But they are taking the Summer off, & will be back in the Fall.