June 30, 2015

Third Thursday Poetry Night, June 18

Unfortunately our scheduled featured poet for this night, Mike Jurkovic, had to cancel, but the upside was that everyone in the open mic was the feature — poets could read twice as many poems as they normally could at this monthly reading at the Social Justice Center. But before the Albany poets came up to read I celebrated the recent appointment of Juan Felipe Herrera as the new Poet Laureate of the USA, then invoked the Muse in the person of Carlos Cortez (1923 - 2005) by reading his poem “Crystal-Gazing the Amber Fluid.”

Sylvia Barnard was the first poet up with a poem from many years ago to her daughter  “Goodbye Poem,” then another recent one about her daughter dancing to the music of Andy Bell “Shiobhan in Washington Park.” Sally Rhoades read poems written in April & May this year, beginning with “A Quake at Midnight” written April 19, then “I Returned Back into Spring.” Joe Krausman followed with  “Independence Day” a funny piece about the legal after-effects of a picnic, then the philosophical “10 Reflections on the Nature of Things.”

Jessica Rae read an intense piece about an unpleasant college encounter “Space Invader,” & an old poem remembering a “Hot Summer Night.” The first poem Don Levy read tonight was about sports & his Dad “Jock,” then “At the Cellphone Store” about his struggle to get his phone fixed. Brian Dorn responded to the Pope’s comments on the environment with “The Ends of the Earth” & on having too much stuff, then a yearning poem “Wait for Me.”

Malcolm Willison was back after a hiatus with a long descriptive poem about a visit to the Vietnam monuments in Washington, DC “Memorial.” Karen Fabiane read “Now Morning” like stream-of-consciousness musings over coffee, & another piece in a similar vein about a conversation with a past lover over whisky “Real Gone.” I was the final reader for the night, with 2 short poems, the first playing on the names of streets “In My Neighborhood,” the last poem bounced off other poems “Contra Li Bai.”

At a couple points during the night random folk from the street wandered in.  One sat for a while & was quietly talking to himself, then as he got louder & I approached him he got up & stepped outside.  I asked if he was OK & he asked me for change; I gave him a dollar; he seemed fine after that.  Another wandered in to quietly lean against the wall, listened for a while, then left, muttering, "Oh, it's poetry..."  Such is Life on Central Ave.

Usually there is a featured poet on the third Thursday here at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., & there are always community poets willing to read in the open mic, starting at 7:30PM, just a modest donation to support poetry programming & the Social Justice Center.

June 25, 2015

Poets’ Cabaret II: A Show in Verse, June 20

Gloucester is my 2nd favorite place on the Earth, as many of you know, & the Gloucester Writers Center is just one many reasons to come back here, again (& again). The Center, now in its 5th year, held a fund-raiser/celebration this night at the Maritime Center on Harbor Loop. The first Poets’ Cabaret was held 2 years ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gloucester’s (& the World’s) poet, Vincent Ferrini.

Tonight's production was written by M. Lynda Robinson & Ann McArdle, directed by M. Linda Robinson & produced by Henry Ferrini & Michael McNamara. It was a relaxed, informal performance, “a theater of nothing but poetry” as Henry described it, made all the more charming by occasional missed cues, & sound glitches, with the energy & good-humor of the performers carrying the night along.

"Vincent Ferrini," "Charles Olson," & "T.S. Eliot"
Co-Directors of the Gloucester Writers Center Annie Thomas & Henry Ferrini did the introductions, with a shared script. The texts of The Show in Verse were primarily from the poetry of Vincent Ferrini, Charles Olson, T.S. Eliot & Gerrit Lansing. The dead (Ferrini, Olson & Eliot) were summoned in white with lighted garlands by the Muse (Sally Nutt). Mark St. Pierre played a somewhat diminutive, but extremely bushy-browed Charles Olson, George Sibley played T.S. Eliot (not quite stuffy enough to my view of Eliot), but Jo-Ann Castano’s accent & nutty playfulness was dead-on on as Vincent. Gordon Baird with a teen-age back-up chorus performed “The Way of the Breath,” & there was also an engaging performance of the poem “Smoke” by Elizabeth McKim.

"Kiddie Cats"
But I thought the show was stolen by the “Kiddie Cats,” a bevy of Gloucester young people, including Abby Cook, Sam Cook, Treely Dowd, Rebecca Dowd, Lila Olson, April Smith, Seamus Swift & Rumi Thomas who gave a well-timed & charming group performance of Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats.”

The cabaret acts included songs by Charlee Bianchini (“Origins”), Brian King doing Gerrit Lansing’s “The Castle of the Flowering Birds,” Karen Ristuben’s beautiful rendering of Eliot's “Marina,” & Michael McNamara reading excerpts from Vincent Ferrini’s autobiography Hermit in the Clouds.

Ubiquitous throughout the night were the dancers, Kate Tarlow Morgan, Sarah Slifer & Carl Thomsen who individually shadowed each of the dead poets, but came into their own during the cabaret finale, Willie Alexander’s iconic performance of “Life is the Poem” (quoting Vincent, of course), with a tight improv on the small stage, then enticing (some) members of the audience to dance & chant on stage.

Photo by Wendy Dwyer
I, of course, had to join them — life is the poem, life is the poem…

The night went on with dancing on the pier to music from DJs & “tunesmiths” — & the programming goes on at the Gloucester Writers Center all year long, check their website.

(For more pictures from the Poets Cabaret visit my Flickr site.)

June 23, 2015

2nd Sunday @ 2, June 14

The last session of the season until September, the end of our 5th year doing this open mic. Nancy Klepsch & I are pleased so many wonderful local writers have shown up at this monthly reading & we expect to continue after a break for July & August.

Jay Renzi was the first to read, 2 older pieces he said, “Stone,” & “For Our Own Sake” in which he quotes a snippet from from the Frank Norris novel The Octopus: A Story of California, published in 1901. I followed with 2 recent, short poems “The Confusion of the Attic” & “Contra Li Bai.” Bob Sharkey reprised his nostalgic poetry/prose piece “Book-Lover” with references to Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”, & then e.e. cummings’ sonnet “pity this busy monster,manunkind”.

William Robert Foltin read from his self-published chapbook a couple poems written in Junes past, “Tuesday Now Means Artist” & a description of a red-haired woman “Red Summer.”  Karen Fabiane read a stream-of-consciousness portrait, one she said she hadn’t read in a long time, “Someone Laughed,” then the poem "Anymore Half-Remembered” from her Bright Hills Press chapbook Dancing Bears.

Jamey Stevenson apologized for reading from his phone, but these days lots of poets do it, a poem titled “Campsite Rule” an extended metaphor in short line rhymes, then a poem about walking late at night “Not a Soul.” Sally Rhoades began with a couple pages from a prose memoir of her mother where she takes her children to be baptized, then a poem with a conversation with “A Full Moon.”

My co-host Nancy Klepsch read a poem “In Faith of a Writing Prompt” full of smells & colors, from a workshop with Bernadette Mayer, then a piece on mushrooms but against the gentrification of Troy (NY) in the form of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Howard Kogan ended our Spring afternoon with a poem inspired by novels he was reading this Winter.

We are taking the Summer off but expect to be back here at the Arts Center on River St. in Troy in September for our 6th season of an open mic for poetry & prose on the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2 PM. Come read with us.

June 17, 2015

Live from the Living Room, June 10

I love these urban readings. The Pride Center is just a half block from Lark St. in Albany, NY, where there are bars & restaurants to gather before or after a poetry reading. That’s exactly what we did, Don Levy (the host of Live From the Living Room), Carrie LaCroix Pan (tonight’s featured poet), & I — we met at Rain for drinks & a lovely Asian dinner before the reading.

I’d met Carrie when she was a young bride just moved to Albany & she showed up to my Third Thursday Open Mic when it was at Café Web on Madison Ave., back in about 1998. Carrie had worked with the Providence, R.I. slam team & was no stranger to poetry readings. However, now, it has been some time since we’ve seen her out & about on the scene, a busy life & raising 2 pre-teen children with her husband Phil. Don brought her out of her suburban life to read poems tonight. She began with a new piece about helping her son Alex with a poem on social justice issues “Her Excuse Note,” then she read Alex’s poem “An Eye for an Eye is Wrong but It is Equal” (Carrie said she put the “Q” in her son’s “LBGT”). Then on to a sexy piece that was really about something as ordinary as “Water.” She stood up to do a persona Slam performance of “Lynn” about a patient in the midst of an hallucinatory breakdown. Other pieces included “Blue Green Yellow Red White Love,” then the sexy “I Like Summer Better,” & a poem about about family’s reaction to her wedding “Couldn’t You Find a Real Minister?” Also, a poem for her cousin looking for the end, one about domestic chores (“There Are No Bon-Bons Here”), & a poem about cycling “In Team Kit.” She ended with a piece about another activity that keeps her busy, her job description of being a personal organizer consultant. Phew, a busy lady, which explains why we haven’t seen her for a long time hanging out at poetry events.

Then on to the open mic. I read first, a couple poems for Carrie, “Coyote 3” from my chapbook, & a new piece “In My Neighborhood” (that Carrie & Phil had once lived in too). Bob Sharkey read a work-in-progress (aren’t they all?) about loving books as a kid, & the relative prices of them “Book Lover,” then he read from a recently acquired copy of Oscar Williams classic paperback anthology (60⍧) The Pocket Book of Modern Verse that I too had learned about modern poetry from, he read E.A. Robinson’s “Richard Cory.”

Shannon Shoemaker said that she has been writing short pieces of late, read an untitled sample about missing love, then a more developed Slam piece on the same theme (& super-heroes) “Phone Booths.” Jessica Rae shared “My Confidant” with the great line “my flaws are gorgeous,” & a piece from 14 years ago about conflict with her mother read from the spiral notebook she had originally written it in. Our host, Don Levy, capped off the night with a poem about his fascination with “Maps” as a youngster, then the satirical “Just Say No to Dolphin Marriages.”

This pleasant, informal reading takes place each 2nd Wednesday in the “Garden Room” (i.e., downstairs) of the Pride Center, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30 — a featured poet first, followed by a relaxed open mic.

Pine Hollow Arboretum, June 12

Erroneously billed as a “Double Feature on a Summer Eve” it indeed was a "double feature," but not quite yet “Summer,” although the evening’s thunderstorm made it seem almost like Summer. The featured poets were Deborah Poe & Kita Shantiris, along with an ample open mic.

Judith Kerman, publisher of Mayapple Press of Woodstock, NY, began the open mic with a prose poem “The Candy Jar,” then on to an alphabetic acrostic, & then a poem about a slug “Global Positioning.” Bob Sharkey’s poem “Desecration of Desire” sounded like an account of a dream, while “History of Entanglement” described characters on a train. Paul Amidon followed with a poem also about being on a train “Dustbin of History,” then one based on an old black & white photo “Family History.” John Abbuhl, planter/steward/proprietor of Pine Hollow Arboretum, has filled up the pocket notebook from which he usually reads & read the poem “The Way It Is” from a sheet of paper, then read an essay proposing “The Institute for the Promotion of Public Discussion.” Howard Kogan’s single piece, “Kindness,” was a narrative in dialogue between an old couple, about suicide. Mark W. O’Brien read “Redemption” (on a boat). Philip Good’s poem “Untitled with Location” was published in an anthology of poems written in February. I followed with my poem “What Is Your Pilgrimage?” written in response/reaction to an essay by Alifair Skebe printed in the May 2015 R.D. Newsletter.

Deborah Poe, who teaches at Pace University in Pleasantville, NY, has read a few times in the past in this area. Tonight she read from a variety of her “projects,” beginning with poems from the last will be stone, too (Stockport Flats), poems based on art pieces about death, descriptive lists of images & her reactions to the art. She also read a few poems from a new manuscript of pieces based on memory, including “Wild Kingdom” responding to images from a book about the old TV program. At a couple of her previous readings here she had read from her book based on the Periodic Table, Elements (also Stockport Flats); tonight she read “Calcium” from the book & a new piece continuing the project “Iridium.” She also read an erasure poem from a project in which the participants awaken at 3:15AM to write a poem, then ended with the poem “I Am Another Yourself.”

The poet known as Kita Shantiris announced that this was the first time she has read on the East Coast (she is from Los Angeles) & she read exclusively from her new book What Snakes Want (Mayapple Press). Her poems were often about love, or at least sensuality, often mixed in with childhood memories, as in “Beyond Ft. Worth,” “Rickrack,” & “Gratification.” “My Racing Mind,” about driving Highway 5 in California, was rich in images from the road & included references to Shiva & Ganesh (the Hindu elephant god), while “Parsing the Body” imagined a life without adjectives. The last section of her book includes poems about death. “Pins” was for her sister, & the poem “Handiwork” also included pins & sewing, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” was in the persona of a World War II vet, then she ended with the lush “Maidenhair Trees” & “Four Letter Words” with its references to Herman Melville.

A double feature with two poets with different approaches to making poems, but both with interesting work filled with rich imagery & playful language.

After another break, to buy books & schmooze, we were back for the rest of the open mic, with Joe Krausman with an old poem about buying beauty, brains, etc. but with a new title “Justification,” then the poem “Bible Editing” (making it new & gentle). Bernadette Mayer’s descriptive poem “Walking Like a Robin” somehow strolled into a discussion of income equality. Jessica Rae’s poem “What Is Real?” pondered money, or Nature & life, then she read a poem by W.H. Auden. Earlier in the day Deborah Poe & her husband Karl Bode had explored part of the Arboretum & she played a recording of Karl playing on the open tubes of the musical bridge. Our host & MC Alan Casline read a poem referencing Gloucester & Charles Olson “I Dreamed Last Night of the Circling of the Stars.” Tom Corrado finished off the night with another of his “Screen Dumps,” now all the way up to #218.

This series continues through the Summer, into whatever comes next until the snow flies, on the 2nd Friday of the month at the Pine Hollow Arboretum, 16 Maple Ave., Slingerlands, NY, 6:30PM, bring poems for the open mic portion of the program.

June 8, 2015

Caffè Lena Open Mic, June 3

I like to say that it’s a good thing to have more than 1 poetry reading going on at once to choose from, but tonight it was a hard choice: Carolee Bennett reading at Webster’s Bookstore & Cafe, or Caffè Lena’s reading & open mic? 5 1/2 hours to State College, PA, or 40 minutes to Saratoga Springs, NY — hmm? I punked out & drove to Saratoga Springs.  Sorry Carolee.

Our host at Caffè Lena’s, Carol Graser, started with a poem by Joshua Mehigan who had had a recent book-signing at Northshire Bookstore (which is a co-sponsors of this event), then on to the open mic.

Rodney Parrot was up first, as he often is, with a short story about watching a captivating woman. Alan Catlin read the poem “Men Without Faces” from a new book, Beautiful Mutants, then a poem based on the work of the photographer Mary Ellen Marks from her book American Odyssey (she died recently in May). W.D. Clarke read a couple of nostalgic rhymed pieces, “That Old Flag” & “The Old Church.” Todd Fabozzi began with a poem for his daughter (who asked him to write a whole book of poems about her) “Fairy Tale,” then a political piece about the ironies of social justice issues. Thomas Dimopoulos announced that he has a new book coming out soon & read a piece from it that was from notes about a concert at SPAC.

The featured poet was Jordan Smith who began with a couple poems from his 2011 book The Light in the Film, then some new ones from a variety of inspirations, “John Brown’s Dream,” “Anaphora” (referencing Walt Whitman, Rochester, NY in 1964 & the recent riots in Baltimore), & “The Moment of Contemplation” based on an episode in the Mahabharata. Jordan’s newest book Clare’s Empire is only available in a digital format, from Kobo or Amazon. It is inspired by the life & work of the the English poet John Clare (1793 - 1864) known for both his concern for the enclosure of English farmland & for his later mental illness. Jordan’s poems were written with a formal consciousness in 18 rhymed lines. The poems he read included “Early Poems” (written on scraps of paper), “At School with the Gypsies” (learning the fiddle), a couple poems cataloging period “chapbooks” & Clare’s secret, private library, & an anachronistic piece conflating Clare & the arrest of the American labor activist Big Bill Haywood in Denver in 1904. Jordan also included the poem “Fuck” explaining that “in Ireland ‘fuck’ is like a comma.” An interesting reading that is sending me back to John Clare’s poetry & to the internet for a download of his book Clare’s Empire.

After the customary break Carol was back to jump-start the open mic with one of her poems, a lovely epithalamium for her son’s wedding, “Dissolving the Distance Between You.” Brian Dorn’s first poem was about chess in the 21st Century “My Queen,” & then a poem on dreaming “Hidden in the Night.”

Jackie Craven was introduced by Carol as a future-feature (in August), & she read her poem, “790 Terahertz” (look that up in your Wikipedia) about colors & a secret sister. I never got the name of the next poet (who read, after a long personal introduction, an autobiographical poem) because Carol didn’t say his name because it was apparently illegible on the sign-up sheet, & he left soon after he read, oh well. Bob Harlow has read here before, read “Private Parties” a poem based on a line by poet Weldon Keys, then a longer piece on how he would change things if he could do it again, “Fundamental Beliefs.” James Schlett, as he has here previously, read “a handful of haiku.” I was privileged to follow him with my new poems “What Is Your Pilgrimage?” (inspired by an essay by Alifair Skebe), & “The Confusion of the Attic” (inspired by a line in a poem by Paul Pines). Peter Farrell performed from memory Robert Service’s classic poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” Don Levy brought us in a different direction with poems from his childhood “Maps” & one about his first celebrity crush “Rockin’ with Robin.”

Kim Henry was the last of the open mic poets, continuing to explore her feelings & memories of her mother with an untitled piece about going through her mother’s clothes after her death, then remembering he mother’s “Green Thumb.”

The poetry open mic (not to be confused with the Caffè Lena music open mic) takes place on the 1st Wednesday of the month at 7:30PM at the historic Caffè Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, NY, with an open mic for community poets & featured poet(s), just $5.00.

June 6, 2015

All One Song, May 30

Michael Czarnecki & Sue Spencer are traveling about the Northeast with this program of poetry, drumming & a slide show, all about the beauty of Nature & our (human) response to it. Tonight’s program took place appropriately enough at the Pine Hollow Arboretum in Slingerlands, NY, with steward & planter John Abbuhl giving a brief summary of his 50 years of planting trees here. He knows every tree & plant on this 25 acres of what was, millenniums ago, the bottom of the Albany Lake Glacier.

To begin, Sue & Michael handed out, with regrets for the plastic, shakers made from plastic Easter eggs wrapped in electrical tape & filled with seeds, just in case you had any doubts about the hippy nature of the event, for the somewhat reluctant audience to use at will during the performance. Of course the audience was old enough to remember those days, whether we actually did remember or not. Michael's long hair & beard were certainly in character, as was Sue’s embroidered peasant blouse, faded blue jeans, & dirty bare feet. But the pictures were totally 21st century, generated from a laptop computer & projected on a flat screen TV.

The program consisted of poems & anecdotes illustrated with photos of water, cliffs, birds, animals, more water, accompanied by drumming, a thumb piano, uncertain audience shakers, even a rain stick. There were quotes from & references to Joseph Campbell, Black Elk, Gary Snyder & Meister Eckhart, & the poems contained a myriad of owls, eagles, whales, & other critters. At one point Michael stopped to urge us to listen to the silence, but it was drowned out by the whirring of the fan in the ceiling.

Alan Casline was given time at the end to read from his Kerouac-inspired “Normanskill Blues.”

It was a pleasant & relaxing evening that I capped off by driving back into the City of Albany & stopped for a drink at my local bar & watched part of a Mets game.

June 1, 2015

Sunday Four Poetry, May 24

Mike Burke, one of the co-hosts of this event, was back from Mexico, bringing us some warm, pleasant weather for today’s open mic & featured poet, Donald Lev. Mike did the announcements then Edie Abrams took over to serve as MC for the open mic.

First up was Paul Amidon with a trio of poems, “Small Change” to an elderly aunt, “Lights in the Darkness” about fireflies, &, for Memorial Day, “Gold Star Mother.” Joe Krausman also had 3 poems, the first on public speaking “Exuberance Is Beauty,” then a piece pondering being caught between Heaven & Hell, & thinking about “Making a Living.” Bob Sharkey read a Memorial Day piece about seeing a classmate’s name on a war memorial “If You Marched in the Victory Parade You Probably Weren’t in the Battle,” then one of my favorite poems of his “The Lost Language” (about marriage). Dennis Sullivan began with a wedding poem to a student of his many years ago “Reality Comes in Packages that Sometimes Seem Far Less than Real” (or something like that), then a piece titled “A Short Prayer at Day’s End” which was neither short nor a prayer.

Joan Gran read a couple poems about having a hysterectomy, “Their First Home” & a celebration of a morphine circus “Post-surgical Dream.” Don Levy (not to be confused with today’s featured poet) made an appearance with 3 related poems, “Bruce” (i.e., Jenner), “Rockin’ with Robin” (his 1st celebrity crush), & “Boring Old Gay People.” Peter Boudreaux began with a long, meandering introduction to nowhere, & eventually read a couple poems, “Kelvin” & “Unconditional Memory.” Tom Corrado, in contrast, read a wonderfully quirky poem, with no introduction, about getting on the train to New York to see an exhibit at the Guggenheim “Train to Nowhere.” I followed with a poem for the holiday “Memorial Day (1999)” & one based on a recent literary essay by Alifair Skebe “What is Your Pilgrimage?”

Howard Kogan read a tribute to Whitman “Walt Everlasting” then the childhood memoir “My Mother’s Salami Sandwich.” Mike Burke began with a story of a cat who came back, then an old piece “The Kiss” by request, & concluded with a poem for Memorial Day about the body of a soldier being returned from Iraq. Mark O’Brien read a couple of “memorial” poems about members of his family who are gone, his brother “We Caroused” & his father “A Carrot Don’t Taste Right Without a Peck of Dirt.”

The open mic ended with 2 impromptu non-readings, as sensitive & moving as any “poem.” First, Brian Kennedy had signed up as the “Delta 3 Trio,” but stood at his place saying he changed his mind about performing but could think of no place he would rather be this afternoon than here. Then Tim Verhaegen stood & made his way to the door, said he wasn’t feeling well & had to leave, but paused to tell a short anecdote about talking with Donald Lev at a reading at the Harmony Cafe in Woodstock. A fitting introduction to the afternoon’s featured poet.

Donald Lev is the grand ole man of the mid-Hudson poetry scene, who for years published the poetry tabloid Home Planet News, first with his wife the poet Enid Dame, then, since her death, on his own. Age has slowed his pace but not his poetry. Most of his poems are short, less than a page in length, & so he can read a lot of poems, 22 at my count today. They are introspective, philosophical, filled with wry humor, commenting on his frail place in the cosmos. He is often inspired by film & television, with poems such as “The Small Television” in a bar, “To Embrace It,” “B.B.” (on watching borrowed VHS tapes of B.B. King), “Aboard the African Queen,” “I Swear I’m Innocent” (referencing Perry Mason), & “As to Reality” based on The Truman Show. His melancholy is darkly self-directed humor, as in a poem on mourning “A Page from My Diary If I Had One,” or one on paranoia “Chatter,” or “Loyalty” about a kitten named Charlie Manson, or the simple act of pissing in his yard described in the poem “Step by Step.” One of his last poems read was titled “End Rhymes,” & appropriately enough the last poem read was titled “My Final Play.” Let’s hope not, let’s hope that there are a lot more poems left in Donald Lev.

Sunday Four Poetry (i.e., the 4th Sunday of the month) has one more left before taking the Summer off, 3PM at the Old Songs Community Arts Center, Main St., Voorheesville, NY.