April 30, 2017

Poets Speak Loud!, April 24

WordFest 2017 may be over but poetry continues in Albany, Poetry Month or not. Our host, Mary Panza, was still recovering from co-hosting the 24-hour Reading Against the End of the World, but that didn’t diminish her usual verve. & it was a good list for the open mic. 3B was here, as usual, & provided me afterwards with some of his notes which are included below, verbatim.

Number 1 slot on the list was blank, so I signed up there & began with my Haibun “Last Train to Clarksville” & a brand new poem you can find on my Facebook page, “The Day God Invented Wine.” [3B: Wilcox talking about “Hi Buns” set the tone of sophisticated wordsmithing with pilfered Boyce & Hartly lyrics. Mocking Meet Me at the Station. Philistine.]

Alifair Skebe read a couple poems from her series on Thanatos & Psyche spinning off from the Greek myths; I’m already looking forward to the book. Dawn Marar reprised the intense, violent poem, “Bartender,” that she had read at her Third Thursday feature, this time explaining its basis in a novel she wrote. [3B: Dawn — music notes — Bang Coke — chicken wings Bar — Scumbags — Poughkeepsie in the 90s.] Carol Graser’s poem “Winter 2017,” cold & severe, was her way of writing about the current political situation. Don Levy read 2 poems based on his experience on Facebook, “Facebook Suggests” & “This Modest Mom.” [3B: Don Levy made folks laugh and ordered fish.]

Tonight’s featured poet was Carol Jewell, a graduate of the College of St. Rose’s short-lived MFA in Creative Writing program, & a master of the pantoum, of which she read half a dozen, including her first piece about gardening & worms. Other pantoums included “Revelation,” & her own invention, the cento pantoum, of which she read #1 & #2, which was composed of lines from other poets’ pantoums. Other “literary” pieces were the clever “Palindrome,” a short poem after Adrienne Rich, the humorous faux lecture “Literary Devices,” & a poem about trying to write a poem at the end of the semester “I Should Have.” There were some sexy poems about being in a hammock (“Embrace”), a fantasy of running thru the neighbor’s sprinklers (“Flashing”), & “Funtime,” & poems about the deceased. She ended with the defiant & anaphoric “This Is Not The Story” (“… of a girl who…”). A skillful variety of poems, enough to please everyone. [3B: “Hudson River School” ogre & vibe to her work. What’s a pantoon? is it a mashup?]

Sylvia Barnard was back here after a hard Winter & reprised her poem from last week “2 Blind Mice,” then thoughts on aging, considering a tortoise in the London Zoo. [3B: My beloved childhood dog was named Sylvia.] Joe Krausman successfully linked President Obama, the Pope & the Temple Wall in “Life is a Gamble So Talk to the Wall,” then read “Metamorphosis” about a skin disease. [3B: Joe Krausman — the knish of Poetry is big on foreplay.]

Magic surprised us with a just-written rhyme about being asked to read in the open mic tonight, then, with encouragement, did another rhyme about growing up. [3B: Mecca/Magic — Improv! Yeah! very punk rock!] Sally Rhoades read 2 father poems, “At the Heart of a Metaphor” written on the train to NYC, then “Wanting” in which she responds to the poet Jennifer Luckenbill with whom I read at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Oklahoma recently. Carrie Czwakiel read 2 poems about being alone, one titled “Break the Mold.” Karen Fabiane read again “Peeling” (for which I am grateful, getting a better understanding on re-hearing it), then a 2-part diner poem. Julie Lomoe, who got here a little late, read about asking favors “The Ben Franklin Effect.”

Poets Speak Loud! happens most last Mondays of the month (not in May!) at McGeary's down on Sheridan Square in Albany, NY, 7:30PM, a featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.  Get there early & have dinner!

April 26, 2017

Albany WordFest: Readings Against the End of the World, Friday to Saturday, April 21 - 22

The original version of Readings Against the End of the World happened annually from 1984 to 1993, pre-dated internet, cellphone photography, Blogs — for the back-story see my full write-up here & photos at my Flickr! site. There has been talk for years to bring this series back, but now the time (i.e., the abject political situation, like that of the Reagan era for the original Readings) & the access to space & support was right.

& the timing was perfect. For a number of years Albany WordFest, coordinated by AlbanyPoets.com, has been held the 3rd week of April, which sometimes coincides with Earth Day on April 22. It was as if Tom Nattell's stardust was dust sprinkled on us all to make this happen again, with the Science March on Saturday (Tom was a trained research scientist) & with the down-to-earth logistics arranged by Jil Hanifan of the UAlbany Writing Center. & student volunteers pulling all-nighters.

Photo by Sally Rhoades
We began on Friday, April 21 at Husted Hall on the UAlbany Downtown Campus, sometime after 7:00PM with 3 Guys from Albany (Charlie Rossiter & I) performing one of Tom Nattell’s last poems (& perhaps his last performance piece) “I Beat My Drum.” Then other veterans from the original Readings Against the End of the World, Darby Penney with some poems written at work, Ken Denberg reading of Winter & hawks, Nancy Klepsch who included her Tom tribute poem, & Charlie Rossiter who began his set with his inspiring “Reading Black Snake Solos listening to Haydn” accompanying himself with claves, to fill up the opening hour.

The schedule of 15 minute slots was filled up to 2:00AM, which is not to say there weren’t some no-shows along the way, but don’t expect to read here about every poet on the list — I like poetry, but, as Groucho Marx once said “I like my cigar but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

There was Sally Rhoades reading her poem about Joy Harjo (online here), & in her pink pussy hat reading about “Flamingos in Cyprus.” Mark O’Brien (also online) read a variety of old & new poems. R.M. Englehardt, among his usual poems, read a long environmental-themed poem about stupid monkeys. Tess Lecuyer took us on “a trip around the Sun” with poems written in each month.

Nancy Dunlop read her “Sentence Snatcher” piece, as well as other poems on writing, ending with “a prayer for poets.”  Thom Francis filled in, after Don Levy sent a text to host Mary Panza that he was having allergies & wouldn’t be there, then Avery, on the schedule later, also filled in & included a rhyming poem he was going to do if he followed Brian Dorn. At this point it was about 10:00PM & me & my guests (Charlie & Mary Ellen) needed a break, so home we went, some bourbon & to bed.

Charlie & came back the next morning, around 10:00AM, having missed a few regulars on the open mic scene, such as Howard Kogan, Joe Krausman & Julie Lomoe, & at the tale-end of a break for yet another gap. This is not at all unusual for the RAEW; it was common during the original series, particularly during the wee hours of the early AM, the schedule expanding & contracting (even wheezing sometimes) like an old accordion.

Anthony Bernini arrived not only with his entourage to swell the audience, but also wearing an original RAEW tee shirt — I had mine on & Charlie wore an even earlier version. Anthony read a poem he had read at RAEW on April 28, 1990 “The Banks of the Stream,” & included, as many did, a political poem, “After Election Day on 5th Ave.” Carol Graser also included a recent political piece, “On the Women’s March in Washington,” among poems about her mother’s closet, health insurance & Girl Scout Cookies.

Tom Riley, after being teased by host Mary Panza about his poems for the AlbanyPoets journal Up The River, Tom read poems from “59 years of accumulating people & things” & living in the house where he grew up. Cheryl A. Rice came up from Kingston to read “a couple of random poems,” including a project about the Ziegfield Follies of 1919, & her obsession with The Wizard of Oz, as well as a memoir of early years in Kingston.

We were ahead of schedule so Mary Panza read from a series of text messages & Facebook posts from Don Levy to stall, then, as the saying goes, “Speak of the Devil,” in strolled Don (with such magic power, I’m relieved Mary didn’t mention Donald Trump or Marine LePen), just in time to fill in for another no-show (“they’ll rue the day”). Don’s poems were classic Don including a reaction to a homophobic woman’s Facebook post about gay Disney characters “This Modest Mom,” & a poem about riding on the bus (subject of many of his Facebook posts).

Carol’s Girl Scout cookies poem was an assignment from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop & Karen Schoemer also read her poem in response to the assignment, a villanelle with the line "Spring is backwards" (which would make it gnirps I think), also a poem about an exhibit of photos by Diane Arbus. Mike Jurkovic, who had driven up from downstate with Cheryl eschewed the mic, as he is wont to do, for his poems, beginning with the reminder that “Gravity Gets Us All.”

The next hour, & more, was filled with readings by the Writing Center tutors. Unfortunately, they did not always clearly introduce each other, I guess assuming others knew who they were, but the rest of us did not — some of the names I “caught,” others I may have got wrong, feel free to post corrections in the comments section — & most read the works of others. The notable exception was the youngest reader who read wonderfully, albeit shyly, onomatopoeic pieces about rain, colors & “The Faucet” (when was the last time you thought to write a poem about a piece of plumbing?). Then her Mom read Ernesto Cardenal’s “The Word.” Joe Wozlonis read odes by Pablo Neruda. Kat (?) also read some Neruda (in both Spanish & English), as well as Tom Robbins, & poems by a friend & her friend’s Mom. Stacie Klinowski (who said she had been here since 5AM) read poems from a huge, fat anthology, poems by Carl Sandburg, Joy Harjo, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich. Brenna read poems by the British poet Stevie Smith, while Amy Vincent read from a friend’s manuscript, a series of short poems titled “Plainspeak, Wyoming.”

Following that, Samuel Weinstein, who has read a couple times in Troy & at the Social Justice Center, introduced his friend Jacqueline, who read; one of Samuel’s poems was written when he was 10 years old, titled “Cheese.”

Frequent Albany open mic poet Thérèse Broderick began with an essay on Poetry & Science (the Science March was happening downtown here, & across the Earth today), then some poems published in the UAlbany journal Barzhak.

Speaking of the Science March, I had planned to take time off to be there, so headed out, got some lunch then joined thousands of other citizens in West Capitol Park, science-protectors of all ages. Plenty of students, parents, folks with imaginative signs, all of whom could have felt comfortable at the Readings Against the End of the World. The best sign I saw was one that bridged that gap: “Science is the Poetry of Reality.”

Later, I returned to the Readings as Siobahn Hotaling was reading some tender, anxious New York City-based love poems. Victorio Reyes shared some erasure poems based on hip-hop tracks, other poems for Sandra Bland, Jessica Hernandez, others, Rant 1 & 2, & a take on a Billy Collins poem “Emily D. & Some Dude.” Victorio introduced the next reader, Laurin DeChae, who began with Audre Lorde’s “Black Unicorn,” then other poems.

Tim Stowell, who was actually signed up, said this was his 2nd reading ever, & read the only poem he had read in public, about the death of a son, then took us on a tour of the favorite childrens’ books of his sons; in an interesting connection to the earlier schedule Tim included a poem written by Avery Stempl for the mother of his deceased son, Ben. Kareem the Dream was also on the schedule, & had to be coaxed into doing a second piece, both were hip-hop social justice commentary — the schedule was in a dead zone of multiple cancellation on the way to the final hour of the organizers’ readings. We took a break, then —

The final hour, or so, began with me. I bookended my reading with poems by Tom Nattell, one of his “Christopher Columbus Fantasies” & the Spring-time “Aviary Baptism;” in between I included a poem about one of Tom’s earliest planned readings at the QE2, “Where Were the Professors?” which is, sadly, still so relevant. In some ways it even applies to some of the folks involved in this project who read earlier but then never bothered to return to support other readers, to show solidarity with poets, students, & other poetry lovers who hung out, clapped for the readers, & celebrated the power of the creative act, theirs & those of others.

Jil Hanifan, who was so instrumental in putting the pieces together to make this happen, who served as tag-team host with Mary Panza, was next, with a selection of her urban wildlife poems about vacant lots, rabbits, Iroquois “little people,” even witches, & one of my favorite poems “St. Christopher’s School Bus.”

It was only (or mostly, or absolutely) appropriate that the reader to bring us on home to 7:00PM was the sleep-deprived Mary Panza, with a selection of 3 of her “House Wife Tuesdays” blogs to be found on AlbanyPoets.com. As it should be, it was Mary Against the World, or at least against the school mates & Moms who bullied her daughter (who, I must point out, handled herself very well — olives don’t fall far from the tree, etc., etc.).

& then it was done — after 24 years, another Readings Against the End of the World — for now, the world has not ended, “the creative act” has prevailed, & Tom Nattell’s stardust was sprinkled on us all.

So, as Uncle Wiggly once said, “if the rising seas don’t wipe out Los Angeles & New York City, & if the crazy-hair guys, Donald Trump & Kim Jong-un, don’t drop The Big One on us all, we will see you next year for Readings Against the End of the World, 2.2.


[Note: More photos can be found here in the Readings Against the End of the World album on my flick site.]

April 24, 2017

Albany WordFest, Thursday, April 20

Back when the Albany WordFest was a weekend event, the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center, which I run, was designated the “Unofficial Official Start of WordFest.” But now that WordFest is a week-long event, we are folded into the fold (so to speak). & it was great evening with new names/faces, the valiant regulars & an inspiring featured poet, Kathleen McCoy. But first we invoked the Muse, tonight, sadly, one of our own, the recently gone Moses A. Kash III; I read from one of his self-published zines & a manuscript page, as well as talked about his presence in the community.

First up for the open mic was a regular, Richard Jerin, to read a tribute poem to his “Friends.”

 Lois Sorrell was a new face & read another poem about friends, another kind, the ones who are judgmental & superficial, & not supportive. Kate McNairy read a short poem of love & sex, “He;” she has a new chapbook out from Finishing Line Press, Light to Light. Alan Catlin set the tone for the evening by reading an elegaic poem for his son’s 4th grade teacher, “The Burning Songbook: Requiem for Mixed Chorus Solo Voices & Orchestra.” Julie Lomoe’s poem was about singing in the chorus at the Troy Music Hall “Blinded by the Spotlights” trying to see the audience.

Tonight’s featured poet, Kathleen McCoy, read from her book of elegies for the women in her life, on the occasion of the death of her mother a few years ago, More Water than Words (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She began with “Hy-Brasil” a mythical island off the coast of Ireland (for a colleague who died of cancer), then a poem for her mother the version of “Green & Burning Oak: Glas Agus a Dhó” in the new chapbook, which is the tile poem of her 2016 Word Tech Edition collection, from which she read next. “Lindow Man” was a meditation on a bog mummy, then an elegy for her horse from 30 years ago, “The Chosen One.” “Dream of the Holy Hands” was a shaped poem, & “Demeter & Persephone” a poem for her daughter. At this point my recorder failed & what other marvelous poems she read after that, I have no record. But I do have these books to return to & the memory of her reading to remind me of her cadences.

After a short break to buy books, I read my Haibun recently published on Mark W. O’Brien’s Blog, 36 Views of Ononta’kahrhon “Last Train to Clarksville.” Brian Dorn read “Tears of Lake George” about the tragic sinking of the tourist boat Ethan Allen & the death of 20 passengers. Sue Oringel chose from 3 Spring poems to read “An Exorcism of Sorts” about Spring cleaning making room for her life. Sylvia Barnard read a new piece “2 Blind Mice” curled up in the drain cup of her sink, continuing what Sue said was “elegy night.”

Betty Zerbst came down here with Richard Jerin, she new here but has been writing poetry since a teenager; she read “A Letter Back in Time to Myself at 17” a autobiographical summary.

More WordFest to come & more third Thursdays, here at the Social Justice Center, 7:30, a donation supports poetry & the work of the SJC. A featured poet & an open mic for the rest of us.

April 23, 2017

Albany WordFest, Wednesday, April 19

The 3rd night of the WordFest was the bi-monthly Albany Poets Presents! at Restaurant Navona on New Scotland Ave. in Albany, NY. It is a showcase for a writer who has had an impact upon the life & work of AlbanyPoets’ el presidente Thom Francis, who serves as host for the event. Tonight that poet was R.M. Engelhardt. Indeed, Rob was one of the founders of AlbanyPoets, & the host & coordinator of a number of series of open mics in the region, including Vox, School of Night, Saint Poem &, currently, Troy Poetry Mission.

Rob, in signature black, & a long dress, began his reading with a characteristic piece combing words, booze & coffee, “Interview with a Poet Isolationist,” & into a series of pieces that turned out to be one poem about being a romantic outsider, a favorite theme, as he in the next piece romanticized about being “old.” Then back to using titles (which I appreciate for note-taking), “Into the Great Unknown,” “Winter Smoke” (clove-flavored I’m sure), the long “Saint Poem,” one to his wife (who was not here) “Murmur,” another characteristic divine encounter “God Says,” a preachy “Coffee Ass Blues” about changing the world, an attempt at humor “Ah Poetic,” more preaching in “In the Kingdom of Night, or Be Thankful” & ending on another fantasy as an old man “Forget the Dust.”

"Robert Engelhardt," QE2, 4/22/91
The unique feature of this event is the Q&A with the writer after the reading, that always begins with Thom Francis asking “what got you into writing?” Rob’s answer was simple, “Comic books.” Then on to questions about going to the QE2 where not there was not only an ongoing punk music scene but regular poetry events. Other questions related to Rob’s early involvement with a poetry series at the suburban pastry & coffee shop, Stephanucci’s, & his other poetry venues. Rob explained that he wanted to do “something different,” thus his attempts at themed readings, such as the Edgar Allen Poe events around Halloween.

Rob has been active on the poetry scene off & on since 1991. He was perennially listed on the defunct Metroland’s list of Best Poet’s list somewhere in the top 3 year after most year. His latest venue is Troy Poetry Mission at O’Briens Public House on 3rd St. in Troy on the last Wednesday of each month — it says “7:30PM” but there’s no point in showing up too early, it’s on Rob time.

Albany WordFest, Tuesday, April 18

The 2nd night of WordFest was the annual Haiku Competition at Nitty Gritty Slam held at The Low Beat on Central Ave. Amani was our host here, as she is each month, setting us up with “poetry is revolutionary.” She did a did an up-beat, strangely new-age-y piece that she said was “from y’all to y’all” titled “Remember Who You Are.”  [Guest commentator, 3B at the bar, had these notes: "Spitting over some John Denver ambient.  Lot of words."]

There was, in addition to the Haiku Slam, an open mic, but I did as I usually do, just signed up for the Slam.

Mariah Barber was the first of the 3 open mic poets, started with a love-fantasy for a rap star, then a happy poem for the happy couples, & a poem for Michael Brown, from her book, Of Mics & Pens & Gods & Other College Courses (self-published thru Create Space, 2017).  [as 3B said, "I feel old; she won't be on Breitbart anytime soon."]

Liv McKee tried out an unedited piece about her family in New Jersey, “Heading South,” written today.

& last was Amanda Boyd with a couple of short pieces inspired by a word-of-the-day app, a poem on “Camber,” & one on “Gumption.”

[3B summed up the the  open mic: "A short & powerful open mic -- Wilcox's favorite words to explain himself."]

There are lots of ways of running a slam for Haiku but the most simple to my mind is to do head-to-head between 2 poets, which is what happened, with right-hand/left-hand scoring. Anyways, it was Amanda & me, then Liv & Mariah, then Liv & Amanda, then me & Mariah, & me & Amanda — there I was once again, as I was last year, the winner, but by only 1 vote, a tight fight. The usual Haiku topics of Nature, but others on women, even on war, & humor & poetry. It was fun & if you know me you know how much I like being with a bunch of women — it was most sweet.

The Nitty Gritty Slam continues each 1st & 3rd Tuesdays at The Low Beat, always an open mic & sometimes a Slam as well. Check the schedule at AlbanyPoets.com. More WordFest each night this week.

Albany WordFest, Monday, April 17

Back again to the Hudson River Coffee House for the start of Albany WordFest 2017, another reading put together by Havey Havel. There were 5 poets scheduled to read.

First to the mic was a frequent reader at downtown open mics, Sylvia Barnard. She began with some older Easter poems from her 2012 book Trees, “Easter 1988” & one on the Anglo-Saxon goddess “Eostre” who gave her name to our holiday. A more recent poem, “March,” was from a trip to England, then a couple poems, & some Haikus, set in Albany in Washington Park, including “Shiobahn In Washington Park Age 46.” There was a poem for her great-great-grandparents & one about the submerged land in the North Sea “Doggerland.” She read a poem for a recently deceased friend who had an imaginary spouse, then a trilogy of poems based on stories a friend had told her about growing up in Denmark during World War II, & a poem about a dead friend who is still on Facebook.

Another familiar face on the scene, as well as at readings her at the Coffee House, is Brian Dorn. He also began with Easter poems, one, “Skyline,” imagining The Egg at the Empire State Plaza decorated for Easter, another told the story of the Resurrection in a short rhyme. His poems were all about Albany people, places & things, including the history of modern era minor league baseball teams, TV personalities (Rachael Rae & Billy Fuccillo), & Gaslight Village & Frontier Town. He ended with a chant-like tribute piece that he wrote for featured reading at Arthur’s Market in Schenectady.

Jacqueline Kirkpatrick isn’t as frequent on the scene as she had been a while back so it was good to hear a chunk of her work tonight. Said it would be “dark” reading & indeed it was, beginning with “Not an Easter Poem” with its flashback of being beaten, then a series of short, grim poems. On to “Essentially” in all its implications, an appreciative poem to her team “Paramour,” one on being drunk in NYC after a concert, “Honesty” (writing a love poem) & others. Just wish she would come out to the open mics more often.

Speaking of not being at community events, these days Daniel Nester is mostly seen in the halls of Academe. Tonight he read from the 2 volumes of God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press) in which the titles of each of the pieces are the titles of tunes from the Queen albums (if you need a quick refresher course on the band, here is a good place to start). Given the time when the band was active (& Freddy Mercury was still alive), & the writer’s age, the poems were filled with juvenile fantasies, masturbation, & drinking.

Poetyc Visionz, eager for affirmation, had to ask the audience 3 times “How you doin’?” (it had been a long night already). He said his favorite of his own poems was “7” so he thought he would do 7 poems, ending with “7”. His poems are the stuff of motivational speakers, with titles like “Be Great Full,” & imagining a place (on the 9th cloud) where dreams come true. He also performed a narrative piece whose plot was predicated on puns based on the names of celebrities, in another poem he used persistent alliteration to spell out “multiple talents.” For the poem “Poet” he divided the audience into 2 sections for the audience participation to sound out “po” “et”. The infamous “7” is a bit of spurious facts & faux mysticism, finding the number 7 in everything (are there really 7 “parts” to the heart? & I think it’s 9 holes for the human body).

A broad, eclectic mix of poets for the start of Albany WordFest 2017.

April 19, 2017

An Evening of Poetry & Prose, April 12

This event at the Hudson River Coffee House was under the umbrella of The American Initiative for Jewish-Muslim Love & Peace, a reading of Muslim & Jewish poets. It was coordinated by Havey Havel who was also the MC.

The first reader, Jarrar Hussain, said this was his first reading, read “I Miss You” a lament in memory of his loved ones, then one about his father, another in a funny, teasing mood to his wife.

Ejaz Hussain is a published poet writing in Urdu & Punjabi. He read a poem beginning “my eyes reflect the beauty of my love…” a sad poem, the a poem for the Spring season.

Jay Deitcher began with a prose piece in the form of a letter from “a very Jewish character” to an administrator on his job, very cranky & rambling. The a poem in rhyme “Shiva.” He said this was his first public reading.

Alaa Muhiddin was born in Syria, came to the US as a young child & is now a student at UAlbany. She began by reading the work of her father, Yasin Aref, who is currently in prison as a result of an FBI sting operation that resulted in a raid on the mosque in Albany, Masjid as-Salam, where he was the imam. His autobiography, Son of Mountains: My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect was published in 2008. Alaa read her father’s poems about his arrest & being in prison, including “Guilty by Birth,” & the ironically titled “Freedom.” Also, poems originally written in Kurdish in the 1980s & 1990s, as well as some lighter love poems. She read some of her own poems in a variety of moods, including one to her father, another on the destruction of her father’s village where 5000 people were killed & refugees had to walk from Iraq to Iran, & some short, rhyming upbeat poems on love & desire.

Ejaz Hussain came back to read a few more poems, including a ghazal on love, one titled “I Had Time Living in the World,” & one about vicious people.

Joe Krausman was the last, & best known, of the readers. He read some poems that were much-published, “The Passionate Accountant to His Love,” or that he made money on, “Ship Wrecked.” & others that he’s read out & about at local readings, including “Riding Shotgun for Wells Fargo,” “Limits,” “My Heart is an Onion,” “Imagination,” “A Thrill is in the Air,” & others.

These Evenings of Poetry & Prose are coordinated by Havey Havel on a irregular basis — stay in touch at AlbanyPoets.com.

April 18, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Saturday, April 8 — Grand Finale

In addition to the great roster of readers throughout the last few days, the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival includes the Darryl Fisher High School Creative Writing Contest, this the 13th year of the event. Prizes were presented tonight to the winners in both categories, Poetry (by Joshua Grasso) & Fiction (by Mark Walling). There were prizes presented for 1st, 2nd & 3rd place & 8 honorable mentions in each category to high school writers from all over the state. The complete list of winners can be found at the Scissortail Blog.

Following the awards the final reader of the festival was perennial Scissortail favorite, Rilla Askew. She is best known for her fine novels chronicling the history & people of Oklahoma, as in her novel about the Tulsa Race Riot, Fire in Beulah, & the more recent Kind of Kin. She has a collection of essays forthcoming from the University of Oklahoma Press, Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place.

Today, she brought the festival to a close with a reading of “Snake Season,” using personal memory & stories of her family to ponder the effects of climate change, & using the image of a rare ice-storm to wonder about how we all inch slowly, but inevitably, towards death. A story-teller & a philosopher.

& so the festival also came to an end. But the friendships continue, the writers continue to write & the scissortails continue to flit across the highways & fields of Oklahoma.

Thank you Ken Hada & the faculty, staff & students of East Central University for another festival of sharing words.

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Saturday, April 8 — Morning Sessions

The final (half) day of Scissortail & like the opening morning, no conflicts, everything in Estep Auditorium. Sunny Smith did the introductions.

Ann Howells had already appeared briefly earlier in the festival assisting Michelle Hartman in a reading of a poem, this morning she had the podium to herself. She read from a manuscript “Conjuring the Chesapeake” largely memoir poems of St. George Island & Chesapeake Bay. The characters included her sister (“Frog Moon, Honeysuckle Moon”), “The Sage of St. George” who lived across from her grandmother & could stare down a hurricane, & a school-mate, the oh-so-perfect Mavis (“Mavis Farts” & “Mavis Abandons the Church”). She also read a couple poems about her daughter from a new chapbook.

A. W. Marshall began with a grim piece of “cold realism” that he also termed flash fiction (but it was way too long for that), “Clamped,” about someone whose daughter had been killed in an auto wreck suffocating the driver of another wreck. His second piece, “The Bend,” was a bit less grim absurdist fiction about the world of stuff that washed up on the inaccessible beach of a river bend — fascinating for the twisted images of improbable debris.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, is also an Albany poet: she had lived in Albany, NY a number of years ago, her son Michael was born in Albany, & her first featured reading was in Albany. She also was instrumental in bringing 3 Guys from Albany to Albany, OK & introducing me not only to the state of Oklahoma, but to Ken Hada who runs the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. What she read was largely from her collection What I Learned at the War (West End Press, 2016), including the elegies “The Mice,” “Elegy for My First Boyfriend,” & “Pastoral for My Brother.” She also read a love poem for her husband “Arroyo Piño” & the long-lined ghazal “Driving Lost Roads Listening to Jedi Mind Tricks.” In between Jeanetta also trotted out a new poem, from a collaboration with a painter, the 2-part “Hunger.” I’m continuing to find great pleasure in reading her book back here in Albany.

After a break during which poets with long drives or flights to catch settled up with the book sellers, the readings continued with Andrew Geyer, now in South Carolina. He read a creepy prose piece in 3 parts built around the concept of synesthesia, about a school administrator faced with the dilemma of firing a lunch-room worker he has been lusting after.

Jenny Yang Cropp read from a poetry manuscript that she is working on, part of which explores the term “daughter” from the terms of a dictionary of the Bible. She also read from a set poems about “usage errors,” misunderstandings about words that take her into personal realms, such as “Translator” that dealt with an estranged relationship with her mother, “Mediocre” about her brother, “Opaque” & “Broom weed” leading to childhood memories.

Nathan Brown was the 2013/14 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. He began with poems from his new book Don’t Try (Mezacalita Press, 2016) written with musician Jon Dee Graham with each poem titled with a line or phrase from the work of Charles Bukowski, such as “Every Time My Toilet Flushes,” “To My Critics” & the inevitable “Church is Over.” He also read poems from I Shouldn’t Say…: The Mostly Unedited Poems of Ezra E. Lipschitz, an alleged hermit who somehow also travels as a folk musician & storyteller. The write-up online says the book is published by Mezcalita Press (2017) (Nathan Brown is the publisher) but no price or ordering information is provided. The poems were funny, outrageous, a poke in the eye, much like Nathan’s own poems, like “Rules for the Starving Artist that Are Just Guidelines.”

One more surprise: Ken Hada invited Sunny Smith, who had been doing the intros this morning, as well at other times throughout the festival, to read her poem for her daughter "Dancing with the Dishes" -- a real keeper.

Only one more event, the Grand Finale, yet to come.

April 16, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Friday, April 7 — Leif Enger

The evening’s featured reading was back in the Estep Auditorium, which was quite full, many students as well as the writers & readers attending the festival. Jonathan Isaacs played classical guitar to settle us down. Before Lefi Enger read, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish presented awards to the winning authors of the Collegiate Writing Contest. Ron Wallace had served as the judge.

Leif Enger began by speaking about books as barricades to insomnia, that rather than tossing & turning he uses the time to read some book he has put aside, such as Moby Dick, his current barricade. He also talked about his fascination at age 11 with the books of Louis L’Amour, calling them “gateway drugs” to more serious literature.

He read selections from his 2 published novels, Peace Like a River (Grove Atlantic 2001) & the historical novel So Brave Young and Handsome (Grove Atlantic 2008), as well as from his new book The Projectionist. All were engaging stories that could easily serve as the barricades he talked about earlier.  I'm going to check them out from my local library.

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Friday, April 7 — Afternoon Sessions

One way to get around the conflict of competing sessions of readers is to split the difference — go to part of one, then part of another. This is made easier by the printed program of the readings that lists the authors in the order that they are reading. So, after the lunch break that is exactly what Sally & I did.  We started out in the Estep Auditorium.

I first met Alan Berecka at my first Scissortail Festival & found out he grew up in Utica, NY (he is now the Poet Laureate of Corpus Christi, Texas) & invited him to read at Poets in the Park in Albany when he was back in the Northeast for a family wedding. Today’s reading was from a forth-coming collection of poems, The Hamlet of Spillville, which he explained was a sign that suddenly appeared in his small town in upstate New York. He began with some poems on the art of writing poetry, “Blind Faith,” “The Point of No Return” (on the infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters writing the work of Shakespeare), & “The Catholic Conundrum” with the monkeys again making angels with the ringing of the typewriter bell. “Spurred on to Poetry” was about gambling with the late (& beloved) poet Jim Spurr &, another Scissortail reference, “Science & Bliss” another poem for Ken Hada (cf. the poems by Sally Rhoades & Paul Austin). I really like it when Alan takes on religion as does in the poem titled “The Perils of Harold Bloom,” & “A Matter of Faith: Why Matter Might Matter.”

Then Sally & I had to sneak out & go across the way to the North Lounge. We got in just as Terri L. Cummings was beginning her reading of poems with the theme, “The Nature of … beginning with the nature of childhood, a poem about being in love with her cousin, the nature of love, the nature of war, the natured of loss (a poem on the death of her son), the nature of Time, & finally on the nature of writing, 2 or 3 poems on each theme.

Ron Wallace is another perennial favorite, not just because he is a Yankee fan & one of the few “liberals” in Durant, OK. He began with a poem about his failure to be a pacifist “Anger Management,” then a philosophical poem about finding a bus ticket in a second-hand copy of Robinson Jeffers’ poems. Several poems were on the topic of the passage of Time, such as “How the Hell Did I Get Here?” with the marvelous line about preachers “beating Bibles into bayonets.” Baseball is a frequent topic in his poems; “A Curveball in the Dirt” answered the question “how are we supposed to live?” with the examples of different types of pitches. There was plenty of philosophical ponderings & humor & irreverence, such as when he takes on Billy Collins in his poem “Cicadas.”

At this point I had to stay in the North Lounge for the next session since I led it off as the other poet from Albany, New York. My program was titled “Where is the nearest ocean?” with most of the poems from my FootHills Publishing chapbook Gloucester Notes. The nearest ocean is about 500 miles South of Ada, the Gulf of Mexico. I ended by reading #14 in my series titled “What Makes America Great” this one about a couple who bought my lunch after seeing me at a peace vigil outside the Mall.

Also in this session was Jennifer Luckenbill from Oklahoma City who read from a series of poems on her mother’s death. The poems included one titled “The Heart of the Galaxy” about her mother’s long suffering from PTSD from serving as a nurse in Viet Nam & her struggle to receive treatment. “Wash Your Hands” was on the frequent command, particularly from a mother who was a nurse. “Death Certificates” was about finding many copies of that grim document in her files. The poems were powerful in their plain, direct language, with the simple images of everyday life & of a daughter’s love for her mother.

Lyman Grant was the last reader in this session. He began by recalling the “Men’s Movement” in the 1980s & read from his mss. titled “Old Men on Tuesday Mornings,” the title poem about guys hanging out, talking which is mostly about their fears. “Small Birds” brought together noisy birds, a hawk & reading Thomas Merton. A poem about teaching titled “Humanities” had the unforgettable phrase “circus acts we call universities.” He read several poems about relationships & his wife, including “Little Storm,” “From What Planet?”, & “Cooking.” There were poems about his father & his father-in-law, & he concluded with “To Those Who Would Say He is Unhappy.”

April 15, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Friday, April 7 — Morning Sessions

Friday morning (& afternoon) there were once again competing sessions. Since I had traveled from Albany, NY with Sally Rhoades that made my choice easier -- she was in the first session. Besides, when I hear her read in Albany it is usually at an open mic where the poets are limited to 2 or 3 poems (sometimes only 1!), so this was a opportunity to hear her read an extended set.

Sally was introduced by the wonderfully exuberant professor Josh Grasso. Sally included a cluster of poems inspired by the readings & writers of Scissortail, such as her opening poem written the Sunday after last year’s festival “Truth Nips at Your Feet,” then “Climbing Mt. Joe” about a trip to the Adirondacks in New York State with Ken Hada, “Fire Flies & Cicadas for Ron Wallace” was actually an Albany poem for the poet from Durant, OK, & “Driving with my Aunt Polly” with her singing was inspired by Texas poet Carol Reposa last year. There were poems about her mother, including “Glazed Donuts.” At one point she put on her Women’s March “pussy hat” to read about her father & how her protests began in the womb. Go Sally!

Rob Roensch one of a number of the writers from Oklahoma University, read a story titled “Victor, Jonah, Laney,” about a young woman in a milltown in New Hampshire, a musician, working at Target, partying — good descriptive, narrative writing.

For the second half of the morning readings I stayed in Estep Auditorium, a difficult choice with good writers in both places, but I wanted to hear once again fellow New York writer, director & actor Paul Austin. He began with his latest poem based on a conversation with Ken Hada, a meditative piece about a visit to a family grave “If I Go Too Long.” He went on to a piece from his Mother & Son sequence, he at 14, with his mother chasing off a scam, then others, including a descriptive piece about Antonin Artaud in a film about Joan of Arc. He ended with a tour-de-force as a black street character, “Talking Blues,” a sermon on suicide, a great role.

Michelle Hartman is another favorite whom I like for her feisty performances (& interactions in real life). But today she began with a reading of her new book about the travels of someone abused as a child, Lost Journal of My Second Trip to Purgatory, including a multi-voice piece with Ann Howells “Oddly Oddly Oxen Free” about a brother’s abuse of his sister, then the chilling “Eyewitness Never Unscathed” about a sister beaten when she says she is gay. Others were equally grim, such as “Mother Committed Suicide” (but she didn’t), & one about escaping 2 bad marriages. The title poem of the collection is about a stint in a mental hospital. Mercifully she ended with a few of her poems not in the book, tinged with humor, even if a couple of them were about death, concluding with 2 satirical pieces, “Caught in the Crotch Fire,” & what she described as “a Deepak Chopra poem” “Fist Full of Pills.”

The last of the morning’s sessions started off with the former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma, Benjamin Myers. When I was here in 2013 I bought his book Lapse Americana (NYQ Books, 2013) which is one of the rare books I turn to on occasion to re-read some favorites. Today’s reading included some fascinating poems about being a professor, “A Brief But Not Brief Enough History of Boredom” a funny piece about a lecture on Dante, an introspective poem about being a professor “Cumae,” & “Shakespeare & Company” a meditation about rejection slips & papers to grade. His poems, while often humorous, also delve deeply into about what it means to be in the world with others, such as “Smith & Sons” about boys he grew up with, “The Angels of Juarez,” or “The Orphan” about watching his children playing imagining to be orphans stranded on an island.

One of the thrills for me for this year’s festival was the reading by Roxie Faulkner Kirk from her forthcoming novel, The Northeast Corner Section. She read from the first chapter, a story about a young woman who runs off to join “the Jesus circuit” as lead singer with an itinerant church, her husband the controlling full-of-himself reverend, & his father a domineering patriarch. It was one of those readings that made me want to run out to the book table & get a copy before everyone else buys them up, but, alas it is not out yet. & this was her first time reading out in public.

April 13, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Thursday, April 6 — Patricia Hampl

The Scissortail Festival always includes featured readers. Patricia Hampl, tonight’s reader, had been in the audience all day, fully engaged with the Festival, listening to the other writers, making new friends as well. She was introduced tonight by Sarah Peters of the ECU faculty.

 Patricia read from her forth-coming book The Art of the Wasted Day (Viking Penguin).  She began with a discussion of whom she called “the first modern day-dreamer,” the French writer Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592) & his Essais (1580). The title of her new book was, for me, provocative, as I’ve become quite adept at frittering away my time, & not feeling at all guilty about it.

The segment that she read weaved a memoir of her early piano lessons while in Catholic school discovering books, her sheet music dissolving in the rain, seamlessly moving back & forth through time. While written in prose the leaping associative connections from her childhood to her late husband was poetry, which indeed she had started out with as a young writer. Once a poet, always a poet, I guess.

During the Q&A after her reading she talked about the current fascination with memoirs as a form of writing history with a way to put the “I” into the story. Also as a way to introduce the bigger story — of political, spiritual issues — into the personal & collective narrative.

At the end she was awarded the Scissortail commemorative plate given to each of the featured readers, something to fill with cookies, as it is already filled with memories. &, as expected, there was a long line afterwards of book-lovers eager to get their copies of her books signed.

April 12, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Thursday, April 6 — Afternoon Sessions

The afternoon readings were characterized by 2 sessions, each with 2 competing programs, one in the Estep Auditorium, the other across the way in the North Lounge — choices, choices. I opted for the North Lounge for both sessions.

Steve Petersen served as MC for the first session, & the first reader was novelist George McCormick from Cameron University in Lawton, OK whom I had heard read in past Scissortails. He read “new pages” as he described them from a novel in-progress, "Saints," a working-class story of a film-maker & his memories of Lawton & the roadside shrines.

Sarah Webb, from Burnet, TX is also a writer I have heard at earlier Scissortail festivals. Today she read a cluster of poems with the Moon in them, many, as she said, “ordinary,” others more “fantastical,” such as “Climbing the Sky,” another about the goddess “The One Who Slings Us Around,” & “What the Fox Said” (what’s true/not true). A couple poems focused on poets, “Whittling the Moon” about letting the poems come & “Barefoot” with the poet walking on holy ground.

Although this was Jim Benton’s first time reading at the festival, he had been here previously & began with some tribute poems to Scissortail, including one on the different reading styles of the writers, then a long, dramatic piece for Naomi Shihab Nye (who was the featured poet last year), & the satirical “This Poem Comes with Written Instructions for Reading It Aloud.” He also read poems from his “Okie Odyssey,” riffing on Woody Guthrie, then a couple poems on his father (referencing Homer's Odyssey) & grandfather & a couple poems set in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sarah Peters did the intros for the second session in North Lounge, with Tom Murphy, from Corpus Christi, Texas the first writer up. He began with a love poem, “My Whisper” & his reading ranged far & wide from that, from a descriptive tanka “Mesquite,” to a piece that began with naked outdoor sex that moved on to images of Native genocide victims, to a funny, political piece about cloning Hitler “They Found One Tit Hair,” to the complex eco-poem “Sacred Waters, even a villanelle, & yet another reference to The Odyssey “Wedding Dress.”

Carol Coffee Reposa usually reads her poems at the festival, but today read a personal essay “Incident at a Party: The Help Meets Gone with the Wind, 1983,” a complex memoir of growing up in a racially segregated town in East Texas, & the repercussions later, with overtones of class & role-reversals, that generated much discussion later hanging out for happy hour. & a brave piece to write & to read.

Richard Dixon from Oklahoma City read a couple memoir-based essays, “Winding Stair” about a trip to rural South Eastern Oklahoma, thinking back to his childhood, to country music, & “Shingles” another mix of memory & a current description sparked by watching roofers on a church roof across from his office.

More to come.