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.]

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