August 30, 2017

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, August 2

August in Saratoga Springs can be a problem due to the crowds there for the horses, but I was able to find someplace to park my car, & got to historic Caffè Lena on time.  There was a long list for the open mic, & a good audience for the featured poets Bertha Rogers & Liv McKee, & our host Carol Graser — who got so excited about the featured poets that she forgot to do her customary opening poem, which she did after the first open mic poet; the poem was “I Woke Up,” a political piece by Jameson Fitzpatrick.

So, the first open mic poet was Brian Dorn with 2 rhyming pieces, “Her Attributes,” & a poem about autism “His Humor.” After Carol read, next was Marilyn McCabe with “I Await the Night with Dread…” the opening poem from her collection Glass Factory (The Word Works, 2016).

Debbie Bogosian was the volunteer at the door & she read about a needlepoint project “Sewn Together with Time,” then an emotional piece “The Family Gathers.” Jackie Craven read a poem “In Which I Try to Leave My Husband But Cannot Find the Words” a nonsense piece springing from workshops by famous poets Bernadette Mayer & Marge Piercy. Joe Bruchac (another famous poet) also read a poem from an assignment, one that he gave to students, “Rainy Season in Ghana,” & the “School Assembly 1958” (informing us that the word “nerd” 1st appeared in Dr. Seuss’ 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo). Nicola Mare Allain (one of next month’s featured poets, with Charlie Rossiter) read a couple of narrative memoirs about growing up in Tahiti, one about a fisherman, the other about a sea turtle. Thomas Dimopoulos, who sometimes earns money by writing about rock concerts, read from some emails from readers & a couple of paragraphs from his own reviews. D.Colin read a recent poem “7 Reasons Why I Am a Poet” then sang & read a poem from her book Dreaming in Kreyol (Empress Bohemia Press, 2015).

Liv McKee was the first of the night’s featured poets. Her reading tonight seemed to have no plan, as she vocally wondered what to read next. She began with a piece inspired by Shel Siverstein (that she had done recently during Poets in the Park), & also read from her just published self-produced chapbook honey at the corners of her mouth, “Prodigal,” some haiku, & the slam rant with a long title, a letter to a racist hippieman. “Safety - What a Hopeful Dream” was written after she produced her chapbook. She ended with a couple of slam pieces, “Late Bloom” (from the chapbook), & “Fold.”

Bertha Rogers is a very different kind of poet, more on the page, to Liv’s on-stage performances. Bertha read extensively from her 2010 book published by Salmon Poetry Heart Turned Back, beginning with the opening poem “The First Time.” She went to dreaming of an old love “When You Were Dead,” “The Future,” “Dog Girl Tells the Truth,” to a series of memories of her youth in rural Iowa, “Rhomboid” (a high-school poem), “The Cornfield,” “Turkey Buzzard,” “For the Girl Buried in the Peat Bog,” & “Jay and Father and Winter.” She concluded with a cluster of poems not in the book, with a couple more with dogs, “The Old Dog’s Lament,” & “Furred World,” & ended with “Morning, the October Stone Circle,” & “Wild Again.” It was a wonderful pairing of 2 fine poets of different generations & different styles.

After the break, Carol was back with her own poem, “Women March on Washington All Over the World.” Leslie Sittner was a “virgin” — her first reading -- & read a long piece on ADHD in the voice of her grandson “I Am Owen,” then a more amusing piece on hair “Growth Age.” Suzanne Rancourt had also read in Poets in the Park, read 2 new poems, “Stones as Words,” then one on insomnia “Sleep Will Come Tomorrow.” Todd Fabozzi was back after a long absence & read about songs at baseball games “National Pastime” & “Faith.” Terry Bat-Sonja also made a rare appearance with a couple old poems “Fragments” (of poems) & “Rabbits in September.”

Alyssa Bonaro read a portrait in words of a boy who is her friend. Another “virgin” Bud Mansmith read about the dead of his family, & others, “The Circle Outside of Me.” Kaela Ellis read a skillful piece “The Sky” a science lesson on the water cycle disguised as a poem. W.D. Clarke read a couple of his rhyming ballads, a humorous “The Ballad of Poor Reggie” (who watches his health but is hit by a car), & one from his experience in the Army “That Other Meat.” Karen Fabiane read “God Boy,” & the recent “Karen’s Steaks & Chops.”

The final poet, Gloria Manthos, said she was reading for the first time “in New York” & read “Bourbon,” then a piece about being a veteran in a family of veterans “Cycles.”

This poetry open mic is held each 1st Wednesday at the recently renovated Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, with a featured reader (or 2), at 7:30PM.

August 24, 2017


Summer’s Best in Show

We had dinner in that State of Mind
where the Sun rises over Albany.
The patio rimmed by sugar maples
was lit by garnet party lights
the garden fragrant
with lilac & rose bushes
bluebirds in the branches
ladybugs walking on the leaves
finding their own dinner.
In the stream a pile a sticks
a beaver’s starter home
a snapping turtle in the mud.
Over apple cider martini’s
we peruse the menu, fresh caught
stuffed brook trout, local greens
angler’s fish stew with striped bass
bay scallops in butter, garlic, white wine.
For desert fresh apples, muffins
in cinnamon laced milk
as the sun sets in Buffalo.

[This poem won 3rd place in the New York State Fair Poetry Competition -- it's like being the 3rd best goat or melon or something.]

August 22, 2017

Poets Speak Loud!, July 31

For the last Monday (& the last day) in July we were at McGeary’s for the monthly open mic hosted by Mary Panza. The featured poet, Dawn Marar, helped to pack the house for her reading, but first part of the open mic sign up list.

Sylvia Barnard was first up with a “rabbit poem” with Roman references, then another animal poem “2 Blind Mice.”

Carol Graser had 2 poems from prompts, the first “Cleaning Out My Mother’s Closet,” then one from Bernadette Mayer’s workshop “What If.” Mark W. O’Brien opted to read a poem by next month’s feature here, the Irish poet Gene Barry. Nancy Dunlop read 2 poems from her series about patients at Four Winds, one tragic, “The Woman in the Grey Sweater,” one funny “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."  Linda Boulette returned with a new poem “The Funeral, Fantasy 192,” then an anti-Trump piece “Legacy.” Joe Krausman’s poem “In the Parking Lot” was a meditation on getting old(er), then he read a piece on dying & on being born.

Tonight’s featured poet, Dawn Marar, did just what every featured poet needs to do: bring their family & friends to their readings. Dawn’s poems are a fertile mix of the personal & the political (which many would say is the same thing). Her first poem was on the dredging of the Hudson River, “Post-Modern Tom & Huck, followed by the poem “Sparkles” set in a bar, mixing Green Island & Baghdad, then on to a poem about a niece, & others, who died too young, “Only This.” She also shared a poem from a series-in-progress currently titled “Race in the White Imagination,” “Whining & Writers” on pop culture & melanin & a family gathering in the kitchen. Her poem “You Citizen” on the burial of a Civil War soldier has her thinking of family members who were veterans. She ended with what she called “a curse & a blessing” with a leaf blower making her think of military drones bringing death.

Dawn’s husband Hani made his debut at a poetry open mic reading a poem someone else had written, “Efflorescence” a tribute to Dawn’s forthcoming chapbook of poetry. I read an older poem, “Obliteration,” a meditation on forms of burial, & the somewhat newer “Traveling America.”

Another virgin here tonight was Emma Collins who read a short piece of self-affirmation “A Female Revolution,” followed by the similar “Original.” Amanda McDowell read a piece about the frustration of filing a police report after an assault, then the cosmic “Ocean Speaks.” Carrie Czwakiel read a long prose memoir about a lech of a boss on her first job, then a more tender “prayer for an autistic child.” Carol Jewell, the master pantoumist, read “Route 20 Pantoum,” & a puppy poem “1st Bug Poem.” Former-feature here, Brooke, read a poem in Dr. Seuss rhyme, “My Roommate,” then, using images & languages from classic stories, a poem of advice for a way out of depression “Fairy Tale.”

Bob Sharkey has been collecting fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies & writing poems from them, & he read the latest, “It’s Fortune or Fame…” Karen Fabiane read a new poem written today, “Karen’s Steaks & Chops.” Julie Lomoe was celebrating a birthday (somewhere between 25 & 100), a country song & her garden “Sunny & 75.”

It’s always dark & wordy, with the smell of booze, here at Poets Speak Loud! at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square in Albany, NY on the last Monday of most months, 7:30PM — an open mic surrounding a featured poet, spurred on by Mary Panza.


It looked more fake than the real thing.
                                    — Andy Warhol

The eclipse is on TV
the Great American Eclipse
they say. I listen to Sun Ra
“Space is the Place” of course
where else is there?

I like the New Moon best
because I have to believe
it is there each month
just as the clouds challenge
my belief that it is the Moon
blocking the Sun, not
just storm clouds rolling in.

On TV the 8-year old says,
“I’ve never seen anything like it!”
she has yet to see Prom night
the back seat of that Honda
a missed period, throwing up
in the last pew of church.

TV repeats the eclipse in places
no one goes to, instant reruns
the Sun & I have a Corona.

Watching the Great American Eclipse
on my computer is internet porn:
much better than the real thing.

In Carhenge Nebraska
200 miles from Nothing
239,000 miles from the Moon
who smiles to be so far away
93 million miles from the Sun
Someone says, “It’s like
watching Day turn into Night”
which I do each & every Day.

In my backyard, even the birds
think it’s just another cloudy day.

August 19, 2017

Poets in the Park, July 2017

Carrying on the series started by Albany poet & activist Tom Nattell back in 1989, the poetry readings at the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park were held this year on July 15, July 22 & July 29. While there were a few sprinkles of rain on July 22, that ended before the poets read, the evenings were mostly clear, the weather pleasant, the poets inspiring.

On July 15 Karen Skolfield & Jay Wenk opted to read in alternating half-sets, giving a bit of back-&-forth to the program. Karen began with a poem about the necklace of “skulls” she was wearing, imagining what they remembered & talked about, then a poem based on the curious fact that there are only 2 escalators in Wyoming, “Upward Mobility,” in which they talk to each other; continuing the conversation theme, the new poem “Vectors” was about a conversation with a neighbor. Another conversation of sorts was “I Ask My Son to Send a Word for a Poem & He Sends Nothing,” filled with Biblical references.

Jay also had a whimsical beginning, “When I Get to Stonehenge,” then read the historically descriptive “Wounded Knee.”  “Christmas 1914” was set in the trenches of World War I, the soldiers singing carols in German & English & French. Then to a poem from "his war" (World War II), at the end going home & the political aftermath, his war never ended.

In her second set Karen read some poems from her military experience, many looking at the origin of words used in the military, such the poem “Enlist” on recruitment, “Kevlar” (invented by a woman) built on her memories of basic training, & “Discharge” on getting out. The short poem “The Army Smart Book: Inspirational Quotes” has a drill sergeant pondering the “breaking” of female recruits. She also included poems about war in other eras — an ekphrastic poem based on a woodcut “The Great Sacrifice of the Romans on Undertaking a War,” & the related poems “Civil War Reenactment” with her kids at a playground, a meditation on war, & “Sailor’s Creek Battlefield,” hummingbirds at a civil war battlefield.

Jay returned with “Pluck that Pregnant Dandelion” a philosophical piece about scattering seeds to the wind, the unfinished & untitled poem on the myth of Cassandra & Apollo as told in the Iliad combined with images from the Gettysburg museum, the timely & moving “Thank You For Your Service” on military suicides, & concluded with “The Clowns” considering comedy from ancient Greeks to modern times, enough to make you pee in your pants (or toga).

* * *

The second of the three events, on July 22, featured 2 local poets Ian Macks & Liv McKee.

Ian began with a piece about a friend & an abusive relationship, a theme he returned to throughout his reading, this one with the Albany skyline as a backdrop. Others on that theme included “When You Can’t Restrain Yourself” (written today), one based on A Streetcar Named Desire, another set in Troy overhearing a police encounter. There were other poems set in Troy, or Brooklyn (a descriptive piece set in a dive bar), one a meditation on the homeless. His poems were personal, such as one about an infatuation, or about the consolation of his art on leaving home. They were mostly short, mostly untitled, many read from his journal, with rhymes & half-rhymes popping up at times. There were even a few poems about Pittsburgh, of all places, filled with angst & introspection. He ended as he began with a poem critical of his friend’s abusive relationship.

Liv’s work was quite different coming from the Slam tradition of public, performative pieces around the 3-minute length. She began with a welcoming poem inspired by Shel Silverstein, with an opening call-&-response with the audience “I will speak” & accompanied by her brother Elijah McKee on alto sax. He joined her later in the program for an homage to her grandmother “Poem for Her Anecdotes.” Of course, a number of her pieces were political/social commentary, such as “My Friend Who Called Herself a Great & Dark Irony” inspired by her travels in Israel & Palestine, the cutting “Letter to the Easy Riding Earth Mama Hippie Man who is Still Racist,” & a piece combining her reaction to the UAlbany women convicted of falsely reporting an incident with a dream. These were punctuated by some haikus on politics, love & satire, including "Haiku for Mike Pence."  She ended appropriately enough with piece on her early ballet training then learning to dance free.
* * *

The final Poets in the Park reading on July 29 once again featured 2 US military veterans, Suzanne Rancourt & Richard Levine. I had had the pleasure of reading with both Suzanne & Richard last Fall at the Bright Hills Literary Center in Treadwell, NY for a program of readings by veterans, “Writing War & Peace.”

Suzanne began with reading some poems from Billboard in the Clouds (Curbstone Books, 2004), first “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With?” a tale of her Dad bringing them “spruce gum,” the sap of trees to chew on, then “A Light Wind Beyond Temple” for Denise Levertov who lived down the road from Suzanne’s family home in Temple, Maine. Suzanne’s introductions helped set the stage for her poems, giving us a context. She then read from a manuscript currently making the rounds of publishers, “Murmurs at the Gate,” memories of her upbringing in a poor, hard-working rural environment, including “The Viewing” a memory of a men killing bears, then “Opening” where a box contains memories of a relationship, & a magical portrait of Raven “The Darkest Spot is Light.” She ended with a poem on her obsession with fabric, weaving as an image & metaphor for time & for love.

The city sounds of sirens, traffic, even helicopters heading for Albany Med are a part of the ambiance of Poets in the Park, but worked especially well for Richard, who began with a cluster of city poem set in Brooklyn, “Bread” a memoir of his grandfather, then the early TV “Saturday Night Fights” (sponsored by Gillette) about his father as a boxer & Richard’s own fight, then a tribute to musician Tito Puente, “Para Ti, Tito,” & a descriptive piece late night in the City “Quiet the Way.” Then on to some love poems: “Ever Guilty,” “Portraits of Unrequited Love,” & “Without Angles.” He followed that up with a few war poems: the grim “Field Bandage,” “Just Sleeping,” & one of my favorites “Convoys” a chilling tale of being out drinking in Brooklyn with buddies mixed in with memories of VN ghost soldiers. He ended with the short love poem “Fall,” & “Harvest” a family poem, raking his garden.

More photos from Poets in the Park can be found at my Flickr! site.

Poets in the Park was sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & the Poetry Motel Foundation, both ultimately supported by the generosity of local writers & readers — “Give us your tired dollars, your millions crying for poetry.”

August 3, 2017

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 20

Third Thursday at the Social Justice Center in the Summer — had to crank up the sound system a bit because the door was open letting in the sounds of The Street. Our Muse tonight was, sadly, the recently-gone local poet, Cathy Anderson; I read her poem “Hornswoggled” from the 2006 collection of poems from The Every Other Thursday Night Poets of Voorheesville, NY Poetry Don’t Pump Gas.  A couple other poets from that group & in that anthology were in the audience.

In fact, one of them was the first up to read, Alan Casline, with a love poem about walking in the woods. Mark W. O’Brien was the other poet from that same collection, tonight he read a poem from a prompt in Bernadette Mayer’ workshop, a haibun memoir of catching a baseball hit by Yadier Molina. Samuel Weinstein was back with a long poem he said was written in the style of Allen Ginsberg. Our resident Andre Breton, John Thomas Allen, joined us with a poem titled “Behind the Green Door.”

Douglas Rothschild (who signed up as “Rth;chld, Dgls N.”) used the music stand to make a show of hanging up his jacket which he had just put on before stepping up to read the mythic “Artemisian the Moon’s Children.”

Tonight’s featured poet was Anna Kreienberg, a young poet with an experienced voice. She began with “Message for Rachel” which was like a letter with tea & pet names, then a shorter poem titled “Margaret Atwood,” then, as she said, “banged-out” a longer poem, “Seattle,” about her poetry, like others addressed to a “you” perhaps friends, in images with private import. Similarly a poem titled “Chrome Phobia” & then “Odyssey,” another long piece also addressed to someone, like a defensive sarcastic thank-you note filled daily details of life in NYC, which ended suddenly. What added to the difficulty is that there were no personal/spatial introductions before the poems, dropping the listener into a place we needed to quickly orient ourselves to.

After the break & the passing of the poet’s hat, we continued on with the open mic, & I read my entry to the New York State Fair Poetry Contest, “At the Silarian Cafe: Summer’s Best in Show.” Richard Jerin followed with his intro & then the poem. Jay Gaunt was a new name, read an untitled love poem. Rhymer Betty Zerbst was next with a poem about becoming a poet “Spreading My Wings.”

Aimee Harrison was a new voice, jumped right in to read about neighbors & family fighting, & her own turmoil, turning into a poem of longing. Adam Tedesco, who is well-known on the poetry scene & a former feature here, read a intensely woven piece of river & water. Karen Fabiane, also a former feature here & elsewhere, read her piece about a vacant lot on the Lower East Side, “Outdoor Cafe.” One of my favorites, who hasn’t been here in awhile, Jill Crammond, was back to read her mashup of Joyce Carol Oates’s Blackwater “Thoughts While Drowning.” Kevin McLellan, a new voice, read a love/breakup poem “From the Inside Out” to bring us to an end for tonight.

Every third Thursday there is a poetry open mic with a featured reader at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY. We start at 7:30PM & your donations support the SJC, the Poetry Motel Foundation & helps pay the featured poet.