October 22, 2018

No Borders, No Walls: Exploring Truth, Beauty and the Creative Self, October 17


This is was actually a noon-time reading by poet Frank X. Gaspar but because it was at Hudson Valley Community College, an academic institution, they had to give it a fancy title rather than “poetry reading” — as some poet once said, “a rose by any name…” I had read a few poems by Frank Gaspar over the years in various print & online poetry venues & this reading was a good chance to hear a bigger chunk & to buy an autographed copy of one of his books.

Bonnie Cook of HVCC introduced Frank to an audience of mostly students, but a fair number of older folks (like me, & younger), both faculty & literary & poetic community folks (like me). The poet began by singing the praises of his black pocket notebook, & read “Black Notebook #1, Gideon Bible, Los Angeles,” & “Black Notebook, Day Six, Canadian Rockies” both from his collection Late Rapturous (Autumn House Press, 2012); other poems from the same book that he read were “Sometimes God Saves a Fire” & the book’s title poem, that mixes memories, descriptions of Los Angeles & New York City & the paintings of deKooning. He also read the night-time/whisky musing “One Thousand Blossoms” & even a poem about a cat.

His poems are discursive, meditative, written in full, sometimes complex, grammatical sentences so that they sound like poetic essays filled with vivid images of the world around him. In the book, some of the poems are set like fully-justified prose, others with the lines so long they could be prose that is not right-justified, begging the question of genre, poetry or prose? My vote is “poetry.”

He ended with a long “spoken piece,” as he described it, set during the Viet Nam war, titled “Microphone.” Ironically, during the first part of his reading there had been some annoying feedback from his mic so he was moved to another at a podium just before reading this. The piece took the form of a long letter from a Portuguese kid from Provincetown, Cape Cod now living in New York City, to his girlfriend, written on a typewriter with a period key, leading to Kerouacian stream-of-consciousness mixing memories of his time with the girlfriend, longing & scenes of music in the Village — an energetic way to end a good reading.

The following Q&A began with probing questions by students, & other questions from the broader audience. As is often said, Frank said he has been influenced by everyone he has ever read, but did single out Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman & Edna St. Vincent Millay; he said he writes at night (as evidenced by some of the poems he had read), & to a question about “creativity” & the rest of the world, said he tries to “live in creativity,” which is another world.

Hudson Valley Community College does have a regular program of lectures, performances & art exhibits that are open to the public, visit their website for more information.

October 21, 2018

Getting Down to Brass Tacks, October 16


at The Low Beat on Central Ave. once again, tonight Mary Panza filling in for Thom Francis as the host. & tonight was the first time this open mic series has included a featured poet, visiting poet Mugabi Byenkya — more on that later.

The open mic began with D. Alexander Holiday who read from his latest book Kith & Kin written as G. Douglas Davis IV a piece on bullying titled “The Involuntary Leave of Absence as Punishment Routine.” I was up next & since we were in the midst of the baseball playoffs read 2 baseball poems “Baseball in Palestine” & “Waiting for Jacqueline Robinson.” Mr. Azarrah Moses was back again from last time with some strange pieces I find difficult to categorize, I think the first one (of 3) was titled “5137” & my notes say “mystical bs”. Not so with Christa DeMarco who read took the motivational speaker cliché of fearing your demons on its head, her poem saying demons were once gods, fear your angels instead.

Mugabi Byenkya was born in Nigeria to Ugandan parents & is currently based in Canada. He has written a novel, Dear Philomena, like letters, emails, & text messages to his alter-ego about a year in his life where he suffered 2 strokes & other health issues. Tonight he talked about his novel, & said “I let my writing speak for itself…”. Some of his pieces were like slowed down rap in hip-hop rhyme, did a call-&-response piece with the audience. One of his poems was titled “If I Die Bury Me Next to My Father,” then a poem to his mother, some poems done from memory, some read. He read what amounted to a love letter to a friend, celebrating Platonic love. Later, talking to Mugabi, I found out he was an assistant to Melissa Tuckey while producing Ghost Fishing: an eco-justice Anthology of poetry, a reading from which I hosted Mellisa & others at Poets in the Park this past summer & which includes one of my poems. What a marvelous inter-connected world of poetry we live in.

Luciano Ferraro was back, this time announcing he has a new book out Romancing the Art of Being Honest & read 2 poems from it, “Spinning Records,” & “24/7 Diner Service” using a dysfunctional diner service as a metaphor for the USA. Avery read a piece he wrote just this morning about the unforeseen, “Interruptive Existence.” Alyssa Michelle read a revised version of one of her relationship complaints “Solitude Thoughts.” Aron (Algorhythm) just back from Japan read a rant about casting out 7 demons, not into the game, not lying anymore. Mac also read a complaint, this against his hustler father. Koi-yola’s rap was about to necessity to keep growing, keep moving.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks happens each 1st & 3rd Tuesday, usually just an open mic, but look for changes in the format. You can find out all about it at AlbanyPoets.com.

A Night of Features, October 11


… or as my auto-correct would have it “A Night of Creatures,” oh well. Havey Havel was the host for this reading by 4 poets at the Hudson River Coffee House, part of an on-going quarterly series.

First out of the blocks was Jame Duncan, who co-hosts the Troy Poetry Mission with another poet reading tonight, R.M. Engelhardt. James began with poems from his 2017 book We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, about growing up in a trailer park in upstate New York, poems about biking & Halloween, mostly short pieces that in the book are set up in prose blocks. From a new book of flash fiction titled Nights Without Rain he read “Much Less” the musings of a woman tired of men, & one set in Texas “Jazz Annex.”

In this age of instant, on-line book production Carol Durant is one of a string of poets lately who burst on the scene with a book of their poems already in their hands, hers is titled Whole Phat and Gluten Free Poetry. Her poems are short ditties, less than a page, one only 4 lines. She read “My End,” “Empire Motto,” “Poof,” “Fake Sentiment,” “PJ Promenade,” & “Lobed Out.” In between she threw in some new ones, “Click Done,” & “Obvious & Oblivious.”

R.M. Engelhardt, on the other hand, has been on the scene since he was in high school, organizing open mics in uncountable venues, & publishing poems. Unfortunately, he was unable to pull up his new book, Coffee Ass Blues, on his phone so read a string of other poems instead, beginning with a characteristic piece “Death Is Open For Business” a dramatic monologue by the Grim Reaper in the modern era — he has lots of poems like that. In fact, death, or rather Death, figured in most of what he read, including “Jim Morrison Lives in my Basement,” & the similar “Jazz Maverick” (Bob suffering dementia). “Hipster Lycanthrope” was just plain silly, while the long 2-part piece “Under Sea” name-dropped 19th Century poets. His last 2 poems were also very serious, the short “Rapture” & another monologue, this time of a killer “The Dark Road.”

Nancy Dunlop was the last of the 4 to read, she also read the longest & was the most intense, beginning with a long “subtle performance piece” (as she called it) written out on index cards, about being sexually assaulted by a man weilding a knife 35 years ago right here on Quail St., an incident she said cut her life in 2, Nancy before & Nancy after; she managed to fight off her assailant & the piece ends with her giving encouraging advice to the “Nancy before.” After a short palate-cleanser poem she read a poem from her manuscript “In the Keep,” about sailing with her father, a descriptive piece "Frida Kahlo in Bed," then finished with nature poems written last month “The Wind” on change, “Kingfisher Country” with “hope” & “light” repeated, & a baby deer in the morning in “Thru the Trees I See.”

This series is held approximately quarterly at the Hudson River Coffee House, 227 Quail St., Albany, NY. Watch for notices about the next one on the AlbanyPoets.com calendar & the Poetry Motel Foundation email list.

October 11, 2018

Poetry/Spoken Word Open Mic, October 9


This series run by Charlie Rossiter at the Tap House in Bennington, VT started one year ago today, & it was sadly poignant that on this particular night our host could not be be here to celebrate (he was recuperating from recent hip surgery). So I drove over to take over the duties — I had been here a year ago, & came over last month as well.

Tonight’s sign-up list & readers were the same as last month, except for Charlie. Laura Ellsby went first with a couple of “pet poems," one was titled “Small Perspective” about her chihuahua. Kenn Ash was very philosophical in his first piece “Self Possession,” & in a fantasy in which the description of “a small giant” on a distant planet becomes a philosophical treatise.

Jason Everett had with him his thick manuscript “Ligthstreet” & read a few from it, quirky poems with surrealistic images of the everyday, often with some sexy woman in it, one set in Montreal “Expo 10” & another he read in honor of a friend, only a few years younger than he, who died recently, becoming emotional as he read. Speaking of deceased friends I read “Reading Dead Poets Listening to Live Jazz” for the recently gone poets Harry Staley & Paul Pines.

A nice surprise was a brief visit from Charlie’s wife Mary Ellen Munley to wish us a happy first anniversary & to say Charlie was doing well — it’s wonderful how a poet's presence can be felt at a reading even when they are sitting at home with pain pills & poetry.

Since there were just a few of us, we went around again reading short poems, Laura doing more dog poems, one in Spanish about a one-eyed dog, then we convinced her to translate for us, another for her dog Ruby, & a prose poem for her 4 pets. Kenn read us his private “Decalogue,” some good advice for anyone. Jason’s second round were poems, like his first round, with seemingly random images thrown together, one piece like a dystopic John Ashbery. & I ended with a poem for the season my own “killer cocktail” a la Alan Catlin “Zombie Gourd.”

Poetry/Spoken Word Open Mic is on the 2nd Tuesday of each month in the back room of the Tap House at Catamount Glass, 309 County St., Bennington, VT — sign up at 7:00PM, reading starts at 7:15. It’s about an hour from Albany, less from Troy & points East. Bring poems.

October 8, 2018

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, October 3


I had missed the last few months here, so I was glad to be back with the Saratoga open mic crowd, & even some other Albany poets who made the trip. Our constant host Carol Graser began with a poem by the sadly recently gone poet Donald Lev “How It Feels to Be Mortal” — we miss you already, Donald.

Rodney Parrott read a long, lecturing piece with the prop of a double-chewed log, from an apparent series “Universal Laws of the Universe.” Doug Holiday, signed up as G. Douglas Davis IV, recommended books on Donald Trump, also the eco-justice anthology Ghost Fishing, & read from an anthology of poems by native American authors Songs From this Earth on Turtle’s Back; then his own poem “Why We Should Not Re-cycle” the bad-taste characters & TV shows of the past (or present). Glenn Whitecki read in rhyme a piece about a masted sailing ship, then a take on Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Nicola Allain read about being on the island of Cyprus, feeling the connection with her native Tahiti (but seemed insensitive to the political issues of the divided island).

Elena Reynolds read here for the 1st time & her poem was a dialogue (not as grim as the title) “Explaining Suicidal Ideation to my Teenager.” Joe Bruchac read 2 poems, “In the Night” partially in a Native language, & “Proof of Life.”

Lance Henson, tonight’s featured reader, had lived & worked in this area in the early 1990s, & did some readings for the Hudson Valley Writers Guild & at the QE2 in Albany. He began with sage — but not burnt here — for the missing indigenous women — & recited a dedication in, I think, Chippewa, “for the Peyote-ists around the USA.” He read mostly short poems, many untitled, from his world travels, from Zurich, from Jordan, Italy, Syria. He read a poem to his mother who was “a prisoner of war” in a a Catholic school who when she ran away was returned to the school with a ball & chain on her ankle. Another poem was about violence in Mexico in 1968. “Song of a Female Wolf in Captivity” told of a vision he had in Italy, & he ended with “To a Child Killed in Bethlehem by Israeli Soldiers.” He was one of those readers who asked us not to applaud his poems, & when he ended I applauded, thinking he meant only between the poems, but then that’s how I honor a poet’s work in my culture — no disrespect intended.

There were still a lot of poets signed-up so after a break the open mic continued. Leslie Sittner began with an exercise in alliteration titled “At Issue,” then read 3 pairs of 6-word stories, cleverly concise.

David Graham (along with Carol Graser & myself) had been among the dozen readers at the 100K Poets for Change performance at SUNY Adirondack last Saturday & read his poem “100K Pebbles” that had been included in the text. Dan Vollweiler read a humorous rhyme “The Poetry Bug.” Amanda Blodget was the second poetry virgin of the night & read “Why Do I Write?” & a companion piece “In My Cocoon” about becoming a butterfly. Suzanne Rancourt, who has been making the rounds of readings lately read from her series “Song of the Hummingbird,” the poems titled “Shiver” & “Clear Skin.”

Brian Krauth’s poem “Poetic Sketches Cloud Lines” was a series of natural images stained by abstractions; he also read “Who in this Room?” Judith Prest read from her forth-coming chapbook from Finishing Line Press After the #MeToo poem “To Be A Woman” then from Elemental Connections the seasonal “Tree.” Jeff Stubits has been reading out a lot lately & tonight did a poem about finding umbrella parts in the rain “Mending Love,” then a piece on being distracted while meditating, in his throw-back style of reading like Ken Nordine from the classic Word Jazz LP way back in the 1950s. My poem was the tribute to the gone poets Harry Staley & Paul Pines “Reading Dead Poets Listening to Live Jazz.”

Caroline Bardwell is one of the newer poets on the scene that I always enjoy hearing & tonight she read a poem based on a story from her brother “At Dusk Wolves,” then “Cascades” a philosophical piece built on images of water. Nancy White read “a villanelle” that was a poem on mortality but not a villanelle titled “Villanelle."  Sally Rhoades read a piece for the anniversary of the shooting in Las Vegas last year “Innocence Lost,” then a poem from her time in Ada, OK “At the Chickasaw Cultural Center.” Our host, Carol Graser, to bring the night to a close, read her poem that was incorporated into the group poem last Saturday at SUNY Adirondack “Now Is the Time.”

Unfortunately, as seems to happen here frequently enough, the featured poet & his entourage left after the break & didn’t stay to hear the poets in the 2nd half share their poems. I had spoken to Lance briefly before the reading, then intended to read my poem to him about seeing one of his poems in a NYC subway ad “I Meet An Old Friend On the Subway” — he didn't stay, why bother?  I read something else.  All of the poets in the open mic had heard the feature (& the others who left with him) read in the first half of the night, but those who read in the second half went unheard by those who came to just read to themselves -- their loss.

Well, no matter whether the puffed up featured poets hear the open mic poets, or not, the open mic poets will be back to read their poems to whomever is left in the audience, the 1st Wednesday of the month at Caffè Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, 7:30PM.

October 6, 2018

Brass Tacks #6, October 2


I like hanging out at The Low Beat & listening to poetry being shared — & of course washing it down with a beer. Thom Francis, our host, got us going pretty much on time.

I was first up with 2 poems, as I said, “from my very rich fantasy life,” “Lilly White” & “Sleeping in Patchouli.” Algorhythm did a “drive-by” on his way to Japan with a wistful poem about the words & babies he never had “Still Born.” Rhonda Rosenheck had been at the last Poets Speak Loud! at McGeary’s, tonight read “Good at Math” from her book Looking (Elephant Tree House, 2018), then on to a sestina “The Woman” from her series of “crime poetry.”

Kendall Hoeft has been making the rounds of the open mics of late, read a poem based on the film of Anna Karenina “Of Sea & Sky,” then a love poem “Request for Body Modification,” & the descriptive “A Dream in Morning.” When Mr. Azanah D. Moses came up to read with a copy of AlbanyPoets' new print publication Offline in hand I thought he was reading from the text, but it turns out he had been using it to write in; he said he is usually here for the song-writer night, read something called “Super Hero #7” & a very short piece on stolen identity.

Zacha was in Albany for work with co-workers, found a night out for poetry, beginning with an untitled piece on women, then something written from a prompt combining “security” & “my Jesus.” The poet who has been signing up (mostly) as Slay! the Dragon read on the crime theme with a strange piece about a detective looking for missing cats in Troy. Alyssa Michelle was back once again at the bottom of the list with another first person relationship poem “When the Past Calls” about remembering a love.

Brass Tacks continues the 1st & 3rd Tuesday poetry tradition at The Low Beat, 7:30PM, mostly an open mic, but featured readers lurking in the wings.

New York State Writers Institute, September 28


The New York State Author & New York State Poet are named every other year at a grand gathering on the University at Albany campus, this year at the Campus Center Ballroom. Officially, The Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writers was given to Colson Whitehead, The Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets to Alicia Suskin Ostriker. I was not familiar with Colson Whitehead’s work, although I’d read a review of his latest novel The Underground Railroad. However, I have followed Alicia Ostriker’s work since seeing her read in Hastings-on-the-Hudson back in the early 1980s, & more recently at Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

It was full program, with speeches by Albany President Havidan Rodriguez, members of the NYS Assembly Patricia Fahey & John McDonald, a PBS film about the Writers Institute & then the presentation of the awards by H. Carl McCall, chairman of the State University of New York Board of Trustees.

Alicia Ostriker began with reading part of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” then went on to claim Walt Whitman as her “grandmother,” & then talk about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry; she read her “Requendo” & said Millay was one of our great forgotten & ignored poets. She also read from Waiting for the Light (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017) some very New York City poems — upper Broadway in the morning, 2 women talking, the homeless, & learning to sing in 1st grade. An engaging, charming & very real poet, another great pick to join such past recipients as Stanley Kunitz, Audre Lord, Sharon Olds & Yusef Komunyakaa, among others.

Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad, now available in paperback from Anchor, has received a slew of awards. He is also the author of 5 other novels & a couple of works of non-fiction. In his remarks he made a humorous reference to his mission as NYS Author to re-open the investigation into the Headless Horseman. He also read about NY City, from his essay “The City Limits” (from The Colossus of New York) which talked abut the ever-changing neighborhoods of the City, how each person’s concept of “their” City is different depending on when they lived there.

Of course, there was a book-signing afterwards with a chance to talk informally with both writers. I had the opportunity prior to the ceremony to talk to Alicia Ostriker & she asked me about the Millay Colony in Austerlitz New York.

For more information about the NYS Author & Poet & about upcoming programs at the NYS Writers Institute check out their website, https://www.nyswritersinstitute.org/

October 5, 2018

The Rev, September 27


Two nights in a row to Troy, for poetry! Matthew Klane has over the last few years made Russell Sage College in Troy a center of poetry & other new writing with a series of readings by visiting writers as well as open mics for students & readings by contributors to The Russell Sage Review. The series takes its name from the student literary zine. The program tonight presented, not quite by design, 2 writers from Chicago to a packed house of mostly students, with a few faculty & staff, & a couple of us community poets.

Alix Anne Shaw read from her forthcoming collection from Etruscan Press, Rough Ground, in which, as she explained, she contemplates the nature of language, playing off the texts of Ludwig Wittgenstein. She began with the prologue, “An Argument” about whether it is a “cup” or a “mug,” then on to a selection representing different aspects of the book; there is a central female character, a bomb blast that is part of the narrative, the main character moving from the country to the city; some titles such as “No Body Can Be Separate from its Bruise” (“bodies” is a word that recurs), “Forensic Scene,” “Nest” (the bomb blast), “A Labyrinth of Houses,” “An Empty Superstition” (rain & fire also figure in a lot). The poems were plain spoken, in simple language, almost like essays, read in a quiet, precise voice that matched the text. She concluded with a poem not in the book, interlacing physics (“the mean free path”) & the political, with a more emotional reading than the poems from Rough Ground.

In between tonight’s readers, Matthew read a poem “From the Book of Dust” by Cynthia Hogue, who had originally been scheduled for this reading.

In contrast, the next writer Jac Jemc read from her novel The Grip of It (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017) about a young couple moving ton a new suburban house that turns out to be haunted. Interestingly enough, the author uses a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein as the epigraph. The story is told in short chapters, alternating between the husband, James, & the wife, Julie. Jemc gave us a sample of the voices & outlined the plot. She said later during the Q&A that she always liked haunted house horror stories & a wanted to try her hand at one.

Although the room was filled mostly with students, most of the questions seemed to come from faculty or community members — &, as is so characteristic of poetry readings in academic settings, no one applauds between poems, unlike the readings out in the community.

The series will continue throughout the semester; you can check their Facebook page for more information.

October 2, 2018

Troy Poetry Mission, September 26


This series started about 2 years ago at O’Brien’s Public House over on 3rd St. in Troy, but, alas, O’Brien’s closed a few months ago, not due to the poetry I assume. Now host R.M. Engelhardt has found a new home for this series at Elixir 16 on 2nd St. Rob got us off to a good start by reading Harry Staley’s tongue-in-cheek poem “Invocation” invoking the “Moose,” then read the lyrics to Tom Waits’ song “The Piano Has Been Drinking.”

First up on the list was me (don’t blame me, it was open) & I read my new poem “Reading Dead Poets Listening to Live Jazz” pretty much written at the Lake George Jazz Festival this year, then the slightly older “Buttons Not Bombs” (to match my shirt). I haven’t seen Tim Lake at a poetry event in years but here he was, perhaps because it was Troy; he a read a couple of older anti-war poems “Contemplation of an Impending War” (2015) & “Homecoming” (2011). James Duncan, who is the co-host of the series, read a poem for Autumn “Life Cycle.”

I was also surprised to see Suzanne Rancourt from the North Country here; she read an intriguing, titillating poem that used a litany of panties as ways into memory, then a poem about talking to the leaf clusters in the morning. Rob took a turn but took almost as much time to find his poems on his phone as it took to read them (perhaps it was his tinted glasses), a poem about sharing a smoke with the late writer Jim Harrison (who died of a heart attack from smoking), & one of his signature-style pieces “My Time Spent in Hell” with an old poet.

Alan Catlin was the scheduled poet back when O’Brien’s tanked & didn't get a chance to read so he was invited back for the re-birth. Once again Rob had difficulty with his cellphone trying to find Alan’s bio for the introduction. Alan explained that he would be reading poems that he had never read out before tonight, & began with a couple inspired by the work of Charles Simic, one where poems rush in take over the house, another in a museum of dead ideas & emotions. “Frightening Toys” was from a prompt he gave at a writing workshop, then “The Graveyard of the Beach Chairs”, & an elegy for an old guy at the bar Alan once worked at. From his work-in-progress “Hollyweird” based on films he read “Exterminating Angel” & “Look Homeward Angel,” then on to a persona poem about stopping time while drinking, & another bar piece “On Hearing 2 Army Rangers Killed by Friendly Fire.” From the zine Big Scream 57 he read “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” written in the 1980s but still worryingly pertinent. Strangely related in some way (Alan has a knack for linking his poems in readings in quirky ways) was a poem about Sharon Olds being bumped from the news by terrorists bombs. Alan also likes to write poems about photos & photographers & ended tonight an assemblage from a series of grim photos of cholera victims, soldiers being shot, starvation in Biafra & other horror news pictures.

After a break, we returned to the open mic with Kendall Hoeft who read a poem with images of waiting for Spring “Migration of a Hollow Swan,” & the memoir “Poem I Didn’t Write to My Mom.”

Megan Marohn began with the lyrics to the folk song “Same Old Man,” & continued into a poem, like a journal of her feelings, in response to police shooting of black men in Troy, then a poem titled “The Mermaid.” Schenectadian J. Dalaba/Hex’m Jai read a poem of Gothic images “Conjunctions,” then the sort of Monty Python-esque “Tally-Ho.” James Duncan was back with a poem based on the 1944 Humphrey Bogart film Passage to Marseille. Also reading from his phone tonight was Jeremy Olson with “Borrowed” on the theme of the strangeness of modern romance, the “Small Talk with a Stripper.” Gloria Manthos, also from the North Country, read the just-written “Buyers of Mindfullness Beware,” then a piece summed up in the line “I miss the desert.”

Kennedy Eldon was another voice new to me & read selections from a longer poem in short parts with sex & political undertones, then on to equally brief & sexy selections from a book titled Alphabetarium Penile, which was described in a 2016 notice for Troy Night Out as a “beautiful piece of wok which contains abstract paintings/depictions of penis[es] and the like [?] for each letter of the alphabet” — for everyone who loves a dick (their own or others) & "the like."

The management at Elixir 16 seems more enthusiastic about having poetry in the house than the feeling I got at O’Brien’s so I expect the Troy Poetry Mission to continue here for a while — but then “One never knows, do one?”  For now, last Wednesday of the month, at Elixir 16, 45 Second St., Troy, hosted by R.M. Engelhardt & James Duncan — no time listed on their FaceBook page, but I wouldn’t get there before 7:30PM.