January 22, 2019

Third Thursday Poetry Night, January 17


For the first third Thursday of 2019 we gathered as we always do on the third Thursday of any month at the Albany Social Justice Center for an ope mic & a featured reading, tonight, by NYC poet/cab driver Cliff Fyman. Even on such a cold January night we had a unique gathering of poets representing a cross-section of the quality poets living & writing in the area. Unfortunately, 2018 was, literally, a killer for poets with this area being hit particularly hard, & I am backed up on my tributes. Tonight’s Muse of a gone-poet who could not be here was Jim Flosdorf who died in October at the age of 84. Jim was a naturalist, environmentalist, poet, artist, photographer; I read his poem “Renovation” from the 1986 collection Gates to the City: The Albany Tricentennial Anthology. Then on to the open mic.

Douglas Holiday was signed up first & he read, not his own poem, but “Inundated, after watching Hurricane Katrina coverage on CNN” by Hayes Davis from Ghost Fishing: an Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2018). Next up was Joe Krausman whose poem “Marilyn Monroe’s Dress” was about the worth of things, & life & death. Phil Good read selections from a longer piece titled “Slow Capture” on the digital universe, perhaps. Bernadette Mayer was here tonight & she read a spicy poem, like a soup, called “Parsley.”

Cliff Fyman wrote a series of poems that he called Yellow Cab written about driving a cab at night in NYC. Tonight he read from a section of a work in progress also about that experience. He said he would shape into poems the words the passengers would say to their companion or into their cellphones. Some were extended conversations, others snippets & phrases, that shows the brilliance of random remarks thrown together forming their own connections, from the mundane to the ridiculous. To be expected, many exchanges were about relationships, often gay men, some were arguments, & in the last segment he read, the passenger addresses him, the driver, trying to pick him up. In the recording of the reading there are frequent laughter & giggles from the audience who were obviously enjoying it. Cliff’s other books include Nylon Sunlight (2004), & Fever (2006) (with Bernadette’s footprint in red ink as the cover).

After a break & a donation — less than the cost of a cab ride — we returned to the open mic. I read an old poem from the days of the QE2 open mic titled “Yellow Cab.” Adam Tedesco returned to the Social Justice after an absence to read a poem titled “Backlit” descriptive of a camping trip & being born & family. Screamer (it’s only her handle, she doesn’t really scream) read “My Attempt at a Don Levy Poem” about a crush on the “fish boy” at a part-time job, just like one of Don’s gay-fantasy poems -- her attempt succeeded. The final poet was also a here after an absence, John Allen, who read a poem titled “Dialator” inspired Jeff Clark’s poems Music & Suicide; John had a hard time reading it from the small piece of paper he had written it on.

Join us any third Thursday of the month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY 7:30PM for an open mic for poets, with a featured reading by a local, regional or national poet. Your donation supports poetry events in Albany & the work of the Social Justice Center.

January 17, 2019

Getting Down to Brass Tacks, January 15


It’s a new year & it’s about time I got down to brass tacks & down to The Low Beat (there’s a song in there somewhere). I was surprised to see Mary Panza at the bar with the open mic sign-up clipboard rather than Thom Francis. But Mary said Thom was ill so she was filling in as the host tonight. There were a few folks sitting by the window but they said they were here just to listen. So we waited & then someone strolled in, & signed up, said his name was Phelix.

When it was time to start, Mary called us all forward closer to the stage for what I think is the smallest open mic that I’ve been to, at least that I’ve documented (here), not counting a couple I actually made up because no one actually read.

I went first & since everyone in the room hadn’t heard my poems previously (with the exception of Mary, & Kim the bartender) I read some older pieces, “Books Not Bombs” (the most recent poem of the bunch), “Ordering Lunch,” & the classic “Where Were the Professors?”

Phelix was next (& the last) with a piece perhaps titled “Hello Stranger” written in Rome, a nervous conversation with a star, & thinking of a lost love.

& that was that. But Getting Down to Brass Tacks, a poetry open mic, happens on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of each month at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, 7:30PM — visit the AlbanyPoets.com website for more information.

January 16, 2019

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, January 13


My co-host Nancy Klepsch estimates that this is our 85th (!) time co-hosting this monthly open mic at the Arts Center in Troy. When you start to count you can be amazed at how many things — stars, people, grains of sand, poetry events, whatever, that there are. & it was made sweeter not only by the wonderful poets who come here on a regular basis but more so by the new faces & voices that showed up today, 16 all-together today.

I began the parade with 2 new poems, “Drones” on the beach & in Yemen, & a little piece I’m calling “writing.”  Lauren Levey read a long prose piece, a story/memoir of a childhood friend & sexual identity “Colleen’s Story” — & it was her first reading anywhere.

I sometimes see Dan Vollweiler at the open mic at Caffè Lena, today he was here to do a piece about aging in rap rhythm & rhyme “Generation X.” Karen Fabiane began with a poem titled “Cat Blink” which she said was revised from earlier versions she had read out, then one titled “Laughter Herself” (though I’m not quite sure, since she tends to mumble, particularly the titles) an even longer piece that didn’t end when I expected it to. Dave DeVries read an historical poem, “Plains of Abraham” based on his reading about that battle in Quebec in 1759. Mike Conner read 2 of his quiet, descriptive poems, “Open & Closed” about a bar catering to shift workers, then “Coffee Tea & Me.”

Bob Sharkey read his “travelogue” about the sounds, sights, tastes & places of East Latham, NY. Kendall Hoeft’s ecstatic reading about a creature, perhaps bird or fish, was so entrancing I didn’t catch the title, but it was fun. Ed Yetto’s first piece was untitled but could be titled “never give up on a thunderbolt, his second titled simply “Oakwood.” Joel Best read a memoir poem “Summer of 1967,” then one about a relationship “Broken Apart.” Nancy Klepsch has been studying with the Philadelphia poet CA Conrad & read an inspired poem about naming a constellation “Sugar,” then one in sexy computer images about talking to the machine “Siri.”

Linda Bacon’s 2 poems were both short, concise, “I Miss the Man Scent” & “Last Words.” Peggy LeGee read for us another episode of the continuing saga of Moochie the Dumpster Kat about the “Shopping Bag Lady.” This was Jon Matthews 1st time here & he read “$25 & a Single Stemless Glass” & about the cooling of the weather “Autumn Leaves.” V.K. Viktova began with a portrait of an old man “Decay,” then an equally grim tale of death beginning “On the back road…”

The final poet on the sign-up list was also a first-timer, Rod Wilson who read 2 poems with birds, the first about a crow eating a dead animal “Practicing Resurrection” then one titled simply “The Owl.”

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose welcomes all writers, poetry & prose, those we know & love (or sometimes just tolerate), & the new folk we haven’t seen or heard before. You must fit into one of those categories, so join us on the 2nd Sunday of most months at 2:00PM at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy, NY — & it’s always Free!

January 13, 2019

Arthur’s Market Open Mic, January 9


Tonight's host, Alan Catlin
This was the last open mic here at Arthur’s Market in Schenectady. The building has been sold & will undergo extensive renovation, according to news sources. But that didn’t deter us from being there this night & celebrating the written & spoken word. The host for tonight was Schenectady poet Alan Catlin.

I had driven up with Mary Panza riding shotgun & when she went to sign up for the open mic the 1st & 2nd slots were available. Voila! I read 2 new poems, the first a beach/political poem “The Drone” then a short piece I’m titling, for now, “writing.” Mary Panza’s poem was “No One Escapes the Pain of Being a Person,” a lesson we all learn sooner or later. Susan Kress read a piece titled “Age of Innocence” about the all-too-common experience of looking for one’s car in the Mall parking lot. Carol Graser’s sad poem, “I’ll Give You Something,” was about father dying in the hospital. Catherine Norr, founder of this series, began with a poem about her pet cat “January Interlude with George” & ended with one about her niece “7-Year Old Teller of Fortunes.”

The featured reader(s) tonight were all from a local writing group, “All Write Together,” led by Colleen Wygal (who has read here in the open mic in the past); she explained that the common theme, developed in different ways was that of “balance,” & that most of the readers had not read in the open mic before tonight; she began by reading her own poem to start us off.
Shamia used rap-style rhymes in her poem titled “Life or Death.”
Chris (one of the 2 men in the group) read 2 short pieces about putting off abuse, & the need to listen & “unload.”
Sandy had a descriptive poem “In the Market.”
Julia’s poem titled “Tiles” was about a bunch of teen-agers’ game.
Amanda’s poem was about walking through life with love & pain.
Leah had 2 poems, the first about the tug of war of contracts, the next a love poem titled “The Space Between Us.”
Sheila’s poem “When I Wake Up…” were her wishes for after her death.
Michael ended the group reading from his laptop a message to a friend in rhyme.

After a break, our host Alan Catlin read a poem about remembering the protests about the Viet Nam war “After Reading 64 Shots: the Shooting at Kent Sate,” then a poem about how Sharon Olds got bumped from the news by the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Sarah Provost described a vision of “The Angel in Front of the Fountain, “ then “2 Little Pieces About Poetry.” Scott Morehouse cracked us up, as he frequently does, with a faux account of “A Brief History of Arthur’s.” Tommy Holecek was back with “Homage to Cronkite,” “Light House” (a love poem), & “Meteorologic.” Donna Dakota read “Childhood is Grimm” a critical look at “Little Red Riding Hood,” then a portrait of a loving couple, the woman with a cello “The Breath.” It was good to see & hear Caroline Bardwell again, her poem “The Snowy Lean To” a tender, descriptive memoir of young love, then a piece in rhyme “Butterfly Wings.”

Shawna Thompson was here for the 1st time & read a richly descriptive piece wondering about the origin of the name “Queen Anne Lace.” Ginny Folger was also descriptive in her poem “At the Nature Preserve." Jessica Sanders, after quietly listening all night, capped it off with a brief quote from a poem.

& that’s the way it was, for the last open mic at Arthur’s Market. But with all the interest in poetry in Schenectady, I expect that something, if not “Arthur’s Open Mic” then another event/venue, will rise up & give us a night of poetry each month in Schenectady.

Arthur’s is closed, long live poetry.

January 11, 2019

Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic, January 2


We didn’t have to wait long for a poetry open mic once 2019 started what with the Caffè Lena Poetry Open Mic on the first Wednesday of the month (& of the year). Making it even more stupendous were the featured artists, poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski & filmmaker Laura Frare. And how did I end up as #1 on the sign up sheet? When I arrived just before 7:00PM there was a line to get in, which I dutifully went to the back of, but when I got up to the front to pay my $5 the #1 spot was open while 12 or 13 poets had already signed up ???

Our host Carol Graser got us started with a poem titled “New Year’s Eve” (not by her). Then on to the first part of the open mic. I read a new piece “To the consternation…” commenting on an MFA graduate’s book of poems, then one of my old Buddhist haiku. D. Alexander Holiday had a poem whose ink was still wet, ripped from the day’s headlines “Death at Walmart.” Carol Shippstar read a poem about seeing armed soldiers in New York City after returning from Israel, then “Poem About Kate” a homeless person. Todd Fabozzi read 2 poems from his recent self-published book Poems & Antipoems, “Oh Amsterdam” (which he dedicated to Mary Kathryn Jablonski), then one set in a grade school in Amsterdam, NY “Music Lessons.” Alan Catlin read a poem titled “The Graveyard of the Beach Chairs” from his forthcoming book Frightening Toys, then another from Studio Portrait with Bullet Wounds. BK Tuon’s poem was about his daughter “The Kind of Father.”

Poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski & photographer/filmmaker Laura Frare have had some success getting their collaborations of poetry & film out there into the art world, not only online but also in gallery exhibitions, including earning the purchase prize by the University at Albany in the 2018 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region exhibition. Tonight they presented a total of 9 poems, 3 of which were video poems, which I have linked to in the text here. The videos are stunning, usually abstract images, swirling, spinning, or lines of rain coming down, mixed with the poet’s voice reciting the poem, sometimes singing. The effect is ethereal with neither the words nor the images overwhelming the other.

The first video was titled “These Past Few Days of Freezing Rains,” published here at Tupelo Quarterly. This was followed by 2 poems, “Mare Vaporum” from Mary’s 2008 collection To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met (A.P.D., Albany, NY), then “On a Mission” from Trailer Park Quarterly. The next video was “Mare Frigoris” published in Quarterly West, then 2 ekphrastic poems, “Have Ye Been Healed” based on a Van Morrison song, & “The Woodland Path” based on a painting by Asher B. Durand. The final video, “Mare Nubium” published in Atticus Review featured music by Mark Tolstrup, was followed by 2 poems “Heartsease” published in Poetry Ireland Review, & “Octopus Bride.” After which a brief break was welcome, to absorb the feelings from this moving performance.

After the break, it was on to something totally different with a stand-up comic routine from the return of Austen Halpern-Graser. Then back to poetry with Will Keever reading 2 poems recalling days spent out West. Denis Foley introduced himself as an anthropologist & read 2 poems on that theme, “Hiawatha Laments” & another on the Parkland FL & other shootings. Dan Vollweiler’s poem “July 4” was a nod to Langston Hughes, particularly his poem “Let America Be America Again.” Dave DeVries’ poem “Verbatim” was based on a novel about a World War II love affair. Joe Krausman’s poem “The Great Chain of Being” was on the theme of carpe diem, followed by one titled “Gratitude.”

Marcella Hammer’s poem playing on the word (& image) “dick” was about innocently attending a concert where that seemed to be the band’s theme, including flaunting a over-sized double dick — phew! Karen Villesek's poem “Blue Jay” included a hawk, while “The Lesson” was on culture & anthropology (for the 2nd time tonight). Randee Renzi did both her pieces from memory, the first a rant playing off “piece” & “peace,” then “Collaboration” a nod to her favorite hip hop. This was Samuel Weinstein’s first time at Caffè Lena, & he began with a conversation between “Violet & April” about a missed date at a movie, then a love poem in rhyme “A Candle in the Dark.” Phillip Levine made a rare appearance this far North & read what he described as a “prose song” titled “Who Is Language” which to my ear was more philosophical prose than song.

Speaking of “philosophy,” Rodney Parrott read 2 pieces from his first, self-published chapbook, about grad school & religion, &, well, more philosophy. Sean Iacopelli got us back to poetry on the political bent with “Roseanne’s House-Warming Party,” & “What Am I, 2nd Class Citizen?” Julie Lomoe read a prose memoir written yesterday “Garden on New Years Morning.” Our host, Carol Graser, brought it on home with a spirited rant against the Patriarch “Now Is the Time.”

As special as nights at Caffè Lena usually are, tonight’s was extra-special due not only to the rich range of local poets reading in the open mic, but more so because of the featured artists Mary Kathryn Jablonski & Laura Frare. Come back on the 1st Wednesday of each month at 7:30PM to be entertained & surprised — 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY.

January 6, 2019

Third Thursday Poetry Night, December 20


Mary Ann Murray with Sanity Clause
(photo by "Screamer")
My last open mic of 2018 & the annual visit from Sanity Clause, with a featured reading by Mary Ann Murray (shown here on the lap of Sanity Clause). It’s been a bad year for poets with the world & us losing many, so much so I have a long backlog list of muses to get to.  Each year at this time I like to read the late Enid Dame’s “Holiday Poem” but this past year her husband Donald Lev joined her at that Open Mic in the Sky, so I also read one of his poems, making this a night of 2 spectacular Muses to lead us into a new (& better) year.

Alan Catlin began the open mic with the scary tale of a holiday party, not without a touch of humorous satire,“The Conga Line from Hell;” after he read his poem Alan sat on the lap of Sanity Clause & was given a gift of poetry, as did each of the readers this night — but not before Alan himself presented me with a copy of Eileen Myles’ new book of poems, Evolution.

BK made a rare & welcome appearance to read a new poem written just today “Happy Christmas 2018” about the deportation of Cambodian American refugees "boat people" many of whom have never been in Cambodia or even speak the language, the poem was subsequently published in Tuck Magazine onlineTom Bonville (who will be featured here in March 2019) was up next with a poem titled “Christmas Morning,” a tender, descriptive piece about his aged mother. Tom Corrado read “Snow Cone Joe” a memoir of 1961 & Roger Maris, & whiffle ball, & teen-age sex, & rubbers.

Tonight’s featured poet, Mary Ann Murray, was one of the co-editors of the 1994 Open Mic: the Albany Anthology, & was involved in the early days of the Albany poetry scene, wandered away for a while, & now is back in the area.

Her poems are generally short, concise, enigmatic, often seasoned with humor. She began with the poem I had shared on the email reminder of her reading, “A compendium of time,” all of about 30 words. Some of the titles & subjects were “The Generalist” (crows), “Wanted” (a lost dog poster), & Weathered (sea sick on a boat ride). From the 26 years she spent in the San Francisco Bay Area she read a selection of what she had written there, including a screed on the fog “God Help Us,” some grim snapshots of the crowds going to work, in one poem workers like chickens, even a guy in a clown suit dispensing hugs “What It’s Come Down To.” To balance that she read her most recent poem “Beginning at the Beginning” written after moving back East, then on to a couple political pieces, the anti-Trump “State of the Union,” & “I Believe Christine Blasey Ford.” From the political to metapoems (poems about poetry) from a writing group she has been engaged with for 10 years, about poems that are hard to write (“Stuck”), Creaky (“a sad, little poem”) & “Therapy” on rejection letters. She ended with some “sideways poems” that she said don’t always make sense, then brought us back to the night’s “theme” of sharing our light with a poem titled “Candle Power.” I, for one, am so glad this fine poem is back in this community where she started from.

After the break I read a new poem incorporating lines from other poets “Last Weekend in Gloucester.” Jeff Stubits showed up with “a darker poem” titled “Can I Bury You?” inspired by Robert Frost & Charles Bukowski, in his signature breath-less style. Peter Boudreaux came down from the hills to comment & to read his latest creation, also a dark one, on stalking, “Not in Saskatchewan.” Joe Krausman is a frequent participant here & has been regularly on the lap of Sanity Clause, read about sending holiday cards “Season’s Greetings.”

Screamer's Selfie with Sanity Clause
I was so pleased that the poet known as Screamer showed up tonight, not only to read a work-in-progress for her sister, about cancer & spousal abuse, “This Is Not a Christmas Poem,” but also because she was one of the few female readers to sit on the lap of Sanity Clause — & she was also the one who took pictures of Sanity Clause. Also back from brain issues, Julie Lomoe sang for us “The Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year” — indeed. The final reader, Bob Elmendorf, hadn’t been here in ages, & read his poem “After the Harvest” another dark piece for the end of the year.

On into the New Year of 2019, &  I expect the Third Thursday Poetry Night will continue here at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, 7:30PM, your donation helps support poetry events & the work of the SJC. Happy New Year!

January 1, 2019

A Bad Year for Poets: Good Riddance 2018


Recently I saw on TV one of those end-of-year lists of “those we have lost in 2018” — mostly celebrities I didn’t know: “hairdressers” who never did my hair, chefs who never cooked for me, musicians I never listened to, TV “stars” I never watched, names I never even heard before. One can’t know everyone, can one? A few names I knew, among them those I hope are rotting in Hell: Billy Graham, George H.W. Bush, etc.

But I am also sad to mourn true stars like singer & civil rights activist Aretha Franklin — which brings me to the plethora of poets who passed on this year, more than in 2017 it seems, some internationally know, many US poet, but all too many local poets died who had graced the open mics & poetry readings we attend.

Sam Hamill, Split This Rock Poetry Festival, March 2012
Among the international/national poets who died were: Ursula Le Guin, Nicanor Parra, Colette Inez, Lucie Brock-Broido, Sam Hamill, Donald Hall, Tony Hoagland, & Ntozake Shange.

The “local” poets who have gone to that poetry reading in the sky include not only those who lived in the Capital Region, but also poets who have read here, including at the Third Thursday Poetry Night, Poets in the Park, or have other connections to this region, &, of course, some of these are also poets of “national” or “international” repetition. These include:

John Abbuhl, physician & founder of the Pine Hollow Arboretum
Jill Hays, a Vermont poet whom I met at John Montague’s poetry workshop at the Writers Institute
Gerrit Lansing, Gloucester poet who was born in Troy, NY & was a mentor to many young poets
Jackie Sheeler, NYC poet who read at the Third Thursday Poetry Night in February 2011
Anne Marfey, activist & author of Shake Hands Touch Hearts
Paul Pines, whom I first met when he owned the jazz club Tin Palace on the corner of Bowery & 2nd St. NYC, a prolific poet who read at many venues here, & was also the driving force behind the annual Lake George Jazz Weekend

Harry Staley, Cafe Web, 1998
Harry Staley, beloved professor at SUNY Albany, peace activist, & poet
Jay Wenk, World War II veteran, active with Veterans For Peace, read in Poets in the Park, a fixture at open mics in Woodstock
Donald Lev, who, with his wife Enid Dame, published Home Planet News for many years, & was a eminence in the Woodstock/Kingston poetry scene
Jim Flosdorf, poet, photographer & conservationist/naturalist
Brio Burgess, poet, performance artist
Millie DiBlasi, poet, pianist, host of poetry venues such as “Full Moon Poets” at Mother Earth Cafe
Donald Faulkner, former director of the New York State Writers Institute
Ken Denberg, poet, past director of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, & publisher of Snail’s Pace Review

Let’s hope that 2019 will be a little kinder — but then, aren’t we all “Future Dead Poets of America”?

Keep writing.