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.

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