June 30, 2019

Third Thursday Poetry Night, June 20

Surprise! The locks had been changed & we were locked out when I arrived to set up for our monthly open mic. The sad part was that the locks at the Social Justice Center had been vandalized at the beginning of the month just prior to a gathering to discuss the history of the Stonewall Riots as part of Pride Month events. I had not heard about it but found it out about it later this night from the SJC’s Facebook page. Now, as I waited for folks to arrive so I could explain that we were locked out, the owner of the restaurant next door, Lazeez, came out & we talked of the weather & of locks. When there were about 5 or 6 of us gathered he offered to let us have our reading in his downstairs banquet room. Bad things, like the vandalizing of the locks, happen often & are frequently on the 6 o’clock news or in the newspapers, but it has been my experience that good things are happening all the time, usually unnoticed, such as this spontaneous offer to use this space next door. I like to say this is what makes America great!

Once gathered I invoked the Muse, finally not a local gone poet, but one who had left us back in 2017, the Russian poet & activist Irina Ratushinskaya (1954 - 2017), reading section #14 from Beyond the Limit, written in 1983 - 1984 while she was in a labor camp in Russia due to the offense, among many things, of “authorship of poetry, documents in defense of human rights…”

The first open mic poet up (I hadn’t bothered to set up the amp & mic) was Tom Bonville who read “The Trouble with Sleeping the Night” pondering what his neighbors are doing in the middle of the night (while he is up). Joe Krausman read “Limits” about the paradox of having one thing & therefore not another. Doug Holiday read a poem by the new Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, a piece for Audre Lord, “Anchorage.”

John Allen described what he was going to read as “I have no idea where it came from,” a piece titled “For When She Owns the Place,” sounding like a dream love poem. Jessica Rae was on a visit back in Albany, read a political poem based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” titled “Real Free, Happy Hour, the Boys at North Woods Lodge” playing on “democracy.” I read my reaction to one of the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s concerts during their recent American Music Festival series “Argus String Quartet.”

Tonight’s featured poet, Richard Levine, was non-plussed by the odd turn of events here, but did modify his planned reading as the moment moved him, or so he said. He began with a poem about weeding in his garden “Believe This” hearing the birds say that. “Field Bandage” was a grim poem from his service in Viet Nam, as was “Yankee Street” about returning home from service, both from his early book A Language Full of Wars and Songs; another such poem, one of my favorites that he read, was “Graceland,” from Contiguous States (Finishing Line Press, 2018) about seeing a buddy from Viet Nam, he thinks, at Elvis’ house. “At our Door” is an eco-poem pondering what lies before us, while “Epiphany” celebrates the ordinariness in our lives. A poem for a fellow teacher, “Picket Fences,” explores the racism we still find around us; “Late Hour” is from a father’s perspective, waiting for a teenager to come home. He ended with a mix of nostalgia & thoughts on aging (aren’t they the same thing?) “Girls Dream of Toads, Too.” Richard Levine’s most recent book is his Selected Poems (FurtureCycle Press, 2019) which brings together poems from 5 poetry books, a good way to get a sense of the range of his poetic work.

We hope to return to the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY next third Thursday, but are ever so grateful for our friends at Lazeez, 35 Central Ave. for giving us a place for our reading tonight. Please support the people who support us.

June 25, 2019

Brass Tacks, June 18

Another in the continuing series of open mics at The Low Beat in Albany, NY. Tonight’s guest host was Albany rocker Nick Bisanz, who got us off to an appropriate start with a reading of the lyrics of The Cars’ song “Touch & Go” by Ric Ocasek. Then on to those who had signed up for the open mic.

Reed has become a regular here, as he also attends the comedy open mic on the other Tuesdays (so I’ve been told); tonight he rambled on about the/many Harry Potter movie/s, trying to recall what happened while wanderings into many divagations. Zahim Mowin followed in a similar tack talking about films in the Friday film series, reciting memorized scenes, but not mentioning the title (or titles) of the film(s) (I think he also signs up for the comedy night so be warned). 

Brett Petersen can be just as meandering but his drifting is more from the Surrealist tradition of automatic writing & as such has more a semblance of art; his first piece was in that vein & titled “Comintell,” while his his second poem had one of those long, un-transcribable titles that could be poem in itself, & ended up as as the last line, “Gallons of Cyanide Poured On the Head Of …”

Shane Nanson (another regular at The Low Beat) read a couple pieces like jottings from his therapy session's  notebooks, then a wide-ranging meditation on poems & rhyming with excursions into The Iliad, The Odyssey & Haiku. Christa (another favorite here & elsewhere) confused me by describing her rhyming poem as a “sestina,” & it might have been but I couldn’t pick up the repeating end words & the rhyming lines seemed to be be very short, it wasn’t titled but played off the phrase “I’m not there…”

Speaking of Surrealists, I read a poem that was a reaction to a meeting at work, & a play on Andre Breton’s description of “The Simplest Surrealist Act,” then the more randy “Reading Mary Oliver While Masturbating."  Alyssa Michelle is a welcome regular here & read 2 poems, the first from memory “Solitude Thoughts,” then one I’ve heard before — & like — “The Other Side of the Bed.”

One of the night’s surprises was the return to Albany, briefly alas, Jessica Rae, who apparently has been working on her craft, her first poem about her 23-year old self & based on her 10 favorite words, then a piece about an audition “Anywhere Else,” & ended with a poem about a dream of growth away from anxiety, the title the name of a plant.

This open mic continues each 1st & 3rd Tuesday at The Low Beat on Central Ave. in Albany, 7:30PM -- you may get more laughs for this event than on "comedy night."

June 24, 2019

Megaphone, June 15

I was pleased to have been invited to read with William Seaton in this monthly series at the Seligmann Center in Sugar Loaf, NY. The Saturday poetry series is coordinated by poet Janet Hamill.

The Seligmann Center is an art center located on the 50-acre rural homestead of Swiss-American Surrealist painter Kurt Seligmann (1900-1962) and his wife Arlette (Wildenstein Paraf) Seligmann (1906-1992). The Seligmann Center is committed to celebrating the artistic and intellectual legacy of Kurt Seligmann, honoring the history of its site, and presenting contemporary work by emerging and established artists.

Given that I was reading on the homestead of an international Surrealist, & that I was reading with William Seaton, one of who’s books is Dada Poetry: An Introduction (Nirala Publications, 2013), I started with a couple poems in a more “experimental” mode than my usual snarky rants, “Saturday Hawk” & the multi-lingual “Kadinsky’s Red Spot” that includes a translation into Russian by Inna Erlikh. Then on to playful pieces from Poeming the Prompt (A.P.D., 2011) “Poeming” & “The Lesson,” from the chapbook Baseball Poems (A.P.D., 2019) “The Cardinal,” & my tribute to poets Harry Staley & Paul Pines “Reading Dead Poets Listening to Live Jazz.” I ended with a political poem “Books Not Bombs.”

William Seaton set the tone for his reading with a quote from that great American philosopher, Walt Kelly, the creator of the comic strip Pogo, then on to some playful rhymes & wordplay, & descriptions such as “Cabbage,” “Grape Leaves,” “Watermelon,” & a poem in which he wonders if he is just a video game. Others were “though experiments” such as one titled “Time’s Arrow” where he considers Time going backwards. He moved on to a series of travel pieces, beginning with prose portraits of people he had met along the way, then a poem listing the things done titled “A Vision of the Invisible,” others, such as “Bullfight,” & “The Clock of d’Avignon.” A poem from “long ago, a snapshot” was titled “Golden Park Through a Telescope Forged on an Anvil of Ease,” & ended with the last paragraph of an essay on what poetry is good for, with the image of Orpheus as a detective in a film noir.

It was great fun to read with William Seaton & to find out about this venue, & about the work & legacy of Kurt Seligmann. Note that there is no poetry programming here in July & August, with the next Megaphone poetry event on Saturday September 21 with poets Robert Milby & Howard Horowitz, & an open mic.

June 20, 2019

Literary Legends, Parts 1 & 2

The Albany Public Library Foundation has named me, novelist Peter Golden & poet Lyn Lifshin’s as their Literary Legends for 2019. The major event will be the annual gala on October 19 with food, drinks, music, but in the meantime the Foundation held some more modest events to introduce us to the public.

Photo by Jessica Wilcox
On May 30 Peter Golden & I gathered with a roomful of friends to give brief readings & talk about our work, answer questions, even debate the character & legacy of Richard Nixon, MFA programs & professor-poets who only show up at readings when they were paid. The discussion was moderated by Albany Public Library Foundation Director Lex Bhagat.

Lyn Lifshin, who has a house in Niskayuna but spends much of her time at her home in Virginia, was unable to attend the May event, so separate events to celebrate her were scheduled in June with Lyn in attendance. The first being on June 13 at the Opalka Gallery in Albany with a screening of the 1987 film my Mary Ann Lynch, Not Made of Glass. The film takes you inside Lyn’s home, her archives — vast even then — & includes interview & readings. Prior to the showing the film, there was a Skype phone call from poet Arielle Greenberg in Maine, who read Lyn’s well-known poem “Hair.” I had originally seen the film in October 1989 at the Albany rock club QE2 where Tom Nattell ran poetry readings; both Lyn & Mary Ann Lynch the filmmaker were in attendance.

Lex Bhagat
The following evening,  June 14, there was a reading of Lyn Lifshin’s poems by local poets. Again, Lex Bhagat did the general introduction, & I served as host of the reading. Many of Lyn’s friends from the area were there to greet her & celebrate her role as Literary Legend. Joe Krausman read a poem by Lyn titled “The Hanukah Bush” that had appeared in a journal that included one of Joe’s poems as well. Likewise, I read Lyn’s poems “Bloody in the Light” & “At That Last Spinning Moment” that had apppeared in the only issue of a mimeographed zine called The Old Woman from 1967 (by best guess) that also included a couple of my poems.

Mary Panza read from Lyn’s 1987 book Raw Opals “The Next Door Neighbor is Moving” & “For Three Days Things Kept Changing.” Lex Bhagat read from the Black Sparrow Press Selected Poems 1970 - 1996 Cold Comfort (1997) from the section on war titled “And These Bones Do Blossom” the poems “It Was Like Wintergreen” & “Treblinka.” Sally Rhoades read from the 1991 Before It’s Light, beginning with “That August 24th;” then commenting that she wanted to read one of Lyn’s longer poems, dove into the long, pornographic “Jackie O Reads the Story of O Again,” then left us with the much shorter, calmer “It Goes On.” Lyn didn’t read, but did take questions about her current work, the fate of her archives, & others.

Back in the earlier days of the start of the poetry scene at the QE2, organizer Tom Nattell booked a program that included Lyn Lifshin, Joe Bruchac & Ed Sanders in March, 1988. Later that year, in July, Lyn read with the poet Ione, & I’ve already mentioned the screening of Not Made of Glass in 1989. Tom also included Lyn in the Poets in the Park series in July 1998 reading with Laura Boss. I also saw her read in July 2006 at Caffè Lena reading her poems about the race horse Ruffian.

The Albany Public Library Foundation provides critical financial support to the Albany Public Library in order to help the Library provide education, literacy, career development, cultural enrichment and lifelong learning.  Visit their website for more information.

June 19, 2019

2nd Wednesday Open Mic, June 12

This is the series in Schenectady that was formerly at Arthur’s Market, now at a storefront on State St. known as C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, & this was the first time I had been able to get here. It is being coordinated now by poet Jackie Craven. To start us off, Dave, who runs the space & makes it available for us poets every 2nd Wednesday, sang & played one of his unique homemade guitars that use old license plates as a reverberator, a funny piece (his 1st!) titled “Is This How You Write A Song?” Then on to the poets.

Jackie Crave, Host
I hadn’t seen Margaret Bryant in some time & so it was good to hear her read again, tonight from her 2010 chapbook Aligning Stems the poem “Ivonne” a touching tale of a child immigrant from Cuba. David Walsh’s short pieces included “Draft #8” about writing a poem. Edwin Litts read a pair of somewhat prosaic pieces, the descriptive “A Few Couples,” & a pondering of what it would be like to live in “Oh that Prohibition Era.”

Scott Morehouse read a piece about Dorian, a mannikin he lives with that is dressed in his clothes, appropriately enough titled “Probably More Than You Want to Know.” I was somewhat in that same vein & read my poem “Reading Mary Oliver while Masturbating.” Malcolm Willison calmed us down with a descriptive piece about the Saratoga County “Scotch Church Cemetery.” Susan Jewell read one of her entries in the Rattle ekphrastic poetry assignments, her poem titled “Mother 1952” with a nod towards the poet Elizabeth Bishop.

Poets in the Dugout: Ungar, DeBritz, Kress & Neustadt
Tonight’s featured reading was by 5 poets who wrote together in a class/workshop run by one of the night’s readers, Barbara Louise Ungar, as part of her series “Poetry One, Two, Three.” This one on the theme(s) of “Questions, Curses, Blessings & Invectives.” Barbara began the first segment on questions with the first poem from her first book, a series of questions. Jackie Craven followed with questions about the functioning of the microwave, while Stacy DeBritz’s questions were about planning a party for “March Madness.” Susan Kress’ “FAQs Frequently Asked” was just that, & Leslie Neustadt read “Things You Know About Taking Care of Maya” her granddaughter.

For the curse poem, Barbara read an eco-poem with a very long title that began “Curse You Donald Trump...” Jackie read “Dear House” cursing the nests of vermin & parasites. Stacy’s poem “Our Lady of Guadaloupe” was in the voice of a sponge in the sink. Susan said her poem “Sticks & Stones” was more of an insult poem. Leslie read “Curses for Dummies.”

Blessings are apparently hard to write as some of the poems veered into invective, such as Barbara’s “Daphne at the Dodge Poetry Festival” about lusting after a famous (now dead) poet, & Susan’s poem about a woodpecker on her house (but in the end was a blessing). Jackie reached back in her memory to write “For Room 329.” Stacy wrote about a funeral mass of a prominent politician & non-Catholics taking communion. While Leslie rose to the occasion with a political piece inspired by her research about the #MeToo movement “Praise Be the #.”

It all made for a wonderfully varied, engaging & thought-provoking reading.

This series will continue each 2nd Wednesday of the month at C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, 137 State St., Schenectady, 7:30PM, with a featured poet (or more) & an open mic. Your contribution (& purchase of coffee) supports the work of the venue, which includes making the space available to poets.

June 16, 2019

2nd Sunday @ 2: Poetry + Prose, June 9

The final gathering here at the Arts Center this season, the end of our 9th year! A small dedicated cadre of poets on this beautiful June day.

My co-host Nancy Klepsch started us off with a brand-new piece written yesterday inspired by Georgia O’Keefe, “I Believe It Was June Before I Needed Blue,” then her animated poem “My Clit Poem” in which it speaks to her.

Michelle Arthur returned to read a couple poems about being with the performer Henry Rollins back stage, “Notes on the Alien Nation,” & “Parlor Games.”

Dave DeVries talked about a fascination with horses & read about the Dutch breed “The Fabulous Friesians,” then a poem titled simply “Regret.”

Bob Sharkey read from his ongoing prose saga about the cop/spy Slocum Meeney the episodes “White Flower” & “Hight Desert.” Then I read a couple poems, & the season was over & we are off for the Summer.

But join us on the 2nd Sunday of September (the 8th) at 2PM at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy, NY for the start of our 10th season — Free!

Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest Reading, June 8, 2019

Bob Sharkey
This was the 4th Annual Contest & reading from this best-poetry-contest-in-the-world.  I was pleased to be one of the Honorable Mentions again this year, & more pleased to be in the company of such great poets & poems. The contest is run by Bob Sharkey, who was the host of the reading this day at the Colonie Town Library. Bob said there were 405 entries, 145 from outside the USA, 18 from Nigeria among whom 5 were finalists.

As a way to invoke the Muse, Bob asked me to read my poem “Reading Dead Poets Listening to Live Jazz” that pays tribute to the gone poets Paul Pines & Harry Staley.

Richard Foerster
Four of the top winners were here to read their poems, Ken Holland, 1st Prize for “Habana;” Caroline Bardwell, 2nd Prize for “The Snowy Lean-To;” Mary Kathryn Jablonski, 3rd Prize for “On a Mission:” & Richard Foerster, from Eliot, Maine for “Double Going.” Other top prizes included the “International Award” which went to a high school student from Nigeria, Ikeonyia Mercy for “Self narration would kill the black women street code,” & the “Editor’s Choice” which went to Elena Croitoru from Kent, UK for “The Road to School No. 10.” Bob read both of their poems.

Besides myself, there were a number of Honorable Mentions & the poets to read them. Dan Curley, “The Night Tristan Jumped into Our Pool;” Annie Christain, “Heaven is a Soundstage Built to Make Drugged Soldiers More Fearless;” Elizabeth Zerbst, “Flower Hill;” & Mary Cuffe Perez, “Five Minutes of Poetry.” Three of the Honorable Mentions were represented by audio recordings of the poets reading their poems, “Flight Plan” by Jen Karetnick; “We Have Our Songs” by Maroula Blades; & “With An Army At Our Gates” by W. Luther Jett.

Susan Kress
There was also a category of Commended Poems. The poets present to read were Karen Fabiane, “Collars & Cuffs;” Thomas Bonville, “The Smoke;” & Danielle Colin, “Broke just like that.” Other Finalists who read were Roberta Gould, “Longevity: A Scientific Perspective;” Mimi Moriarty, “In the Dark;” Susan Kress, “Call Back;” & I had the distinct honor of being asked to read Howard Kogan’s “Imagination” with it’s fitting final line, “You say, Please, enough is enough! And the poem ends."

Keep your eye out for the announcement later this year about the 2020 contest & enter -- one poem, any style, any length, published or unpublished, & it's free to enter.

June 11, 2019

Time & Space Limited - Gretchen Primack & Randall Horton, June 7

Time & Space Limited is a not-for-profit arts organization serving the City of Hudson & the Hudson River Valley Region with original theater productions and performances, music, art exhibitions, multi-media productions, independent and documentary films, Live HD Simulcasts, youth projects, and special events. Might I also add poetry readings, which brought me there this night. The poetry events are coordinated by poet Karen Schoemer, who also manages the mini bookstore in the cafe space.

Gretchen Primack read exclusively from her new book of poems Visiting Days (Willow Books, 2019) which she described as mostly persona poems in dramatic monologues by imagined characters set in an imaginary prison, but based on her own experience of teaching in New York State Prisons. The poems are short, only a few spilling over to a 2nd page. While “imagined” the stories & the characters are all too real & have their sources in the lives of real men (& women - a couple poems she read were about women visiting the incarcerated).

Randall Horton, who knows from personal experience what it is to be incarcerated, served as editor for Gretchen’s book. He studied at UAlbany, was once featured in Poets in the Park, & has read in the NYS Writers Institute series. His books include The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag, 2006), The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (Main Street Rag, 2009), others, including Hook: A Memoir (Augury Books, 2015). Tonight he read from 3 sections of a new manuscript “#289128 Property of the State,” of the Department of Corrections, Maryland. The pieces were a cascade of the language of incarceration, often like notes in broken phrases, riffing off other writers who had been incarcerated, such as the late South African writer/activist Dennis Brutus, made all the more poignant based on his having been there.

The reading was followed by a short Q&A, which Randall characterized as “approaching the same topic from a different point of view.”

It was an intense, moving & eye-opening reading from both poets. I don’t know what other readings are being planned in this important art space, but I hope there are others in the future as a venue to draw in poets & others who love good writing. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.

June 10, 2019

Gloucester Writers Center - Open Mic, June 3

I hadn’t been back to Cape Ann since my residency at the Gloucester Writers Center in February so I took a break from my schedule in Albany to come over for a few days & timed it so I could go to the monthly open mic at the GWC. As always, it was a varied mix of genres & styles from the mostly aging writers in this active writers community. The host/MC was Amanda Cook, with a timer (!) & her ukulele as the alarm — it’s subtle & it works.

I read a couple poems from my Scissortail chapbook Baseball Poems (A.P.D., 2019), here in the room where I spent a week in February. Virginia McKinnin writes about the World War II generation in the veterans’ writers project, tonight read a piece about her husband & the invasion of Saipan “One Sailor’s Story.”

A wonderful surprise was author Stacie Madin from Ohio who said she was writing a young adult novel about a young woman & her mother set in Rocky Neck — except the author had never been here to Rocky Neck, had only researched it online & decided to visit; when she found out about tonight’s open mic she extended her visit; she read from the beginning of the novel & made lots of friends in the audience.

Joe Mezio began with a quote from the writer Edward Hoagland then read a personal essay weaving together the politics of the 1960s & the current “disharmony.” Shep Abbon read from a chapbook a piece on 9/11, then a blues song read as a poem, & “a little ditty” titled “A Gloucester Legend” his take on the story of James Merry. Lise Breen said that this was her 2nd time at an open mic, read an historical account about illegal slave trade on Cape Ann 1841. Our host & time-keeper Amanda Cook read “A Pastoral Letter” which was her reactions to Charles Olson’s Maximus letters, containing her personal recollections & family history.

Don Kipp read a cluster of little pieces, mostly by him but a few by others: the metaphorical “A Worm,” a piece on Annisquam, “Fears,” “Water Song,” including Langston Hughes. Mary Ellen LaBianca began with a poem about a daughter leaving home “Women at the Bus,” then “At Giza the Sphinx,” & “Conversation Overheard in the Next Yard over a Very Tall Fence.” Bob Guttman concluded the night with “Memorial Weekend Salute…” referencing veteran writers, & suicides.

The Gloucester Writers Center sponsors this monthly open mic on the 1st Monday of the month at 126 East Main St., Gloucester, MA at 7:30PM. For information about the GWC, its program, & to donate visit their website.