July 22, 2019

Getting Down to Brass Tacks — 1 Year Anniversary, July 16

What a fabulous way to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of this open mic & reading series at The Low Beat with a packed house. Thom Francis el presidente was exhilarated with the poets from near & far who came here tonight. There were 3 featured poets on tour from the mid-west, & 18 signed up on the (wide) open mic list.

Alan Catlin read a couple pieces from his 2003 book from Staplegun Press The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre, one was titled “Son of a Hack.” Shawn Hopkins must’ve thought this was comedy night but his routine was more manic than funny. BK, on the other hand, read a moving piece just written this morning on being an immigrant & on Trump’s raids titled “Love It or Leave It.” Cheryl A. Rice’s poem was a memoir of the Moon landing, the anniversary barely a week away.

Zakim also thought it was comedy night & did a ramble through the movie Remember the Titans (can’t say that I do). Algorhythm, rather than read his own work, read William Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper.” Reed’s manic performance was about something called “The Amanda Show” that I have never saw. D. Alexander Holiday brought us back to the texts & politics with a poem by Assata Shakur about the power of the grass growing in the prison yard, then one of his own poems based on a passage from Toni Morrison “Oh My People.”

Poet Rebecca Schumejda served as the MC for the 3 featured poets, the first being Margaret Crocker. She read a bunch of poems (9 by my count) from her recent book When I Was A Girl Like Me (Margaret Bazzell-Crocker) ( Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), many filled with precision anger as a woman, like “Wrench,” often with long titles, such as “Age (or) What The Hell Do I Write About Now - As Told Through The Weekend Binge,” about growing up poor. She also writes about working in the mental heath system (“A Barren Tree with a Dried Sparrow’s Nest Near a Desolate Soup of Strange Biology”), & in a prison.  Each of the poets, of course, had books to sell; I had to make a choice & bought When I Was A Girl Like Me.

She was followed by her husband, Dan Crocker, who read from his latest book Leadwood: New and Selected Poems, 1998 - 2018 (Stubborn Mule Press, 2018), & from Shit House Rat (Spartan Press, 2017), including “Elton & George” & a Ginsberg pastiche “All Hell Wallmart.” His poems depend heavily on storytelling, making them accessible, such as “My Mother Calls,” “Dreams of My Siblings,” “Hulkster” (from the point of view of Hulk Hogan), & “The Barryman Hood.” A major theme was mental disorders, such as one to his wife Margaret “I Married a Sling Blade” a reference to the psycho movie, not the tool, & an exploration of Sesame Street characters as images of different mental disorders.

The final, & longest, feature reader was John Dorsey of the famous “Beards,” a loose fraternity of poets some of whom their greatest achievement is their beard (obviously no “girls” allowed). He began with a piece titled “Christmas Cookies” about his great-grandmother, then quickly on to poems that all sounded like true stories, “Getting Lucky,” “The Ballad of PegLeg & Double Stump,” even a poem about his local pool hall that named a sandwich after him. He read a couple poems from a series about women in Missouri named Tammy, & others about other women, “Where the Prom Queen Ends Up” (at a truck stop), & “Rosalia Ain’t Dead Yet” based on a bumper sticker. His ending piece was a eulogy to the owner of a noodle shop “Sam Ryan is in Noodle Heaven.” Unfortunately he rarely varied his reading style, so it was like the same tune with different words, the tune was shouting with his voice falling at the end of lines, like a parody of the oft-noted style of academic poets.

Thom Francis brought us back to the open mic with a poem to his mother “I Want to Go Home,” then another about growing up working class “Tar Walls.” Shane’s quiet reading was a relief after Dorsey’s shouts, read a piece titled “Waiting & Wasting” (or was it the first line?), some automatic writing on the nature of his feelings, & some observations about being in Holland. James Duncan read what he called “2 road poems” one for the next poet on the open mic list “A Man of Himself,” then the meditative “The Grass & Dandelions & Me.”

P. Lester Allen was the poet Duncan was referring to, read his poem to poets, “I’d Follow James Wright into Battle.” Unbelievable as it may seem, this was the first time Don Levy has come to this open mic since it began a year ago; he read a characteristic piece combining pop culture & social commentary titled “I Heard the Black Mermaid Singing.” I had given Don a ride to The Low Beat tonight & began by reading my day’s Love Horoscope which said “… your date this evening defies all your expectations, & is decidedly unique, original, & completely different from anything you had expected,” which sounds like Don, then for the poets here tonight I read my poem “Trailer Park.”

Tanya is only in town briefly but found her way here & read 2 touching poems about her daughter’s struggle with mental disorders, “The Cost of Pride” & “Being a Hero is Genetic I Inherited It from My Daughter.” Brett Petersen read an intricate piece of automatic writing perhaps titled “Truth Boneless in Misery’s Corner Store.” I missed the title of Matt Galletta’s first poem, but his second was titled “Must be Nice” & was about a man on a plane seeing a cross in the sky. Michael Lawrence read from his phone “a quick monologue” about nasty relations with a woman. & that was that.

Quite a cap to the year & a great way to start the next. Getting Down to Brass Tacks happens each 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month, at 7:30PM at The Low Beat, 335 Central Ave., Albany, NY, always an open mic, sometimes features, always poetry (& whatever else happens).

July 20, 2019

Poets in the Park — 30th Anniversary Edition, July 13

Poets in the Park can be dated back to a poetry series the late Tom Nattell called “Community Poets/Public Verse” & a string of readings in Albany parks in 1989, the last of which was held at the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park on the night of a Full Moon eclipse, August 16. There were 5 featured poets, Lyn Lifshin, Sarah Davenport, Amy Halloran, Tony Burroughs, G.E. Schwartz & me, plus an open mic. Tom liked the site for poetry readings so much that the following year he began an annual event here. In the Fall of 2004 he asked me to continue the series & Tom died in January 2005. Here we are 30 years later.

This night was the first of this season’s 3 readings in the Park, & it was lovely evening to sit at the feet of Robert Burns & listen to poetry. Our readers, Guy Reed & Cheryl A. Rice have a new, collaborative book out, Until The Words Came (Post Traumatic Press, 2019).

Guy Reed began with a couple poems from his 1st book, The Effort to Hold Light (Finishing Line Press, 2011) “Community” making up names for the fireworks, & “Blue Conveyance.” He explained that Until The Words Came originated from a reading he & Cheryl did & they liked the way the poems played off each others. From the book he read, “Oh But it Does” “Why I don’t write Like Frank O’Hara,” “Revision” from a dream, & “Poet at the Convenience Store” abut the late John Ashbery. Then from “manuscripts waiting to become books” (as he described it), “Taking Flight” (dragonflies) “Ghost”, & ended with “Prayer” walking in a meadow at dawn.

Cheryl A. Rice responded to Guy’s first poem with her own “Fireworks” from one of her homemade Flying Monkey Production chapbooks, as was “Hay Run” about Long Islanders trucking hay from “upstate.” From Until The Words Came she read the the title poem, then “Paul Newman at the Dodge.” Poems from other chapbooks were “Finding Orion”, & “Morning Prayers” with the message to work for it don’t pray for it. She finished off with 3 more poems, these about poets, from Until the Words Came: “Ed Hirsch in the Congo,” “Donald at Boughton Place” (poet Donald Lev), & “Taking Off Billy Collins’ Clothes.”

Visit the website PostTraumaticPress.com for more information about Until The Words Came. Poets in the Park continues on July 20 & July 27, 2019 — free, just like the Park itself.

July 18, 2019

KNOW Readings Present Pierre Joris, July 13

I frequently have other things to do, other places to be on Saturdays when then this series is held each month, but I made sure I was at the Excelsior Pub in Albany this Saturday to hear Pierre Joris. The publicity says it starts at 1:30PM, but then I must believe in the Easter Bunny because all the St. Rocco series readings don’t start until at least a half-hour after the announced time. In fact, this day the host Douglas Rothschild didn’t set up the mic & amp until after 2:00PM, then rambled on about tennis scoring, TV as the origin of the “flashback,” & the flashbacks of Homer.  There were a dozen or so in the audience, waiting, drinking beer.  Then at about 2:30 Doug introduced Pierre.

But once it started it was a pleasant ramble as it often is at Pierre’s readings. He began reading the last poem he had typed up this morning, perhaps another cormorant poem, or notes leading to one, & on to new translations of Celan, then a series of Haiku, where Robert Kelly popped up for the first time in thoughts on Purgatory (later there was an older piece for Kelly from 1976 & another for his birthday). Pierre’s new poems are in those black, snap-spring binders that were once so de rigueur for any serious poet. He remarked that he has been translating the poems of Paul Celan (1920 - 1970) for 51 years, & is now working on a new translation, from which he gave us a sample of 5 poems.

We took a break. There is an excellent selection of craft beers to make the poetry go down. Then back to the reading.

The Excelsior Pub is just down the street, a very short walk, from where Pierre & Nicole Peyrafitte lived for years on Madison Place while he taught at UAlbany, so he read “52°, back porch” written there & included in his 1999 collection h.j.r. (OtherWind Press), then read the last poem in the collection, a love poem to Nicole. Back to the spring binder he read a long poetic memoir/meditation titled “Iceberg Meets Kingfisher” on his writing, & birds, & cormorants again. He tried a little magic from an issue of Barzakh to keep the hurricane away from NOLA, then ended with more cormorant poems in both English & translations into French by Nicole, as well as a painting of a cormorant by Nicole from The Book of U/Le Livre des cormorants (Editions Simoncini, Luxembourg, 2017).

This is an odd series that showcases the work of one writer in a reading that lasts one hour, which Pierre Joris was able to do holding our attention & interest to the end. But there are few writers I want (or am able) to hear read for a full hour, including myself. In fact I’ve heard many read for 20 minute features that have seemed like they read for an hour; I wonder if that counts? KNOW seems to occur on the 2nd Saturday, definitely at the Excelsior Pub, corner of Philip St. & Madison Ave., & the listings say “1:30PM” but don’t believe it.

July 17, 2019

2nd Wednesday Poetry Night, July 10

Back once again to Schenectady, I discovered a new brewpub across the street, Frog Alley, but it is not yet selling food. It will be a handy place to visit, before or after the open mic, once their kitchen is set up.

Jackie Craven is the host for this monthly open mic at C.R.E.A.T.E. on State St. She read a poem to start us off by Michael T. Young, “Advice from a Bat” published on Verse Daily. Marilyn Day read a poem titled “Ghosts” honoring her aunt & uncle, then a poem with a political bent, “Goddess Bless America…” Lin Murphy read 2 travel poems, one about an adventure on a river in Costa Rica, the other a description of Budapest.

Kelly De La Rocha’s poem “Ode to Peonies” was about the comfort found by the flowers as someone who moves around a lot. Ron Tersigni read a humorous piece, “Rhyme Ain’t Good” in rhyme, of course. Alan Catlin read poems about his parents, “Sorting Family Photos,” for his father, & “South Sea Tale” which he said he has never read before about being 5-years old & witnessing his mother’s breakdown in St. Thomas.

Jackie read the bios for both featured poets, & Leslie Neustadt, who had been in the group featured reading here last month, read first. She began with the title poem, “Bearing Fruit,” from her 2014 book from Spirit Wind Books, then on to another in the book, “Unspeakable.” A more recent poem was “Dear Mommy,” then the sad poem “Yahrzeit for Segalit,” about her infant daughter who was denied a Jewish ritual because she did not live 30 days. A couple poems were from workshops, “Soldier for a Lost Cause” & “I’m a Blankety Blank Poet” (an amusing performance piece). Also, “Incurable” on her cancer & a Nature poem “The Sustenance of Stars.” Returning to her book she read a poem on making collage “Piece by Piece,” then closed with an example of that with the poem “Poet’s Prayer” done up in a collaged accordion book. It was a typically colorful & engaging reading.

Following Leslie, Judith Prest began with a poem also titled “Poet’s Prayer” from her recent book After (Finishing Line Press, 2019), on to others from the book, the title poems “After,” “Wildwoman, Closing in on 62, Takes Stock,” & “Witness.” From her 2011 book Late Day Light she read the moving “Immigration Clinic, Juarez, December 1989.” Other poems included “Migrant Dreams,” “What I Want” (& improvised the last page when she realized it was missing), “Moon,” & “Adirondack Twilight.” For her final poem, “Survivor,” she returned to After. Judith’s poems were lyrical & self-affirming.

After a break, Jackie Craven returned us to the open mic & read her pleasantly surrealistic piece “Cyborg Sister.” & speaking of Surrealism, Edwin Litts read a piece titled “Handsome Man” a strangely thought-provoking description of a man at a bus stop, imaging his life — but what is the bakery doing there? Ginny Folger read her newest poem about thinking about all the ways there are to die, then an older piece that has just been published, “Summer, Maine 1968.” I just happened to have with me an old poem (so old the copy was printed on a dot-matrix printer) from a series I wrote about ways of dying, “Tape Recording of a Man Jumping Off a 12 Story Building,” then the much more pleasant poem “The Day God Invented Wine.”

Susan Jewell read another of her poems written for the Rattle Magazine ekphrastic project, this one a villanelle titled “Gated Community Under Construction,” then a poem in the style of Alan Catlin’s bar poems “Why Don’t You Shoot Someone on Fifth Avenue and See What Happens.” Greg Wilder, who signs up a “Slay, the Dragon,” began with a poem based on the movie A Quiet Passion a humorous & playful poem about making love with Emily Dickinson, then another playful piece, a mashup of Instagram & Vincent Van Gogh, “Felt Cute, Cute off My Ear & Gave it to a Prostitute.”

What a night of ups & downs, & even some sideways, what often happens at open mics. This series, formerly at Arthur’s Market, is now at the C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, a store-front at 137 State St., Schenectady each 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7:30PM, your donation helps support the venue.

July 13, 2019

Book Launch/Signing, July 8

This was the official book launch for Kathleen McCoy’s book of poems, Ringing the Changes, just out from Finishing Line Press. I have written about this book previously when Kathie did a pre-publication reading in March. Tonight’s reading was at the Lower Adirondack Regional Art Center in Glens Falls, with copies of the book, bright & shining, for sale. The room was filled with colleagues from SUNY Adirondack & the wider North Country, poetry community, as well as her broad circle of friends & relations.

The poems in the book are organized in 4 sections, the first, “Dreams & Meditations,” a general category, with the remaining sections relating to liturgical seasons, Advent, Lent/Pashch/Passover, & Ordinary Time. She described her book as “a storied collection” with poems originally written for church, others pulled from drawers & notebooks.

She began with one of my favorites in the book “In dreams’ liminal land” with it’s stunning conclusion
                                                                           … so all
           that’s left when these kaleidoscopic dreams resolve
           is to enter their shadows and spin.

Others from the first section of the book were, “Little Buddha” (trying to save a Ladybug), “Learning to Pray,” & “Read My Lines” acknowledging her women writing companions.

Then on to poems with the Biblical connections, “Dreaming of Jesus” (dreams are a major theme throughout the book), “The Sixth Sign,” “Cleaning Heart,” & the title poem “Ringing the Changes” (as Kathie said, “what I’ve learned about bells”).  While the poems frequently have an epigraph from either the Old or the New Testament, they are not "religious poems" in the sense of expressing commonplace religious sentiments, but truly spiritual documents that reach across religious traditions to address the deep issues of compassion & inner inner growth that lie at the heart of all spiritual teachings.

The questions period that followed was more like a group discussion among friends, relaxed, funny conversations, even a request for one more poem, “Larval Dream.”

I’ve enjoyed this book very much, & as a student of spiritual texts in all traditions, expect to return to it again & again.

Kathleen McCoy will be reading at the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany on October 17, 2019, 7:30PM.

July 4, 2019

Brass Tacks, July 2

This was almost the 1-year anniversary of this open mic series organized by AlbanyPoets.com, with el presidente Thom Francis presiding as host/MC. It was an all-guy lineup, in fact we were the only customers in The Low Beat tonight.

Nick Bisanz, who was the host the last time we were here, was first on the (mental) list Thom had prepared, with what he called “an airing of grievances” against recent bio-pics, & related a true story about Lou Reed heard from the lips of Billy Name; then he read the lyrics of the Roger Taylor (of Queen) “Air Heads.”

Shane, who has become a regular at this event as well as others held here at The Low Beat, read a series of short pieces from the pages of his notebook, starting with a tribute to a steak from cattle raised on his family farm, then some memories of better times, love, & the blowing of a cold wind.

I brought up the rear, beginning with an old poem from the vault “Ricard Speck” (a mass murderer from another era), “My Lucky Hat,” & a couple of short haiku-like pieces I am calling “Shards.”

Thom said that the open mic was 16 minutes & 40 seconds -- that's shorter than the readings of many featured poets, even some open mic poets who get carried away (not mentioning any names).

But come back to The Low Beat on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of each month for the open mic, sometimes with featured poets, 7:30PM. Details at AlbanyPoets.com.

Poets Speak Loud!, June 24

This monthly series was back, with the force of Mary Panza as the host, in McGeary’s back room where the force of food, beer & other adult beverages prevailed.

Sylvia Barnard was back with a poem about a visit last December to a church she used to attend in Cambridge, UK, the historic St. Bene’t’s, then read a revised version of a poem she has read previously, memories of riding the school bus, in rhyme. Joe Krausman was fascinated by a couple making out while texting “Seen in the Subway,” then a poem about death “The Great Chain of Being.” D.Alexander Holiday continued our education with poems by others, one by Frank X. Walker, & then Harriet Mueller’s “We Are Not Responsible.”

Christopher Burton read a impassioned, unfettered rant on nearly everything, that also urged us to read the Declaration of Independence, The Merchant of Venice, etc. My 2 poems were the quite old “The Simplest Surrealist Act,” & the very new “Argus String Quartet.”

Tonight’s featured poet was Dan Vollweiler, whom I’ve heard read in the open mic at Caffè Lena. Mary Panza read his hilarious bio, which was a perfect intro to the poems he read — playful, humorous, but with a (political) bite, & inventive use of rhyme. The first poem he read “Summer is Gross” was a good example, with twisted rhymes & wordplay about memories of high school, then he delved into rap, of sorts, with a commentary on “Generation X” & the aptly titled “Just Me, My Bro, Wings & Beer.” “When Catholics Cut You Like Meat on Friday” told the tale of being laid off, a bearded, Jewish teacher, from his job at a Catholic school. The poems “The Best Words,” & “Oh Con Man My Con Man,” were comments on the Trump Presidency, & were linked up with another piece that took its lead from Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.” His life as a poet were taken on in “Beware the Bard Beetle” (afflicted with “rhyme disease”) & “My Dangerous Early Life as a Poet” both, again, with funny wordplay. He ended with another rap piece, this about the life of a nerd. A most enjoyable feature.

Back to the open mic, Don Levy read a new piece, “Me & My Cane,” about his brand new cane. Since R.M. Engelhardt’s monthly open mic at Elixir Cafe in Troy is taking a break for the Summer, he had time to come to someone else’s open mic; he read a poem about his cat, “Anachronism” (I’m don’t know if this is the name of his cat, or not), then “Resume of a Dead White Poet” trying to be ironic. Julie Lomoe began by saying she took a class on the prose poems, which she described somewhat simplistically as “a poem without line breaks”; she then read selections from a long, prosy memoir “Typewriters” that really didn’t sound like a “prose poem” & was way over the 2-poem open mic limit.

Tom Reilly came out of the woods, a welcome sight, to read a couple of recent poems, the first about cleaning out stuff from his parents’ house “An Emergency Kit for the Soul,” then “Butterfly & I.” Tim Verhaegen has been writing — & reading to us — about his family, particularly his mother, entertainingly for years, tonight read the latest installment “What Shall I Do When Mother Comes Back?”

One learns so much at Poets Speak Loud! held on most last Monday’s of the year, 7:30PM at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square, Albany, NY — good food, good drinks, good service, good (mostly) poems.