August 28, 2019

Third Thursday Poetry Night, August 15

Another Summer night at the Social Justice Center for poetry. The featured poet was Perry Nicholas & an open mic for the rest of the folks there. But first I invoked the Muse, tonight the gone poet Colette Inez (1931 - 2018). I read her poem “Service for Two, I Shall Dine with Myself.”

With only a handful of poets in the house, the “only rule” was cancelled & the open mic poets were allowed 2 poems. Tom Bonville was first on the list & he read a short, tender piece “Shadows of Love,” then “The Day After” set in Walmart.

This was Joe Krausman’s birthday (he has been telling folks he is "39" but I realized that perhaps he is dyslexic...) & he celebrated by reading poems about death, “The Great Chain of Being,” & “Bacon & Eggs,” that with the eggs sunnyside up makes makes a happy face.

Kim Henry made a rare appearance here to read an untitled piece about an old woman dying, saying “my soul is tired,” & another poem on the theme of crying & parting.

Don Levy was also able to get here tonight & read off his phone a recent new poem “I Heard the Black Mermaid Singing,” then read from an anthology Muriel Rukeyser’s apocalyptic “Nuns in the Wind.”

I read a new Summer poem “Shopping for White Underpants,” & a Haiku mixing the Buddha & a martini.

Perry S. Nicholas is a poet & a professor at the Erie Community College North in Buffalo who is on a tour that included readings in Schenectady & in New Paltz. He started with poems written on a trip to Greece in 2013, the first a description of the hotel he stayed in as he came back to Greece, then one about his neighbors “The Loud Greek Family Next Door,” & a poem about returning to the US “There Aren’t Enough Stars.” A boyhood memoir “Water on Mars” was about his mother speaking Greek. “In the Shadow of David” was a poem about his daughter & their distance, & his next was a love poem, “I Picture You All Ages.”  He moved on to his new chapbook Why I Learned to Spell (The Writers Den, 2019), read the title poem a true story about his immigrant family, then the unsettling experience of “A Greek-American Reads Poetry at an Americana Bar,” & on to last year’s birthday poem “A Brand New World” remembering his father. Poems about religion included “Good Friday” about his upbringing as Greek Orthodox then on to now “The Church in My Head.” He ended with a love/non-love sonnet “I Disremember.” In addition to Why I Learned to Spell he also had for sale a CD And I Was Just a Boy, poems from 2013 to 2018.

Third Thursday Poetry Night happens each month at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY, starting about 7:30PM, depending on when the tour bus arrives, & your donation supports the work of the Poetry Motel Foundation & that of the Social Justice Center. Bring a poem for the open mic.

August 23, 2019

The Past in Poetry, August 12

My last Blog was about a poetry event in an unusual venue (the Albany Pump Station) with not your usual collaborators (scientists), this event, literally next door at The Olde English Pub, was a collaboration with Historic Cherry Hill. We were gathered in the Pub’s shady garden under the shadow of the 787 off ramp to Clinton Ave.

Our co-host was the Cherry Hill Executive Director Deborah Emmons-Andarawis, who noted that the Pub was the 2nd oldest standing house in Albany. She introduced the readers of historic selections, the first being Tony Pallone, who read poems by Rensselaer Van Rensselaer (1802 - 1850), including a love poem, one in Spanish, & “An Emblem” about a river in Columbia.

Co-host Mary Panza introduced the contemporary poets, starting with Bob Sharkey, who read a family “scolding” titled “The Clum’s Corner Manifesto.” Nancy Klepsch read a handful of poems, including the sad “Home from the War” & one invoking the spirit of Herman Melville “Call Me Ishmael.”

Deborah talked about one of the descendants of the Van Rensselaer family, Catherine Putnam Rankin (1857 - 1948) then Suzanna Bornn read one of Catherine’s poems, written when she was 26, “At an Auction."

Mary introduced Thom Francis who read poems about his family, “I Want to Go Home,” then a memoir of an early apartment they lived in. His poem “Family Tree” said it was not a tree, but a pile of sticks & lawn-clippings, & he ended with a poem about his grandfather in a nursing home “Easter Visit.” I was next & my 2 poems of the past were “Therese’s Balcony” mixing an imagined past & a fantasy, then one about the early days of the Albany poetry scene “Where Were the Professors.”

Deborah talked about the popularity of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Old Clock on the Stair” read by Janet Kimlicko. Some folks believe that Cherry Hill is haunted, Deborah explained, which led to another Longfellow poem read by Janet, with the line, “All houses where men love, lived and died are haunted…”

Mary was back to read a poem about growing up in South Troy at 13 years old, contrasted with the very different life her daughter has now, at 13.

& then this wonderful reading that included writers of the historic past of Albany, & writers of the present Albany reading poems about the past, was now in the Past itself.

Be sure to check out the exhibits & programs at Historic Cherry Hill in Albany — five generations, one household, 1787 - 1963. & for all your current poetry needs go to

August 21, 2019

Poetry in Science CapSci, August 6

Back in March I was one of the readers in this series of lectures, readings & other events sponsored by CapSciNY which is a non-profit organization that aims to advance the public understanding of science in the New York Capital Region. Their mission is to promote interactions between scientists and non-scientists, to foster science-based public policy and scientifically literate policy makers, and to nurture diversity within the scientific community.

This night we were back at the Albany Pump Station for poetry — & beer. Poet & Assistant Professor of Biotechnology at SUNY Cobleskill Kate Gillespie served as host, & got us off to a good start with what she called “Lost Scientific Abstract Poems” in which the language of scientific abstracts is used to create poems.

Charlie Rossiter read a handful of poems with titles such as “The Poet Thinks About Science,” & “Looking for Leonids,” & an old favorite of mine that he performed with the 3 Guys from Albany “Natural History” about seeing the fossil Lucy’s bones in the Museum.

Laura Ellzey, a relatively new writer of poetry, began with a hand-out of a math-poem, "Poetry Entered in..." calculating the percentage of her life spent writing poetry. Other poems dealt with math & music, of the physics of playing the piano, & of the physiology of her dog’s shoulder.

Marshall Witten read philosophical pieces on delving into the nature of “Reality” (in blank verse) & the Hubble telescope (a sonnet, perhaps).

Frank S. Robinson was also philosophical, ranging on a variety of topics from evolution to free will, industry, even a piece titled “Death & Life.” But he ended with poems from from his 2014 collection Love Poems to his wife.

Eli Sands is a founding member of CapSci & is a member of the executive board. He introduced his work with a poem about deep learning, “Deep Me,” then on to others including love, again, & pieces from a collection about his computer.

Ian brought us home with 2 related, humorous poems in rhyme (science, like poetry, isn’t always serious) about the endocrine system, “I Love You from the Bottom of my Heart.” It’s always good for a performer to leave the audience laughing.

For future CapSci events check out their Facebook page or their website.

(I apologize for not having more photos of this event, but I had a problem with my camera which prevented it from focusing; I hope to have it repaired, but in the meantime will be using other equipment.)

August 20, 2019

The Front Desk, August 3

I’ve been a fan of “rock opera” ever since The Who’s Tommy came out in 1969. I still have the 2 LP set that my friends & I played over & over again. I’m not sure it’s ever been surpassed. This night at The Low Beat I had the pleasure of experiencing another fine piece in this genre, although a much more modest production, The Front Desk by poet & bass player Pat Irish. When Pat was living in Albany a few years back I had heard him read selections at open mics & even saw a performance at Pauly’s Hotel.

Tonight Pat performed on bass & read the text, Nick Bisanz was on guitar & vocals & Michael Worsa on drums. The evening opened with solo performances on guitar & vocals by John Devries & John Glenn.

As stated in the program, “The Front Desk is a story about events taking place at & around the front desk of a hotel. There are 24 songs in all with each song representing an hour of the day.” Some of the titles of the vignettes are “Front Desk Agent,” “Check Outs & Check Ins,” “Room Service,” “Famous Guests,” & “Leave the Keys.” It was over & done in less than an hour. While I didn’t attentively follow the schedule of vignettes I did notice a couple of bar patrons checking their programs to see where they were.

The text predominates with the music adding a background or a musical commentary, & while the text could easily stand alone as a poetry chapbook, the music without the words would not survive as just a music CD. It may not be Tommy, but I would certainly buy a CD of the entire music & poetry piece.

August 18, 2019

Cap City Slam Showcase, August 1

I’ve yet to get over to the Albany Barn to see the Cap City Slam (formerly Nitty Gritty Slam) so I seized this welcome opportunity to see the folks — all women tonight — in action. It was held in the back room of the Savoy Taproom, scene of many a fine jazz performance back when it was Justin’s. As if in a nod to that history the backdrops were large murals of Miles & Mingus. Amani O+ served as host & M/C. Some of the performers I was familiar with, others were new to me, a welcome mix of old & new.

First up was Laura, who does the college slam locally. She did Slam-style pieces on white crime/black crime, on her grandmother as an immigrant, & a piece from a notebook on being gay. Amani followed with a (“dreaded” as some poetry hosts say) audience participation piece hyping the Cap City Slam monthly event, then a collaborative piece on Joy with Laura, a rare upbeat piece.

poetik uses humor & wordplay to comment on race & body image, beginning with a familiar poem beginning “I’m trying to be a different kind of poet…” Then on to a couple poems from her 2017 collection Labyrinth of a Melaninated Being, both with good doses of humor, “fat Black girl: an aesthetic,” & a food poem “i dream of brunch.”

Ginari (not sure of the spelling) was introduced as being from DC, did a piece about attempting suicide then moving on to make her choices in her life. Sydney’s first piece was a tribute to the mothers & other women in her life, then on to “An Ode to Social Workers & Service Providers Who Wonder How to Get Up Tomorrow,” & “Sex Talk, Different Kind,” & then the first poem she wrote, only 1 year ago.

Liv McKee is a well-known performer on the scene who writes not only Slam pieces but other poems as well. She read a mix of them tonight, including one about the death — & life — of her grandmother, a breakup rant, even Haiku. There was a poem about Blue Whales fucking & one about her first kiss, with a girl, & one on sex workers.

Amani O+ introduced the group for a fun, collaborative poem with Liv, Laura, herself & Sydney.

Amani O+ ended the night with a mixed bag of her own poems, one titled “Brilliance” a poem for poets with new age music from her poem, & a dance song “Grit,” but much more interesting was a favorite “Plantanos & Collard Greens” explaining her mixed heritage, with audience participation, ending with an improvisation song on “Savoy.”

It was a lot of fun, reminding me to get over to the Albany Barn on the 1st Wednesday of the month. Check out their Facebook Page for more information.

August 12, 2019

Poets Speak Loud!, July 29

New table top memorializing
Mother Judge & Sarge Blotto

Back to the back room at McGeary’s once again with our host Mary Panza, with the night’s featured poet, Danielle Pouliot, waiting in the wings. But first a few open mic poets to start the night off.

Sylvia Barnard was first up with a revised version of her poem about the historic St. Bene’t’s in Cambridge, UK, mixing memoir & history, then a poem about why she is not interested in going to a “Writers Colony.”  Francesca Sidoti made a most rare appearance at an open mic with an Italian sonnet about her daughter, then an English sonnet “Deities' Child” for a friend’s son who committed suicide. D. Alexander Holiday continued our education with 2 poems from The Collected Poems of June Jordan, “Richard Wright Was Wrong” & “The Bombing of Baghdad.”

I had missed Danielle Pouliot when she read at WordFest 2019, but had previously caught her reading at the same event in 2018, & looked forward to tonight’s reading. Her first poem about her suburban neighbors, “Picket Fence Finger Prick” was a good introduction to her style - vivid images & wordplay. She said her poem “Voting Booth,” written after the last election was a rare political poem, while “What I Was Taught as a Girl Growing Up” returned to the playful use of language, & her prominent use of “I” as the character/focus of the the poem. Likewise a poem with “Punctuation…” in the title & rapid fire word connections, & “Bare Handed Bee Keeping” with its graphic images of organs & body parts. She ended with an “eco-poem” with war images of damage to the biosphere “After Shock.” She seemed to have had a lot of fun writing these poems.

Tom Bonville’s wry poem “Immigration Policy” was a funny tale of trying to rid his house of stink bugs. Don Levy repeated, welcomely, recent poems he’s read out before, “I Heard the Black Mermaid Singing” & “Me & My Cane.” I shared a couple of brand-new pieces, “Purple Prose Poem” & “Prussian Blue,” then added the short ditty “Alcoholism.”

Jessica Rae was back in town for a brief visit with a poem inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks “For the People” (for AOC), then a revised version of “Real Free Men at Some Back Road Bar,” then “Muse Next Morning” (one of those “uh-oh” moments after the night before), another Brooks’ inspired piece “Poetical Child,” & descriptive memory of her grandfather “Tobacco Pipe.” Avery managed to slip in before the end of the open mic with 3 poems, “Sunday Morning Warriors” (at Home Depot), one of his new-age chants “Because You Have Opened,” & “Sawmill Dreams” about the trials & tribulations of running a business, that he did in an imitation of Tom Waits.

A rich Summer-time session of Poets Speak Loud! which takes place most last Mondays of the year at McGeary’s on Sheridan Square in Albany, 7:30PM, a featured poet & an open mic.

August 11, 2019

Poets in the Park — 30th Anniversary Edition, July 27

The season finale of Poets in the Park 2019 was a reading by 2 more outstanding poets, Christian Ortega & Dianne Sefcik. The weather this evening was beautiful once again with an attentive audience of local poets & lovers of poetry.

Christian Ortega is the publisher of Recto y Verso Editions & recently opened his own store in downtown Albany. He shared excerpts from his new book (on his Tablet) Rants for Social Media, collecting all of his writings from social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even his emails, like a contemporary biography, from 7/31/2013 at 2:16PM, to 5/312019 9:55PM. The entries ranged from Lady Gaga specials, online shirts, fashion, wondering about his own connection to trends — like notebook jottings on a daily planner, as if he were still using a pen, short, cranky, social commentary, with the occasional snarky, sexy, gay comments. Of course he could not avoid political rants considering the time-frame he was dealing in. As expected the entries were short, even included #tags & the occasional (or serial) “LOL” even in the tone of his voice, cynical, clever, (as I already said) snarky. I can’t see this as a print publication, it needs to be read online.

I’ve enjoyed the poetry of Dianne Sefcik at open mics & from her self-produced chapbook Red Ochre, from which she read a selection of poems. But more so she included commentary on Native history & culture. She began by acknowledging the land on which we were gathered tonight, land that was of the Mohican people & where the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace was agreed upon. From that, the Europeans devised The Albany Plan of Union which in turn was incorporated into the US Constitution. She said she doesn’t know much about her own ancestry, but acknowledged “all my relations” as all living thing. The poems she read were the title poem of her book, “Red Ochre” the ancient pigment, then “Vision Quest” for Crazy Horse, a documentary, then a poem “The Treaty of Ruby Valley.” One of my favorite poems of Dianne’s is “Pipe,” an historical sweep taking us right up to the time of Trump. The poems “Hovenweep” (the national monument SE Utah) & “Tsagaglala” (Columbia Hills State Park in Washington State) were about Native sites she has visited. She concluded with a poem not in the book, “Anasazi Valley“ showing us she has plenty more material in the same vein.

It was a most successful season of Poets in the Park, 6 fabulous poets, beautiful weather that left us outside, & supportive & attentive audiences, continuing on for the next 30 years!

August 7, 2019

Paul Austin, July 23

I never heard of Kauneoga Lake but here I was by surprise with fellow poet & traveler Sally Rhoades at the Fat Girl Cafe. Although Paul Austin, a Boston native, spent many years as an actor in New York City, I met him in Oklahoma, with his wife the novelist Rilla Askew, at the annual Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. At this year’s Scissortail I heard him read from his new book Notes on Hard Times (Village Books Press, 2019), but when Sally said that he would be reading this night down in Sullivan County I eagerly agreed to go along. The 2 hour plus trip was worth it.

The reading was a benefit for a bartender at the cafe for his medical treatment & there was a good showing from the community, with the proceeds from the sale of Paul’s book going to the benefit. As an actor he gives a good reading of his work. He began with a group of political pieces including “Warsaw Ghetto 1942” & “God Damn the Preachers of Destruction.” He read mostly from Notes on Hard Times with a couple other pieces sprinkled in, poems on acting (“Freeze Frame on Artaud”), art (“Jackson Pollock After V-J Day”), poetry (“Delmore Schwartz, American Poet”), music (“Listening to Shubert,” “Monk”), & politics (“Resistance Blues”), but then none fit in such neat cubbyholes. & there was the love poem to Rilla “Hard Won Love.” The poet Joy Harjo had just been named the US Poet Laureate & he read “If They Ask” with its epigraph from her, written when we all knew she was a “poet laureate” but just hadn’t been named yet by the Library of Congress. It was quite a pleasant night of poetry.

The long drive was worth it for the ride through places in New York State I had never been to, & for the charming, lake-side community restaurant, with its deck over the water, the casual, friendly service & the excellent food. It was good to be with friends that we usually only see in Oklahoma — & the poetry was out-standing too.

Poets in the Park — 30th Anniversary Edition, July 20

The 2nd of the 3 Poets in the Park this year was a reading by 2 of the winners of the 2019 Stephen A. Dibiase Poetry Contest, Ken Holland & Mary Kathryn Jablonski. Although the day had been oppressively hot & humid & threatened thunderstorms, the Sun was already behind the trees by the time we started & a breeze ruffled the banners on the Poet’s Pole; the thunderstorms stayed off to the North.

Ken Holland took first place in the 2019 Stephen A. Dibiase Poetry Contest for his poem “Habana.” He began with a “Dead Poet” in the bushes, then “Soundings of Rain” with jazz & images of his daughter as an infant. “All the Pretty Girls” mixed Summer heat & firecracker's pain, while “Home” was another Summer scene of a barbecue but sad, grim, & “Terracotta” a poem of lost love, moon, & heat again. The poem titled “Dirigibles” mixed God, survival & breath & dreams, which led him to describe his 2 main themes as “organized religion” & “the environment” both showing up in the poem “The Waves Collapse.” The surrealistic juxtaposition in the title of “Whale Oil & the Comedian” was a meditation on mortality & angels, which led to more angels in the poem “Laughing Angels.” He said he had never read out before his poem “My FM God,” & in “Way Station” mixed the historical & personal. “Westward Ho!” was a summary of the disasters of western civilization. He ended with a take on E.A. Poe both in sound & topic, a poem from his college years “What The Raven Might Have Said” in a sing-song rhythm & repeating sounds. It was reading filled with an entertaining mix of subjects, images, & sounds & a great introduction to a poet whose work I didn’t know well.

Mary Kathryn Jablonski, on the other hand, is a poet whose work I know well & admire, & had even published her chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met in 2008. She has included those poems in her new book, just out earlier this year from Dos Madres Press, Sugar Maker Moon. While the book is new, the poems in it are about 10 years old she said. She read mostly poems from the book, but graced us with a couple new pieces at the end, all playing on the theme of Summer. She began with poems named after the seas of the Moon, “Mare Nectaris” a litany of flowers from her mother’s garden, then to her mother again “Mare Nubium,” & “Mare Crisium.” Then on to one of the poems in the series of letters, “To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met #7," also filled with the names of flowers & butterflies. In her introduction to her reading, Mary Kathryn explained that that “husband” could also refer to other relationships, including the self, mother, child, a theme also explored in the “Mare” poems. In “Mare Spumans” she took us on a rare visit to the sea shore, then returned to the Husband poems, this #11, starting with her friend David playing the ukulele & ending with the “husband’s” voice. She returned with one more from her book, a richly imaged & musical poem “Mare Cognitum” that even quotes her grandmother in Polish. She ended with a couple of newer pieces, “Josephine” written just yesterday for her brother Paul with another litany of the names of flowers, & concluded with a tribute, of sorts, to Laika the Soviet Space Dog, the last words summing up: “to know kindness.” The best way to know the work of Mary Kathryn Jablonski is to buy Sugar Maker Moon & devour it.

There was one more evening of Poets in the Park coming up, which you can read about soon, right here.

August 2, 2019

Third Thursday Poetry Night, July 18

I’ve got the new keys & we were back in the Social Justice Center for the open mic & our featured poet, Dan Curley. It was a hot & steamy night with only a handful of poets for the open mic, so I granted license to read 2 poems. But first I invoked the Muse, still working on my backlog of gone famous poets, tonight it was John Ashbery (1927 - 2017) & I read his poem “The Ice-Cream Wars” from Houseboat Days (1977). I also quoted him on poetry & writing,
I don't look on poetry as closed works. I feel they're going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.
On to the open mic. Resident classicist Sylvia Barnard was first & read from Open Mic: The Albany Anthology (Hudson Valley Writers Guild, 1994), “Gallows Hill,” then her “best classics poem” titled “Helen” (read in honor of our featured poet, also a classicist). Alan Catlin was next to read from a new chapbook of political poems at the publisher “Detainee Refugee Camp USA” & “The Room in Which the Detainees’ Belongings Are Stored;” he said that the poems were topical but both written over 30 years ago.

Bob Sharkey has been doing a workshop with poet Bernadette Mayer for 3 years & read an untitled piece in the manner of John Ashbery, a running list of details about garbage, then “Imagining Companion” similarly perplexing. Joe Krausman read — surprise! — 2 poems about growing old, “Ode to Arthritis” & needing a “medi-lover,” then another of the same ilk. I concluded the open mic with my latest addition to my series “True Stories of the Trump Era” “What Makes America Great #33” about what happened at last month’s Third Thursday, the kindness of the neighbors at Lazeez, then “Buttons Not Bombs” to match my tee-shirt that said “Boobs Not Bombs.”

The featured poet was Dan Curley who teaches classics at Skidmore College & who has been showing up on occasion at poetry open mics. He read from a forthcoming collection Conditional Future Perfect, beginning with “The Art Historian’s Revenge” a conversation on a plane, then another poem beginning on a plane “Mannerist Modern.” In “The Night We Ran the Blockade” the poet imagined the folks who didn’t leave when the Great Sacandaga Lake was created.  Friends from Finland inspired the poem “The Star Wars” on the strangeness of language, while “The Chronicles of Yolanda” was about trying to impress a girl in 7th grade with book reports. The complex summaries of “3 Nouvellas” seem that they were more fascinating than the planned stories could be. “Shoveling My Driveway with You” is a poem for his daughter (also a poet, who was in the audience) with a nod to a poem by Frank O’Hara. “Letters to Portinari” was occasioned by a visit to her grave (she was Dante's Beatrice) in the church Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi in Florence & going through letters written to by tourists, the poem written in Dante’s terza rima. He ended with a poem to his wife about whom he said "she is not of this century," struggling with the internet, “Nothing New Under the Sun.” The book should be out in the Fall & I am looking forward to revisiting these poems & discovering others.

Every third Thursday we are at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY at 7:30PM for an open mic for poets, with a featured poet from near or far — your donation helps support poetry events & the work of the Social Justice Center.