Back in the pre-pandemic days the Caffè Lena Poetry Night on the first Wednesday of the month included an open mic, in addition to a couple of featured poets. It was well-attended & was grand gathering of community poets. With the coming of COVID-19 & the attendant restrictions there has been no open mic, &, up to a couple months ago, no audience, the featured poets reading to an empty house. Currently, limited audiences are permitted. I have frequently tuned in to the pandemic-era readings which are live-broadcast on Youtube. This night I made my first trip to Saratoga Springs in over a year, had dinner at the social-distance Harvey’s, then to actually sit in Caffè Lena.
As I waited to be checked in, who was right in front of me, but the formerly-local poet Jan Tramontano & her husband Ron, who were in town from their current home in Florida. They made for wonderfully genial companions as we shared a table together.
The reason (actually 3) that I made the trip was for tonight’s featured poets, Will Nixon, Mary Cuffe Perez, & Mary Kathryn Jablonski, fine regional poets who help make this area in upstate New York the vibrant poetry scene that it is.
Will Nixon read first, & began with poems from My Mother as a Ruffed Grouse (FootHills Publishing, 2008), tales of childhood, often humorous, with his brother, & baseball; also, a sex tale from a time he lived in New York City, & one of Rip Van Winkle in the Catskills (“Insomnia”). He ended with a poem from Love in the City of Grudges (FootHills Publishing, 2010), set in Hoboken, NJ, titled “Sunday Afternoon the River Smelled Like Engines.”
Mary Cuffe Perez read a combination of published poems, poems from a manuscript-in-progress, & recent poems. The poems from her chapbook Poems in November (Finishing Line Press, 2019) set the tone of straight-forward little vignettes, which in the book are untitled & flow together as one narrative. She also read from her unpublished manuscript “Why Meringue Fails,” about the “little failures” like meringue, her hair, a chicken & about her aunt, & her mother’s simple cooking. Her new poems included horses, November (again), cooking & deer hunting. She ended with the childhood memory, “A Night Before Hay.”
I published Mary Kathryn Jablonski’s book To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met (A.P.D., 2008) so you can guess I like her work, & many of those poems were included in her 2019 book from Dos Madres Press Sugar Maker Moon. Tonight she read mostly new poems, but began with her side of a collaboration with Will Nixon, & “Lacus Veris” from Sugar Maker Moon. She has been working with great success in collaboration with film-maker Laura Frare on video poems & read the text of one of those, with her bird whistling. Other poems were about her family, her brothers & a goat from the farm where she grew up. Her final piece was the intensely emotional “Five Easy Pieces” about the dying of her brother but touched with gentle humor.
The best thing about these pandemic-era readings at Caffè Lena is that you don’t have to take my word for it on my Blog about what happened, you can watch & listen to the actual performances on the Caffè Lena YouTube channel. Otherwise you can tune in live, or, now, actually attend live performance on the first Monday of the month in Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, & maybe even get a hug from your favorite poet.