May 31, 2021

2nd Tuesday Open Mic Out of Bennington, May 11

Our host, Charlie Rossiter, likes to go around twice (so to speak), one poem/song, whatever, each time, but he can be a little lax & some folks do take advantage — but not as bad as some I’ve been to recently.

Ken Ash, a local, was first on the list with a piece he styled as “staring at the consequences of reality” but then & on & on. In the second round he played his trumpet, improvising to a back-up sound machine.

Mark O’Brien read, in his 1st round, a Haibun from his favorite time period, 1963, about black & white TV. & in his 2nd round I do believe he read something titled “Brooklyn” but now I’m not sure, he’s such a country boy.

Jim Madigan, from Charlie’s old stomping grounds outside Chicago, read a piece titled "The Narrows” about walking a trail on the Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah. His 2nd-round piece, “Invasion of the Moths,” mixed images from belly buttons to grain, the fun things you can do with poetry.

Another local, Laura Ellzey, read the first 1st sonnet she ever wrote, humorously titled “Does this Qualify?” (to be a sonnet); she has a lovely singing voice so in the 2nd round sang in Spanish “Siempre mi mente,” a song by the late Mexican singer, Juan Gabriel (1950 - 2016).

I read next, a newer piece responding, after a fashion, to Red Pines marvelous travelogue Finding Them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), a poem written on my back porch, “on the Reading Terrace.” Then in the 2nd round a baseball poem mixing in some Chicago & Chinese references “Dusty Baker.”

Elaine Frankonis has become a regular here on Zoom Bennington, read a tender piece on her Mother’s last days “While Words Fail.”  In her 2nd round she read from a series of 3x5 cards reactions scribbled “At the Louvre.” 

In the 1st round our host Charlie Rossiter read a piece about heading into New Mexico on I40 “American West.” He stayed on the New Mexico travel theme in his 2nd round with “On the Streets of Tucumcari” with his son Jack Rossiter-Munley on guitar. 

Bill Thwing is another regular from elsewhere, tonight struggled with a bad internet connection but managed to get through “Dance of Death.”  He had better luck on his 2nd round where he accompanied himself on guitar with 9 Haiku for his 9 grandchildren. 

Charlie’s long-time friend Tom Nicotera read about a mouse in his kitchen “Have a Heart,” then in the 2nd round a much larger critter, a bear turning over trashcans in his back yard, & he lives in the suburbs of Hartford!.

I think this was Alan Casline’s first time here at the Bennington open mic, in person or on Zoom, & in both rounds he read from a book of spontaneous poems, a la Jack Kerouac. 

The final reader, Barbara Sarvis, a Vermont local regular here, read from the 1st children book she wrote Too Many Feathers, about sharing & recycling, & in the 2nd round a very short piece, “Fire Twin Separation.” & that was it for this 2nd Tuesday.

If you want to attend this open mic held on Zoom on the 2nd Tuesday of each month & you are not already on Charlie’s list of favorites, send him an email at & you too can join us.

May 30, 2021

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

Nancy Klepsch & I have been the co-hosts of this open mic, formerly at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, since it started “many” years ago. It was easier to trade back & forth hosting when we were meeting in person.  This Mothers’ Day I filled in for Nancy, who was there, but needed some down time.

I put myself first on the list to save everyone the embarrassment of turning it down & read a new piece, “on the Reading Terrace,” then an older, sad piece for Mothers’ Day, “Whose Mom is That?”

Sally Rhoades read a couple of memoir pieces on the Mothers’ Day theme, a poem from using prompts “Setting the Table” family memories, & “Mother’s Inspiration,” another memory, & passing it on to her daughters.

Nancy Klepsch made her way through a complex piece titled “If Everything was Made into Kombucha” that includes a reference to a Philip Glass piece “Gee-Whiz, a song for Ellen” that Glass performed with Laurie Anderson. 

Continuing the theme of tea, Kendall Hoeft read a poem about sipping tea & sherry titled “Tasseography” (fortune-telling by interpreting patterns in tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediments), then on to an ekphrastic piece “Around We Go” based on William Blake’s detailed reproduction of the ancient Greek sculpture group “Laocoön” reinterpreted as Jehovah & his sons Satan & Adam.

Cheryl A.Rice, whom I had just seen on Calling All Poets on Friday night (see my Blog), joined us here with an untitled love poem, sleeping & dreaming in bed. Ahh!

Bob Sharkey shared a character portrait of a train rider (or worker?), a piece he called “The Man Besides the Tracks.” 

Julie Lomoe ended the afternoon by bringing us back to the theme of the day, with a memoir piece I’ve heard & enjoyed before, titled “My Mother’s Head,” about her passing out due to a sub-dural hematoma (Julie’s favorite theme) at a club appearance by the Modern Jazz Quartet & waking to seeing the musicians, in their dark suits, ties, & white shirts, thinking they were the undertakers — I love this image, especially as a fan of the MJQ.

Check out the 2nd Sunday @ 2 Facebook page to stay in touch. For now it remains on Zoom, but perhaps we’ll be back in person before too long.


May 28, 2021

Calling All Poets!, May 7

I tried to join this event on Zoom a number of months ago & it was such a cluster fuck of Zoom idiots -- leaving their mic open, asking questions of the open mic host, talking to others in their home or apartment -- that I just left without waiting for the featured poets & the open mic. In the ensuing months things have gotten (marginally) better, but still some folks, no matter how old they are, or no matter what professional positions they have held in their lives just never learn. One of those characters was here again this night leaving his mic on, & walking around with his tablet without turning off the video.

But I was here to see & hear the 3 featured poets whose work I enjoy, Lucia Cherciu, Roberta Gould, & Cheryl Rice. The host for the featured poets was Mike Jurkovic; the open mic host was Jim Eve.

Lucia Cherciu is the 2021 Poet Laureate of Dutchess County. She began with a poem in Romanian dedicated to her Mother, then on to a couple poems in English from her book Edible Flowers (Main St. Rag, 2015), “Savings” (for her father), & “In This World Maybe for Your Soul.” Then poems from Train Ride to Bucharest (Sheep Meadow Press, 2017), “Linden Tree,” “Love Song to Masks,” & “Blue Wrapping Paper.” I think I need to get one, or both of those books.

I have 4 or 5 of Roberta Gould’s books but have no idea which ones she read from. She sometimes mentioned that she was reading a poem from one of her books, such as a poem she said was “#10 of a series on Kandinsky,” but never mentioned the titles of the books they came from. Other poems seemed to be more recent but I can’t be sure, she tends to ramble. But I did like one about flies fucking (“Double”), & a persona poem titled “The Tyrant Dreams.” I think they record these readings & post the video on the CAPS website, so you don’t have to rely on me to create this memory.

Cheryl A. Rice was a lot easier to follow. After a couple of openers she read from her series of poems inspired by the Ziegfield Follies, poems that I’ve been enjoying hearing for years, poetic bits of history inspired by her own obsession, which is always the best kind. Then on to a couple poems from from a chapbook-in-progress titled “Tiger Butter” (based on the adolescent soft-porn trick with the Land o’ Lakes butter carton). But I think I like best her rebuttal to the ongoing mythical Beats “On the Road with Kuan-yin” & her new piece “Remember the Gold Fish Will Be Dead by Morning.” 

I’ve run a monthly poetry series for over 20 years, with an open mic with one rule: one poem. That’s not difficult to understand — one poem, & if it’s too long I cut them off. It can be one poem with a couple short parts, but no epics, no special dispensation for Haiku, keep it a page or 2 I tell them at the beginning. That’s my role has the host, the moderator, the MC, to set the rules & enforce them. I haven’t resorted to a timer with a loud alarm or a air-horn —not yet, anyway — as some have, but I’ve been sorely tempted.

Not so this bunch. There were 13 on the open mic list, according to the host, who said the limit was 1 poem, no more than 3 minutes. Somehow the first reader thought that meant 3 poems; “they are short” she said, somehow confusing “1 poem” with “3 poems.” The next reader, following suit, read 2 poems. The host blithely ignored this arrogance & did not respond by reminding the rest of the readers that the limit was 1 poem. Is that so hard? One Poem! ONE FUCKING POEM!

I left. If it had been an in-person reading I would have slammed the door — twice!

May 15, 2021

Caffè Lena Poetry Night, May 5

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.

May 11, 2021

Antarctic Artists and Writers Collective Event, April 29

I was invited to this Zoom Webinar by Professor Leigh Ann Christain (better known to us local poets as Annie Christain). I had recently seen the movie Concrete Cowboy (available on Netflix) & one of the panelists was Greg Neri, author of the YA novel Ghetto Cowboy upon which the movie was based. As often happens with such events, I had little idea what I would be seeing & hearing but was easily drawn into the fascinating stories & images the 3 writers presented. The other panelists were Susan Fox Rogers & William L. Fox.

Trish Suchy from AAWC gave a brief introduction to the organization & its programs that brings artists from all genres — writing, photography, music, performance art, etc. — to the Antarctic for inspiration, exploration, & collaboration. The participants are from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program (AAWP). SUNY Cobleskill is a partner in this effort & is where Professor Christain, who served as the chair of the panel, teaches.

Greg Neri read poems that were inspired by his visit to Antartica & the photos he took there. He said he did little writing while there & based his poems largely on the images he had taken & on his memories. He was charming -- intellectual, warm & poetic.

Susan Fox Rogers is the editor of the anthology Antarctica: Life on the Ice (2007); she a writer, teacher & birder. She described the “extraordinary silence” of the continent, & commented on how “ugly” it is. She said that as she went to each settlement she would ask "where you sleep, what do you eat, & where do you pee?" Sound about right to me.

Science writer & art critic William L. Fox read from an essay titled “Building on Ice,” full of facts & figures about Antartica, commenting upon the “immense contradictions” of the place, the kind of things I like hearing in "travel literature," not that I want to plan a vacation there.

You can find full biographies of the panelists on the AAWC website which also contains information about their programs & about their members. I’ll leave the travel to Antartica to others, it gets cold enough here in Albany, where I also know I have warm places to pee.

May 6, 2021

2nd Annual Earth Day Reading, April 22

This event was organized by the Friends & Foundation of the Albany Public Library (FFAPL), & moderated by Alexis Bhagat, Executive Director of FFAPL. It was held on Zoom & live-streamed on the Capital Region Earth Day Youtube Channel.

Lex began the program with a moving statement acknowledging the land on which we live & the nations of this land. The program was divided into 5 parts with readings by local officials, scholars, activists & poets.

The first section was titled A Reading for the Land and the City. The readers included the Honorable Kathy Sheehan, Mayor of Albany, Melanie Metzger from the Albany Public Library, Lauren Moore NYS Librarian, Atmospheric Scientist Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, & Preem Cabey from AVillage. Selections were read from the works of others & their own writings.

The second section was titled A Reading for the River and the Waters. The readers included local, regional & national poets, including myself, Ramona Cearly from, Susan Pedo, & Ken Hada (director the the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival at ECU, Ada, OK). 

The next section was A Reading for the People & the Animals & included poets Lucyna Prostko, Matthew Burns, Tiffany Higgins & Gretchen Primack.

A Reading for the Wind and the Air was the fourth section, with readings by Jill Szwed, poet Allie Middleton, local activist Luke Forbes, & novelist & activist Pippa Bartolotti.

The final section was titled A Reading for the Future & included appropriately enough students from the Albany High Leo Club, Christian Simmons, Egypt Snipe & Rashid Ford. The final performer was rapper Jayohcee from the Akwesasne Nation & a song he wrote while in Standing Rock.

An excellent source for eco-poems is Ghost Fishing, An Eco-Justice Anthology, edited by Melissa Tuckey, from the University of Georgia Press.

As the sign on my lawn says, “Everyday is Earth Day.”