Now if it weren’t for COVID-19 & the pandemic I wouldn’t have made it to this reading & open mic (the featured poets wouldn’t have made it either) in Placitas, New Mexico, held now on Zoom. The KAKTUS name refers to Kaktus Brewery in Bernalillo, NM where the (pre-pandemic) readings were held. This event is held on the last Tuesday of the month, hosted by poets Jules Nyquist & John Roche. John has passed through Albany a few times in the past, & once was featured at the Social Justice Center Third Thursday Poetry Night.
The first featured poet was also dialing in from Albany, George Drew, who hosted a very early music & poetry open mic at the 8th Step, pre-QE2 open mic days. Tonight he was accompanied at times by Rick Kunz on guitar. George was also promoting his new book Drumming Armageddon (Madville Press, 2020), he said his themes were “Rain,” then “Fire.” He began with “A Rainy Day on Ridge Road” with horses in the mountains, followed by Rick with a song, then another rain poem, sort of a liquid form of prophecy. The Fire section began with a play on fairy tales a piece titled “Bread Alone, an Update.” He dedicated the post-apocalyptic peace poem “Look on it Carefully Children” to Jules & John, then read “Wholly Smoke” where the smoke from fires in Colorado & Canada roll over New York, & Rick sang “The Seeds of War.” George’s poems were incantatory with effective use of repetition, like songs. In a poem starting with a description of a Matthew Brady Civil War photo, & one of a single solder from World War I he made the point that we are now more “used” to seeing such images of war. George ended by paying homage to the next feature, Carolyne Wright’s book Masquerade with his poem “To Carolyne” about a memory of his mother being struck.
Carolyne Wright was Zooming in from the state of Washington, &, as George had mentioned, her latest book is Masquerade (University of Washington Press, 2021) which she read from. It is described as “… a jazz-inflected, lyric-narrative sequence of poems, a 'memoir in poetry' set principally in pre-Katrina New Orleans and in Seattle, involving an interracial couple who are artists and writers.” She began appropriately enough with “Round at First Sight” & “Blame it On My Youth” playing on “love at first sight” with, again like George, effective, musical, use of repetition. Many of the poems had references to jazz, often using the titles of jazz tunes, such as “Compared to What,” “Betty Carter at the Blue Room,” “Blue Triolets,” ”Bright Moments with the Jazz & You.” The poem that George had referenced was about a fight, her pages thrown out by her lover, the police are called, which she followed with poems replaying the same scene, on forgiveness, ending with “What If” with the same scene again, this time with an alternative ending. Moving, unsentimental poems from the woman’s perspective.
After a short Q&A, John Roche was the host for the open mic portion of the evening for which he drew names from a hat, ultimately there were 21 readers who had signed up either as they registered for the Zoom or during the reading.
Joe Sorenson started off with a funny rhyme, “Windows,” recently published in the New Yorker. Ellen Sorenson read her poem to the weather “This is a Message” from Braille. Dennis Formento took us back to jazz in New Orleans with “Zitti, in memory of James Black.” Deb Coy commented on her death “In the Event.” Jefferson Carter considered alternatives in “Arbitrary” (why 2 nipples?).
Megan Baldridge read “If Knitters Played in Rock Bands” which were variations on band names using knitting terms (you can find a skeins of her books on knitting themes at the Poetry Playhouse store. Incredibly enough she was followed by Margo Armstrong whose poem also had a knitting reference. From a collection of jazz poetry Patricia Carragon read “Ruby My Dear” titled after a tune by Thelonious Monk.
Lou Cimalore read about meeting every 2 weeks for poetry in “Alone Together.” Lenora Good’s “Kicking it Up a Notch” was about the joys of flavored popcorn. Carolyn Ostrander’s tender poem “Winter Songs” was from a series of call & responses, this in a hospital ICU, with crows. Susan Newton read a poem contrasting the fires in San Francisco with an ice storm in New Orleans “Fire & Ice.”
Holly Wilson considered the only solution to perturbing questions to be “Infinity.” Mess Messal’s “Screens Have All the Answers” was a performance piece involving his phone, his tablet, & tears. Brett Nelson read “Might as Well Be Destiny,” expanding like the Universe. Ken Holland, another New Yorker, read “Nuts” about a squirrel’s fine day. Scott Norman Rosenthal’s “Bullying, etc.” considered the Jewish racist dead.
Steven Concert’s poem was titled & about “Departure”. Alfred Encarnacion, who said he was from South Jersey &friend of George’s, read “Ode to a poet of Daffodils”. I couldn’t remember if I’d signed up for the open mic when I registered for the Zoom, decided to simply wait & lo & behold John pulled my name from the hat, I read “This Birthday is Not Divisible by 10.” Michael Ball finished off the open mic with a memory of his grandfather, “Watch Pocket Theater.”
A varied & entertaining open mic, & two fine featured poets. At one point I noticed there were 49 folks attending the Zoom, quite a fine showing. The featured poets Carolyne Wright & George Drew were recorded so you can still catch them at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaFyyEQQIzA. The KAKTUS reading & open mic mic takes place on the last Tuesday of the month, 7:00PM Mountain Time (9:00PM Eastern Time). Be sure to check out Jule’s Poetry Playhouse website to buy books & to signup for the newsletter.