August 31, 2022

Poets in the Park, 2022

We had good luck with weather this year, all 3 events were held as planned, although we did have the Social Justice Center as a rain site, which we didn’t have the pleasure of last year when, of course, we were rained out for one of the two events.

July 9

I had invited this year’s 3 winners of the Tom Nattell Peace Poetry Prize to read but none showed up, as has happened in past years as well. For the record, the Albany High Student poets were Aliyah Rivera, Jena Maria Rubi, and Josephine Pobee-Mensah, & I read a poem from each so that they had a presence here.

Naomi Bindman was the other reader, who indeed was there. I’ve become a fan of Naomi’s work over a number of years at both in-person open mics at such venues as the Arts Center of the Capital Region & Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, as well at various Zoom open mics. This night she read a grand variety from her work, of memory, death, nature, relationships, grief & finding her way “back to life” (as she put it) by performing her daughter’s music at Caffè Lena

Her reading included excerpts from her memoir mss. “You’re the Words I Sing: A Memoir of Song, Sorrow, and Solace,” & also more recent poems, such as the defiant “Rebuttal” to a poet with an attitude of using women, & quieter pieces, such as “Earth Rhythms” on foraging ramps, & the “dark nature poem” titled “Invasive Species.” I was particularly pleased to hear again poems she has read in recent months at open mics, “Senescence,” “Imaginal Beings,” & “No Small Thing” about a gift of tulips. "No small thing," indeed, would be a good way to describe Naomi Bindman's reading here at the Robert Burns statue.

July 16

We did have 2 poets for this, another fine night, in Washington Park.

Katrinka Moore read first, she has a new book out, Diminuendo (Pelekinesis, 2022), that she wants folks to know about, & from which she read a substantial selection. She also had a handout containing a couple poems & some quotes in praise, the poems the 1st (“Upon Waking”) & the last (“Meantime”) from the book, both about uncertainty.

She previewed her reading as being “about seeking quietness, responding to the discord & discontent,” with much of that quietness found in theoretical physics, quoting the scientist Carlo Rovelli in a couple poems (“Adagio” & “Upon Waking”), stars, planets (“Tale”, “Late”), & the comet NEOWISE (“Sojourner”). But also in the songs of birds (“Song,” “Why is there so much beauty?”, Diminuendo”), & trees (“Late”). But let’s not forget the witches & wise woman (“Wayward” & “Sensei”). It was a quiet, meditative reading. Her printed texts look like scores with the silences as caesuras & spaces in the midst of the lines to guide her reading, & suggest how we might read her poems.

Jason O’Toole
was born in St. Peter’s Hospital, is a product of Albany, mainly of the music scene as a lyricist & singer with the hard-core punk band Life’s Blood. But my connection precedes that, even his birth — I was as high-school classmate of his mother. I ran into him this Spring at the Rockport (Massachusetts) Poetry Festival, where he gave me copies of his books, Spear of Stars (The Red Salon, 2018) & Poison Moonlight (Blood Pudding Press, 2021); he also has work in a recent anthology from Finishing Line Press, Poets with Masks On: a Pandemic Anthology, edited by Melanie Simms, & includes artwork by Jason’s mother, Christine O’Connor.

Most of his poems were short since, as he said, he was child of punk rock & the Ramones with their short & fast songs, without much talking in between. He has had a lot of his poems published in online zines & has lost count of how many, where, but he was able to give us a generous selection of pieces like descriptive notations from his notebooks, including some from Spear of Stars & from Poison Moonlight. He included some Albany poems, “Summer League,” published in the Boog Lit Baseball online issue, about his little league team with mis-spelled team shirts, “Clearwater” about being on Pete Seeger sloop, & a tender tribute to his grandfather on his mother’s side, “Valor Concealed,“ about finding a picture of him from World War II, & equally the tender pieces about his late son, & a tribute to his step-father. 

July 30

I take pride in finding interesting combination of poet for the annual Poets in the Park series that Tom Nattell gifted to me to continue after his death, such the time I scheduled 2 women poets who were both living on Willett St. at the time, Sylvia Barnard & Carolee Bennett, & the combination of mid-Hudson poet Donald Lev with Albany poet Don Levy. This night it was my first father-daughter team, Lance LeGrys & Alex LeGrys. Both have read in the open mic at the Third Thursday Poetry Night here in Albany, as well as at the Caffè Lena poetry open mic in Saratoga Springs. Whom should I feature here in the Park? Why not both?

Lance LeGrys, who read first, is the author of the poetry collection Views from an Outbuilding (Clare Songbirds Publishing, 2019), from which he read a substantial chunk. I’ve heard Lance read a number of times &, like a concert by the Rolling Stones, I heard once again many pieces I have enjoyed in the past. He began with a couple of short pieces, including one I like about squirrels in a park in Warsaw, Poland. The big, middle chunk of his reading was from the title cycle of his book, he read 13 of the 40 sections, about the why, the wherefore, the who, the what of his writing retreat, drinking beer, talking to the devil. Then on to other poems not in this book, including poems considering what is perception, how we experience it, including one based on a community of deaf/blind folks communicating by touch. He ended with a humorous, satirical social commentary, “Living Among Cannibals” that gets better every time I hear it.

Alex LeGrys attends Bard College, & said she is only here her because of nepotism, “I just knew the right people.”  Then she proceeded to demonstrate that she was here reading at Poets in the Park because she is a poet, which, of course is why I invited her to read in the first place. 

Her reading was all her own, mostly portraits, mostly of women, nearly all drinkers, lots of smoking, grim tales strung together. Her titles were like labels, “The Isolationist,” “The Ethnographer,” “The Hippocampus,” “Co-existence.” Then she brought us to “Plastic Flamingos on a Smoke Break,” “Strumming Through Suburbia” (i.e., Clifton Park), “Mountain of Masks” (not a pandemic poem but about the clash of classes in Dover, VT), & an imagined visit to a dive bar in the Adirondacks “Fake Cowboys” — poetic mini sociological essays as if she were the ethnographer. 

Both poets a fitting finale to this year’s Poets in the Park — thank you to all the community folks who showed up to sit, applaud, & even throw a few bucks in Tom Nattell’s neon hat. See you next July.

August 15, 2022

Spoken Word Night, July 22

This was the first night of a 2-night/2-city poetry extravaganza involving visiting poets associated with Trailer Park Review & Hobo Camp Review, organized by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. The first event was held at Elixer 16, 45 2nd Street, Troy, & was hosted by James Duncan, editor of Hobo Camp Review.

Local poetry impresario R.M. Engelhardt had a short-lived series here at back in the pre-pandemic days. It’s a long climb from the beer bar to the “performance space” on the 3rd floor, but high enough to get breezes through the big windows on a hot night in July.

First up was Cord Moreski, "a poet from the Jersey shore," who delivered working class narratives, with pop references (e.g., a bar poem with Big Bird) in loud, pressured speech, mostly short stuff. 

J. Lester Allen said he had read in Troy in years past, currently lives in the Finger Lakes Region. He also had some narrative pieces, never sure without seeing the line breaks if it’s “poetry” or “prose,” but then does it matter? One poem about Socrates & Paul Newman meeting in a bar at a horse race sounded like a poem by a local poet who often writes about God hanging out at a bar.

Editor & host James Duncan read a more upbeat poem than what we’ve heard so far, & read for a poet (whose name I missed) who could not be here.

The lone female poet on the night’s bill was Paula Bomer,  with a splash of color, & without the "uniform" who interestingly enough, read mostly from male poets, including the gay narratives of Dennis Cooper, from John Berryman, & then some of the re-writes of the sonnets of Ted Berrigan by Andrea Kneeland The Translations (Sentenia Books, 2015). Paula is the publisher of Sententia Books.

I had seen Dan Provost read some years ago at the Connecticut Poetry Festival where he was part of an informal group that dubbed itself “Da Beards!” awash in testosterone. He included in his reading tonight pieces from Foundations of Cheap Penance released in November 2021 by the local Dead Man’s Press, which mostly publishes the work of the afore mentioned R.M. Engelhardt.

Jason Baldinger, from Pittsburgh, was another unrelenting loud declaimer, which seemed to be common trait among the readers, his poems while declarative & assertively profound, were a bit more descriptive than what we’d heard up to this point.

Victor Clevenger, read pretty much the same, short, angry-man poems, some he called “Haiku” but sounded just like incomplete notebook jottings, also beard, ink, hat uniform.

John Dorsey, co-editor of River Dog Press with Victor Clevenger, former ring-leader of “Da Beards!” at the Connecticut Poetry Festival still has the beard, was still yet tonight another shouter, every piece read in the same style, a loud voice falling in poetry style at the end of the line, short poems more like notes, emotions towards a poem not quite finished.

It was a tedious night with little variety, as can be expected I suppose with folks published by 2 presses that generally take similar material. I have been published by both presses myself, & of course had sent them poems that were on similar themes & styles like those I had read on their Blogs. But to have all of these guys — only 1 woman poet in the locker room room tonight — with their beards, their caps, their ink, & their shouts — all together for 2 hours was a bit overwhelming, & culturally anachronistic. Indeed it seemed that Da Beards! had risen from the swamp tonight, now also Da Hats!, Da Ink! & invaded Troy (if you don’t have the uniform you don’t read).

There was a similar event, including many of the same readers, at The Linda in Albany on the following night, which I missed. This time the single female reader was Albany poet & former Vice-President of Mary Panza. I’m sure she did just fine, for, as some poet once wrote about a different venue down the blocks from The Linda, “When Mary Panza’s curses made cocks fall like dried leaves all along Central Ave…”