December 7, 2023

Visual Poetry: Poetry in Performance, November 28

This was an event planned in conjunction with an exhibit at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy titled Visual Poetry: New Vistas. The exhibit is up from November 13 to December 20, curated by Willie Marlowe, Joseph Mastroianni, & Bella Burnett, with work by Drea LaRose, Kelsey Renko, Kim Tateo, Laura Frare, Marisa Cavanaugh, Mary Kathryn Jablonski, Willie Marlowe & Yeachin Tsai.

The title of this night's event was a bit of a misnomer. While the poetry was exemplary & varied in style & presentation, & some of the poets used videos as part of their readings, it lacked the kind of presentations usually associated with “performance poetry” — dramatic, even histrionic presentations, music, costumes, etc. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining, albeit long, evening of poetry & videos.

The readers were all local/regional poets. The announced headliner, the Philadelphia-based “experimental poet,” CA Conrad had transportation problems & didn’t make it to Troy.

The host was Troy poet Nancy Klepsch who debuted a short video of her poem “god must be a boogie man,” the title poem of her 2017 poetry chapbook.

The first piece was the 30-minute video/poem chapbook, Compass, by poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski & filmmaker Laura Frare, a compilation of 9 separate pieces, weaving together video images, music & the Jablonski’s poems. The title piece, Compass, won an award in the Experiment Short Film category at this year’s Writers Institute Film Festival.

Jill Crammond is a long-time participant in the local poetry reading/open mic scene; she said that she started writing her poems as a “single-Mom,” but now that her children are grown up she doesn’t know what she is. She began with a seasonal poem from the 2022 Poetic License - Albany exhibit of poems & ekphrastic art, “October Sonnet,” then on to a cluster of poems from her recently published chapbook, Handbook for Unwell Mothers (Finishing Line Press, 2023), including a couple of my favorites, “On Forbidding Certain Words at the Dinner Table,” & “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Home” with its nod to Wallace Stevens. Then to a cluster of poems about the death of her father, ending with one titled “On Learning There is No Word Like ‘Widow’ for the Daughter of a Dead Man.”

I noted as the readings began that there was no mic stand, that the readers had to hold the microphone while awkwardly turning the pages of their books or manuscript, or other wise scrolling on their lap-top or phone. Perhaps there is a high-roller out there who would like to purchase a mic stand for any such future events at the Arts Center.

Shira Dentz began her reading with her own version of a video poem, then read from her laptop what she called "newer poems" about the environment. Most of the poems were quite short  descriptive ponderings, such as a piece about trees & leaves titled “Silk Confetti,” another titled “Sparks,” & one titled “Why Part 2” a colorful description of -- what? More of what I expected from her opening descriptions was “Small Things” about micro-plastics. She also read from a collection titled Sisyphusina (PANK, 2020), the title a female version of the Greek figure Sisyphus; the book is described on the publisher’s page as “a cross-genre collection of prose, poetry, visual art, and improvisatory music, centered on female aging” which did not come across in the reading. She ended with a longer piece built on the common expressions she had been hearing "At the End of the Day.”

Philip Good dedicated his reading to the memory of his partner, Bernadette Mayer (1945 - 2022), & read a couple pieces he had done in collaboration with Bernadette, “Don’t forget organic salt…” & “Carnavale” (which I think may have been in the 2022 New Directions book by Bernadette Milkweed Smithereens). Then on to a series of seasonal poems, starting in March, discursive, descriptive pieces, sometimes with cultural/social commentary (such as one about Maine, “Looks Just Like a Postcard”), others like automatic writing commenting on the writing itself. Then there was the funny & all-to-true “Things to Do in East Nassau,” which if you have ever been there you can guess.

Matthew Klane has run a variety of reading series in the Capital District over the years, most recently Salon Salvage in Troy in which he brings in young, experimental writers from near & far. Tonight he read from HIST (Calamari) described as “a graphic novel,” or a “text-image blockbuster.” He read 5 of the 10 short chapters, with images projected on the screen, being the closest to the advertised “poetry in performance.” The images, which were done by the “interdisciplinary poet” James Belflower, were collaged, looking quite 19th century, of shipwrecks, monsters, murders, hauntings signifying — what? The text was equally collaged in fractured phrases, while Matthew’s deep, sonorous reading voice made it all sound so serious.

Sarah Wyman was the only reader I had not heard or seen previously & her work was a pleasant surprise. She read largely  from her 2021 book from Codhill Press Fried Goldfinch; many were ekphrastic poems based on such visual artists as Arshile Gorky & James McNeill Whistler. She also read a clutch of what she described as “familial poems,” such as one on tobacco “American Spirit,” & the sestina “Wild Asparagus.” I always like to be surprised by good poets that I hadn’t yet heard of — more books to buy.

The final poet of the night, Ellen White Rook, is one I had definitely heard previously, & indeed she was a featured poet earlier this year at the monthly event I run, the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany, & was recently the featured poet at the Caffè Lena Poetry Night in Saratoga Springs. She included a quartet of poems from her attractively produced book Suspended (Cathexis Northwest Press, 2023) sprinkled throughout her set list. But also read other poems from a new manuscript, such as 2 companion pieces about seeing a demon in the room as a young girl & as an older woman, & the poem tilted “Drusen” on the conflation of language & a vision problem that I heard as a metaphor for poetry.

While not quite a night of “poetry in performance,” certainly an evening of quite excellent work by local writers, making one question why one would need some celebrity poet from out-of-town to make this an “event” anyways. 

Support your local poets at the venues & your local artists at the galleries near you.

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