Poets - Thom Francis

Thom’s 10 Things… a weekly look at Thom Francis’ thoughts on upcoming projects, Albany Poets, and the local poetry and spoken word community…

1 – What I am we are Missing in Woodstock and Kingston
There is a lot going on downstate that I never seem to be able to make it to. Not because I am not supportive of what is going on down there, it is just that I tend to get wrapped up in what we are working on up here in Albany that I run out of time. Every year around this time I am reminded of how much I am missing when poets from the Woodstock and Kingston area start signing up for the Word Fest Open Mic. Poets like Cheryl Rice, Mike Jurkovic, and Jacqueline Ahl. These are all great poets who have been writing and out performing their work for years at open mics and readings. In the past few years there has been more events happening with Phillip Levine‘s new COW series and the great featured readings at Half Moon Books that Rebecca Schumejda put together. If you want to hear some fantastic poetry (and some great food and margaritas at the Armadillo) just head an hour south, I know that I will be down there more in the coming months.

Saratoga, you’re next!

2 – Front Parlor
This is one of my new favorite things happening right now in the area. I have written about this series before, but I really want more people to know about this awesome storytelling series that takes place at the Ale House in Troy and at the Olde English Pub in Albany every month. This is not a poetry reading or open mic though, it is a storytelling night. No notes, no props. Just you, a mic, your words, and a very supportive and appreciative audience. The beer and food is also another reason to head out the Olde English Pub. Last month I (was bribed and) got up to the mic and told the story of how much I love what I do even though I don’t make a dime doing it.

3 – Page to Stage
Albany Poets and The Barn are teaming up to being poetry and spoken word to students in Albany. Dan Wilcox and Mojavi will be presenting this workshop to teens, bringing them through the process of writing, editing, and finally performing their poetry. After two attempts to get this workshop series off the ground we will be starting this four-week course on Friday, April 13. This project is very important to me personally, because if someone didn’t introduce me to the arts and writing when I was young, who knows where I would be now. The ability to deal with emotions and feel through art has always been what has gotten me through the ups and downs of my life. It really is free therapy. When The Barn contacted us about doing programming at their space, this was the first thing that jumped into my head. I remember sitting there in the meeting and the whole idea of showing teens how to use and share their words just started flowing. It is going to be great to see what these students come up with.

4 – Founders Reading and a Special Thank You
I talked about this last week too, but after posting an article about this reading the other day it has really made me think about how far we have some in the past few years. I just want to thank all of the poets who have come out and supported the local community. And I especially want to thank the spouses, significant others, and families of said poets for hanging in there all this time and putting up with us.

5 – And We’re (Looking) Back
While on the topic of memories and looking back at the past, I started posting photos and write-ups of past Word Fests starting with the first event in Thatcher Park in 2001. Today I will be posting about 2002, and I am sure you can figure out what will be coming up tomorrow…

6 – Nitty Gritty Slam #14
Lat night we had our first featured poet at the Nitty Gritty Slam. Rain Maker was a great addition to another successful poetry slam at Valentine’s. He brought a new energy to the slam and certainly raised the bar when he performed as the Calibration Poet. We will have a full article later on this week with the scores and breakdowns, but I just wanted to talk about the whole idea of slam. Mary wrote about her take on slam yesterday and while it was not a surprise to anyone who knows her, she talked about how she is not a fan of form. A couple of weeks ago I was on panel at The Arts Center about slam poetry and I think that after the discussion some people walked away with a different feeling about competing with words. I for one have always been a fan of slam. From the first time I heard Saul Williams and Taylor Mali speak, I was hooked. The way they used performance and their voices to tell a story through verse, brought words to life in a way that I had not thought was possible before. It was what really got me to write more and want to get on stage myself. The competition part of it, in my mind, only makes it better. Just like in sports, if you do not have competition, then how do you know how good you truly are? I know of a few local poets who hate the idea of these contests. Why is that? Why do some not like the idea of using poetry and spoken word in that way? I am a fan of all forms of poetry. I may not like, or even understand, all of them, but I am still a fan of the idea that words make a difference. And there is something to be said about standing in front of five judges with nothing more than a mic in front of you and your words inside you.

7 – Elizag Competing on a National Level
Speaking of competition and poetry slams, did you know that our very own Elizag was recently out in Denver for the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWps)? A couple of weeks ago she went out west to compete against the best female poets in the world. She did not win the tournament, but she was a strong competitor throughout. I am very impressed that she went out there to be a part of it the slam as a lone wolf. I am always in amazement and awe when local poets take it to the next level and go out and bring their skill and words to another stage. Being able to share your work in other cities and in front of different audiences is a great feeling, but to compete against the best in the world has got to be euphoric.

8 – Leslie Michelle Featuring at Poets Speak Loud
One of the poets who got up on stage at NGS #14 last night was Leslie Michelle who is a very familiar face in the local poetry community. She has been coming out to readings and open mics for a couple of years and is one of the driving forces behind Urban Guerilla Theatre. I am glad that she will have the opportunity to share more of her work as the featured poet at PSL on Monday night. And the timing could not be more perfect, because she just got her voice back from a long bought of laryngitis. Sometimes I find it hard to fully embrace a poets body of work at an open mic when they can only read one or maybe two poems (depending on the host, Dan). As a featured poet they get more time to take you through more of their work.

9 – Video(s) of the Week
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a proud and unashamed pro-wrestling fan and you also know that I will try to squeeze it into conversation whenever I can. I have action figures on my desk at work and at home. At the Lark Tavern we used to watch Monday Night Raw after the Poets Speak Loud open mics. I am also, obviously, a poetry and spoken word fan. Well, as I have grown, I have realized that these two worlds rarely come together. However, over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to get to know ILLiptical, who shares the same the love for dramatic, scripted fighting and poetry. He is, so far, the only poet that I know who can use poetry to tell the history of pro-wrestling. Here is a video I took a couple months ago at the Nitty Gritty Slam where ILLiptical is performing his tribute to “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

And, for the heck of it, here is a video of the fantastic piece “D-X Poets”

10 – And if You’re Not Down With That, I Have Two Words For Ya… “Coming Up”
We have another great week of poetry is in front of us. If you want to see who will be representing the great State of New York at the national Poetry Out Loud recitation competition be sure to swing by The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany) on Saturday, March 24, starting at 1:00 PM. This is always a great event featuring students from all over the state reciting favorite poems. I will be one of judges for the state finals along with Stu Bartow, Bertha Rogers, and Natalie Merchant.

The poetry keeps on coming on Sunday in Voorheesville with the Sunday Four Poetry Open  Mic at the Old Songs Community Center and then Monday night we come back to McGeary’s for Poets Speak Loud with featured poet Leslie Michelle. Be sure to click on “Events” for the full list of events.

That’s all I have for this week. Leave a comment and let me know what is on your mind.