I was surprised when I arrived at Caffè Lena to find a taller, more expansive Carol Graser, then realized that it was Alan Casline who was performing the duties, in his own inimitable way, as the substitute host for the night. He began, as Carol does, with an OPP (other person’s poem), this “The Meaning” by Drummond Hadley. The featured poets was the brilliant discordant harmonics of Joe Krausman & Matthew Klane. But first the open mic.
First up was a member of Joe’s cheering section, Barbara Kaiser, with 3 (the rule is 2) tiny (OK) poems, more like aphorisms or short jokes, the first on marriage, the next about a diner (“The Albany Poem”), the last about a sign in a store — inspiration is everywhere. Rodney Parrott read “a couple things on ideology,” the first poem contending that “with a slant you get a narrow slice” then a poem on piece on powerful Christian men from his chapbook. Kate McNairy‘s poems are like beach glass: tiny, fascinating pieces of something you know is larger; her first tonight, on Winter, was titled “Heart” while “Falling Out” had her dancing on her grave. Sue Jefts read a “newer” poem about the Moon, “A Prayer Heard & Answered,” then an older poem, “Micro-moments Under an Evening Sky.”
Gordon Haymon likes to rhyme & tonight his rhymes were on guns & school shootings (“Lamentation Fermentation”), & on a stop at a church in Texas while driving cross-country. Cole announced this was his first time (“a virgin,” as we say) & read a couple of notebook jottings in short, uneven rhymes, pensive & philosophical. Steve Pillar also likes to rhyme; his first piece “Awakening” was based on a dream, then a piece that rhymes on God & angels & the Trinity.
Matthew Klane, one of the coordinators of the Yes! Poetry & Performance Series in Albany, was the night’s first featured poet. He read mostly from a stack of small cards, short, aphoristic poems, in his customary studied dead-pan style. The poems, so short he often repeated them like one does when reading haiku, were versions of definitions based on word-play, puns & often dark humor that elicited laughs from the audience. He ended with an excerpt from a piece titled “Unquiet Youth,” also based on sound & word play. While his work is of the type usually labeled “experimental” the poems he read tonight were accessible through their humor & playfulness.
Joe Krausman was the second featured poet, a long-time denizen of the Albany poetry scene. His poems are more discursive, narrative, but, like Matthew, often uses humor to make their point. “Marilyn Monroe’s Dress” was a meditation on what things are worth, & “High Wire” also had a dress in it. The poem “Nurseditor” was about aging, as were others such as “Losing It,” & a later doctor poem. Finding/keeping a place to live was the theme of another cluster of poems, “Oh Give Me a Home,” “House For Sale,” & “My Neighbor’s Parrot.” And I’m glad he included one of my personal favorites of his, “Houdini at the Death of His Mother.”
After the break, another rhymer, the Biker-poet Tim Snyder, recited “The Accident,” then a poem on getting a hot-oil massage, “The Threshold of Heaven.” Our host Alan Casline followed with 2 choruses (à la Kerouac) from a longer piece titled “Blues Experience,” both about hanging at a bar in New York City. Nancy Denofio read what she called “a one-sided conversation” (sometimes called a “monologue”) about a visit of an old Italian friend to her grandfather’s death bed. Brian Dorn has been bringing his rhyming poems around a lot lately; the first, “Falling Apart” was about the complexity of relationships, while he addressed what might be described as “the yoga of poetry” in “From My Poems to Yours” (namaste, Brian). Throughout the night Alan Casline had been interspersing between poets what he called “existential urban jokes” which I suddenly realized is an apt description of my first poem, “Joe Krausman,” then I dedicated to Matthew Klane my little bit of experiment in bar poem typography, “Parallel Parking.” We began the night with a Barbara & ended with another, this one Barbara Garro who read a poem for Valentines Day, “Heart Rules;” she then asked the audience to pick between 2 poems, based solely on their titles (a bad thing to ask the audience to pick what you read next, I think: what if they pick nothing & tell you to sit down?) & ended the night with the list poem, “The Road Paved with Words.”
This was an inspired pairing of 2 local, but very different, poets. Theoretically it should have drawn a diverse audience from the “camps” of both poets. In practice it was Joe who drew the most strangers — some poets who rarely show up here (or elsewhere), & a number of (one could only guess) non-poets. Unfortunately, Matthew’s camp didn’t show (except for his lovely wife, but then that’s de rigueur). I think the ugly truth is that the featured poets are not the draw. The poets come for the open mic, to put their own work out there. They really don’t care who the feature is. Yes, a good featured poet will bring her friends & family, but if you want an audience for a poet, have an open mic too, which they do here each month.
This fine open mic is the 1st Wednesday of each month at Caffé Lena on Phila St. in Saratoga Springs, 7:30 PM, $5.00. I’ll see you there.