This Summer tradition has been going on since 1990 at the Robert Burns Statue (& it started even earlier elsewhere in the City), the brain-child of poet & activist Tom Nattell, & since 2005 coordinated by me — but then you would know all that & more if you were at the Poets in the Park reading. This year we had 3 Saturdays in July & 5 poets (6 actually scheduled). There were great, attentive audiences each night, ranging from about 15 to about 27, not including random passers-by who paused, listened & smiled.
We started off on July 13 with Dennis Sullivan, the dean of the Voorheesville poetry scene, who was our first reader. That in itself is ironic since so many of Dennis’ poems are ponderings of the end, beginning with “Greetings,” a consideration of the land of the living & dead, bouncing off a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. Others on that theme included “While I was Musing Earlier Tonight” about a visit from the dead, & the 4-part “The Beginning of My Farewell Tour.” But there was a love poem & one on Whitman, & the eco-poetics “The Firefly.” Dennis is characteristically poetically philosophical, & he was in character tonight.
Elizabeth Gordon (aka Elizag) was a member of Albany’s first slam team to compete nationally last year. She began with some selections from her pending book Love Cohoes, about living in the old mill housing near the Falls. She then threw in some her slam favorites, intense & political, such as “Addition & Subtraction” (for the Sandy Hook victims) & “To the Company Selling Trayvon Martin Shooting Range Targets…” (included in her self-published chapbook Fear No Evening). She also included a new piece, a satirical social survey to determine if you are working class. & I was pleased with her ending her reading with a personal favorite, “First Date,” also in Fear No Evening.
We were back in the Park with fine weather on July 20 with poet, activist & co-founder of the Split this Rock Poetry Festival Melissa Tuckey. Most of the poems she read were from her recent collection Tenuous Chapel, the winner of the 2012 ABZ First Book Poetry, selected by Charles Simic. These are short, intense poems, marinaded in word play & wry humor, including among others “John Cage,” “Venus & the Space Station,” “Al Fresco,” & “Pete Tells Me Things.” She included a few newer pieces, always challenging our attention, leaving us with a smile.
Tomas Urayoán Noel took the bus up from the Bronx, although during the rest of the year he teaches at the University at Albany. He is also playful in his words, mixing languages in Spanglish variations on Spanish & English. He began with the sideways poem “precipitation and its discontents/el malestar de la premura” from Los Días Porosos (The Porous Days) (coleccíon latina, 2012). He engaged the audience to participate in the bilingual title poem from his earlier collection, Kool Ligic/La Lógica Kool (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2005). He also tried out newer work, such as “Alphabet City/Ciudad Alfabeto” combining bilingual prose & poetry, manipulating words & sounds.
As Albany poet Carolee Bennett pointed out later over beers at the party on my back porch both poets love the sound of their words, which is a compliment that all of us poets would love to hear.
The final reading of the 2013 season was on July 27, another beautiful Summer evening, with the equally beautiful local poet Jill Crammond. She said most of her poems are about being a mom, getting divorced & relationships, as indeed they were. She began with a poem on mothers by Catherine Barnett, then on to her own fine work, briefly interrupted by the sirens of emergency vehicles. She began with a series of her mother/housewife poems, sometimes “I” sometimes “you,” including a childhood memory of a horse auction for Shannon, who had just lost a beloved horse. Then on to a recent series of poems about Mary (i.e., the Blessed Virgin version), although she, Jill, is a Methodist (which in its own way makes it better), such as “Mary & the Commandments” (there are more than 10), “The Pope Writes a Poem to Mary,” & “Mary’s Terrible Heart” (which sounded to me like a love poem with an edge). A great way to end this series with this local poetic bright light. Did I say her hair was perfect?
We hope to be back next year at the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park on Saturdays in July. But in the meantime there are lots of poetry events — reading, open mics, etc. — here in New York State’s Capital Region. Check out the calendar here. & until the next time, may the Muse be with you!