Each year the readers of Metroland, Albany’s weekly entertainment tabloid, vote for the area’s best restaurant, best country band, best pizza & best Poet. While past research has determined that the number of votes cast each year may not be that great the local poetry community waits with bated breath (this may be slightly over-stated) to see who the top 3 winners are, to see who is the “Best Local Poet.” The winners this year were Brian Dorn who during the past year has been to at least as many poetry events as I have, Jay Renzi whom no one had ever seen at a reading, & Mary Panza who everyone has seen at a poetry reading one time or another in the last 25 years. And each year Albany Poets honors these winners with a public reading during Word Fest.
We gathered this night at the historical Pauly’s Hotel just next door to The Low Beat where we had gathered the night before for the Haiku Slam, with Albany Poets el presidente Thom Francis as our MC.
Best Local Poet Brian Dorn began the night with poems from his chapbook From My Poems to Yours, with the title poem, then an ode to subtle beauty “Plain to See” & the nostalgic “Ghost Town.” Then he read a sequence of poems about the Capital District, Albany (“Paradox City,” “Huge,” “Skyline” (imagining the Egg decorated for Easter), & a poem to Rachel Ray), to the North Country (“The Ethan Allen” on Lake George & “Eyesore” the old Frontier Town), to Schenectady (“The City that Lit Up the World” & a poem to Olympic wrester Jeff Blatnick “Happy Dude). He ended with a letter to Metroland, a thank-you note & proposal for more more poet categories, as is done with the local bands. Brian is one of the hardest working poets in the area, attending readings all up & down the Hudson valley from the North Country to Kingston. He earned his title.
Jay Renzi on the other hand was not only new to those of us who attend local readings & open mics but he confessed that we were new to him, having generally kept to himself in Troy writing his poems in pubs. He began with “The Place Where the Poets Dwell” from his chapbook The Thorn & Thistle, written as Joseph Renzi, a series about a fictional tavern & its patrons. Most of his poems were quite short, only a couple of stanzas at most, & they rhymed — did I mention that Brian Dorn is a rhymer too? When was the last time Metroland had 2 rhyming poets on its list? Other rhymes were the new “Kitchen,” “Tangletown” about a neighborhood in Seattle, & “ A Fair.” He stated that he sometimes performs with dancer Laura Teeter & he read 2 of the poems she has choreographed, “Dawn” & “This is Not the Devil.” He read a piece about a Dutch cemetery he wrote for the “30/30” project, “The Dutch” that starts in rhyme then breaks into free verse. There was a short piece about a Bloody Mary & beer, the 4-line “Sundial,” “Stay In this Place for a While & the very short pub poem “Clever & Shout.” I hope that he will try out a few of our local open mics.
Mary Panza has a lock on a spot on the Metroland list as perhaps one of Albany’s best-known local poets. She began tonight’s reading with her entry from the 1995 anthology Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 (Manic D Press), “Size Still Matters.” Then from her collaborative chapbook with Gina Grega Hair Buffet (Hairpie X Press) “What Was Lost in Translation was Made Up for in Bullshit,” “Mercy,” & “Shooting the Weebles with Who-Ha.” Then on to her irreverent take on Shel Siverstein, “Fuck the Giving Tree,” ending with the drive-by “The Cock-Kicker Manifesto.” A classic Mary Panza performance — wham, bam, thank-you m’am.
The music for the evening was the guitar duo of Nick Bisanz (one of the “Best Kept Secrets in the Capital Region” according to Metroland) & Pat Irish performing Pat’s “The Front Desk,” an extended rock piece of linked songs telling the story of the night clerk in a hotel, a mini- (& minimalist) rock opera, the duo performance reminding me of Lou Reed & John Cale’s “Songs for Drella” & Pat’s voice & intonation recalling the early ‘90s group Trotsky Icepick.
Word Fest 2014 continues. More pictures at my Flickr! site.