“An exquisite corpse, like me!” That was how R.m. Engelhardt started the reading hour for Quoth The Raven Troy Poetry Mission Halloween, an event that takes places every last Wednesday, with featured poets, and drinks from the bar a floor below. In a room with wood flooring, and rail tables on the second floor of Elixir No. 16 were poets who shouted, sang, and applauded poems old and new.
This October the last Wednesday coincided with Halloween making this reading even more unique. Engelhardt launched this event with his own exquisite corpse poem, dressed as Ernest Hemingway; complete with a hunting jacket, and fake blood dripping from his skull cap.
James H Duncan hosted along with Engelhardt, they gave out candy, invited people to read, and solicited donations from the audience to make future readings possible. I took part in all three of these activities, including reading The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, the events namesake. I was rewarded with a miniature book of Poe’s poems; a gift from Engelhardt, an expert on the local poetry scene and founder of The Troy Poetry Mission as well as, the co-founder of Albany Poets.
Engelhardt then introduced the keynote poet who had stopped reading aloud over a decade ago! He is known by his stage name Hex’m Jai. Jai’s return to the scene came with flare like fire and brimstone, as he let out incantations from the likes of Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist turned occultist. “Know nothing! Dare nothing! Will nothing in bite till bloody the tongue!” Jai said at the start of his own incantation. Every phrase held the room at attention The esoteric style stopped every bit of side chatter, even someone trying to order drinks was captivated by the performance and stopped midsentence to listen. We found ourselves caught in his spells and couldn’t escape.
Other poets participated in the reading hour as well. James Duncan read his poem, The Changeling. Nancy Dunlop read Poe’s, Annabelle Lee, followed by Kendall Hoeft who read an original poem, A Thing Handed Down. Which was a heartfelt, three-part poem referencing plates her grandmother wanted to hand down to her. Guest poetry read about Kabul, and the lives of people who live in a world where an ordinary day includes horrific events shook our spines, while readings about cantankerous cats angry at hobos made my crooked teeth come out of hiding with pleasure. Every performance brought cheers, and applause, as the poets brought their own skills to bear.
Engelhardt has been a part of the Capital Region’s poetry scene for years and has gone to many well-known establishments to read, as well as listen-in. He founded The Troy Poetry Mission, the main sponsor of the event. The Albany scene had existed before him, but Engelhardt had put in his man hours to energize its spirit. Now, dozens of businesses, bookshops, and bars hold open-mics to let the talent ring in the ears of their patrons.
It was a night thick with esoteric lore, personal parables, and family myths, as well as stories of old. As the merriment began to close, R.M. Engelhardt Writer Poet Author, gave the last word, in reference to Tom Nattel, one of the original titans of the Albany poetry scene, “May the muse be with you, and see you next time.”