Open Mics

Tom Nattell Memorial Beret Toss & Open Mic, January 28

Tossing the beret
photo by A.C. Everson

When AlbanyPoets started Poets Speak Loud! at the Lark Tavern on Madison Ave., in Albany, the first reading was scheduled for January 31, 2005, the last Monday of the month, in tribute to Tom Nattell whose legendary poetry open mic at the QE2 (a punk rock club) on Central Ave. was held on the last Monday of the month for over 11 years. Tom, who was dying of cancer at the time, was invited to be the first featured reader. He died the morning of the reading, so the open mic became an impromptou memorial service. Afterwards we marched to the Robert Burns statue in Washington Park to “toss” Tom’s beret to the head of Bobbie Burns, in what has become a yearly ritual.

Since 2011, following the fire at the Lark Tavern & the move of Poets Speak Loud! to McGeary’s, we’ve been having the beret toss prior to the reading. After a pre-toss party at the home of Carolee on Lark St., we trapesed to the statue, with a candle, flowers, sage & a green beret. We took turns tossing it to Robert Burns until Keith Spencer landed it with precision on the grand Scots poet’s arm.

Down at McGeary’s tonight we gathered for the open mic, with me, DWx, as the host. I read my short tribute poem with bell, “Theology 101” then played Tom’s performance poem, “Wounded Knee,” from the 3 Guys from Albany cassette/CD. Then on to a great cluster of poets from this community of great poets, some of whom had been on the stage of the QE2 & knew Tom, others who were much too young, but are now carrying on his work in their own way.

First up was A.C. Everson, who told the story of Tom talking into her deaf ear while a poet read on stage; her poem “I’m Looking for Where the We Are” was in the spirit of Tom, then a new work in progress, “My Country.” Then, in contrast, Carolee (almost not) Sherwood, with a poem written last Thursday, combining Winter & divorce, “Blue Sky January,” then “from someone who doesn’t write love poems” (she said) a poem about a first kiss, “Unless You Count the Tulips.” Avery‘s poem “Where Inspiration is Created” ended with an invocation of the Greek muses. R.M. Engelhardt had his own remembrances of the music & performances at the QE2, then a preachy bar poem imagining himself as an “Old Soul;” he has a new book out, The Resurrection Waltz, from which he read “St. Poem.”

New face & voice Natalie read 2 poems rich in vivid images, “Heart Strum” & the picture of a family cooking, “Diorama.” Jill Crammond recalled seeing Quincy Troupe & the AIDS quilt, both brought to Albany by Tom Nattell; she read “After My Son Returns From His Father I Learn Guns Are Not Bad” & the love poem “Outside Your Home the Machine Lifts Boulders.” Kevin Peterson read a short poem that flew by, “Bayonets” then a piece about watching TV & flipping between football & “Law & Order” (done that too). Tess Lecuyer read her funny, provocative list poem, “Prompts: Dates.” I followed with my annual birthday poem — if I live long enough may have poems enough for a chapbook someday! Sally Rhoades also remembers the QE2, specifically March 15, 1990, then read “I Wear My Wounds Gently” & another piece that sounded like notes for the other poem.

Tom Nattell, 1991

Sylvia Barnard‘s memory of Tom goes back to the Readings Against the End of the World; she read 2 poems from her new book, Trees, the anti-war piece “To Harry Patch” & a Civil War poem, “Marriage Quilt.” Leslie Michelle didn’t read her own work, but instead read “At Shakespeare & Company” from Jan Tramontano‘s book Woman Sitting in a Café and other poems of Paris (The Troy Book Makers, 2008).

Thom Francis read a poem about an occasion at work I remember only too well — at a meeting with “the divine leader,” surrounded by sycophants. Mary Panza told us she was 19 when she first went to the QE2 (heck, I was only 21), & read a re-write of her signature piece, “This is Not an Angry Poem.” Joe Krausman read 2 “shorts” as he described them, “Alice” & a funny “psychological” poem. Poetyc Vyzons slipped in at the last minute & was positive, about loving yourself & others, & about passing on our gifts to our children.

To conclude I read my elegy, “Chasing Tom,” then played the recording of Tom’s classic “Save It” & ended with his last poem:
Short or tall 
are wonderful

Other last Mondays of the month, Poets Speak Loud! continues at McGeary’s on Clinton Square in Albany with an open mic & a featured poet — check for details.

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Caffè Lena Open Mic, January 2

The first open mic of the year was, appropriately enough, here at Caffé Lena, with 2 wonderful featured poets with Albany connections, Cheryl A. Rice & Tess Lecuyer. As a result the audience was packed with raucous poets from Albany. Our (self-described) “excited” host Carol Graser began with a reading of Adrienne Rich’s poem “In Those Years.” Then on to the open mic.

First poet up for 2013 was, appropriately enough (again), a “virgin,” Brian Dorn with a couple rhyming poems, “Darken Me,” & the love poem “Can’t Escape” (i.e., he won’t even try). Jesse Muse was back with what he described as “something else,” a depressing picture of a man in a darkening room, then with a poem he has done here before, a drugged woman reading the Iliad. Gordon Haymon is another of the North Country’s rhyming balladeers, tonight read a poem about the afterlife, “Kilmer’s Sawmill,” then a piece about a trip out West, “The Strip.” Kate McNairy‘s poems are short punches: “Numbers” (blind woman counts steps) & “Weather.” Eliza ! Oborne (that’s how she signed up) was a hit with “Toast,” a high-energy piece of enthusiasm that used short line rhymes (a la Dr. Seuss) to great effect.

Cheryl A. Rice, the Diva of the Kingston poetry scene, was a battling a cold, but managed to get through her reading just fine. Her newest poetry book, Moses Parts the Tulips: Albany Poems was available for the first time tonight from A.P.D. (Albany Poems Delight) [full disclosure: I am the publisher of A.P.D. (Alternating Poetic Device)] but most of the poems she read were not from the new chapbook. She began with a poem about a Xmas discussion with her sister, “Blessed,” then to “Frida,” an homage/prayer to the Mexican painter. Cheryl’s strong-suit in poetry is the narrative bent she gives to most of her poems, such as “Gingerbread Man,” about her stint as a substitute grade-school librarian. “Making Her Life A Poem” was her like her ars poetica/vita. She then turned to 3 poems from her 2012 chapbook from Post Traumatic Press, My Minnesota Boyhood: “Life Preservers,” “Scaling Bluefish” & “Leaving Minnesota.” She ended her set with a cluster of poems from Moses Parts the Tulips, the title poem, “Cranes” (dedicated to Tom Nattell) & “Mr. Freileigh.” By the way, the cover of Moses Parts the Tulips is a stunning painting/drawing by Albany artist & poet Kristen Day.

The second featured poet was another Albany favorite, Tess Lecuyer, who began, appropriately enough for this venue, with an old poem, “Bob Dylan on Mars,” followed by another “Martian” poem, “Ares.” Then on to a series of her Nature poems taking us through the seasons, “Dark Walking,” “Summer Sunrise,” “Autumn Equinox 2010” (like a love letter to Winter), “Anywhere” (a mall poem actually from the Winter solstice in 1993), finishing with “Sacandaga Pantoum” (celebrating a family gathering). Like Paul Krassner once said, “she gives good reading.”

The pairing of Cheryl & Tess as the features was wonderful, especially for those of us who are fans of both poets. I usually make it up to this open mic at least 6 or 8 times a year & would’ve made separate trips for both of these fine poets. If Caffé Lena is trying to pack the house by having 2 featured poets, they would do better not to pair up poets who draw the same crowd. It would be better to have a well-known local poet share the feature with some lesser-known out-of-town poet to insure that the stranger has an audience. At least that’s my 2 cents.

What was in the pinata is now on the stage.

Carol Graser returned us to the open mic (after a short break) with one of her own poems, about a collision. A.C. (“Breaking My Art“) Everson had a snowball piñata to accompany her poem “Snowball Gone Bad.” Joe DeBari followed with 2 rhyming pieces, “A Mule” & “Heaven’s Haven” (Bob Dylan?). Anthony Bernini uses rhyme in other, more complicated ways, in “Bereft” & the NYC-based “Sensible Pumps.” Sally Rhoades began with a tribute to a recently deceased cousin, “Top 10 Tips on Driving” & the childhood memory of “My Father’s Slippers.” Don Levy dedicated his poem about The Wizard of Oz, “A Friend of Dorothy’s,” to Cheryl Rice, then recounted “A Conversation in an Elevator” about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Melissa Anderson wowed us with a stunning recitation of her advice poem “Small” that we were still talking about in the car going home. Carolee Sherwood read an older poem, “The Feeling that Winter is Near” (which was — no surprise — also a relationship poem). I followed with 2 short poems based on poems by other poets, “After Cavafy” & “After Wang Wei.”  Tim Snyder recited his amusing biker ballad, “Down at Sully’s East.”  Jill Crammond read her versions of relationship poems,  “After Attending Her First Wedding My Daughter Learns the Meaning of Fish Tale” & “Keeping House” (befriending skunks).

Julie Lomoe‘s poem “New Year Resolution 2013” was really an anti-resolution poem. Barbara Garro read a long prose piece about a bird flying through the window of a house, “Country Life,” then a piece about “Cowboy Chapels” (even cowboys get religion). Andrew Sullivan ended the night with “Our Favorite Forgotten Constellations” & then a poem about getting drunk on New Year’s (screams from the audience at the mention of the night’s Secret Word).

This poetry open mic, with featured poets, is on the first Wednesday of each month at historic Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, 7:30 PM. Bring poems.

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Sunday Four Poetry, December 30

was actually Sunday Fifth Poetry, the reading moved this month to avoid the Xmas craziness. This afternoon’s featured poet was Philip Good, but first the open mic & other business (you’ll see).

First up was Alan Casline in his new cap, with a conversation of poets in the woods, “Anthology from Another Time,” then a poem about the Newtown shootings, “Cup of Sorrow.” I followed in a different vein with 2 cynical break-up poems, “Trailer Park” & “Adirondack Life.” Dennis Sullivan‘s poems were discursive, philosophical, on mortality, the big topics, “I Am the Richest of Men,” & “Only Moments Ago,” a poem for his granddaughter in response to a poem she wrote.

Mimi Moriarty & her brother Frank Desiderio read together whenever Frank is in town, going through their poems & finding pairs or “companion pieces,” as Mimi calls them. Today they were seasonal/holiday poems, beginning with Frank’s “Christmas,” then Mimi’s “First Snowfall.” Frank’s poem “Boxing Day” was about putting things away, Mimi responded with a concrete poem in the shape of a Xmas tree, “Bare Tree.” Frank’s poem “God’s Name” was theological pondering on how we human’s try to define the divine, while Mimi read her marvelous poem about putting up her creche, “Two Wisemen & a Buddha.”

Edie Abrams, who had been introducing each of our poets, was next with the poem she had promised last month, responding to a poem by Dennis Sullivan, her poem titled “Eternity (to DS, in memory of ADW),” then a redux of a poem from last year, “The White Bear 2”, on memory, again. Either Obeeduid‘s poems were untitled or I missed them in a mumble in some arcane language, like his first poem on writing & poetry & sound, with a subtitle like a software release (appropriate enough since he was reading his poems from an iPad); the other 2 poems the result of his delving into his family history, even creating some of his own history.

I was pleased to see Ron Pavoldi at an open mic again & when he got up to read he underscored how long it must have been by remarking that he had never seen someone read from an iPad (!); his first poem “Puncture Wound” was to his father, then a poem, “Then the Stars,” about a wonderful concept of rearranging the stars — I want to do that! Sue Petrie followed with a just-written poem (untitled?) reacting to the shooting in Newtown, CT, filled with bullets & history. Humor in poetry is Joe Krausman‘s stock-in-trade so it was no surprise he read a poem titled “Can God Take a Joke?” then an anti-New Year’s resolution resolution poem. Philomena Moriarty also used her iPad to read her poems, 3 meditative, discursive Buddhist poems, 2 on the theme of walking & meditating.

Before the featured poet read, Dennis Sullivan presented the 2012 Arthur Dare Willis Award to Alan Casline “for his outstanding contribution to poets & poetry.” Alan is the director of the Rootdrinker Institute & published of Benevolent Bird Press & in both roles makes the work of local poets available to the wider poetry community through chapbooks, broadsides & readings, a true poetry-activist. The annual Award is named in honor of Arthur Dare Willis (1936 – 2010), a teacher at Voorheesville High School, a poet, philosopher & mentor.

The featured poet was Philip Good, who read “a few older poems, a few newer ones” before reading a selection from his book, Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation (Trembling Pillow Press, 2011). The reference to the “Blank Generation” is to the 1970’s punk anthem, “Blank Generation” by Richard Hell. The older poems were “In the Park,” “Location” (at an art gallery/museum) & a piece on Dada from the on-going Tsatsawassa Papers. His newer poems took on a decidedly newsy, if not political, complexion: “After Super Storm Sandy,” “Parents with Guns…,” & “Shortest Day of the Year.” Then on to a selection from Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation. Philip’s poems run the gamut from perplexing randomness, to the startling clear (as in the new poems mentioned above). The numbered (hence, “untitled”) pieces from the book often sounded like cut-up or shuffled lines, many quite stunning juxtapositions & frequently ending with a humorous, aphoristic punchline (e.g., “Let us please learn something useless everyday.” #41). He even took requests from the audience (I resisted the temptation to shout out a random number).

This wonderful group gathers on the 4th Sunday (usually) of the month at the Old Songs Community Center in Voorheesville, NY at 3PM, with a featured poet & an open mic. Worth the trip from almost anywhere.

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