Thursday, January 30, 2014
"I've always liked the concept that we're reconstituted stardust. A human life is just an eye-blink in the universe, man, if even that." -Tom Nattell
"He looks like your grandfather, if your grandfather could kick your ass." -Bruce Springsteen, on Pete Seeger
On Monday night, Jan. 27, I attended the 9th annual Tom Nattell Memorial Beret Toss in Albany, NY. It's held each year on the final Monday night of January, as part of the Poets Speak Loud open mic series now held at McGeary's. Tom was a force in the Albany poetry scene from the '80s on, and our paths crossed frequently as I became more involved in reading out. We were not close, but I admired Tom for his energy, the thousand and one announcements he could squeeze in between readers at the old QE2 also held on the last Monday of each month. Tom was to have been the host of this new series, but became ill, and passed the hook to Mary Panza, a force in her own right in Albany and beyond. It was hoped he would be at least the first featured reader, but he died earlier that day. The reading became an impromptu memorial, with Nicole Peyrafitte leading a group to Washington Park afterwards to scramble up the statue of Robert Burns and plant Tom's old green beret on the Scots' head. The tradition has continued.
On January 28th, Pete Seeger's death was announced. It's not a stretch to imagine these two men were cut from the same recycled cloth. Each was an activist. Each spent the better part of their energies in promoting sustainable lifestyles. Tom began Artists' Action Against AIDs and Readings Against the End of the World. His Poets in the Park series has been continued by fellow poet Dan Wilcox, still held each July in front of the Burns statue. Pete was instrumental (pun intended) in cleaning up the Hudson River and founded the Clearwater Festival to raise awareness of environmental issues. He was banned from public media for many years, before the Smothers Brothers took a chance on booking him, in their brief heyday, on their CBS show.
Both were quirky, grizzly creatures. Both wore caps, sported grey beards, dressed practically. Pete almost made it to 95, and up until a few weeks ago could still be spotted at local events in his beloved Beacon, NY, holding a sign, strumming his ancient banjo. Sadly, Tom died at 52, the same age I will be in just a few weeks. Without a doubt Tom would have continued to raise awareness, had not this evil disease silenced him. It was about the only thing that could.
Tom's poetry was as radical as his politics. One of my first encounters with Tom was at the Day of the Poet competition in Stone Ridge, NY, where he and his son Noah performed an eloquent dittie inspired by their summer vacation, "We Mooned Mount Rushmore." Along with Dan and Charlie Rossiter, he toured the country as 1/3 of Three Guys From Albany. Pete spread the word as one of the Weavers, but is mainly remembered as a solo performer. In later years, when his voice failed him, Pete grew skilled at leading audiences in song, involving everyone in the performance.
Tom's legacy is his attitude as well as his poems. It's comforting as I start the second half of my life. I think more sometimes, I do more sometimes, because I remember Tom and how much he did in such a relatively short time. There is no guarantee I will have the luxury of 94+ years to do the world any good. It is nice to think that somehow we'll all always be a part of it, sparkling, perhaps a few twinkles above the heads of poets a century from now, wondering who the heck Robert Burns and Tom Nattell were, anyway.
Monday, January 20, 2014
2013 wasn't my most productive year. In the spring, a health fright ultimately turned out to be overcautiousness on the part of the medical establishment. At my age (52 this coming February), I should get used to abnormal test results, but this one rocked me for three weeks. I also had the pleasure of my very first colonoscopy in the autumn. In between, I was learning
my new day gig and catching up on some bills. The Muse pretty much left me alone for a good part of the year.
I brought sections of an old poem to the Goat Hill Poets salon each month, so I was covered there. I took a break from most open mics in the Hudson Valley area, and tried out life as a non-poet. I came home most every evening straight after work I cook more now that we've fixed the oven in the 1936 Chambers that came with the house, and this makes dinner more interesting. If you're still stuck with a toaster oven, let me know. I am a Master Chef with those.
I've worked on and off over the year on a memoir about my early years in college and after, and my very, very silly marriage. In referring to my journals from that time, I have been confronted with the true complexities of my life then, much more nuanced than the simple 'he hit me and I moved out' story that I'd learned to tell myself afterwards, to justify my actions and to help put that part of my life to rest, to move on to whatever was ahead. There were complications, someone else I met two weeks after my wedding that I may or may not have made a go with if I had met him just a month earlier. Someone I thought was as close to a soul mate as I'd ever get (not quite believing in the concept). There were complications with him. Complexities with school, family, work. I wish my younger self had been bolder, but I had a lot of figuring out to do. There were many reasons I jumped at the chance to marry at 19, the least of which was love.
Being confronted with the realities of my past has motivated me positively, if not creatively. I am more aware of time "wasted", and of the limited time ahead. I am cleaning out closets, cutting my hair, castiing off art supplies and remnants of hobbies that no longer speak to me, bit by bit. I feel compelled to put things in order, as if that will count for something at the end. I know part of it is a desire to live the rest of my life in a more streamlined fashion. How much does it all matter? What will the scales show once I'm out of breath for good? Not for me to worry about. But this is how I'm compelled to behave now.
In fact, I almost feel like if I never wrote another word, I'd be good with it. I am satisfied with my efforts to date, short of my goals as they are. I am also comfortable with my limitations, finally acknowledging I'll never be Erica Jong or Sylvia Plath. I am quiet now. I've had years like this before. 2002 was one of them. Until I hooked up with my Roommate, my Beloved, I spent a long time in shock about 9/11. I had no desire to add to the piles of odes and graphic rants that tried to pass for odes. Words failed me. Now perhaps I'm failing them. There are stirrings, urges that indicate I won't be quiet for good. Very rough drafts right after returning from Costa Rica, a hit and run trip for work that turned out better than I'd hoped. But in the meantime, there's a birthday party to plan. Dishes to wash. Blue jeans to patch, or toss aside. And a desk to clear off and at least put papers in order.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Recently two publications arrived in the mail that include my poems. Up The River is a brand-new publication of Albany Poets, and includes a good variety of work from around the region, as well as photos by local artists. Its debut was delayed by staff issues, but the quality of the first issue proves it was worth the wait. Perfect bound and glossy covered, I look forward to many more issues, and perhaps even submitting some photos from my days as a reporter in Newburgh. Even with the crappy little camera I used, I think I got a few nice shots that might be usable.
A Slant of Light is a new anthology published in September by Codhill Press, and features a cross- section of poems by Hudson Valley women. Previous anthologies include Riverine and Waterwrites, both featuring the work of Hudson Valley writers. A Slant... is a smart, compact volume, priced at $20.00. The price is a little high for my sensibilities, but I surely am out of touch when it comes to the cost of ink and paper in the real world. None of the poets included received any kind of payment for their work, but the exposure is hoped to expand interest in our poetry, and in Hudson Valley poets in general.
I am always disappointed when a long-awaited publication comes out, for a couple of strange reasons. Looking at my own work again after months, sometimes years, after I've submitted it, I'm always appalled. Often the poem has undergone several revisions since I last saw it in print, and seeing it in whatever foreign typeface the publishers choose fools me into seeing it at first as not my own, but someone else's. And, being the critical bitch that I am, I immediately start picking it apart.
For many years I was not a fan of the revision process. I would just go on to another poem, sometimes with a similar subject, but often just abandoning the notion. I'm still not big on repeating myself thematically. The three or four poems I've come up with concerning 9/11 are an exception, and even then, each was inspired at a different time and under different circumstances, usually an anniversary. As I got older, and decided to begin applying what I'd learned in college to my real life writing, I began to revise, while still retaining hard copies of earlier drafts. Composing on computers makes this impossible, and it's one of the reasons I still write the first draft by hand, usually on yellow legal paper.
The other problem is something I'm not particularly proud of, but feel I should mention nonetheless. Because I am not the editor of these volumes, obviously I'm not the one who makes the final selections. I always see poems I would have preferred had been left out. Of course I have my favorite poets; everyone does. I also have my least-favorite poets. How editors make their final choices depends on a number of factors, only one of which is how good or accomplished the poet is. Sometimes I'm not so thrilled to be included in the same volume as some of my least favorite poets. But it is not my call. I get over it.
In fact, perhaps some of them are not thrilled to be in the same volume as I am.
And I often kick around the idea of starting my own publication, but then I remember how much work it involves. Then I shut up.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
Sunday, June 30, 2013
New dad and longtime Albany Poets leader, "El Presidente" Thom Job, recently asked a few of us old timers on the Hudson Valley poetry scene for our lists of five open mics from the past that are no longer with us, but that we miss. Here's what I came up with:
Number One has to be the QE2 [in Albany], and the late, great Tom Natell, darting back and forth between the mic and the list, cramming in announcements about other events between readers. He kept everything going at a breakneck pace, yet the readers were honored and supported. I dare say it's almost the perfect format for a reading. I caught it at the tail end of its long run, and often joke that the $7K I spent on grad school would have been better spent on Rolling Rocks at the Q on open mic nights...
Number Two would have to be the Tinker Street Cafe' in Woodstock, hosted for years by Dean Shambach. What a scene!! Poets on the makeshift stage pontificating before a "velvet Elvis" towel thumbtacked to the wall, non-poets yelling expletive-heavy reviews from the bar.... It was an amazing experience, and I always give myself credit for having read there despite my youth and shyness (at the time!)...
Number Three is Bob Wright's version of the Woodstock Poetry Society, a monthly open mic then held in the community center. Bob ruled with an iron fist, but the room was always packed, everyone got their five minutes of Woodstock fame, and no one commandeered the mic for their own selfish purposes!
Uneven but always an adventure, Philip Levine's Monday night series at the Colony Cafe' was for years a dependable place to hobnob with fellow Ulster County poets and other sordid types. Philip is indulgent to a fault, and anyone with $3 to hand his wonderful mother Betty at the door could get up and do their thing-- truly the spirit of Woodstock incarnate!
Unaccustomed as I am to blowing my own horn, I have to admit to sometimes missing my own annual open mic in Kingston, the Sylvia Plath Bake-Off. Held at various locations throughout the city, including the Unitarian church and the defunct Flying Saucer uptown, I liked it best when fifty-plus poets, singers, dancers and performers crammed into the AIR Studio in midtown. Jim Marzano was our gracious host. During the AIR years, the Bake-Off expanded to included an actual baked goods competition as well as an open mic! I will forever have raisin bread nooses and marzipan embryos dancing, dancing in my brain>
OK, so the bit about blowing my own horn is a lot of crap, but besides that.... Can any of you add to this list? Question my choices? Leave me a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear more...
Saturday, June 29, 2013
I was kindly invited to participate in a Cicada Celebration here in Kingston, NY by the venerable Mikhail Horowitz, comic poet extraordinaire. This was my contribution to the evening's festivities:
Red-eyed, you pass the woods near the bridge,
head home to the man you'll probably spend
the rest of your life with.
It took years to come around to this,
years for you to see his voice,
to be silent, let your future's next sound
reach your translucent ears.
Boomerang lovers, cicadas return
from their long dirt nap,
bleary buzz alerting the media
to their impending orgy,
crackling hum like your Long Island
high tension lines, green summer evenings
cruising the Parkways, stalking the
wild wine and cheese.
At seventeen, weekends an eternity,
there was that one you looked for
fifth period A-days, the blonde
with the John Denver glasses
or the red-headed bass player,
sometimes the chorus teacher himself.
You never had a chance. Electric
lattice framed the stars that
rivetted the night in place, and past that--
Cicadas, bumper to bumper on the branches,
don't waste a moment of their brief romantic lives.
They know who knows what seventeen summers
more might bring, what one small slap on
the snooze button could cost, how summer's
lease expires without mercy.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Above is from the 2013 edition of the Albany Wordfest open mic in April. Beside me are Albany's Poetry Diva, Mary Panza, and my brother and fellow poet Mike Jurkovic.
Spring has sprung for sure, and with it, a few invites to read in the Hudson Valley. Since I've cut way back on actually attending open mics, it will be a treat to return to these venues. I have yet to visit the College of Poetry (really more a state of mind than an actual edifice) in their new digs in Sugar Loaf, so looking forward to that. Only heard my brother Mike Jurkovic read a couple months ago in Poughkeepsie, but skipped the open mic. We'll see how the season rolls. Drop me a line if you need directions, etc. Would be nice to see you again.
*June 1- "Poetry as Memoir" workshop, 10a-12noon, College of Poetry, Sugar Loaf, NY
*June 3- Feature at Harmony, 8p, Woodstock, NY, with Open Mic
*June 14- Feature at Mezzaluna, 7p, Saugerties, NY, with Open Mic
*June 20- Feature at Adriance Library, 7p, Poughkeepsie, NY, with Open Mic
*July 13- Feature at Woodstock Poetry Society, 2p, Woodstock, NY