Cheryl Rice

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.