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.