Rachel Cullen

Caffè Lena Open Mic, August 7

I was surprised to find Saratoga Springs not nearly as crowded as it usually is in August, although there was the usual blue-blazer-white-shoes crowd in Sperry’s. After dinner over to Phila St. for the open mic. Carol Graser, founder & host, announced it was the 10th year anniversary! How time flies, as they say.

That first open mic in this series was on July 23, 2003 with featured poet Franklin Whitney. There were 29 readers in the open mic, with 16 of us making the trek from Albany to help Carol pack the house in an effort to convince the Caffe Lena management she could actually get an audience for poetry in this venerable house of folk music. It worked, so that on September 3 the series went into its current 1st Monday schedule. There had been other attempts at poetry open mics at Caffe Lena prior to this, but it was Carol Graser who managed to make it stick, for 10 years now.

The first reader tonight was Rodney Parrott who read from his “investigation into the 3 states of matter,” this example set in Washington State. Ellen Finn was back saying she is writing a long piece titled “Kissing Death” & tonight read 2 excerpts. Biker-poet Tim Sneider read one of his rhyming poems, “Changing Roads,” a long, nostalgic & emotional story for his grandson. Michael C. Rush read 2 philosophical poems, “Compromise” & “The American Book of the Dead.”

The featured poet was Greenfield Center native Joesph Bruchac, who “likes to throw things,” i.e., the small press journals where his poems are published to lucky members of the audience. He began with an Indian (native American) flute piece, then read his poem “We Are the Story” published in Every Drop of Water: Voices from the Caffè Lena Poetry Stage (2008). He included some poems Abenaki & English, such as “Spring” from Wilderness Magazine & “My Grandfather” from Yellow Medicine Review. Other poems he read for his grandfather were “No Sleep Thompson” & “By Guess & By Gosh.” A poem about pine trees was for the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca & a new poem was dedicated to the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai (Li Po). And he included a sample from his book The White Man’s War, Ely S. Parker: Iroquois General (Bowman Books, 2011), “The Sun-Burnt General.” Joe has been active in the regional poetry/performance & small-press scene for years & years, & it was great to see him out & about on his home turf.

After the break, Carol was back with one of her poems, the hilarious “The Appendix.” Albany poet  Don Levy shared a poem from his recent trip to Florence, Italy, “Gelato Run.” Kristen Day began with the funny list poem “Everyday” then the equally amusing “Where’s Why.” George Fisher was back after a 4 year absence & read “Chaparral” & an untitled recent poem on water & rocks. Eliza! announced that she would be moving to Montana soon to be with her boyfriend & read a most hopeful poem. Elissa was enthusiastic & expressive, performing “Crunch” (about eating crackers) & the emphatic “Ebb & Flow.” Andy imagined a speech after his death, then read a childhood memory poem in rhyme, “The Punishment.”

Rachel Cullen was here from Idaho & read a poem about Time, playing on clichés, then a poem rich in images of memory (“memory lane is busy…”) & Nature & wonder. Nancy Denofio read a just written piece she read in lieu of the 5-page poem she originaly brought, she said, then a piece titled “Trial” about comparisons & differences over the years. I read 2 poems for the season (again), Tom Nattell‘s “Hiroshima” & my irreverent “Nukes for Piece.” Barbara Garro read 2 poems of death & life, “Moment by Moment Life” & “Angels of Life & Death.”

So now on to the next 10 years of poetry on the 1st Monday of each month at Caffè Lena, Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY — it’s even less crowded the rest of the year.

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