Howard Kogan

This Upstate Life: Local Writers Read – Rensselaerville Festival of Writers, August 18

I was a reluctant participant in this reading. A few months ago I had received an email announcing this Festival that ran from August 15 to August 18, & inviting me (& others in the local writing community) to submit material for 2 different events for local writers, amidst a full schedule of readings & workshops by mostly out-of-town writers. The folks up in the hills have been running this Festival for a few years now, sometimes bringing in big-name writers, as a fund-raiser for their town Library. Now, I am an ardent supporter of Libraries & support the Albany Public Library by voting for their budget & advocating taxing the rich to finance our Library. But I am piqued that the folks behind this annual event rarely make it down off the hill to where literary events happen week after week throughout the year, while expecting those of us who are busy here throughout the year to fund & be enthused about their once-a-year flurry.

There was also a curious requirement in the submission guidelines that the work submitted for consideration for the local writers’ readings be unpublished. I understand that publishers would want fresh, first-rights work for their zines or journals, whether print or on-line, but for a reading? Why? These folks were either totally inexperienced or snooty, or both. So I was determined to just ignore them & go about my (poetry) business. Alas, late one night after hours of tinkering with poems & an extraneous Bourbon (if there can be such a thing), I said, “What the fuck” & sent them some poems — irreverent, cranky, & in bad taste — that I was sure they wouldn’t accept. Some weeks later I got an email that my work had been “accepted.” Oh shit, I’m actually going to have to go up there & read. Usually I keep track of the poems I send out, just like I always wanted to know where my kids were, but I hadn’t bothered in this case; so, I had to write back to ask what poems I would be reading. Now, I have no problem being outrageous at poetry readings, in fact I revel in it, but I felt like Groucho Marx who said he would never want to join a club that would have him as a member.

But then when I saw the final schedule of readers I was very pleased to recognize most names & knew I would be in good company, although among the names I recognized were one or two that rarely stick around to the end of an open mic, particularly when I am signed up after them.  Strangely,  on the on-line schedule we were listed as “Capital Region Writers” (since nearly everyone else was from elsewhere, I guess), while in the printed program it was “This Upstate Life: Local Writers Read.”  Hmm?

Prior to the reading I was sent an email advising me to practice reading my pieces, to read slowly, to look at the audience & to not do introductions; also, “inflect and modulate your voice when appropriate…”, &, my favorite, “if a piece or a line is humorous, pause for audience laughter.” (Should I pause or keep reading when they laugh at me because I’m being such a jerk & my piece is really stupid?) More Hmm? I was pleased that at the reading all of their 6 or 8 rules were broken by one reader or another at some point during the afternoon — we still had a good time. The reading MCs were Linda Sonia Miller & Mimi Moriarty.

Anne Decker

Most of the pieces read were poetry, though there were personal essays read by Anne Decker (humorous instructions for friends borrowing a summer cottage), by Marion Menna about getting her nails done, & by Mary Cuffe Perez about an old dairy farm.

Co-host Mimi Moriarty & Jack Gordon

The single piece of prose fiction was a compelling piece that eventually centered around a farmer’s dilemma to sell his land to a natural gas developer, by Jack Gordon, a World War II vet who has published a memoir about his experience in the famous Flying Tigers.

Howard Kogan

Among the poets were some frequenters of the scene, such as Tom Corrado reading “A High of 51, Homage to Schenectady;” Susan Jefts with her characteristic North Country poems, including 2 set along the Hudson River; & Howard Kogan with 3 poems populated with the characters of his small, rural town, wry, philosophical work.

Sarah Giragosian

Less familiar poets included Sarah Giragosian with a selection of poems from a series on sea creatures, like the crab or the octopus; Marea Gordett who read what she described as “love poems,” to robins & to Ausable Chasm; & Himanee Gupta-Carlson whose 1st person stories were more like the prose essays, although she described them as “poems of identity & scarcity.”

I was next to last reading my 3 poems from a series based on a breakup letter & there were a few chuckles & gasps in the right places — & I did squeeze in brief introductions to each. Co-host Mimi Moriarty closed out the reading with a couple of poems for writers.

A final word on cost. The price list was lengthy & abstruse, with prices ranging from $10.00 for individual readings (!), to $25.00 for the Authors’ Reception, $50.00 for a single Writers’ Workshop, up to a 4-Day Festival Pass for $275.00 (which included 2 workshops). I don’t know about you but $10.00 is a lot to pay to hear a single writer read (at least outside NYC). By comparison, I went to 3 days of readings at the Scissortail Writers Festival in Ada, Oklahoma for free. My favorite festival is Split This Rock in Washington DC & registration in 2012 was $100 ($75) if you sign up early, which included any & all workshops & readings for the 4 days. Granted, the Rensselaerville Festival is a fund-raiser for the local Library, but if those well-heeled locals can afford these Festival prices, they could certainly afford a greater tax assessment to support the Library.

Good Luck next year!