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Category: Poetry

Live from the Living Room


Jan Marin Tramontano

For the third time in as many weeks, I went to a poetry open mic last night. This one was the Live from the Living Room reading at the Capital District Gay & Lesbian Community Center on Hudson Ave.

The featured poet was Jan Marin Tramontano, an Albany-based poet and fiction writer. She read several poems about her trip to Paris and its museums from her book Woman Sitting in a Cafe. I quite enjoyed those poems, particularly a wry and observant take on the Mona Lisa. Tramontano also read several love poems, or as she described them, “love poems, self-love poems, and a love poem about our little boy.” All were very poignant, particularly those that mentioned her husband, who was sitting in the room.

Following the featured reading, a half dozen poets read a couple poems each. Dan Wilcox read a wonderful piece about wanting to read love poems to someone … a poet whose name I didn’t catch (but who I always see at the library where he works) read a funny poem about heaven as a gated community … and performance poet A.C. Everson recited a piece about what a bastard Cupid is. I read two recent pieces, “Luxury Hotel” and “Robby Burns’s Hat.”

I’m impressed with how diverse and active Albany’s poetry scene is. As I said at the reading last night, “I go to whichever poetry reading Dan Wilcox writes about.” Good advice, if I do say so myself.

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John Ashbery on themed books

I was listening to an interview with poet John Ashbery (from the excellent PennSound archive) and was struck by the following exchange with the host, Tom Smith. Smith is referring here to Ashbery’s collection of poems Hotel Lautreamont:

Tom Smith: Does it have a particular principle of organization we could talk about, or does it reflect a span of time, a creative span of time?

John Ashbery: No, none of my collections of poetry has a principle of organization as some poets like to do. I suppose it merely reflects a span of time, the time in which it took to write the poems. I write pretty regularly, and when I feel I have enough to make a book, I put them together and send them to a publisher.

I was interested in this because so much of the received wisdom about publishing poetry suggests that Ashbery’s method is the wrong way to do it. Of course, it helps if you’re John Ashbery, but it was important to me to be reminded that there are as many ways to create a manuscript as there are poets to create them.

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POEM: Luxury Hotel

Luxury Hotel

Room after room after room with no stopping, no let-up.
How many in a year? Five thousand? Six thousand?
The human body can only take so much.
So many liftings of the mattress, so many bends of the knees.
Then there are the chemicals, the solvents, the cleaners.
Scrubbing with your face right down in the fumes,
breathing deeply from the exertion.
Cracked skin, aching muscles, arms like rubber.
You can’t even lift your baby girl for a kiss.
Other people’s pubic hair, other people’s vomit and blood.
One time there was a man hiding in the closet.
He put one finger to his lips and told you to be quiet,
but how could you be quiet when there was a man in the closet?
So you screamed and ran and they gave you half a day off.
Another time you begged and begged for shoes,
the kind with the special soles so you wouldn’t slip.
After days and weeks and months, they ordered them
on the very day your head hit the tile floor,
the same day they cornered you in the manager’s office
and nobody called for a doctor, the same day
you passed out waiting for the bus and a passerby
took you to the emergency room. A stranger had to do that.
There are seven Dominicans and three women from Jamaica
and five Senegalese and one Vietnamese lady in the laundry
with no English who keeps to herself in the mouth of the furnace.
Eight hours, ten hours, twelve hours if it’s busy.
Then it’s home to cook and do your own laundry and help
Javi and Lisa with their homework. Make the lunches
for the next day. Shrink into the bed and fall asleep
to the throbbing in your joints. The alarm at 4 a.m.
Then it’s room after room after room with no stopping, no let-up.
How many in a year? Five thousand? Six thousand?
The human body can only take so much.

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Me at Albany Poets Presents

Last night I went to the Albany Poets Presents open mic at Valentine’s here in Albany. A recording of that reading is now available at AlbanyPoets.com. My section starts about 9:45 into the recording, but I encourage you to listen to the whole thing.

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Book Review: Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual

Kooser’s book is aimed at the beginning poet, but anyone could pick up useful ideas about revision, metaphor and simile, and imagining an audience. Kooser’s writing is warm and often funny, and his advice is realistic and practical. This is not a book to read if you’re looking for a quick way to become a famous poet. But if you’re interested in putting in the necessary hours (and hours and hours and hours) needed to turn out respectable writing, Kooser can help you use your time more productively and enjoyably.

Recommended.

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