Poet R.M. Engelhardt finds hope in words
Engelhardt expresses hope in power of language
By Amy Biancolli Published 2:11 pm, Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The poems of R.M. Engelhardt don’t assert faith in much. Not religion. Not a society that ignores the plight of the downtrodden while glorifying the rich.
As he writes in “Burn,” a reflection on a homeless man in winter that appears in his 13th book, “The Resurrection Waltz”: “…the george bailey in / this story has no clarence.” “It’s a Wonderful Life” this isn’t.
But the works of this longtime Albany poet holds some faith in a few things. Late-life love, for a start. (“…happiness/That came later/and not sooner“). Smoking, too; he did, after all, title his 2006 book of collected works “The Last Cigarette.” “This is actually part of who I am in general. I’m smoking now as we speak,” he said, chatting on the phone recently.
But he has faith in something else, too: poetry. In “Saint Poem,” he addresses the form itself as a carrier of grace or salvation. “Dear Poem/Saint Poem/I ask you/To please see us through yet another day,” he pleads, coming around to a state of exhausted resignation. Both the faith and the exhaustion pop up throughout “The Resurrection Waltz” (Infinity Publishing), an 82-page tract of succinctly expressed disgruntlement flecked with hope.
“Poetry is very much like a religion. I wouldn’t say my complete religion,” he said. Nevertheless, “It’s the poem that saves you. You write the poem, but it’s catharsis, and what’s what brings you into being — what makes you stable, balanced.”
Engelhardt will read and sign copies of “The Resurrection Waltz,” from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza.
On April 11, he’ll kick off his School of Night open mic, to be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Pearl Street Pub/Dirty Martini Lounge. And then, on April 19, he plans to read at the open mic as part of 2013 Albany Word Fest, set to run from April 14 to 20.
He dates his interest in poetry to childhood, when he composed a myth about a forged Bronze Warrior that wowed his sixth-grade teacher. His appreciation for the power of words never waned. Now a deep-rooted fixture on the poetry landscape, Engelhardt runs open mics, edits a journal (“The Literary Rogue”) and, in 2000, founded the Albany Poets collective (http://www.albanypoets.com). A year later, he started the Word Fest.
“He’s been around for a long, long time, and he’s the one that took me under my wing when I was in high school almost 20 years ago. And he’s always trying to innovate and come up with ways to get new people involved,” said Thom Francis, current president of Albany Poets. As for Engelhardt’s writing, “It’s very personal, and yet sometimes spiritual. And you know, it runs the gamut.”
Engelhardt is not a fan of slams — open mics with a competitive format. “You have people judging the work of new poets, people who have never read before. So the problem is people are just getting out — they’re discovering their authentic voices, and they’re being judged by people. I don’t believe that poetry should be judged.”
He draws his inspiration from a variety of sources. One is the woman in his life, Kali De La Cruz, the photographer (credited as Lona Cygnus), who designed the cover for “The Resurrection Waltz.”
Another is the city of Albany, where his family goes back six generations. After a stint in the Florida Keys some years back, he returned with a newfound appreciation for Albany’s creative vibe.
“It’s the place itself,” he said. “It has a great poetry and literary scene — a great writing scene — it has a great music scene, a great arts scene. And if you can’t find inspiration in that, well, you’re in the wrong place.”
What about those cigarettes? Can someone be a poet without smoking? “If it’s for them, sure,” he said. Then he clarified: “If they’re a nonsmoking poet.”
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At a glance R.M. Engelhardt
What: Reading and signing of “Resurrection Waltz,” new book by Albany poet When: 7-9 p.m. today, March 14
Where: The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave. Info: 489-4761;