To The Last …


“Wisdom, you are the last to whom I turn. Not for your spear, fashioned in that same fire as all bright jealous objects of desire. But for your shield. Protect the least of us. Or lift me from this battlefield, and take me home.”


D. A. Powell, To Last.

The Next Poetic Wave …


The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

~ David Foster Wallace

Albany, NY’s Open Mic For Poets & Writers Returns Tonight!



Where Is American Poetry Going?




What recent trends in American poetry do you find troubling or worrisome?

Aliki Barnstone: I find poetry wars troublesome. These particular issues of aesthetics should not divide poets. I find the polarization simplistic and limiting to anyone who takes on the label “formalist” or “experimentalist.” The imagination must be free to go anywhere and should not be compelled to follow someone else’s dictates. Furthermore, I find that American poetry wars are American in the worst possible way, and repeat the puritan history of demonizing those who prefer not to conform. The notion, which I’ve heard laid down as a prescription, that the self and identity should be abolished in favor of collectivism is extremely alarming to me, since the implication is that any kind of ethnic, racial, gender, or national identity is suspect.

John Bradley: The appointment of Dana Gioia to head the National Endowment of the Arts signals that, once again, artists will be under pressure to purge their work of all social commentary.

Nick Carbo: The backlash against ethnic poets and the complaint that some poems are “too ethnic.”

Brian Clements: Trends among the poems themselves are never worrisome to me. We’re all going to follow our individ- ual obsessions anyway, so why bother worrying about it? Don’t get me started on what bugs me about the businesses of pub- lishing, awards, and academic hiring. But that doesn’t really have anything to do with poetry, or does it?

Jon Davis: The ongoing wheezing and creaking that once called itselflanguage poetry istroubling, as is the postmod- ern shrug in all of its guises—irony, flippancy, loss of self, etc. But the most troubling ongoing trend is the slam, bout, per- formance nexus, particularly when it marches the young onto the stage with nothing but venom, broad gestures, and a head full of hackneyed abstractions and then rewards them with applause. The pleasure of such instantaneous acclaim so eas- ily bought is piping our talented youth into the hills away from the village of study, hard work, and accomplishment. It strikes me as a new species of child abuse.

Annie Finch: The swallowing of respected trade publishers by megapublishers with no commitment to literary books, and the resulting neglect of poetry reviews in mainstream publications available to general audiences.

Sam Hamill: Too much solipsism, too much fragmented work of mere sensibility, too much safely comfortable apolitical poetry that accepts no serious consequence or responsibility.

Paul Hoover: I don’t find much that is worrisome in poetry; it’s the political life of the country that scares me.

John Hoppenthaler: What troubles me the most is the wave of generally young (but not always) poets who feel compelled to con- tinue a petty and gratuitous argument for some “experimental” mode of poetry over what they insist is a dull period-style poetics formed in academic workshops. This strikes me as the worst sort of antidemocratic (not to mention simpleminded and arrogant) argument to demonize a style that doesn’t suit one in order to val- orize another that does. And this does cut both ways, with pro- moters of a more direct style belittling those who are trying something different. We need to think in terms of “poetries” rather than poetry, which will make the neighborhood a better, richer place to live.

Peter Johnson: The continuing saga of the poet-as-celebrity; superficial pleasantness driven by fear and careerism; the triumph of the prose poem.

George Kalamaras: I find troubling a continuing distrust of imaginative and surrealist poetries, as well as a seemingly strict adherence to more strictly defined genres in which genre-bending forms like the prose poem are often suspect.

Christine Boyka Kluge: Although entertaining, the growing number of poems using excessive wordplay and cleverness as a sub- stitute for ideas seem shallow to me.

Martin Lammon: Although it’s not such a recent trend any- more, I’m still troubled by poets who call for a “return to verse,” or other such slogans. The “New Formalism,” or whatever other term one wants to use, essentially describes a reactionary impulse, a desire to return to a “golden age” of poetry that never was. There are poems by Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop that I love, but their poems do not represent some poetic principle or aesthetic that contemporary poets should emulate, as some would propose. If a poet today chooses to write so-called formal “verse,” that’s fine. There’s room enough for aesthetic choices. But one choice cannot preclude all the other paths that poets may fol- low.

Dana Levin: A focus on language-making and virtuoso vocab- ulary at the expense of having something to say, along with “con- fessional” being a dirty word, especially as “confessional” seems to have become a synonym for “emotional.”

Morton Marcus: I’m still deeply disturbed by the solipsistic trends in American poetry, where the poet writes, it seems, to tickle and entertain his mind. Video games for the literati. Where’s the earthiness, the visionary, the need to speak of the deep winds, both dark and light, that roar around the heart with the voices of our ancestors?

Jim Moore: Poems that seem to have no purpose other than to demonstrate their own ingenuity.

Richard Robbins: The exaggerated “centrality” of language poetry created by the Iowa/Harvard critical axis. Most of that stuff is what Richard Hugo used to call “a lot of over-worrying about the obvious.” The ever-expanding gulf created between community reading series (reasonably affordable means of allowing the public to access the literary arts) and the celebrity tours (with restricted public access and skyrocketing fees sent even higher by celebrity literary agents). The growing assumption that poetry publishing is not an enterprise supported by entities that take economic risks on manuscripts they believe in, but rather that poetry publishing is more like the NCAA basketball tourney pool, where all with man- uscripts will enter with a $10 fee and one will come away with the prize.

Katharine Soniat: How many of the “contests” and presses are focusing on incoherent language or experimental poetry seems to be the same judge (of this persuasion) for many national contests.

Virgil Suarez: The elitists are still elitists.

Thom Ward: How to get other human beings who are, in William Stafford’s phrase, “awake people” to wake up to reading and listening to more contemporary American poetry and poetry in translation. The good folks who attend local theater, art muse- ums, and jazz clubs, who take that occasional pottery class at the YMCA—how do we get more of these people (who have no ambi- tion to become poets) more interested in buying contemporary poetry books and literary journals and attending poetry readings, especially by “emerging” or “unknown” poets? Why do so few of these “awake people,” who speak intelligently about contempo- rary music and the visual arts, know and care so little about poetry?

Matthew Zapruder: A period style that consists of requisite ambiguity, complexity, genuflection to tired principles of post- modernism, and mystification, all of which cover up a lack of genuine commitment to an idea or emotion; a creeping profes- sionalization, especially among younger poets.





Ray González is TBR’s poetry editor.

Note: This is part 2 of a survey; part 1 will be found in the March/April issue of TBR, Vol. 24, #3 2004.

The School of Night Poetry Open Mic is Back in Session

Apr 04, 2013 by Thom Francis | School of Night

On Tuesday we told you about the upcoming Frequency North reading on April 11 and how Thursday nights are very busy in the poetry world here in Albany. Well, there is even more going on next Thursday evening as R.M. Engelhardt is resurrecting the School of Night poetry open mic at the Pearl Street Pub in downtown Albany.

This open mic series has come and gone a few times over the years. Before Nitty Gritty Slam was at Valentine’s, the School of Night was the monthly poetry reading at the club. After leaving the New Scotland Ave. venue, the series moved to a couple other places in the city including The Fuze Box, Ballingers (now the City Beer Hall), and Red Square. Most recently Rob was the host of the Saint Poem Reading Series at the UAG Gallery on Lark Street.

We sat down with Engelhardt to get more information about why he is starting the series up again, what makes the School of Night so different from the other mics in the area, and why is moving downtown to Pearl Street.

It’s in the air, things … the feel of poetry is changing and everything is in a way for the 21st century just starting to change. When I was hosting “Saint Poem” at the UAG something was missing and it somehow didn’t feel right. I thought that the location was helpful on Lark Street but it wasn’t getting enough public notice. Granted, poetry readings, open mics here in Albany are plentiful but in order to create a successful one you need the right place and the right atmosphere to truly bring it to into life. The Pearl Street Pub-Dirty Martini Lounge has that right feeling … it’s the right place for it downtown. The School Of Night has always been more, was always more than just a open mic or poetry reading but symbolic of exactly the people & the original purpose the group was formed for by Kit Marlowe, Doctor Dee and Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1500s England. To share words & ideas, free verse & free thought. It has an air of mystery that surrounds it as well as an air of decadence. It has the imagery for poetry & writing of all kinds read in a dark noir place where the mood is perfect for it and captures the imagination. Back in the late 90’s Valentines nightclub fit that mood perfectly, as does the readings new venue.

Downtown Albany needs more events like this. Bringing poets & writers down to a great location and perhaps to be in an area is historic and a bit mythic. The Dirty Martini Lounge is right near The Kenmore Hotel where jazz legends used to play back in the day (The Rain-bo Room). And known gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond frequented the hotel and had partied at the Rain-Bo the night of his death. The Hotel features prominently in many of William Kennedy’s books, including his novel Legs about the life of Jack Diamond. Downtown Albany and the Pearl Street area are far cooler than most people are even aware of.

The time to bring back SON is now. Poetry seems to be both locally and internationally beginning to steer in a new and perhaps different direction. It’s looking for it’s place with new poets and writers of all styles & forms finding their voices and excited about creating poems, books and even plays. I hate labels but there appears to be only what I can call a “new movement of verse” coming into being with a mix of forms that is everything from neo-romanticism, free verse slam & new formalism as parts of it. Albany has always been from the days of readings at the QE2 a place where all kinds of writers & poets have gathered and read and I am excited to be hosting and resurrecting such a gathering where poets can speak their art. We also here in Albany believe in supporting our writers and venues and we have all worked very hard to do just that and have achieved it.

This is going to be a very cool monthly open mic which will be just that. A simple open mic to step up to and read your work. Eventually there will be featured poets as well as connected events with the Literary Rogue Magazine so keep an eye out for those events too. The School Of Night website is and we hope that poets and writers of all styles and from all walks of life will join us at The Pearl Street Pub & Dirty Martini Lounge on the second Thursday night of each month.

Now all we need is our saxophone and stand up bass players back and we will create even more magic.

The School of Night will be happening each month on the 2nd Thursday, starting at 7:30pm, at the Pearl Street Pub / Dirty Martini Lounge (1 Steuben Place Albany). R.M. is asking for a $3.00 donation.

Poetry Slams Do Nothing To Help The Art Form Survive

slam boxers

Poetry is dying. Actually, it’s pretty dead already for all intents and purposes and the rise of performance poetry slams is doing nothing to help matters. I know, I used to be a performance poet.

The first poetry slam competition was held in Chicago in 1984. Named after a brutal wrestling move, the slam saw poets perform original pieces for a live audience who voted for a winner. The early slam poets railed against what they pejoratively referred to as page poetry. They demanded, along with Bukowski, that poetry “have guts”. They wanted to democratise poetry and drag it from the academic ivory tower.

But there never was an ivory tower. There was no cabal of posh people who had purposely made poetry unintelligible. Poetry has always been words on a page, open to anyone. The politicisation of art and the drawing of sectarian lines continues to damage poetry to this today.

Like sipping a fine wine, reading poetry cannot be rushed. It reveals its pleasures over time, rewarding the careful reader with something new and beautiful each time. It runs bang against the grain of our quick-fix culture. It is already a lost discipline. I have taught poetry to hundreds of children aged seven to 14 and not one of them could name me a poet beyond Shakespeare.

A further nail in the coffin is the rise of poetry slams. I have performed at many slams and the audience is almost always half drunk and if you want to win you have to pitch your poem pretty low. The result is a scene rife with the poetic equivalent of nob jokes – and plenty of actual nob jokes.

The only division in poetry is between those people willing to take the time to read it and those who will not. When Emily Dickinson said only “the fairest” may enter her house of “possibility”, she wasn’t being elitist –she was putting up a barrier against the lazy.

Most slam poems are not strong enough to be published in even minor poetry journals. And that’s fine; maybe they don’t want to be. Then why attack the poems that do? It’s like there is an oedipal urge to kill the art that made it. We cannot allow slam poetry to replace the role poetry plays in our lives. The threat is there.

There is a school of thought that thinks slams are the answer. The slams I have attended have little to do with poetry and everything to do with a Darwinian death match where the audience picks the winner like some blood-crazed Circus Maximus mob.

Poetry, like all art, whispers its message and we must learn to slow down and take the time to hear it.