In 2009, when I took to writing as a creative outlet and ventured to read my work to an audience, David Landrey was there.
I, fumbling my way through my first open mic appearances, would see him, close to the front, adjusting his recording equipment and taking notes. He has been a great supporter and archivist of Buffalo poetics for many years and in getting to know him these last seven I've had the opportunity to work collaboratively with him on a few occasions.
So, I was able to convince my friend to answer a few questions about himself, his work and poetry in Buffalo.
Fred Whitehead - Did you know early on that you wanted to be a writer?
David Landrey - So many poets were apparently at the craft from the time that they first seized a pen. Not I. I grew up in a family oriented towards business (though my mother was a nurse), largely a result of my parents’ coming of age in the depression.
F.W. - What did your folks do and did they encourage you to write?
D.L. - My father had to work even before his teens and never finished high school, but he had an influence in my movement to literature. He was an avid reader (not of poetry); and his approach to finding work never had making large sums as a motivation (nor did he make much in his life, retiring at his largest salary of $15,000/year). He gravitated to the airline business—American Airlines—out of curiosity and fascination with the new world of flight. His entire career was dedicated to making the experience of flight good for the passenger and to caring for the employees that he came to supervise (I wonder how much this attitude may now be found). As we moved, all of my childhood, from city to city, I was steeped in the idea of a world greater than myself (whether I’ve always been true to that I can’t say). So what am I saying? Love of language and of finding contact with what matters were bred in me by the wisest man I’ve known.
F.W. - Where was your schooling?
D.L. - Because of all the moves and the resultant skipping of school grades, I graduated high school at 16 and entered Hobart College before my 17th birthday. No doubt I was too young; no doubt I’ve spent all of my life “catching up”; but as I struggled at the college, Dad encouraged my constant changes of major—from pre-med at entry to American Studies at the end. Also, the magnificent teachers at Hobart saw something in me despite my pedestrian record. They, I came to realize much later, nurtured fellow students (it was as if they saw that I needed to be helped to some measure of maturity) and carried me through a difficult four years. The motto of the college was Socrates’s “the unexamined life is not worth living” (a proposition that itself had to be examined); we pursued that idea 24 hours a day in an atmosphere where all students were steeped in the history and literature of our kind.
F.W. - How did you get your start in poetry?
D.L. - Ah, poetry. It seemed a vague mystery to me until, in my senior year, I took a course entitled “Modern Poetry and Its Criticism.” I still have and just uncovered the remarkable text of Modern Poetry edited by Oscar Williams, and I became a lover of New Criticism, which, for all its faults, taught me how to read and think closely. When I graduated, age 20 and way too young to have a clue, I knew that literature was, in some way, to be central to my life (or maybe simply “my life”), so, after working for a year, I began graduate school in Iowa, where, having found Kathy, I never actually finished. Instead, after another year of work, I entered The University of Buffalo, then a private school that became part of the State University while I was there.
F.W. - Was this your entrance into the Buffalo poetry scene?
D.L. - While I was there, my first child was born—the event about which I wrote my first poem. It emerged much as my son did—as a process that seemed as natural as breathing. It would be some time before I wrote any other poems.
F.W. - Charles Olson seems to have been a big influence, and thank you by the way, for introducing me to his work. When did you discover him?
D.L. - At the end of my college years I discovered Moby Dick. The experience of that book was and continues to be transforming. So when it was announced that Charles Olson would be coming to UB, brought there by Albert Cook, I was thrilled: “Wow! The author of Call Me Ishmael will be among us.” I had no idea that he was a poet, perhaps the most important poetic figure of mid-twentieth century literature.
The next transformation, then, was a class with Olson. Again, I was hugely ill equipped and naive, but his influence would linger and develop. Charles died in 1970 during the fifth of my 35 years at Buffalo State. I began to teach his work and the work of others of his “school.” Then, in 1973, just 10 years after the birth of my son, poems began to come, in the form of Divorce Poems and Dinner Table Scenes. Will I ever finish those? Should I? Since then, although I am not prolific, poetry has been a full-time concern. Robert Graves wrote, in The White Goddess, that if a poet is serious and to be taken seriously, he/she cannot give part-time service to her, to that overpowering muse.
F.W. - What do you think of poetics in buffalo now, compared to before?
D.L. - Not just my own life but the life of poetry/poetics in Buffalo was forever changed by Olson and by those he caused to come here, especially Robert Creeley. In the mid- and late-sixties, one could trip over poets in and around the old campus of UB. How could I not breathe the heady air thus present?
It’s now over a half-century since Olson’s appearance. I would assert that, no matter what the poetic persuasion of any writer is, our scene to this day is because of him. I’ve counted almost 400 people writing poetry in Western New York, most out of love and a sense of destiny. We have, mostly, responded to the craft as a basic necessity. Careerism is not the primary motive. Perhaps, given that Careerism is the dominant mode in our culture just now, we are engaged in an act of preservation of an energy field easily lost in a world where Corporations “run the country and then they make the news.” Except for isolated pockets, education has become, as John Marvin recently put it, “training.” So all around us is a polluted atmosphere, literally and figuratively; it’s up to us to clear the air. Even the industry of poetry programs stands against the vitality of life and language.
F.W. - How long have you been recording poetry readings?
D.L. - I began recording readings and talks about poetry in the 1970s.
F.W. - What equipment did you start with, what are you using now?
D.L. - First with a cassette recorder, then with mini-discs, and now (blessedly) with a digital recorder, a Tascam, which will record on a mini-SD card 2900 hours. I have trunks and notebooks full of the poetry of our local scene. I’ve recorded elsewhere also, but Buffalo is at the center.
F.W. - What are some of the most memorable readings you've recorded?
D.L. - Except for a couple of famous occasions of readings by Joel Oppenheimer and Robert Creeley, I find that our local scene keeps producing widely memorable occasions. The mutual nurturing that continues to grow is beautiful to behold. Of course, there have been some lesser events, usually marked by painfully self-indulgent utterances, but there are honestly only one or two times when I did not hear something that made being present worthwhile.
F.W. - What are the plans, if any, for the archives?
D.L. - Ah, what to do with this huge archive? Wherever they finally repose will be determined by how accessible they would be to the public.
F.W. - Can you say a little about your own work?
D.L. - My own work consists of many “unfinished”series; even Consciousness Suite, a complete book by any standard, seems part of a single series of connected impulses.
F.W. - What is your vision for Consciousness Suite?
D.L. - Because Kathy has persisted in seeing that I learn more than the obvious, because she has cut out and underlined hundreds of articles from newspapers and magazines, I was plunged into Consciousness Suite. In my preface to the book, I mention the two most critical, from the New York Times:  “The Conscious Mind is Still Baffling to Experts of All Stripes,” by Sandra Blakeslee (April 16, 1996) and  “Wondering How the World Will End? Some Mordant Thoughts from Physics,”by Malcolm W. Browne (July 14, 1998). As I said, “Thoughts of the eventual end of everything swirled together with a poignant sense of the end of all I—or anyone—had assembled in the way of a mind.” I quickly discovered the work of Antonio Damasio, and the poems came bubbling forth. I can’t keep up, but I try to read all I can about the study of consciousness, the mind, and the brain.
F.W. - Do you feel you've finished the Suite?
D.L. - A sequel to Consciousness Suite has been developing, entitled Dancing in the Dark.
F.W. - We have worked together a number of times in collaborative projects. What do you like about the format and do you think it has a greater impact on an audience, compared to a single reader?
D.L. - You ask about collaborative work, which seems to me increasingly important--at least for me. As in your case, I've written poems in response to the poems of others; and, as we have done, I've sought occasion for performance together by both writers. Audiences appear to enjoy this, if only as a shift of energy, but such an activity enables me to hear my own language differently. I read the lines with richer emphasis, and I imagine that when I write thereafter I have access to a wider field of force.
Similarly, I have worked more with musicians. As examples, (1) Ben Christy, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Buffalo State, and I have performed a set we call "Predictions of the End of Time" several times at colleges and high schools, most notably at Empire State; (2) also at Empire State, Kelly Bucheger, Jonathan Golove, and Doug Dreishpoon played as I read; (3) Dan Kolb with his magic guitar and I have done several performances (including occasions where I have read from his "Umbrella Man" while he played); perhaps my happiest presentation of my own work occurred at the Gray Hair Series with Dan playing and Jorge Guitart as the other reader. Especially at that last event I was plunged into nooks and crannies of my work of which I had been only dimly aware if at all.
Look for David at any of the local readings in and around Buffalo. In the meantime here is some of David's work. Enjoy it. As I have.
Pip’s ringed horizon began to
expand around him miserably
——Herman Melville in Moby-Dick
His history rapidly receded,
left his concentrated self to see
God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom.
We rarely know such suddenness
but in time we cast away or
things and people drift away and
we may find ourselves shorn.
A favorite possession can’t be found,
we cease to care about that pile
in the corner of the room,
loved ones vanish leaving briefly
their eidolons which in turn
lose definition, outlines faded in
our womb of consciousness.
For a time perhaps we reach to them
struck with fear at the loss but
a concentration of self may build
and we may gain the secrets objects share
and “feel then uncompromised,
indifferent as his God.” “His”?
Whose? What cosmic presence—or absence--
inhabits the recesses of self?
and if we meet in the vastness of
Pip’s ringed horizon, can we stay afloat
long enough to cast away
——David Landrey, late January 2015
Gloom settles this late October evening
black cat grooms to my left
after kneading me purring
I needing her why? what for?
and to my right Kathy silently as always
these fifty-six years reading
feeding my senses
needing her in this room where
so long we’ve sat why? what for?
What do we think
leading where we’ve been or will go
following what pattern on whose loom?
She came five years ago
a new focus on why? what for?
and we unwitting fell under her spell
no room for gloom in her frolic
but frolic yields to silence
gloom settles yet again
each time deeper until
needing cat and Kathy in the room
the cycle complete for a moment
I seem to know why what for.
——David Landrey 25 October 2015
The Other Side
——for Kelly Bucheger and What Would Mingus Do?
—and for Fred Whitehead
The world ended a long time ago
back when the Universe exploded, what they call the Big Bang
we’re all just ghosts, part of the afterglow
slow cooling embers thrown out by that immense bonfire
—John Roche in The Joe Poems
We hear them far and
seeking us and we them
them and us
shimmers shivers shakes
our vision leading us
or far within
our side or theirs
as the sounds
theirs and ours
assemble and hover
both sides singing until
we seem to know … … …
And they come to the edge
And we seek without fear
And we hear from beyond
And respond deep within
and we reach on through
the other side.
The work of writers who have an affinity for nature has always appealed to me. Whitman, Merwin, Pollan. I've come across plenty of good writers whose work touches on nature and the human spirit while scanning the exponentially growing library that is the Internet.
One of my favorites who occupy this realm is local writer Susan Marie who maintains a big presence through her Facebook page, blogs and website. In fact, it was through social media that I first encountered her writing, which led me to go listen to her read her work. I've since kept her posts in daily rotation. She agreed to a thoroughly modern mode of interviewing (that being via email and text messaging). It is my hope that, after reading this, you search out more of what she has to offer.
Fred Whitehead - When did you start writing?
Susan Marie - I recall my first attempts at writing around the age of 15. A lot of my writing back then is full of my poetic interpretations of books I read on firsthand accounts written by Vietnam Veterans. The music I listened to, mostly 60's and 70's, had a massive impact on my writing, too. When I turned 16 and met my future husband, my writing began to rhyme and was focused on love and romance. That changed as I grew as a person. I still have all of my journals from those times, too.
F.W. - Who were or are some of your biggest influences and why?
S.M. - Jack Kerouac, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī [Rumi], Kahlil Gibran, Charles Bukowski, Billy Connolly, Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāz [Hafiz/Shiraz], Franz Kafka, Carl Jung, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, Saul Williams, Stephen King and that list goes on and on. I am influenced by these writers because they all have a unique style and voice, yet every one of them went against the status quo of their time.
F.W. - What is it about these writers that inspired you?
S.M. - They utilized their voice and saw it as a gift and brought what they felt, saw and experienced to the people. Some of these writers still do. They wrote of what is real, tangible, things that can be felt, experienced, tasted, and touched. They wrote of life, pain, death, loss, tragedy, happiness, bliss and spirituality. They wrote of the horrors of our world while still recognizing the beauty. These writers fought inner battles within self and allowed us to learn from that.
F.W. - What is your writing day like and do you have any particular habits or certain places you go to write?
S.M. - I do not have a writing day or schedule. I simply write and must write, with anything, in that moment the inspiration strikes or else it will be gone. That can happen all day long or a week from now. If I am driving, I record my thoughts in order to catch them. If I am working, I must write it down quick or type it and send it to myself in an email. I simply am "elsewhere" when I write I cannot be bothered or the entire moment is lost.
F.W. - I like to think of those moments as Transport Episodes. When it seems to go completely quiet and you are not quite sure how long you've been staring off into the distance before you snap back to this plane to jot something down.
I don't submit much of my work to publications. I've chosen a different path for getting my work out. How about you, do you submit your work on a regular basis?
S.M. - Yes I do. This is integral to being a writer. You must get used to rejection [and not let it bother you] and become familiar with the various submission and publishing processes.
F.W. - What kind of journals or publications do you submit to?
S.M. - I submit to all and any journals or magazines that correlate with and accept my style of writing, whatever that is. If it does not speak to me, I do not submit. I want to ask you back how you choose to share and publish your work?
F.W. - I almost always share my work through my blog or on Facebook before I compile the poems into a manuscript. Ninety percent of the time these are the raw, first drafts. I really don't mind people seeing them in that form. They can, if they wish to, follow the arc of a poem as it goes from a first thought to a finished product. When I get a group of poems together I then will publish a book myself or check with a couple of small presses I know of to see if they want to.
Do you write mostly poetry or do you dabble in prose as well?
S.M. - Mostly poetry. I have written a lot of flash fiction, articles, short stories, have two half written novels, am published in a ton of anthologies and have my own volume of poetry and prose and am waiting on final publication of a new volume of poetry. Poetry is no doubt my voice. Spoken-word poetry is definitely my voice. It is extremely difficult for me to adhere to a time/day for writing as it hits me out of the blue. I have deep respect for writers that keep a schedule and are true to their calling as novelists.
F.W. - Are you originally from the Buffalo area?
S.M. - Yes. South Buffalo. "Is fearr Gaelige bríste, ná Béarla clíste!"
F.W. – Ok, I ran that through a translation app. and got "Gaelige best trousers, a clever English!"
Ummmm... Is this true?
S.M. - Haha, no. Translations online are always horrible.
"Is fearr Gaelige bríste, ná Béarla clíste!" means: Broken Irish is better than clever English. That is part of my Irish Heritage. My family is from County Cork. I was raised in South Buffalo Irish Heritage District, my Mother, The Old First Ward.
F.W. - Where did you study?
S.M. - I have no formal study in writing. Life teaches me.
F.W. - You seem to write a good deal about nature and spiritual matters. What is it about those things that spark the muse for you?
S.M. - Nature is a grounding, healing energy source and integral to human existence. The beauty I see, feel and experience in nature is undefinable as each of us have our own perceptions, however, nature IS spiritual because it includes the universe as a whole that helps us to recognizes self and in that, our placement on this Earth with our brothers and sisters.
F.W. - Where do you go to find nature?
S.M. - Everywhere. Nature is right outside my window, inside my home. Right now, I hear birds singing for me. While driving, the sunrise and set is always by my side, I spot deer and wildlife by creek beds or the side of the road. I hike a lot and have found numerous waterfalls to stand beneath. Our beaches allow me to dig my toes in the sand where I can also collect rocks, shells and driftwood. Growing my own food and herbs, working in my garden is nature. I am thankful to be surrounded by Lake Erie and the New York State and Olmsted Parks Systems. Living in Western New York is a blessing.
F.W. - You seem to have a great interest in photography. Is that also something you submit or show, or is it for your own pleasure?
S.M. - I have always adored photography. I still have two 35 mm film cams. There is a magical aspect to catching a moment and it need not be perfect, it just has to "say something." Photography is purely my own pleasure, however, I like to document and show others what I have seen hoping they might go see for themselves. This is not professional by any means nor do I intend it to be.
F.W. - How important are social media platforms to you in getting your work and ideas out to the public?
S.M. - Necessary, integral. Without social media, connecting to the world in seconds is impossible. By utilizing technology for positive fashions, I have been able to reach across the world and my own city to show things to others and in return, them to me. It is a powerful tool for communication and I do my best to utilize technology for the greater good. If you have a voice you wish the world to hear, and hope to bring goodness to our world, you must learn how to utilize technology to its fullest.
F. W. - You seem very connected to groups that advocate for those who are prejudiced against in one way or another. Have you always wanted to be a voice for helping people?
S.M. - I do not see myself as a voice for anyone, you know, as a human being, it is our duty to help one another if able. I see atrocities occurring daily and if I am meant be a part of it, I am. I see us all as a collective group, doing our best to raise consciousness and make this world a better place, together, not apart. I mean we are all taught the basics of what is right and wrong as children. Many people tend to forget this most important lesson as they grow older. To me, it is a simple thing to show solidarity.
F.W. - Are there any other artistic endeavors besides writing and photography that you dabble in?
S.M. - Yes! I play the drums and the flute. I paint, well, I try to paint, I sketch. I like trying DIY [Do It Yourself] art projects that include recycling and upcycling. I adore art in all forms and will attempt anything and see if I am good at it or not.
F.W. - What do you think of the poetry scene in Buffalo? What, if anything, would you change or like to see happen.
S.M. - The poetry scene in Buffalo has always been booming. When I entered the scene that was old Allen Street and the Hardware, Urban Epiphany, Talking Leaves, Rust Belt, Caz Cafe, then onto the Screening Room, the CFI and Merriweather Library. Endless places to read and meet other writers and artists. I met the most beautiful people that taught me about finding my own voice through spoken word. I began recording the poetry scenes, as many as I could get to and they are still archived online. I see the scene consistently changing and that is necessary. What I like now is there are far more venues and opportunities to read your poetry than say, maybe 10 years ago. Buffalo is alive with art. Art is, besides nature, the city's greatest treasure.
Here are a couple of Susan's poems as well as links to some of her other work.
Born of This
Published On Mogul
It is tiresome
with a beating heart.
I wish to close my eyes to horror,
yet my soul was made to speak.
I shout atrocity from rooftops
with rusted gutters,
my jawbone clenched tight.
Hoping that the blind shall see,
and the deaf shall hear;
dead-men nod to my supplications.
The sky quivers and quakes,
roaring untold stories of ancestors.
Nature does not judge.
Instinct is the root
into becoming whole.
Oh, such peace
to be among the birds and trees,
the grass, green.
The deer and raven dine side by side.
I shall recharge like Walden,
go home where I feel peace.
The human race confuses me,
and I am often ashamed to admit
that I am born of it.
the perfect poem
the perfect poem
is without words
it is heard within the cries of lovers
limbs reaching roots
it is the sun dappled dawn
rich and vibrant
like cheeks rising
as apples, ripe
it is the laughter of children
encrypted within chalk lines on sidewalks
where no words are spoken
and no language exists
it is the heart, racing
through atriums and ventricles
pumping blood to breath
so your eyes
through your tears after rainfall
the perfect poem
it is the presence of love
and the breath of angels.
For More Info on Susan Marie:
I've heard it said that, like politics, all poetry is local. Not a bad argument, I suppose. As in music, film, theater and any manner of artistic endeavor where the support of friends, family and colleagues is paramount to all the important early exposure one hopes to receive. After a while, if someone stays in his chosen game, there are plenty of opportunities to branch out a bit. One can even do so and still be home in time to get a few winks in before the dreaded alarm clock serenades him out of his dreams with its song of financial responsibility.
Many Buffalo poets have done just this. Accepting invites to read their work or participate in an open mic event at venues in Rochester, Toronto, Ithaca or Erie, Pennsylvania. Speaking of Erie, taking the path of a crow, it is 80.80 miles from Buffalo. If you are originally from here, you already know that. You also, in all probability, lack the ability to fly, preferring the 90, or the much more scenic Old Rt. 5 to the Flagship City. The drive is about an hour and a half, plenty of time to mull over what you are going to read for the crowd at the most well known venue there, Poets' Hall. Cee Williams, current Poet Laureate of Erie, Pennsylvania, is the director of Poets' Hall. I asked him a little about himself and the reading series there.
Fred Whitehead: When did the series start?
Cee Williams: The Hall opened in October 8th 2010. We started out in a little storefront on the east side of Erie. We'd still be there if we could have come to terms with the new owner. Now we run out of The Avalon, a downtown hotel. The place has seen better days. It reminds me a bit of the Shining, but it's a nice space with good service and little overhead.
FW: When do you host readings?
CW: Readings are held most Fridays October through May. We have grown in attendance every year leading up to this current season. It is down a bit now, mostly due to the move to our new location.
FW: When did you discover poetry?
CW: In Aunt Honey's library, The Collective Works of Langston Hughes. I couldn't borrow her books; she was funny about that. You could, however, sit on the floor and read. There was no furniture in the library, just shelves. She had these big pillows; they were this '70's lime green. She saw me reading that book, and then she turned me on to Countee Cullen and Claude McKay. I remember McKay had this line "I'd rather like a ghost pursue the fairy phantoms inside my lonely mind;" it really stuck with me. I had to be about twelve at the time.
FW: Who are some of your influences?
CW: Early on the influences were Langston Hughes, Angelou, McKay, Cullen, Brooks; then it was Bukowski and Baraka, which led me to poets like Saul Williams and Willie Perdomo. Now it's poets that I know. Local poets like Sean Thomas Dougherty and Corey Zeller, and I love the Buffalo cats Ben Brindise and Brandon Williamson especially.
FW: How is the poetry community in Erie?
CW: There are a surprising number of poets in town and throughout the region. Poetry is part of who we are it seems. Cats like Sean Thomas are shaping the poetry landscape on a national if not international level.
FW: Do you get many readers from out of town?
CW: About half the featured readers are from outside the Erie area. This season poets have come from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Ann Arbor, Richmond VA, Illinois, even California.
FW: Who are some of the outstanding and up and coming poets in Erie?
CW: Outstanding local poets Sean Thomas, Corey Zeller, Monica Igras, Greg Brown. I can't talk about poetry in Erie without mentioning Dr. Chuck Joy who works hard to keep up the interest in poetry on the local level. The cats new to the scene are Lev Burykin and Dirk Milner. I'd like to see those guys keep sharpening their axes.
FW: Is there much interest from the youth?
CW: There is some interest on the youth level. I personally haven't worked hard enough to keep the younger folks involved. I hit a high school or two a year and take part in Poetry Outloud. There are some folks like Ron Hayes, a local teacher and coach, that work to keep the youth interested.
FW: When did Erie start electing a Poet Laureate, and how is the process done?
CW: The Laureate process started in 2008 first one was named in 2009. Berwyn Moore encouraged poets to submit a public outreach project proposal, a handful of poems and a resume. The judges narrowed it to five applicants, and those five presented the poetry they submitted on stage. Points are given for the project, the poems and the presentation. The one with most points wins.
FW: What are some of the things you have done during your tenure as Laureate?
CW: My tenure has included a high school poetry contest, a chapbook competition for emerging poets, seventy plus open mics and a daylong poetry festival, which drew more than five dozen poets from a half dozen states. I'll finish up with another festival in late July, and poet family portrait next week.
FW: Thanks, Cee. I'm looking forward to my next visit.
The 2015 season is over but If you are interested in reading at Poets Hall or making the trip to listen to what the Erie region has to offer you can check out their Facebook page for next seasons schedule. https://www.facebook.com/PoetsHall/
Here is one of Cee's poems from his chapbook Alex .25:
by Cee Williams
On a pier too high to lift channel cats and angry bass came
the clap of thunder; a son of Lake Erie, taking perch. The
November kind, fat cantaloupe bellies, blue-green scales.
"That is not, not thunder." says Red Beard the Angler; batting doubles,
twin beauties dangling against the gray morning sky.
I can identify gunfire. Couldn't always say that ...the snap of
firecrackers, backfiring trucks-was that?
Three shots - ten blocks from the crib, three shots - ten blocks
from where I'm walking, clocking the silence for sirens,
increasing my stride
fear of being chastised for walking while black,
the smell of death finds me before my front stairs do.
It was all firecrackers back then, before that day next to Red
The day I learned how to split a second into something not
quite. "When the water is this cold, there's always a second
bite... trick is a half pause before setting the hooks"
I take him at his word, his near limit bucket proof of a most
"Duck season seems to send'em city-side, you can always
catch your limit round here, this time of year." Red Beard
packs his gear.
Azure peaks streak the gray morning sky. The clap of thunder,
only different now
The Screening Room is one of the first places at which I read. From the start I could tell it was a friendly, welcoming place for those just starting out in poetry or sharing their work with the public for the first time. I asked Marek Phillip Parker, one of the current hosts (the other is Lynn Ciesielski) a little about the series.
Fred: What year did the series start and who was hosting it at the time?
Marek: I’m really not the best historian for the Screening Room Series, but as it has been shared to me, it was started shortly after the business opened about 21 years ago. The original host for most of its life was Rosemary Koethe. She hosted till her death. I would guess that that was for about 12 years or so. I don’t have the actual years and dates. At some point Verneice Turner shared or took over the hosting responsibilities, eventually to be joined by Marge Merrill. It seems that there were various co-hosts who would step in throughout the years. About seven years ago they invited me to share the hosting duties with the two of them. After a year, Verneice bowed out and it was just myself and Marge. About five years ago it became just me. I searched for a co-host, I even had a few people who accepted the invite, but then decided it wasn’t what they were looking for. We hit a real rough patch four years ago when I had my heart attack and bypass surgery. A few people stepped in while I recovered. I don’t really remember who all, as much of that time was a blur. Two years ago I invited Lynn Ciesielski to co-host with me and we have been alternating months since then.
F: Not a bad group of Buffalo writers to have helping with the hosting duties. What day of the month are the readings held?
M: The readings are held the third Wednesday of every month from 7:30 PM till 9:30 or 10 PM. The cost is still just $2.
F: How can people find out about the readings?
M: We post events, monthly on Facebook, Lynn sends out an email reminder which includes Bob Pohl, who places it in The Buffalo News. The series also has great word of mouth. Featured readers are also urged to share the event and promote some on their own.
F: How did you get involved and how do you go about choosing your featured poets?
M: Choosing poets is pretty random, in that there is no specific criteria. We pick people we know, have heard of, are regulars at The Screening Room, newbies with a growing voice. Fortunately, Lynn and I have different spheres of influence, we bring different readers and styles to the table. When I can, I try to mix it up, a younger, or sometimes spoken word poet with a more seasoned voice. I find that the Buffalo poetry community is very fractured by race, genre and age. I want Tom Dreitlein, a really strong, younger spoken word poet to hear and be heard by a seasoned reader, writer like Gary Earl Ross. Don’t get me wrong here, Tom is a seasoned reader and writer in his own right, but there is a generational gap in Buffalo. I think a lot of our poets don’t see the relevance of different styles of poetry or different aged voices on their artistry. It comes from both sides, there is respect between the ages but a reluctance to find commonality in their unique voices. For me, listening to a Loren Keller, Joyce, Kessell, Celeste Lawson or Bianca McGraw, Brandon Williamson or Ben Brindise all teach me something about myself and the art of poetry.
F: If you had a mission or a particular wish for the poetry/literary scene in Buffalo, what would that be?
M: I would love to see Urban Epiphany return to the Buffalo scene. It’s an event reading and one that brings so many voices and styles together on the same day. Silo City is an attempt at this, but I feel you lose the focus when you have different poets reading at the same time, just 30 feet from each other. I’d rather hear/see us all together for the whole day. I love what Just Buffalo does with these events, but I still miss Urban Epiphany.
My other mission would be to see the community become more diverse in issues of ethnicity and age at the individual readings.
F: How important is poetry to you and how important to the community?
M: How important is breathing? Poetry is life, like any other art form. It educates, informs, and entertains us. It tells us about our neighbors and ourselves! Sorry to sound so cliché, but I really do feel this to be true!
F: Who are the owners of the venue and how was/is their support for poetry local or otherwise? Do they do things for other kinds of art/artists?
M: The owner is Bob Golibersuch. He has been very supportive for the past 21 or so years. He is very understanding and supportive. I don’t think that they get enough recognition for what they do for the poetry and larger community. For a long time, there was also a Sunday series hosted by Bill Koethe (Rosemary’s husband.) I know that they have donated their space for socially minded groups.
F: What got you interested in poetry and who are your biggest influences?
M: I became interested in poetry as a means to express myself and deal with issues of life. There are many small influences, as a young kid it was Ogden Nash and Dr. Seuss, which is a very magical and poetic writing. A style I have struggled to develop is my written voice. As for a mentor, I would have to say Jimmie Gilliam was a huge influence on my developing my voice and rhythm. She was my instructor at the ECC City campus and had a huge impact on me as a writer and as a person. There are many poets/writers that I’ve admired. Some of them in the music world, Patti Smith, Sting, Suzanne Vega, to name a few. Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs informed much of my writing on self and sexuality. There are many local writers who I strive to be as good as. I won’t single anyone out because many different writers have impacted me. I feel that, to name a few, would be to exclude many.
,F: Do you think there is enough support for younger poets in town?
M: I think that between the colleges, which have seen an explosion of traditional and spoken word, and the many different venues that we have, there is a great deal of support for young and older poets as well. You just need to reach out and there is a wonderful, supportive community out there.
F: I know you have supported many causes on the national level, could you say a little about your involvement locally with movements supporting LGBTQ, environmental and peace organizations.
M: Currently I work in homeless outreach at Lake Shore Behavioral Health. Through them, I have started and became chair of the LGBTQ Committee on Homelessness. We have developed training for agencies working with LGBTQ people, addressing issues of inclusiveness. (If anyone is interested in training contact me at 716-881-7230.) The committee hopes to pull together all of the pieces to start a short term housing facility for LGBTQ homeless.
I have been involved in a number of social justice issues, sometimes deeply, sometimes very much on the edges. I work most specifically by how I live my life. I am greatly flawed and work hard to grow and change. I hope I show patience with others I encounter and work with.
I think social justice will always have to be something that we work for. It will never just be given to us. From civil rights to marriage, these are things that we have to demand.
In regards to the LGBTQ community, I have become much more active and am working to coordinate a Queer Themed day through Buffalo Infringement.
F: I hear the venue is moving. Do you know to where and when?
M: At this time, we do not have a firm date or place. All of that is in the works, but The Screening Room is waiting for it to go through all of the lawyers, etc, which will be needed to make sure all of the t’s are dotted and I’s crossed. (Yep, that was on purpose!)
F: And how will it impact the series?
M: Its impact will hopefully be that it will become even bigger and better than it currently is and that The Screening Room will be around for a long time to come.
If you get the chance attend a reading this series offers. In the meantime, enjoy a few poems by its co-host Marek Phillip Parker.
Poems by Marek Phillip Parker
Grief stirs over lost memories,
Hand written goodbyes
Keys of scratched ebony and ivory
a disabled peddle
With hope of reclamation
Some distant tomorrow
With an eviction notice in hand
I’m mourning memories
Having filled every nook and cranny
Every crevice, every corner
Piles of possession
Cutting off both
breath and circulation
As termination nears
Piles of distinction
justifying each items placement
Then lamenting that decision
In grief I have become a hoarder
Not a collector
Not an accumulator
But a magpie
Satiation is measured
Quantity with quality
Returning to task at hand
Diligence of my work
Denial has its place
Only after the final box is taped
My spirit is burdened
Edits of life’s
I raise arms
50 years of memories
Held for Too Long
Sometimes it’s all right to want to kill the messenger
your sister called me that Monday morning,
some twenty years ago
gossip on her tongue
It was her voice
a few years before
which first whispered word of Gabe’s illness in my ear
I was less prepared for that Monday’s call
“Gabe died today……..
Wasn’t he a friend of yours?”
She both announced and asked
All at once
I wanted to scream at her
But all that came out
was a breath of which I had
held for too long
but unable to listen
I waited for a pause
before she continued
Hours later you called
a declaration of contrition
seeking to right your sisters faux pas
and explain your own
It was your call
meant for three days earlier
that I should have received
Gabe had been asking to see me
But your preoccupations
a boy friend
a weekend visit out of town
left that message undelivered
With all of this acknowledged
you then asked
if I was all right
I never found the words
That could conceal my anger
so I never answered you
I knew that my thoughts
steeped in honesty
would be poison for both of us
As I dwell on lost goodbyes
I am reminded of the meeting
which would serve as our valediction
Gabe and I had a chance reunion
in the Buff State quad
It was just months before his passing
thin and gaunt
His face wore the ravages of death
burdened by books
for courses he would never complete
Was filled with hollow promises of
Drinks to be poured
laughs to be shared
Both of us then knowing that
Hallwalls’ Artists and Models Ball would now
without our attendance
So I sit here
some twenty years later
just a quiet din of regret
and I can finally tell you
I wasn’t all right
Published November/December 2009 Cherry Bleeds
Turn down that fucking music
Assaulting my space
Pushing aside voices of reason
Voices of voices of voices of
not sure if I want to drown them out
or invite them back to nestle
into my jumbled cranium
you ask if I hear them
knowing that we both do
knowing that you control them
knowing their origin
is held by those that can distract
not sure if it is inside or out
it starts as a murmur
and builds to an uncontrolled
desirous of my soul
exploitive of my libido
Your words vibrate
Like an engine revving
Pressing upon the gas
My spirit shakes
ears begin to bleed
Bright lights hurting
body slams upon
Your drumming bass
Pummels my bones
My tight skin your snare
Your rhythmic beat
Explodes into a wall of sound
Wall of fury
Still I listen
Finding the messages
To and fro
Back and forth
Without having risen
Expose earlier wounds
With mirrored results
And I find
That there is no external music
My bloodied face
Saturated with salty tears
Weeps in defeat
There is something special about a finely crafted handmade book. My shelves are home to a number of them and some of the best are from PressBoardPress. Beautifully rendered with letterpress covers and stitched bindings, they are a great representation of an art form more bibliophiles should have in their collection.
PressBoardPress is the creation of Lackawanna native Patrick Riedy, and through its publications Riedy has been instrumental in bringing well-deserved exposure to the work of local poets.
He received his BA in English at the University at Buffalo, where he also had the opportunity to work at the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo for two years.
His schooling however hasn't ended there as he explains, "I recently finished my MA in English from Syracuse University and in the upcoming fall I will be starting the MFA program in Literary Arts at Brown University."
I asked him about the start of the press, to which he replied:
"I started the press in 2011 with Letson Williams and Michael Koh after we and a few other undergraduates at UB started a journal called 'We, the notorious pronouns'. PressBoardPress started by experimenting with print on demand before developing a website and finally Michael and Peter went on with other projects while I learned how to letterpress and make small chapbooks. I think we all saw the press as a means to explore what we wanted to achieve in our own poetry, but I also think it was a way to be a part of the active poetry community in Buffalo."
I like to think the press has evolved with me as an artist and reader
As active as that community is and considering the number of poets looking to be published, one wonders how PressBoardPress goes about it.
"PressBoardPress does not accept unsolicited manuscripts." Riedy goes on to say, "I publish poets I admire or referrals from poets I’ve published in the past. In this way, I feel like I can manage the press with my school and teaching responsibilities. I like to think the press has evolved with me as an artist and reader as well as providing a space for discourse with the poets I admire and am lucky to publish."
All of the volumes put out by PressBoardPress are personally hand crafted by Riedy. After designing and letter pressing the covers he will digitally offset print the insides. Finally, he folds everything and sews each chapbook. Riedy remarks: "It’s a long, crazy process to some people, but I enjoy it. If anything goes wrong I can only blame myself!"
Most writers, when asked, can name the spark that started them on their particular path. For Riedy it was an early interest in poetry.
Now, if I hadn’t grown up in Buffalo, if I hadn’t been courageous enough to share my poems, if I hadn’t had some teachers that encouraged me, would I be here?
"In high school I began writing after we read some of poems, I particularly remember Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” and Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream”. I think there was an assignment, something like “write a ‘Where I’m From’ poem”. It was then I caught the bug—both the reading and the writing in relation to each other. A year later I mustered the courage to share some of the poems I was writing with another English teacher. He mentioned how they reminded him of Robert Creeley’s poetry, so I went out some time after that and picked up Creeley’s Selected Poems. Now, if I hadn’t grown up in Buffalo, if I hadn’t been courageous enough to share my poems, if I hadn’t had some teachers that encouraged me, would I be here? Who knows exactly? But I can say that early on it felt authentic to how I relate to others and to myself, it was a kind of interaction with the world I wanted and maybe needed."
Here are a couple of Patrick’s poems:
THE LARGER SHADOW
Innocence for breakfast
Along the way Your eyes turn sky
Toward cluttered grey
This hill you’ve known
The shameful door
The silence of a window--
The emptiness of incandescence
Upon an off-white wall
A blue tree
All omens Signs of things
THE FACE AS MOON
round as it will ever be
bright as only the moon is able
leaving so much hidden at night,
so much inside already hides
and the fact of the matter is that this too
is shaded, this also leaves one stranded
with nothing more to say other than
regret and disappointment
forever beginning, setting out
to say something insignificant
or, at the very least
of little use
others may not give it half a thought
but look at the moon or
in the mirror at your face
and say “I see what you did there”
now it somehow seems more
clear, maybe that is
only on the face of it
since words seem to be of no use
as this recollection hums bright
in the sky, going around the earth
just as the moon—round
and round one’s head
so that there is something left,
from the house to the crunch of snow underfoot to the store to the cold lights alone too long, to the way I want to call to say all the things never said to moticos that remind me to destroy it all, to send off to the moon everything under the moon
"Poetry is the only means of relating to myself," Riedy says "to others and to the larger nature of experience in a way that feels authentic. And I suppose it’s also because poetry allows me to desire the authentic and still be skeptical about these questions of authenticity and sincerity. It’s in the poems, too—“Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes)."
Here is a short list of a few of the poets he has published:
Most recently PressBoardPress has published Nava Fader’s Prynne Poems and Kate Colby’s Engine Light. Some other poets include Michael Basinski, Edric Mesmer, Janet Kaplan, Joseph Massey, Kayla Rizzo, and Tyler Cain Lacy.
Visit https://pressboardpress.com to see learn more of what he and PressBoardPress has to offer.
Buffalo area native Sinead Tyrone started down the path of writing in 2009 because, as she puts it, "I had wanted to write for many years; in 2009 I finally became brave and started to take my passion for the craft more serious. As for writing poems, I just started expressing what was in my heart. I had never thought of myself as a poet until that year." And a fine poet she has become. She has honed her craft through reading at many of the venues around Erie County. One of the results has been her first volume of poetry, Fragility (2014, Nofrills Buffalo).
Life is full of frustrations, longings, dreams, faith and struggles
The standard definition of the word fragility is of something delicate, embodying a vulnerability, easily broken. In this collection Tyrone touches on themes such as these, as well as those of strength and perseverance.
When asked what inspires her work she says: "My poetry covers a wide range of topics, whatever moves my heart at any given moment. I incorporate a lot of visual imagery in my writing. Nature and the landscapes around me are frequent topics. Life is full of frustrations, longings, dreams, faith and struggles; so any of these can be found in my poems. Ireland is a frequent theme."
Take the title poem, which starts in a dreamscape of childhood with wishes carried on the wind, later trying to recall that childhood, and finally coming to terms with the realities of adulthood in the last stanza.
I am grown up now,
She had already started writing her first novel when, in 2012, she took a longed for trip to Ireland. Quite a few of the poems in this collection are inspired by her visit there. One such poem comes from a visit to Dunluce Castle in County Antrim in Northern Ireland.
Here is a bit from her poem of the same name.
I run my hand over weather-worn stones,
Everybody has known what it is like to be tormented by decisions of the heart. After going to Strandhill, a coastal village in County Sligo, she wrote the poem Strandhill Sea. In it Tyrone speaks of the love of her ancestral homeland as well as that for the land of her birth, and not knowing where her loyalties should lay.
Heart shifts back,
Anybody who has had the chance to finally fulfill a dream and make it to the land of their forebears knows what it like to feel, even for the briefest of time, that you are home, which is the reason that both of her novels are set there.
"The novels are connected by their characters," Tyrone explains "Both are set in current day Ireland and Northern Ireland. The main characters are musicians in a band called Macready's Bridge. In the first novel, Walking through the Mist, the main character experiences a crisis that turns his life upside down, and he must rebuild his life. In the sequel, Crossing the Lough Between, two of the main characters face a conflict that threatens their friendship. Both novels draw in a number of characters whose lives intertwine, much like how Celtic knots intertwine".
Loss is a major subject for any writer, and Tyrone is masterful at transcribing these feelings into verse. As in Language Lesson where she knows she is coming to love Ireland and lamenting that she cannot stay.
Are there words in Irish that describe
Tyrone also speaks of a different kind of loss, that of a friend, in her poem The Last Rose.
The last rose stands sentinel
When not writing Sinead Tyrone works full time as a legal secretary, is an avid photographer and an aficionado of all things Irish. Look for her at a local reading and pick up one (or more) of her books.
They can be found at Dog Ears Bookstore (688 Abbott Road) and Talking Leaves bookstore. They can also be ordered through Amazon, or email the author (email@example.com) and arrangements can be made to deliver the books
If you have ever longed for a community that holds wide its arms for poetry you need look no further than Buffalo. On any given night you can find a place in town to hear someone read from his/her work, pick up the latest book by an area poet or find a journal put out by a local publisher. One of which is steel bellow.
An outgrowth of a collective known as The Notorious Pronouns, steel bellow was started in September of 2012 by Vincent Cervone, Paige Melin and John Lamprecht. To set it apart from the publications put out by the Pronouns, they decided on a format featuring three poets per issue, with each poet having several poems showcased.
As for the name steel bellow, Lamprecht says, "We brainstormed the name for quite a few days as I recall, and steel bellow stuck namely as a reflection of what we saw around us in the (what appeared to be dying) city, and how just underneath that exterior there actually existed a vibrant and wonderful community. We also enjoyed the idea that a bellows was to stoke the fire. For us, poetry is that fire and each publication we brought into the world was but one more pump of the bellows."
Recently Lamprecht has stepped back as one of the editors and is currently living in Aiken, SC. He continues to write and moderate the Facebook group Living Poets Society. Melin, who is busy as the Editorial Assistant for the National Poetry Foundation and Paideuma (a scholarly mag on Ezra Pound and modernist poets) and Co-Poetry Editor for Stolen Island, the graduate literary review out of UMaine, continues to edit steel bellow with Cervone. A teacher in Western New York, Cervone is also co-founder of the movie review website www.cinemaobserver.com. He is currently working on his first chapbook, Of Weather.
The latest issue of steel bellow features Richard Olson, Theresa Wyatt and Frank J. Dunbar.
Richard Olson, a native of Buffalo's Old First Ward, has an easy, familiar way with words. His poems settle on you like stories an old friend may tell on a summer evening, having just stopped by to see how you're doing.
Recalling tales of the old neighborhood, life or work, like this from his poem Dancing After School,
From his The Lives We Need to Live,
Theresa Wyatt is well known in Western New York poetry circles. She has been published in many journals and can be heard reading her work fairly regularly around the Buffalo area. Much of her work touches on nature and art, as can be seen in her poem I Live Near the Water,
Or this from her About Carl Sandburg,
Frank Dunbar also hailed from Buffalo's Old First Ward, and until his death in April of 2015, was known as the poet of Hamburg Street. He brings the people and places of his old neighborhood to life through his poems, such as in The Death of the Sidway Street Playground,
This is from his A Summer Night in the Old First Ward,
As Cervone puts it, “The best part about editing steel bellow is reading all of the great submissions that we receive. We've been able to publish some wonderful poets—who are also wonderful people in general—and network with some great people. We have received tons of support and encouragement from Buffalo poets. We are extremely happy to be a part of it.”
So I suggest you look for a copy of steel bellow at one of the great independent Buffalo bookstores or follow Living Poets Society on Facebook for information on upcoming issues and events. You won’t be disappointed.
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