Here in Albany and the Hudson Valley, poet and activist Dan Wilcox is known for many things: founding member of "3 Guys from Albany," photographer with "the world's largest collection of photos of unknown poets" (some of which I posted guest-blogging for BAP here), member of Veterans for Peace. and host of the Third Thursday Reading Series at the Social Justice Center.
But to me, it's his blog, where he writes reviews of local poetry events, that is his true claim to fame.
There, Dan expresses his unfiltered, unpretentious opinions on what, to him, poetry and poetry readings should be. More often than not, I disagree with him, sometimes vehemently so; but I keep reading his reviews.
Like many of us, I hate-read pompous literary blogs or Gawker, and despair over the culture's alternatingly icky and air-kissy discourses. Dan Wilcox's reviews are neither. There's something else, some other quality, that's hard to pin down.
Part of it is his Andy Warhol diary-like focus on small specifics, like the turnout and the weather outside. Then there's the recurring cast of odd characters who go to the same open readings and read the same poems. He's also, like your guest correspondent, unapologetically crude and a fan of dirty jokes.
One day last summer, I wrote a parody-homage of a Dan Wilcox Blog Reading Review, which appears below. The set-up: What if Dan Wilcox went to an open reading in hell? What would he write in his no-holds-barred, Wilcoxian prose? I read it once in front of him and he liked it.
An on-going (during the dark season) series held at the eighth bolgia (my favorite) dedicated to fraudulent advisers or evil counselors, this is the first Solstice Open Reading I’ve been able to get to this millennium, mainly because most of the readings are held on the third Thursday of the month when I host the monthly open mic at Yama’s Court in the Second Circle here in the Dark Underworld.
The curator & host of the series, Publius Vergilius Maro, who bills himself as Virgil for short, has done a real credit with this occasional series for all of us who were not found worthy after the general resurrection and last judgment.
Poet Allen Ginsberg was first to read. Allen read his crowd-pleasers: one “America,” resembled a stand-up comic routine, with subtle (or not so subtle) political overtones. With many of references to historical figures (the Wobblys, Tom Mooney, Sacco and Vanzetti) that were lost on the two members of the audience who were obviously more bestiality- and buggery-obsessed.
Next was Anne Sexton. The suicidal sibyl dressed in a black and white cocktail dress, which exposed her well-toned female arms. She gave an intricate introduction that lost the crowd at first, but won them back with use of interesting use of rhymes in her second poem—“I Have Been Her Kind” I think was the title—although marred by slam-like preachy-ness. Her work reflected a lot of the current work I hear coming out from MFA programs these days: overly clever, satisfied with its own intelligence. But what do I know?
Eric Lynn Wright, better known as Eazy E, recited, or sang, work from memory that addressed substantial issues such as urban crime, matricide and dysfunctional relations with the police. I found his use of rather derivative hip hop rhymes distracted from my understanding, although I did hear a lot of uses of the word fuck and ass, which I quite like, as did the zombie Republican barflies sitting at the nearby Nixon Tavern.
Gertrude Stein, reading work from her iPad, repeated lots of the same words, using such obviously experimental phrases as “MILDRED’S UMBRELLA” and “The sight of no pussy cat is so different that a tobacco zone is white and cream.” So-called “experimental” poets such as Stein would do well offering some explanation of her method or technique; it might also break up her cadence, which sounded rather flat at times, unexpressive, like a drone.
Next up was Walt Whitman, who read a longer poem called “Song of Myself” (based on personal experiences?), whose line about “Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious nice” set some of the more easily titillated listeners’ hearts a-flutter. At these readings, Walt keeps reading from the same poem over and over again, and so it would be nice to hear him read new work, and take a break away from obsessive revising.
Last up was Durante degli Alighieri, who brought onstage his date Nancy Spungeon, who said she has known Alighieri for a long time, but really only just met him shooting up smack in the bathroom. Dante, as he is better known, should be familiar to all poets living in a world of eternal damnation. He was selling copies of his brand-new chapbook, La Vita Nuova (Torture Press), which he read in Tuscan. Dante’s book is a tidy, attractive collection, but I find that having the poems with drawings all around it gives the poems the look of greeting card verse, which Dante certainly does not write.
Although all of these poets were legendary while committing sins in the overworld, in the realm of endless suffering they failed to attract as big of a crowd. Part of the blame can be attributed to the recurrent flame storms in the Valley of Hinnon, which kept many of us home in our nail of beds, but there was also the lack of an open mic. Yes, a good featured poet such as Dante or Ginsberg or even Whitman or Stein may bring friends & family, but if you want an audience for a poet, have an open mic too, which they do each month in Mahatamaha prabha, the seventh level of Naraka.
Nonetheless, the Winter Solstice reading, held on the darkest day in the darkest realm of the known world, can claim a good diversity of voices. Plus it’s Free!