By Dan Wilcox
I like to say (ad nauseam) that “in Albany, everyday is Poetry Month.” But it took many years to get us here. I think it is possible to build/maintain a poetry community where ever you are, with a little work & a passion for what you want.
I have been running the Third Thursday Poetry Night in various locations in Albany, NY since 1997 & its history provides many lessons on how such events can happen. In late 1997 the proprietors of Cafe Web on Madison Ave. in Albany NY approached me for help in setting up a monthly poetry open mic at their establishment.
Cafe Web was an early internet cafe where I established my first email account. At that point the poetry scene had been growing in Albany since Tom Nattell started the series of readings & open mics at the QE2, a punk rock club, in the late 1980s (as well the annual 24-hour event “Readings Against the End of the World,” held from 1984 to 1993).
Since that time poetry readings had popped up at bookstores & cafes in the area. Smart owners of venues realized that if they had a poetry open mic on what was normally a dead night of the week (like a Monday night) folks might show up.
I started at Cafe Web in December 1997 & have continued at Changing Spaces Gallery, the Lark St. Bookshop & the Social Justice Center until now. During that time I have missed only 1 third Thursday, when we moved from Cafe Web to Changing Spaces Gallery in March 2001. The owners of Cafe Web had been asked by the owner of the building to close, prompting the move. By chance, I had met the owners of Changing Spaces Gallery at a Christmas party & later approached them about hosting the event. For them it was a source of income & a chance for people to come into the gallery & be among the art.
When they closed (as most galleries must) in January 2004, I moved immediately to the Lark Street Bookshop, a community-owned used-book store & didn’t lose a reading. Nor did we skip a beat when the Bookshop closed in June 2006 & we moved to our current location at Albany’s Social Justice Center on Central Ave.
[Tess Lecuyer, Social Justice Center, Albany, NY March 2012]
My format has been consistent, & simple, over time: each month there is a featured poet, with an open mic before & after the feature, with the open mic poets limited to one poem each. Because of the number of active poets & writers in this area, as well as a constant influx of newer writers, there are only a few poets who have read more than once in the series. And I pay the featured poet from donations from the audience.
When you are planning a poetry reading the most important thing you need (after the poets, of course) is a venue, a place to perform. Smart proprietors of local coffee houses or bars will realize that 5 or 10 more sales on a usually slow week night can make a difference. It is a testament to the small business owners in Albany, NY that they have realized this & support the local poetry (& music) open mic scene.
But of course, without the poets themselves who show up month after month, who keep writing their poems, keep listening to others there would be no poetry readings, no poetry scene. So my comment to all my poet friends is always “Keep writing.”
[Tom Nattell, Dan Wilcox, and Charlie Rossiter (3 Guys from Albany), Lark Street Book Shop, December 2004]
Dan Wilcox is the host of the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany, N.Y. and is a member of the poetry performance group “3 Guys from Albany”. As a photographer, he claims to have the world’s largest collection of photos of unknown poets. He has been a featured reader at all the important poetry venues in the Capital District & throughout the Hudson Valley and is an active member of Veterans for Peace.
He also publishes poetry under the imprint, A.P.D. (albany’s poetic device, another pleasant day, etc.). His own poems have been published in Out of the Catskills, Post Traumatic Press 2007, Chronogram, Poetica and in numerous small press journals and anthologies, on the internet, as broadsides & in self-published chapbooks. His chapbook boundless abodes of Albany is available from Benevolent Bird Press of Delmar, NY. Dan blogs at at DWX.