A Scranton Venue Needs Help

A few months ago, the Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton closed its doors on the Penn Avenue location, leaving the city with one less all-ages venue. When it happened, I thought, oh great, another loss of an arts venue in this area. I’ve always felt that all-ages venue are important to any community. When I was in high school, I wasn’t into sports, so I found solace in attending punk and indie shows at some other now-defunct venues- Cafe Del Soul, Homebase, and Cafe Metropolis. These places welcomed kids that were into music, art, or poetry. When I lived in the Philly area for 7 or 8 years, I also hung out at various arts venues and started doing a lot of poetry readings. Without those venues, maybe I never would have become a poet/writer. They provided a place for me to exercise my craft and share my work in writing groups and with a live audience at open mic nights, long before I went around the tri-state area doing featured readings.

Fortunately for the Scranton arts community, the Vintage Theater is trying to re-open to a new location in the downtown. A task force has been created, and I’m happy to say that my girlfriend Jenna and I are on it, along with a lot of other artists, musicians, and writers that care about places like this. To make the Vintage Theater succeed, there are a few fundraisers coming up. This Friday, there will be a fundraiser at the Houdini Museum, located at 1433 North Main Ave. The event starts at  7 p.m. and will feature music and comedy. Tickets are $15. Refreshments will be provided.

There will be another fundraiser on Thursday August 9 at Mert’s Bar, located on Penn Avenue in the downtown. Tickets are $20, and that will provide access to an open bar and food. There will also be a raffle for various gift baskets and prizes.

The venue is also raising money through an Indiegogo campaign, and the goal of that is to raise $3,500 in about three and a half weeks. You can make a small donation online by clicking here.

This area barely has any all-ages venues left, so let’s help the Vintage Theater re-open and stay open.

Vintage Theater Closes Its Doors for Now

By now, I’m sure a lot of people who read this blog know that the Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton is closing, at least temporarily.  The owners are trying to find a new location to continue providing the variety of music, art, and literary events that the venue offered. Tonight will mark the final event at the Vintage Theater’s Penn Avenue location, an art show featuring portraits of local writers, artists, and musicians. The event begins at 6 p.m. and is part of Scranton’s First Friday Art Walk. If you are out and about, I encourage you to stop at the Vintage Theater and say goodbye to its current location.

For me, the Vintage was special because its owners allowed me to host various poetry workshops and readings. I even had the book release party for Front Man there in the fall of 2010, and I’m grateful to have celebrated that accomplishment with family and friends in that venue. Vintage also had a writing group that met every Saturday, and some of its key participants hosted a poetry open mic night the third Thursday of every month. I attended it a few times and was the featured reader a few months ago. That open mic provided writers of varying levels the chance to hone their skills and share their work in public, which is especially useful for beginning writers.

Last night, I read at the KGB Bar in the Lower East Side of New York City. It was my second time reading there, and at both readings, the bar was packed with an attentive audience. After I finished the reading, I thought about how lucky artists and writers in the city are to have spaces like the KGB Bar, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Cornelius Street Cafe, venues that always have a packed house and events going on every day of the week.  These venues thrive because they have people willing to support them. When the Vintage re-opens and perhaps reshapes its mission, I hope even more people come to events to support it and keep its doors open.

For now, I’m sure that the folks who frequented Vintage will find other places to go. I have heard that the writing group that met there every Saturday will now meet at Northern Lights Cafe in downtown Scranton every Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, people can also check out New Visions Studio and Gallery on Vine Street, which also offers a lot of concerts and some literary events, including the Writers Showcase. There is also the Library Express in the Steamtown Mall, which has an open mic poetry night the last Thursday of every month at 6:30, as well as various workshops and author events. In an ideal world, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre would have a variety of venues with a slew of events.

Here’s an old picture of me reading at the Vintage during the release party for Front Man.


What a Wonderful Scene

This past weekend, I was reminded how wonderful a creative community the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area has. On Friday, I took part in a fundraiser/Equinox party for the Vintage Theater.  I was happy to share the stage with friend and fellow writer Amye Archer and share a few poems, and I got to hear some new talent in the area. I was especially impressed with the music of Katie Kelly, a 26-year-old from Wilkes-Barre. She fronts the band Ashes for Trees, but she played solo at this event.  She has quite a soulful voice, and when she first leaned over her guitar, I didn’t think such a powerful voice would come out of her!  At times, her vocal style also reminded me of Tori Amos. If you get a chance to see her solo or with her band, you should check it out.

The weekend concluded with Prose and Pubs on Sunday night. I had the pleasure of reading at one of these about two months ago,and it seems each one grows bigger and bigger. This month’s line-up included local writers Bryne Lewis, Kate Burrier, and Amye Archer. The feature was Jason Carney, a Texas-based slam/performance poet, whose work addresses everything from southern racism to being a dad. Each piece, including a memoir that he’s currently drafting, drew raucous applause from the audience, and it was great to see that many people so riled up over poetry and writing. The next Prose in Pubs will be sometime in late November, and you should come.

 Here’s one of the pieces Carney performed:

General Updates

Here’s a quick update of some fall events/readings I’m participating in.

This Friday, Sept. 23, I’ll be reading at the Vintage Theater with Amye Archer. Doors open at 6 p.m. There will also be art and music featured. Tickets are $10, and all money benefits the venue, which is located at 119 Penn Ave. in Scranton.

On Friday,  Oct. 14 at the Century Club in Scranton, I’m reading with other writers from the Mulberry Poets and Writers Association. The event starts at 6 pm.

On Saturday, Oct. 22 at Sellers Books in Jim Thorpe, I’m the featured reader for the evening. I’ll also share the stage with poet Dawn Leas.  The event starts at 7 pm. The bookstore is located at 101 Broadwy.

And on Saturday, Nov. 12, I’m reading and hosting an event for local writers at New Visions Art Gallery, located at 201 Vine Street in Scranton. I’m in the process now of finalizing the list of readers.

Finally, I also have a poem, “How She Hides Her Age,” in the new fall issue of  San Pedro River Review.  If interested, you can order a copy here.

So far, it’s shaping up to be a busy fall, and I like that!

Upward, Onward

My summer vacation technically started a few weeks ago, once I turned in my spring semester grades, but since then, it hasn’t felt like I’ve really had a day off. I’m one of those people who constantly needs to be doing something. Since the spring semester concluded, I have drafted/revised four totally new poems, some of which have found their way into my new manuscript. I’m also teaching a  poetry workshop at the Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton, and I have a wonderful group of students that offer insightful, intelligent comments on poetry we cover.  I’ve also done a few poetry readings, especially at the end of May, and I have more coming up in June. I view these readings as the last push/leg of all of the readings I’ve done over the last 6 months or so for Front Man. When fall begins, I’ll be able to ease up on the readings and do last revisions to my new manuscript.

I’m also spending this summer placing the poems in order for a new chapbook. Some of the poems have already gotten published, including in Indigo Rising Magazine, Word Fountain, Young American Poets, WritingRaw, and soon the Pennsylvania Literary Journal.  I hope to get the new chapbook accepted by a publisher (maybe Big Table Publishing again) at least two years after Front Man came out. That is enough time after the first book came out, but also not too long so people don’t forget about me. Whenever that next chap comes out, I wonder what people will think about it. Gone are the music/punk rock/indie rock references, for the most part, though there is a poem that does reference Bob Dylan. But these are more coming-of-age poems, poems about love, poems about loss, poems about father/son relationships, and all from a male point of view.  Some of the poems are also in tighter forms, unrhymed quartrains especially, while some are longer narrative poems.

 I am indeed getting there, but there is a need to also trim the fat, to cut out a lot of poems that will make the book sound too repetitive.  In an ideal world, I’ll have a solid polished manuscript by the end of the summer, with the poems ordered, but I know how fast the summer turns to fall, and how soon I have to prep my work for the poetry course I’m teaching at Keystone starting in mid-July.

Hey musicians and music fans!

My friend Conor O’Brien, one of the head honchos at the Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton, sent me a message today regarding an art exhibit they’re having during the month of May that will highlight the musical history of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Basically, he needs some help collecting memorabilia from any of the venues that used to exist around here-Proofrocks, Cafe Del Soul, Cafe Metropolis, Homebase. The goal of the exhibit is to focus on the “history and energy that is the area’s music scene.”

To pull this exhibit off, they’re going to need old flyers, pins, photos, shirts, and any other merch from past shows. I have a folder of flyers, photos, pins, and posters of punk rock bands that swung by Home Base, Metro, Del Soul, and some of the old venues. I’m going to lend some of that stuff to this exhibit. But again, if you have anything, please help out with this event. This area always has had a healthy, vibrant music scene, and some bigger bands have swung through here, too. There have also been bands that came out of this music scene, including Title Fight, Tigers Jaw, the Holy Mess, and my friends in the Menzingers, that have gone on to gain national attention in the punk rock/indie rock scenes. It would be nice to showcase that.

To find out more about the exhibit and how to help, click here.

Busy Week for Poetry

Last week featured two solid poetry events in the Scranton area that I’ll recap quick. I hope this is the start of more poetry-oriented events coming to this area.

First, Carolyn Forché came to the University Scranton on Wednesday evening to deliver a lecture about Poetry of Witness. She also read some poems from her second book, The County Between Us, which was published in 1981 with the help of Margaret Atwood.  The book deals with her time spent in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War, so the poems fit in with the lecture she gave on Poetry of Witness. I don’t want to recap the whole lecture, but I do want to point out some points I found interesting. First, I agree with her statement that when poets sit down and immediately say they’re going to write a political poem or poem with a message, it never turns out that well. Poetry of Witness personalizes the political and focuses on what the poet experienced. So, for instance, The Country Between Us contains poems describing some of the atrocities Forché witnessed in El Salvador. They are personalized, first-hand accounts.

She was also optimistic about the opportunities for social change, due to social media. She pointed to Egypt as an example, how those protests were organized using Twitter and Facebook. She also pointed out social media allows young people from all over the world to have a dialogue.

The second big poetry event that occurred this week was a  Friday evening performance of Langston Hughes’ 12 moods for jazz entitled Go Ask Your Mama. This event, held at Lackawanna College’s Mellow Theater, featured a live reading of the 12 poems, mixed with jazz music and film from the civil rights movement. Great performance overall.

Finally, I want to mention that my poetry students from a workshop/class at the Vintage Theater will be reading their work this Wednesday,  at 7 pm at the Vintage Theater (119 Penn Avenue). Admission is free, so stop by. Once this first workshop/class concludes, I will be teaching another one at the Vintage Theater, which will also be five weeks. This will most likely begin in May. The price will again be $75, capped at about 5 students. We hope to do a few more, though I’m not sure what my situation will be come this fall.