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An Interview with Poet Mary Panza

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Interview with Albany-based Poet Mary Panza

By Stacey Stump

Mary Panza, Vice President of the Albany Poets Organization Local poet and Vice President of the Albany Poets organization, Mary Panza wants people to find art in the mundane. She’s not a fan of academic writing theories, having only ever taken one poetry class at Hudson Valley Community College. Panza says the best writing prompt is to go out and live your life. A massage therapist and mother by day, Panza is still reeling from the success of the tenth annual Albany Word Fest she hosted on April 16th (click here to read a review), which brought a crowd of over 100 people to hear 12+ hours of poetry and spoken word. She recently gave The Free George an interview on her poetry and the state of the Albany poetry community.

The Free George: How long has Albany Poets been around? Were you involved from the beginning?
Mary Panza:
I think it was formed in 2000, but I didn’t get officially involved with the organization until 2001 because I was in massage school. 

TFG: How did the early days of the Albany poetry community differ from today?
MP: Things weren’t as organized as they are now. The scene was going through a time where there were a lot of people involved. The Hudson Valley Writer’s Guild had been around but there was nothing for the street poets. The first open mics I remember going to was in June or July of 1988. Jim Carroll read at the QE2 (now The Fuze Box) on Central Avenue. The late poet Tom Nattell’s open mics were held on the last Monday of the month.

TFG: What do you feel Albany Poets contributes to the Upstate New York arts community?
MP: Our web site,, is amazing. It gives people all the information they need on area poetry events; they can read hundreds of poems, bios on local people and not so local who participate in readings. We also provide a place for people to come together.

TFG: How has hosting Poets Speak Loud been since the location was moved from The Lark Tavern to McGeary’s?
MP: We’re still rebuilding, starting over, but we’re loyal to our friends. Poets Speak Loud doesn’t belong anywhere except where Tess (Collins) is. She is the one who came up with the name Poets Speak Loud.

TFG: Word Fest 2011 was a great success. What do you think made this year different from previous festivals?
MP: The venue (WAMC’s Performing Art Center) and the fact that it was in the daytime both contributed to our great turnout. Next year we’re planning on starting the twelve hour open mic at 10am instead of 7am. Every year is different; it’s its own thing and we just roll with it. I think this was the best year ever.

TFG: What’s the next big event for Albany Poets?
MP: At our monthly open mic in September, Poets Speak Loud will be having a Celebrity Poet Roast. In July and August we’re going to let people vote on who the next person roasted will be. The last roast we did was of Dan Wilcox and it was hilarious.

TFG: Where do you see Albany Poets in 10 years?
MP: I can’t think that far ahead. I have a mother’s brain so I have to concentrate on right now.

TFG: How did you get involved in poetry?
MP: I like to be able to tell a story very quickly. I’m not a fan of a lot of words.   

TFG: Have you been published before?
MP: I was published a lot during the late 80s and early 90s. Everyone was doing zines, broadsides which were sheets of poetry on paper, staple books. They were everywhere and there was a lot great creative energy. This was before the Internet really took off, so it was a lot of underground fun.

TFG: Who are your influences?
MP: Charles Bukowski, Charles Olson, Lawrence Ferlenghetti. I love Henry Rollins. He can do no wrong.

TFG: Who are your favorite local poets?
MP: It changes every open mic. When Don Levy is funny, it’s right on the money. Kristen Day is quietly sarcastic. Out of every three poems Dan Wilcox reads I am sure to love one of them. I also love hearing new people read.

TFG: Have you ever been in trouble because of something you wrote?
MP: I wrote a poem about the Virgin Mary and some Catholic league  put me on the same list as Howard Stern. It was a great year for me.

TFG: Has your poetry changed over time?
MP: When I was 20, I was writing about bad boyfriends. There was a lot of bitching and complaining, but now that I’m 43 it’s different. Also, having a child changes your perspective on everything.

TFG: What’s your favorite thing about springtime in Upstate New York?
MP: The ability to go outside without 26 layers of clothing, flowers and trees. I take full advantage of living in a beautiful neighborhood.

Stacey Stump is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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