AUBURN — Donny Alger has been writing for decades, so he's having a hard time choosing just 30 minutes of his work to read.
Alger, of Auburn, will lead off the next season of spoken word series "word, revisited" Thursday at the Cayuga Museum Carriage House Theater.
Wednesday, Alger said he's been thumbing through his archives, trying to assemble a reading list that reflects his unorthodox style. Writing in spurts when inspiration strikes, he uses stream-of-consciousness to describe that inspiration. It might be a scene in a movie, it might be a conversation he had on the streets of Auburn, or it might be a dark mood, he said.
Alger said revisiting his work has transported him back to the varied places he was when he wrote it. Some of it he doesn't like. And some of it he'd like to read, but he can't find it in his collection.
"A couple milk carton crates full of every kind of notebook you can believe, filled back to front," he said. "I'm one of those guys with scraps of paper on the floor. Could be marker, could be pencil."
In hindsight, Alger said, it's no surprise he's a writer. His brother and sister are artists, and he grew up with the radio on because his father was a firefighter and his mother listened to the dispatch.
But it wasn't until third grade with Mrs. Novitsky at Lincoln Elementary that Alger took to writing, he said. She encouraged him to do it while introducing him to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Charlotte's Web" and other influential works. With no formal education as a poet, just years of reading Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Carroll and others, the only rule he follows is rhyming couplets, he said.
His style lended itself to writing song lyrics, which Alger has done with rock bands like Ladybug and Teenager. He still plays sporadically in the latter with longtime friend Terry Cuddy. The Auburn city councilor counted Alger among the city's literary elders, and said he's been called "The Poet of State Street" from his days performing at venues like Spirits Tavern.
Alger reminds Cuddy of beat writers like Jack Kerouac, he said, mixing wisdom and "worldly innocence" in a way that's rare today.
"It's very personal, but at the same time there are a lot of dreamlike qualities, a lot of wordplay," Cuddy said of Alger's writing. "He's just a great storyteller."
Alger read one of his poems when Cuddy's fellow Councilor Jimmy Giannettino was sworn into office Jan. 1, 2016. Alger said he's reluctant to call himself a poet, but he was bemused to see himself credited as one in the inauguration program. Though he doesn't like deadlines, he labored over the Auburn-themed poem "like it was the hardest thing in the world to do," he said.
Alger has also read his writing at "word, revisited," in open mic sessions that follow the featured presenter. Only about six people showed up for the series' debut about four years ago, Alger recalled. But with support from locally based journals aaduna and Olive Trees, as well as host the Cayuga Museum — where Alger volunteers — the series has become a valuable place to share work, he said.
"I'm think it's good that poetry has a spot and that we have people that come to it," he said. "I'm glad it's caught on and it's getting a crowd, and people are bringing work down."