Nat’l Poetry Month overtime

The poetry reading series from the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace at the Bundy Museum that began with National Poetry Month in April has gone into overtime! This week’s offering is available here, along with the prior weeks’ readings.

Featured this week are Robert Ruane, Joshua Lewis, Merrill Douglas, and Joshua Grosse, who is a Binghamton University undergraduate. I appreciate hearing from one of the younger voices in our local poetry community.

I first met Bob Ruane through the Binghamton Poetry Project but have also seen him at various Catholic social justice gatherings over the years. Bob has an amazing memory, what we would have called in my New England hometown having “a mind like a steel trap.” His poems overflow with details of what he sees and hears. He currently has a poem on display at the Vestal Museum as part of the Empty the Inkpots exhibit in conjunction with the Binghamton Poetry Project.

Josh Lewis earned his PhD from Binghamton University and has facilitated poetry writing workshops through the Broome County Arts Council. My attendance at these is how we became acquainted. He edited and contributed to Transformations, a collaborative chapbook by some of the BCAC poets, which became available almost exactly a year ago. He has recently started a new blog, The Rain Healer.

Merrill Douglas is one of the stalwarts of the Grapevine Group, my local poet-friends who meet regularly to workshop our poems. We first met, though, when her son and one of my daughters were in middle school together, back in the days before I was writing. Merrill is a very astute reader and always gives me very insightful editorial suggestions. I especially admire her ability to choose just the right details and imagery to draw the reader into her poems. I was pleased that Barrett chose to ask her about her use of detail in the Q&A segment after she reads. I’m pleased to share links to samples of her work, as well as the all-important link to order her chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids, here. Local folks can also find her book in the BCAC Artisan Gallery and in the Museum Shop at the Bundy.

Enjoy!

A POETREE

For the recently concluded National Poetry Month, the Broome County Arts Council invited local poets to contribute a short poem about spring, hope, and/or other positive things for their POETREE.

I had hoped to make it down to the gallery to see it and take photos for this post, but I didn’t manage to do that. Instead, I have copied the poem I wrote especially for the project below:

Why We Will Never Use Weedkillers
by Joanne Corey

Every spring, we watch
the jagged-edged three-ness
of strawberry leaves emerge
from the snowmelt-soaked
lawn, the white five-petaled
blossoms attract the bees
to their sunny centers,
the green-white berries
ripen to red in June,
the squirrels feasting.

SoCS: poetic concentration

These past few weeks may be the highest concentration of posts about poetry that I have ever done here at Top of JC’s Mind.

By coincidence, I’ve been involved with several readings and anthology launches in recent weeks.

Well, it may be coincidence or it may be that it was because April is National Poetry Month here in the US, although only some of the poetic activities were connected to Poetry Month.

I’m actually expecting to have several more poet-y posts coming up over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

If nothing else, the poetry posts break up the political ones. 😉

While this may be shameless, I will close with my favorite recent poetry post link: https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2021/04/19/natl-poetry-month-celebration-with-me/. It was my first time as a featured poet in a reading and I’m still super-excited about it.

You may be thinking, but I don’t understand poetry. I promise that I am not inscrutable, though, so maybe you can give it a try! If you do, I hope you enjoy!

(And, yes, it may be cheating to use SoCS to promote other posts. If so, my apologies to Linda.)

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “may.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/04/30/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1-2021/

Binghamton Poetry Project reading and anthology – spring 2021

Seven years ago, I began participating in the Binghamton Poetry Project, a community outreach program of the Binghamton Center for Writers. Binghamton University graduate students facilitate free poetry writing workshops for children, teens, and adults. With the pandemic, sessions have had to move online, as have our readings and anthologies.

We had our spring reading and anthology launch today. I contributed three poems to the anthology, which you can find here. I read the poem “Conveyance” from the anthology, as well as “Meanwhile…” from my collection manuscript and “SARS-CoV-2: A Novel Coronavirus” which is currently on display as part of the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum.

I had very little formal instruction in poetry when I was in school, so I appreciate all the lessons in the craft of poetry that I have learned through the Binghamton Poetry Project. For example, in this last set of sessions I learned about zeugma, a device which I used in “Conveyance.”

I especially appreciate connecting with my local poetry community, not only the graduate students and participants but the wider poetry community in our area. When I was looking for a year-round poetry workshop to share feedback on my work, Heather Dorn, who was then the assistant director of BPP, connected me with what is now the Grapevine Group. I rely on the Grapevine poets to help me see what I need to refine in my poems. Seeing their work in progress has taught me so much about writing and revising. I’ve also learned how to give and receive constructive criticism. I can sometimes even manage to figure out the truest path when I get suggestions that directly contradict each other!

I hope that the Binghamton Poetry Project will continue for many years to come. BPP is supported by grants and is blessed with an ever-evolving set of Binghamton University graduate students serving as facilitators and administrators. I know there will always being poets in our community wanting to write, learn, connect, and share the gift of poetry.

New York voting

Georgia has already passed laws restricting voting access. Texas, Florida, and a raft of other states are considering similar bills.

When voting rights advocates complain, officials say that they aren’t really tightening access to the ballot. They are making their laws more like New York’s and New York is a liberal state, so the measures they are taking must be okay.

One major problem: New York, where I have lived most of my adult life, is way behind the vast majority of states when it comes to making registering and voting fair, accessible, and convenient.

While we do have voter registration and address change available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait time between registering and actually being able to vote is long. This also applies to changes in party registration, which affects access to primaries, which are closed. (A closed primary means that only those who have previously registered with that party are allowed to vote. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, political independents could request a ballot for any party they wished on voting day, fill it out, hand it in, and then have their name removed from the party list, going back to their independent status.) I would love to have same-day registration as some states do. A voter can then cast a provisional ballot which will be counted as soon as eligibility is verified.

Many states have long had no-excuse absentee voting or extensive vote by mail options. New York has not. Absentee ballots were restricted to those who would be out of town on election day and those who were physically unable to get to the polls. In 2020, people were allowed to check the box for illness/disability for fear of contracting COVID, so the basic structure of absentee voting is still intact. One useful option we do have is that one can file as having a permanent illness/disability and an absentee ballot will automatically be mailed to you for every future election. This has been very helpful to my parents and my friends who are elders.

2020 was the first presidential election in New York State with early in-person voting at centralized locations. Previously, the only way to vote in person before election day was to go to the county Board of Elections office, request a ballot, fill it out, and turn it back in. The early voting period was October 24-November 1, with election day being November third. In our county, the lines were long. We waited about three hours in line to vote; our county lengthened the hours available after a few days to cut the waiting times. As it turned out, we could have waited to vote on election day as our planned trip to visit family in the UK was cancelled the day before we were to leave, so we were in town on Nov. 3rd. Many states have much more extensive early voting periods, beginning several weeks before election day.

One thing that New York had been good about was having long hours on election day. Polls were open from 6 AM through 9 PM. Anyone who was in line by 9 PM could remain to vote, no matter what time that actually occurred.

New York has also been very slow with counting votes. Absentee votes couldn’t be counted for at least a week after election day. In some cases, the waiting period was closer to two weeks. While the presidential outcome was clear, some races were not officially certified for weeks after the election. The most severe was our Congressional district, which resulted in our representative not being sworn in until February 11th.

New York is continuing to pass legislation to make voting more accessible. Meanwhile, these other states that are claiming to be “keeping up with liberal New York” are in reality making vote more burdensome for their citizens. They are also adding ridiculous things like making it a crime to give food or water to people waiting in line to vote.

So remember, the next time you hear some politician crow about making their voting system more like New York’s, it is probably not a good thing.

The various shenanigans that are going on with states restricting voting access points out the necessity for action at the federal level. I am hoping that the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will be passed by Congress for President Biden to sign into law. Taken together, these would ensure equal access to the ballot for all citizens, no matter where they live. It would be even better if the bill to make Washington DC a state is adopted so that the 700,000 people that live there finally have votes in Congress.

Every citizen deserves representation and an equal opportunity to vote!

Biden’s speech

Last night, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, although only a fraction of the members and a few guests and the press were present because of COVID limits on large indoor gatherings.

The real intended audience, though, is the American public among whom the president’s speech was well-received. A CBS/YouGov poll found 85% approval among Americans who watched the speech.

For me, it was easy to see why.

For over forty years, the federal government has been characterized as an obstacle rather than a solution to the problems everyday Americans face. We were told that tax cuts for wealthy corporations and individuals would “trickle down” to create more jobs, that spending on public projects was wasteful “pork barrel”, that our education and health systems were unparalleled, that hard work led to personal prosperity, that is was okay for Republican administrations to run huge deficits – in part to wage unfunded wars – but not for Democratic administrations.

Although many of us understood that the country was in trouble before the pandemic, 2020 revealed the weak state of our national government and the precariousness of most people’s lives. It showed the nation how dependent we are on what are now called essential workers, most of whom are poorly paid and who often don’t have even basic benefits like paid sick leave and health insurance. We saw the rates of illness and death, staggering in and of themselves, disproportionately higher among people of color and those in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances. We saw that most of our school buildings could not be made safe for staff and students and that many students and families did not have the proper resources available for remote learning. We saw our medical systems pushed beyond their limits. We saw vast inequality in outcomes among states because the Trump administration refused to lead in a time of national and international crisis.

I could go on but I think that this sets the stage for those who may not be familiar with life in the US.

After a major presidential address to Congress, the opposition party gives a response. Last night, this task fell to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. He claimed that, as Biden was inaugurated on January 20th, the nation was on the upswing. If the Republican leadership truly believes that, they are delusional. January 20th was only two weeks after the insurrection that breached the Capitol building where they meet for the first time in over 200 years. The country suffered 4,380 COVID deaths on January 20th, on its way to what would become the deadliest month of the pandemic in the US to date.

The country was in a fragile, precarious state.

One hundred days of competent and compassionate national leadership makes a huge difference.

Experiencing that change is what made Biden’s speech so popular and, more importantly, what makes his policy proposals and how to pay for them popular, as well. The American people want good transportation systems, water/sewer systems, electrical grid, communication systems, and fast internet service. They want high-quality affordable health care. They want a strong education system available to everyone regardless of where they live. They want high-quality care for children, elders, and anyone who is sick or vulnerable. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to live in safety. They want to be paid wages that can support themselves and their families in the present and that enable them to save for the future.

They see other advanced democracies manage to do those things, while the United States has been falling behind. Instead, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top 1% of individuals and corporations, some of whom pay their executives huge sums while some of their employees need public assistance programs to have enough to eat and to pay rent. Many of the wealthiest people make most of their income from investments rather than from salaries, so they pay tax at a much lower rate.

This is why the Biden proposals to raise revenue from the highest income earners are popular with the public. All of the revenue for the programs would be raised from those with income over $400,000. The changes in the capital gains rates would only impact those over $1,000,000 in income. There is also a proposal to increase audits for high-income earners and to make it harder to avoid income taxes by using off-shore tax shelters. The corporate tax rate which was slashed by the Republicans in the 2017 tax bill would rise, although not to the level it was before that bill was passed.

This all strikes most Americans as fair.

We are in a bizarre situation where many Republican voters and local/state officeholders are in favor of Biden’s proposals but Republican members of Congress are opposed. The national Republican party is beholden to rich donors and is going to need to decide if they want to get on board and seriously negotiate with Democrats on these bills and then support the final product to benefit the people of their districts or if they are going to obstruct everything the Democrats try to do.

Now is the time that each member of Congress needs to remember that they are sworn to uphold the Constitution and are there to serve the people, not their party leadership.

It’s time to fulfill their promise in the Preamble to “promote the general welfare.”

post-vaccine life

With my immediate family in the US vaccinated against COVID-19, we are inching our way back to a more interactive life while still following the national and New York State guidelines.

The most important thing that has happened for us personally is a greater ability to see my dad, known here as Paco, who lives nearby in the assisted living unit of his long-time senior community. After months of not being able to visit, we can now go to his apartment, albeit in pre-arranged thirty minute slots. I can also sign him out to go for a car ride; previously, he was only allowed away from the unit for medical care.

This has meant that I can see him more times per week and that I can take him out for treats. Last week, we went to an ice cream stand in the afternoon. This morning, I was able to bring him to get a doughnut and coffee. We are still being cautious about indoor spaces, so I don’t bring him into buildings. We enjoy our treats in the car or at outdoor tables.

The best thing, though, was that my older sister and her spouse were able to come visit for a couple of days last week. They hadn’t been able to visit since last summer. They live in Maryland and couldn’t enter New York until recently due to our travel/quarantine restrictions. Because of the vaccines, those have been relaxed. With all of us vaccinated, we were able to have everyone to our house for dinner. B made lasagna from Nana’s recipe, homemade Italian bread, sautéed asparagus, and apple pie. It was all delicious – and extra heartwarming to be together after so many months apart.

We are also starting to work our way back to activities like dining indoors. I’ve had one lunch and one dinner inside restaurants. We wore masks when not eating or drinking and the tables were spaced so that we weren’t very close to other diners. We are likely to continue doing carryout more often than dining in for a while, especially because dining in most likely involves having to make reservations while carryout is easier to do spur-of-the-moment.

There was just a national policy announcement clarifying mask use recommendations for outdoor events in light of vaccinations. Vaccinated people can exercise, socialize in small groups, and eat outdoors without needing to wear a mask. They should, though, continue to mask if they are in a large group setting, such as a sporting event or concert where the crowd would be close together for extended periods. It is good to have this clarification, but it won’t make much difference for our family. New York has had a mask mandate in place for over a year, but it was adapted in order to deal with the circumstances. Given that we don’t live in a congested area, we were already accustomed to taking maskless walks in our neighborhood. If we stopped to talk to someone, we would just keep six feet of distance between us. Still, it was good to see that there are now different recommendations in place for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Perhaps it will serve as motivation for people who haven’t yet been vaccinated to arrange to do that. In many locations, you don’t even need to make an appointment in advance.

If people need more motivation to get vaccinated, they can switch on a news report from India to see the horrific toll that the virus takes when it sweeps through an unvaccinated population. The infection and hospitalization rates are staggering. A new variant has emerged and there are so many deaths that the system to handle them is overwhelmed.

This virus remains very dangerous, capable of inflicting serious illness and death. The vaccines are safe and very effective. Everyone aged sixteen and over in the United States has access to vaccine and should be immunized unless there is a personal medical issue that precludes it. If you don’t feel personally vulnerable, remember that, even if you yourself don’t get severe symptoms, you could pass the virus on to someone else who could become very ill or die.

The only way to end the pandemic is for there to be large-scale immunity everywhere. Every effort we make, whether it is our individual vaccination and precautions or our large-scale efforts such as sending vaccines, treatments, and supplies wherever they are needed around the world, is part of what is needed to end this.

And remember: People taking vaccines approved for emergency use are not “guinea pigs.” The “guinea pigs” are the hundreds of thousands of people like me and my family who volunteered to be in clinical trials. (B, T, and I are all part of the Pfizer/BioNTech phase III trial. I’ve posted about it a number of times over the past months.) Government agencies and the pharmaceutical companies are continuing to collect data and have affirmed that the dangers of contracting COVID are much, much greater than any side effects of the vaccine.

Please, everyone do your part to keep yourself and others safe. Vaccinate, mask, distance, and practice good hygiene. Pay attention to credible medical and public health sources. The rewards of being able to safely gather, to give a hug to a loved one, to see a friend’s smile are simple, yet profound.

We just need to work together to make it possible for everyone, everywhere.

National Poetry Month continues

I have been posting about the Broome County (NY) Arts Council’s celebration of poetry, including last week’s reading in which I was featured. This week’s installment is now available and can be found here, along with the prior weeks’ readings.

This week features three of my local poet-friends, Jessica Dubey, Burt Myers, and J. Barrett Wolf, along with Ithaca-area poet and professor Jerry Mirskin.

Jessica, Burt, and Barrett are all part of the Grapevine Group, the poetry circle with which I meet regularly to workshop poems. Burt is the one among us who writes formal poetry most often. He is very attuned to the rhymes and rhythms of lines, which you can hear in the reading and which is helpful to me when we are workshopping because I am not very conscious of those elements when I write.

Barrett, as poet-in-residence at the Bundy Museum and the founder of The Word Place, is one of the sponsors of this reading series and has appeared in each session to ask the poets questions after they read. It was wonderful to hear him read some of his work this week. I was glad that the other poets got to ask him some questions after his reading because I love hearing poets talk about their work and it would have been a shame if they had skipped over that part.

I’m happy to say that Jessica and I share not only Grapevine Group but also the Binghamton Poetry Project and the Boiler House Poets Collective in common. Her poetry is brutally honest and searing. I also admire her use of metaphor. Her first chapbook will be published next year. I’ll be sure to post about it here when it is available for pre-order.

While April is almost over, the BCAC is carrying the reading series into May, so check back next week for the next installment.

Another reading!

It’s been quite a poetry reading week for me! I shared the link for my reading with the Broome County Arts Council here and now I will be sharing an event that happened on Tuesday evening which is now available for viewing through Facebook.

The University Professors Press hosted a book launch and reading for Lullabies and Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan. It is the eleventh volume in their Poetry, Healing, and Growth series. I was honored to have my poem “Hydro Superintendent” chosen for inclusion in this anthology.

The event began with an interview of Dr. Louis Hoffman and Dr. Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, both of whom are psychologist/counselors and poets. They are the anthology editors, as well as contributors of poems and authors of the introduction and response activities. I was fascinated to hear them speaking about how they use poetry in and as therapy. The discussion resonated with me as a poet who recognizes the power of poetry to evoke deeper truths and who often uses writing to work through my reactions to real-life events.

Following the interview, over a dozen of the poets read their work from the anthology, including me. The range of work is wide and, as you might expect, some of the topics of the poems are difficult. A poem that dealt with racism was especially searing as we had learned the verdict in the George Floyd case just hours before the event.

The links in the second paragraph will take you to the reading and to University Professors Press if you wish to order your own copy of the anthology. You can also navigate to other volumes in the series, which I’m sure are all equally illuminating about the human experience.

One-Liner Wednesday: hope

Intellect does not function in opposition to mystery; tolerance is not more pragmatic than love; and cynicism is not more reasonable than hope.

Krista Tippett, from Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, p. 236

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/04/21/one-liner-wednesday-random/