Mass MoCA Poetry Residency: Saturday

The day got off to an early start. I was awake at about 3:00 AM and realized I was not going to go back to sleep, so I grabbed my chromebook and read a limited amount of the updated news from Paris. I wrote a blog post about it, then tended to my email as expeditiously as possible.

I decided to go over to my studio at 6:30. I sat at my table, pulled out the new journal I had brought for the workshop, and started journaling. After a page, I decided that I wanted to turn the last couple of paragraphs into a poem. The topic was the connection of my and my spouse’s families with the buildings that make up Mass MoCA. After I drafted and revised a bit, I called B and he reminded me of another relative that I had forgotten to include, so I added that and edited a bit more. Then, I called my mom to check in and read her the poem. So, yay! If nothing else I got one new poem drafted.

Our group of nine resident poets met for breakfast and then began workshopping poems together. It was really interesting to have a first look at each poet’s work. We got through seven of us before we broke for lunch; I was one of the two who hadn’t yet presented a poem, which was fine as I am so far along the introvert scale that nine people is a large enough group to require a lot of energy and adjustment for me.  I had, however, chosen a poem from my stash to workshop when my turn came, whenever that might be.

We headed to Tupelo Loft for a talk with special guest, Lawrence Raab, award-winning poet and Williams College professor. His talk focused on how to get poems started, a problem with which many poets struggle. He illustrated an inventive way to generate ideas that he uses with his college students and employs himself. He read several poems from his latest poetry volume, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts,  which Tupelo published this year and which is longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, to illustrate his own use of this prompt technique. I loved his talk and especially loved listening to him read. At first, I was looking at the page as he read, but I was drawn to watching him recite instead. He graciously spent time writing dedications in our copies of his book.

After Larry left, Jeffrey had some time before he had to leave, so we decided to continue workshopping, which meant that we would start with the two poets who hadn’t presented work in the morning session, which we had done on our own without Jeffrey. We started with the other poet’s poem, which was elliptical and surprising and mysterious and well-crafted and all kinds of excellent things, but I admit that I was desperately trying to wrap my head around how Jeffrey functions in workshopping, which was unlike anything I had ever seen. I could feel my heart beat faster than it should have been, sitting on a couch doing nothing more strenuous than reading and note-taking.

So, when it was my turn, I read my poem “1950’s Suburbia” and then tried to follow Jeffrey’s comments and take notes. I kept making the mistake of thinking I was supposed to answer aloud questions that were supposed to be mulled; in my local groups, there is a lot of back-and-forth between the presenting poet and the rest of the group and I couldn’t switch gears quickly enough. I think everyone in the room realized I was not really keeping up mentally. Jeffrey asked if I was okay. I said yes, but that I was not a very quick mental processor and that I needed to sleep on it. This may have been a partial untruth; I may need to sleep on it for a while and go through notes a few dozen times to have a good grasp.

I am very grateful to our group of poets, especially my apartment mates, for helping me begin to process the workshopping session. Over time, I think I will be able to make the poem, which is from my pre-Binghamton Poetry Project years, stronger. Maybe not this week though, with so much to do.

Seven of us went to Public for dinner. It was another connection point for me. The space that Public occupies used to be Dora’s, the restaurant of a high school friend of B and me and her chef-husband.  It’s been well over a decade since they owned it, but I was having another of the same-but-different moments that wash over me every time I am back in North Adams. We had a surprise fiftieth anniversary party for B’s parents there. His dad died less than two years later.

After the noisiness of a Saturday night restaurant, it was nice to be back in the apartment for a couple of hours of quiet talk about poetry, family, and whatever else crossed our minds. We are all hoping to sleep well tonight…

Author: Joanne Corey

Please come visit my eclectic blog, Top of JC's Mind. You can never be sure what you'll find!

9 thoughts on “Mass MoCA Poetry Residency: Saturday”

  1. I’m starting to honor my introversion more, and your writing helps me imagine how much processing is going on for you. It sounds like you are growing in insight on this learning adventure. Continue to be gentle and loving to yourself. Sweet dreams.


  2. I’m a slow processor – it takes me a while to break down a poem into what makes it tick. I’ve been to five workshops in the past three and a half years, and have been invariably the slowest to speak. But I persist. 🙂

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