As promised, the first video from the Boiler House Poets Collective for 2019. We each read a short passage from one of our poems with the artwork. Unfortunately, one of our poets had to leave a bit early, so there are only seven poets represented here. Enjoy!
For the last three days, there has been a crew in our front yard drilling a 500-foot hole in the ground. That’s about 150 meters for all you people who live in the metric world, which is almost everyone except the US…
The reason for this is not to find water, which happened well before they hit rock at 80 feet. Instead, this very deep hole is to install a geothermal heating and cooling system.
I’m excited because, after the new system is in, we will be able to permanently disconnect our house from the methane supply system. Our cooling costs will also be much lower because geothermal systems are much more efficient than the typical central air conditioning unit.
I will be glad not to be using any fracked gas which has caused so much trouble for our PA (Pennsylvania) neighbors and the climate. We will also helping to support the New York State version of a “Green New Deal”, moving to renewable energy in a way that is supportive of impacted workers and communities.
At the moment, though, we just have a very deep hole in the ground with two tubes coming out of it – and a very, very muddy, messy yard.
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ground.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-12-19/
Tuesday was the final day of the Boiler House Poets’ reunion residency at MASS MoCA.
There for our fifth year, this was the first time that the museum has carried its summer hours into mid-October. This was great for us because the museum was open 10-6 every day, instead of the winter hours which are 11-5 every day of the week except Tuesday. We all appreciated having additional time with the art, while still having time to meet together to workshop.
We needed to be moved out of our apartments by 11:00 Tuesday morning. I got my things packed and in my van early and went to my studio to do a bit more editing. I followed up with quick trip to the gift store and couldn’t resist a couple of books for ABC. I went back to the apartment to help with the final clean-up. All the poets were meeting back at the studios at 11ish to make some plans for next year and are pleased to have booked dates for another reunion next fall.
Also, in the type of creativity burst that I so admire about the Boiler House Poets, we spontaneously embarked on a second group project for this residency. I described our first project in this post. For this second one, we each chose a line or short passage from a poem we had written about an artwork currently at the museum. Marilyn used her phone to record our voices reading our passage while filming the artwork. It was so much fun, traipsing through the buildings of the museum, reading sntaches of our work for each other and heading on to the next exhibit on our list. I will be sure to post both projects here at ToJCM when they become available.
We had one last lunch together before heading for home. We miss each other’s company immediately, but will be reminded of each other frequently as we work through editing the poems we workshopped together and as we write new poems enriched by the advice and artistic vision of the poets and the artwork on exhibit.
I admit that the re-entry to what passes as normal life here has been a bit rough. I’m still way behind on routine things I missed being away for a week and there are a number of unique events coming up this month. That’s why, despite being behind on things, I am making it a point to get this post about Tuesday written on Friday evening. I’ll attempt to post about events as I can, although, most likely, I’ll be late getting the news out.
And that’s just the personal stuff. News is happening so fast here in the US that it is nearly impossible to take it all in.
I hope you’ll stay tuned…
Update 10/14/19 – The first video is available through this post.
“It’s hard to know if you’re crazy if you feel you’re in danger all the time now.”
Please join the fun of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/09/one-liner-wednesday-my-dog-the-scarf/
On Sunday morning, I went to early mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, just across from MASS MoCA. It’s the building I knew as St. Anthony’s – and the church where we held the funerals of my mom’s parents. At that time, it was mostly people who, like my grandparents, were ethnically Italian. At the time, North Adams had five Catholic churches; over the years, they have combined into a single parish, which took a new name. Vestiges of the original churches are represented by statues and such taken from the other churches, but it always strikes me, when I look at the dedications of the windows and the pews as I walk to communion, that the building is still centered in Italian heritage.
I exited through one of the back doors and was surprised to find a new memorial tucked into a small lawn between the driveway in the parking lot and the entrance to the parish hall. It’s a replica of the top of the steeple of St. Francis church, the mostly Irish-heritage church that had to be demolished when its structure deteriorated to a dangerous degree. Built into glassed-in alcoves on its sides is a memorial to the church with various memorabilia are twenty pieces of slate that had been salvaged from the wreckage and given to twenty local artists to create remembrances. Some are painted with scenes or designs, but some have text.
This is probably how the nostalgia/memorial spiral that I had feared started.
I had decided to attend the Fall Foliage Parade in the afternoon. I grabbed my box lunch from the museum cafe and found a spot on Hadley Overpass near City Hall, the last stretch before the turn onto Main Street and the reviewing stand. I had written poetry about the parades of my youth and the one I had attended a couple of years ago, but I wanted to see how people interpreted this year’s theme, “There’s no place like home in the Berkshires.” As I ate my sandwich and waited for the parade to reach us, I watched the vendors going by and, because I was near some families with young children, stopping to sell their wares. Most of the things were expected – various inflated toys, stuffed animals, plastic horns – but a few were jarring. The most puzzling combination was the vendor selling Trump 2020 flags alongside a green marijuana flag. I can’t say that I remember either political or drug-oriented flags at Fall Foliage parades before.
I was happy to see that, while there were only a few high school bands, they were larger than the last parade I had seen. I could have done with a lot fewer emergency vehicles in the opening section. I might not have minded so much if they hadn’t all felt compelled to blare their sirens all the time. I also could have done with fewer Oz-themed floats and costumes. You know your grand marshal is a good sport when she is waving from the back of an open convertible dressed as Glinda.
My favorite floats and signs had more pertinent interpretations of home. The young baseball and softball players doing variations on there’s no place like home plate. The signs which read, “There’s No Place Like a Safe Home” and “There’s No Place Like the Headstart.” Even though it was partially advertisement, the Grand Marshal’s Award went to Mountain One Bank with the theme “There’s No Place Like Your Hometown Bank.” The float that was closest to my heart, though, was the Hayden Award winner from Greylock Elementary School, “North Adams Is Our Emerald City.” Beyond being incredibly sweet, I was also touched that Greylock is continuing to be very active in the city. My father-in-law was principal there for decades, long enough to have been principal for three generations in some families, and I was moved to see that his spirit is still alive there.
Later in the afternoon, I workshopped one of my North Adams poems with the Boiler House Poets before heading to a high school friend’s home for dinner. Her husband made us a delicious dinner as I knew he would; he was a chef for many years and we ate at his restaurants many times. After dinner, my friend and I talked for hours, sometimes about current events, but mostly about our families with the array of illnesses and losses and moves and growth and letting go and plans and sorrows and disappointments. We hadn’t been able to see each other for a year, so there was a lot to catch up with, but all of Sunday put me in a vulnerable place for Monday, the last full day of our residency.
I had been workshopping North Adams-oriented poems, but decided to edit a poem which may end a revision of a chapbook I am working on about my mother’s experiences with congestive heart failure. She passed away in May and I thought I was ready to work on this poem, but I probably was not. I managed to do the edits, but it was stressful enough that I slipped back into my brain-full-of-holes, unmoored state that has been affecting me more often than not these last months.
I went back to my room in the apartment to rest for a while, but headed back to the museum for our usual 1:00 lunch. We had to make some plans for the rest of our time, but I was feeling indecisive and scattered. I knew I couldn’t write. One of the poets had told us at lunch that she had read one of her poems at the artwork about which it was written. I decided that I would follow her lead and read a poem in the place it belonged. In my case, though, it wasn’t about an artwork, but about a building.
Building 6 is the largest in the museum complex. It is located where the two branches of the Hoosic meet, so it is shaped somewhat like a wedge. The renovation created a shape in the narrow end of the building called “The Prow.” It is one of my favorite spaces in the museum and the subject of a poem I wrote about looking out its windows. I found a copy of it and went to read it there, except that I forgot to put it into my pocketbook to bring with me. I managed to find it on my phone, though, so I was able to read it there as I looked out at the river and the street and the hills. No one was there to hear it, but that was better. I might not have been able to gather the gumption needed to recite with an unsuspecting audience.
Despite my misgivings, I was able to workshop my poem when we met in the late afternoon. I have some more edits to make and some more things to mull. I’m not sure when, but maybe in a few weeks.
I know this month is going to be incredibly complicated.
As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I celebrated my birthday at my Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA.
Actually, I started celebrating with my family before I left for North Adams with early birthday cards and gifts. ABC had chosen a card for me with a dinosaur (or maybe a dragon or alligator?) on it, so after I opened it, she, in her own cute way, took possession of it as a plaything. She and my daughters gave me a framed quilled floral piece from a local artists’ shop. My spouse B gave me a copy of Blowout by Rachel Maddow, which had just become available. It deals with the fossil fuel industry and its political ramifications, I’ve dealt with these issues frequently over these last years in the anti-fracking, climate action, and environmental justice movements and look forward to reading the book. Rachel Maddow does meticulous research, so I’m sure I will gain valuable insights.
I had planned to keep my birthday low-key this year, but was grateful for all the greetings on Facebook, text, in person, and by mail. I was especially grateful to have dinner with cousins that evening. They are the only family B and I have left living here and I always enjoy seeing them when I am back.
Saturday was a very busy day at MASS MoCA and with the Fall Foliage Festival in North Adams. The skies were very clear, which made the early morning very chilly, but I went to the farmer’s market as soon as it opened. I visited familiar vendors, buying maple syrup from B’s hometown and jams, relishes, and pickled beets from nearby Adams. I picked up an extra jar of cranberry-apple relish for E to take on her move to London. They plan to celebrate American Thanksgiving in November and cranberries, being a North American fruit, aren’t easy to come by in the UK – and who knows what the trade situation will be like in November?
I did a bit of writing in the very cold studio. Apparently, the building hasn’t swapped over to heating yet, but I called on my hearty New England roots to make it through! At noon, I visited the craft fair on Main Street, which had been blocked of from traffic. This year, there was also a dance party going on, but I don’t dance – except with ABC in my arms.
At our group lunch, we chose by random drawing the work we would each write about for this year’s Boiler House Poets’ project, Orange Country by ERRE. Marilyn McCabe, our recording and video guru, will put all of our poems together and I’ll post the link here at ToJCM when it becomes available. For a taste of Marilyn’s work, check out this amazing video chapbook. With eight poems to be included, each needs to be short, so I turned to tanka for my contribution. I find that only having 31 syllables to work with helps me distill my thoughts in what I hope will be a meaningful way. It also allows me to do multiple drafts in a relatively contained timeframe. I whittled away words from my original thoughts to create the tanka. The sixth draft will be the final one for the recording, I think.
As it happened, MoCA was having a day of special events to coincide with the city festival. I saw a performance piece by the artist MPA which took place in the midst of her art installation. There was an excellent talk by author Akiko Busch on the current exhibit of works by Rafa Esparza. These works are made of adobe, using water from the Hoosic River which runs through the museum complex and other local and natural materials, and much of Busch’s talk centered around our place in the world and our relationship to it, which is totally in my wheelhouse with my collection in progress. Later in the afternoon, I heard Jimena Canales, a science and technology historian, speak. Unfortunately, she only got through a fraction of her presentation, so we never really got to the intended conclusion on what makes us human and the relationship of humans to art. The bonus, though, was that a wonderful harpist played for us in that same gallery space immediately after. This hadn’t been on the schedule, so we would have missed it otherwise.
Because of all the special events, the poets had decided to do our workshopping after supper. I decided to strike out on my own to eat at Boston Seafoods. I still have trouble calling it that; it’s been around for a long time and I still think of it as what we grew up calling it, the Fish Market. I had fish and chips and then a mocha sundae! I had been upset that the place I used to get mochas had closed, so I was happy to see it on the menu. The mocha sauce is not a fluffy as what we used to get at Apothecary Hall when I was a kid – and they put whipped cream on it, which was not traditional – but it was still delicious and relieved my longing for a North Adams mocha. It occurs to me that people are likely to find this whole mocha business odd, but mocha sundaes were important here. There will probably be two mocha poems in my collection whenever I finish it…
We workshopped poems until after 11:00 PM. I’m hoping the other poets got more sleep than I did, although, with a bar that dates back to 1933 down on the first floor of our building on the Saturday of Fall Foliage Festival weekend, maybe not.
I’m sure we will power through our Sunday, though.
I wonder how many of us will attend the parade today?
On Wednesday, after a morning filled with unexpected complications, I picked up a local poet-friend and we headed for North Adams for the annual reunion residency of the Boiler House Poets at MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The Boiler House Poets met and bonded five years ago; we were the first group of poets to be in residence through the Studios at MASS MoCA, through a collaboration of the Assets for Artists program and Tupelo Press. We arrived only a few weeks after the studio residencies program began. (Most of the MoCA artists in residence are visual artists, but we are pleased to bring a literary arts presence, too.) Only two of the poets knew each other before arriving, but we bonded so strongly that we wanted to be together again and were fortunate to be able to continue our relationship with The Studios at MASS MoCA and have returned each fall for a week together, visiting the museum, writing, workshopping, encouraging each other, and, sometimes, staying up in our apartments way too late talking.
I am one of the six original Boiler House Poets who is in residence this year, along with my Binghamton-area friend who joined us in our second year and a new addition this year, who is a friend of two of the original members. Whatever the particular configuration, we have such a strong core that our residencies are positive experiences. I must admit, though, that I sometimes get overwhelmed and exhausted, partly because of the intensity of the residency and partly because the rest of my life has been complicated enough that I can’t totally disconnect from my non-poetry life when I am here.
But on to the surprises…
The first was not a positive one, because one of our poets was ill and not able to join us on our arrival day Wednesday. It felt so odd to have any empty place at our welcome dinner where she would have been. Luckily, she recovered enough to join us on Thursday. We are so happy to have her here, even though she must be careful not to expend her usual amount of energy until she recovers a bit more.
On Thursday, I decided to go the museum to check out the exhibits, knowing that we planned to choose one about which to write a related poem as our group project this year. Artists-in-residence have a free pass to the museum, but check in at the desk to get a daily sticker. The woman behind the desk said, “Joanne?” and I was surprised to see a local poet who had led a print-making class for us in a prior year and had read with us at our first public reading. I hadn’t realized that she was now working for MASS MoCA.
By design, MASS MoCA doesn’t have a permanent collection, so there are always new things to experience when we come every year. One of the largest exhibit spaces has an extensive installation by Trenton Doyle Hancock. As I was about to wander into it, a young man said, “Joanne?” I was startled to see James, one of the original Boiler House Poets. While we differ in age, race, and gender, we had a special bond because we had both grown up in the North Adams area. I had lost track of him as he hadn’t been able to make our earlier reunion residencies – and now, here he was! He had moved to North Adams earlier in the year and was working part-time at MoCA while continuing his art practice and freelancing. He was also scheduled to leave for vacation the next day, but, happily, was available to join us for lunch.
As we were picking up our lunches at the cafe and settling down at our tables, I kept looking out for James. I hadn’t told anyone he was there because I wanted them to be as pleasantly surprised as I had been. It was so much fun that we wanted more time to visit and catch up, so we arranged another visit for later in the evening. We stayed up much too late, but we laughed a lot and had fascinating and wide-ranging conversations.
In fact, we were up so late that people were able to be the first to say “Happy Birthday!” to me. Perhaps, I’ll say a bit more about my birthday in the next post.