JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

Tioga Arts Council reading

Following up from this post about the National Poetry Month events with the Tioga Arts Council, I’m pleased to say that the reading yesterday at their gallery in Owego (NY) was a great success!

We had six poets, including my friends Merrill Oliver Douglas and Jessica Dubey, who each read a poem by another poet and one of our own. The selections were varied and I was introduced to some poets who were new to me.

We then heard from several people who are working with poetry in translation. Being able to translate poetry into a different language is an art form in and of itself and we were treated to hearing poems that were originally written in Bosnian, Slovene, and German. We even got to hear the poet Adin Ljuca read his work in Bosnian! Thanks to Erin Riddle, who coordinated that part of the program.

And thanks again to Christina Di Stefano for her leadership of the Tioga Arts Council, for her inclusion of poets and writers along with the visual and performing artists, for her gracious introductions at the reading, and for all the organizing that brought us together.

One-Liner Wednesday: last April

Revisiting last year’s Broome County Arts Council’s recorded readings for National Poetry Month, with Yours Truly in week three: https://broomearts.org/education/the-gift-of-poets/

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/20/one-liner-wednesday-love-and-compassion/

Another National Poetry Month project

I am a member of the Broome County Arts Council and recently participated in their Women of Words poetry reading and Spring Awakenings exhibit.

One of the many services of BCAC is sharing news from other arts councils and organizations in our region. That was how I found out that the Tioga Arts Council’s National Poetry Month project was to post recordings of people reading a favorite poem along with an explanation of why they chose it.

I’m pleased to say that the recordings are now available. If you click on my name Joanne Corey, you will hear me reading “Bereft” by Merrill Oliver Douglas from her chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. Merrill is a local poet-friend and one of the Grapevine Poets with whom I workshop on a regular basis. Jessica Dubey, another Grapevine Poet, also has a recording up, as well as Jordan Jardine and Diane Weiner, whom I have not yet met.

On Saturday, we will gather at the Tioga Arts Council’s home in Owego for a reading, so I hope to meet them there. I’m sure you can expect another post about that here at Top of JC’s Mind.

Many thanks to Christina Di Stefano of the Tioga Arts Council for making this project possible!

Women of Words

Last night, I was honored to take part in the Women of Words poetry reading, presented by the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. Many, many thanks to Connie Barnes, the BCAC gallery manager, for organizing and hosting the event, which was held at the Orazio Salati Gallery, currently housing the BCAC Artisan Gallery and its Spring Awakening Exhibition.

As part of the Exhibition, each of the five Women of Words poets contributed a spring poem, which was framed and displayed along with the visual artworks. It was an honor for our words to be included in the Exhibition and a joy to read in the midst of so many wonderful pieces by local artists.

For me, it was also a joy to be reading with poet-friends from the Grapevine Poets, Wendy Stewart, Jessica Dubey, Carol Mikoda, and Merrill Oliver Douglas. I almost forgot to be nervous! We had three other Grapevine Poets in attendance, buoying us, and Connie gave us each wonderful, warm introductions. I also had daughter T in the audience.

Due to the size of the gallery and pandemic protocols, we had to limit the number of attendees. Connie took reservations in advance and I’m pleased to say that we “sold out”, if I may use that term for a free event. I was humbled when, after the reading, an administrator-friend from back in my days volunteering with our school district a couple of decades ago told me that she had signed up to attend specifically because I was reading. It was great to reconnect with her. Back in the years when we saw each other frequently, I hadn’t yet entered my current writing practice with either poetry or blogging, both of which I hope are more compelling than the committee documents I was working on back then.

I haven’t done a huge number of in-person poetry readings and, with the pandemic, had gotten accustomed to poetry onscreen. I remain grateful for those remote opportunities, especially in getting to hear readings from far-flung locations, but I had forgotten the power of connecting with a flesh-and-blood audience right in front of me. Hearing the occasional chuckle, seeing heads nod or eyes close while listening intently, and receiving applause are affirming that your words have reached someone, right then and there, and forged a community in that space, however briefly, something that is difficult to replicate with each individual in a little Zoom box.

In my set, I read a mix of published and unpublished poems. I began with “Thanks to the Department of Public Art” which I had written for a BCAC event in 2016 at the request of the Binghamton Poetry Project and which appeared in their Fall 2016 anthology. I included “Sisters” which I published in a blog post and “Sprague Suite” and “Monroe Bridge Mail” which first appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review. There is a blog post with background on those poems here. I read “Lily of the Valley” which was the poem I had written for the Exhibition and “Object Lesson” which is also unpublished, so I won’t share here, hoping that they will eventually make their way into a journal.

So, Happy National Poetry Month for US folks, Happy Spring for Northern Hemisphere people, and Happy Fall for you all in the Southern! Stay tuned for more poetry as we continue through the month of April.

One-Liner Wednesday: new poems!

In an act of shameless self-promotion, I’m using One-Liner Wednesday to promote yesterday’s post about the five – count ’em five! – new poems of mine published by Wilderness House Literary Review this week!

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/06/one-liner-wednesday-not-to-make-light-of-a-serious-situation/

Five Poems in Wilderness House Literary Review!

I am pleased and excited to share the link to the latest quarterly issue of Wilderness House Literary Review, which features five of my poems. Many thanks to poetry editor Ravi Yelamanchili and the whole team at WHLR for including me in their spring issue. If you are reading this in Spring, 2022, you can access the current issue at the link above; scroll down to the Poetry section to find Joanne Corey in the list of poets and click, which will take you to my work. If it is beyond that, you can find the issue through the cumulative index as Volume 17.1 – Spring 2022. While you are there, browse the WHLR archive for poetry, essays, art, fiction, and book reviews going back to Spring 2006. You’re sure to find something that will fascinate and delight you!

I thought I’d use this post to give some background on the poems and submission process. As folks who have been following Top of JC’s Mind for a while know, the last few years have been challenging for me as my family navigated the difficult last years of B’s mom and my parents, as well as the joy of welcoming a new generation to our family coupled with the complications of having them live across an ocean from us with the pandemic adding another layer of stress.

Because of all that, I was sandwiching in writing in a rather haphazard way and not concentrating on submissions. When I did begin making myself do the fraught work of preparing submissions, I concentrated on sending out my chapbook and collection manuscripts rather than journal submissions. Usually, a goodly number of poems in a manuscript have already been published in journals and I knew that I needed to get individual poems published as journal publications are the backbone of sharing poetry. Knowing that I was struggling with doing journal submissions, my wise poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas counseled me to choose five poems that I liked and send them out to a bunch of journals without stressing over style or if the poems related to each other or any of the other things that were keeping me paralyzed. I did that in early February. I chose to submit to WHLR because they were one of the first journals to publish my work back in Fall, 2015, just as I was getting more deliberate about publishing my poetry and just before we entered into our intensive phase with elder care. I thought there might be one or two of the five that would interest them but I was shocked and amazed that they accepted all five. (Being a good poetry citizen, I immediately withdrew the poems from all other journals to which I had submitted them.)

The rest of this post will give some of the background to the poems. You can choose to read them first, using the links in the first paragraph, or read the rest of the post first and the poems afterwards. I’ll write about the poems in the order in which they appear.

Starting off with a trigger warning, especially for family and friends who may not be ready to read “We probably should have taken off”, which is about the death of my father, known here as Paco. I wrote the first draft in the middle of the night while I was at the Boiler House Poets Collective residency only a couple of weeks after Paco’s death and workshopped it there. I did revisions and workshopped it again with the Grapevine Poets in October – and then couldn’t bear to look at it again for several months. I did the final edits in order to send it out this winter because I knew from the reaction of the poets who had seen the drafts that it was a strong poem. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell objectively when something is strong if it is also close to me emotionally. I had originally written this poem by hand in a journal and tried to replicate the spacing I had used when I put it into the computer. The use of white space seemed to fit the mood of the poem and is a frequently employed device in contemporary poetry, although some online journals advise against it because it can be hard to replicate in their publishing software. My original rendition is probably even “spacier” than the published version due to being on a larger page.

“Sprague Suite” is an ekphrastic poem based on the exhibit Transition: Decade of Decision, Sprague Electric>>MASS MoCA, 1989-1999 by Christopher Gillooly, which was on display there in 2018. When I was at our Boiler House residency that year, I felt as if it was my second home. I was drawn to it because it told the history of the former industrial site which is now home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I am from the North Adams area, so I also have a personal perspective on that history. The six sections of “Sprague Suite” relate to Sprague Electric, which occupied the site for several decades until 1986, manufacturing capacitors. For fun, I also played a bit with form in this poem. Sections I and VI are haiku and II and V are tanka. III and IV are my go-to, free verse. “Industrial Buddha”, the title of section V, is the name of a collage sculpture of found objects that was part of the exhibit. This poem is part of my full-length poetry collection which is currently submitted to several contests and publishers.

“In my purse” began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in fall of 2020. We were studying list poems and the power of juxtaposition. I’m a fan of list poems and had written several previously. When we write from prompts, we only have about ten minutes to draft, so the poems tend to be relatively short. There is also so little time to plan or ponder that words often fall onto the page in unexpected ways, which is perfect for a list poem where juxtaposition is everything. Thinking this quickly-generated draft had potential, I decided to workshop it with Grapevine and revise it to send out to journals. I’m so happy it has found a home at Wilderness House Literary Review!

“Zoom Wedding – October 4, 2020” also began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in summer 2020. We were to begin a poem with a line from Ocean Vuong’s searing “Aubade with Burning City” about the final evacuation from Saigon in 1975. We were, however, to take our poem in a different direction. I chose the line, “He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.” Given that we were then in the early months of the pandemic with public health rules making large gatherings impossible, I recast the line to open the story of a couple forced to cancel a long-planned June wedding and instead hold it in October via Zoom, which, for future readers who might see this after Zoom has been merged, renamed, or supplanted by newer technologies, is a video conferencing platform that gained ascendency when everything from business meetings to church services to family gatherings had to be cancelled or held virtually instead of in person. I began the draft during our BPP session and finished it the next day. I workshopped it with the Grapevine Poets, but then set it aside. I made some revisions in order to send it out this winter. I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to anyone as most people are trying to move beyond the pandemic, even though it hasn’t ended. Thankfully, with vaccines and treatments available, in-person gatherings are much safer in 2022 than they were in 2020.

“Monroe Bridge Mail” was drafted in May 2021 as I prepared to go on a private writing retreat back to North Adams to finish the manuscript which I referenced in the “Sprague Suite” section above. While I went to high school in North Adams, my actual hometown is Monroe Bridge, then home to about two hundred people, about twenty miles distant. I wanted to have some more Monroe Bridge poems in the collection, so I wrote this about our post office. I chose to employ a more conversational, storyteller mode, with long sentences and asides. It is a lot of fun to read aloud, which I had the opportunity to do at the Vestal Museum last summer.

Whew! Long post. If you have made it this far, thank you and congratulations! Please feel free to comment below. I love to know what people are thinking about my poems and/or posts.

Ukrainian Ekphrastic Writing Challenge

The Ekphrastic Review‘s editor, Lorette C. Luzajic, chose Carousel, a 1906 painting by Ukrainian artist Olexandr Murashko, as a prompt for a recent Ekphrastic Writing Challenge. I am honored that my poem In Kyiv is among those chosen for publication. It is the third response listed. I encourage you to read all the responses, as well as Lorette’s poignant opening note. As always, comments are welcome.

Nebra Sky Disk

I sometimes write poems in response to the Ekphrastic Challenge prompts from The Ekphrastic Review. I have been honored to have my poems chosen for publication on a few occasions and have taken to publishing the ones that were not chosen here at Top of JC’s Mind.

Just up today are responses to the Nebra Sky Disk, including one by my friend and fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member, Kyle Laws. You can see the artwork and the chosen responses here. My poem follows. As always, comments are welcome.

Nebra Sky Disk

Who buried you,
hid you from the sun,
the moon,

the stars,
as if the earth
could dim your essence?

Did they seek
with soil and swords and hatchets
to protect you from marauders

who might take you away,
where your arcs would not
be wedded to the sun?

They could not know
the buried centuries,
the indignity

of damage by looters,
of clandestine sales,
your glory hoarded.

Finally brought back to light,
to the descendents of your people,
your gold shining their place beneath

the sun,
the moon,
the stars,

the burnished sky.

fits and starts

Ugh! There is so much stuff I want/need to do and not nearly enough brainpower to do it.

Admittedly, part of the problem is that I necessarily deferred a lot of things when I was involved with multi-generational caregiving for years and now there is a huge backlog that needs attention. Some are practical things, like dealing with the rest of the belongings of Grandma, Nana, and Paco that are still stored at our house and finishing the remaining work with Paco’s estate, including the final tax filings and, oh, our tax returns, too. Some are creative things, like writing blog posts and poetry, and the administrative tasks that go along with them, like getting submissions in, which I find both tedious and nerve-wracking. Some are educational, trying to stay informed about what is happening in the world and using that knowledge to advocate for social and environmental justice. And, of course, there are the errands, appointments, and household tasks that need doing, although I appreciate that B and T continue to cover a good chunk of the housework that I abandoned in recent years.

The biggest problem for me remains, though, that it’s difficult for me to muster the energy and concentration I need to tackle tasks that need critical and/or creative thought and decision-making. I suppose this is complicated by my INFJ-ness, which means that nearly everything for me involves deep thought.

It’s exhausting.

There is also the reality that I am dealing with several years’ worth of grief and loss. The difficult period leading to Grandma’s death in 2016 followed by Nana’s struggles with heart failure leading to her death in 2019 followed by Paco’s decline and his death in September last year left me with a lot of deferred grief, which I have only recently realized and begun to process. There is also the personal loss of proximity to daughter E and granddaughters ABC and JG, who live across the Atlantic from us. Overlaying these personal losses is the pandemic and the upheaval, suffering, and death it has caused. The death toll in the US alone is 955,000, which, as staggering as that figure is, is probably an underestimate. The world is also in the midst of a major ideological rift between democracy and authoritarianism which is terrifying and destabilizing. I have lost the sense that the US is on a positive trajectory toward “a more perfect Union” as our Constitution terms it, which adds to my sense of grief.

It’s a lot.

I know it’s a lot and there are valid reasons that I find my concentration and energy so scant. I know I should be patient with myself, as I would be with a friend or loved one. I know I should be practicing self-care and not admonishing myself for not having the wherewithal to power through all of this and “accomplish my goals” and “be my best self” and whatever.

I try.

Sometimes, I manage it. Other times, not so much.

Look. Today, I managed to write this post.

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