Broome County Arts Council collaborative chapbook

As those of you who know me personally or who have been reading Top of JC’s Mind for a while are aware, I consider myself to be a community poet. I have next-to-no academic training in literary analysis and creative writing. I sometimes tell people that I write by instinct, but, like this blog, it is more another manifestation of the way my mind works, influenced by what I’ve read and my fortunate affiliation with groups of wonderful poets who share their work, critiques, and knowledge with me.

One of these groups in the last few years has been the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. They have sponsored several series of poetry workshops, led by Dr. Joshua Lewis. This has led to our first ever foray into publishing, a collaborative chapbook, Transformations. (The link takes you to a page with several options for download, priced at either $1 or $1.99 depending on platform.)

There are six poets represented: Pamela Olivia Brown, who also designed our cover, Joanne Corey (me), the aforementioned Joshua Lewis, who also acted as editor, Anita Alkinburg Shipway, Tony Villecco, and Harrison Young. We each submitted three poems without regard to a specific theme, but some commonalities emerged. We met to deal with ordering the poems, which is always a fraught process. I am pleased – and still somewhat shocked – that my ordering emerged as the favorite, with a couple of tweaks from the group.

In re-reading the book, I am struck by how the different styles and voices of the poets reflect common life experiences and deepen our understanding by approaching from various perspectives. Although there are only six poets, we represent different generations, races, ethnicities, genders, and places of origin. (I am endlessly fascinated by the influence of place, especially the rural/urban/suburban dynamic.)

I hope you will consider giving Transformations a read. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments here or at the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page.

[A note: It’s possible that your download will have an issue with pagination and layout. For example, I lost the stanza breaks in my Apple copy. I’m not sure if it is because I am using an older device or if there is some other reason. I can assure you, though, that all the words will come through to you, which is the most important consideration.]

 

I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

A fascinating look into the mind of poet Marilyn McCabe as she crafted her chapbook “Being Many Seeds” both as a print and an audio/visual experience. Check it out!

O Write: Marilynonaroll's Blog

So with the birth of a new collection of poems, I thought I might share the backstory, as the poems came together in an unusual way, for me.

The poems in this book began as a monthlong exercise in imitations. Each day I’d choose a poem from a literary magazine or book of poems I had lying around, and I’d try to do a word-for-word imitation, but trying often to use opposite words. That is, if the poem started “One early morning…” I might say “Every late night….” I tried to choose poems that seemed unlike anything I might write: longer lines, narrative rather than lyric.

I didn’t overthink the process, I just let words rise up as prompted by the original poem, and figured whatever subject matters were lurking in my brain would arise naturally from this process. So then I had thirty or so of these, and looking…

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Hair – and a poem – and a prompt

One of the pandemic topics that has gotten a surprising amount of media time here in the United States is what people are doing with their hair without having access to hair salons. Celebrities and politicians face scrutiny if they appear well-coiffed. Did they break the rules and call in a professional? Are they sheltering in place with someone who can manage to trim hair? Did they manage to give themselves a haircut? Are they wearing a stylish headband only to keep their bangs from falling into their eyes?

There are also a lot of stories of hairdressers delivering hair color to clients and giving them instructions on how to apply it – from at least six feet (two meters) away, of course.

Some people, though, are letting their hair grow naturally, revealing their hair color which they themselves may not have seen in decades.

Maybe a few will embrace the natural look. That has always been my choice.

Back in 2016, Silver Birch Press was doing a series called “My Mane Memories” with poets submitting work about their hair. One of the poems they chose was mine: “Crowning Glory” which I will also copy below.

Crowning Glory
by Joanne Corey

“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory…” Proverbs 16:31*

Friends recognize me
in a crowded theater
down the street
across the restaurant
among the congregation

Strangers comment
how beautiful
how they wish
theirs looked the same

I smile
remember the first silver
that appeared
among the brown
before I was in high school
multiplied after my daughters were born
until at fifty just a bit
of brown was left

Then I let it grow
past my shoulders
down my back
in silver waves
finally

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

By the way, Silver Birch Press is offering a free kindle version of their May poetry anthology from May first through fifth. Details here:  https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/free-kindle-version-of-may-poetry-anthology-5-1-5-5-2020/

In this time of pandemic, they have also revived their themed series on their blog. Right now, they are soliciting poems/short prose on wearing a mask:  https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/call-for-submissions-wearing-a-mask-poetry-prose-series/

Welcome back, Silver Birch Press!

 

 

time slips by

I know some people who are under shelter in place or stay home orders are struggling with finding ways to fill time, but I am having the opposite problem. There always seems to be more to do than time/energy/brainpower permits.

Part of this is the continuation of dealing with grief. A year ago at this time, we were in the last few weeks of my mother’s life, so there is sadness with the coming of spring. My heart goes out to all those who are currently in nursing homes and hospitals who are not allowed to have visitors. While those last weeks with Nana were difficult, it would have been even more difficult not being there to bring her ice water and chat between naps.

This personal grief is enveloped by the global grief of dealing with the pandemic, its toll on people, and its laying bare all the inequities of society. The pandemic is bringing out the selfishness and greed of some, the suffering of most, and the generosity and community spirit of many. While some just want to “get back to normal” and are willing to risk public health to do it, more and more are talking about “building back better.”

The #BuildBackBetter movement is encouraging. It calls on us to examine the past and present so that we can build a better future. Here in the United States, the problem of lack of access to quality, affordable health care has been made even more apparent, especially for black and brown folks, immigrants, people living in poverty, those without homes, and elders. So many losing their jobs and their health insurance along with it also illustrates the inherent weakness in our current healthcare system.

Many of our essential workers, including caregivers and transit, food service, janitorial, grocery, and agricultural workers, are also our lowest-paid. These people are risking their lives to keep basic services going for less money than they would make if they were collecting enhanced unemployment and too many have contracted, or even succumbed to, COVID-19. My hope is that the new-found appreciation many feel for these essential workers will lead to living wages for all jobs, benefits for those who are without paid work that reflect human dignity and care, and a realization that wealth is created by the society, not just the business owners.

While grief and fear can be mind-numbing, it is a comfort to hear about all those who are serving others, dispensing accurate information, and planning for a responsible path forward. I admit that I watch or listen to a lot of coronavirus coverage. I want to stay up to date with the science and the demographics, which is especially important here in New York State, which has the largest number of cases in the country. I listen to our governor, Andrew Cuomo, give his daily briefings because he is very truthful, forthright, and compassionate. It is comforting to know where we are, even when the statistics are unnerving, because there are plans unfolding that are modified as the circumstances change. As our caseload in the state starts to come down, Governor Cuomo is talking more about how we will move into the next phase. He is a big proponent of building back better, socially, economically, justly, and in accord with the best science available for human, environmental, and climate health. This gives me hope that some good will come out of a horrifying situation. Most of the time, I see the Governor through Facebook Live, so there are comments coming in; it’s amazing how many in other states and countries tune in to his briefings for the facts and for a practical, compassionate response to our current challenges. Sadly, the same cannot be said for White House briefings, which I avoid.

I am fortunate that things in my household are on an even keel. I am sad, though, to have family and friends who are suffering because of the lockdown or the virus itself. It’s hard not to be able to go to them and help, though I try to do what I can by phone or online.

I am not struggling with staying at home, though. I am pretty high on the introversion scale, so I am content to be at home with my family. I don’t know how I would react, though, if I lived alone, which is something I have never done.

I do spend more time on shopping and meal planning/preparation than I used to. We are still having significant shortages in our area, so weekly shopping has turned into several hours in several stores to find basic items. There are more meals to plan for because we can’t go out to dinner and because everyone is here for all their meals every day. We do sometimes get takeout from a local restaurant, but there is definitely more cooking going on at home.

I’ve been trying to keep up with my social and environmental justice activities online and have taken the opportunity to attend some webinars. The Binghamton Poetry Project and my local poetry-workshop group have been meeting via Zoom. I’ve also finished revisions of my chapbook and have been slogging through the time-consuming and anxiety-producing process of finding contests to enter. Seven and counting…

I do write blog posts now and then…

I wish I could say that I was reading more. I admit that, most days, I don’t even get through my email. By evening, I find that my brain can only handle watching television while playing not-too-taxing computer games. As I’ve been saying for years now, it’s often not so much about time as brainpower.

How are you all doing wherever you find yourselves during this pandemic?

 

the later verses

For some reason, yesterday the topic of the later verses of songs to which many know only the first verse well came up a couple of times. In a Binghamton Poetry Project session, we read Ada Limón’s poem “A New National Anthem” which quotes from and asks why we don’t sing the third verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Last night, I was discussing the hymn “Amazing Grace” with a friend; I relate much better theologically with the ending verses than the opening ones, which are the ones most people recognize.

Although I am Catholic, much of my training as an organist was in a Protestant context. Unlike most Catholic churches, which often sing only two or three verses of a hymn, Protestant churches usually sing all the verses, which, as a poet and a liturgist, I find more proper. I sometimes choose a hymn specifically for a message in a later verse. I did this in choosing hymns for my father-in-law’s funeral, only to have the substitute organist truncate the hymn so we never got to verses that were connected to the occasion. I noticed the pastor giving a sidelong glance at the organist, but he didn’t take the hint.

Some of my favorite verses of hymns are later ones. In Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, I especially like the end of the second verse/stanza: 
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
We could really use some of that self-control these days. Interestingly, in researching the poem, I found that the version most of us know is the 1911 revision. The original 1893 version ends the third stanza with:
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
We could really use that message now, too.

Sometimes, later verses are just fun because you get to sing words that your would not otherwise. For example, the second verse of the standard version of the United Kingdom National Anthem “God Save the Queen” which deals with the Queen’s enemies contains the lines “Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks”. It’s not often one gets to sing about “knavish tricks”!

Sometimes, especially in folk/protest songs, verses are included, excluded, or altered due to political circumstances or the audience. Woodie Guthrie’s original lyric of “The Land Is Your Land” contains a verse about private property and ends with a verse about hunger that closes “As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me.” Most people are familiar only with the verses that are a US travelogue, not these more challenging ones.

There are some hymns, such as “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB, that I love all the verses so much that I will sing omitted verses to myself if we don’t get to sing them all during the service.

My first college choral conductor, Rob Kolb, taught us that the hymn is the poem which is the text, as opposed to the tune, which is interchangeable with another of the same metric form. Because the hymn is the poem, you sing it as you would recite it, with its punctuation and word emphasis intact. You also honor the hymn as an entity, so you sing all the verses, as you would read or recite all the stanzas of a poem.

Some lessons stick with you for life.

in the current tangle

I’ve been meaning to post an update on our situation here for several days, but my brain keeps jumping from task to task, not a very effective way to get anything done, but I’ll try to focus for a bit here and get this post done.

Here in Broome County in upstate NY, we went, over the span of a few days, from no confirmed COVID-19 cases to our first recorded death, although the test came back positive only after the gentleman had passed away, to several other known cases, which means that there is community spread occurring.

Meanwhile, as you may know, New York State has become the epicenter of the pandemic in US. Most of the known cases are in the New York City+suburbs/Long Island area, but the whole state is at risk. Governor Cuomo has implemented more stringent shelter in place policies. All non-essential businesses are closed. To protect the elders and other vulnerable populations, Gov. Cuomo has implemented Matilda’s Law, named after his won 90-some-year-old mother. The whole program is called PAUSE. Gov. Cuomo has been giving press briefings most days. I try to watch them as often as I’m able. He is straight-forward, factual, informed by experts in science, public health, and medicine, and compassionate, all while accepting responsibility for his decisions – everything that one expects from a civic leader. Here in New York, we are being much better served by our state government than by the federal government, whose response is still haphazard.

Because of the increased level of alert, I am no longer going to visit Paco in person. The risk of unwittingly bringing the infection to him or someone else in his senior community is too great. Over these last weeks, I have been setting things up to function without my physical presence. We’ll see now how well I did with that task. Fortunately, the staff of independent living is also stepping up their level of service, so I know there will be help available to him if he needs it. For example, because the dining room had to close for safety reasons, dinner orders are now called in with delivery brought to residents’ doors. Paco is happy to have food arrive at the appointed time without having to sit at the table and wait.

My sisters are also sheltering in place and can’t travel, so they have been sending Paco care packages. Over the last week, jigsaw puzzles, brownies, breakfast breads, and homemade apricot bars and Blarney cake have arrived. Paco will turn 95 later this week and is enjoying all these gifts! We are hoping to bring him carryout from his favorite local Italian restaurant on the big day, providing they remain open. All restaurants are open only for takeout or delivery; some have had to close under these conditions, while others are continuing to keep their business going as best they can.

B is working from home for the foreseeable future. We have set up a home office in a currently unoccupied bedroom. He is among the fortunate employees with a job that can be done totally online, so we don’t have to worry about him being laid off, which is a huge blessing and one that we do not take for granted.

I have used his office setup a couple of times for Zoom poetry meetings. Last Saturday, my previously scheduled chapbook manuscript review party was moved online. It was great to see everyone, even though we existed in rectangles on a monitor rather than in the flesh. I received lots of good feedback and have started in on revisions. Last night, we had the first online iteration of the Binghamton Poetry Project. Everyone had been disappointed that our usual in-person sessions had to be cancelled this spring; we are grateful to keep the Project going in a new form. On Wednesday, my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, will convene via Zoom to workshop each other’s poems. We will miss our usual home at the Grapevine Cafe, but hope that we will be back soon.

One of my other activities has been doing the essential shopping for our house and for Paco. It’s been an adventure. Some people are still in a (totally unnecessary) hoarding mindset, which makes it hard to find certain categories of goods. In order to do weekly shopping, it can take three or four trips to different stores. If you are lucky, at least one will have a supply of the hard-to-find categories, such as meats, bread, eggs, frozen vegetables, and milk. It is a major time sink, as well as being an exposure risk, although I try to shop at times when the stores are not crowded to maintain distance from others. For the record, I do have a two-week supply of basic necessities stored away, but the point is to keep that in case we needed to go into total isolation. Dipping into that for our regular needs seems unwise.

I wish I could say that I am settling into a routine, but it is still too new an endeavor. I admit that keeping track of the news and the changes we need to make is taking up quite a lot of mental space. This is increased because I am also watching developments in the UK, with daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter ABC in London. I know that literally millions of other people are finding their minds in a similar whirl. I’ll try to untangle the mess and see if I can create some order, however illusory…

SoCS: making welcome

In these days of social distancing, how can we make each other feel welcomed?

We have been used to meeting in person, hugging, kissing, shaking hands, or whatever local custom and closeness of relationship between the people indicated, but, with fears of infection mounting and lots of restrictions in place depending on your location, it is hard to get within six feet of a person who is not a member of your household.

It seems to be a good time to use our voices. In some places in Europe, people who are not allowed to leave their homes are singing to each other from their balconies. That requires a certain kind of city to work. If I sang from my front porch, I don’t think any of the neighbors would hear. Then again, I don’t have a very loud voice.

I do, however, have a renewed appreciation for phone calls and the much more recent videochats. I especially love being able to hear and see E and ABC in London. After our visit in December, we had thought we would be able to visit again this spring, but there is about 0% chance of that with the travel restrictions in place now and any reasonable projection of the spread of COVID-19 in both the US and the UK.

I’m also even more appreciative of notes and messaging and emails. I admittedly have been doing a lot of that in recent years, but even more so in these recent weeks. Groups from whom I receive emails are busily trying to strengthen online connections. Two big in-person actions planned for this spring – major climate/environmental action centered around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in the US in April and a world-wide Catholic women’s strike in May – are now re-imagining their activities. Even retailers are writing about what they are doing in terms of store closings and online shopping, while also expressing concern for the health of their employees and the communities they serve.

I also truly appreciate all the friends and family who are posting to social media or sending private messages, letting others know they are okay and checking up on people.

Later today, I will be welcoming people to a review of my chapbook manuscript. Until a few days ago, it was going to be a small in-person party. Now, our plan is to meet via Zoom. We will safely be able to see each other and talk about the manuscript, each from the safety of our own homes, places where we are safe from both the virus, which is not widely prevalent in our county yet, thank God, and from the very real fear that we might unwittingly pass it to someone before having any symptoms or ideas that we are infected.

It will be different than the prior manuscript reviews our circle of poets have done in-person, but, in a way, it may feel more precious and more connected, precisely because we know we won’t be able to gather in person for weeks or months to come. When we are allowed, I hope that we will be able to have a much-delayed party with everyone gathered in one room.

If I am very, very ,very, very lucky, maybe one day we can celebrate its publication.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “welcome.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-21-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/