Nat’l Poetry Month Part 2

The second installment of the Broome County (NY) Arts Council (BCAC) series to celebrate National Poetry Month is now available here. This week features readings and discussion with Nicole Santalucia, Wendy Stewart, Mike Foldes, and Joshua Lindebaum.

I owe two of these poets a particular debt of gratitude.

When Nicole Santalucia, who is a Broome County native, returned to do graduate work at the state university, she founded the Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP). I first heard about BPP when Nicole read at a 2013 National Poetry Month episode of Off the Page, a radio program hosted by Bill Jaker on WSKG, our local public broadcasting radio station. Off the Page invited listeners to send in poems to their website and I was thrilled when they chose to read mine on the air! I began attending BPP’s free community poetry workshops for the general public, led by Binghamton University graduate students, in spring 2014. The connections I made there, particularly with Heather Dorn who has been a workshop leader, assistant director, and director of BPP, led to my joining the Grapevine Group, my local poetry critique group which you will hear more about shortly, and Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry circle which is, sadly, not currently active. The BCAC supports BPP through grants, so I was able to connect with them, as well. I was even invited to contribute a poem to BCAC’s Heart of the Arts award dinner in 2016. (Video here and text here.) I don’t think any of that would have happened without Nicole Santalucia and the Binghamton Poetry Project, so I owe her a huge thank you.

A shout-out also to Wendy Stewart, who is a member of the aforementioned Grapevine Group. Wendy always offers thoughtful advice on my poems and is supportive of me when I am being insecure, which happens with some frequency. Sometimes, we joke that she is just being Canadian!

I love the way Wendy uses language. I’ve learned a lot of new vocabulary from her. She is also masterful in the way she juxtaposes seemingly unrelated things so that we are invited to make connections we otherwise would not. She often uses her sly wit and penchant for understatement, both in her writing and in conversation, in a way that I admire, although cannot emulate.

Thank you, Wendy!

I hope you enjoy the recording. I’ll be back next week when I will be one of the featured poets.

Celebrate National Poetry Month!

In the United States, April is National Poetry month.

Broome County Arts Council (BCAC) is joining the celebration by hosting a series of virtual poetry readings by poets with ties to our area. The first reading, featuring Elizabeth Cohen, Dante Di Stefano, and Andrei Guruianu is available here.

Enjoy!

I’ll be back with additional posts as the celebration continues, including a more extensive post the week that I am featured along with other poets from the Binghamton Poetry Project.

typewriters and poetry

I’m pleased to announce that I have a poem on display in my hometown. The Vestal Museum has just opened a new exhibit entitled Empty the Inkpots: The History of American Typewriters. They are displaying vintage typewriters and have compiled a binder with their research on the various manufacturers. In collaboration with the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Museum is also displaying poems by area poets who have attended BPP workshops. We poets were invited to submit and I was fortunate to have one of my poems selected.

My poem with two vintage typewriters and the research binder
An Oliver company typewriter

One of the fun things about the poems on display is that they are written in a monospaced typewriter-style font. Because most of us are used to reading text in variable-width fonts these days, the look of the poems on the page is quite distinctive.

My poem, bio, and inspiration statement on display

Because it is very hard to read from the photo, here is the text, although not in the special font:

SARS-CoV-2: A Novel Coronavirus

We are only beginning this novel,
the first scenes in China,
then South Korea, Iran, Italy.

In the United States, chapters are written
for the hardest hit states—
Washington, California, New York.

No cases in West Virginia—
turn the page—
it’s there, too.

Chilling numbers give way to vignettes—
the family in Jersey that lost four members
with two more in critical condition,

the NBC audio tech silenced forever,
the loss of the doctor who tried to warn the Chinese government,
the bus driver in Brooklyn dead in March.

The plot twists.
The newest regions in lockdown.
Italian coffins in rows, waiting

for cremation and burial without funerals.
Speculation on treatments and vaccines,
though none are proven.

Fines levied for being outdoors.
Postponed elections.
Shuttered courts.

How many tested.
How many infected.
How many dead.

We spend hours reading voraciously,
awaiting the next
installment in the serial.

The novel is long—
and we may still be near the beginning.
How many of us will see the final pages?

The suspense is killing us.

*

Joanne Corey, though she grew up in New England, has called Vestal home since 1988. A stalwart of The Binghamton Poetry Project since 2014, she last attended the fall 2020 workshop and also has participated locally with the Grapevine Group, the Broome County Arts Council, and Sappho’s Circle. She invites you to visit her eclectic blog at topofjcsmind.wordpress.com.

Inspiration: Like many poets, I write to try to process current events. I drafted this in March 2020 as the pandemic was beginning and workshopped it with my poet-friends of the Grapevine Group. It also became an exercise in the use of extended metaphor.
*****

I wish I could share more of the poems here, but I only have permission for my own work. I hope that local folks will be able to see the exhibit in person. It is currently scheduled to be on display through May 31st. The link in the first paragraph will give times that the Museum is open and information on any special events.

While you are there, make sure to take part in the community poetry exercise. We are creating an exquisite corpse poem. Each person is invited to compose a sentence with adjective+noun+verb+adjective+noun without looking at the prior line. Bonus: You get to type it on a manual typewriter! Although I learned to type on a manual, it had been a long time since I had used one. Daughter T was with me and I had to do a bit of coaching. Physical carriage return was not something that she had ever experienced.

Sisters poem

The Ekphrastic Review has a regular series of Ekphrastic Writing Challenges, in which they post a piece of visual art and invite writers to respond to it. I have had several poems published in this way.

Here is a link to the artwork and response pieces for the most recent challenge, “The Two Sisters” by Théodore Chassériau (France) 1843. Among them is a poem by Kyle Laws, fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member and ekphrastic writer extraordinaire!

My piece was not chosen in this go-round, but I thought I’d share it here. Enjoy!

Sisters

Is it the matching outfits
that proclaim sisterhood –
my sisters and I in pale

yellow with coordinating
hats and gloves
for Easter mass –

my daughters in black
velvet with lacework collars
in a rare formal portrait –

my granddaughters in rainbow-
and-unicorn pajamas
in pandemic London –

or is it the dimples
that appear with smiles
the entwined arms

the mischievous glance?

SoCS: surprise poem

I carved out a bit of writing time today – a rarity in the whirlwind that has been my life lately.

I went to Linda’s blog to read the Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt which is:

Your prompt for #JusJoJan and Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “the beginning, the end.” Write about the beginning of something and the end of  something. Bonus points if your first sentence contains “the end” and your last sentence contains “the beginning.” <– Read that again. Have fun!

I admit that I couldn’t wrap my head around beginnings and endings as I am mired in a seemingly endless middle with lots of twists and turns and no real clarity of if/when there will be a conclusion, so I set the whole enterprise aside and decided to do some housekeeping in my overcrowded Google Chrome window. One of the first tabs I went to was one for The Ekphrastic Review, which has a new monthly column on ekphrasis, which is the practice of basing one work of art on another, most often used in the context of writing poetry based on visual art pieces.

While I was there, I figured I should check out the current Ekphrastic Writing Challenge. It is a painting called The Two Sisters by Théodore Chassériau. Given that I have sisters – and two daughters and two granddaughters – the painting inspired a poem in response, so that has become my beginning (middle) and end for this post.

Well, perhaps not quite the end yet. The poem does have an end, of course, but the real ending will be when I submit it to the challenge. I want to let it set a bit and will probably share it with daughter T. I don’t have another meeting of my critique group before the entry is due, so I’ll have to trust sending it without professional critique and revision.

Still, it was nice to have a poem appear on a day that I hadn’t expected it – and to have a blog post appear when I didn’t think I would have one of those either.

But no bonus points for me this time around…

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January and/or Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/29/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2021-daily-prompt-jan-30th/

X years ago

Facebook often presents users with the opportunity to repost something from prior years. Today, it suggested this photo from two years ago:

a post-dinner four generation photo of me, Nana, daughter E, and granddaughter ABC

This was our last Thanksgiving with my mom, known here as Nana. She passed away from congestive heart failure the following May. Daughter E and granddaughter ABC moved to London, UK, that October when E’s spousal visa finally came through. ABC is now in nursery school and big sister to JG, whom we planned to meet this month until England went into a new pandemic lockdown phase.

It’s a lot in two years.

And it seems like it’s been longer than two years.

Three days ago, one of my poet-friends posted a photo from the Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency from which the Boiler House Poets Collective sprang five years ago. In the comment thread that followed, someone asked if anyone had written about it, which prompted me to re-read my blog posts from the residency. This post links to most of them. It was interesting to read my real-time take on what was happening, although I did temper the amount of anxiety I expressed somewhat. It was nice to see that I accomplished more than I remembered and good to be reminded of our various sessions with our poet-teachers and the bonding among our original nine poets-in-residence.

We have gone back to North Adams for a reunion residency every autumn, until being derailed this year by COVID. We have a reservation for both 2021 and 2022, though, which is tempering the sadness at missing this year a bit.

And, yes, those five years feel longer than they are, too.

Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2020 anthology and reading

Due to the pandemic, the Binghamton Poetry Project has moved to Zoom for 2020. For each of our spring, summer, and fall seasons, we did five sessions of poem study and prompts, followed by a reading via Zoom. For the fall, our directors at Binghamton University have re-imagined our anthologies, which had been distributed in print at our in-person readings in prior years, as a digital publication. You can find the anthology at the Binghamton Poetry Project site here: https://thebinghamtonpoetryproject.wordpress.com/fall-2020-anthology/

One of the 2020 innovations from the Binghamton Poetry Project was to offer two different workshops, one for beginners and one for more experienced poets. I was part of the latter group. I enjoyed working with our instructor Shin Watanabe, who is a PhD student at Binghamton University. I also appreciated the opportunity to connect with the other community poets who attended, some of whom I have known for years in person and others of whom I have only met via Zoom. One of the advantages of Zoom meetings is that we have been able to include poets who are further afield, including some from the Ithaca area.

All three of the poems I chose for the anthology were written in response to Shin’s prompts based on our reading for that session. I thought it might be interesting to include how these poems came to be written; one of the advantages of taking a class or workshop is that you generate poems that otherwise would not have been written were it not for the prompts.

That being said, this first poem is one that was conceived before the prompt, as it will eventually be part of the collection about the North Adams, Massachusetts area that I have been working on for several years. The prompt was about employing interesting adjectives, based on our study of The Colossus by Sylvia Plath.

Navigating North Adams for MWS

Google maps had no street-view
for the addresses you had unearthed
through Ancestry.com
in the year since we each lost
our mothers May-days apart.
We were excited to discover
your great-grandmother

as a young Scottish immigrant
lived in the city where I also had roots.
As I drove the two hundred miles there,
I thought of you,
ten times further away,
of the photos I would send
so we could imagine

your ancestors and mine crossing
paths, setting in motion
our friendship generations on.
I navigated the streets too steep,
narrow, and unassuming
for the google-cars that take wrap-around
photos to satisfy the curious or nostalgic.

When Jeanie lived at 34 Jackson
did she cross Eagle
and walk with Ruth down
Bracewell toward the school?
When did the neighbors
at 27 Hudson put
up a sign, Established

in 1860? Surely
not back then, when
the hillside houses
were only middle-aged.
Did she sled down
Veazie with Mary
who lived parallel

on Williams? Did the imprint
of these ancestral
connections somehow
draw us to each
other as college roommates,
forty-year friends clinging
to each other on steep climbs?

The next poem was an experiment with line breaks, based on our discussion of Charles Bukowski’s Fingernails; Nostrils; Shoelaces.

Two and a half hours

The line stretched from
St. Paul’s Church down
the block to the library
voters spread six feet apart
waiting for
their turn to enter
go downstairs
wait
give their
name, sign the
tablet with a
disinfected stylus
watch the printer spit out
their ballot
sequester together in a
cubicle, completely fill in the
bubbles for their
choices with a
black felt pen
feed their ballot into the
machine, wait for
confirmation, walk back to
their car
go home and
hope.

This final poem is a failed attempt at the American Sublime, a la Hart Crane’s The Bridge: To Brooklyn Bridge. I think I managed a bit of the awe component, though.

For Jillian Grace

On my screen, you appear
smaller than your 2.9 kilos –
kilos because, from the start,
you are a British baby,
unlike your older sister, born
in the same upstate New York
hospital as your mother,
just miles from where
I, bleary-eyed at dawn,
stare at your first photos.

Your dark hair peeks
from under the knit cap
meant to keep you warm
as you adjust to air,
not the tiny ocean
that had been your home
for thirty-seven weeks,
your cheeks rosy
against the white blankets
and Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper.

I long to cradle you,
to breathe your newborn scent,
stroke your soft skin,
feel your fingers
wrap one of mine,
hum quiet lullabies,
claim you as my granddaughter,
but you are thirty-five hundred miles
and a pandemic
away.

I hope you will take a look at our anthology. Feel free to comment here or on the Binghamton Poetry Project site. Enjoy!

What do you think of when you see a Warhol Campbell Soup can painting?

You can see responses from seventeen writers, including me and fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member Kyle Laws, at the link below. Many thanks to The Ekphrastic Review founder and editor Lorette C. Luzajic for the always interesting Ekphrastic Writing Challenge features. Enjoy!

https://www.ekphrastic.net/ekphrastic/ekphrastic-writing-responses-andy-warhol

email, email, and more email

Since I first started using email over twenty years ago, I have had the same email address. It was initially set up through Roadrunner, affiliated then with Time Warner although it has since moved to Spectrum.

I’ve used this email address for everything from personal correspondence to charity donations to newsletters to subscriptions to poetry submissions to online shopping. It has been registered in hundreds of places over the years. The address has occasionally been unreliable but, given how widespread it was, I was loath to change it.

Now, however, it has lost or delayed so many things that my hand is forced. I got the October newsletter from the Biden campaign and an email about planning my vote after election day. I sent a poem to my local poet circle for workshop twice without anyone receiving it. An email from the resolution center working on refunds for our cancelled trip to London went astray and almost resulted in the case being closed prematurely.

So, I have embarked on the the painstaking process of migrating from my one-stop email destination to a constellation of gmail addresses for different purposes. There is one for poetry related things, one for shopping and business contacts for B and me, and one for all the rest of my personal and organizational contacts.

The sorting is proving to be a long and complicated process. I realize I am still in the early stages of it, but it is beginning to take shape. Daughter E taught me how to keep tabs for the three different gmail inboxes open simultaneously in my browser and I have a fourth with my original inbox, all of which I am getting into the habit of monitoring several times a day. [Note that none of these is my long-neglected blog email topofjcsmind@gmail.com. The recommendation still holds that if you want to contact me by email that you leave a comment telling me you have done so, as I will see the comment and know to check the inbox. Some year or other, I’ll get to making it usable.]

What is taking a ton of time is changing the address on email lists. Some organizations have a straightforward process with a link for updating at the end of their email. Click the link. Edit your address. Save changes and you’re done. Sometimes, they email you a confirmation link for security reasons. Other times, the setup is that they email you an edit link first. Both guard against unauthorized changes.

Some sites don’t offer a way to make changes. I’ve had to subscribe with a new email address and then unsubscribe the old address.

Others allow you to update your online profile at their site, but I’ve run into lots of problems doing this. Sometimes, the site will let you change your address but then won’t update for the emails it sends you. Other times, it seems they won’t save your preferences for how often you want to hear from them. And some seem to just stop sending emails altogether.

This endeavor is also making me consider each email sender and whether or not I want to keep hearing from them. As I have posted about previously, I have been trying to tame my inbox for some time. I’m hoping the time that I’m investing in this organizational effort will eventually make it easier to deal with my email and give me more time for other things.

I wish I could figure out when I will arrive at that “eventual” point.

So far, I’ve done very little about changing my email for personal contacts. Personal messages seem to get through to my original email inbox pretty reliably, although occasionally one gets delayed for days or lands in my spam folder. Perhaps, I’ll draft a bcc email blast at some point, although I’ll probably have my poet-friends use my poetry address rather than my general one and friends of both B and me our joint address.

Something else to think about.

Who knew email could be so tiring?

the pleasures and dangers of poetry readings

One of the opportunities that has arisen during the pandemic is the easy availability of poetry readings, as many institutions have re-imagined their live readings as online events.

I admit that I wasn’t in the habit of going to a lot of readings in-person before the pandemic. They are usually in the evenings and I try to keep as much evening time reserved for family as possible, so it was difficult for me to commit to the transport time plus the reading time. That is less of a factor now that I can attend and still be at home, in case something comes up that needs my immediate attention.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend a virtual book launch for fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member Erica Bodwell’s Crown of Wild. I heard one of my Smith College poetry godmothers Anne Harding Woodworth read from her new book Trouble, as well as her previous books. I’ve tuned into readings sponsored by the Smith College Boutelle-Day Poetry Center and the Binghamton University Center for Writers. I have even participated in an online reading with the Binghamton Poetry Project.

It’s been wonderful to hear poets reading their work and I’ve also appreciated the opportunity to hear poets speak about their lives and work in interviews or question and answer sessions.

I admit, though, that these discussions, particularly when they take place in academic settings, can shake my sense of myself as a poet.

I consider myself to be a community poet, meaning that my work is informed by my experiences much more so than by my academic background. While I have been blessed with learning about craft through the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Broome County Arts Council, Sappho’s Circle, and my poet-friends of the Grapevine Group and Boiler House Poets Collective, the last time that poetry was a significant part of my academic work was in grammar school, many decades ago. I’ve also learned a lot by reading different poets.

In comments in their readings, poets that I admire talk about the wonders of writing in forms like sonnets or villanelles and how this focuses their writing.

I’ve tried variously to write in form. I’ve never managed to write a traditional sonnet or villanelle that was worth making it out of my notebook.

The thought of trying to write a decent sestina is enough to make me break out in hives.

I do a bit better with forms that have made their way into English from Japan. I have written some successful haiku, tanka, and haibun. I am especially fond of tanka and have included several in my chapbook manuscript, which is still in circulation with publishers and amassing an impressive list of rejections. (Note to self: send more submissions.)

When I am feeling shaken about not having formal training, an English major, or an MFA with all their attendant skills and expertise, I try to remember the times that my poet-friends have reassured me that, although my poetry is different, it is still worthwhile – and that I am indeed a poet.

Now if I can just find those presses and publishers that agree…