Today is the last full day of the Boiler House Poets Collective reunion residency for 2021. It’s always amazing to be back here at MASS MoCA together but the experience is heightened after having to cancel because of COVID last year.
I am in the same studio as I was in the Tupelo Press workshop/residency that first brought us together in 2015. As I was looking back at my blog to get the exact dates of that residency, I decided to re-visit all the posts from back then. I was surprised that I processed as much as I did at the time, while realizing how much I had downplayed the amount of confusion and fear I was feeling.
If anyone is so moved to join me in this walk down memory lane, the posts start here.
I have been posting less than usual over the last couple of months as we have been dealing with health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He had a couple of falls in June, resulting in some cracked bones, which have been healing well while he has been in a rehab program. Unfortunately, he also suffers from dementia, which has worsened, and from a number of other health conditions, which are not unexpected in a 96-year-old but which have necessitated remaining in a nursing home rather than being able to move back to the assisted living floor where he lived previously.
It has taken a lot of time with in-person visiting and inordinate amounts of time dealing with paperwork and red tape. My sisters have been coming into town to help, but I am still not finding time to write as much as I would like.
On Monday, I’m happy to report that the UK contingent of our family – our daughter E, her spouse L, and their two children 4-year-old ABC and just turned 1-year-old JG – arrived from London for a two week visit. It is our first opportunity to meet JG in person. She is adjusting to our actually being flesh-and-blood people rather than images on a screen. It’s amazing that she is able to deal with being a different place with different people after being in lockdown so much of her life, especially when you consider it took two large airports, a plane, and the longest car ride of her life to get here. Also, five hours worth of jetlag. It’s also amazing how much ABC remembers from when she lived with us, given that this is her first time back here since she moved to the UK in October 2019.
Because of the delta variant’s prevalence, we haven’t ventured much from the house over these last days and probably won’t be taking the children to many indoor spaces, given that they are too young to have been vaccinated. We do plan a visit to Paco later this week. When the weather is better, we will also be able to go to the parks and take rides on the carousels for which Broome County is known.
My younger sister is here visiting and helping with Paco and my older sister and her spouse will arrive next week for a few days. My plan is to carve out a bit of time for some posts which will update topics about which I frequently post; I’m hoping to be brief, which is always a challenge for me!
Let’s see if I manage to follow through with this plan…
Or maybe I only believe in luck, given that no amount of thought, planning, and preparation seems adequate?
Hard to say…
Was it lucky that Paco, after literally months of not being able to even remember how to even answer his phone, suddenly remembered how yesterday?
I thought that maybe he was recovering some brain function that we thought had been permanently lost in his falls in June.
Or was it unlucky because he called me at 12:45 AM to ask about a dental appointment that was on his calendar that he didn’t remember going to?
I called the aide station and asked for them to remove the receivers from his room. I also hoped that he would go to sleep. It was odd that he was awake at that hour because he hadn’t slept much during the day, either, and lately he has been napping extensively and sleeping all night.
At 1:45 AM, my phone rang again. It was Paco, calling to tell me that his phone wasn’t working. The aide hadn’t realized that there were two wireless handsets and Paco had found the second one, most likely the one on the homebase that was hidden behind his television.
I called the aide station to ask them to get the second handset out of there, which they presumably did, but I, who had only slept maybe an hour before the first call came in and not since, still couldn’t go back to sleep so I got up and did a bit of correspondence and finally went to sleep sometime after 3:30.
Of course, I was awake by 7.
On Saturday morning, the nursing home has a singalong at 10:00. Singalongs are by far Paco’s favorite activity, so I had planned to stay at home this morning and spend a few hours finishing touch-ups and a cover letter to submit my poetry collection to a press for consideration, but I don’t know if I have enough brain to do it.
Stream of consciousness blogging is one thing; editing poetry and following detailed submission instructions is another. I’m not sure my brain can handle the second.
It’s too bad I don’t drink coffee.
Or anything with caffeine.
Or that my body doesn’t seem to have the same effects from caffeine that most people do.
So, if I’m lucky, at some point this weekend, I’ll have enough brainpower to get the manuscript sent out.
If I’m really lucky, Paco will retain his phone calling ability while regaining his sense of night and day, which seemed to have failed him yesterday even as his phone skills reappeared.
But, yeah, it’s not really about luck, is it?
It’s about dementia and its progression and my worry and the taxing of my coping skills after so many years of caregiving for a succession of people with myriad needs.
On July tenth, there was a rare island of normalcy.
Or an almost normal version of a rare event.
I participated in a live poetry reading in conjunction with the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum. The reading was part of the Summer Art Festival, a collaboration of the Museum and the Vestal Public Library. Several of the poets from the Binghamton Poetry Project who have work included in Empty the Inkpots read from the stage/deck at the Museum with the audience arrayed in scattered chairs and benches and on the lawn. It was the first time in many months that I have participated in a live-and-in-person poetry reading. It had been even longer since I had had to read with a microphone. The amplification was useful because the museum is near a busy roadway.
I chose not to read the poem I had on display, which is about the early months of the pandemic; it is available at the link above. Instead, I read three poems from my manuscript about the North Adams, Massachusetts where I grew up. “Conveyance” appeared in the spring 2021 anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The other two poems, “North Adams Public Library” and “Monroe Bridge Mail”, are currently unpublished so I won’t share them here.
I was very happy with the reading on a number of counts. First, there were people in the audience who came at my invitation, including one who saw my Facebook announcement of the event. Second, though I was nervous before, I was reasonably comfortable during the reading, even managing the microphone adjustment without much trouble. Third, the reading was well-appreciated by our audience. We had six poets, with diverse styles and viewpoints, represented. We read in alphabetical order. Uncharacteristically, I was not first, which was helpful for me. I like to read early in the order, but I’m better at reading second than first. I was also grateful that the most experienced poet and performer was last as it gave a strong finish to event. No one should have to follow J. Barrett Wolf at a reading!
Lastly, I was pleased to receive personal compliments after the reading from family and friends, some of whom are also poets. What was most heart-warming was that a woman that I did not know came up to me afterward and told me how much she enjoyed my poems and asked where she could find my work. Of course, I don’t have any books of my own out, but I was able to give her my paper copies of my poems, which included my bio for the exhibit and the address for Top of JC’s Mind.
The reading was an island of normalcy not only because of the pandemic but also because most of my time these days has been wrapped up in dealing with the care of my 96-year-old dad who is currently in a rehab/skilled nursing facility after a fall and ensuing complications. It’s why it has taken me so long to post about the reading.
It’s also why, for the first time in years, I am not registered for the current sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project. I am usually visiting my father in the early evenings. Even if another family member is available to visit, I can’t predict if I will have any creativity/brainpower left late in the day.
It’s made the reading that much more important as a reminder that my poetry life is still there, waiting for me to go back to it when things are more settled.
The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.
This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.
We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.
Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.
Yesterday, when I read that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “yarn,” the very first thing I thought of was my friend Merrill Oliver Douglas’s chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. The title poem is about yarn bombing. For someone who may not be familiar with the term, yarn bombing is when someone puts yarn, usually knitted, on unusual objects, like parking meters, or tree trunks, or lampposts. It’s a fun and quirky form of public art.
Things have been pretty quiet here at Top of JC’s Mind for the past few days because I was back in North Adams on a solo writing retreat to work on my poetry collection.
I’m happy to report that I have the bulk of the manuscript assembled, including a few pieces that I wrote this week. There is only one blank page with just a title; I’m hoping to get that poem written and integrated into the manuscript over the holiday weekend. I also need to write a foreword and a notes and acknowledgements section at the end. When I have the draft complete, I will ask my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, to do a group review/critique for me, with the goal of having it ready to submit by mid-July.
This collection has been in development for a looooong time. In November, 2015, I took a leap of faith and applied to attend a week-long workshop/residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a collaboration between The Studios at MASS MoCA, which had, at the time, only been in operation for a few weeks, and Tupelo Press under the direction of Jeffrey Levine. I was accepted, even though I was a relatively new poet at that point. Had it not been in that particular place, I would not have even applied, but I grew up in the North Adams area and had hopes that a chapbook might grow out of the experience, given the intersection of my personal and family history with the current, very different reality there. Case in point: MASS MoCA occupies the complex that housed Sprague Electric when I was growing up but that started out as Arnold Print Works that made textiles. (If you are interested in how the week went, you can check my blog archive for Nov. 2015, as I blogged every day of the residency.)
Short version of the story is that I was in way over my head, but was saved from going under by my fellow poets. We all bonded so well that we have returned to MASS MoCA every year (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) for a reunion residency as the Boiler House Poets Collective.
So, two things happened to my initial idea of writing a chapbook about my family and the North Adams area. I realized pretty quickly that a chapbook would be too short, so it would need to be a collection. Also, life intervened in the form of a long and ongoing period of inter-generational caregiving, which made the time required to devote myself to the project scarce.
There have been two other attempts at this collection, both of which failed miserably in review. I learned a lot from the failures – at least, I hope I have – and this new iteration of the manuscript has a (I hope) more compelling focus.
We’ll see how manuscript review goes…
There are over fifty poems in the collection and over seventy pages, so there is room for cuts if needed. Most publishers expect collections to be between fifty and one hundred pages, so there is some space for adjustment.
While members of the Grapevine Group have seen a lot of the individual poems, this will be the first time they have seen the manuscript. The two prior iterations of the collection were with Boiler House Poets Collective, back before Grapevine started doing manuscript reviews within the group. The exception is my friend Jessica, who is a member of both groups. It will be especially interesting to see her reaction to this newest iteration.
After Grapevine review and edits, I may see if any other BHPC poets want to weigh in – or maybe even before, if any of them are especially keen on the concept/subject to my begging/gluttons for punishment/very bored.
At any rate, come mid-summer, I’m hoping to start doing submissions with the collection. Then, in the fall and winter, the rejections will start rolling in, where they can join the growing list of rejections for my chapbook manuscript in my submission database.
Eventually, one of them may make it into print. The chapbook has been both a semi-finalist and finalist in contests. So, someday?
This version of the collection is definitely stronger than the two prior attempts. So, maybe, someday?
If it happens, you will definitely be able to read about it at Top of JC’s Mind, which will probably be around even though it is cheugy. I just learned that word…
Or, if the chapbook or collection gets accepted for publication, you may just be able to hear me scream, even if you are not close by. 😉
As I announced in this post, I am spending a few days back in North Adams to work on my poetry collection.
I went to MASS MoCA today and was pleased to be in a good poetry flow! I drafted three poems that will make their way into the manuscript and a fourth that will be a possibility for submission to journals.
I also ate ice cream twice – a dish of ginger ice cream from Lickety Split in MASS MoCA and a mocha sundae from Triple Scoop, a nearby ice cream shop. Mocha is very important here. There are two poems about it in the collection already.
Dashing off this post and then back to my poems from today, getting the drafts into my computer and editing a bit…
I was never much of a stats person with my blog and have become even less so in the last few years as I’ve been needing to spend a lot of brainpower on caregiving, but, every once in a while, I do notice my number of followers which, as I write this, is now 1602!
Thank you to all of you and to anyone who reads any of my posts, whether you choose to follow or not!
I appreciate your patience with my haphazard blogging approach, where I post without having any schedule whatsoever about whatever is at the top of my mind – or was at the top of my mind at some point but took a few days to make it out onto the page. I realize that some of you are only interested in poetry posts or political ones or family ones, so thank you for checking back in to find your favorites.
Next week, I am headed back to North Adams for a few days to work on my poetry collection. Usually, when I go back there, I blog every day, but I’m not putting that pressure on myself this time. Maybe posts will start sloshing around in my head and I’ll post to get them out and have a change of pace from poetry – or maybe not.
So, I should close with instructions on how to follow me, for those who may be new to such things. There are widgets here to follow if you have your own blog or if you want to follow by email. You can also follow the blog’s Facebook page and/or my twitter, both of which always have links appear when I post. I also usually send new blog posts via ello, if anyone has a presence there.
As I have been posting about since early April, the Broome County (NY) Arts Council and WordPlace at the Bundy Museum have been sponsoring a series of weekly Zoom poetry readings with Q&A. The final reading in the series, featuring Craig Czury, Neil Silberblatt, and Richard Bernstein, is now available here: https://broomearts.org/education/the-gift-of-poets/
Unlike the other weeks, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of these poets in person, so don’t have any personal insights to share. Perhaps, I will have the opportunity to do so in the future.
If you haven’t been keeping up with our series, there are links to all the prior weeks’ recordings at the link above or on the BCAC YouTube channel.
And in case you missed my babbling about it, this post is about the week where I was one of the featured poets!
I am also pleased to announce that the BCAC and WordPlace are planning an ongoing monthly series of poets with readings and conversation. I will be sure to post about it here as they become available. As always, stay tuned!