Smith 35th!

On Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts for my 35th reunion at Smith College.

Thursday is light on scheduled activities, as many participants can’t arrive until later in the weekend, but it gives those of us who do have the opportunity to get started on heavy-duty reminiscing, as well as catching up on our current lives and loves. We spent hours chatting at our headquarters and over dinner at the Cutter-Ziskind House dining room. We reflected in a special way on the classmates we have lost over the years; our class memorial chairs thoughtfully prepared a compendium of our deceased classmates which brought each of them to mind for us.

Friday presented us with a number of options for presentations and reflections. In the morning, I chose to attend a faculty presentation by Ellen Doré Watson, entitled “How Poems Mean.” It was held at the Poetry Center, of which she is the current director. We filled the room with women (and one spouse of the male persuasion) and read and discussed poems from a thick packet that Ellen had compiled for us, illustrating how poets convey meaning to readers/listeners. After the presentation, I perused the collection of poetry books and journals, spending the most time with the shelves devoted to alumnae poets. I was especially excited to see the books of Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, with whom I have sung with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. Anne is one of my poetry godmothers, who has always been generous in giving encouragement and advice. I was pleased to have a bit of time to speak with Ellen personally after the gathering had dispersed. I hope to meet her again, perhaps for manuscript review through the Colrain conferences or when I return to campus.

After lunch, a classmate and I walked around campus, enjoying the exercise, our surroundings, and conversation. We were able to visit Haven House, where I lived all four years. It has had extensive renovations since then, so it was interesting to see what had changed – which is nearly everything. I was touched, though, that our wooden mailboxes remain in place, even though students now receive mail through boxes at the Student Center. Even more amazing was that our napkin boxes are still there. In our student days, Haven had its own kitchen and dining room for our residents and those of our sister-house Wesley. We each had our own cloth napkin, which was kept in a labelled cubby near the dining room entrance, taken out and returned there for each meal. The college laundered them every week. Now, dining is concentrated in fewer locations with recycled paper napkins available, but I admit to feeling nostalgic for our student days with homestyle serving most evenings – and candlelight on Thursdays.

Later in the afternoon, I helped to host the Alumnae Chorus reception, along with other Alumnae Chorus members from the class of ’82. We are always on the lookout for other singing alums to join us for events, on campus, in the US, and abroad. We were excited to have Alice Parker ’47 join us, along with a number of her classmates! While we were students, we sang her works, including a commission for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel. The Alumnae Chorus was honored to sing in a tribute concert for and with her in 2014. Alumnae Chorus will be doing a US event in 2018 and another international tour in 2019, so we have a lot to look forward to!

Next was a class dinner, which President Kathleen McCartney visited. This is our first reunion since she became president. I was so impressed with her warmth and Smith-spirit! Smith is lucky to have her at the helm.

After dinner, we returned to our class headquarters for “A Night of Passion” in which classmates shared what they are passionate about. Language, music, nature, quilting and fabric art, writing, and more – each presentation uniquely fascinating.  I participated by reading an excerpt from this blog post about meeting up with Smith friends and two Smith related poems, including “Lessons from Mahler”. I so appreciated the warm reception from my classmates, most of whom remember me, if they do at all, as the organist I was in our campus days. It was so affirming to my current poet-identity to have them react so positively to my poems.

When I fell into my dorm-bed in my room overlooking the lawn where the diploma circle was held after commencement last Sunday, I felt content – and really, really tired. I’m not used to being on the fourth floor…

SoCS: poetic language

This week in a meeting of my poetry critique group, I managed to say that I can’t write poems with cursing or profanity, which led to a lively discussion of the use of language, in poems and in general.

I was brought up to use proper English at all times and not to swear. Unlike today, where cursing, profanity, and slang is used frequently and is nearly impossible to avoid, when I was growing up, in a town of two hundred souls in rural New England, one seldom heard any colorful language – or backtalk. I do remember our first through fourth grade teacher literally washing out a boy’s mouth with soap once, but I don’t know what he said to warrant that reaction from the teacher. Actually, I’m pretty sure she could have gotten in trouble as corporal punishment was not allowed in Massachusetts schools, but I doubt anyone would have reported it.

Someone did ask me what I would say if I dropped a roast from the oven onto my foot and I were totally alone in the house. I would probably say, “Ouch!” or maybe I would just start crying.

One of the poets thought I should do an assignment: to write a poem with profanity, but that isn’t going to happen. It wouldn’t be true to who I am and I think that that would show. Plus, I wouldn’t be able to read it aloud. I find it difficult, if not impossible to say certain words aloud, even if they are on a page in front of me. Good thing I didn’t get to take acting classes because I would probably be bad at it. I would only be able to play characters who never swear!

As it was, just the discussion had me blushing!

And now you know why my language here at Top of JC’s Mind is so tame…
*****
This (politely worded) post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday series. This week’s prompt is “language.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/05/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1317/

 

poetic convergence

On Saturday, a poet-friend from Sappho’s Circle and Grapevine Group and I went to Ithaca to the Spring Writes! Literary Arts Festival. Our primary purpose was to hear Heather Dorn, the founder of Sappho’s Circle, and her friend Sarah Jefferis read some of their poems. Here is the blurb from the festival program, with links to their author pages:

Reading: What Enters the Mouth and How to Play House 
Dr. Heather Dorn and Dr. Sarah Jefferis will read from their new poetry collections. Heather Dorn is the founder of Sappho’s Circle: A Women’s Writing Workshop for local women poets in Binghamton NY. Her work can be found in Requited, Ragazine, the Kentucky Review, the Paterson Literary Review, and other similar journals. Her first book of poetry, How to Play House, is forthcoming from NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, in September. Local author Sarah Jefferis will read from What Enters the Mouth, poems about surviving trauma and poverty in the South. “Fearless poems- a reckoning of the violences of girlhood rendered with grit and clarity.” – Ansel Elkins.

The reading was amazing! Their poems are very powerful and not infrequently heart-breaking. It was especially interesting to me to hear Heather read a couple of poems that I had heard her read previously, as time and a new audience can cause modulation in the presentation. I also got to observe how they structured a longer reading session. I am more used to attending open mic, where each poet reads just two or three poems, so I appreciated how they each chose among their poems to vary the mood and pacing.

The biggest surprise was when Sarah told us that she had just returned from a residency program with Tupelo Press at MASS MoCA. As my poet-friends know, I was blessed beyond belief to attend the first residency collaboration between Tupelo and the museum in November, 2015, which led to the formation of my beloved Boiler House Poets. You can view the video reading from that residency and the collaborative videopoem from our first reunion residency. We also have a book which sprang from an exercise we did with Jeffrey Levine during our first residency. Plans are already in place for our second reunion residency this fall. (There are numerous blog posts on the residencies. You can search the MASS MoCA tag or in the archives for November 2015 and September/October 2016.)

After the reading, we joined Sarah, Heather and her husband for lunch. It was nice to talk about poetry, education, and family over delicious Asian cuisine.

Later in the afternoon, we attended a panel discussion about publishing a first book after forty. We had another nice surprise when two more Grapevine poets appeared in the audience. It was interesting to hear about people’s journeys to publishing a book at 40+; as a poet who didn’t start writing until reaching my fifties, if I ever publish a book, I will fall into that category. I admit, though, that I was feeling insecure because it seemed that everyone on the panel and a good number of people who asked questions in the audience were English teachers and/or MFAs. Given that I am neither of those things nor someone who studied English and creative writing in college, I was wondering if there is still a path for me. Fortunately, on the drive home, my friend was able to offer some perspective for me. So my hope for my book is still alive, even though it will likely take longer to complete and submit than I had hoped.

Life does give poets something to say, but its demands can slow the writing process down.

Beatrix Potter, mushrooms, and more

Blogger-friend and fellow Smith alumna Steph has an interesting new post, blending Beatrix Potter, poetry, mushrooms, and more. Check it out!

https://wordwomanpartialellipsisofthesun.blogspot.com/2017/04/gaiman-fun-guy-on-beatrix-potter.html

Beauty and the Beast

Having given up on the concept of chronology in blogposting, I thought today I’d post on going to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast film with spouse B and daughter T last week while we were in Missouri to visit T.

I remember going to see the animated Disney film with daughter E, who would have been about five years old at the time, with T being too young for movies. I was impressed with the beauty of the animation in the opening sequence and knew that we would buy and watch the video many, many times. We later had the soundtrack of the Broadway version. I was very interested in how this new, live-action film would fit into the Disney history with these other versions.

I was impressed with the new film. What I most appreciated was the addition of depth of characterization and backstory. Maurice, Belle’s father, is portrayed in a much fuller and more poignant way, set up by a new song near the beginning of the movie. We also learn more about Belle’s mother and about the prince’s parents, which makes the plot flow more easily.

I appreciated the new songs, which brought more emotion to the story, and which gave us an opportunity to hear the glorious voice of Audra McDonald.  I thought that Emma Watson did a good job as Belle and that her singing served the characterization well. I also liked the richness of the orchestration and the chorus numbers.

All in all, I liked this version of the story because it is more human – which is the moral of the story.

Binghamton Poetry Project – Spring 2017

March was very hectic, but I did manage to attend four of five sessions for the Binghamton Poetry Project. Our reading took place on April first, but I missed it as it was the same afternoon as our University Chorus concert.

I haven’t had a chance to collect my anthology yet, but these three poems are my contribution. The first two were written from prompts during our sessions and the last one I wrote in response to the tongue-in-cheek suggestion of one of the Grapevine Group poets that we each write a snow poem after our big storm.

Enjoy! (And comment if you are so moved…)

Pneumonia

Her breaths are fast and shallow
between coughs.
I untie her sneakers,
work them off,
pull of her socks,
help her out of her shirt and pants,
slip her nightgown on.

She sits on the edge
of the bed,
pivots to lie down,
but needs me to lift
her feet.
I pull up the covers,
close the door,
and wait for the X-ray results.

*****

Two Hearts

Her cardiac rehab is Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

He rides with her in the retirement home van,
helps her navigate into the lift with her walker,
sits with her in the waiting room
until she is called into therapy
where he is not allowed to follow.

He waits.

Her exercises accomplished,
they board the van for the ride
back home to their apartment
where lunch awaits.

After sixty-two years of marriage,
he does not want her to go
alone.

*****

Nor’easter Numbers

The forecast was for an inch overnight
with Five to Eight to follow;
then, One to Three
with Six to Nine.

I rose before the daylight-saving
delayed dawn to find
a foot of snow already down,
consequence of a more westerly
track
plus
a stall.

My strategy,
born of long-ago New England winters,
to clear the overnight
accumulation from the driveway,
then shovel
every few inches,
add in the front walk
and path to the mailbox
as strength allows.

A good plan,
but overly ambitious
for a Five foot One-and-a-half inch
Fifty-six-year-old
alone
with a shovel
contending with the wake
of snowplows
and snow falling at Two
or Three
or Four
inches
an hour,
Twenty-seven inches
by Five o’clock
and still snowing.

Seven bouts of shoveling,
Twelve thousand, ninety-one Fitbit steps,
and Two blessed assists
from the neighbors’ snowblower
yield a driveway cleared to a road
under a county-wide travel ban,
a path to a mailbox that may
be filled with today’s mail
tomorrow,

weather permitting.

Mount Etna and more!

Check out spectacular geologic images from Steph at this link:  http://wordwomanpartialellipsisofthesun.blogspot.com/2017/03/smoking-smoke-rings-mount-etna-sicily.html  I especially appreciate the Mount Etna photos because I visited there when the Smith College Alumnae Chorus toured Sicily.  Be sure to check out the bonus images in the first comment from Steph, aka Word Woman.  Enjoy!