A normal-rare event

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 The other two poems, “North Adams Public Library” and “Monroe Bridge Mail”, are currently unpublished so I won’t share them here.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.

Someday.

so many roses!

rose

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.

with

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.

Nana would have loved it.

SoCS: yarn bombing

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.

While that poem is about yarn bombing, the chapbook itself follows a woman’s life through the decades. Check it out!
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Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/06/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-5-2021/

SoCS: collection

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. 😉

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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “collect.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/05/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-29-2021/

poetry flow

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…

1602!

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.

I’ll spare you my LinkedIn…

Nat’l Poetry Month double overtime

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!

Nat’l Poetry Month overtime

The poetry reading series from the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace at the Bundy Museum that began with National Poetry Month in April has gone into overtime! This week’s offering is available here, along with the prior weeks’ readings.

Featured this week are Robert Ruane, Joshua Lewis, Merrill Douglas, and Joshua Grosse, who is a Binghamton University undergraduate. I appreciate hearing from one of the younger voices in our local poetry community.

I first met Bob Ruane through the Binghamton Poetry Project but have also seen him at various Catholic social justice gatherings over the years. Bob has an amazing memory, what we would have called in my New England hometown having “a mind like a steel trap.” His poems overflow with details of what he sees and hears. He currently has a poem on display at the Vestal Museum as part of the Empty the Inkpots exhibit in conjunction with the Binghamton Poetry Project.

Josh Lewis earned his PhD from Binghamton University and has facilitated poetry writing workshops through the Broome County Arts Council. My attendance at these is how we became acquainted. He edited and contributed to Transformations, a collaborative chapbook by some of the BCAC poets, which became available almost exactly a year ago. He has recently started a new blog, The Rain Healer.

Merrill Douglas is one of the stalwarts of the Grapevine Group, my local poet-friends who meet regularly to workshop our poems. We first met, though, when her son and one of my daughters were in middle school together, back in the days before I was writing. Merrill is a very astute reader and always gives me very insightful editorial suggestions. I especially admire her ability to choose just the right details and imagery to draw the reader into her poems. I was pleased that Barrett chose to ask her about her use of detail in the Q&A segment after she reads. I’m pleased to share links to samples of her work, as well as the all-important link to order her chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids, here. Local folks can also find her book in the BCAC Artisan Gallery and in the Museum Shop at the Bundy.

Enjoy!

A POETREE

For the recently concluded National Poetry Month, the Broome County Arts Council invited local poets to contribute a short poem about spring, hope, and/or other positive things for their POETREE.

I had hoped to make it down to the gallery to see it and take photos for this post, but I didn’t manage to do that. Instead, I have copied the poem I wrote especially for the project below:

Why We Will Never Use Weedkillers
by Joanne Corey

Every spring, we watch
the jagged-edged three-ness
of strawberry leaves emerge
from the snowmelt-soaked
lawn, the white five-petaled
blossoms attract the bees
to their sunny centers,
the green-white berries
ripen to red in June,
the squirrels feasting.

SoCS: poetic concentration

These past few weeks may be the highest concentration of posts about poetry that I have ever done here at Top of JC’s Mind.

By coincidence, I’ve been involved with several readings and anthology launches in recent weeks.

Well, it may be coincidence or it may be that it was because April is National Poetry Month here in the US, although only some of the poetic activities were connected to Poetry Month.

I’m actually expecting to have several more poet-y posts coming up over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

If nothing else, the poetry posts break up the political ones. 😉

While this may be shameless, I will close with my favorite recent poetry post link: https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2021/04/19/natl-poetry-month-celebration-with-me/. It was my first time as a featured poet in a reading and I’m still super-excited about it.

You may be thinking, but I don’t understand poetry. I promise that I am not inscrutable, though, so maybe you can give it a try! If you do, I hope you enjoy!

(And, yes, it may be cheating to use SoCS to promote other posts. If so, my apologies to Linda.)

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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “may.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/04/30/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1-2021/