two chapbooks to order!

I’m excited to share pre-order news for two forthcoming chapbooks by Boiler House Poets Collective members through Finishing Line Press. It was my privilege to be involved in manuscript reviews with the poets for both chapbooks, so I know firsthand that they are fantastic!

Girl, Woman, Bird by Katherine (Kay) Morgan encompasses personal and national history and the natural world, especially birds. Kay also shares her gift for ekphrastic poems in this chapbook, as one might expect from one of the original Boiler House poets who met during a residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, although the art that invokes these poems is not all contemporary. Girl, Woman, Bird is available for pre-order now and will begin to ship on March 18th.

For Dear Life by Jessica Dubey reflects on the impacts of her husband’s brain surgery and recovery on their lives. Besides being a member of Boiler House, Jessica is also part of my local poetry workshop, the Grapevine Group, so I was able to witness the creation of this chapbook poem by poem. Jessica’s ability to take us through such difficult terrain is stunning. For Dear Life may be ordered now for shipment beginning May 13.

Check out the links for additional information and ordering. I already have my orders in for both!
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/16/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-16th-2022/

1500 (depending how you count)

I am not at all diligent about my blog stats, but WordPress continues to throw some info into my notifications, so I know that I’ve just reached 1500 WordPress followers!

My blog page itself says I have 1,682 followers, which includes followers by email, twitter, and through my Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page.

Either way, yay!

I know that only a few dozen people read my blog on any kind of regular basis and fewer than that comment online, although it still takes me by surprise when I get comments in person from friends, as though I think only cyberfolks read my blog.

Whoever you are, whether you read regularly, occasionally, or just this one post, I’m grateful for your visit and invite you to return whenever you can. This is my 1,561st post, so, whether your interest is poetry, politics, the environment, spirituality, family life, health, or generalized musings, you can probably find something of interest in my archives.

This year, I’m hoping to pay more attention to my “JC’s Confessions” and “How does JC’s Mind Work?” series.

Admittedly, that involves my mind actually working. These last few years have been such a struggle as our family has dealt with the loss of the last three members of the elder generation, B’s mom, known here as Grandma, and my parents, known here – and in real life – as Nana and Paco. Grief still has me feeling scattered, but I’m trying to regain some focus. Maybe, eventually, I’ll even return to having some kind of a predictable rhythm to my days, including writing time. It’s been ages since I’ve had that.

We’ll see.

Whatever happens, I’m sure I will eventually put it into words here at Top of JC’s Mind.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/02/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-2nd-2022/

40+ years of “A Christmas Carol”

On Sunday, T and I went to see a production of A Christmas Carol at Cider Mill Stage. This particular staging of the Charles Dickens classic was first conceived and produced in 1979 by Binghamton University professor John Bielenberg and the original cast as a play within a play, with the actors performing the story in the bedroom of a child who is recovering from an illness and must avoid crowds, something that seems even more ominous in our current pandemic days. Fortunately for the actors, there is an adjacent (and oddly well-stocked) attic that affords costumes and props for the impromptu performance, although one of the charms of the show has always been seeing a few caps and scarves and capes re-purposed to accommodate a range of characters and uses. A scarf is not just a piece of clothing but can also be a leash for a dog or the reins for a shaggy pony.

When T and I arrived, we were surprised and pleased to find a poster listing all the known cast and crew members of A Christmas Carol over the decades. This included T and her sister E who played the sick child, which also involves portraying Tiny Tim, for nineteen performances each in the late 1990s-early 2000s. E was in the cast the last year that John Bielenberg played Scrooge before his retirement. T’s Scrooge was Bill Gorman, who was also a member of the original 1979 cast. Their productions were directed by Tom Kremer and Carol Hanscom, also original cast members.

Because of our familiarity and past experience, the Cider Mill production of A Christmas Carol has continued to be close to our hearts but the performance Sunday was even more emotional. Tom Kremer, who is now portraying Scrooge, came out before the play began to dedicate the performance to Claus Evans, original and long-time cast member who had recently passed away. Claus had played the Ghost of Christmas Present, Mr. Fezziwig, and other ensemble characters for most of the first forty years. He had a commanding stage presence and a powerful voice, especially when singing. This version of A Christmas Carol, while not a musical in the traditional sense, does involve a fair amount of incidental music, both traditional pieces and new music composed by original cast member Susan J. Peters and current cast member Ken Martinak. I admit that I teared up during the Fezziwig party scene, remembering the brio with which Claus sang “Wassail! Wassail! All Over the Town”.

While not able to match Claus’s singing prowess, Brad Morgan did a fine job with Fezziwig and Ghost of Christmas Present. His first year in the cast was the year that E was in the production when he was quite a young man. I remember him struggling in rehearsal to accurately deliver the Dickensian language of the ghost of Jacob Marley. I was particularly impressed with his portrayal now, which has a chilling depth and pathos. Brad also deserves a lot of credit for keeping the production alive during some years of upheaval at the Cider Mill after the original Cider Mill Playhouse closed. Thankfully, the play is now back in the space for which it was designed under the name Cider Mill Stage. And yes, there is a cider mill in the front of the building, active in the late summer through early fall. The theater area was originally a storage space for apples.

I hope that A Christmas Carol will continue to grace the Cider Mill and the Binghamton area for decades to come, spreading its message of the importance for caring for one another, regardless of the season of the year.

“And, as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God bless us, every one!'”

what I’ve been writing

Although you can’t tell from the count of my recent blog posts, I have been carving out some writing time.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell that from my poetry output either, although I do have one recently written and accepted piece that I will share when it is published. I have had to compose a fair number of cover letters as I have done quite a few chapbook and full-length submissions, as well as some individual poems. I’ve gotten a number of rejections, but currently have the chapbook manuscript under consideration in four places and the collection in nine. I can hear my fellow poets saying that’s not enough, but I’m hoping to get a few more in later this week.

I spent a major amount of time thinking about, writing, and editing comments for a listening session with our bishop in preparation for a diocesan synod and the World Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to discern the future path of the church. The official title in English is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. In keeping with this, individuals were asked to share our hopes, dreams, and experiences with the church and our visions for the future. I chose to focus on the voices that have been marginalized in the church, concentrating on the voices of women. I prepared written remarks and then a shorter version that I could read aloud at the session within our three minute time limit. I do not like speaking in public but, inspired by others, especially some teens and young adults, I managed to do it. There was a lot of “speaking truth to power” at our session, one of at least twenty planned for our diocese, which is doing a credible job in reaching out to the people. Some diocese around the world are not doing much outreach, which could limit the effectiveness of the process when the bishops convene in 2023.

I have also been doing some holiday-related writing. My first priority was to write a letter to people on my parents’ Christmas card list who may not have heard about Paco’s death in September or even Nana’s in May 2019. It was difficult to write but I’m glad that I made myself do it because I heard back from several people who expressed their sympathies and shared memories with me. I also had the opportunity to do some reflective writing about this in conjunction with a support group I have been attending on preparing for the holidays after the loss of loved ones.

After sending out the letter to my parents’ friends, I tackled my own list, which was a bit more complicated. I did a family newsletter, still a difficult thing when having to report a death, that went in some cards, while others got a handwritten note or just a signed brief greeting, depending on how regularly I have been in contact with the recipient. All the addressing, stuffing, and stamping of envelopes adds to the time involved but most of them are in the mail now. A few are set aside for other members of the family to complete.

Now, there is, finally, this blog post. I’d like to say that I will post regularly from now on but I know that would be more wishful thinking than promise. B, T, and I are preparing for an extended holiday trip, which could create more leisure time for writing or be a total whirlwind with too little sleep to be cogent.

Which will it be? Stay tuned…

holiday mail – part one

One of my most important priorities for the year-end holiday season has been sending greetings to a wide range of people from all the different eras of my life. For some of the people on my list, it was the only time of year we would be in touch. The task of preparing the cards was quite elaborate, choosing the right card for the each recipient, deciding on a brief handwritten note or a longer printed letter, even matching the postage stamp and Christmas seal to align with the religious beliefs of the person.

My accustomed process has been abandoned over these last few stressful years, with other family members helping and sometimes with me abandoning cards altogether and just sending letters, no longer personalized as I had been wont to do back in the day.

This year is one of the difficult ones.

It’s hard for me to send cards with a note telling about a death, which I need to do again this year because of Paco. We are being advised to mail extra early this year because the US mail is slower than it used to be. Also, we hope to travel over the holidays and I need to get everything done before we leave.

Despite all that, I haven’t started on my list yet.

Part of it is that it is difficult to muster energy to do things, especially emotional things like writing. It’s a common aspect with grief but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.

The other block I was having was knowing that I needed to write to some of the people on my parents’ Christmas card list to let them know what has happened. I knew there were some people who probably didn’t even know about Nana’s death, let alone Paco’s, as the last time some on the list would have heard from them was four years ago when I helped put together a letter to send out.

I had promised myself not to start on my own cards until I had taken care of Nana and Paco’s friends but it was difficult to get going on that. I wound up drafting the letter in the middle of the night-before-last when I couldn’t sleep. Today, I printed and addressed envelopes and brought them to the mailbox. I’m hoping that all of them will get delivered, as I don’t know if any of the recipients may have moved.

Theoretically, I could be working on my own cards and letters right now, but, instead, I’m writing this post. I’m not sure if it is procrastination or if I have used up my energy for the day.

We’ll see.

If not later today, maybe tomorrow?

Sondheim

Because of the recent death of Stephen Sondheim, we have been graced with a lot of his music, lyrics, and interviews, which have been poignant, searing, and heart-breaking, in turns. He was instrumental in opening the possibilities into what musicals could be. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda has acknowledged that there would not have been Hamilton had it not been for Sondheim paving the way.

I remember singing a choral medley from Sondheim’s Company when I was in high school and seeing a community theater production of it, which was pretty amazing for a small-town girl. Even then, I could appreciate his incredible way of melding lyrics, melody, and story.

Most of my Sondheim memories, though, are in relation to my daughters E and T.

E’s favorite Sondheim musical as a child was Into the Woods. She especially enjoyed singing Little Red’s songs. When T, who is four years younger, got to be old enough to watch, we initially only let her watch the first act, which follows the fairy tales up to the “happily ever after” bit. We thought that the second act, which gets pretty grim, would be too much for her, but E, ever the big sister, told her what happened, so, soon, she too was watching the whole play. E and T later got to see a revival of Into the Woods on Broadway, courtesy of their NYC aunt.

T’s favorite Sondheim musical was Sunday in the Park with George. She used to sing along – and then sing parts of the score a cappella around the house. If you know the work at all, you know that it is incredibly difficult to sing, but no one told T that, so she just went along and did it.

My most poignant personal memory of a Sondheim song, though, involves a musical which is too disturbing for me to cope with, Sweeney Todd. In the summer of 2001, then teenaged daughter E sang “Not While I’m Around” during a summer theater workshop performance. A few weeks later, after the 9/11 attacks, I found it strangely comforting to remember her singing,

No one’s gonna hurt you
No one’s gonna dare
Others can desert you
Not to worry, whistle I’ll be there
Demons’ll charm you with a smile
For a while
But in time
Nothing’s gonna harm you
Not while I’m around

It wasn’t that I felt personally under threat from terrorists, but, somehow, a young voice singing protection from evil was comforting and hopeful in a way that rational thought was not.

It’s part of the power of music.

Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for all the music and story and power and pathos and humanity you gave us over the decades. We will continue learning from you for many years to come.

BPP online anthology link

The fall online anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project is now posted here. I had written about it in this post, which I have updated with the link, but thought I’d do a new post announcing it because quite a bit of time has passed. Enjoy!

Wise words from Ada Limón

Poet Ada Limón gave a great reading last night under the auspices of the Binghamton Center for Writers as part of their Distinguished Writers Series.

During the Q&A, she said something that I want to remember – I’m paraphrasing here – that what makes you a writer is not writing every day because some days we are called to read or be with family or take walks, that even if we need to take a break from writing for six months or six years, we are still writers.

Given the massive holes I have experienced with my writing, and especially with my poetry, I found this very comforting. While I have been working on writing more and have gotten five submissions in so far this week, I do have days where I can’t face writing at all. I appreciated the reminder that that is okay.

I recommend listening to the reading and Q&A at the link above. There were some technical difficulties midway through which I’m not sure are on the recording. If you hit a patch where nothing is happening, just go forward about ten minutes and enjoy the second half.

Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2021

So, I haven’t been posting as much as I intended these last few weeks, but (for once) I have a writing-related excuse.

I’ve been spending a lot of my creative time on poetry.

The most vital piece of that has been connected to my full-length poetry collection. I was finally able to hold a long-delayed workshop session with the Grapevine Group, my local poetry circle, and do revisions. On Friday, I sent out the newly revised manuscript to a publisher for the first time. I hope to send more submissions for both the collection and my chapbook over the next couple of weeks. Given the necessary slowdown of my writing activities during my father’s final months, I haven’t submitted much for a long time, but the rejections have been rolling in, leaving me with very few active submissions. Besides manuscript submissions, I hope to put in some individual poem ones, too. Fingers crossed…

Meanwhile, the Binghamton Poetry Project has been holding its fall sessions. I chose to attend a workshop called Poetic Yearnings: Desire, Place, and the Placeless with Nicholas Kanaar. I write a lot of poetry of place, so it was a good fit for me. Due to the pandemic, we are still meeting online instead of in person. Our fall 2021 online anthology includes three poems I wrote in response to prompts from the workshop along with the work of other BPP poets. Yesterday, we also held a reading via Zoom. I chose to read three poems of place from my manuscript, which revolves around the area from which I and several generations of my family hail.

I am determined to get more submissions in soon and will try to update you on my progress. If I get anything accepted, I will certainly let you all know ASAP. The only way that will happen soon, though, is if I manage to get accepted in a publication that has a very quick turnaround time. Most journals take a few weeks or months to reply and book submissions are several months to a year. Odds are very much against acceptance, especially with books. One recent book submission pool I was in chose four books out of 1,400 to publish, so…

SoCS: fingers

When I read Linda’s prompt yesterday, the first thing I thought about was fingers. And poetry, which is probably a good sign as I am trying mightily to get back to thinking more about poetry.

I am working on editing a poem in which fingers play a prominent role.

I have an older (unpublished) poem about how I still have a pianist’s mentality about my hands, even though I can no longer play.

And, of course, I am using my fingers now to write this. I know that there are lots of tools now that are talk to text, but I feel very oddly about talking to machines. Perhaps I will get over that one day, but, for now, I’ll let my fingers do the talking.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to write about a body part. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/10/22/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-october-23-2021/

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