2017 Fall poems for Binghamton Poetry Project

This afternoon is the Fall 2017 reading of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP) is a community poetry initiative which brings graduate students at Binghamton University into the community to facilitate the writing of poetry by adults, teens, and children. I have participated in their workshops for several years. I will always owe them a huge debt of gratitude because it was my participation with them that led to my acceptance by my local critique group, which I now call The Grapevine Group, and to my beginning to publish poetry outside of the BPP anthologies.
BPP holds three workshops a year of five sessions each. We read and discuss some poems and generally write from prompts drawn from those examples. It is interesting as one often writes poems that would otherwise not have been written. Because we only have about fifteen minutes to write, there is not much time to ponder, so I often find myself writing about people or events that I have already had time to process. The first poem below centers on a topic that has appeared in other poems about my childhood hometown. The second is not a topic I have ever written a poem about because it was traumatic, but it was long enough ago that, when it fit the prompt, I ran with it. The third poem is about my friend Angie, whom I have written about often in both prose and poetry.
This year, we are reading at the Broome County Library where we usually meet. We used to hold our readings on Friday evenings rather than Saturday afternoons. This is the first time I have been able to make a Saturday afternoon reading. I’m curious to see if we have better attendance at this venue and time. (I am writing this post early and scheduling it to coincide with the reading.)
For the first time, I am planning to read a poem that is not in the anthology, the current version of a poem that I started working on at the Boiler House Poets’ reunion at MASS MoCA and have subsequently workshopped with both Grapevine Group and Sappho’s Circle. I can’t share it here as I need to keep it unpublished at this point. I am also not sure if it is in its final form, but I need to decide soon as it is part of a chapbook I am assembling for a contest. I am desperate to make this poem the absolute best it can be, but I am afraid I have lost perspective with it. There may be a separate post about it soon – again.
I know this post will look a bit different in spacing than my other posts. It is tricky to get poetry into the wordpress editor without having the spacing compromised and this is as close as I can get to proper spacing in the time I have today. All three poems are by Joanne Corey. Please comment if you are so moved.
Homecoming
The Eiler Brothers sent my parents a video
of our three-bedroom ranch
stained grey with white shutters
loaded on a flatbed
rolled three miles
up River Road
across the state line
to a new foundation.

 

The house cost them a dollar
and the filling of the old cellar.

 

I travelled back to visit the yard
white and yellow birches
spruce, balsam, hemlock
sugar and striped maples
lilies of the valley in May.
 
*****
 
Thanksgiving – 1981

 

After words from the phone call drifted to me –
black ice, accident –
I thought you were dead
and our already planned June
wedding would never happen

 

but the hatch had sprung
after the car landed
on its roof in the river
so that you could crawl
out, scramble up the bank,

 

get to the nearest building,
the hydrostation where my father
worked, where they put you
in a warm shower 
as hypothermia set in.

 

The next day, we went to see
the car where it had been towed,
chunks of river ice still inside,
a deep dent in the roof,
just behind where your head had been.
 
*****
 
To a friend

 

My dear Little Angel,

 

You would laugh at that greeting
because, as you would say,
you are – or were –

 

five foot twelve, which you thought
sounded shorter than six feet,
but your name, Angeline,

 

means little angel
and you aren’t here
to contradict me.

 

Your October twenty-fifth birthday
has passed twelve times without you.
Do you know I think of you each year?

 

Wonder if your hair
would be silver now
like mine…

 

If your toddler grandchildren
would like to meet
my infant one…

 

If you know,
wherever you are,
that they exist…
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Boiler House video/soundscape

From my birthday post at MASS MoCA in October:

I did a walking meditation in the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge with its current sound installation, In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway, by Julianne Swartz. For the second time this week, the art has brought me back to my first semester of music theory at Smith, as the installation is a form of musique concrète. The 13:40 minute loop is composed entirely of recorded human voices. This work inspired Marilyn McCabe, the Boiler House poet who conceived and produced our collaborative videopoem last year, to envision a sound project this year. We each recorded a short segment based on a single word for her today. Stay tuned for the final product when it is available.

And now, introducing the completed video/soundscape!

Boiler House Voices: Truck Shadow Muscular Tunnel Window Hoosic Resurrection Flow from Mar McCabe on Vimeo.

Marilyn asked each of us to choose a single word that represented our reunion week. I chose the word “flow.” We each recorded our chosen word for Marilyn in several ways, including saying the word slowly, three times in quick succession, and sung. Marilyn then spent many hours with her computer, cutting up words, overlaying them, mixing sounds, and constructing the soundscape. I can’t pretend to know how she did it, but some of the techniques would have been similar to those used in the Julianne Swartz piece that inspired the endeavor.

Then, Marilyn assembled the video element. Most of the photos are from the Boiler House. I especially love the parts of the video that involve layering of the images, such as the dancing silhouette and the photo of the eight of us taken this year looking out from where some of the Boiler House windows used to be.

I love Marilyn’s creativity and inventiveness, which is always expanding my sense of what is possible. You should all do yourselves a favor and click on the links above the video to see more of Marilyn’s work with videopoems. You can also visit and follow Marilyn here on WordPress at O Write: Marilynonaroll’s blog.

Comments are welcome here or at the Vimeo link.

Shadow, shadow, shadow. Window.   Flow.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

No, seriously. Does anybody really know what time it is?

Earlier this week, daughter E and now five-month-old ABC returned from visiting spouse/daddy L and his family and friends in London. They were there for three weeks and had lots of good times and adventures and firsts, but crossing five time zones and having daylight savings time shift was a bit steep for a child who had barely been learning that night is supposed to be mostly for sleeping. The flight back was particularly disorienting, as it involved getting up at 4 AM London time and arriving here at 5 PM Eastern Standard Time, which feels like 9 PM in London. ABC decided to only take two one-hour naps in all that time, so both she and E were exhausted. That evening, they did both sleep for a six hour stretch, which was helpful, but one of our goals in the coming weeks will be see if we can get ABC to consistently sleep a long stretch at night and take a couple of daytime naps so there will be some semblance of schedule. There should be no more time zone travel for a while, so here’s hoping.

As we were preparing to change our clocks back to standard time last weekend, which, confusingly, happens in the US on a different weekend than in most of the rest of the Northern hemisphere, there were numerous media stories about proposals for the state of Massachusetts to switch to the Atlantic time zone, which would essentially be like being on Eastern Daylight Savings Time year-round, helpful for them as they are on eastern edge of the zone now, so have early sunsets. However, because they are a small state with five bordering states, they will have to convince the other northeastern states to change time zones along with them, joining the parts of Quebec that are on Atlantic Standard Time year-round. I am not a fan of daylight savings time shifts, so I would favor the change to Atlantic time, even though, being father west, it would extend the time that we have to wake up in the dark.

This week, I also mowed the front lawn and there were a couple of dandelions blossoming. Neither of these things are normal for November in our geography. It’s possible that it is a local sign of being in the Anthropocene, the proposed name for the current epoch of geologic time in which humans have significantly impacted our geologic/atmospheric systems. It does seem, though, that our colder fall temperatures have finally arrived. There had been a heavy frost, so I didn’t mow until late afternoon; still, there was a bit of frost close to the house where the sun hadn’t reached. Maybe now the grass will go dormant and we won’t have to mow again until spring.

This week also saw Election Day. Here in New York, we had only local races and some state-wide referenda, but we are observing an important milestone, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state, three years before the national amendment was adopted. To celebrate, we had special commemorative “I voted” stickers. A few states had more extensive state votes. The Democrats fared better than expected with exit polls suggesting that some of the voters were motivated by displeasure with how the Republicans are handling government on the federal level. Next year’s midterm elections will be very interesting.

I submitted my poems for the Binghamton Poetry Project’s fall anthology this week. Our reading will be on November 18th and the anthology will be available to us. I will post the poems here that weekend. All three were written from prompts during our sessions and all three deal with issues from the past, including one about my friend Angie. You can read a prior poem about Angie here.

All of these events have had me pondering time and the meaning of time, but none as poignantly as having my mom, known here as Nana, under hospice care. While I know intellectually that the future is not promised to any of us, dealing with end-of-life care issues makes the finite nature of our lives more concrete. It helps me to appreciate more the little joys that we can still share – bringing her a fresh batch of lemon pizzelles –  enjoying hot soup at lunchtime or Sunday dinners together – visits with my sisters, my daughters, and especially ABC, her first great-grandchild.

Watching Nana and ABC together sharpens my sense that there really is, as the adage says, no time like the present.

 

solar serendipity

Last week, I got a message on my answering machine from someone who is interested in purchasing solar panels in a community solar array with Renovus. Because we already own panels in a prior community solar installation with them and had agreed to be contacted, Renovus had given my name and number to a prospective solar customer.

I returned the call and had a lovely conversation. Of course, we started talking nuts and bolts about community solar, but then went on to talk about our all-electric Chevy Bolt, environmental issues, and living in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region.

We discovered that we both have connections to the Berkshires of Massachusetts and that we are both writers, although she has had a long career in writing and teaching and I am only recently (and lightly) published.

Now, we are friends on Facebook and perhaps, one day, will meet in person – brought together by the sun.

poetic pondering

When I was at the most recent Boiler House reunion residency, I wrote a poem that had been percolating in my head for a while and workshopped it with the group. Unlike most of my poems, this one was more than a page long – two and a half pages – and I was very grateful for the input of the Boiler House Poets which helped me to re-craft it to a more manageable page and a half.

Earlier this month, I brought the edited version to workshop with Grapevine Group, my stalwart local group from whom I have learned so much. As it happened, that session marked the return of the elder-statesman poet of the group, who had been unable to be with us for many, many months due to health issues. I will refer to him here as M. I had been in workshop with M only a few times when I first joined the group and have always been awed by him. He is the one among us who has been published most frequently by the big name journals and who tends to ask if we are all submitting our work, a question which always stings a bit because that is the part of the process that I most often neglect.

So, along with being nervous about presenting this poem to Grapevine because it is particularly close to my heart, I was nervous because this accomplished poet who is a founder of our group was there.

…And everyone liked the poem. I was relieved and grateful – and happy to accept comments that give me a few more things to think about for the next round of edits.

I was especially humbled because M was very complimentary to my poem, saying that he could not have written it. Which, I and the other poets in the group know is true only in the context of M could not have written it as it was my personal experience, as he has certainly written poems that were more finely wrought and effective. Still, I was deeply touched by M’s compliment and specific comments on lines and techniques that he liked. Of course, it helped that I used repetition as a poetic technique in the poem, as that is one of his favorite devices. M asked if he could keep a copy of the poem and I was happy to comply.

We met again last night and I was surprised that M brought up my poem from last time. It’s very flattering – and enough to give me butterflies for fear of being disappointing, although my critique did go well again.

As most of my poet friends – and probably a few of my regular readers here – know, I struggle to have confidence in my poetry. On the one hand, this helps me to accept criticism and make edits that make my work stronger. On the other, it keeps me from putting my work out there as much as I should.

I admit that I will probably always feel that I am behind other poets in my knowledge and experience, given that my academic background is scant and I didn’t being to write seriously until I was in my early fifties. Still, I should more often reflect on how far I have come and how much I have grown and developed as a poet over the last several years, even though, for more prosaic reasons, I have not been doing much submitting/publishing in the last couple of years.

So much of that growth is due to my various poetry circles, so I offer my profound gratitude and love to the Binghamton Poetry Project, Grapevine Group, Sappho’s Circle, and the Boiler House Poets. I literally would not be the poet I am today without you – and perhaps not a poet at all.

Nana and mocha

I apologize, dear readers, for my recent absence from Top of JC’s Mind. I’ve been trying wildly to catch up on what I missed being away for a week while dealing with an avalanche of current happenings. This post begins an effort to bring you up to date.

While Nana had a bit of an acute sickness just as I returned home, when that cleared, she regained a bit of her old energy, though, as expected with her level of heart problems, not enough to be out and about.

Still, it is heart-warming to speak to her on the phone and hear her sounding a bit like she did for decades when we used to talk every morning while I was on my treadmill and she on her stationary bike.

Her appetite has picked up, too. We are still keeping her supplied with lemon pizzelles, a favorite treat she enjoys daily. She has also been eating coffee ice cream on a regular basis.

On my first day back in North Adams, I went to Moulton’s Spectacle Shoppe to ask them to hang a poster for our poetry reading and to ask if they had any mocha sauce in the refrigerator. Yes, that seems like an odd thing to ask in an eyewear store, but the Moulton family is heir to the mocha sauce recipe that made Apothecary Hall’s soda fountain a regular destination for area folks. The Moulton’s used to sell the sauce in their general store on Main Street, but, since that closed, they have made a batch monthly and sold it at their eyeglass store – for those who knew to ask for it. They didn’t have any on hand, but agreed to make a batch in the next week so that I could pick some up before I had to leave town.

I was thrilled to be able to present my mom with mocha sauce for her coffee ice cream. She even sprinkles on chopped nuts, which was traditional for Apothecary Hall sundaes. Paco has been enjoying some mocha sundaes, too, although I think that Nana probably eats them a bit more often than he.

And, yes, I have written a poem about mocha sundaes, which I read when the Boiler House Poets gave their reading on October fourth.

There is a new poem drafted about this recent mocha experience, which I am hoping will make its way into the collection, which is waiting patiently in my google docs for a major re-organization.

She says, mentally eyeing her calendar…

 

Good-bye, MoCA

I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.

After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.

We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.

Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.

Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.

One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work.  I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.

At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.

Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.