Fall foliage

For some great photos of fall leaves in Colorado with a bonus science lesson about the colors of aspen leaves, follow this link to Steph’s blog,  Partial Ellipsis of the Sun. Steph always has a great mix of science, photographs, and wordplay, so you should definitely visit and follow her!

Last MASS MoCA moments

I posted my final MASS MoCA reunion poetry residency piece right before the Boiler House Poets’ last lunch together, but wanted to add a postscript.

The marvelous Marilyn McCabe had already completed a first draft of our Boiler House videopoem and gave us a viewing before we departed.

It looks fantastic and I am anxious to share it with you all, which I will do as soon as Marilyn puts the finishing touches on it and releases it to the public.

Stay tuned!

wrapping up at MASS MoCA

Yesterday was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA, such a full day that there was no time to blog before collapsing into bed. I came into the studio early, picking up a steamed milk and an almond biscotti from Tunnel City Coffee on the way.

Thus fortified, I embarked on a morning of writing and visiting places that I could photograph or take notes on for future poems. I re-visited the North Adams Public Library and spoke with a couple of the librarians who helpfully supplied some of the historical information about the building. I walked into the newly spiffed up Colgrove Park with Drury Academy/High/Conte Middle/now Colgrove Elementary School perched on the hillside above. Workers were on site at the former Saint Francis Church, getting ready to removing the rubble that was left behind after the demolition. It is so strange to look at the North Adams skyline without that steeple among the rest.

After the museum opened, I went back to some exhibits that had particularly struck me and made some notes. One was a bit tricky because the room was almost totally dark. I discovered that there is an installation showing a short film set in the upper reaches of our beloved Boiler House. I visited the Boiler House and took (yet more) photographs, especially of the upper levels that are more difficult to reach for people without sturdy shoes and a certain comfort level with industrial settings and heights.

After lunch in the cafe, we reconvened back at the Studios for some workshopping of poems and for a special project. During our first residency, which was the inaugural collaboration between the Studios at MASS MoCA and Tupelo Press, we produced this video of us reading poems in the Boiler House.  The indefatigable Ann Dernier collected poems from an exercise that we did with Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo and made them into an anthology called Verse Osmosis.

For this reunion residency, we decided to create a collaborative videopoem about the Boiler House. Each poet brought some lines, in some cases written specifically for the videopoem and in others excerpted from a larger Boiler House poem, to the group. We made a few small edits and considered several options for ordering our lines before deciding on one.

Next, we went to Marilyn McCabe’s studio to use her microphone and computer to record the audio. Marilyn has produced gorgeous videopoems, so she offered to do the necessary recording and editing. We lined up in our agreed-upon order and recorded the reading, so that Marilyn could overlay it with audio she previously recorded in the Boiler House, which is a sound installation in addition to being a visual marvel. Later, she will use photographs of the Boiler House to complete the videopoem.

On a lark, we decided to take our poem over to the Boiler House to read it there; Marilyn brought her mike and laptop to record, although we assumed there would be too much noise for our words to be heard easily. To our amazement, when we listened to the playback, the balance was very good, so Marilyn may use that recording in the final product. You can be sure that as soon as it is ready, I will post it here at Top of JC’s Mind!

After a short break, which I confess I used to shop in the museum gift store, we reconvened for a bit more workshopping before returning to our apartments to get ready for dinner. We had made a reservation for Grazie, which is on the first floor of the building where we are staying and is where we had our opening night dinner, and had a fabulous time with great food and even greater conversation.

We re-convened in the apartment living room for more time together. First, we did book signing. Copies of Verse Osmosis were passed around for multiple signatures. We were also blessed to have several books by members of the group currently out in print: several books by Kyle Laws, Marilyn McCabe’s Glass Factory, and Ann Dernier’s In the Fury. Then, we snuck in a bit more workshopping and insisted on hearing people read just a few more poems before we were all too tired to continue.

This morning, we all faced the realization that we only had a few hours left before we would have to leave. Six days seems so short! Although we all accomplished a great deal, there is so much more we have to say. The challenge is to keep the creative energy we feel here alive, without the obvious advantages of having a writing studio, an art museum, other poets available for feedback and support, and at least partial respite from household, family, and work obligations.

Yes, it is going to be a challenge.

My hope is to continue to work on my manuscript so that I can send it out to readers in the coming months and have it ready to submit to publishers or contests by the middle of 2017.

You all know how my plans often go, though…

Wish me luck and stay tuned!

MA Birthday

Today was another full-to-overflowing day of our reunion residency at MASS MoCA with a special feature for me. October fourth is my birthday.

I was up before six, thankfully after a decent night’s sleep, and opened three cards from my family that had found their way into my suitcase. I went over to my studio early and worked on some revisions, taking a break to attend 8:00 Mass.

October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, whom I admire for his advocacy for peace and his respect for and joy in all of creation. It was so meaningful the night that Cardinal Bergoglio appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s, asked for the blessing of the people gathered, and took the name Francis. The homily today talked about how Francis blended contemplative and active service, which is a practice that I strive to emulate, albeit not as well as I wish. I so appreciate present day Franciscans, such as Richard Rohr and Ilia Delio, who continue to teach the connectedness and unity of all creation in Love.

Catholicism has come up surprisingly often during our residency, but I feel I have not done a very good job at explaining myself as a progressive Catholic who sees herself increasingly through an interspiritual lens. Though brought up within the tradition and the rules of the church, I take seriously the primacy of individual conscience and my own responsibilities as a mature Christian, one of the foremost being that it is not my place to judge the beliefs of another person. One of the things I appreciate about Pope Francis is that he makes clear that he excludes no person of good will, whatever spiritual/philosophical path they follow, whether they believe in a god or gods or not. I think of God as Love, as a connection each being has with other beings and all of creation. I continue within the Catholic tradition myself, despite its many flaws, because it is where I learned about the sacramentality of life and relationship, but I honor whatever religious or philosophical path enlightens each person I meet.

(It’s late at night. Can you tell? Back to the story of my birthday…)

After Mass, I walked the grounds at MASS MoCA while talking to Nana on the phone, then went back to my studio to work. I finished the first draft of the Fall Foliage Parade poem, reworked the Boiler House poem, typed in and lightly revised a poem I had sketched from one of the new exhibits, and began a new poem before lunch, which was brought in from Brewhaha because the cafe is closed on Tuesdays, along with the rest of MASS MoCA, which is sad because I would have loved to spend some more time with the new exhibits today. Having lunch from Brewhaha is never sad, though; I had an excellent salmon burger.

Six of the eight of us took an afternoon field trip to Williamstown to visit the Clark Art Institute. There is an special exhibition from the Prado, but I most appreciated re-visiting some of the works that I remember seeing on prior visits. I was especially drawn to the Renoir paintings today, although I made a point of visiting the Degas “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture that reminds me of daughter T.

We met in the apartment across the hall for dinner together and my friends surprised me with cake and ice cream, a rendition of “Happy Birthday”, a beautiful many-pointed star ornament, and a card with little notes from each of them. Of course, we turned our attention back to poetry and did some more workshopping and reading, but the group indulged me by listening to me read some of the poems from my manuscript in development. I really wanted to be able to read some of them in North Adams because they originate here, but confess to being a bit anxious about it. I don’t think I even looked up at all when I was reading. I was concerned that my poems would be too simple because my fellow Boiler House Poets craft such exquisite poetry; fortunately, the response was very positive. There was even some interest in reading the whole manuscript when I get it assembled, which will be a huge help. I know any feedback I get will help make the collection as strong as possible before I send it off to potential publishers.

So, it has been a good birthday. Maybe by next year at this time, I will be submitting my manuscript – and waiting…

MoCA Monday

I did sleep some more after writing this middle-of-the-night post, although I wanted to get up early to shower. I know I said that I wasn’t going to revise The Octagon Room until after I got home, but an idea presented itself so I plunged in and did another draft before breakfast.

I met a high school friend downstairs at Brewhaha, where we enjoyed delicious waffles and conversation. It was great to see her, although we didn’t have much time, as she needed to get to work and I needed to get to the studio.

I did a little more revising and printed two poems for workshopping today, just in case we get two sessions in again. My main goal, though, was to get into the Museum, as I had not yet taken the opportunity to do so and wanted to see the new exhibits.

The museum does not open until 11:00, but the grounds are open sooner, so I went back to our beloved Boiler House. I think it may be the first time that I have been there totally alone, which allowed me to fully engage with the soundscape. I climbed the flights of open metalwork stairs all the way to the top. MASS MoCA has added many more solar panels to their buildings. Being on the top of the building gives a new appreciation for the vastness of the museum site and a spectacular view of downtown North Adams. It was poignant to look at their landmark steeples, though, as one is missing. St. Francis was torn down this year; I could see the remnant that is left, waiting to be hauled away. I am planning to write a poem about it as a postscript to one I wrote last year.

At 11:00, I did an hour-long spin through the first floor of the main museum building where the new exhibits were. Unlike most museums, MASS MoCA does not rely on having a large permanent collection. Frequent visits reveal new works, so the experience of visiting is always fresh. I drafted one poem in my notebook, honoring advice from one of the poets who came to speak to us last year. There were several other pieces of which I am in awe, but don’t feel that I can expand on poetically. Maybe later, or maybe never. Still, I am glad to have experienced them.

After lunch, we went on a formal tour of the museum. Unfortunately, the group was large and we weren’t able to visit too many pieces. I did appreciate being able to accompany my poet-friend Jessica into the Sol Lewitt exhibit. She had helped workshop a poem I had written about it, so it was nice that she was able to experience the art in person. The large exhibit hall is currently closed as the next major exhibit, Nick Cave’s Until, is being installed. We were able to see some of the installation going in and hear a bit about it from our guide. I feel that I will have to try to come back to see it after it opens on October 15. I think there may be a poem there, although it may be too overwhelming for me to write about. Fortunately, it will be here for a whole year.

After the tour and a bit of delay due to a sudden downpour, we reconvened at the Studios for workshopping. I decided to present my new version of The Octagon Room, which was well-received. There are more edits to make, including a new title, but I feel that I will be able to improve it enough to include in my manuscript.

Being back here at MASS MoCA makes it seem that completing a collection is possible. The trick will be keeping the momentum going after I return home. There will need to be more writing, more revision, assembling the collection, sending it out to readers for feedback, more revision, editing, cutting, and adding, and, eventually, sending it out to presses for consideration.

Wish me luck…

 

Middle of the night to middle of the night

I started my writing day on  Sunday at 3 AM, drafting the “Meanwhile in Tibet” poem that has been sloshing about in my brain intermittently since last November in my journal, so as not to expose myself to the blue light of my Chromebook. (Point of information, or, perhaps, warning : I am writing this now at quarter of two Monday morning on my Chromebook, hoping that the blue light won’t keep me from catching a few hours of sleep later on. Many “night’s sleep” for me lately resemble a couple of naps, instead of a single expanse of sleep. So, back to the story of yesterday…)

After a few more hours of sleep, I breakfasted on an excellent apple crumb cake that I had bought on Saturday from the Clarksburg Bread Company at the farmers’ market and went to my studio to write. I began a Fall Foliage Parade poem, recollecting my memories of the parade as a child, and I typed in and revised the Tibet poem. By then, lunch was approaching, so I decided to go down early to make some notes for a planned poem on local supporters of the museum.

We lunched and visited and, while the other poets started a workshopping session, I excused myself to attend the parade. I walked over Hadley Overpass and settled myself on the rail only feet away from where we used to watch the parade in front of my grandparents’ home on State Street. The building is no longer there, replaced by greenspace and a path into Heritage Park. The crowds were thin and the parade resembled more Fourth of July or Old Home Days in the small towns than the Fall Foliage Parades of forty-five years ago. It was also strikingly quiet for a parade, to the the extent that a couple of marchers actually asked what I was doing scrawling in my notebook as they passed. Telling a stranger you are making notes for a poem can result in some rather quizzical looks. I definitely have material to contrast the two eras, although the actual writing may have to wait until I am back home. I am acutely aware of how much I still want to do and see here and how little time there is. I have not even visited any of the new MoCA exhibits yet.

With the parade being barely an hour, I arrived back in time to catch the second half of the workshop period. I workshopped my Boiler House poem and received lots of good feedback for revisions. I continue to contend with the issue of how to address writing about art installations in a way that is engaging as poetry and not dependent on having experienced the art on which the poem is based.

We decided to have supper at the Freightyard Pub and to walk there rather than drive. As the local, albeit several decades removed, I was the designated tour guide, so I went for a walk to decide on the best route. It isn’t far but there are both railroad track and river crossings with which to contend and I wanted to check out conditions of walkways and such. I am happy to report that I successfully guided the group to dinner and back with no turned ankles.

Kyle proposed an additional workshopping session, so we headed back to the Studios. I decided to present The Octagon Room draft by just reading it from my google docs, thus saving paper. The basic question is whether it is worth working on as it is basically at the moment a very, very long list poem. The basic answer is “yes, but…” Everyone was helpful with ideas to approach revision. The $64 question is whether or not I have the skill to pull it off. It needs to percolate a bit, so I will set it aside and pick it up later after I am back home.

By the end of the session, I was too tired to work on this post. (I was probably too tired during the session to be as effective as I ought to have been; fortunately, everyone else was more with it than I.) I collapsed into bed and really, Mom, I did sleep for a while before writing this. It’s almost three o’clock now, so back to bed…

Hitting the ground running

Today, I discovered one of the advantages of a reunion residency: you can immediately settle in and get to work.

This morning, I drafted a new poem about Drury High School and transcribed notes from our inaugural residency on Mark Dion’s The Octagon Room. It may well become the longest poem I have ever written. I finished a first draft which I may offer for critique later in the week, even though I would get teased for using a lot of paper!

The morning was punctuated with some local fun. Jessica and I took a break to shop at the Farmers’ Market where I bought some local goodies. A fun feature was the costumed dogs getting ready for the Dog Parade that was part of the Fall Foliage Festival. We also headed up Main Street to the Fall Foliage craft fair where I picked up a few local craft pieces, including some cards featuring local scenes.

A new feature of the residency for us this year is that a daily meal is provided. We are able to send our lunch orders for the MASS MoCA cafe in advance, so at 12:30 we can all grab the box with our name on it, sit in the cafe, relax, and eat. It was fun to have a chance to chat and listen to the folk tunes that a group of musicians was playing.

After lunch, we returned to the studio to workshop poems. I am in awe of the talent in the room. Our two new poets slipped seamlessly into the group. The discussion was insightful and reached beyond the particular poem at hand into more general craft talk and technique, which I, as a community rather than academically trained poet, find immensely helpful.

We ended just before four o’clock, so I decided to cross the street to attend vigil Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The building is familiar to me because it was my grandmother’s church, although at that time it was St. Anthony of Padua. The homily began with a story about the first weekend of October in 1987. Father Cyr reminded us that there was a huge freak snowstorm that weekend, which immediately brought to my mind my in-laws, who lived near North Adams in Stamford, Vermont. They had come out to visit us that weekend and wound up staying an extra day because a state of emergency had been declared so that they could not travel home. They were both public school educators, but schools were cancelled due to the heavy, wet snow, which broke many trees because they still had their leaves and could not to take the additional weight. The moral of the story was not to personalize unfortunate experiences. A snowstorm is not about you! Instead, as was seen in the Scripture readings of the day, we are called to have patience, to have faith, to gather spiritual strength, and to act for good. Given the animosity that has been on public display in these last months, I took heart that we can still change and act in a positive way. I needed that reassurance.

We spent the evening in various constellations talking and eating and talking and walking and talking some more. I love how our conversations flow so easily through family, travel, our work, change, poets and poetry. And Ezra Pound, whose name I have heard more today than any other day of my life…

 

 

Reunion residency – welcome!

Friday morning, my poet-friend Jessica picked me up for the drive to North Adams to begin the Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA. (To check out my blog posts from the original Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency, use my archive dropdown list entry for November 2015.)  It is a reunion for me, but not for Jessica whom I invited to fill in a slot for one of our original group who was unable to attend.

In the MASS MoCA parking lot, we ran into residency coordinator Emily with Ann and Kyle, who are my and Jessica’s apartment mates for the week. Emily gave us our keys and info and showed us our apartment, which is on the third floor of a building kittycorner from the museum complex, just across the hall from the apartment I stayed in last year. (My header photo here at Top of JC’s Mind was taken from that vantage point.)  We each have our own bedroom, with shared kitchen and bath.

Emily also showed us our studios. Last time, I was in studio seven, but this time I am in studio two, with a view of the Airstream trailer art installation which is connected by walkway to the top of the Boiler House which gives our group its name due to this video we made during our inaugural residency.

One of the special moments yesterday was when Ann gave us copies of the new book she edited of poems we created in an exercise with Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo Press during our 2015 residency.  It is called Verse Osmosis and is available here. I am honored to be a part of this book and this group!

In the couple of hours before our welcome dinner, I had the chance to catch up with our other apartment’s returning poets, Marilyn, Kay, and Gail and to meet our other new addition this time, Catherine. I was sad to learn that Donna, one of our original members who had hoped to come visit us on Saturday, was taken ill and wouldn’t be able to come see us. I am consoled, though, to have a copy of her new chapbook <Periodic Earth>, published by fellow Boiler House Poet Kyle’s Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press and available here.

Since we were in North Adams last year, a new Italian restaurant, Grazie, has opened on the first floor below our apartments and it was the site for our welcome dinner. We were happy to have another of our Boiler House Poets, James, join us, along with a friend who was celebrating her birthday. Like me, James is from the North Adams area and was back visiting. We had a long dinner with lots of lively conversation. I was happy to have James sign my copy of Verse Osmosis and we passed James’s copy around the table to sign for him. Unfortunately, Vicki, another of our inaugural group, was also unable to make the trip to North Adams for the reunion, so her signature will be missing from our books, too.

By the time dinner was over, it was after ten o’clock and I was too tired to join in the additional visiting that was going on and too tired to write this post. At least I am able to get this out early this morning. I hope to be off to my studio soon…

 

 

Progress

Yesterday, Nana had her evaluation at Columbia’s Structural Heart & Valve Center.

We had arrived in NYC the day before, expecting a three to four hour evaluation beginning at 9:00 AM. What happened was a marathon of testing and consultation that stretched from our arrival at 7:15 AM to 6:00 PM when we finally finished.

All the effort to go to New York City was definitely worth it. The advanced testing they were able to do determined that only the aortic valve needs to be replaced at this time, which can be done using a heart catheter technique, called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR). They were able to schedule the procedure for mid-October.

We were so impressed with all the medical professional and support staff. They were caring and compassionate, as well as being knowledgeable and experienced. Because we came from a distance, they did not only the diagnostic testing they needed to do but also the pre-admission testing so that there will only have to be two trips down to New York.

Tomorrow, I leave for a long-planned reunion residency of the Boiler House Poets at MASS MoCA. I feel much better going knowing that we have a positive plan in place for my mom. As I did for the original residency last November, I hope to blog every day from North Adams, so stay tuned.

 


	

Secret poetry mission revealed!

Earlier in September, I cryptically alluded to having a secret poetry mission. I know (a few of) you have been waiting with bated breath for the revelation of this secret, so here you go!

Of course, this will be the long, chronological version of the story…

Over the third weekend in August, I got a message from the current director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, asking if I would like to write and present a poem at the annual Hearts of the Arts awards dinner. The dinner is a fundraiser for the United Cultural Fund of the Broome County Arts Council, which provides one of the grants that keeps the Binghamton Poetry Project functioning. The poem needed to be a 2-3 minute response to the arts in our community, as the two Heart of the Arts honorees, Emily Jablon and Peg Johnston, are both very active in public art.

The Binghamton Poetry Project has been very important to my growth as a poet. I have learned different craft aspects and how to write from prompts. My participation with them led to my joining both the Bunn Hill Poets and Sappho’s Circle; I also continue to attend the Binghamton Poetry Project workshops, which are organized in five-week units three times a year. I wanted to take on this special mission to help the Binghamton Poetry Project say thanks to one of our funders and to raise its profile in the local arts community; I also admit that it appealed to me to have the opportunity to present myself as a poet to the arts community which would not recognize me at all, except, perhaps as a long-serving member of University Chorus. (It’s the hair and the fact that I am short, so usually in the front row.)

As much as I wanted to do this, it was also a daunting prospect. First, there was the actual writing of the poem. Although I have been writing a lot of ekphrastic poetry, which means poetry about another (usually visual) art form, I had never written a poem for a public occasion. Second, I would need to read in front of a full ballroom with a stage, podium, and microphone, wearing relatively formal dress. Most of the readings I have done are informal and for a dozen people or fewer, so the prospect of reading for 150 or more made me pretty anxious.

Third, there was the timeline to consider. I decided that I would need to write the poem within the next few days so I could workshop it, revise, and have a final copy before my mom’s diagnostic heart catheterization on August 31st.  Then, I would have time for practice readings before the September 19th event.

So, I accepted the challenge and got to work. I did a bit of online research on the artist-honorees, Emily Jablon and Peg Johnston. I was familiar with their public art projects in downtown Binghamton, but made plans to go down to visit early the following week to take some photos to help inspire my writing.

My usual writing process is to swish things around in my head for a while before writing. Given my timeline, I was very lucky that a basic idea and structure for the poem came to me over the weekend, so that I had the bones of the poem together even before I got downtown to view the art.

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Stencil from Water Street Parking Ramp art installation

Peg Johnston was the director of a large stencil and mural project in the parking garage now located on the site that once housed Bundy Time Recording Machines and Link Pipe Organs, which later became Link Flight Simulation.

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Mosaics along the Chenango

Emily Jablon was one of the lead mosaicists for this project where Court Street meets the Chenango River.

With new details in hand, I finished my draft in time for a planned Wednesday meeting with the Bunn Hill Poets, my main workshopping group. I explained the situation, read the draft, and then got really apprehensive in the silence that followed. When one of the poets, who has many published poems, readings, and commissions to his credit, started out with, “I have to be perfectly honest,” I got even more worried, but it turned out that he was just surprised that I could write this style of poem. Whew! Everyone was very positive about the poem, so I sent it off to the current and the former directors of the Binghamton Poetry Project for additional feedback, did a round of revisions, and had the poem finished by my August 31st deadline.

I was very grateful that I did, as family issues did take a lot of time and energy over the following weeks. Despite my intentions, I didn’t do much practice reading until the last couple of days before the awards ceremony. I admit that I got super nervous. I was fortunate to have daughter T here to listen to me practice and help me figure out which dress to wear, which sandals, which necklace. I was also lucky that the dinner organizers made provisions for family members to attend the performance, so both my spouse B and daughter T were there for moral support.

The performers were all tied to the Arts Council in some way, most representing organizations that receive funding through the United Cultural Fund. It was an honor to be on the same program with actors and musicians from the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton, Tri-Cities Opera, the Binghamton Youth Symphony, the Binghamton Community Orchestra ,and the Cider Mill Playhouse, as well as this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dr. Timothy Perry from Binghamton University.

I am pleased to report that my reading went well and the poem was well received. The stage lights were pretty blinding, so I couldn’t see myself, but T told me that Peg Johnston gave my poem a standing ovation, which was a huge honor for me, given that the poem was inspired in part by her work. In her acceptance speech that followed, she gave a shout-out to the Binghamton Poetry Project, and, after the event, sent a friend to ask me for a copy of the poem to take back to the Cooperative Gallery, of which she is a founder.

It also meant a lot to me to have Clara Barnhart, current director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, and her predecessor Heather Dorn there lending support, as well as Vernon Boyd who is a fellow BPP poet who also contributed an art poem for the event.

It was especially close to my heart that B and T were there with me. I don’t read often and an opportunity to read at such an auspicious event is unlikely to present itself again, so I’m glad they could share the evening with me.

So, now you are probably thinking, why am I not publishing the poem in this post? Because I wrote it under the auspices of the Binghamton Poetry Project, I want them to have first publication rights. When our fall anthology comes out in November, I will share the poem here at Top of JC’s Mind as well, so stay tuned!