the later verses

For some reason, yesterday the topic of the later verses of songs to which many know only the first verse well came up a couple of times. In a Binghamton Poetry Project session, we read Ada Limón’s poem “A New National Anthem” which quotes from and asks why we don’t sing the third verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Last night, I was discussing the hymn “Amazing Grace” with a friend; I relate much better theologically with the ending verses than the opening ones, which are the ones most people recognize.

Although I am Catholic, much of my training as an organist was in a Protestant context. Unlike most Catholic churches, which often sing only two or three verses of a hymn, Protestant churches usually sing all the verses, which, as a poet and a liturgist, I find more proper. I sometimes choose a hymn specifically for a message in a later verse. I did this in choosing hymns for my father-in-law’s funeral, only to have the substitute organist truncate the hymn so we never got to verses that were connected to the occasion. I noticed the pastor giving a sidelong glance at the organist, but he didn’t take the hint.

Some of my favorite verses of hymns are later ones. In Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, I especially like the end of the second verse/stanza: 
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
We could really use some of that self-control these days. Interestingly, in researching the poem, I found that the version most of us know is the 1911 revision. The original 1893 version ends the third stanza with:
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
We could really use that message now, too.

Sometimes, later verses are just fun because you get to sing words that your would not otherwise. For example, the second verse of the standard version of the United Kingdom National Anthem “God Save the Queen” which deals with the Queen’s enemies contains the lines “Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks”. It’s not often one gets to sing about “knavish tricks”!

Sometimes, especially in folk/protest songs, verses are included, excluded, or altered due to political circumstances or the audience. Woodie Guthrie’s original lyric of “The Land Is Your Land” contains a verse about private property and ends with a verse about hunger that closes “As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me.” Most people are familiar only with the verses that are a US travelogue, not these more challenging ones.

There are some hymns, such as “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB, that I love all the verses so much that I will sing omitted verses to myself if we don’t get to sing them all during the service.

My first college choral conductor, Rob Kolb, taught us that the hymn is the poem which is the text, as opposed to the tune, which is interchangeable with another of the same metric form. Because the hymn is the poem, you sing it as you would recite it, with its punctuation and word emphasis intact. You also honor the hymn as an entity, so you sing all the verses, as you would read or recite all the stanzas of a poem.

Some lessons stick with you for life.

in the current tangle

I’ve been meaning to post an update on our situation here for several days, but my brain keeps jumping from task to task, not a very effective way to get anything done, but I’ll try to focus for a bit here and get this post done.

Here in Broome County in upstate NY, we went, over the span of a few days, from no confirmed COVID-19 cases to our first recorded death, although the test came back positive only after the gentleman had passed away, to several other known cases, which means that there is community spread occurring.

Meanwhile, as you may know, New York State has become the epicenter of the pandemic in US. Most of the known cases are in the New York City+suburbs/Long Island area, but the whole state is at risk. Governor Cuomo has implemented more stringent shelter in place policies. All non-essential businesses are closed. To protect the elders and other vulnerable populations, Gov. Cuomo has implemented Matilda’s Law, named after his won 90-some-year-old mother. The whole program is called PAUSE. Gov. Cuomo has been giving press briefings most days. I try to watch them as often as I’m able. He is straight-forward, factual, informed by experts in science, public health, and medicine, and compassionate, all while accepting responsibility for his decisions – everything that one expects from a civic leader. Here in New York, we are being much better served by our state government than by the federal government, whose response is still haphazard.

Because of the increased level of alert, I am no longer going to visit Paco in person. The risk of unwittingly bringing the infection to him or someone else in his senior community is too great. Over these last weeks, I have been setting things up to function without my physical presence. We’ll see now how well I did with that task. Fortunately, the staff of independent living is also stepping up their level of service, so I know there will be help available to him if he needs it. For example, because the dining room had to close for safety reasons, dinner orders are now called in with delivery brought to residents’ doors. Paco is happy to have food arrive at the appointed time without having to sit at the table and wait.

My sisters are also sheltering in place and can’t travel, so they have been sending Paco care packages. Over the last week, jigsaw puzzles, brownies, breakfast breads, and homemade apricot bars and Blarney cake have arrived. Paco will turn 95 later this week and is enjoying all these gifts! We are hoping to bring him carryout from his favorite local Italian restaurant on the big day, providing they remain open. All restaurants are open only for takeout or delivery; some have had to close under these conditions, while others are continuing to keep their business going as best they can.

B is working from home for the foreseeable future. We have set up a home office in a currently unoccupied bedroom. He is among the fortunate employees with a job that can be done totally online, so we don’t have to worry about him being laid off, which is a huge blessing and one that we do not take for granted.

I have used his office setup a couple of times for Zoom poetry meetings. Last Saturday, my previously scheduled chapbook manuscript review party was moved online. It was great to see everyone, even though we existed in rectangles on a monitor rather than in the flesh. I received lots of good feedback and have started in on revisions. Last night, we had the first online iteration of the Binghamton Poetry Project. Everyone had been disappointed that our usual in-person sessions had to be cancelled this spring; we are grateful to keep the Project going in a new form. On Wednesday, my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, will convene via Zoom to workshop each other’s poems. We will miss our usual home at the Grapevine Cafe, but hope that we will be back soon.

One of my other activities has been doing the essential shopping for our house and for Paco. It’s been an adventure. Some people are still in a (totally unnecessary) hoarding mindset, which makes it hard to find certain categories of goods. In order to do weekly shopping, it can take three or four trips to different stores. If you are lucky, at least one will have a supply of the hard-to-find categories, such as meats, bread, eggs, frozen vegetables, and milk. It is a major time sink, as well as being an exposure risk, although I try to shop at times when the stores are not crowded to maintain distance from others. For the record, I do have a two-week supply of basic necessities stored away, but the point is to keep that in case we needed to go into total isolation. Dipping into that for our regular needs seems unwise.

I wish I could say that I am settling into a routine, but it is still too new an endeavor. I admit that keeping track of the news and the changes we need to make is taking up quite a lot of mental space. This is increased because I am also watching developments in the UK, with daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter ABC in London. I know that literally millions of other people are finding their minds in a similar whirl. I’ll try to untangle the mess and see if I can create some order, however illusory…

Binghamton Poetry Project Spring 2019

I actually managed to attend all five weeks of Binghamton Poetry Project this semester and decided to submit to our anthology, even though I could not make today’s final reading. I generally post the poems that I put in the anthology after the reading.

The first two poems were actually written in the summer session of 2018, but there is no anthology in the summer, so I decided to publish them this time. A note on “An American Family”:  I want to acknowledge that indigenous/First Nations people are the original Americans; this poem refers to the vast majority of people in the United States who are either descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves.

Enjoy!
*****
At Thirteen Months

My granddaughter grabs
at the floor lamp again
knowing that it is forbidden
but not that it is dangerous

looking at the adults
in the living room
knowing we will say
no

will pick her up
take her away
set her down
in the middle

of the room
where her toys
are scattered only
to have her rush

back to the lamp
look to make sure
we are watching
repeat the scenario

I finally resort
to what I did
with her mother
take her away

but hold her
in my arms instead
of placing her on the floor
she squirms and cries

a bit but
thirty seconds
is a long time
for a 13-month-old

she toddles back
to toys not lamp
a tear glistening
on her cheek

*****

An American Family

We are an American family
but people stare.

At the park, they assume
my sister is her children’s nanny.

I worry about my brown-skinned
nephews being stopped by the police,
but not my blond one.

Most Americans have roots
in Europe, Asia, or Africa.
Why is it so hard to accept
our family’s roots in all three?

What could be more American?

*****

We always wanted to roast marshmallows

after the hot dogs and hamburgers
had been grilled
and the charcoal glowed
red, under its ashen coat

We cut green sticks
whittling them down
to a point
ready to pierce

the Jet-Puffeds
We didn’t want
them to catch
fire, to burn

black, just a nice
golden brown
soft and sweet
as we three

girls, protected
from charred
bitterness
and burnt tongues

writing in 2017

Many writers post about their accomplishments of the year in late December or early January. I usually do something along those lines for my blog and poetry. However, 2017 was not a typical year so this post will be a bit different.

With so much going on in our family, I cut back on posting here at Top of JC’s Mind, although I have tried to keep everyone updated on family and personal happenings and have posted some opinion pieces on news and issues here in the US.

I have also posted about writing poetry, which, between the Binghamton Poetry Project, Sappho’s Circle, the Grapevine Group, some workshops at the Broome County Arts Council, and the Boiler House Poets, I have done quite a bit. I’ve published very little, though, other than in the Binghamton Poetry Project spring and fall anthologies. With limited time, I have chosen to spend it writing and editing rather than researching appropriate journals and submitting.

I did, though, take the major step of assembling a first draft of a poetry collection centering on the North Adams area where I grew up.  I need major amounts of time to re-work it before it is ready to be sent to contests or publishers.

I also put together some of my recent poems for a chapbook contest for women poets fifty or older. I may submit it to another contest with a January 15th deadline.

Contests are a super-long shot…

Given that there are still a lot of other things that need my attention, I am not making any promises regarding 2018, but, if anything does get published, you can be sure there will be a post about it here.
*****
This is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out more here:
 https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/01/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-1st-2018/

 

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…

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.

 

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.