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

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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.

Binghamton Poetry Project – Spring 2017

March was very hectic, but I did manage to attend four of five sessions for the Binghamton Poetry Project. Our reading took place on April first, but I missed it as it was the same afternoon as our University Chorus concert.

I haven’t had a chance to collect my anthology yet, but these three poems are my contribution. The first two were written from prompts during our sessions and the last one I wrote in response to the tongue-in-cheek suggestion of one of the Grapevine Group poets that we each write a snow poem after our big storm.

Enjoy! (And comment if you are so moved…)

Pneumonia

Her breaths are fast and shallow
between coughs.
I untie her sneakers,
work them off,
pull off her socks,
help her out of her shirt and pants,
slip her nightgown on.

She sits on the edge
of the bed,
pivots to lie down,
but needs me to lift
her feet.
I pull up the covers,
close the door,
and wait for the X-ray results.

*****

Two Hearts

Her cardiac rehab is Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

He rides with her in the retirement home van,
helps her navigate into the lift with her walker,
sits with her in the waiting room
until she is called into therapy
where he is not allowed to follow.

He waits.

Her exercises accomplished,
they board the van for the ride
back home to their apartment
where lunch awaits.

After sixty-two years of marriage,
he does not want her to go
alone.

*****

Nor’easter Numbers

The forecast was for an inch overnight
with Five to Eight to follow;
then, One to Three
with Six to Nine.

I rose before the daylight-saving
delayed dawn to find
a foot of snow already down,
consequence of a more westerly
track
plus
a stall.

My strategy,
born of long-ago New England winters,
to clear the overnight
accumulation from the driveway,
then shovel
every few inches,
add in the front walk
and path to the mailbox
as strength allows.

A good plan,
but overly ambitious
for a Five foot One-and-a-half inch
Fifty-six-year-old
alone
with a shovel
contending with the wake
of snowplows
and snow falling at Two
or Three
or Four
inches
an hour,
Twenty-seven inches
by Five o’clock
and still snowing.

Seven bouts of shoveling,
Twelve thousand, ninety-one Fitbit steps,
and Two blessed assists
from the neighbors’ snowblower
yield a driveway cleared to a road
under a county-wide travel ban,
a path to a mailbox that may
be filled with today’s mail
tomorrow,

weather permitting.

Sappho’s Circle reading

Last night, Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn, hosted a poetry reading at the Bundy Museum. The Bundy is our home and we decided to do the reading during Women’s History Month, as part of their current emphasis on women’s issues, particularly suffrage.

We chose to each read a poem from a woman poet whom we admire, followed by a poem or two of our own. I chose to read “The Bleeding-heart” by Mary Oliver. I admire her talent for melding nature imagery with insights into the human condition. I paired it with my poem “Discovery” which is thematically related  – by springtime, by heirloom flowers, and by family connections.

After Sappho’s Circle members had read, we opened the floor. We were thrilled to have several poets share work with us. I was especially happy that three of the Grapevine Group, formerly the Bunn Hill Poets, read. There is significant overlap between Grapevine, which meets a couple of times a month to workshop our poems, and Sappho’s Circle, so it was nice to have support from our poet-friends and give them an opportunity to join in the fun.

And it was tremendously fun!

And the poems were amazing! Several of the participants are great performers and I admired their skill in engaging us with their movement, pacing, pitch, and tone. Many of the poets also used the opportunity to present some of their edgier work, using language that I, small-town-New-England bred, good-little-Catholic-girl, would never be able to pull off.

I am honored to have been a part of the reading. I can barely believe that I get to be among so many helpful, talented poets on a regular basis. I am especially indebted to Heather, who, when she was assistant director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, connected me to what is now the Grapevine critique group, and who started Sappho’s Circle to foster women poets who want to publish their work.

I am a lucky poet!