Saying good-bye to Anita

This morning, I sang for the funeral of Anita Alkinburg Shipway. She was a member of the music ministry at a church that I attended for a number of years, but our primary connection was through poetry.

When I joined the Binghamton Poetry Project in 2014, Anita was already involved. I got to know her better when we were both invited to join Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn. We later also participated in some workshops with the Broome County Arts Council.

I always admired Anita’s storytelling ability both in conversation and in writing. She often used the tools of narrative poetry to reveal the truth – and quirks – of human nature. She smiled and laughed easily while also being very sympathetic when we most needed it. I appreciated the depth of her wisdom as an elder.

When the pandemic moved the Binghamton Poetry Project to Zoom, Anita joined us as often as she could, despite some technical challenges. We often joked with her about the cuckoo clocks in her home that would add their voices to ours. She shared a poem about them here. You can find more of her poems in the Binghamton Poetry Project online anthologies.

Originally, Anita was scheduled to participate with me in a Zoom reading for National Poetry Month in 2021, sponsored by the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the Zoom waiting room and wasn’t able to be recorded. I sincerely regret not being able to share any video of her reading her work.

Anita died at Mercy House, a residence for those near the end of life. Anita had volunteered at Mercy House and it’s a comfort to know that she was in such a familiar and peaceful place in her last days.

I was upset to learn that COVID played a part in her death. Apparently, a COVID infection interacted with other medical conditions and Anita could not recover. It reminded me again to remain cautious. I know that, despite my best efforts, I may someday contract COVID and could infect someone else, but I don’t know if I could forgive myself if I was being cavalier about infection and passed the virus on to someone who suffered grave consequences.

Anita visited Top of JC’s Mind and would occasionally comment on posts. More often, she would write to me directly. I remember having a discussion with her about what it means for something to be “top of mind.” Apparently, her Midwestern upbringing a generation before my New England one resulted in a different interpretation of the phrase.

No matter.

Today, Anita is at the top of JC’s Mind.

Rest in peace and eternal joy, Anita. May choirs of angels greet you and lead you to paradise.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/10/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-10th-2023/

New poem at Third Wednesday!

I’m excited to share that my poem “April 19, 2022 – Vestal, New York” has just been published by Third Wednesday Magazine on their website and will be included in their quarterly print edition this spring!

This poem began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt on that date from workshop leader Suzanne Richardson. We were studying the use of a central image or metaphor. We were meeting via Zoom as I sat at my desk in the midst of a late snowstorm, so snow/storms became the central image.

One thing about writing from prompts in a workshop is that there isn’t a lot of time for planning, so I tend to go with the first thing that presents itself. Fortunately, I had experience with snowstorms, so my mind had somewhere to turn.

I workshopped the poem with the Grapevine Poets and did revisions before sending it out. I’m grateful that it has found a home with Third Wednesday!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/09/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-9th-2023/

Binghamton Poetry Project anthology – Fall 2022

I’m pleased to share the Fall 2022 online anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project, which includes four of my poems, some of which need more explanation than others!

“Ode to Pentel P207” was written from a prompt during a summer workshop on response poetry with Samia Ahmed. Not surprisingly, we were studying odes that week. As it happened, odes were also a topic of a workshop on Romanticism with Samantha Flatt this fall, so this poem represents both of those sessions.

I do have a special relationship with my Pentel mechanical pencils! I started using them extensively when I was in college. They fit my hand well and are great for fine work, such as writing music manuscripts by hand, which we had to do before music editing software became readily available. I’ve continued to use them and they are my go-to writing implement when I draft poems and when I workshop them.

I hadn’t thought it was weird to have a favorite pencil until I was workshopping this poem, first published by Wilderness House Literary Review:

In my purse

cheap pens I won’t miss if they’re lost
my wallet, heavy with too many coins
ibuprofen for headaches
a pack of tissues
hair ties for windy days
a dog-eared calendar
my license to drive
a crumpled shopping list
emergency cough drops
a pyx
my favorite mechanical pencil, extra lead
credit cards – insurance cards – loyalty cards
a laminated prayer card from my mother’s funeral

Several people commented that the line that let them know something was up was the line about the mechanical pencil, which to me was just a normal thing to carry in a purse. Perhaps, though, it is a bit strange to make a pencil the subject of an ode, although we did study some odes that had been written about everyday objects.

“Beauty can be…” was written in response to Samantha Flatt’s workshop on Romanticism and Beauty with a prompt to describe my relationship with beauty. I was trying to capture the sentiment that I find beauty in many, seemingly contradictory circumstances.

“Hoosic” was written in response to the second week of Suzanne Richardson’s workshop on prose poems. Those three weeks were my first time to attend an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project workshop series since we went virtual in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. The prompt was to include in our prose poem an illogical or associative leap or a surreal moment or a mix of fact and fantasy. As often happens when presented with a prompt and the need to write quickly, I turned to a familiar topic, here, the Hoosic River, about which I have written several poems as part of my full-length manuscript centered on the North Adams, Massachusetts area. I will leave it to the reader to decide if my personification of the river fulfills the prompt.

The reason that there is a fourth poem listed is because “He Pines” was written at a special summer event, Much Ado in the Garden, a Shakespearean-themed festival. I participated in a Binghamton Poetry Project reading and mini-workshop, resulting in this very atypical poem. In keeping with the prompts, it includes some no longer used (and somewhat insulting) words. It also has the line count and rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, although not the iambic pentameter. I am notoriously bad at writing in Western received forms, so that I managed anything even sonnet-like is an achievement. This is a disclaimer, though, that I agreed to include it in the anthology only as an example of playing with language for this special event, not because it is actually a good poem!

This fall also marked the return to an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project public reading, although I had a conflict and couldn’t attend. Perhaps in the spring, I will be able to participate, if the tripledemic has alleviated by then.

Please feel free to read the whole Fall 2022 anthology. You can also view past anthologies and browse the site for other features. Enjoy!

My First Chapbook!

I am thrilled to announce that Hearts, my first chapbook, will be published by Kelsay Books in 2023! I don’t yet have an exact release date but expect it to be around September.

Kelsay Books was founded by poet Karen Kelsay in 2012 and currently has over a thousand titles listed in its bookstore. This makes it a much larger press than most of my previous submissions, some of which went to presses that only publish one or two titles a year. I took a chance submitting to Kelsay because two of my local Grapevine Poets, Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers, have books forthcoming from them. I’ll be sure to post their books here at Top of JC’s Mind when they become available.

Kelsay publishes poetry exclusively under four different imprints: Aldrich Press for free verse poetry up to 90 pages; White Violet Press for formal poetry up to 100 pages (Burt’s category); Alabaster Leaves for chapbooks under 50 pages (Jessica and my books will be under this imprint); and Daffydowndilly for rhyming poetry by adults for children.

Another welcome feature of Kelsay is that they respond very quickly, generally within fourteen days of submission. I received word of acceptance on day ten. This is blazingly fast. The typical response time for prior submissions I had done was six months, with a few taking more than a year to send out rejections.

Hearts centers around my mother, known here at TJCM as Nana, particularly in the last years of her life as she struggled with heart failure. The first incarnation of the chapbook was assembled in fall of 2017 as an entry into the QuillsEdge Press contest with the theme “Transitions.” It was named a finalist and the poem “Sixteen Hours” was included in an anthology that was published in conjunction with the winning manuscript, Skin Gin. That version also placed in the top 1% of submissions in another contest.

That early positive feedback proved to be important in the following years. As Nana’s health continued to decline, I wrote poems to help me process but couldn’t think about reworking the manuscript. After her death in May, 2019, I took some time to extend, workshop, and edit the chapbook and started sending it out in spring of 2020. That version was a semifinalist in a contest but was also getting a lot of rejections from contests and open submission periods.

I continued to do edits and added a new poem in spring, 2021. At that point, my father, known here as Paco, was entering the last few months of his life, so doing submissions faded into the background. He passed away last September and I returned to doing a few submissions before the end of the year. I was doing submissions for my full-length manuscript, as well.

Kelsay was the 34th submission for Hearts in its various forms.

There is a difference of opinion on whether that is a lot or just run-of-the-mill. Most of the people that I’ve told have noted my perseverance and commitment in the face of rejection but a few, who have decades-long experience as poets, think thirty-four isn’t that bad or unusual.

For now, I’m still feeling joy mixed with relief. In these past years, I’ve watched many of my poet-friends publish their first books and had begun to wonder if I just wasn’t good enough. Now, I’m coming to think of it more as finding the right match. Kelsay Books makes clear they are seeking manuscripts that are accessible to a general audience. I consider myself a community poet, as my experience has come through workshopping with fellow poets and community poetry sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and others, instead of from academic studies. I tend to write in a narrative style. While I occasionally write in Chinese/Japanese-derived forms like tanka, I have never written anything decent in traditional European forms, like sonnet or villanelle. Every once in a while, a rejection email comes with a bit of feedback, which tends to run along the lines of my work not being crafted well enough or sophisticated enough. While I do continue to work on craft and revision skills, I will never write like someone with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree.

And that’s okay.

It’s just easier to believe now that I can say I have a book forthcoming.

I’m sure I will post more about this as I work through the process of publication and gain more skills along the way. Style guidelines. Fonts. Cover art.

One of the blessings of being in a community of poets, though, is that help is available if I need it. I also now have a publisher with a team of professionals to get my book out into the world.

It still feels strange to be able to say that.

But I think I could get used to it.

BPP Spring 2022 Anthology

I’m pleased to share the Binghamton Poetry Project Spring 2022 Anthology. The Binghamton Poetry Project is a grant-supported outreach program in which graduate students in poetry and creative writing from Binghamton University offer free community workshops, offering children, youth, and adults the chance to learn more about and write poetry. BPP moved online during the pandemic, although we are hopeful that an in-person workshop will be possible again this summer.

This spring, I attended two workshops. My poem “Aubade with Birds” was written in response to a prompt in Suzanne Richardson’s workshop, Fresh Images and Form. This was my first attempt at writing an aubade, which the Poetry Foundation defines as “a love poem or song welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn.” I seldom write love poems and this one is definitely more on the lament side.

The other two poems were written during Shannon Hearn’s FIELDING TENDER: Nature Writing for the Apocalypse. “Kaʻūpūlehu” is based on a visit to the dryland forest preserve by that name on the Big Island of Hawai’i where daughter T interned during a semester spent in the Islands while she was a student at Cornell University. B and I were not able to visit during that semester but made a trip there several years later with her. Kaʻūpūlehu is an amazing place; you can see some videos and photos and learn more about it here.

The haiku in the anthology is one of five I wrote during a fun session with Shannon in which we wrote haiku in response to an image and a randomly generated word. (There is a note with the information on the word and image included on the page with the poem.) There was quite a bit of laughter that evening as some of the images and words led to pretty fantastical literary leaps, but I thought this particular haiku managed to make sense apart from its origin in the exercise.

Thank you for visiting the Binghamton Poetry Project anthology. Please check out the other poets while you are there. Some of the past anthologies are also available through the drop-down menu.

Women of Words

Last night, I was honored to take part in the Women of Words poetry reading, presented by the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. Many, many thanks to Connie Barnes, the BCAC gallery manager, for organizing and hosting the event, which was held at the Orazio Salati Gallery, currently housing the BCAC Artisan Gallery and its Spring Awakening Exhibition.

As part of the Exhibition, each of the five Women of Words poets contributed a spring poem, which was framed and displayed along with the visual artworks. It was an honor for our words to be included in the Exhibition and a joy to read in the midst of so many wonderful pieces by local artists.

For me, it was also a joy to be reading with poet-friends from the Grapevine Poets, Wendy Stewart, Jessica Dubey, Carol Mikoda, and Merrill Oliver Douglas. I almost forgot to be nervous! We had three other Grapevine Poets in attendance, buoying us, and Connie gave us each wonderful, warm introductions. I also had daughter T in the audience.

Due to the size of the gallery and pandemic protocols, we had to limit the number of attendees. Connie took reservations in advance and I’m pleased to say that we “sold out”, if I may use that term for a free event. I was humbled when, after the reading, an administrator-friend from back in my days volunteering with our school district a couple of decades ago told me that she had signed up to attend specifically because I was reading. It was great to reconnect with her. Back in the years when we saw each other frequently, I hadn’t yet entered my current writing practice with either poetry or blogging, both of which I hope are more compelling than the committee documents I was working on back then.

I haven’t done a huge number of in-person poetry readings and, with the pandemic, had gotten accustomed to poetry onscreen. I remain grateful for those remote opportunities, especially in getting to hear readings from far-flung locations, but I had forgotten the power of connecting with a flesh-and-blood audience right in front of me. Hearing the occasional chuckle, seeing heads nod or eyes close while listening intently, and receiving applause are affirming that your words have reached someone, right then and there, and forged a community in that space, however briefly, something that is difficult to replicate with each individual in a little Zoom box.

In my set, I read a mix of published and unpublished poems. I began with “Thanks to the Department of Public Art” which I had written for a BCAC event in 2016 at the request of the Binghamton Poetry Project and which appeared in their Fall 2016 anthology. I included “Sisters” which I published in a blog post and “Sprague Suite” and “Monroe Bridge Mail” which first appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review. There is a blog post with background on those poems here. I read “Lily of the Valley” which was the poem I had written for the Exhibition and “Object Lesson” which is also unpublished, so I won’t share here, hoping that they will eventually make their way into a journal.

So, Happy National Poetry Month for US folks, Happy Spring for Northern Hemisphere people, and Happy Fall for you all in the Southern! Stay tuned for more poetry as we continue through the month of April.

Five Poems in Wilderness House Literary Review!

I am pleased and excited to share the link to the latest quarterly issue of Wilderness House Literary Review, which features five of my poems. Many thanks to poetry editor Ravi Yelamanchili and the whole team at WHLR for including me in their spring issue. If you are reading this in Spring, 2022, you can access the current issue at the link above; scroll down to the Poetry section to find Joanne Corey in the list of poets and click, which will take you to my work. If it is beyond that, you can find the issue through the cumulative index as Volume 17.1 – Spring 2022. While you are there, browse the WHLR archive for poetry, essays, art, fiction, and book reviews going back to Spring 2006. You’re sure to find something that will fascinate and delight you!

I thought I’d use this post to give some background on the poems and submission process. As folks who have been following Top of JC’s Mind for a while know, the last few years have been challenging for me as my family navigated the difficult last years of B’s mom and my parents, as well as the joy of welcoming a new generation to our family coupled with the complications of having them live across an ocean from us with the pandemic adding another layer of stress.

Because of all that, I was sandwiching in writing in a rather haphazard way and not concentrating on submissions. When I did begin making myself do the fraught work of preparing submissions, I concentrated on sending out my chapbook and collection manuscripts rather than journal submissions. Usually, a goodly number of poems in a manuscript have already been published in journals and I knew that I needed to get individual poems published as journal publications are the backbone of sharing poetry. Knowing that I was struggling with doing journal submissions, my wise poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas counseled me to choose five poems that I liked and send them out to a bunch of journals without stressing over style or if the poems related to each other or any of the other things that were keeping me paralyzed. I did that in early February. I chose to submit to WHLR because they were one of the first journals to publish my work back in Fall, 2015, just as I was getting more deliberate about publishing my poetry and just before we entered into our intensive phase with elder care. I thought there might be one or two of the five that would interest them but I was shocked and amazed that they accepted all five. (Being a good poetry citizen, I immediately withdrew the poems from all other journals to which I had submitted them.)

The rest of this post will give some of the background to the poems. You can choose to read them first, using the links in the first paragraph, or read the rest of the post first and the poems afterwards. I’ll write about the poems in the order in which they appear.

Starting off with a trigger warning, especially for family and friends who may not be ready to read “We probably should have taken off”, which is about the death of my father, known here as Paco. I wrote the first draft in the middle of the night while I was at the Boiler House Poets Collective residency only a couple of weeks after Paco’s death and workshopped it there. I did revisions and workshopped it again with the Grapevine Poets in October – and then couldn’t bear to look at it again for several months. I did the final edits in order to send it out this winter because I knew from the reaction of the poets who had seen the drafts that it was a strong poem. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell objectively when something is strong if it is also close to me emotionally. I had originally written this poem by hand in a journal and tried to replicate the spacing I had used when I put it into the computer. The use of white space seemed to fit the mood of the poem and is a frequently employed device in contemporary poetry, although some online journals advise against it because it can be hard to replicate in their publishing software. My original rendition is probably even “spacier” than the published version due to being on a larger page.

“Sprague Suite” is an ekphrastic poem based on the exhibit Transition: Decade of Decision, Sprague Electric>>MASS MoCA, 1989-1999 by Christopher Gillooly, which was on display there in 2018. When I was at our Boiler House residency that year, I felt as if it was my second home. I was drawn to it because it told the history of the former industrial site which is now home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I am from the North Adams area, so I also have a personal perspective on that history. The six sections of “Sprague Suite” relate to Sprague Electric, which occupied the site for several decades until 1986, manufacturing capacitors. For fun, I also played a bit with form in this poem. Sections I and VI are haiku and II and V are tanka. III and IV are my go-to, free verse. “Industrial Buddha”, the title of section V, is the name of a collage sculpture of found objects that was part of the exhibit. This poem is part of my full-length poetry collection which is currently submitted to several contests and publishers.

“In my purse” began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in fall of 2020. We were studying list poems and the power of juxtaposition. I’m a fan of list poems and had written several previously. When we write from prompts, we only have about ten minutes to draft, so the poems tend to be relatively short. There is also so little time to plan or ponder that words often fall onto the page in unexpected ways, which is perfect for a list poem where juxtaposition is everything. Thinking this quickly-generated draft had potential, I decided to workshop it with Grapevine and revise it to send out to journals. I’m so happy it has found a home at Wilderness House Literary Review!

“Zoom Wedding – October 4, 2020” also began as a Binghamton Poetry Project prompt in summer 2020. We were to begin a poem with a line from Ocean Vuong’s searing “Aubade with Burning City” about the final evacuation from Saigon in 1975. We were, however, to take our poem in a different direction. I chose the line, “He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.” Given that we were then in the early months of the pandemic with public health rules making large gatherings impossible, I recast the line to open the story of a couple forced to cancel a long-planned June wedding and instead hold it in October via Zoom, which, for future readers who might see this after Zoom has been merged, renamed, or supplanted by newer technologies, is a video conferencing platform that gained ascendency when everything from business meetings to church services to family gatherings had to be cancelled or held virtually instead of in person. I began the draft during our BPP session and finished it the next day. I workshopped it with the Grapevine Poets, but then set it aside. I made some revisions in order to send it out this winter. I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to anyone as most people are trying to move beyond the pandemic, even though it hasn’t ended. Thankfully, with vaccines and treatments available, in-person gatherings are much safer in 2022 than they were in 2020.

“Monroe Bridge Mail” was drafted in May 2021 as I prepared to go on a private writing retreat back to North Adams to finish the manuscript which I referenced in the “Sprague Suite” section above. While I went to high school in North Adams, my actual hometown is Monroe Bridge, then home to about two hundred people, about twenty miles distant. I wanted to have some more Monroe Bridge poems in the collection, so I wrote this about our post office. I chose to employ a more conversational, storyteller mode, with long sentences and asides. It is a lot of fun to read aloud, which I had the opportunity to do at the Vestal Museum last summer.

Whew! Long post. If you have made it this far, thank you and congratulations! Please feel free to comment below. I love to know what people are thinking about my poems and/or posts.

SoCS: filling a page

Writers often commiserate over being faced with a blank page and not being able to think of something to write on it.

Or maybe now-a-days a blank screen?

I don’t usually run into that problem, most likely because my brain almost never shuts off. There are actually reasons for this that I will go into when I’m not writing stream of consciousness….

Of course, just because I can always fill a page with thoughts doesn’t mean that the writing is worth sharing.

My natural mode when writing poetry, though, is to slosh things around in my head for days/weeks before writing them down. It’s good, though, that through the Binghamton Poetry Project, Heather Dorn, and Sappho’s Circle, I learned to write poetry quickly from prompts.

It usually works like this: The leader of the workshop gives a few choices for prompts to get you started on a poem and there is a time limit, which can be as short as ten minutes, in which to write. This plays to one of my strengths, which is writing relatively short poems, but definitely challenges me in that there isn’t time to ruminate. You really only have about a minute to decide which prompt you want to respond to and the direction you want to take before starting to draft your poem on the page.

Through practice over the last several years, I’ve gotten pretty decent at writing a poem quickly from a prompt. Obviously, there needs to be revision time later but a number of poems that were in response to prompts have made their way into my manuscripts.

Now, if I could just get one of my manuscripts published…
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “page.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/02/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-5-2022/

the end

So today is the last day of Just Jot It January. I want to thank Linda Hill, the Canadian author whose blog Life in Progress hosts Just Jot It January, and her blogging community who provide prompts and support for the process.

I know Linda is having a very busy time in her life and considered not holding #JusJoJan this year. I had commented during the decision-making process that I would participate as I could if she held it but that I wasn’t going to put my pressure on myself to post every day.

So, of course, Linda did go forward with Just Jot It January and I did post every day, despite international travel and my current unsettled state of grief/overwhelm/exhaustion.

Have I ever mentioned that I have a bit of a tenacious streak?

Theoretically, I could continue posting every day but I know that won’t happen. I need to devote more time to doing poetry submissions, which will cut into blog writing time. I’m also hoping that I will be writing some more new poems soon. I’m guessing that the Binghamton Poetry Project will be having some sessions in the coming weeks and I’m getting some ideas popping into my head otherwise. I also have a few poems that need final edits before I send them out.

I wish Linda and all the other #JusJoJan bloggers a successful 2022. We’ve all made it through 1/12th of the year intact. May this January be our springboard into February and beyond!

Thanks to the Department of Public Art

I’m not sure if it’s intended to reblog a post for Just Jot It January or not but I am writing this blurb, so it should count. 😉

I was thinking of this poem because the Water Street parking ramp which housed murals from the Department of Public Art is being demolished. The whole first stanza is about that art so it feels strange to see local artists discussing its destruction on the news. It remains to be seen if some of the art will be re-created elsewhere as it was very site-specific.

It also occurs to me that, over five years later, the Heart of the Arts dinner crowd is still the largest audience for whom I have read.

Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2022/

Top of JC's Mind

When I revealed my secret poetry mission, I promised to share the text of my poem “Thanks to the Department of Public Art” after it was published in the fall anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project.  The anthology is available tonight at our reading, so I am pleased to share the poem below. Here is a recording of my original reading at the 2016 Heart of the Arts Awards dinner.

Thanks to the Department of Public Art
~~ by Joanne Corey

 for Emily Jablon, Peg Johnston, and all whose hearts are in the arts

Stencils and murals
on descending levels
of the Water Street parking ramp
time-travel through that historic corner –
Link Blue Box flight simulators
evolve from pipe organs –
punching in on Bundy
time recording machines
in the days before IBM
and the move to Endicott –
on street level
“Welcome to the…

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