digging out

In late May, I spent a few days on a private writing retreat back in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and it is the subject of my poetry collection work-in-progress, so it is helpful to me to be back there to work on it. (I wrote about it here for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, so even more rambling than I am when I have the luxury of editing myself.)

Part of the reason it is helpful to be back there is that I’m relieved of most of the caretaking/errands/planning/phoning/corresponding that take up a lot of my brain when I am at home. As if to make up for my being away for a bit, my return was greeted with an avalanche of problems that I may, finally, be at the point of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s exhausting.

I will not bore you with any details other than to say that anyone who has ever had to deal with a complex issue with a US insurance company has some inkling of what it has been like times three.

The update on the manuscript is that it is in the hands of my poet-friends with an eye toward doing a full review sometime in the next few weeks. I was fortunate that I had returned from North Adams with the poems basically done and ordered. I powered through writing the foreword and end notes before June hit so I was able to pivot to dealing with bureaucracy.

Fingers crossed that personal life will calm down in time for the manuscript review and for a couple of weeks for revision time so that I can send the manuscript out for July submission calls. Tupelo Press just helpfully reminded me that they will be having an open submission period for manuscripts in July. After attending the inaugural Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency week in 2015, I promised that I would send them work. I didn’t think it would be this many years before I would have the manuscript completed, but I am looking forward to finally keeping that promise. I feel especially obligated to send this to them because so many of the poems intersect with MASS MoCA, my time there, and the art.

I will, of course, be sending the manuscript to other publishers and contests because one needs to cast as wide a net as possible to find the right fit between the press and the poet.

One hopes.

Fingers crossed.

Another reading!

It’s been quite a poetry reading week for me! I shared the link for my reading with the Broome County Arts Council here and now I will be sharing an event that happened on Tuesday evening which is now available for viewing through Facebook.

The University Professors Press hosted a book launch and reading for Lullabies and Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan. It is the eleventh volume in their Poetry, Healing, and Growth series. I was honored to have my poem “Hydro Superintendent” chosen for inclusion in this anthology.

The event began with an interview of Dr. Louis Hoffman and Dr. Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, both of whom are psychologist/counselors and poets. They are the anthology editors, as well as contributors of poems and authors of the introduction and response activities. I was fascinated to hear them speaking about how they use poetry in and as therapy. The discussion resonated with me as a poet who recognizes the power of poetry to evoke deeper truths and who often uses writing to work through my reactions to real-life events.

Following the interview, over a dozen of the poets read their work from the anthology, including me. The range of work is wide and, as you might expect, some of the topics of the poems are difficult. A poem that dealt with racism was especially searing as we had learned the verdict in the George Floyd case just hours before the event.

The links in the second paragraph will take you to the reading and to University Professors Press if you wish to order your own copy of the anthology. You can also navigate to other volumes in the series, which I’m sure are all equally illuminating about the human experience.

chapbook update

In a too-rare burst of energy in the late-winter/early spring, I finished, workshopped, edited, and submitted to contests an expanded version of the chapbook that had been a finalist in a 2017/18 contest with QuillsEdge Press. By the way, part of being a finalist was inclusion in an anthology, IN TRANSITION, which was published in conjunction with the winning chapbook, Skin Gin, which is available here.

The rejections from that batch of submissions have started to roll in. I’ve received two so far, although I did make semi-finalist in the CutBank/University of Montana contest. While being named a finalist or semi-finalist is still a loss in real terms, it is encouraging to know that your entry has been well-received by some part of the reading team. I have six contests from which I am awaiting notification, but, the odds are that they will be rejections, so I am gearing up for another batch of submissions.

A dear and generous poet-friend recently did a close reading of the manuscript and I have done another round of revisions. There is one poem that has changed significantly enough that I’m workshopping it with my local poetry circle. After those revisions, I’ll be looking for more contests and open reading periods for the next batch of submissions.

Back when I was starting to think about the possibility of publishing a book, I set the age of sixty as a goal. I will turn sixty in October, so I’m definitely not going to have a book in print by my sixtieth birthday.

For now, I’ll hold out hope for the book while I’m sixty, although maybe I should make the mental move to in my sixties, so there is less chance of being disappointed.

If I do get an acceptance, you can read all about it here, although it’s possible that you may hear my excited screams first!

SoCS: calendar

Maybe I should toss out my calendar.

One of my least favorite tasks at the end of the year is transferring dates from my calendar for year X to my new calendar for year X+1. I still use paper calendars, a large one in a central location in the house and a pocket one that I carry in my purse. I diligently try to keep them coordinated and updated, but now there have been so many crossouts and changes that it gets daunting to deal with them.

The latest long-time calendar entry that needs to be corrected is the annual Boiler House Poets Collective residency week at MASS MoCA. It is scheduled for early fall, so we had hoped that at least some of us would be able to gather, but we got the news that we are cancelled for this year. MASS MoCA will re-open next week, but many of its programs will be running at reduced capacity, if at all. Residencies will be cut way back because the artists are generally housed in four-bedroom apartments with only one bathroom and relatively small kitchen/common area, which wouldn’t allow for social distancing.

I know that this is the responsible path at this point, but I’m still sad. I only see all but one of the Boiler House poets during our residency, so I’m bummed knowing I won’t see them for two years instead of one.

Selfishly, I’m also sad about losing the opportunity to sequester myself in my studio in building 13 and work on my collection that centers around the North Adams area and its history, which is entwined with my family history. In 2015, when I first went to a MASS MoCA residency through a program with Tupelo Press, I had hoped that I might be able to craft a chapbook around my own relationship with the area. Over the years, it has morphed into a collection, which has been torn apart and re-configured more times than I care to admit to already. I was looking forward to having concentrated time to work on the manuscript during residency this year, hoping that I would be able to find the mental space and creativity and energy to make major progress while I was there with the support and feedback of my poet-friends.

Theoretically, I could try to shut myself in my bedroom for a week and try to hash it out on my own, but it’s hard to imagine managing it. There are enough chores and responsibilities here that it’s difficult to see how I could block out that much time. Even if I could, would I be able to do it effectively without being in that place and with the generous advice of my fellow poets?

We are able to schedule a residency for early fall 2021, but I know that is too long to put off my manuscript work. I’m going to have to get my brain in gear to work on a plan to work on the manuscript.

Maybe, I need to put it on my calendar.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “toss.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/03/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-4-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley

Boiler House Poets Collective Live!

While I wish I was saying that the Boiler House Poets Collective is together in person and giving a reading somewhere, this announcement is that we now have a public website.

There are three pages on the site: a standard “About Us” for a bit of history and general information; a page with projects we have done together, including videos which are embedded; and a page with links to books, blogs, websites, and videopoems that individual members of the Boiler House Poets Collective have been involved with as writers, editors, or creators.

I have frequently posted here about being in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts with the Boiler House Poets Collective. If you search for MASS MoCA or Boiler House, you’ll get lots of posts about the residency and the poets who have taken part – and a fair amount of soul-searching, discovery, and wonder on my part. Because I am from the North Adams area and graduated from the high school there, there is another level of experience and memory that I bring to the residency. It heightens my sense of being there as a learner, surrounded as I am with more experienced poets and with art. My formal education in visual arts and poetry is sparse and I am forever grateful to my poet-friends for their patience and generosity in helping me grow as a poet.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the website and the Boiler House Poets Collective!

We began in 2015 as part of a collaboration between Tupelo Press and the newly formed Studios at MASS MoCA, which brought together a group of nine poets, most of whom had never met, for a week of poetry and art. The poets bonded so well that we have returned for a reunion residency every year. Because of the housing and studio set-up, we return as a group of eight. Because not all the original poets have been able to return, we have, over the years, brought in poet-friends to fill spaces, so we have become a larger collective and hope to continue as a group far into the future.

This pandemic year is complicated for us. We had reserved our usual week in early fall for our reunion, but we have no idea if MASS MoCA and The Studios will be open and if Massachusetts will be allowing out-of-state visitors without a long quarantine required. Still, I know that we poets will stay in touch and support each other remotely until we can be together physically again.

If you have any comments about the site, you may leave them here or email them to boilerhousepc@gmail.com. Either way, I will respond as best I can. Even though I am, by no means, qualified enough to deserve the title “webmaster,” I did set up the site and am responsible for maintenance. If you want to compliment any of the individual poets or find out more about their work, I will make sure that your message is forwarded to them.

On behalf of the Boiler House Poets Collective, thank you!

a new chapbook from Merrill Oliver Douglas

I wanted to share the news that a local poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas has a new chapbook available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press. You can order here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/parking-meters-into-mermaids-by-merrill-oliver-douglas/

It was my privilege to participate in a manuscript review with Merrill and want to share that her work is both accessible for the general public and nuanced for those who enjoy the craft of poetry. You can read samples of her work at these links:
http://south85journal.com/issues/fall-winter-2016/fall-winter-2016-poetry/bereft/
http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/spring_2016/contributor/merrill-oliver-douglas
https://www.connotationpress.com/poetry/2370-merrill-oliver-douglas-poetry

And, seriously, who wouldn’t want to own a chapbook entitled Parking Meters into Mermaids?

Broome County Arts Council collaborative chapbook

As those of you who know me personally or who have been reading Top of JC’s Mind for a while are aware, I consider myself to be a community poet. I have next-to-no academic training in literary analysis and creative writing. I sometimes tell people that I write by instinct, but, like this blog, it is more another manifestation of the way my mind works, influenced by what I’ve read and my fortunate affiliation with groups of wonderful poets who share their work, critiques, and knowledge with me.

One of these groups in the last few years has been the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. They have sponsored several series of poetry workshops, led by Dr. Joshua Lewis. This has led to our first ever foray into publishing, a collaborative chapbook, Transformations. (The link takes you to a page with several options for download, priced at either $1 or $1.99 depending on platform.)

There are six poets represented: Pamela Olivia Brown, who also designed our cover, Joanne Corey (me), the aforementioned Joshua Lewis, who also acted as editor, Anita Alkinburg Shipway, Tony Villecco, and Harrison Young. We each submitted three poems without regard to a specific theme, but some commonalities emerged. We met to deal with ordering the poems, which is always a fraught process. I am pleased – and still somewhat shocked – that my ordering emerged as the favorite, with a couple of tweaks from the group.

In re-reading the book, I am struck by how the different styles and voices of the poets reflect common life experiences and deepen our understanding by approaching from various perspectives. Although there are only six poets, we represent different generations, races, ethnicities, genders, and places of origin. (I am endlessly fascinated by the influence of place, especially the rural/urban/suburban dynamic.)

I hope you will consider giving Transformations a read. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments here or at the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page.

[A note: It’s possible that your download will have an issue with pagination and layout. For example, I lost the stanza breaks in my Apple copy. I’m not sure if it is because I am using an older device or if there is some other reason. I can assure you, though, that all the words will come through to you, which is the most important consideration.]

 

“The Time Is Now”

Shortly before the spirituality class that I facilitate went on indefinite hiatus due to the pandemic, we finished our study of The Time Is Now:  A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister, OSB. It was published in March, 2019 in response to the signs of the times.

The book deals with the characteristics of prophets, using examples from biblical times up through the present. While some think of prophets as people who tell us our future, prophets are not fortune-tellers. They are more often those who speak hard truths to draw the community back to its original ideals when it has strayed or who call for growth and positive change in times of selfishness or apathy.

As we studied the book week after week, we often drew parallels between the text and things we were experiencing in the present. These parallels have become even more evident now that the world is dealing with the pandemic.

We see examples of prophetic voice and action, such as Doctor Li Wenliang of China, who in early December alerted colleagues to cases of what appeared to be a new virus, only to be detained by police for several days for “spreading false rumors.” After his release, he went back to work at the hospital. He contracted COVID-19, sent out another medical alert online, and died from his illness in early February. He acted as a prophet in giving warning of danger and was maligned by authorities and ignored, as often happens with prophets. As sometimes happens, he also became a martyr, with his death serving as stark testament to the truth of his message.

Sister Joan calls us to look at what is happening around us and to stand up for truth, whether that means being a prophetic voice ourselves or standing in solidarity with those who are prophets, speaking truths that are considered threatening by the powers that be. We have seen this recently in the United States where some of the governors have been belittled by the president for their science-based and prophetic public statements about the present and likely future effects of COVID-19 in their states. New York State, where I live, is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States and our governor, Andrew Cuomo, gives daily public briefings. He is very straightforward and makes it clear what is evidence-based and what is his opinion. It is very upsetting to have the president disparage him – and even more upsetting that the president contradicts the science and facts because he thinks it makes him look weak or bad personally.

It is time for all of us to have the courage to follow the prophetic voices or, if so called, to be a prophetic voice ourselves.

 

Blowout by Rachel Maddow

One of the most impressive parts of Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout is the end. No, not the index, but the twenty pages of “Notes on Sources.” I had often found myself thinking as I read the text, “How could she possibly know this level of detail?” but I know that Rachel Maddow and her staff are very dedicated to research and accuracy, so I didn’t doubt the veracity of the stories she was relating. I was pleased to see the “Notes on Sources” because she lists the books, papers, interviews, news stories, videos, magazines, etc. that she had used to find the facts, giving readers a chance to learn more and showing that she and her staff had, indeed, been diligent in their research.

The full title of the book is Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. That industry is, of course, the oil and gas industry.

Because of my many years in the anti-fracking and climate justice movements, I was familiar with the broad outlines of much of the oil and gas industry story. I appreciated the abundance of details on topics such as Oklahoma, the depths to which it rises or falls on fossil fuel dollars, earthquakes and induced seismicity, and the rise of Oklahoma City, including its entance into the world of big-league sports. I knew that Russia used its fossil fuel exports as a cudgel and that Putin and his oligarchs ran roughshod over whomever stood in their way, but hadn’t realized all the factors involved, including the immensity of the impact of US sanctions that stopped Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil from assisting Russian Arctic drilling and spearheaded Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

I was less familiar with the expressions of the “resource curse” in other parts of the world, such as Equatorial Guinea. These stories illustrate how the proceeds of the oil and gas industry flow to the already powerful leaders of government and industry and not to the general populations of the countries, who often remain mired in poverty and ecological devastation.

While I brought a considerable amount of personal background/geekery to my reading, the book is equally as enjoyable and informative for those who know little of the industry. Maddow’s writing is clear and compelling. Much of the book reads like literature, with compelling, recurring characters, rich details, and unexpected plot twists. That the stories are all true heightens their impact.

That we are continuing to deal with the repercussions of the events in this book makes reading it that much more important.
*****
Please join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/06/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-6th-2020/

Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir

Since she became a public figure during the first presidential campaign of her husband, I have felt an affinity with Michelle Robinson Obama. While on the surface it would seem that an African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t have much in common with a European-American from a tiny New England town, there are a number of similarities. We are close in age, having been born in the last few years of the Baby Boom. I have long felt that we youngest of the Boomers, who were young adults during the Reagan recession when unemployment was high and mortgage rates even higher, are fundamentally different from the elder members of our cohort. Michelle and I are both mothers of two daughters and women who have been blessed with a close and long relationship with our own mothers. We have close women friends and mentors. We are both community-minded, and also recognize the importance of educational opportunity for ourselves and others. We each have a long, loving, and intact marriage. And we are both women of our time, which means we have experienced sexism and the challenge of tending to both our private and public lives.

Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir published late last year, reinforces my sense of her on all these points. She writes honestly and beautifully; I was especially impressed with the way she wrote about her feelings about what was happening and not just the events themselves. She also frequently gives context of what happens either before or later with a particular place or event, such as the changes over time in her South Side neighborhood.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Michelle’s childhood, teen, and college years, as the stories from that time before she was a public figure were mostly new to me. I also appreciated knowing how she felt about many events and causes during the campaigns and her eight years in the White House, as well as her take on the current president.

What was most enlightening to me was hearing how being a black female impacted her life at every stage and added to the pressure to excel and to be an exemplary person at all times. As the first African-American first family, it seemed that every move the Obamas made was scrutinized. I admire that Michelle and her mom, who was also in residence at the White House, were able to protect First Daughters Malia and Sasha from most of the intrusiveness of the press corps so that they could grow up (mostly) out of the public eye.

Many people share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her accomplishments. Her book tour includes venues that seat thousands of people and her book has sold over three million copies, making it the bestseller of 2018.

She can definitely add best-selling author to her already impressive resume.