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.
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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/

 

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December writing

This year, I offloaded a lot of my traditional December duties to concentrate on writing tasks. The first order of business was to finish a chapbook draft for a contest at QuillsEdge Press. I have now submitted it and am pondering submitting it to a second contest, which closes on January 15. I’d just need to write an acknowledgement page to get it ready.

The next task was to send out a Christmas letter on behalf of my parents. For years, my mom faithfully sent out cards to friends and relatives, but this will be the second Christmas that she hasn’t been up to doing it and I wanted to make sure that the people on her list know their situation.  We enclosed a photo of Nana and Paco with granddaughters E and T and six-month-old great-granddaughter ABC.  E helped out by addressing the envelopes.

With all of my parents’ letters safely mailed, I turned to my own card list. I composed an enclosure letter and battled with my printer to get enough copies ready. We decided to put in two photos, the one that we used for my parents’ list and a second favorite photo of ABC taken when she was four months old and visiting her father and family in London. With my stacks of photos, letters, cards, Christmas seals and stamps on hand, I spent hours signing and addressing over the weekend and today and just brought the last batch to the mailbox for 5 PM pickup.

I am happy to have our greetings sent on their way, knowing that we will be connecting with relatives that we aren’t able to see often and friends from various phases of our lives, many with whom we only correspond at the holidays. 2017 has been such a roller coaster that I especially wanted to make sure to share the story.

And now, I am finally writing this blog post! I’m hoping to get a few more in before the end of the year, although the next week will be very busy. Son-in-law L arrives on Wednesday and the tree still isn’t decorated, other than lights and treetop angel. There will be more shopping and baking to do, although the bulk of it may be done by the other adults in the house.

The most important thing this year is spending time with family and friends. The holiday correspondence was part of that effort. The in-person part already began with a lasagna dinner at Nana and Paco’s apartment with my sisters and their families and early-Christmas gift exchange. More to come about ABC’s first Christmas, which she won’t remember but the rest of us will…

chapbook draft

I have mentioned before that I am putting together a chapbook for the QuillsEdge Press contest for women poets over fifty.

At least I have the woman over fifty part nailed…

When the contest information was sent to me by one of the thoughtful male members of Grapevine Group, I already had a small group of poems written that related to this year’s theme, “In Transition.” Over the last couple of months, I have been writing and revising more poems to fill in gaps and to have enough poems to meet the page count requirement.

I have mentioned several times that I have been working assiduously on one poem in particular. After workshopping it with three different groups of poets, trying it out at a couple of readings, and revising again at the recommendation of a trusted poet-friend, I have now decided to use it as the final poem of the chapbook. Poets are advised to end with a strong poem and I am hoping that this at-least-for-now final version will fill the bill.

I had been playing with the order of the poems as I continued to add new ones and today, with all the poems finally available, I did another round of changes. When I finished the re-shuffle on the computer, I printed out a copy so that I can hold it in my hands and read it through as if it were a real publication.

I am trying to restrain myself from begging for readers to give me more advice. Though the deadline isn’t until January first, I really would like to submit next week. December is such a busy month that I would like to have it sent off and out of my head so I can move on to the rest of my to-do list. I also realize that all my poet-friends are similarly busy this time of year and don’t want to bug them more than I already have.

I am also trying to see this as a self-trust exercise. Given my lack of formal training, it’s easy for me to doubt my technical ability as a poet. People write books about how to order poems – and I haven’t read any of them, even though I do own one of them.

I will read it eventually…

For now, my plan is to read the chapbook aloud several times over several days, tweak anything that bothers me, and send it off through Submittable sometime next week.

And then wait a few months for news…

 

MoCA Monday

I started the day with steel cut oats and a hot caramel at Brewhaha, a fun cafe on the same block as our apartments. I got in the studio early, revised the poem I workshopped yesterday, updated the manuscript with the changes, and started doing timings for prospective poems for our reading on Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I was momentarily on Facebook when I saw the news of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It reminded me of our initial residency here at MASS MoCA, which coincided with one of the big Paris attacks. I lift my thoughts and prayers on behalf of all the dead and injured, their family and friends, those caring for the wounded, and our woundedness. The world is swallowed in destruction and sorrow and it is so much harder to take when human beings perpetrate violence.

I allow myself a bit of time to mourn; then, try to turn back to art.

I was anxious to visit Building 6, which opened a few months ago. I wanted to go right at opening time for the day, but had forgotten that MoCA had already switched to off-season hours, which meant not opening until 11:00. I went back to the studio and followed instructions that daughter E had thoughtfully sent me on how to create a table of contents in google docs. And it worked! I had to do a bit of editing, but I now have a table of contents which can be refreshed to correct itself when I make changes.

I tried to experience as much of Building 6 as I could in the time available. I was amazed by James Turrell’s light installations. The work of Jenny Holzer is devastating. I loved the Gunnar Schonbeck instrument collection, especially the ones we were allowed to play. It was interesting how many of the instruments used organ pipes, albeit in unconventional ways. There was also a piano string assembly, which reminded me of my 20th century theory class at Smith and the concept of prepared piano. I had a lot of fun plucking and creating glissandos on the open strings.

The most striking thing for me, though, was the building itself. I have seen the exterior of this building throughout my life, built into the point where the two branches of the Hoosic meet. At the prow, there are now large windows, allowing an expansive view of the melding of the river. I found myself drawn to the windows along the sides of the building, as well. These are the old mill windows. Many of the panes show that glass is still a liquid, as you can see the waviness of the glass caused by the passage of time. I also love the old wood, brick , and stone. MASS MoCA understands that appeal and features exhibits of both old and new artistic renderings of the building itself.

The later part of the afternoon was taken up with workshopping, which is always so informative and enlightening for me. I love the work that everyone is doing and learn so much for everyone’s poems and comments.

After dinner, we had a special treat. Marilyn read the chapbook she is developing to us. So amazing! We are planning to workshop if with her tomorrow, but people couldn’t help but get a head start tonight.

More tomorrow.

wrapping up at MASS MoCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it is going to be a challenge.

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

You all know how my plans often go, though…

Wish me luck and stay tuned!

Accolades for Anne Harding Woodworth

I am thrilled to spread the news that Anne Harding Woodworth has been chosen as the 2015-16 COG Award winner for Poetry by judge A. Van Johnson. The poems are from her soon-to-be-published chapbook The Last Gun.  You can read more about Anne and four of her poems here:  http://www.cogzine.com/#!anne-harding-woodworth/p81np

I met Anne when the Smith College Alumnae Chorus toured in Sicily in 2011. She is such a warm and welcoming person! When I later turned to poetry, she very graciously encouraged me and gave me advice. She is one of my poetry fairy-godmothers!

Congratulations, Anne!

Tara Betts

I’m sure all my poet friends will want to read this interview with Tara Betts – and read her new chapbook 7×7 kwansabas.

Speaking of Marvels

tara betts7 x 7: kwansabas (Backbone Press, 2015)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Right now, I am excited about Amber Atiya’s chapbook, and I am looking forward to reading Fatima Asghar’s chapbook. I just got a stack of chapbooks from dancing girl press, but I have enjoyed some from Belladonna, Button Poetry, and Carolina Wren.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think it’s a good way to explore a suite of poems or an idea, but I also think there’s not the same sort of pressure that foments when you are trying to develop a full-length manuscript. It allows you to zero in on a theme without feeling like it has to be 50-100 pages. I think that’s what I’ve loved in particular about Barbara Jane Reyes’ chapbooks Cherry and For…

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