Yesterday, when I read that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “yarn,” the very first thing I thought of was my friend Merrill Oliver Douglas’s chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. The title poem is about yarn bombing. For someone who may not be familiar with the term, yarn bombing is when someone puts yarn, usually knitted, on unusual objects, like parking meters, or tree trunks, or lampposts. It’s a fun and quirky form of public art.
Things have been pretty quiet here at Top of JC’s Mind for the past few days because I was back in North Adams on a solo writing retreat to work on my poetry collection.
I’m happy to report that I have the bulk of the manuscript assembled, including a few pieces that I wrote this week. There is only one blank page with just a title; I’m hoping to get that poem written and integrated into the manuscript over the holiday weekend. I also need to write a foreword and a notes and acknowledgements section at the end. When I have the draft complete, I will ask my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, to do a group review/critique for me, with the goal of having it ready to submit by mid-July.
This collection has been in development for a looooong time. In November, 2015, I took a leap of faith and applied to attend a week-long workshop/residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a collaboration between The Studios at MASS MoCA, which had, at the time, only been in operation for a few weeks, and Tupelo Press under the direction of Jeffrey Levine. I was accepted, even though I was a relatively new poet at that point. Had it not been in that particular place, I would not have even applied, but I grew up in the North Adams area and had hopes that a chapbook might grow out of the experience, given the intersection of my personal and family history with the current, very different reality there. Case in point: MASS MoCA occupies the complex that housed Sprague Electric when I was growing up but that started out as Arnold Print Works that made textiles. (If you are interested in how the week went, you can check my blog archive for Nov. 2015, as I blogged every day of the residency.)
Short version of the story is that I was in way over my head, but was saved from going under by my fellow poets. We all bonded so well that we have returned to MASS MoCA every year (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) for a reunion residency as the Boiler House Poets Collective.
So, two things happened to my initial idea of writing a chapbook about my family and the North Adams area. I realized pretty quickly that a chapbook would be too short, so it would need to be a collection. Also, life intervened in the form of a long and ongoing period of inter-generational caregiving, which made the time required to devote myself to the project scarce.
There have been two other attempts at this collection, both of which failed miserably in review. I learned a lot from the failures – at least, I hope I have – and this new iteration of the manuscript has a (I hope) more compelling focus.
We’ll see how manuscript review goes…
There are over fifty poems in the collection and over seventy pages, so there is room for cuts if needed. Most publishers expect collections to be between fifty and one hundred pages, so there is some space for adjustment.
While members of the Grapevine Group have seen a lot of the individual poems, this will be the first time they have seen the manuscript. The two prior iterations of the collection were with Boiler House Poets Collective, back before Grapevine started doing manuscript reviews within the group. The exception is my friend Jessica, who is a member of both groups. It will be especially interesting to see her reaction to this newest iteration.
After Grapevine review and edits, I may see if any other BHPC poets want to weigh in – or maybe even before, if any of them are especially keen on the concept/subject to my begging/gluttons for punishment/very bored.
At any rate, come mid-summer, I’m hoping to start doing submissions with the collection. Then, in the fall and winter, the rejections will start rolling in, where they can join the growing list of rejections for my chapbook manuscript in my submission database.
Eventually, one of them may make it into print. The chapbook has been both a semi-finalist and finalist in contests. So, someday?
This version of the collection is definitely stronger than the two prior attempts. So, maybe, someday?
If it happens, you will definitely be able to read about it at Top of JC’s Mind, which will probably be around even though it is cheugy. I just learned that word…
Or, if the chapbook or collection gets accepted for publication, you may just be able to hear me scream, even if you are not close by. 😉
The poetry reading series from the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace at the Bundy Museum that began with National Poetry Month in April has gone into overtime! This week’s offering is available here, along with the prior weeks’ readings.
Featured this week are Robert Ruane, Joshua Lewis, Merrill Douglas, and Joshua Grosse, who is a Binghamton University undergraduate. I appreciate hearing from one of the younger voices in our local poetry community.
I first met Bob Ruane through the Binghamton Poetry Project but have also seen him at various Catholic social justice gatherings over the years. Bob has an amazing memory, what we would have called in my New England hometown having “a mind like a steel trap.” His poems overflow with details of what he sees and hears. He currently has a poem on display at the Vestal Museum as part of the Empty the Inkpots exhibit in conjunction with the Binghamton Poetry Project.
Josh Lewis earned his PhD from Binghamton University and has facilitated poetry writing workshops through the Broome County Arts Council. My attendance at these is how we became acquainted. He edited and contributed to Transformations, a collaborative chapbook by some of the BCAC poets, which became available almost exactly a year ago. He has recently started a new blog, The Rain Healer.
Merrill Douglas is one of the stalwarts of the Grapevine Group, my local poet-friends who meet regularly to workshop our poems. We first met, though, when her son and one of my daughters were in middle school together, back in the days before I was writing. Merrill is a very astute reader and always gives me very insightful editorial suggestions. I especially admire her ability to choose just the right details and imagery to draw the reader into her poems. I was pleased that Barrett chose to ask her about her use of detail in the Q&A segment after she reads. I’m pleased to share links to samples of her work, as well as the all-important link to order her chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids, here. Local folks can also find her book in the BCAC Artisan Gallery and in the Museum Shop at the Bundy.
Motivated by writing this post yesterday, I started searching for more opportunities to submit my chapbook for publication. After not finding any contests currently available – I could find lots for collections, but not chapbooks – I started looking through the Poets & Writers database of small presses that publish poetry.
I was looking for presses that are currently open for unsolicited chapbook manuscripts, but had to wade through broken links, the almost inevitable changes in schedules due to COVID, and the unfortunate number of presses that seem to have disappeared since they had listed with Poets & Writers two to three years ago.
I did manage to find what seemed to be a good match. The database said they accepted unsolicited manuscripts from September through December, but, when I visited the press’s site, I found out that they had moved up their open reading to the summer and were closing to submissions September 6. So, as it was September 5th, I stopped searching and got to work on the submission.
Given that I had the manuscript in my google docs, you might think that it would be relatively quick and easy to get the submission in, but it actually took a couple of hours. The press preferred a .docx in 5.5×8.5 inch format. I admit that I don’t know Word as well as google docs. I got the page format changed relatively easily, but struggled a bit to get the margins the proper size. I usually write short to medium length lines, but there were some lines long enough that they didn’t fit with the smaller pages. In some instances, I wound up changing my lineations. For the handful of multi-page poems, I had to be mindful of the page breaks to make sure that they weren’t falling in awkward places. I was grateful that there is an easy way to update the table of contents, as it changed considerably.
In the end, I was able to complete the submission yesterday, so, at least, I didn’t send on the very last day! It took a while, but I learned some new Word skills.
And the next time some press wants a 5.5×8.5 inch format, I’ll be ready.
This spring, I entered my chapbook manuscript in eight contests. So far, I’ve received five rejections, although I was a semi-finalist in one of them, which is encouraging, even though it is still a rejection. I expect to hear back from the other three sometime this month or next.
I did another round of revisions and have entered this newest version to one (knowingly virtually impossible to be accepted by) press. I have two other contests in mind, but should probably get myself motivated to search for others.
As long as we are on the topic of things I should do, I should also try to do some journal submissions. While I have made some strides in improving my poetry, I am still a neophyte when it comes to the world of publishing. Trying to choose among hundreds of journals which are most likely to consider the kind of poetry I write is perplexing. Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out where not to send something, such as the contest that wanted you to prove you had read all their requirements by quoting your favorite rap lyric in the cover letter – and I don’t know any rap lyrics. Most often, you read a sampler from the journal and try to guess if they might like your work. Because there are usually reading fees involved, it helps to try to figure out which journals are most likely to be interested. With so much else going on, I have trouble getting myself motivated to slog through lists and databases and spend time following all the different rules for submission, knowing that then you are looking at waiting periods of various lengths and most likely a bunch of rejection emails.
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!
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.)
[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.]
So with the birth of a new collection of poems, I thought I might share the backstory, as the poems came together in an unusual way, for me.
The poems in this book began as a monthlong exercise in imitations. Each day I’d choose a poem from a literary magazine or book of poems I had lying around, and I’d try to do a word-for-word imitation, but trying often to use opposite words. That is, if the poem started “One early morning…” I might say “Every late night….” I tried to choose poems that seemed unlike anything I might write: longer lines, narrative rather than lyric.
I didn’t overthink the process, I just let words rise up as prompted by the original poem, and figured whatever subject matters were lurking in my brain would arise naturally from this process. So then I had thirty or so of these, and looking…
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…