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.
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.
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. 😉
In fall of 2015, I took a frightening leap of faith and attended my first-ever poetry residency/workshop. It was a collaboration between Tupelo Press and The Studios at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). As a relatively inexperienced poet, the only reason I was emboldened to apply was that it was in North Adams, the small city in the Berkshires where I had gone to high school. I grew up in the tiny town of Monroe Bridge, about twenty miles away, so North Adams had been a second hometown to me, with at least weekly visits to relatives and stores.
The residency was, well, complicated. It was daunting and terrifying at times and I was perpetually in over my head, but I learned a lot and met wonderful poets. I blogged about the experience and just re-read all the posts. This post contains links to the residency week’s posts, which convey things fairly well, except for downplaying the terror just a tad.
In those 2015 posts, I mentioned the possibility of a reunion residency and I’m pleased to say that the Boiler House Poets Collective has met every year since in early fall for a week at MASS MoCA.
Until this year.
Because of the pandemic protocols and travel restrictions, our 2020 reunion is cancelled. We are all sad, but we are on the schedule for fall 2021, so we know we will return.
In one of the 2015 posts, I mention my plan to put together a poetry collection about my personal and family ties to the North Adams area and that it might take a long time to put it together.
This turned out to be true.
While I have completed a different manuscript in the intervening years – and two major iterations of the North Adams collection, I am nowhere near finished with the collection I envisioned in 2015. I had planned to spend a major chunk of our 2020 residency hammering out more poems and a new version of the manuscript.
I get emails from MASS MoCA and The Studios, so I knew that a deadline was coming up to apply for individual residencies for winter/spring 2021 and I began pondering if that was something I should try to do. It’s a bit complicated because 1) it’s very competitive; 2) the minimum block is two weeks, which makes things trickier in terms of being away from home; 3) no one can project what kinds of virus levels, travel restrictions, closures, capacity limits, etc. may be in place in 2021, so cancellations could still occur; 4) the application would have been quite a chore, especially because I don’t have a cv prepared.
In discussing this with my spouse B and resident daughter T, an alternate solution came up – that I could go to North Adams on a self-styled writing retreat, staying in a local hotel/inn, visiting the museum with my membership pass, and writing in my room or some other socially distanced space that may present itself. If I do this, I could choose the dates myself and could wander about the area as I wished. Importantly, I could also go sooner rather than later, while both New York and Massachusetts have good control on virus levels and no travel restrictions between them. I would be able to maintain good social distancing, so my risks would not be any higher there than here.
So, I might make it to North Adams to write for a week after all. Of course, it won’t be as rich an experience as I am used to when being officially in residence with my inestimable Boiler House poet-friends, but the time away to work on the collection in the place where it is centered would still, I hope, be fruitful.
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.
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.]
We decorated our Christmas tree today. While many people put their trees up right after Thanksgiving here in the United States, we usually wait until closer to Christmas and keep it up until Epiphany. This year, knowing that daughter E and granddaughter ABC will be heading to the UK mid-month for the holidays, we decided to decorate early in order to observe St. Nicholas Day on December sixth for exchanging gifts and opening stockings.
At almost eighteen months, we weren’t sure how ABC would react to tree trimming. We went through our considerable cache of ornaments and chose all the indestructible and child-safe ones for the bottom half of the tree. ABC was delighted with all the rocking horses, bells, animals, musical instruments, angels, etc. and ran back and forth with them. She wanted them on the tree and then wanted them back off to play with them, but, eventually, we got the whole tree decorated. We are sure there will be lots of opportunities to re-hang ornaments after she decides to play with them again!
I love our Christmas ornament collection, which includes ones that came to us from our families, handmade ones, and many that we have collected while travelling. One special one that we added this year is a handmade downy woodpecker, which we bought to commemorate the one that our daughters tried to rescue.
The woodpecker’s new bear friend is one that we have had for decades.
And two of ABC’s words are “bear” and “bird”, even if they do sound a lot alike when she says them.
I admit that, with so much going on this past year, I am having trouble feeling in the Christmas spirit, but ABC’s delighted squeals with each new ornament certainly helped.
After B’s mom, known here on the blog as Grandma, passed away almost two years ago, one of the things we inherited was her teacup cupboard and most of her teacups, some of which she had collected over the years and some that had come to her through her mother and aunt.
While some people collect objects just to look at them, Grandma made use of her collection, choosing cups to use for coffee after Sunday dinners, birthdays, and holidays in the Vermont home where she lived for decades.
She had distributed a few cups to younger family members over the years, but kept most of the collection together, moving it to the senior living community near us a few years before her death.
After she passed away, B’s brother and his family chose a few teacups to remind them of Grandma, but dozens of them set up residence in our dining room, stacked in the white barristers that Grandma had used.
One of the special happenings this holiday season during L’s visit has been a series of evening teaparties with L, E, and T enjoying tea and treats. They have been working their way methodically through the cupboard, starting with the top shelf and using each cup in each stack as it presents itself, along with its matching saucer, of course. They have been brewing loose tea – from an Adagio Teas sampler that E bought for T as a Christmas gift – in a teapot and using Grandma’s china tea strainer to pour into that evening’s cups.
It warms our hearts to see Grandma’s granddaughters and grandson-in-law using her cups together.
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.
I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.
After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.
We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.
Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.
Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.
One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work. I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.
At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.
Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.
Sorry for the pun-ny title. It’s late and I couldn’t resist.
The day started early. I woke up with a poem that I had been mulling forming in my head, so I grabbed my laptop and started writing. Although most of my poems are short, this one is significantly longer. I worked for a couple of hours, slept a bit more, woke again, and finished the draft, all before 7:00.
I went to the studio and finished my first attempt at ordering the poems for my collection before heading to 8:30 Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, directly across from MASS MoCA. It used to be called St. Anthony’s and was my Nana Giacapuzzi’s church, a fact which appears in one of the poems in my collection.
After church, I went back to the studio, intending to visit the newly opened Building 6 when it opened, but I had forgotten that the museum doesn’t open until 11:00 on Sunday. I looked at the pile of pages that now constituted my manuscript sitting on the corner of my studio table and began the tedious job of copying them into a single google doc. I also needed to do a bit of editing from a prior critique.
I decided that I would wait to visit Building 6 tomorrow, when I will have more time to experience the art and write about the pieces that inspire words.
I’m pleased to say that I got my document assembled before our 12:30 group lunch. I am happy to have a start, but have a ton of work to do, assembling the table of contents; writing an introduction, acknowledgements, and notes; re-arranging, editing, adding, cutting poems; and then figuring out to whom I should submit the manuscript.
We had a lively discussion at lunch, took a brief break, and then re-convened in the studio for workshopping. I got lots of great ideas for revisions of a poem in my collection. (See above paragraph – editing.)
I confess that I cut out a bit early to visit a friend of B and mine from our high school days in North Adams. Bonus: her husband is a retired chef, who made a fantastic pork tenderloin with fruit for dinner. We caught up on each other’s news, took a walk, and talked some more. I showed her lots of photos of Baby ABC, who she has not yet met. Maybe later in the fall.
I returned to our apartments in time for a discussion among the Boiler House Poets of experiences with manuscript reviews, conferences, online courses, and publication. I love to hear about all these possibilities; maybe, some year or other, I will try one or another of them out.
And now, time to publish this post and get some sleep.
And while I don’t have a poem about MoCA Sundays, I do have one about mocha sundaes.