poetic pondering

When I was at the most recent Boiler House reunion residency, I wrote a poem that had been percolating in my head for a while and workshopped it with the group. Unlike most of my poems, this one was more than a page long – two and a half pages – and I was very grateful for the input of the Boiler House Poets which helped me to re-craft it to a more manageable page and a half.

Earlier this month, I brought the edited version to workshop with Grapevine Group, my stalwart local group from whom I have learned so much. As it happened, that session marked the return of the elder-statesman poet of the group, who had been unable to be with us for many, many months due to health issues. I will refer to him here as M. I had been in workshop with M only a few times when I first joined the group and have always been awed by him. He is the one among us who has been published most frequently by the big name journals and who tends to ask if we are all submitting our work, a question which always stings a bit because that is the part of the process that I most often neglect.

So, along with being nervous about presenting this poem to Grapevine because it is particularly close to my heart, I was nervous because this accomplished poet who is a founder of our group was there.

…And everyone liked the poem. I was relieved and grateful – and happy to accept comments that give me a few more things to think about for the next round of edits.

I was especially humbled because M was very complimentary to my poem, saying that he could not have written it. Which, I and the other poets in the group know is true only in the context of M could not have written it as it was my personal experience, as he has certainly written poems that were more finely wrought and effective. Still, I was deeply touched by M’s compliment and specific comments on lines and techniques that he liked. Of course, it helped that I used repetition as a poetic technique in the poem, as that is one of his favorite devices. M asked if he could keep a copy of the poem and I was happy to comply.

We met again last night and I was surprised that M brought up my poem from last time. It’s very flattering – and enough to give me butterflies for fear of being disappointing, although my critique did go well again.

As most of my poet friends – and probably a few of my regular readers here – know, I struggle to have confidence in my poetry. On the one hand, this helps me to accept criticism and make edits that make my work stronger. On the other, it keeps me from putting my work out there as much as I should.

I admit that I will probably always feel that I am behind other poets in my knowledge and experience, given that my academic background is scant and I didn’t being to write seriously until I was in my early fifties. Still, I should more often reflect on how far I have come and how much I have grown and developed as a poet over the last several years, even though, for more prosaic reasons, I have not been doing much submitting/publishing in the last couple of years.

So much of that growth is due to my various poetry circles, so I offer my profound gratitude and love to the Binghamton Poetry Project, Grapevine Group, Sappho’s Circle, and the Boiler House Poets. I literally would not be the poet I am today without you – and perhaps not a poet at all.

Good-bye, MoCA

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.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.

Eclectic Tuesday

This morning, I met Cousin S for breakfast at a local cafe where she is a regular. It was such a luxury to sit and talk without interruption! S is planning to come to our Boiler House Poets reading (October 4 at 7 PM at Makers’ Mill, Main St., North Adams), along with at least one other local friend. I look forward to seeing a couple of familiar faces.

MASS MoCA is closed on Tuesdays, so some of the poets went to visit the Clark Art Institute in neighboring Williamstown.  I decided to stay behind. I practiced for the reading. Kyle, one of the other poets, and I figured out how commenting works in google docs. (I’m sure daughter E is chuckling about that as she could have taught me in three minutes what took me much longer to figure out.)  Kyle read through my manuscript and left a number of comments for me to consider. I even figured out how to reply to several of them. I will work on the issues more in the coming weeks as I get more comments coming in.

With the museum closed, we didn’t have our usual group lunch in the cafe. I decided to go to a seafood restaurant that has been around since I was a kid for fish and chips. It was nice to sit in a booth and read while I waited for my lunch. It was also a lovely day for a walk.

Later in the afternoon, we met for a long session of workshopping. I brought the poem that I had written the bulk of in the middle of the night and got lots of useful feedback and suggestions for revision. I’m sure that my local poetry friends in Grapevine Group and/or Sappho’s Circle will see a revised version at some point this fall, as I am especially anxious to get this poem exactly right.

At dinner, we were working out a prospective plan for tomorrow. There is so little time left before we have to leave on Thursday and more that we would like to do than we have time for. I said that I didn’t think that I had anything else ready to workshop, which led to a rather exasperated response from the poet to my right that we should be looking at my manuscript. While I had sent a link to everyone, I had said that it was totally their choice to look at it or not. I am excited, though, to have the opportunity for the whole group to comment. I’m not sure if people will comment on individual poems or more broadly about organization or stylistic issues, but I am hungry for any feedback they can offer.

We decided to continue the dinnertime discussion back at our apartment, with a few poems being read, too. I can hardly wait to hear what people choose to read tomorrow night!


(poetic) mix of emotions

Some readers may recall my major angst about whether or not to attend my first poetry residence/workshop.  I posted about it here…and here…and here.

And then, I had to wait….

I continued to feel a mix of excitement and apprehension, but I’ve had to concentrate on more immediate obligations, such as rehearsing with University Chorus and working on poetry with Binghamton Poetry Project, Sappho’s Circle, and Bunn Hill Poets simultaneously.

But now, with less than two weeks to go before traveling to North Adams and Mass MoCA, the conference is drawing more and more of my attention and emotions. Part of this is increased communications from the organizers at Tupelo Press, including photos of our residency apartments just across the street from the museum. I know that we are a group of seven at the moment; the maximum number was eight, so there is still a chance of another poet joining us.

The main preoccupation for me at the moment is the request to bring ten poems to the conference for workshopping, which means critique.  It’s not that I don’t have (many more than) ten poems that could use workshopping; it’s figuring out what to bring.

On the one hand, I want to bring work that is strong and current, but most of that has been workshopped with one of my local groups, has been published, or is ready for submission. These poems have the best chance of putting me in a good light with the other poets and the poet/editor who will be leading the conference, but it is awkward to ask for revision for something that has already been published, although it could be helpful to fine-tune a poem that may one day make it into the chapbook or collection I aspire to assemble (at least on my more confident days).

On the other hand, some of my early poems – well, not really early in terms of my lifetime, but things that I wrote from 3-5 years ago before I connected to Binghamton Poetry Project, which led to my other groups – could use the help. I find it especially difficult to revise things that I wrote before I started to read and study more poetry; somehow it is easier to use my new skills in writing poetry than it is to apply my new editing skills to older work. However, these poems could make me look less competent as a poet and are often deeply personal, which makes critique seem especially (potentially) brutal.

The decision is not helped by the fact that I don’t really know the range of experience of the poets who will be attending. In my imagination, I will be the least experienced in the group, although that may not be the case at all, as the conference is open to any serious poet, published or not. I am toying with the idea of bringing along more than the requested ten poems, mixing some older work with some of my newer poems, and hoping that we don’t have to hand ten over at the beginning of the conference, so that I can tailor the poems I workshop to the group of poets in attendance.

Given that we have to bring twelve copies of each poem, the only risks would be wasting paper and ink and possibly arm strain from lugging so much paper around.

So, am I overthinking this? What would you choose? I’d love to hear your advice in comments here, on Facebook, or in person.

With thanks,

Friday night fun – part one

On a Friday evening in March, I read at open mic poetry night for the first time. I had attended with my husband for the first time in January and planned to read in February, but, instead, we had to travel for my aunt’s funeral that weekend. So that brought us to March. B wasn’t feeling well, so I went alone.

There were fewer people this time then in January, but over half of us were reading at open mic for the first time.  (Actually, we meet at RiverRead Books and don’t need to use a mic, but it’s called open mic anyway.) I had signed up to read second, so that I could enjoy hearing the other poets without the distraction of having to think about my own reading.

Barrett, who began the monthly open mic program at RiverRead five years ago, did a welcome and read first, including a new poem he had just completed about visiting the Holocaust Museum. (Barrett is part of the group of poets that I began meeting with last August. We meet twice a month to hear each other’s work and offer comments. Were it not for that, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to show up and read.)

I started my reading with “Moonlight” because it is my most well-received poem and my good luck charm.  It is the poem that I submitted for National Poetry Month in 2013 to “Off the Page,” a local program on WSKG public radio; they put listeners’ poems up on their website every April. (Well, they used to. The host retired in 2013, so that year turned out to be the last hurrah.)  I was so excited when it was chosen to be read on air! The host, Bill Jaker, read it. It was the first time I had heard someone else read my work aloud.

I say that “Moonlight” is my good luck charm because one of the guests on the program was Nicole Santalucia, who began the Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP). That was how I first learned about it, which led to my attending the spring 2014 workshop. I included “Moonlight” in our anthology for that session and read it at our public reading.  After the summer session, our instructor helped me find and join the critique group where I met Barrett and eight other local poets. With their and BPP’s help, I have learned a lot about poetry, about myself as a poet, and about how to make my work stronger and better. And it all started because of:

In the narrow valley of youth,
the moon was distant,
as though at perpetual apogee.
Cocooned in darkness,
I slept soundly.

In the broad valley of adulthood,
the moon is close,
casting sharp shadows.
Bathed in eerie light,
I lie awake.

I also read two newer poems, “(Not) the Aunt I Remember” and “Downy,” which I can’t post here because I hope to submit them to journals. My reading went well- I didn’t drop anything or lose my place – and then I got to sit and enjoy everyone else’s work. We had eleven poets read, with the first-time readers outnumbering the veteran readers six to five.

A curious thing happened. I had to remind Barrett and the other poets from our group that it was the first time I had read at open mic. While I am painfully aware of my newness as a poet-in-public, it appears that I can project at least some level of competence, which feels good.

Or it could be my silver hair just makes it seem that I must have been around a long time…


Empty nest or open face sandwich?

Excuse the (very) mixed metaphor.

As I’ve mentioned before, my spouse and I may have gone into empty nest phase for the final time, with our younger daughter heading off to grad school. Our older daughter is also in grad school – and holding down a job, married, and living 5,000 miles away.  Someone commented to me that empty nest for the sandwich generation is of a somewhat different order than our image of it. Maybe now it’s an open-face sandwich?

Back on July 24th when I wrote the linked post above, I had planned to realign how I use my daytime hours, make some lifestyle adjustments, and readjust how we use some of the space in our home. I anticipated these as some empty nest blessings, although paling in comparison to the biggest blessing, which is that our daughters, both of whom have faced health challenges, are well enough to be off on their own.

And, thank God, our daughters are doing well, finding their way as independent young adults, while still being connected to our family, even with the (considerable) physical distance that separates us.

In the sandwich generation metaphor, one slice of bread is the younger generation, one’s children and sometimes grandchildren. The other slice of bread is the elder generation, with the adult child as the filling squeezed between. Maybe the baby birds eat the top slice of bread to give them strength to leave the nest behind and fly off on their own? Seriously, trying to make these metaphors work together somehow….

My parents, Nana and Paco, and B’s mom, Grandma, live in a nearby senior living complex, my parents in an apartment and Grandma in a cottage. They are all in their 80s and in independent living. As with most people who reach that decade, each was dealing with health issues, but nothing that hadn’t become routine, so, in June and July, anticipating my daughter’s departure for grad school in August, I felt justified in making some plans for myself as an empty nester.

And then, on July 31st, in a coincidence that would have seemed overly contrived if it had been fiction, Nana had a heart attack in the ambulatory surgery unit as Paco was about to be wheeled down to hernia repair surgery.  It sounds dramatic – and it felt dramatic to be in the midst of it – but, after an August filled with doctors’ visits, complications, new medications, and adjustments, Nana and Paco – and I – began to settle into a new normal, with them slowly getting back to their routine of activities, errands, outings, and social time and me back to the daily phone calls, frequent visits, and trying to keep an eye on the medical side of things, especially the complex interplay of all the different diagnoses and meds.

Just as I was thinking that maybe I could get to my own schedule adjustments and other empty-nest projects, Grandma progressed from a September backache to a diagnosis of a lumbar 1 compression fracture to the shattering of that vertebra to a hospital visit to inject bone cement to stabilize it to a period of in-home physical and occupational therapy to increasing trouble with atrial fibrillation to a second hospital stay to being back at home with in-home therapy, all accompanied by problems with pain control, loss of appetite, weight loss, medication changes and side effects, and more worries than I can count. The stress level has been difficult to deal with and, as if to prove it, I developed shingles about a week before Christmas.  I caught it early and got on antivirals right away, so my case was much milder than others I have heard reported, but I am still having some pain along the affected nerve.

This fall, I jettisoned a bunch of what I had planned to do as an empty nester, trying to deal with the ever-changing health challenges of our elders, and, as the new year starts, it is unclear how much of my plans will be feasible/possible/desirable to reclaim.

The amazing thing to me is that I managed to retain one of my original goals, which was to work on my writing, especially my poetry – certainly not perfectly or as much as I had envisioned, but enough that I have made noticeable progress.

July 31st fell toward the end of the summer sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project and my correspondence with our instructor led to an opportunity to join a biweekly ongoing workshop of established local poets. I knew that what I needed most to grow as a poet was feedback from a group of knowledgeable, creative, and understanding poets so that I could learn to revise my poems to make them stronger. Even though that opportunity came in mid-September just as things with Grandma were beginning to spiral, I would not allow myself to miss it. So, I printed out copies of a poem and showed up, even though my natural introversion makes groups, especially groups where I know no one, daunting and I feared that the other poets, all of whom publish, teach, give readings, etc., would wonder what ever possessed me to think I should be there among them.

And, despite my fears, it has worked beyond what I had thought possible. The other poets have been accepting of me and constructive in their criticism and I am learning so much not only from suggested revisions to my own work but also from reading, listening to comments, and responding to my fellow poets’ work. Despite my lack of experience, I do have things to say about others’ poems, or at least questions to ask.  I am so grateful to each of them for being so welcoming and generous to me.

Now, I need to get my act together to research and submit some of my newly revised poems for publication. Maybe soon?

I am also proud that I managed to keep Top of JC’s Mind going throughout the year. I was never one for making resolutions and this past year shows why, but I will try to keep growing as a poet and as a blogger.

I hope you will keep reading.

(Even though only some of this post was jotted in January, I figured I might as well add the link for the pingback:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/01/01/just-jot-it-january-pingback-post-and-rules/ .)

Another (poetic) step

I just got back from my first ever poetry critique workshop session. And I survived!

The Binghamton Poetry Project summer session leader was kind enough to make inquiries for me about an ongoing poetry workshop with some more established local poets, so that I could get some more directed feedback than our community workshop can provide, in hope that I could accelerate my growth as a poet.

I admit that I was really nervous about showing up tonight, but the other poets were very accepting.  I really wasn’t sure whether or not I would read a poem tonight or just listen and get an idea of how the group worked, but everyone was so encouraging that I did pull out copies of the poem that has recently been accepted for publication to share.  I was grateful that the feedback was mostly positive, although I have a few revisions to consider. Many poets say that poems are never really finished and it is common for poems to be published in several different iterations over the course of years.

So, now, I will have a regular group to attend every two weeks for feedback on my poems and to learn from all the other poets as they present their works in progress and respond to comments.

I feel like a poet….

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