October at MASS MoCA

For the last several years, it has been my privilege to be in residence with the Boiler House Poets at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and I am always happy to be back in a familiar and beautiful place with engaging and talented poet-friends. I usually blog daily while I am there, but, for a number of reasons, I was unable to this year, so I thought I’d do some catch-up posts about it.

While we met as the first group of poets in residence through a collaboration with Tupelo Press and the Studios at MASS MoCA, we are now a self-directed group and, for our week together in October, we decided to do manuscript reviews. I am relatively new to giving feedback on chapbooks/poetry collections and to putting my own manuscripts together, so I appreciated the opportunity. It involved a lot of preparation before the residency as we shared manuscripts, read, and prepared comments. I was very busy with sandwich-generation caregiving and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to prepare, but I managed to get sick, the silver lining being that I needed to rest and stay away from people for their protection, so I holed up in my room and did manuscript work.

I was so impressed by the work I was reading and learned a lot from the discussions about each manuscript. Mine was the last manuscript to be workshopped and I was super nervous. It was a new version of my manuscript that deals with generations of family, our relationship to the North Adams area, and the massive changes that have taken place there over time as it moved from being home to mills, then to electronics, and eventually to the largest modern art museum in the country. The discussion was very helpful and led to the realization that I need to re-focus the collection again.

I have a lot of work to do on it, but I haven’t gotten to do much with it yet. The week I was in North Adams was the one in which hospice decided to decertify Nana. Things became even busier than they had been and I still haven’t been able to find time/brain to go over all the comments, digest them, and start revisions. I did get to do a bit of work before I left North Adams and I am pondering somewhere in the back of my brain here and there, so I hope that I will be able to make progress when I can get back to work.

Will 2019 be the year that I finally manage to get the manuscript ready to send out?

Fingers crossed…
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/10/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-10th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

Advertisements

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 did sleep some more after writing this middle-of-the-night post, although I wanted to get up early to shower. I know I said that I wasn’t going to revise The Octagon Room until after I got home, but an idea presented itself so I plunged in and did another draft before breakfast.

I met a high school friend downstairs at Brewhaha, where we enjoyed delicious waffles and conversation. It was great to see her, although we didn’t have much time, as she needed to get to work and I needed to get to the studio.

I did a little more revising and printed two poems for workshopping today, just in case we get two sessions in again. My main goal, though, was to get into the Museum, as I had not yet taken the opportunity to do so and wanted to see the new exhibits.

The museum does not open until 11:00, but the grounds are open sooner, so I went back to our beloved Boiler House. I think it may be the first time that I have been there totally alone, which allowed me to fully engage with the soundscape. I climbed the flights of open metalwork stairs all the way to the top. MASS MoCA has added many more solar panels to their buildings. Being on the top of the building gives a new appreciation for the vastness of the museum site and a spectacular view of downtown North Adams. It was poignant to look at their landmark steeples, though, as one is missing. St. Francis was torn down this year; I could see the remnant that is left, waiting to be hauled away. I am planning to write a poem about it as a postscript to one I wrote last year.

At 11:00, I did an hour-long spin through the first floor of the main museum building where the new exhibits were. Unlike most museums, MASS MoCA does not rely on having a large permanent collection. Frequent visits reveal new works, so the experience of visiting is always fresh. I drafted one poem in my notebook, honoring advice from one of the poets who came to speak to us last year. There were several other pieces of which I am in awe, but don’t feel that I can expand on poetically. Maybe later, or maybe never. Still, I am glad to have experienced them.

After lunch, we went on a formal tour of the museum. Unfortunately, the group was large and we weren’t able to visit too many pieces. I did appreciate being able to accompany my poet-friend Jessica into the Sol Lewitt exhibit. She had helped workshop a poem I had written about it, so it was nice that she was able to experience the art in person. The large exhibit hall is currently closed as the next major exhibit, Nick Cave’s Until, is being installed. We were able to see some of the installation going in and hear a bit about it from our guide. I feel that I will have to try to come back to see it after it opens on October 15. I think there may be a poem there, although it may be too overwhelming for me to write about. Fortunately, it will be here for a whole year.

After the tour and a bit of delay due to a sudden downpour, we reconvened at the Studios for workshopping. I decided to present my new version of The Octagon Room, which was well-received. There are more edits to make, including a new title, but I feel that I will be able to improve it enough to include in my manuscript.

Being back here at MASS MoCA makes it seem that completing a collection is possible. The trick will be keeping the momentum going after I return home. There will need to be more writing, more revision, assembling the collection, sending it out to readers for feedback, more revision, editing, cutting, and adding, and, eventually, sending it out to presses for consideration.

Wish me luck…

 

Middle of the night to middle of the night

I started my writing day on ¬†Sunday at 3 AM, drafting the “Meanwhile in Tibet” poem that has been sloshing about in my brain intermittently since last November in my journal, so as not to expose myself to the blue light of my Chromebook. (Point of information, or, perhaps, warning : I am writing this now at quarter of two Monday morning on my Chromebook, hoping that the blue light won’t keep me from catching a few hours of sleep later on. Many “night’s sleep” for me lately resemble a couple of naps, instead of a single expanse of sleep. So, back to the story of yesterday…)

After a few more hours of sleep, I breakfasted on an excellent apple crumb cake that I had bought on Saturday from the Clarksburg Bread Company at the farmers’ market and went to my studio to write. I began a Fall Foliage Parade poem, recollecting my memories of the parade as a child, and I typed in and revised the Tibet poem. By then, lunch was approaching, so I decided to go down early to make some notes for a planned poem on local supporters of the museum.

We lunched and visited and, while the other poets started a workshopping session, I excused myself to attend the parade. I walked over Hadley Overpass and settled myself on the rail only feet away from where we used to watch the parade in front of my grandparents’ home on State Street. The building is no longer there, replaced by greenspace and a path into Heritage Park. The crowds were thin and the parade resembled more Fourth of July or Old Home Days in the small towns than the Fall Foliage Parades of forty-five years ago. It was also strikingly quiet for a parade, to the the extent that a couple of marchers actually asked what I was doing scrawling in my notebook as they passed. Telling a stranger you are making notes for a poem can result in some rather quizzical looks. I definitely have material to contrast the two eras, although the actual writing may have to wait until I am back home. I am acutely aware of how much I still want to do and see here and how little time there is. I have not even visited any of the new MoCA exhibits yet.

With the parade being barely an hour, I arrived back in time to catch the second half of the workshop period. I workshopped my Boiler House poem and received lots of good feedback for revisions. I continue to contend with the issue of how to address writing about art installations in a way that is engaging as poetry and not dependent on having experienced the art on which the poem is based.

We decided to have supper at the Freightyard Pub and to walk there rather than drive. As the local, albeit several decades removed, I was the designated tour guide, so I went for a walk to decide on the best route. It isn’t far but there are both railroad track and river crossings with which to contend and I wanted to check out conditions of walkways and such. I am happy to report that I successfully guided the group to dinner and back with no turned ankles.

Kyle proposed an additional workshopping session, so we headed back to the Studios. I decided to present The Octagon Room draft by just reading it from my google docs, thus saving paper. The basic question is whether it is worth working on as it is basically at the moment a very, very long list poem. The basic answer is “yes, but…” Everyone was helpful with ideas to approach revision. The $64 question is whether or not I have the skill to pull it off. It needs to percolate a bit, so I will set it aside and pick it up later after I am back home.

By the end of the session, I was too tired to work on this post. (I was probably too tired during the session to be as effective as I ought to have been; fortunately, everyone else was more with it than I.) I collapsed into bed and really, Mom, I did sleep for a while before writing this. It’s almost three o’clock now, so back to bed…

an encouraging rejection

When I was in Hawai’i, I spent a considerable amount of time searching for literary journals that might publish my work and choosing, formatting, and submitting poems to them.

Some of you may have seen my recent excited, squealing post over an acceptance that came from those submissions and my crazed rush to withdraw the three accepted poems from other journals to which they had been submitted.

I am nearly always submitting to journals that allow simultaneous submissions to avoid having to wait months to find out an editor has rejected a poem before being free to send it elsewhere, but the protocol is to promptly withdraw a poem from other journals if it is accepted.

Most of the time, I submit to journals that don’t charge reading fees, but I did submit a set of four poems to a journal that does charge a reading fee and offers personal, expedited feedback for a slightly higher fee, which I decided to do, as I haven’t had much experience in hearing criticism from an editor’s point of view. On the bright side, this journal also pays cash for poems they accept, which is somewhat unusual. It’s more common not to be paid or to be given a copy or copies of the journal, if it is print rather than electronic.

I sent en email over the weekend withdrawing the accepted poems and today (Tuesday) got feedback from that journal’s editor, who obviously had not seen my withdrawal notice. Under the circumstances, I’m grateful that she didn’t accept any of the poems! She did give very specific and helpful criticism and was very encouraging about my submitting to their journal in the future.

Her criticism of the poem in which she was most interested ¬†– and which she invited me to revise and re-submit directly to her for consideration, which I can’t do because it is one of the ones that will be published by Wilderness House Literary Review this fall – was actually addressed in an earlier draft. I need to talk to some of my poet friends and see if it would be too forward of me to send the earlier draft to her to see if it addresses her criticism adequately. It’s dicey because I can’t offer it to her for consideration anymore.

Another way in which this journal is different is that they read blind, meaning that the poems are submitted without any reference to the author. For a new poet like me, it saves me from an editor seeing my file and saying “Who the heck is this?” So to receive encouragement to send more of my work was very validating, knowing that the editor didn’t know whether or not I was someone who published regularly or had a writing degree. She didn’t think I was a rank amateur.

When you get a typical “thank you but your work does not fit our needs at the present time,” you wonder if maybe the editor is rolling his eyes and thinking you are totally out of your depth.

But, at least today, an encouraging rejection is a confidence booster.