Nat’l Poetry Month overtime

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.

Enjoy!

Binghamton Poetry Project reading and anthology – spring 2021

Seven years ago, I began participating in the Binghamton Poetry Project, a community outreach program of the Binghamton Center for Writers. Binghamton University graduate students facilitate free poetry writing workshops for children, teens, and adults. With the pandemic, sessions have had to move online, as have our readings and anthologies.

We had our spring reading and anthology launch today. I contributed three poems to the anthology, which you can find here. I read the poem “Conveyance” from the anthology, as well as “Meanwhile…” from my collection manuscript and “SARS-CoV-2: A Novel Coronavirus” which is currently on display as part of the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum.

I had very little formal instruction in poetry when I was in school, so I appreciate all the lessons in the craft of poetry that I have learned through the Binghamton Poetry Project. For example, in this last set of sessions I learned about zeugma, a device which I used in “Conveyance.”

I especially appreciate connecting with my local poetry community, not only the graduate students and participants but the wider poetry community in our area. When I was looking for a year-round poetry workshop to share feedback on my work, Heather Dorn, who was then the assistant director of BPP, connected me with what is now the Grapevine Group. I rely on the Grapevine poets to help me see what I need to refine in my poems. Seeing their work in progress has taught me so much about writing and revising. I’ve also learned how to give and receive constructive criticism. I can sometimes even manage to figure out the truest path when I get suggestions that directly contradict each other!

I hope that the Binghamton Poetry Project will continue for many years to come. BPP is supported by grants and is blessed with an ever-evolving set of Binghamton University graduate students serving as facilitators and administrators. I know there will always being poets in our community wanting to write, learn, connect, and share the gift of poetry.

National Poetry Month continues

I have been posting about the Broome County (NY) Arts Council’s celebration of poetry, including last week’s reading in which I was featured. This week’s installment is now available and can be found here, along with the prior weeks’ readings.

This week features three of my local poet-friends, Jessica Dubey, Burt Myers, and J. Barrett Wolf, along with Ithaca-area poet and professor Jerry Mirskin.

Jessica, Burt, and Barrett are all part of the Grapevine Group, the poetry circle with which I meet regularly to workshop poems. Burt is the one among us who writes formal poetry most often. He is very attuned to the rhymes and rhythms of lines, which you can hear in the reading and which is helpful to me when we are workshopping because I am not very conscious of those elements when I write.

Barrett, as poet-in-residence at the Bundy Museum and the founder of The Word Place, is one of the sponsors of this reading series and has appeared in each session to ask the poets questions after they read. It was wonderful to hear him read some of his work this week. I was glad that the other poets got to ask him some questions after his reading because I love hearing poets talk about their work and it would have been a shame if they had skipped over that part.

I’m happy to say that Jessica and I share not only Grapevine Group but also the Binghamton Poetry Project and the Boiler House Poets Collective in common. Her poetry is brutally honest and searing. I also admire her use of metaphor. Her first chapbook will be published next year. I’ll be sure to post about it here when it is available for pre-order.

While April is almost over, the BCAC is carrying the reading series into May, so check back next week for the next installment.

Nat’l Poetry Month celebration with me!

I posted here and here about the first two readings from the Broome County Arts Council in celebration of National Poetry Month. I am pleased to announce that this week, I am featured along with Rindi Tas and kohloa, two poets whom I met through the Binghamton Poetry Project. We were scheduled to be joined by another BPP poet, Anita Shipway, but technical difficulties prevented Anita from joining us. The recording of the reading and our bios are available here.

I’m not sure how I came to be invited to participate in this series but I was honored to be asked. And excited. And nervous. This is my first time as a featured reader with a Q&A component and I was anxious to do a good job, knowing that most of the readers in the series are much more experienced, knowledgeable, and academically credentialed than I. I asked poet-friends to review my selections and practiced my reading, recording myself on Zoom to see how I sounded and looked. I plead guilty to over-thinking and over-preparing, but it kept me a lot calmer when we recorded.

I possibly babbled a bit answering Barrett’s questions. Barrett is part of the Grapevine Group, my local circle of poets who meet on a regular basis to workshop our poems, so we are used to “talking shop” together, but I’m not used to interacting with him in a formal setting. He asked thoughtful questions that flowed from the choices I had made for the reading but I am not great at thinking on my feet, so you all can be the judge on whether I made sense or not.

Because I didn’t take up poetry as a serious pursuit until recent years, I am not that well-known or widely published. I decided to do a mini-sampler of the kinds of poems I tend to write, realizing that I would be an unknown quantity to most prospective listeners. Of the four poems I read, only one is published. It appeared in the Nov. 2020 anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project and can be viewed here.

The recording should be available on the BCAC website at the link at the end of the first paragraph, at least for the next few weeks. It will also be broadcast locally on the Bundy Museum’s radio station WBDY-FM radio (99.5 FM). Because I’m not sure how long BCAC will have the webpage active, I’m embedding the youtube link here, which I think will be permanent:

If you choose to give the reading a listen, I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment here or on the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page. If you want to send me a private message at topofjcsmind@gmail.com, please put a comment on this post telling me to check for it so it doesn’t get lost among the various digests and posts sent there. My inbox is out of control!

Nat’l Poetry Month Part 2

The second installment of the Broome County (NY) Arts Council (BCAC) series to celebrate National Poetry Month is now available here. This week features readings and discussion with Nicole Santalucia, Wendy Stewart, Mike Foldes, and Joshua Lindebaum.

I owe two of these poets a particular debt of gratitude.

When Nicole Santalucia, who is a Broome County native, returned to do graduate work at the state university, she founded the Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP). I first heard about BPP when Nicole read at a 2013 National Poetry Month episode of Off the Page, a radio program hosted by Bill Jaker on WSKG, our local public broadcasting radio station. Off the Page invited listeners to send in poems to their website and I was thrilled when they chose to read mine on the air! I began attending BPP’s free community poetry workshops for the general public, led by Binghamton University graduate students, in spring 2014. The connections I made there, particularly with Heather Dorn who has been a workshop leader, assistant director, and director of BPP, led to my joining the Grapevine Group, my local poetry critique group which you will hear more about shortly, and Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry circle which is, sadly, not currently active. The BCAC supports BPP through grants, so I was able to connect with them, as well. I was even invited to contribute a poem to BCAC’s Heart of the Arts award dinner in 2016. (Video here and text here.) I don’t think any of that would have happened without Nicole Santalucia and the Binghamton Poetry Project, so I owe her a huge thank you.

A shout-out also to Wendy Stewart, who is a member of the aforementioned Grapevine Group. Wendy always offers thoughtful advice on my poems and is supportive of me when I am being insecure, which happens with some frequency. Sometimes, we joke that she is just being Canadian!

I love the way Wendy uses language. I’ve learned a lot of new vocabulary from her. She is also masterful in the way she juxtaposes seemingly unrelated things so that we are invited to make connections we otherwise would not. She often uses her sly wit and penchant for understatement, both in her writing and in conversation, in a way that I admire, although cannot emulate.

Thank you, Wendy!

I hope you enjoy the recording. I’ll be back next week when I will be one of the featured poets.

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.