Yesterday, I mailed a copy of my chapbook, Hearts, to the Poetry Center at Smith College, my alma mater, for their collection of books by alumnae poets, using an assortment of old stamps I had on hand.
Today’s adventure in book promotion for my new poetry chapbook, Hearts, available from Kelsay Books or Amazon, is to send queries for possible book reviews. As a poetry chapbook, it will probably not be chosen for an actual review, but I’m hoping to make a listing or two of Newly Received Books, which will broaden my reach beyond my personal contacts.
Speaking of reviews, I have my first customer review up at Amazon! Five stars! If you do read Hearts and are so moved, I’d be honored to have you submit your own rating/review.
I’m excited to announce that my first chapbook, Hearts, is now available from my publisher, Kelsay Books, here or from Amazon here.
For local folks, I will also be selling copies myself after my shipment arrives in 2-3 weeks.
For those who might be wondering, a chapbook is a short book, usually centered on a single topic. Hearts is a chapbook of poems that revolve around my mother, including her last years living with heart disease. Long-time readers of Top of JC’s Mind may remember reading posts about my mother, known here as Nana.
I completed the first draft of Hearts in December, 2017, in response to a chapbook contest prompt from QuillsEdge Press. The prompt was “In Transition” and my mother interpretation of that prompt to write about my mother, who was under hospice care. (We didn’t know at the time that her decline would be more prolonged than expected, as she was with us until May, 2019.) Although I didn’t win the contest, I was among the finalists and my poem, “Sixteen Hours,” was included in an anthology of the finalists’ work along with the winning chapbook, Skin Gin, by Rose Maria Woodson.
Given how busy and emotional those next two years were, I didn’t have the wherewithal to send out a new version of the chapbook until spring of 2020. I had continued to write poems during Nana’s continuing struggles and expanded the manuscript with those poems in the months after her death. I benefited from a manuscript review with some of the Grapevine Poets, local poets who meet every other week to workshop individual poems and as needed for manuscript reviews. They were able to offer guidance on ordering the poems and they identified a couple of places where new poems would be helpful to flesh out my mother’s story.
I continued to send Hearts to publishers and contests over the next two years. During that time, I did more revisions, incorporating comments from poet-friends as I went along. In August of 2022, encouraged by Grapevine Poets Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers who had had books accepted by Kelsay Books, I submitted there and received a publication offer from them on September 2nd.
Karen Kelsay and the whole team at Kelsay Books have been amazing! They made the publication process, which was a mystery to me, straightforward. They also were able to move up the publication date, which I had originally thought would be in late summer/early fall.
When I went to the first Tupelo Press/MASS MoCA workshop-in-residence in November of 2015, I had thought that I might be able to put together a chapbook of poem about the North Adams area and my family’s connections there. I set a goal of age 60 to have that book published.
Of course, life events intervened.
That original chapbook idea is now a full-length collection that is being submitted to publishers, unsuccessfully so far.
Now, at age 62, I’m grateful that Hearts is my first published book because it is about my mother, who made my life possible and loving. She was always a strong support for me, whatever the endeavor. It feels right that my first book has her as its heart.
Yesterday, Merrill Oliver Douglas and I did our first ever appearance as featured readers at the Tioga Arts Council In Owego, NY.
We were excited to have a full house! I also like that in this photo you can see how beautiful the gallery space at the Tioga Arts Council is. At the moment, they are exhibiting artwork from high school students in Tioga county.
The person at the podium is poet Dante Di Stefano, who was serving as our host. His spouse Christina Di Stefano is the executive director of TAC.
I read first. This was the first time I’ve ever done a twenty minute set. I chose to structure my reading in three segments. The first group was four poems that centered around my mother, two from my chapbooks Hearts, forthcoming from Kelsay Books, one from my unpublished collection Small Constellation, and one that was written for the 2022 Women of Words reading at the Broome County Arts Council. Next came four poems that were reactions to happenings in the world or my world, including “The Banned Bookmobile” which was published by Rat’s Ass Reviewhere. I concluded with four poems that center on the North Adams, Massachusetts area, all of which are included in Small Constellation and one of which, “Sprague Suite” (published by Wilderness House Literary Review here) is also in my new chapbook manuscript of ekphrastic poems based on artwork from MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).
I was very happy that the audience connected with my poems. Besides applause, there were nods, smiles, and even a few chuckles at appropriate points. I tried very hard to choose a few poems that had lighter elements, like “Liz Truss or Lettuce.” I think that helped to balance out some of the heavier topics, like the pandemic poem I had included.
What I hadn’t quite expected was that Dante would offer some brief comments on my reading before introducing Merrill. Dante holds a PhD and is widely published, so it was special to hear him praise elements of my work. I have a bit of a complex about my lack of academic credentials in writing, so it meant a lot to me that he recognized the heart of my work.
I was happy to be able to sit back and enjoy Merrill’s reading. She read a few poems from her chapbook Parking Meters Into Mermaids and some of her more recent work, including selections from her collection that is currently looking for a publishing home. Because Merrill and I are both part of the Grapevine Poets, I knew many of the poems from our workshopping sessions, but I love hearing how Merrill chose to edit her poems after we discussed them. As always, I was impressed with Merrill’s ability to choose just the right details to enable us to find our way into the depths of the poem. I am particularly moved by the way she writes about her mother, who is now facing a number of health issues in her elder years.
After Merrill’s reading and Dante’s glowing comments, we had a question and answer period. I had been nervous about this part, fearing that someone would ask something that I was ill-equipped to answer, but, of course, everything was fine. With the reading officially completed, there was time for informal conversation and viewing of the art exhibit. The TAC gift shop had copies of Merrill’s book for sale and she was busy signing copies, in addition to having conversations. We were both happy but tired when we left. Spouse B and Daughter T had both been at the reading and treated me to a celebratory (early) dinner out.
Many thanks to the Tioga Arts Council and Dante and Christina Di Stefano for making my first big reading so memorable. Its success is helping me to feel like more of a poet in my own right, although I will forever think of myself as a poet grounded in community, whether the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Grapevine Poets, the Boiler House Poets Collective, or other groups who have claimed me as a member.
Thanks to Gerri Wiley and Burt Myers who sent me photos of the reading. Only the photo of the sign outdoors was mine.
Very special thanks to Merrill Douglas for her support, friendship, advice, and example. I’m sure I would have been much more nervous were it not for her steadiness and companionship. I admire her work and like to think that we have some elements in common, so that my reading set the stage for hers.
Maybe, we will have the opportunity to do it again sometime…
I was excited to receive 3rd Wednesday‘s Spring 2023 issue in the mail this week, because it includes this poem of mine and I have very few of my poems in print, at least until my chapbook Hearts is available from Kelsay Books later this year.
Spouse B, Daughter T, and I are in London, UK, visiting Daughter E, Son-in-law L, and Granddaughters ABC and JG. Yesterday, we made a trip to the Battersea Power Station.
Having grown up around power stations, I am geeky about them and would like to tour them, but the Battersea Power Station after decades of use as a coal-fired power station, designation as a historic landmark, and decades of disuse and deterioration, has been transformed into a shopping mall, apartments, offices, restaurant, and entertainment complex. The mall only opened a few months ago and more shops will be opening later this year.
On our way to the main entrance, we passed this sign. Of course, I had to take a photo of it as a shoutout to my friends of the Boiler House Poets Collective!
The main part of the old Art Deco-style power station that has been transformed into shops and restaurants is massive. Here is a view as you look down one of the main galleries that once housed multiple turbines:
The amount of detail that went into the restoration is staggering. Here you can see some of the Art Deco elements and part of one of the old control room through the windows.
There are lots of fun elements that play off the power station theme, such as the Control Room B cocktail bar, which features lots of dials and gauges as part of the decor.
I loved seeing the remnant of this safety helmet sign. When we used to go to the hydro stations with Paco, this would have been termed a “hard hat area.” (Yes, I am just that geeky about these things, as anyone who has heard me going on about the industrial roots of the MASS MoCA complex will know.)
There are, of course, many distinctly modern features. For example, one of the old smokestacks now houses an elevator to take people up to the top to look out over London and the Thames. Not being particular fans of heights, although it is glass encased at the top, we did not go up in Lift 109, so called because the top of the stack is 109 meters from the ground, but it’s there for those with the inclination and pounds to do so.
At the moment, there are a number of light installations scattered around the complex. JG was especially taken with these hearts and kept hopping from one to another, while saying “another heart” over and over in an enthusiastic, two-year-old voice. I suppose it’s possible that this was more of a valentine feature than part of the light installations, but it was fun, none the less.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day from London for those celebrating!