Small Constellation

So, I had a post all prepared for Just Jot It January for today until I went to Linda’s blog to get the link to add to my draft and saw that Willow had chosen “constellation” as today’s prompt.

Given that I had planned to do a shameless promo later this week that involves that word, I will postpone my planned post and do that now.

It was my honor to be featured with an interview in the new issue of Portrait of New England. My currently unpublished poetry collection Small Constellation is mentioned a number of times in the interview. This is my first ever featured interview and I’m still super excited about it! Many thanks to editor Matthew Johnson for making it possible!

Earlier in the issue, there is my poem “State Line” which is part of the collection. The title Small Constellation comes from another poem in the collection “Monroe Bridge Mail” which you can read here in Wilderness House Literary Review.

It probably seems strange to be talking so much about a book that isn’t published but, maybe if I do, the stars will align, I’ll get it into the hands of the right publisher, and it will be!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/02/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-2nd-2023/

Binghamton Poetry Project anthology – Fall 2022

I’m pleased to share the Fall 2022 online anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project, which includes four of my poems, some of which need more explanation than others!

“Ode to Pentel P207” was written from a prompt during a summer workshop on response poetry with Samia Ahmed. Not surprisingly, we were studying odes that week. As it happened, odes were also a topic of a workshop on Romanticism with Samantha Flatt this fall, so this poem represents both of those sessions.

I do have a special relationship with my Pentel mechanical pencils! I started using them extensively when I was in college. They fit my hand well and are great for fine work, such as writing music manuscripts by hand, which we had to do before music editing software became readily available. I’ve continued to use them and they are my go-to writing implement when I draft poems and when I workshop them.

I hadn’t thought it was weird to have a favorite pencil until I was workshopping this poem, first published by Wilderness House Literary Review:

In my purse

cheap pens I won’t miss if they’re lost
my wallet, heavy with too many coins
ibuprofen for headaches
a pack of tissues
hair ties for windy days
a dog-eared calendar
my license to drive
a crumpled shopping list
emergency cough drops
a pyx
my favorite mechanical pencil, extra lead
credit cards – insurance cards – loyalty cards
a laminated prayer card from my mother’s funeral

Several people commented that the line that let them know something was up was the line about the mechanical pencil, which to me was just a normal thing to carry in a purse. Perhaps, though, it is a bit strange to make a pencil the subject of an ode, although we did study some odes that had been written about everyday objects.

“Beauty can be…” was written in response to Samantha Flatt’s workshop on Romanticism and Beauty with a prompt to describe my relationship with beauty. I was trying to capture the sentiment that I find beauty in many, seemingly contradictory circumstances.

“Hoosic” was written in response to the second week of Suzanne Richardson’s workshop on prose poems. Those three weeks were my first time to attend an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project workshop series since we went virtual in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. The prompt was to include in our prose poem an illogical or associative leap or a surreal moment or a mix of fact and fantasy. As often happens when presented with a prompt and the need to write quickly, I turned to a familiar topic, here, the Hoosic River, about which I have written several poems as part of my full-length manuscript centered on the North Adams, Massachusetts area. I will leave it to the reader to decide if my personification of the river fulfills the prompt.

The reason that there is a fourth poem listed is because “He Pines” was written at a special summer event, Much Ado in the Garden, a Shakespearean-themed festival. I participated in a Binghamton Poetry Project reading and mini-workshop, resulting in this very atypical poem. In keeping with the prompts, it includes some no longer used (and somewhat insulting) words. It also has the line count and rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, although not the iambic pentameter. I am notoriously bad at writing in Western received forms, so that I managed anything even sonnet-like is an achievement. This is a disclaimer, though, that I agreed to include it in the anthology only as an example of playing with language for this special event, not because it is actually a good poem!

This fall also marked the return to an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project public reading, although I had a conflict and couldn’t attend. Perhaps in the spring, I will be able to participate, if the tripledemic has alleviated by then.

Please feel free to read the whole Fall 2022 anthology. You can also view past anthologies and browse the site for other features. Enjoy!

new poem and feature at Portrait of New England!

I’m thrilled to share the new issue of Portrait of New England, which includes my poem “State Line” and my very first published interview!

Those of you who are regular readers here at Top of JC’s Mind know that I usually post here about the story behind the writing of my published poems but the featured Q&A handles that, with shout-outs to the Boiler House Poets Collective and MASS MoCA.

Many thanks to editor Matthew Johnson for the honor of being chosen as featured writer for this amazing issue! In addition to sixteen poems, there are pieces of fiction and creative non-fiction to enjoy, all by writers who have a connection to New England. I also love the wintry cover art by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Comments are always welcome here. Please also feel free to share the issue with your friends and family. (The link in the first paragraph is permanent, so if you are visiting this post in 2023 or later, you should still have access.)

Liz Truss or Lettuce

I was working on a poem to send to Rattle Poets Respond, which is an online series from Rattle in which poets submit new work based on something that happened in the news that week. I was literally on the last step to submit this poem when my daughter E, who lives in London, UK, told me that Liz Truss was about to make a statement. I delayed hitting send and, in those few minutes, the poem became moot. Still, I thought it was worth sharing here as a moment in time.

Liz Truss or Lettuce

Which will last longer?
asks the Daily Star.

On Day One, the iceberg
is unadorned, but soon

enhanced with googly
eyes, a smile,

sprouts a full head
of blonde hair.

While the PM dodges
questions, sheds

Cabinet ministers,
the lettuce tries to stay

fresh, despite the spotlight,
enjoys snacks, a glass

of wine, some tofu
on day six, a nod

to the departed
Home Secretary.

The bookies’ current
odds are 1 / 2

that Liz will outlast
the lettuce.

Place your bets
before it’s too late.

Rattle also requests an explanatory note and links to the news stories involved. This is what I had prepared:
With the government of UK Prime Minister Liz Truss in turmoil, the Daily Star has a livestream of her photo beside an increasingly adorned head of lettuce. Brits seem to have a special talent for finding humor in any situation. A clip explaining the Home Secretary/tofu connection can be found here.

If anyone is moved to share this post or poem, please include my name, Joanne Corey. I hope it will give people a smile or chuckle, however rueful.

Lettuce wins!

Monroe Bicentennial

On September 17th, I returned to my hometown, Monroe, Massachusetts, for their bicentennial celebration.

The day began with a presentation from State Representative Paul Mark of a framed copy of the restoration of the original town charter. In his remarks, he noted that, unlike most Massachusetts charters, Monroe’s does not have any mention of an English king. The town was incorporated from parts of other towns and named for President James Monroe, who was president of the United States at the time.

The charter was hung up right away!

When I was growing up there in the 1960s-70s, the town had about 200 residents. In the 2020 census, there were 118 residents, making it the smallest town by population on the mainland of Massachusetts.

The festivities centered around the Town Community Center, which was the school back in my day. (Also, in the days of my father and his siblings, when it was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.) The building still houses the town offices and library. What had been the classroom for grades 1-4 when I attended is now a community meeting room where many of the indoor activities were housed. The rest of the building is now used as offices by the power company that is the successor to New England Power, for which my father worked for over forty years.

I was able to make some contributions to the memory board and books. I sent some poems and was surprised to find one of them on display with a vintage newspaper photo of me when I graduated from high school.

Many of us were feeling nostalgic about the post office. There were two postal employees there to hand-cancel envelopes with a bicentennial commemorative postmark, even though the Monroe Bridge post office closed years ago to be replaced by this:

Not nearly as distinctive looking as this mail slot which was salvaged from the old post office and is now in the Monroe Historical Society’s collection.

For an explanation of why it was the Monroe Bridge post office and why I often refer to my hometown as Monroe Bridge, you can read my poem “Monroe Bridge Mail” published by Wilderness House Literary Review here. (It’s the final poem in a set of five.)

I spent quite a lot of time in the Historical Society, looking at the artifacts and photos. It was nice to see that the murals that had been painted by a WPA artist for our classroom had been moved there:

There was memorabilia from the Town’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) which I remembered as a very exciting time when I was in grammar school.

It was fun to get to reminisce with people who had been in town when my family lived there. Some are still residents or folks who have stayed local, while a few, like me, had travelled from further afield. I especially appreciated the time that Lucy spent with me, pointing out family connections among the memorabilia on display or in the Historical Society. I was touched by all the kind words about my parents and the expressions of sympathy on their passing. The celebration was just a few days after the first anniversary of my father’s death; he and my mother were among the founding members of the Monroe Historical Society.

There was Bicentennial swag available! One of my purchases was the Bicentennial History Book. I was honored that my poem “Playground” was chosen to be on the back cover. It reads:

Our WPA-built school housed
two classrooms, eight grades,
two teachers, twenty-some students,
old textbooks, reams of assignments
designed to keep us quiet at our desks.

Morning and afternoon recess
and the remainder of lunch hour,
we jumped off swings,
attempted running up the two-story slide,
sent the spinning merry-go-round swaying
to crash with a satisfying clang
into the metal pole from which it hung.

Dodge ball, monkey-in-the-middle,
a dozen variations of tag,
where the tap of a classmate’s hand
thawed you from your frozen state
or freed you from jungle-gym-jail.

Jump rope chants
“Not last night, but the night before,
a lemon and a pickle
came a-knockin’ at my door.”

Upper-grade boys against girls
in Wiffle ball or kick ball.
Despite our skirts, the girls,
already becoming young women,
usually won.
*****

Of course, as promised, there was cake!

It was a great celebration for a little town! Even though I’ve lived out-of-state for forty years now, a part of me is still at home there.

And even if you have never visited, there are now new signs to welcome you. This is the one you will see if you cross the state line from Whitingham, Vermont into Monroe.

Two poems in RAR!

I’m pleased to announce that I have two new poems published in the Fall-Winter issue of Rat’s Ass Review! (In case you are wondering about the somewhat unusual name, read the longer version of their submission guidelines, which is one of the most informative, honest, and entertaining I’ve ever encountered.) Many thanks to current editor Roderick Bates for choosing my work for inclusion in this issue.

There are 61 contributing poets plus cover art, so there’s lots to enjoy! Contributors are arranged alphabetically, so you will find my poems listed under Joanne Corey. Clicking on any poet’s surname takes you to their bio in the last section.

The inspiration for my first poem “The Banned Bookmobile” is a project under development at WordPlace, the Southern Tier Literary Center at the Bundy Museum, Binghamton, NY. J. Barrett Wolf, director of Wordplace, is planning to assemble a collection of banned/challenged books in a bus that can travel about to present programs on the First Amendment, censorship, and other topics. (Editor Rick Bates helpfully made the title of the poem a link to the web page for the project.)

For those of you who may not be familiar, in rural/underserved communities, it was common to have a bookmobile visit several times a year, giving schoolchildren and adults the chance to borrow a wider range of books than were available in town. I remember the excitement in my rural New England town of 200 when the bookmobile visited. Although I loved our town library, it was very small and the bookmobile offered many more options.

My poem references several books/series that have been banned from various schools or libraries in the United States, including And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Bluest Eye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Video Chat with our 95-year-old Father” was written in early 2021, shortly after Paco had moved into the assisted living unit of his senior community. Due to pandemic restrictions, my sisters and I weren’t allowed to visit his place, even though I lived nearby. The staff would set up a video session with their iPad and then leave to attend to other duties. Unfortunately, Paco had difficulty grasping the situation and the technology involved.

As always, comments are welcome!

My First Chapbook!

I am thrilled to announce that Hearts, my first chapbook, will be published by Kelsay Books in 2023! I don’t yet have an exact release date but expect it to be around September.

Kelsay Books was founded by poet Karen Kelsay in 2012 and currently has over a thousand titles listed in its bookstore. This makes it a much larger press than most of my previous submissions, some of which went to presses that only publish one or two titles a year. I took a chance submitting to Kelsay because two of my local Grapevine Poets, Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers, have books forthcoming from them. I’ll be sure to post their books here at Top of JC’s Mind when they become available.

Kelsay publishes poetry exclusively under four different imprints: Aldrich Press for free verse poetry up to 90 pages; White Violet Press for formal poetry up to 100 pages (Burt’s category); Alabaster Leaves for chapbooks under 50 pages (Jessica and my books will be under this imprint); and Daffydowndilly for rhyming poetry by adults for children.

Another welcome feature of Kelsay is that they respond very quickly, generally within fourteen days of submission. I received word of acceptance on day ten. This is blazingly fast. The typical response time for prior submissions I had done was six months, with a few taking more than a year to send out rejections.

Hearts centers around my mother, known here at TJCM as Nana, particularly in the last years of her life as she struggled with heart failure. The first incarnation of the chapbook was assembled in fall of 2017 as an entry into the QuillsEdge Press contest with the theme “Transitions.” It was named a finalist and the poem “Sixteen Hours” was included in an anthology that was published in conjunction with the winning manuscript, Skin Gin. That version also placed in the top 1% of submissions in another contest.

That early positive feedback proved to be important in the following years. As Nana’s health continued to decline, I wrote poems to help me process but couldn’t think about reworking the manuscript. After her death in May, 2019, I took some time to extend, workshop, and edit the chapbook and started sending it out in spring of 2020. That version was a semifinalist in a contest but was also getting a lot of rejections from contests and open submission periods.

I continued to do edits and added a new poem in spring, 2021. At that point, my father, known here as Paco, was entering the last few months of his life, so doing submissions faded into the background. He passed away last September and I returned to doing a few submissions before the end of the year. I was doing submissions for my full-length manuscript, as well.

Kelsay was the 34th submission for Hearts in its various forms.

There is a difference of opinion on whether that is a lot or just run-of-the-mill. Most of the people that I’ve told have noted my perseverance and commitment in the face of rejection but a few, who have decades-long experience as poets, think thirty-four isn’t that bad or unusual.

For now, I’m still feeling joy mixed with relief. In these past years, I’ve watched many of my poet-friends publish their first books and had begun to wonder if I just wasn’t good enough. Now, I’m coming to think of it more as finding the right match. Kelsay Books makes clear they are seeking manuscripts that are accessible to a general audience. I consider myself a community poet, as my experience has come through workshopping with fellow poets and community poetry sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and others, instead of from academic studies. I tend to write in a narrative style. While I occasionally write in Chinese/Japanese-derived forms like tanka, I have never written anything decent in traditional European forms, like sonnet or villanelle. Every once in a while, a rejection email comes with a bit of feedback, which tends to run along the lines of my work not being crafted well enough or sophisticated enough. While I do continue to work on craft and revision skills, I will never write like someone with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree.

And that’s okay.

It’s just easier to believe now that I can say I have a book forthcoming.

I’m sure I will post more about this as I work through the process of publication and gain more skills along the way. Style guidelines. Fonts. Cover art.

One of the blessings of being in a community of poets, though, is that help is available if I need it. I also now have a publisher with a team of professionals to get my book out into the world.

It still feels strange to be able to say that.

But I think I could get used to it.

BPP Spring 2022 Anthology

I’m pleased to share the Binghamton Poetry Project Spring 2022 Anthology. The Binghamton Poetry Project is a grant-supported outreach program in which graduate students in poetry and creative writing from Binghamton University offer free community workshops, offering children, youth, and adults the chance to learn more about and write poetry. BPP moved online during the pandemic, although we are hopeful that an in-person workshop will be possible again this summer.

This spring, I attended two workshops. My poem “Aubade with Birds” was written in response to a prompt in Suzanne Richardson’s workshop, Fresh Images and Form. This was my first attempt at writing an aubade, which the Poetry Foundation defines as “a love poem or song welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn.” I seldom write love poems and this one is definitely more on the lament side.

The other two poems were written during Shannon Hearn’s FIELDING TENDER: Nature Writing for the Apocalypse. “Kaʻūpūlehu” is based on a visit to the dryland forest preserve by that name on the Big Island of Hawai’i where daughter T interned during a semester spent in the Islands while she was a student at Cornell University. B and I were not able to visit during that semester but made a trip there several years later with her. Kaʻūpūlehu is an amazing place; you can see some videos and photos and learn more about it here.

The haiku in the anthology is one of five I wrote during a fun session with Shannon in which we wrote haiku in response to an image and a randomly generated word. (There is a note with the information on the word and image included on the page with the poem.) There was quite a bit of laughter that evening as some of the images and words led to pretty fantastical literary leaps, but I thought this particular haiku managed to make sense apart from its origin in the exercise.

Thank you for visiting the Binghamton Poetry Project anthology. Please check out the other poets while you are there. Some of the past anthologies are also available through the drop-down menu.

Tioga Arts Council reading

Following up from this post about the National Poetry Month events with the Tioga Arts Council, I’m pleased to say that the reading yesterday at their gallery in Owego (NY) was a great success!

We had six poets, including my friends Merrill Oliver Douglas and Jessica Dubey, who each read a poem by another poet and one of our own. The selections were varied and I was introduced to some poets who were new to me.

We then heard from several people who are working with poetry in translation. Being able to translate poetry into a different language is an art form in and of itself and we were treated to hearing poems that were originally written in Bosnian, Slovene, and German. We even got to hear the poet Adin Ljuca read his work in Bosnian! Thanks to Erin Riddle, who coordinated that part of the program.

And thanks again to Christina Di Stefano for her leadership of the Tioga Arts Council, for her inclusion of poets and writers along with the visual and performing artists, for her gracious introductions at the reading, and for all the organizing that brought us together.

One-Liner Wednesday: last April

Revisiting last year’s Broome County Arts Council’s recorded readings for National Poetry Month, with Yours Truly in week three: https://broomearts.org/education/the-gift-of-poets/

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/20/one-liner-wednesday-love-and-compassion/

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