A normal-rare event

On July tenth, there was a rare island of normalcy.

Or an almost normal version of a rare event.

I participated in a live poetry reading in conjunction with the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum. The reading was part of the Summer Art Festival, a collaboration of the Museum and the Vestal Public Library. Several of the poets from the Binghamton Poetry Project who have work included in Empty the Inkpots read from the stage/deck at the Museum with the audience arrayed in scattered chairs and benches and on the lawn. It was the first time in many months that I have participated in a live-and-in-person poetry reading. It had been even longer since I had had to read with a microphone. The amplification was useful because the museum is near a busy roadway.

I chose not to read the poem I had on display, which is about the early months of the pandemic; it is available at the link above. Instead, I read three poems from my manuscript about the North Adams, Massachusetts where I grew up. “Conveyance” appeared in the spring 2021 anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The other two poems, “North Adams Public Library” and “Monroe Bridge Mail”, are currently unpublished so I won’t share them here.

I was very happy with the reading on a number of counts. First, there were people in the audience who came at my invitation, including one who saw my Facebook announcement of the event. Second, though I was nervous before, I was reasonably comfortable during the reading, even managing the microphone adjustment without much trouble. Third, the reading was well-appreciated by our audience. We had six poets, with diverse styles and viewpoints, represented. We read in alphabetical order. Uncharacteristically, I was not first, which was helpful for me. I like to read early in the order, but I’m better at reading second than first. I was also grateful that the most experienced poet and performer was last as it gave a strong finish to event. No one should have to follow J. Barrett Wolf at a reading!

Lastly, I was pleased to receive personal compliments after the reading from family and friends, some of whom are also poets. What was most heart-warming was that a woman that I did not know came up to me afterward and told me how much she enjoyed my poems and asked where she could find my work. Of course, I don’t have any books of my own out, but I was able to give her my paper copies of my poems, which included my bio for the exhibit and the address for Top of JC’s Mind.

The reading was an island of normalcy not only because of the pandemic but also because most of my time these days has been wrapped up in dealing with the care of my 96-year-old dad who is currently in a rehab/skilled nursing facility after a fall and ensuing complications. It’s why it has taken me so long to post about the reading.

It’s also why, for the first time in years, I am not registered for the current sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project. I am usually visiting my father in the early evenings. Even if another family member is available to visit, I can’t predict if I will have any creativity/brainpower left late in the day.

It’s made the reading that much more important as a reminder that my poetry life is still there, waiting for me to go back to it when things are more settled.


Mass MoCA Poetry Residency: Tuesday

Today was full of surprises and women’s voices.

This morning, we had a fabulous session with Carol Ann Davis. She masterfully tailored her talk, handouts, and exercises to our group of poets, with so many useful tips that I should make them into a (large) sampler and keep them beside me when I write. She graciously signed two of her poetry books for me which I am looking forward to reading when I am in a more relaxed situation.

Most of our group had a fun lunch at Brewhaha, which is close to Mass MoCA and our residency apartments, then went in several different directions. I wanted to go visit the North Adams downtown churches and take some photos, because I am writing a poem that features them. Another poet who fancied a walk on this gorgeous afternoon accompanied me as I played tour guide. I took her into the library, which was once the home of the Blackinton family, owners of a woolens mill and the wealthiest residents in the city. I used to go to the library as a child because it was so much larger than the one in Monroe Bridge, which occupied a relatively small room in the school/town offices/town hall. On Saturday trips to the North Adams library, I remember climbing the grand staircase to the children’s section. The library has since been renovated and is even more beautiful than it was 45 years ago. It also has a new, LEED-certified expansion in the back, so there is plenty of space.

We circled back to the studios. I needed to pick up my things to bring them to the Tupelo loft for a 3:30 presentation. Because the batteries in my camera had died on the first walk, I headed back up Main Street to continue my photo-taking tour. I had made my way back to the library and was taking photos of woodwork and fireplaces and chandeliers and the staircase, when someone called my name. It was Cousin Kim, from B’s side of the family, who was up from Cape Cod visiting old haunts. I had not seen her in over twenty years. As a Facebook friend, she had seen my blogposts and knew I was in North Adams, but had resolved not to contact me because she knew we were busy. We had time for hugs and about twenty minutes of conversation before I had to get to the loft and she had to head back to the Cape. It was a wonderful bit of serendipity.

At the loft, Cassandra led an enlightening exploration of the use of space in poetry, with wonderful exemplars and discussion. It was fun for me that music made several notable appearances. I love drawing music and poetry together as some of my poetic impulse came from the forced diminishment of my musical life. But that’s a whole other blog post…

I ate dinner on my own so that I could talk to B and tell him about Kim. And I got to have a mocha sundae for dessert, although it is not as good as in childhood days at Apothecary Hall where we used to go with Nana. Another poem I need to write.

This evening, we continued our reading series among ourselves. I read with my three apartment mates. We had so much fun! The others’ poetry was amazing and I so loved hearing it in their own voices. It was also fun for me to read so many of my poems at once. It’s the first time I have ever read more than three poems at an event. It was fun, even though I kept reading poems about illness and death. I did sprinkle in some lighter poems and ended with my Mahler haibun, although I realized too late that I had grabbed an earlier draft.

I get a chance at redemption tomorrow as we hope to do a recording of the whole group in the boiler room sound installation. We may even record it on video, which would be cool, especially if we get to share.

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