In late May, I spent a few days on a private writing retreat back in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and it is the subject of my poetry collection work-in-progress, so it is helpful to me to be back there to work on it. (I wrote about it here for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, so even more rambling than I am when I have the luxury of editing myself.)
Part of the reason it is helpful to be back there is that I’m relieved of most of the caretaking/errands/planning/phoning/corresponding that take up a lot of my brain when I am at home. As if to make up for my being away for a bit, my return was greeted with an avalanche of problems that I may, finally, be at the point of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
I will not bore you with any details other than to say that anyone who has ever had to deal with a complex issue with a US insurance company has some inkling of what it has been like times three.
The update on the manuscript is that it is in the hands of my poet-friends with an eye toward doing a full review sometime in the next few weeks. I was fortunate that I had returned from North Adams with the poems basically done and ordered. I powered through writing the foreword and end notes before June hit so I was able to pivot to dealing with bureaucracy.
Fingers crossed that personal life will calm down in time for the manuscript review and for a couple of weeks for revision time so that I can send the manuscript out for July submission calls. Tupelo Press just helpfully reminded me that they will be having an open submission period for manuscripts in July. After attending the inaugural Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency week in 2015, I promised that I would send them work. I didn’t think it would be this many years before I would have the manuscript completed, but I am looking forward to finally keeping that promise. I feel especially obligated to send this to them because so many of the poems intersect with MASS MoCA, my time there, and the art.
I will, of course, be sending the manuscript to other publishers and contests because one needs to cast as wide a net as possible to find the right fit between the press and the poet.
Things have been pretty quiet here at Top of JC’s Mind for the past few days because I was back in North Adams on a solo writing retreat to work on my poetry collection.
I’m happy to report that I have the bulk of the manuscript assembled, including a few pieces that I wrote this week. There is only one blank page with just a title; I’m hoping to get that poem written and integrated into the manuscript over the holiday weekend. I also need to write a foreword and a notes and acknowledgements section at the end. When I have the draft complete, I will ask my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, to do a group review/critique for me, with the goal of having it ready to submit by mid-July.
This collection has been in development for a looooong time. In November, 2015, I took a leap of faith and applied to attend a week-long workshop/residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a collaboration between The Studios at MASS MoCA, which had, at the time, only been in operation for a few weeks, and Tupelo Press under the direction of Jeffrey Levine. I was accepted, even though I was a relatively new poet at that point. Had it not been in that particular place, I would not have even applied, but I grew up in the North Adams area and had hopes that a chapbook might grow out of the experience, given the intersection of my personal and family history with the current, very different reality there. Case in point: MASS MoCA occupies the complex that housed Sprague Electric when I was growing up but that started out as Arnold Print Works that made textiles. (If you are interested in how the week went, you can check my blog archive for Nov. 2015, as I blogged every day of the residency.)
Short version of the story is that I was in way over my head, but was saved from going under by my fellow poets. We all bonded so well that we have returned to MASS MoCA every year (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) for a reunion residency as the Boiler House Poets Collective.
So, two things happened to my initial idea of writing a chapbook about my family and the North Adams area. I realized pretty quickly that a chapbook would be too short, so it would need to be a collection. Also, life intervened in the form of a long and ongoing period of inter-generational caregiving, which made the time required to devote myself to the project scarce.
There have been two other attempts at this collection, both of which failed miserably in review. I learned a lot from the failures – at least, I hope I have – and this new iteration of the manuscript has a (I hope) more compelling focus.
We’ll see how manuscript review goes…
There are over fifty poems in the collection and over seventy pages, so there is room for cuts if needed. Most publishers expect collections to be between fifty and one hundred pages, so there is some space for adjustment.
While members of the Grapevine Group have seen a lot of the individual poems, this will be the first time they have seen the manuscript. The two prior iterations of the collection were with Boiler House Poets Collective, back before Grapevine started doing manuscript reviews within the group. The exception is my friend Jessica, who is a member of both groups. It will be especially interesting to see her reaction to this newest iteration.
After Grapevine review and edits, I may see if any other BHPC poets want to weigh in – or maybe even before, if any of them are especially keen on the concept/subject to my begging/gluttons for punishment/very bored.
At any rate, come mid-summer, I’m hoping to start doing submissions with the collection. Then, in the fall and winter, the rejections will start rolling in, where they can join the growing list of rejections for my chapbook manuscript in my submission database.
Eventually, one of them may make it into print. The chapbook has been both a semi-finalist and finalist in contests. So, someday?
This version of the collection is definitely stronger than the two prior attempts. So, maybe, someday?
If it happens, you will definitely be able to read about it at Top of JC’s Mind, which will probably be around even though it is cheugy. I just learned that word…
Or, if the chapbook or collection gets accepted for publication, you may just be able to hear me scream, even if you are not close by. 😉
As I announced in this post, I am spending a few days back in North Adams to work on my poetry collection.
I went to MASS MoCA today and was pleased to be in a good poetry flow! I drafted three poems that will make their way into the manuscript and a fourth that will be a possibility for submission to journals.
I also ate ice cream twice – a dish of ginger ice cream from Lickety Split in MASS MoCA and a mocha sundae from Triple Scoop, a nearby ice cream shop. Mocha is very important here. There are two poems about it in the collection already.
Dashing off this post and then back to my poems from today, getting the drafts into my computer and editing a bit…
In fall of 2015, I took a frightening leap of faith and attended my first-ever poetry residency/workshop. It was a collaboration between Tupelo Press and The Studios at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). As a relatively inexperienced poet, the only reason I was emboldened to apply was that it was in North Adams, the small city in the Berkshires where I had gone to high school. I grew up in the tiny town of Monroe Bridge, about twenty miles away, so North Adams had been a second hometown to me, with at least weekly visits to relatives and stores.
The residency was, well, complicated. It was daunting and terrifying at times and I was perpetually in over my head, but I learned a lot and met wonderful poets. I blogged about the experience and just re-read all the posts. This post contains links to the residency week’s posts, which convey things fairly well, except for downplaying the terror just a tad.
In those 2015 posts, I mentioned the possibility of a reunion residency and I’m pleased to say that the Boiler House Poets Collective has met every year since in early fall for a week at MASS MoCA.
Until this year.
Because of the pandemic protocols and travel restrictions, our 2020 reunion is cancelled. We are all sad, but we are on the schedule for fall 2021, so we know we will return.
In one of the 2015 posts, I mention my plan to put together a poetry collection about my personal and family ties to the North Adams area and that it might take a long time to put it together.
This turned out to be true.
While I have completed a different manuscript in the intervening years – and two major iterations of the North Adams collection, I am nowhere near finished with the collection I envisioned in 2015. I had planned to spend a major chunk of our 2020 residency hammering out more poems and a new version of the manuscript.
I get emails from MASS MoCA and The Studios, so I knew that a deadline was coming up to apply for individual residencies for winter/spring 2021 and I began pondering if that was something I should try to do. It’s a bit complicated because 1) it’s very competitive; 2) the minimum block is two weeks, which makes things trickier in terms of being away from home; 3) no one can project what kinds of virus levels, travel restrictions, closures, capacity limits, etc. may be in place in 2021, so cancellations could still occur; 4) the application would have been quite a chore, especially because I don’t have a cv prepared.
In discussing this with my spouse B and resident daughter T, an alternate solution came up – that I could go to North Adams on a self-styled writing retreat, staying in a local hotel/inn, visiting the museum with my membership pass, and writing in my room or some other socially distanced space that may present itself. If I do this, I could choose the dates myself and could wander about the area as I wished. Importantly, I could also go sooner rather than later, while both New York and Massachusetts have good control on virus levels and no travel restrictions between them. I would be able to maintain good social distancing, so my risks would not be any higher there than here.
So, I might make it to North Adams to write for a week after all. Of course, it won’t be as rich an experience as I am used to when being officially in residence with my inestimable Boiler House poet-friends, but the time away to work on the collection in the place where it is centered would still, I hope, be fruitful.
One of my least favorite tasks at the end of the year is transferring dates from my calendar for year X to my new calendar for year X+1. I still use paper calendars, a large one in a central location in the house and a pocket one that I carry in my purse. I diligently try to keep them coordinated and updated, but now there have been so many crossouts and changes that it gets daunting to deal with them.
The latest long-time calendar entry that needs to be corrected is the annual Boiler House Poets Collective residency week at MASS MoCA. It is scheduled for early fall, so we had hoped that at least some of us would be able to gather, but we got the news that we are cancelled for this year. MASS MoCA will re-open next week, but many of its programs will be running at reduced capacity, if at all. Residencies will be cut way back because the artists are generally housed in four-bedroom apartments with only one bathroom and relatively small kitchen/common area, which wouldn’t allow for social distancing.
I know that this is the responsible path at this point, but I’m still sad. I only see all but one of the Boiler House poets during our residency, so I’m bummed knowing I won’t see them for two years instead of one.
Selfishly, I’m also sad about losing the opportunity to sequester myself in my studio in building 13 and work on my collection that centers around the North Adams area and its history, which is entwined with my family history. In 2015, when I first went to a MASS MoCA residency through a program with Tupelo Press, I had hoped that I might be able to craft a chapbook around my own relationship with the area. Over the years, it has morphed into a collection, which has been torn apart and re-configured more times than I care to admit to already. I was looking forward to having concentrated time to work on the manuscript during residency this year, hoping that I would be able to find the mental space and creativity and energy to make major progress while I was there with the support and feedback of my poet-friends.
Theoretically, I could try to shut myself in my bedroom for a week and try to hash it out on my own, but it’s hard to imagine managing it. There are enough chores and responsibilities here that it’s difficult to see how I could block out that much time. Even if I could, would I be able to do it effectively without being in that place and with the generous advice of my fellow poets?
We are able to schedule a residency for early fall 2021, but I know that is too long to put off my manuscript work. I’m going to have to get my brain in gear to work on a plan to work on the manuscript.
So with the birth of a new collection of poems, I thought I might share the backstory, as the poems came together in an unusual way, for me.
The poems in this book began as a monthlong exercise in imitations. Each day I’d choose a poem from a literary magazine or book of poems I had lying around, and I’d try to do a word-for-word imitation, but trying often to use opposite words. That is, if the poem started “One early morning…” I might say “Every late night….” I tried to choose poems that seemed unlike anything I might write: longer lines, narrative rather than lyric.
I didn’t overthink the process, I just let words rise up as prompted by the original poem, and figured whatever subject matters were lurking in my brain would arise naturally from this process. So then I had thirty or so of these, and looking…
In these days of social distancing, how can we make each other feel welcomed?
We have been used to meeting in person, hugging, kissing, shaking hands, or whatever local custom and closeness of relationship between the people indicated, but, with fears of infection mounting and lots of restrictions in place depending on your location, it is hard to get within six feet of a person who is not a member of your household.
It seems to be a good time to use our voices. In some places in Europe, people who are not allowed to leave their homes are singing to each other from their balconies. That requires a certain kind of city to work. If I sang from my front porch, I don’t think any of the neighbors would hear. Then again, I don’t have a very loud voice.
I do, however, have a renewed appreciation for phone calls and the much more recent videochats. I especially love being able to hear and see E and ABC in London. After our visit in December, we had thought we would be able to visit again this spring, but there is about 0% chance of that with the travel restrictions in place now and any reasonable projection of the spread of COVID-19 in both the US and the UK.
I’m also even more appreciative of notes and messaging and emails. I admittedly have been doing a lot of that in recent years, but even more so in these recent weeks. Groups from whom I receive emails are busily trying to strengthen online connections. Two big in-person actions planned for this spring – major climate/environmental action centered around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in the US in April and a world-wide Catholic women’s strike in May – are now re-imagining their activities. Even retailers are writing about what they are doing in terms of store closings and online shopping, while also expressing concern for the health of their employees and the communities they serve.
I also truly appreciate all the friends and family who are posting to social media or sending private messages, letting others know they are okay and checking up on people.
Later today, I will be welcoming people to a review of my chapbook manuscript. Until a few days ago, it was going to be a small in-person party. Now, our plan is to meet via Zoom. We will safely be able to see each other and talk about the manuscript, each from the safety of our own homes, places where we are safe from both the virus, which is not widely prevalent in our county yet, thank God, and from the very real fear that we might unwittingly pass it to someone before having any symptoms or ideas that we are infected.
It will be different than the prior manuscript reviews our circle of poets have done in-person, but, in a way, it may feel more precious and more connected, precisely because we know we won’t be able to gather in person for weeks or months to come. When we are allowed, I hope that we will be able to have a much-delayed party with everyone gathered in one room.
I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.
After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.
We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.
Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.
Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.
One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work. I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.
At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.
Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.