Good-bye, MoCA

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.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.

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MoCA Sunday

Sorry for the pun-ny title. It’s late and I couldn’t resist.

The day started early. I woke up with a poem that I had been mulling forming in my head, so I grabbed my laptop and started writing. Although most of my poems are short, this one is significantly longer. I worked for a couple of hours, slept a bit more, woke again, and finished the draft, all before 7:00.

I went to the studio and finished my first attempt at ordering the poems for my collection before heading to 8:30 Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, directly across from MASS MoCA. It used to be called St. Anthony’s and was my Nana Giacapuzzi’s church, a fact which appears in one of the poems in my collection.

After church, I went back to the studio, intending to visit the newly opened Building 6 when it opened, but I had forgotten that the museum doesn’t open until 11:00 on Sunday. I looked at the pile of pages that now constituted my manuscript sitting on the corner of my studio table and began the tedious job of copying them into a single google doc. I also needed to do a bit of editing from a prior critique.

I decided that I would wait to visit Building 6 tomorrow, when I will have more time to experience the art and write about the pieces that inspire words.

I’m pleased to say that I got my document assembled before our 12:30 group lunch. I am happy to have a start, but have a ton of work to do, assembling the table of contents; writing an introduction, acknowledgements, and notes; re-arranging, editing, adding, cutting poems; and then figuring out to whom I should submit the manuscript.

We had a lively discussion at lunch, took a brief break, and then re-convened in the studio for workshopping. I got lots of great ideas for revisions of a poem in my collection. (See above paragraph – editing.)

I confess that I cut out a bit early to visit a friend of B and mine from our high school days in North Adams. Bonus: her husband is a retired chef, who made a fantastic pork tenderloin with fruit for dinner. We caught up on each other’s news, took a walk, and talked some more. I showed her lots of photos of Baby ABC, who she has not yet met. Maybe later in the fall.

I returned to our apartments in time for a discussion among the Boiler House Poets of experiences with manuscript reviews, conferences, online courses, and publication. I love to hear about all these possibilities; maybe, some year or other, I will try one or another of them out.

And now, time to publish this post and get some sleep.

And while I don’t have a poem about MoCA Sundays, I do have one about mocha sundaes.

wrapping up at MASS MoCA

Yesterday was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA, such a full day that there was no time to blog before collapsing into bed. I came into the studio early, picking up a steamed milk and an almond biscotti from Tunnel City Coffee on the way.

Thus fortified, I embarked on a morning of writing and visiting places that I could photograph or take notes on for future poems. I re-visited the North Adams Public Library and spoke with a couple of the librarians who helpfully supplied some of the historical information about the building. I walked into the newly spiffed up Colgrove Park with Drury Academy/High/Conte Middle/now Colgrove Elementary School perched on the hillside above. Workers were on site at the former Saint Francis Church, getting ready to removing the rubble that was left behind after the demolition. It is so strange to look at the North Adams skyline without that steeple among the rest.

After the museum opened, I went back to some exhibits that had particularly struck me and made some notes. One was a bit tricky because the room was almost totally dark. I discovered that there is an installation showing a short film set in the upper reaches of our beloved Boiler House. I visited the Boiler House and took (yet more) photographs, especially of the upper levels that are more difficult to reach for people without sturdy shoes and a certain comfort level with industrial settings and heights.

After lunch in the cafe, we reconvened back at the Studios for some workshopping of poems and for a special project. During our first residency, which was the inaugural collaboration between the Studios at MASS MoCA and Tupelo Press, we produced this video of us reading poems in the Boiler House.  The indefatigable Ann Dernier collected poems from an exercise that we did with Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo and made them into an anthology called Verse Osmosis.

For this reunion residency, we decided to create a collaborative videopoem about the Boiler House. Each poet brought some lines, in some cases written specifically for the videopoem and in others excerpted from a larger Boiler House poem, to the group. We made a few small edits and considered several options for ordering our lines before deciding on one.

Next, we went to Marilyn McCabe’s studio to use her microphone and computer to record the audio. Marilyn has produced gorgeous videopoems, so she offered to do the necessary recording and editing. We lined up in our agreed-upon order and recorded the reading, so that Marilyn could overlay it with audio she previously recorded in the Boiler House, which is a sound installation in addition to being a visual marvel. Later, she will use photographs of the Boiler House to complete the videopoem.

On a lark, we decided to take our poem over to the Boiler House to read it there; Marilyn brought her mike and laptop to record, although we assumed there would be too much noise for our words to be heard easily. To our amazement, when we listened to the playback, the balance was very good, so Marilyn may use that recording in the final product. You can be sure that as soon as it is ready, I will post it here at Top of JC’s Mind!

After a short break, which I confess I used to shop in the museum gift store, we reconvened for a bit more workshopping before returning to our apartments to get ready for dinner. We had made a reservation for Grazie, which is on the first floor of the building where we are staying and is where we had our opening night dinner, and had a fabulous time with great food and even greater conversation.

We re-convened in the apartment living room for more time together. First, we did book signing. Copies of Verse Osmosis were passed around for multiple signatures. We were also blessed to have several books by members of the group currently out in print: several books by Kyle Laws, Marilyn McCabe’s Glass Factory, and Ann Dernier’s In the Fury. Then, we snuck in a bit more workshopping and insisted on hearing people read just a few more poems before we were all too tired to continue.

This morning, we all faced the realization that we only had a few hours left before we would have to leave. Six days seems so short! Although we all accomplished a great deal, there is so much more we have to say. The challenge is to keep the creative energy we feel here alive, without the obvious advantages of having a writing studio, an art museum, other poets available for feedback and support, and at least partial respite from household, family, and work obligations.

Yes, it is going to be a challenge.

My hope is to continue to work on my manuscript so that I can send it out to readers in the coming months and have it ready to submit to publishers or contests by the middle of 2017.

You all know how my plans often go, though…

Wish me luck and stay tuned!

MA Birthday

Today was another full-to-overflowing day of our reunion residency at MASS MoCA with a special feature for me. October fourth is my birthday.

I was up before six, thankfully after a decent night’s sleep, and opened three cards from my family that had found their way into my suitcase. I went over to my studio early and worked on some revisions, taking a break to attend 8:00 Mass.

October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, whom I admire for his advocacy for peace and his respect for and joy in all of creation. It was so meaningful the night that Cardinal Bergoglio appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s, asked for the blessing of the people gathered, and took the name Francis. The homily today talked about how Francis blended contemplative and active service, which is a practice that I strive to emulate, albeit not as well as I wish. I so appreciate present day Franciscans, such as Richard Rohr and Ilia Delio, who continue to teach the connectedness and unity of all creation in Love.

Catholicism has come up surprisingly often during our residency, but I feel I have not done a very good job at explaining myself as a progressive Catholic who sees herself increasingly through an interspiritual lens. Though brought up within the tradition and the rules of the church, I take seriously the primacy of individual conscience and my own responsibilities as a mature Christian, one of the foremost being that it is not my place to judge the beliefs of another person. One of the things I appreciate about Pope Francis is that he makes clear that he excludes no person of good will, whatever spiritual/philosophical path they follow, whether they believe in a god or gods or not. I think of God as Love, as a connection each being has with other beings and all of creation. I continue within the Catholic tradition myself, despite its many flaws, because it is where I learned about the sacramentality of life and relationship, but I honor whatever religious or philosophical path enlightens each person I meet.

(It’s late at night. Can you tell? Back to the story of my birthday…)

After Mass, I walked the grounds at MASS MoCA while talking to Nana on the phone, then went back to my studio to work. I finished the first draft of the Fall Foliage Parade poem, reworked the Boiler House poem, typed in and lightly revised a poem I had sketched from one of the new exhibits, and began a new poem before lunch, which was brought in from Brewhaha because the cafe is closed on Tuesdays, along with the rest of MASS MoCA, which is sad because I would have loved to spend some more time with the new exhibits today. Having lunch from Brewhaha is never sad, though; I had an excellent salmon burger.

Six of the eight of us took an afternoon field trip to Williamstown to visit the Clark Art Institute. There is an special exhibition from the Prado, but I most appreciated re-visiting some of the works that I remember seeing on prior visits. I was especially drawn to the Renoir paintings today, although I made a point of visiting the Degas “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture that reminds me of daughter T.

We met in the apartment across the hall for dinner together and my friends surprised me with cake and ice cream, a rendition of “Happy Birthday”, a beautiful many-pointed star ornament, and a card with little notes from each of them. Of course, we turned our attention back to poetry and did some more workshopping and reading, but the group indulged me by listening to me read some of the poems from my manuscript in development. I really wanted to be able to read some of them in North Adams because they originate here, but confess to being a bit anxious about it. I don’t think I even looked up at all when I was reading. I was concerned that my poems would be too simple because my fellow Boiler House Poets craft such exquisite poetry; fortunately, the response was very positive. There was even some interest in reading the whole manuscript when I get it assembled, which will be a huge help. I know any feedback I get will help make the collection as strong as possible before I send it off to potential publishers.

So, it has been a good birthday. Maybe by next year at this time, I will be submitting my manuscript – and waiting…

MoCA Monday

I did sleep some more after writing this middle-of-the-night post, although I wanted to get up early to shower. I know I said that I wasn’t going to revise The Octagon Room until after I got home, but an idea presented itself so I plunged in and did another draft before breakfast.

I met a high school friend downstairs at Brewhaha, where we enjoyed delicious waffles and conversation. It was great to see her, although we didn’t have much time, as she needed to get to work and I needed to get to the studio.

I did a little more revising and printed two poems for workshopping today, just in case we get two sessions in again. My main goal, though, was to get into the Museum, as I had not yet taken the opportunity to do so and wanted to see the new exhibits.

The museum does not open until 11:00, but the grounds are open sooner, so I went back to our beloved Boiler House. I think it may be the first time that I have been there totally alone, which allowed me to fully engage with the soundscape. I climbed the flights of open metalwork stairs all the way to the top. MASS MoCA has added many more solar panels to their buildings. Being on the top of the building gives a new appreciation for the vastness of the museum site and a spectacular view of downtown North Adams. It was poignant to look at their landmark steeples, though, as one is missing. St. Francis was torn down this year; I could see the remnant that is left, waiting to be hauled away. I am planning to write a poem about it as a postscript to one I wrote last year.

At 11:00, I did an hour-long spin through the first floor of the main museum building where the new exhibits were. Unlike most museums, MASS MoCA does not rely on having a large permanent collection. Frequent visits reveal new works, so the experience of visiting is always fresh. I drafted one poem in my notebook, honoring advice from one of the poets who came to speak to us last year. There were several other pieces of which I am in awe, but don’t feel that I can expand on poetically. Maybe later, or maybe never. Still, I am glad to have experienced them.

After lunch, we went on a formal tour of the museum. Unfortunately, the group was large and we weren’t able to visit too many pieces. I did appreciate being able to accompany my poet-friend Jessica into the Sol Lewitt exhibit. She had helped workshop a poem I had written about it, so it was nice that she was able to experience the art in person. The large exhibit hall is currently closed as the next major exhibit, Nick Cave’s Until, is being installed. We were able to see some of the installation going in and hear a bit about it from our guide. I feel that I will have to try to come back to see it after it opens on October 15. I think there may be a poem there, although it may be too overwhelming for me to write about. Fortunately, it will be here for a whole year.

After the tour and a bit of delay due to a sudden downpour, we reconvened at the Studios for workshopping. I decided to present my new version of The Octagon Room, which was well-received. There are more edits to make, including a new title, but I feel that I will be able to improve it enough to include in my manuscript.

Being back here at MASS MoCA makes it seem that completing a collection is possible. The trick will be keeping the momentum going after I return home. There will need to be more writing, more revision, assembling the collection, sending it out to readers for feedback, more revision, editing, cutting, and adding, and, eventually, sending it out to presses for consideration.

Wish me luck…