X years ago

Facebook often presents users with the opportunity to repost something from prior years. Today, it suggested this photo from two years ago:

a post-dinner four generation photo of me, Nana, daughter E, and granddaughter ABC

This was our last Thanksgiving with my mom, known here as Nana. She passed away from congestive heart failure the following May. Daughter E and granddaughter ABC moved to London, UK, that October when E’s spousal visa finally came through. ABC is now in nursery school and big sister to JG, whom we planned to meet this month until England went into a new pandemic lockdown phase.

It’s a lot in two years.

And it seems like it’s been longer than two years.

Three days ago, one of my poet-friends posted a photo from the Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency from which the Boiler House Poets Collective sprang five years ago. In the comment thread that followed, someone asked if anyone had written about it, which prompted me to re-read my blog posts from the residency. This post links to most of them. It was interesting to read my real-time take on what was happening, although I did temper the amount of anxiety I expressed somewhat. It was nice to see that I accomplished more than I remembered and good to be reminded of our various sessions with our poet-teachers and the bonding among our original nine poets-in-residence.

We have gone back to North Adams for a reunion residency every autumn, until being derailed this year by COVID. We have a reservation for both 2021 and 2022, though, which is tempering the sadness at missing this year a bit.

And, yes, those five years feel longer than they are, too.

Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2020 anthology and reading

Due to the pandemic, the Binghamton Poetry Project has moved to Zoom for 2020. For each of our spring, summer, and fall seasons, we did five sessions of poem study and prompts, followed by a reading via Zoom. For the fall, our directors at Binghamton University have re-imagined our anthologies, which had been distributed in print at our in-person readings in prior years, as a digital publication. You can find the anthology at the Binghamton Poetry Project site here: https://thebinghamtonpoetryproject.wordpress.com/fall-2020-anthology/

One of the 2020 innovations from the Binghamton Poetry Project was to offer two different workshops, one for beginners and one for more experienced poets. I was part of the latter group. I enjoyed working with our instructor Shin Watanabe, who is a PhD student at Binghamton University. I also appreciated the opportunity to connect with the other community poets who attended, some of whom I have known for years in person and others of whom I have only met via Zoom. One of the advantages of Zoom meetings is that we have been able to include poets who are further afield, including some from the Ithaca area.

All three of the poems I chose for the anthology were written in response to Shin’s prompts based on our reading for that session. I thought it might be interesting to include how these poems came to be written; one of the advantages of taking a class or workshop is that you generate poems that otherwise would not have been written were it not for the prompts.

That being said, this first poem is one that was conceived before the prompt, as it will eventually be part of the collection about the North Adams, Massachusetts area that I have been working on for several years. The prompt was about employing interesting adjectives, based on our study of The Colossus by Sylvia Plath.

Navigating North Adams for MWS

Google maps had no street-view
for the addresses you had unearthed
through Ancestry.com
in the year since we each lost
our mothers May-days apart.
We were excited to discover
your great-grandmother

as a young Scottish immigrant
lived in the city where I also had roots.
As I drove the two hundred miles there,
I thought of you,
ten times further away,
of the photos I would send
so we could imagine

your ancestors and mine crossing
paths, setting in motion
our friendship generations on.
I navigated the streets too steep,
narrow, and unassuming
for the google-cars that take wrap-around
photos to satisfy the curious or nostalgic.

When Jeanie lived at 34 Jackson
did she cross Eagle
and walk with Ruth down
Bracewell toward the school?
When did the neighbors
at 27 Hudson put
up a sign, Established

in 1860? Surely
not back then, when
the hillside houses
were only middle-aged.
Did she sled down
Veazie with Mary
who lived parallel

on Williams? Did the imprint
of these ancestral
connections somehow
draw us to each
other as college roommates,
forty-year friends clinging
to each other on steep climbs?

The next poem was an experiment with line breaks, based on our discussion of Charles Bukowski’s Fingernails; Nostrils; Shoelaces.

Two and a half hours

The line stretched from
St. Paul’s Church down
the block to the library
voters spread six feet apart
waiting for
their turn to enter
go downstairs
wait
give their
name, sign the
tablet with a
disinfected stylus
watch the printer spit out
their ballot
sequester together in a
cubicle, completely fill in the
bubbles for their
choices with a
black felt pen
feed their ballot into the
machine, wait for
confirmation, walk back to
their car
go home and
hope.

This final poem is a failed attempt at the American Sublime, a la Hart Crane’s The Bridge: To Brooklyn Bridge. I think I managed a bit of the awe component, though.

For Jillian Grace

On my screen, you appear
smaller than your 2.9 kilos –
kilos because, from the start,
you are a British baby,
unlike your older sister, born
in the same upstate New York
hospital as your mother,
just miles from where
I, bleary-eyed at dawn,
stare at your first photos.

Your dark hair peeks
from under the knit cap
meant to keep you warm
as you adjust to air,
not the tiny ocean
that had been your home
for thirty-seven weeks,
your cheeks rosy
against the white blankets
and Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper.

I long to cradle you,
to breathe your newborn scent,
stroke your soft skin,
feel your fingers
wrap one of mine,
hum quiet lullabies,
claim you as my granddaughter,
but you are thirty-five hundred miles
and a pandemic
away.

I hope you will take a look at our anthology. Feel free to comment here or on the Binghamton Poetry Project site. Enjoy!

Retreat in progress

I wrote here about heading to North Adams on a private writing retreat and wanted to give an update.

I have made two visits to MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), concentrating on exhibits that have arrived since the Boiler House Poets Collective’s last residency in early fall 2019. I’ve taken a lot of photos to help me with my work on my collection and have even been able to sit in the galleries and work on some first drafts for poems. I have a growing sense that I need to center the collection on place, on what it means to be from and of this part of the world. To help with this, I’ve also been taking photos of the plaques scattered around the museum about the history of buildings and people’s remembrances. I even bought a book from the gift shop by Joe Manning, an artist/poet/author/historian, filled with interviews from people in the area.

While I miss my Boiler House poet-friends, I am enjoying the freedom of being totally on my own. I watched a long video about Sol Lewitt and spent time writing in the galleries, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I had our usual studio access, workshopping schedule, and shared meals. I certainly miss the immediate feedback on my poems, although I can sometimes hear echoes of their comments from prior years and feel that this is helping me in my writing and edits now.

The Museum is very responsive to the COVID dangers. Everyone has masks and distances appropriately. The Museum itself is huge, given that it is located in a series of old factory buildings, so it is easy to not be close to other people. They are leaving some windows open to increase air exchange and there are abundant hand-sanitizing stations. The cafe has expanded its indoor and outdoor seating to safe distances. Admission is arranged in advance so that there are not crowds trying to get in at the same time. During the shutdown, B and I became members of the Museum, so I am making good use of my free admission privileges.

Today, I decided not to go the museum. I did practical things in the morning and spent the whole afternoon writing and editing. It felt like a luxury. This evening, I’m catching up on reading, blogging, and email.

I’m also getting to visit some of the people I know who still live in the area. I got to have outdoor and distanced dinner with a high school friend and will have a cousin visit tomorrow in B’s hometown, Stamford VT. On Tuesday, when the Museum is closed, I will most likely drive to my and my dad’s hometown, Monroe Bridge, and my mom’s, Hoosac Tunnel. They appear in some of the poems in my collection.

I am more than halfway through my time here and am feeling like I have accomplished a lot. Perhaps, the most useful thing I have learned is that this time away is fruitful and a possibility to repeat in the future, COVID and family obligations permitting.

Looking out on part of the Ledelle Moe exhibit “When” https://massmoca.org/event/ledelle-moe/

change of scenery

Unfortunately, the Boiler House Poets Collective‘s reunion residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts planned for this fall had to be postponed to fall 2021 due to the pandemic. We are all disappointed not to be together in North Adams. Fall 2021 seems impossibly far away.

I had hoped to get in a lot of work on the collection that I am working on about the area and my family history here. It’s already a years-long project and the thought of not having concentrated time to work on it was difficult.

I had begun to make plans to come on my own when a poetry reading that I was set to participate in was pushed back. I hurriedly moved up my plans, taking advantage of the fact that neither New York nor Massachusetts are requiring quarantine against each other.

So, here I am, in my hotel room overlooking one of the newest MASS MoCA community arts installations:

Tomorrow, I have a reserved entrance time at the museum and a reserved tour for an exhibit by Wendy Red Star. The reservations are part of the COVID precautions in place. The buildings and grounds are very spacious, so, while everyone will be masked, it will be easy to keep a healthy distance from other visitors and staff. I will have a notebook with me and see what strikes me as something to write about, now or later.

I’m trying to let things unfold as they will, although I have already had a bit of a bump in the road. As I was driving to North Adams, a stone or something impacted my windshield and cracked it. It is relatively small and should be repariable, but I’ve already had to spend time online and on the phone to schedule the repair for Saturday.

I’m hoping that unexpected cracks do not become a theme for my private writing retreat…

a non-reunion

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.

Stay tuned for future developments.

SoCS: calendar

Maybe I should toss out my calendar.

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.

Maybe, I need to put it on my calendar.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “toss.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/03/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-4-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley

Boiler House Poets Collective Live!

While I wish I was saying that the Boiler House Poets Collective is together in person and giving a reading somewhere, this announcement is that we now have a public website.

There are three pages on the site: a standard “About Us” for a bit of history and general information; a page with projects we have done together, including videos which are embedded; and a page with links to books, blogs, websites, and videopoems that individual members of the Boiler House Poets Collective have been involved with as writers, editors, or creators.

I have frequently posted here about being in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts with the Boiler House Poets Collective. If you search for MASS MoCA or Boiler House, you’ll get lots of posts about the residency and the poets who have taken part – and a fair amount of soul-searching, discovery, and wonder on my part. Because I am from the North Adams area and graduated from the high school there, there is another level of experience and memory that I bring to the residency. It heightens my sense of being there as a learner, surrounded as I am with more experienced poets and with art. My formal education in visual arts and poetry is sparse and I am forever grateful to my poet-friends for their patience and generosity in helping me grow as a poet.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the website and the Boiler House Poets Collective!

We began in 2015 as part of a collaboration between Tupelo Press and the newly formed Studios at MASS MoCA, which brought together a group of nine poets, most of whom had never met, for a week of poetry and art. The poets bonded so well that we have returned for a reunion residency every year. Because of the housing and studio set-up, we return as a group of eight. Because not all the original poets have been able to return, we have, over the years, brought in poet-friends to fill spaces, so we have become a larger collective and hope to continue as a group far into the future.

This pandemic year is complicated for us. We had reserved our usual week in early fall for our reunion, but we have no idea if MASS MoCA and The Studios will be open and if Massachusetts will be allowing out-of-state visitors without a long quarantine required. Still, I know that we poets will stay in touch and support each other remotely until we can be together physically again.

If you have any comments about the site, you may leave them here or email them to boilerhousepc@gmail.com. Either way, I will respond as best I can. Even though I am, by no means, qualified enough to deserve the title “webmaster,” I did set up the site and am responsible for maintenance. If you want to compliment any of the individual poets or find out more about their work, I will make sure that your message is forwarded to them.

On behalf of the Boiler House Poets Collective, thank you!

MASS MoCA poets’ tour

As promised, the first video from the Boiler House Poets Collective for 2019. We each read a short passage from one of our poems with the artwork. Unfortunately, one of our poets had to leave a bit early, so there are only seven poets represented here. Enjoy!

Tour 2019 from Mar McCabe on Vimeo.

the last day of residency

Tuesday was the final day of the Boiler House Poets’ reunion residency at MASS MoCA.

There for our fifth year, this was the first time that the museum has carried its summer hours into mid-October. This was great for us because the museum was open 10-6 every day, instead of the winter hours which are 11-5 every day of the week except Tuesday. We all appreciated having additional time with the art, while still having time to meet together to workshop.

We needed to be moved out of our apartments by 11:00 Tuesday morning. I got my things packed and in my van early and went to my studio to do a bit more editing. I followed up with quick trip to the gift store and couldn’t resist a couple of books for ABC. I went back to the apartment to help with the final clean-up. All the poets were meeting back at the studios at 11ish to make some plans for next year and are pleased to have booked dates for another reunion next fall.

Also, in the type of creativity burst that I so admire about the Boiler House Poets, we spontaneously embarked on a second group project for this residency. I described our first project in this post. For this second one, we each chose a line or short passage from a poem we had written about an artwork currently at the museum. Marilyn used her phone to record our voices reading our passage while filming the artwork. It was so much fun, traipsing through the buildings of the museum, reading sntaches of our work for each other and heading on to the next exhibit on our list. I will be sure to post both projects here at ToJCM when they become available.

We had one last lunch together before heading for home. We miss each other’s company immediately, but will be reminded of each other frequently as we work through editing the poems we workshopped together and as we write new poems enriched by the advice and artistic vision of the poets and the artwork on exhibit.

I admit that the re-entry to what passes as normal life here has been a bit rough. I’m still way behind on routine things I missed being away for a week and there are a number of unique events coming up this month. That’s why, despite being behind on things, I am making it a point to get this post about Tuesday written on Friday evening. I’ll attempt to post about events as I can, although, most likely, I’ll be late getting the news out.

And that’s just the personal stuff. News is happening so fast here in the US that it is nearly impossible to take it all in.

I hope you’ll stay tuned…

Update 10/14/19 – The first video is available through this post.

a parade and complexities

On Sunday morning, I went to early mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, just across from MASS MoCA. It’s the building I knew as St. Anthony’s – and the church where we held the funerals of my mom’s parents. At that time, it was mostly people who, like my grandparents, were ethnically Italian. At the time, North Adams had five Catholic churches; over the years, they have combined into a single parish, which took a new name. Vestiges of the original churches are represented by statues and such taken from the other churches, but it always strikes me, when I look at the dedications of the windows and the pews as I walk to communion, that the building is still centered in Italian heritage.

I exited through one of the back doors and was surprised to find a new memorial tucked into a small lawn between the driveway in the parking lot and the entrance to the parish hall. It’s a replica of the top of the steeple of St. Francis church, the mostly Irish-heritage church that had to be demolished when its structure deteriorated to a dangerous degree. Built into glassed-in alcoves on its sides is a memorial to the church with various memorabilia are twenty pieces of slate that had been salvaged from the wreckage and given to twenty local artists to create remembrances. Some are painted with scenes or designs, but some have text.
St. Francis memorial - North Adams
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This is probably how the nostalgia/memorial spiral that I had feared started.

I had decided to attend the Fall Foliage Parade in the afternoon. I grabbed my box lunch from the museum cafe and found a spot on Hadley Overpass near City Hall, the last stretch before the turn onto Main Street and the reviewing stand. I had written poetry about the parades of my youth and the one I had attended a couple of years ago, but I wanted to see how people interpreted this year’s theme, “There’s no place like home in the Berkshires.” As I ate my sandwich and waited for the parade to reach us, I watched the vendors going by and, because I was near some families with young children, stopping to sell their wares. Most of the things were expected – various inflated toys, stuffed animals, plastic horns – but a few were jarring. The most puzzling combination was the vendor selling Trump 2020 flags alongside a green marijuana flag. I can’t say that I remember either political or drug-oriented flags at Fall Foliage parades before.

I was happy to see that, while there were only a few high school bands, they were larger than the last parade I had seen. I could have done with a lot fewer emergency vehicles in the opening section. I might not have minded so much if they hadn’t all felt compelled to blare their sirens all the time. I also could have done with fewer Oz-themed floats and costumes. You know your grand marshal is a good sport when she is waving from the back of an open convertible dressed as Glinda.

My favorite floats and signs had more pertinent interpretations of home. The young baseball and softball players doing variations on there’s no place like home plate. The signs which read, “There’s No Place Like a Safe Home” and “There’s No Place Like the Headstart.” Even though it was partially advertisement, the Grand Marshal’s Award went to Mountain One Bank with the theme “There’s No Place Like Your Hometown Bank.” The float that was closest to my heart, though, was the Hayden Award winner from Greylock Elementary School, “North Adams Is Our Emerald City.” Beyond being incredibly sweet, I was also touched that Greylock is continuing to be very active in the city. My father-in-law was principal there for decades, long enough to have been principal for three generations in some families, and I was moved to see that his spirit is still alive there.

Later in the afternoon, I workshopped one of my North Adams poems with the Boiler House Poets before heading to a high school friend’s home for dinner. Her husband made us a delicious dinner as I knew he would; he was a chef for many years and we ate at his restaurants many times. After dinner, my friend and I talked for hours, sometimes about current events, but mostly about our families with the array of illnesses and losses and moves and growth and letting go and plans and sorrows and disappointments. We hadn’t been able to see each other for a year, so there was a lot to catch up with, but all of Sunday put me in a vulnerable place for Monday, the last full day of our residency.

I had been workshopping North Adams-oriented poems, but decided to edit a poem which may end a revision of a chapbook I am working on about my mother’s experiences with congestive heart failure. She passed away in May and I thought I was ready to work on this poem, but I probably was not. I managed to do the edits, but it was stressful enough that I slipped back into my brain-full-of-holes, unmoored state that has been affecting me more often than not these last months.

I went back to my room in the apartment to rest for a while, but headed back to the museum for our usual 1:00 lunch. We had to make some plans for the rest of our time, but I was feeling indecisive and scattered. I knew I couldn’t write. One of the poets had told us at lunch that she had read one of her poems at the artwork about which it was written. I decided that I would follow her lead and read a poem in the place it belonged. In my case, though, it wasn’t about an artwork, but about a building.

Building 6 is the largest in the museum complex. It is located where the two branches of the Hoosic meet, so it is shaped somewhat like a wedge. The renovation created a shape in the narrow end of the building called “The Prow.” It is one of my favorite spaces in the museum and the subject of a poem I wrote about looking out its windows. I found a copy of it and went to read it there, except that I forgot to put it into my pocketbook to bring with me. I managed to find it on my phone, though, so I was able to read it there as I looked out at the river and the street and the hills. No one was there to hear it, but that was better. I might not have been able to gather the gumption needed to recite with an unsuspecting audience.

Despite my misgivings, I was able to workshop my poem when we met in the late afternoon. I have some more edits to make and some more things to mull. I’m not sure when, but maybe in a few weeks.

I know this month is going to be incredibly complicated.