We are here at our poetry residency to immerse ourselves in art of all sorts. We are urged to disconnect.

And horrible violence happened or threatened to happen in many places in the world.

I haven’t been keeping up with the news these past few days, reading only a bit and listening to a few conversations with my apartment mates, who are staying more informed than I.

But, even though this time around has its own horrific circumstances, a distinct array of victims leaving behind a particular group of mourning family and friends, the underlying story is all too familiar.

I woke up this morning thinking about the now-shuttered Notre Dame church, sitting there being preserved as a historic landmark, but locked and silent.

I remember when the Drury High School Girls’ Ensemble gave a concert there to raise money to travel to an international competition. They sang an arrangement of “One Tin Soldier.” (Recording by The Original Caste here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTBx-hHf4BE)

One group makes war on another, who had offered to share its treasure with them, because they wanted it all for themselves. When they moved the stone which was concealing the treasure,

“Peace on earth was all it said.”

I can’t get the song out of my head.

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 grab 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.

Mass MoCA Poetry Residency: Saturday

The day got off to an early start. I was awake at about 3:00 AM and realized I was not going to go back to sleep, so I grabbed my chromebook and read a limited amount of the updated news from Paris. I wrote a blog post about it, then tended to my email as expeditiously as possible.

I decided to go over to my studio at 6:30. I sat at my table, pulled out the new journal I had brought for the workshop, and started journaling. After a page, I decided that I wanted to turn the last couple of paragraphs into a poem. The topic was the connection of my and my spouse’s families with the buildings that make up Mass MoCA. After I drafted and revised a bit, I called B and he reminded me of another relative that I had forgotten to include, so I added that and edited a bit more. Then, I called my mom to check in and read her the poem. So, yay! If nothing else I got one new poem drafted.

Our group of nine resident poets met for breakfast and then began workshopping poems together. It was really interesting to have a first look at each poet’s work. We got through seven of us before we broke for lunch; I was one of the two who hadn’t yet presented a poem, which was fine as I am so far along the introvert scale that nine people is a large enough group to require a lot of energy and adjustment for me.  I had, however, chosen a poem from my stash to workshop when my turn came, whenever that might be.

We headed to Tupelo Loft for a talk with special guest, Lawrence Raab, award-winning poet and Williams College professor. His talk focused on how to get poems started, a problem with which many poets struggle. He illustrated an inventive way to generate ideas that he uses with his college students and employs himself. He read several poems from his latest poetry volume, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts,  which Tupelo published this year and which is longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, to illustrate his own use of this prompt technique. I loved his talk and especially loved listening to him read. At first, I was looking at the page as he read, but I was drawn to watching him recite instead. He graciously spent time writing dedications in our copies of his book.

After Larry left, Jeffrey had some time before he had to leave, so we decided to continue workshopping, which meant that we would start with the two poets who hadn’t presented work in the morning session, which we had done on our own without Jeffrey. We started with the other poet’s poem, which was elliptical and surprising and mysterious and well-crafted and all kinds of excellent things, but I admit that I was desperately trying to wrap my head around how Jeffrey functions in workshopping, which was unlike anything I had ever seen. I could feel my heart beat faster than it should have been, sitting on a couch doing nothing more strenuous than reading and note-taking.

So, when it was my turn, I read my poem “1950’s Suburbia” and then tried to follow Jeffrey’s comments and take notes. I kept making the mistake of thinking I was supposed to answer aloud questions that were supposed to be mulled; in my local groups, there is a lot of back-and-forth between the presenting poet and the rest of the group and I couldn’t switch gears quickly enough. I think everyone in the room realized I was not really keeping up mentally. Jeffrey asked if I was okay. I said yes, but that I was not a very quick mental processor and that I needed to sleep on it. This may have been a partial untruth; I may need to sleep on it for a while and go through notes a few dozen times to have a good grasp.

I am very grateful to our group of poets, especially my apartment mates, for helping me begin to process the workshopping session. Over time, I think I will be able to make the poem, which is from my pre-Binghamton Poetry Project years, stronger. Maybe not this week though, with so much to do.

Seven of us went to Public for dinner. It was another connection point for me. The space that Public occupies used to be Dora’s, the restaurant of a high school friend of B and me and her chef-husband.  It’s been well over a decade since they owned it, but I was having another of the same-but-different moments that wash over me every time I am back in North Adams. We had a surprise fiftieth anniversary party for B’s parents there. His dad died less than two years later.

After the noisiness of a Saturday night restaurant, it was nice to be back in the apartment for a couple of hours of quiet talk about poetry, family, and whatever else crossed our minds. We are all hoping to sleep well tonight…

stay tuned

In a few hours, I’ll be leaving for North Adams, Massachusetts, to attend a week-long poetry residency/workshop offered by Tupelo Press at Mass MoCA as part of the Studios at Mass MoCA, a newly established program of Assets for Artists.

I am very excited to arrive and meet everyone! We are going to be very busy, but I hope to get some posts out to chronicle the experience, both to keep you all updated and for my own processing.

Stay tuned!

(poetic) mix of emotions

Some readers may recall my major angst about whether or not to attend my first poetry residence/workshop.  I posted about it here…and here…and here.

And then, I had to wait….

I continued to feel a mix of excitement and apprehension, but I’ve had to concentrate on more immediate obligations, such as rehearsing with University Chorus and working on poetry with Binghamton Poetry Project, Sappho’s Circle, and Bunn Hill Poets simultaneously.

But now, with less than two weeks to go before traveling to North Adams and Mass MoCA, the conference is drawing more and more of my attention and emotions. Part of this is increased communications from the organizers at Tupelo Press, including photos of our residency apartments just across the street from the museum. I know that we are a group of seven at the moment; the maximum number was eight, so there is still a chance of another poet joining us.

The main preoccupation for me at the moment is the request to bring ten poems to the conference for workshopping, which means critique.  It’s not that I don’t have (many more than) ten poems that could use workshopping; it’s figuring out what to bring.

On the one hand, I want to bring work that is strong and current, but most of that has been workshopped with one of my local groups, has been published, or is ready for submission. These poems have the best chance of putting me in a good light with the other poets and the poet/editor who will be leading the conference, but it is awkward to ask for revision for something that has already been published, although it could be helpful to fine-tune a poem that may one day make it into the chapbook or collection I aspire to assemble (at least on my more confident days).

On the other hand, some of my early poems – well, not really early in terms of my lifetime, but things that I wrote from 3-5 years ago before I connected to Binghamton Poetry Project, which led to my other groups – could use the help. I find it especially difficult to revise things that I wrote before I started to read and study more poetry; somehow it is easier to use my new skills in writing poetry than it is to apply my new editing skills to older work. However, these poems could make me look less competent as a poet and are often deeply personal, which makes critique seem especially (potentially) brutal.

The decision is not helped by the fact that I don’t really know the range of experience of the poets who will be attending. In my imagination, I will be the least experienced in the group, although that may not be the case at all, as the conference is open to any serious poet, published or not. I am toying with the idea of bringing along more than the requested ten poems, mixing some older work with some of my newer poems, and hoping that we don’t have to hand ten over at the beginning of the conference, so that I can tailor the poems I workshop to the group of poets in attendance.

Given that we have to bring twelve copies of each poem, the only risks would be wasting paper and ink and possibly arm strain from lugging so much paper around.

So, am I overthinking this? What would you choose? I’d love to hear your advice in comments here, on Facebook, or in person.

With thanks,

Should I apply for this poetry workshop or not?

Yesterday, this link appeared in my inbox https://tupelopress.wordpress.com/tupelo-press-writing-conferences/the-studios-at-mass-moca/ announcing a one-week poetry residency/workshop at MASS MoCA, offered by Tupelo Press of North Adams MA.

And I am totally freaking out about it.

I have never done anything even remotely like this and the prospect is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

And I feel that I need to decide quickly as it is limited to eight participants.

Update:  To read more about my deliberations, click here.

This is where I should present an orderly list of pros and cons. Instead, there will be a tangle of pros and cons, sorted by topic.

Place:  My hometown is twenty miles from North Adams and it is the home of the high school where I met my spouse. It was also the home of my grandparents, the place we went shopping, and the area is still home to some family and friends.  Although the city has undergone a transformation from the time I was growing up, because we have visited frequently over the years, I am still comfortable there.

On the other hand, I have only been to MASS MoCA once, on a visit a couple of years ago. I am not at all knowledgeable about visual art, but we loved our visit. If I do go, most of the exhibits will be different than the ones we saw. Unlike most museums, MASS MoCA does not have a predominantly permanent collection. I am nervous about how inspirational the current exhibits will be for me in terms of writing new poetry. But, if it is, it could form the basis for a chapbook, which would be a good growth opportunity for me.

Time:  That week in November is fairly easy to re-arrange for me. Fortunately, our University Chorus concert is not until early December this year and we are doing Carmina Burana, which I know well. The sad thing is that my husband’s birthday is that week, although he has said that he is okay with my being away.

Readiness:  I have never done anything remotely this intensive with poetry – or, come to think of it, anything else. I haven’t concentrated on poetry or been in the company of poets for more than a few hours at a time. Am I ready to spend a week alternately interacting and living with poets and spending time alone writing and revising? Would I ever feel ready or is it just something one jumps into, ready or not?

There is some comfort in that the registration screen has several categories with which to describe one’s publication history, beginning with novice and ending with publishing one or more books. I at least get to claim the “one or two journal acceptances” category. Bonus:  I have some anthology credits and online credits from Silver Birch Press, even though I only have one actual journal credit. Enrollment is limited to eight participants, but I could easily find myself surrounded by much more experienced and formally educated poets, which could be intimidating, depending on personalities. Fortunately, I have had good experiences with the local established poets, who have helped me so much.  On the other hand, I could find myself being in a group of predominantly novice poets, which I am used to from Binghamton Poetry Project, although it would be strange to be the experienced one in the group for the week. Or we could have a range of experiences among the group, which would probably be most comfortable.

Perhaps “Readiness” is not the proper name for this category. It’s more how much uneasiness/fear I can face. Although we have to submit sample poems, it does not seem that Tupelo is looking to cull applicants. They seem willing to work with whomever wants to be there – and can pay them, which leads to…

Money:  It’s not that I can’t afford to do this. It’s that I don’t generally spend much on poetry because it is unlikely I will ever recoup costs through publication.  But I do think I would learn a lot and get more insights into what publishers are looking for, which would be really valuable as one of my goals is to publish a chapbook someday. There. I actually admitted that publicly.

Okay. Time to stop hashing and publish this. Any and all are welcome to weigh in in comments or by email/FB for those who have those addresses. I need to decide quickly, as I would hate to delay, decide to do it, and find out that I waited too long and it was full.

Do I try to do this or not?