MoCA birthday

Today was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets second reunion residency at MASS MoCA.  We packed it as full as we possibly could with poetry and camaraderie, knowing we will have to scatter to the winds tomorrow.

And it was my birthday.

Some highlights:
* I wandered the grounds before the museum opened this morning. The Boiler House gate was open and the sound installation was operating; I got to experience it alone, walking all the way up to the top where I could look out over North Adams and MoCA, including all the solar panels. Alone – except for the pigeons who roost in the Boiler House, several of whom I startled into flight as I wandered.

* I did a walking meditation in the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge with its current sound installation, In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway, by Julianne Swartz. For the second time this week, the art has brought me back to my first semester of music theory at Smith, as the installation is a form of musique concrète. The 13:40 minute loop is composed entirely of recorded human voices. This work inspired Marilyn McCabe, the Boiler House poet who conceived and produced our collaborative videopoem last year, to envision a sound project this year. We each recorded a short segment based on a single word for her today. Stay tuned for the final product when it is available.

*There have been so many lovely birthday wishes and supportive comments today. Life has been so complicated over these last months that there were times today that I felt overwhelmed. I would not have made it through without the support of my poet-friends here and the well-wishes that arrived today from family and friends. Thank you all so much.

*And our reading! Ever since the lead-up to the inaugural Tupelo residency that brought the Boiler House Poets together two years ago, I have wanted to do a public reading in North Adams. Because this is my home area and I have written quite a few poems about it (and just this week have organized the poems into the first draft of a manuscript), it felt like the right place to share some of those works. I also wanted to offer people here the chance to hear the work of the Boiler House Poets, each of whom is dedicated to her craft and to sharing her unique voice.

We presented our reading at Makers’ Mill, the art-space where we had taken our printmaking class over the weekend. Kate Carr, the former director of Makers’ Mill, graciously served as our organizer and accepted our invitation to read with us, as she is a poet as well as a visual artist. We were pleased that we had a receptive and attentive audience in attendance and that we had to quickly set up more chairs from the supply closet to accommodate everyone!

It especially warmed my heart to have my friends and family in attendance. Cousin S was there and my high school friend who hosted me for Sunday dinner. I was excited and amazed that a woman that I worked with over summers when I was in college came with her husband. I had not seen her since 1981. We have kept in touch with Christmas cards and notes over the years, but, because we aren’t connected over social media and neither of us are the type to send photographs, we didn’t have a visual reference for our middle-aged selves; still, I recognized her within seconds. I was deeply grateful to have four people there who are part of the community at large and was pleased that they liked my poems.

Poets are sometimes accused of writing predominantly for other poets. I don’t think that it is true of most poets, but I am sure that it is not true for me. I think of myself as a community poet and I think that most of my poems are not intimidating for general readers. Most people in the United States didn’t have much exposure to poetry in school, or, worse, came away with the feeling that they couldn’t possibly understand it because they didn’t arrive at the same interpretation as their textbook.  I don’t want anyone to be afraid of poetry! I loved that our reading had a range of kinds of poetry that could be experienced on many levels. I know there were people in the room who could name the poetic devices being employed and appreciate the choice of particular words and sounds and knew the poetic forebearers of the style, etc. and there were people who just knew how each poem made them feel about gardens or good-byes or mocha sundaes. And it’s all good.

*After the reading, we poets stayed up talking and eating. I stopped into The Hub and got a mocha sundae to go as my birthday treat. Not as good as the old Apothecary Hall mocha days, but acceptable.

And, yes, the poem about mochas was one of mine.

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MASS MoCA, North Adams, and me

As we prepare for the second reunion of the Boiler House Poets later this month, our poet-organizer Kay sent this video from the PBS NewsHour about MASS MoCA and city of North Adams:  

Well, she sent it over a month ago, but I am just getting to it and this post…

Much of the piece concentrates on the intersection of MASS MoCA and North Adams history. The interview with Mr. Sprague especially struck me, as he wove together his family/business history with the larger story of the area.

When the Boiler House Poets re-convene, I am planning to spend at least some share of my studio time trying to assemble my first manuscript, a collection of poems tentatively entitled Monroe MoCA.  It weaves together my family history in North Adams and the surrounding small towns with the changes that have taken place over the decades and ends with a group of ekphrastic poems about pieces of MASS MoCA art.

For the first time, this year the Boiler House Poets will be giving a public reading, Wednesday, October 4, at 7 PM at the Makers’ Mill on Main Street. I will use my time to read a few poems from the collection.

I have been dreaming about this collection for almost two years and am excited/anxious/daunted by the prospect of actually piecing it together.

Wish me luck…

Smith 35th!

On Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts for my 35th reunion at Smith College.

Thursday is light on scheduled activities, as many participants can’t arrive until later in the weekend, but it gives those of us who do have the opportunity to get started on heavy-duty reminiscing, as well as catching up on our current lives and loves. We spent hours chatting at our headquarters and over dinner at the Cutter-Ziskind House dining room. We reflected in a special way on the classmates we have lost over the years; our class memorial chairs thoughtfully prepared a compendium of our deceased classmates which brought each of them to mind for us.

Friday presented us with a number of options for presentations and reflections. In the morning, I chose to attend a faculty presentation by Ellen Doré Watson, entitled “How Poems Mean.” It was held at the Poetry Center, of which she is the current director. We filled the room with women (and one spouse of the male persuasion) and read and discussed poems from a thick packet that Ellen had compiled for us, illustrating how poets convey meaning to readers/listeners. After the presentation, I perused the collection of poetry books and journals, spending the most time with the shelves devoted to alumnae poets. I was especially excited to see the books of Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, with whom I have sung with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. Anne is one of my poetry godmothers, who has always been generous in giving encouragement and advice. I was pleased to have a bit of time to speak with Ellen personally after the gathering had dispersed. I hope to meet her again, perhaps for manuscript review through the Colrain conferences or when I return to campus.

After lunch, a classmate and I walked around campus, enjoying the exercise, our surroundings, and conversation. We were able to visit Haven House, where I lived all four years. It has had extensive renovations since then, so it was interesting to see what had changed – which is nearly everything. I was touched, though, that our wooden mailboxes remain in place, even though students now receive mail through boxes at the Student Center. Even more amazing was that our napkin boxes are still there. In our student days, Haven had its own kitchen and dining room for our residents and those of our sister-house Wesley. We each had our own cloth napkin, which was kept in a labelled cubby near the dining room entrance, taken out and returned there for each meal. The college laundered them every week. Now, dining is concentrated in fewer locations with recycled paper napkins available, but I admit to feeling nostalgic for our student days with homestyle serving most evenings – and candlelight on Thursdays.

Later in the afternoon, I helped to host the Alumnae Chorus reception, along with other Alumnae Chorus members from the class of ’82. We are always on the lookout for other singing alums to join us for events, on campus, in the US, and abroad. We were excited to have Alice Parker ’47 join us, along with a number of her classmates! While we were students, we sang her works, including a commission for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel. The Alumnae Chorus was honored to sing in a tribute concert for and with her in 2014. Alumnae Chorus will be doing a US event in 2018 and another international tour in 2019, so we have a lot to look forward to!

SCAC reunion reception w/Alice Parker
Alice Parker ’47 with Smith alums

Next was a class dinner, which President Kathleen McCartney visited. This is our first reunion since she became president. I was so impressed with her warmth and Smith-spirit! Smith is lucky to have her at the helm.

After dinner, we returned to our class headquarters for “A Night of Passion” in which classmates shared what they are passionate about. Language, music, nature, quilting and fabric art, writing, and more – each presentation uniquely fascinating.  I participated by reading an excerpt from this blog post about meeting up with Smith friends and two Smith related poems, including “Lessons from Mahler”. I so appreciated the warm reception from my classmates, most of whom remember me, if they do at all, as the organist I was in our campus days. It was so affirming to my current poet-identity to have them react so positively to my poems.

When I fell into my dorm-bed in my room overlooking the lawn where the diploma circle was held after commencement last Sunday, I felt content – and really, really tired. I’m not used to being on the fourth floor…

SoCS: poetic language

This week in a meeting of my poetry critique group, I managed to say that I can’t write poems with cursing or profanity, which led to a lively discussion of the use of language, in poems and in general.

I was brought up to use proper English at all times and not to swear. Unlike today, where cursing, profanity, and slang is used frequently and is nearly impossible to avoid, when I was growing up, in a town of two hundred souls in rural New England, one seldom heard any colorful language – or backtalk. I do remember our first through fourth grade teacher literally washing out a boy’s mouth with soap once, but I don’t know what he said to warrant that reaction from the teacher. Actually, I’m pretty sure she could have gotten in trouble as corporal punishment was not allowed in Massachusetts schools, but I doubt anyone would have reported it.

Someone did ask me what I would say if I dropped a roast from the oven onto my foot and I were totally alone in the house. I would probably say, “Ouch!” or maybe I would just start crying.

One of the poets thought I should do an assignment: to write a poem with profanity, but that isn’t going to happen. It wouldn’t be true to who I am and I think that that would show. Plus, I wouldn’t be able to read it aloud. I find it difficult, if not impossible to say certain words aloud, even if they are on a page in front of me. Good thing I didn’t get to take acting classes because I would probably be bad at it. I would only be able to play characters who never swear!

As it was, just the discussion had me blushing!

And now you know why my language here at Top of JC’s Mind is so tame…
*****
This (politely worded) post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday series. This week’s prompt is “language.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/05/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1317/

 

Beatrix Potter, mushrooms, and more

Blogger-friend and fellow Smith alumna Steph has an interesting new post, blending Beatrix Potter, poetry, mushrooms, and more. Check it out!

https://wordwomanpartialellipsisofthesun.blogspot.com/2017/04/gaiman-fun-guy-on-beatrix-potter.html

Binghamton Poetry Project – Spring 2017

March was very hectic, but I did manage to attend four of five sessions for the Binghamton Poetry Project. Our reading took place on April first, but I missed it as it was the same afternoon as our University Chorus concert.

I haven’t had a chance to collect my anthology yet, but these three poems are my contribution. The first two were written from prompts during our sessions and the last one I wrote in response to the tongue-in-cheek suggestion of one of the Grapevine Group poets that we each write a snow poem after our big storm.

Enjoy! (And comment if you are so moved…)

Pneumonia

Her breaths are fast and shallow
between coughs.
I untie her sneakers,
work them off,
pull of her socks,
help her out of her shirt and pants,
slip her nightgown on.

She sits on the edge
of the bed,
pivots to lie down,
but needs me to lift
her feet.
I pull up the covers,
close the door,
and wait for the X-ray results.

*****

Two Hearts

Her cardiac rehab is Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

He rides with her in the retirement home van,
helps her navigate into the lift with her walker,
sits with her in the waiting room
until she is called into therapy
where he is not allowed to follow.

He waits.

Her exercises accomplished,
they board the van for the ride
back home to their apartment
where lunch awaits.

After sixty-two years of marriage,
he does not want her to go
alone.

*****

Nor’easter Numbers

The forecast was for an inch overnight
with Five to Eight to follow;
then, One to Three
with Six to Nine.

I rose before the daylight-saving
delayed dawn to find
a foot of snow already down,
consequence of a more westerly
track
plus
a stall.

My strategy,
born of long-ago New England winters,
to clear the overnight
accumulation from the driveway,
then shovel
every few inches,
add in the front walk
and path to the mailbox
as strength allows.

A good plan,
but overly ambitious
for a Five foot One-and-a-half inch
Fifty-six-year-old
alone
with a shovel
contending with the wake
of snowplows
and snow falling at Two
or Three
or Four
inches
an hour,
Twenty-seven inches
by Five o’clock
and still snowing.

Seven bouts of shoveling,
Twelve thousand, ninety-one Fitbit steps,
and Two blessed assists
from the neighbors’ snowblower
yield a driveway cleared to a road
under a county-wide travel ban,
a path to a mailbox that may
be filled with today’s mail
tomorrow,

weather permitting.

SoCS: short and sweet

This post is going to be very short, because I just spent a bunch of time writing a post about the Sappho’s Circle poetry reading last night.

I guess the other thing I should mention is that I had to adjust the mike last night because I am so short…
*****
This short and sweet post was written in response to Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week, which was “short.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/03/10/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-mar-1117/