chapbook draft

I have mentioned before that I am putting together a chapbook for the QuillsEdge Press contest for women poets over fifty.

At least I have the woman over fifty part nailed…

When the contest information was sent to me by one of the thoughtful male members of Grapevine Group, I already had a small group of poems written that related to this year’s theme, “In Transition.” Over the last couple of months, I have been writing and revising more poems to fill in gaps and to have enough poems to meet the page count requirement.

I have mentioned several times that I have been working assiduously on one poem in particular. After workshopping it with three different groups of poets, trying it out at a couple of readings, and revising again at the recommendation of a trusted poet-friend, I have now decided to use it as the final poem of the chapbook. Poets are advised to end with a strong poem and I am hoping that this at-least-for-now final version will fill the bill.

I had been playing with the order of the poems as I continued to add new ones and today, with all the poems finally available, I did another round of changes. When I finished the re-shuffle on the computer, I printed out a copy so that I can hold it in my hands and read it through as if it were a real publication.

I am trying to restrain myself from begging for readers to give me more advice. Though the deadline isn’t until January first, I really would like to submit next week. December is such a busy month that I would like to have it sent off and out of my head so I can move on to the rest of my to-do list. I also realize that all my poet-friends are similarly busy this time of year and don’t want to bug them more than I already have.

I am also trying to see this as a self-trust exercise. Given my lack of formal training, it’s easy for me to doubt my technical ability as a poet. People write books about how to order poems – and I haven’t read any of them, even though I do own one of them.

I will read it eventually…

For now, my plan is to read the chapbook aloud several times over several days, tweak anything that bothers me, and send it off through Submittable sometime next week.

And then wait a few months for news…

 

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2017 Fall poems for Binghamton Poetry Project

This afternoon is the Fall 2017 reading of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP) is a community poetry initiative which brings graduate students at Binghamton University into the community to facilitate the writing of poetry by adults, teens, and children. I have participated in their workshops for several years. I will always owe them a huge debt of gratitude because it was my participation with them that led to my acceptance by my local critique group, which I now call The Grapevine Group, and to my beginning to publish poetry outside of the BPP anthologies.
BPP holds three workshops a year of five sessions each. We read and discuss some poems and generally write from prompts drawn from those examples. It is interesting as one often writes poems that would otherwise not have been written. Because we only have about fifteen minutes to write, there is not much time to ponder, so I often find myself writing about people or events that I have already had time to process. The first poem below centers on a topic that has appeared in other poems about my childhood hometown. The second is not a topic I have ever written a poem about because it was traumatic, but it was long enough ago that, when it fit the prompt, I ran with it. The third poem is about my friend Angie, whom I have written about often in both prose and poetry.
This year, we are reading at the Broome County Library where we usually meet. We used to hold our readings on Friday evenings rather than Saturday afternoons. This is the first time I have been able to make a Saturday afternoon reading. I’m curious to see if we have better attendance at this venue and time. (I am writing this post early and scheduling it to coincide with the reading.)
For the first time, I am planning to read a poem that is not in the anthology, the current version of a poem that I started working on at the Boiler House Poets’ reunion at MASS MoCA and have subsequently workshopped with both Grapevine Group and Sappho’s Circle. I can’t share it here as I need to keep it unpublished at this point. I am also not sure if it is in its final form, but I need to decide soon as it is part of a chapbook I am assembling for a contest. I am desperate to make this poem the absolute best it can be, but I am afraid I have lost perspective with it. There may be a separate post about it soon – again.
I know this post will look a bit different in spacing than my other posts. It is tricky to get poetry into the wordpress editor without having the spacing compromised and this is as close as I can get to proper spacing in the time I have today. All three poems are by Joanne Corey. Please comment if you are so moved.
Homecoming
The Eiler Brothers sent my parents a video
of our three-bedroom ranch
stained grey with white shutters
loaded on a flatbed
rolled three miles
up River Road
across the state line
to a new foundation.

 

The house cost them a dollar
and the filling of the old cellar.

 

I travelled back to visit the yard
white and yellow birches
spruce, balsam, hemlock
sugar and striped maples
lilies of the valley in May.
 
*****
 
Thanksgiving – 1981

 

After words from the phone call drifted to me –
black ice, accident –
I thought you were dead
and our already planned June
wedding would never happen

 

but the hatch had sprung
after the car landed
on its roof in the river
so that you could crawl
out, scramble up the bank,

 

get to the nearest building,
the hydrostation where my father
worked, where they put you
in a warm shower 
as hypothermia set in.

 

The next day, we went to see
the car where it had been towed,
chunks of river ice still inside,
a deep dent in the roof,
just behind where your head had been.
 
*****
 
To a friend

 

My dear Little Angel,

 

You would laugh at that greeting
because, as you would say,
you are – or were –

 

five foot twelve, which you thought
sounded shorter than six feet,
but your name, Angeline,

 

means little angel
and you aren’t here
to contradict me.

 

Your October twenty-fifth birthday
has passed twelve times without you.
Do you know I think of you each year?

 

Wonder if your hair
would be silver now
like mine…

 

If your toddler grandchildren
would like to meet
my infant one…

 

If you know,
wherever you are,
that they exist…

poetic pondering

When I was at the most recent Boiler House reunion residency, I wrote a poem that had been percolating in my head for a while and workshopped it with the group. Unlike most of my poems, this one was more than a page long – two and a half pages – and I was very grateful for the input of the Boiler House Poets which helped me to re-craft it to a more manageable page and a half.

Earlier this month, I brought the edited version to workshop with Grapevine Group, my stalwart local group from whom I have learned so much. As it happened, that session marked the return of the elder-statesman poet of the group, who had been unable to be with us for many, many months due to health issues. I will refer to him here as M. I had been in workshop with M only a few times when I first joined the group and have always been awed by him. He is the one among us who has been published most frequently by the big name journals and who tends to ask if we are all submitting our work, a question which always stings a bit because that is the part of the process that I most often neglect.

So, along with being nervous about presenting this poem to Grapevine because it is particularly close to my heart, I was nervous because this accomplished poet who is a founder of our group was there.

…And everyone liked the poem. I was relieved and grateful – and happy to accept comments that give me a few more things to think about for the next round of edits.

I was especially humbled because M was very complimentary to my poem, saying that he could not have written it. Which, I and the other poets in the group know is true only in the context of M could not have written it as it was my personal experience, as he has certainly written poems that were more finely wrought and effective. Still, I was deeply touched by M’s compliment and specific comments on lines and techniques that he liked. Of course, it helped that I used repetition as a poetic technique in the poem, as that is one of his favorite devices. M asked if he could keep a copy of the poem and I was happy to comply.

We met again last night and I was surprised that M brought up my poem from last time. It’s very flattering – and enough to give me butterflies for fear of being disappointing, although my critique did go well again.

As most of my poet friends – and probably a few of my regular readers here – know, I struggle to have confidence in my poetry. On the one hand, this helps me to accept criticism and make edits that make my work stronger. On the other, it keeps me from putting my work out there as much as I should.

I admit that I will probably always feel that I am behind other poets in my knowledge and experience, given that my academic background is scant and I didn’t being to write seriously until I was in my early fifties. Still, I should more often reflect on how far I have come and how much I have grown and developed as a poet over the last several years, even though, for more prosaic reasons, I have not been doing much submitting/publishing in the last couple of years.

So much of that growth is due to my various poetry circles, so I offer my profound gratitude and love to the Binghamton Poetry Project, Grapevine Group, Sappho’s Circle, and the Boiler House Poets. I literally would not be the poet I am today without you – and perhaps not a poet at all.

Nana and mocha

I apologize, dear readers, for my recent absence from Top of JC’s Mind. I’ve been trying wildly to catch up on what I missed being away for a week while dealing with an avalanche of current happenings. This post begins an effort to bring you up to date.

While Nana had a bit of an acute sickness just as I returned home, when that cleared, she regained a bit of her old energy, though, as expected with her level of heart problems, not enough to be out and about.

Still, it is heart-warming to speak to her on the phone and hear her sounding a bit like she did for decades when we used to talk every morning while I was on my treadmill and she on her stationary bike.

Her appetite has picked up, too. We are still keeping her supplied with lemon pizzelles, a favorite treat she enjoys daily. She has also been eating coffee ice cream on a regular basis.

On my first day back in North Adams, I went to Moulton’s Spectacle Shoppe to ask them to hang a poster for our poetry reading and to ask if they had any mocha sauce in the refrigerator. Yes, that seems like an odd thing to ask in an eyewear store, but the Moulton family is heir to the mocha sauce recipe that made Apothecary Hall’s soda fountain a regular destination for area folks. The Moulton’s used to sell the sauce in their general store on Main Street, but, since that closed, they have made a batch monthly and sold it at their eyeglass store – for those who knew to ask for it. They didn’t have any on hand, but agreed to make a batch in the next week so that I could pick some up before I had to leave town.

I was thrilled to be able to present my mom with mocha sauce for her coffee ice cream. She even sprinkles on chopped nuts, which was traditional for Apothecary Hall sundaes. Paco has been enjoying some mocha sundaes, too, although I think that Nana probably eats them a bit more often than he.

And, yes, I have written a poem about mocha sundaes, which I read when the Boiler House Poets gave their reading on October fourth.

There is a new poem drafted about this recent mocha experience, which I am hoping will make its way into the collection, which is waiting patiently in my google docs for a major re-organization.

She says, mentally eyeing her calendar…

 

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.

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…