A POETREE

For the recently concluded National Poetry Month, the Broome County Arts Council invited local poets to contribute a short poem about spring, hope, and/or other positive things for their POETREE.

I had hoped to make it down to the gallery to see it and take photos for this post, but I didn’t manage to do that. Instead, I have copied the poem I wrote especially for the project below:

Why We Will Never Use Weedkillers
by Joanne Corey

Every spring, we watch
the jagged-edged three-ness
of strawberry leaves emerge
from the snowmelt-soaked
lawn, the white five-petaled
blossoms attract the bees
to their sunny centers,
the green-white berries
ripen to red in June,
the squirrels feasting.

Nat’l Poetry Month celebration with me!

I posted here and here about the first two readings from the Broome County Arts Council in celebration of National Poetry Month. I am pleased to announce that this week, I am featured along with Rindi Tas and kohloa, two poets whom I met through the Binghamton Poetry Project. We were scheduled to be joined by another BPP poet, Anita Shipway, but technical difficulties prevented Anita from joining us. The recording of the reading and our bios are available here.

I’m not sure how I came to be invited to participate in this series but I was honored to be asked. And excited. And nervous. This is my first time as a featured reader with a Q&A component and I was anxious to do a good job, knowing that most of the readers in the series are much more experienced, knowledgeable, and academically credentialed than I. I asked poet-friends to review my selections and practiced my reading, recording myself on Zoom to see how I sounded and looked. I plead guilty to over-thinking and over-preparing, but it kept me a lot calmer when we recorded.

I possibly babbled a bit answering Barrett’s questions. Barrett is part of the Grapevine Group, my local circle of poets who meet on a regular basis to workshop our poems, so we are used to “talking shop” together, but I’m not used to interacting with him in a formal setting. He asked thoughtful questions that flowed from the choices I had made for the reading but I am not great at thinking on my feet, so you all can be the judge on whether I made sense or not.

Because I didn’t take up poetry as a serious pursuit until recent years, I am not that well-known or widely published. I decided to do a mini-sampler of the kinds of poems I tend to write, realizing that I would be an unknown quantity to most prospective listeners. Of the four poems I read, only one is published. It appeared in the Nov. 2020 anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project and can be viewed here.

The recording should be available on the BCAC website at the link at the end of the first paragraph, at least for the next few weeks. It will also be broadcast locally on the Bundy Museum’s radio station WBDY-FM radio (99.5 FM). Because I’m not sure how long BCAC will have the webpage active, I’m embedding the youtube link here, which I think will be permanent:

If you choose to give the reading a listen, I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment here or on the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page. If you want to send me a private message at topofjcsmind@gmail.com, please put a comment on this post telling me to check for it so it doesn’t get lost among the various digests and posts sent there. My inbox is out of control!

typewriters and poetry

I’m pleased to announce that I have a poem on display in my hometown. The Vestal Museum has just opened a new exhibit entitled Empty the Inkpots: The History of American Typewriters. They are displaying vintage typewriters and have compiled a binder with their research on the various manufacturers. In collaboration with the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Museum is also displaying poems by area poets who have attended BPP workshops. We poets were invited to submit and I was fortunate to have one of my poems selected.

My poem with two vintage typewriters and the research binder
An Oliver company typewriter

One of the fun things about the poems on display is that they are written in a monospaced typewriter-style font. Because most of us are used to reading text in variable-width fonts these days, the look of the poems on the page is quite distinctive.

My poem, bio, and inspiration statement on display

Because it is very hard to read from the photo, here is the text, although not in the special font:

SARS-CoV-2: A Novel Coronavirus

We are only beginning this novel,
the first scenes in China,
then South Korea, Iran, Italy.

In the United States, chapters are written
for the hardest hit states—
Washington, California, New York.

No cases in West Virginia—
turn the page—
it’s there, too.

Chilling numbers give way to vignettes—
the family in Jersey that lost four members
with two more in critical condition,

the NBC audio tech silenced forever,
the loss of the doctor who tried to warn the Chinese government,
the bus driver in Brooklyn dead in March.

The plot twists.
The newest regions in lockdown.
Italian coffins in rows, waiting

for cremation and burial without funerals.
Speculation on treatments and vaccines,
though none are proven.

Fines levied for being outdoors.
Postponed elections.
Shuttered courts.

How many tested.
How many infected.
How many dead.

We spend hours reading voraciously,
awaiting the next
installment in the serial.

The novel is long—
and we may still be near the beginning.
How many of us will see the final pages?

The suspense is killing us.

*

Joanne Corey, though she grew up in New England, has called Vestal home since 1988. A stalwart of The Binghamton Poetry Project since 2014, she last attended the fall 2020 workshop and also has participated locally with the Grapevine Group, the Broome County Arts Council, and Sappho’s Circle. She invites you to visit her eclectic blog at topofjcsmind.wordpress.com.

Inspiration: Like many poets, I write to try to process current events. I drafted this in March 2020 as the pandemic was beginning and workshopped it with my poet-friends of the Grapevine Group. It also became an exercise in the use of extended metaphor.
*****

I wish I could share more of the poems here, but I only have permission for my own work. I hope that local folks will be able to see the exhibit in person. It is currently scheduled to be on display through May 31st. The link in the first paragraph will give times that the Museum is open and information on any special events.

While you are there, make sure to take part in the community poetry exercise. We are creating an exquisite corpse poem. Each person is invited to compose a sentence with adjective+noun+verb+adjective+noun without looking at the prior line. Bonus: You get to type it on a manual typewriter! Although I learned to type on a manual, it had been a long time since I had used one. Daughter T was with me and I had to do a bit of coaching. Physical carriage return was not something that she had ever experienced.

Sisters poem

The Ekphrastic Review has a regular series of Ekphrastic Writing Challenges, in which they post a piece of visual art and invite writers to respond to it. I have had several poems published in this way.

Here is a link to the artwork and response pieces for the most recent challenge, “The Two Sisters” by Théodore Chassériau (France) 1843. Among them is a poem by Kyle Laws, fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member and ekphrastic writer extraordinaire!

My piece was not chosen in this go-round, but I thought I’d share it here. Enjoy!

Sisters

Is it the matching outfits
that proclaim sisterhood –
my sisters and I in pale

yellow with coordinating
hats and gloves
for Easter mass –

my daughters in black
velvet with lacework collars
in a rare formal portrait –

my granddaughters in rainbow-
and-unicorn pajamas
in pandemic London –

or is it the dimples
that appear with smiles
the entwined arms

the mischievous glance?

SoCS: surprise poem

I carved out a bit of writing time today – a rarity in the whirlwind that has been my life lately.

I went to Linda’s blog to read the Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt which is:

Your prompt for #JusJoJan and Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “the beginning, the end.” Write about the beginning of something and the end of  something. Bonus points if your first sentence contains “the end” and your last sentence contains “the beginning.” <– Read that again. Have fun!

I admit that I couldn’t wrap my head around beginnings and endings as I am mired in a seemingly endless middle with lots of twists and turns and no real clarity of if/when there will be a conclusion, so I set the whole enterprise aside and decided to do some housekeeping in my overcrowded Google Chrome window. One of the first tabs I went to was one for The Ekphrastic Review, which has a new monthly column on ekphrasis, which is the practice of basing one work of art on another, most often used in the context of writing poetry based on visual art pieces.

While I was there, I figured I should check out the current Ekphrastic Writing Challenge. It is a painting called The Two Sisters by Théodore Chassériau. Given that I have sisters – and two daughters and two granddaughters – the painting inspired a poem in response, so that has become my beginning (middle) and end for this post.

Well, perhaps not quite the end yet. The poem does have an end, of course, but the real ending will be when I submit it to the challenge. I want to let it set a bit and will probably share it with daughter T. I don’t have another meeting of my critique group before the entry is due, so I’ll have to trust sending it without professional critique and revision.

Still, it was nice to have a poem appear on a day that I hadn’t expected it – and to have a blog post appear when I didn’t think I would have one of those either.

But no bonus points for me this time around…

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January and/or Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/29/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2021-daily-prompt-jan-30th/

Day 1

Yesterday at noon, Joe Biden began his term as president of the United States.

I am grateful for that – and grateful that there was no violence, despite the many threats made. There was a massive police and military presence in Washington DC and in many state capitols, but protests were small and peaceful.

The inauguration ceremony was uplifting. It was gratifying to finally see a woman sworn into a high executive office in the US (although I had originally hoped it would be Elizabeth Warren as president). It’s sad that it took a hundred years of women’s suffrage for it to happen, but my hope is that it will finally be a political possibility for a woman to ascend to the presidency. And, perhaps, that woman will be now Vice President Kamala Harris.

I am relieved to have someone of Joe Biden’s experience, character, and temperament as our president. Our times are indeed daunting. In his inaugural address, he spoke about the daunting challenges we face and brought hope that we could deal with them together as a nation:

This is a time of testing.

We face an attack on democracy and on truth.

A raging virus.

Growing inequity.

The sting of systemic racism.

A climate in crisis.

America’s role in the world.

Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.

But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.

Now we must step up.

All of us.

It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do.

And, this is certain.

We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era.

Will we rise to the occasion?

Will we master this rare and difficult hour?

Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children?

I believe we must and I believe we will.

And when we do, we will write the next chapter in the American story.

Another sign of hope was the inaugural poem proclaimed by the amazing Amanda Gorman, the Youth Poet Laurate of the United States. Her poem is a stirring complement to the inaugural address; if you haven’t heard her, this link: https://youtu.be/whZqA0z61jY will allow you to see and hear her vision and energy. Although she is now 22, she has been on the poetry scene for several years so I was already familiar with her work, but I am happy that people around the country and the world now know her name and the power of poetry.

The usual post-inaugural activities were scaled back due to the pandemic, but that allowed the new administration to begin work on their very first day in office. Vice President Harris swore in three new senators, giving the Democrats the majority in the Senate for the first time in several years. President Biden signed a number of executive orders and directives, among them beginning the process for the United States to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord, cancelling the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, and rejoining the World Health Organization. There was a press conference with the White House press secretary Jen Psaki, reading a statement and then answering questions from the press. It was all refreshingly straight-forward and informative after the prior administration’s combative and sometimes unavailable press office.

As President Biden made clear, we in the United States are facing multiple huge challenges. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but the administration made a start yesterday and is doing more today and will be continuing to work hard on our many problems. I and millions of others are pledging to do our part, too.

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/21/jusjojan-prompt-the-21st-spell/

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!

chapbook update

In a too-rare burst of energy in the late-winter/early spring, I finished, workshopped, edited, and submitted to contests an expanded version of the chapbook that had been a finalist in a 2017/18 contest with QuillsEdge Press. By the way, part of being a finalist was inclusion in an anthology, IN TRANSITION, which was published in conjunction with the winning chapbook, Skin Gin, which is available here.

The rejections from that batch of submissions have started to roll in. I’ve received two so far, although I did make semi-finalist in the CutBank/University of Montana contest. While being named a finalist or semi-finalist is still a loss in real terms, it is encouraging to know that your entry has been well-received by some part of the reading team. I have six contests from which I am awaiting notification, but, the odds are that they will be rejections, so I am gearing up for another batch of submissions.

A dear and generous poet-friend recently did a close reading of the manuscript and I have done another round of revisions. There is one poem that has changed significantly enough that I’m workshopping it with my local poetry circle. After those revisions, I’ll be looking for more contests and open reading periods for the next batch of submissions.

Back when I was starting to think about the possibility of publishing a book, I set the age of sixty as a goal. I will turn sixty in October, so I’m definitely not going to have a book in print by my sixtieth birthday.

For now, I’ll hold out hope for the book while I’m sixty, although maybe I should make the mental move to in my sixties, so there is less chance of being disappointed.

If I do get an acceptance, you can read all about it here, although it’s possible that you may hear my excited screams first!

Hair – and a poem – and a prompt

One of the pandemic topics that has gotten a surprising amount of media time here in the United States is what people are doing with their hair without having access to hair salons. Celebrities and politicians face scrutiny if they appear well-coiffed. Did they break the rules and call in a professional? Are they sheltering in place with someone who can manage to trim hair? Did they manage to give themselves a haircut? Are they wearing a stylish headband only to keep their bangs from falling into their eyes?

There are also a lot of stories of hairdressers delivering hair color to clients and giving them instructions on how to apply it – from at least six feet (two meters) away, of course.

Some people, though, are letting their hair grow naturally, revealing their hair color which they themselves may not have seen in decades.

Maybe a few will embrace the natural look. That has always been my choice.

Back in 2016, Silver Birch Press was doing a series called “My Mane Memories” with poets submitting work about their hair. One of the poems they chose was mine: “Crowning Glory” which I will also copy below.

Crowning Glory
by Joanne Corey

“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory…” Proverbs 16:31*

Friends recognize me
in a crowded theater
down the street
across the restaurant
among the congregation

Strangers comment
how beautiful
how they wish
theirs looked the same

I smile
remember the first silver
that appeared
among the brown
before I was in high school
multiplied after my daughters were born
until at fifty just a bit
of brown was left

Then I let it grow
past my shoulders
down my back
in silver waves
finally

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

By the way, Silver Birch Press is offering a free kindle version of their May poetry anthology from May first through fifth. Details here:  https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/free-kindle-version-of-may-poetry-anthology-5-1-5-5-2020/

In this time of pandemic, they have also revived their themed series on their blog. Right now, they are soliciting poems/short prose on wearing a mask:  https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/call-for-submissions-wearing-a-mask-poetry-prose-series/

Welcome back, Silver Birch Press!

 

 

the later verses

For some reason, yesterday the topic of the later verses of songs to which many know only the first verse well came up a couple of times. In a Binghamton Poetry Project session, we read Ada Limón’s poem “A New National Anthem” which quotes from and asks why we don’t sing the third verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Last night, I was discussing the hymn “Amazing Grace” with a friend; I relate much better theologically with the ending verses than the opening ones, which are the ones most people recognize.

Although I am Catholic, much of my training as an organist was in a Protestant context. Unlike most Catholic churches, which often sing only two or three verses of a hymn, Protestant churches usually sing all the verses, which, as a poet and a liturgist, I find more proper. I sometimes choose a hymn specifically for a message in a later verse. I did this in choosing hymns for my father-in-law’s funeral, only to have the substitute organist truncate the hymn so we never got to verses that were connected to the occasion. I noticed the pastor giving a sidelong glance at the organist, but he didn’t take the hint.

Some of my favorite verses of hymns are later ones. In Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, I especially like the end of the second verse/stanza: 
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
We could really use some of that self-control these days. Interestingly, in researching the poem, I found that the version most of us know is the 1911 revision. The original 1893 version ends the third stanza with:
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
We could really use that message now, too.

Sometimes, later verses are just fun because you get to sing words that your would not otherwise. For example, the second verse of the standard version of the United Kingdom National Anthem “God Save the Queen” which deals with the Queen’s enemies contains the lines “Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks”. It’s not often one gets to sing about “knavish tricks”!

Sometimes, especially in folk/protest songs, verses are included, excluded, or altered due to political circumstances or the audience. Woodie Guthrie’s original lyric of “The Land Is Your Land” contains a verse about private property and ends with a verse about hunger that closes “As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me.” Most people are familiar only with the verses that are a US travelogue, not these more challenging ones.

There are some hymns, such as “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB, that I love all the verses so much that I will sing omitted verses to myself if we don’t get to sing them all during the service.

My first college choral conductor, Rob Kolb, taught us that the hymn is the poem which is the text, as opposed to the tune, which is interchangeable with another of the same metric form. Because the hymn is the poem, you sing it as you would recite it, with its punctuation and word emphasis intact. You also honor the hymn as an entity, so you sing all the verses, as you would read or recite all the stanzas of a poem.

Some lessons stick with you for life.