Good-bye, MoCA

I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.

After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.

We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.

Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.

Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.

One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work.  I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.

At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.

Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.

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Eclectic Tuesday

This morning, I met Cousin S for breakfast at a local cafe where she is a regular. It was such a luxury to sit and talk without interruption! S is planning to come to our Boiler House Poets reading (October 4 at 7 PM at Makers’ Mill, Main St., North Adams), along with at least one other local friend. I look forward to seeing a couple of familiar faces.

MASS MoCA is closed on Tuesdays, so some of the poets went to visit the Clark Art Institute in neighboring Williamstown.  I decided to stay behind. I practiced for the reading. Kyle, one of the other poets, and I figured out how commenting works in google docs. (I’m sure daughter E is chuckling about that as she could have taught me in three minutes what took me much longer to figure out.)  Kyle read through my manuscript and left a number of comments for me to consider. I even figured out how to reply to several of them. I will work on the issues more in the coming weeks as I get more comments coming in.

With the museum closed, we didn’t have our usual group lunch in the cafe. I decided to go to a seafood restaurant that has been around since I was a kid for fish and chips. It was nice to sit in a booth and read while I waited for my lunch. It was also a lovely day for a walk.

Later in the afternoon, we met for a long session of workshopping. I brought the poem that I had written the bulk of in the middle of the night and got lots of useful feedback and suggestions for revision. I’m sure that my local poetry friends in Grapevine Group and/or Sappho’s Circle will see a revised version at some point this fall, as I am especially anxious to get this poem exactly right.

At dinner, we were working out a prospective plan for tomorrow. There is so little time left before we have to leave on Thursday and more that we would like to do than we have time for. I said that I didn’t think that I had anything else ready to workshop, which led to a rather exasperated response from the poet to my right that we should be looking at my manuscript. While I had sent a link to everyone, I had said that it was totally their choice to look at it or not. I am excited, though, to have the opportunity for the whole group to comment. I’m not sure if people will comment on individual poems or more broadly about organization or stylistic issues, but I am hungry for any feedback they can offer.

We decided to continue the dinnertime discussion back at our apartment, with a few poems being read, too. I can hardly wait to hear what people choose to read tomorrow night!

 

MoCA Monday

I started the day with steel cut oats and a hot caramel at Brewhaha, a fun cafe on the same block as our apartments. I got in the studio early, revised the poem I workshopped yesterday, updated the manuscript with the changes, and started doing timings for prospective poems for our reading on Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I was momentarily on Facebook when I saw the news of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It reminded me of our initial residency here at MASS MoCA, which coincided with one of the big Paris attacks. I lift my thoughts and prayers on behalf of all the dead and injured, their family and friends, those caring for the wounded, and our woundedness. The world is swallowed in destruction and sorrow and it is so much harder to take when human beings perpetrate violence.

I allow myself a bit of time to mourn; then, try to turn back to art.

I was anxious to visit Building 6, which opened a few months ago. I wanted to go right at opening time for the day, but had forgotten that MoCA had already switched to off-season hours, which meant not opening until 11:00. I went back to the studio and followed instructions that daughter E had thoughtfully sent me on how to create a table of contents in google docs. And it worked! I had to do a bit of editing, but I now have a table of contents which can be refreshed to correct itself when I make changes.

I tried to experience as much of Building 6 as I could in the time available. I was amazed by James Turrell’s light installations. The work of Jenny Holzer is devastating. I loved the Gunnar Schonbeck instrument collection, especially the ones we were allowed to play. It was interesting how many of the instruments used organ pipes, albeit in unconventional ways. There was also a piano string assembly, which reminded me of my 20th century theory class at Smith and the concept of prepared piano. I had a lot of fun plucking and creating glissandos on the open strings.

The most striking thing for me, though, was the building itself. I have seen the exterior of this building throughout my life, built into the point where the two branches of the Hoosic meet. At the prow, there are now large windows, allowing an expansive view of the melding of the river. I found myself drawn to the windows along the sides of the building, as well. These are the old mill windows. Many of the panes show that glass is still a liquid, as you can see the waviness of the glass caused by the passage of time. I also love the old wood, brick , and stone. MASS MoCA understands that appeal and features exhibits of both old and new artistic renderings of the building itself.

The later part of the afternoon was taken up with workshopping, which is always so informative and enlightening for me. I love the work that everyone is doing and learn so much for everyone’s poems and comments.

After dinner, we had a special treat. Marilyn read the chapbook she is developing to us. So amazing! We are planning to workshop if with her tomorrow, but people couldn’t help but get a head start tonight.

More tomorrow.

Q & A on the poetry workshop

In response to my post about the writing workshop opportunity I am contemplating, my friend, artist and poet Lorrie Lane, sent a series of clarifying questions to me via Facebook. Here are her questions and my answers:
1. Why are you writing poems? It can’t be for the money – hahaha.
I write poems because I have something to say. A large part of the turn to poetry for me was losing my will/venue/capability to write church music, coupled with an extraordinary opportunity to study “Women Who Run With the Wolves” with Yvonne Lucia and a wonderful group of women.
2. What are you trying to say that can’t be said in an essay?
Essays are lovely, but some ideas and images live much better in poetic form. I love the concentration of language and meaning in poems. I also love the greater room for the reader/listener to enter the poem. Essays tend to report or expound on the views of the author, I often try to leave some mystery in my poems – to give space for the reader to bring their own thoughts and experiences to the poem, although I am finding that some readers and editors do not like this approach.
3. Are you trying to talk to others, yourself, or both?
I write both for myself and for others, sometimes at the same time and sometimes not. There are some poems I write that will probably never be shared, although a couple of poems that started out that way have been seen by at least a few others.
4. How much risk are you willing to take? Will you risk exposing your flaws, your weakness, your guilty pleasures, your loves, your infidelities, your hatreds, your selfishness, your gullibility, your foolishness, your vulnerabilities? and by ‘you’ I certainly mean ‘y’all.
While I am not by nature a risktaker, I am willing to take a calculated risk as long as the threat of harm isn’t dire. The things most at risk would be my pride and my sense of competence, but I think I am mature enough now to shake it off if things go badly. In the second question, there are some of those attributes that I would risk writing about my/y’all’s experience, but some that I would choose not to. For example, I don’t think I could write credibly about infidelities, possibly not about hatred or selfishness, either. It’s hard for me to write about things I don’t understand well and I think it would show if I tried.
5.  Are you more interested in manipulating words or manipulating ideas?
I don’t think I am interested in manipulating at all. I use words to evoke ideas, but I am not wedded to others’ ideas being identical to mine.
6.  What inspires you? Would going to a workshop be inspirational or kind of boring?
I draw inspiration from random everyday encounters and from personal history that can take a long time to distill into a poem. I think that the setting of this workshop is one of the things that draws me to it. It is in a familiar place with ties to personal and family history, but it has been transformed into this arts community. Interestingly, I have a first draft of a poem that I wrote about the work of a particular artist when we visited MASS MoCA a couple of years ago. I think that the combination of the art and the place and my personal connection to it could produce some really interesting poems that would be cohesive enough to eventually become a chapbook.
7.  Would it be better for your poems to go off for a week by yourself? Because other people’s voices could confuse yours…
I don’t think I would be able to go off on my own and write for a week without some kind of interaction. I’ve learned through the Binghamton Poetry Project and my critique/workshopping group that it is incredibly helpful to have other voices to point out parts of the poem that are not concise enough or redundant or confusing. I’m still developing judgement on taking advice and on revision – and learning that what one editor likes, another won’t. I have a feeling that, even over years of writing, the balance between my voice and the critical voice of others will be difficult to achieve. At the moment, I feel that the other voices are helping to make my work stronger so that a bit of it can get out to the public in some way.  I do consider myself a general audience sort of poet, rather than a more erudite “poet’s poet.” That being said, there needs to be a certain level of craft to get work published and I need others’ help to achieve that.
8.  Think of the most ridiculous and long poetry project you can–say, a blank verse epic about some obscure historical event–and write the first page. (That’s not a question, is it? Well, do they make you do these kind of exercises in poetry workshops and why don’t they?)
Some workshops do give prompts or assignments, often around poem exemplars. Usually though, they give several prompts from which you can choose one to work on. I have some experience writing from prompts from Binghamton Poetry Project, which is how I actually attempted a slam poem – not my natural bent! I don’t think that this workshop will be set up like that, though, as it seems that the expectation is that some people may be generating new work while others may be revising individual poems or collections.
9.   Are you, a polite person, willing to write a rude poem? then do it or why not?
If I were writing from a prompt, I could write a rude poem, perhaps even a profane poem. I would probably than tear it up and throw it away. I write to express myself and would only share work that I felt conveyed what I wanted to say in the manner in which I wanted to say it.
10.  If you read all the literary journals published in 2014, would you ever be able to do anything else for the rest of your life?
There are a zillion literary journals – and they come and go all the time. I would not attempt to read a year’s worth of journals, because, yes, it would take a lifetime. I do read a variety of contemporary poetry, but snatched from here and there. And, yes, I do understand that my journal publications will reach relatively few and rarefied readers, but it seems to be part of the way things work. Enough journal publications – and some of the “right” ones, eventually – are needed to get a small press to consider a chapbook. Or people self-publish, but I don’t think I am cut out for that.
11.  Can you learn anything other than technique at a workshop? This applies to painting workshops, and my answer has been ‘no.’ Technique is essential but secondary.
I think that one can learn things other than technique at a workshop, but first I have to consider the subject of technique. Whereas you studied both English and art at the collegiate level, the last time I had formal instruction in poetry, I was an 8th grader in Monroe Bridge. One of the things I enjoy about Binghamton Poetry Project and Sappho’s Circle is the opportunity to learn more technical aspects and craft of poetry. Other things I can learn are some of the ins and outs of the editorial and publishing processes, at which I am a novice, at best. I also think that I could learn a lot about my by-then 55-year-old self, as I will be walking into an unknown territory, interacting with a group of new people which is daunting for someone who has become more and more of an introvert over time, facing the possibility that I could be totally out of my depth, and perhaps spectacularly failing in front of an award-winning poet and publisher. But, probably not. I hope.