Birthday and more

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I celebrated my birthday at my Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA.

Actually, I started celebrating with my family before I left for North Adams with early birthday cards and gifts. ABC had chosen a card for me with a dinosaur (or maybe a dragon or alligator?) on it, so after I opened it, she, in her own cute way, took possession of it as a plaything. She and my daughters gave me a framed quilled floral piece from a local artists’ shop. My spouse B gave me a copy of Blowout by Rachel Maddow, which had just become available. It deals with the fossil fuel industry and its political ramifications, I’ve dealt with these issues frequently over these last years in the anti-fracking, climate action, and environmental justice movements and look forward to reading the book. Rachel Maddow does meticulous research, so I’m sure I will gain valuable insights.

I had planned to keep my birthday low-key this year, but was grateful for all the greetings on Facebook, text, in person, and by mail. I was especially grateful to have dinner with cousins that evening. They are the only family B and I have left living here and I always enjoy seeing them when I am back.

Saturday was a very busy day at MASS MoCA and with the Fall Foliage Festival in North Adams. The skies were very clear, which made the early morning very chilly, but I went to the farmer’s market as soon as it opened. I visited familiar vendors, buying maple syrup from B’s hometown and jams, relishes, and pickled beets from nearby Adams. I picked up an extra jar of cranberry-apple relish for E to take on her move to London. They plan to celebrate American Thanksgiving in November and cranberries, being a North American fruit, aren’t easy to come by in the UK – and who knows what the trade situation will be like in November?

I did a bit of writing in the very cold studio. Apparently, the building hasn’t swapped over to heating yet, but I called on my hearty New England roots to make it through! At noon, I visited the craft fair on Main Street, which had been blocked of from traffic. This year, there was also a dance party going on, but I don’t dance – except with ABC in my arms.

At our group lunch, we chose by random drawing the work we would each write about for this year’s Boiler House Poets’ project, Orange Country by ERRE. Marilyn McCabe, our recording and video guru, will put all of our poems together and I’ll post the link here at ToJCM when it becomes available. For a taste of Marilyn’s work, check out this amazing video chapbook. With eight poems to be included, each needs to be short, so I turned to tanka for my contribution. I find that only having 31 syllables to work with helps me distill my thoughts in what I hope will be a meaningful way. It also allows me to do multiple drafts in a relatively contained timeframe. I whittled away words from my original thoughts to create the tanka. The sixth draft will be the final one for the recording, I think.

As it happened, MoCA was having a day of special events to coincide with the city festival. I saw a performance piece by the artist MPA which took place in the midst of her art installation. There was an excellent talk by author Akiko Busch on the current exhibit of works by Rafa Esparza. These works are made of adobe, using water from the Hoosic River which runs through the museum complex and other local and natural materials, and much of Busch’s talk centered around our place in the world and our relationship to it, which is totally in my wheelhouse with my collection in progress. Later in the afternoon, I heard Jimena Canales, a science and technology historian, speak. Unfortunately, she only got through a fraction of her presentation, so we never really got to the intended conclusion on what makes us human and the relationship of humans to art. The bonus, though, was that a wonderful harpist played for us in that same gallery space immediately after. This hadn’t been on the schedule, so we would have missed it otherwise.

Because of all the special events, the poets had decided to do our workshopping after supper. I decided to strike out on my own to eat at Boston Seafoods. I still have trouble calling it that; it’s been around for a long time and I still think of it as what we grew up calling it, the Fish Market. I had fish and chips and then a mocha sundae! I had been upset that the place I used to get mochas had closed, so I was happy to see it on the menu. The mocha sauce is not a fluffy as what we used to get at Apothecary Hall when I was a kid – and they put whipped cream on it, which was not traditional – but it was still delicious and relieved my longing for a North Adams mocha. It occurs to me that people are likely to find this whole mocha business odd, but mocha sundaes were important here. There will probably be two mocha poems in my collection whenever I finish it…

We workshopped poems until after 11:00 PM. I’m hoping the other poets got more sleep than I did, although, with a bar that dates back to 1933 down on the first floor of our building on the Saturday of Fall Foliage Festival weekend, maybe not.

I’m sure we will power through our Sunday, though.

I wonder how many of us will attend the parade today?

a dream

I don’t often remember dreams, but, last night, I dreamt that I went to my poetry residency at MASS MoCA next month without my laptop or hard copies of either of the manuscripts I have in process.

I was thinking of buying a cheap laptop so that I could access my poems from my Google Docs.

So, there’s that…

Binghamton Poetry Project Spring 2019

I actually managed to attend all five weeks of Binghamton Poetry Project this semester and decided to submit to our anthology, even though I could not make today’s final reading. I generally post the poems that I put in the anthology after the reading.

The first two poems were actually written in the summer session of 2018, but there is no anthology in the summer, so I decided to publish them this time. A note on “An American Family”:  I want to acknowledge that indigenous/First Nations people are the original Americans; this poem refers to the vast majority of people in the United States who are either descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves.

Enjoy!
*****
At Thirteen Months

My granddaughter grabs
at the floor lamp again
knowing that it is forbidden
but not that it is dangerous

looking at the adults
in the living room
knowing we will say
no

will pick her up
take her away
set her down
in the middle

of the room
where her toys
are scattered only
to have her rush

back to the lamp
look to make sure
we are watching
repeat the scenario

I finally resort
to what I did
with her mother
take her away

but hold her
in my arms instead
of placing her on the floor
she squirms and cries

a bit but
thirty seconds
is a long time
for a 13-month-old

she toddles back
to toys not lamp
a tear glistening
on her cheek

*****

An American Family

We are an American family
but people stare.

At the park, they assume
my sister is her children’s nanny.

I worry about my brown-skinned
nephews being stopped by the police,
but not my blond one.

Most Americans have roots
in Europe, Asia, or Africa.
Why is it so hard to accept
our family’s roots in all three?

What could be more American?

*****

We always wanted to roast marshmallows

after the hot dogs and hamburgers
had been grilled
and the charcoal glowed
red, under its ashen coat

We cut green sticks
whittling them down
to a point
ready to pierce

the Jet-Puffeds
We didn’t want
them to catch
fire, to burn

black, just a nice
golden brown
soft and sweet
as we three

girls, protected
from charred
bitterness
and burnt tongues

Boiler House Poets’ reading

At our 2017 reunion residency at MASS MoCA, the Boiler House Poets presented their first ever public reading as a group.

We hadn’t expected our 2018 residency to include a public reading, for a number of reasons, including the closing of the Makers’ Mill space where we had read in 2017.

It was a delightful surprise when CC, who had just recently taken over as our main residency coordinator, asked us if we would like to have a reading. We agreed immediately and she set to work finding a venue for us. On very short notice. Over a holiday weekend.

CC contacted Ashley of the Ashland Street Project, a recently opened artspace that hosted arts activities, as well as community discussion groups. It is meant as a place to bring together long-time residents and the newer residents drawn by MASS MoCA and programs drawing artists of all kinds to the area.

Because time was so short, we weren’t sure if we would have an audience, but we did! Ashley had put out the word to her mailing list and posted on their Facebook page. Poet Kate Carr, who had been our host the previous year at Makers’ Mill was there. We had a couple of other people who had been at out reading last year, saw that we were reading again, and made a point to come join us. We joked that we had “groupies” but we were touched that people came to hear us a second time. There were also a number of new people, drawn by Ashley’s publicity.

The reading went well and our audience appreciated it. I read last, trying out several poems from my collection about the area, including a couple that I had revised since my manuscript review. I was even more nervous than usual, but was pleased that the local folks related to them. In our social time after the reading, I even got some suggestions for other North Adams topics I could turn into poems.

Will a public reading be part of the Boiler House Poets residency every year? We don’t know. Check back next October and see!
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/18/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-18th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

Poetry from MASS MoCA

When the Boiler House Poets get together for our reunion residencies, we have a group project that we work on together, often spearheaded by Marilyn McCabe, whose skill-set includes videopoems and more computer skills than most of us can ever aspire to.

Last fall when we met for our week together at MASS MoCA, Marilyn asked each of us to write a short poem about a work of art that was currently at the museum. She then recorded each of us reading her work and melded it with images of the artwork.

Here is the result. Enjoy! (And because I know someone will ask, my poem is “Redacted” based on a haunting large-scale work by Jenny Holzer.)

Bright Eyes: Eight Poets at MASSMoCA from Mar McCabe on Vimeo.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/11/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-11th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

October at MASS MoCA

For the last several years, it has been my privilege to be in residence with the Boiler House Poets at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and I am always happy to be back in a familiar and beautiful place with engaging and talented poet-friends. I usually blog daily while I am there, but, for a number of reasons, I was unable to this year, so I thought I’d do some catch-up posts about it.

While we met as the first group of poets in residence through a collaboration with Tupelo Press and the Studios at MASS MoCA, we are now a self-directed group and, for our week together in October, we decided to do manuscript reviews. I am relatively new to giving feedback on chapbooks/poetry collections and to putting my own manuscripts together, so I appreciated the opportunity. It involved a lot of preparation before the residency as we shared manuscripts, read, and prepared comments. I was very busy with sandwich-generation caregiving and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to prepare, but I managed to get sick, the silver lining being that I needed to rest and stay away from people for their protection, so I holed up in my room and did manuscript work.

I was so impressed by the work I was reading and learned a lot from the discussions about each manuscript. Mine was the last manuscript to be workshopped and I was super nervous. It was a new version of my manuscript that deals with generations of family, our relationship to the North Adams area, and the massive changes that have taken place there over time as it moved from being home to mills, then to electronics, and eventually to the largest modern art museum in the country. The discussion was very helpful and led to the realization that I need to re-focus the collection again.

I have a lot of work to do on it, but I haven’t gotten to do much with it yet. The week I was in North Adams was the one in which hospice decided to decertify Nana. Things became even busier than they had been and I still haven’t been able to find time/brain to go over all the comments, digest them, and start revisions. I did get to do a bit of work before I left North Adams and I am pondering somewhere in the back of my brain here and there, so I hope that I will be able to make progress when I can get back to work.

Will 2019 be the year that I finally manage to get the manuscript ready to send out?

Fingers crossed…
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/10/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-10th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

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.

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.
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