Fridays are Magical: First Grade Poetry Workshops

This evening, in the adult version of Binghamton Poetry Project, I wrote my first tanka. Here, I am sharing the precious post about some of the first grade poets who are loving, learning, and creating with the BPP.

SoCS: Reunion!

There is an exciting event in store! Well, next year.

We got news yesterday that we Boiler House Poets have a date for a reunion residency at Mass MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).

We met at the inaugural collaboration between the Museum’s new Studios at Mass MoCA program and Tupelo Press, both located in North Adams, MA. You can read my incessant posts about it, which start on Nov. 13.

Our group bonded so well that we wanted to get back together – and now we know we will!

There will be more writing, more art, more workshopping, more food, more conversations, and lots and lots more poems in store! And, I hope, another video. Our first video is here and explains our name.
This short and sweet post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. This week’s prompt is “store.” Join us! Find out how here:

SoCS badge 2015



Yay! Top of JC’s Mind just hit 600 followers! Thanks to everyone who visits, likes, and/or follows, especially to poets and others who have been following along with my Mass MoCA poetry residency/Tupelo Press workshop posts. (Shameless plug.)

The posts are here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, with a Binghamton Poetry Project anthology post with three new poems from this last session here.

Feel free to start at the beginning and read through or go non-linear and start anywhere. We poets love that! ¬†ūüėČ

Mass MoCA Poetry Residency: video

This morning, we resident poets all had to pack up and say good-bye to each other, Mass MoCA and Tupelo. We shared breakfast and as much conversation as we could cram into our last hours together.

We are going to miss each other, but we did have some important consolations, with promises to stay in touch, visit each other, and to attempt a reunion at some future date to be determined.

Best of all, the video of our Boiler House poetry reading has been uploaded to vimeo: . Enjoy!

This experience has been so instructive and moving for me, I know it will bear fruit for years to come. I have a lot of work ahead and hopes that I can refine my work to merit publication. I have a lot more tools in my kit now and send out my sincere thanks to Tupelo, Jeffrey, Mass MoCA, and the Boiler House poets.

Mass MoCa Poetry Residency: Thursday

Today is our last full day here, which is too bad as I’m finally feeling as though I am getting the hang of this.

I wrote a lot of new work today in the museum. I was a bit frantic about it, as I knew the residency will end before the museum opens tomorrow.

I wrote in the Liz Deschenes, Clifford Ross, Jim Shaw, Boiler House, Harmonic Bridge, Francesco Clemente, and Octagon Room exhibits. The Clemente Encampment was one of the more extensive drafts, as there were six tents to write about. I also wrote a 19 line draft about the “No Mud, No Lotus” series, with just a few words for each of the nineteen works in the series. I wrote page after page in my journal for a list poem based on Mark Dion’s The Octagon Room. I had seen it on a prior trip to Mass MoCA and was surprised to still see it there, as most of their collection is not permanent. Editing will be required or the poem will take up an entire chapbook on its own. Carol Ann would be proud of me, though, as she was urging me to write without mulling. There was definitely no time to mull today!

I was at the museum most of the time from 11-5, although I did take a break for a bit of lunch and for our final gathering with Jeffrey at the studio. As we are the inaugural group of poets for this program, we batted about ideas for future iterations of this residency/workshop, based on our experiences this time. The plan is to offer it four times a year, so stay tuned.

After the museum closed, I went back to the studio to re-organize and work on some logistics. We were gathering at the Tupelo loft for a closing dinner, which was pushed back until 8:00 so that people could attend a 7:00 reading at Gallery 51 on Main Street. A few of us, including me, felt too tired to concentrate on the reading, so we went to the loft early. I picked out some more books, which other people can give me for Christmas presents!

The dinner was fantastic! (I won’t go through the menu because it might make you hungry.) After dinner, we did a final reading for each other in a round robin, which included our hosts, Jeffrey and Cassandra. I read “Lessons from Mahler” and “(Not) the aunt I remember”¬†. I was happy that they were well-received. Even though I am not as intimidated as I was at first, I am no less aware that I am just starting out in this endeavor, while I was sitting in a circle with poets with many journal publications, chapbooks, and collections, as well as a goodly number of prizes/nominations. Maybe someday…

We avoided saying good-bye tonight, assuming we are all going to see each other in the morning. It won’t be easy.

Mass MoCA poetry residency: Monday

Monday is Volta* Day.

This morning was incredibly difficult. I am experiencing a flare of one of my health issues and had had great difficulty sleeping. We went to the Tupelo loft for breakfast together and I was too out of it to do much conversing. I did start drafting a poem about how I might need to start using caffeine, or maybe alcohol…

I chose, however, to pull out every support med in my arsenal to take with breakfast. I don’t usually resort to meds right away, to minimize side effects, but I didn’t have time to let things play out on their own. I’m pleased to report, it worked and I was actually feeling almost decent by the time the session with Jeffrey started this afternoon.

We started with the assignment Jeffrey had given us yesterday. He had promised the results would be amazing, and they were! It was the first time I actually felt that I could keep up with expectations. As part of the exercise, I read my “good luck” poem “Moonlight”; I was thrilled when Jeffrey said that he wanted to write one of the lines down so he could “steal” it. I thought that if I could write one line that he liked enough to appropriate, I really was going to be okay.

Next, we had another workshopping session. I actually jumped in when I wanted to be next to share my poem because I was so excited by a poem from the only other poet in the group to have grown up in this area, that I wanted to piggyback on his work and continue the local conversation. I got great feedback on how to strengthen my poem, although the actual work will probably have to wait until I am back home.

After a break, during which I enjoyed some fantastic pumpkin ice cream and some time alone with the Sol Lewitt exhibit at Mass MoCA, we re-convened at Tupelo loft to hear Jeffrey talk about publishing, which was elucidating.

There was one bit of bad news today. Our public reading has been cancelled due to scheduling conflicts. I had been looking forward to inviting a few of the people I still know locally to hear me read, but now I won’t be able to. Two of our poets suggested that instead we convene after supper and have two or three of us read for as many of the nine of us as can make it. We enjoyed the first session of that tonight and it was just the right way to end our Monday.

It’s hard to believe we are already halfway through.

* a volta is a turning point in a poem

Mass MoCA poetry residency: Sunday

Sleep helps.

I woke up a bit before six and had revisions for my poem that we had workshopped yesterday swirling about in my head. I did a new draft in a different style. Then, I decided to play with writing a kwansaba. One of my poet-friends, Tara Betts, recently published a chapbook titled 7×7 kwansabas (Backbone Press)¬†entirely in kwansaba form, which is seven lines of seven words each. So I did another version of my poem in the form of a kwansaba. I don’t know which of the two works better, but it felt good to be able to write first thing this morning.

I went to 8:30 Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary church which is just across the street. The church used to be called St. Anthony and was the parish home of my Italian grandparents and many other Italian immigrant families. The building still feels like St. Anthony in many ways. It is located on St. Anthony Drive. The interior design is unchanged. The dedications on the windows and pews are all Italian names. But, continuing my riff of same-but-different experiences, this is not the same church family as it was then.  While there were once five Catholic Churches in North Adams, there is now only one. Technically, the original churches were all suppressed and a new parish formed. As it happens the feast day of St. Elizabeth is coming up and the deacon spoke about her in the homily.

The most important thing for me today at mass was the opportunity to pray corporately for the victims of violence in Paris and for their loved ones. The most beautiful expression was a message from the diocesan bishop, which ended with a call for dialogue and solidarity to create peace.

Mid-morning, we headed to the Tupelo loft for brunch, but there was a bit of a mix-up about groceries, so we snacked and workshopped poems with Jeffrey instead. The early afternoon found some of us continuing to workshop while others went to Mass MoCA. We took a break from workshopping mid-afternoon and all came back together at the loft at five for a couple more hours of workshopping. We heard a lot of wonderful work today. I was excited that there was even a haibun! I so admire all the other poets in our group and am learning so much from every one.

We actually had a homework assignment tonight. It’s unlike anything I have ever done. I’ve given it a shot. We’ll see what happens with it tomorrow.

And, because we have now workshopped one poem from each of us, I may be up again tomorrow.  I have a poem picked out, but may change my mind Рseveral times. And my pulse is up a little bit, just to get me ready for tomorrow.

Mass MoCA Poetry Residency: Saturday

The day got off to an early start. I was awake at about 3:00 AM and realized I was not going to go back to sleep, so I grabbed my chromebook and read a limited amount of the updated news from Paris. I wrote a blog post about it, then tended to my email as expeditiously as possible.

I decided to go over to my studio at 6:30. I sat at my table, pulled out the new journal I had brought for the workshop, and started journaling. After a page, I decided that I wanted to turn the last couple of paragraphs into a poem. The topic was the connection of my and my spouse’s families with the buildings that make up Mass MoCA. After I drafted and revised a bit, I called B and he reminded me of another relative that I had forgotten to include, so I added that and edited a bit more. Then, I called my mom to check in and read her the poem. So, yay! If nothing else I got one new poem drafted.

Our group of nine resident poets met for breakfast and then began workshopping poems together. It was really interesting to have a first look at each poet’s work. We got through seven of us before we broke for lunch; I was one of the two who hadn’t yet presented a poem, which was fine as I am so far along the introvert scale that nine people is a large enough group to require a lot of energy and adjustment for me. ¬†I had, however, chosen a poem from my stash to workshop when my turn came, whenever that might be.

We headed to Tupelo Loft for a talk with special guest, Lawrence Raab, award-winning poet and Williams College professor. His talk focused on how to get poems started, a problem with which many poets struggle. He illustrated an inventive way to generate ideas that he uses with his college students and employs himself. He read several poems from his latest poetry volume, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts,  which Tupelo published this year and which is longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, to illustrate his own use of this prompt technique. I loved his talk and especially loved listening to him read. At first, I was looking at the page as he read, but I was drawn to watching him recite instead. He graciously spent time writing dedications in our copies of his book.

After Larry left, Jeffrey had some time before he had to leave, so we decided to continue workshopping, which meant that we would start with the two poets who hadn’t presented work in the morning session, which we had done on our own without Jeffrey. We started with the other poet’s poem, which was elliptical and surprising and mysterious and well-crafted and all kinds of excellent things, but I admit that I was desperately trying to wrap my head around how Jeffrey functions in workshopping, which was unlike anything I had ever seen. I could feel my heart beat faster than it should have been, sitting on a couch doing nothing more strenuous than reading and note-taking.

So, when it was my turn, I read my poem “1950’s Suburbia” and then tried to follow Jeffrey’s comments and take notes. I kept making the mistake of thinking I was supposed to answer aloud questions that were supposed to be mulled; in my local groups, there is a lot of back-and-forth between the presenting poet and the rest of the group and I couldn’t switch gears quickly enough. I think everyone in the room realized I was not really keeping up mentally. Jeffrey asked if I was okay. I said yes, but that I was not a very quick mental processor and that I needed to sleep on it. This may have been a partial untruth; I may need to sleep on it for a while and go through notes a few dozen times to have a good grasp.

I am very grateful to our group of poets, especially my apartment mates, for helping me begin to process the workshopping session. Over time, I think I will be able to make the poem, which is from my pre-Binghamton Poetry Project years, stronger. Maybe not this week though, with so much to do.

Seven of us went to Public for dinner. It was another connection point for me. The space that Public occupies used to be Dora’s, the restaurant of a high school friend of B and me and her chef-husband. ¬†It’s been well over a decade since they owned it, but I was having another of the same-but-different moments that wash over me every time I am back in North Adams. We had a surprise fiftieth anniversary party for B’s parents there. His dad died less than two years later.

After the noisiness of a Saturday night restaurant, it was nice to be back in the apartment for a couple of hours of quiet talk about poetry, family, and whatever else crossed our minds. We are all hoping to sleep well tonight…

stay tuned

In a few hours, I’ll be leaving for North Adams, Massachusetts, to attend a week-long poetry residency/workshop offered by Tupelo Press at Mass MoCA as part of the Studios at Mass MoCA, a newly established program of¬†Assets for Artists.

I am very excited to arrive and meet everyone! We are going to be very busy, but I hope to get some posts out to chronicle the experience, both to keep you all updated and for my own processing.

Stay tuned!

A calm(er) poet

It’s finally here! The poetry residency/workshop which Tupelo Press is offering at Mass MoCA starts within 24 hours. My regular readers have put up with my freaking out over signing up in the first place and stressing over choosing poems to bring – I’m sparing you all posting the links – but I’m pleased to report that I have calmed down significantly.

I was feeling insecure because I have just begun publishing my work and don’t have a lot of academic background in poetry. I was afraid I’d be in over my head, especially if everyone else is an MFA.

Fortunately, I’ve had lots of help in getting some perspective. My local poet friends have been very supportive and great about offering advice.

I was also lucky to have two good publishing experiences in the last two weeks. First, Eunoia Review accepted one of my poems for publication.

Second, my poem “Lessons from Mahler” was published this week as part of Silver Birch Press’s current series. ¬†While I am always thrilled when one of my poems is published, this poem is special on several counts. I was pleased that I used some of the skills I have been working on for this poem. I first began to write from prompts a couple of years ago when I started participating with the Binghamton Poetry Project. ¬†It is very different from the way I usually work and I have been trying to improve at writing from prompts. When I first read this¬†very specific prompt from Silver Birch, I thought there was no way I would be able to write a poem to fulfill it, but, as I mulled the prompt, an idea came to me.

I wound up writing a haibun, which is a form that I learned about during the summer session of Binghamton Poetry Project. ¬†I also was able to workshop it with my Bunn Hill Poet friends and with Heather, who directs both Binghamton Poetry Project and Sappho’s Circle and then hone it into a poem with which I was really pleased.

When Silver Birch Press accepted it, they sent me a nice compliment in their note to me. I wasn’t sure when exactly my poem would appear, but I was so happy it came out on Monday. The editor found a copy of the recording of the Mahler songs and linked it to the poem, which was so touching to me. I have been happily plastering Facebook, Top of JC’s Mind, and some email inboxes with the link to this poem because I want people to read it and to listen to the recording.

It also makes me feel like I belong in the community of poets. While there are always some newer poets like me represented in Silver Birch Press and other places in which my work has been published, most of the poets have chapbooks or collections to their credit. Being among them gives me hope that I might be able to publish a chapbook in the next few years.

It’s good for poets to dream…

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