SoCS: a week

What a topsy-turvy week it has been with my dad!

I can’t bear to go through the details but I will say that things appear to be on an upswing at the moment with some hope for stability on the horizon.

There will be a rare event to end the week, though, as B and I will be attending the wedding of two of my poet-friends this afternoon.

Best wishes to the happy couple!

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “wee”. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/08/06/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-7-2021/

A normal-rare event

On July tenth, there was a rare island of normalcy.

Or an almost normal version of a rare event.

I participated in a live poetry reading in conjunction with the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum. The reading was part of the Summer Art Festival, a collaboration of the Museum and the Vestal Public Library. Several of the poets from the Binghamton Poetry Project who have work included in Empty the Inkpots read from the stage/deck at the Museum with the audience arrayed in scattered chairs and benches and on the lawn. It was the first time in many months that I have participated in a live-and-in-person poetry reading. It had been even longer since I had had to read with a microphone. The amplification was useful because the museum is near a busy roadway.

I chose not to read the poem I had on display, which is about the early months of the pandemic; it is available at the link above. Instead, I read three poems from my manuscript about the North Adams, Massachusetts where I grew up. “Conveyance” appeared in the spring 2021 anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The other two poems, “North Adams Public Library” and “Monroe Bridge Mail”, are currently unpublished so I won’t share them here.

I was very happy with the reading on a number of counts. First, there were people in the audience who came at my invitation, including one who saw my Facebook announcement of the event. Second, though I was nervous before, I was reasonably comfortable during the reading, even managing the microphone adjustment without much trouble. Third, the reading was well-appreciated by our audience. We had six poets, with diverse styles and viewpoints, represented. We read in alphabetical order. Uncharacteristically, I was not first, which was helpful for me. I like to read early in the order, but I’m better at reading second than first. I was also grateful that the most experienced poet and performer was last as it gave a strong finish to event. No one should have to follow J. Barrett Wolf at a reading!

Lastly, I was pleased to receive personal compliments after the reading from family and friends, some of whom are also poets. What was most heart-warming was that a woman that I did not know came up to me afterward and told me how much she enjoyed my poems and asked where she could find my work. Of course, I don’t have any books of my own out, but I was able to give her my paper copies of my poems, which included my bio for the exhibit and the address for Top of JC’s Mind.

The reading was an island of normalcy not only because of the pandemic but also because most of my time these days has been wrapped up in dealing with the care of my 96-year-old dad who is currently in a rehab/skilled nursing facility after a fall and ensuing complications. It’s why it has taken me so long to post about the reading.

It’s also why, for the first time in years, I am not registered for the current sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project. I am usually visiting my father in the early evenings. Even if another family member is available to visit, I can’t predict if I will have any creativity/brainpower left late in the day.

It’s made the reading that much more important as a reminder that my poetry life is still there, waiting for me to go back to it when things are more settled.

Someday.

Binghamton Poetry Project reading and anthology – spring 2021

Seven years ago, I began participating in the Binghamton Poetry Project, a community outreach program of the Binghamton Center for Writers. Binghamton University graduate students facilitate free poetry writing workshops for children, teens, and adults. With the pandemic, sessions have had to move online, as have our readings and anthologies.

We had our spring reading and anthology launch today. I contributed three poems to the anthology, which you can find here. I read the poem “Conveyance” from the anthology, as well as “Meanwhile…” from my collection manuscript and “SARS-CoV-2: A Novel Coronavirus” which is currently on display as part of the Empty the Inkpots exhibit at the Vestal Museum.

I had very little formal instruction in poetry when I was in school, so I appreciate all the lessons in the craft of poetry that I have learned through the Binghamton Poetry Project. For example, in this last set of sessions I learned about zeugma, a device which I used in “Conveyance.”

I especially appreciate connecting with my local poetry community, not only the graduate students and participants but the wider poetry community in our area. When I was looking for a year-round poetry workshop to share feedback on my work, Heather Dorn, who was then the assistant director of BPP, connected me with what is now the Grapevine Group. I rely on the Grapevine poets to help me see what I need to refine in my poems. Seeing their work in progress has taught me so much about writing and revising. I’ve also learned how to give and receive constructive criticism. I can sometimes even manage to figure out the truest path when I get suggestions that directly contradict each other!

I hope that the Binghamton Poetry Project will continue for many years to come. BPP is supported by grants and is blessed with an ever-evolving set of Binghamton University graduate students serving as facilitators and administrators. I know there will always being poets in our community wanting to write, learn, connect, and share the gift of poetry.

Celebrate National Poetry Month!

In the United States, April is National Poetry month.

Broome County Arts Council (BCAC) is joining the celebration by hosting a series of virtual poetry readings by poets with ties to our area. The first reading, featuring Elizabeth Cohen, Dante Di Stefano, and Andrei Guruianu is available here.

Enjoy!

I’ll be back with additional posts as the celebration continues, including a more extensive post the week that I am featured along with other poets from the Binghamton Poetry Project.

the pleasures and dangers of poetry readings

One of the opportunities that has arisen during the pandemic is the easy availability of poetry readings, as many institutions have re-imagined their live readings as online events.

I admit that I wasn’t in the habit of going to a lot of readings in-person before the pandemic. They are usually in the evenings and I try to keep as much evening time reserved for family as possible, so it was difficult for me to commit to the transport time plus the reading time. That is less of a factor now that I can attend and still be at home, in case something comes up that needs my immediate attention.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend a virtual book launch for fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member Erica Bodwell’s Crown of Wild. I heard one of my Smith College poetry godmothers Anne Harding Woodworth read from her new book Trouble, as well as her previous books. I’ve tuned into readings sponsored by the Smith College Boutelle-Day Poetry Center and the Binghamton University Center for Writers. I have even participated in an online reading with the Binghamton Poetry Project.

It’s been wonderful to hear poets reading their work and I’ve also appreciated the opportunity to hear poets speak about their lives and work in interviews or question and answer sessions.

I admit, though, that these discussions, particularly when they take place in academic settings, can shake my sense of myself as a poet.

I consider myself to be a community poet, meaning that my work is informed by my experiences much more so than by my academic background. While I have been blessed with learning about craft through the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Broome County Arts Council, Sappho’s Circle, and my poet-friends of the Grapevine Group and Boiler House Poets Collective, the last time that poetry was a significant part of my academic work was in grammar school, many decades ago. I’ve also learned a lot by reading different poets.

In comments in their readings, poets that I admire talk about the wonders of writing in forms like sonnets or villanelles and how this focuses their writing.

I’ve tried variously to write in form. I’ve never managed to write a traditional sonnet or villanelle that was worth making it out of my notebook.

The thought of trying to write a decent sestina is enough to make me break out in hives.

I do a bit better with forms that have made their way into English from Japan. I have written some successful haiku, tanka, and haibun. I am especially fond of tanka and have included several in my chapbook manuscript, which is still in circulation with publishers and amassing an impressive list of rejections. (Note to self: send more submissions.)

When I am feeling shaken about not having formal training, an English major, or an MFA with all their attendant skills and expertise, I try to remember the times that my poet-friends have reassured me that, although my poetry is different, it is still worthwhile – and that I am indeed a poet.

Now if I can just find those presses and publishers that agree…

Surprises at MASS MoCA

On Wednesday, after a morning filled with unexpected complications, I picked up a local poet-friend and we headed for North Adams for the annual reunion residency of the Boiler House Poets at MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The Boiler House Poets met and bonded five years ago; we were the first group of poets to be in residence through the Studios at MASS MoCA, through a collaboration of the Assets for Artists program and Tupelo Press. We arrived only a few weeks after the studio residencies program began. (Most of the MoCA artists in residence are visual artists, but we are pleased to bring a literary arts presence, too.) Only two of the poets knew each other before arriving, but we bonded so strongly that we wanted to be together again and were fortunate to be able to continue our relationship with The Studios at MASS MoCA and have returned each fall for a week together, visiting the museum, writing, workshopping, encouraging each other, and, sometimes, staying up in our apartments way too late talking.

I am one of the six original Boiler House Poets who is in residence this year, along with my Binghamton-area friend who joined us in our second year and a new addition this year, who is a friend of two of the original members. Whatever the particular configuration, we have such a strong core that our residencies are positive experiences. I must admit, though, that I sometimes get overwhelmed and exhausted, partly because of the intensity of the residency and partly because the rest of my life has been complicated enough that I can’t totally disconnect from my non-poetry life when I am here.

But on to the surprises…

The first was not a positive one, because one of our poets was ill and not able to join us on our arrival day Wednesday. It felt so odd to have any empty place at our welcome dinner where she would have been. Luckily, she recovered enough to join us on Thursday. We are so happy to have her here, even though she must be careful not to expend her usual amount of energy until she recovers a bit more.

On Thursday, I decided to go the museum to check out the exhibits, knowing that we planned to choose one about which to write a related poem as our group project this year. Artists-in-residence have a free pass to the museum, but check in at the desk to get a daily sticker. The woman behind the desk said, “Joanne?” and I was surprised to see a local poet who had led a print-making class for us in a prior year and had read with us at our first public reading. I hadn’t realized that she was now working for MASS MoCA.

By design, MASS MoCA doesn’t have a permanent collection, so there are always new things to experience when we come every year. One of the largest exhibit spaces has an extensive installation by Trenton Doyle Hancock. As I was about to wander into it, a young man said, “Joanne?” I was startled to see James, one of the original Boiler House Poets. While we differ in age, race, and gender, we had a special bond because we had both grown up in the North Adams area. I had lost track of him as he hadn’t been able to make our earlier reunion residencies – and now, here he was! He had moved to North Adams earlier in the year and was working part-time at MoCA while continuing his art practice and freelancing. He was also scheduled to leave for vacation the next day, but, happily, was available to join us for lunch.

As we were picking up our lunches at the cafe and settling down at our tables, I kept looking out for James. I hadn’t told anyone he was there because I wanted them to be as pleasantly surprised as I had been. It was so much fun that we wanted more time to visit and catch up, so we arranged another visit for later in the evening. We stayed up much too late, but we laughed a lot and had fascinating and wide-ranging conversations.

In fact, we were up so late that people were able to be the first to say “Happy Birthday!” to me. Perhaps, I’ll say a bit more about my birthday in the next post.

JC’s Confessions #5

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

I own a lot of books that I haven’t read. What’s worse, I own a lot of books by people that I know, either poet-friends who I know in person or blogger-friends who I know only online, that I haven’t read. While I feel guilty that I haven’t read these books yet, I am comforted by owning them. I’m not sure when I will have the time and brainpower to read them, but, someday, I hope…

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/

MoCA Sunday

Sorry for the pun-ny title. It’s late and I couldn’t resist.

The day started early. I woke up with a poem that I had been mulling forming in my head, so I grabbed my laptop and started writing. Although most of my poems are short, this one is significantly longer. I worked for a couple of hours, slept a bit more, woke again, and finished the draft, all before 7:00.

I went to the studio and finished my first attempt at ordering the poems for my collection before heading to 8:30 Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, directly across from MASS MoCA. It used to be called St. Anthony’s and was my Nana Giacapuzzi’s church, a fact which appears in one of the poems in my collection.

After church, I went back to the studio, intending to visit the newly opened Building 6 when it opened, but I had forgotten that the museum doesn’t open until 11:00 on Sunday. I looked at the pile of pages that now constituted my manuscript sitting on the corner of my studio table and began the tedious job of copying them into a single google doc. I also needed to do a bit of editing from a prior critique.

I decided that I would wait to visit Building 6 tomorrow, when I will have more time to experience the art and write about the pieces that inspire words.

I’m pleased to say that I got my document assembled before our 12:30 group lunch. I am happy to have a start, but have a ton of work to do, assembling the table of contents; writing an introduction, acknowledgements, and notes; re-arranging, editing, adding, cutting poems; and then figuring out to whom I should submit the manuscript.

We had a lively discussion at lunch, took a brief break, and then re-convened in the studio for workshopping. I got lots of great ideas for revisions of a poem in my collection. (See above paragraph – editing.)

I confess that I cut out a bit early to visit a friend of B and mine from our high school days in North Adams. Bonus: her husband is a retired chef, who made a fantastic pork tenderloin with fruit for dinner. We caught up on each other’s news, took a walk, and talked some more. I showed her lots of photos of Baby ABC, who she has not yet met. Maybe later in the fall.

I returned to our apartments in time for a discussion among the Boiler House Poets of experiences with manuscript reviews, conferences, online courses, and publication. I love to hear about all these possibilities; maybe, some year or other, I will try one or another of them out.

And now, time to publish this post and get some sleep.

And while I don’t have a poem about MoCA Sundays, I do have one about mocha sundaes.

MoCA Monday

I did sleep some more after writing this middle-of-the-night post, although I wanted to get up early to shower. I know I said that I wasn’t going to revise The Octagon Room until after I got home, but an idea presented itself so I plunged in and did another draft before breakfast.

I met a high school friend downstairs at Brewhaha, where we enjoyed delicious waffles and conversation. It was great to see her, although we didn’t have much time, as she needed to get to work and I needed to get to the studio.

I did a little more revising and printed two poems for workshopping today, just in case we get two sessions in again. My main goal, though, was to get into the Museum, as I had not yet taken the opportunity to do so and wanted to see the new exhibits.

The museum does not open until 11:00, but the grounds are open sooner, so I went back to our beloved Boiler House. I think it may be the first time that I have been there totally alone, which allowed me to fully engage with the soundscape. I climbed the flights of open metalwork stairs all the way to the top. MASS MoCA has added many more solar panels to their buildings. Being on the top of the building gives a new appreciation for the vastness of the museum site and a spectacular view of downtown North Adams. It was poignant to look at their landmark steeples, though, as one is missing. St. Francis was torn down this year; I could see the remnant that is left, waiting to be hauled away. I am planning to write a poem about it as a postscript to one I wrote last year.

At 11:00, I did an hour-long spin through the first floor of the main museum building where the new exhibits were. Unlike most museums, MASS MoCA does not rely on having a large permanent collection. Frequent visits reveal new works, so the experience of visiting is always fresh. I drafted one poem in my notebook, honoring advice from one of the poets who came to speak to us last year. There were several other pieces of which I am in awe, but don’t feel that I can expand on poetically. Maybe later, or maybe never. Still, I am glad to have experienced them.

After lunch, we went on a formal tour of the museum. Unfortunately, the group was large and we weren’t able to visit too many pieces. I did appreciate being able to accompany my poet-friend Jessica into the Sol Lewitt exhibit. She had helped workshop a poem I had written about it, so it was nice that she was able to experience the art in person. The large exhibit hall is currently closed as the next major exhibit, Nick Cave’s Until, is being installed. We were able to see some of the installation going in and hear a bit about it from our guide. I feel that I will have to try to come back to see it after it opens on October 15. I think there may be a poem there, although it may be too overwhelming for me to write about. Fortunately, it will be here for a whole year.

After the tour and a bit of delay due to a sudden downpour, we reconvened at the Studios for workshopping. I decided to present my new version of The Octagon Room, which was well-received. There are more edits to make, including a new title, but I feel that I will be able to improve it enough to include in my manuscript.

Being back here at MASS MoCA makes it seem that completing a collection is possible. The trick will be keeping the momentum going after I return home. There will need to be more writing, more revision, assembling the collection, sending it out to readers for feedback, more revision, editing, cutting, and adding, and, eventually, sending it out to presses for consideration.

Wish me luck…