In late May, I spent a few days on a private writing retreat back in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and it is the subject of my poetry collection work-in-progress, so it is helpful to me to be back there to work on it. (I wrote about it here for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, so even more rambling than I am when I have the luxury of editing myself.)
Part of the reason it is helpful to be back there is that I’m relieved of most of the caretaking/errands/planning/phoning/corresponding that take up a lot of my brain when I am at home. As if to make up for my being away for a bit, my return was greeted with an avalanche of problems that I may, finally, be at the point of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
I will not bore you with any details other than to say that anyone who has ever had to deal with a complex issue with a US insurance company has some inkling of what it has been like times three.
The update on the manuscript is that it is in the hands of my poet-friends with an eye toward doing a full review sometime in the next few weeks. I was fortunate that I had returned from North Adams with the poems basically done and ordered. I powered through writing the foreword and end notes before June hit so I was able to pivot to dealing with bureaucracy.
Fingers crossed that personal life will calm down in time for the manuscript review and for a couple of weeks for revision time so that I can send the manuscript out for July submission calls. Tupelo Press just helpfully reminded me that they will be having an open submission period for manuscripts in July. After attending the inaugural Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency week in 2015, I promised that I would send them work. I didn’t think it would be this many years before I would have the manuscript completed, but I am looking forward to finally keeping that promise. I feel especially obligated to send this to them because so many of the poems intersect with MASS MoCA, my time there, and the art.
I will, of course, be sending the manuscript to other publishers and contests because one needs to cast as wide a net as possible to find the right fit between the press and the poet.
Yesterday, when I read that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “yarn,” the very first thing I thought of was my friend Merrill Oliver Douglas’s chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. The title poem is about yarn bombing. For someone who may not be familiar with the term, yarn bombing is when someone puts yarn, usually knitted, on unusual objects, like parking meters, or tree trunks, or lampposts. It’s a fun and quirky form of public art.
Things have been pretty quiet here at Top of JC’s Mind for the past few days because I was back in North Adams on a solo writing retreat to work on my poetry collection.
I’m happy to report that I have the bulk of the manuscript assembled, including a few pieces that I wrote this week. There is only one blank page with just a title; I’m hoping to get that poem written and integrated into the manuscript over the holiday weekend. I also need to write a foreword and a notes and acknowledgements section at the end. When I have the draft complete, I will ask my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, to do a group review/critique for me, with the goal of having it ready to submit by mid-July.
This collection has been in development for a looooong time. In November, 2015, I took a leap of faith and applied to attend a week-long workshop/residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a collaboration between The Studios at MASS MoCA, which had, at the time, only been in operation for a few weeks, and Tupelo Press under the direction of Jeffrey Levine. I was accepted, even though I was a relatively new poet at that point. Had it not been in that particular place, I would not have even applied, but I grew up in the North Adams area and had hopes that a chapbook might grow out of the experience, given the intersection of my personal and family history with the current, very different reality there. Case in point: MASS MoCA occupies the complex that housed Sprague Electric when I was growing up but that started out as Arnold Print Works that made textiles. (If you are interested in how the week went, you can check my blog archive for Nov. 2015, as I blogged every day of the residency.)
Short version of the story is that I was in way over my head, but was saved from going under by my fellow poets. We all bonded so well that we have returned to MASS MoCA every year (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) for a reunion residency as the Boiler House Poets Collective.
So, two things happened to my initial idea of writing a chapbook about my family and the North Adams area. I realized pretty quickly that a chapbook would be too short, so it would need to be a collection. Also, life intervened in the form of a long and ongoing period of inter-generational caregiving, which made the time required to devote myself to the project scarce.
There have been two other attempts at this collection, both of which failed miserably in review. I learned a lot from the failures – at least, I hope I have – and this new iteration of the manuscript has a (I hope) more compelling focus.
We’ll see how manuscript review goes…
There are over fifty poems in the collection and over seventy pages, so there is room for cuts if needed. Most publishers expect collections to be between fifty and one hundred pages, so there is some space for adjustment.
While members of the Grapevine Group have seen a lot of the individual poems, this will be the first time they have seen the manuscript. The two prior iterations of the collection were with Boiler House Poets Collective, back before Grapevine started doing manuscript reviews within the group. The exception is my friend Jessica, who is a member of both groups. It will be especially interesting to see her reaction to this newest iteration.
After Grapevine review and edits, I may see if any other BHPC poets want to weigh in – or maybe even before, if any of them are especially keen on the concept/subject to my begging/gluttons for punishment/very bored.
At any rate, come mid-summer, I’m hoping to start doing submissions with the collection. Then, in the fall and winter, the rejections will start rolling in, where they can join the growing list of rejections for my chapbook manuscript in my submission database.
Eventually, one of them may make it into print. The chapbook has been both a semi-finalist and finalist in contests. So, someday?
This version of the collection is definitely stronger than the two prior attempts. So, maybe, someday?
If it happens, you will definitely be able to read about it at Top of JC’s Mind, which will probably be around even though it is cheugy. I just learned that word…
Or, if the chapbook or collection gets accepted for publication, you may just be able to hear me scream, even if you are not close by. 😉
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!
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
I’ve been wanting to write a post for several days, but have felt too scattered to do it.
I’m still feeling too scattered, but am determined to do it now regardless, ignoring the fact that I have unread email messages going back to Sunday, although I think I’ve caught all the important ones, and a long to-do list of other tasks.
Our national drama and the pandemic continue to demand an outsize share of my thoughts. The president’s behavior and rhetoric are increasingly bizarre, possibly as a result of the high-dose steroids he is taking for COVID. There are over two dozen known cases among White House and campaign personnel and cases and quarantine of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our highest ranking military officers. The president is planning to resume public campaigning, even though he is most likely still infectious. The medical information that has been released publicly is at best incomplete and at worst misleading.
Yesterday, arrests were made as a result of a plot to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. I’m grateful that the governor and her family are safe but appalled that a self-styled right-wing militia was planning such a horrible attack. Gov. Whitmer, like many other governors around the country, has enacted executive orders to address the pandemic. She has been vilified by protesters, some of whom were armed, Republican legislators, and the president. She has been publicly threatened with violence and been subjected to sexist slurs. Still, it was shocking to learn that there was a serious plot to kidnap her and “try her for treason” before the November election. Instead of expressing support for her yesterday after the news broke, the president tweeted criticism of her and her policies, along with mischaracterizations of her and other Democrats.
In local COVID news, there has been an uptick in cases here in Broome County and we are officially on yellow alert, which sets lower limits on gatherings and increased testing for schools. Our county executive had already asked residents to stay at home as much as possible, so there isn’t much additional impact on daily life, but the official recognition by New York State has reminded me to be even more cautious with outings.
I am also getting increasingly anxious about our upcoming trip to the UK to visit daughter E and her family. The UK has also had an increasing number of COVID cases recently and has tightened restrictions. B, T and I are going for the month of November because we will need to quarantine for the first two weeks. Then, we will have two weeks to visit, although it’s unclear if we will be able to all congregate at their home as gatherings of more than six are prohibited. We are also hoping to celebrate JG’s baptism, but aren’t sure how many will be allowed to attend. After we return home to New York, we will need to quarantine for two weeks, bringing us to mid-December. The airline has already changed our flights once and I’m hoping that no additional travel restrictions go into effect this month.
Part of what is stressing me out is trying to plan and prepare for six weeks of travel and quarantine. Besides B, T, and me, I need to have plans in place for Paco and for the house, where my sisters and brother-in-law in various constellations will be holding down the fort in our absence. This is turning into a major re-jiggering and re-stocking effort indoors, while a long-awaited landscaping project has been going on outdoors.
Meanwhile, in my continuing quest to catch up with personal preventive health measures, I had a COVID test this morning in advance of a colonoscopy next week. Because of some pre-existing conditions, my prep is a bit more complicated than for most people, so I’m hoping I can get through it with a minimum of repercussions. Maybe I’ll write a post next week while I’m waiting for the remnants of the sedation and medications to wear off. That could be, um, interesting?
On the poetry front, I got another chapbook rejection. It was a debut chapbook competition that had drawn over 200 entries, a detail I’m including as it gives people an idea of the odds, and this contest was relatively small. On the unexpectedly happy news side, I received notification of acceptance to an anthology called Lullabies and Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan from University Professors Press. I had submitted to the anthology over four years ago and had assumed my poem had been rejected although I hadn’t gotten an email about it, but the project had instead been delayed and my poem will be included. Publication is expected in print and ebook early next year.
I’m still feeling scattered, as though there is something else I’m supposed to be saying, but I want to get this out. Stay safe and be well!
Motivated by writing this post yesterday, I started searching for more opportunities to submit my chapbook for publication. After not finding any contests currently available – I could find lots for collections, but not chapbooks – I started looking through the Poets & Writers database of small presses that publish poetry.
I was looking for presses that are currently open for unsolicited chapbook manuscripts, but had to wade through broken links, the almost inevitable changes in schedules due to COVID, and the unfortunate number of presses that seem to have disappeared since they had listed with Poets & Writers two to three years ago.
I did manage to find what seemed to be a good match. The database said they accepted unsolicited manuscripts from September through December, but, when I visited the press’s site, I found out that they had moved up their open reading to the summer and were closing to submissions September 6. So, as it was September 5th, I stopped searching and got to work on the submission.
Given that I had the manuscript in my google docs, you might think that it would be relatively quick and easy to get the submission in, but it actually took a couple of hours. The press preferred a .docx in 5.5×8.5 inch format. I admit that I don’t know Word as well as google docs. I got the page format changed relatively easily, but struggled a bit to get the margins the proper size. I usually write short to medium length lines, but there were some lines long enough that they didn’t fit with the smaller pages. In some instances, I wound up changing my lineations. For the handful of multi-page poems, I had to be mindful of the page breaks to make sure that they weren’t falling in awkward places. I was grateful that there is an easy way to update the table of contents, as it changed considerably.
In the end, I was able to complete the submission yesterday, so, at least, I didn’t send on the very last day! It took a while, but I learned some new Word skills.
And the next time some press wants a 5.5×8.5 inch format, I’ll be ready.
This spring, I entered my chapbook manuscript in eight contests. So far, I’ve received five rejections, although I was a semi-finalist in one of them, which is encouraging, even though it is still a rejection. I expect to hear back from the other three sometime this month or next.
I did another round of revisions and have entered this newest version to one (knowingly virtually impossible to be accepted by) press. I have two other contests in mind, but should probably get myself motivated to search for others.
As long as we are on the topic of things I should do, I should also try to do some journal submissions. While I have made some strides in improving my poetry, I am still a neophyte when it comes to the world of publishing. Trying to choose among hundreds of journals which are most likely to consider the kind of poetry I write is perplexing. Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out where not to send something, such as the contest that wanted you to prove you had read all their requirements by quoting your favorite rap lyric in the cover letter – and I don’t know any rap lyrics. Most often, you read a sampler from the journal and try to guess if they might like your work. Because there are usually reading fees involved, it helps to try to figure out which journals are most likely to be interested. With so much else going on, I have trouble getting myself motivated to slog through lists and databases and spend time following all the different rules for submission, knowing that then you are looking at waiting periods of various lengths and most likely a bunch of rejection emails.
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!
As those of you who know me personally or who have been reading Top of JC’s Mind for a while are aware, I consider myself to be a community poet. I have next-to-no academic training in literary analysis and creative writing. I sometimes tell people that I write by instinct, but, like this blog, it is more another manifestation of the way my mind works, influenced by what I’ve read and my fortunate affiliation with groups of wonderful poets who share their work, critiques, and knowledge with me.
One of these groups in the last few years has been the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. They have sponsored several series of poetry workshops, led by Dr. Joshua Lewis. This has led to our first ever foray into publishing, a collaborative chapbook, Transformations. (The link takes you to a page with several options for download, priced at either $1 or $1.99 depending on platform.)
There are six poets represented: Pamela Olivia Brown, who also designed our cover, Joanne Corey (me), the aforementioned Joshua Lewis, who also acted as editor, Anita Alkinburg Shipway, Tony Villecco, and Harrison Young. We each submitted three poems without regard to a specific theme, but some commonalities emerged. We met to deal with ordering the poems, which is always a fraught process. I am pleased – and still somewhat shocked – that my ordering emerged as the favorite, with a couple of tweaks from the group.
In re-reading the book, I am struck by how the different styles and voices of the poets reflect common life experiences and deepen our understanding by approaching from various perspectives. Although there are only six poets, we represent different generations, races, ethnicities, genders, and places of origin. (I am endlessly fascinated by the influence of place, especially the rural/urban/suburban dynamic.)
[A note: It’s possible that your download will have an issue with pagination and layout. For example, I lost the stanza breaks in my Apple copy. I’m not sure if it is because I am using an older device or if there is some other reason. I can assure you, though, that all the words will come through to you, which is the most important consideration.]