upcoming reunion

Later this week, I will travel to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend my fortieth reunion at Smith College. We only found out on March first that our reunion would be on campus rather than virtual, so a lot of direct preparation was done relatively quickly and closer to the event than in prior iterations.

One unexpected task that fell to me was updating our class website. I was lucky that it was built on the WordPress platform, although it was still using the classic rather than the block editor. Fortunately, I have been blogging long enough that I had experience with the older editor, although it did take a fair amount of reaching into my memory banks to resurrect some of the particulars. It was also good that there were templates in place from our reunion five years ago so that I didn’t have to build from scratch.

I am fortunate to live close enough to drive, so I didn’t have to worry about plane reservations. I did decide to come into town a day early to see some friends who live in the area before reunion begins. Due to pandemic protocols, the campus is not open to the public as it usually is, so it made sense to see friends before and then stay on campus exclusively once reunion begins.

All alums and guests had to prove they are vaccinated and boosted to register to attend. Many of the activities and meals will be held outdoors with masks in use for indoor events other than while eating and drinking. Campus will be very busy because our reunion coincides with commencement weekend this year, so the seniors and their guests, along with students who are participating in or working for the festivities and staff members, will be thronging the buildings and grounds. (It could be worse. All reunions used to be held on commencement weekend. Now, only some are with the rest happening the following weekend.)

I’m working on final preparations for packing. I have to remember to bring an all-white outfit for the Ivy Day parade and ceremony, one of the very-long-standing traditions of the College. I’ll need to be prepared for the changeable weather of a New England spring. I also need to be prepared to deal with my new orthodontia, which is causing more than a little anxiety.

The most fraught thing is trying to decide what to bring for one of our class events. We are having an open mic-style reading of things from our student days. I’ve known for months that this was planned but I was in no mood to look back that far. Our class theme is “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I would have much preferred looking forward, but I recently decided that I should look for something to add to the event.

B helped me excavate some of my old memorabilia boxes. To my shock, I found some papers going back to elementary school, including a poetry journal that I had thought was lost long ago. There were some high school papers, too. I read an interview assignment that a friend and I had done in journalism class our senior year. The bulk of the papers were from college, though. Note books from some of my most important classes. Music I had written for theory and composition classes. Yellow books for midterm exams and blue books for finals. Final papers carefully typed on corrasable bond.

I had hoped to find some of my letters but their whereabouts are still a mystery. I did, though, find the one notebook that I thought might have something from my college years worth sharing – a journal that I was assigned to keep as part of an adult psychology course I took the fall semester of my senior year.

The journal was designed to be self-reflective, as well as responding to course readings and discussions, so I thought I might find something personally substantive rather than just academic to share. Something that represented who I was at twenty-one. Something that would be authentic but not totally mortifying in hindsight.

And I did.

Before I go on, I should explain what that semester was like for me. I was taking adult psychology and a course on women and philosophy, an early foray into what eventually evolved into the women and gender studies department. I chose these courses in hopes of learning things that would be helpful to me in my life after graduation. I was also taking a seminar in music composition and preparing for my senior recital, a full-length organ program on stage at John M. Greene Hall. B and I were engaged and our wedding was already planned at Smith a few weeks after my commencement. I was very much in a preparatory mode for my future “adult” life.

And then, things happened.

There were two unexpected deaths in October. The first was a classmate who was killed in a plane accident over October break. The second was B’s grandfather, his last remaining grandparent. Then, at Thanksgiving in late November, B had a bad car accident, as in, his car wound up on its roof in an icy, but thankfully shallow, river. He wasn’t injured but we were both traumatized at how close he came to disaster.

So, here I am, forty-and-a-half years later reading this journal…

I was surprised by how astute I was in my analysis, by how much of what I consider to be my core identity now was already there. The high school interview I found in the memorabilia box described me as “serious”; my college friends would most likely have used that word, too. The advantage I have looking back now is that I can recognize the role of my level of introversion, my need to ponder extensively before I speak, my discomfort at speaking in groups, my penchant for wanting to understand and integrate everything, what I now recognize as the gifts of being an INFJ and an HSP but what I thought of then as traits I could change if I just tried hard and long enough.

I had forgotten how painfully aware I was of these things about myself and how I congratulated myself when I managed to cover them in social situations. Over the ensuing decades, I would get more practiced at this but my core has remained the same. Just in the last few years, when introversion has been more in public view with books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t any shame in being who I am. As I’ve weathered the final years of my parents’ lives and the pandemic, it’s become more evident to me that I need to take my inherent nature into account as I plan my “next chapters”. While there will always be some situations in which I need to make myself heard in a large group discussion or react quickly to an event, I will try to tailor most of my activities to play to my strengths and not waste energy on pretending to be someone who is outgoing and quick on my feet.

I am comforted by knowing that I had the same core at twenty-one that I have at sixty-one and that I understood more about myself at that age than I expected. I suppose that some people might be perturbed to discover such resonance with their younger selves, as though it meant that they hadn’t learned anything or grown over the decades. For me, though, I recognize that I have grown and changed and learned from my experience, all while staying true to my authentic core as a person.

I look at this journal now with what I hope are wiser eyes than the somewhat bleary ones of a college senior scrawling long-hand in a notebook, getting ready to graduate, marry, move to a new state, and deal with any number of unexpected things.

I hope I’m wise enough now to choose a passage to share at reunion that gives a sense of who I was then and still am today.

JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then 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

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

Tioga Arts Council reading

Following up from this post about the National Poetry Month events with the Tioga Arts Council, I’m pleased to say that the reading yesterday at their gallery in Owego (NY) was a great success!

We had six poets, including my friends Merrill Oliver Douglas and Jessica Dubey, who each read a poem by another poet and one of our own. The selections were varied and I was introduced to some poets who were new to me.

We then heard from several people who are working with poetry in translation. Being able to translate poetry into a different language is an art form in and of itself and we were treated to hearing poems that were originally written in Bosnian, Slovene, and German. We even got to hear the poet Adin Ljuca read his work in Bosnian! Thanks to Erin Riddle, who coordinated that part of the program.

And thanks again to Christina Di Stefano for her leadership of the Tioga Arts Council, for her inclusion of poets and writers along with the visual and performing artists, for her gracious introductions at the reading, and for all the organizing that brought us together.

One-Liner Wednesday: last April

Revisiting last year’s Broome County Arts Council’s recorded readings for National Poetry Month, with Yours Truly in week three: https://broomearts.org/education/the-gift-of-poets/

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/20/one-liner-wednesday-love-and-compassion/

Another National Poetry Month project

I am a member of the Broome County Arts Council and recently participated in their Women of Words poetry reading and Spring Awakenings exhibit.

One of the many services of BCAC is sharing news from other arts councils and organizations in our region. That was how I found out that the Tioga Arts Council’s National Poetry Month project was to post recordings of people reading a favorite poem along with an explanation of why they chose it.

I’m pleased to say that the recordings are now available. If you click on my name Joanne Corey, you will hear me reading “Bereft” by Merrill Oliver Douglas from her chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. Merrill is a local poet-friend and one of the Grapevine Poets with whom I workshop on a regular basis. Jessica Dubey, another Grapevine Poet, also has a recording up, as well as Jordan Jardine and Diane Weiner, whom I have not yet met.

On Saturday, we will gather at the Tioga Arts Council’s home in Owego for a reading, so I hope to meet them there. I’m sure you can expect another post about that here at Top of JC’s Mind.

Many thanks to Christina Di Stefano of the Tioga Arts Council for making this project possible!

Women of Words

Last night, I was honored to take part in the Women of Words poetry reading, presented by the Broome County (NY) Arts Council. Many, many thanks to Connie Barnes, the BCAC gallery manager, for organizing and hosting the event, which was held at the Orazio Salati Gallery, currently housing the BCAC Artisan Gallery and its Spring Awakening Exhibition.

As part of the Exhibition, each of the five Women of Words poets contributed a spring poem, which was framed and displayed along with the visual artworks. It was an honor for our words to be included in the Exhibition and a joy to read in the midst of so many wonderful pieces by local artists.

For me, it was also a joy to be reading with poet-friends from the Grapevine Poets, Wendy Stewart, Jessica Dubey, Carol Mikoda, and Merrill Oliver Douglas. I almost forgot to be nervous! We had three other Grapevine Poets in attendance, buoying us, and Connie gave us each wonderful, warm introductions. I also had daughter T in the audience.

Due to the size of the gallery and pandemic protocols, we had to limit the number of attendees. Connie took reservations in advance and I’m pleased to say that we “sold out”, if I may use that term for a free event. I was humbled when, after the reading, an administrator-friend from back in my days volunteering with our school district a couple of decades ago told me that she had signed up to attend specifically because I was reading. It was great to reconnect with her. Back in the years when we saw each other frequently, I hadn’t yet entered my current writing practice with either poetry or blogging, both of which I hope are more compelling than the committee documents I was working on back then.

I haven’t done a huge number of in-person poetry readings and, with the pandemic, had gotten accustomed to poetry onscreen. I remain grateful for those remote opportunities, especially in getting to hear readings from far-flung locations, but I had forgotten the power of connecting with a flesh-and-blood audience right in front of me. Hearing the occasional chuckle, seeing heads nod or eyes close while listening intently, and receiving applause are affirming that your words have reached someone, right then and there, and forged a community in that space, however briefly, something that is difficult to replicate with each individual in a little Zoom box.

In my set, I read a mix of published and unpublished poems. I began with “Thanks to the Department of Public Art” which I had written for a BCAC event in 2016 at the request of the Binghamton Poetry Project and which appeared in their Fall 2016 anthology. I included “Sisters” which I published in a blog post and “Sprague Suite” and “Monroe Bridge Mail” which first appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review. There is a blog post with background on those poems here. I read “Lily of the Valley” which was the poem I had written for the Exhibition and “Object Lesson” which is also unpublished, so I won’t share here, hoping that they will eventually make their way into a journal.

So, Happy National Poetry Month for US folks, Happy Spring for Northern Hemisphere people, and Happy Fall for you all in the Southern! Stay tuned for more poetry as we continue through the month of April.

making up for lost time

As I wrote about here, we are visiting the London branch of our family for the holidays.

The last time we were here was a bit over two years ago, shortly after E’s spousal visa came through and she and then-two-year-old ABC were able to locate from our home in the US to rejoin spouse L in London. During that visit, we were happy to learn that E was newly pregnant and started planning for spring and summer visits.

Then, the pandemic arrived.

We couldn’t travel to the UK for spring birthdays or the arrival of granddaughter JG in August. Our plan to come for the month of November 2020 was cancelled at the last minute when the UK went into full lockdown. Quarantine and travel restrictions made it impossible for us to go to the UK, but E, L, ABC, and JG were able to visit us in the US in August. We were all thrilled to meet JG in person and blessed that they were able to visit Paco just before the last, steep period of illness before his death.

I titled this post “making up for lost time” which is an impossibility, but I do feel as though a few things that I had missed with our granddaughters are being re-captured. JG was an early walker, so I hadn’t really had babe-in-arms cuddle time with her. When they visited us in the States, she was too much on the move and too unsettled by the new surroundings to want to cuddle with the grandparents she had just met. Here, in her familiar home, she has become comfortable enough to sleep nestled in my arms – at least when her mother is unavailable.

We’ve played games with ABC. It’s been endearing watching her play hide-and-seek with Auntie T with requisite giggling and improvised singing, a skill that both ABC and T share. We’ve also been able to read to ABC with the added pleasure of having her read to us. She is learning a lot of phonics in Reception this year (for US folks, think the UK equivalent of kindergarten but with predominantly four- instead of five-year-olds) and is already able to read primer books.

Last night, ABC slept over at our Airbnb. This morning, B made us all pancakes, one of ABC’s favorite foods. She also helped her grandpa bake some gingerbread cookies.

2021 has certainly been a challenging year, but I’m grateful that it is ending on a high note.

Wise words from Ada Limón

Poet Ada Limón gave a great reading last night under the auspices of the Binghamton Center for Writers as part of their Distinguished Writers Series.

During the Q&A, she said something that I want to remember – I’m paraphrasing here – that what makes you a writer is not writing every day because some days we are called to read or be with family or take walks, that even if we need to take a break from writing for six months or six years, we are still writers.

Given the massive holes I have experienced with my writing, and especially with my poetry, I found this very comforting. While I have been working on writing more and have gotten five submissions in so far this week, I do have days where I can’t face writing at all. I appreciated the reminder that that is okay.

I recommend listening to the reading and Q&A at the link above. There were some technical difficulties midway through which I’m not sure are on the recording. If you hit a patch where nothing is happening, just go forward about ten minutes and enjoy the second half.

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.

Nat’l Poetry Month double overtime

As I have been posting about since early April, the Broome County (NY) Arts Council and WordPlace at the Bundy Museum have been sponsoring a series of weekly Zoom poetry readings with Q&A. The final reading in the series, featuring Craig Czury, Neil Silberblatt, and Richard Bernstein, is now available here: https://broomearts.org/education/the-gift-of-poets/

Unlike the other weeks, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of these poets in person, so don’t have any personal insights to share. Perhaps, I will have the opportunity to do so in the future.

If you haven’t been keeping up with our series, there are links to all the prior weeks’ recordings at the link above or on the BCAC YouTube channel.

And in case you missed my babbling about it, this post is about the week where I was one of the featured poets!

I am also pleased to announce that the BCAC and WordPlace are planning an ongoing monthly series of poets with readings and conversation. I will be sure to post about it here as they become available. As always, stay tuned!

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