Joanne and Merrill read at TAC

Yesterday, Merrill Oliver Douglas and I did our first ever appearance as featured readers at the Tioga Arts Council In Owego, NY.


We were excited to have a full house! I also like that in this photo you can see how beautiful the gallery space at the Tioga Arts Council is. At the moment, they are exhibiting artwork from high school students in Tioga county.


The person at the podium is poet Dante Di Stefano, who was serving as our host. His spouse Christina Di Stefano is the executive director of TAC.


I read first. This was the first time I’ve ever done a twenty minute set. I chose to structure my reading in three segments. The first group was four poems that centered around my mother, two from my chapbooks Hearts, forthcoming from Kelsay Books, one from my unpublished collection Small Constellation, and one that was written for the 2022 Women of Words reading at the Broome County Arts Council. Next came four poems that were reactions to happenings in the world or my world, including “The Banned Bookmobile” which was published by Rat’s Ass Review here. I concluded with four poems that center on the North Adams, Massachusetts area, all of which are included in Small Constellation and one of which, “Sprague Suite” (published by Wilderness House Literary Review here) is also in my new chapbook manuscript of ekphrastic poems based on artwork from MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).

I was very happy that the audience connected with my poems. Besides applause, there were nods, smiles, and even a few chuckles at appropriate points. I tried very hard to choose a few poems that had lighter elements, like “Liz Truss or Lettuce.” I think that helped to balance out some of the heavier topics, like the pandemic poem I had included.

What I hadn’t quite expected was that Dante would offer some brief comments on my reading before introducing Merrill. Dante holds a PhD and is widely published, so it was special to hear him praise elements of my work. I have a bit of a complex about my lack of academic credentials in writing, so it meant a lot to me that he recognized the heart of my work.


I was happy to be able to sit back and enjoy Merrill’s reading. She read a few poems from her chapbook Parking Meters Into Mermaids and some of her more recent work, including selections from her collection that is currently looking for a publishing home. Because Merrill and I are both part of the Grapevine Poets, I knew many of the poems from our workshopping sessions, but I love hearing how Merrill chose to edit her poems after we discussed them. As always, I was impressed with Merrill’s ability to choose just the right details to enable us to find our way into the depths of the poem. I am particularly moved by the way she writes about her mother, who is now facing a number of health issues in her elder years.


After Merrill’s reading and Dante’s glowing comments, we had a question and answer period. I had been nervous about this part, fearing that someone would ask something that I was ill-equipped to answer, but, of course, everything was fine. With the reading officially completed, there was time for informal conversation and viewing of the art exhibit. The TAC gift shop had copies of Merrill’s book for sale and she was busy signing copies, in addition to having conversations. We were both happy but tired when we left. Spouse B and Daughter T had both been at the reading and treated me to a celebratory (early) dinner out.

Many thanks to the Tioga Arts Council and Dante and Christina Di Stefano for making my first big reading so memorable. Its success is helping me to feel like more of a poet in my own right, although I will forever think of myself as a poet grounded in community, whether the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Grapevine Poets, the Boiler House Poets Collective, or other groups who have claimed me as a member.

Thanks to Gerri Wiley and Burt Myers who sent me photos of the reading. Only the photo of the sign outdoors was mine.

Very special thanks to Merrill Douglas for her support, friendship, advice, and example. I’m sure I would have been much more nervous were it not for her steadiness and companionship. I admire her work and like to think that we have some elements in common, so that my reading set the stage for hers.

Maybe, we will have the opportunity to do it again sometime…

SoCS: reading

I’m overjoyed with how well Merrill’s and my poetry reading went this afternoon! We had a wonderfully receptive audience and I’m very grateful to Tioga Arts Council for inviting us.

Many thanks to director Christina Di Stefano and to her poet-spouse Dante Di Stefano for creating such a welcoming space and for their kind words.

There may be another post after I’ve had a bit more processing time, but, for now, I think I will contentedly settle in for the evening at home.

[Update: Full post on the reading here.]
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is a word that starts with over. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/05/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-13-2023/

One-Liner Wednesday: poetry reading invitation

For folks in shouting distance of Owego, NY, please join me and Merrill Douglas for a poetry reading (in-person only) at the Tioga Arts Council, 179 Front St, on Saturday, May 13th, at 1:30 PM.
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This shameless self-promotion is brought to you by Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/05/03/one-liner-wednesday-washi-person/

The Grapevine Poets Read

April is National Poetry Month in the US and there are often poetry readings scheduled in celebration.

This year, the Broome County (NY) Arts Council invited the Grapevine Poets to present a reading, which happened Tuesday evening.

The Grapevine Poets is a group of local poets who meet regularly to workshop each other’s poems, meaning we bring in our drafts for feedback from the poets in attendance in order to assist us in revisions. We also have done manuscript reviews for each other, several of which have been chosen for publication. I am the current record-holder for most manuscripts reviewed with three, my chapbook Hearts (forthcoming soon from Kelsay Books), my full-length collection Small Constellation and my newest chapbook Half a Duet, both of which I am submitting to presses in hope that they will be published someday, too.

While we have been meeting for years and frequently mention the group in our acknowledgements or bios and although we have sometimes read at the same open mics, this was the first time that we formally presented ourselves as the Grapevine Poets. It was very much a collaborative effort with everyone pitching in and divvying up the tasks of scheduling, organizing, publicity, programming, etc. in conjunction with Connie Barnes at the Broome County Arts Council, which is still settling into its new home in the section of State St. in Binghamton often called Artists’ Row.

We decided on a format that each poet would read a poem from another poet we admire and one of our own. We each chose whether or not we wanted the poems to be related to each other in some way. I chose to link my selections thematically, reading “Woman in Suite A, 1922” from Kyle Laws‘ book Uncorseted and my poem “Studio 7 – Building 13” which both relate to a woman’s experience writing in a new studio.

After Connie’s welcome, Wendy Stewart provided the story of the Grapevine Poets, the format of the reading, and her selections. We had decided to each introduce the next poet, so Wendy introduced me and, after my reading, I introduced Sharon Ball. We continued with Burt Myers, Andrée Myers, Merrill Douglas, Jessica Dubey, and J. Barrett Wolf, who also led the question and answer period.

One of our big concerns before the event was would people actually come! I’m pleased to say that we had about thirty-five people there, which is sizable for a poetry reading in our area. There was a bit of a scramble to find and set up more chairs but it was a great problem to have.

I was happy that some people that I had invited were able to attend and that one person came because they recognized my picture from the flier that Burt had designed for the reading. Burt is the art director for the communications and marketing office at Binghamton University and we are grateful to have his professional expertise on hand, as well as his poetic voice.


I’m trying to wrap my head around knowing that some people might come to a reading specifically because it involves me. I’m more accustomed to thinking of myself within a group context, whether it’s the Grapevine Poets or the Boiler House Poets Collective or the Binghamton Poetry Project, and of invitations that come my way to read as being because of these affiliations and my more-established poet-friends.

But, with my first time as featured reader coming up on May 13 at 1:30 at the Tioga Arts Council in Owego along with Merrill Douglas and my first chapbook Hearts forthcoming soon from Kelsay Books, I’m trying mightily to adjust my mindset so I can present myself as more professional, for want of a better term.

Not sure I have the chops to pull it off, but I’ll try.

BHPC reunion residency 2022

My apologies for the infrequent posts as of late. There has been a string of important events and I haven’t had much time/brain for posting, but I did want to get the word out that I am back at The Studios at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) for the annual reunion residency of the Boiler House Poets Collective.

We have three first-time members joining us this year and there have been some renovations at the Studios. With ever-evolving COVID protocols in addition, things feel somehow new as we make our way together, taking the opportunity to re-vamp our usual routine.

I’m very excited that we will be doing our first public reading in several years on Friday, October 14, 2022 at 4 PM at the Artist Book Foundation in North Adams. If you are in the area, come join us for a sampler of the work of eight members of the Boiler House Poets Collective!

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!

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