Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2020 anthology and reading

Due to the pandemic, the Binghamton Poetry Project has moved to Zoom for 2020. For each of our spring, summer, and fall seasons, we did five sessions of poem study and prompts, followed by a reading via Zoom. For the fall, our directors at Binghamton University have re-imagined our anthologies, which had been distributed in print at our in-person readings in prior years, as a digital publication. You can find the anthology at the Binghamton Poetry Project site here: https://thebinghamtonpoetryproject.wordpress.com/fall-2020-anthology/

One of the 2020 innovations from the Binghamton Poetry Project was to offer two different workshops, one for beginners and one for more experienced poets. I was part of the latter group. I enjoyed working with our instructor Shin Watanabe, who is a PhD student at Binghamton University. I also appreciated the opportunity to connect with the other community poets who attended, some of whom I have known for years in person and others of whom I have only met via Zoom. One of the advantages of Zoom meetings is that we have been able to include poets who are further afield, including some from the Ithaca area.

All three of the poems I chose for the anthology were written in response to Shin’s prompts based on our reading for that session. I thought it might be interesting to include how these poems came to be written; one of the advantages of taking a class or workshop is that you generate poems that otherwise would not have been written were it not for the prompts.

That being said, this first poem is one that was conceived before the prompt, as it will eventually be part of the collection about the North Adams, Massachusetts area that I have been working on for several years. The prompt was about employing interesting adjectives, based on our study of The Colossus by Sylvia Plath.

Navigating North Adams for MWS

Google maps had no street-view
for the addresses you had unearthed
through Ancestry.com
in the year since we each lost
our mothers May-days apart.
We were excited to discover
your great-grandmother

as a young Scottish immigrant
lived in the city where I also had roots.
As I drove the two hundred miles there,
I thought of you,
ten times further away,
of the photos I would send
so we could imagine

your ancestors and mine crossing
paths, setting in motion
our friendship generations on.
I navigated the streets too steep,
narrow, and unassuming
for the google-cars that take wrap-around
photos to satisfy the curious or nostalgic.

When Jeanie lived at 34 Jackson
did she cross Eagle
and walk with Ruth down
Bracewell toward the school?
When did the neighbors
at 27 Hudson put
up a sign, Established

in 1860? Surely
not back then, when
the hillside houses
were only middle-aged.
Did she sled down
Veazie with Mary
who lived parallel

on Williams? Did the imprint
of these ancestral
connections somehow
draw us to each
other as college roommates,
forty-year friends clinging
to each other on steep climbs?

The next poem was an experiment with line breaks, based on our discussion of Charles Bukowski’s Fingernails; Nostrils; Shoelaces.

Two and a half hours

The line stretched from
St. Paul’s Church down
the block to the library
voters spread six feet apart
waiting for
their turn to enter
go downstairs
wait
give their
name, sign the
tablet with a
disinfected stylus
watch the printer spit out
their ballot
sequester together in a
cubicle, completely fill in the
bubbles for their
choices with a
black felt pen
feed their ballot into the
machine, wait for
confirmation, walk back to
their car
go home and
hope.

This final poem is a failed attempt at the American Sublime, a la Hart Crane’s The Bridge: To Brooklyn Bridge. I think I managed a bit of the awe component, though.

For Jillian Grace

On my screen, you appear
smaller than your 2.9 kilos –
kilos because, from the start,
you are a British baby,
unlike your older sister, born
in the same upstate New York
hospital as your mother,
just miles from where
I, bleary-eyed at dawn,
stare at your first photos.

Your dark hair peeks
from under the knit cap
meant to keep you warm
as you adjust to air,
not the tiny ocean
that had been your home
for thirty-seven weeks,
your cheeks rosy
against the white blankets
and Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper.

I long to cradle you,
to breathe your newborn scent,
stroke your soft skin,
feel your fingers
wrap one of mine,
hum quiet lullabies,
claim you as my granddaughter,
but you are thirty-five hundred miles
and a pandemic
away.

I hope you will take a look at our anthology. Feel free to comment here or on the Binghamton Poetry Project site. Enjoy!

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…

chapbook update

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!

a new chapbook from Merrill Oliver Douglas

I wanted to share the news that a local poet-friend Merrill Oliver Douglas has a new chapbook available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press. You can order here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/parking-meters-into-mermaids-by-merrill-oliver-douglas/

It was my privilege to participate in a manuscript review with Merrill and want to share that her work is both accessible for the general public and nuanced for those who enjoy the craft of poetry. You can read samples of her work at these links:
http://south85journal.com/issues/fall-winter-2016/fall-winter-2016-poetry/bereft/
http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/spring_2016/contributor/merrill-oliver-douglas
https://www.connotationpress.com/poetry/2370-merrill-oliver-douglas-poetry

And, seriously, who wouldn’t want to own a chapbook entitled Parking Meters into Mermaids?

MASS MoCA poets’ tour

As promised, the first video from the Boiler House Poets Collective for 2019. We each read a short passage from one of our poems with the artwork. Unfortunately, one of our poets had to leave a bit early, so there are only seven poets represented here. Enjoy!

Tour 2019 from Mar McCabe on Vimeo.

a parade and complexities

On Sunday morning, I went to early mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, just across from MASS MoCA. It’s the building I knew as St. Anthony’s – and the church where we held the funerals of my mom’s parents. At that time, it was mostly people who, like my grandparents, were ethnically Italian. At the time, North Adams had five Catholic churches; over the years, they have combined into a single parish, which took a new name. Vestiges of the original churches are represented by statues and such taken from the other churches, but it always strikes me, when I look at the dedications of the windows and the pews as I walk to communion, that the building is still centered in Italian heritage.

I exited through one of the back doors and was surprised to find a new memorial tucked into a small lawn between the driveway in the parking lot and the entrance to the parish hall. It’s a replica of the top of the steeple of St. Francis church, the mostly Irish-heritage church that had to be demolished when its structure deteriorated to a dangerous degree. Built into glassed-in alcoves on its sides is a memorial to the church with various memorabilia are twenty pieces of slate that had been salvaged from the wreckage and given to twenty local artists to create remembrances. Some are painted with scenes or designs, but some have text.
St. Francis memorial - North Adams
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This is probably how the nostalgia/memorial spiral that I had feared started.

I had decided to attend the Fall Foliage Parade in the afternoon. I grabbed my box lunch from the museum cafe and found a spot on Hadley Overpass near City Hall, the last stretch before the turn onto Main Street and the reviewing stand. I had written poetry about the parades of my youth and the one I had attended a couple of years ago, but I wanted to see how people interpreted this year’s theme, “There’s no place like home in the Berkshires.” As I ate my sandwich and waited for the parade to reach us, I watched the vendors going by and, because I was near some families with young children, stopping to sell their wares. Most of the things were expected – various inflated toys, stuffed animals, plastic horns – but a few were jarring. The most puzzling combination was the vendor selling Trump 2020 flags alongside a green marijuana flag. I can’t say that I remember either political or drug-oriented flags at Fall Foliage parades before.

I was happy to see that, while there were only a few high school bands, they were larger than the last parade I had seen. I could have done with a lot fewer emergency vehicles in the opening section. I might not have minded so much if they hadn’t all felt compelled to blare their sirens all the time. I also could have done with fewer Oz-themed floats and costumes. You know your grand marshal is a good sport when she is waving from the back of an open convertible dressed as Glinda.

My favorite floats and signs had more pertinent interpretations of home. The young baseball and softball players doing variations on there’s no place like home plate. The signs which read, “There’s No Place Like a Safe Home” and “There’s No Place Like the Headstart.” Even though it was partially advertisement, the Grand Marshal’s Award went to Mountain One Bank with the theme “There’s No Place Like Your Hometown Bank.” The float that was closest to my heart, though, was the Hayden Award winner from Greylock Elementary School, “North Adams Is Our Emerald City.” Beyond being incredibly sweet, I was also touched that Greylock is continuing to be very active in the city. My father-in-law was principal there for decades, long enough to have been principal for three generations in some families, and I was moved to see that his spirit is still alive there.

Later in the afternoon, I workshopped one of my North Adams poems with the Boiler House Poets before heading to a high school friend’s home for dinner. Her husband made us a delicious dinner as I knew he would; he was a chef for many years and we ate at his restaurants many times. After dinner, my friend and I talked for hours, sometimes about current events, but mostly about our families with the array of illnesses and losses and moves and growth and letting go and plans and sorrows and disappointments. We hadn’t been able to see each other for a year, so there was a lot to catch up with, but all of Sunday put me in a vulnerable place for Monday, the last full day of our residency.

I had been workshopping North Adams-oriented poems, but decided to edit a poem which may end a revision of a chapbook I am working on about my mother’s experiences with congestive heart failure. She passed away in May and I thought I was ready to work on this poem, but I probably was not. I managed to do the edits, but it was stressful enough that I slipped back into my brain-full-of-holes, unmoored state that has been affecting me more often than not these last months.

I went back to my room in the apartment to rest for a while, but headed back to the museum for our usual 1:00 lunch. We had to make some plans for the rest of our time, but I was feeling indecisive and scattered. I knew I couldn’t write. One of the poets had told us at lunch that she had read one of her poems at the artwork about which it was written. I decided that I would follow her lead and read a poem in the place it belonged. In my case, though, it wasn’t about an artwork, but about a building.

Building 6 is the largest in the museum complex. It is located where the two branches of the Hoosic meet, so it is shaped somewhat like a wedge. The renovation created a shape in the narrow end of the building called “The Prow.” It is one of my favorite spaces in the museum and the subject of a poem I wrote about looking out its windows. I found a copy of it and went to read it there, except that I forgot to put it into my pocketbook to bring with me. I managed to find it on my phone, though, so I was able to read it there as I looked out at the river and the street and the hills. No one was there to hear it, but that was better. I might not have been able to gather the gumption needed to recite with an unsuspecting audience.

Despite my misgivings, I was able to workshop my poem when we met in the late afternoon. I have some more edits to make and some more things to mull. I’m not sure when, but maybe in a few weeks.

I know this month is going to be incredibly complicated.

stats and followers

I am mostly oblivious when it comes to my blog stats. It’s another of those things that I am supposed to keep track of but don’t. It’s also something that I should be methodically trying to grow, but I haven’t been paying attention to for months and months. I honestly don’t know if I will ever pay proper attention, concentrating on my writing instead of the searching, reading, commenting, and promotion it takes to accelerate growth of followers.

I did just happen to go to my stats page, though, and found that at the top it says I have 1,000 followers, which is my WordPress.com followers plus my email followers.

On my blog itself, it lists 1,168 followers because it adds in my Facebook and twitter followers, some of whom overlap with other categories.

Thank you to all my followers and all my readers. I appreciate your stopping by, whether it is occasional or on a regular basis, whether you comment or keep your thoughts to yourself. It humbles me to know that you think what I have to say is worth reading.

~ JC

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/

A Wrinkle in Time

T and I finally got to see the new movie version of A Wrinkle in Time this week. Bonus: we were the only two in the theater for a Tuesday morning showing.

I appreciated the way the film updated the Madeleine L’Engle classic, setting it in the present day. I also appreciated the diversity of the casting among the leading roles and the smaller roles/extras. Many of the themes in L’Engle’s book – bullying, the role of science, love of family and friends, the strength of community in overcoming evil – feel fresh and pertinent in contemporary America. Though the story had to be condensed to fit into a movie-length timeframe, the core of L’Engle’s message remained strong.

I loved the vibrancy of the film and the richness of the color palette, especially when visiting other worlds. I also enjoyed the performances, bringing to life L’Engle’s sometimes enigmatic characters. I especially enjoyed Storm Reid’s portrayal of Meg.

I hope that the film will inspire a new generation of young people to read L’Engle’s novel and the rest of the Time Quintet.