X years ago

Facebook often presents users with the opportunity to repost something from prior years. Today, it suggested this photo from two years ago:

a post-dinner four generation photo of me, Nana, daughter E, and granddaughter ABC

This was our last Thanksgiving with my mom, known here as Nana. She passed away from congestive heart failure the following May. Daughter E and granddaughter ABC moved to London, UK, that October when E’s spousal visa finally came through. ABC is now in nursery school and big sister to JG, whom we planned to meet this month until England went into a new pandemic lockdown phase.

It’s a lot in two years.

And it seems like it’s been longer than two years.

Three days ago, one of my poet-friends posted a photo from the Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency from which the Boiler House Poets Collective sprang five years ago. In the comment thread that followed, someone asked if anyone had written about it, which prompted me to re-read my blog posts from the residency. This post links to most of them. It was interesting to read my real-time take on what was happening, although I did temper the amount of anxiety I expressed somewhat. It was nice to see that I accomplished more than I remembered and good to be reminded of our various sessions with our poet-teachers and the bonding among our original nine poets-in-residence.

We have gone back to North Adams for a reunion residency every autumn, until being derailed this year by COVID. We have a reservation for both 2021 and 2022, though, which is tempering the sadness at missing this year a bit.

And, yes, those five years feel longer than they are, too.

Retreat in progress

I wrote here about heading to North Adams on a private writing retreat and wanted to give an update.

I have made two visits to MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), concentrating on exhibits that have arrived since the Boiler House Poets Collective’s last residency in early fall 2019. I’ve taken a lot of photos to help me with my work on my collection and have even been able to sit in the galleries and work on some first drafts for poems. I have a growing sense that I need to center the collection on place, on what it means to be from and of this part of the world. To help with this, I’ve also been taking photos of the plaques scattered around the museum about the history of buildings and people’s remembrances. I even bought a book from the gift shop by Joe Manning, an artist/poet/author/historian, filled with interviews from people in the area.

While I miss my Boiler House poet-friends, I am enjoying the freedom of being totally on my own. I watched a long video about Sol Lewitt and spent time writing in the galleries, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I had our usual studio access, workshopping schedule, and shared meals. I certainly miss the immediate feedback on my poems, although I can sometimes hear echoes of their comments from prior years and feel that this is helping me in my writing and edits now.

The Museum is very responsive to the COVID dangers. Everyone has masks and distances appropriately. The Museum itself is huge, given that it is located in a series of old factory buildings, so it is easy to not be close to other people. They are leaving some windows open to increase air exchange and there are abundant hand-sanitizing stations. The cafe has expanded its indoor and outdoor seating to safe distances. Admission is arranged in advance so that there are not crowds trying to get in at the same time. During the shutdown, B and I became members of the Museum, so I am making good use of my free admission privileges.

Today, I decided not to go the museum. I did practical things in the morning and spent the whole afternoon writing and editing. It felt like a luxury. This evening, I’m catching up on reading, blogging, and email.

I’m also getting to visit some of the people I know who still live in the area. I got to have outdoor and distanced dinner with a high school friend and will have a cousin visit tomorrow in B’s hometown, Stamford VT. On Tuesday, when the Museum is closed, I will most likely drive to my and my dad’s hometown, Monroe Bridge, and my mom’s, Hoosac Tunnel. They appear in some of the poems in my collection.

I am more than halfway through my time here and am feeling like I have accomplished a lot. Perhaps, the most useful thing I have learned is that this time away is fruitful and a possibility to repeat in the future, COVID and family obligations permitting.

Looking out on part of the Ledelle Moe exhibit “When” https://massmoca.org/event/ledelle-moe/

a non-reunion

In fall of 2015, I took a frightening leap of faith and attended my first-ever poetry residency/workshop. It was a collaboration between Tupelo Press and The Studios at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). As a relatively inexperienced poet, the only reason I was emboldened to apply was that it was in North Adams, the small city in the Berkshires where I had gone to high school. I grew up in the tiny town of Monroe Bridge, about twenty miles away, so North Adams had been a second hometown to me, with at least weekly visits to relatives and stores.

The residency was, well, complicated. It was daunting and terrifying at times and I was perpetually in over my head, but I learned a lot and met wonderful poets. I blogged about the experience and just re-read all the posts. This post contains links to the residency week’s posts, which convey things fairly well, except for downplaying the terror just a tad.

In those 2015 posts, I mentioned the possibility of a reunion residency and I’m pleased to say that the Boiler House Poets Collective has met every year since in early fall for a week at MASS MoCA.

Until this year.

Because of the pandemic protocols and travel restrictions, our 2020 reunion is cancelled. We are all sad, but we are on the schedule for fall 2021, so we know we will return.

In one of the 2015 posts, I mention my plan to put together a poetry collection about my personal and family ties to the North Adams area and that it might take a long time to put it together.

This turned out to be true.

While I have completed a different manuscript in the intervening years – and two major iterations of the North Adams collection, I am nowhere near finished with the collection I envisioned in 2015. I had planned to spend a major chunk of our 2020 residency hammering out more poems and a new version of the manuscript.

I get emails from MASS MoCA and The Studios, so I knew that a deadline was coming up to apply for individual residencies for winter/spring 2021 and I began pondering if that was something I should try to do. It’s a bit complicated because 1) it’s very competitive; 2) the minimum block is two weeks, which makes things trickier in terms of being away from home; 3) no one can project what kinds of virus levels, travel restrictions, closures, capacity limits, etc. may be in place in 2021, so cancellations could still occur; 4) the application would have been quite a chore, especially because I don’t have a cv prepared.

In discussing this with my spouse B and resident daughter T, an alternate solution came up – that I could go to North Adams on a self-styled writing retreat, staying in a local hotel/inn, visiting the museum with my membership pass, and writing in my room or some other socially distanced space that may present itself. If I do this, I could choose the dates myself and could wander about the area as I wished. Importantly, I could also go sooner rather than later, while both New York and Massachusetts have good control on virus levels and no travel restrictions between them. I would be able to maintain good social distancing, so my risks would not be any higher there than here.

So, I might make it to North Adams to write for a week after all. Of course, it won’t be as rich an experience as I am used to when being officially in residence with my inestimable Boiler House poet-friends, but the time away to work on the collection in the place where it is centered would still, I hope, be fruitful.

Stay tuned for future developments.

SoCS: calendar

Maybe I should toss out my calendar.

One of my least favorite tasks at the end of the year is transferring dates from my calendar for year X to my new calendar for year X+1. I still use paper calendars, a large one in a central location in the house and a pocket one that I carry in my purse. I diligently try to keep them coordinated and updated, but now there have been so many crossouts and changes that it gets daunting to deal with them.

The latest long-time calendar entry that needs to be corrected is the annual Boiler House Poets Collective residency week at MASS MoCA. It is scheduled for early fall, so we had hoped that at least some of us would be able to gather, but we got the news that we are cancelled for this year. MASS MoCA will re-open next week, but many of its programs will be running at reduced capacity, if at all. Residencies will be cut way back because the artists are generally housed in four-bedroom apartments with only one bathroom and relatively small kitchen/common area, which wouldn’t allow for social distancing.

I know that this is the responsible path at this point, but I’m still sad. I only see all but one of the Boiler House poets during our residency, so I’m bummed knowing I won’t see them for two years instead of one.

Selfishly, I’m also sad about losing the opportunity to sequester myself in my studio in building 13 and work on my collection that centers around the North Adams area and its history, which is entwined with my family history. In 2015, when I first went to a MASS MoCA residency through a program with Tupelo Press, I had hoped that I might be able to craft a chapbook around my own relationship with the area. Over the years, it has morphed into a collection, which has been torn apart and re-configured more times than I care to admit to already. I was looking forward to having concentrated time to work on the manuscript during residency this year, hoping that I would be able to find the mental space and creativity and energy to make major progress while I was there with the support and feedback of my poet-friends.

Theoretically, I could try to shut myself in my bedroom for a week and try to hash it out on my own, but it’s hard to imagine managing it. There are enough chores and responsibilities here that it’s difficult to see how I could block out that much time. Even if I could, would I be able to do it effectively without being in that place and with the generous advice of my fellow poets?

We are able to schedule a residency for early fall 2021, but I know that is too long to put off my manuscript work. I’m going to have to get my brain in gear to work on a plan to work on the manuscript.

Maybe, I need to put it on my calendar.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “toss.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/03/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-4-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley

Boiler House Poets Collective Live!

While I wish I was saying that the Boiler House Poets Collective is together in person and giving a reading somewhere, this announcement is that we now have a public website.

There are three pages on the site: a standard “About Us” for a bit of history and general information; a page with projects we have done together, including videos which are embedded; and a page with links to books, blogs, websites, and videopoems that individual members of the Boiler House Poets Collective have been involved with as writers, editors, or creators.

I have frequently posted here about being in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts with the Boiler House Poets Collective. If you search for MASS MoCA or Boiler House, you’ll get lots of posts about the residency and the poets who have taken part – and a fair amount of soul-searching, discovery, and wonder on my part. Because I am from the North Adams area and graduated from the high school there, there is another level of experience and memory that I bring to the residency. It heightens my sense of being there as a learner, surrounded as I am with more experienced poets and with art. My formal education in visual arts and poetry is sparse and I am forever grateful to my poet-friends for their patience and generosity in helping me grow as a poet.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the website and the Boiler House Poets Collective!

We began in 2015 as part of a collaboration between Tupelo Press and the newly formed Studios at MASS MoCA, which brought together a group of nine poets, most of whom had never met, for a week of poetry and art. The poets bonded so well that we have returned for a reunion residency every year. Because of the housing and studio set-up, we return as a group of eight. Because not all the original poets have been able to return, we have, over the years, brought in poet-friends to fill spaces, so we have become a larger collective and hope to continue as a group far into the future.

This pandemic year is complicated for us. We had reserved our usual week in early fall for our reunion, but we have no idea if MASS MoCA and The Studios will be open and if Massachusetts will be allowing out-of-state visitors without a long quarantine required. Still, I know that we poets will stay in touch and support each other remotely until we can be together physically again.

If you have any comments about the site, you may leave them here or email them to boilerhousepc@gmail.com. Either way, I will respond as best I can. Even though I am, by no means, qualified enough to deserve the title “webmaster,” I did set up the site and am responsible for maintenance. If you want to compliment any of the individual poets or find out more about their work, I will make sure that your message is forwarded to them.

On behalf of the Boiler House Poets Collective, thank you!

the last day of residency

Tuesday was the final day of the Boiler House Poets’ reunion residency at MASS MoCA.

There for our fifth year, this was the first time that the museum has carried its summer hours into mid-October. This was great for us because the museum was open 10-6 every day, instead of the winter hours which are 11-5 every day of the week except Tuesday. We all appreciated having additional time with the art, while still having time to meet together to workshop.

We needed to be moved out of our apartments by 11:00 Tuesday morning. I got my things packed and in my van early and went to my studio to do a bit more editing. I followed up with quick trip to the gift store and couldn’t resist a couple of books for ABC. I went back to the apartment to help with the final clean-up. All the poets were meeting back at the studios at 11ish to make some plans for next year and are pleased to have booked dates for another reunion next fall.

Also, in the type of creativity burst that I so admire about the Boiler House Poets, we spontaneously embarked on a second group project for this residency. I described our first project in this post. For this second one, we each chose a line or short passage from a poem we had written about an artwork currently at the museum. Marilyn used her phone to record our voices reading our passage while filming the artwork. It was so much fun, traipsing through the buildings of the museum, reading sntaches of our work for each other and heading on to the next exhibit on our list. I will be sure to post both projects here at ToJCM when they become available.

We had one last lunch together before heading for home. We miss each other’s company immediately, but will be reminded of each other frequently as we work through editing the poems we workshopped together and as we write new poems enriched by the advice and artistic vision of the poets and the artwork on exhibit.

I admit that the re-entry to what passes as normal life here has been a bit rough. I’m still way behind on routine things I missed being away for a week and there are a number of unique events coming up this month. That’s why, despite being behind on things, I am making it a point to get this post about Tuesday written on Friday evening. I’ll attempt to post about events as I can, although, most likely, I’ll be late getting the news out.

And that’s just the personal stuff. News is happening so fast here in the US that it is nearly impossible to take it all in.

I hope you’ll stay tuned…

Update 10/14/19 – The first video is available through this post.

Surprises at MASS MoCA

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

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

But on to the surprises…

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

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

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

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

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

a dream

I don’t often remember dreams, but, last night, I dreamt that I went to my poetry residency at MASS MoCA next month without my laptop or hard copies of either of the manuscripts I have in process.

I was thinking of buying a cheap laptop so that I could access my poems from my Google Docs.

So, there’s that…

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/

“From the Boiler House” in Leaping Clear magazine

I’m pleased to share the link to “From the Boiler House” in Leaping Clear magazine. This videopoem was a collaboration of the Boiler House Poets during our residency at MASS MoCA in October 2016, edited and produced by one of our fantastically talented members Marilyn McCabe. You can hear the voices of the eight poets, each reading her own lines of the poem, with Marilyn’s videography and additional sound from Stephen Vitiello’s installation “All Those Vanished Engines.”

All the poets are happy that our work has found a home at Leaping Clear. Enjoy!