Good-bye, MoCA

I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.

After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.

We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.

Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.

Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.

One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work.  I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.

At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.

Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.

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MoCA birthday

Today was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets second reunion residency at MASS MoCA.  We packed it as full as we possibly could with poetry and camaraderie, knowing we will have to scatter to the winds tomorrow.

And it was my birthday.

Some highlights:
* I wandered the grounds before the museum opened this morning. The Boiler House gate was open and the sound installation was operating; I got to experience it alone, walking all the way up to the top where I could look out over North Adams and MoCA, including all the solar panels. Alone – except for the pigeons who roost in the Boiler House, several of whom I startled into flight as I wandered.

* I did a walking meditation in the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge with its current sound installation, In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway, by Julianne Swartz. For the second time this week, the art has brought me back to my first semester of music theory at Smith, as the installation is a form of musique concrète. The 13:40 minute loop is composed entirely of recorded human voices. This work inspired Marilyn McCabe, the Boiler House poet who conceived and produced our collaborative videopoem last year, to envision a sound project this year. We each recorded a short segment based on a single word for her today. Stay tuned for the final product when it is available.

*There have been so many lovely birthday wishes and supportive comments today. Life has been so complicated over these last months that there were times today that I felt overwhelmed. I would not have made it through without the support of my poet-friends here and the well-wishes that arrived today from family and friends. Thank you all so much.

*And our reading! Ever since the lead-up to the inaugural Tupelo residency that brought the Boiler House Poets together two years ago, I have wanted to do a public reading in North Adams. Because this is my home area and I have written quite a few poems about it (and just this week have organized the poems into the first draft of a manuscript), it felt like the right place to share some of those works. I also wanted to offer people here the chance to hear the work of the Boiler House Poets, each of whom is dedicated to her craft and to sharing her unique voice.

We presented our reading at Makers’ Mill, the art-space where we had taken our printmaking class over the weekend. Kate Carr, the former director of Makers’ Mill, graciously served as our organizer and accepted our invitation to read with us, as she is a poet as well as a visual artist. We were pleased that we had a receptive and attentive audience in attendance and that we had to quickly set up more chairs from the supply closet to accommodate everyone!

It especially warmed my heart to have my friends and family in attendance. Cousin S was there and my high school friend who hosted me for Sunday dinner. I was excited and amazed that a woman that I worked with over summers when I was in college came with her husband. I had not seen her since 1981. We have kept in touch with Christmas cards and notes over the years, but, because we aren’t connected over social media and neither of us are the type to send photographs, we didn’t have a visual reference for our middle-aged selves; still, I recognized her within seconds. I was deeply grateful to have four people there who are part of the community at large and was pleased that they liked my poems.

Poets are sometimes accused of writing predominantly for other poets. I don’t think that it is true of most poets, but I am sure that it is not true for me. I think of myself as a community poet and I think that most of my poems are not intimidating for general readers. Most people in the United States didn’t have much exposure to poetry in school, or, worse, came away with the feeling that they couldn’t possibly understand it because they didn’t arrive at the same interpretation as their textbook.  I don’t want anyone to be afraid of poetry! I loved that our reading had a range of kinds of poetry that could be experienced on many levels. I know there were people in the room who could name the poetic devices being employed and appreciate the choice of particular words and sounds and knew the poetic forebearers of the style, etc. and there were people who just knew how each poem made them feel about gardens or good-byes or mocha sundaes. And it’s all good.

*After the reading, we poets stayed up talking and eating. I stopped into The Hub and got a mocha sundae to go as my birthday treat. Not as good as the old Apothecary Hall mocha days, but acceptable.

And, yes, the poem about mochas was one of mine.

poems and prints

Our first full day of the Boiler House Poets second reunion residency began with each of us doing our own thing. I made an early trip to my studio and completed the first draft of a poem for my collection that I had begun to draft a year ago (yikes!) and then went off to enjoy the farmers’ market and Fall Foliage Festival craft fair. I also delivered a couple posters for the Boiler House Poets’ reading, which will be held on October 4 at 7 PM at Makers’ Mill on Main Street, North Adams. Any blog-readers nearby are cordially invited to attend!

After lunch, the lions’ share of our group participated in a printmaking workshop at Makers’ Mill. Kate and Jim demonstrated the process of preparing the materials and operating the press and then assisted us with our inaugural attempts. We were all novices and I admit that my work was very rudimentary, but I loved the work of the other poets. We needed to let our paper and ink dry, but we can pick them up later in the week or at our reading.

One of my favorite parts of the printmaking was operating the press. We turned a big wheel which was very much like the wheel of a ship. It also reminded me of a demonstration that I attended with my parents at their retirement village. Their friend Jim Mullen is an art professor emeritus who has his presses in a studio in his apartment. He is still very much an active artist; he lends his talents to the village community by designing and producing cards and by donating works to be raffled to raise money for the charitable foundation. He also offers art education experiences and did a very interesting demonstration of printmaking techniques. It was part of the reason that I decided to join in with today’s opportunity to try printmaking, even though I am not much of a visual artist.

Next, we started a poetry workshopping session. I always love to see what the other poets are working on and hear their insightful comments. I learn so much. I must admit, though, that I don’t feel very helpful to the group. So much of what they do is beyond what I could ever hope to achieve. Sometimes, I can make peace with that, rationalizing that I am a community poet and that it is okay for me to remain so. Other times, like today, not so much…

During dinner break, I decided to go back to the apartment to decompress a bit. I was able to talk to B and E at home and was glad to hear that everyone there is doing all right. I touched base with a local friend and made plans to meet tomorrow. I had a relatively long text conversation with daughter T who will soon be returning home from MO. And I went back to my studio and began to put the poems in my collection in order.

Today was chilly and drizzly. Maybe tomorrow will be a bit brighter…

Boiler House Poets’ second reunion begins

Whilst I have been busy with grandbaby ABC and my parents and the fall activity start-up schedule, I have also been preparing for the second reunion of the Boiler House Poets at the Assets for Artists residency program at MASS MoCA in North Adams MA. You can read about our first residency as the initial group of poets in the partnership between Tupelo Press and MASS MoCA in my archives for November 2015 and our first reunion in early October of 2016.

I should probably rephrase that. I should have been preparing, but I was too distracted with everything else going on, so I threw things together last night and this morning, complicated by my printer still thinking it is British rather than American and not being able to cope with printing on 8.5×11 inch paper.

Even though my older sister has arrived to help my parents and B is back from his business trip to help E care for ABC, it was very difficult to leave, but fortified by hugs and kisses from E and a last snuggle with ABC, I set off for the 200-mile drive back to North Adams.

I grew up near North Adams and went to high school there, so it does feel like coming home when I visit, yet, so much has changed that it feels like there are discoveries to be made, too. I am looking forward to visiting the expansion of MASS MoCA that has opened since our last reunion. And there is no shortage of work to be done.

Today, though, was about re-establishing bonds with the other poets and greeting a new member, as well as a visual artist who is also participating in a residency this week. We had a lovely welcome dinner together at Grazie, which is just below our apartments. We talked and talked and ate and talked and had gelato and talked some more, catching up on what has happened over the last year and laying the groundwork for our time together this year.

Stay tuned…

poetic convergence

On Saturday, a poet-friend from Sappho’s Circle and Grapevine Group and I went to Ithaca to the Spring Writes! Literary Arts Festival. Our primary purpose was to hear Heather Dorn, the founder of Sappho’s Circle, and her friend Sarah Jefferis read some of their poems. Here is the blurb from the festival program, with links to their author pages:

Reading: What Enters the Mouth and How to Play House 
Dr. Heather Dorn and Dr. Sarah Jefferis will read from their new poetry collections. Heather Dorn is the founder of Sappho’s Circle: A Women’s Writing Workshop for local women poets in Binghamton NY. Her work can be found in Requited, Ragazine, the Kentucky Review, the Paterson Literary Review, and other similar journals. Her first book of poetry, How to Play House, is forthcoming from NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, in September. Local author Sarah Jefferis will read from What Enters the Mouth, poems about surviving trauma and poverty in the South. “Fearless poems- a reckoning of the violences of girlhood rendered with grit and clarity.” – Ansel Elkins.

The reading was amazing! Their poems are very powerful and not infrequently heart-breaking. It was especially interesting to me to hear Heather read a couple of poems that I had heard her read previously, as time and a new audience can cause modulation in the presentation. I also got to observe how they structured a longer reading session. I am more used to attending open mic, where each poet reads just two or three poems, so I appreciated how they each chose among their poems to vary the mood and pacing.

The biggest surprise was when Sarah told us that she had just returned from a residency program with Tupelo Press at MASS MoCA. As my poet-friends know, I was blessed beyond belief to attend the first residency collaboration between Tupelo and the museum in November, 2015, which led to the formation of my beloved Boiler House Poets. You can view the video reading from that residency and the collaborative videopoem from our first reunion residency. We also have a book which sprang from an exercise we did with Jeffrey Levine during our first residency. Plans are already in place for our second reunion residency this fall. (There are numerous blog posts on the residencies. You can search the MASS MoCA tag or in the archives for November 2015 and September/October 2016.)

After the reading, we joined Sarah, Heather and her husband for lunch. It was nice to talk about poetry, education, and family over delicious Asian cuisine.

Later in the afternoon, we attended a panel discussion about publishing a first book after forty. We had another nice surprise when two more Grapevine poets appeared in the audience. It was interesting to hear about people’s journeys to publishing a book at 40+; as a poet who didn’t start writing until reaching my fifties, if I ever publish a book, I will fall into that category. I admit, though, that I was feeling insecure because it seemed that everyone on the panel and a good number of people who asked questions in the audience were English teachers and/or MFAs. Given that I am neither of those things nor someone who studied English and creative writing in college, I was wondering if there is still a path for me. Fortunately, on the drive home, my friend was able to offer some perspective for me. So my hope for my book is still alive, even though it will likely take longer to complete and submit than I had hoped.

Life does give poets something to say, but its demands can slow the writing process down.

Videopoem from the Boiler House!

I am thrilled to share with you a new videopoem from the Boiler House Poets!

During our recent reunion residency at the Studios at MASS MoCA, we collaborated on a poem about our beloved Boiler House and each recorded her own lines.

Marilyn McCabe, one of our stalwart Boiler House Poets who has experience with videopoems, graciously handled all the photography and editing to produce the amazing final product.

Enjoy!

Last MASS MoCA moments

I posted my final MASS MoCA reunion poetry residency piece right before the Boiler House Poets’ last lunch together, but wanted to add a postscript.

The marvelous Marilyn McCabe had already completed a first draft of our Boiler House videopoem and gave us a viewing before we departed.

It looks fantastic and I am anxious to share it with you all, which I will do as soon as Marilyn puts the finishing touches on it and releases it to the public.

Stay tuned!