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.

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!

Smith commencement

On this weekend in an ordinary year, the Smith College campus and Northampton, Massachusetts would have been awash in graduating students, their families, and returning alumnae, participating in the traditional activities of commencement and reunion. (While all reunions used to be held simultaneously, now only landmark years, such as the 25th and 50th hold reunions in conjunction with commencement weekend. The other classes meet on the following weekend.)

This year, though, because of the pandemic, the festivities moved online. Saturday evening, the campus would have been illuminated with hundreds of lanterns. Instead, there was a global illumination event, with alumnae and friends of Smith lighting their own lanterns or candles in honor of the class of 2020.  Commencement was livestreamed on Facebook, with a special Zoom experience for graduates, family, and friends.

As a proud member of the class of ’82, I watched the first part of the ceremony. (I admit that I didn’t watch the conferral of degrees, which included the name and photo of each graduate.) I was surprised by how often the alumnae were invoked in the addresses. It’s comforting to know that the strong connections among alumnae and to the institution persist, despite the efforts to divide people that have been so worrisome in the United States in recent years. I add my sincere good wishes to the new alumnae as we all try to find a positive path in the face of these troubled times.

Here are some of the things about the ceremony that I found especially striking:

  • The acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples of the region where the Smith campus now is by Director of Religious & Spiritual Life and College Chaplain Matilda Rose Cantwell ’96
  • The strong bond that President Kathleen McCartney has with the students, the alumnae, and the entire campus community and the sensitivity with which she treated the disruption of the pandemic
  • That 2020 Senior and Alumnae Class President Dimitra Konstantinos Sierros chose to attend Smith for much the same reason I had – because the students she met as a high schooler were so engaged and interesting that she wanted to be a part of such a vibrant community
  • That Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi drew together the accomplishments of notable alumnae and the activism of the class of 2020 in her commencement address, while looking forward to the future endeavors of the graduates

This is not a reunion year for my class. When we meet for our 40th in 2022, I expect that there will be a vaccine and/or effective treatment for COVID-19 widely available so that we will be allowed to travel and gather on campus, although masks and less physical contact may still be a feature of post-pandemic life. I sense, though, that this experience of nurturing community at a distance will make our bonds even stronger.

The class of 2020 may prove to have the strongest bonds of all.

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…

coming home!

This really will be just a jot today because we are getting ready for daughter E and granddaughter ABC to come home from London, where they have been visiting with son-in-law L for almost a month. We need to finish up the toddler-proofing that we had undone/ignored while ABC was away. There will be some time with Nana and Paco, as there usually is every day, but we need to leave for the airport mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, the flights didn’t work out to come to our local airport, which only has one carrier and three flights a day, so we will need to take an hour and a half drive to pick them up.  After dinner near the airport, we will all head for home in our hybrid Pacifica. Although we will get back here between 8 and 9 PM, it will feel to E and ABC like 1 to 2 AM, so there may be napping on the way. Everyone at my house and Nana and Paco can hardly wait to have E and ABC back with us!
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/13/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-13th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

back in Northampton

In my second year at Smith College, a new voice teacher arrived on campus. Her name was Karen and my dear roommate Mary became one of her first students. Through Mary and her friendship with Karen that continued over the decades since we graduated, I felt a personal connection with Karen and had had a chance to reconnect with her a few times over the years when I was back in Northampton.

On March 23rd, a retirement recital was being held in her honor. Mary, who now lives in Colorado, had been planning for months to attend and marshaled me and two of our classmates, both sopranos who studied in the department with other teachers, to join her for the concert weekend.

The recital was given by one of Karen’s more recent students, Victoria Fraser ’10. It was a lovely mix of compositions, including a rarely-heard Buxtehude psalm setting. I was especially touched by “i carry your heart”, a setting of the e.e. cummings poem by Smith professor John Duke (1899-1984).  I have sung a choral arrangement of the piece and loved hearing Victoria’s sensitive interpretation of Duke’s original art song setting. It also reminded me of a board book of the poem, illustrated by Matti Rose McDonough, which daughter E bought for granddaughter ABC, which brings me to tears every time I look at it.

The only thing that could have improved the concert would have been the opportunity to hear Karen sing. I have many fond memories of hearing her expressive soprano voice when I was a student. She went on to sing in many recitals and concerts over the years, including singing premieres of works by Smith faculty composers Donald Wheelock and Ronald Perera, who was the Elsie Irwin Sweeney professor at Smith, an honor which Karen now holds.

The post-recital reception was fun! Many of Karen’s colleagues, most now emeriti, gave little speeches about her and told stories about her with warmth and humor. It was nice to see some of the faculty members with whom I had studied. At the same time, it was sobering to realize how much smaller the music department is now, both in number of faculty and number of students involved. It reinforced the discussions we alumnae had had three weeks earlier when we had gathered to sing Brahms Requiem to bolster the current Smith choral ensembles.

The next day, our class of ’82 quartet spent most of the afternoon visiting with Karen in her office. It was enlightening to hear about how things have changed over the years on campus and within the department. We told Karen what has been going on in our lives and listened to her plans for her retirement. We are happy to know that she will be staying in the area, so that when we return to campus we will still be able to connect with her, now without the time constraints of teaching, committees, and all the other obligations that come with being a professor.

The rest of the time, we four talked and ate and talked and shopped and talked and ate ice cream from Herrell’s. I admit that I also snuck in a solo run to Herrell’s, so I enjoyed not one, but two, samplers on Saturday!

After Palm Sunday services on Sunday morning and the scrumptious brunch buffet at Wiggins Tavern, I had to say good-bye to head for home. I am hoping there will be more mini-reunions in the future. We realized that we can arrange a weekend together even without a special event, so I hope that we will get together again later in the year when Mary comes east to visit her family in New England.

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…

SoCS: weather (and climate)

Whether you live in a city or a town or more rural area, weather always seems to be a topic of conversation.

For example, at my recent college reunion (which – shameless plug – you can read about here and here and here), we talked a lot about rain. Our commencement thirty-five years ago had had to be moved indoors due to rain, which limited attendance to only two people per graduate and caused all manner of disruption. (This was before the construction of the spacious indoor track and tennis facility that would now be used if weather forced a move indoors.) We have also had some remarkably rainy reunions. This year, we had lots of rain on Thursday and Friday, but Saturday was lovely for our parade, outdoor meeting, and evening illumination of campus.

Some people still confuse weather and climate, though, which is very frustrating. Yesterday, I posted about the US and the Paris climate agreement.  I have written a lot about climate over the years, which grew out of being a New York fracktivist. I and millions of other US climate activists will continue to do our part in accomplishing our country’s climate commitments and supporting other countries as they implement their own goals.

We need to protect our planet and people from the worst ravages of climate change and from one of its components, an increase in severe weather.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “whether/weather.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/06/02/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-317/

 

The end of reunion and the “after-party”

On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.

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Helen Hills Hills Chapel Smith College Northampton MA

At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)

Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.

Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…

The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.

After the service, we visited Beth’s memorial tree beside the chapel.

Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.

We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.

Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!

We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.

Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.

Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.

 

 

Parade to Illumination

Saturdays are always the busiest days at Smith reunions. While our 35th is part of the second reunion weekend this time around so that we aren’t here to celebrate Ivy Day with the graduates, we still hold an Alumnae Parade.

The alums all dress in white, with ribbon sashes and other accents in their class colors. The class of ’82’s color is red. After the the marching band, the parade continues with the eldest reunion class first. This year, I believe for the first time ever, we had a woman with us celebrating her 80th reunion! She is 100 years old! Incredibly, although there was both a wheelchair and a golf cart at the ready for her use, she chose to walk arm-in-arm with a companion! As she walked between the lines of alumnae waiting to follow her, she drew much applause and whooping. We should all be so blessed to be granted such robust health to be able to join in our own 80th reunions someday.

The parade led us to seats on Chapin Lawn for our annual meeting of the Alumnae Association. We voted on new officers, listened to addresses from a just-graduated alumna and the college president, and found out our fundraising totals for the previous five years. I’m pleased to say that ’82 did very well.

Next, we assembled box lunches and met at Stoddard Hall for lunch and a presentation by College Archivist, Nanci Young.  Our reunion theme this year is ” Creativity, Connection, Community” and Nanci presented an overview of changing communications at Smith, using materials from the Archives. We had a lively discussion about the current state of communication and how people preferred to interact when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.

My next event was a session with current President Kathy McCartney, giving an overview of the present state of the college and future plans, followed by a Q&A session. I had written a question on the provided cards about fossil fuel divestment, but somehow that question got lost in the shuffle…

Next, I chose to attend vigil Mass at the church up the street from the Quad. This highlighted the loss of the regularly scheduled services at Helen Hills Hills chapel, which had been such an important part of my personal and musical life when I was a student. I participated in many services of several religious traditions, as an organist, choral singer, and accompanist. I miss being able to attend Mass on campus when I return.

Our final class dinner was held at Tyler House. A slideshow of photos from our student and alum days ran on a constant loop. We had final thank yous and the election by acclamation of new class officers. As we ate dinner, one of the storied a cappella groups on campus, the Smithereens, came to sing for us. Conversation and laughter were abundant.

At 8:30, I met a friend from the class of ’81 who lives locally. It was a blessing to get to spend time with her, meet her companion, and catch up on our lives. We also enjoyed the illumination of campus, when hundreds of Japanese lanterns are lit along the paths of the botanic garden and central campus. We finally perched near the Student Center, where a jazz combo was playing on the terrace.

It was a lovely day and a lovely evening.

(And there was no rain!)