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”


The day after our visit to Lake Bled, we took a trip to Trieste, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea, not far from the Slovenian border. Even though we only had a few hours, I was looking forward to being in Italy, which is my maternal lineage’s homeland. Also, B had never been to Italy, so it was fun to add another country to his international list, which is substantially longer than mine due to business travel.

We first went to Saint Just Cathedral, a centuries-old church on the hill overlooking the city. While other cathedrals were remodeled as artistic styles changed, this one remains in the Romanesque style and incorporates some features salvaged from Roman Empire structures, as you can see in the tower.

On entering the cathedral, my eyes were immediately drawn to the magnificent – and vibrantly colored – mosaic over the main altar.

The ceiling over the nave was also interesting.
nave ceiling St Just - Trieste

To the left of the main altar, was this one with the Madonna and Child.

As one expects in old cathedrals, there were other small altars along the sides. I particularly liked the sunlight streaming into this beautifully painted one.

Painting detail:

Next, our amazingly skilled bus drivers took us down some narrow, twisting streets to  Trieste’s main piazza near the sea.  The square is surrounded by impressive palaces and government buildings. It is now called Piazza Unità d’Italia, a name it acquired a century ago when Trieste became part of Italy; it had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Piazza contains the Fountain of the Four Continents. It was sculpted in the 1750’s representing the four continents known at that time: Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

We also visited the remains of a Roman amphitheater nearby. Dating from the first to second century of the Christian era, it was unearthed in 1938. There are still occasional concerts held at the site.

The unfortunate thing about our excursion to Trieste was that it was too brief. Perhaps, some day we will return.

Phoenix Project

I haven’t been using most of the available-but-not-mandatory prompt words for Just Jot It January, but I was struck by the word “detritus” which is today’s last-day prompt.

I used “detritus” in a poem that I read recently. The poem, which I can’t share because it is unpublished, is about the Phoenix Project by Chinese artist Xu Bing.  1186023_10200534417668419_1858818271_n
Two giant phoenix sculptures were created by Xu Bing, using the detritus from construction sites. Part of my Facebook comment on this photo, which is from September, 2013, reads, “They are also a political statement. When Xu Bing went to the Beijing construction site of the fabulously expensive buildings, he found workers being poorly paid and exploited, making shelters for themselves from the construction debris. He decided to make a pair of phoenixes, which in China denote power and wealth, from the debris, to call attention to the plight of the workers. At some point, the building owners decided they would not pay for the completion of the commission, but the artist was able to finish and Mass MoCA is their second venue for display. Next they will go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in NYC.”

I had been planning to write on the latest news from the fallout of DT’s travel ban/refugee executive order, but I didn’t have the heart. Detritus may be all that is left of the US government soon, too.
It’s the last day to join in with Linda’s Just Jot It January! Many thanks to Linda and all her blog community who made it such a great experience! If you want to add your voice on this last day, you can find out how here:



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