October at MASS MoCA

For the last several years, it has been my privilege to be in residence with the Boiler House Poets at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and I am always happy to be back in a familiar and beautiful place with engaging and talented poet-friends. I usually blog daily while I am there, but, for a number of reasons, I was unable to this year, so I thought I’d do some catch-up posts about it.

While we met as the first group of poets in residence through a collaboration with Tupelo Press and the Studios at MASS MoCA, we are now a self-directed group and, for our week together in October, we decided to do manuscript reviews. I am relatively new to giving feedback on chapbooks/poetry collections and to putting my own manuscripts together, so I appreciated the opportunity. It involved a lot of preparation before the residency as we shared manuscripts, read, and prepared comments. I was very busy with sandwich-generation caregiving and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to prepare, but I managed to get sick, the silver lining being that I needed to rest and stay away from people for their protection, so I holed up in my room and did manuscript work.

I was so impressed by the work I was reading and learned a lot from the discussions about each manuscript. Mine was the last manuscript to be workshopped and I was super nervous. It was a new version of my manuscript that deals with generations of family, our relationship to the North Adams area, and the massive changes that have taken place there over time as it moved from being home to mills, then to electronics, and eventually to the largest modern art museum in the country. The discussion was very helpful and led to the realization that I need to re-focus the collection again.

I have a lot of work to do on it, but I haven’t gotten to do much with it yet. The week I was in North Adams was the one in which hospice decided to decertify Nana. Things became even busier than they had been and I still haven’t been able to find time/brain to go over all the comments, digest them, and start revisions. I did get to do a bit of work before I left North Adams and I am pondering somewhere in the back of my brain here and there, so I hope that I will be able to make progress when I can get back to work.

Will 2019 be the year that I finally manage to get the manuscript ready to send out?

Fingers crossed…
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/10/jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-10th/
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/

Advertisements

2017 Fall poems for Binghamton Poetry Project

This afternoon is the Fall 2017 reading of the Binghamton Poetry Project. The Binghamton Poetry Project (BPP) is a community poetry initiative which brings graduate students at Binghamton University into the community to facilitate the writing of poetry by adults, teens, and children. I have participated in their workshops for several years. I will always owe them a huge debt of gratitude because it was my participation with them that led to my acceptance by my local critique group, which I now call The Grapevine Group, and to my beginning to publish poetry outside of the BPP anthologies.
BPP holds three workshops a year of five sessions each. We read and discuss some poems and generally write from prompts drawn from those examples. It is interesting as one often writes poems that would otherwise not have been written. Because we only have about fifteen minutes to write, there is not much time to ponder, so I often find myself writing about people or events that I have already had time to process. The first poem below centers on a topic that has appeared in other poems about my childhood hometown. The second is not a topic I have ever written a poem about because it was traumatic, but it was long enough ago that, when it fit the prompt, I ran with it. The third poem is about my friend Angie, whom I have written about often in both prose and poetry.
This year, we are reading at the Broome County Library where we usually meet. We used to hold our readings on Friday evenings rather than Saturday afternoons. This is the first time I have been able to make a Saturday afternoon reading. I’m curious to see if we have better attendance at this venue and time. (I am writing this post early and scheduling it to coincide with the reading.)
For the first time, I am planning to read a poem that is not in the anthology, the current version of a poem that I started working on at the Boiler House Poets’ reunion at MASS MoCA and have subsequently workshopped with both Grapevine Group and Sappho’s Circle. I can’t share it here as I need to keep it unpublished at this point. I am also not sure if it is in its final form, but I need to decide soon as it is part of a chapbook I am assembling for a contest. I am desperate to make this poem the absolute best it can be, but I am afraid I have lost perspective with it. There may be a separate post about it soon – again.
I know this post will look a bit different in spacing than my other posts. It is tricky to get poetry into the wordpress editor without having the spacing compromised and this is as close as I can get to proper spacing in the time I have today. All three poems are by Joanne Corey. Please comment if you are so moved.
Homecoming
The Eiler Brothers sent my parents a video
of our three-bedroom ranch
stained grey with white shutters
loaded on a flatbed
rolled three miles
up River Road
across the state line
to a new foundation.

 

The house cost them a dollar
and the filling of the old cellar.

 

I travelled back to visit the yard
white and yellow birches
spruce, balsam, hemlock
sugar and striped maples
lilies of the valley in May.
 
*****
 
Thanksgiving – 1981

 

After words from the phone call drifted to me –
black ice, accident –
I thought you were dead
and our already planned June
wedding would never happen

 

but the hatch had sprung
after the car landed
on its roof in the river
so that you could crawl
out, scramble up the bank,

 

get to the nearest building,
the hydrostation where my father
worked, where they put you
in a warm shower 
as hypothermia set in.

 

The next day, we went to see
the car where it had been towed,
chunks of river ice still inside,
a deep dent in the roof,
just behind where your head had been.
 
*****
 
To a friend

 

My dear Little Angel,

 

You would laugh at that greeting
because, as you would say,
you are – or were –

 

five foot twelve, which you thought
sounded shorter than six feet,
but your name, Angeline,

 

means little angel
and you aren’t here
to contradict me.

 

Your October twenty-fifth birthday
has passed twelve times without you.
Do you know I think of you each year?

 

Wonder if your hair
would be silver now
like mine…

 

If your toddler grandchildren
would like to meet
my infant one…

 

If you know,
wherever you are,
that they exist…

poetic pondering

When I was at the most recent Boiler House reunion residency, I wrote a poem that had been percolating in my head for a while and workshopped it with the group. Unlike most of my poems, this one was more than a page long – two and a half pages – and I was very grateful for the input of the Boiler House Poets which helped me to re-craft it to a more manageable page and a half.

Earlier this month, I brought the edited version to workshop with Grapevine Group, my stalwart local group from whom I have learned so much. As it happened, that session marked the return of the elder-statesman poet of the group, who had been unable to be with us for many, many months due to health issues. I will refer to him here as M. I had been in workshop with M only a few times when I first joined the group and have always been awed by him. He is the one among us who has been published most frequently by the big name journals and who tends to ask if we are all submitting our work, a question which always stings a bit because that is the part of the process that I most often neglect.

So, along with being nervous about presenting this poem to Grapevine because it is particularly close to my heart, I was nervous because this accomplished poet who is a founder of our group was there.

…And everyone liked the poem. I was relieved and grateful – and happy to accept comments that give me a few more things to think about for the next round of edits.

I was especially humbled because M was very complimentary to my poem, saying that he could not have written it. Which, I and the other poets in the group know is true only in the context of M could not have written it as it was my personal experience, as he has certainly written poems that were more finely wrought and effective. Still, I was deeply touched by M’s compliment and specific comments on lines and techniques that he liked. Of course, it helped that I used repetition as a poetic technique in the poem, as that is one of his favorite devices. M asked if he could keep a copy of the poem and I was happy to comply.

We met again last night and I was surprised that M brought up my poem from last time. It’s very flattering – and enough to give me butterflies for fear of being disappointing, although my critique did go well again.

As most of my poet friends – and probably a few of my regular readers here – know, I struggle to have confidence in my poetry. On the one hand, this helps me to accept criticism and make edits that make my work stronger. On the other, it keeps me from putting my work out there as much as I should.

I admit that I will probably always feel that I am behind other poets in my knowledge and experience, given that my academic background is scant and I didn’t being to write seriously until I was in my early fifties. Still, I should more often reflect on how far I have come and how much I have grown and developed as a poet over the last several years, even though, for more prosaic reasons, I have not been doing much submitting/publishing in the last couple of years.

So much of that growth is due to my various poetry circles, so I offer my profound gratitude and love to the Binghamton Poetry Project, Grapevine Group, Sappho’s Circle, and the Boiler House Poets. I literally would not be the poet I am today without you – and perhaps not a poet at all.

MoCA Monday

I started the day with steel cut oats and a hot caramel at Brewhaha, a fun cafe on the same block as our apartments. I got in the studio early, revised the poem I workshopped yesterday, updated the manuscript with the changes, and started doing timings for prospective poems for our reading on Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I was momentarily on Facebook when I saw the news of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It reminded me of our initial residency here at MASS MoCA, which coincided with one of the big Paris attacks. I lift my thoughts and prayers on behalf of all the dead and injured, their family and friends, those caring for the wounded, and our woundedness. The world is swallowed in destruction and sorrow and it is so much harder to take when human beings perpetrate violence.

I allow myself a bit of time to mourn; then, try to turn back to art.

I was anxious to visit Building 6, which opened a few months ago. I wanted to go right at opening time for the day, but had forgotten that MoCA had already switched to off-season hours, which meant not opening until 11:00. I went back to the studio and followed instructions that daughter E had thoughtfully sent me on how to create a table of contents in google docs. And it worked! I had to do a bit of editing, but I now have a table of contents which can be refreshed to correct itself when I make changes.

I tried to experience as much of Building 6 as I could in the time available. I was amazed by James Turrell’s light installations. The work of Jenny Holzer is devastating. I loved the Gunnar Schonbeck instrument collection, especially the ones we were allowed to play. It was interesting how many of the instruments used organ pipes, albeit in unconventional ways. There was also a piano string assembly, which reminded me of my 20th century theory class at Smith and the concept of prepared piano. I had a lot of fun plucking and creating glissandos on the open strings.

The most striking thing for me, though, was the building itself. I have seen the exterior of this building throughout my life, built into the point where the two branches of the Hoosic meet. At the prow, there are now large windows, allowing an expansive view of the melding of the river. I found myself drawn to the windows along the sides of the building, as well. These are the old mill windows. Many of the panes show that glass is still a liquid, as you can see the waviness of the glass caused by the passage of time. I also love the old wood, brick , and stone. MASS MoCA understands that appeal and features exhibits of both old and new artistic renderings of the building itself.

The later part of the afternoon was taken up with workshopping, which is always so informative and enlightening for me. I love the work that everyone is doing and learn so much for everyone’s poems and comments.

After dinner, we had a special treat. Marilyn read the chapbook she is developing to us. So amazing! We are planning to workshop if with her tomorrow, but people couldn’t help but get a head start tonight.

More tomorrow.

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…

Poems – Fall 2016 BPP anthology

The fall anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project is now available, so I can share the poems that were published in it here at Top of JC’s Mind. I shared “Thanks to the Department of Public Art” in a separate post. Below are three poems that I wrote from prompts in the summer and fall 2016 workshop sessions. Enjoy! (For some reason, when I copied these over, they arrived in a different font and spacing, so I decided to just roll with it!)

Sounds of Silence

          by Joanne Corey

Even if there were no
birds chirping in the trees,
leaves rustling in the breeze,
neighbor’s dog barking,
car alarm down the street erupting,
papers rustling,
child dribbling a basketball,
ice cream truck playing its jingle,
chipmunk retreating into the downspout,
bee buzzing among the clover,
footsteps on the sidewalk,
there would not be silence.

The voice in my mind is never
still.
*****
To Do

     by Joanne Corey

Go grocery shopping
Cook dinner
Clean up
Watch the news
Read
Sleep

Don’t forget to sing

Get up
Eat breakfast
Shower
Dress
Call Mom
Listen more than you talk

Don’t forget to sing

Travel
Visit a volcano
Step into the Pacific
Climb a mountain
Hear Big Ben chime
Walk on a glacier

Don’t forget to sing

Become a grandmother
Mourn your parents
Visit old friends
Pray
Write
Listen more than you talk

Don’t forget to sing
*****
Four River Haiku

 ~~ by Joanne Corey

Ice glazes river.
Groan, crack, break, flow downstream, jam.
Water floods the town.

Snow melt in spring sun.
River hurries over rocks.
Meander, oxbow.

Summer drought for months.
Fish find oxygen in pools.
We cast, seeking them.

Leaves, gold, orange, red,
Windswept, traverse the hillside.
River flows away.

 

MA Birthday

Today was another full-to-overflowing day of our reunion residency at MASS MoCA with a special feature for me. October fourth is my birthday.

I was up before six, thankfully after a decent night’s sleep, and opened three cards from my family that had found their way into my suitcase. I went over to my studio early and worked on some revisions, taking a break to attend 8:00 Mass.

October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, whom I admire for his advocacy for peace and his respect for and joy in all of creation. It was so meaningful the night that Cardinal Bergoglio appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s, asked for the blessing of the people gathered, and took the name Francis. The homily today talked about how Francis blended contemplative and active service, which is a practice that I strive to emulate, albeit not as well as I wish. I so appreciate present day Franciscans, such as Richard Rohr and Ilia Delio, who continue to teach the connectedness and unity of all creation in Love.

Catholicism has come up surprisingly often during our residency, but I feel I have not done a very good job at explaining myself as a progressive Catholic who sees herself increasingly through an interspiritual lens. Though brought up within the tradition and the rules of the church, I take seriously the primacy of individual conscience and my own responsibilities as a mature Christian, one of the foremost being that it is not my place to judge the beliefs of another person. One of the things I appreciate about Pope Francis is that he makes clear that he excludes no person of good will, whatever spiritual/philosophical path they follow, whether they believe in a god or gods or not. I think of God as Love, as a connection each being has with other beings and all of creation. I continue within the Catholic tradition myself, despite its many flaws, because it is where I learned about the sacramentality of life and relationship, but I honor whatever religious or philosophical path enlightens each person I meet.

(It’s late at night. Can you tell? Back to the story of my birthday…)

After Mass, I walked the grounds at MASS MoCA while talking to Nana on the phone, then went back to my studio to work. I finished the first draft of the Fall Foliage Parade poem, reworked the Boiler House poem, typed in and lightly revised a poem I had sketched from one of the new exhibits, and began a new poem before lunch, which was brought in from Brewhaha because the cafe is closed on Tuesdays, along with the rest of MASS MoCA, which is sad because I would have loved to spend some more time with the new exhibits today. Having lunch from Brewhaha is never sad, though; I had an excellent salmon burger.

Six of the eight of us took an afternoon field trip to Williamstown to visit the Clark Art Institute. There is an special exhibition from the Prado, but I most appreciated re-visiting some of the works that I remember seeing on prior visits. I was especially drawn to the Renoir paintings today, although I made a point of visiting the Degas “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture that reminds me of daughter T.

We met in the apartment across the hall for dinner together and my friends surprised me with cake and ice cream, a rendition of “Happy Birthday”, a beautiful many-pointed star ornament, and a card with little notes from each of them. Of course, we turned our attention back to poetry and did some more workshopping and reading, but the group indulged me by listening to me read some of the poems from my manuscript in development. I really wanted to be able to read some of them in North Adams because they originate here, but confess to being a bit anxious about it. I don’t think I even looked up at all when I was reading. I was concerned that my poems would be too simple because my fellow Boiler House Poets craft such exquisite poetry; fortunately, the response was very positive. There was even some interest in reading the whole manuscript when I get it assembled, which will be a huge help. I know any feedback I get will help make the collection as strong as possible before I send it off to potential publishers.

So, it has been a good birthday. Maybe by next year at this time, I will be submitting my manuscript – and waiting…