Update on forthcoming title Ringing the Changes: Preorder ship date has been moved to June 7th if you get your preorder in by April 12th.
I’m deeply grateful to Finishing Line Press for publishing my second full-length collection, a decade in the making. I’m also humbled by the generous reviews of Ringing the Changes from poets David Graham and Frannie Lindsay. Here’s a brief taste, the poem “Grace”:
That recurring dream where you pour yourself a paper cup of arsenic
thinking it is water but pause to question before drinking and
watch the cup melt before your eyes can blink. — Kathleen McCoy, Ringing the Changes (publication date May 3, 2019)
If thinking about your writing goals for the new year evokes feelings as distinct as squirreliness and torpor, if you approach new work with excitement and review old work with a tinge of disappointment or self-doubt, if thrill and dread are vying for your heart, this post is for you.
As I begin a deeply appreciated and long awaited sabbatical, I find myself swinging from ice-glazed branches, happily surveying the fresh white of land and soul and blank pages. I write, read, clean, catch up with friends virtual and real. I contemplate creating a schedule with its challenges and threats of internal resistance. I dread the planned mini-separations from the beloved spouse to do my research and writing. I also look forward to them. I sigh and reach for a chunk of dark chocolate.
I’ve decided my strategy for accomplishing my multiple goals will rely upon my old three-legged stool: the sacred space-time of writing, the support of my family and writing group, and a newly revised set of ideals. Not just goals, but ideals.
To create an ideals chart to guide your life this year without tearing out too much of your own hair, grab a pen and a fresh journal page, sheet of paper, or make a chart or spreadsheet. Create a column for each main area of your life (I have five categories: Mental, Spiritual, Physical, Poetic, and Homey.) Then write a word or phrase to guide your activities in that area of your life. Some words may cross categories: for me, cultivating “love” and “patience” applies in every area, from dealing with demands on my time to my own relationship with the literary world. I can challenge myself and support deeper thoughts, new approaches, new psychic and literal material for writing when supported by a rededication to my own ideals.
Doing this relatively quick but meaningful reflective activity saves me a lot of angst. Emphasis on ideals keeps my focus on being more than on doing. My own drive and life will provide activities and goals. It’s through ideals that I can look forward to taking the inevitable rejections and challenges of the year along with the quandaries and joys in stride. It’s all progress. As Maggie Smith reminds us daily on Twitter, keep moving–to which I add, be still and centered, my soul.
At a recent retreat with my intrepid writers’ group, I was advised that my prime directive in writing for the remainder of the year would be to “Play.” (This was uttered by the beloved poet to whom I’d given identical advice a few years ago when she was the one stressing over a precipitous deadline, so I had to admit the advice fit me this time.)
How do I “play,” I’ve been wondering, when preparing a poetry book on a publisher’s deadline (which for me involves completely rethinking and swapping as well as rearranging and rewriting) while toying with a full-length play and committing to several other significant and true-to-my-purpose initiatives in the next couple of months?
And did I mention there’s one month of summer left in which to reacquaint myself with my mercifully independent-yet-loving family and rewrite my courses? (Sorry, stressing again.)
If my quandary resonates with you, look at your cat. Or dog. Or horse. I can’t speak for birds or reptiles, but most any domesticated mammal will do, including kids (the kind that bleat or the kind that throw fits with pudding fingers; I’m not picky here). If you have none of the above, entertain or visit one for a few minutes.
It’s not a big commitment to witness another sentient being’s hilarious commitment to playing. No material proves inadequate. Anything is ripe to be pounced, bounced, ruffled, tousled, nibbled, crunched, mulched, munched, spat out, sat upon, twirled, scribbled, scrambled, or served. As luck would have it, this was precisely what I needed to do with my poems—taste them with and without epigraphs, with deeper embodiment here and more stripping-away there, with a new point of view in this case and tighter or looser form in that case. And, of course, with the kind of rearrangement play that involves scooting actual sheets of paper all around the floor, though it’s a more involved and engaging game than 52 Pick-up. The enticement is irresistible.
The world is, after all, a playground. Or so Zack the Cat says.
These winter Sundays, when snow mounds, temperatures plummet, and spirits sag a bit, I renew my appreciation of spirit lifters, chief among which are the Women of Mass Dissemination, my writers’ group of the past decade. We meet monthly, go on a weekend retreat twice a year to write, and hold each others’ multicolor sock-toed feet to the metaphorical (and this year, literal) fire. In the past decade the six of us have published more than I can count (books, poems, video poems, novels, reviews, and essays, with plays in the works), but only after months and years of drafting, rewriting, sharing, critiquing, debating, informing, and exploring. We write collaboratively, try out or create writing prompts, debate literary standards, test the water-worthiness of our rafts of words. We take two drafts forward and three drafts backwards. We mutter, we admonish, we ask, we suggest, we redirect, we inspire, we bless, we curse, we wonder, we wander, we read, we retreat, we return, we succor, we savor, we paint, we review, we write, we blog, we brand. We expand each other’s reading lists and hone each other’s literary taste. (Of course, chocolate and pot pie are often involved.) We worry, we plan, we learn, we teach, we share, we fuss, we fix, we applaud. But mostly, we write.
Here’s to the Women of Mass Dissemination,* without whom I’d be sitting in a barn somewhere wondering where all the poets are, wondering too what happened to the poet in the mirror. And here’s to you, writing at your desk, on your bed, on your train, in your barn. Here’s to your tribe, whether you’ve found them yet or not.
To smell damp leaves, feel the crisp cheek-brush of November breeze and enter a grand old hotel full of books–poetry, novels, children’s books, travel books, regional books, genre fiction and more–well, it’s difficult to think of a better way to spend a weekend day. Especially in a small town. This Sunday, November 5, join award-winning poets and novelists like Barbara Ungar and Mary Sanders Shartle between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at the Queensbury Hotel (did I mention I’ll be there too?). We’re reading 12:30-1:00 in the Saratoga Room, talking with folks and selling books all day, and your presence will make our day. It just might brighten yours as well. #Chronicle Book Fair on Twitter; Glens Falls Chronicle Book Fair on Facebook. Click here: Chronicle Book Fair.
We invite you share your most passionate works expressing kindness and human connection and the ways that together we might heal the degradation and devastation of wars and genocides; the heartbreak of refugees living in limbo; the desolation of hunger and famine and environmental catastrophes; the insanity of extrajudicial murders; and the disappointing growth in the West of racial and religious tensions and efforts by various administrations to chill dissent.
Please take this opportunity to join hands and hearts in peace and love: TEAM WITH US for The BeZine100TPC online “live” event this September 30th (our 6th year) to address peace, sustainability, and social justice through poetry, music (videos), art and anything artistic that can be posted online and accessed through a url link or by responding in the comments section of the event post. The BeZine 100TPC is one of hundreds of events that will be held around the…
100 Thousand Poets for Change is a global grassroots movement to celebrate the arts, social justice, nonviolent resistance, peace, and environmental sustainability. SUNY Adirondack will host a reading/performance including local published poets at 2:30 and Paul Pines (poet/multi-genre writer) and Dan Berggren (singer-songwriter) at 4:00 p.m. Free of charge; all are welcome.
Sharing this from the highly talented multi-genre writer Paul Pines:
Composer Catherine Reid’s setting of eight of my poems will be presented at the Wood Theater on September 23 @ 7:00 PM. The program, an oratorio, “Last Call”, will alternate my reading with the musical settings performed by vocalists and ensemble as follows–Singers: Gisella Montenez Case -Soprano, Barbara Zanoni – Mezzo, Debbie Gecewicz – Alto, Camille West- Alto, Zack Bissell – Tenor/spoken word, John Alecci – tenor John Anthime Miller – Baritone, Mark Collier – Bass. Inst: Catherine Reid – Piano, Jonathan Greene – saxophone/Clarinet, John Anthime Miller – Cello, John Alecci – Synthesizer
This includes an exhibit of original art work in response to the poems. Spread the word!
Watching Nat Geo gets my engine going with its brilliant animations and explanations of the processes that go on beneath our feet in the bowels and heart of the planet. Millions of years ago uncountable blankets of dead plankton settled into the bed of a dried-up antediluvian sea, descended far into the earth, were superheated by the oven-engine beneath them and tossed about like ashes in a hurricane, then settled into the sandstone deep down between crust and core and, after much pressure and slow tectonic shifts, became the black sludge that powers cars, computers, cities, universities, nations. We jack-hammered hundreds of miles down and pumped up this blackness, this foulness, this richness, this pure potential, the energy required for the engine of modernity to chug to life. While it’s far past the time we should be weaned from our oil diet in every city and town, hard drilling is how we started to create and share power.
What struck me most is how similar evolution must happen in our psyches and our nations before we can become a world where peace is even possible. The hard labor of breaking up the stone that surrounds our inner core must happen before we can discover the richness that makes such ecological and psychological trauma an unnecessary, outmoded process of the past. We must destroy the old illusions that we are separate, that there is no deep core of potential in our antagonists, that we can persist in oblivion upon the crust of social systems whose magma is about to erupt from beneath our dancing feet.
So we must do with our being: bore into the hard stone inside us, break it up, pump up the rich energy it releases. Carefully. That superheated heart has been known to blow off the tops of mountains and level whole towns in rains of fire.
When it is relieved of pressure intentionally we find power; when the pressure is relieved by nature itself we find the land blanketed with lava that can melt our shoes, but that becomes, when it cools, the most fertile of fields. Love. Forgiveness. Will to give ourselves to art and to each other.