New Poems in Hole in the Head Review

Well, sadly, I may be back in The ATL again, after my wonderful time at Rockvale, but some good things greeted me on the way back:  Jenny (of course!), and five new poems up in Hole in the Head Review.  So very grateful for their support of writers and their belief in my work!

The poems are kind of a mixed bag–they all belong to several different collections I have going on at the same time.  I was really surprised and delighted they took all of them, especially because they are basically unrelated to each other.  So anyway, if you want to see a range of new work, check out my new poems.

I hope you like them!

Redemption Sandwich

Today is my last full day at Rockvale.  It saddens me to be leaving—I’ve enjoyed unprecedented productivity in the last two weeks (22 different first drafts of poems), and it kind of shows me what my writing life would be like if I didn’t have a “day job” that takes up a lot of my creative energy and squanders it on quotidian crap.  Of course, that day job also pays the bills, so I can’t be too dismissive of it. I am grateful to have a job.  But I’ve been very grateful for these two weeks of “professional development” because I’ve really needed them.

Gerbera daisy in the garden

One of the best things that’s come from being here is meeting two new friends.  We were talking last night about how lonely being an adult is, and how difficult it is to make new friends.  But both Kelly and Rebecca have been a godsend.  We eat breakfast together and unwind at night with wine and tea, and becoming friends with them has been really remarkable—especially after the Year of Covid.  And sure, maybe friendship was born of proximity, but I feel like being around other writers, especially these two women—who are honest about themselves in a way that sometimes, surprisingly, writers are not—has been a real salve to my heart. Just this morning, Rebecca made me breakfast—a fried egg with cheese and kale on French bread—a “make-up” for the breakfast sandwich she made me the other day that was, to her mind, imperfect.  Today’s was delicious, for sure—it’s become a joke, her “Redemption Sandwich” (which she has been singing to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”).  But more delicious was her company!  I have felt too sequestered this past year (for good reason, to be sure), but I have missed human company.  Kelly and Rebecca, being writers—and kind, and funny, and goofy to boot—are my kind of people.

Mama (Little Mexico) in the mist

Another thing I’ve enjoyed about being here (besides the writing and my new friends) has been the wildlife.  I love the horses and the cows, and the flocks of goats on various farms.  But I love the other, unexpected, wildlife.  As I was driving a few days ago, I saw three wild turkeys, just hanging out in someone’s front yard, enjoying a colloquy.  I’ve seen deer everywhere.  When I was out at 6:30 a.m. one morning, I saw a whole herd of them, and the other night, when Kelly, Rebecca, and I drove to Publix at twilight, we saw families of deer along both sides of the road, eating dinner.  (So many deer!)

Gladiolus in the garden

Plus, I’ve seen hummingbirds, and butterflies, and even a turkey vulture, sitting on a post.  The rural life is really where I feel the most whole—it reminds me of Grandpa Reilly’s old farm in Pennsylvania, when we escaped the city and just could walk across his fields and take tractor rides and pet the animals in the barn.  That’s what being here has been like for me—a chance to reconnect with rural roots—and realize that in another life, I might have been a farmer poet, instead of an academic.  The trees and the hills and the fields feel like home.

I have always said I want to live in Tennessee, if the fates come together to permit it.  Every time I come to this state, something in my heart blooms. These last two weeks, my heart has blossomed from a year and a half of incubation, of being on hold.  I hope that I can keep blooming when I return to Atlanta—the idyll will be over, but the spirit of it doesn’t have to be.  That’s what imagination and poetry are for—to bring you back, to bring you back even when you only have memories to hold on to.

            Won’t you help to sing
            These songs of freedom?
            ‘Cause all I ever have
            Redemption songs
            Redemption songs
            Redemption songs

What My First Week at Rockvale Has Taught Me

A painting of the RWC farmhouse, in the front room

Way back when I was studying for my comprehensive exam in contemporary women’s poetry for my PhD, I remember sitting on my bed with all my books spread around me—opened hither and thither, bookmarks and stickies shoved in higgedly-piggedly everywhere. My love of note cards began here—so much easier for memorizing passages from poems. I could riffle through them constantly.

At any given moment, I was also reading five or six or sixteen books, and I went through so many mechanical pencils underlining important poetic passages, Bic should have given me stock in the company.  The method was decidedly chaotic, but somehow I felt like a true scholar.  This is what I imagined that the life of the mind would lead to:  being holed up with dozens of books around me, taking notes, and writing.

A view from the front porch

Real life, not so much.  But this week at Rockvale has reminded me a little bit of that crazy time.  I have been reading a wide variety of books (from Greek myth to poetry by Katherine Smith and Sandy Coomer [the doyenne and proprietor of Rockvale] to YA fiction by Melissa Marr and Ibi Zoboi to books about immigration) and journaling and taking notes and hand-writing poem-ish things.

I’ve tried sitting down at the computer directly and writing, but that hasn’t worked so well for me.  Instead, I have had some good luck writing messily, not even my best handwriting, just scribbles and scratches and erasures.  And while the poem-ish things aren’t yet poems, I have found that when I go to type them up, they’re not nearly as bad as I fear they might have been.  For sure, they are drafty as an old robe, but there are many potential kernels, waiting to be popped.

I did not come here thinking that I would be transformed (for all the experience is proving transformative)—I am wise enough to know that you take your emotional shit with you everywhere you go—but I have felt open in a way that I’ve not felt in a long time.  How can I explain?  It’s like I’m only responsible to myself.

It’s downright amazing to be cut off from the penny-ante minutia of day-to-day work.  I am still working—probably 12-15 hours a day since I’ve been here—but because it’s “professional development” time, because I am working solely on my creative growth, I feel remarkable.  Awake.  Like I’m not sleeping through my life, filling it up with things that don’t matter.  And I don’t feel guilty about it either.  I can’t check my email?  Oh well.  They’ll have to figure it all out without me.  And that’s totally ok. (It’s fan-fucking-tastic.)

Horse paddock…check out that Tennessee sky!

Of course, the goal is to produce a number of poems that can go in my new manuscript—but maybe part of the problem of the last year is that by not having a break (either a vacation or teaching in Scotland as was planned two summers in a row), I’ve kind of forgotten what my own company is like. I’ve forgotten how to be just “JC the Poet” instead of “JC the Administrator/ Managing Editor/ Teacher/ Cat Lady/ Wife/ who writes poems in her puny spare time” person.

How many poems I’ll have by this time next week, I’m not sure.  But midway through, I’m feeling motivated, expansive, and ready to see what the next seven days will bring.  If Rockvale has taught me anything, it’s that a different setting doesn’t change everything, doesn’t make you any more of a scholar than you are already, but it changes things enough to give you some useful perspective.

Yes, Virginia, I Do Need a Room of One’s Own

Ah, to be outside one’s typical milieu for the first time in 16 months!

I think about how it is when I am at home, trying to write—the cats are constantly jumping up on me, getting in the way of my computer, sitting on the books I’m using for research, whatever.  There are endless things to clean (not that I get up and clean them, but whatevs, they taunt me).  The phone rings constantly.  The emails and work fires intervene.  Someone in the cul-de-sac invariably manicures on his lawn, the incessant whine and growl of lawnmowers and weed-whackers destroying my concentration. It is hard to find a creative “zone” when too many things make demands on your attention.

Scout, with Sandy petting him

Since I have been here at Rockvale (in Tennessee, 35-ish miles south of Nashville as the crow flies) I have reveled in the almost uninterrupted quiet.  I read here in my “cell” (a beautifully appointed room with a cozy chair and desk and bed with a quilt on it from 1925) or in the fireplace room (which smells of a century of winter fires), and write in a little pool of sunlight on the enclosed porch.  It is almost like I alone have run of the place.  But there are other women here too, working on their own writing, finding their own paths.  Except for a little chitchat in the kitchen when preparing meals, the only noise is the AC turning on and off.  What must it be like to have this kind of quiet all the time?  I think I didn’t realize how exhausted and depleted I’ve been feeling until I rediscovered my own being here in this writer’s colony.  I am truly decompressing.

Mama… a.k.a. Little Mexico

From my window, I can see a paddock, and usually there’s a mama and her foal far out on the other side, nipping the grass.  Today they were over by the fence nearest me, so I went out there and got to pet Scout.  His mama (whose real name is Little Mexico (?)) didn’t come too close, but Scout seemed pretty interested in me, and in debonair Finn and chonky Ollie, the two cats who came running when they saw me.  (I can’t escape cats!)  Scout was so interested that he gave me a big chomp on my forearm—which hurts a bit, but didn’t break the skin.  Still, I’d pet him again if he came to this side of the fence.

Finn

Ollie (who is really Oliver)

I feel grateful to be here.  I think after a year and a half-ish of being shut in the house, I just needed…another house. 😊 I needed a place of clutter-free, basically cat-free peace.  (And wifi and cell service are spotty, so I’m even hard to reach, which actually, I love.) I am hoping to get some good writing done.  I’ve already brainstormed a number of ideas of where to go on my next project, I’ve organized a list of what I have, I’ve done some journaling (I know, what a shocker!) and I’ve read two whole books for research already.

Tomorrow, I’m writing two poems if it kills me.  And maybe I’ll go visit Scout again.