Wednesday, May 31, 2006


"Yes, I say bitterly, yes, I am extraordinarily lucky."

~Sandra Kohler (from "Rhapsody")

Monday, May 29, 2006


We're back from our trip to Norfolk, Virginia. My parents were thrilled to see Alex and Ella. And we were grateful for the extra sets of hands to watch the kids. There were times when my husband would turn to me and say, "Listen to the quiet. I can hear myself think."

There comes a point when your childhood home becomes the place you visit on vacation. And your parents, who were once the people you saw every day, become a link to the past. It's hard for my parents to see me as anything other than their little girl. And I have trouble relating to them as individuals. Still, we love each other and accept each other for who we are. At least we try to ...

It took less than 24 hours for my mom to point out that I've gained a little weight in the middle. I knew the moment was coming, I just didn't know when it would hit. And she's right, I have. After Ella, the weight came off, but my stomach has not flattened out like I had hoped. Also, it didn't help that I stopped exercising to focus on poetry and the blog in April and May.

I guess it comes down to what's important. I needed those months to focus on my writing. Something had to go, so I was happy to stop working out--I hate it. Time management is supposed to be about making time for what's important, and doing what you like. But now I have to find time for workouts and treadmills and crunches, oh my!

So, I'm home planning time to get in shape. *sigh* Well, if I get stuck for motivation, having my mom's disapproving voice in my head is enough for me. All things considered, I'd rather be writing poetry. Or watching the Red Sox. Or both. With 162 games in a season, I've learned to find time for the important stuff.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Sea We Read About

" ... I believed the land rose westward toward mountains
hidden in dust and smog and beyond the mountains
the sea spread out, limitless and changing
everything, and that I would get there some day."

~ Phil Levine (from "The Sea We Read About")

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New Poem for Poetry Thursday

Lightning Bugs

What are they made of
that they can frolic and sparkle
above the delicious scent of honeysuckle
on a warm June night?
They’ll shine for anyone
to make the world less
a little less dull.
And where do they come from?
The ones I catch
seem so otherworldly.
They glide golden
against the moon’s patina,
drifting above
Big Debbie’s backyard
and Jr.’s Corner Market.
I sit on the front stoop
and watch them float
across well-warn streets,
blacktop of my misspent youth.
I offer my cupped hands
only to put them in a jar.
They cannot tell me about
captivity or what it means to love
and to set something free.
Still, like a true captor
I detain my bugs until morning
now grateful for release.
To understand indifference
I would deny them
the right to shimmer.

Copyright 2006 January G. O'Neil

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


This weekend, the family and I will be heading down to my hometown of Norfolk, VA. And while I'm excited about going home, I'm nervous about traveling with two small children. (If anyone has tips for traveling with small kids, please post!)

I don't want to be the woman on the plane that everyone stares at when the kids have a meltdown. Alex has flown before and been fine, but it's Ella's first time. I'm sure they'll be okay, but I've been seated on airplanes in front of parents with kids gone wild. So not cool.

Anyway, I feel like I need a change. After the flooding and dismal May, I need the warm sea air to revive my spirit. Hope to post while I'm away, but my parents' PC has been acting up lately.

I lived in Norfolk for 20+ years and grew to hate it. Nothing ever seemed to change, and I'd run into the same tired people over and over again. But now that I've been away from some time, going back is like visiting a new town. There's been an influx of businesses, restaurants, and arts and leisure events to the area, making the city more cosmopolitan than it's ever been.

They say that the best poems about place are written when you have distance. So I hope to come back with more than a suntan!


Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Wiggles

(Left to Right) Greg Wiggle, Murray Wiggle, Anthony Wiggle, Jeff Wiggle, Captain Feathersword, and Dorothy the Dinosaur

Get ready to Wiggle!

My son is obsessed with The Wiggles. I guess every generation has its icons: Barney, Teletubbies, Elmo. But for Alex, it's those primary-colored characters from Down Under. I got tired of watching him group together four crayons, four blocks, four socks, and call them The Wiggles, so I scoured the Internet and came up with this set of dolls.

The smile he gave me when I opened the box was priceless.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Poem

To Do’s Undone

Because the rain is unrelenting
Because our neighborhood is built over a stream
Because this much water has nowhere else to go
but inside, uprooting us from our foundations,
all I can think of is my To Do list undone,
pinned under the smiling faces
of a refrigerator photo magnet.
The milk and apples
unbought at the market,
The toys strewn on the floor
unput away from today’s play
not to be played with tomorrow.
Think of the poetry book as yet unread,
the stiff pages that will not reveal
an almost circle—
a half smile
drawn on the chapter opener
in orange crayon.
The cross outs and strikethroughs
the second thoughts and changes of mind,
not to mention the unsaid—can’t
say enough about the unsaid.
No day is promised. No guarantees here.
No one to tell the untold story about
the stream under the house, the high
water table, the coolness of rocks,
the certain disbelief, the murky possibilities,
the hole in the floor where the sump pump sits,
the sound of water draining out of the basement
that keeps us unsettled and listening.

Copyright 2006 January G. O'Neil

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When someone says, I'm working on my manuscript, what does that really mean?

My first thought when anyone says that is: So what. You've just described half of the poets in North America.

With that said, it's time for me to join the other half of the poetry population and actually put together pieces for my first book.

Ten years ago, I graduated from NYU with a degree in one hand, and hopes of a becoming U.S. Poet Laureate in the other. Since that time, I've had a successful career as a writer and editor in marketing, started a family, and published a few poems here and there.

Now, I feel like I'm ready to send out again, and ready to create a book length-manuscript. So I’m curious to see what works, or doesn't work, for you.

1. How many pages (40? 48? 56? 60?) do you feel comfortable calling a manuscript?
2. Do you enter contests to publish manuscripts vs. open calls for manuscripts?
3. What are your general impressions of the submission/publication process for individual poems and/or book length-manuscripts?

Still haven't given up on hopes for Poet Laureate (watch out Ted Kooser!)

*Poem for Poetry Thursday is coming!*

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The Ripe Time

Each month she thinks her nipples
are becoming more tender,
areolas blooming into wild ginger.
Before her is a bed filled with ardor.

Pregnant, not pregnant,
she is the princess without the pea—
a ball stuck in the pinball machine
that tilts like clockwork.

After making love
they lay on their sides silvered with sweat.
She listens for the soft chirp of her own breathing:
it does not reveal why her body operates
like a failed business.

On this night
where marriage is the only safe place
she can go, her husband holds her,
tells her it’s just a matter of time.

But all she can think about
is this empty house they can’t afford
and the ripe tomatoes growing in backyard containers,
smooth-fleshed and heavy,
falling from their stems.

Copyright 2006 January G. O'Neil

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stanley Kunitz Dies at 100

The poetry community suffered a great lost with the passing of Stanley Kunitz.

When I lived in New York, I had the opportunity to hear him read many times, in particular at his 90th birthday celebration.

Here is one of his most famous poems, and one of my favorites:

The Portrait

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Also, you can hear him read the poem at

Saturday, May 13, 2006

It's all about ME!

For Mother's Day, I'm getting the thing I crave most these days: time away from my family. Love ya, but I gosta go!

Don't get me wrong, I want to spend much of the day giving and getting hugs and kisses from my kids and husband. I've waited more than 30 years to be a mom and wife, so I don't take that lightly. But this year, I don't need any store-bought gifts.

Here's the deal: After a card and said hugs and kisses from family, I want to go back to sleep. Then I want to read the Sunday Boston Globe in bed undisturbed, with a hot cup of tea brought to me shortly thereafter. After some family fun, and calls to parents, in-laws, and grandparents, I may work out (ha!).

But the best part will be when my son goes down for his three-hour nap. I'll leave husband and wide-awake baby girl for three hours of me time. So, I'll head to my local Starbucks, which has been my oasis the last few months, to write a new poem or two, and plan a strategy for revision and mailing poetry submissions. When I return, we'll have steaks on the grill and probably some champagne (it's not just for weddings and New Year's). We'll put the kids to bed and ...well ... you fill in the blanks.

(For those not in New England, it has been raining horses and cows for the past week with no end in sight. Any respite from the weather is a welcomed relief.)

So, Happy Mother's Day to all the moms, daughters, sisters, aunts, and poets in the blogsphere and beyond. Heck, it's one day out of the year--spend it exactly the way you want to spend it.

Feel like sharing? How are you spending the day?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Poetry Thursday

I am smitten with this site. Poetry Thursday is one of those rare blogs that focuses on community. Post a poem (yours or someone else's) on your site, then post a note on the Poetry Thursday blog to let everyone know you feel like sharing.

To my surprise, I've received some very nice comments about my okra poem. I can't stress enough how delicious okra is. Yes, it's gooey, but that's the best part! But I digress ...

Visit Poetry Thursday any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Poem

In Praise of Okra

No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hushpuppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash &
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.

But I tell my friends that if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears
of slaves.

Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,

So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth--
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth,
soul food.

Copyright 2006 January G. O'Neil

Super Mom Poets

Mother's Day is upon us, so I feel a certain kinship to and deep respect for other Poet Moms. We are super moms and super poets 365 days a year, but it's nice to get a day to ourselves every now and then.

Check out this link to the Poetry Foundation's feature on Adrian Blevins and Marilyn Nelson: Super Mom Poets

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Radical Idea ... Really!

I've been toying with this idea that sprang out of a conversation about higher ed with my recovering-liberal-arts-major friends. Try this on for size:

Education costs in the United States are completely out of whack. Whether you're a grad or undergrad, two-thirds of you (according to last night's 60 Minutes report) are not getting out without major debt.

What would happen if a major institution offered free tuition?

Let's see ... for this exercise, let's say that Harvard, who has the largest endowment known to man, offered free tuition for the classes of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. No matter which class, the university picks up the tab for all four years, and all students would have to pay are the taxes.

(For the record, I am not affiliated with Haaaavard. But I live in an area that is saturated with colleges and universities. So, if not Harvard, insert another top-ranked school here. I work for one of those top-ranked schools.)

With an opportunity to graduate without debt, who wouldn't want to go to Harvard? They would set the standard for attracting the best students with the highest GPAs and those most likely to succeed. Of course, they have that already, but their application pool would be diverse to the extreme. Think about it: wouldn't you want to go to THE best school if you didn't have to pay? It would be like applying for the lottery, except statistically you'd have a better shot of winning.

Now imagine the ripple effect throughout the academic community. Harvard's competitors (hard to think of other universities and colleges as competition but that's exactly how they see themselves) would have to match their offer or top it. And how could you really top free tuition? But if, say, other ivy league schools with deep pockets could pony up similar offers, then what would happen to the smaller colleges across the country? Students would go where they could get the best offers, and higher ed would have to work harder to attract the best students. Would colleges and institutions lower tuitions and increase the benefits to compete? I can't even fathom the rankings shift, and what it would mean to be the top-ranked school in the country under those conditions.

For Harvard, free tuition is a win-win in this scenario. It opens up a new chapter into the myth that is Harvard. I mean, imagine truly having the most intelligent, talented, and driven student population attending. In turn, Harvard "grows" a generation of alumni who would be more than willing to donate to the institution that gave them so much.

Students after graduation and into their 30s are so strapped for cash nowadays; they don't give money or volunteer to their alma maters, in part, because they are saddled with student loan debt. I'm speculating that with increased competition for the best and the brightest, the high tide would lift all boats. More money and care would be spent by competing institutions on financial aid packages (with more favorable loan agreements), upgrading the infrastructure, increasing salaries for faculty and staff, etc.

Let's take it one step further. You could make the case that colleges already offer the best packages available. Some schools roll in laptops and iPods into to the equasion. But against free tuition, competing colleges could conceivably offer:

  1. Guaranteed job placement after graduation. You come to our school, we'll make sure you work at Microsoft after you shift the tassel from right to left.
  2. Money to purchase your first home.
  3. Free health care for your first few years after college.
  4. Free graduate school tuition after completing your undergraduate degree, kind of like a two-for-one education special.

Remember, while this may seem out of the realm of possibility, we're talking about a paradigm shift in higher education. We haven't seen that since ... well ... the Internet.

So, do I think academic institutions are moving this way? Not in the near future. But something has to be done about the exorbitant costs for students who want to an education but cannot afford it.

Let me be clear. Something has to be done about the perception in North America that the only way to attend college is to take on debt. But that, my friends, is a post for another day.

New Poem

Time Map

Which letter to write
Which book to read
Which room in the house to clean
and how deeply
Which window to open to allow in the most breeze
Which cloud, which curve of the air
Which lawns have the most dandelions punctuating the grass
like ellipses, what gets said, what’s left out
Which lawns, besides ours, have no nutritional value
Which forsythia branches to clip
Which sticks to bundle for rubbish
Which ones to adorn the living room mantle
next to the wedding photo,
the crystal egg, the clock with its incessant ticking
Which neighbor will drop by with our misdelivered mail
Which neighbors won’t say hi when I stand in the front yard,
with their small lots and big fat driveways
Which ones think my grass is greener
Which Cheetos to eat as my son counts them in the bag
with his cheesy little fingers
Which happiness, too many to choose

Copyright 2006 January G. O’Neil

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Has it been 10 years since grad school? I know I've been out of the poetry loop but to miss a whole movement? I must be slipping. Well, better late than never.

Flarf has been called the first 21st century cultural/literary movement. My take on it is that it's found poetry, sometimes taken out of e-mails and blogs and computer language, often nonsensical and really bad. Kind of an in-joke for white collar poets.

Here are some links to Jacket magazine:
Jacket 30
Jacket 29

And one to the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo.

I have to tell you, I'm fascinated. Take a look at Jacket's Flarf Feature, a collection of flarf poems.

Last but not least, here's the Flarf Festival group reading held at the Medicine Show Theater, NYC. (This is You Tube video.)

If you are a flarfer, I'm interested in your comments.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Happy anniversary, baby. Got you on my mind ...

On this date 10 years ago, Tim and I met at Jazzfest in New Orleans. I was in NY and he was here in MA. He looks exactly the same, while I am a few pounds and a few babies heavier.

My girlfriend just came back from the crescent city, and she had an amazing time. We really want to take the kids down but this is not the year. Maybe in 2007 when the area is a little further in its recovery. But just the thought of the music, the hurricanes (the drink, not the weather condition), Crawfish Monica, and the Cafe Du Monde brings me back to that night at F&M's patio bar and grille. Tim asked me to dance and I said yes. The rest, as they say, is history.

No poetry tonight, but the rain and my husband's kisses never cease to amaze me.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Good Line Drawer

Writing a poem is relatively easy compared to the revision process. That's what separates the poems from the drafts, or as I like to call them, the collection of random lines that never really connect.

Which reminds me of something Toi Derricotte once told me. She said that usually your favorite line or phrase in a poem is probably the weakest. At the time, Toi had what she called a "good line drawer," where she (metaphorically) put those good lines that just don't work. Here are a few of my favorite troubled lines in the good line drawer:
  • I'll give you the bologna, you make the sandwich
  • ...born in the year of the cock (referring to the Chinese year of the rooster)
  • I'm a Virginia ham sweetened with molasses
  • The Twinkle Dealers (a potential poem title)
  • Why don't poets have action figures

I do believe poets should have their own action figures. And I'm going to use the year-of-the-cock line--it's too good to pass up. Just you wait!

When I revise, I take out my favorite line(s) to see if the piece still works. Every line has to work for me. It has to work harder than ordinary language. And if I have a piece with no end in sight, I'll stop it a few lines before, because at that point the poem has run out of steam.

So I'll take a look at my April poems to see which ones need minor revisions and major surgery. Hmmm ... maybe I'll create a poem about my good line drawer.

New Poem

Spring Poem

Yellow tulips
their bulbous heads,
revealing stamen tongues.
Stems green
and stretched out,
their pedals open wide
like the mouths of baby birds
waiting for mama’s morning meal.

Copyright 2006 January G. O'Neil


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