Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Poetry Action Plan: How to Meet and Surpass Your Writing Goals for 2009

(This article was written for Read Write Poem.)

I love the change that comes with a new year. All of my annual failures and misfires are wiped clean. I’m given another chance to get it right, starting in January (so appropriate, don't you think?). So the end of the year becomes a time of reflection and evaluation: how far have I gotten on my 2008 poetry goals, and how will the next 365 days be different from the last?

2009 promises to be a year full of chaos and uncertainty. What you create for your poetry goals will be the thing you hold on to when you’re not sure if you’re a real writer. Or when the rejections flood your mailbox. Or when you just can’t find the time to write. Make your time count with a clear, concise list of goals to lead you through those times of doubt.

In 2008, I created what I call a Poetry Action Plan, or PAP for short. The word “resolution" just doesn’t speak to a life change, which is what makes an action plan successful. For a change you can believe in, you must find a way to incorporate your writing goals into your day-to-day existence. Poets take pleasure in the act of doing, so your goals should inspire your creativity and spark your curiosity.

Here are some suggestions for creating a PAP. Use them as a starting point, and modify as you see fit throughout the year.

  • First, it’s important to define your goals. What is most important to you as a writer? Is it practicing your craft? Do you want to read your work in public? Is this the year you finally complete your manuscript? Whatever it is, name it, claim it, and put it at the top of your list.
  • Next, be realistic about what can you achieve. In previous years, I’ve put too much emphasis on making multiple changes at once. What I’ve come to realize is that my writing suffers when I don’t have a focus. So pick four or five goals and stick to them.
  • Keep track of your progress. It’s one thing to make goals, and another to keep them. List items you can quantify so you can gain momentum as you reach your next goal (ex. submit to 25 journals, write two poems a month, etc.).
  • Don’t get discouraged. In 2009, something will derail you: writer’s block, rejection, or bad timing. Be open. Look for opportunities wherever they appear. A few stolen moments riding the subway may lead to a new poem. A Saturday night with seemingly nothing to do could be an opportunity for an informal writing session with a friend. Small acts such as these can get you to your goals sooner than you think.

For the record, here’s my PAP for 2009:

  1. Develop a Marketing Plan for Underlife. What does this involve, you ask? Getting to know the poets and poetry lovers in my region. Publishing in as many journals before the book is released in October. Updating my mailing list with current reviewers. Deciding which conferences to attend in 2009 and 2010. And, lining up as many poetry readings at bookstores and college campuses as possible.
  2. Write a poem a week. No matter what, I have to practice my craft. Again, I like having a quantifiable number (in this case, 52 poems) that I can point to and say, “I did this. I wrote more than 50 poems.” I did not make my goal in 2008, but I have nearly 50 poems to revise in the New Year. Not bad, if I do say so myself!
  3. Complete a second manuscript. I've put this one off because it involves research. But I’d like to complete a new section of poems for the manuscript by year’s end.
  4. Write an article for a top-tier magazine. I’d like to have something published in O, The Oprah Magazine. There, I said it.

Spelling out my goals gives me power over my fears. And I fear success more than failure.

I wish you health, happiness, and great success in your poetry goals in 2009. Please share your goals here or at RWP. What are your creative endeavors for the New Year? What holds you back? And how do you push through those times of uncertainty to achieve them?

Confession Tuesday

These are my last confessions for 2008!

Thank you for coming here every week to read my dirty laundry. Although, admittedly, my laundry is on the cleaner side of dirty! *smile*


We’ve had a great Christmas week. As I type, my parents are packing for their return flight home. For all the craziness that goes on around the holidays, this is the one time of the year I do get to relax because my mom and dad spend lots of time watching the kids. And, this week we have a few activities scheduled for them, which means less stress for everyone.

Overall, this holiday was less stressful than in years past. Making the decision early on to downsize Christmas opened up more activities with the family. I’m not the crafty type, but I did everything this week—from baking cookies to making ornaments. Even got my dad into the act, which, if you knew my dad, is a hard sell, indeed!


My husband, Tim, gave me a great piece of advice. He told me to rest this week. Seems simple enough, but he reminded me that I want to feel as if I had a vacation while I’m away from work. So, on his advice, I’m managed to get in a few workouts at the gym, catch up with friends, shop with my mom, and go on a few dates with my husband—as well as spend lots of craft time with Alex and Ella.


On the poetry front, I’m finalizing an article and prompt for RWP, and writing blog posts for this week. And I’m in the midst of putting together a local poetry reading for Inauguration Day (note to self: create flyer this week).

I’m a little sad that I've written only one poem this month, and will end my annual poetry total under 50 poems this year. But I’m squarely looking ahead at all the poetry I plan to write in 2009.

What am I most looking forward to in 2009 (besides health and happiness for friends and family)? Being able to say, “My first book of poems, Underlife, will be published this year!”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Q for the Poet

From A-Lotus:

"How do you feel/think about self-publishing? I mean, many poets out there are doing that, and I was wondering about that versus small presses--in terms of pros and cons!"
Admittedly, this is not my area of expertise, so I'm hoping others will chime in with their opinions.

The pros: Self publishing makes it easier to control your own "literary destiny." In other words, you control the cost of the books, the inventory, and the marketing. Lots of sites such as lulu.com make it easy to print and purchase books. And if you have a strong local network, or a good online presence, you can probably sell all of your initial print run.

The cons: you do everything yourself. I'm not that detailed oriented, so I don't want to worry about how my books get distributed. I don't care about tracking book sales or lugging a trunkload of titles to sell at my next reading.

Even the smallest of publishers can use their contacts and market insights to help your book find its readership. In theory, the publisher takes the risks and absorbs the costs. All you have to worry about is helping your title find its audience. Maybe there are more similarities between a self-published title and one distributed by a press. But for me, I've never wanted to self publish. Too much work, which takes me away from the creative process.

Does that help? I'd love to hear what others think about self publishing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You're A Mean One Mr Grinch

Confession Tuesday

A late confession! Nothing I hate more than posting confessions in the afternoon. Ugh.

I'M OFF FROM WORK UNTIL JANUARY 5, 2009! (Yes, I'm shouting—from the rooftops!)


AND I HAVE MY LAPTOP BACK!! (Another reason to shout!) Thanks J.R., and Merry Christmas!


My parents arrived this past Sunday, so already they've been a big help with the kids and getting ready for Christmas. We've been doing a lot of last-minute shopping, which is great because mom and I enjoy the large crowds. Even in this year of cutting back, we shop for sport. *smile*


While I love my family dearly, I'm feeling the need to walk—no, run—to Starbucks for some "Me" time. Maybe it's because I grew up as an only child, but too many people in close proximity asking questions makes me want to flee the scene.


Besides summer, celebrating the New Year is my favorite time of your. The New Year is a do-over, a blank slate, a chance to get it right again. I'm creating my 2009 Poetry Action Plan this week—the next time I go to Starbucks! Also, I'm working on a few poems but nothing I'm willing to post yet.


I confess, these confessions are lame. What can I say, my head is full of tinsel! But I'd love to hear from you, so tell me something about you. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2009 Book List

Confession time (and it's not even Tuesday): I make these damn lists and never read the books on them. Can't use the kids as an excuse anymore like I'm so used to doing. *smile* I mean, there are 162 Red Sox and 82 Boston Celtics regular season games. And the playoffs ... forgetaboutit!

For 2009, I have decided to shop from my bookshelves and read the things I've put off reading for years. These books are collecting dust on my bookshelves. Now in theory, I have a reasonable chance of reading one title a month. Notice there are no poetry books here. That list is really more fluid for me. And while I devour poetry books, I'm playingt catch-up from the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival.

So there are 13 books with space for two recommended ones. I should do a midyear check-up to revise this list. But if I get through eight titles, I'll consider this year in books a success.

2009 Book List

1. Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City, Nick Flynn (2008 carryover)
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (classic fiction)
3. Brothers and Keepers, John Edgar Wideman (nonfiction)
4. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (classic fiction)
5. A Personal History, Katherine Graham (autobiography)
6. Graceland, Chris Albani (fiction)
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (classic fiction)
8. 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (classic fiction)
9. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris (nonfiction)
10. Secret Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (fiction)
11. White Teeth, Zadie Smith (fiction, a re-read for me)
12. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde ("biomythography")
13. Themes for English B, J.D. Scrimgeour (nonfiction)
14. Need suggestion (something fun)
15. Need suggestion

So, what's on your book list for the New Year?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Storm Central

(Tim and Ella)

This photo was taken yesterday when we had just a mere 6 inches of snow on the ground. Now, we have at least one foot. On the news today, our local weatherman said that it's snowed more than 40 hours since this burst of winter rolled into the Northeast--and it's still snowing!


My parents are in town from Virginia! Gosh, it's good to see them. The kids are so excited. We only get to see them a few times a year, so having them here means that Xmas is just a few days away.


Got to get a few last minute gifts, and then I'm done with Shopfest 2008.


The snow, coupled with lack of laptop, has meant less blogging. But now that my parents are here, I should have more time to write, blog, post, plot, and scheme for the new year.


I'm thoroughly enjoying the Jan/Feb issue of Poets & Writers. This issue is the annual spotlight on up and coming poets. A good read for a snowy afternoon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Q for the Poet

From time to time, someone asks a question that makes for a great blog post. Today's Q comes from AmbiguityLotus.

"I was wondering--how do you get past the attitude/feeling of, 'My poems aren't good enough for publication?' I'd like to hear your thoughts about that as that's how I feel most of the time, aside from being intimidated about the process!"

First of all, I don't know any poet who hasn't had that feeling at some point. It's like the flu—no matter how many shots you get, it never really goes away.

I carry with me the same fears that I had in grad school when I was surrounded by talented people who never thought their work would see the light of day. Later, when I was starting a family and not writing regularly, I felt as if I would never get published. I lacked those small successes poets have that encourage us to keep trying. Then my college cohorts started getting published in good journals, reading in cool venues, and getting grants. Let me tell you, it was a wake-up call! I felt life was passing me by. I did the only thing I could do with young kids in tow—I started this blog.

So here I am, blogging away two years later. Not a moment goes by that I don't a tinge of self-doubt, as if I'm getting away with something. Posting poems was (and still is) a great way to get immediate feedback when I couldn't attend workshops.

Poetry is subjective and personal, so it's hard not to be intimidated about the process. But the best defense against doubt is hard work and persistence. Getting published means swallowing a lot of rejections. Try not to make it personal. On any given day, you may find the right reader at a journal or zine who will give you the chance for publication. Keep busy. Try not to let self-doubt creep up on you. Use it as a motivator. Do something every day to keep you moving toward your goal.

Does that help? I welcome comments from other writers about how to keep fear and self-doubt at bay.

Free Poetry Books for Organizations

My publisher, CavanKerry Press, has a very active GiftBooks program through which they donate poetry books to underserved communities including shelters, hospitals, urban schools, libraries, prisons, and the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, they have gifted more than 8,500 books.

But this year, several of the organizations whose members have received books in the past have declined to take them, possibly because of reduction of services and staff, and more of a focus on food and clothing.

If you know of any charities who might need books, backchannel me at jgill27494 [at] aol.com.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander Is the Inaugural Poet!!!

Wow! Hurray for Cave Canem's own Elizabeth Alexander chosen as the inaugural poet!!

From the Washington Post (may require a password):

After a hiatus of more than a decade, poetry is returning to the inauguration of the American president.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced today that Elizabeth Alexander, a prize-winning poet at Yale University who grew up in Washington, will read at the swearing in next month of President-elect Barack Obama.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Confession Tuesday

Ho! Ho! Ho! Time to find out who's naughty and who's nice. Time to confess. Time to wipe the slate clean and look ahead to 2009!

Yes, they're cute. But their cuteness hides the hacking coughs and runny noses these little disease carriers have been harboring for days. Admittedly, they have been downright nice lately so I'm sure Santa will make a house call soon.


I am about 65% through my holiday shopping. Like most people I know, I'm sticking to a budget. All of this global economic confusion is unsettling, and is starting to affect more people I know personally (job losses, tighter budgets, cut funding, etc.).

For me, cutting back has less to do with saving money that it does a fundamental change in attitude. And I couldn't articulate that point until I heard this great podcast from Marketplace Money. Here's an excerpt from a story called "Shrinking Your Gift Footprint."

"Linda Decker glances at a couple of Tousignant's pieces but doesn't buy anything. Thrifty shoppers like her are known as New Simplifiers. That term was coined by Harvard Business school professor John Quelch.

John Quelch: The key thing here is that the simplifier is being motivated by a desire to manage their life in a less complicated way. So it's more the reduction of complexity rather than the simple act of saving money."

And I had one of those Aha moments. It just feels wrong to spend money this holiday season on things that may someday end up in a landfill. I like the idea of a reduction of complexity. Making time for the people and things that matter. I've been doing this for the past few months by seeking out more meaningful experiences for my family instead of buying things. And I've been getting rid of clothes and toys like a mad woman, donating them to charities in hopes that our stuff can be appreciated by someone in need.

Am I alone in this or have others been having the same thoughts this holiday season?


Speaking of the people who matter, I haven't visited many blogs lately. Sorry. I feel like that friend who says, "Let's do lunch sometime," but never calls. Part of the reason is because my laptop is still not working. But, I should have it back tomorrow, which means I'll come by to visit more often.


I have more blog content/poetry to-dos floating around in my head than I can possibly post about, but this week I'll give it a shot!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Quick Hits

(Snow Miser)

Happy Sunday! I spent much of yesterday watching holiday specials with the kids. It's fun to go back and watch some of those wacky holiday specials. Hands down, our family's favorite is "The Year without a Santa Claus." But was it really necessary to create the sequel, "A Miser Christmas?"

I truly enjoy watching the kids get excited about these same low-tech, story-driven holiday specials Tim and I enjoyed growing up. They're so anti-Sponge Bob, it's great!


Sometime this past week, maybe Wednesday, I hit the 50,000 mark with unique visitors! So whether you come here regularly or got lost on your way somewhere else, thanks for stopping by the Poet Mom blog.


Also earlier this week, Afaa Micheal Weaver appeared on a local Boston public television show called Basic Black. He’s wonderful, and looks incredibly dapper—I might add! You can't help but be moved by this interview.

Friday, December 12, 2008

December To-Do List

(Triumphs, tenacity, tears, and taxes--the 4 T's of poetry!)

I created this list a few days ago, but this is the first chance I've had to post (still having laptop issues). So some of these goals I can cross off this list, others … well … I still have a ways to go!

  1. Write five poems this month (one down, four to go)

  2. Mail out four submissions. I'm kicking myself because I missed a deadline. Drat!

  3. Write an article and prompt for RWP (the article is done), prompt is next.

  4. Post daily in December (OK, this one starts today!)

  5. Map out writing project for new manuscript (Done)

  6. Create timeline for second manuscript (Done)

  7. Read two books this month

  8. Create 2009 Goals

So what's on your end-of-year to-do list?

Inaugural Poet?

The speculation continues ...

From the AP:
There's buzz about all sorts of names. Among them: Philip Levine, a Midwesterner whose writings are attuned to the working class; Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate who created the Favorite Poem Project; Yusef Komunyakaa, whose work is heavily influenced by jazz; U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan.

No matter who might be selected, "It would be a wonderful gesture, and a reminder to our country that the arts are present in everyone's daily lives, whether they realize it or not," said Gary Soto, an award-winning poet and novelist from northern California.

(Thanks, C. Dale, for the link.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Some Assembly Required: Putting Together Your First Poetry Manuscript

(This article was written for Read Write Poem.)

This is it. You’ve spent years polishing your poems. You’ve shared them in workshops and at readings, even published a handful of your best work in a few journals. Now it’s time to tame those wild poems for your first manuscript. What now?

Assembling a full-length manuscript can be both challenging and exhilarating. It’s the culmination of months and years of hard work. And while the process may feel as if you’re attempting to solve a Rubik’s Cube, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the end result of your poetic “sweat equity.”

Start by organizing your poems by topics or related themes. Do your poems speak to you in a certain way? Do they work chronologically or through a persona’s voice? You should notice the emergence of a narrative arc, or a natural fit between and throughout the collection. Consider putting your strongest poems in the beginning and end of your collection, because it helps to frame the rest of the book, giving you a solid foundation to build upon.

For my first collection, I spent hours laying out poems on my office floor. I needed to do this visual exercise so I could test the strength of each poem. I wanted to make sure that the first poem, and every one that followed, was able to stand on its own. I spent a good amount of time grouping strong poems in sections, removing the weak ones, and filling in the holes.

The distance from the end of one poem to the start of the next works only to enhance the tone. You’ll find your poems working together, taking advantage of momentum and seizing on the expectation. As a reader, I enjoy exploring the evolution and range of a poet through the choices he or she makes. But too much of a particular form or tone can spoil even the best collections. You want your manuscript to bob and weave—to feel organic yet structured at the same time.

I am of the school that in a poetry collection, less is more. I recommend leaving out your weaker poems. Most poetry manuscripts average between 40-72 pages, so you want the reader to experience the best representation of who you are as a writer. This is survival of the fittest, or Thunderdome—only include the poems you feel are rock-solid. In the long run, you’re much better off with a small collection of well-rounded gems than one filled with unfinished lumps of coal.

After the hand-wringing, the midnight organizing, and the Zen-like approach you’ve now adopted to get you through the process, carefully vet your work. A good way of doing that is reading your newly arranged poems aloud, from beginning to end. Pay attention to the repetitions and the silences. Don’t be afraid to move pieces around. Do you still hear that music? And this goes without saying, but carefully proof your collection for grammar and punctuation errors. Nothing is more off-putting to a publisher than good work riddled with careless mistakes.

One thing I did do was send my first manuscript to a broad group of poets and trusted friends. The edits I received were tremendous, and while I didn't take them all, the different perspectives helped to shape the final manuscript.

Lastly, take your time. You have been living with these poems for years, and, in some cases, decades! There’s no rush, except maybe in your own mind, to publish your work. Be faithful to the poems and don’t send out anything that’s not ready for publication. When in doubt, trust your gut.

Believe it or not, this process is F-U-N! Sure, it could cause the onset of gray hair, but it will show you where you are as a poet. Don’t let the process intimidate you. Once your first collection is finished, you can say goodbye to those old poems and start something new.

Full disclosure: my first book, Underlife, will be published in October 2009 by CavanKerry Press. Manuscript #2 is in the works because … well… there’s just a long gestation period before manuscripts go to press. Yet, being in the position to create a second manuscript is a dream come true—a position I never thought I would be in when I was creating my first.


Now, I am by no means an expert in assembling a manuscript. So if you are in the process of putting together your first or your 10th collection, give us your insights. Any advice on how to organize a poetry manuscript? Leave a comment here or at RWP.

SNL: Obama Plays It Cool

My new tagline: "Given a choice, I choose cool."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Confession Tuesday

You're either in or you're out? Which is it?


No better time to blog than the evenings when the house is quiet.

It's been go go go this past weekend, but Saturday I was able to sneak away for a little "me" time to write. The alone time gave me a chance to finish a poem I've been struggling with for more than a week (without my laptop, I might add). Yes, I'm referring to the potty poem. Also had the chance to write out my December to-do's and think about a list for the New Year—I'll post the lists this week.


The potty poem took a week to write because my laptop is down. Turns out to be the monitor light, which is good because I contemplated buying a new one. Bah-humbug!

Writing that poem was a real test of will. Since I started it on a laptop, I felt I had to finish it on a computer. I worked on my husband's computer at odd hours, which didn't allow me to get into any rhythm. But I really felt like I had to stick with the poem, and because I did, I feel other poems brimming under the surface. Haven't felt like that since April.


Despite the sagging economy, I do go to Starbucks a lot, mainly to catch my breath. And I don't even like coffee! I try to go every week to the same location where the college kids hang out. The staff knows me, and while it's never too crowded, time of day is everything. I enjoy writing with noise in the background, but I don't eavesdrop. I prefer writing while listening to iTunes.

I can write in any Starbucks, or any coffee shop for that matter; I have difficult time writing at the library—too quiet.


Just finished an article for RWP. That will post in a day or two. I'm pooped!

Speaking of poop, an Ella/potty-training update!

Ella had breakthrough! She's been sleeping through the night wearing underwear and not a diaper. And, she pooped in the potty on Sunday!

(Sorry, was that TMI? This is the Poet Mom blog, after all!)

Christmas: A Retrospective, 2004-2008

Sadly, "our" Santa for the last four years broke his leg, but this jolly fella filled in nicely. Even gave the kids hugs after listening to their long list of demands ... eh ... presents!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CALLING ALL POETS: 1,000 Inaugural Poets Project

Great idea, Brett!

January 20, 2009 Inauguration Day poetry events across the country.

If there isn't a reading scheduled in your area, set one up at a library, cafe, art center, or anywhere you can get, invite all poets. Put up a bunch of flyers, notify local media, get word out.

Every willing poet is asked to write an original "inaugural poem" for President Barack Obama and read it for the first time anywhere at your nearby Inauguration Day Poetry Event. The most debut poems at a single time in the history of the world.

Please pass the word.

Most of us are still suffering from the post-election blues. But what a way to kick off this new era in our democracy by reading poetry inspired by our new president. I really hope this idea takes off, so if you decide to host your own event, please let me know.

I'm trying to start something in my neck of the woods.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Confession Tuesday

True confession: I hate posting confessions in the afternoon. Sorry folks, the day got away from me.

Feel free to post a little something about yourself, and we'll come by to visit your blog. And, don't forget to check out the "sinners" in The Confessional.


After a terrific Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, I'm in the holiday spirit! I mean, Christmas Eve is almost two weeks away! It also helps to put up your tree on November 30.

We spent most of the holiday weekend running the kids ragged with activities, so much so that they wore us out! By Sunday we needed something to do—hence the Christmas tree. This year, the kids thoroughly enjoyed decorating the house. They were just so excited that Christmas is almost here.


Another true confession: In the picture, you'll notice a glass of white wine on the mantle. Tim and I had one of those "why the hell not" moments and had a glass of wine at 10:30 a.m. *smile* That was a good day.


All of this holiday cheer has turned into action. I'm 60 percent done with my holiday shopping—under budget, I might add. I just can't stand last-minute impulse buying for a holiday that comes around the same time every year. Even wrapped up the kids' holiday photo for Christmas cards early.


Sad news for me: I think my laptop is a goner. When I power up, the screen remains black. When it first happened, I was working on a new poem. Just the beginnings, but a kernel of what I know can be a really good poem if I stay with it.

I managed to save the poem to my flash drive, but I've had trouble working on it without my laptop. Have I just gotten so used to composing on screen that I can't write with pen and paper, or is the idea of buying a new computer getting to me? Tomorrow, I'll ask my coworker to take a look at my laptop for best recommendation. As for the poem, hope to post it tomorrow. I'll suck it up and finish it from my husband's PC.


Also coming tomorrow, December poetry to-do list.

Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

Bloggers Unite

Showing my support for an important cause. You can get more information here and here.


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