Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

The picture was taken at my local Target around 11 a.m. As you can see, no lines, no waits.

After yesterday's Thanksgiving feast, I decided not to go out this morning before the crack of dawn, even though I was awake. Instead, I looked at all of the circulars, checked my e-mail for coupons, and visited online retailers to comparative shop. And when it looked as if I could knock out most of the kids' Christmas items in one swoop, I jumped at the chance. Besides, I love shopping in crowds.

To my surprise, it wasn't that crowded. The only place I would not recommend going is Toys-R-Us. Save the anxiety and shop online. I walked in, looked at the lines trailing to the back of the store, and walked out. Besides, I found everything I was looking for at Target.

This year, Tim and I are putting an emphasis on the joy of the holiday season by de-emphasizing toys and gift giving. We don't have a lot of money to spend, nor do we want to. But, I do like a good sale. I did so well that I'm halfway done with my holiday shopping.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Our day starts around 10 a.m. when we go to Champions pub in Peabody, MA, where the whole town comes out for a drink. In past years, after Champions, we've gone to the local high school football game between the towns of Peabody and Saugus. But this year, with Tim 's knee healing from surgery, we'll skip sitting on cold, metal bleachers and go to Tim's mom's house around noon. Because some are sick and others live too far away, there will only be 17 of us around the table.

Sending love to Skip, Michele, Jimmy, Johnny, Mike, Sarah, Josh, Kate, Nick, and Victoria. And much love to Mom, Dad, the and the folks in Virginia and Atlanta, GA.

My food coma commences at 2 p.m., cyber shopping at 8 p.m., and the annual running of the mall shoppers starts at 5 a.m.!

Whether you're in the U.S. or not, what are your plans today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Have not posted a photo in a while, so here I am at goofing off at Starbucks.
Here's a roundup of a few of my (new) favorite things.

Check out the Poetry Foundation's podcast featuring poet Elizabeth Alexander, as she discusses poetics and our newly elected president.

YA author (and blogger extraordinare) Erin Dionne has an interview at Fumbling with Fiction. Be sure to leave a comment!


(Thanks to C. Dale Young for the link.)

Typealizer analyzes your blog's personality. Here's what it says about Poet Mom:

ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities. The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

I took the Myers-Briggs test a few years ago and had the same breakdown. No pretenses here--I am my blog.

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday everyone! Time to share a confession. Tell us a little something about you, and be sure to check out the other confessors in The Confessional.

(Note: This week's confession is a little bitchy.)

Tim had his knee surgery last week, which went very well and now he's on the mend (thanks for all the well wishes). But with Tim down for the count, that means taking care of three people instead of two. Guess I didn't realize how much Tim does around the house, including the outside. I spent the last two days raking leaves—I *loathe* raking leaves.

What I haven't done this past week is take time for myself. No reading or writing at all. I know that this is the time when my family comes first. But last night, I was so tired from raking leaves, cooking meals, playing with the kids, and doing laundry that I went to bed at 8 p.m. *sigh*


Never thought being a wife and mother would demand so much from me. I'm thankful for what it's given me, but resentful for what it's taken away.


Well, I did do one thing for myself. Saturday night, I attended the Somerville News Literary Festival. It was a community-supported event with almost 200 people in attendance. The headliners included Junot Diaz, recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," and Afaa Michael Weaver, who was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ibbetson Street Press. An eclectic group of writers filled out the more than three-hour evening with poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. While the long wait seemed to bother Junot Diaz, most of us didn't mind the wait at all. He read last, but was worth waiting for. Also, I had a great conversation with author Steve Almond.

Took all of my strength to get out of the house, but I'm glad I made it out for the night.


This week, I'm looking at my poetry to-do list, creating a new one for December, and a marketing plan for the late-2009 release of my book Underlife.


We're one month away from Christmas—where has the year gone?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wish List

Like many of you, I have been compiling a holiday shopping list. I’m slashing gift amounts, and, in some cases, not giving gifts to a few friends this year (sorry guys!). Can’t afford to do it, and I feel that most of us have more than we could really ever use in a lifetime. But I saw this idea proposed on one of my listservs and wanted to share it with you.

Given this economic downturn/recession/depression, it’s very likely that poetry books, as well as sales for all books, will plummet. Think of all of the small, independent presses struggling to survive this December--yikes!

No, we all know of someone who has self-published a book or chapbook, or who has worked with small presses to publish their first or second books. This holiday season, consider giving and asking for those books.

This is the start of my two lists, which, admittedly, has books from big presses and independents.

Books I’d Like to Give
· The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
· Children’s book of poetry (looking for recommendations)
· New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver

Books I’d Like to Receive
· Space Walk by Tom Sleigh
· All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman
· Queen for a Day by Denise Duhamel

Also, consider giving a gift subscription to a journal or review.

If you have some book-related suggestions for the holiday gifts, please post them and I'll compile a list in a few days.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Will Happen to Your Writings After You Die?

I’m so fascinated by this story. Vladimir Nabokov's final, incomplete novel, The Original of Laura, will be published in 2009. It’s been locked away for 30 years by his son, Dmitri, who is going against his father’s wishes and publishing it.

Now, I have to wonder why Nabokov and his wife didn’t just burn anything he didn’t want released. Apparently, this book is as scintillating as his most famous work Lolita. Surely, it can’t be Nabokov’s best work because it’s unfinished. But leaves us an interesting question—would you burn such a treasure or give it to the world?

Moreover, have you expressed your wishes to family members regarding your writings? If something were to happen to you today, what would happen to your unfinished poems and stories, essays, and manuscripts? What happens to all those journals and scraps of paper that you’ve collected over the years? And all of those juicy blog posts—what if they ended up in a collection you had nothing to do with? Not much you can do after you’ve gone, but there’s plenty you can do now.

So what should happen to your great (and not-so-great) works after you die?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Poem

Renewable Energy

It starts in the back
and carries all over the body.
Happiness, like a light sweet crude
streams through the veins,
self-lubricates your smile
as your son taps a melody
to the song your daughter sings
against the last dregs of daylight.

Can it be that simple? Happiness,
that composted emotion
has turned your one-time
trash heap of a life
into a grand patch of green.
Or is it that you’ve become
what surrounds you:
a beauty so arbitrary
it’s renewed with each use.

Somerville News Writers Festival VI

If you're in or around Boston, this event is for you!

Somerville News Writers Festival VI
featuring Pulitzer Prize Winner Junot Diaz and Afaa Michael Weaver

Saturday, November 22, 2008
7-10 p.m.
Dilboy Hall, 371 Summer St
Somerville, MA

Sponsored by Grub Street and Porter Square Books


The Lineup:

Junot Diaz
Afaa Michael Weaver
Steve Almond
Jennifer Haigh
Timothy Gager
Marty Beckerman
A.C. Kemp
Meg Kearney
Ifeanyi Menkiti
Dan Tobin
Burt Stern
Douglas Holder

Hosted by Nicole Pierece with musical guest The DoubleNecks

Confession Tuesday

If it's Tuesday, I'm confessing! Share something about yourself here or on your blog, and I will respond in kind.

Tuesday morning, my husband, Tim, will have a second surgery on his knee to repair his shredded ACL. Oh, how the body can be unforgiving. This is second surgery for the same injury this year. So I'm off for the next few days taking care of him and the kids, and Tim's mom will be around to pitch in, which is such a big help. I will be in the waiting room with my laptop and a book, catching up on e-mail, to-do lists, and writing.

While I would rather have my husband healthy with all of his parts intact, I'm happy to have the days off from work. Now, the key is using my downtime well.


After I take my son the preschool, but before I go to the hospital, I'll have a few hours alone with my daughter, Ella. That means a little mother-daughter special time! Often, I feel that she get left behind in the shuffle. Not sure exactly what we'll do, but I'm guessing a trip to Dunkin' Donuts is in order.


Finished reading Patrick Phillip's second poetry collection, called Boy. I enjoyed reading it. In fact, I can't remember the last poetry collection I read cover to cover.

Speaking of covers, when I was deciding on a cover for my book, I looked at as many covers as I could to get a sense of what other poets did for their books. Let's just say that there's a range, and a topic of another blog post. But if you haven't seen this cover, it is striking. Maybe the biggest motivator for buying this book.

True confession: yes, I do judge (and buy) books by their covers.


Cold weather is starting to move in, so I have to work extra hard to stay motivated—and it's only November! But I've made progress on November's to-do list; I'll post an update tomorrow. I'll post a new poem tomorrow. It will give me something to do while I'm waiting for Tim.


Thanks for the kind words regarding my Open Letter to President-elect Obama. I'm sure whomever he chooses to read at his inauguration will be a fine choice. But what a great opportunity for the poet selected for this event. I hope it's someone unexpected—when you hear the name, you immediately say, "Yes!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday, Monday

I always dread the beginning a new week, which usually is a continuation of the stuff I didn't want to do last week!

I've been offline the last few days doing family stuff: raking the last of the leaf fall, spending time with the kids, and decluttering. Not very exciting, and not worth posting about. Even took a break from my home away from home—Facebook! But I have been writing a bit. Well, I decided to put an end to my nonwriting so I'm allowing myself to write crappy poetry. Hope to post a poem a day for the next seven days. And, I haven't posted any pictures recently, so I'll be better about that this week.

So, how are you today? What's new?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Open Letter to President-elect Obama

Dear Mr. Obama:

I think I speak for the world when I say we are thrilled that you will be the 44th president of the United States. Unfortunately, you have a staggering number of immediate problems that you must tackle on day one. But here’s one problem I can help you with—selecting a poet to read at your inauguration!

No doubt, your installation as president will be the most-watched event EVER, if your election-night acceptance speech was any indication. And seeing in recent photos that you read poetry, specifically the poetry of Derek Walcott, I feel it is my honor—no, my duty—to offer a range of selections for you to choose from on this very special occasion.

Two poets that I think would aptly capture this historic moment would be Lucille Clifton and Natasha Trethewey. Both are well regarded in the literary community for their talent, their ability to inspire, and their deep reverence for the past.

Other well-regarded poets you might consider include Mary Oliver, Terrance Hayes, Mark Doty, and Naomi Shihab Nye—all of whom have the capacity to reach across all cultural divides to recognize and celebrate the best of what this country has to offer. Of course, Billy Collins is good with large crowds; but, quite frankly, it would be nice to hear from poets who represent the broader spectrum of verse in the United States.

Lastly, if asked, I would be honored to read a poem at your inauguration. Surely you know I’ve had some recent experience reading at an inauguration. Maybe you feel it more fitting for me to be the next U.S. poet laureate, or head of the NEA. Well, I gladly accept, as it has been my dream to work to expand the reaches of poetry to both poetry lovers and nontraditional poetry audiences.

As you know, Mr. President-elect, poetry is thriving in this country, and there are many wonderful poets I’ve left out of this letter. Feel free to leave a response on my blog if I can be of service.


January O’Neil (a.k.a. Poet Mom)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday! It's time to enter The Confessional with the other confessors and tell us something about you. So what are you waiting for? Let's get right to it!

I am in a post-election funk. I'm slowing weaning myself off of CNN—its colorful graphics, not to mention Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper. Makes it easier when they continually speculate on where the Obama girls will go to school—not newsworthy to me.

But this did strike me as newsworthy. Check out these amazing campaign photos on's Web site.


My husband is having a second knee surgery next week. They're re-repairing his torn ACL. He reinjured it over the summer while playing volleyball with his nieces and nephews. It's tough getting older—your head tells you you're still a teenager but the body says otherwise. And he's an active person so I hope this surgery does the trick. Of course, I said that last time.


Just had lunch with the beautiful and talented YA author Erin Dionne. Her first book, titled Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies, will be released in early 2009. She is my guinea pig, so to speak, because her book launches months before mine, but we're brainstorming ideas about how to best promote both of our titles. It's nice to go through all of the pre-publishing stuff with a friend.


As for poetry, I managed to get two submissions in the mail. But I may have to abandon the idea of writing a poem a day in November. Seems I always start with the best intentions, and fall short on my follow-through. Well, I'm happy at this point to just write a poem a week.

Friday, November 07, 2008

New Poem

November 4, 2008

They stood there in line with me,
listened intently to conversations
around us, the giggles and whispers,
stifling their joy as they have for years,
decades, centuries—the absentee voters.
And when we entered the voting booth,
I heard their weeping. Their hands on mine
darkening the circle on the paper ballot,
our grip on the pencil tight enough to break,
the weight of us overflowing.

(The last line is taken from the first line of Philip Schultz’s poem “The Amount of Us.” )

Inauguration Redux

Not that inauguration! This one ...

If you want to see and hear me read Mary Oliver's Sunrise at Babson College's inauguration, click here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Morning in America

The First Family.

I had to turn on the television this morning to make sure last night really happened. Had to make sure the results were not being contested, that the election had not been rigged and somehow victory had been taken away while I slept.

But happily, last night did happen and the results are the same--Barack Hussein Obama will be the 44th president of the United States. And here we all are, standing on the steps of history.

Now what?

I’ve been impressed with the droves of ordinary Americans the last few months working so hard on both sides to elect the person who they think will best lead the country into a new era. But surely we don’t think the work stops here? Surely we don’t think one person, or our congressional leaders, can do it alone? The problems plaguing this country are just too big.

With this historic moment brings the opportunity for each of us to carry this energy and enthusiasm into our communities to work for change at the local level. President-elect Obama has done something in his stump speeches and in last night's acceptance speech that our president has never asked us to do: he's asked us to sacrifice. This is a time to cut back and take personal responsibility for ourselves, and to help our neighbors. If a high tide raises all boats, then I don’t think it takes much to improve the quality of life for all citizens. Maybe we, as individuals, organize efforts to clean up neighborhoods, or help out local food banks, or start literacy program for a community center. After yesterday's historic moment, anything is possible.

Through this election, this has been the thing I can't wrap my brain around yet: if we are all responsible for the fate of this nation, what can I do to make things better. What is my culpability, and how can I help? If "we are the ones we've been waiting for," a line Obama has used often on the campaign trail, and if we have finally "arrived," what do we (what can I) do now?

Now, the real work begins.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night Blogging

Even though I am currently watching Spider-Man 3 with my son (we're fast forwarding the scary parts), I will be blogging for the next few hours. Stop in and say hello.

Two questions:

1. If you voted, how was your voting experience.

2. Are you doing anything special to watch the elections (any parties or special dinner menus)?

Tonight, Tim is bringing home Chinese food and a little champagne--just because.

Looking forward to checking in with all of you, too.

Confession Tuesday: Election Edition

I voted!

I never thought I would see the day when I would have a chance to vote for a Black man. I mean, really. We’ve come a long way as a people, not that we’ve gotten to the Promised Land that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, but the fabric of this nation has been forever changed by this historic election.

So what is my confession? In my heart, I am and shall remain a Hillary Clinton democrat. It’s taken me up to this past weekend to jump on the Obama bandwagon. Her experience, her grasp of the issues and economic situation, and ability to work across the aisle would have made her a good president. And because I cannot leave my gender at the door, she is the most qualified woman to ever run for president. While I think Obama could run again in four, eight, or 12 years, when will we see a woman president? (Please don't get me started on Sarah Palin.) I confess that I think the glass ceiling is much harder to break than the color barrier.

But Obama earned this opportunity and earned my trust. When I look at him, I see a clear choice over McCain. I see the opportunity to work with Congress to clean up the economic mess and get back to the surpluses of the '90s. I see a chance to repair our reputation globally. I also see my parents in Virginia, who have always gone the polls an hour before the voting, not just this election, because they remember a time when they did not have the right to vote. And then there are my elderly grandparents in Georgia, who will gladly stand in long lines with everyone else to vote for the Democratic ticket. With any luck, Obama will pick up that traditionally Republican state, too.

I believe that we are one nation. Not a Black America or a White America, but one nation. One people. Today is a moment in time when the United States holds itself up to a mirror to see what it’s made of. Are we ready to confront ourselves, who we really are as a people? But make no mistake—this is not history coming full circle. This day is one stop on a continuum. As a CNN analyst said, in the voting booth, we vote who we are, not necessarily who the candidate is. If that premise is true, then I am a person who believes words matter. I believe in the power of change. And I believe that Barack Obama is not only the right man for the job, he is right man for the times.


One last confession: while standing in line, I started to cry. Then when I got to my car, I couldn't stop the tears.


What’s your confession today?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

My friend, Suzie, said that I should read Barack Obama’s speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention, called The Audacity of Hope. Suzie teaches inner city kids in Boston—fifth and sixth graders who come from poor and lower-middle–class backgrounds. She’s using this speech to teach about rhetoric and the power of words. Now I saw his speech live, but she’s encouraged me to read it because, as we all know, words can bring about change.

Since we’re on the eve of a historic election, I found it only fitting to read this speech, a speech by a politician no one had ever heard of before the speech. And now he could be the first Black president of the United States.

And in case you're so inclined, here's the first half of his speech:

I, Too

Can’t believe we are at this transformational point in U.S. history. It’s more than two years of campaigning and wondering and hoping. It’s the dream of my family, relatives, and ancestors taking flight. It’s history coming full circle. And here we are on the cusp of change.

This Langston Hughes poem has been on my mind today.

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Quick Hits, and a To-Do List

Daylight-Savings time is a joke for parents of young kids! Doesn’t matter that we gained an hour this morning, the kids were still up at 5 a.m. waiting for me to get up.


I have spent half the day in front of the TV watching CNN—I am wired for the election! Believe me, more on this to come.


Been thinking about my writing lately. I really got sidetracked by work summer and into the fall. But now that the stress level has eased, I’m trying to get back in a rhythm by doing the things that worked before. So I’ll probably blog more, because I think blogging really does help my writing. And I may attempt more writing prompts and challenges, including this one.

Although my 30/30 September poetry challenge didn’t go well, I’m trying again in November to write a poem a day with the goal of having enough poems for a chapbook. Not sure if I’ll actually produce a chapbook, but I like the idea of having a concentrated bundle of poems more closely related than anything I’ve ever written.

So, Robert Lee Brewer at Poetic Asides (at The Writer’s Digest) is setting the pace for the Chapbook Challenge. And even though I’m a day behind (big surprise), it’s not too late to participate, and to find out what makes a great chapbook.


Poetry To-Do List

Here it is for November.

1. Complete the Poetic Asides Chapbook Challenge (30 poems)
2. Write a series of poems on a theme, which is a goal of mine for the 30-poem challenge
3. Send out poems to five journals
4. Write two articles--one for RWP, one as a freelance submission
5. Read one fiction book and one poetry book
6. Memorize two poems: Mark Strand’s Keeping Things Whole and Tony Hoagland’s Reasons to Survive November

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Reasons to Survive November

This is one of my favorite poems.


(Listen to the audio.)

Reasons to Survive November

November like a train wreck –
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze –
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

– Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

(Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means to Me. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2003.)


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