Saturday, January 31, 2009

“Friday night arrives without a suitcase…”

" … Sunday morning creeping like a nun." And yet, no Saturday.

Just a few quick hits before the day gets going.

I'm not attending AWP this year. Last year's event in NYC was convenient and cheap for me to attend. But it doesn't make sense for me to go to Chicago since my book will not be published until the fall. Still, I'll miss attending sessions, catching up with fellow poets, seeing friends I only get to see at AWP, and taking a much-needed break from my day-to-day routine. Besides, with the economy the way it is, just doesn't seem like a good time to spend money.

Oh well. Looking forward to AWP 2010 in Denver.


So, I have a new Flip Mino HD digital video camera! Been taking kid videos, and itching to do something more. Not sure if I'm ready for video blogging but who knows. Must get over the fact that I hate how my voice sounds and face looks on camera. But I promise to put something up this weekend.


I'm in a bit of a rut, but who isn't if you live in New England. What a hard winter. Looking forward to February to shake things up a bit. One thing I'm lacking, besides sunlight, are pictures on this blog. Will try to take more in the next few weeks.


Oh, by the way, I turn 40 in two weeks. Where has the decade gone?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Evening with Charles Simic

(Originally, this article was written for another publication but wasn't accepted. Better luck next time. So I'm happy to publish it here!)

On Tuesday, New England braced for a snowstorm. Not a blizzard or a Nor’easter, as the weatherman described on the evening news, but a “significant snow event.” Yet, the threat of inclement weather was not enough to keep us from attending a poetry reading given by former U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic. Accompanied by two fellow poets, we drove 40 miles from just outside of Boston to the Portsmouth Public Library in New Hampshire on a night with no stars in the sky. In other words, it was the perfect night for poetry.

Nearly 60 people attended the reading, co-sponsored by River Run Books. Held at the two-year-old library, there was barely a seat left in the venue. I’m always amazed at poetry audiences that come out to hear a little verse in the middle of winter. And this audience was certainly anticipating Simic’s quirky, imaginative work.

A prolific essayist, translator, and poet, Simic was called “Charlie” by the host from River Run Books. The host was a former student of his, but her introduction had a nice effect, making the whole evening seem rather informal. You could tell as he began that Simic really has an affection for reading to crowds because he was very generous with his time. He told stories, chatted with the audience, even chuckled when he had trouble taking the cap off a water bottle.

Most of the poems Simic read were either from his book Sixty Poems, or old poems that he had reworked. He said that Sixty Poems was a book of his favorites, filled with poems as far back as 1986 to the present. It was a book his publisher wanted him to do to coincide with his stint as poet laureate because, as he joked, the book would, “sell like hot cakes.”

Born in Belgrade, Simic and his parents immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old. Through his travels and experiences, he has become a master of illuminating those unexpected moments that can forever change one’s outlook. From a poem about by a woman at a funeral in “Have You Met Miss Jones,” to one inspired by a movie dictionary called, “Mummy’s Curse,” his range of subject matter is truly unique. And yes, love seems to be a central theme. The characters in his poems carry a certain sweetness, such as the man and woman in “In the Planetarium,” his last poem of the evening. Each person’s point of view is treated with respect. I felt for the people in the poem, the man chomping at the bit to leave the planetarium, and the woman who said at the end of the poem, “I have never seen anything so beautiful.”

On this starless New Hampshire night, there was one star in full zenith. The audience clapped and cheered for Simic and his work. And after, the crown lingered, chatted within their groups, bought books, and all went up to share a kind word. I overheard a few stories about past readings he has given, about favorite poems and books. There was even a question about his time as poet laureate.

Simic’s work is distinctive. I liken him to that slightly daft uncle who tells a story that you don’t fully comprehend the meaning of until you’re on your way home in the car wondering what it all meant. The multiple layers of meaning are there to be unraveled. And that’s exactly what we did on the ride home.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Odes for Obama

From The Associated Press:

Odes for Obama by American Poets.

The Associated Press invited poets to write and recite their thoughts on the Obama inaguration.

Love that poetry has been so front and center in the public eye, and it's not even April!

Confession Tuesday

After a one-week hiatus, I’m back to my wicked, wicked ways. Fess us! Tell us a little about yourself, and be sure to check out the other sinners in The Confessional.

True Confession: I love this hat! How can you not feel regal in a hat worn by The Queen of Soul?


I’m praying the greater Boston area gets lots of snow tomorrow! I’m like a kid when it comes to the fluffy white stuff. Now, I don’t shovel, and I hate it when the snow turns brown and slushy. But everything slows down during a snowfall, which is nature telling us to enjoy the moment.


Tonight, I’m going to a poetry reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic. Will post about it in the next day or so.


Just saw my book cover in an upcoming catalog for CavanKerry Press. Wow! It's real. I didn't dream this. Underlife will be out this fall.


I’m in the process of writing a marketing plan for Underlife. Funny to think about a poetry book as something to market, but the goal is to reach the widest readership possible—and to have fun in the process.

The biggest thing I’m working on now is setting up future readings. I’m intimidated by sending out queries.


Looking back on my January to-dos, I’ve done OK keeping up with my 2009 goals. I have a few more to add before month’s end:

  1. Write two poems. Want to write a poem a week and I’m a bit behind.
  2. Send poems here, which will brings the number of places I’ve submitted poems to three this month (woo hoo!).
  3. Write up the Charles Simic piece
  4. Finish (eh … start) Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Really want to read it, I just need to make the time for it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Starting Today

Here's a cool idea. Check out Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days.

For President Obama's first 100 days in office, Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker will post a poem by a contemporary American poet written for and during the first 100 days of this new administration. (Thanks, Patricia, for the link.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Trashfinders Ball

Imagine, if you will, a neighborhood party that celebrates trash!

The Trashfinders Ball is a local favorite. It’s a charity event in late February where folks come to exhibit their best trash finds. Judges pick the best items and one lucky winner will become the 2009 Trash King or Queen. These trash-to-treasures are judged solely by the trash find: Where was it found? What the story behind it? Why have you kept it? And this year, there’s a fashion show!

This will be my first time attending the ball, so last Thursday, I participated in a pre-party event called the sewing circle. The trashfinders get together to make fashion out of trash, or trashy fashion. We brought old material, used clothing, and … well … rubbish!

Not only is this a fun concept, it's a creative way to look at what we throw away, and monies raised will go to a good cause. The organizers are even creating a documentary about the event.

This was my creation (thanks Colleen!): a skirt made out of old, shredded O magazines!

Will show you finished my creation, along with a full recap, after the party!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Love Fest

When I say “President Barack Obama,” I’m still taken aback that we have elected and installed the first African American president. HOW COOL IS THAT?


There’s been a lot of chatter back and forth about Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem. Can’t think of a harder job than to write for a non-poetry, global audience. But I love that she’s receiving all of this much-deserved attention.

In re-reading “Praise Song,” I found myself engaged again in the last stanza, which is the acknowledgement of new beginnings and that there is something more, possibly better, in our futures. The poem really is a lovely ode to possibility.

Whether you liked the poem or not, it is now part of our culture, on its way to being mythic. Fascinating.

Question: When you’re reading a poem or a story in front of a group, do you say “thank you” at the end of your performance to signal the end, or do you, like Elizabeth Alexander, say nothing and wait for the crowd to respond? (I don’t like awkward silences, so I say thank you, usually.)


Some other things that may have gotten missed this week.

If you liked the poem, why not tell The White House how it made you feel? I did. (Thanks Kelli!)

Graywolf is publishing the inaugural poem.

Listen to Natasha Trethewey interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

And now for something completely different: Are you a fan of the poetic form Cinquain? If so, check out and try your hand at writing this five-line poem.


I confess, there was too much going on to post confessions this week. I'll be back next Tuesday with a new roundup for Confession Tuesday.

Elizabeth Alexander on The Colbert Report

This makes me so happy! It's a good time to be a poet. Yay Elizabeth!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Praise Song for the Day (the official version)

[This is the official version (with line breaks). Feel free to reprint as long as you include the copyright info in its entirety.]

Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.

January O'Neil Reads "Litany"

Here I am reading my poem "Litany," written for last night's Inauguration Day Poetry Reading.

The event was perfect. Couldn't think of a better way to cap off a tremendous day of celebration.

Special thanks to all the readers and attendees who participated.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander's Inauguration Poem

January O'Neil's Virtual Inauguration Party

Welcome to the party!

Today, we celebrate. Today, we pause and reflect on this tremendous occasion before we roll up our sleeves and work to get this country back on track.

Congratulations to Barack Obama as he becomes the 44th president of the United States!!!

Talk to me. Let's start a conversation. How are you feeling? What are your thoughts this inauguration day? I took the day off from work to watch the events without interruption. And tonight I host a poetry reading in which readers will share a poem inspired by politics and our new president.

I especially want to hear from those who lurk. Stop by and say hello.

Let's get this party started!

New Poem

(I'm reading this poem at tonight's Inauguration Day Poetry Reading.)


Because I am African American

Because I was born in the South and live in the North

Because I am first-generation removed from the civil rights movement

Because I am a wife, mother, and concerned citizen

Because I am an American

Because I voted for change

Because his name is Barack Hussein Obama

Because he saw something in us that we were not ready to see:
a belief that we can recognize ourselves in each other

Because it is time for our voices to be heard

Because of Iraq, Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, Abu Ghraib, weapons of mass destruction, the axis of evil, “Mission Accomplished,” Katrina, the economy, the mortgage crisis, unemployment, global warming, immigration, poverty, homelessness, hopelessness, helplessness

Because we are more than Democrats and Republicans
more than Latino, Asian, and Native American
black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not

Because of Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, Rosa,
and the countless, nameless souls who fought for change

Because my parents and grandparents
never thought they would live to see this day

Because we honor the past and look forward to the future

Because we still have a ways to go

Because I can say to my son, “One day you could be president,” and mean it

Because his name is Barack Hussein Obama

Because we are one people

Because it’s time to stop talking and start listening
to stop listening and start doing

Because the dream is no longer deferred

Because we are the ones we have been waiting for

(This poem borrows lines from President-elect Obama’s “We Are One” opening speech, January 18, 2009, as well as shamelessly referencing the words of Langston Hughes and June Jordan.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

In Gratitude, In Love

I am at Starbucks goofing off instead of writing an inauguration poem. But I am so overwhelmed with anticipation of change in the United States and the world that I have to stop and acknowledge these feelings.

In gratitude, in love, I am thankful we are closer to reaching the dream. Rather, that the dream is no longer deferred.

Happy MLK Day.

Will post my poem tomorrow. Looking forward to celebrating the inauguration of our 44th president with you!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2010 Dodge Festival Cancelled

Just don't have the words for this. From

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown will skip the next Dodge Poetry Festival -- expected to happen in the Fall of 2010 -- as a result of the ongoing economic crisis.

The festival, which is the largest poetry festival in the United States, has meant so much to me as an emerging writer and a poet. I've been attending since my NYU days 1996. Since it happens every two years, the poetry-filled weekend always seems to come along when I need a break from the day to day. Secretly, it's always been my hope that one day I would read at the festival as a "Poet Among Us."

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation does so much for the arts in New Jersey, as well as bringing poetry to high school students. Here's hoping those efforts can continue.

Well, my hope is that the organizers see fit to find a way to make the festival happen. This is a terrible loss for the poetry community. But with the inauguration around the corner, I have hope that Dodge will come back stronger than ever.

I hope.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Current temperature: 14 degrees
Feels like: 1 degree

Insane! These are the days that I just want to crawl in bed and stay there.

Will brave the cold to go to Starbucks and write. Haven’t been in almost two weeks. I’m having venti-hot-chocolate withdrawals.

While I’m there, I’d like to start two poems. One of which needs to be an inaugural-themed piece for a reading on January 20.

Another reason why I love my iPhone: I downloaded an application that will allow me to post audio files on my blog. May test it out tonight—stay tuned.

Thinking about recording audio files made me wonder about recording poems at readings, or just doing v-logs. So this little baby may be in my future.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weekend America

I just found out that one of my favorite public radio shows, Weekend America, is being cancelled. I believe the last show will air at the end of January.

Why? "It's the economy, stupid." (Damn that phrase.)

As someone with a two-hour, roundtrip commute four days a week, I had come to value the time I spent in the car listening to the Weekend America podcast. Not only do they feature quirky, off-beat, slice-of-life stories, they almost always have a segment showcasing poetry in a meaningful, intelligent way.

So here are two of the most recent poetry stories:

Poet Derek Walcott discussing President-elect Barack Obama. You'll remember that famous photo of Obama in front of his motorcade holding a Derek Walcott book.

And poet Linda Pastan discussing past inaugurations:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Confession Tuesday

It's Confession time! Share your thoughts, and be sure to visit my fellow confessors in The Confessional.

My life right now is like a house with a leaky roof, a broken water heater, and a foundation crack. I don’t whether to fix everything or scrap it and get a new house.


My daughter has developed a potty mouth. Lately, when she’s upset with us, her favorite phrases are: “You stink” and “You’re poop!” How lucky are we to have a child with such a creative vocabulary. When does this phase end? Tim and I are big advocates of time-outs, but this hardened criminal can do a stretch like she was waiting in line for a Happy Meal. Nothing fazes her.

Admittedly, I love Ella’s resolve—it’s her way or the highway. But really, there’s nothing worse than hearing “You stink!” from a three-year old.


This weekend, I had the kids while Tim was out of town so I didn’t do much more than sleep when I could. Didn’t get far on my poetry goals.

But hey, the past is past. This week, my goals are to:

1. Write two poems, one of which is an inaugural poem for next week’s open mic
2. Send out two packs of poems
3. Read Howard Levy's A Day This Lit

Keeping it simple.


Taking next Tuesday off for the inauguration so I can watch it in the privacy of my own home.

True confession: I added “The Thong Song” to my iTunes.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Judging Books by Their Covers

I have spent the last two days making a final decision for my book cover. Sorry, I can't post it but imagine the coolest cover EVER! That's my cover. (*smile*)

Here's the story. Last March, I selected two images to use as the cover art for my forthcoming book, Underlife. I settled on two of the 20 options my friend, a graphic designer, created for me. One I loved (cover A), and one I liked a lot (cover B).

For months, I've lived knowing that cover A was my rock-solid choice. But when someone I trusted mentioned that cover B was a better option, I really had to think about it. So I did a little "market research." I asked for second, third, and fourth opinions from coworkers, sent the covers to other poets, went to Borders and B&N to see what other poetry books look like on the shelves, and laid out books by contemporary poets. In reviewing cover art, I looked at the cover art (photography vs. illustration vs. works of art vs. type treatments) and I wanted to see how well the cover image matched the title/subject matter.

Let me just say that if your name is Frost, Yeats, Ginsberg, Whitman, or Dickinson, your picture is probably on the front cover. I also saw lots of dull covers with heavy type. We all know that major booksellers do not carry many contemporary poets, but if you're female, you have to fight for shelf space.

So I'm comfortable with cover B because both are great designs. I'm glad I put myself through the process. I really care about how the book will translate to market, small market that it is. I have to live with it for years to come so I want to be happy with my choice. And I am. Guess I'm just having trouble letting go.

Again, I know this story would resonate if I posted both covers. When Underlife is closer to release, I'll have a big reveal on the blog. I will say that the cover falls somewhere between Philip Schultz's Failure and Mariko Nagai's History of Bodies (both are excellent reads, BTW).

Q of the Day: What attracts you to a poetry book cover, and does it influence your choice?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Boston: Inauguration Day Poetry Reading

Inauguration Day Poetry Reading
January 20, 2009
Gulu-Gulu Café
247 Essex St, Salem, MA
7-9 p.m.
Open mic sign-up starts at 6:45 p.m.

Come celebrate President Barack Obama’s inauguration with poetry. Hosted by January O'Neil

Bring an “inaugural” poem—an original poem inspired by our new president, the presidential election, or politics in general—to read at this open mic.

Sign up early! There will be 20 slots; each poet can read for 3 minutes.

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Confession Tuesday

Ladies and gentlemen … I give you the first Confession Tuesday of 2009!


Last week, I shared my Poetry Action Plan, but did I mention my New Year's Goal (I don't believe in resolutions)? This is my overarching philosophy for how I approach the year: take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. What does that mean, you ask? It means not letting time slip away. It means calling a friend when I first get the impulse and not putting it off. It means inviting my neighbors over for dinner instead of planning to do it but not doing it. It means sending saying yes more than saying no. But it also means slowing down when I have the chance. I feel as if I don't follow up on my ideas, so 2009 is really about converting words into action.


I was up last night with Ella who has a bad cold, which means I didn't sleep much last night. But she's doing better today, poor baby.


The presidential inauguration is in two weeks! Although, it feels as if Barack Obama has made more progress as president elect than our current president has in all of 2008.


Speaking of inauguration, I'm planning an Inauguration Day Poetry Reading in my community. I have invited local poets and poetry lovers to come out and share an "inaugural" poem . Since so many of us are unable to travel to D.C. for the event, I thought this would be a great way to commemorate this historic day. More info to come.

*If you plan on hosting a similar event, let me know.*


On the poetry front, I'm returning to my local writers group after a two-month absence. Other things on the list:

  • Write a poem this week
  • Send out a packet of poems this week
  • Create flyer for Inauguration Event

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Poem


The “4” is a woman with her arm
buttressing her crooked back. The “0,”
a breast, still rounded and cupped,
waiting to be touched by her husband
as he lights a candle on the nightstand.
She watches the flame sway and bend
while the light creates a balance of shadows.
How quiet they are, the two of them
approaching this silent age. Her curves still
amaze him. The light quarters them into
equal parts radiance, equal parts desire,
the fine gradations, the parsing of glow
and gesture, how the room encloses them
in this hothouse, these forms doing nothing more
than following their functions.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Day One

This is a do-over • Time to press “reset” • Time for second chances and first impressions • Time to get realer • Time to admit what you don’t know, and embrace the things you do • Time to walk instead of run • Time to run instead of drive • Time to remember what the New Year is all about • Time to get involved • Time to stop talking and start listening • Time to stop listening and start doing • Time to forgive • Time to lend a hand • Time to appreciate the ones around us • Time to claim your “Me time” • Time to live within your means • Time to just do it • Time to claim your authentic self • Time to find your own powerful, unique story, because nobody can tell it better than you • In other words, it’s time for a change. Or as poet June Jordan once wrote, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Happy 2009! Wishing you much poetry and blogging in the New Year!!


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