Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Century of Black Voices: 1910-2010

Look at all of these beautiful faces!

On Saturday, I was part of A Century of Black Voices: 1910-2010—a Black History Month event at the Brookline Public Library. Local poets read the works of poets who came before us as well as reading a few of our own. In the photo:

Coleen Houlihan—Audre Lorde
Bridgit Brown—Margaret Walker
Charles Coe—Gwendolyn Brooks
Mignon Ariel King (host)—Maya Angelou
Me—Lucille Clifton
Lolita Paiewonsky—Arna Bontemps

Readings like this remind me that poets are part of an impressive literary lineage. To think that I’m a small part of this great continuum blows my mind.

I had chosen to read Lucille Clifton’s poems before I knew her health was failing. Bringing her into this space seemed more than fitting. Her poems challenge you. They make you live with history rather than forget it. Guess you can say that about all of the poets we brought into the room.

Reading with Afaa

(Afaa Michael Weaver, J.D. Scrimgeour, and me)

Afaa and I spent Thursday afternoon at Salem State with one of J.D.’s classes. It was my first time participating in a classroom visit, which was cool and weird at the same time. I’m so used to being on the planning end of things that it takes a bit to make the switch, I think. But I really enjoyed the back and forth. The students asked very insightful question, everything from whom to read to our writing processes.

The weather was awful that evening, surprising that anyone came out to hear us read. But we had a terrific crowd, maybe 80 people. I was thrilled when my portion of the evening was over because I could relax and listen to Afaa read his beautiful poems, some from a new manuscript. He’s so kind and warm, and genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say.

Then on Friday, I spent time with two classes. Lots of thoughtful questions on craft, as well as more talk on process. Thanks to J.D., Kevin Carey, and the other professors who encouraged their students to ask questions during the visit.

Pardon the Interruption

I’m back at home after the 24-hour power outage. The kids liked the adventure, but, in reality, it was a huge inconvenience. Oh well, what can you do? With the recent snowstorms and earthquakes happening in different corners of the world, I’m grateful the outage wasn’t that serious.

I started the following post on Friday and never got a chance to post it because wireless service was down in my area. Also, poetry-related activities have kept me busy: reading with Afaa Michael Weaver on Thursday, speaking with Salem State students on Friday, reading for Black History Month on Saturday—not to mention The Trashfinders Ball last night (not poetic but definitely fun). I have pictures from all the events I hope to post soon. But today, the priority is cleaning the basement.

Here’s Friday’s post.


I am writing this post from The Atomic CafĂ©. Why not Starbucks? Because the power is out at my Starbucks up the street. And the wireless network is down all over. I’m just asking myself what can go wrong next?

  • After my reading with Afaa, which was terrific, but after … that’s when the fun started …

  • It was a dark and stormy night. Wind gusts at 55 mph. Rain coming down sideways. On my ride home, I ran over a dead skunk.

  • Parked in car in the garage thinking, “What if a tree falls on the car?” Forgot that I ran over a skunk, The garage smells like skunk.

  • Had a momentary thought that the power might go out, and sure enough, it did. Power out at 10:42 p.m.

  • The house sits on a high water table (read: flooding). With no power, the sump pump did not run. The hole where the pump sits quickly fills with water.

  • I grab a bucket and a pitcher and start bailing out water from the hole where the sump pump sits. I am a human sump pump. I do this for 2.5 hours thinking the power will come back on soon. About 2 a.m., I realize my efforts are futile and go to bed.

  • Around 3 a.m., Ella wakes me up because she can’t sleep (Can’t wait until she has kids of her own). She keeps me awake until 4 p.m. I send Ella back to bed saying words to the effect, “I love you very much, Ella, but this isn’t working for me."

  • I wake up at 5:30 a.m. Power still off.

  • 6 a.m. Alex wakes up he’s excited about no power. Terrific. Basement has 1.5 inches of water. Not much water, but enough to make a grown woman cry alone in the bathroom while the kids getting dressed.

  • 8:15 a.m. Kids off to school. I have a full-on meltdown. Call parents for long-distance hug.

  • 9:30 a.m. No power. I talk to J.D. Scrimgeour about my appearance speaking to classes today at Salem State. We’re still a go. Will be the high point of my waterlogged day.

  • 10:45 a.m. Heading home now to put a cold compress on my eyes. Please, God, let the power be on and the smell of skunk gone from the house.

  • Noon, My wrist starts to swell from the repetitive motion of bailing out water.

  • Friday, February 26, 2010

    One Moment Please ...

    Thursday night brought rain and wind with gusts of more than 55 mph. My power was knocked out, and we had a little flooding in the basement. So, we're staying elsewhere. I'll get back to blogging in a day or so.

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    For Langston

    "For Langston," a poem written by J.D. Scrimgeour in collaboration with composer Philip Swanson as part of Confluence.

    The performance is from the February 24, 2010, CD release party of Ogunquit & Other Works.

    Afaa Michael Weaver and January Gill O'Neil reading at Salem State College

    If you're in the area, hope you can make it to Salem State tonight.

    Poetry Reading at Salem State College
    Afaa Michael Weaver and January Gill O'Neil,
    Thursday, February 25, 7:30 p.m.
    Martin Luther King Jr. Room, Ellison Campus Center
    352 Lafayette St., Salem, Massachusetts
    Free and open to the public.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    The Emily Dickinson Teapot.

    "The dandelions pallid tube astonishes the grass, and winter instantly becomes an infinite alas." -Emily Dickinson

    Why not?


    Had major car drama that may be much to do about nothing--or the beginning of the end for my Subaru. My 2000 Outback has 211,000 miles on it and has had a myriad of problems. Well, after stalling in traffic yesterday I had it checked out. *I'm hopeful* that the problems have been solved. And it didn't cost much this time. Whew! I've had a heap of trouble with the car during the past year. Would be nice to get a few more months out of it before buying something new.


    Short but sweet. Heading out to the performance of Confluence tonight. Feeling waterlogged and rain soaked this afternoon. Hope it's sunny in your corner of the world.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010


    I’m very excited about this project.

    Confluence is the collaboration of two Salem State College faculty members: poet J.D. Scrimgeour and composer Philip Swanson. It is the union of music and poetry to create jazz-based pieces against a narrative backdrop.

    There’s a performance from their first CD, Ogunquit, on Wednesday, February 24, at the Salem Athenaeum, 7:30 p.m.

    This dynamic duo also has a session scheduled during AWP Denver on Thursday, April 8, 10:30 a.m. at the Capitol Ballroom—Hyatt Hotel, Denver.

    Visit the site and listen to audio clips from this wonderful collaboration.

    Confession Tuesday

    Happy Tuesday folks! Time to confess your sins of the week, on this last Tuesday in February. Share a little of yourself with us and we’ll be sure to do the same. Don’t forget to show a little mercy to the folks doin’ time in The Confessional.

    This purse in the shape of a turtle was given to me by my BFF Suzie as a belated birthday gift. It’s symbolic; to remind me that in life, slow and steady wins the race. Thanks Suzie!


    I completely missed Mardi Gras last week, which means I missed the start of Lent. I am a lapsed Catholic, but Lent was the one time during the year where I would practice the remnants of my faith. I used to give up things, and then I decided to make a conscious effort to do things for others. Now, I don’t do anything. I think of myself as spiritual person rather than religious one these days.


    Being in Washington, D.C. this past weekend made me homesick for the area. D.C. was the first city I moved to after I left home in my early 20s, so I still feel an attachment there. I have no doubt that one day I’ll return there to live.


    While I enjoyed the two readings I did in D.C., it was a net loss financially. I knew this going into the readings. You can count the amount of books I sold on one hand, and the number of attendees on two. But wasn’t so much about earning money or promoting Underlife. I had the chance to see old friends and fall in again with a city that holds a special place in my heart. I talked poetry with people I’ve never met before. It was about taking a risk and learning from the experience.

    This is what I know about myself: the safest thing I can do is take a risk, while the riskiest thing for me is to play it safe. Not anymore. I’m listening to my instincts more and doing things that will improve the quality of life for my family and me, even if the payoffs aren’t the obvious ones.

    I’d do the D.C. trip again in a heartbeat.


    What an amazing gift—to be able to connect with people through poetry.


    On the heels of D.C., I have many readings in the works. I’m entering the busiest time in my life professionally, so I’m working really hard to maintain some semblance of balance over the next few weeks.


    If something has to give, then it seems to be reading books and writing poems. All of my other action items such as writing grants and reorganizing the office I’ve managed to do, but I’m not writing anything substantial.

    I’m going to forgive myself a bit for not working on new poems and try to pick it up again in March (read: next week). Thanks Confessional. I feel better already.


    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Hillyer Open Mic Event (HOME)

    Here are a few photos from the Hillyer Open Mic Event (HOME) in Washington, D.C. Thanks to Fred Joiner for setting up the D.C. readings for me.

    The space was quite amazing. The conversation after focused on the importance of visual arts and how visual cues influence the written word.

    Left to right: poets Kathi Morrison-Taylor, Fred Joiner, me, and Holly Bass.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Postcard from Washington D.C.

    Hello from D.C.! This was my view this morning as I walked from Le'Infant Plaza to the National Gallery of Art. Yes, D.C. is still digging out in some spots--lots of schools this morning had two-hour delays. The sidewalks and streets are clear, so life is slowing getting back to normal in our nation's capitol.

    I'm sitting in Busboys & Poets at one of their work/eat stations. I think I'll just give you my impressions of the trip so far in quick hits/random thoughts. Here we go!

    *First, I've been so busy this week that I haven't been able to respond to blog posts or visit blogs. I'm sorry. Hope to catch up over the weekend.

    *I'm sitting family style at a table where people are eating and working. It's a little weird eating and working over my laptop with a table full of people doing the same thing. That being said, I had a Caesar salad.

    *That was my mini-lunch. I'm meeting my friend Theron at Ben's Chili Bowl for the real deal. Ben's Chili Bowl is a local institution, and a favorite spot of our current president. I hope to catch up with Nizam, the owner's son who now runs the restaurant. Haven't seen him since our early 20s.

    *Picked up a copy of John Murillo's Up Jump the Boogie and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington D.C.

    *Wonder how many poets are actually here at Busboys & Poets. I seem to be surrounded by law students.

    *Last night's reading for INTERSECTIONS went well. It was a small but attentive crowd of listeners. Afterward, there was a Q&A with myself, host Fred Joiner, and fellow reader Kathi Morrison-Taylor.

    *Each reading series has its own uniqueness and flair. Can't say enough about the Q&A. I liked that added element. We spend so much time reading that we overlook the value of talking about process.

    * We spent a good amount of time bringing Lucille Clifton into the room. I didn't realize how accessible she was to the local poetry community around the metro D.C. area. Her loss is especially palpable here.

    *Tonight I'm reading at at the Hillyer Open Mic Event (HOME). International Arts & Artists, 9 Hillyer Court NW, Washington, D.C. Sign up early, performances start at 7. Should be a lively crowd.

    *Will talk about my experience at the National Gallery of art in a separate post.

    * I feel a poem coming on ...

    Claudia Rankine at Babson

    (Left to right: LaShonda Cooks, Mary Pinard, Claudia Rankine, Mary O’Donoghue, me, Elizabeth Goldberg, and Daina Williams.)

    On Wednesday evening, I had the great privilege of hearing Claudia Rankine read her thought-provoking poetry at Babson College.

    She presented a short film she collaborated on with her husband, filmmaker John Lucas. Provenance is a five-minute film that melds poetry, video, and photography, examining the biggest catastrophes in modern history, from 9/11 to Katrina. I admire how she uses her work to elevate the level of social and political discourse through art—not only through the work, but by using film as the vehicle for that discussion.

    Rankine seems comfortable in many genres, from poetry to playwriting. For me, her work starts out as meditations on a theme, then expands to touch on larger, often political topics. I wish I had more time to speak with her about her creative process. I’m sure she touched on it the next day as she gave an informal talk to Babson students (I was unable to attend).

    It was a great pleasure to spend even a few minutes with her. It’s also nice to speak to another poet mom, one so accomplished and not afraid to say what needs to be said.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Poets & Writers: Writers Recommend

    From P&W:

    In this online exclusive we've asked authors who have been featured in our pages to share books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired them in their writing. We see this as a place for writers to turn to for ideas that will help feed their creative process.

    My piece posted today!

    Even More Questions from Jim Brock’s FGCU Class

    Devin said...
    I'm curious as to your purpose behind using a blog. You're a poet; you write stuff then publish it. So, is this simply a method for connecting to your reader(s)? If so, is it accomplishing its purpose? How do you think so?

    Originally, I started the blog because I was pregnant with my second child and wanted a way to connect with other poets. At the time, I was relatively new to the area I’m living in now. I didn’t have any writer friends nearby. With young kids, it’s hard to coordinate a workshop or attend readings. So I started the blog, found others online who wanted to share their poems, and the rest is history.

    The blog is an extension of me. It’s a place where I don’t have to be edited or censored. I guess its purpose has always been a place for me to share my thoughts and poems before I send them out for publication. The fact that people read it is a happy accident. I still see it as a place for me, but now I happen to be doing more. I'm promoting a book, so certainly there’s a marketing element to what I do. The Poet Mom blog has surpassed my expectations for connecting to others around the world.

    On rare occasions, someone might come up to me and say, “Hey, Poet Mom!” Can’t help but smile at that.

    I should also mention that it takes a while to publish poems. So a blog is a nice way to get immediate feedback on something I've just written.

    Mollie said...
    Hi, I'm also from Dr. Brock's class. I was wondering, while writing Underlife did you come across difficulties like writer's block, and if so, what kind of tricks do you find most helpful getting out of the slump?

    Hi Mollie. Underlife was never a project; I never sat down and said, “I’m going to start a new manuscript.” I had all of these poems and I could see the beginnings of a cohesive thread, which helped me make the mental shift from a bunch of poems on my computer’s hard drive to a potential manuscript. But once that process started, I could see where the holes were and I could see which poems needed work. The process for Underlife was never linear, but for manuscript No. 2, it definitely feels more like a project. Maybe that’s a good thing the second time around.

    As for writers’ block, the only way out is through—meaning, you have to work through not writing. You have to write a lot of bad poetry before you get to something good. It may be a phrase or a couple of lines out of two pages that you end up throwing away, but it’s a start. Carry a notepad with you in case an idea strikes you. Jot it down and let it marinate a while until you’re ready to write. Also, 15-minute free writes have always been helpful to me.

    Stuart said...
    Poet Mom, have you found that your subject matters have changed/evolved into more introverted topics since you had your children? I am also in Jim Brock's class. I have found that i as grow and change jobs so does the subject of my prose. But i can not imagine the shift in view point as of having children.

    Children are a game changer, no matter what! But for me, having kids added another level to my writing. Kids add new depth that makes the work more personal, but also more universal at the same time. It’s hard to imagine a point of view change like this until you have kids of your own.

    As I get older, I have pushed myself to write about a variety of things I never would have written about 20 years ago. But that’s also a result of having gained life experiences. Stuart, I think you’ll find that you’re more willing to take greater leaps into the imagination as the years creep up on you. My 30s were certainly more productive and interesting artistically than my 20s.

    Keep those question coming!

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Confession Tuesday

    Happy Tuesday, folks! Time to share a little bit of yourself, and in return we’ll do the same. Don’t forget to say hi to those hanging out in The Confessional.

    Thanks for all the kind wishes for my birthday. 41 feels pretty good. But Valentine’s Day was tough this year, as you might imagine.

    Most days, I feel like I can handle the divorce. I know I will be OK. I know I can get through anything. But anytime there is a first—first "Gosh, I know he's like this" moment, first snow that I have to shovel, first holiday, first birthday that the kids and I celebrate in this new reality—the hurt and anger is overwhelming.

    When I think about Valentine’s Day 2009, I remember this post with these beautiful flowers—I now know it was all a big, fat, fucking lie.


    I needed to say that today. Yes, I feel better now.


    Just completed my NEA fellowship application! I wanted to open a bottle of champagne just for completing the darn thing. Only took me 3 hours and 16 minutes to finish. I thought it would take the better part of a day, and I saw lots of questions on listservs about the forms. It wasn’t that bad. It’s done and I can breathe again.


    This week is crazy busy—more so than normal. Finishing the grant was huge because it frees me up to work on a new poem for Tuesday night’s workshop. On Wednesday, I get to meet and hear Claudia Rankine read her work at Babson (I’m having dinner with her and some members of the Arts and Humanities faculty—I’m so excited!). Then on Thursday, I’m going to D.C. to read at two events!

    When I look in the mirror, I don’t know this woman who has just published her first book and jets off to give poetry readings. But I like her; I can’t wait to see what she does next.


    Special thanks to Jim Brock and his class of talented LIT students at FGCU for reading the blog, asking insightful questions, and offering kind words about Underlife. Keep those questions coming!


    This has been planned for a while, but I’m participating in the reading A Century of Black Voices: 1910-2010. Black poets of Massachusetts celebrate the words and the voices of our writing ancestors. The reading is on February 28 at the Brookline Public Library (details to come). Ironically, I chose to read poems by Lucille Clifton—no clue what I’m going to say about her incomparable spirit.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    The Day in Pictures

    First, a little breakfast ...

    ... breakfast on a stick!

    Then, cosmic bowling.

    Don't let this little girl fool you. She may be four, but she picked up three spares and beat Alex and me at candlepin!

    Next, a birthday lunch.

    Then, a trip back to the late 80s for roller skating.

    Lastly, maybe my favorite part of the day, the family party that my kids threw for me!

    Hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day!

    Upcoming Readings in Washington D.C.

    Hope you can join me February 18 and 19 for not one by two readings in Washington D.C.!

    Kathi Morrison-Taylor and January Gill O’Neil
    Thursday, February 18, 6:30 p.m.
    American Poetry Museum
    The Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives
    1201 17th NW Street, Corner of 17th and M Street
    Washington, D.C.

    INTERSECTIONS DOWNTOWN is a monthly poetry reading series that explores the artistic influences of poetry through presentation and intensive discussion. The series concludes with an open mic session.


    Hillyer Open Mic Event (HOME)
    Friday, February 19
    Feature: January Gill O'Neil
    Sign up at 6 p.m.; Performances at 7 p.m.
    International Arts & Artists
    9 Hillyer Court NW
    Washington, D.C.

    Hillyer Open Mic Events occur on the third Friday of every month and feature a stunning array of the District’s poetic talent. Feature poets specialize in a variety of styles and take the audience for a personal journey into their work. Host Fred Joiner delves even deeper in his post-performance interview with feature performers, engaging them to illuminate their personal histories, influences, and perspectives to encourage heightened discourse and to somewhat unveil the mystery behind the words.

    Free for IA&A members and performers; $5 for non-members.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Happy Birthday to Me!

    That's right, I'm 41! Forgive me if I decline to wax poetic about Valentine's Day. I'll have more to say about that on Confession Tuesday.

    For now, I'm celebrating a birthday. Here's what I love about being 41.

    1. I'm finally comfortable in my own skin. There's a certain self-awareness that comes with age. Can't say that I'm unflappable, but I know who I am. I find myself less afraid and more in touch with the people and things around me.

    2. There are two small children who will, no doubt, wake me up at 6 a.m. to sing happy birthday.

    3. I look pretty good.

    4. Underlife is OUT! WOO HOO!! And this week, I get to travel to support the book.

    5. I've said this before, but there comes a point in your life when your family becomes your friends, and your friends become your family. I'm there!

    6. Speaking of family, hi Mom and Dad! (They read the blog.)

    7. I get to write and edit for a living.

    8. I don't have any regrets.

    9. I'm happy.

    10. It's not a perfect life, but it's 100 percent mine.

    More Questions from FGCU Students

    Claudia said...
    Do you write your poems out on paper first, or do you type them on the computer?

    I do both. I’m equally as comfortable writing on my laptop as my journal. If I’m writing in my journal, I always use a blue pen. Don’t know why, just a preference. If I'm doing a freewriting exercise, I try to do those on paper.


    Dana said...
    I was just wondering, have you ever written a poem and had it turn out perfectly without having to revise it—almost as if you went back to revise it the poem would lose some of the emotion or meaning you were feeling when you wrote it?

    Yes, but that’s rare when it happens. From Underlife, "Discipline" is a good example a poem that I barely revised. I tend to revise less often, but there’s a real value in gaining some distance from a poem, and then looking at it with fresh eyes.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    R.I.P. Lucille Clifton

    Just found out that Miss Lucille passed today. My heart is heavy. I've met her several times and am just sick about losing such a vibrant spirit.

    I tend not to have many regrets in life but I do regret not studying with her. She was supposed to teach at NYU during the time I was there, but she was sick, ironically.

    The poem in this video is one of my favorites. It is an anthem for me, and carried me through the last six months.

    Rest in peace, Miss. Lucille.

    Questions for the Poet

    These questions come from Courtney in Jim Brock's LIT class at FGCU. Say hi to Courtney on her blog, Jack and Jill Media.

    1. How did you come about writing poetry?
    I started writing song lyrics when I was younger, but it wasn't until I took a creative writing course at Old Dominion University with poet Toi Derricotte that I started writing poetry. I remember listening to an audio recording of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and thinking, "You can say all of that in a poem?!"

    2. Was it always a passion of yours?
    When I was at ODU, I started out as a business major. Then I took an 8 a.m. ECON class ... not the best choice for me, but it lead me to creative writing. So, yes, poetry has been a passion of mine for most of my adult life.

    3. Where the poems [in Underlife] written over along period of time or were they a more recent reflection?
    There are a few poems that were written during my time in grad school at New York University, but have gone through several revisions since then. Certainly, the poems about marriage and kids were written in the last few years.

    I wasn't turned onto poetry until just a few years back, and now it's a pretty big passion of mine. I hope to hear from you soon if you have a chance to respond ...

    Thanks for your questions, Courtney. Good luck to you. Jim's a wonderful poet and a dedicated teacher.


    If you have a question, ask me!

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    The Hope Jar

    All week, I have been trying to make it to my local bank to open a new account. It’s such a small thing—opening a separate checking account so I can manage the little money that comes in from readings and selling the occasional book. I was stuck in traffic for most of my commute, but made it to the bank 10 minutes before they closed. Fortunately, the manager on duty was nice enough to stay late and help me (gotta love small banks).

    There’s barely enough in it to pay postage for poetry submissions and buy subscriptions, but it’s mine. I’ve given up so much this past year that tonight I did something for myself and my family. The account is another sign of hope—that I am managing this life the best I can. This small act meant so much to me, more than words can say.

    At home, I have a jar filled with loose change. When Tim left, I renamed it The Hope Jar. Another small gesture that I am making plans for the future. Opening the account made me feel the same way. Again, I don’t expect to earn much this year from poetry, but you never know what the future might bring. You just never know.

    Cooking in My Sleep

    I have been awakened by the smell of a 16-bean soup that I cooked overnight in the crock pot. It is the strangest thing—to be woken up by food. It’s like I’ve left something cooking on the stove. It always takes me a few seconds to remember I planned this.


    Have you seen the beautiful cover of Kelli Russell Agodon’s second poetry collection, titled Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room? I love reading how authors decide on the cover art because there’s usually a good story behind the selection. And many times, their stories end with, “this art was the best representation of my work.”

    For the Underlife cover, I had two excellent choices, but the publisher liked the mannequin legs over another very strong image. It worked out for the best. In the end, the cover is an extension of the work—which is an extension of the poet. So cheers to Kelli for selecting her cover. I bet the book feels much more real now that the cover’s in place.


    What can you do to increase your chances of getting editors to accept your poetry submissions? Start by visiting Martha Silano's blog.


    Valentine’s Day is upon us. For those who don’t know, that’s my birthday. I’ll be 41 on February 14. I’m sure there’s some meaning there. More on that tomorrow.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Snow Day?

    Thought we all needed a reminder that warmer weather will be here soon. :)

    Metro Boston is getting a Nor'easter, which is supposed to dump a foot of snow on the area. That's not nearly as much as our neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic states are getting. But nothing yet, not really.


    The Poets for Haiti benefit in Cambridge has been cancelled due to the weather (rescheduled soon, I hope).


    Kundiman is sponsoring an annual Poetry Retreat at Fordham University in New York City. During the Retreat, nationally renowned Asian American poets will conduct workshops with fellows. Readings, writing circles, and informal social gatherings will also be scheduled. Through this retreat, Kundiman hopes to provide a safe and instructive environment that identifies and addresses the unique challenges faced by emerging Asian American poets. 2010 faculty includes Regie Cabico, Tan Lin, and Paisley Rekdal. Visit the Kundiman Web site for more information. Deadline is March 1.


    Ploughshares is looking for a managing editor.


    Tsk, Tsk, PSA!

    Honoree Fanonne Jeffers discusses diversity (or the lack thereof) and the Poetry Society of America. From her blog post:

    Apparently, writer Fred Viebahn, the husband of poet Rita Dove, has sent an email of protest to the Poetry Society of America’s director, Alice Quinn about their gallery of baby pictures of poets. There are no African American/Black/Negro/Biracial of African Descent poets anywhere in this baby picture gallery.

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Confession Tuesday

    It’s Tuesday! Time to confess a week’s worth of sins—well ... only the good ones. Share a little about yourself and we promise to do the same. Don’t forget to check in on the folks doin’ time in the confessional.

    A special poetry shout-out to Jim Brock and his students at Florida Gulf Coast University. They are reading Underlife and visiting the blog this week. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll be happy to answer them on the blog. Very cool!


    Last night I watched the third installment of HBO’s The Black List. This documentary series features some of the most prominent African Americans of this generation; from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to Slash to Vernon Jordan to Toni Morrison to Whoopi Goldberg (she was featured in last night’s segment). I encourage you to seek out the whole series, which is now showing "On Demand" if you're an HBO subscriber on Comcast.

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these diverse voices talk about their perceptions of what it means to be black in America. And much like the people profiled in the documentary, there is a range of voices among black poets. From Phyllis Wheatley to Countee Cullen to Langston Hughes to Audre Lorde to Lucille Clifton to every member of Cave Canem and beyond—we hail from a long, multifaceted tradition of struggle and hope. It is a tradition of call-and-response. It is spirituals and gospel. It is storytelling. It is jazz. It is spoken word. It is all that and more, and it is astounding.


    This morning, I woke up early to read student contest entries for a friend and fellow poet. I enjoy seeing what subjects are important to college students. I see a lot of influences from pop culture—trying to give new life to old forms. I say, go for it. We need those voices in the mix.


    Weather permitting, hope you can make it to the Poets for Haiti benefit reading for Partners In Health. It is set for tomorrow, February 10, 7:30 p.m. at Longfellow Hall, Harvard University, 13 Appian Way, Cambridge.


    I received my pre-order for Sade’s new album, Soldier of Love, on iTunes. Listening to it now and it is FABULOUS! Wonder why she waited 10 years to put out this album, but I'm glad it’s here. The woman looks and sounds amazing. AMAZING!


    On the writing front, well ... it's time to write poems again. And there's that little matter of applying for the NEA grant. Also, I have a few articles to write before week's end.

    Whew! Good thing I like being this busy.

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    Claudia Rankine at Babson College

    (So rarely do I get to blog about work ...)

    The Charles D. and Marjorie J. Thompson Visiting Poet Series will present award-winning poet Claudia Rankine on Wednesday, February 17, at Babson’s Sorenson Center for the Arts. Rankine, author of Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, an experimental, multigenre project blending, poetry, essays, and images, will read from her poetry at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, the public is welcome, and a reception and book signing will follow.

    Hope to see you there!

    Super Bowl Monday

    I did not watch last night’s Super Bowl. The only reason I watch is to see the ads, and the whole idea of watching this annual spectacle to see a bunch of commercials is silly. And in this day and age, you can watch them the day after. Did you have a favorite ad?

    Congrats to the New Orleans Saints, this year’s Super Bowl champs!

    Selfishly, the Monday after the big game means no traffic on the highways for me.


    I took time last night to begin the process of getting organized. Thought I would get more accomplished, but no, my desk is still a mess. Lots of papers and receipts to organize. The old systems I have in place aren’t working. What I really need is a change. After I weed through the piles of paper, I’ll have a better sense of what I want to do with my writing space.


    Also working on a list of upcoming reading dates. March and April are crazy busy—and I couldn’t be happier. It will be a challenge to write a poem a day while traveling, but a challenge I'll gladly take on.


    My nightstand is full of books I have put off reading, but this may be the week. No TV, just lots of poetry. Books by Phil Levine, Michael Dickman, and Nin Andrew’s chapbook, Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum? , to name a few. I’m holding off on buying Tony Hoagland’s new book Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty for now. But it's next of my list of poetry books to purchase.

    How about you? What's on your list of new poetry books to read?


    Sharon Olds, and Michael and Matthew Dickman are reading together at NYU on March 4. Now that’s one reading I’m sorry I’m going to miss.

    Sunday, February 07, 2010

    My Day in Pictures

    A few pictures from my Saturday.

    After my early-morning hair appointment, I spent a few minutes at Starbucks. This is where I write when I'm not at home.

    Lunch with Suzie and Suzie's iPhone.

    A stop by Anthropologie to pick up a very special birthday present.

    Roller skating? That's right! When was the last time you went roller skating? Try skating with two small kids for the first time ever on a busy Saturday. It was so much fun that I'm going back without the kids next week.

    The day ended with an ice cream birthday party. (Happy 8th birthday, Eliza!)

    Saturday, February 06, 2010

    Flurries yet?

    Have you ordered your National Poetry Month poster from the Academy of American Poets yet? Order while supplies last.


    A special good morning to my friends in the Mid-Atlantic states. I think my parents are getting snow in the Tidewater area of Virginia, but not nearly as much as Washington, D.C. Hard to believe that Boston is missing out on this storm—that never happens.


    Last night I took part in a meeting with the trashfinders. The third-annual Trashfinders Ball happens on February 27. This is our annual celebration of the things that get thrown away, and the people who salvage them. It’s also our neighborhood fundraiser. Details to come.


    Kelli has a great idea for National Poetry Month. Participants sign up to offer two books of poems. Their names are entered in a drawing to receive books in a random book exchange. It’s a nice way to share books and learn about writers from all over. Visit her blog for more information.


    I’m determined to get a little writing in today, but the weekend is action-packed. At some point, I will roller skate for the first time in 15 years. It’s all good, though. I’m bringing my camera with me to document my day. (Don't worry, I won't take pictures while skating.)


    We now have flurries in the Boston area.

    Thursday, February 04, 2010

    Thursday Round-up

    I’m still aglow from last night’s SPEAK UP! reading at Tatiana's Restaurant. It may have been the most fun I’ve had reading my work. (Well, the launch party ranks #1, but this was a close second.) The audience was full of storytellers, so it was more like a conversation than a poetry reading. I’ve never had a group clap after each poem. And when I read “Sex and Pizza,” a gentleman gave me a pizza box!

    Tony Toledo runs the SPEAK UP! readings and open mike, and is a fine storyteller in his own right. He does an amazing job of cultivating the creative community—this is a reading series I encourage you to seek out. Thanks Tony!


    Dodge! Dodge! Dodge! Dodge! Dodge!

    I’ve already requested the time off from work: October 7-10, 2010.


    Also, the Second Annual Boston Book Festival date has been announced: October 16.


    And, for those of you wondering what underlife means … The word underlife has been listed with Urban Dictionary for four years, but now it has a new definition.

    Yes, I am redefining language! *smile*

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Full Disclosure: P&W Article

    The photo above is a scan of half the Poets & Writers interview. The other half wrapped to the other page. (click on image to enlarge)

    Taking a page out of Kate Durbin's book (who was also featured in Poets & Writers debut poets roundup, here's the entire list of questions. Can't say enough nice things about P&W. If you haven't picked up the issue, please do so because there's a diverse cross-section of emerging poets from across the United States.

    (FYI, Check out Kate's YouTube video of her poem "23 Erotic Dreams of Sarah Palin.")

    1. How old are you -- more specifically, how old will you be on January 1, 2010?
    40 years old.

    2. Where do you live?
    Beverly, MA

    3. Do you have a graduate degree in creative writing?
    Yes, an MFA from New York University

    4. If so, was your graduate school experience a positive one?
    It was the best time in my life. I learned so much from my professors and fellow classmates. And the connections I made then are still current today.

    5. What do you do for a living?
    I’m a Senior Writer/Editor for Babson College.

    6. Does your job allow for enough writing time?
    Which job? There’s the day job, then there’s the mommy job (I have two kids under the age of 7). There’s not enough time in the day so you make more hours.

    7. What inspires you to write?
    I love putting words together. I’m in love with the sound and rhythm they make banging against each other. I intentionally try to mis-hear words and phrases, jot them down, and use them in a poem.

    8. Were you inspired by anything specific during the writing of Underlife?
    When I was pregnant with my second child in 2005, I felt disconnected from poetry and the writing community. So I started a blog (Poet Mom). I posted poems on my blog, and visited other blogs and group sites. My writing took off from there. I had to complete the manuscript. I just had to. Didn’t want to have any regrets about my ability, or feel unfulfilled in my writing life.

    9. What do you turn to when you've reached an impasse in your writing? What keeps you writing?
    I blog, rewrite to-do lists, play with the kids, and connect with other writers and draw inspiration from them. What keeps me writing? Writing is my vocation. I enjoy writing more than anything else.

    10. What's your favorite book?
    Fiction: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Poetry: The Dead and the Living by Sharon Olds.

    11. How long did it take you to write the poems in your book?

    Two years.

    12. How long did you try to find a publisher for your book before it was accepted by CavanKerry Press?
    Six months. I submitted to two contests, and two publishers with open submission periods. CavanKerry only reads during open submission periods.

    14. If you could show a prospective reader a line or two from your book --- just a couple representative lines --- what would they be?

    From “How to Make a Crab Cake”

    Always, it’s a matter of guesswork
    but you hold it together
    by the simplest of ingredients,

    for this is how the body learns to be generous,
    to forgive the flaws inherited
    and enjoy what lies ahead.

    15. Are you working on a second book of poetry or a book in a different genre?
    Yes, I’m editing my second manuscript.

    16. Any advice you'd like to share with other poets who are trying to publish their debut books?

    Don’t underestimate the value of community. Get involved on a local level, or reach out to the virtual world. I’ve been a Cave Canem fellow since 1997, a member of the online community Read Write Poem (formerly Poetry Thursday), and a member of writers’ group in Salem, Massachusetts. These are the people who will get me through when the words aren’t coming.

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    Question about Underlife

    Got a question about Underlife, the process of creating this manuscript, or a particular poem? Ask me! I'll be happy to answer your questions.

    Jennifer said...
    Q: Ah, it must have been great to get that note from your mentor. I have two questions. Did you run any drafts of your manuscript by him? As you were putting Underlife together (my copy arrived yesterday, btw!) did you have a few trusted readers, or was it, by that stage, a solo effort?

    A: No, I did not run the manuscript by my mentor, Phil Levine. I felt I needed to do this on my own—at least without the help of a teacher.

    In the first round, when I finally felt confident enough, I sent my manuscript to two of my most trusted poet friends. They felt it needed work. Quite frankly, I felt otherwise—I knew the answer was somewhere in the middle. So I made some revisions and sent it out again to a wider group. Round 2 included poets, writers who were not poets, and good friends whose opinion I trusted and valued. So, 10 people in all. That took about four months.

    The hardest part of the writing process, I think, is trusting your instincts. How do you know when you have something worth sharing? You just know, and you have to believe in your vision. Sounds hokey, but it's true.

    Thanks for the question, Jennifer.

    Confession Tuesday

    Happy Tuesday! Time to confess. C’mom, admit it, own up, come clean, plead guilty—and we’ll do the same. Don’t forget to say hello to the folks doin’ five-to-ten in The Confessional.

    Tried to dictate my post to the Dragon Dictation app on my iPhone. It transcribes my words into text, which I can then e-mail to myself. But sometimes the words look more like magnetic poetry than coherent text. Case in point:

    “If it's Tuesday it must be confessed to Tuesday share a bit of yourself with us and we'll do the same and don't forget to say hello to the folks hanging out in the national”

    Lesson learned: there’s no substitute for writing.


    Groundhog Day bugs me (no pun intended). This antiquated tradition has become a media circus. Throngs of people stand around to watch a rodent “see” his shadow. Oh, please! Go watch your local meteorologist. Or better yet, consult your calendar, because most places in the continental U.S. will experience six more weeks of winter. (If you’re in the Northeast, it’s more like 16 weeks.)


    In the last 36 hours, I’ve crossed more of my to-do list than I have in the past week. Just taking small, incremental steps—and having a plan in place—makes all the difference.

    Here this week's poetry to-do’s:

    1. Write 2 poems this week (haven’t written a poem in 2010. Ugh.)
    2. Work on second manuscript
    3. Apply for NEA Fellowship
    4. Write article for Bread & Circus
    5. Organize office
    6. Find new venues to promote Underlife

    My friends and I are kicking around the idea of a time-share. Not the traditional notion of buying a week of vacation time. This has to do with helping us tackle nagging household problems we can’t seem to solve on our own.

    I have a problem with organizing my desk, maybe because I see it everyday. I find myself moving piles around instead of clearing them off my workspace. Another friend needs help redecorating her apartment. Another needs to reorganize her basement. So we may donate one day a month to each other’s headaches, offering a fresh eye and helping hand on getting a handle on each other’s stuff.


    Have you read Dana Martin’s post, “Why Poetry Is Bullshit”? Check it out. She’s close to 100 reasons—help her reach the goal. This is how movements are started.


    Oscars, baby!

    Monday, February 01, 2010

    SPEAK UP! Spoken Word Open Mike This Wednesday

    Join me this Wednesday for poetry and open mike:

    SPEAK UP! Spoken Word Open Mike
    Wednesday, February 3, 7 PM.
    Tatiana's Restaurant
    70 Market Street
    Lynn, MA 01901

    January Gill O’Neil will be the featured performer at SPEAK UP! Spoken Word Open Mike this Wednesday, Feb 3. Jan is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, December 2009), her debut poetry collection. At SPEAK UP she’ll talk about the “strange and beautiful underlife,” those emotional truths that reside beneath the respectable patina of our public lives. Since she’s leaving the kids at home, she’ll get to read some of her poems that are—shall we say—not suitable for younger audiences.

    SPEAK UP! meets every Wednesday. We gather at 7 PM. Sign up begins at 7 PM to get your own five minute slot of fame at the microphone. The Open Mike starts at 7:30. Our featured performer goes on at 8:30 PM followed by more Open Mikers till 10 PM. FREE. There is food and drink aplenty at Tatiana's to satisfy your every taste, all moderately priced to make make your wallet happy. See you at SPEAK UP!

    Goodbye January. Hello February!

    I took a few days off from posting and tweeting to spend time with friends and to regroup. January was a terrific month for me: I had multiple readings scheduled, I applied for a state grant, I started the process of getting organized—all while keeping the kids and me on track. Yet, by month’s end I was wiped out. I shoveled way too much snow but hardly went to the gym. My job took a big chunk out of me. And dealing with this new normal of being a single parent presents its own set of challenges.

    This month gives me another opportunity to take stock, retrench, and find ways to do things differently or better. Yes, life happens. Yes, sometimes “me” time goes out the window with kids and other pursuits in the mix. But I’m far better mom, daughter, coworker, friend, and poet because I take time for myself. This allows me to live my life with purpose and without regrets.

    So, I’m trying out a few things in February.

    • Mindful eating. I toyed with the idea of going meatless for a month but I won’t lie—I love a good steak now and then. But I’m going to cut back on the amount of meat I eat in February. I also intend to try some organic foods, buy foods from local producers, try new recipes, plan weekly menus, and get the kids to help me cook whenever possible. Eating better and working out should help me maintain balance (HA!).
    • Debt diet. The pullback continues. I’m not making any unnecessary purchases this month. Although, this is my birthday month so I may have to splurge a bit.
    • One thing a night. I have a master to-do list that fell to the wayside by mid-January. So I’m subscribing to the “let’s just get one thing done before my head hits the pillow” plan. I’m hoping that taking incremental steps will help me get some of my household chores out of the way.
    • Hiring a babysitter. I’m going to have someone come over a few hours every two weeks so I can devote uninterrupted time to organizing the office and mailing out submissions. You know, pobiz.

    Poetry to-do’s coming soon.


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