Thursday, April 29, 2010

Readers and Writers Guild

Join us tomorrow night at Readers and Writers Guild! Hope to see you there.


Readers and Writers Guild at Christ Church
149 Asbury St., Hamilton, MA.
April 30, 7:30 p.m.

Featured Poets: January Gill O’Neil, author of Underlife, and Colleen Michaels, poet, essayist, and instructor at Montserrat College of Art.

Open mike to follow.

Do You Have a Poem in Your Pocket?

I do. I have two.

The one I'm holding is by Drew Myron. She won my CavanKerry Press book giveaway at the beginning of April. Drew sent me the kindest note with this tiny poem, so I am carrying this gift with me today.

small things

The world is full of glass
Unpack slowly
Shake pedals
Serve tea
Give wide starts
Live among psalms
Pull thin light
Stand tall
Give thanks.

I am grateful for Drew's poem today, and for Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole"--the other poem I am carrying with me--because I received official notice that my divorce is final. So today of all days, I need something to hold onto. Today, I am pulling thin light, standing tall, and giving thanks.

Thanks Drew.

So, what poem is in your pocket today, and why?

Virtual Blog Tour for Underlife

Rolling, rolling, rolling! It's the end of the month, but we're picking up steam. The blog tour for Underlife has one more passenger with a new review by Wanda McCollar. Here's an excerpt:

"Her poems are open, honest, fresh, and unafraid. Some are the most sensual poetry I’ve ever read. There is no posturing, affectation, pseudo sophistication. These wonderful, welcome poems touch us at the very center of how we experience life in a way that uplifts us and teaches us to find new meaning in our daily existence. Nothing more than that can ever be asked of poetry.”

Check out reviews from Kelli Russell Agodon, Donna Vorreyer,Joseph Harker, and Sarah J. Sloat . We'll end with two stops on May 1, with Kimberlee Gerstmann and Carolee Sherwood. Don't forget to visit all the blogs of the participating reviewers. Woo hoo!

Tour stops for Underlife
Apr. 13 :: Kelli Russell Agodon :: Book of Kells
Apr. 15 :: Donna Vorreyer :: Put Words Together. Make Meaning.
Apr. 20 :: Joseph Harker :: Naming Constellations
Apr. 22 :: Sarah J. Sloat :: The Rain in My Purse
Apr. 29 :: Wanda McCollar :: Piping of Plenty
May 1 :: Kimberlee Gerstmann :: Scraps and Sass
May 1 :: Carolee Sherwood :: Carolee Sherwood

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Confession Tuesday

It’s the last Tuesday of NaPoWriMo, which means it’s also Confession Tuesday. Share a bit of yourself with us today and we promise to do the same. And don’t forget to say hi to the folks doing time in The Confessional (see sidebar).

Thanks to everyone who has voted for me as the 2010 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere. It’s cheesy, but think of it as your way of checking out some very good poet-bloggers you may not have heard about otherwise.


Congrats to all those who will complete NaPoWriMo. Looks like I will be writing 30 poems in 45 days instead of the traditional 30! Well, what can I say? The month got away from me. I feel like the last marathon runner crossing the finish line just before dark.

Last night I started a sonnet. Not ready to post but I haven’t written a sonnet since my grad school days. Woo hoo!


I’m exhausted! What is it about spring that tires me out? I’m up at 5 a.m., working long days only to come home and spend a few hours with the kids. After play time, dinner, showers, reading to the kids, and packing lunches, I’m pooped! And then by 8:30 p.m., I’m nearly comatose. If I even sit down on the bed it’s a good bet I’ll be asleep within 10 minutes. There’s just not enough time in the day, so I’m doing my best to stretch my waking hours.

I’m sure it’s equally as crazy in your household, right?


Besides being a full-time mom and full-time employee, much of my time has been spent promoting Underlife. I have really enjoyed reading in front of audiences, so I’m working to set up reading dates for the fall and next spring.

The efforts seem to be paying off. Before AWP Denver, Underlife was nearly halfway through its first print run—not bad for a book released in December 2009! Here’s hoping for a second print run before the end of 2010.


Here’s my Poetry To-Do List

1. Finish up NaPoWriMo poems
2. Read through poetry submissions for a contest I'm judging
3. Set up reading dates
4. Write a book review for Gently Read Lit
5. Update blog to add more pages
6. Revise second manuscript (mid May)
7. Submit new poems to journals from second manuscript
8. Revive video project (mid-May)
9. Update Goodreads, and look into
10. Catch up on my reading

Monday, April 26, 2010

Poetry, Pinsky, and Jazz

Watch this video on YouTube

I started the day with Robert Pinsky and jazz. BU did a nice job putting this together. What a talented group of students in the ensemble.

I'll have to catch them locally the next time they give a performance.

Monday, Monday

It’s one of those mornings where I hated getting out of bed. Could have slept another two hours. That’s certainly true after this weekend, which was filled with kids’ activities: t-ball, a birthday party, bike rides, and swimming. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!


I’m giving myself credit for the things I did get accomplished rather than brow-beating myself for what still needs to be done. I managed to hang a few new pictures, bring out the spring clothes, spot-clean the house, make plans for a yard sale, and get some advice for my lawn, which needs a little lovin’ after this past winter. May not seem like a lot, but those things are a big deal to me as head of household.

NaPoWriMo also comes under the “giving myself credit” header. I’m not going to finish NaPo in time, but I’m going to write my 30 poems anyway. Once I got behind after AWP, I had grandiose ideas of writing two poems a day until April 30. In truth, I just don’t have the mental capacity to do that. Besides, I don’t want to post poems just to finish a challenge. And, I feel the need to write in form; I want to take my time with those pieces. So if I can finish my 30 during the first week of May, I’ll be happy.

Then, I am going to take out manuscript #2 and revise, revise, revise. That will be my big project for May.


Haven’t posted a to-do list in a while, which I why I’m feeling so unfocused about my writing goals. Will do that today.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I think I enjoyed this day more than the kids!

NaPoWriMo 15

After the Marriage

Even the vegetable garden has its own narrative.
Watch as I dismantle this eyesore:
A mound of dirt and rock bordered
by cinder blocks. Good intentions,
terrible execution. Nothing about it leveled
or anchored, and the netting of backyard oaks
kept the light from conversing with the basil,
the tomatoes that rotten on the vine.
Nothing left here but the detritus
of last fall’s leaves and in the far corner
a profusion of chive, green and vibrant,
enough to make me think, just for a instant,
there’s something worth saving.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Wayback Machine

The following photos literally fell out of a box as I was looking for a blank card for a child's birthday.

Photos from my NYU days, '95-'97.

Yes, that's me and Yusef Komunyakaa at a PSA event, but did you notice me rockin' that weave?! I loved that hair--gave it up when I moved to New York. HA!

At another event (I'm weave-less), Ruth Stone signing my copy of Second Hand Coat.

So happy to find this picture of me, Lucille Clifton, and Phebus Etienne. *sigh*

And this one ... Yikes! Joseph Legaspi and me back where it all began. I think we're in an NYU dorm but I'm not sure. I loves me some Jo Jo.

NaPoWriMo 14


At South Station, multitudes of passengers
pass through the commuter rail doors without
thought of stale air and spring colds,
the sneeze in the hand, the clearing of a throat
released into the recycled air, left behind
like The Boston Globe on an empty seat
waiting for the next person
to pick up up and pass it along.
The impressions of a hundred thousand
strangers now stored in my cellular memory,
their imprintable truths passed along
door handles and seat backs, along
the railings as we all hold on for dear life.
Eyes vacant and oblivious to the distances
we travel with our subatomic detritus,
how thin the threshold from inside
to outside and back again,
how this world lives on in us,
and we forever live in it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

NaPoWriMo 13

Throwing a Pot

The trick is to know where you’re going
before you begin. Wet your hands.

Feel the floor with the souls of your feet
as you move the hard clay toward

the body. Your hands are the guide.
Here, there is no air—you must wedge

the clay to rid it of what remains,
always moving toward the center.

Feel yourself glide around the outside
of the surface, spinning with the wheel

because speed and pressure will cause it to open.
You know this. Here, you can raise walls

with just your fingers. Hold it with a little give,
allow yourself this moment before the making begins.

Virtual Blog Tour for Underlife

Like a bullet train, the blog tour for Underlife rolls on with a new review by Sarah J. Sloat . Here's an excerpt, referencing my poem "Old Dog":

The poem went for me beyond the points I’ve mentioned because some decades ago in a parallel universe, I was the one white girl in my grade school class. I kept a very low profile and put up with my share of taunting. I remember being followed home one day by a clutch of kids who had a chant that started “Black is beautiful / white is shit / if you don’t believe….,”

Check out reviews from Kelli Russell Agodon, Donna Vorreyer, and Joseph Harker. Also, we've added Carolee Sherwood to the list! Read her review on May 1, and don't forget to visit all the blogs of the participating reviewers. Let's keep the awesomeness going! (That's right, I said "awesomeness" ... and I meant it!)

Tour stops for Underlife
Apr. 13 :: Kelli Russell Agodon :: Book of Kells
Apr. 15 :: Donna Vorreyer :: Put Words Together. Make Meaning.
Apr. 20 :: Joseph Harker :: Naming Constellations
Apr. 22 :: Sarah J. Sloat :: The Rain in My Purse
Apr. 27 :: Kimberlee Gerstmann :: Scraps and Sass
Apr. 29 :: Wanda McCollar :: Piping of Plenty
May 1 :: Carolee Sherwood :: Carolee Sherwood

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Big Tent Poetry

Well, a few of the key folks at Read Write Poem have started a new project: Big Tent Poetry. Woo hoo! From the Web site.
Are you ready for a new adventure? We are! We’re just getting things started here at Big Tent Poetry, but we’re very excited about continuing to celebrate and support poets working and playing online.

Our first writing prompt will go up on Monday, May 3; and our first “Come one, Come all” call for responses will go up on Friday, May 7.


I know this is completely cheesy, but vote for me as the 2010 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere. Thanks!


Earlier in the week, NPR profiled an anthology of African American poets on the topic of nature called Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry edited by Camille Dungy. My copy is on order from


NaPoWriMo ... I'm still in it. Just need to quicken the pace.

No Mass Poetry

This is from a letter sent by the organizers of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival:

Dear Poets & Poetry Lovers,

We are writing to update you on the planning progress of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and tell you about some upcoming poetry events.

After the 2010 Poetry Festival we consulted with dozens of poets, poetry partners and cultural organizations to help us think through where we should take the Festival and the overall Massachusetts Poetry Outreach Project. Out of those consultations has come a number of exciting plans that we are in the process of putting into action. Over the next month we will update you on many of them as they unfold including how to better use our website, a program for working with teachers on how to integrate poetry into their teaching, to be held this summer, and plans for statewide efforts to get tens of thousands of readers across the Commonwealth all reading some of the same poems over the course of a month.

For the Massachusetts Poetry Festival itself we have made the decision to follow the advice we were provided in the consultations and to divide the festival into two parts:

The first part will be a series of regional events held across the state in the first two weeks in October. These regional events would include partnerships with already planned happenings as well as readings designed specifically for the Mass Poetry Festival. In Boston, on the weekend of October 16th, the Mass Poetry Festival would be working with the Boston Book Festival to put together a weekend program of poetry readings and workshops.

The second event would be held the very last weekend in April of 2011 and would be a slightly streamlined version of the Mass Poetry Festival. We are still working to nail down a location for the festival as of now. As part of an effort to develop the poetry audience in Massachusetts, we will also be working with local libraries and literary organizations on creating coordinated state-wide poetry reading groups. Our hope is to boost and publicize many of the events that take place for national Poetry Month and work to have even more events across the state and have those lead up to the statewide Festival on April 29th and April 30th, 2011. So please mark those dates in your calendar now and we will update you on the plans as they unfold.


I'm disappointed that the Mass Poetry organizers could not put on the festival on this year. I know spin when I see it, and this feels like a money/resources problem. Divide the festival? Why? I'm grateful that we were able to participate the first two festivals in Lowell, MA, but I'm not keen on adding it to the Boston Book Festival (BBF), destined to be swallowed up by big corporate sponsors and non-diverse headlining poets.

What I like about the Mass Poetry Festival is its grassroots spirit. I thought Mass Poetry was moving toward the Dodge Poetry Festival model, but I expect Mass Poetry will be assimilated by the BBF and/or die a quiet death in a year or two. Too bad, because I know a lot of people who have put the time and effort into making it a success.

As for Poetry Outreach, we've been waiting more than two years for this outreach. I'll believe it when I see it in action. And I really want to believe. The whole thing feels like a state-run initiative going nowhere.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Dodge Poetry Festival Lineup

If you haven't been to a Dodge Festival before, this is the year to go, with probably the most diverse lineup in Dodge history. Happy to see so many friends on the list.

Amiri Baraka
Hadara Bar-Nadav
Marjorie Barnes
Tara Betts
Jericho Brown
Teresa Carson
Michael Cirelli
Billy Collins
Kyle Dargan
Kwame Dawes
Oliver de la Paz
Matthew Dickman
Michael Dickman
Rita Dove
Martín Espada
Santee Frazier
Rigoberto González
Kathy Graber
Penny Harter
Bob Hicok
Tyehimba Jess
Galway Kinnell
Dorianne Laux
Laura McCullough
Dunya Mikhail
Joseph Millar
Malena Mörling
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Sharon Olds
Marie Ponsot
Claudia Rankine
Kay Ryan
Margo Taft Stever
Mark Strand
Jerry Williams

Confession Tuesday

Happy, happy Tuesday folks! Time to confess. Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same. Don't forget to say hello to the folks doing time in The Confessional (see sidebar).

Last night I wrote NaPoWriMo poem 12. Not posting it because it's called the c-word. You know, it's that four-letter word that people still find offensive. I don't think I ever heard the word until I was in my 20s, so I don't have the same reaction as other people. The poem references recent experiences that I've had bottled up for a while. I'm not posting it because of the title, not the subject matter. It's clear that I've used my poetry powers for evil rather than good. Oh well, it happens.

If you're a regular blogger here and would like to read it, send me an e-mail at jgill27494 AT aol dot com.


I'm way behind on my NaPoWriMo poems, but I plan to complete the challenge on time ... somehow. With all of the travel, I've been sleeping as much as humanly possible and not writing. Things are settling down for me, which is good. Time to make a poetry to-do list and see what's in store for late April/May.


Thanks to all who have supported Underlife. I'm thrilled by the reaction it's getting among readers. Don't think I mentioned this in my AWP posts, but I brought 20 books with me to Denver, and either sold or traded my supply. I could (and should) have brought more. Even before AWP, the books sales were strong. So thanks to all who have brought, read, talked about, blogged about, and championed Underlife. It's the little book that could!


As much as I love to travel, it's good to be home with the kids. Finally, the weather is warming up and drying out in New England. I have so much spring cleaning to do, it's ridiculous. But I'm trying to look at the house with fresh eyes, so to speak. Time for a change. Out with the old and in with the new.


I think I'll end with a note of gratitude. I am thankful for:

  • This crazy life I have. That I am beholden to no one. I know who I am, and I'm happy.
  • Two best kids in the world.
  • My parents, who love me no matter what.
  • Friends who are really my extended family. They have my unwavering love and respect.
  • Work that fulfills me.
  • Poetry. Poetry Poetry!
  • Warm weather. Time for a new swim suit!

Monday, April 19, 2010

NaPoWriMo 11

At the Moment of My Birth

I felt pressure—
my mother pushing me
out of her world and into the next

and when she tired,
forceps clamped my skull
pulling me through.

The air exploded
over my blood-wet skin.
My body, a cold question

with no answers,
my fingers useless,
my legs good only for kicking

with a mouth
that sang my arrival.
Waterless tears for my blurred eyes.

Patterns of light,
existing only in periphery,
and yes, hands, lots of hands—

fingers up my nose, in my throat,
giving me feet and inches,
my imperfections now a matter of record,

a murmur or a whisper?
Then I was lifted up and placed
on her breast. I felt warm,

maybe loved. I heard my full name
spoken for the first time
and I wanted to claim it.

Virtual Blog Tour for Underlife

The Virtual Blog Tour for Underlife continues with a review from Joseph Harker. Here's an excerpt:

Poems are fauna: some are more agreeable and cuddly, some are interesting in their angles, and some hurt to look at but you can’t tear yourself away. I admire O’Neil’s ability to populate this zoo of identity with race, and gender, and all the vicissitudes of life, and still make it all sing to the reader with her words.

Also, check out reviews from Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer. Thanks to Kelli, Donna, and Joseph for their reviews.

Tour stops for Underlife
Apr. 13 :: Kelli Russell Agodon :: Book of Kells
Apr. 15 :: Donna Vorreyer :: Put Words Together. Make Meaning.
Apr. 20 :: Joseph Harker :: Naming Constellations
Apr. 22 :: Sarah J. Sloat :: The Rain in My Purse
Apr. 27 :: Kimberlee Gerstmann :: Scraps and Sass
Apr. 29 :: Wanda McCollar :: Piping of Plenty

Sunday, April 18, 2010

City Lights 2010 Gala

The last stop on the "Where in the World Is Jan O'Neil?" weekend tour was last night's gala, sponsored by the Brockton (Massachusetts) Public Library and the Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts (GBSPA). It was a fundraiser to support the local arts community. Great music, terrific food, and poetry--who could ask for anything more?

The event was well work trekking back from Baltimore. It's nice to see communities around the state invest the time and resources toward poetry, of all things. Brockton has a true advocate in GBSPA President Arnie Danielson.

The GBSPA held their first-ever poetry contests, one for high school students, and one for New England residents. X.J. Kennedy judged the contest that had nearly 700 entrants.

My poem, "A Mother's Tale" (a poem not in my book, Underlife) won second place! Congrats to Lori Desrosiers for her winning poem, "That Pomegranate Shine," and Dorian Kotsiopoulos for her third-place showing for "Today I Saw a Boy in a Box." And a nod to Claire Keyes, whose poem "Poem Ending in a Line by Robert Frost" was my pick to win.

A Mother’s Tale

I tell my son
that the best poems
are written in the sand
and washed away with the tide.
I say, the moon controls the waves,
uses the wind to rake the shore.
It is an open invitation to fill
the world with words
because like seashells
you can never have too many.
I tell him to wade into the water.
Start a conversation with
the tiniest grain on the beach,
the one that catches his eye with its glint.
It will tell him everything he needs to know
about this moment, about how to stay in it
a little longer. It will tell him how to be,
for an instant, the thing he most wants
to become.

CityLit Festival

After a rainy but stellar night in NYC, I caught the train for the second leg of my trip to Baltimore for the CitiLit Festival at the Pratt Library.

The Pratt is an incredible resource for the city and its people; the festival is just one of the many community-based activities they sponsor year-round. This is same the library system that arranges grocery delivery and pick-up for the community at the branches where access to good quality foods are limited.

On our poetry panel was John Murillo (he puts my busy schedule to shame), Ron Egatz, Paul Nelson, and Shelly Puhak. The panel was hosted by Reginald Harris, who took very good care of us and really did a fine job moderating the event. (Thanks Reggie!)

L to R: John Murillo, Ron Egatz, bust of Edgar Allen Poe, me, and Paul Nelson.


Thanks to Bill Hughes for taking video of the event.

And yes, I was able to eat crab cakes before I left Baltimore!

NYU/CC Reading

Friday night, I read at New York University with Raina Leon (Canticle of Idols) and R. Dwayne Betts (A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison and the poetry collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm (May 2010).

The reading, sponsored by NYU, Cave Canem, and Poets & Writers, exceeded my expectations, which were pretty high to begin with. We had a full house, and in the audience was Cornelius Eady and Sarah Micklem, Yusef Komanyakaa, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Evie Shockley, and Joseph Legaspi, among others.

Joseph and me

Reading my poems publicly still makes me incredibly nervous. NYU readings mean a lot to me, so I think I get too wrapped up in the moment. But once my portion of the evening was over, I could take a deep breath and relax.

Joseph, me, and Evie.

Friday, April 16, 2010

NaPoWriMo 10


Because not every woman
can afford a battle-axe,
or keep a scythe in the shed,
we know where the cleaver is kept,
our weapon of choice.
The square blade glistening
at the ready in the kitchen drawer
wrapped in the silence
of our best, cleanest dish towel.
We bring it out during holiday meals
and Sunday dinners
when a knife just won’t do.
Keepers of the kitchen,
protectors of the hearth,
How else would we cut through
a lifetime of meat and bone,
of sauces in need of garlic
smashed to smithereens?
I’ve cut around a turkey's carcass
as deftly as a butcher on Saturday afternoon.
But let’s be practical, first cut,
deepest cut—not for the gentile or weak of will.
Because, as in Zen tradition, we know
how to cut the spaces in between bone
and never spill a drop of blood.

Inspired by Melissa Range’s poem “The Battle-Axe”

Traveling Fool

I am catching up with my life after AWP. No jetlag, fortunately, just trying to get organized, spend time with Alex and Ella, and clean house. Spent an hour last night putting away clothes that have been sitting for a week. Yikes!

Didn’t anticipate travel would take me off my NaPoWriMo schedule as much as it has, but I’m still in it. Today I’m traveling to New York, then Baltimore for readings by train, so I’ll have long periods of time to write and get back on pace.

The weather on the East Coast is a big question mark this weekend. I'm hoping I can get back to Massachusetts in time for an event Saturday evening. Crazy.

Pictures, photos, and musings to come!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Virtual Blog Tour for Underlife

Welcome to the Virtual Blog Tour for Underlife.

Thanks to Read Write Poem for setting up the tour. I will host it here on the Poet Mom blog with a new review every few days.

Batting first and second (forgive the baseball reference) are Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer. Thanks to Kelli and Donna for their reviews.

Tour stops for Underlife
Apr. 13 :: Kelli Russell Agodon :: Book of Kells
Apr. 15 :: Donna Vorreyer :: Put Words Together. Make Meaning.
Apr. 20 :: Joseph Harker :: Naming Constellations
Apr. 22 :: Sarah J. Sloat :: The Rain in My Purse
Apr. 27 :: Kimberlee Gerstmann :: Scraps and Sass
Apr. 29 :: Wanda McCollar :: Piping of Plenty

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Upcoming Weekend Readings

If you’re in the New York City or Baltimore areas, please join me for the following upcoming readings.

Friday, April 16
Cave Canem Poetry Reading
R. Dwayne Betts, Raina Leon, and January Gill O’Neil
New York University
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House,
58 West 10th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues
New York City, NY
7-9 p.m.

Saturday, April 17
CityLit Festival
Poets Ron Egatz, John Murillo, Paul Nelson, January Gill O’Neil and Shelly Puhak read their works, hosted by Reginald Harris.
Central Library, Poe Room
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Confession Tuesday

L to R: Rita Dove, Duriel Harris, Tayari Jones, Natasha Trethewey, and me

L to R: Duriel Harris, Rita Dove, Tree Swensen, Elizabeth Alexander, Tayari Jones, Jacqueline Jones Lamon, and me. Not in these photos but present at our tables were Kevin Young, Greg Pardlo, and Nick Flynn.

I have no business in this photos yet here I am, right in the mix of things (and having a really good time)!


This Confession Tuesday, I'm sharing a few of my favorite moments at AWP Denver. So here we go, bullet-point style.

  • The V.I.P. party. The V.I.P. party. The V.I.P. party.
  • Spending a few minutes with Rita Dove
  • Giving a copy of Underlife to Nick Flynn
  • Hearing Natasha Trethewey say that she's taught one of my poems in her class
  • Running into Matthew Dickman; the fact that he's even heard of me blows my mind
  • Having dinner and spending time with the fabulous Jacqueline Lamon
  • Reading with Cave Canem and Kundiman; nothing makes me more nervous than reading in front of the CC/Kundi family
  • Well, except for standing on a chair and reading in the middle of a crowded book fair (see pictures below)
  • Listening to Tara Betts read my poem "Poem About Nuts" to me at the CC/Kundi reading-- didn't see that one coming!
  • Meeting the alchemist behind The Alchemist's Kitchen, Susan Rich
  • Meeting the fabulously dressed and very talented Kate Durbin
  • Finally meeting C. Dale Young
  • Spending a few minutes with Brian Turner
  • Having drinks with Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble
  • Having lunch with J.D. Scrimgeour, Dawn Paul, and Keith Leonard--my Massachusetts peeps
  • Having breakfast with the Wompo listserv members
  • Sharing the airport shuttle with Toi Derricotte and Greg Orr
  • Having Greg Orr help me out of the back seat of the shuttle
  • Meeting so many people that I know through the blog, Twitter, and FB.

All of this means something to me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for being a part of the poetry community. (*big smile*)


Poetry collections I picked up while I was away:

  • From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems That Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great.
  • The Alchemist's Kitchen, by Susan Rich
  • Want, by Rick Barot
  • Fort Red Border, by Kiki Petrosino
  • Tough Boy Sonatas, by Curtis Crisler
  • The Us, by Joan Houlihan
  • Here, Bullet, by Brian Turner
  • Prose: Poems, a Novel, by Jamie Iredell
  • What Big Teeth: Red Riding Hood's Real Life, by Lana Hechtman Ayers
  • Running Away from Russia, by Luisa Rossina Villani
  • Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, by Rolando Wilson
  • Handmade Love, by Julie R. Enszer

Books I want to pick up, post AWP:

  • Mixology, byAdrian Matejka
  • Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Camille Dungy (ed.)


Underlife was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize! Not sure about the other finalists, but Sherman Alexie won for his collection Face.


Upon my return, I found out that my kids spent an interesting but fun week with my parents. I guess a few rules were thrown out the window. My son told me he and his sister watched the Lady Gaga video for Telephone. Yikes!


I'm behind on my NaPoWriMo poems. Will catch up later this week while traveling to NYC and Balitmore.

Now it's your turn. Share something about yourself with us. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

NaPoWriMo 9

This is a collaborative poem I wrote with J.D. Scrimgeour on the flight home from Denver. Can't remember the last time I collaborated on a poem. It was a great way to kill time on the more than 4-hour flight to Boston. No title yet.

Not the heat, not the humidity,
Not the drops of water beading
down the window in the late June afternoon

not the dog panting in the shade,
or the dream of the beach house,
or the barefoot girl on the porch steps

as she unleashes her ponytail,
flings her hair side to side
as it falls and drapes over her shoulders—

none of this is you. Not even the girl.
Did you have a ponytail? Did you
sit on porch steps sweating and

hoping for something more than this:
your life, tucked in your pockets
like old receipts, something you’ve signed away

and—dammit!—want back? Did a dog
shake a fly from its ear and look at you
with something you’d swear was pity?

You look through the window, which reveals
nothing but your own face staring back at you,
the eyes of someone hollowed out by years

of not looking through that window,
years spent looking away from the dog,
and your hands start a slow dance

into clarity, how they sail and glide
out of this world and into the next
with the lightness of being

until they are no longer your hands,
they belong to the girl, and they
are nearly still. They hold the head

of the dog between her small fingers
petting its head in comfort, in sorrow
for something lost that can never be found.

Monday, April 12, 2010

AWP Recap

I started this post yesterday flying from Denver to Boston. Sat next to J.D. Scrimgeour on the way back and we wrote a collaborative poem to pass the time, which I’ll post as a NaPoWriMo poem later tonight.

Saturday, the last full day, was a whirlwind of activity. I managed to attend two sessions. The first was called Black Goes Green, a panel that discussed natural world from the African American perspective. The panel also was in support of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Featured was G.E. Patterson, Cyrus Cassells, Greg Pardlo, Janice Harrington, and Amber Flora Thomas. The session was so well received that the University of Georgia Press sold out of the anthology at the conference. Edited by Camille Dungy, Black Nature is on sale at the UGA Press’ Web site and I for one am ordering a copy.

Next, I attended a session on New Media: Online Literary Journals and Web Sites in 2010. This session was moderated by Dan Albergotti and focused the site Waccamaw and other related sites. I was looking for a broader discussion of digital media and how new technologies have influenced how we publish, so my expectations were a bit off. Still, it was a great presentation and now I know of a few more places to submit my work.

Later, I went to Kate Rushin’s reading at the Cave Canem booth.

I have to give Cave Canem a lot of credit—and I don’t know why more sponsors and publishers don’t do this—but CC sponsored a reading for us at the booth. Since my publisher was not at this year's AWP, it gave me an opportunity to read in a very public spot. Also, it was a nice opportunity for CC fellows to be seen at AWP.

Patricia Smith and me.

In the evening, I attended the book launch and reception for Brian Turner’s new book, Phantom Noise. Powerful, powerful work. Alice James Books hosted the party and sold out of the 100 books they brought for the event. I finally picked up a copy of Here, Bullet. Brian was just as nice as he could be, signing books and speaking to as many party guests as possible.

Photo of Robert Hass from his evening reading with Barbara Ras.

And then, after hours ... I’ll post pictures tomorrow for Confession Tuesday.

Pulitzer Prizes 2010

Here are the winners and nominees in the categories of fiction and poetry. Congrats!


For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press), a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality.

Also nominated as finalists in this category were: “Love in Infant Monkeys,” by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press), an imaginative collection of linked stories, often describing a memorable encounter between a famous person and an animal, underscoring the human folly of longing for significance while chasing trifles, and “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders,” by Daniyal Mueenuddin (W.W. Norton & Company), a collection of beautifully crafted stories that exposes the Western reader to the hopes, dreams and dramas of an array of characters in feudal Pakistan, resulting in both an aesthetic and cultural achievement.


For a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to “Versed,” by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press), a book striking for its wit and linguistic inventiveness, offering poems that are often little thought-bombs detonating in the mind long after the first reading.

Also nominated as finalists in this category were: “Tryst,” by Angie Estes (Oberlin College Press), a collection of poems remarkable for its variety of subjects, array of genres and nimble use of language, and “Inseminating the Elephant,” by Lucia Perillo (Copper Canyon Press), a collection of poems, often laced with humor, that examine popular culture, the limits of the human body and the tragicomic aspects of everyday experience.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

AWP Recap

All of those things I wanted to do yesterday ... yeah, not so much.

The day started of with a breakfast for the members of the Wompo Listserv attending AWP, 20 of us in all. Yes, Amy King is as cool in real life as she is in the virtual world. It was also nice to meet Julie Enszer and Lana Hechtman Ayers, poets I've know only through social media.

Then off to the convention center, and a terrific lunch with a few poets and headed over for the Cave Canem panel. Every time CC gets into the room, the emotions come to the surface. There's such a love and an affinity for everyone involved in this group that getting together is truly like coming home.

The panel had three fellows, Aracelis Girmay, Curtis Crisler, and Linda Susan Jackson, discussing what Cave Canem meant to them, as well as commentary by co-founders Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. You couldn't sit in that room and not be moved.

The next session I attended, also in the same meeting room, was a reading for the new Fishouse anthology, From the Fishouse: An Anthology: Anthology of Poems That Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate and Just Plain Sound Good :

Panelists, left to right: Major Jackson, Erika Meitner, Adrian Matejka (behind the podium), Jeffery Thomson, Oliver de la Paz, and Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Adrian Matejka
Camille Dungy

Later, I had a chance to hear John Murillo read from his book, Up Jump the Boogie, at the Cave Canem booth. I will be reading at the CC booth today at 2:45 p.m. (Booth 405 if you're at the conference).

Unfortunately, I did not catch Rita Dove (sorry Evelyn), nor did I go to the receptions I wanted to attend. I ended up having dinner at a lovely French restaurant with a friend, then meeting up with more friends for drinks later. What can I say, most of these people I see only once a year. It's more valuable (and more fun) catching up with poet friends than attending sessions.


For today, if I can pull myself away from my laptop, I'm going to see Tara Betts read at the Cave Canem, float between sessions (there's not one that really captures my interest today), and load up on free or deeply discounted books from the book fair. (Many vendors don't like to ship a lot of inventory home, so they give their books away. It's cheaper than shipping them back.)

But tonight, I'm going to the reception for Brian Turner's new book Phantom Noise. Coincidentally, I ran into him in the elevator last night. Didn't say more than hi--so lame!


As for the NaPo challenge, I wrote poem 8, but I'm not posting it. It's different for me, I think I'm a little sensitive about posting it on the blog (a first!). However, I can see it being published in a journal, so I want to hold onto it. Therefore, I'm counting it as a completed work.

NaPo poems 9 and 10 to come.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday Haps

Join me for an interview on the Blood-Jet Writing Hour, Today at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. This is the AWP Denver edition, and my first time on blog talk radio. Should be a lively little convo!


Also, check out Jennifer Jean's interview with me on National Poetry Month. Woo hoo!

On tap for today at AWP:

  • Wompo Listserve Breakfast
  • A walk-through of the book fair
  • The Future of Book Publishing: How Authors Should Navigate the New Market
  • From Manuscript to Book: A Cave Canem Reading and Discussion
  • From the Fishouse: A Reading of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great
  • A Reading with Rita Dove
  • Receptions by Emerson College, NYU, and The Writer's Center/Poet Lore, among others.
  • AWP Dance Party (HA!)

This is a light day?

AWP Recap

In Denver, they like things big here!

  • AWP is massive! Every year I'm surprised how many people show up to these conferences even in a down economy. I will break out my Flip camera and walk around the book fair so you can see what I mean.

  • Went to four sessions yesterday. During previous conferences, I would pack in as many sessions as possible. But this year is more relaxed for me. I'm more interested in meeting people, especially those I only know virtually. Can't tell you how rewarding that has been.

  • All the poets I've met have been very kind--no posturing or drama or whatever. Of course, this is day 3. Anything can happen.

And now, a few photos.

poet J.D. Scrimgeour and composer Phil Swanson during their session, Confluence. They were terrific, and answered quiet a few questions after the performance. Their CD project, Ogunquit, has been picked up by Tupelo Press for distribution. Woo hoo!

From the Kundiman panel discussion. Kundiman is a group that nurtures and fosters the talents of Asian American poets, with close ties to Cave Canem. Nice to see these writers thrive.

Poet Rick Barot.

Had a terrific lunch with Susan Rich, author of The Alchemist's Kitchen! We had never met until yesterday, and what great fun it was to sit and speak with her. She's so talented fun! And, we both have Kelli to thank for bringing us together. *smile*

This is the panel from Black Goat Press, started by Chris Abani. Left to right: Kate Durbin, Amatoritsero Ede, Karen Harryman, Gabriela Jauregui, and Rick Reid.

Had a chance to meet Kate Durbin after the panel. She also was selected as one of Poets & Writers 12 debut poets in the Jan/Feb Inspiration Issue. During the Q&A, she talked about how important fashion is to her and how she likes to bring that element into her readings. Very cool.

I'm not going to do this panel justice. This is Donald Revell and Tony Hoagland at their session Poetry After the '00s: What Comes Next? The session dealt with where poetry is going, but I swear it was like watching an existential version of "the dozens." These two are funny together. Much of it went above my head, but it was fascinating. Here are a few gems:
  • Hoagland: "It's a glorious time [for poetry]. There is an enormous amount of form and experimentation and energy out there.
  • Hoagland, referring to the concept of "the new poetry": It's a hybrid; it's connected to the history of poetry and to the world."
  • Hoagland: What we do poetically, there is so much crossover it's like we're "passing through each other's comet trails."
  • Hoagland on negative aspects of the new poetry: "The new poetry is in love with its own cleverness."
  • Revell: "Poetry has existed as an argument against the limits of language. Poetry is a home for testing these limits."
  • Revell: "By shedding language, we shed our humanity. There is something beyond our own humanity. Poets are tasked with imagining that next state."
  • Revell: "What is a line? It is a turn. It is a conversion. It is a way to get from line 1 to line 2. If the line doesn't work, then you haven't been converted. We are leaving something behind when we write the next line. It is an old species and we are creating something new."
  • Hoagland; "Poetry isn't born. It comes from the constant factor of our suffering. We constantly try to figure out why life hurts so much. [Writing poetry] is about renewal."
  • Revell: "Suffering is a form of attachment. We are so attached to certain definitions--that's where the suffering happens."
  • Revell: "I believe there is another shore, but we're not going to get there by the rearrangement of ideas."

I think I'll stop there. There was so much volleying going on I couldn't keep up. I liked thinking about the new poetry as an unattainable place that we're all trying to get to. But if you recognize the form or style as a poem, then it's not the new poetry. Fascinating. And I like thinking of poetry as a way of wrapping ourselves around the human condition, much of which is suffering in some form.

Revell and Hoagland were two sides of the poetic coin.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

"April Is National Poetry Month and Here's Why"

The Boston Globe has an article in today's North section about National Poetry Month events north of Boston. I'm quoted in the article! Also, there's a list of April events, including my reading in Hamilton, MA on April 30.

Special thanks to David Rattigan for taking the time to speak with me.


Time to start the day. Weather in Denver will be 60 degrees and sunny, but I won't see much because I'll be inside at the conference center.

Let the games begin!

Cave Canem/Kundiman Reading

Today starts the craziness that is AWP, but last night there was nothing but love in the room at the Cave Canem/Kundiman reading. These two groups have grown and flourished out of a need to share common experiences. The success of the fellows in each group is a testament to the power of community.

Most of the pictures are up on Facebook, but here's a few for the blog:

Co-hosts Ching-In Chen and Tara Betts

Kazim Ali


Yours truly

Left to right: Tara Betts, Toi Derricotte, Me, Cornelius Eady, Jacqueline Jones Lamon.

A few things ...

So I'm sitting in the audience, speaking with poets Jacqueline Lamon and J.D. Scrimgeour. All of a sudden I hear, " ... little nut bags... ." I turn to the stage to hear Tara Betts reading my poem, "Poem About Nuts." If you don't know the poem, it's ... shall we say ... not for all audiences. Good thing I was among friends. *big smile*

I'm telling you, the most overheard line I heard last night--and I anticipate more of the same today--was, "I think we're friends on Facebook." Ah, the power of FB!

Much, much more to come!


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