Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sampling Another Poetry Festival

The folks at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival were kind enough to quote Jennifer Jean and me in an article on the Dodge Poetry Festival. Here's an excerpt.

“Both mentioned the panel discussion with four of the nation’s Poet Laureates as a highlight of the festival. “Mark Strand opened with a joke about stepping out on the laureate office balcony for the first time and suddenly being able to fly,” said Jean. “This seemed an important commentary on the so-called ‘career’ aspect of poetry. In other words, what was most important about living the life of a poet—developing the writing itself, ‘the internal life’ as Kay Ryan called it—was not altered by becoming a laureate.”

Read the full article at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival's Website.

The next Massachusetts Poetry Festival will be May 13-14 in Salem, Massachusetts.


I'm hanging out for a bit at Starbucks (big surprise).


I've written two poems this week, one this morning. Woo hoo! Gearing up for Robert Lee Brewer's November PAD Chapbook Challenge. Since I haven't written in a while, thought it was time did a little warm up. I'm getting back in shape, so to speak.

So, get ready for 30 days of general stress and bad poetry. There will be some griping, too. Remember, these are drafts. I hadn't really considered putting together a chapbook but I'm not ruling it out. I think it best to complete the challenge and then see where I am.


Will finish manuscript work tomorrow! This calls for a celebration--where's my venti hot chocolate?


I'm reading Dorianne Laux's Facts about the Moon and loving it!

So much good poetry out there I just can't stand it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Improbable Poetry

Last night was the kickoff event for the Improbable Places Poetry Tour, the brainchild of Montserrat College of Art's Writing Center Director and poet extraordinaire Colleen Michaels. The idea is to bring poetry to unlikely venues (read: improbable places) around Beverly, Massachusetts. Centraal Cycle was a phenomenal location; all of the poets, writers, and storytellers read poems related to bicycles. The bikes on the walls and in the racks became the art in the background.

(Host Colleen Michaels--check out her bicycle dress!)

There were roughly 15 readers and 60 audience members, with local writers, students from Montserrat and Endicott colleges, and community members sharing their works. Even I wrote a new poem, which, quite frankly, I was revising up until the moment I took the mic. Yikes!

(Dawn Paul)

What a creative way to bring poetry to the people. Other local businesses are clamoring to get involved. Next month's venue has not been announced, but in the works are a laundry mat, a tattoo parlor, and a swimming pool.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meet Susan Rich: The Alchemist's Kitchen

Seems as if Susan Rich and I have known each other longer than a few months, but we met in April at AWP Denver. When we sat down for lunch, we immediately swapped books, talked about poets we knew and respected, and figured out a way we could read together. Well, Susan and I will be reading together on November 17 at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. And, while I haven't seen the schedule, I believe we'll be reading together at the Miami International Book Fair on November 21. Twice in one week? Who would have thunk it?

Susan was gracious enough to answer a few question for me. You can check out my interview on her blog, The Alchemist's Kitchen.


Q. Susan, you are the author of three titles, The Cartographer’s Tongue, Cures Include Travel, and The Alchemist’s Kitchen. How was the process of creating this manuscript different than previous works?

A. I think the world of American poetry has changed in a number of ways since 2000 when The Cartographer’s Tongue/Poems of the World was released. There is more emphasis now on a collection of poems creating a linear narrative — something I’ve never really wanted to do. However, for The Alchemist’s Kitchen I did my best to create a book within a book: I embedded the story of Myra Albert Wiggins. Wiggins (1869-1956) an early 20th century Oregon photographer and a member of Alfred Steiglitz’s photo-secessionists. Researching Wiggins’ life (she also painted and published a memoir) in order to write poems was a new experience for me. I learned a great deal concerning photography and the history of the northwest. These poems form the second section of the book.

Q. The Alchemist’s Kitchen is such an intriguing title. How did you know that was the right title for this collection?

A. For Cures Include Travel I sent out a list of six titles to a group of my friends to see which one they liked best. Not surprisingly, they all very strong preferences but the trouble was, no one agreed. I went back and forth on several titles. Happily, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, was my one and only title for this book. I think that it serves as a vessel for the disparate themes I’ve braided throughout the book: solitude/imagination/relationship. As poets, we take the everyday flotsam and jetsam of our lives and try to elevate it to something universal, a reality that others can enter. Alchemy comes from the ancient Arabic word al-kimia which was both a philosophy and a practice of changing base metals into gold, but the ultimate goal was to achieve wisdom. In fact, the discoveries of the alchemists are the prototypes for modern chemistry. Later, after the book was published, I found that the alchemists were also seeking the secret of everlasting life and that Carl Jung had reexamined alchemy to recast its meaning to be a spiritual path into the self. The more I learn of alchemy, of creating what we desire out of what we have, the more I appreciate the title.

Q. Can you tell us about the cover art? Did you have much input in choosing the image?

A. My publisher, Dennis Maloney, at White Pine Press, has allowed me to choose the cover art for each of my three books. This is in equal parts terrifying and thrilling. I have taken the task very seriously and spent months looking in galleries, art books, and on-line to find just the right image. Actually, I’ve always wanted to use the work of an artist whom I knew, but until now that hadn’t worked out. The cover art for The Alchemist’s Kitchen is by my friend Philipp Schumacher.

I met Philipp at Fundacion Valparaiso, an artists’ residency in the south of Spain. It was a Sunday afternoon, the hottest part of the day, too hot to do any work so I asked to see a portfolio of his work. I fell in love with the cinematic aspect of his work – one shot films — as Philipp calls them. The play of light and shadow, the ominous clock face, the glowing porcelain pots --- it all reminded me of a film noir. But not only that. This was kitchen where anything could happen, a kitchen out of time. I like that.

Q. What is your favorite poem from this collection? Please tell us why?

A. Tough question that changes often. For tonight it’s “Cruise of the Christians” or maybe “At Middle Life: A Romance.” These are both poems that I find immensely pleasing to read aloud. I consider myself a poet of sound first and foremost. I sometimes worry that it makes me a shallow person, but I will sacrifice sense for music. I suppose that’s because I believe that sound has a higher meaning. These two poems seem, to my ear, to be carried along by an undertow of sound that builds. The subjects are very different – in the “Cruise of the Christians” the subject is Myra Albert Wiggins cruising to Jerusalem and the photographer as godlike; in “At Middle Life: A Romance” the subject is self-evident – and fun.

Q. Do you have any advice for emerging poets submitting their titles to contests and open reading periods?

A. Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems edited by Susan Grimm is now free on-line at google books. I have read some of the stronger essays each time I put a collection together. We may write dozens, hundred of poems, but we put only a handful of manuscripts together — and yet, the collection as a whole is what matters when you submit to book contests. Know that a collection of poems is a living, breathing, thing.

Q. The question I should have asked you goes here!

A. Thanks, January. Thanks for putting this together. How about, “Do you have any upcoming readings?”

As a matter of fact, I will be reading with you at Porter Square Books on Wednesday, November 17th. And by a fortuitous act of the universe, we will also be reading together in Miami on Sunday, November 21st. I also love the fact that you will be reading this December with my friend Major Jackson at my hometown library where I clocked many hours and where I gave my first poetry reading ever. I am so happy that our on-line meeting is turning into a face to face friendship.

Spike Lee and Me

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Boston Typewriter Orchestra

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra plays against type with its version of the Surfari’s “Wipe Out.” Thanks Drunken Boat for the link!

Confession Tuesday

If it’s Tuesday, it’s time for your confessions. Unburden yourself—you’ll be glad you did!

I love Halloween! This year, Alex is Anakin Skywalker while Ella decided to be a gorilla. Love it! Both kids fell in love with their costumes immediately. Just goes to show how each of them has a different take on the world, which is one of the many things I love about them.


I started this post before dawn. I love writing in the early mornings. It’s dark and quiet, nothing but white noise and the sound of acorns hitting the roof. Now that Ella seems to be staying in bed until 6 a.m., this is really my most productive time of the day.

I’m on the road to work by 6:40 a.m., at my desk by 8 a.m. The morning commute is a drag--no other way to describe it, especially when it rains. Want a bad commute? Just add water.


Today's weather in Boston: a high of 70 degrees and sunny!


Last night I started a poem at the gym. Typed it into my iPhone while on the treadmill. There’s nothing worse that letting go of a poem because I don’t have any way to capture it.

This week’s to-do list:

  1. Finish my second manuscript by Halloween. (Spooky!)
  2. Read a friend’s manuscript
  3. Begin planning for 2011 events
  4. Write poem for Improbable Places Poetry Tour. This month's theme? Bicycles!
  5. Send out submissions to two publications
  6. Get organized for November

Monday, October 25, 2010

Touching a Starfish

Ella touching a starfish at the New England Aquarium. There's a poem here.


Hope you caught the Poet Party on Twitter Sunday night. It was a ton o' fun! [Read the transcript!] Poets D.A. Powell, Collin Kelley, Kelli Russell Agodon, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Susan Rich, and Oliver de la Paz dropped in for an hour to tweet about all things poetry. Deborah Ager from 32 Poems was our hostest with the mostest! If you missed it, search Twitter for the #poetparty hashtag.

And yet, I feel slightly hung over. Must have been the two virtual blueberry martinis.


Wrapping up second manuscript this week, finally. The biggest problem for me has been devoting time to thinking through the last few edits for the Misery Island long poem. But I need to move it this week, just so I can feel free to move onto other projects. A to-do list is in the works.


I'm freeing up time to begin Robert Lee Brewer's November PAD Chapbook Challenge. Don't think I want to produce a chapbook, but you know how I like 30-day challenges. Will post my drafts online--the good, the bad, and the fugly.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Drinking" at Verse Daily

Thanks to the kind folks at Verse Daily for posting "Drinking" as today's poem. Very cool!

Y'know, Underlife makes a great holiday gift. Just a thought!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Beautiful and Talented

The beautiful and talented Susan Rich has an interview with me up at her blog, The Alchemist's Kitchen. Go check it out! I'll be posting an interview with Susan very soon.

I have the good fortune of reading with her on Wednesday, November 17, at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. And it looks as if we'll be reading together on November 21 at the Miami International Book Fair. How cool is that?

Susan's poetry collection, The Alchemist's Kitchen, is a great read. Be sure to pick up a copy.


If you happen to be on Twitter this Sunday night (Oct. 24) at 9 p.m. eastern time, look for a poetry discussion between me, January O'Neil (@januaryoneil), and these beautiful and talented people: Collin Kelley(@collinkelley), Deborah Ager from 32 poems (@32poems), D.A. Powell (@powell_da), Susan Rich (@susanrichpoet), Kelli Russell Agodon (@kelliagodon), and Aimee Nezhukumatathil (@aimeenez). We'll be using the hashtag #poetparty so find us on Twitter and join in.


The beautiful and talented Steve Almond has an interview up at Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. That site is run by the beautiful and talented Doug Holder.


The Poetry Foundation has two very beautiful and talented poets as part of their Essential American Poets series: Sharon Olds and Billy Collins.


Dream Academy

For those who like dream interpretation, tell me what you think of this. I dreamt I was a no-show for a big-deal poetry reading.
In the dream, the reading was in Cambridge, not sure of the actual location but it seemed like Cambridge. There were at least 40 people waiting for me to read. I get there with enough time, go in, meet the host, and see that my friend Jennifer and her husband have a table near the front. There are three readers scheduled, but I’m reading first. So far, so good.

But then I realize that forgot the copies of Underlife I brought for sale in my trunk, so I leave the club for the car. And then I think to myself, I should go get my mother, who is staying with me. (My mother lives in VA.) Why I didn’t bring her in the first place, I’m not sure. But I tell myself I have plenty of time, so I leave to pick her up. When I get to my house, I find out that the hot water heater is broken. Water is leaking everywhere. I call the plumber, who comes over and can’t fix it right away, so he gives me instructions on what to do to get the water out of the basement.

Realizing there’s nothing I can do for the basement at this point, mom and I go to the reading. But now I can’t find parking (if you know Cambridge, this is not a big surprise). I tell myself that the host will just move me to the back of the lineup, but I don’t call to tell him any of this. After a while, I have the sinking feeling that I’ve missed the reading completely. I check my iPhone and see that I have 122 voice mail messages. I go back, see that everyone’s left except for Jennifer, who yells at me for missing the reading and letting everyone down.

*Sigh.* Talk about my worst nightmare—this one is right up there!

It was like the dream was having me--to quote a friend. I think all of my stressors are boiling over, and boy did I feel stressed throughout the dream experience. I haven't had a lot of dreams lately in the past year that I remember so the fact that I'm posting it is significant to me.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

The Improbable Places Poetry Tour

Thursday, October 28, 6:30-8 p.m.
Centraal Cycle
237 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA

What's this tour all about? Well, it's Montserrat College of Art’s way of bringing together student writers, local poets, area businesses, and enthusiastic listeners to celebrate the power of poetry and community. Each month a new downtown Beverly venue and theme will be selected. This month's theme is, you guessed it, bicycles.

Hey, I've got a poem about a bicycle. Can I participate? We are accepting submissions. The deadline is Monday, October 25. We'd love to read your work! Submissions can be sent to

I don't have a poem about a bicycle. Can I still attend the event? Absolutely! Come and listen and cheer on the readers, talk bikes with the good folks at Centraal Cycle, and check out what the writers in the neighborhood are up to!

Okay, I'm curious. What's next month's theme? I knew you'd be hooked. See you on the 28th for more details.

Wait! I've still got questions. Just contact Colleen Michaels, Montserrat's Writing Center Director, at or 978-921-4242 ext 1254.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spike Lee

Rarely are there two events in one night that I can't decide which to attend. Well, last night was one of those nights, as I passed up a Mary Oliver reading to hear Spike Lee at Babson College. (I sat in the front row, as you can see by this grainy iPhone photo.)

Lee spoke to our students about the film industry and entrepreneurship. He talked for an hour on his life and career, how he became a director and actor. Coming from a family that encouraged art and creativity, he discovered his passion for filmmaking after someone game him a super 8 camera while he attended Clark Atlanta University.

Lee’s NYU thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, got him noticed. But it wasn’t until his first film, She's Gotta Have It was released that his career took off. With a meager budget of $175,000, the movie grossed $8 million worldwide. The rest is cinema history: School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, Inside Man--to name a few. (My personal favorite is He Got Game.)

Lee encouraged the audience of young entrepreneurs to find work that they're passionate about, and not just look for the biggest paychecks. Although, he also thought going to grad school and waiting out the recession is not a bad idea, either. Lee was as funny and thoughtful and engaging as you might imagine. More than that, he was real--I wouldn't have expected otherwise.

So for those of you wondering if I gave Lee a copy of Underlife, the answer is no. Didn't bring an extra copy. He made it clear early on that he wasn't excepting movie scripts, head shots, etc. But I was in a group photo with my department. Can't wait to see how it turned out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks! Time for your confessions. Tell us a little about yourself and we promise to do the same. And if you're confessing on your blog, please let me know so I can stop in and say hello.

In Monday night’s episode of "How Sad Am I," featuring me, I read to the kids and sent them to bed at 7:45 p.m.—15 minutes early (told them to tuck themselves in), I fell asleep at 8:05 p.m., woke up at 11:30 p.m., read e-mail, started to write a new poem for tonight’s workshop (not sure if it will be ready in time), caught up on po-biz stuff, found a friend also working online at crazy hours, and made tentative lunch plans. I stayed up for another hour, went to bed, got up, and wrote this post.


Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Mary Pinard’s classes at Babson about Underlife. I really enjoy talking to our business students because there are synergies to how poets and entrepreneurs operate: we are self-starters, work alone, surround ourselves with like-minded people, take pleasure in the process, and often work for little or no money.

These students asked questions I haven’t heard before—questions on the sequence and progression of the poems in my collection. Whenever I talk about Underlife, I find myself answering questions I never considered when writing the poems. I hope the students has as much fun as I did. It was a great way to kick-start the day.


In case you missed it, the 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival will take place May 13-14 in Salem, MA! I’m on the planning committee and am *extremely* excited to be in the mix. Lots of work ahead in a short amount of time.


This past weekend, I was able to get back to revising my manuscript after stepping away from it for a few weeks. I think I expected too much, trying to finish it during the Dodge Poetry Festival. But the hope is to eke out a few hours to finish it this week, send it out to a few more readers, revise and send out the finished product in early November. Completely doable.


Finally, I’m whittling away at my reading list. I’m reading Bob Hicok’s Words for Empty and Words for Full, and Susan Rich’s The Alchemist’s Kitchen. Quite the contrast in styles, but both books are wonderfully delicious reads.


Spike Lee comes to Babson tomorrow!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Poetry Speaks to Children.

When I was at the Dodge Poetry Festival last week, there was a lot of talk among poets on how to encourage more readers to enjoy poetry. The overwhelming consensus was to start teaching poetry at an early age.

So a friend of mind recommended Poetry Speaks to Children (Elise Paschen, ed.), which is a book and CD with 60+ poems read by, in most cases, the poets themselves. With vivid drawings and a diverse selection of poems, Poetry Speaks to Children is aimed at readers 6 years or older. Ella, my 5-year-old, loves it. The book has opened up conversations on rhyming, and we've started making up our own poems.

Taking about poetry has been a nice way for me to supplement what my kids are learning in school, and I enjoy listening to classics while discovering new ones. Current favorites of Ella's include "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, and "The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves, or, What You Are You Are" by Gwendolyn Brooks, both read by the authors. My kids are reading and listening to poems for pleasure. They're responding to the rhythms and sounds of verse without trying to beat the meaning out of it.

The book was published in 2005 but the poems in it are timeless. I highly recommend picking up Poetry Speaks to Children for your collection.

(Ooh! I just discovered Hip-Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, which I have placed on order with Amazon.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Poetry!

Can't tell you how much fun I had reading at Wake up and Smell the Poetry! It's a public access television show hosted by Cheryl Perreault and produced at the HCAM Studios in Hopkinton, MA.

(Cheryl Perreault and me)

With the live studio audience, it was easy to forget about the TV cameras. The audience was warm and friendly, and devoted! Not easy to get up at 10 a.m. for poetry. We also were treated to music by two talented musicians, Bethel Steele and Ashley Jordan. I think the mix of poetry and music was the perfect way to ease into the day.

And two of my good friends, Jim and Nancy, came out to hear me read--very cool.

So after the event, I raced into Boston to catch the afternoon poetry session at the Boston Book Fest.

The session "Poetry of Our Times" featured poets Ellen Dore Watson, Ed Hirsch, and Elizabeth Alexander, and is one of the many poetry events happening across the state as part of the Mass Poetry Festival. What I didn't count on was the blocked off streets in Back Bay due to a visit by President Barack Obama. Ugh. So I made it there late, but I was able to see some of Ed Hirsch's reading and all of Elizabeth Alexander's.

Seeing Elizabeth was well worth the trip.

"Lighthead" by Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes reads from his book, Lighthead, which was named a 2010 National Book Awards finalist.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Congrats to Terrance Hayes for earning a National Book Award (NBA) nomination! Woo hoo! (I'm ordering his book Lighthead from Amazon today!)


Here's an article on Amiri Baraka's appearance at the Dodge Poetry Festival. He was asked back after many years in exile--after reading his infamous 9/11 poem. Well, he came back and stirred the pot again. Is anyone surprised?


Come out and hear me read this Saturday on the showWake up and Smell the Poetry!

Saturday, October 16, 10:30 a.m.
January Gill O'Neil, Bethel Steele and Ashley Jordan
Followed by open mic for poetry, spoken word and songs
HCAM Studios, 77 Main Street
Hopkinton, MA
Free admission, coffee and scones
Please send e-mail reply to to make sure we have enough seats!


The Boston Book Fest happens this Saturday, October 16. Check out these poetry events:

Poetry of Love, Loss and Healing
10 a.m. Boston Public Library Popular Reading Room
700 Boylston Street

In times of great happiness, and in times of great loss, many people turn to poetry, a form capable of distilling human experience and emotion down to truths as potent as they are beautiful. Three brilliant poets, Kevin Young, editor of the new anthology The Art of Losing, Jill McDonough, author of Habeus Corpus, and Meg Kearney, author of the PEN/L.L. Winship Award-winning Home By Now, read and discuss poems of love, loss and healing. Hosted by Harvard professor and poet Stephen Burt. Sponsored by the Mass Poetry Festival.

Poetry of Our Times
12:30 p.m. Cloud Place
647 Boylston Street

Three acclaimed poets read poems of detail and delight, of our struggles with mortality, with love, with the profound and the mundane. Edward Hirsch, author of How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, reads from The Living Fire. He is joined by Elizabeth Alexander, author of Crave Radiance and “Praise Song for the Day,” which she composed for President Obama’s inauguration, and Ellen Doré Watson, Director of the Poetry Center at Smith College and author Dogged Hearts. This is contemporary American poetry at its best. Hosted by journalist and poet, Lloyd Schwartz. Sponsored by the Mass Poetry Festival.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Matthew Dickman-Hot Toddy

I couldn't resist posting.

Matthew Dickman makes a hot toddy for Oliver de la Paz.

Confession Tuesday

It's the Tuesday after Dodge. I know you have lots to confess. Go ahead. Say something. What happens on the blog stays on the blog.

What do you think of my new digs? Be honest. I think the new design is more reflective of my personality. And, it's really BRIGHT! I have some tweaking to do but please let me know what you think, especially when it comes to readability.


I'm still high from the Dodge experience. I feel as if I've been steeped in poetry. If you've never been to the Dodge Poetry Festival, plan on attending in 2012. BFF Joseph Legaspi reminded me that we have been attending this festival since 1996--and we don't look a day older.

Many first-time attendees I met were pleasantly surprised by the throngs of thoughtful, engaged poetry lovers in Newark. Notice I said poetry lovers. I'm quite sure the poetry readers outnumbered the poets by more than half.

So the question for me is what to do with all of this good poetry energy, and how can I store it away until I really need it?


I'll post a Dodge wrap-up in a day or so.


My to-do list is full but manageable. I'm going to be saying no to a lot of things so I can focus on finishing my second manuscript, writing new poems, catching up on my reading, and spending time helping to plan next year's Mass Poetry Fest.


Current poetry reading list:

Bob Hicok, Words for Empty and Words for Full (A good read!)
D.A. Powell, Chronic
Tara Betts, Arc and Hue (re-read)
Susan Rich, The Alchemist's Kitchen
Kelli Russell Agodon, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room
Jim Brock, Gods and Money

****Colleen, I did not have the pasta salad. It wasn't even on the menu. *sigh*

Monday, October 11, 2010

Favorite Photos from Dodge

Here are a few random favorites from Dodge:

Sharon Olds

Michael Dickman

American Poetries panel: Oliver de la Paz, Santee Frazier, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Claudia Rankine

Jennifer Jean, Mark Schorr, and Jim Knoles

Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Matthew Dickman

Michael Dickman

Martin Espada with Bobby Sanabria & Quarteto Ache

U.S. Poetry: Putting a Public Face on Poetry - Mark Strand, Kay Ryan, Rita Dove, and Billy Collins

Jennifer, me, Aimee, Joseph Legaspi, Rich Villar, and Tara Betts

Jennifer, Aimee, Tara, Joseph, and Oliver

Joseph, Jennifer, and me

Joseph, me, Tyehimba Jess, Oliver, and Aimee

On Revision

(Copyright Sharon Olds. Click to enlarge.)

I picked up this handout from Sharon Olds' Friday talk as she discussed her poetry and process.

The first version of "On the Subway" was written in 1980 and originally published in The Gold Cell in 1987. Then, a few years after publication, after speaking to a class who pointed out the "racism" in the poem, she went back to it with a fresh eye. Sharon revised the poem in 1992, chose sharper, more accurate images, and published it again in Strike Spark: Selected Poems, 1980-2002. See the changes I've underlined in the handout.

When the poem was published, there weren't many poets--white poets--taking about issues of race in poetry. Having studied with her, I'm not surprised she went back to give the most accurate representation of that moment on the subway. More important, this example goes to show that you can always go back to your poems and make changes, even after publication.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Amiri Baraka


For a man who just turned 76, Amiri Baraka is as active as ever. Later in the evening, Mr. Baraka gave me a flyer for an open mic at a place called The Spot. He was hosting an event that started at 11:30 p.m. Told him I couldn't make it because it was past my bedtime!

Kundiman in the House

(left to right: Joseph Legaspi, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Oliver de la Paz, and me)

Postcard from Dodge

That's poet Jennifer Jean in front of NJPAC.


So I'm sitting in the hotel lobby drinking tea trying to process Dodge. I'm having a hard time deciding which picture to upload, what story to tell you and what to keep for myself, etc. Dodge is overwhelming.


The weather has cooperated nicely. Sunny and 70s. Hard to believe it's October. In looking for a photo to upload, I came across photos from last year's Mass Poetry Festival. We were bundled up in coats.


Yesterday was full of concurrent sessions from topics such as "American Poetries," "Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant," and "Poetry as Prayer/Poetry as Curse." And last night's Main Stage Readings were phenomenal. I was especially proud and happy to see Oliver de la Paz read four poems beautifully, despite a bout of laryngitis.


Current read: Bob Hicok's Words for Empty and Words for Full. Current song on iPhone: Usher's "DJ's Got Me Falling in Love Again"

More to come from Dodge.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Rita Dove

(L-R: Jennifer Jean, Rita Dove, and me)

Mom, this is Rita Dove.

  • At her Poets on Poetry talk, Rita Dove spoke fondly about her early career and her early experiences going to the local library. Always an avid reader, she challenged herself to read MacBeth at age 10!
  • She talked about the pleasure of reading, and how we as a society should encourage children to read poetry at a very young age. We should encourage them to read poems but not demand they explain them. Their natural curiosity will take over.
  • Rita is fluent in German. In her experience, "Learning another language makes you sensitive to the music in your own language. You also learn another way of breathing, trying to convey meaning, how the words sound in the mouth."
  • On rhyme: "Rhyme is good--as long as its essential to the poem." [AMEN!] If you can let the rhyme happen, instead of imposing it, the process is longer but if becomes more organic.

And, my favorite quote from her talk: "Every time we put pen to paper, that's an audacious act."

Friday, October 08, 2010

Matthew and Me

If you’ve only read Matthew Dickman's poems, then you might not understand how engaging Matthew is in person. He had a crowd of mostly high school students laughing. LAUGHING! It’s not easy getting a bunch of 15-year olds in a church at 9:30 in the morning to laugh, but he did it with his down-to-earth, authentic style.

  • Matthew talked about elegies, and how more people experience grief than deep love. He said, "Poetry is the magic art of language." When your life falls apart, "Poetic language picks up the rubble of life's experiences to make something beautiful."
  • Poetry can actually extend your life, he goes on to say. “When someone says art can’t extend your life, don’t believe them. It can.”
  • He spoke a lot about being free, how people in the middle of their lives are weighed down by choices, but the very young and the very old can experience absolute freedom. Artists experience true freedom in the moment of creation. "When we make art, we are totally free."
  • "Art and poetry are a fight against weakness … against jealousy.”
  • And last but not least, my favorite quote of the day: “I’m married to poetry.”(Me, too!)

I think Matthew is a poet for the next generation of writers. I can see why his work is so appealing with its pop culture references and, dare I say it again, authentic style of putting his whole self into his poetry.

Postcard from Dodge

Hello from Dodge! This is a picture of me at the Borders Book Tent after last night's marathon reading. What a fantastic night of poetry. Hope you were able to see it streamed live on NJN.

And here's a picture from NJPAC of Tyehimba Jess on stage. Twenty-four poets read in the opening Poetry Sampler. I was in the balcony with a great view of the entire venue.

Here are some highlights and general comments about last night's event. I'm writing these updates as bullet points. Forgive any typos. The sun's coming up--have to get moving to keep up with today's busy schedule.

  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker opened the event with such pride for this city. Bravo to him and the Dodge festival organizers for making it happen.
  • Thank you, Mayor Booker, for not breaking out into verse. I did hear a lyric trying to break out--we know you have it in you. Thank you for saying "There is poetry in every person."
  • The poets read for about 8-10 minutes, and appeared genuinely happy to be here.
  • Yesterday was Amiri Baraka's 76th birthday! It was only fitting that he was the lead-off poet. Was nice to see him back in Dodge after a long absence.
  • Not one to miss an opportunity, when Baraka finished his reading he called to the front row and said: "Open the schools, Mayor Booker. Open the libraries."
  • Loved hearing a new poem by Tara Betts inspired by Lucille Clifton. Ms. Lucille's presence is all over Dodge.
  • Was nice hearing Jericho Brown read "Summertime" from his book Please. He's just fierce.
  • Discovered Michael Cirelli last night. Must hear more of his work.
  • Note to self: Must look up Billy Collins' poem "What She Said."
  • Kwame Dawes read his poem "Wysteria," and sang a beautiful poem called "Stillborn." So moving.
  • Rita Dove. Rita Dove. Rita Dove. She can't do any wrong in my book. I get tingles just thinking about her read.
  • Martin Espada poetry is a base drum.
  • Tyehima on stage ... yes!
  • I bought Dorianne Laux's book Facts About the Moon based on the two poems she read last night.
  • Bob Hicok--much funnier in person than on the page. I'm a huge fan of his work.
  • Galway Kinnell--sexiest voice ever! Really. I may be biased because I studied with him, but his voice is very guttural, lots of hard, curt sounds in his poetry. Love it. Love him.
  • Yay Aimee Nez!
  • Sharon Olds. Sharon Olds. Sharon Olds.
  • Claudia Ranking moved us all reading what she called "fragments."

Everyone did a terrific job. Yes, Dodge is here. If you're on the fence about coming, this is the year!

Dodge is a gift. I am home.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dodge, Baby!

Dodge. I can hardly contain myself. Check back here or look for Facebook and Twitter updates.

New Jersey News (NJN) will be broadcasting the opening and closing readings LIVE from Dodge. Here's the schedule:

List of Poets (subject to change)

Thursday, October 7, 2010
7:30-10:30 p.m.
Poetry Sampler
Amiri Baraka, Tara Betts, Jericho Brown, Michael Cirelli, Billy Collins, Kwame Dawes, Matthew Dickman, Rita Dove, Martín Espada, Rigoberto González, Rachel Hadas, Bob Hicok, Tyehimba Jess, Galway Kinnell, Dorianne Laux, Dunya Mikhail, Nancy Morejón, Joseph Millar, Malena Mörling, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Sharon Olds, Marie Ponsot, Claudia Rankine, Kay Ryan

Sunday, October 10, 2010
2:30-5:30 pm
U.S. Poets Laureate
Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Kay Ryan, Mark Strand

It's the next best thing to being there. So is reading this blog!


In other news, Spike Lee is coming to Babson College to speak to students! It's also the same day Mary Oliver visits Wellesley College down the road, on October 20. Hmmm ... which to attend? Think I'm gonna "Do the right thing!"

(OK, that was bad. But I've seen Mary Oliver read before. I'm interested to see what Spike Lee has to say. And his documentaries on New Orleans/Katrina are just heartbreaking.)


Did you see Kelli Russell Agodon's poem up at Poetry Daily? Very cool.


Photos from the 4x4 Newburyport/Salem reading to celebrate the Massachusetts Poetry Festival are up on Facebook.


Dodge, baby! More more more to come!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Dodge for Beginners

Today is the gloomiest day of the week, weather-wise. But tomorrow, the sun shines over Newark as I make my way to the Dodge Poetry Festival!

No big tents with hundreds of folks crammed to hear poetry—I’m going to miss that. Yet this year’s Dodge, held at the New Jersey Performance Arts Center, promises to be the most urban of Dodge Festivals yet.

I’m already thinking about getting together with friends and colleagues in the poetry community. Yes, I’m thinking about my blog posts, photos, and video clips. I’m thinking about a long weekend of adult conversations with no kids. And a hotel with an indoor pool!

I’ve attended the last five festivals, so I consider myself a bit of an expert getting around Dodge. Culled from my archives, here’s an updated version of how to navigate the Dodge Festival in all its splendor.

  1. Have fun! This is the largest poetry festival in North America—bar none—with people just like you who want to talk poetry for four days straight. When does that ever happen? Every two years.

  2. Support emerging poets. I’m referring to poets who have yet to publish a book, or who have one or two books and are on the fringes of greatness.

  3. Tell the poet how much you enjoyed his or her reading. I don’t care how far up the food chain a poet gets, he or she will appreciate the complement.

  4. Buy a poetry book. Buy two—they’re small. It’s important to support the community, so don’t be cheap. And, if you feel so moved, have it autographed. HOWEVER …

  5. Don’t bring every book written by your favorite poet to have signed. It is tacky tacky tacky and annoying! We know you’re going to sell them on eBay anyway.

  6. Talk to other poets. See #1 for details.

  7. Read your own work. I’m guessing that microphones will be set up all over the place. Why not read a poem—your best poem. But don’t overdue it. Always leave the crowds wanting more.

  8. Take part in the discussions. Participate in the Q&A’s with your favorite poets. Get to the venues early because the good seats go quickly.

  9. Mute your cell phones. Is there anything more annoying than hearing a Lady Gaga ring tone at a reading?

  10. And if it rains, suck it up. Hope for better weather in 2012. You’re at Dodge—in Newark—for heaven’s sake! You're not at work. You're not at home. Seriously, it's all good.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. Time to confess whatever's on your mind. Unburden yourself. We promise to do the same.

I am the proud Poet Mom of a seven-year-old boy. Where has the time gone? Seven years. Alex is getting older while I am getting younger. Funny how that works.


This week is about trying to obtain equilibrium. I say "try" because I don't think it will ever happen with so many competing goals. Even when I pare down, it's only temporary. I'm doing too much and I recognize that. Crazed doesn't cover how hectic my life has been. It's causing a bit of stress. Good stress, but stress nonetheless.

What I have to do is remind myself that it will all get done, and not stay up late worrying about what's left to do. And, I haven't been writing lately. *sigh*

I recognize that these are good problems to have. I just wish I could do more of the good work I like to do.


Dodge Dodge Dodge Dodge Dodge! Just 48 hours away. I was hoping to get a Dodge slot this year (HA!). Oh well. Maybe next time. Still, I'm psyched to be going, catching up with friends and seeing new ones. Will post more about Dodge tomorrow.


Have you ever run into someone whose life is so off track it makes you appreciate your own even more? I had that experience yesterday afternoon speaking with someone I used to know quite well. There's nothing I can do but hope for the best but prepare for the worst.


This past weekend, I managed to make it back to the gym after a few weeks off and a few added lbs. Again, when my life is out of whack the disruption ripples to other parts of my life. It felt good to get back into a fitness routine. Of course, Dodge is about indulging the mind, body, and spirit. Still, I'll get in a few workouts while I'm away.


Not making a to-do list because I'm headed to Dodge. I'm looking to replenish my poetry soul.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dire Literary Series

(Jennifer Jean)

Last night I went to the Dire Literary Series, run by Tim Gager, to hear the open mic and the three features: Steve Luttrell, Judah Leblang, and Jennifer Jean. Fun reading on a rainy night, and always a pleasure hearing Jennifer read her poems.

(Tim Gager)

I believe Tim said this was the 116th Dire reading. So if you're looking for a place to read in the Boston/Cambridge area, Dire is one of the best known and longest-running series/open mics in the area.


Open mic or open mic: which is correct?


"Go into the jungle of my mind, god,
and send forth from a temple there
just like during a storm the force you'll find,
the dark sound of slaves in a hold where
a black, no-longer-dormant sea builds to a swirl,"

From "The Writer as a Man" by Rethabile Masilo.


On tap for this afternoon: manuscript revisions, a new poems, and shopping. Enjoy the day!

Friday, October 01, 2010

MassPOP’s Michael Ansara and the Power of Poetry | NORTH SHORE ART THROB

Here's an excerpt from the article, MassPOP’s Michael Ansara and the Power of Poetry, written by Jennifer Jean:

In your opinion, why do some people “hate” poetry, or simply misunderstand its “power?”

There is no simple reason. First, as I said earlier many people have had bad experiences in elementary school where teachers did not use poetry in good ways but insisted that students memorize poems that the teachers thought they should. In my cause it really was every blanket blank line of Evangeline. Also, a lot of poetry in the last decades has come to glory in its inaccessibility. The retreat to the academy has often meant that some poets pride themselves on writing poetry that no one can connect with. As poets and poetry gets more disconnected from the real lives of 90% of the people, it becomes more remote and more abstracted. So many people feel it is “not for me.” As well of course we have the celebritization, if there is such a word, of our culture and the impact of the market forces. This cycle becomes a self-reinforcing reality. Poetry doesn’t make money. So no one promotes it. So poets revel in their inaccessibility. So poetry makes less money. So it is promoted even less. One has to wonder when commercial inauthentic “wrestling” performances can make the promoters into millionaires (and perhaps into senators) and poets cannot eke out a living. That says as much about the society and the forces at work in its culture as it does about poetry.

Read the rest of the article at North Shore Art Throb.

You Complete Me

Fellowship application: complete.

What a relief! I almost gave up on filling it out because I didn't think I could get it done in time. But after a few kind words fom Jennifer Jean and Tayari Jones, I finished it. Thanks ladies. Also, special thanks to those who wrote last-minute recommendations for me. In the words of the late, great Michael Jackson, "You rock my world!"


A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, just in time to go to for Jennifer Jean's reading with the Dire Literary Series. Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge, tonight at 7.


My tickets for the Dodge Poetry Festival arrived Thursday afternoon. Yay! Less than a week away.

Two very cool upcoming appearances:

On October 7, before heading to NJ for Dodge, I'm going to be interviewed by Christopher Lydon for his innovative show Radio Open Source. No air date yet.

And, on October 16, I will be on the cable access show Wake Up and Smell the Poetry with Bethel Steele and Ashley Jordan in Hopkinton, MA. Thanks to host Cheryl Perreault for the invitation. Then I'll head into the city for the Boston Book Fest.


I'll see you Sunday, right?


There is so much poetry activity going on I can hardly stand it. I'm quite dizzy with anticipation! What's new in your world?

4x4: Poets from Newburyport and Salem Celebrate the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Join us for this exciting event that brings together some of the most talented poets writing on the North Shore today. Poets from Newburyport and Salem read from recent works and selected favorites. Poets include: David Berman, Jennifer Jean, Claire Keyes, Len Krisak, Jean Monahan, J.D. Scrimgeour, Deborah Warren, and Anton Yakovlev. Hosted by January Gill O’Neil.

This event is one of the many regional poetry celebrations taking place in October as part of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.



David Berman, a noted attorney, is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he studied with Elliott Coleman. He earned graduate degrees at Johns Hopkins University and Boston University, where he studied with Robert Lowell. While attending Harvard Law School he studied with Archibald MacLeish and frequently published work in the Harvard Advocate. Berman’s work has also appeared in numerous magazines, including Counter Measures, The Formalist, Harvard Magazine, Piedmont Literary Review, The Epigrammatist, Sparrow, Iambs & Trochees, and Orbis. He has also published three chapbooks: Future Imperfect (State Street Press, 1982), Slippage (Robert L. Barth, 1996), and David Berman: Greatest Hits 1965–2002 (Pudding House, 2002).

Jennifer Jean is the author of the poetry chapbook In the War (Big Table Publishing Co., 2010). Her poetry, essays, literary interviews, and reviews have been published in numerous journals, including North Dakota Quarterly, Denver Quarterly, Awakenings Review, Santa Clara Review, Southern California Review, Caketrain, Relief Quarterly, The Wilderness House Review, The MOM Egg Journal, Art Throb and Megaera; as well, she's received an Agnes Butler Award from the Academy of American Poets. Jennifer is Poetry Editor for the arts and lifestyle magazine Art Throb, directs Thursday’s Theatre of Words & Music artist’s performance series, and teaches writing and literature at Salem State University.

Claire Keyes has published reviews and poems in The Women’s Review of Books, The Georgia Review, Calyx and Rattle, among others. On-line, you can find her work at The Valparaiso Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal and Umbrella. She has won the Robert Penn Warren Award from New England Writers as well as a First Prize in poetry from Smartish Pace. The Question of Rapture, a book of poems, was published by Mayapple Press in 2008. She lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts with her husband, Jay Moore, and teaches in the Lifelong Learning Program at Salem State University.

Len Krisak has taught at Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and Stonehill College. His two chapbooks, Midland and Fugitive Child, came out in 1999 from Somers Rocks Press and Aralia Press, respectively. In 2000, his full-length collection Even as We Speak won the Richard Wilbur Prize (judged by Mary Jo Salter) and was published by the University of Evansville Press. In 2004, If Anything appeared from WordTech Editions, in 2006, Carcanet published his Odes of Horace, a complete translation, and in 2010 his complete translation of Virgil’s Eclogues was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jean Monahan is the author of three books of poetry. Hands won the Anhinga Prize in 1991; Believe It or Not was published by Orchises Press in 1999, and Mauled Illusionist by Orchises in 2006. She has been published in Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, DoubleTake, The New Republic, The American Scholar, Orion, Salamander, Shenandoah, and various other journals and magazines.

January Gill O’Neil (host) is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, December 2009), which was a finalist for ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award, and the 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize. She was featured in Poets & Writers magazine’s January/February 2010 Inspiration issue as one of their 12 debut poets. A Cave Canem fellow, she is a senior writer/editor at Babson College, runs a popular blog called Poet Mom, and lives with her two children in Beverly, MA.

J.D. Scrimgeour has published a collection of poetry, The Last Miles (2005), and two books of creative nonfiction, Spin Moves (2000) and Themes For English B: A Professor’s Education In and Out of Class (2006), which won the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction. With Philip Swanson, this year he released a music and poetry CD with MSR Classics, Ogunquit.

Deborah Warren’s poetry collections are: The Size of Happiness (2003, Waywiser, London), runner-up for the 2000 T. S. Eliot Prize; Zero Meridian, which received the 2003 New Criterion Poetry Prize (2004, Ivan R. Dee); and Dream With Flowers and Bowl of Fruit, which received the Richard Wilbur Award (2008, University of Evansville). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Yale Review.

Anton Yakovlev grew up in Moscow, Russia, but moved to the United States with his family in 1996. He received his B.A. from Harvard University with a double major in Filmmaking and English. He currently works as a project manager for Pearson Education, working on college textbooks in Geography. He is a member of several poetry workshops, including The Powow River Poets in Newburyport, MA.


Related Posts with Thumbnails