Friday, December 31, 2010

The Last Day of the Year

(Alex and Ella at the Museum of Science)

This past Tuesday, I spent the evening with three of the most fabulous writer moms. It was a rare night that we could get out without kids or spouses to enjoy dinner together. And the one thing all of us wanted most in our lives is time (with money being a close second). Yet as complicated as our lives get, we wouldn’t trade places with anyone else. So we work hard to balance our commitments with our need to be artists.

2010 was a year of transition for me. It was the year my divorce became final. It was the year Underlife found its legs, so to speak. It was the year work and family required more of me that I expected. And it was a December that challenged my faith. Still, it was a terrific year.

Each year, I make goals and I start them early because I feel they should be weaved seamlessly into the fabric of my days. But what I want this year is very simple: independence.

I’m seeking independence from the past. I want to put support systems in place so I have more time and less stress (not an easy task). Financial security is also at the top of the list. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to add love back into this huge equation.

I talk a lot about “me time” and poetry goals—I know those things will take care of themselves. Balance is illusive. But, bottom line is securing a better future for me and my kids, my two silver linings.

*Do you make resolutions or goals? Share one of your goals here.*

I wish you great poetry and love in 2011! May your hearts be full and fulfilled.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

5 Steps to Creating a Poetry Action Plan

If you’re interested in creating a Poetry Action Plan (PAP) for yourself, here are a few suggestions. Note: it should be flexible enough to morph and change as your life changes.

  1. Define your goals. What is most important to you as a writer? Is it practicing your craft? Do you want to read your work in public? Is this the year you finally complete your manuscript? Whatever it is, name it, claim it, and put it at the top of your list.

  2. Be realistic about what can you achieve. Having a focus is essential. Pick four or five goals and stick to them.

  3. Track your progress. It’s one thing to make goals, and another to keep them. List items you can quantify so you can gain momentum as you reach your next goal (ex. submit to 25 journals, write two poems a month, etc.).

  4. Prepare for setbacks BUT be open to opportunities wherever they appear. Small acts, such as jotting down a word or phrase or mailing one submission to a publication, will keep you moving forward through times of uncertainty.

  5. This is your starting point for creating a PAP. I encourage you to modify your goals throughout the year.

Poetry Action Plan 2011

Again year, another Poetry Action Plan!

In 2008, I created my first Poetry Action Plan (PAP) as a way of incorporating my writing plans into my daily life. My goal has always been to incorporate and foster creativity into my writing life with structure. I've had great success with my PAP. Of course, success is relative when it comes to poetry.

2010 was a banner year. It was so good, professionally speaking, that I’m not sure I can top it. But if I can at least match it, I’ll be happy. I feel less pressure to push forward because I've done that—not that I’m any less driven. Now I can immerse myself in other important, large-scale projects, such as the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

Here’s what happened with my 2010 goals.

Write a Poem a Week. I’ll end the year with 40 poems. I traveled more than I expected, so I’m happy with 40 drafts to revise in 2011.

Finish Manuscript #2. Planned on finishing it in March, but it wasn’t complete until a few weeks ago. And now it’s with my publisher for review.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop. 2010 was not the year for the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. But after getting away for two weekend retreats, I’m looking forward to a weeklong workshop.

Write Articles. I committed to writing articles for Bread & Circus and Read Write Poem. Nope. Didn’t happen. And that’s OK.

Support Underlife. 2010 exceeded my expectations. Other than Underlife becoming Oprah's final book club selection, I don’t think I could have done much more to support my book.

Complete Two Video Projects. I have one video and a radio interview. That’s good enough for me.

So my 2011 goals are:

Write a Poem a Week
The writing comes first, no matter what.

Support the Massachusetts Poetry Festival
When I’m not writing, being a mom, or working full time, I’m working on the marketing for the festival. The next few months I will be neck-deep in planning. Exciting and daunting at the same time—just my kind of challenge!

Support Manuscript #2
This one depends upon CavanKerry Press accepting my manuscript. Fingers crossed. I’m not sure the type of support it will need but I’m making time to do what’s necessary to move it forward.

Start Manuscript #3
This project requires research and time, so I’ve applied for fellowships to help facilitate both. Whether or not they come through, however, this will be my major poetry project for 2011.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop
This is the year, I hope, to visit Provincetown.

Continue to Support Underlife
The challenge now is finding ways to market a book in its second year of print. My humble goal here is to earn a second print run for Underlife. I’m close. Really, really close.

Wishing you great poetry in 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kelli Russell Agodon: Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room

The beautiful and talented Kelli Russell Agodon agreed to answer a few questions about her new book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (Woo hoo!).

Kelli is the winner of the 2009 White Pine Press Poetry Prize judged by Carl Dennis for her manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room. A Seattle native, she was educated at the University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University's Rainier Writing Workshop where she received her MFA in creative writing. She's also the author of Small Knots (2004) and Geography, winner of the 2003 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Currently, Kelli lives in the Northwest with her family. She is the co-editor of the literary journal, Crab Creek Review.

1. I know you’ve talked about the process for publishing Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, but would you mind briefly talking about it here. I think your story is an inspiring one.

Yes I’d be happy to as I think it’s important for poets to realize that sometimes getting your manuscript published is not always an easy thing to do.

I started submitting the manuscript in 2005 under the title, An Alphabet Between Us. Looking back now, I realize the manuscript wasn’t complete, but at the time, I was anxious to find a publisher for my second book, so off I sent it into the world, ready or not.

I worked on it for about two years, then noticed in about 2007 that I was receiving more positive comments and feedback from editors and my manuscript was beginning to be a finalist or semi-finalists in poetry book contests. Still, it wasn’t being chosen and I wasn’t really sure why or what the book was missing.

A friend of mine from my MFA program who had read all the of poems said to me that she really “liked the poems that felt more vulnerable and not just my wordplay poems. It was then I realized that in an effort to protect myself from vulnerability, I had removed much of the gravitas from the manuscript, and what remained was pretty good writing, but nothing was at stake in my poems.

When I realized this and that the core of my manuscript was actually about dealing with anxiety and trying to find calmness in what I saw as a chaotic world, I was able to revise the manuscript and bring it to a place where I felt the poems and the manuscript carried some weight and wasn’t just a slight of hand with words. So during a writing retreat with some good friends, I focused on the book and rewrote it into Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.

From there, I submitted the poems for another year and half until it was accepted. When I look back over my records, I can see I sent it out a total of 76 times, (about 19 times each year). The first two years, the book really could have stayed out of the hands of editors, but I couldn’t see that.

I am definitely not one of those writers in the interview section of Poets and Writers who says, “Oh, I submitted my manuscript to two publishers, and the first one took it.” Quite honestly, I don’t believe those kind of stories are helpful to anyone except the individual writer who is saying it. If I look at my friends who are submitting today (very stellar poets), my experience of submitting a manuscript to many places before an acceptance is probably more the norm. It’s a competitive market for poetry books, that’s not make anyone feel discouraged, but to say: When you are discouraged, don’t give up.

2. I’m fascinated by the artwork. Tell me what inspired the beautiful cover artwork.
I knew when the book was accepted that I wanted to help in finding the artwork, which is a polite way of saying I wanted to choose the artwork myself. I had a very clear vision of what I was trying to do with the book as a whole and knew when I saw the “right” artwork, I’d just know in my gut.

Finding the artwork was very synchronistic. When I published my first book, there was a Seattle artist I really liked, but she wanted over a thousand dollars for me to use her image on my book and I couldn’t afford her. Still, her work inspired me and I wanted to maybe ask her again, but hope her price had dropped but I couldn’t remember her name, so I googled something like “House bird painting” hoping one of her images would come up or something similar for my book.

It was pretty optimistic to think that this artist might show up or that I’d find any usable artwork with this phrase, but those were two of the images that kept coming into my mind when I thought about the book. When I googled that phrase, what did come up was a blog about new artists that had some surreal images. I was taken by one of the images and went to the artist’s website. Her name was Catrin Welz-Stein and at the time she lived in Switzerland.

As I looked through her work, I saw the image “Her Garden.” This image, which is now on the cover of book, as a Victorian looking woman with a white scarf (think Emily Dickinson) and a large taffeta skirt pulled away to the sides like stage curtains. Underneath her skirt, there is a lush and wild garden revealed.

The image doesn’t show the woman’s face, so for me, this image represented Emily, myself, or any woman and what we keep hidden inside us. The fact that the woman was holding a bird, only made this artwork more endearing and appropriate for my book as Emily’s poems, “Hope is a thing with feathers” was a touchstone for me throughout writing this book.

I contacted Catrin (whose second language is English) and asked her I could use her artwork and she was thrilled. I learned she was also the mother of two kids and having to balance art and regular life, and it felt good to support another artist who was in a similar place as I am.

3. What was your process for assembling the book?
Since I knew much of this book had to do with letters (both true correspondence as well as the alphabet), I got the idea into my stubborn head that I wanted it alphabetical. As I wrote the poems for the book, I put them in alphabetically to see what happened.

Some fell perfectly into place, but others were not where I wanted them. Because of that, once I realize what the book was about, I began retitling quite a few poems so they would be in the position I wanted. Sometimes, the new title would open up the poem even more and create something that worked on even more levels. Other times, I struggled and moved the poem with various titles all around my book.

With each poem though, I would ask myself if it should be part of the collection and had to do with struggling with anxiety, finding calmness in a chaotic world, or worked with the greater idea of this book. If it didn’t, it was pulled. By the end of putting my book together, I think my motto was, “When in doubt, take it out,” but I feel that remained were only the poems that represented my larger vision and hopefully if read from front to back, the poems will tell a story to the reader and offer a satisfaction of completeness.

4. What is your favorite poem in the collection?
Currently, it’s “Said Prayer,” which can be read at Escape into Life.

I think this poem is currently my favorite because so much of myself is in that poem—my fears, my faith. And it ends with a positive line, “Still, I sip and gather.” For me, I find this line touches deeply on the human spirit—that even during the hardest or most hopeless times, we can still find ourselves alive and moving forward, sipping life’s nectar and gathering what we need.

5. What was it like to hold the first book in your hands? What was that day like?

Incredible. I wasn’t home when the box of books arrived and I remember telling my husband on the phone that it wasn’t a package and not to open it, as I so wanted that satisfaction. I remember loving the cover and immediately after opening the box, my twenty-pound cat hand crawled into the open box of books and went to sleep. I took a photo of myself with the book just to remind myself of the good feeling, then I took a photo of my cat.

6. What’s the question I should have asked you?
Were these written poems really written in Emily Dickinson’s Room and how did you gain that special access?

Actually, many of these poems were written at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Nye Beach, Oregon (right by Cannon Beach) on the Pacific Coast, across the country from the home Emily grew up in. Sylvia Beach Hotel (named after Sylvia Beach, the founder of the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. in Paris) is a fantastic literary-themed hotel where each room is decorated for a specific author. As the name of my book states, I was in the Emily Dickinson Room and it was there where I felt the book really came together.

I haven’t been there since 2007, but Susan Rich and I are leading a writing retreat there the weekend of September 9-11, 2011 called Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Retreat for Women. We’re just starting to sign up participants, but we’ll be getting out more information about it on our blogs shortly. I’m really looking forward to this weekend as it’s a magical place for writers.

Thanks for the great interview questions, January!

*Thank you, Kelli. Looking forward to finally meeting you at AWP!*

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Confession Tuesday

This is the last Confession Tuesday of 2010! Let's make it count. Share a little of yourself and we promise to do the same.

Here's an unattractive photo of me in a stupid hat using my snow blower for the first time. Hmmm ... where to begin.

I put snow blowing in the category of most hated activities EVER, next to cutting the lawn and raking leaves. However, it's better than snow shoveling. The Blizzard of 2010 dumped 18 inches of powdery chaos in the Boston area. Fortunately, my dad helped me get the thing started so clearing the snow was much easier this time around.


I wrote a poem about my new snow blower at a writers' retreat in early December but felt is wasn't complete until I had opened the box and used the darn thing. Now I can complete the poem with a clear conscience.


The snow really put a crimp in my plans with my parents. We tend to stay around the house during their holiday visits, but I was really hoping to see a movie or show them around Boston. After the last-minute Christmas shopping, our activity level slowed to a snail's pace. Still, it's nice watching them play with the kids. Guess we'll wait until spring to tour the city.


I've been catching up on my sleep. I'm very glad I have the week off from work.


My last to-do list for 2010:

1. Write three poems
2. Revise poems written at poetry workshop (including snow blower poem)
3. Get organized/clean desk
4. Update Goodreads info
5. Send out eight submissions


Now that my second manuscript is complete, I'm ready to start my newest project, which requires research and time. Here's hoping that one (or some) of the fellowships I've applied for comes through. Fingers crossed.


It's after 6 a.m. and the kids are still asleep. Oh happy day! Mommy gets a little "me time."

Monday, December 27, 2010

The View from My Front Door

Hello! You're looking at about 15 inches of snow (and counting), our first major snowstorm in two years. That's my neighbor's house across the way (Hi Katie!). The forecasters are giving the storm its last rights, which means I'll be out testing the new snowblower very soon. Those upside down spikes on the lawn? Those are my overturned plastic Adirondack chairs I was too lazy to put away before the snow started.


Hope you had a great Christmas! We've had a fun few days here with my parents--so nice to have family around for the holidays. The kids have been playing with new toys nonstop. Today I'll get them outside for some sledding and snowball fights.


Unfortunately, I haven't been able to write. Who knew how disruptive having more people in the house would be. But this week I plan to make more of an effort. I'll have a few days without the kids so I'll make my to-do list and write a few year-end blog posts. Also, I really have to clean off my desk.


Hope you're not stranded somewhere.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jingle All the Way

Last night, I crawled into bed at 8:30 p.m.--fully clothed--knowing I would fall asleep. Didn't care. I was exhausted from getting just four hours of sleep Monday night and three hours on Tuesday night. Now I feel rested and ready to go! Good thing because I have to shovel the snow that fell in the overnight hours.


This is my last day of work for 2010. Yahoo! After work, I have a full afternoon of running errands, shopping, and attending meetings. I say, bring it!


In putting together my list of appearances, I quickly scanned through the year that was 2010. So many terrific dates I had forgotten about (Block Island was a particular favorite). Looking back also reminded me of some of the great moments I had with the Alex and Ella. They've gotten so big! This has been an incredible year, more joy than pain, thankfully.

The blog has always been a place for me to say whatever I wanted, whether I'm talking about poetry or posting pictures of the kids. I still enjoy blogging, which is why I blog fairly regularly. It has become my scrapbook. Thanks for allowing me to share my life with you.


This time of year makes me sentimental.


With Christmas upon us, I will probably take a bit of a blogging break. Have to help Santa catch up with his holiday plans. Equally as important, I want to finish the poems I wrote a few weeks ago at the writers' retreat and start new ones. My goal is to have 10 new poems written in December--three more to go.

Haven't been to Starbucks to write in three weeks. I'm having withdrawal symptoms.

2010 Appearances: By the Numbers

Taking a page out of Jessie Carty’s book, here’s my crazy schedule from this year. There are some classroom dates at Salem State I didn't write down in my calendar!

2010 Appearances/Readings/Workshops etc.

  1. January 9, Cornerstone Books, Salem, MA

  2. January 12, Robert Frost Foundation Hoot, Café Azteca, Lawrence, MA

  3. January 14, Reading with Bonnie Bishop, Philip E. Burnham, and Michael B. Zack, The Laureate Series at Boston City Hall, Boston, MA

  4. January 17, Reading with Paul Hostovsky, Dan Tobin, and Afaa Michael Weaver, Poetry in the Chapel, Jamaica Plain, MA

  5. February 3, SPEAK UP! Spoken Word Open Mike, Lynn, MA

  6. February 18, Reading with Kathi Morrison-Taylor, American Poetry Museum, Washington, DC

  7. February 19, Hillyer Open Mic Event, International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC

  8. February 25 Reading with Afaa Michael Weaver, Salem State University

  9. February 27, A Century of Black Voices, Brookline Public Library, Brookline, MA

  10. March 2, Reading with Nin Andrews, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA

  11. March 10, PIL Coffeehouse and Open Mic Night, Danvers Library, Danvers, MA

  12. March 12, reading with John Ishion Hutchinson, John Murillo, and Sung J. Woo, NYU

  13. March 30, Waterline Reading Series, Babson College

  14. April 1, Reading with James May, Poetry Atlanta, Decatur, GA

  15. April 6, classroom visit at Babson College

  16. April 7, Cave Canem/Kundiman Reading, AWP, Denver, CO

  17. April 9, Reading at Cave Canem booth, AWP Denver

  18. April 16, Cave Canem reading with R. Dwayne Betts and Raina Leon at NYU

  19. April 17, Reading with Ron Egatz, John Murillo, Paul Nelson, and Shelly Puhak, City Lit Festival, Baltimore, MD

  20. April 17, GBSPA Poetry fundraiser, Brockton, MA

  21. April 30, Reading with Colleen Michaels, Readers and Writers Guild at Christ Church, Hamilton, MA

  22. May 16, Reading with Bagel Bards, Newton Open Studios Event, Newton, MA

  23. May 22, Home Grown Festival—Beverly Public Library Fundraiser, Beverly, MA

  24. May 28, Reading with Lisa Starr, Soup and Song Coffeehouse, Block Island, RI

  25. June 13, Mike Amado Memorial Series, Plymouth, MA

  26. June 19, Beverly Arts Festival, Beverly, MA

  27. June 15, Boston Life, radio interview with Erin Dionne

  28. July 30, A Boston Poet Tea Party, Pierre Menard Gallery, Cambridge

  29. August 3, JHPF First Tuesday’s reading series, Elmhurst, NY

  30. August 6, Reading with Jennifer Jean and Colleen Michaels, Poets in Nassau, New Hyde Park, NY

  31. August 8, Fish Flake Hill Talent Show (yes, it counts!), Beverly, MA

  32. August 9, Stone Soup Series, Out of the Blue Gallery, Cambridge, MA

  33. September 15, visit to Adelphi University, Garden City, NY

  34. September 19, 20, Salem Lit Fest, multiple readings

  35. October 3, 4x4 Newburyport and Salem Writers reading (host), Salem Athenaeum, Salem MA

  36. October 16, Wake Up and Smell the Poetry, public access TV show, Hopkinton, MA

  37. October 18, Guest lecturer with Babson College students, Babson College

  38. October 28, Improbable Places Poetry Tour, Beverly, MA

  39. November 9, Reading with Ruby Poltorak and Philip Burnham, Newton Free Library Poetry Series, Newton, MA

  40. November 17, Reading with Susan Rich, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

  41. November 21, Reading with Susan Rich, Kevin Pilkington, and Mark Statman, Miami Book Festival International, Miami, FL

  42. December 19, Reading with Major Jackson, Brookline Poetry Series, Brookline, MA

Yikes! What can I say? April was a busy month. July? Not so much.

What I do want to say is a heartfelt thank you to all the organizers, poets, and poetry lovers who came out to see me read in 2010. It meant the world to me.

I’m actually a little frightened of what 2011 might bring. But sometime you have to see where you've been to know where you're going.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confession Tuesday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … it’s Confession Tuesday! We know you’ve been naughty. Confess! Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Last night, a burst of snow caught us all by surprise. It took me 3 hours and 20 minutes to get home from work when it should have taken me about 45 minutes. Lots of spinouts and accidents on my 40-mile ride. It was one of those soul-crushing commutes that caused me to question every life choice I've ever made. One of those 'Why-am-I-here?" rides. Ugh.

I did listen to two podcasts that got me through, one of which was with Brian Turner on New Letters on the Air. His work is phenomenal. So precise and gripping.


I hate winter. One day, I’m moving back to the South where the winters are not as harsh.


Yesterday, I sent my manuscript to my publisher! Yahoo! They have the right of first refusal, which means if they decide to pass on it, and I’m back to square one. But I’m hopeful. The work is good, and with the strong sales for Underlife I believe the odds are in my favor.

The second manuscript touches on a wider range of topics, with poems about the economy, work life, and environmental issues, but centers on family and, yes, addresses the topic of divorce. “Misery Islands,” my long poem about the divorce (11 sections), is a central part of the book. But the work is so deep, in my opinion, that if I pulled the poem, the manuscript would still stand as a solid second collection.

As I put my thoughts down about this manuscript, I feel really good that I’ve been able to complete book #2 amidst working full time and raising a family. I heard Matthew Dickman once say he was married to poetry—that’s exactly how I feel.


I also sent off an entry to one of the PSA’s poetry contests. I think this may be the only contest I’ve paid to enter this year. Deadline for all submissions is December 22.


My Christmas shopping is 60 percent complete. The holiday card I ordered arrived yesterday so I’ll write them out after I finish this post. Fortunately, my parents are here to help fill in the gaps. But I’m way overcommitted with appointments this week. I just need to chill.


Still on a high from my reading with Major.


Life is pretty damn good. Except for winter, life is pretty good.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Brookline Poetry Series: Reading with Major Jackson

What’s that old adage in Hollywood: never work with kids or animals because they’ll always upstage you? Well, leave it to my daughter, Ella, to upstage her mother. Here she is at the microphone singing Christmas carols before my reading. I have to admit--she was pretty good.

Maybe we should take our act on the road.

My reading with Major Jackson at the Brookline Poetry Series couldn’t have gone any better. My parents were in the audience at their first-every poetry reading; they received a nice round of applause. For the most part the kids were well-behaved. Major and I had a strong showing of friends and poetry lovers at the Brookline Public Library. And for me, it was a personal celebration of Underlife's first year in print.

Major made the drive down from Vermont, no doubt a little stressed from the snowy ride. But you wouldn’t have known it as he read from all three of his collections. He has a certain grace when he reads, moving effortlessly from his Philly experiences to the interior landscapes of Holding Company.

With the full roster of talented open-mic readers, it was a delightful afternoon of poetry. Thanks to Ann Killough, Susana Roberts, and Aimee Sands for putting together a terrific reading.

My parents, (blurry) photo taken by Alex.

There's Alex helping me sell a few books.

Major and me. What a way to close out 2010!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holding Company

Last night, the kids and I went to a renewal of vows ceremony/holiday party. I tell you, I have been down on love lately, but last night's ceremony gives me hope.

Congrats Seb and Jennifer!


My parents arrived yesterday (read: the cavalry is here)! Alex and Ella have been so looking forward to the visit. Me, too! It's been very stressful lately, but having family around reminds me to put emphasis on the things that really matter.

My dad will help me get my new snow blower running, just in time for whatever wacky weather is coming to New England today.


Today's the day! Hope to see you at my reading with Major Jackson, author of Holding Company, Hoops, and Leaving Saturn.

Sunday, December 19, 2 p.m.
Reading with Major Jackson
Brookline Poetry Series
Hunneman Hall, the Public Library of Brookline, Main Branch
361 Washington St., Brookline, MA 02445
Open mic to follow

I'm so excited!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Morning Musings

Friday Friday Friday!

The end of the week couldn’t come fast enough! My parents arrive tomorrow--I’m excited about their visit. It's also nice to have extra sets of hands around the house.


Alex has been devouring the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The books are cute. I’m so happy both of my children enjoy reading, and that he’s found a series he really enjoys. We usually read first thing in the morning or just before bed. I’m starting to see how this extra attention is paying off for them academically, too.


Must finish holiday shopping this weekend. Ugh.


I’m looking forward to slowing down during the last few weeks of the year. A little reflection but mainly looking ahead to what’s to come. It’s a much calmer time because my world gets very small. We do a lot of visiting with friends and family, while I catch up on everything I’ve let slide the last few months (read: housework and exercise).

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Five Reasons Why You Should Attend My Poetry Reading with Major Jackson

Sunday, December 19, 2 p.m.
Reading with Major Jackson
Brookline Poetry Series
Hunneman Hall, the Public Library of Brookline, Main Branch
361 Washington St., Brookline, MA 02445
Open mic to follow.

Need a reason to attend my poetry reading with Major Jackson? Here are five for the price of one:

5. Come out for my last poetry reading of 2010
4. Pick up signed copies of Underlife and Holding Company (and Leaving Saturn and Hoops)--they make terrific holiday gifts
3. Sign up for the open mic (sign up starts at 1:30 p.m.)
2. Meet my parents at the first poetry reading they've ever attended

And the No. 1 reason ...

1. Hello? ... It's Major Jackson!

White Power

As it happened, I was twirling a cauliflower floret,
lost in Lewis's wardrobe of pallid trees,
considering my country's longing for homogenized milk
& bags of tube socks from Walmart,
which felt cancerous. What came to me like a surprise
snowfall in the soft evening of a snow globe,
one has to pinch salt and sprinkle in the palm,
repeatedly, especially when the temperature in mother's trailer
has begun to drop. In this way, after your Constitution fades,
you've your own hourglass and no one else to blame.

from Holding Company, by Major Jackson

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Underlife: by the Numbers

Release date: December 21, 2009
Sold: Two-thirds of its print run
Amazon ranking (as of December 15): #721,282, B&N: #Sales Rank: 905,950
Buy used: $1.36 + shipping on Amazon.
Most books sold at one reading: 55 (book launch party)
Average number of books after a reading: 4

The other day, I ran into a friend of mine who also is an entrepreneur and has authored two nonfiction books. He gave me great advice before Underlife was published. He asked how the book was doing, and when I told him it was doing well but, “… you know … it’s poetry. Poets don’t sell that many books,” he said, “Yeah, but it’s not about book sales. It’s about the opportunities the book brings.” And he was right.

This has been a year filled with joy and excitement—more than I expected. I’ve traveled up and down the East Coast: Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Miami—wow! I’ve been able to put names to a few faces of fellow bloggers and readers by meeting them in person. I’ve read at venues where only three people have shown up, and I’ve read before hundreds. But at each reading I can honestly say I connected with someone in the audience. That’s the power of poetry—the ability to inspire and expand community.

The book has been nominated and recognized for a few awards, received solid, positive reviews from bloggers and critics alike, and even got the Thumbs Up from my kids!

My humble goal for this book was to earn a second print run. Well, I’m not there but here’s hoping it happens early next year.

On Sunday, December 19, a year after the Underlife launch party (watch last year's slide show), I’ll be reading with Major Jackson at the Brookline Public Library for my last reading of 2010. My parents will be in town; it will be the first time they will hear me read my poems—ever! If you’re in the Boston area, I hope you make it for this very special event.

Thanks to everyone who bought, read, recommended, blogged about, adopted, and said a kind word about Underlife. I really do appreciate it--more than you know.

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

Look at all the creativity in the blogosphere going on right now:

Watch Terrance Hayes on CNN.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott has a terrific post on Muriel Rukeyser and Alice Walker.

Read the prologue to Remain in Light, the follow-up to Collin Kelley's book Conquering Venus.

Listen to Carolee Sherwood on this podcast about Emily Dickinson.

Susan Rich sends poems into the world this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Confession Tuesday

It’s Tuesday. You know the drill.

I love this mug. The photo is from the writers rertreat, and the mug belongs to one of the participants. It just seems so counterculture in a place of worship. I love it!


I said this on Twitter but if living well is the best revenge, I’m on an mf-ing rampage! Returning to real life on Sunday, I thought for sure I would lose my newly found center as soon as I walked through the door. But I made it through Monday and kept my focus. Even found time to go to the gym, which I just haven’t be able to do on a regular basis. Here’s hoping my new found balance continues into the New Year.


I plan on sending manuscript #2 to the publisher this week. I’m hoping they’ll take it but no guarantees. It’s time to move forward and move on. Wish me luck!


Last week, after the Improbable Places Poetry Tour at the swimming pool, I was speaking with host Colleen Michaels about how frazzled we were feeling after watching our kids splash and play in the pool during the poetry reading. Yes, it was fun, but I spent much of my time trying to keep my kids quiet (in a pool? What was I thinking?).

The next morning, I was thankful I was able to incorporate our kids into the poetry event. This is a modified version of what I wrote to Colleen in an e-mail; I feel very strongly about this (Colleen, hope you don’t mind).

For all the poet moms out there:

The truth is we rarely bring the kids to poetry events. But occasionally we’re lucky enough to read at or create events where we can do that. And maybe, just maybe, our kids will have more of an appreciation of poetry later in life because they can see what it can be. Poetry is all about community. It's good for them to see us active in the community doing something we love. My hope is that one day Alex and Ella will tell their kids, "My mom once brought me to a poetry reading at a swimming pool! It was so much fun!!"

I am constantly thinking about the choice between artist and mother, and really there is no choice. I do both. But when these two worlds intersect, good things happen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Workshop Recap

Here’s what I know about myself after being away for a weekend at a writers’ retreat:

  1. All that experience writing for NaPoWriMo and Novpad challenges has served me well; however, writing seven poems in three days is a lot, even for me.
  2. One weekend is not nearly enough time. I’m now thinking about a weeklong class at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown for the summer.
  3. I love talking poetry with people who “get it.” I don’t have to justify the existence of poetry or why anyone still writes it.
  4. I have 50 new prompts.
  5. I like hotels, but there’s something to be said for being very minimalistic in my surroundings and my approach.
  6. Thank goodness for Wi-fi.

Many of the attendees are regulars, but almost half were new writers joining the cicle. I have a feeling that if I don't sit down and revise soon, I'll lose the spirit in which these poems were written. I am grateful for the time spent away from my everyday surroundings to focus on my poetry.

Thanks to Maria and Laura for bringing me into the circle. And special thanks to Kevin and Colleen for a kick-ass weekend!

Workshop instructor Laura Boss.

Workshop participants with instructors Laura Boss and Maria Mazziotti Gillan (center, seated at table).

Our spartan accommodations.

My room was named after St. Basil.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Poetry Boot Camp

Note to self: "Poetry Writing Intensive" is code for "kicking my poetry *ss.

Just wanted to post a few pictures from my retreat at St Marguerite's Retreat and Conference Center in Mendhan, NJ. Happy to say I have five drafts so far. Much of what is being written here is narrative, with lots of emotion and details. Good, solid beginnings from a talented group of writers.

Colleen Michaels and Kevin Carey in my shot of the retreat house.

Where the nuns stay.

Miss Colleen

Evening poetry circle reading

Did I ever tell you about my love/hate relationship with confessional poetry?

Bob Hicok is coming to Babson College on February 16. We met briefly at this year's Dodge Festival, not that he would remember, but I'm psyched that he's coming as part of our Thompson Poetry Series. And, we are both scheduled to read at the Virginia Festival of the Book in March. For now, I leave you with this poem, from his book Animal Soul.


Did I ever tell you about my love/hate
relationship with confessional poetry?

Sometimes I leave my head in the other room.
Sometimes the other room is a few days
by horse away. I once told a man

I’d had a good time at the funeral,
which was true, not knowing the body
in the casket before it has ceased

to move and what with the sandwiches,
what with the woman to my left
smelling like she was the motive

of summer as she whispered the Polish names
from a novel in which no bad thing
happened. Usually bad things happen

in novels every chapter, this is how
narrative’s advanced, a prince is born
and a prince gets dysentery and a prince

dies in a revolution with an appetite
for princes. As a child I held my breath
to break the knees of advancing narrative,

my face turned blue and body collapsed,
my parents looked at their little heap
of boy and loved me despite the evidence.

Even now you could ask that I imagine
a field and instead of poppies waving
blue heads I’d picture a tractor on fire,

smoke and a farmer standing back, resigned
with hands in pockets as if this too
is just a change of season. The other thing

I get wrong most of the time is caring
about people. For instance: recently blood
collected in my grandmother where blood

shouldn’t, everything she said came out
like Jiffy Pop on the stove just before
the foil rips, people cried and the hospital

was a factory of indifference and I scurried
home to write a poem about death. This
is not an indication that my head’s not

in the other room but up my ass and that
my soul’s in there with it. I don’t mean
to care less about people that what

people do, and could like and say
I’ve taken steps to increase my devotion
to the actual limbs that come off and hearts

that stop, so I will. The art
of confession’s to focus attention on what’s
confessed while leaving the secret

mutations untouched. I once put the hose
of a vacuum on my penis and turned it
on. Honesty makes me feel so clean.

—Bob Hicok

Friday, December 10, 2010

Writing Your Way Home

This weekend I’m doing something purely for myself. I’m attending Writing Your Way Home: A Poetry Weekend Intensive in Mendham, NJ.

There will be roughly 20 poets attending—most of whom I don’t know—staying at a retreat house on 93 acres of wooded land. I’m going with a few members of the Salem Writers’ Group.

Run by Laura Boss and Maria Mazziotti Gillan, the goal is to give writers the space and time to focus totally on our work in a serene setting away from the distractions of daily life. Something tells me a weekend is not enough! But by the end, I should leave the retreat with a few good drafts.

From the retreat description:

“We see this retreat as a spiritual and creative break from our usual lives; it will allow us to take some time to look at life in a new light, to listen for our own voices, and to create in stillness, in quiet, and in community. These are times of contemplation and welcoming the muse. We want this experience to be unique and totally different from any other experience in the participants’ lives. … The workshops will concentrate on writing our way home and the way writing can save us, save our stories and our lives.”

I need this like plasma. Full report to come.

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Second Stop on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour

Jennifer Jean (left) with Colleen Michaels (right, next to mic.)

Nothing makes an Improbable Places Poetry Tour more improbable (and unpredictable) than kids, especially if they are my kids and they are swimming in a pool!

The second stop of the poetry tour brought us to the Cabot Street YMCA's indoor swimming pool. I did not read or swim last night, but I was well represented by my kids who insisted on going swimming during the poetry reading.

It was great fun to see a few poets swim as part of their performances.

What I love about these improbable venues is that they take the poet and the audience out of the usual comfortable settings and make the environment part of the experience.

Colleen Michaels, director of Montserrat College of Art's writing center and poet extraordinaire, did a fabulous job as host. And, that's her daughter, Eliza, playing with my kids in the pool. The acoustics with the splashing became a bit of a distraction, but all of that became part of the event, which felt more like a happening than a reading.

What a great mix of poets, Montserrat students, community members, and kids who come out for a fun night of poetry!

Be sure to watch the video from the first stop at the bicycle shop.

The amazing Dawn Paul!

Margaret Young

Montserrat student

First Stop on the Poetry Tour!

More than 60 people attended the first Improbable Places Poetry Tour evening Thursday, October 28, sponsored by Montserrat College of Art and held at Centraal Cycle on Cabot Street, Beverly. Poets shared their bicycle-themed poems with one another and were inspired by each other's writings. The group is led by Montserrat College of Art Writing Center Director Colleen Michaels.

Video by Montserrat Student Brett Mason '12.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Shut Up and Get to Work

Grab your swim trunks and floaties. Time to get wet at the Improbable Places Poetry Tour tonight!

Improbable Places Poetry Tour
The YMCA Swimming Pool
Wednesday, December 8
6:30–7:30 p.m.
245 Cabot Street
Beverly, MA

Open swim starts at 6 p.m. (optional). Hope to see you there!


Robert Kloss is remixing short stories at Necessary Fiction.


Need a kick in the pants? A daily dose of reality? Shut Up and Get to Work!


Last night, I went to the Salem Writers Workshop. I’m not sure what I love more about this community, the camaraderie or the spot-on feedback we give each other. Even when I don't have a poem to share, which was the case last night, I still leave feeling satisfied.Guess that’s what working with a group on a regular basis can do for the creative process.


I have the same relationship with my coworkers—camaraderie and creativity.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday! Have you been naughty or nice? Naughty, I hope. Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

I love taking the kids to see Santa! At the risk of being cheesy, I am so very thankful for Alex and Ella. How lucky am I that my day starts and ends with them?


This time last year, I felt I was making the best of the situation. The launch party for Underlife and my divorce proceedings happened about the same time. My greatest success as a writer was coupled with the most intense pain I have ever felt. I put on a brave face, but I was pretty miserable at the end of 2009.

This holiday season is markedly different. And while I don't feel "healed" (don't know if I'll ever really heal from the divorce), I feel hopeful. Though it all, I've known exactly who I am and my place in this world--raising those two silver linings.


You can't build your happiness on the unhappiness of others.


This weekend, I am going with a few poet friends to Writing Your Way Home: A Poetry Weekend Intensive. It's held at a retreat house on 93 acres of wooded land in New Jersey. I'm looking forward to nurturing my creative spirit with fellow poets, talking about craft, and writing a few drafts. Woo hoo!

It will be nice to be still for once. That's what I'm looking forward to the most.


Still tweaking the "Misery Islands" long poem from my second manuscript. Ugh. The endless tweaking is driving me insane.

This poem is in 10 sections (expanded from the original eight). The opening needs a bit of finessing ... maybe. I'm having it looked at by others who are slightly more objective than me. And I'm looking for the right word in one of the later sections that will swing the poem in a different direction. Still haven't found what I'm looking for. Drat!

I really would like to submit it to a few places before year's end.


Tonight, I'm spending time with the Salem Writers Group. Sometimes it's helpful for me to listen to others read short stories and poems when I'm at an impasse with my own work.

Monday, December 06, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different ...

File this under "WTF?" I've never seen such a random collection of B-list stars in my life for a commercial. It's a Norwegian video promo for the show Gylne Tider (Golden Times), with a bizarre combination of singing and lip syncing to The Beatles "Let It Be."

Enjoy! I guess ...?

"You're a Bad Banana with a Greasy, Black Peel."

The kids and I were watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" last night. Never gets old. Although, have you ever listened to the lyrics of this song? Yikes.

(I can think of a few people who fit the descriptions perfectly.)


Since putting up the Christmas tree last week, I'm officially in the Christmas spirit. Hoping to do all of my shopping with the click of a mouse.


This week, I'm hoping to blurb a friend's manuscript, enter a few contests, write two new poems, and update my Goodreads listing. With the silly season upon us, I have to make an extra effort to make space for writing before the end of the year.


How about you? Are you a bit of a Grinch this year or are you ready for the holidays?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Bits and Pieces

I have two poems up at Poets for Living Waters (one of them is a pantoum).


Check out Kristin Berkey-Abbott's list of Favorite Poetry Books of 2010. Underlife made the list. Very cool!


At The Alchemist's Kitchen, Susan Rich has an interview with Rosanne Olson, and a giveaway of her book This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes. Check it out!


Lastly, I am a proud owner of one of Kelli Russell Agodon's Monkey postcards. *smile*

Friday, December 03, 2010

Terrance and Me

Last night, I had the great fortune of attending a Q&A session with this year's National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes for Lighthead. He's guest editor of current issue of Ploughshares (Winter 2010-11 issue, available now), and was scheduled for this Q&A and reading at Emerson College before the NBA hoopla, I'm sure.

Reading at the Paramount Center in Boston, the session was led by Emerson professor, author, and Basic Black host Kim McLarin. Fresh off of the NBA frenzy (or maybe still in the middle of it), he talked openly about the attention that comes from winning such a prestigious award. When asked if he worried about success and how it might affect his writing, he said, "When everyone's asleep ... the only person I have to worry about is my shadow," meaning at the end of the day, the only person he has to please is himself.

Terrance talked about the layers of pressure an award brings, but he's been receiving accolades since his first book, Muscular Music, was published in 1999, followed by Hip Logic (2002) and Wind in a Box (2006). He regularly tells his students that, "To write something for everyone is to write something for no one." When asked about the many musical, artistic, and social references that enter into his work, he talked about how complicated artists are, but fortunately "... we live in a moment [of time] where we are influenced by everything." What comes out on the page is "... the surprise of the mind in real time." Poetry has the ability to absorb these ideas.

I asked the last question of the evening, about Terrance's poem (and my favorite in this collection) "The Golden Shovel," after Gwendolyn Brooks' famous poem "We Real Cool." The poem is written in two sections, with Ms. Brooks' poem used as the end words of his poem. Just brilliant. Turns out it went through many different drafts, and if Terrance had it to do over again, he would have included only the first section in Lighthead. (NOTE: I encourage you to click on both links, AND listen to Ms. Brooks reading "We Real Cool.")

The talk was very well-rounded. Terrance spoke on a range of topics from revision and sending poems out to the poet's ability to trust his/her own sense of what is good in a poem. I'm just sorry I couldn't stay for his reading later in the evening. But I did get to spend a few minutes after the Q & A with Terrance, catching up a bit and wishing him continued success.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What Is Ecopoetry?

Because I don't teach, I feel as if the term ecopoety snuck up on me. What exactly is ecopoetry, and what makes a poet an ecopoet? What is the difference between ecopoetry and nature poetry? I'm guessing it's a connectedness to the natural world, but with a sense of responsibility. Is the focus solely on environmental issues? I wonder if most of the poetry in this genre is negative (the world is in bad shape and it's your fault) or positive (we can save the earth). This is an oversimplification, I know.

So, which poets are writing in this vein? And, can you recommend poems or non-critical articles/book on the topic? I know of the book Earth's Body: An Ecopoetry Anthology, which I believe is forthcoming. Any others?



Yesterday, the area north of Boston experienced a four-hour power outage. Happened right when I got home from work. So I scooped up the kids and went to the mall for dinner. I've entertained the kids during a power outage before and it's a lot of work. Electricity came on just before 10 p.m. after the kids went to bed.

Reading by candlelight, I felt as if I was going back to nature temporarily.


Tonight, I'm going to a Q&A with Terrance Hayes. Should be very cool. Pictures to come.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Louder Than a Bomb

Louder Than a Bomb documentary trailer from Siskel/Jacobs Productions on Vimeo.

Louder Than a Bomb tells the story of four Chicago high school poetry teams as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest youth slam. By turns hopeful and heartbreaking, the film captures the turbulent lives of these unforgettable kids, exploring the ways writing shapes their world, and vice versa. Louder Than a Bomb is not about “high school poetry” as we often think of it. It’s about language as a joyful release, irrepressibly talented teenagers obsessed with making words dance. While the topics they tackle are often deeply personal, what they put into their poems—and what they get out of them—is universal: the defining work of finding one’s voice.


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