Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confession Tuesday

It’s Tuesday ... time to confess. The holidays are fast approaching. No time to hold back. Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Growing up, my favorite movie was Snoopy Come Home. Thought it was the sweetest, saddest movie on the planet when I was about 6 years old. It would make me cry every time. The thought of Snoopy leaving Charlie Brown to live with his first owner, a little girl sick in the hospital, was more than I could bear. Well, this past weekend I had a chance to see it again with my daughter, Ella, and I cried like a baby. Can’t believe my daughter actually cried with me—tears streaming down our faces.

I tell people I’m dead inside—jokingly—because sappy movies don’t faze me.

Yeah. Cried like a baby.


I've been thinking a lot about finishing 2010 strong. It's been a busy year and 2011 promises to be even more hectic helping to plan the Mass Poetry Festival. So I'm trying to use my time more effectively. What's most important to me in the month ahead?

During the next few weeks I'm sure I'll take a turn at looking back and looking ahead, but these are things I can work on right now.

December Poetry To-do's

  • Write 10 poems (total of 40 drafts for 2010)
  • Submit work to 8 publications
  • Organize desk (this is a huge task)
  • Send second manuscript to publisher

In two weeks, I'm going on a weekend mini writers' retreat. I should get a few good drafts, which will help make up for my poor showing in the November PAD challenge. *sigh*

(Share a few of your December/end-of-year goals.)


Manuscript is almost done! December 1, I'm calling it done. Held onto it for a few more weeks because I added one of my PAD poems to the mix. But for the most part, it’s done. I’m sending it out to a few friends for review but will send it out mid-month to my publisher. Fingers crossed.


Rejected by the New Yorker ... again! (big surprise) I don't have much out there now in circulation. Time to get in another round of submissions in before 2010 comes to a close.


Just found out Terrance Hayes is coming to Emerson College this Thursday via Ploughshares. I will try to make it!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Improbable Places Poetry Tour

Can you guess the location/theme for the second stop on the poetry tour?

Improbable Places Poetry Tour
The YMCA Swimming Pool
Wednesday, December 8
6:30–7:30 p.m.
245 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 venue and theme will be selected. This month's venue is an indoor swimming pool!

Did you say swimming pool?
That’s right, folks. The theme is water. Got a poem about a lifeguard? An ode to Esther Williams? That first swim? Floating, sinking, synchronized swimming … the second tour stop is all about the life aquatic.

Hey, I've got a poem about water. Can I read it? We are accepting submissions via e-mail at cmichaels@montserrat.edu and in Writing Center, located on the 2nd floor of Montserrat’s library. The deadline is Friday, December 3. We'd love to read your work!

I don't have a poem about water. Can I still attend the event? Absolutely! Come and listen and cheer on the readers. The lifeguard is on duty, so suit up and swim in the warmest pool in town. Dangle your feet in the water or take a dry seat on the bleachers. Most importantly, come check out what the writers of your community are up to!

Wait! I've still got questions! Just talk to Colleen Michaels, Montserrat's Writing Center Director. She's at cmichaels@montserrat.edu or 978-921-4242 ext. 1254.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to Life

Hello! Hope everyone enjoyed the Thanksgiving break.

I decided to focus solely on Alex and Ella during the holiday break. Guess I felt the need to devote all of my attention to them since this was the first Thanksgiving spent without family. Usually, my nerves are shot at the end of a long kid-filled weekend, but it turned out better than I expected. Hectic, but lots of fun. We even managed to put up Christmas decorations. Whew!

Also, I have a head cold. So between not feeling great and spending time with the kids, I stepped away from poetry and the blog. That’s always a good thing because I usually have more to say when I can get perspective on the rest of my life. No writing, but I did a little manuscript tweaking. I should wrap it up by December 1.

Here are some photos from the long weekend.

The Roller Palace

Boston Children's Museum

Museum of Science

Friday, November 26, 2010

Large and in Charge

Happy day after Thanksgiving! I'm feeling rotund after yesterday's big ol' meal. Yikes! No pictures today, my friends.


This morning the kids and I braved the crowds at the mall at 6 a.m. I am the proud new owner of a snowblower. Also managed to get a few presents for family members. While I was out in the throngs of bargain seekers, I decided to do the rest of my holiday shopping online. Ugh.


Next on the agenda today is roller skating, and then a visit to the Children's Museum. Can't wait to lace up and take turn around the rink. Believe it or not, this is me taking it easy. The kids haven't seen much of me lately so I'm happy to have the time with them.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!


Happy Birthday, Josephus Maximus!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mass Poetry Announces Salem as 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival Destination

Excerpts from the press release issued today:

Mass Poetry has chosen historic Salem as the location for the third Massachusetts Poetry Festival to be held on May 13 and 14, 2011. A two-day festival features poetry readings, slams, workshops, a day of poetry for high school students, and a small press fair highlighting published poets.

“The Massachusetts Poetry Festival will bring a blizzard of verbal beauty to Salem, a city with a rich literary history and vibrant writing community. It will connect generations, and it will give the city and university a leadership role in building culture in the Commonwealth,” said J.D. Scrimgeour, poet and Professor of English at Salem State University. “The Poetry Festival is evidence of the vitality of the fundamental, central art of poetry,” said Robert Pinsky, the former Poet Laureate of the U.S. and the Honorary Chair of the Poetry Festival.

Read the full press release at the Mass Poetry website, and be sure to sign up for updates.

Confession Tuesday

Welcome to Confession Tuesday--Thanksgiving edition! This week is all about sharing, so I welcome you to The Confessional. No secrets here. Share with us, and we'll happily return the favor.

I really can't believe turkey day is Thursday. It must seem like a strange holiday for those not from the United States. But it is the biggest family meal of the year, followed by the biggest shopping nightmare weekend.

This year, the kids and I will be spending Thanksgiving with good friends. But I must admit that I'm sad not to spend it with relatives. We used to spend the holiday with my ex-husband's family, which was a big, loud affair. It also will be the first year the kids won't see their cousins. This is what I hate most about divorce--the aftershocks. Those things I felt were ancillary but rock solid--like relationships with the relatives--have to change. So my job will be keeping them occupied all weekend with activities. Good medicine for us all.

It's nice to be surrounded by friends. I feel very thankful this year.


Last night, I got seven hours of sleep, a big improvement over the four hours on Sunday night when I returned home from Miami. What a whirlwind trip! Every once in a while, I like to get out of my comfort zone. Poetry has been the biggest blessing for me because it takes me to unexpected places.

Books I picked up in Miami (because when you go to a book fair, you always come back with books):

Edwidge Danticat - Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work
Geoffrey Philp - Dub Wise
Merwyn Taylor - No Back Door
Nina Romano - Coffeehouse Meditations
Mark Statman -Tourist at a Miracle
Grana 113 - The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists
The Spoon River Poetry Review (Winter/Spring 2010)

When am I going to find time to read these books? My 2011 reading list will be ridiculously long.


And then there's the November PAD challenge. I've decided not to play catch up but to finish out the challenge with a solid 20 poems. After a certain point, playing catch up is not fun, nor is it creative. I'm just in a difference space where it's hard to finish a challenge. But I love doing them.

More poems to come!

National Book Award-Winning Poet Hayes Reads From Lighthead : NewsHour Poetry Series : Video : The Poetry Foundation

National Book Award-Winning Poet Hayes Reads From Lighthead : NewsHour Poetry Series : Video : The Poetry Foundation

Yay Terrance!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Miami - Day 2

Another beautiful day. While I spent much of Saturday soaking up the sun at the vendor fair, Sunday was all about poetry. I missed C.K. Williams and Campbell McGrath in their session to hear Geoffrey Philp and Nina Romano read from their collections. It was a pleasure meeting them both.

Geoffrey Philp

It’s safe to say that Geoffrey and I have been admirers of each other’s poetry for a while, thanks to the blogosphere. But our true "connection" is through Rethabile. Amazing!

Nina Romano

Then I had the great pleasure of reading again with Susan Rich. Joining us was Mark Statman and Kevin Pilkington. I was more excited about hearing everyone else’s work than reading my own (but don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed reading).

Here are poets Mark Statman and Mervyn Taylor.

Susan and me.

Kevin Pilkington, Mark Statman, Susan, and me.

The Miami Book Fair does not disappoint. I've never seen so many people come out for books in my life! Congrats to festival chair and founder Mitchell Kaplan, whom I met yesterday (not pictured), for pulling all of this together, and for supporting books, books, books!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Miami - Day 1

Welcome to Miami!

As soon as I checked into my hotel, I started walking around the Book Fair. First of all, it’s 80 degrees and humid! Oh my goodness—it’s so fabulous! But I was blown away by the sheer number of book sellers, vendors, and organizations at this weeklong extravaganza. Wow!

Next, I went to the author hospitality suite and passed who I think was Maggie Gyllenhaal. Then I saw Chip Kidd, with whom I did not speak with, and later I saw Edwidge Danticat, with whom I did.

At some point between Chip Kidd and Edwidge Danticat, I had a “what the hell am I doing here with all of these heavy hitters” moment. A mini freak-out, if you will. Me and my little poetry collection ... why am I here? After a few deep breaths and some kind tweets from some friends on Twitter, I started to relax. Still, it is overwhelming to be in the company of big-name writers.

My poetry reading is today at 2:30 p.m., so I’ll either go to South Beach and watch all the eye candy, or stay local and finish my manuscript revisions. More to come.

Enjoy the photos!


Carlo Eire, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, and Edwidge Danticat.

Salman Rusdie

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Miami Book Fair International


"Party in the city where the heat is on
All night on the beach till the break of dawn
Welcome to Miami
(bienvenido a Miami)"

I'm sitting in the airport waiting to board. Will post pictures and new poems as soon as my feet touch the ground. Well, after I eat, walk around, and find free wireless access!

Join me in Miami!

Miami Book Fair International
November 21
Reading with Susan Rich,
Kevin Pilkington, and Mark Statman
Miami Book Fair International
2:30 p.m.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Terrance Hayes

Big ups to Terrance Hayes for winning the National Book Award in poetry!

When Underlife was published, Terrance sent me the nicest note to wish me well. He’s just a classy person—the real deal. Congrats to Terrance, his beautiful wife Yona, and their family.

And, Happy Birthday!


Just found out that my poem, “Chocolate,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Ibbetson Street (issue #28). That came out of left field. Here’s the complete list of Ibbetson’s nominees:

Karla Huston – “That Summer”– Issue 27
Joyce Meyers –”Apparitions” – Issue 27
Sheila Nickerson – ”After Haying”– Issue 27
January Gill O'Neil – ”Chocolate” – Issue 28
Marge Piercy – ”Where Dreams Come From” – Issue 28
Ginny Sullivan – ”Not Advent” – Issue 28


Also, I’m going to be reading at the 2011 VA Festival of the Book, March 17–20! As a Virginia native, this is the first reading in my home state. I’m thrilled to be reading at the festival, and I look forward to attending the sessions.


Then there’s Miami. I’m still high off of last night’s reading with Susan Rich. Could this day get any better?


Will get back on track for PAD challenge this weekend. I’ve been known to write poems in batches on long flights. One of the three poems I wrote on my flight to AWP in Denver became the first poem in my second collection. I’m just sayin' … it could happen!

Susan and Me

Isn't she lovely?

Don't be fooled by the slight blurriness of this iPhone photo. It is "the poet's glow" that occurs after giving a very successful reading!

Susan Rich and I had a fabulous time reading together at Porter Square Books last night. Special thanks to the staff who helped us pull it off. After months of planning and anticipation, what we would thought would happen did happen--our work complemented each other's incredibly well. There is a music and worldliness to Susan's poems that is simply captivating.

As much as I enjoy reading, I couldn't wait to sit down and become an audience member. Because she's a Brookline native, it was nice to see the hometown crowd come out to support her.

Susan says the West Coast poets give a "Two-Poem Warning," which gives the audience a chance to gage how long they have to sit in their seats. I inadvertently gave a three-poem warning because I don't wear a watch when I read. I like the idea, however. We may have to institute it here on the East Coast. Too funny.

The best part of last night's reading? We get to do it again on Sunday at the Miami Book Fair International!

November 21
Reading with Susan Rich,
Kevin Pilkington, and Mark Statman
Miami Book Fair International
2:30 p.m.

Thanks again, Susan, for giving a wonderful reading. See you soon!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Porter Square Books: Reading with Susan Rich

Porter Square Books
Susan Rich and January O'Neil
Wednesday, November 17
25 White St, Cambridge, MA, 7 p.m.

I am beyond excited that Susan Rich has flown out from Seattle to read at Porter Square Books with me! She is the author of three collections of poetry: The Cartographer’s Tongue, Cures Include Travel, and her newest work, The Alchemist’s Kitchen. She has received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers. Her fellowships include an Artists Trust Fellowship from Washington State and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa.

Read more about Susan in this interview with me.

Here's one of her poems, originally published in Times Literary Supplement:

Different Places to Pray

Everywhere, everywhere she wrote; something is falling –
a ring of keys slips out of her pocket into the ravine below;

nickels and dimes and to do lists; duck feathers from a gold pillow.
Everywhere someone is losing a favorite sock or a clock stops

circling the day; everywhere she goes she follows the ghost
of her heart; jettisons everything but the shepherd moon, the hopeless cause.

This is the way a life unfolds: decoding messages from profiteroles,
the weight of mature plums in late autumn. She’d prefer a compass

rose, a star chart, text support messages delivered from the net,
even the local pet shop – as long as some god rolls away the gloss

and grime of our gutted days, our global positioning crimes.
Tell me, where do you go to pray – a river valley, a pastry tray?

Meet the alchemist herself tonight at Porter Square Books! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday! Got something to say? Well, this is the place to say it. Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Last night, I was up past 1 a.m. because I hit a creative streak. I actually fought off sleep around 10 p.m. so I could read through a friend’s manuscript, edit my own second manuscript, and work on some Mass Poetry Festival planning. And now it’s about 5:30 a.m. Ugh. This is exactly what I have to avoid, but it’s hard to stop when I get into a groove.


So we’re at day 16 for the November PAD Challenge and … well … I’m on poem 14. Here’s what I can tell you about this challenge thus far:

  • Writing daily poems saps my energy for everything else: writing blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates. I have diverted all auxiliary power to poeting. Nothing left to do but dump the warp core.
  • When I don’t get enough sleep, I use phrases such as “dump the warp core” (Star Trek reference).
  • As much as I hate getting behind on the daily postings, I have to or I’ll burn out. But I don’t mind catching up a day or two later to stay in track. Usually I have poems started but don’t have enough time to finish.
  • I’m more self-conscious about putting drafts up than ever before. I feel very naked doing it. And yet I still do it.


East Coast meets West Coast! Join me at Porter Square Books tomorrow night at 7 as Susan Rich and I read together in Cambridge! It’s a nice warm-up to our reading in Miami at the Miami Book Fair International.

And, in Miami, I get to meet Jim Brock. Susan Rich AND Jim Brock in one week? How cool is that? Pictures to come.


I have a poem out in the new Ibbetson Street #28. Also in this issue is Marge Piercy, X.J. Kennedy, Kathleen Spivack, Daniel Tobin, Lyn Lifshin, Sam Cornish, Gloria Mindock, Tino Villanueva, Molly Lynn Watt and Tam Neville, to name a few.

November PAD 13

This poem is part of a longer sequence, so it is untitled.

We were never of one body.
You said wind. I said water.
And whatever connected us has all but disappeared.

I was the reedy weeds clinging to the bottom edge of everything.
I was the red algae rotting on the shore in the summer heat.
I was the stinging salty air, the air around your tongue.

Out of your tongue you carved a boat.
Out of the boat you sailed to freedom.
I was the slopping waves pushing you beyond the sightline.

No man is an island, but I was.
I was all of this and more.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Somerville News Writers Festival

If you were not at the Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville, MA, on Saturday night, you missed out on something special. The 8th Somerville News Writers Festival took place with a book fair during the day and readings in the evening--the event did not disappoint. Organized by Doug Holder and Tim Gager, it was a terrific night of poetry and fiction.

Boston’s poet laureate, Sam Cornish, received a lifetime achievement award from Ibbetson Street Press.

(Sam Cornish)

Other highlights for me included picking up Steve Almond’s third self-published book, Bad Poetry; hearing Dan Sklar read a poem called “October,” of which he said that Robert Frost’s daughter enjoyed his poem about October more than her fathers’; and hearing poetry and fiction from Martha Collins, Rusty Barns, and many other talented authors.

(Martha Collins)

(Malachy McCourt)

And then there's Malachy McCourt, who, like his brother Frank, published his first book in his mid-60s. He’s a colorful character to say the least. I can see why his books are so popular.

The Somerville News Writers Festival is a feel-good night of words, just a nice way to showcase authors with ties to the city. Hats off to Doug and Tim for turning this community event into something bigger, while keeping the heart of the event intact.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November PAD 12

Still Life with Children and a Bowl of Strawberries

The shade of a birch tree,
the thawp-thawp sound of flip flops
hitting the backs of heels
then kicked carelessly into the wind.
We sit criss-cross applesauce
the three of us picnicking in the front yard
as the afternoon ripens into evening.
The earth is our table, strawberries at the center.
The color of blood, the color of life,
our small red hearts in a white bowl,
juice rolling down our chins
and there is laughter. Call them
“nature’s candy” and they won’t believe you,
even though they know it to be true.
We wipe our hands on the grass,
plump and full of ourselves.

November PAD 11

Miracle Drug

This poem temporary relieves pain
due to malaise, boredom, or stress.
This poem is convenient, easy to use
and relieves the following symptoms:

runny nose
itchy, watery eyes
sore throat
facial swelling
skin reddening
upset stomach

This poem relieves congestion and restores free breathing
This poem will make you taller, thinner, smarter, and attractive to the opposite sex
This poem causes pleasure, unexplainable laughter, and the occasional hiccup
This poem contains caffeine

If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to poetry, wait a day and try again.

When using this poem, do not take more than directed—
taking more may cause drowsiness.

Contact a poet …
if you have heart palpitations
if your symptoms don’t improve in 7 minutes
or are accompanied with a fever
if you experience nervousness, dizziness, or sleeplessness

If pregnant or breastfeeding, increase the dosage.

Do not get in your eyes
Do not take on an empty stomach
Do not divide, crush, dissolve or chew the poem
Do not keep out of the reach of children
Do take with a full glass of wine
Store in a cool, dry place
Swallow as whole. Repeat often. Repeat as needed.

November PAD 10

This is part of a longer sequence, so it is untitled.

I loved. You loved. We loved
with our whole selves—
lips first, then the tumble of skin
pulling each other down,
caught in the tangle and swirl,
closer to terror, closer to ourselves
the way we became something else
as soon as we were in it,
the way our bodies displaced truth
through the depths of anger,
the way it changed us
and we were changed by it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Yesterday, to my daughter's delight, a copy of Hip Hop Speaks to Children arrived in the mail. Ella and Alex have enjoyed Poetry Speaks to Children so much, we had to get this book and accompanying CD, which features hip hop and other related poetic forms.

Edited by Nikki Giovanni, this collection features poets and artists from Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lucille Clifton to the Sugar Hill Gang, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, and Martin Luther King Jr. It's a nice mix of music, rhythm, beats, and meter. We're just getting into it but I'm very happy to have this companion piece to show my children the range of poets and styles out there. And, I love seeing so many beautiful brown faces in the illustrations.


Also in my amazon.com order was Lighthead by Terrance Hayes and Skin Inc. by Thomas Sayers Ellis.

I'm trying to restrain myself with book purchases for the rest of the year until I can catch up on the titles I have now. I have a pretty hefty stack of books on my nightstand waiting to be read. Of course, I'm going to the Miami Book Fair International next week so all bets are off.


Weekend To-do List

  1. Keep up with November PAD Challenge
  2. Take one last look at second manuscript; send out to three more readers for feedback
  3. Finish reading a friend's manuscript
  4. Submit poems to two publications
  5. Update my Goodreads profile
  6. Start a new fiction book. Top of the list: The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November PAD 9

In Praise of Crossing Guards

Today I sing your praises,
you in your yellow rain slicker
white gloves and reflective tape.
Protect our most precious cargo
from the likes of me—distracted driver,
text-aholic, nine-to-fiver late to work—
on this fogged up, fogged out morning.
Guide us safely across busy streets.
Watch over the boys with their oversized backpacks
and puddle stompers, and girls with their parasols
flipped upside down by a sudden gust.
Hold the line as I hold my daughter’s hand,
wait for a break in the traffic’s pulse.
You stand in the November rain
until every last child reaches the other side.
Keeper of the walk, guard us against the bright eyes of cars
for you volunteer your time so that we may cross
to somewhere else. Look left-right-left,
stop arm held high, you are never rattled
by sudden breaking or the screech of wheels
Protect us from this weathered life.
Remind us daily that when you’re in the community,
you are the community.

(I borrowed the last line from L.S. Thanks!)

Bits and Pieces

Last night's reading for the Newton Free Library Poetry Series was terrific! Wish I had a good picture to share. Poets Philiph Burnham Jr. and Ruby Poltorak also read their wonderful poems. For a rainy Tuesday night, we had a very nice crowd--I even sold a few books, which doesn't always happen these days. Special thanks to Doug Holder for organizing the event.


I should be writing poems #9 and #10 but I decided to catch up on a few blogs instead. I may take a page out of Carolee's book and write a list poem ... or two!


This weekend, Doug Holder is reading and co-organizing the annual Somerville News Writers Festival, Doug and Tim Gager always do a nice job putting this event together.

The Somerville News Writers Festival
Saturday, November 13, 7 p.m.
(book fair during the day)
The Center for Arts at the Armory
91 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA 02143

Here's the lineup:

Hosting and reading Timothy Gager with music by Cooper De Ville

Steve Almond
Rusty Barnes
Martha Collins
Sam Cornish
Diana Der-Hovanessian
Ethan Gilsdorf
Jennifer Haigh
Michelle Hoover
Douglas Holder
Fred Marchant
Malachy McCourt
Dan Sklar

Should be a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

November PAD 8

Fixing the Toilet

He watches eagerly for his chance
to use the new tool kit, as we attempt
to replace a broken toilet handle.
Never in all my married years
did I ever imagine so much brokenness
but I am attempting to fix what I can
in front of my son, for my son.
The air is tight around our bodies.

I untread the nut from the old lever,
remove it from the tank. Then he puts
fingers around the new ring.
He gives a quick turn, then another,
his small man hands working the lever
through the tank hole as handle fits shank
piece fits piece, the inside of the tank
rust-colored from years of hard water.

Then the moment of truth
my son does the honors:
a push of the lever, the swirl of water—
a wide smile and high-fives to follow.
I press my palm to the ivory lid
as not to drop this heavy thing
or ruin this moment. Every thing
back in its place, the tools at the ready
waiting to be called into service.

November PAD 7

Skunk Dream

Before daybreak
the smell of skunk travels
through the frosted air.
He rouses me from sleep,
and in my half-woken state
I wonder if he has somehow
crawled through the basement window
and made it inside the house.

I imagine him shimmying over
unstable boxes of baby clothes and coats,
unearthing toys packed away long ago.
He is searching for something
but like most skunks
he lacks a true sense of time.

He finds the photo albums,
all those smiling faces
from the wedding,
the births and birthday parties,
changes of season sealed in airtight
containers. Then he moves to the books.

I think the skunk must be literate,
rooting through novels and anthologies
looking for a narrative thread—
the plot, the characters, the twist,
and, the denouement.
He flips to the last page
to see how the story ends,
that thick strip of tail sticking out
like a bookmark among the stacks.

If that skunk saw us on the street
the next day, would he recognize us,
for he has surely sniffed us out.
A stranger among our things
touching all that I love. The sudden snap
of odor—I know he’ll come back.
He always does, dreaming himself
out of this life and into the next.

Confession Tuesday

Welcome to Confession Tuesday. Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same. And if you confess on your blog, let me know so I can stop in and say hello.

I'm staring my November round of readings with tonight's event at the Newton Public Library. Then next week, I'll read with the fabulous Susan Rich at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, and again in Miami at the Miami Book Fair International. Also, Jim Brock will be reading so I'm thrilled to finally meet him in person.

And then the readings slow down. I have a few things planned in early 2011 but I'm keeping my schedule relatively light. Planning for the 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival is in full swing and I don't want to overcommit myself.


Keeping up with the November poem-a-day challenge is keeping me up at night, literally. When I'm writing daily, it does take less effort to get going but finding time to write has always been an issue. This process forces me to be more open about what makes a poem, which is great. Some of my attempts make me cringe, but I'm happy with much of what I've written. I have more to post and will do so when I get a chance.


No NEA grant this year. Oh well, it was my first time applying. Can't wait to see who the recipients are.


I have a poem coming out in the January/February edition of North American Review. Woo hoo!

Other than that, I have two other submissions out for review, but I haven't given the publication side of things much attention.

Time for a to-do list.


Can you believe Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Daylight Savings

Happy Monday, folks:

I thought for sure the end of daylight savings would really confuse my kids’ schedules. Fortunately the kids seem to be sleeping OK. No one has woken up a 4 a.m., except for me—completely confused about what time it is.


Working on PAD poem 7 and will have to come up for something with #8. I needed to take a little break from the writing. I was not in a good mood on Saturday, but woke up Sunday morning feeling somewhat better with three ideas (5, 6, and 7) ready to go. I’ll continue to post my drafts in the evenings so I can tweak here and there.


Spent Sunday raking leaves only to have more of them shaken from the trees during an overnight storm. It’s raining horses and cows (as opposed to cats and dogs).


If you’re around tomorrow night, I’m reading at the Newton Public Library. Hope you can stop by!

Newton Free Library Poetry Series
Tuesday, November 9
Newton Free Library
330 Homer Street
Newton, MA , 7 p.m.

Ruby Poltorak is a published poet, storyteller, accomplished Yiddish instructor, on the Fireside Poetry Reading Series Board, and long time Newton resident.

January Gill O’Neil is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009).

Philip Burnham has published four books of poetry, two with Ibbetson Street Press. His poems have recently appeared in the Aurorean, Blue Unicorn, Deronda, Ibbetson Street, Lyric and The Seventh Quarry. He also has had a poem read by Garrison Keillor on The Writers' Almanac. In 2010, he won the Gretchen Warren Award from the New England Poetry Club.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

November PAD 6

The Memory of Objects

When my daughter plays the piano,
it sounds like a musical hallucination—
clusters of chords beating each other up
sharps and flats battling for supremacy
in this time before piano lessons.
The upright, a found gift from the man
who was once my husband,
stands with its back against the wall.
The wood has lost all luster,
its voice is in need of tuning,
yet when she plays,
I can hear us in her—
her hands are hammers
reinterpreting our chaos
with the faintest hint of sweetness.
I swear she can make someone
else’s sadness her music
as it travels beyond black and white
which makes you feel subdued
by this off-key melody
as if it is the only tune you’ll ever carry again
and somehow you’re supposed to live with it
and somehow you’re supposed to transcend it.

(Not sure if the shift in person toward the end works. Thoughts?

November PAD 5

The Grackles

We think the sky noble
because it invites possibility
but the real work is on the ground
for the opportunity obsessed.
Take grackles, for instance.
Watch as they dart and grab after
an apple core left in the camps quad,
speckled with ants, nearly rotten,
before the wet soil
takes it back for seed.

They fight over this throwaway,
beak to beak, until is breaks into pieces,
inviting their fearless, onlooking friends
down from the power lines
to join the ruckus.
There is beauty to this,
beyond instinct or hope.
The fruit that has fallen is now
obtainable as fragments.
Those black birds
this thin desire of will
is what keeps us flocking
into the field and beyond it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Kibbles and Bits

I’m having one of those mornings. Just not in a good mood.

Right now, my daughter is playing the maracas, which is soooooo not helping.

The kids and I did manage to make it out to our local Y to run around for a few hours. What a resource the YMCA is—especially in the fall and winter. The amount of activities to keep kids occupied is terrific.


Today, we’re going to see the new movie Megamind as part of a playdate. Very cool.


Then later, November PAD poems 5 and 6. If I wasn’t in such a grumpy mood, I would have finished a draft this morning. But I think I need to take a mini-break for now. Kids first. Poems later.


Happy Saturday, folks.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

November PAD 4

The Hawk and the Hare

—For J.K.

When the world you know has shut down for the day,
turned off its halogen lights and said its see-you-laters,
you leave the office shredded, only to be startled by
a red-tailed hawk a few feet away,
light brown feathers streaked in white.
He stands there, magnificent, suspicious,
wings tucked in, but does not let go
of what’s between his talons:
a chipmunk/no a squirrel/no a hare—
that same small creature you saw at lunchtime
with its soft, floppy ears scampering along
the building wall, obscured by the big-headed hydrangeas.
He must have plotted this destruction all day,
and will not be denied by you or your presence.
It buries its beak into the body ripping brown fur
and skin in large bloody chunks. No sound
but the sound of struggle while your heart pounds
the inside of your body. You think, for a moment,
you should do something/call someone/stop this,
but you don’t. You keep this carnage all to yourself,
the hawk now grasping at it tightly but inching away from you.
You’re not even sure if the hare is still alive
but for the twitching of its foot, rhythmic as a drum
until it ceases, its last act of resistance on this earth.
Before you know it, the hawk takes off
clasping what’s left of its meal, giving a shrill cry
as it soars above the pines and disappears.
For days, tufts of hair and bone dot the grass
untouched like a makeshift memorial,
while the story of the hawk and the hare
becomes part of office lore. And you,
the whole time thinking about this savage life,
how it pulls you apart each day and goes on
without apology/or warning/or end.

Whale Sound

The amazing Nic Sebastian has interpreted my poem "Drinking" at Whale Sound. Hear Nic read my poem.

About the Whale Sound project, she says:

"I find that reading other people’s work aloud is the most tender and respectful, and also the most careful, way to engage with it. I hope you will join me in this continuing celebration."

Nic can read a phone book and make it sound good. Thanks Nic!


Speaking of audio, listen to Joseph Legaspi read poems and answer questions at From the Fishouse.


Martha Silano interviews Kelli Russell Agodon at Blue Positive.


Jessie Carty asks the question, "Are your poems published if they appear anywhere on a blog?"

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

November PAD 3

Riding a Bicycle

First, there is a brief alignment the body—
the way the levers fit in my fingers,
my 41 years balanced between hips and hands,
between saddle and pedals.
It is the first ride—the freedom ride—
after months of ice-caked streets
and bike paths nearly erased by winter.
Early morning shines across the metal,
gleams out in every direction and I am ready.

I am ready for the muscles to contract then react,
the heel drop and sole stretch
as the legs crank forward
around the block and back again.
My chest stretched parallel with the frame,
I listen for the wind whizzing through spokes,
for surely I have turned back time
with the turn of the wheel, and sometimes
forgetting is the best way to remember.
No one to fist bump or hi five here,
just heel, toe, and go, go, go!

(I've been tweaking this poem for a while and I'm having trouble making it work. Oh well. Time to let it go.)


Rarely do I share these little gems from work, but Babson's marketing team created this flash animation--and I was the lead writer. I'm incredibly proud of it.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

November PAD 2

The Turkey

I slow to pass a turkey
standing on the yellow line
in the middle of our two-lane road.

She stands motionless
as cars brake and wait
for her big-bottomed waddle,

but she won’t budge,
and we are stuck in this moment
of how best to engage each other

without inviting harm.
Maybe she has come to see
what’s missing in her world,

or to remind us what’s missing
in ours, wandering ever closer
to our human voices.

The November wind
swirls the fallen leaves
at the wood’s edge

which disappears
in increments
in my rear view,

this gift
brought to life
by the slow halt of cars

and this wild creature
moving toward the unfamiliar
side of the road.

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks! You know the drill.

Feels good to crack the seal on the first poem in a poem-a-day series. In my experience, the first few days are exhilarating but the poems are just OK. At some point I hit poem fatigue. Then mid-month, I’m in a nice groove, where the mere mis-hearing of a word or phrase can trigger a few stanzas. Then fatigue again. Then a sprint (or a crawl) to the finish line!


I’m really hoping I don’t write a lot of divorce poems. I don’t want to go there but … well … I probably will. Maybe that's a good thing because in 2011, I will begin a new project that's completely different from than anything I've done before: writing poems from a historical perspective. So it's probably a good thing to write whatever I'm going to write right now.


With the start of November, I feel the need to de-stress and get the most out of my days. There’s something about this practice that feeds into the rest of my life.

I’m trying to align my activities so I’m able to write a poem a day, exercise, eat well, drink plenty of water, AND (this is the kicker) get some sleep. That's on top of working full time and raising a family. Going to bed at a reasonable hour is the one thing I usually give up. I’m hoping I don’t have to this time around.

The amount of discipline I have to muster to do this is incredible but well worth the effort. It's nice to know I'm not alone.


These poems could suck--I'm well aware of that fact. I'm also looking forward to setting new limits, trying new things, and commiserating with other poets. Here's hoping I get a few worth revising.


Wishing you great poetry in November!

Monday, November 01, 2010

November PAD 1

Ahh, November.

Here's Robert's first prompt of the November PAD Challenge:

For today's prompt, I want poets to take one step back and write a "closing the door" or "turning the page" poem. Feel encouraged to get creative with today's prompt (and the other 29 prompts--for that matter), but here's how I interpret this prompt: a poem that looks at where a person (or animal or thing) was and finds resolution with the fact that things won't be that way again.

Let the games begin!



Who did what first? Who wronged whom?
Which wordless act caused our undoing?
Are you happy? Tell me what you’re thinking.
I am a fool in this foolish life. That’s what I think.
I see it in your eyes. I see it in your pencil-point pupils,
how you’ve shut the light out, how you blink
when you speak. That’s your tell. Everyone has a tell.
Sitting in the red chair. In the corner of the family room
which is not really a family room but a basement.
The king sits in his basement throne. Red like a mouth.
This whole room is a sham. It smells of the bleach
I used to get mold spots off the wall
behind the red chair. The walls look as if
I’ve taken an eraser to them.
Tiny pencil-like points of mold remain.
You smell like an ashtray. You’ve taken up smoking.
That’s your tell. I can tell. I’m losing weight.
I can’t eat. Hard time sleeping. Are you happy?
I ask the obvious questions. That’s my tell. I’m not happy.
We’ve only scratched the surface of my unhappiness.
I’m sitting across from you in the red chair thinking
how did we get here. Tell me how we got here.
We walked down the stairs to the basement.
Stop lying. It makes us both look like fools.
I don’t want to be foolish. That’s my tell.
What about this new life of yours. Are you still with her?
Tell me more about this authentic life you want to lead.
I’m going to fumigate that red chair. Or burn it.
If you were to die tomorrow, I’d show up at your funeral
wearing a red Microfiber dress. You’re blinking again.
What’s left to say? The walls are stained with unhappiness.
Tell me again what it means to live an authentic life.

Reasons to Survive November

It's my tradition to post this poem on November 1. I feel the emotion in this poem more passionately now more than ever.

(Listen to the audio.)

Reasons to Survive November

November like a train wreck –
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze –
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

– Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

(Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means to Me. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2003.)

(Tony Hoagland and me from Salem State Uniiversity's Poetry Seminar reading, June 4, 2010.)


Related Posts with Thumbnails