Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mid-week Musings

Congratulations to Kelli Russell Agodon and Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room for winning ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award! Woo hoo! A well-deserved honor, my dear!


Who is the next emerging woman poet we should watch for (and when I mean emerging, I mean first or second book)? Who is really making waves in poetry now? Men seem to draw all the buzz, but tell me who you think is poised to be the female poet everyone is talking about.


The idea of summer reading lists amuses me. I read all year-round. Why do I need a special list for summer? It's not like I stop reading during the other seasons. Are summer reading lists a marketing ploy to get us to buy more books? Hmmm …


Eating and sleeping, no problem. Making writing a priority, not as easy as it seems.

Yesterday after work, I mowed the lawn, spent time with the kids, and managed to clear off a working space on my desk--but fell asleep before I could use it. Ugh. The holiday weekend can't come soon enough.


That was a random assortment of things to talk about. Oh well. It's Wednesday. Deal!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Confession Tuesday

My journal. Click to enlarge.

For a while, I have felt like I  needed a life coach. I've needed someone objective to come in and give me some direction and recommendations on what I should be doing. Well, in the absence of Dr. Phil, or a boatload of money to hire a professional, I opted to meet with my dear friend, Tom last night to help me to get some clarity on a few things.

Tom is one of my closest friends--we've known each other for more than 20 years (yikes). We've always been list-makers. So he and I sat down at Starbucks to give each other feedback on our goals. I have to say, while I was skeptical about the method that follows, I'm psyched to approach my goals from a different angle.

Pictured above is a page from my journal with a grid. I'm sure there's a name for this technique, but I think of it as a mental model that has enabled me to prioritize my future plans. Here's the breakdown, moving clockwise.

Book August summer camps for kids
Work/life balance
Recharge (read books, exercise, reconnect with friends)
Create a writing space.

Revise second manuscript
Home re-do

Urgent/Not As Important
Clean desk
Kid time

NonUrgent/Not As Important
Schedule upcoming readings
Find guest bloggers

After placing each goal on the grid, I was surprised by the results. You would think revising my manuscript would be my first priority. Compared to other things such as scheduling summer camp in August for my kids, poetry seemed secondary. Yet, poetry is "where I live," meaning the manuscript revision is in directly related to my happiness. So it straddles the line between urgent and nonurgent, bumping it up on the priority scale.

Also a surprise was how disconnected I am from the writing space in my house. I haven't used my desk for more than a year. But I think I've underestimated the importance of having a creative space to work where I can focus my attention without distraction. Making a creative space now moves up in priority.

Then we started talking about how to put all of this new-found organization to work. Tom and I talked about what my life would look like if I did nothing but eat, sleep, and write. Sounds as if I do that anyway but, as you can see, I have a lot of competing goals. But what would my life really look like if I got more sleep (I average about five hours a night), planned meals more mindfully (healthier approach, saved money, better organized), and focused my attention on writing and revising? That means I would have to fit everything else around those three priorities. (Kids are always a priority. Don't go there.)

I don't know if this willl work but I'm willing to try this approach for two months. Tom and I will follow up with each other as a way of keeping us on track (he has a list of goal, too).

Thanks, Tom, for your help! XO

If you have tried a similar approach, or have a way of goal setting that works for you, share it here on Confession Tuesday!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Naomi Shihab Nye

This is the reading I didn't want to tell anyone about for fear it would be packed—Naomi Shihab Nye at the historic Longfellow House in Cambridge on the first nice day after a week on rain. Who wouldn't want to enjoy her words on a billowy, 80-degree afternoon?

As you might imagine, the event was standing room only, but I would expect nothing less from the author of more than 25 books. Naomi was the 2011 recipient of the Golden Rose Award from the New England Poetry Club. She was visibly moved by being added to the impressive list of recipients, and reading at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's house clearly meant a lot to her.

Naomi not only read her poetry but also from a variety of other poets, including a five-year-old poet who wrote a poem about presidents and planets (now that’s a combination!). As someone who writes about the extraordinary in the everyday, her poetry speaks to me in a way that I can’t adequately explain. She has always been one of my influences, and her words I consider a wellspring. Naomi always extends her generous and open spirit through before a crowd. I think her poems ultimately point out the common good in us all. She reminds us to think about the larger world and our place in it.

At the book signing, I was able to thank Naomi for her words, slip her a copy of Underlife, and snap this photo. *smile*

Nikky Finney

Afaa Weaver and Nikky Finney

This past Saturday, I had the great pleasure of hearing Nikky Finney read her brilliant work at Lesley University. If you've not read her poems, they will blow you away. Her unflinching eye and attention to detail resonates both on the page and before an audience of eager listeners, as I experienced before a full crowd.

Nikky's latest book is Head Off & Split (read the cover story on her in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers). Her skillful use of form enhances her subject matter, which ranges from family stories, pre- and post-civil right movement, to poems on current political figures, to very personal, intimate poems that are just fearless. The variety of topics and the way she moves a poem forward is exactly what I hope to model in my own work.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with her for a few minutes at the afterparty (where this iPhone photo was taken). I told her about my second manuscipt, which I'm revising, as well as new projects on the back burner. Her words about the influence of others on a writer's work I will take with me as I make my way though the revision process. I needed those words at that particular moment. What a gift!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Live in Beauty

I’m basking in the glow of IKEA love. Made a pilgrimage yesterday after work (Tip: Friday evenings—the perfect time to shop at IKEA!) to buy a few things for my house. July is the month I’ll update and reconfigure a few spaces, so going to IKEA was the first step of this transformation.

When I look around my home, I see what I’ve always seen: a place that doesn’t reflect who I am. I see kids' toys, annoying clutter piles, and no style. The house is terrific, but the living room, for instance, has the same white walls it did when we first moved in eight years ago. And the house certainly hasn’t changed since my husband left two years ago. So it’s definitely time to make my space more inviting.

I’ve been thumbing through the IKEA catalog for months imagining (or re-imagining) what this space could look like, and how best to remodel on a modest budget. This is a very DIY effort—which includes everything from creating art pieces, to thrift store and yard sales finds, to combing furniture store clearance sections for the best deals. Big picture, this cosmetic makeover ties into other more permanent efforts I’m making to simplify my life, spend more time with the kids, and really be mindful of how I spend my time. I want to live in beauty, in whatever way, shape, or form available. In the words of my father, who has been amazingly encouraging the last few weeks, “We deserve it.”

Look at these glasses. Who knew these silly, little glasses could make me so happy!


It’s been very dreary in New England this past week—really, most of June. It’s perfect for writing poetry, however, which I’ll start next. I’m reading Nikky Finney’s Head Off & Split ahead of her reading tonight at Lesley U.


Kevin Carey's poem, "The Home Movie," is up at Review Americana.

Robert Lee Brewer has another great piece up at Poetic Asides: "One Piece of Advice for Poets, Part 1." Lots of good advice from a variety of poets. Looking forward to Parts 2 and 3!


Gratuitous garden photo. I’ll pick some lettuce today for a lunchtime salad.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Feast or Famine

Summertime readings in the Boston/Cambridge area can be feast or famine, which is surprising for the area considered the largest "college town" in the world. This weekend, however, looks terrific for poetry readings.

The Juniper Institute's reading series is happening this week at UMass Amherst. I considered driving two hours to hear Thomas Sayers Ellis, Dorothea Lasky, and Joy Williams Friday night, but I don't think I can make it. (Sorry TSE!)

Also, I will miss Paul Lisicky and Matthew Zapruder on Saturday night (drat!) at Juniper because I just found out that Nikky Finney is reading at Lesley University on Saturday.

And the reading I've had listed on my calendar for months--Naomi Shihab Nye is coming to the Longfellow House on Sunday! I've only seen her read at Dodge, so I'm excited to hear her read in Massachusetts. Nye will be receiving the Golden Rose Award from the New England Poetry Club.


I was quickly flipping through the latest Poets & Writers when I happened upon an article on how to use Twitter to connect with readers (p. 79). I'm not one to criticize P&W (I loves me some P&W), but I thought the article was a lost opportunity to talk about some of the exciting things happening on Twitter.

In fact, when taking to a friend of mine about the article, who is not on Twitter, her first comment was, "I could have written that," meaning anyone could have done the basic research to write that article. It's too bad the author did not list any of the exciting things happening for writers on this platform, such as The Poet Party (read Kelli's post on the #poetparty) or the poetry meetups (tweetups) happening everywhere. I'm sure there are equivalents for fiction.

And the most glaring error in the article was that neither the author, nor P&W, chose to list their own usenames/handles. So if you wanted to follow the magazine, wouldn't it make sense to say, "Follow us on Twitter at @poetswritersinc"?



Follow me on Twitter: @januaryoneil. (Remember, I'm not one to miss an opportunity.)


Also, read Robert Lee Brewer's posts on SEO. If you don't know what SEO is, you should. This is the easiest form of marketing you can do.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Confession Tuesday

Happy first day of summer! Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Look at these amazing kids! We took these goofy pictures at a photo booth at the Beverly Arts Festival. They are growing up so fast. Sometimes it seems as if I can’t string together enough good moments in a day. But occasionally, I see evidence that maybe, just maybe, I’m getting it right.


The moon must have been in my seventh house, because I had a few days off from work—thanks to my flexible summer schedule. The time away felt like a staycation. I feel renewed. Had a good mix of kid time and grown-up time this weekend.


I bought my son his first baseball glove this weekend, which felt both weird and perfectly normal. I love baseball so it was fun helping my son find the right sized glove. He wants to play catch every free moment of the day, which is terrific (better than video games). So, I’m going to help him with the basics every day no matter how tired I am. Let's hope we can avoid breaking any windows.


Because of all the kid time, I held off on writing until Monday, but I had a much-needed writing session at Starbucks. I’m working through a poem that I wrote last week at my mini writers retreat. Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up the intensity in a poem. Not sure why that is.

Also, I’ll continue to revise my manuscript. I’m gearing up to get into a place of intensity and focus yet again. It is both necessary and draining.


Almost ditched my Monday writing session for a trip to Ikea. So, so tempting.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mass Poetry Fest Redux

This past weekend, the organizing committee organized a BBQ to celebrate the hard work and overwhelming success of the 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival. And one of the surprises from the afternoon included receiving this framed print of the Mass Poetry Festival's event poster with the signatures of most of the poets/participants. Way cool! This is especially satisfying because I commissioned the poster design. The print will hold a special place in my heart and on my wall.

In a few weeks, my fellow organizers and I will begin figuring out how best to do this next year. No dates have been chosen but the behind-the-scenes work will begin in earnest in August. My main objective is to come up with ways we can produce the festival more efficiently, without putting a strain on resources and volunteers.

Only a month has passed and I'm already talking about 2012. What the heck is wrong with me?


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Playing Hooky

The weekend was too nice to do anything but enjoy it.

First, a visit with BFF Kristi, also known as "Special K." Here we are at the opening reception for the Beverly Arts Festival.

And, here are a few photos from the festival on Saturday.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kibbles and Bits

My BFF Kristi is in town for a short visit, so I will be spending the day with her. She is my dearest friend; I'm happy we have this time to hang out. Lots of girl talk and laughter to be had. 

Photo to come.


Thank goodness the weekend is here. I’ll get a chance to write, review, and, oh yes—tackle cleaning my desk. It is my nemesis. Poems that don’t want to be revisited hide out there. Will be good to clear that space and use my desk for writing again. Guess I’ve gotten used to write in other spots, including Starbucks.


Ploughshares turns 40. Also, they are accepting submissions.


And now I must go out and mow the lawn. Home ownership is so overrated.


Code Word: Awesomesauce!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tyehimba Jess - TedxNashvlle - Syncopated Sonnets

Go Tye!

Confession Tuesday

Hello folks. It’s Tuesday. You know the drill!

I am thankful summer is here, but you wouldn’t know it with the rainy, 65 degree weather we’ve had. Feels like April rather than June.

Lately my mind has been on making plans for the summer: vacations, day trips, play dates. So much to balance, but it's all good stuff.


Post-retreat, I'm working on one of the two poems I wrote while I was away. Feels great to write a poem I want to keep. Whenever that happens, I always have that “I didn’t know I had it in me” feeling. In fact, the process of getting to the second poem (the better of the two) reminds me of the Kenneth Koch poem, “One Train May Hide Another.” Here are a few lines:

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line—
Then it is safe to go on reading.


I am now on LinkedIn and I'm wondering how poets and writers best use this platform. If you've gotten a reading or made a valuable contact through LinkedIn, let me know.


I haven't talked much about sports lately but Go Red Sox and go Bruins! It's a great time to be a Boston sports fan.


I confess I'm a little light on confessions today. But do tell me what's going on in your corner of the world.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, June 13, 2011

29 Ways to Stay Creative

Posted using

Ten Ways to Have a Successful Writers’ Retreat

Jennifer and me at Alchemy restaurant

Jennifer and I spent a glorious, albeit rainy weekend away at our writers’ retreat in Gloucester, MA. And when I say weekend, I mean about 32 hours. But if there’s one thing we do well, it’s make the most of our time.

If you’re planning a working getaway to get your writing on track, here are a few recommendations.

1. Have a goal in mind. Whether you’re writing new work or revising old pieces—or both—you need to clearly define what it is you want to accomplish.

2. Keep costs low. I think this one is as important as #1. The only way Jennifer and I can do these getaways is by not breaking the bank. Including lodging, food, and books at a local indie bookstore, I’ve only spent about $85 total. Food was definitely our largest expense because but ... well ... I like to have one or two nice meals while on retreat.

3. Create a loose structure. We planned to spend more time outside, but it rained all weekend. The wet weather was perfect for writing, but not much else. Being able to adapt helped us focus and get more accomplished.

4. Bring a friend. Jennifer is a great travel partner and writer buddy. Plus, she keeps me accountable when I want to nap my time away.

5. Bring snacky-snacks. See #2.

6. Shift locales. While we had plenty of places to write at our retreat house, we also went to a local coffee shop to work, which gave us a nice change of venue and

7. Brings books. One of Jennifer’s priorities was to “fill the well,” which, for her, meant reading lots of poetry collections. Swapping books lead to many conversations about what we could be doing in our own work.

8. Alternative motives. I won’t lie. A weekend like this meant finding my center and honoring my spirit. This was just as important as #1.

9. Make a plan for next time. I can't emphasize enough the blessing of having time away from life's distractions. It's nice to have a sense of when we can do this again before the year's end.

10. Keep the momentum going. We've invested the time. Now, we have to figure out how to keep that energy going until next time?

The view from Jennifer's room.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Photo taken by Jennifer Jean

Here's a photo of me working on a new poem (yay!). Unfortunately, It's rained the entire weekend, so this is the most exciting picture I have to show right now.


Yes, I did write a new poem. Hoping to do so again today.


Spent most of the time looking over my second manuscript, trying to figure out how best to revise. I've decided to start with the last poem and work my way back to the beginning. I also will look at the order again, moving some of my family-centered poems to the front. And, I may take a few poems out and replace with others if needed.

I've given myself the loose date of August 1 to see where I'm am in the process.

All in all, the time away has been great. Will post about the specifics of this mini-retreat tomorrow.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Filling the Well

Every few months, the stars align so I can find a stretch of time to write poetry uninterrupted. This is one of those weekends. Even though I’m staying relatively local, I will be in retreat with Jennifer Jean. Our goals are simple: write poetry, revise our
manuscripts, and “fill the well,” as Jennifer likes to say.

We did this last year and I think it helped me reprioritize my goals and look toward the second half of the year. Here’s hoping we can catch lightning in a bottle again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

To Blurb or Not to Blurb

Recently, I wrote a back cover blurb for a friend, which got me thinking about book blurbs in general.

I still think book blurbs (or back cover quotes) are one of the best marketing tools for a writer to sell a book. Reading a quote from an established author, reviewer, or even a well-crafted plot summary acts as a preview for what’s to come. In fact, a few choice words can be most effective in that point-of-sale moment when deciding whether or not to take a chance on a new work.

Of course, we’ve all seen cases where the quote is more hype than honest praise. I don’t trust any blurb that claims the work of the author is the next best thing since the dawn of time. When I write blurbs, I treat them the same as if I were reading them: if I knew nothing about this literary work, what would be most helpful in making a decision. Most of us do not purchase new books solely on the back cover quotes, but I consider them because I do appreciate knowing who is speaking up for the author.

Securing quotes, especially for your first book, can be difficult. When I was looking for established poets to write quotes for Underlife, the writers I had hoped would come through for me did not, but the ones who did surprised me with their generosity and kind words. So when I get a chance to blurb, I almost never turn down the opportunity. I like to pay it forward.

Questions for you, dear reader. What's your take on back cover quotes? Are they important to you? Do they make a difference when deciding what to buy? If you’re an author, what’s the process like for you writing quotes? Also for authors, do you write them—and have you ever said no for a quote request?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. Time to put your seat backs and tray tables in their full and upright positions. Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Finally, the warm weather has arrived in New England! With the return of warm weather comes my summer schedule at work.

I think the biggest challenge during the last few months has been the loss of my work from home day. Now that my college is on its flexible summer schedule, I’ll work four longer days to earn one day off. It makes such a difference to have a day where I’m not on the road, and able to get a few things done for myself during the work week. Yay!


Can’t believe it’s June and I’ve only written six poems this year. It’s so unlike me. Well, this may be the year I go for quality not quantity.


This weekend, I’m planning another mini writer’s retreat with a friend. I want to be efficient with my time, so I’m in the process of getting organized, doing lots of free writes, and reading works by other poets. I will also start revisions on my second manuscript.


This week’s mini to-do list:
1. Write a new poem (I have several drafts that need work)
2. Work on manuscript #2
3. Figure out goals for writers retreat
4. Write two articles for upcoming projects
5. Get some sleep—adjust to new, earlier work schedule

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Art of Words

I have less than an hour at Starbucks and I know I should be writing ... but Facebook ... she's got a hold of me ... can't fight it ... getting weaker ...

Here are a few photos from yesterday's Cambridge River Festival, specifically The Art of Words Poetry Tent. I did not read but was happy to catch Afaa Weaver's performance. Photos by the beautiful and talented Tom Shull.

Afaa M. Weaver

Friday, June 03, 2011

Dire Literary Series

If you're around tonight, please join me for my last reading before summer!

Dire Literary Series: Matthew Salesses, January O'Neil and Paul Nevins

Friday, June 3
8-11 p.m.
Out of the Blue Art Gallery
106 Prospect St
Cambridge, MA


In truth, I'm glad this is my last reading for a while. The pace of the last few months has left me a bit frazzled. So tonight's reading will be a blast! Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Seattle Bound!

Can't believe I forgot to mention the best news I've had in recent days. I'm going to Seattle!!!

On October 13, I will be reading at Highline Community College for Highline Listens: Writers Read Their Work, along with a classroom visit. I'm also hoping to also schedule another reading while I'm out there.

Special thanks to Susan Rich for making it possible!


I've made it my personal goal to try and meet up with Susan every six months. She's been on the East Coast a few times. Guess it's my turn to visit.

Does it really rain in Seattle as much as I've heard?


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