Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poetry Action Plan 2012

It's the last day of the year! Time for merriment and a little reflection. In other words, it's time to list my poetry goals for the upcoming year. I call this my Poetry Action Plan (PAP).

A PAP is simple way to structure your writing goals so that they goals become habit. Your plan should be flexible enough to morph and change as your life changes. Here are a few tips on how to do just that.

  • 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.
  • Be realistic about what can you achieve. Having a focus is essential. Pick four or five goals and stick to them.
  • 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.).
  • 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 one publication, will keep you moving forward through times of uncertainty.

In 2011, my goals were to:

Write a Poem a Week
Not so much. I’m finishing the year at 38 poems.

Support the Massachusetts Poetry Festival
Achieved! This should count for two goals.

Support Manuscript #2
Achieved! Misery Islands will be published by CavanKerry Press in 2014. Woo hoo!

Start Manuscript #3
Not so much. This project requires research and time—two items in short supply in 2011.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop
Not so much.

Continue to Support Underlife
Achieved! It’s taken two years but I think I’m nearing second print run status. Maybe.

In 2012, my goals are to:

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

Read a Book a Month
Poetry books I read all the time, but not reading other genres is embarrassing.

Support the Massachusetts Poetry Festival
I know I can do this. The challenge becomes how can I do it better and smarter? How can I help produce a top-notch event more efficiently? How am I contributing to the event’s success, and how can I help make connections that will benefit the festival in the future?

Start Manuscript #3
This project I will start now but not flesh out until the summer. The topic is race relations and busing in 1960s Boston. I’ve decided not to push it through but really use this time as an opportunity to learn about myself, my surroundings, and my history.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop
C’mon, FAWC. Don’t let me down again.

This is the roadmap. I encourage you to modify your writing goals throughout the year. Good luck, and Happy New Year!!

What Are You Doing New Years Eve? by Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-L...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Speak Up!

Wednesday night, I read at the Speak Up Spoken Word Open Mike Series with two of my most favorite people in the world, Colleen Michaels and Kevin Carey. The series, held at the Walnut Street Coffee Cafe in Lynn, is run by storyteller extraordinaire Tony Toledo. An award winning storyteller in his own right, Tony makes everyone feel welcome, from poets to musicians to people who just want to share a story.

The crowd for this weekly Wednesday night event is a loyal one. It is an amazingly friendly, quirky, box-o-chocolates kind of happening--a cool series to close out 2011.

Tony Toledo


Clay on the guitar.

Joe spins a story for the crowd.

When we read "in the round," one of us leads off and the poet who follows has to come up with a poem that loosely flows with the first poem. So if Poet 1 writes a poem about a yellow bird, Poet 2 scrambles for a similar poem. Usually, you hear Poet 2 saying something like, "I don't have a poem about a bird, but I do have a poem with the color yellow ..."

Anyone who reads after me knows my poems are short. In the words of Mr. T, "I pity the fool who has to follow me in the round!" (I'm really the fool in between these two talents!)

At the end, we received the customary container of Fluff, signed by the audience.

(Did you know Fluff was created in Lynn? Well, now you do!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks.

Here we are, the last Confession Tuesday of 2011. Let’s make every word count!

I hope you all are enjoying the holidays. My parents have been here for a few days; it’s been nice spending time with them and watching them play with the kids. We tend to do a lot of prep work before the holidays so I'm wiped out. Now I’m hoping to slow down and really enjoy this time with family and friends.

I want to spend the last week of the year living in the moment. I want to be present with the people who truly matter.


This time last year, I was digging out of a massive snow storm along with the rest of New England. But in December the temp has hovered in the mid-40s. Go figure. Let’s hope the mild weather continues. No one has been more disappointed than my daughter, however, who wished for a white Christmas. I, for one, am thrilled I'm not firing up the snow blower.


Poetry? What’s that? Yeah, it’s been that kind of a week. Looks like I’ll end the year with 38 poems, which is nowhere near the poem-a-week pace I set out for myself last January. Oh well, that’s what the new year is for—to start fresh and begin again.

Also in 2011, I will finish the year with less than 300 blog posts. At some point, I made a conscious effort to post less and to not explain myself. Yet, I’ve never missed a Confession Tuesday.


Last To-Do List for 2011
  1. Write one poem
  2. Send out two submissions
  3. Clean office and basement
  4. Get organized around Mass Poetry
  5. Write end-of-year blog posts

Monday, December 26, 2011

Poets in the Round: Speak Up! December 28

Speak Up features: January Gill O'Neil, Colleen Michaels, Kevin Carey

December 28
Speak UP! Spoken Word Open Mike Every Wednesday Evening, 7:30 p.m.
Walnut Street Coffee Cafe
157 Walnut Street
Lynn, MA 01905-1168

Ladies and Gentlemen of Speak Up, we are closing out 2011 with a BANG!For the first time in our Speak Up history we are featuring three poets in the round.

Each person in their own right is a poet wonderful. Each poet has already been a Speak Up Feature on their own. The three of them are fast friends. They have been given the green light to cut loose, to raise hell, to whisper, to yell, to cuss, to declare they are wearing no underwear. It will be a night to remember.

Come watch the fireworks with Kevin Carey, Colleen Michaels and January Gill O'Neil. Some things make me grin just thinking about them. This is one. See you Wednesday.

Poems by Jan, Colleen, and Kevin online.

Speak UP! Spoken Word Open Mike meets every Wednesday at the Walnut Street Coffee Cafe, 157 Walnut St, Lynn, MA. Come to the Walnut Street Coffee Cafe this Wednesday for the best in poetry, storytelling, jive talking, ranting, listening and just hanging out with each other. Sign up for the open mike lottery starts at 7 PM with the actual talking kicking off at 7:30 PM. Jim Chalmers, the owner of the cafe, is delighted to host Speak Up. He has bought a PA, installed lights and moves the chairs around for us.

If you enjoy Speak Up please buy a beer (or a coffee or a dessert) this Wednesday. It helps his bottom line considerably. Thanks.

At 7:30 all the folks who want to speak will be in a lottery that decides the speaking order. The Featured Performer for the evening goes on at 8:30. We pass the basket to get them gas money home. Folks are invited to share a poem they have written, one they love, tell a story, read a memoir, talk about your week, talk about what pisses you off, share who you love, cuss up a storm, or blow kisses at the crowd--Speak UP! is a Free Speech Zone. We have a three obscenity minimum. Say what you have to say-in five minutes of course.

Tony Toledo, SPEAK UP! EMCEE Coin giver
Excuse me, are you going to finish that pie?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas Eve Day!

Oh my goodness. Not since age 13 when I woke up the day before Christmas morning thinking it was Christmas have I been so excited about the holidays! The house has been decorated for a solid month. The presents are wrapped and and waiting to be opened. And the kids are more excited than ever.

This year, we'll be tracking Santa's journey through NORAD, having crab cakes made my yours truly, and decorating cookies before Santa shimmies down the chimney.

Note to self: Don't light the fireplace tonight.


Since my parents came into town on Wednesday, it’s been a mad dash to finish up the Christmas shopping. I’m almost done. Will stop by a local store to get the last gift.

It’s been fun watching my mom and dad spend time the kids. Wonder if they will enjoy playing on the Wii tonight?


While my parents are here, I’m hoping to get in some writing time as well as getting back to a workout schedule. Also, I haven’t had a vegetable in three days. Ugh. My body HATES me.


After Christmas, I will hit the ground running with Massachusetts Poetry Festival planning. It is on like a mofo. Lots of moving pieces I have to corral. But, the festival is shaping up to be OUTSTANDING! So much to look forward to in 2012!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why I Write #75

Why I Write

2012 Book List

Every year I say I'm going to read a ton of books, and every year I fall flat. Can't remember the last time I plowed through a fiction title that wasn't a Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. I read a few poetry books a month but other genres collect dust on my shelves.

These books, however, I'm really looking forward to reading. Some I've carried over from past years.

1. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn (memoir)
2. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halprien (nonfiction)
3. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (biography)
4. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (fiction)
5. The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter
6. The Gift by Lewis Hyde (nonfiction)
7. The Anthologist by Nicholas Baker (fiction)
8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (nonfiction)
9.Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption by Jerald Walker
10. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (classic fiction)
11. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne

13. Skin, Inc. by Thomas Sayers Ellis
14. The New Black by Evie Shockley
15. The Undertaker's Daughter by Toi Derricotte
16. The Book of Orgasms by Nin Andrews
17. Flood by Kathleen Flenniken
18. Blue Front by Martha Collins
19. One with Others by C.D. Wright
20. Nox by Anne Carson
21. The One Fifteen to Penn Station by Kevin Carey
22. Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

My poetry list is dominated by women. Any suggestions for good reads on either list? That reminds me, I need to update my Goodreads info.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Confession Tuesday

Ho Ho Ho! It is the holiday edition of Confession Tuesday. Naughty or nice? This is the stuff we want to hear about. Share a little of yourself today or expect a lump of coal in the mail from me!

Since my writers’ retreat a little over week ago, I have not written any new poems. Not one.  *sigh* What can I say? The holidays have taken over. But tonight, I’m going to my writers’ workshop and I’ll bring one of my poems written during the retreat. Thankfully, po-biz stuff--sending out a few submissions and getting a grant application together--has kept me busy (and sane). Feels good to have poems out there working for me. Will try to send a few more poems to publications this week. Also, Mass Poetry Fest planning is kicking into high gear.

On Wednesday, the Calvary (read: my parents) arrive. And Thursday is my last working day of 2011, so I’m planning on getting organized and doing as much writing as possible by the end of the year.


I’m cautiously optimistic about some exciting news coming my way in January. Fingers crossed. Will reveal the details when it’s official.


Just downloaded Amy Winehouse’s posthumously released album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Love it. I wish Amy had given us a fully fleshed-out album in the years after Back to Black. But it’s nice to have one more collection of her work in the world. Such a loss.


What’s up with the Elf on the Shelf craze? Isn’t Santa enough? Moving around a toy elf to keep the kids guessing equals one more thing I have to keep up with on a daily basis.


Ella and I were talking about Santa while I was on Twitter. She asked me, “Do you tweet with Santa?” So I said, “Yes, and I can tell him if you’ve been naughty or nice.” Santa is on Twitter, at @santa_claus and @noradsanta.


I’m keeping this blog post short in anticipation of my year-end wrap-up/looking ahead posts. Happy Tuesday, folks!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cookie Monsters

This weekend was a tale of two cookie decorating parties. Here are a few photos from the one I held on Saturday for Alex and Ella's classmates and their parents.

And photos from Colleen Michaels' cookie decorating party yesterday:

The "Rihanna" cookie

That Colleen knows how to throw a party! Her gathering was a mix of friends and serious cookie decorators, young and old. Colleen made the icing and cookies from scratch, and if she could she would have made the sprinkles and toppings herself!

Both parties were special, and served as reminders of how blessed and nurtured the kids and I are by this community. It's fun to get together with friends, eat, and make a big ol' delicious mess!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All the Lonely People. Where Do They All Belong?

While I haven’t been back to The Cave this week, I have been sending out submissions. It’s been a productive week. Sent a copy of Underlife out to be reviewed, submitted poems to two journals, and prepared a grant application.


The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship Grant online application is now available.


Today is the last day to submit proposals to the 2012 Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Submit!


Have you been reading Jericho’s pieces at Best American Poetry? Silly question. Of course you are!


Apply to the 2012 Kundiman and Cave Canem retreats!


Poetry books on my holiday list:

Toi Derricotte, The Undertaker's Daughter
Nin Andrews, The Book of Orgasms
Kathleen Flenniken, Flood


Current spin: "Eleanor Rigby"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Miracle Blanket by Erika Meitner

New Poem

A new poem from the poetry retreat. Still raw. Line breaks need work. But here it is.

Thinking of Lucille Clifton’s “if i stand in my window” at the Convent

                                        —St. Marguerites Retreat House, December 10, 2011

Who wouldn’t want to lower her nightgown
or raise her blouse and push her breasts,
nipples tight as a raisins, against the frosted window,
forming rain drops around dark clouds on a cold December morning.
No thing to bear witness accept the 100-year old pines
and a stray doe anticipating the startle of human.
I think of the women here who married God, to have and to hold no other,
their black habits draping down to the floor, and the young girls who stayed here
when the convent was an orphanage, the childhood of girls lived in dorms,
learning to love each other like family with God as their father.
Did they peer out the window down to the lonely bench
and wish for the startle of a boy? A mother’s call? Or a life beyond this?
A breast on glass is nothing but a marker of time.
Who wouldn’t want to raise a blouse and announce
to the world, “I am here?” I am here.

This is the best link I could find to Ms. Lucille's original poem. (Watch out for pop ups.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Painted Word Series

Painted Word Poetry Series - January Gill O'Neil from Zach Despart on Vimeo.

Painted Word Poetry Series - Deborah Landau from Zach Despart on Vimeo.

Thanks Major and UVM for allowing us to share our words with your community.

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. It's not just any Tuesday ... it's Confession Tuesday! Time to unburden yourself. Share a little piece of your life with us and we promise to do the same.

I am basking in the afterglow of the weekend retreat. My hope is to sit down and write tonight after the kids go to bed. The problem is that I'm so tired at the end of the day, I can barely make it past 9 p.m.

"What a drag it is getting old."


On Saturday morning, I took the first of three workshops with Maria Mazziotti Gillan. She opened her session by talking about a metaphorical creature called The Crow. It sits on your shoulder and reminds you of all your insecurities. Everything, from you're no good as a writer, you have no value, no one will ever want to hear what you have to say, to you're stupid, your parents never loved you, you're too fat ... You name it, The Crow has something to say about it. The Crow also protects The Cave, that place where all your secrets lie--in the pit of your stomach.

For this weekend, Maria gave us permission to knock The Crow off of our shoulders and go down into The Cave to release those terrible stories. It's been a while since I had written pieces that surprised me as much as these did. I was thankful for the experience. "Write first, edit later," I kept telling myself. And it worked. I even wrote a poem about The Crow--one of my best poems from the weekend.

Not ready to post my Crow poem yet because it still feels raw. I have to make a few choices about what to leave in and take out.


Yesterday, I wondered if my power animal is really a crow or a dog. A power animal, as I understand it, an animal spirit that protects and guides you in life (feel free to correct me).  So Googling for power animals, I found this description about The Crow:

As a Crow, you are analytical, adaptable, and exceedingly clever. You like solving problems, sharing a hearty laugh with friends, and most of all, enjoying a good meal. Your inquisitive, philosophical nature leads you to constantly question authority and the status quo, sometimes just for the sake of asking, "Why?"
Best matches: Foxes, Wolves, Swans
Watch out for: Wolverines, Bears, Hawks
Yep, my power animal is a Crow.


Will post a poem from the retreat tomorrow.


I also came to the conclusion that while I like writing a poem a day every six months, I much prefer the steady pace of writing a poem a week. So I am determined to keep up the habit in the New Year. I realize that the poems I write daily lack soul.


Have a good week!

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Retreat

Get ye to a nunnery!
(Heard that line a lot this weekend.)

L-R: Colleen, me, Dawn, Cindy, and Kevin

Back from my retreat and it’s official—I have written my way home. The retreat, run by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss, was absolutely terrific.

Red wheelbarrow, anyone?

My traveling companions to St Marguerite’s Retreat House were poets Kevin Carey, Colleen Michaels, Cindy Veach, and Dawn Paul. Since we knew it would be a large group attending this time (29 participants), we went early enough to get the rooms we wanted, which were all on the same wing of the house. The winter retreat is located on the convent grounds of Saint John the Baptist in Mendham, NJ.

From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, we were in six workshop sessions that, for me, produced six poems—all of which I will develop. I say that because last year I wrote as many poems and didn't revise any of them. After writing 20 soulless poems in November, these poems went deep. DEEP! Surprised myself each time. One of the workshop participants said about his experience, “ Being here … it makes writing fun, not like something that you have to do.” I knew exactly what he meant.

This retreat is laid back with writers at all skill levels. From the first prompt, something in me opened up and I was in the poetry zone. I don’t think I have hit that zone at all this year! Maria and Laura put the emphasis on getting the poem down on paper first, then editing later. I think everyone in my writers group felt maybe we tend to edit too much in the beginning. Maybe we kill our poems before we give them a chance to live.

There’s one TV on sight, which I don’t think anyone every turned on while there. The rooms are Spartan to say the least. Plenty of grounds to walk around, contemplate your naval, and then write about it. The food, which is prepared by church workers and nuns, was plentiful, and every meal with lots of fruit and snacks in between.

For us, it was a chance to do something purely for ourselves. We bonded over poetry, of course, but who knew Dawn was good at ping pong? And after our group poetry reading on Saturday night, the Massachusetts crew, as we were referred to often, stayed up late with Bob, another friend and participant (not from Massachusetts), who played his guitar into the wee hours. Who knew an acoustic version of “You’re So Vain” could bring out the Carly Simon in all of us?

Bob and Kevin

By Sunday, I couldn’t have written another poem if I tried. I was happy to get home and see my kids. Now the trick is figuring out how to bottle up those good feelings and access them again and again and again.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Writing My Way Home ... Again

Today I am off to a weekend writers’ retreat called Writing Your Way Home: A Poetry Weekend Intensive. Located at an an English Manor House in Mendham, NJ, the workshops are run by Laura Boss and Maria Mazziotti Gillan. Woo hoo!

The purpose of this retreat is to give writers the space and time to focus totally on their own work in a serene and beautiful setting away from the pressures and distractions of daily life.
This time around, there will be five of us from the Salem Writers Group attending (read: road trip!). Looking forward to hanging out with my poet friends in this idyllic setting.

I wish I could attend a weeklong class or retreat to do a deep dive into my work, but being a single parent makes it difficult to leave home for even a week. So this little getaway will help me center myself, especially with the holidays upon us. I attended last year and felt renewed and rejuvenated. Now if there was a spa on site that would be perfect!


I need this weekend like I need plasma.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

10 Questions for Poet John Ashbery

The interviewer calls Ashbery, "America's Most Important Living Poet." Maybe one of the most important, but the most important? Hmmm ...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Confession Tuesday

If it’s Tuesday, it’s time for your confessions! Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

First Tuesday in December and I am recovering from another kidstastic weekend. Alex and Ella had seven play dates between them. Great weekend, but man am I beat. I even cooked meals for two of the seven get togethers. Whew!

I have a habit of saying yes to opportunities and clearly I may have overdone it. But we had fun. Can’t say I would have done it any differently, I guess.


Still thinking about my reading with Afaa on Friday night. Specifically, I’m thinking about how to bridge old, established poems with work from my second manuscript.

Have you ever been to a poetry reading where a poet reads from a new book but hasn’t found the rhythm between poems yet? He or she doesn’t know where to pause. Or worse, hasn’t considered the order so the reading seems like a mishmash of disconnected pieces? Well, I do not want that to be my story, which is why I’m testing the waters in every reading with new work. I want to get my timing down before Misery Islands is published, figure out what to say in between the work.

And of course, with the difficult subject matter or divorce and repair, reading these poems give me an opportunity to redefine myself.


I’ve been wondering if the lettered shirt I wore on Friday night was overkill.


This weekend, I’m traveling with friends from my writers’ group to Mendham, NJ, for what is turning out to be our annual writers retreat run by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss. I’m looking forward to getting away from the daily distractions and focusing solely on my work. In other words, mommy needs a play date of her own.


“The universe does not like status quo.”

Monday, December 05, 2011

Afaa and Me

Every now and then I get these great reminders of how wonderful it is to be a poet. Friday night was such a night, when I had the honor of reading with Afaa Michael Weaver at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge. Afaa has been a friend and mentor for years, so any opportunity to hear him read is one I cherish.

If you've never been to the Grolier, it is a postage stamp of a bookstore, with walls and walls of poetry books lining the vertical shelves. On this night, 30 audience members crammed in for an evening of verse.

I was nervous about the reading. This was my first reading after the announcement of the publication of my second book, Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press 2014). The night before, I decided to read some poems from Misery--the divorce poems. I wasn't sure how they would be received or how they would work with poems from the first book. But I did it, and I think the new work was well received. But my stomach was in knots up until I took the podium.

Afaa read from two new manuscripts. One of which, The Government of Nature, will be published in 2013 by University of Pittsburgh Press. He weaves his poems together with the history of someone who has "been there and done that," giving voice to people and experiences that make you realize the things hidden inside all of us are universal and profound.

I told the audience I was reading one more poem and then sitting down to listen to Afaa. After which, he chided me, saying I should never defer to the next poet, no matter what. Lesson learned!

We took questions from the audience, and then the conversation turned to Cave Canem (CC) and the state of African American poetry. It's always good to talk about CC, how the organization has grown from its humble beginnings. We shared a bit about the difficulty writers of color have had navigating the publishing waters, and how poetry as a whole is strengthened by diversity of thought and experience.

The conversation was much deeper than what I described. Many in the audience were moved by Afaa's words. Sorry, you just had to be there to take it all in.

Many thanks to the staff at the Grolier for taking us in.

If these walls could talk, what would they say?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Behind the Improbable Scenes

Want to know more about the Improbable Places Poetry Tour? Watch this short compilation put together by Colleen Michaels and Montserrat College of Art.

Very cool!


This is the picture I did not post on Thanksgiving. I walked to the beach and snapped this shot near a lighthouse. It's been so warm the trees just don't know what to do.


TGIF! It's been a long but productive week. Productive with everything but the items on Tuesday's poetry to-list.


I've been playing around with my new iPhone 4S. It is wicked cool, especially to someone who just gave up a first-gen iPhone. The customer service rep called it a "Silverback" and told me I have "evolved." Get it?

Despite it's coolness, rumors of the lack of battery life are true.


Check out a terrific interview with Nikky Finney on NPR's Talk of the Nation.


Hope you can join me tonight at the Grolier reading with Afaa Weaver. For some reason, I'm a little nervous. Not sure if it's because I'm reading some new work from my second book Misery Islands, or because I'm reading at the Grolier. The bookstore is steeped in history.


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