Thursday, May 31, 2012

Joseph and Me

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Me at 43

A good photographer can capture the essence of who you are. Rachel Eliza Griffiths has done that for me. Here are a few author photos from a shoot we did recently on my NYC trip. (Thanks, Rachel! XO)

All photos by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Confession Tuesday

If it's Tuesday, it's time for your confessions! Share a little of yourself and we promise to do the same.

Food + Poetry = Love. On Sunday, I hosted a poetry brunch for a few friends. Yes, those are crab cakes on my table, as well as chicken salad, asparagus, green salad, cheese and crackers, and iced tea. Not pictured: pastries, strawberry shortcake, and mimosas. It was delish!

With all the talk about poetry salons, it was nice nice to host my own version of what I'm sure goes on in homes and coffee shops everywhere. It's sort of an extension of our writers' group with food! There were six of us, and after brunch we read draft poems for comment. Seems we've been rotating from house to house whenever someone gets the notion. It's just a nice way to connect with friends in a smaller, more relaxed setting.

I had a delightful weekend. Wish I had one more day--I'd be just right.


Did manage a major revision, and wrote one new poem. Not bad. I'll spend time this week knocking off things from my to-do list.


Join me tonight for a talk at the Peabody Library!

History of Poetry
Peabody Institute Library
82 Main St Peabody, MA 01960

7 p.m. Tuesday, May 29: "Modern Poetry." January O’Neil talks about modern poets such as Mary Oliver, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove, and Billy Collins.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kibbles and Bits

I am not the recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, nor did I receive a poetry fellowship to Bread Loaf. That one-two punch came within days of each other. Awesomesauce.

At least I have a few months before not receiving an NEA. Or as I like to think of it: hitting the trifecta.


Pity party. Party of one. 


Hard to sulk on a Saturday, high today 89 degrees … but I’m going to try. Will be back to my old positive self tomorrow. Today, I feel like sulking. As a good friend of mine says, “Feel however you want to feel today, and then get over it.”


 More on Beauty-gate.


To-do List
1. Revise three poems
2. Send out to two publications
3. Write a book blurb
4. Plot summer writing project
5. Update bios


Famous Author Rejection Letters: True Stories Of Unbelievable Rejections

This is helping.

My posse’s getting big and my posse’s getting bigger.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jive Talkin'

Did you see Collin Kelley's updated list of poets on Twitter? If not, check it out.

Admittedly, I get most of my news updates and poetry info from Twitter. I read the stuff I want to read without all the noise.


I spent the morning time with my writers group in Salem. Worked on a poem draft that's been with me for a while. It was somewhat influenced by staying up too late to watch Star Trek the movie. What can I say? It's a good remake. Chris Pine is cute!

Try working the word "singularity" into a poem. Not as easy as it seems.


Anyone walking into my office now will hear me singing with the Bee Gees.

"You want to take away my energy with all your jive talkin' ..."

R.I.P Robin Gibb.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Confession Tuesday

It's Confession Tuesday!

Did you think I forgot what day it was? Tsk, tsk ...

I am still basking in the glow of my whirlwind trip to NYC. The photo shoot with Rachel Eliza Griffiths on Sunday was just fun. Honestly, I'm more excited about the extra shots she took of Joseph Legaspi and me than I am of my own. And then there's yesterday's luncheon, seeing Tracy K. Smith receive the Pulitzer ...


The thread running through the NY trip was that I got to spend time with three people who are incredibly connected to their work. Rachel, Joseph, and Tracy seemed to have aligned (or are in the process of aligning) their lives to reflect their values. Their work is central to their art. Put another way, they are doing what they love.

At the risk of getting a little hippy-dippy here, they are putting tremendous energy into the universe and I believe wholeheartedly that the universe is repaying it to them in happiness. They are inspiring and now I am inspired.


Also inspiring is the new summer position I'm taking on at Salem State University. This is my first day as project manager for the Center for Creative and Performing Arts. In addition to my Mass Poetry work, I'm helping manage the administrative side of the Summer Theatre Program, and working with J.D. Scrimgeour on the Salem State Poetry Seminar. Twelve college students from around the Commonwealth will attend a weeklong workshop with nightly readings, and a final "master class" taught by Afaa Michael Weaver.


Feeling very satisfied today, like the poetry "well" has been filled.


Even though it's been raining horses and cows for the last two days, I know the sun is waiting to appear again.


On the poetry front, I'm determined to work on drafts that want to be poems. Just like birthing, I need to hunker down and push those suckers out. Not very poetic, but true.


Any recommendations on recently written poetry books by women? I want to know who has a 2011-12 title that just knocks your socks off. Who should I read next?

Happy Tuesday, folks.

2012 Pulitzer Luncheon

At yesterday's Pulitzer Prizes luncheon, Thomas Friedman, co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, in his remarks said " ... being on this [Pulitzer] board is like being in the best book club in the world." So, it was fun for me sitting in on the book club for a day. I admit it--I felt like one of the cool kids.

On a rainy afternoon, we gathered at Columbia University's Low Library for the 2012 awards luncheon. There were cocktails and conversation, a decadent lunch, and the formal program presentation. Honestly, I was hoping to snag the fiction prize by hiding it under my jacket and walking away with it. I mean, no one would miss it ... No such luck.

That's Joseph Legaspi. He is luminous.

Awaiting me at my assigned seat was this delicious asparagus salad. On the chair was the awards program; a hefty publication called The Pulitzer Prizes: Winners, 1917 to the Present, Including Nominated Finalists, 1980 to Present; and another publication called Fifty Great Stories, an impressive sample of the great journalism produced by Columbia graduates.

No readings or speeches, just the award handed out and a photo op with each recipient.

Here I am with Tracy K. Smith, this year's Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry. If you have not read Life on Mars, run--don't walk--to your nearest (indie) bookstore and pick up a copy. It's fantastic!

Talk about luminous!


Why, you may be asking, am I showing you two pictures of desserts? Because they are not just any desserts, two of the three are doughnuts. And one of them (the one with dark sugar on it), had a chili finish at the end of each bite. My taste buds were in shock. However, the tall, frozen creamy chocolate mousse dessert thingy was a nice balance to all that heat.

("thingy" is a technical term)

"I can never stay mad at you, doughnuts!"

Since it was rainy outside, the group photo was taken on stage. If you look closely, you can see Miss Tracy in the front row!

It was a terrific celebration of the best in journalism, letters, drama, and music. My thanks to Jo Jo for letting me peak into his world on a rainy Monday. And congrats to Tracy for creating an incredible collection of poetry.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where I Am Today ...


This is me at the DUMBO studio of Rachel Eliza Griffiths. I'm posing for new author photos, and I have to say I'm excited to see what she comes up with. (This photo was taken by the beautiful and talented Joseph Legaspi.)

I've wanted new pictures for a while now, pictures that capture this time in my life. What does 43 look like? Who am I now after two kids and more life changes that I can count? These photos are a celebration of me right now. I'm thrilled Rachel could fit me into her busy schedule.

Rachel also asked me to sit for a P.O.P video. On her site, she describes this project as "an ongoing conversation between and about poets." This is a huge project. Go check out a few of the videos.

Thanks Rachel!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Have you ever participated in a poetry reading but you were just not into it? That’s how I felt earlier this week. Not sure why I wasn’t into it—certainly not because of the audience, the other poets, or the reading series itself. I just was off and not motivated. Maybe it was the weather (a rainy Tuesday night). Or maybe, and this is most likely, I’m bored with my own poetry.

Is this ennui? Whatever it's called, it's present in everything I write lately. Nothing I’m putting on paper excites me. And I haven’t found a book to shake me out of my funk.

Oh well. This, too, shall pass. Sometimes the only way out is through. Warm, sunny weather has arrived. That helps.


Download out a copy of Diane Lockward’s e-collection of poems called Twelve for the Record. You can have it sent to your smart phone or e-reader for $3. I think it’s an interesting model for poets to consider. Still not crazy about the formatting on my Kindle for iPhone, but, in general, I think this is where poetry publishing is headed.

Books will never go away--there’s no substitute for holding a book in your hands. But this is a great way for writers to get their work to market quicker.

Thanks, Diane!


I had fiddleheads for the first time yesterday. Taste like broccoli. Now I’m trying to write a poem about them. Of course, I read a Wikipedia entry on them that said the furrowed fronds can be toxic is not cooked properly. Yikes.

(Colleen, I tried fiddleheads!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. Time to share your confessions. Tell us a little about yourself and we promise to do the same.

Here's a pic from Mothers' Day at Fenway park. Alex and Ella are standing next to Pesky's Pole, and next to the Red Sox's latest draft pick. Had to talk Ella out of touching his moustache.


I heard a new term that I think applies to me: "Momarazzi." I take so many pictures of my children it must seem like I am stalking them. Perhaps that's true. One day they'll be glad I documented all of these goofy moments. Can't wait to bring out some of these photos during the high school years!

(Insert evil laugh here!)


True confession: I'm cheating on Starbucks with Panera's this morning. I don't feel good about. But I'm sorry, the food is better at Panera's. There, I said it!

Is it cheating if I just eat breakfast and not drink the hot chocolate? The wi-fi policy is better at Starbucks. And there always seems to be a ton of informal business meetings going on at Panera's, men with ties but no jackets. Just not the right vibe for writing, so I'll be back where I belong very, very soon.


Working on a new poem (yay!). I'm also starting to get a handle on what direction my writing will take in the next few weeks. I need to mull it over a little more, but if I keep this project small and manageable, I can write a new series of poems by the end of summer. 


Festival: done. Grading: done. Finding balance: in progress. Summer o' Fun: it's coming, baby!

Happy Tuesday, folks!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The First and Last Word Poetry Series

Hope you can make it for this reading tomorrow night!

Tuesday, May 15
7 p.m.

191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA
Admission $4

READING AND OPEN MIC: Bass Guitarist: Ethan Mackler (accompaniment optional on open mic); Hosted by Harris Gardner and Gloria Mindock

featuring: Lawrence Kessenich, January O'Neil, and Afaa Michael Weaver

Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry Prize. He has been published in Atlanta Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and many other magazines. His chapbook Strange News was published by Pudding House Publications in 2008. Another chapbook was shortlisted for the St. Lawrence Book Award and Spire Press Chapbook Contest. His poem "Underground Jesus" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

January Gill O'Neil is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, December 2009), and a forthcoming collection, Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, fall 2014). She is the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and an assistant professor of English at Salem State University.

Afaa M. Weaver (b. Michael S. Weaver) is a poet, playwright, short fiction writer, translator, and editor. His new book, The Government of Nature, is due from U Pitt in early 2013. Lately, he has been working on a memoir and meditating on life as experience and influence leading to a life lived as a singularity of being. He teaches at Simmons College.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mothers' Day!

Happy Mothers' Day to all the moms out there! Special shout out to the single moms getting it done 365 days a year.


Right now, my kids are downstairs making breakfast for me. They've been upstairs a few times asking questions. Should I be nervous?


Today we going to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Cleveland Indians. It will be the kids' first visit to Fenway Park. My son, who can spit out stats like an ESPN analyst, is particularly excited about going to his first Red Sox game.


Love to my mom, mother-in-law, and my two aunts. I am also thinking of my grandmother who passed away a few weeks ago.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Kevin Carey: "Crazy Stuff"

Last night I had the great pleasure of emcee-ing the launch party of Kevin Carey's new book, The One Fifteen to Penn Station (CavanKerry Press). He and I have the same publisher, which makes this all the more sweeter. Held at the Beverly Public Library, this was also where I had my book launch, so it was nice to be there for Kevin on his big night. And he did a terrific job.

Watch this short clip of Kevin reading his poem "Crazy Stuff."

Congrats, Kevin!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

#Poetparty Answers

Last Sunday night I participated in a #poetparty on Twitter moderated by fab poets Collin Kelley and Deborah Ager at 32 Poems. The questions came so fast and furious I didn't have a chance to give detailed answers. So here are a few questions I wanted to address.

1. Torie Michelle‏@torie_iB4e
Did you shoot for publishing a certain number of poems in lit journals before sending out your first collection? 
The short answer: no, I didn’t. 
In reality, I didn’t have a plan about sending to journals before the publication of Underlife. And that’s fine for emerging writers (and by emerging writers, I mean writers who do not have many publications). Producing a good poem should be of the utmost importance because finding the right home for your work can be soul-crushing.  

What I have done most often is taken leads from friends who have been published in online and print journals and sent my work there. I’ll also look at the writers whose books I’m reading now and send to the places they were published. Have I had success with that? Some. I don’t keep track.

Overall, I've have greater success being selective about where I send my work. I’m a big proponent of simultaneous submissions (the chances of two places taking the same poem are slim to none--seriously). I send my poems into the world … and forget about them. Again, finding the right home for your work can be soul crushing.

2. Meena Rose @MsMeenaRose
How do you define what fits together in a poetry collection? 
The short answer: It all depends on the work.
I don't have a definition. And I'm not sure if it's better to have poems grouped by sections, which seems to be the trend these days, or a true collection of poems with no obvious theme or arc.

For me, it takes months of working and reworking my collections to make sure the poems make sense to me. I always lay my poems out of the floor, take out the weak ones, and move them around. I want my poems to "talk" to one another. I want them to make sense as separate pieces and as part of a whole. When my collection is ready I stop tinkering with it. Once it's complete, it is easy for me to let go.

3. Russell Ragsdale‏@russ8u
How has blogging impacted your poetry?
I’m not sure if I answered this one on Twitter.

But blogging has meant everything to my poetry. In the beginning, I published poems online and I took feedback on my poems. Five years ago, there were many poetry communities (Poetry Thursday, Read Write Poem) that encouraged the online sharing of poetry. If there were another online community that would offer the same thing, I could see myself joining. But I haven’t found one I've liked.

Blogging has always been a means to share my thoughts and views on poetry and parenthood. The scope is narrow. The moment I start looking at blog hits and page views, then it moves away from my original focus. Still, I really like blogging. I’ll stop when I’m bored with it—which I don’t see happening anytime soon. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

TED Talk: Chip Kidd on Book Design

“A book cover is a distillation.” It’s a “haiku,” if you will, of the story. So says graphic designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd. I highly recommend his TED Talk as he takes us through the thought process behind some of his best-known cover designs.

Had the chance to meet Chip at the Miami International Book Fair a few years ago, but I was too shy to introduce myself. We were both presenters, and I wanted to mention that he designed the P&W Inspiration Issue cover that I was featured in (January 2010). Oh well. I'm sure there will be a next time.

My favorite quote from the talk: “The book designer’s responsibility is three-fold: to the reader, to the publisher, and most of all, to the author.”

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.

L to R (back row): Maryann O'Neil, Annie Finch, Maggie Finch, me, Stanley Gill, Rosemary Gill. Front row: Ella and Alex O'Neil.

This photo, taken by Katie Fanara on the Saturday of the Mass Poetry Festival, was one of the nicest, most unexpected moments I had during the weekend. After participating in the Fire on Her Tongue session (which was fabulous, BTW), I had the chance to have a picture taken with Annie Finch (in blue) with her mother, Maggie Finch, who was celebrating her 91st birthday. So not only do I have my parents, my mother-in-law, and kids around me, I take a photo with Annie Finch's family. How cool is that?


There's an article on Mass Poetry's site about Annie Finch and her new book, A Poet's Craft.


Aaah, spring. Now that the festival is over I'm starting to feel my life again. Classes have ended and the grading begins. But I'm discovering huge pockets of time I didn't have before. Since January, I've been on a frenetic pace to the end of the semester. Now I'm experiencing a bit of a denouement--I kinda like it! During the summer, my main responsibilities will be administrative for Mass Poetry and Salem State. So I'm thrilled that the next few months will allow me to organize and get ahead of teaching and festival planning. Yahoo!


It's also time to focus on writing poems again. I have a mini retreat coming up in June, so ahead of that I'd like to write a few new poems and work on revising them through the summer. And not the same old same old. I'd like to work with forms, maybe sonnets. Maybe a sonnet crown. Hmmm ...

Also, I have to decide what I am going to do for my third book. I have to start planning that project soon.

Could be time for a to-do list.


R.I.P. Adam Yauch.

At my first job, working at Circle 6 Theatres in Norfolk, VA, the Beasties and Whitney Houston were in full rotation as we cleaned up the popcorn kernels, butter flavoring, and Coke syrup nightly from behind the concession stand. I loved how the Beasties matured, even apologized for some of their earlier, sometimes offensive, lyrics. Still, it is hard to watch artists from my teens and 20s pass away.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Stephen Dunn: "If A Clown"

I've been rekindling my love of Stephen Dunn's poetry since his outstanding--dare I say, "awesome"--Sunday afternoon reading at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Here's one of my new favorites from his book Here and Now: Poems

If a Clown

If a clown came out of the woods,
a standard-looking clown with oversized
polka-dot clothes, floppy shoes,
a red, bulbous nose, and you saw him
on the edge of your property,
there’d be nothing funny about that,
would there? A bear might be preferable,
especially if black and berry-driven.
And if this clown began waving his hands
with those big white gloves
that clowns wear, and you realized
he wanted your attention, had something
apparently urgent to tell you,
would you pivot and run from him,
or stay put, as my friend did, who seemed
to understand here was a clown
who didn’t know where he was,
a clown without a context?
What could be sadder, my friend thought,
than a clown in need of a context?
If then the clown said to you
that he was on his way to a kid’s
birthday party, his car had broken down,
and he needed a ride, would you give
him one? Or would the connection
between the comic and the appalling,
as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear
that you’d be paralyzed by it?
And if you were the clown, and my friend
hesitated, as he did, would you make
a sad face, and with an enormous finger
wipe away an imaginary tear? How far
would you trust your art? I can tell you
it worked. Most of the guests had gone
when my friend and the clown drove up,
and the family was angry. But the clown
twisted a balloon into the shape of a bird
and gave it to the kid, who smiled,
let it rise to the ceiling. If you were the kid,
the birthday boy, what from then on
would be your relationship with disappointment?
With joy? Whom would you blame or extoll?

Monday, Monday

I am back from my grandmama's funeral, which was held on Saturday in Atlanta. It really was a celebration of life. Many friends and relatives came out on a muggy afternoon to pay their respects.

During the service, when asked to say a few words of remembrance, I got up to speak. As I looked out onto the audience, I was surprised by how many young people came out to say goodbye. Both she and my granddaddy helped a lot of people over years when money was tight. It was heartwarming to know that she meant so much to the people around her. The outpouring of support has been tremendous.

It was also nice to spend time with my granddaddy, aunt, cousins, and my parents, as well as visiting with my best friends from high school who have made their home in Atlanta. It was a quick trip, one I would have rather made under different circumstances, but I'm glad I was there to say goodbye.


Was good to get home last night. I wished I could have taken the kids with me but it just wasn't the right time. It was nice to see their smiling faces when I got home, which are full of gaps since they both have lost front teeth this month. Very cute.


Last night, I participated in the #poetparty of Twitter. Just the distraction I needed after a long weekend. Couldn't type answers fast enough!

If you search Twitter for the #poetparty hashtag, you can see the full text of the convo. Some questions I wish I could have expanded upon, so I may pick three and give a more detailed answer this week.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The History of Poetry

Another great series that you should check out! And, it's FREE!


Join The Peabody Institute Library for their five-part lecture series, “History of Poetry,” presented by local poets and professors. This lecture series will be held at the Main Branch Library, starting tonight!

History of Poetry
Peabody Institute Library

82 Main St Peabody, MA 01960
All lectures start at 7 p.m.

•Tuesday, May 1: "EcoPoetry." Jennifer Jean will discuss how the tradition of verse pastorals (or "nature poetry") moved into conservationist poetry, which then moved into the "language" poetry movement taking on the cause of environmentalism.

•Tuesday May 8: "The New Criticism School." Jacquelyn Malone will talk about this movement, especially as it concerns John Crowe Ransom and his students, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and Peter Taylor.

•Tuesday May 15: "Confessional Poetry." Claire Keyes will discuss this vividly self-revelatory verse, which emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

•Tuesday May 22: "The New Formalists." Dawn Paul explores this 1980s movement to reinvigorate American poetry through a return to poetic forms such as sonnets, villanelles and sestinas.

•Tuesday May 29: "Modern Poetry." January O’Neil talks about modern poets such as Mary Oliver, Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove, and Billy Collins.

Call 978-531-0100 ext. 10 for more information or to register, or register online.


This story originally ran in Patch.

Confession Tuesday: Pt. 2

Everything else seems trivial when dealing with death. Still, talking about the trivial just makes me feel better.


This past Saturday I went to the Newburyport Literary Festival to hear Gail Mazur read. Just delightful. Didn't get to hear her work at the Mass Poetry Festival's Common Threads reading so this was a real treat.

Later, I went to a panel featuring editors from Boston-area journals but missed Robert Pinsky's POEMJAZZ performance. It had sold out!

And on Sunday I was "the closer" at the Boston Poetry Marathon reading. The reading, co-sponsored by Tapestry of Voices, is always a fun one. Poets read continuously throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, I could only be there a little before my reading. But it is always well attended and Harris Gardner does a terrific job of producing it every year.


I am starting to catch my breath a little after the festival. The pendulum swung so far into the extreme that it's hard to swing back the other way. But I found myself organizing poems that I wrote over the past few months, seeing what can be mailed out, what can be revised. I also finished writing an essay that was a month overdue. Feels good to be able to move onto other work.


AWP deadline for panels is today.


Today was my last day of classes. Woo hoo! Now, the grading begins.


I am tempted to write a poem a day in May, since I didn't write anything substantial in April. Might be nice to focus on something while I move through this tentative time. 

Confession Tuesday: Pt. 1

My grandmama passed away yesterday. She was in her 90s. Not quite sure how old really--we don't talk about age in the South. By all accounts, she was fine up until this past Saturday. It was relatively quick but a shock to us all.

I will miss the woman who made me eat vegetables with every meal, the person who introduced me to okra; I will miss the best bargain hunter in the world, who never met a sale she didn't like; and I will miss her hi-pitched, "Heeeey, Jan! How ya doin?" stretching out every syllable on our phone calls. 

So I will join my parents in Atlanta for a few days to say goodbye and visit with my mother's family.


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