Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Confession Tuesday

It's Confession Tuesday. You know the drill.

I confess I am thankful that the only impact in my next of the woods from Superstorm Sandy are leaves. Lots and lots of leaves. Fine. I'll take it. It's sunny and nearly 70 degrees north of Boston.

My heart goes out to the cities along the East Coast in its path. Wow! Footage from NY, NJ, and WV is unbelievable. I mean, it's snowing in West Virginia. Yikes!


Been on the phone today with friends and loved ones in affected states. Everyone is OK.

My college is closed today, so I'm catching up on Mass Poetry work, and trying to get a few submissions in the mail.

I am cheating on Starbucks with Panera today and boy is it crowded. There must be a lot of people not working because of yesterday's storm. Just can't imagine any Panera being this busy, like weekend busy, on a Tuesday.


Just found out that I did not receive another grant I had applied for. Entering these contests feels like playing the lottery--very random, and I have zero chance of winning.


Robert Lee Brewer's November Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge is just around the corner. I am giving it a try this year. I like to write under self-imposed duress, apparently.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Storm Front

Happy Monday, folks. We are bracing here, north of Boston, for a visit from Hurricane Sandy. Schools are closed today so I'm thankful not to be out in this weather. The eye of the storm arrives around 8 p.m. The kid in me hopes schools will be out on Tuesday, too.

Here's hoping we all make it through the hurricane without incident.


I swear, there are no size D batteries left in Massachusetts.


Between play dates, I'm doing as much as I can while we still have electricity. I don't think it will go out, but you never know.


I am finishing up my application for the Room of Her Own Grant. Deadline is November 1.


Also, deadline for Mass Poetry Fest proposals is October 30. Get those apps in today!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Poetry Soup

(Right to left, Debbie Szabo, Rhina Espaillat, me and high school students from the Newburyport area.)

Last night I dined on Poetry Soup!

Run by Debbie Szabo, she brings together students from Newburyport High School and other surrounding high schools for an evening of poetry and good conversation at Jabberwocky Bookshop.

First of all, these students are tremendously talented. Some have even participated in Louder than a Bomb MA poetry slam competitions. They are poised and can riff on the spot. I was so impressed that I did something I normally don't do: rather than reading from a set list of poems, I asked for random topics and read poems that fit the topics. Sorry, no cat poems in my collections. Cows and flies, yes!

These students also created--I think they created, haven't heard of this anywhere else--the "Haiku Slam." Poets are given a topic, and they have to create Haiku on the spot. Here are two of mine. Can't remember exactly what I said but they went something like this ...

On Nature:

Leaf in my pocket
Yellow maple a small hand
A gift from my girl

And on sports:

Red Sox Haiku

No more Valentine
Sox acquire John Farrell
Time to sign Ortiz

OK, hard to create out of thin air but it was fun trying. It was really kinda cool. After, there was a Q & A with some of the most thoughtful questions I've received from an audience.

Rhina Espaillat is affectionately known as "the Grandmother of Poetry Soup." She comes every month to support poetry in the community.
Upcoming poets include Amanda Torres, Alfred Nicol, John Hofstra, Jamele Adams, Simone Beaubien, Richard Wollman, Nicole Rodriguez, Febo (and maybe some of the Free Verse slam team), Elizabeth Thomas, and Valerie Lawson.

Hats off to Debbie and the students! Nice work!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Poem

It's been a while since I posted a new poem. Since publications are less inclined to publish someone that's been on a personal blog, I have shied away from the practice. But posting my work is something I have always enjoyed doing. With the November PAD challenge just around the corner, I can't think of a better time to start.

No guarantees how long the poem will remain posted.

Feedback always appreciated. I have received the approval of my Intro to Poetry class, so have at it!

For the Couple Kissing at MoMA

What was it about Salvador Dali’s
The Persistence of Memory that
made you kiss each other so passionately
time stopped in the middle of a Monday afternoon
amidst throngs of tourists and art students,
parents with teething infants, and the lone clouds
drifting from peak to valley, clocks flaccid
and spent, dripping like tongues?

Why not kiss in front of Klee, Pollock, Kahlo,
or Monet’s Water Lilies,
which expands and shimmers at all angles?
It was all too surreal, even for me,
too much beauty under dimmed lighting
grazing the scuffed wooden floors.

Why not van Gogh’s Starry Night
which makes me sadder every time I see it,
that feeling of losing a dream again and again,
the night howl of stale air—which happens
when you discover the world was never yours,
never the way it’s supposed to be.

You treat midlife tightly pressed
against each other, sealing something between you
like two pages in a threadbare book, lips folding over
and under, filling the space around you and between you,
your bodies impossible with want. You are a work of art
standing against the cosmic force of love,
drifting out of this world and into your own.

Tom Hanks Performs Slam Poem About "Full House" (Jimmy Fallon)

I'm pretty sure if Tom Hanks performed this on a slam stage, he would be booed out of the room. Still, it's fun watching him try. Reminds me of a certain slam poet I know making the rounds ...

Showing My Support

My first lawn sign!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks! Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

In a few weeks, it will be November, which means our fiction friends will be participating in NaPoWriMo. I’m seeing a few blog posts and tweets already. Once again, I’m going to attempt to write a poem a day. Admittedly, my last few attempts have only yielded a few poems. But something in me likes the extreme pace. And even if I only get a few poems written, it makes a huge difference in how I approach managing my time. So for the next month, managing my time around poetry becomes a priority.


This past week, I’ve woken up at the crack of dawn—before dawn, really—and spent two hours writing. Before morning tea, before the kids enter the room, I was able to let those dreamy thoughts hit the page. Love it. It’s a feeling I definitely want to repeat to the point of habit


It’s been a while since I posted a poem. Will do so soon.


Yesterday, I took the kids to the library. We go quite often during the school year as my daughter is a voracious reader, reading books well above the second-grade level. She picked up four new chapter books and read almost two books in one sitting. She’s amazing.


My life is so complete and full. It is so complete and full that if I added anything to it, it will explode. So I have been giving serious thought to ways I can simplify and streamline how I do the routine things around the house. Everything from using a grocery delivery service, to having someone clean the house once in a while--you name it, I'm considering it.

November will be a month of change and reevaluation. By the time the holidays come around, with any luck I'll be able to enjoy them.


A question for you dear reader: what do you do to help you manage your time?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Writers Series Reading Recap

I like this photo better than the split pic from the previous post.

Thursday night's reading with Steve Almond was terrific! Our event at Salem State University was packed with students, faculty, and community members. Steve was in rare form, reading from many of his titles, including his three DIY books: Bad Poetry, Letters from People Who Hate Me, and This Won't Take But a Minute, Honey.

I was pretty good, too. (*smile*)

It was a raucous reading (read: we went there) with a good Q&A session after. Lots of thoughtful questions about the writing process, from writing habits and inspirations to how to stay motivated. But my favorite part of the evening came during the book signing. As Steve signed copies of his titles, he asked every student in line if they were registered to vote. His question caught a few of them off guard, but most said they planned to cast their vote on November 6. Yay!

On top of being a great storyteller with the soul of a poet, Steve is passionate about the political process. It was great reminder to us all--our voice and our votes matter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writers Series: Steve Almond and January Gill O'Neil

Join Steve Almond and me as we read together this Thursday at Salem State University.

I'm quite dizzy with anticipation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012, 7:30 PM
Martin Luther King, Jr. Room, Ellison Campus Center
Salem State University
352 Lafayette Street, Salem, MA 01970

Steve Almond is the author of 10 books of fiction and non-fiction, three of which he published himself. His memoir Candyfreak was a New York Times bestseller and was named the Booksense Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year. His short stories have appeared in the Best American and Pushcart anthologies. His most recent collection, God Bless America, was short-listed for The Story Prize. He is a regular contributor to the literary website The Rumpus. His journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine,GQ, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere.

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.

January's poems and articles have appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, The MOM Egg, Ouroboros Review, Drunken Boat, Crab Orchard Review, Literary Mama, Seattle Review, and Cave Canem anthologies II and IV, among others. Underlife was a finalist for ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award, and the 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize. In 2010 she was featured in Poets & Writers magazine’s Inspiration issue as one of its 12 debut poets. Her poem, “Chocolate,” was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.

This event is free.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Confession Tuesday

It's Tuesday. Do you know where your poems are?

I am basking in the glow of the Dodge Poetry Festival. What a FABULOUS weekend! Unfortunately I have been going full tilt since getting back. (Nose, meet grindstone.) But I am trying to hold onto the spirit of the people and the words at the festival.

Maybe the biggest takeaway for me is that poetry has to be a priority in my life. To paraphrase Nikky Finney, you cannot find time for poetry in your day--you have to make time. So I'm getting up between 4-5 a.m. to write poetry. Yesterday was great. I got up, bleary eyed but ready to go, and wrote a draft. Today, I woke up and graded papers. Oh well. Them's the breaks. Tomorrow will be better.

As I type this post, I think "Duh! Of course that's what I need to be doing. Now get to work." 


Books purchased at Dodge:

Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius: A True & Beautiful Course in Writing Poetry
Matthew Dickman, Mayakovsky's Revolver
Ada Limon, Sharks in the Rivers
Natasha Trethewey, Thrall

And two children's books (my daughter loves them!):

Georgia Heard, Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems
Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Science and Verse


I'm reading with Steve Almond on Thursday at Salem State University.


I am holding my breath for tonight's debate. Here's hoping the president has a good night.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dodge, Day 2

It's Sunday, the last official day of Dodge. We are gearing up to attend a few more sessions before hitting the road, but not before posting a few photos from yesterday. More to come.

Conversation: American Poetries

Amanda Torres

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dodge, Day 1

(L-R, me, Jennifer Jean, Amanda Torres, Joseph O. Legaspi)

Dodge, BABY!

Day 1 at Dodge is me is actually Day 2 for the festival. We arrived yesterday around 2 p.m. to catch a bit of high school day. It was great to see busloads of students listening so intently to poets talk about how they do what they do. 

We sat in on a talk yesterday with John Murillo, Larissa Szporluk, and Raul Zurita with translator Daniel Borzutsky called "Conversation: On the Life of the Poet." Good bits of wisdom shared between the poets and the audience. Lots of talk on the centrality of self , and the idea that the work is more important than the author. As Raul Zurita said, "We write toward that moment when we cease to write about ourselves and write about everyone."

So I'm off to immerse myself fully in the day. May try a few mini posts from Dodge village. More to come.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 National Book Award Nominees

The full list can be found on the National Book Foundation's Web site. Here's the list of poetry nominees:


David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations
University of Chicago Press

Cynthia Huntington, Heavenly Bodies
Southern Illinois University Press

Tim Seibles, Fast Animal
Etruscan Press

Alan Shapiro, Night of the Republic
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Susan Wheeler, Meme
University of Iowa Press


Special congrats to Tim Seibles, who teaches at ODU, my alma mater; and to David Ferry, a friend of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. You know the drill.

In a few days, I will be at the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival. Yes, I’m looking forward to connecting with old friends and making new one. Yes, I’m excited to hear poets I've never heard before. But really, I’m looking forward to not being a mom for a weekend (read: mommy needs her “me” time).

Every two years, I head down to NJ to be a part of a larger poetry community. And while the location has changed, the only expectation I have is to have a good time. Can’t wait to send pics from the road.

Cannot wait!

It was a kid-centric weekend, with some grading thrown in for good measure. I seem to be fighting for daylight when it comes to writing poetry, rather than poetry being a part of flow. I have no flow. *sigh*

Call me Stella—I need to get my groove back!


Tonight I’m hanging out with my poetry peeps in Salem. That should help, even though I have no poems to share.


With much of my grading done, I think I’ll have some time to write late tonight, finally. Better to write when the house is quiet Here’s to making my writing a priority. Here’s to getting back into the flow.


Dodge, baby!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Miracle Day

This has been a weekend full of playdates and post-birthday party celebrations for my son, including a sleepover for 8 kids. (Eight kids? What was I thinking? Only two are mine!) I know at some point I said to myself, "I run an annual poetry festival for 1,500 people. I can handle 8 kids for one night ..." Yeah, right. But on a weekend when I didn't expect any time for poetry, I am reminded of poetry's reach.

Through Twitter, I connected with Sebastian Matthews (@SebMatth) this past week. He is the son William Matthews and a fine poet in his own right. I studied with Bill at NYU about a year before he died, so it was nice for me to connect the past with the present. And in a random act of kindness, Sebastian sent me a copy of his father's uncollected poems, New Hope for The Dead: Uncollected Matthews, which he edited with Stanley Plumly. He also sent me a copy of his latest collection, Miracle Day: Mid-life Songs.

I will definitely set aside a few moments today to read both collections--I think they are what got me through the weekend. Just knowing I had these glorious books waiting for me was the light at the end of a long, sleepless tunnel. This afternoon, when I am grading poems for my poetry and creative writing classes, I know I will be thinking about Bill grading my rough (read: bad) poems all those years ago. My students are better writers than I was back them. I'm sure I still have poems with his handwritten comments on them somewhere in my basement. Maybe I'll get a few moments to write poems today, too.

As my day begins, it is Sebastian's words that are with me. From "Ars Poetica Blues":
Writing a poem is like making a paper airplane: one morning
you wake up with this urge to build something light, that might fly.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Happy 9th Birthday, Alex!

Wow. He's such a little man now. I tease him all the time saying, "I remember when you were a little baby!"  Not so little now.

Happy Birthday, Alex! XO

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Poetry Tune-up

All hail the Czarina of Poetry Colleen Michaels!

Once again, Colleen created an event to top all others for the Improbable Places Poetry Tour. Now in its third season, the tour rolled into Wayne’s World of Automotive Services. Half of the seats were in the garage, half of the seats outside on a cool October evening.

It was a very gritty event. You could hear the commenter rail passing a few yards away. Lots of atmospheric noise on a quite street for some reason. The Improbable events do a great job of bringing together local businesses with people from all parts of the surrounding community. And, for readers, the location generates the theme, which makes the reading incredibly special and unique.

Poems about cars--all makes and models, all sorts of things you can do inside and outside of them--were spoken and shared. We live in a car culture, after all, and that's something the reading celebrated. Who doesn't have a story about a car?

Twenty poets read their car poems. But my favorite quote of the night came from Ryan "Rat" Travis when this reading was "... the most perfect reading, fantastic poets reading just one poem." And then Rat proceeded to read a Sonnet "Tanku" (Tanku = Tanka and Haiku). Very cool.

While most of the poets were locals, Jill McDonough and Michaal Ansara came north of poems to read their car poems. Here's Jill's poem "Accident, Mass. Ave."

I have to say, it was intimidating to stand under a car to read a poem. Fortunately, it was just one poem. A good mix of students from local colleges, community members, and poets all came out on a Monday night to support poetry under the hood. How cool is that?

Colleen, I will ride shotgun with you anytime!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Confession Tuesday

Happy first Tuesday in October! Time to confess. Share a little of yourself with us and we'll promise to do the same.


Had so much fun at last night's Improbable Places Poetry Tour reading! Colleen Michaels is da bomb! Once again, she uses poetry as a means to pull together a community. The reading was held in an auto body shop. (An auto body shop? Yes, an auto body shop!) It was terrific.

Details to come in my next post.


Afterwords I went out with a group of poets and my friend Jennifer said that I had "teacher face." I knew exactly what she meant: that look of exhaustion from grading an endless sea of student papers and poems. Last night's face was born out of the realization that I had 10 more papers to grade by morning.

Happy to say I woke up at 5 a.m. to finish the job. Teacher face should subside by the afternoon, I hope. Nothing a hot tea with lemon and sugar can't fix.


Feels like all parts of my life are in overdrive. Kids, teaching, Mass Poetry, my poetry--you name it, all are equally important. So I keep coming back to the idea that if everything is important, nothing is important. Sounds very nihilistic, doesn't it?


On the poetry front, I have been writing lots of drafts and lines waiting to for some attention. Need to find a solid block of time to convert my chicken scratch into poetry. A girl can dream.


I have new poems out at JMWW. Thanks to Ned Balbo for selecting my poems.


Last week, I went to a talk/poetry reading by Richard Hoffman at Endicott College. He said something that I've been carrying with me since the reading. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that if you don't tell your own story, in the context of the larger world view, someone else will tell it--and you won't like their version. Meaning, if we don't write the stories of our lives, we'll be left out of history. We give history its context. So no matter how tired I've been the past few days, I think of that quote and begin to write.

I don't ever want to be out of anything. Ever. I keep on keepin' on!

Happy Tuesday, folks.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Dodge Poetry Festival

In less than two weeks, The Dodge Poetry Festival starts in Newark, New Jersey (Oct. 11-14). Woo hoo! The largest poetry festival in North America, this year's Dodge Festival promises to be a good one. Here's the lineup:

Taalam Acey, Cynthia Arrieu-King, Amiri Baraka, Ras Baraka, Brian Barker, Nicky Beer, Dan Bellm, Richard Blanco, Eavan Boland, Henri Cole, Eduardo C. Corral, Emari DiGiorgio, Sharon Dolin, Nikky Finney, Emily Fragos, Terrance Hayes, Juan Felipe Herrera, Lamar Hill, Mark Hillringhouse, Jane Hirshfield, Fanny Howe, Adele Kenny, Kurtis Lamkin, Dorianne Laux, Paul LeGault, Philip Levine, Ada Limón, Timothy Liu, Thomas Lux, Salgado Maranhão, Rachel McKibbens, Taylor Mali, Joseph Millar, John Murillo, Idra Novey, Michael O'Hara, Gregory Orr, Gregory Pardlo, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Baraka Sele, Narubi Selah, Joan Siegel, Patricia Smith, Arthur Sze, Larissa Szporluk, Natasha Trethewey, C.K. Williams, and Raúl Zurita.

Since 1996, Joseph Legaspi and I have been traveling to Dodge as if we were making a pilgrimage. As a college student, it was an amazing experience hearing and meeting poets from across the country and beyond. And while the venue and scope has changed, it's still the event I look forward to every two years. Dodge has a spirit all its own. I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones, hearing poets I've long admired, and watching the performances that will be talked about for years to come.

This year, I will attend as the director of my own festival. My perspective will change only slightly, however--I want to see how they've been doing it so well all these years. But it's all about the poetry.

10 days away!

Are you going to Dodge this year? If so, let me know. Hope to see you there!


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