Monday, December 31, 2012

Poetry Action Plan 2013

Goodbye 2012. Hello, 2013!

Next to summer, this is my favorite time of year. It’s a time when all of us reflect on the year that was, looking toward the year that will be. Everyone pulls backs, takes stock, and moves forward with purpose. We put our best foot forward. We all, literally, have the best intentions.

A few years ago, I gave my writing goals a real value. My Poetry Action Plan (PAP) was (is) my attempt to structure my writing goals so that the goals become habit. The plan is flexible enough to change as my life changes.

Here are a few tips on you can create your own PAP.

  • 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 2012, my goals were to:

Write a Poem a Week
I wrote 40 poems instead of 52. I’m disappointed about that, but I am considering these poems the basis of manuscript #3.

Read a Book a Month
Poetry, yes. Other genres, not so much. However, because I’m teaching, I am reading more short fiction, which I value as much as reading a novel.

Support the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Start Manuscript #3
I feel like I indirectly backed into this goal by writing a number of poems this year. I didn’t flesh out what I wanted to do. Didn’t do any research on the topic of race relations in 1960s Boston, didn’t make those connections to my life now. But, having written so many poems toward a manuscript, I can now see what’s missing. The task doesn’t seem so big.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop
I put all my eggs into attending a class at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, but I didn’t find a workshop that fit into my summer schedule and budget. Also, I didn’t get into Bread Loaf. But the truth is I didn’t apply anywhere else beyond that. I need to research and widen my scope. It’s clear that I need a week to myself so I can work uninterrupted.

So in thinking about my 2013 goals, the overriding principle guiding my goals is to be kind to myself. In the past, my philosophy has been to maintain a kind of balance throughout the year. But being a single mother and raising two kids who require more of my time that ever before, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as balance. I have to forgive myself for falling short. I have to accept the limitations of time and energy and work around all the things that keep me from writing.

And I’m willing to do that. Getting up at 4 a.m. to write or getting away for an hour at Starbucks may be the best that I can do for a while. That’s OK. I will still get to where I want to go.

In 2013, my goals are to:

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

Publish Poems in 12 Publications 
I haven’t done much with submissions. Not even sure what poems I have out there working for me. But it’s time to serious about print and online publications.

Complete Manuscript #3
I want to create an arc that ties the past to the present. I’ve decided not to push it through but use this time of thoughtful reflection as an opportunity to learn about myself, my surroundings, and my history. That being said, it would be great to have all the manuscript poems completed by July so I can focus on revision.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop
I have to make this one happen during the summer. Fingers crossed. I will take on four goals in the new year instead of five. I rather complete four goals instead of almost finishing five.

Hope you can use the PAP as you map out your own path in 2013. Don’t forget that your plan is flexible and can change as your life changes. Good luck, and Happy New Year!!

Burning the Old Year

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

“Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lazy Sunday

Yes, it's beautiful ...

Until you have to shovel it.

For those of us along the MA coastline, we received our first real snowfall in two years. Although, not that much, 2-3 inches, it was still enough to break out the shovels and rock salt.


In between holidays, we've had a relaxing few days. A few playdates and errands, some girl time with my girlfriends, and lots of downtime for all of us. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the year as it comes to a close.

2012 has really turned out to be a mixed year. I became a full-time college professor, which also allowed me to run the Massachusetts Poetry Festival full time. I’ve been able to spend more time with Alex and Ella, who have also tried new things this year. Alex now plays the viola and Ella is a yellow belt in Tae Kwondo. Couldn’t be prouder of them. My parents are healthy and happy and my network of friends is stronger than ever. But this year I lost both of my grandparents. And with Hurricane Sandy, the school shooting in CT, and the looming fiscal cliff, I end 2012 feeling grateful but adrift.

Did not hit any of my fitness, financial, or dating goals. (sigh)

Even my writing goals ended on a mixed note. I wrote 40 poems instead of 52, yet 30 of them I am kinda sorta calling my third manuscript. My blogging is down, way down, this year. I did not participate in a weeklong workshop. And while publishing in journals has never been a huge goal of mine, the lack of publications for 2012 bothers me.

So I accomplished less than what I expected to do, but the things I did do turned out pretty cool.

Tomorrow I will post my Poetry Action Plan, and it won’t be a retread of previous goals. Have I become complacent? I don't know. Time to pick a direction and go.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Confession Tuesday

Sorry, no photo today because we are still in our pajamas!

My son was so excited last night, he had trouble sleeping. After going to bed at 9:30 p.m., he woke himself (and me) up at 11 p.m., 1:30 a.m., and 2:30 a.m. His sister woke him up at 6:02 a.m. All the presents were unwrapped by 6:27 a.m. 


Woke up to snow on the ground! So, of course, we had to stoke up the fireplace.


I spent the most of this morning registering two iPod Touch-es. Good lord, one false move in the registration process and you're in Apple Support-land; although, Apple Customer Support is fabulous!


In the last 24 hours, I have been a cooking fool: crab cakes, chicken noodle soup, Challah French toast (Holla!), chicken noodle soup, center cut pork roast, sweet potato casserole, green beans, cookies, brownies ... I'm headed to the gym first thing tomorrow.


It's been a great holiday. So happy to have my parents here with me and the kids. I love it when the house feels full. Feeling very grateful tonight.


Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Finally ...

My parents are here.
The grades are posted.
The shopping is done!

That is a poem onto itself.


This is the first time in nine years that I have not mailed a holiday card. If I had, I would have used this photo.

Instead, I made a JibJab video, which I think my dad liked more. You can view it on my FB page.


If you're going to MLA in Boston, try your hand at creating a poem with their online magnetic poetry. I did it (scroll down), but I find it hard to believe a poet had anything to do with the creation of it. Those are some of the least poetic words I've worked with, but I guess that's the point. Three winners will receive a $25 gift card to


New poem by Lloyd Schwartz in The New Republic.


I have a head cold. Hate being sick during the holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Woman Without Umbrella

Woman Without Umbrella from Rachel Eliza Griffiths on Vimeo.

Watch this stunning visual lyric poem inspired by Victoria Redel's poetry collection, Woman Without Umbrella. Created by the beautiful and talented Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Confession Tuesday

It's the Confession Tuesday before Christmas,
and all through the land,
every poet was writing,
counting meter and iambs.

I could go on, but I won't. On to confessions ...

At the poetry writing retreat I attended this past weekend, everyone adopts a mug for the duration their stay. It saves on water and is just less work for the staff.

Do you remember Charlie, the cologne from the 70s? Shelley Hack was the Charlie Girl, showing off her 70s flair in the commercials. I can sing the jingle. Anyhoo, this Charlie mug was mine for the weekend. The line at the bottom reads, "Here's to independence." I don't know, something about this mug made me smile the whole weekend. And, I like that Kevin Carey is in the background of the photo.


My heart goes out to the victims, families, first responders, and community of Sandy Hook, CT. While we were at the poetry retreat, these are the poems we kept coming back to for comfort and some measure of understanding.

"The Times," by Lucille Clifton
"In the Loop," by Bob Hicok
"Rock Me, Mercy," by Yusef Komunyakaa

And this poem brought comfort to me but is not the right poem for everyone, Yehuda Amichai's, "God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children." It's a subtle poem, and if you understand Amichai, you know that he wrote from a place of compassion. It may not be the right poem for now but it was (is) the right poem for me.


Today, I am grading, working on Mass Poetry projects, and going to my workshop tonight. The goal is to finish the grades tomorrow, before my parents come into town for the holidays. Then it will start to feel like Christmas.


Makes me want to put on my silk pantsuit and go for a stroll!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Maria, Laura, and Writing Your Way Home

I am back from the writers' retreat!

The Salem Writers Group, Danielle Jones-Pruett behind the camera

This is the third year I've attended the winter session of Writing Your Way Home, an intensive poetry writing workshop run by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss. This year, there were eight of us for the weekend, about 30 of us in attendance. The Massachusetts contingent was deep! We had a terrific time, and I wrote seven poem drafts.


On our way down to NJ, we passed by Newtown, CT, where the school shootings occurred. As we passed the exit on Friday--hours after it happened--there was traffic, police, and sirens in the distance. We mostly stayed away from TV images, but we had laptops. It was all the talk in the hallways. The tragedy entered our hearts and entered our poems. We looked for comfort in the poetry of others--Lucille Clifton, Bob Hicok, Yusef Komunayakaa--and discussed how they were able to capture some aspect of how to feel. I am thankful that we mostly stayed away from the news or we wouldn't have gotten anything done.

On our return, we passed by the airport as the president's plane touched down for the memorial service. There was just a sadness in the air.


Kevin Carey showed his documentary about Maria Gillan, co-directed by Mark Hillringhouse with music by Bob Evans. The film, called All That Lies Between Us, has footage from last year's retreat so it was nice to see some of those past moments caught on film, as well as celebrating Maria's lifetime body of work.

We will show Kevin's film at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival on Saturday, May 4.


We laughed a lot, read poems in a round at the evening poetry readings, sang songs on Saturday night with guitar accompaniment by Bob Evans, and talked about our hopes for our poetry. We went into The Cave and brought back drafts we will revise in the days and weeks to come. It was just what I needed to slog off any doubts or fears I have about my writing and to keep moving forward.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

CavanKerry Press: Open Submission Period

I have enjoyed working with CKP through the years. Please consider sending your poetry or memoir in for consideration.


CavanKerry Press will accept submissions for LaurelBooks, Emerging Voices, Notable Voices and Memoir between October 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013.
All manuscripts will be considered for publication in Spring 2015 and beyond.

CKP is partial to the writer whose distinct voice is emotionally accessible and daring. We discourage writers from sending victim-ridden, pedagogic, preachy or sentimental material. Works functioning as soapboxes for political causes are unacceptable. CKP does not publish self-help, how-to, travel, romance, science fiction or novels.

We are eager to receive and read manuscripts from diverse populations. We are interested in reading works from people of color and the multiplicity of ethnicities and heritages that populate our country. Writers who submit must be full-time American residents whose works are written in English.

Poetry manuscripts: Minimum: 50 pages
Prose manuscripts: Memoir only
Maximum: 250-300 pp (double-spaced)
No novels. No collections of essays

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mass Poetry: Common Threads 2013

Each year, Mass Poetry chooses poems by writers connected to our great state and creates a kit, called Common Threads, which will be distributed (free of charge) to schools, bookstores, public libraries, book clubs, and writing groups. We hope to encourage 10,000+ readers to discuss and interact with the selected poems. It’s our way of celebrating Massachusetts’ illustrious poetic past while introducing new audiences to contemporary poets who are shaking things up right here in the present: a way of sharing our common threads.

Award-winning poet Jill McDonough on this year's selections:

“Ten pastorals… as rollicking take-this-job-and-shove-it: ‘Tell the top brass, if/ they ask, I don’t give/a damn about their asses.’ As drunken urban water skiing, but with snow instead of water. And a pick-up truck instead of a boat. As meditation on life and death, on loveliness: ‘Flame and rust, the permutations/of burning.’ [Of] news you didn’t remember could split you inside out. Battlefield close-up, geography of afterlife, ‘countries in which my love/took place.’ As grateful wonder over how your life turned out to be ‘the/center of all beauty.’ 
These 10 fantastic poems are by Andrea Cohen, Martha Collins, Robert Frost, Jack Gilbert, Steven Jonas, Matt Miller, Frank O’Hara, Lloyd Schwartz, Patricia Smith, and Afaa Michael Weaver. Poets we can claim in Massachusetts, bringing us worlds on the page.”

The kit, coming in March, will include a booklet with all the poems, discussion questions, writing prompts, and videos of the poems being read.

To receive notification of the kit’s availability, please take a moment and sign up today!:

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday! Share a little of yourself today and we promise to do the same.

This lovely little chocolate orange was left in my faculty inbox by one of my students! (Thanks, Via!)

Today is the last official day of classes. Whew! I'll spend the next few hours grading portfolios and papers at a rapid pace. Can't believe the semester is over already--I must be getting old. But I am so pleased with this semester and my students.

Admittedly, I'm pretty pleased with myself. I never thought I would have the strength to teach. I mean, I thought I would be an editor for the rest of my life, but that was not my path. By being open to new possibilities, I've discovered this side of me who is vast and contains multitudes, to borrow a bit from Whitman.

Today is a good day.


After spending time with family this past weekend at my grandfather's funeral, I had a chance to see a few friends, including the beautiful and talented Collin Kelley! Our visit was quicker than quick, about 15 minutes before heading off at the airport. But he was kind enough to join me for a cup of coffee, which was just enough time to find out what the other is doing. Boy, is his busy! Keep your eyes on Collin because 2013 is going to be a crazy busy year for him.

We did lament a bit about the blogosphere and how everyone is really too busy to blog and respond to posts, including us. But we still enjoy blogging, mainly because we do it for ourselves.

If we had more time, I would have asked how he balances it all. Just amazing.


On Friday, I am traveling to Mendham, NJ, for a writers' retreat lead by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss. Here's a link to last year's retreat. In 2011, five of us went to this writing-intensive weekend. This year, there are eight of us! I'm so excited! Not only will I get some really good drafts started, I get to spend a weekend with my friends. How cool is that?


My only concern is that I'm in sort of a poetry zone. Hoping the retreat enhances and not derail my efforts.


It's all good.

Monday, December 10, 2012

SNL: Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney?

This skit happened after Weekend Update, but it's the best skit I've seen in a while.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Now Boarding

I am on my way to Atlanta for the funeral of my grandfather. I'm wondering if I can post this before the flight attendants tell me to stop. Forgive the typos.


Today was the last day of my intro to poetry class. We had a student reading; all of the poems were terrific. I'n thrilled that I got to teach this remarkable group of students. Of course, I'm relieved that the semester is winding down.


Traveling with me is my iPhone, iPad, and laptop. How sad is that? Also, books by Sharon Olds and Jill McDonough, and the latest version of APR.


Thanks to Danielle Jones-Pruett for hanging with at Starbucks today.


"Please put your tray tables into the upright and locked position."

Tuesday, December 04, 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.

This is my last full week of teaching classes.


I've had lots of fun this semester teaching a full course load, and my students are great. But I need a break. Also, this is the first time I will have a month off. Hello! It's not like I won't be busy, however. The O'Neil household has officially entered the silly season (a.k.a. the holidays). And the Mass Poetry Festival never sleeps.


I'm thinking about writing the next poem (not the last poem), which is a good sign. It's too early to say I'm working on a new book, but the poems are coming. They are hiding underneath other poems. I wake up and there they are waiting to be noticed. They wait patiently for me to turn ideas into drafts. So I am writing, scribbling, jotting, musing, singing, twisting, poeming.

Keep calm and write poems.

And on a sad note, my granddaddy passed away this past Sunday. So I will be flying down to Atlanta this weekend for the funeral. He and my grandmama, who passed away last May, were part of a generation quickly disappearing. They enjoyed the American Dream: they worked steadily, they raised a family, they were active in their community, and they owned their own home. Not to say that life didn't throw them challenges, but my grandparents were humble people who prospered. I hope I am that lucky.

My granddaddy lived a good life. He will be missed.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

First Snow

The first snow of the season has taken us all by surprise. The forecast didn't call for flurries, but it's been snowing all day. There's a half-inch on the ground, at least.

Sunday's high temp: 54 degrees.


This weekend, we have multiple kid sleepovers happening. Craziness.


A few days ago, I took a look at my list of published poems for this year, and I was shocked at how few acceptances I have. Clearly, publication has not been my focus. Five journals have taken my work in 2012. Granted, one journal took 10 poems, and another took three. But still, I don't have a lot to show for myself.

In general, I've tried to keep work in circulation with three or four journals at a time. But I don't think I've sent out to more than 25 journals this year. It's not about the numbers; yet, it is about the numbers. More than half of the poems from my second book have been published. I don't send work out on autopilot, however. I research. I query my poet-friends who have had success with certain pubs. And I send when time allows. I feel like I have a relatively good success rate considering how little I send out.

I do have new poems ready to send, so maybe I can get them in the mail, or submit electronically, by year's end. We'll see if I can double the number of acceptances in 2013.


A little later, the tree goes up, cookies in the oven, and a fire in the fireplace. My dining room is going through a makeover, which is taking up a lot of space in my brain.


I'm also thinking about the next poem I want to write, which is another good space to inhabit.

Now on iTunes: "All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray. I've been for a walk on a winter's day."


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