Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poetry Action Plan 2014

For the last few years, I’ve used a Poetry Action Plan (PAP) to structure my writing goals. I have built previous plans based on the following steps:

·                     Define my goals
·                     Be realistic about what can be achieved  
·                     Track my progress
·                     Prepare for setbacks BUT be open to opportunities 

How did I do? In 2013, my goals were to:

Write a Poem a Week
I wrote 79 poems. Would eke out #80 if I wasn’t so tired. So I’ll save it for the New Year.

Publish Poems in 12 Publications 
Honesty, I haven’t kept count. But I did publish in some impressive journals such as Ploughshares and Rattle.

Complete Manuscript #3
Well, I have more poems now than I know what to do with. I wanted to create an arc that ties the past to the present, but my poems are in the draft stage. Not there yet.

Attend a Weeklong Workshop
The two writing weeks in late July/early August blew the other goals right out of the water.

For 2014, I’m putting together my PAP based on the following:

·                     Be in the moment
·                     Have a vision
·                     Try harder, fail harder
·                     Ditch what's not working

Less quantitative, more qualitative.

So, my 2014 poetry goals:

Be Present
This goal is almost too squishy to be a real goal. I want to keep pushing myself as an artist through daily (or almost daily) observations, my gratitude journal, and this blog. Again, this doesn’t feel like a real goal, and yet it’s the key to everything.

Focus on Misery Islands
The long wait is almost over. Misery should be out in September. Time to figure out exactly what I can do for book #2 that’s different from book #1.

Complete Manuscript #3
After I revise, I’m hoping I can cobble out a new collection. Maybe two.  

Complete the Juno Project
These poems are waiting on me to write them. This could be m’script #4

What’s not on this list? Write a certain number of poems, go to a writers’ retreat, apply for grants, etc. Been there, done that. I’m really focused on staying motivated and intentional about my writing. I've also cut out what’s not working (i.e. publish in X-number of journals).

I hope some of this helps you think about what you want for your writing in the New Year. Remember, your plan is flexible and can change as your life changes. Mine did.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!!

Confession Tuesday

Happy last Confession Tuesday of 2013!

I type this at 6 a.m., as my daughter and a friend are up after a sleepover. And by "sleepover," I mean a three-hour nap.

Speaking of sleepovers, my son is at his own sleepover. No stranger to shenanigans, guess who tried to FaceTime me at 3 a.m.?

Yesterday, before the sleepover, we went to the movies and roller skating. Lots of kids activities happenig this vacation week, but I wouldn't have it any other way.


This is the first year, post-divorce, that I've felt most settled, most at peace. That's not to say that I haven't felt a lot of pain or, at times, been full of doubts or felt really, really angry. But I know something happened this year that took me to another place emotionally.

This is the first year I felt truly confident about how I balanced obligations toward teaching and the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I actually slept for more than five hours a night, most nights (not last night). Also, my relationship with Alex and Ella is stronger than ever. Even when the kids want to zig and I want to zag, we're learning from each other. We're learning how to be kind(er) to each other. We need each other. Their need for security in a single-parent home is something I don't take for granted.

And my relationships with my friends and family feel more connected and authentic--if that's even possible. I just feel more connected to my community as a whole. I am most grateful to those who share their light and love with me--even when they don't know it's happening.


So what's caused this great internal shift?

If I had to trace it back to its origin, I'd say the two weeks I spent in August at writers retreats changed my perspective. Specifically, the week I spent at the Fine Arts Work Center and Marie Howe changed how I approached writing on a fundamental level. Being in the moment, writing down my observations, writing with intention--all of those things have made it easier to write. It's given me a new confidence about my abilities and a way to better handle self-doubt.

I trust my voice more than ever.

This new-found ability to be in the moment has made the other parts of my life easier. I see more of a connection among all parts of my existence, which has given this great sense of peace. Some might call it living with purpose, or living more wholeheartedly. Whatever it's called, I'm in. I live with a clarity of purpose that has simplified my life. Go figure.


So when I think about goals for the New Year, I don't see them as separate areas. Getting a better handle on finances or working on my health are not that far from writing consistently or working on better a relationship with my children.

If I had to distill what worked for me in 2013 that I will carry into the New Year, here it is:

  • Be in the moment
  • Have a vision
  • Try harder, fail harder
  • Ditch what's not working

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.


As Marie says, "It's hard to be present."


For the record, here are my goals for 2014:

1. Continue to stay connected to my writing (Poetry Action Plan in a separate post)
2. More love, more laughter
3. Maintain a consistent workout routine
4. Get financially fit


Wishing you all the best in 2014, dear reader!


Saturday, December 28, 2013


Today I spent a little time at my third home: Starbucks. I'm feeling eternally grateful that the kids and I had such a fun week with my parents. They left early this morning.

I'm also eternally grateful that my friend Steph took my kids and her kids to a place where there are big jumpy bounce houses so they can burn off some energy. Woo hoo! Moms rule!


While at Starbucks, I looked through all the poems I wrote in November/December. Out of the 32 drafts, I will be revising 25 drafts. Nice.


I bought or received lots of books in December. Some of my new must-reads for 2014:

Writing Poetry to Save Your Life and The Silence in an Empty House by Maria Mazziotti Gillan. Both of these titles are 2013 publications (the first is a craft book, the second is a poetry collection). Somehow, I missed that Maria has another poetry collection, 2013 release: Ancestors' Song. Wow! Talk about prolific. Maria is a force of nature.

The Daily Poet: Day-by-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. Looking forward to starting this on January 1.

The Incredible Sestina Anthology, edited by Dan Nester. It lives up to its name.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, edited and with text by Mason Curry. Reading it now while I finish up Wild by Cheryl Strayed.


I love this article from Brain Pickings: "The Year’s Best Books on Writing and Creativity." It's a long read, but offers a detailed synopsis of each book on the list. I started 2013 reading the first book listed, Why We Write. Happy to see it made the top spot. Book #2,  Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, is on my Amazon wish list.

So many books, so little time.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Confession Tuesday

'Twas the Confession Tuesday before Christmas 
and all through the house, 
not a creature was stirring 
except for Jan, just back from a desperate, some might say futile, trip to the mall for last-minute presents. 



Since my last post, my semester officially ended, my grades have been posted, and my parents arrived from Virginia. It's been a non-stop race against time to make sure we have everything we need. We are so late with everything this Christmas. Didn't even do holiday cards this year. Oh well. 


Nothing kills the writing impulse like the holidays. But I'm trying to stay connected and not put too much pressure on myself. It's been quite a year. Can't wait to post my year-end roundup ... as soon as I get through the silly season.


Favorite holiday movie: Die Hard. Yippie Ki Yay ...


Keep Amiri Baraka in your prayers. 


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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Even though it's Wednesday, we're calling this a Tuesday post. Any questions?

Onto the confessions ...

My little corner of the world has 8-10 inches of snow on the ground from two snow events in the last five days. I know other states are buried in snow, but I have to say I'm all set with the white stuff. Backbreaking to shovel. I'm afraid my next five poems will be about how much I hate snowblowers.


Yesterday, I decided to upgrade the software of my iPhone 4S to the new way cool version that came out a few months ago. I'm no good at upgrades. Something always goes wrong when I upgrade and yesterday was no exception. After a three-hour scramble looking for backups and passwords--just before a snowstorm--I got it done.

As I was on the phone with Apple, I kept thinking about Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art" and the line, "The art of losing isn't hard to master." While that may be true, Bishop never lost data. Never lost a password or a few thousand photos. Never worried about losing many, many contacts she put together year after year.

I managed to only lose photos (most of them were saved to Shutterfly), and some other notes. Though it wasn't a disaster, it sure felt like it at the time. On the upside, I had no more storage space. So this forced reset, in the long run, was a good thing.


I have written 79 poems this year! I'm guessing that close to one-third of them suck. Well, let's just say I probably won't revise the weakest ones. I think there are maybe three Juno poems in the bunch. So I'll spend the next few days reflecting on the year that was, and looking forward to 2014.


As my reward for finishing up grading, I will treat myself to an afternoon at Starbucks. I'd like to top out at 80. Time to get crackin'!


Writing Your Way Home ... Again.

This is a photo from the retreat house in Mendham, New Jersey where I spent the weekend Writing My Way Home. Six of us came down from Massachusetts, avoiding the snow to spend time writing new poems. We had an amazing time, of course, just what I needed after the antics of the previous week.

Lead by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss, 35 poets spent time in a workshop setting writing rapid-fire poetry. We had a large group this year. There were six workshops, three group readings, and plenty of chit-chat and snacks between sessions. This was my fourth time attending; now it's become a safe space where I know I will produce drafts that will turn into poems. It comes at the end of my semester, so the timing is perfect. Seems I have a lot to say at the end of the year. The accommodations are spartan. No distractions. Lots of time for thoughtful reflection. 

Maria and Laura encourage us to "go there." This is our opportunity to write poems that strike the emotional core. Maria calls it, "going into the cave." I went to the cave, beat the sh*t out of a few poems, and dragged them out. There's something about the quick turn and then having to share something completely unfinished that brings out the most surprising work. 

The snow on Saturday became just another element in our poems. By Sunday morning, the roads were completely clear. Most of us were spent; couldn't get another poem out of me by then end. I am grateful for the gift of time and space this retreat provides. Lots of camaraderie in a beautiful, peaceful setting. I miss it already.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday! It's a chilly December morning. Time to 'fess up!

A terrible argument this past Sunday has left me struggling with the concept of forgiveness. Specifically, how do you forgive someone who doesn't deserve it? Many of us have had people in our lives--parents, lovers, friends--who have hurt us beyond repair. I see it all the time, innocent victims forgiving murderers and abusers. With the passing of Nelson Mandela, we're reminded that he never sought retribution for 27 years of imprisonment.

I write. I connect with friends and family. I work hard to let it all go. Yet when I think I'm through with the past, there it is again. The bad penny. Resentment sets in. It's not like the other person wants or needs my forgiveness, so this is really about me.

So how this forgiveness thing work? And before you say I need to forgive myself, I have. That's not even the issue. But I don't think I can forgive and forget. Really, what's that even about?


If forgiveness is a choice, and if I choose to let it all go, then I guess the choice is about me. How do I move beyond this moment. Right now. What am I going to do with my one wild and precious life?, to quote Mary Oliver?

I know I'm making strides every day by staying connected to the people who have my best interest at heart. I have work that sustains me and a life shrouded in poetry. I teach. I raise a family. I write. I make a difference. I know my purpose. I am grateful for all of it. Is it enough to keep doing what I'm doing so the pain of the past subsides?

I don't know. I just don't know.


Speaking of gratitude, I want to thank the folks that kept me grounded this weekend. For the long talks over the phone, the conversations over coffee, cookies, tea, fajita salads--all of it. Thank you. I am grateful.

I am extremely grateful to Colleen, who picked us up and got all of us to school when my car battery died yesterday on the coldest morning of the year. Equally, I am grateful to Kevin for giving me a ride home.

I'm also grateful to AAA. *smile*


This week, I'm going to Mendham, NJ, for my annual writers retreat with Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss. The appropriately titled Writing My Way Home is held every year at a convent. I can't think of a better place to get a little perspective on forgiveness. I need this weekend like plasma.

My goal is to write new poems and start revising the November drafts. This is the last teaching week in the semester, so once the grading is through, I can return to writing poetry with my whole heart.


My daughter, Ella, and I are memorizing "Invictus" together. She's 8 and full of awesomeness!


"I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul"

Sunday, December 08, 2013


With the passing of Nelson Mandela, this poem has been ever-present in my thoughts.


Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Next Stop on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour

It's all about the hair!

Improbable Places Poetry Tour
Thursday, Dec. 12, 7–9 p.m.
Mower’s Barber Shop
269 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA

A Barber Shop, huh? That’s right, folks. A first haircut, a close shave, a hair bender, a golden lock. Flattop, bouffant, mullet, faux hawk or victory rolls – this month’s theme is all about hair and barber shop/beauty parlor culture. All styles of original poetry are welcome. We’re looking for poems that raise the hair on the nape of our neck or bubble up like a good lather. This month’s venue is a handsome barber shop, Mower’s on 269 Cabot Street in Beverly, MA.

Hey, I happen to have a beauty of a poem about my favorite barber. How do I participate? Send your submissions to colleen.michaels@montserrat.edu. The submission deadline is Monday, Dec. 9, so you’ll need to work faster than bangs grow.

I don’t write poetry, but I sure am interested in this tour. Can I still attend the event? Sure! The event is free, open to the public, and you might even get a signature haircut by Master Barber, Jay Mower. You’ll find old-school service layered with well-styled poems at this event. Get your groom on!

The Improbable Places Poetry Tour is Montserrat College of Art’s way of bringing together student writers, local poets, area businesses and enthusiastic listeners to celebrate the power of poetry and community. At each tour stop a new venue and theme is selected.

Wait! I’ve still got questions! Just talk to Colleen Michaels, Montserrat’s Writing Studio Director. She’s at colleen.michaels@montserrat.edu or 978-921-4242 x1277.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Confession Tuesday

This is a post-holiday Confession Tuesday edition. Time to share and share alike.

How was your holiday weekend?

I spent a few blissful days with the beautiful and talented Colleen Michaels and her fab family. While my kids were with their dad, we went to North Adams, MA and stayed at The Porches Inn, which may be one of the coolest places I've ever stayed. It's right across the street from Mass MoCa. If you've never been to Mass MoCA, it's worth the trip. So much great contemporary art, so many wonderful spaces converted from abandoned mills.

The photo above is part of the dessert spread from The Dream Away Lodge. It was dreamy. And fattening.


Today I am having one of those days where I am feeling like I'm not enough. But I tell you, just spending a few minutes putting together this blog post has made me feel infinitely better. Writing really is my center. It gives me perspective and reminds me that I need to step back and give myself a break.

Whenever my daughter, Ella, gets worked up or a little bent out of shape, she opens a book and immediately feels better. I feel the exact same way when I can write in my journal or, as in this case, write on the computer. Like mother, like daughter.


Bird by Bird, as Anne Lamott says.


Now playing on iTunes: Skyfall by Adele.


If you are in Harvard Square tonight, come to my reading at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop with the beautiful and talented Tim Gager. It should be fun. And I have it on good authority that Tim baked brownies for the occasion. Hope to see you there.

Monday, December 02, 2013

PAD Recap

And just like that ...

December poems written: 0

But ....

2013 poems written: 73

November, I barely knew you. I barely knew myself. I mean, I handled this year's November Poem a Day (PAD) challenge much differently than any other year. Here's why this month feels like a success, even though I did not write 30 poems (I wrote 27).

1. I wrote in spurts. Turns out, I'm a more productive writer when I have something to write about.

2. I need blocks of time to write. While I can always write in 10 or 20 minutes sprints, whenever I had a few minutes, I really do better when I have an hour or more to read, ponder, gaze ... you know ... waste time.

3. I wrote in my journal first, then transferred my drafts to my computer. Usually, I just go straight to the laptop but writing them down helped me gain a little perspective.

4. I didn't worry about crafting the perfect first draft. These poems are a hot mess. I'm going to work on them, one a day, in December.

My biggest fear is that by shifting to revision, I won't have the time or energy to keep writing. But I am attending a weekend writers' retreat in December so that should give me a much-needed boost. It's possible I may finish the month with 80 poems. Yikes!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Starbucks and me

Happy two days before Thanksgiving (in the U.S.)! Time to share a bit of yourselves with us, and we'll promise to do the same.

First, Happy Thanksgiving one and all! It is one of my favorite holidays so I hope you are warm and safe, wherever you are.


Every other year, Thanksgiving becomes a bit of a puzzle for me. Alex and Ella go with their dad for the holiday and weekend, so I'm left figuring out where to go. Usually, I rely on the kindness of friends, not that I couldn't fly to Virginia or Atlanta to visit relatives. At one point I contemplated staying at home on Thursday, getting into a home project, and watching movies all day. Bring on the ice cream and Proscesso. I mean, it is just one day.

Well, this year I am spending Thanksgiving in Western Massachusetts with Colleen Michaels and family. It's a welcomed invite given that I really don't want to paint my daughter's bedroom. Maybe this is me re-envisioning the holiday and expanding the meaning of family. We'll be here. (But don't stalk us.)

I am thankful I won't be alone on Thanksgiving. Bring on the turkey and Proscesso!


Every Friday is Black Friday for me.


Happy Birthday Joseph O. Legaspi and Afaa Michael Weaver!


PAD poems: 21. It's day 26. Honestly, I can see myself getting to 28 poems before the end of the month. Because I've been behind from day one, the pressure's off. Rather than writing every day, I have been writing in spurts, maybe four days on and three days off. And I haven't crafted these poems into perfect little gems.

Now the downside is that nothing has been revised. In fact, I'm feeling so good about my ability to write, almost at will, that I'm afraid to stop. Seriously, you know what it's like to get into a groove, get out of it, and try to get back into it. That's hard and unpleasant. I spend too much energy griping about not being able to write. But I have to make revision a priority.


Just turned in final draft copy of my second manuscript, Misery Islands, to my publisher. The book will be out next fall, but already I am putting together a marketing plan. What will I do differently to release this book than I did for book #1? Will I have manuscript #3 in circulation before #2 is published? Hmmm ....


One word: Proscesso.  And, Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kibbles and Bits

R.I.P Wanda Coleman.


A must-read: "A Poet’s Guide to the Assassination of JFK [the Assassination of Poetry]" by Thomas Sayers Ellis.

Congrats to Adrian Matejka, a finalist for the National Book Award for his collection The Big Smoke - Interview. Congrats to all the winners.


My copy of Joseph O. Legaspi's chapbook Subways arrived in the mail this week. It's terrific.


Lastly, a little Sesame Street to brighten your day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday folks. Share a bit of yourselves with us and we promise to do the same.

Once again, I'm starting my day at the Salem Athenaeum with J.D. Scrimgeour. I like writing here. It's comfortable and always nice when there's another writer or two in the room.

The sun pours in through the library's old drafty windows, and the bare trees sway with each gust.


PAD poems written: 17. Not bad for day 19. It helps to lower my standards.


This is my long day. While I am not teaching today, I will be out of the house until 10 p.m. Wish I could take a nap at some point because I'm getting over a slight cold and haven't slept much lately. I have a few meetings, lots of grading, and my writers' workshop in the evening. Even though I have 17 drafts, none of them are ready to show. Nothing worse than reading a draft you know is not ready to be presented.


Just ordered new books from Amazon:

Double Down, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Dirty Love, by Andre Dubus III
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

I am a huge fan of Heilemann and Halperin and Game Change. Andre Dubus is coming to Salem State in March (and I'm curious to see how he writes about women). But The War of Art I'm not sure if I really need to read it; still, I want to have it on my shelf. Truth is, I have more books than I can read now, but I want them around for when I'm finally ready to read them. 

And, don't get me started on poetry ...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lady Madonna

Book Selfie. This is what happens on a Saturday when the kids are playing outside and I have a few minutes of free time. 


Update: I took the book selfie photo five hours earlier. The kids' play date just ended. Actually, my son and his friends did something pretty wonderful today. They've been really into the rainbow loom bracelets. Well, a group of them (all boys) set up a stand outside of our house and sold bracelets to raise money for breast cancer research. I'm the one reminding them it's November, it's cold outside, and our street is not that busy.

They made $46 in two hours. 

I am so proud of Alex and the boys.


PAD Challenge poems: 12 (it's day 16). Would like to carve out enough time to revise. Maybe tonight. I expect the kids to fall out after dinner.


Current reads: Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Nin Andrews' The Book of Orgasms. Loving both books--excellent reads.


In The Beatles song "Lady Madonna," Saturday is the only day not mentioned. Why is that?

Lady Madonna, children at your feet
Wonder how you manage to make ends meet.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. Time to confess.

On day 12 of the PAD Challenge, I have written nine poems. Not sure if that's good or bad. The poems themselves are drafts, or should I say "drafts." These pieces need a lot of love, but when I take on these challenges, the crafting usually happens after.


I confess these poetry challenges leaves little time for blogging. Will try to post a few times this week.


Today I spent the morning writing at the Salem Athenaeum with the beautiful and talented J.D. Scrimgeour. Then, I went to the Peabody Essex Museum to view to prep for an upcoming visit with my first-year writing students. What a lovely way to start the day.

Tonight, I'm headed to the Grolier Poetry Book Shop to hear Don Share and George Elliott Clarke read their poetry. If you've never been to the Grolier, it's smaller as a postage stamp. Must get there early to grab a seat. I have visions of sitting outside on the stoop during the reading. *sigh*


Today, when I cracked open a new journal, I felt resentment bubbling up. I did not want to let go of the previous one. My first Moleskin. This journal got me through a magical summer and an inspired fall. This morning a few snowflakes fell; I see that my apprehension is more than just a new journal or the changing of the season. It's about letting go. As much as I like letting go, I want some things to remain the same. Here's hoping the poems will flow for Moleskin #2.

Sounds silly, doesn't it? Writers are a superstitious bunch.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday folks. Happy first Tuesday in November. And, happy Election Day in the U.S. Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

It is day 5 of the November PAD challenge and already I am down by two poems. The three I have written are questionable.

You may ask, "Why do this?" I mean, a poem a day is hard in the best of months. And we all know that anything worthwhile takes time to develop. But I like the immediacy. I like setting aside an hour a day (some days 10 minutes) to write. There's a point where I surrender to the process and just write a bad poem--which sometimes turns out to be pretty good.


I don't use prompts for the challenge, but I always look in case I'm out of ideas.


Daylight Savings Time has been great for my family. Everybody goes to bed tired and wakes up refreshed, including me. Woo hoo!


Lots of community-based projects going on with Mass Poetry and the Mass Poetry Festival. None of which I can share, just know things are happening behind the scenes. It's exciting to watch the plans unfold.


To-do list

1. Get back on track with the PAD challenge
2. Send out two four publications
3. Revise two poems
4. Organize desk


Congrats to Joseph O. Legaspi for winning the inaugural David Blair Chapbook Prize for his second chapbook! Very cool.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Dust to Dust

For the last few months, I have been captivated by the demolition of Salem State University's old campus library. It's being torn down that we have our gorgeous new library in place. I pass the site every day, to and from the parking lot, and every day I can't help but watch. Sometimes I take a picture. Sometimes a few lines for a poem comes to mind. That's when I immediately stop walking, dig for my notebook, and write down the bones.

There have been days when I've breathed in dust from the site, or water from the hoses keeping the dust down has sprayed me. Construction trucks like yellow mechanical ducks peck away, story by story, at this structure. The photos I'm showing you now are from early last week. The building is all but torn down now, and by weeks' end, there will be nothing left of this 30-year-old structure but a mountain of rubble.

Because I've been writing daily observations, I've written a few drafts based on the destruction. It's just fascinating watching this building come down brick by brick. I'm in awe of where inspiration hides, and where and when it chooses to reveal itself. And it's not just me. When I pull into the parking lot, there's always someone taking photos or writing in a notebook with one eye to the excavators trying to capture the moment. I find it all terribly beautiful.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Reasons to Survive November

I love posting Tony Hoagland's poem "Reasons to Survive November" on the first day of November. But I don't feel the intensity behind it that I usually do. The kids and I had a great Halloween night. The Red Sox are World Series Champions. And, it will be 70 degrees today--a Friday. I don't have too much to complain about this November.

(Listen to the audio.)

Reasons to Survive November

November like a train wreck –
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze –
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

– Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

(Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means to Me. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2003.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Championship Strong!

Congrats to the 2013 World Series Champions!

What a series! From worst to first. The first World Series victory in Fenway Park in 95 years. All the hype about this team is true. After the last year with Bobby Valentine, we were due. More important, after the Boston Marathon bombing, this team, this city, this region has been united like never before. In the words of MVP David Ortiz, This is our fucking city! 

Today we are Championship Strong!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday! You know the drill.

Last week was the first week, I believe, that I didn't post on a Tuesday. Ugh. I felt bad about that. And then Thursday rolled around but I couldn't bring myself to post a late post. So forgive me, reader. I needed a blog vacation.

But the truth is I missed this blog, which serves as a room of my own, so to speak, when the poems aren’t coming or I’m just feeling empty. If I can’t keep up with the blog, it means that some other part of my life has taken over. Last week, grading Comp 1 papers and Mass Poetry work took over. But this is the week where I pull back and try to get a little more balance.

Two words: Red Sox. Need I say more?


When I don't write a post, my mom calls me up and asks, "Is everything OK?


Have I been writing this week? No, not really. But I just wrote a new poem today which came to me out of the blue. Sometimes writing is a struggle, but this one was a gift.

Strangely enough, I am as connected as I was over the summer. I am locked and loaded (much like David Ortiz from my beloved Red Sox). These days, I know that if I sit down long enough, I will tap into myself and write something. It may be a shitty first draft, but showing up is half the battle.


That reference to shitty first drafts is reference to the Anne Lamott essay “Shitty First Drafts,” which I share with my creative writing students every semester. It’s from her book Bird by Bird, one of my touchstones. In looking up Anne Lamott online, I found a documentary on her called Bird by Bird. It’s terrific. If you get a chance to see it, it will inspire you to “just show up” and write on those days when you’re rather do anything else but write.


It’s NaNoWriMo time, which means is NaPoWriMo time for me. Yet again, I will attempt the 30 poems in 30 days challenge in November. This time, I feel I can do it. (All the other times I said I would do it, I know I couldn't finish.) But now I’m in the flow. I want to do it. And it I can’t, or don't, that’s OK. I have stopped forgiving myself for things that do need forgiveness. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mom Egg Mayhem!

Please join us for Mass. Mayhem!

Mom Egg Review Reading at Červená Barva Press Studio 
Saturday, November 2 
1:30 PM 
The Center For The Arts At The Armory Basement Room B8 
191 Highland Avenue Somerville, MA 

Admission $3 Facebook 

Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/210547619126995/?context=create#

Featured Readers:

Carol Berg
Louise Berliner
Debbie Blicher
Fay Chiang
Lori Desrosiers
Kathy Handley
Jennifer Jean
Danielle Jones-Pruett
Dorian Kotsiopoulos
Aparna Mani
Tara Masih
Colleen Michaels
Jaqui Morton
January G. O'Neil
Eve Packer
Kyle Potvin
Denise Provost
Laura Rodley
Rosie Rosensweig
Nancy Vona

emcee: Marjorie Tesser

Hope to see you there! And check out the Mom Egg Review.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mass Poetry Update

Guess who's coming to Salem in May?

The sixth Massachusetts Poetry Festival will be held May 2-4, 2014 in downtown Salem. Here’s a partial list of the extraordinary poets coming to what promises to be our best festival yet.
Kim Addonizio • Lucie Brock-Broido • Rafael Campo • Carol Ann Duffy • Oliver de la Paz • Cornelius EadyRhina EspaillatForrest Gander • David Ferry • Li-Young Lee • Philip Levine • Susan Rich • Vivian Shipley • C.D. Wright

And we’re not done yet! We are still adding to this amazing lineup. Stay tuned in the next weeks and months for more announcements on the featured poets joining us in May. Visit our website for updates and news about the festival.
Philip Levine was the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate for 2011–2012. Most recently, he was the recipient of the 2013 Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry by the Academy of American Poets.

Deadline for Program Proposals Approaching

This festival thrives because of the dynamic programming created from the panels, workshops, discussions, music and visual arts created by you, the poets. Please submit your proposal ideas by October 30 through our online submission form. Read more about submitting a proposal.

Student Day of Poetry 2014 Headliners Announced

Our Student Day of Poetry line-up is so star-studded you'd think we're astrologers. We are thrilled to announce that Adam Gottlieb, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jamele Adams aka Harlym 1two5, and Phil Kaye, Sarah Kay, and Franny Choi from Project V.O.I.C.E. will be taking the stage and leading workshops on Friday, March 21st at UMass Boston. Teachers and poetry group leaders, register here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Confession Tuesday

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

This past weekend, I spent the weekend in Gloucester, MA, at Morning Gardens. (See photos in previous post).

I have been there before with Jennifer Jean. We would get away at least once a year for about 30 hours to write and reflect on our writing projects. But this time, she opened it up to others as a full-fledged writers retreat.

Most days, I write whenever and wherever I can: in the bed in the mornings, at Starbucks or the campus library in the afternoons, or at the dining room table after the kids go to bed. So changing the venue always works wonders as a motivator for me. Also, it’s just nice to meet fellow writers, talk about their projects, which poets and journals they like to read, etc. And yet, my needs this time around were different. I didn't need to get into the flow because I'm already there--I've been riding this wave of productivity since the summer. My mission was to get things crossed off my to-do list, which I did.

Thanks to Jennifer Jean and all of the Morning Gardens writers for their time and talent.


Later today, I'm making a classroom appearance at Southern Connecticut State University, and reading on campus tonight at 8 p.m. Looking forward to spending time with Vivian Shipley and her students.


To-Do List

(Just because I knocked a few things off the list doesn't mean I'm in the clear. Oh, no. Far from it.)

1. Revise two poem drafts
2. Fill out one grant application
3. Submit one proposal

I need to do all of this before I take off for SCSU.


Special thanks to Nin Andrews for submitting two of my poems for a Pushcart Prize. Thanks, Nin! The poems originally appeared in Poets and Artists magazine.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Morning Gardens

This weekend I have been spending time in Gloucester, MA, at Morning Gardens. I'm here with a group of writers working on various projects. Here are a few photos I took this morning at sunrise. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Next Stop on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour

Woo hoo! The Improbable is back!

The Improbable Places Poetry Tour
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
7– 9 p.m.
Winfrey’s Fudge and Chocolates
115 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA

What's this tour all about? Well, it's Montserrat College of Art's way of bringing together student writers, local poets, area businesses, and enthusiastic listeners to celebrate the power of poetry and community. At each tour stop a new venue and theme is selected. This month's venue is a Chocolate Factory: Winfrey’s Fudge and Chocolates on 115 Cabot Street in Beverly. 

A Chocolate Factory, huh? That’s right, folks. Things may have gone better for Agustus Gloop and Veruca Salt if Willy Wonka had employed poets. This month’s tour stop celebrates the chewy center of a poem, the cream and butter of language, a sweet tooth, and a taffy pull. Poems will be hand dipped, dusted in sugar, and they will leave you satisfied.

Hey, I happen to have a poem of this flavor. How do I participate? 
Send your submissions to colleen.michaels@montserrat.edu. The submission deadline is Thursday, October 17th, so you’ll need to work faster than Lucille Ball in a chocolate factory.

I don’t write poetry, but I sure am interested in this tour. Can I still attend the event? Sure! Think of it as our heart-shaped sampler box of poetry just for you. The event is free, open to the public, and you will even get to see the chocolate makers in action.

Wait! I've still got questions! Just talk to Colleen Michaels, Montserrat's Writing Studio Director. She's at colleen.michaels@montserrat.edu or 978-921-4242 x1277. 

 And no, there is no chocolate waterfall … yet.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday, Dear Reader!

This morning, my daughter and I took a 7 a.m. walk around the neighborhood. It felt good to stretch our legs, and to have a little extra mommy-daughter time with her. My son is enough of an athlete where he thinks he doesn't need to walk, so he stayed home grandmother. But for Ella—who always manages to stay open, who considers every crack in the sidewalk, every fallen October leaf—she teaches me not to miss the small things.


I’m hoping the walk will spur a new exercise routine, or, at the very least, a little bit of consistency in my weekly trips to the gym. Working out is the one appointment I can’t seem to keep with myself. I mean, I make time for everything else, but exercise? Not so much. That walk made it easier for me to go to the gym right after. So if I can spend a little more time being active with the kids in between gym appointments, I’ll be in good shape—literally.


My son turned 10 on Friday. I am the mother of a 10-year old. Wow. I mean, WOW! Where did the time go?


Time seems very fluid today. I’m writing this post from the Salem Athenaeum, hoping to get two drafts out of my journal and onto my hard drive. The day seems wide open, even though I know it’s not. I have a mound of grading waiting for me this afternoon.

Very happy that my writing has become more consistent. Maybe it's because I attempt the in-class writing prompts I assign to my students. Ten minutes here, 15 minutes there ... and I'm still writing my observations a few times a week. I feel as if I can tap into the flow at anytime. I love that feeling.


C’mon, Red Sox. Don’t drag it out.


"You get from this life what you have the courage to ask for"
                                                                                       ~Oprah Winfrey

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, unless you work for the government or were planning on visiting the Statue of Liberty.

On to confessions ...


This past week has been a productive one. I finished a grant application, gave back about 100 graded papers and poems to my students, and managed not to stress out about not writing that much. Feel like I have balance this week. Hope I can sustain it a little longer.


Current read: Franz Wright's F. Really enjoying this collection, which is a mix of traditional poems, prose poems, and a long poem at the middle. It's a bold book, meditative at the end of a life. Very, very sad.

I've also been reading Best American Poetry 2013, guest edited by Denise Duhamel. She's made some nice pics, poems with absolutely absorb me. Most of the poems lean toward narrative, which is my sweet spot. Terrific.


To-Do List

1. Start working with publisher on second manuscript
2. Revise three poems
3. Submit poems out to two journals
4. Keep desk clean
5. Finish reading the non-fiction book I've put aside for three weeks
6. Begin Juno project. Again.
7. Read friend's manuscript
8. Let go of guilt for not posting this confession on Tuesday

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Yesterday, Part 2

After Wednesday's craziness, I went with the beautiful and talented Colleen Michaels to a reception at Montserrat College of Art for the unveiling of a large-scale project in downtown Beverly (where I live). The reception included a presentation on the funding awarded from the National Endowment for the Arts to create an arts and cultural district.

Also, I met Montserrat’s Artist-in-Residence Anna Schuleit Haber.

In early 2013, Anna was chosen as the finalist, from a field of 75 artists, to submit designs for public art in downtown Beverly, as part of the National Endowment for the Arts, (NEA) Arts and Cultural District Public Art Competition, hosted by the city of Beverly, Montserrat College of Art and Beverly Main Streets. Last night, she gave an overview of her body of work (amazing!), presented some of her past installations (whoa!), and introduced us to her winning proposal:

The Beverly Oracle (Ghost in the Machine: Ancient Oracle Returns at Dawn of Digital Era)

It’s complicated but cool. It will have city-wide locations, but the focal point will be “a freestanding, ground level, single-room structure with a roof and tall glass windows that contains the Beverly Oracle.”  It will be visual and interactive. AND there will be a significant poetry component.

My head is spinning with possibilities, but mostly, I am reminded why I love where I live. I love that our city would back such a large-scale art project, and that poetry will be a part of it. Not just local poets, but the plan (at this writing) is to include poets from across the country.

I believe the completion is scheduled for sometime in 2015. I get tingly thinking about the possibilities.


The reception and this project gave me something fantastic to think about after a very long, strange day.


Check out Anna's site-specific project for the Fine Arts Center at UMass Amherst, 2010, involving a face, a pond, and wild ducks.


So Wednesday I usually teach four classes at Salem State University, but mid morning this happened.

At approximately 11:10 AM on September 25, 2013, an Assault with a dangerous weapon/ knife was reported to have occurred on one of the University Shuttle busses in the Central Campus parking lot.  Female Victim attacked by unknown male and sustained laceration to arm, male victim (Bus Driver) attempted to assist victim and was stabbed in chest.  Female treated on scene and male transported to local hospital.
Scary stuff. The campus community was then asked to "shelter in place." So for almost three hours, we were in lockdown. I stayed in my office, told my last class of the day to stay safe, and waited it out in my office. Fortunately, the injured parties are OK and the assailant was arrested last night about 100 miles away in Chatham, NY.  The whole experience was nerve-wracking; it felt like a true invasion of a sacred space.

Today, I am fine. Hanging out at Starbucks until I head home to grade papers all afternoon. But I'll be out and about this afternoon and evening for not one, not two, but three events, one of which is a fiction reading on campus.

Just didn't feel like going to campus today. This is the second time in six months I've been a part of shelter- in-place incidents. I need a little time to decompress.

A big thank you to the campus police, SSU administration, and Salem Police for containing the situation.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Confession Tuesday

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

Since my post on rejection slips, I've been thinking a lot about the submission process. Boy, it is hard putting ourselves out there every time we send out a query, a batch of poems, or a manuscript. It's the thankless, labor-intensive part of our work that has nothing to do with creation. Written with the best intentions--with our best skills and prettiest, bravest words; long and short lines; enjambments and slant rhymes--sometimes our poems cannot find a home.

That moment just after my poems enter the world is my favorite--anything is possible. But often they come back rejected. Sad little poems.

It's hard to stay optimistic about publishing. Most days, I feel the deck is stacked against us. I know so many good writers plugging away, honing their craft, reading their work before small, dedicated crowds, teaching their classes, working behind the scenes at a small press--many of whom will never get a manuscript published. There are just too many good writers out there competing for the same crumbs from the table.

Every time we make it to the page, we open a vein. Every. Single. Time. If you're not leaving a little of yourself on the page, then you're not doing it right. So today I want to sing the praises of those of us who risk a little of piece of ourselves each time we send out poems in the world. This work is hard. I liken it to going up for an audition. It's not just a job for us, it's our soul on the stage each time, with someone in the shadows deciding if we're good enough. Every time we put pen to paper we reveal some truth about ourselves and that's pretty damn scary. Submittble and email doesn't make it any less scary, just quicker.

So here's to us. We are the doers. We know poetry is worth the risk so we take it, time and time again, in hopes of finding a larger community. I say, keep your heads down and your spirits up. You are not alone.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Staying Open

Here's my daughter, Ella, petting a dog standing on a fire hydrant.

We were walking around Salem with some friends when we came across a man and his dog doing tricks. A few passers by stopped to take pictures with smartphones, and when someone asked why isn't this dog on a show like America's Got Talent, the owner said, "Because his first job is being a good dog." And that was good enough for us.

A few minutes after, I elbowed my son saying "See what happens when you stay open?"

Alex did not want to walk around Salem on Saturday. He wanted to toss the football around with friends, play video games, and eat junk food--typical kid stuff. Not a bad day, really. But I felt like we needed to do something different as a family. So we walked around a neighboring town. Turned out to be a fun afternoon, the last day of summer. Not only did the kids see some of Salem's wicked charm, we met this amazing dog and his owner.

I am constantly telling my kids to stay open to new possibilities. Don't shut down. Don't say no until you've tried. It's hard to put into practice, but I am grateful for days when I can show rather than tell.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Do We Keep Rejection Slips?

So I was reading this post on the Pshares blog, which I liked. But I was struck by this passage:

5. Keep your rejection slips. This is the life, brothers and sisters. It ain’t pretty, and those rejection slips are your battle scars. Put them in a folder or envelope or drawer or that little box where you used to stash your reefer. Sending your work out is hard. By that I don’t mean that it’s labor-intensive (especially now that more and more outlets are accepting online submissions), but that it’s emotionally draining. You have worked on that story/essay/poem for what? Two months? A year? More? And now you are putting it out there to be judged. Hold on to these little notes as reminders that you are doing your job.

For a long time I believed this. I mean, if you're in a grad program that's what you're told. "Keep your rejections and then one day, when you're successful, you can laugh about them." After 15 years of keeping rejects do you know what I have? A file full of rejection slips--many of which are still used by those same publishers. Do I feel stronger, empowered, satisfied with a fat file of faded slips? No. Not in the least.

No one ever says keep your break-up letters, parking tickets, overdue library notices, or payment failure notifications. So why in the world do we keep our rejection slips? I've been rejected by some of the best journals, but a rejection is still a rejection. I believe in battle scars but I want my scars to heal. I don't need a reminder about how hard the po-biz is. I know it in my bones. I still submit anyway.

Every once in a while I get a nice rejection from an editor who really wanted to publish my work but chose not to. Great, but even if you liked my work you still didn't take it. A rejection is a rejection is a rejection. If you put lipstick on a pig do you know what you get? A rejection.

In the digital age, why are we holding on to these reminders? Admittedly, I keep all my electronic correspondence regarding submissions, including the rejections, in a submissions folder on email. This is just stupid on my part. It just makes me a virtual hoarder.

Rejection slips hold bad energy. What's more emotionally draining then reminders of past failures? Even using them as scrap paper is just bad juju. I'd rather move on to the next journal or zine interested in publishing my work. They're out there. That's what my battle scars have taught me. I don't need a slip of paper to remind me of it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Confession Tuesday

If it's Tuesday, it's time for your confessions. Share and share alike. You know you want to.

I've been living in the space of gratitude. I really do think it's carryover from this summer, but this weekend it's been an especially powerful force. Spent much of the weekend visiting with friends from all corners of my life. We spent time over food, over books, over poems.


Today I am grateful for my poet friends. You know who you are.

They are my tribe. They give me space to risk things and pull me back when I’ve gone too far. Their feedback is not only helpful but mindful. It’s more than reading poem drafts and encouraging me to submit. We constantly talk about what poetry can do for us and our community. We encourage each other to stay open to possibilities. And while we’re not completely happy with our writing lives, I like the energy they put into the world. Does that make sense?  

I hope you, dear reader, have people in your (writing) lives who want the best for you. It's more than your inner circle, because sometimes writers want to see other writers fail. Stay away from those downdrafts. You want those writers who "poet-up," put pen to paper and say: "I'm ready for what I don't know. Bring it!"  


Yes, I said "poet-up." Deal!


I've also changed how I feel about procrastination. Procrastination rules!

No more do I see it as negative. I see it as the way to organize my day, a way of prioritizing by urgency. What needs my attention most. If my writing calls me to the page, so be it. If my children need me, then the writing waits.


“Your crown has been bought and paid for. All you have to do is put it on your head”

                                                                                                            -- James Baldwin

Monday, September 16, 2013

Call for Proposals: Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Dear Poets, Poetry Organizations, Presses, and Editors:

The Sixth Massachusetts Poetry Festival will be held May 2–4, 2014 in beautiful downtown Salem, Massachusetts.

The submission period for the festival is now open. You may submit your proposal to https://goodmeasures.wufoo.com/forms/program-proposal-for-2014-mass-poetry-festival/. The period will run from September 15 to October 30.

Only submissions made in the online form provided will be considered. While there is no fee to submit program proposals, any expenses incurred in the process of submission will be the responsibility of the program/project organizer(s). You may submit up to two proposals (no pseudonyms, please). Because of scheduling constrains, poets and presenters may participate in no more than two accepted events.

The festival seeks programming that encompasses the diversity of Massachusetts poets. Within that diversity, we will select the highest quality content and presentation possible. We seek diversity of age, region of the state, language, gender, background, race, and ethnicity. Additionally, we want to encourage a range of presentations—in particular, from people who are submitting proposals with us for the first time.

While we welcome all types of programming, we especially encourage programming geared to the following topics:

· Poetry of place
· Multicultural poetry
· Poetry and pop culture
· Poetry of work
· Poetry of conscience
· Poetry of gender and sexual orientation
· Poetry in translation
· Poetry and the body
· Poetry and aging
· Poetry and the arts (theater, music, visual arts)
· Poetry and the environment
· Sessions specifically for college students, high school students, and children and families

We are looking for group poetry readings, workshops, panel discussions, and performances that involve music, theatre, dance, and/or visual arts.

Note: The festival does not schedule individual poets for readings. We will, however, accept proposals from individuals for workshops. All other programs are for groups of poets and presenters.

Our criteria for submissions are based on the following:

1. Originality—Is this proposal truly unique from what we have seen at prior Mass Poetry Festivals?

2. Quality—Is this a proposal for high quality programming? Is there evidence—references, examples of previous performances—that demonstrate that quality?

3. Diversity—Does the program reflect the festival’s values?

4. Audience—Will this program help build a larger audience? Everyone who participates must help publicize the festival in smart, creative ways.

If you have questions, please send them to info@masspoetry.org.


January O'Neil
Executive Director, Massachusetts Poetry Festival


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