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!


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