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 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


January O'Neil
Executive Director, Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Confession Tuesday

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

Despite a brisk morning workout, I was feeling pretty blah today until I walked through the heavy wooden door at the Salem Athenaeum. I instantly felt lighter. I spent the morning sitting around a large, wood table with a few friends who have come to work on various projects. We work in silence.

Writing is mostly solitary work so it's nice to work together alone.


Have you ever written so much work that you don't have time to stop and revise?

The two writers retreats that I attend this summer really helped me to create a space so that I can write more easily. And after a week or two of settling into the new school year, I'm writing at a frenetic pace. But now I have poem drafts backing up. It's a little overwhelming to have some much stuff to work on. I'm afraid if I stop working on new work, that well will dry out.

One thing I have noticed is that my style of writing is changing. A little less circular, slightly more lyric. Still unclear to me where all of it will end up. But if I were to stop today, I would have enough poems for my third manuscript. Scary.


After chatting with one of my poet friends who is going through the same thing--writing lots of work but not revising--what I think I will do is take time this weekend to get caught up. Our new campus library is open and stunningly beautiful. It also has a coffee bar. The perfect space for me to craft new work.


Another good week of classes. Students seem to be engaged, which makes my job so much easier. Who knows how long it will continue.

As for me, my to-do list is manageable. The kids are good. I'm working out, eating well (mostly), could get a little more sleep. Life is good.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Kibbles and Bits

Here's a TED-Ed video on how to write a slam poem. It's actually a nice video on how to write a poem.


"Some people get squirrely when a poet talks about money; they seem to think we’re happy to read for free as long as someone can scare up a dozen people to sit and listen. No one expects a mechanic to change their oil for free or the vet to worm their dog, but it doesn’t occur to some folks that a poet is like anyone else who’s put in time and effort to learn a craft and has a right to be paid to practice it.

Charles Coe on the State of Poetry at Mass Poetry's Website.


"6. Bioluminesce. Write sentences in a darkened room. Lie on the floor and have other people gently rearrange your limbs. A poetry of hotel rooms, jungles and urban aquariums."

From "How To Write A Poem" by Bhanu Kapil


Made it through the first week of classes. Woo hoo! So much chaos around campus, but there's an abundance of good energy in our little community. Cool.


Go Red Sox!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Confession Tuesday

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

What is in the shadow box frame, you ask? It is a tortilla chip shaped like Emily Dickinson! We discovered it over a group lunch, I think, back in May after the Mass Poetry Festival. For some reason, my friend Lis framed it and gave it to me as a gift to commemorate the start of fall classes. Looks as good as the day it was found. I'm surprised she kept it for so long.

The likeness is striking.

I wonder is there's any kind of preservative on the chip? What happens to a chip over time? Which will loose its crunch faster, the chip or me? Check in at the end of the semester to find out.

Thanks, Lis. Very cool. Best. Gift. EVAH!


Speaking of wilting, I am exhausted after Day One back on campus. I should mention that I went to the gym then mowed the lawn before going to campus at 10 a.m. No teaching today, just meetings and class prep. I'll teach four classes Wednesday. Then later I went to my writing workshop.

When I got home tonight, I laid down at 10:30 p.m. and couldn't move. Then I remembered my day started at 5 a.m.


I have a new poem in Rattle! And while I'm excited about all the journals and sites that publish my work, I'm thrilled to be in their single parent issue. I'm touched by all poems and stories in this issue. Rattle has a print and online version, so I encourage you to support them by picking up a subscription or downloading the ebook.


Sent out my Sustainable Arts grant application just under the wire. Procrastination, anyone?


Sunday night I sent out a few submissions, one of which to Beloit Poetry Journal. About 14 hours later, I got a rejection. Yikes! I know they are quick to reject, but gosh. Couldn't they have waited until after Labor Day?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Denise Duhamel: Sorry, Google Doesn't Know Jealousy

Denise Duhamel: Sorry, Google Doesn't Know Jealousy from Didi Menendez on Vimeo.

Jealousy is not participating in this video when asked.

From Didi Menendez: poem by Denise Duhamel. (Drat!)

Read by 65 poets including Terrance Hayes, Richard Blanco, Collin Kelley, Michelle Buchanan, Diego Quiros, Emma Trelles, Amy Gerstler, Maureen Seaton, Matthew Hittinger, Stephen Mills, Major Jackson, Duriel Harris, more. Video is part of the FIXATION gallery event taking place at the Zhou B Art Center April 2014. For more information stop by

Check out my four poems in the August issue.


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