Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Confession Tuesday

It's the last (Confession) Tuesday of the year. Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.


This is my last visit to Starbucks for 2014. I managed to squeeze in a few minutes between a kids' sleepover, play dates, and afternoon basketball practice. Heck, I'm just thrilled to do a Tuesday post on Tuesday.

In my Poetry Action Plan post, I talked about these guiding ideals for less stress:

  • Laugh more
  • Love more 
  • Save more 
  • Stretch more
It almost feels like a cliche to talk about finding balance and telling stress to take a hike. Everyone's too busy. Everyone's overextended. This is the new normal. Most of the time I can handle the pressure, but when it affects my home life or my writing life, it's time to slow down a bit. The idea of making a conscious effort to do these things seems silly. I mean, how hard is it not to check email or stay in the moment when it really counts?

Turns out, it's really friggin' hard for me.

Whenever I make these resolutions, the ultimate goal is to make the actions as routine as breathing. If I need to do it in an obvious or public way to accomplish it, so be it. 


I will finish off the year with 48 poems, unless I find enough time to finish three drafts and write two poems. Probably not going to happen. It's not about the quantity, it's the quality. But who knows, I'm up for the challenge. I'm looking forward to next week, however, when the kids are back in school and I can find a little time to get back into the swing of things.

Happy New Year, folks!

Poetry Action Plan 2015

Is it time to look at goals again?

I absolutely love love love the idea of a clean slate. I love mapping out a direction, veering off course occasionally, and finding my way in the end. I love ending the year a little stronger, a little more curious than before. That's why having a plan for the year is important. How can I know where I'm  going if I don't know where I've been?

Focus has been difficult for me the past few months. Stress has played a major part of my day-to-day interactions, so much so that as I approach year’s end, I’m not sure what my goals should be for 2015. In any case, here’s a quick look back on 2014. (My reflections are noted in red.)

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.
***I think I was present until late October. Once the fall semester kicked in, I found it hard to stay centered.

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.
***Despite a few delays, Misery Islands was born! I did what I could to promote it, but I see the first few months of 2015 as my time to give it a proper launch.

Complete Manuscript #3
After I revise, I’m hoping I can cobble out a new collection. Maybe two.
***Well … I do have enough for a manuscript. But it needs more of something I just can't name yet. Love? 

Complete the Juno Project
These poems are waiting on me to write them. This could be m’script #4
***I wrote a sonnet crown in November, but I haven’t looked at these poems since then. The plan is to pick it up in January …eh … next week.

For 2015, my Poetry Action Plan (PAP) is based on de-stressing:
  • Laugh more
  • Love more 
  • Save more 
  • Stretch more 

Notice I did not say write more. I did not say write X amount of poems, win a big grant, read at a bunch of colleges and bookstores, etc. The idea of being present is always with me and helps me stay grounded. Trust me, I’m probably more interested in book sales and scoring big publications than your average poet. But I’m happier if I listen to my creative side more often than my business side (but both are important).

So without further ado, my 2015 PAP.

Risk More
Risk more? What’s more stressful than risk? I don’t know. I’ll let you know how it turns out next December. In terms of writing, the real question I’m asking myself is, what am I risking every time I approach the page? What am I risking in my personal life? I think I need a new challenge. But maybe what I need is more laughter and more love, which means I need to be more vulnerable. Again, what’s more stressful than that?

Market Misery
I want to get Misery Islands into the hands of new readers (read: nonpoets). That takes a lot more creativity on my part. How can I find a broader audience for my work? I want to reach those people who say, “I don’t read poetry, but I like your work.” Those potential readers are open to something new.

Finish the Third Manuscript
I bet I could finish it up this week if I really set my mind to it. But it needs a little love, and I need to iron out the rough spots. At one point, I wanted to have this book finished before Misery was published. Now I don’t care as much. I just want my poems to shine.

Complete Juno Cycle/4th Manuscript
I don’t know what the Juno poems will be, so I’m giving myself a wide berth here. I’m pushing up against uncomfortable subjects—can’t back down now.

While on the surface, these goals are similar to last year's. But the first goal supersedes all others. Here's to trying and failing and failing again. I'm in it for the long haul.

Want to create your own Poetry Action Plan? Check out last year's post.

Good luck!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

How You Like Me Now?

Recently, I read a Facebook post by poet Sean Thomas Dougherty as he looks back at his professional career and on being a literary citizen. He says, “... through hard work, sincerity, kindness, and a dedication to my art, and the support of so many friends, I continue to grow and accomplish a good deal. So much of success in literature is simply that: kindness and hard work.” I believe that wholeheartedly. (If I could add to Sean's sentiment, persistence is the engine of hard work. It gets you into those places that talent alone can’t reach.)

I can bitch and moan about the system as much as the next poet, but it’s important to convey my complete and utter gratitude for the year that was 2014. Sean also reminds me that we don’t do this work alone. Being a literary citizen mean supporting the work of others just because it’s the right thing to do. Without community, poetry becomes irrelevant. So, here’s my top-10 way-cool accomplishments/events/shindigs list, none of which would be possible without you, dear reader, dear literary citizen.

  1. In November, Misery Islands was released! Book #2 is alive and well in the world taking its first breaths. There were times this year when I didn’t think it would see the light of day, but CavanKerry Press came through with a beautiful book. I am ready to guide it into the New Year with lots of love and light.

  2. While I didn’t publish many individual poems, about 10 of them were picked up by online journals or lit mags, most notably the Academy of American Poets, New England Review, Paterson Literary Review, and American Poetry Review. APR should be out any day—the Jan/Feb issue. Fitting. I also published a few notable articles, including this one on the passing of Maya Angelou.

  3. Dodge, Dodge, Dodge, Dodge, Dodge! Need I say more? 

  4. It was another successful year for the Mass Poetry Festival and Mass Poetry. I’m often recognized for my work with the organization, but the unsung heroes of our group includes Michael Ansara, Laurin Macios, Jackie Malone, Brandy Moore, Nicco Mele, and a host of amazing, dedicated volunteers and visionaries.

  5. This was the year I felt most connected with my poetry circle of friends. Can’t explain it because we’re always moving in and out of each others’ lives. But this year felt different—good different. Maybe because there was a lot to celebrate for all of us. My tribe: Kevin Carey, Erin Dionne, Rona Jaffe Award-Winner Danielle Jones-Pruett, Jennifer Jean, Lis Horowitz, Jenn Martelli, Colleen Michaels, J.D. Scrimegour, and Cindy Veach. Special shout out to Afaa Michael Weaver, Joseph O. Legaspi, and Susan Rich. Love, love, and more love! 

So for the next few days, I celebrate myself. And you! You’ve given me the fuel to continue one more year. 2015 goals to come.

How you like me now?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Verse inspired by the Misery Islands

Thanks to Will Broaddus at the Salem News for this article in the Salem News! (My kids were surprised and thrilled to see their picture in the paper.)

Here's an excerpt:

"The poem 'Misery Islands' narrates her journey and describes the two islands, but is also a reflection on the poet’s recent divorce.
'We were never of one body,' she writes. 'You said wind. I said water. / And whatever has connected us has disappeared.'

The image draws on the fact, which O’Neil describes, that one Misery island can be reached from another by wading at low tide.
Most of O’Neil’s poems work in this way, illustrating life lessons in figures of speech that are directly drawn from experience."

Read the entire article, and buy the book!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Join me for a very special event. Help provide Boston youth with books for the holidays.


Mr. Hip Presents: Reading Series’and benefit raffle
December 20
ROOM83 Spring,
83 Spring Street
Watertown, MA

Presented in coordination with ReadBoston, Mayor Walsh’s early literacy program, 826 Boston, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting youth ages 6-18, and Grub Street’s Young Adult Writer’s Program, Mr. Hip Presents is hosting a fundraiser at our reading on December 20th in order to provide the youth involved with these educational literacy programs books for the upcoming holidays.

To celebrate the evening, we will host a reading with poets January Gill O’Neil, Simeon Berry, Adam Fitzgerald (virtual), Cecily Iddings, and more with special musical guest and classical pianist, Kyle Aaron. 

Raffle tickets are on sale for $5 and will be available until 6 p.m. on December 20. Our winners will be released on our website and Twitter account throughout the reading on the 20th. Raffle tickets can be purchased on the webpage.

The best part of this fundraiser for the youth is that all can participate. Anybody can purchase a raffle ticket. You do not need to live in the Boston area to win a prize. For all of our information regarding the fundraiser regarding prizes and raffle ticket links, please visit: http://mrhippresents.com/benefit-raffle

Thanks and looking forward to your help with this valuable cause. And remember: #HipKidsRead!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. After a bit of a break, it's good to be back. Share a little of yourself here and I promise to do the same.

I'm feeling a little like this today: partly cloudy. I'm in a but of a rut. A big part of it is grading and the work that comes with finishing up the semester. That will end this week. Unfortunately, I know that the only way out is through, so I'm going back to all of those strategies that help me manage my mood. Blogging is a big part of that.


Blogging gives me a chance to process what's going on with me in a creative way. Even finding the right photo cheers me up.


Since writing 30 poems in November, I haven't written anything this month. I'm sure that has something to do with my mood as well. This past weekend is normally the weekend I go Mendham, New Jersey for a writers' retreat with Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss--but I didn't go this week. Part of me regrets not going.

Once I finish up my grading (and maybe even before that), I'll write five more poems to finish up the year with 52.


Congrats to Danielle Legros Georges on becoming Boston's second poet laureate! There seems to be a lot of buzz right now about a Massachusetts poet laureate. Hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Misery Islands is now available. Pick up a copy as a gift this holiday season!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

CLAUDIA EMERSON - Poets in Person - Episode 5

I met Claudia once at AWP Boston, and I had the opportunity to tell her how much Late Wife helped me through the writing of Misery Islands. I acted like a starstruck fan, a bit off-putting if you're a poet trying to get to your next event.

On Facebook, she chronicled her illness with honesty and hope. This video from the Cortland Review is a lovely piece about her life in 2012.

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy first Tuesday of December! Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Photo courtesy of Scott Booth

Look at that, my two babies. Well, my other two babies. Misery Islands and Underlife make great stocking stuffers this holiday season. Go out and purchase your copies today!

My poem, "A Mother's Tale," is up on CavanKerry Press' Web site.


The November PAD challenge has come to an end, and I managed to write 30 poems! Fifteen of those poems were sonnets (terrible sonnets) for my Juno series. Woo hoo! I'll revise those in January before the spring semester. Of the remaining 15, I may hold onto 12 of them. There's nothing more satisfying that completing the challenge knowing that even on the days I felt I was mailing it in, I wrote a few decent drafts.


I needed this November to balance out my hectic schedule. I used to think that writing a poem a day was about quantity--but it's about quantity. I don't feel the need to write a good poem each time I sit down with my journal. Some days, good enough is OK. And during these challenges, I don't write a poem every day. I try to, but if I don't then I let the poems back up and write two or three in a day. By month's end I have  30 poems to show for my efforts.

I. did. it.


We have lost many great poets this year. A whole generation of them, including Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Galway Kinnell, and now Mark Strand--and many more I know I'm forgetting. Just an incredible year of loss. And I hate rediscovering a poet when they leave us. I feel as if I should have been reading them all along.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mark Strand: Peering into Nothingness

R.I.P. Mark Strand. This is an audio excerpt from a three-year old interview with Terry Gross's show Fresh Air.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Confession Tuesday

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

Like many of us, I am saddened by the outcome of the Grand Jury in Ferguson. Facebook and Twitter have been most active with outpourings of grief, anguish, disgust. My hope is that the conversations that happen virtually make their way into our communities in a form of action. I can appreciate the protests, but what I would like to see is more empathy, more compassion in the world.

One of the best ways to do that is to model this behavior for my children. Not easy to do when someone cuts me off while driving or jumps in front of me at the deli counter. But that's where this distrust starts. That's when we stop seeing people as people and start seeing them as other. I've tried to write about this subject and each time I get a little closer to what I truly mean.

I'm first-generation removed from the Civil Rights Movement; my kids are second generation. They've grown up in our "post-racial" (quotation marks to imply skepticism) society where a black man has been president almost all of their lives. It's hard to convey the concern I have for the well-being of my kids, as I'm sure it was difficult for my parents convening their concerns to me. I grew up in a trust-but-verify household. It's hard to embolden my kids to do that when they trust everyone. And they should, until someone gives them a reason not to trust.


Thanksgiving is upon us, so today and for as long as I can I living in the space of gratitude. I'm sending a little light and love into the world for those who are suffering. It is taking all of  my strength to do so.


In thinking about Ferguson, I leave you with this round-up on readings from The Poetry Foundation:
Black Lives Matter: A Roundup of Worthy Reads. And from her collection of readings around the Web, a short film from Claudia Rankine's Citizen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Huffington Poet: Susan Rich

The fabulous Hannah Stephenson has a mini-profile of the equally fabulous Susan Rich at Huff Post. Susan's latest poetry collection is Cloud Pharmacy. Here's an excerpt.

"And so the story goes. Eventually my own life crossed the border from working class rentals into the middle class. At 19, I left for England to study abroad and dropped out of college to travel. Eventually, with the support of student loans, umpteen waitressing jobs, the Peace Corps, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Amnesty International and the Fulbright Foundation, I would work in 7 countries from Bosnia Herzegovina to Gaza and the West Bank. Eventually.

"Perhaps this is why my poems like to travel. The idea of staying in one country, on one continent is antithetical to my experience. Eventually everything changes. This "e" word covers so many erasures, bus rides, cheap apartments, lost cats, spaghetti dinners, and heartbreaks. Eventually."   ~ Susan Rich

Read a few of Susan's poems, and go buy this lovely collection.

(In case you missed it, here's Hannan's mini-profile on me.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Misery Islands Book Launch - Recap

Thursday night was the official book launch of Misery Islands!

This was the first party in a long time in which I had nothing to do with planning. The event was hosted by Mass Poetry cofounders Michael Ansara and Nicco Mele at the St. Botolph Club in Boston. 

(Nicco received some really good news this week!)

The St. Botolph Club is a storied private club known for its advocacy and support of the arts in the Boston area. It's hard to argue in a room with a portrait of Robert Frost looking down on you. 

The pictures do not properly convey the buzz in the room. What they do convey is that I looked hot that night! You can't see it, but there's a gold zipped running down the back of this dress. I really have to think about where to wear this dress next. Morning drop off at my kids school? The grocery store? The post office? The possibilities are endless!

Usually, I'm running around in jeans and a turtleneck. Not tonight!

What the photos do convey is the joy I felt surrounded by friends and supporters. It reminds me when I'm slogging through festival spreadsheets or teaching metaphor and similes to creative writing students, I get to have a few moments like this. Pure joy. Makes it easier to go back to the spreadsheets.

Poet moms: l-r, Cindy Veach, Jennifer Martelli, Jennifer Jean, and me.

A few days have past, and I'm still feeling quite grateful. Special thanks to Michael, Nicco, Barney, and Lauren for taking such good care of me. I don't quite know what I did to deserve a night like this, but I am thankful. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, Folks. Share and share alike! Here's my share:

Misery Islands is here! After a delay at the printers, my copies came this morning. Woo hoo!


I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance to post about the book or the good press surrounding its release.

Tonight, I have the good fortune to read  my poems with Arts at the Armory in Somerville. I am lucky to be reading a few of my poems at 7 p.m tonight with two wonderful poets, Jacquelyn Malone and Michael Ansara. Mass Poetry is in the house!

The First and Last Word Poetry Series
Reading and Open Mic
Michael Ansara, Jackie Malone, and January Gill O'Neil

The Center for the Arts at the Armory
Poetry at the Café
191 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA, $4 Admission
Hope to see you there.


In other good news, 


And I have a few other things in the works. It's been a good month leading up to the book's release. I'm excited to see what Misery will do in the world. 

PAD Challenge: Checking in

It is day 18 of writing a poem a day and I've written 21 poems! Half of them are awesomely bad sonnets for my Juno series, but I finally have drafts down on paper.

I'm not lying when I say my sonnets are bad. No meter, terrible end rhymes. But there's something about the story that's compelling. They were easier to write than I thought; I can sit down and have two or three done in a few hours. I'll finish the series, write my drafts, and then decide if they're worth keeping.


Why do I do this to myself twice a year? Sometimes I think writing is about quantity, not quality--at first. I talk a good game about staying open, but doing it is another. And somehow, after a week, finding the time becomes much easier. Sixteen days into it, writing a poem a day has become a habit. There's a rhythm to this type of devotion, which requires a certain amount of sacrifice. It also takes the pressure of writing the perfect poem every time I open my journal.  

I tell my students if writing is the most important thing in our lives, then making time for it shouldn't be a problem. Writing a poem a day puts me to the test. 


It also helps to have a cheering squad. This month, there are five of us writing poems daily. We share them via email without judgement or comment. We do read them and comment if we feel so moved. Honestly, I'm glad no one is commenting. I like not having to explain or edit anything. It's like walking around naked without anyone telling you about your big butt. Our writing is flawed, no need to point out the obvious.


I struggled with a better example than the one listed above. Couldn't come up with one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Confession Tuesday

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

I'm writing a poem a day and so far I'm keeping up. Not easy to do, because I'm working on a sonnet crown. What is a sonnet crown, you ask? It is 15 sonnets. Poems 1-14 use the last line of the previous poem as the first line of the next poem. Poem 15 uses all the lines in the poem. My sonnets are Petrarchan, and--so far--have terrible rhymes and very little meter. My goal was to write them and fix them later.

In these poems, I'm telling the story of Juno Larcom a slave who lived in Beverly, MA. She had 12 children (11 survived). When some where sold into slavery, she sued for her freedom--you could do that in Massachusetts. She eventually won, but lived and worked for her slaveowners for the rest of her life. Just a fascinating story.

I've been reading Marilyn Nelson's Emmett Till poems for inspiration.


I just reread my sonnet crown--which feels like a paper hat, not a crown--Ugh


The beautiful and talented Nin Andrews interviewed me for CKP's Website.


Writing a poem a day is the one thing that throws me off of my sleep cycle. I'm in a terrible pattern where I go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up exhausted. Tonight is one of those nights, so I'm keeping this post short and sweet. Good night.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

"Sunday Morning Creep in Like a Nun."

Selfie with some of my favorite poets: Shari Caplan (leopard print bow tie), Jennifer Jean, and Enzo Surin. This is from last night's Mr. Hip Presents reading. There were six scheduled readers, as well as a Skyped-in reading from Dorianne Laux.

Didn't think I'd enjoy the Skype reading, but it was pretty cool.


Wow, what a week. I've had two readings this week but it feels like three. I went out to Shelburne Falls, which is on the other side of the state from me, to read with the Collected Poets Series. My thanks to Marie Gautier and Rose Carlson for being the hostesses with the mostestes! Here's Marie at work.


And this past Saturday, I read with J.D. Scrimgeour as part of the Salem Literary Festival. Gosh, what a well-attended event. Hats off to Brunonia Barry for breathing new life into the festival.


It's been so long since I've read at back-to-back events that I had forgotten how grueling it can be. And, I can't remember the last time I sold more than one book at a reading. Underlife is no spring chicken, but Misery (which is still not available according to Amazon.com), seems to be selling well--from the first few books I ave sold. That's really special to me. I have high hopes for this little book.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

"After Making Love We Hear Footsteps" by Galway Kinnell

Rest in Peace, Galway.

Kibbles and Bits

This past week was busier than I anticipated. Post Dodge, my return to normalcy has been about student advising and registration for next semester's classes. I'm pooped. But now that All Hallow's Eve has passed, I can focus on Misery Islands as well as planning the next Mass Poetry Festival.


Speaking of Misery, looks like Misery Islands will be delayed at the printer another week. *sigh* Tom Petty was right: the waiting is the hardest part.


In case you missed it, Nin Andrews wrote a great piece for Best American Poetry on the frustrations of marketing a poetry collection. 


I'm going to write a poem a day in November. What's that all about?


The photo above was taken earlier this week at Starbucks. Today I'm at home with the kids dreaming at Starbucks. There's a chance of snow in the forecast, so I'm hoping the kids and I can settle in and relax after begging for candy (a.k.a. trick or treating) throughout the neighborhood. 

Here's hoping I can get an hour on the couch with one of these titles.

Happy Saturday, folks.

Photos from Dodge

One week since the Dodge Poetry Festival, and I am still basking in the glow. I've been attending Dodge since 1996, so being a part of the lineup was an amazing experience. One of these days, I'll have to put together a montage of past festival experiences. For now, take a look at a few iPhone snapshots from this year's Dodge.

Festival Director Martin Farawell

Joseph Legaspi and Kundiman

Donna Baier Stein, Bejaminn Alire Saenz, Cathy Park Hong, and me after our reading

l-r, Jennifer Jean, Joseph Legaspi, me, Barney Arnold, Michael Ansara, and Jennifer Martelli

l-r, Marie Howe, Marilyn Nelson, and Tracy K. Smith

Friday, October 24, 2014

Good morning, Dodge

This is a picture of my all-access Dodge pin. *smile*

Last night's Poetry Sampler was a buffet, if you will, of poets. And I feasted. On stage: Jan Beatty, Richard Blanco, Eavan Boland, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Camille T. Dungy, Cathy Park Hong, Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rachel McKibbens, Anis Mojgani, Aja Monet, Sharon Olds, Alice Oswald, Robert Pinsky, James Richardson, Alberto Ríos, Patrick Rosal, Tracy K. Smith, Gary Snyder, Brian Turner, C. Dale Young, and Kevin Young. 

Each poet read about five minutes. Simply amazing. My heart was full.


I'm up early figuring out my schedule for a full day of poetry. The rain has moved out, for the most part.
Today, 4,500 high school students from across the state will be a part of a multitude of discussions on the art and craft of poetry. 

Some of the discussion topics:
Going Public with Private Feelings
Poets on Poetry
Present Imperfect: Poets on Poetry and Disability
Poetics of War: Writing the Militay Experience
From Homer to Hip Hop/Poetry and the Oral Tradition
Poetry and Performance
Saying the Unsayable

It's going to be a terrific day. How could it not be?  

Misery Islands should be in the Dodge bookstore this morning. I'm guessing the shipment was delayed due to weather. But I'm told copies will be here today. *big smile*

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Misery Islands!

Hello, Misery!

On Monday, I read with the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, and lo and behold, copies of Misery Islands arrived. Yay!

My thanks to Andrea Cohen and Porter Square books for arranging to get books direct from the printer. I had to buy my author copy, which was weird to say the least. I'm just happy Andrea let me know getting the book was even a possibility. Fortunately, Misery will be available for Dodge!


Thanks for CavanKerry Press for supporting book #2! You can preorder copies from CKP's Website
and save 20 percent!


Dodge, baby! I'm out like a scout. I'm headed down to Newark to participate as a reader at the Dodge Poetry Festival. I will try to blog and tweet on the go. And if you're in Newark, please stop by and say hello.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Taylor Mali: Typography

I have been showing this poem to my classes all day. It makes me happy. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks! Time for your confessions. Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Here we are at the Topsfield Fair. It's been a while since I'm taken a photo with the kids in the background. They're getting so big. "Time keeps on slipping into the future," as the song says.


I'm reading at the Blacksmith Poetry House on October 20, and if all goes well, copies of Misery Islands will be there! The scheduled release date is November 4, but the bookstore is having copies shipped from the printer.


I am trying not to be too hard on myself for not writing a poem. It’s been a series of fits and starts lately. The harder I try to hold onto a routine, the more disappointed I am in myself. Makes me wonder how grounded I am in the practice of writing.

That being said, I crave the oomph that comes from staying open. Sometimes writing is like turning on an old faucet—it takes a little time for the waters to run clear. And clear waters—or good writing— require patience and grit. Really, that means focusing on me more. Nothing beats that sense of achievement when I get a draft down. I know this. I know this. I know this.

Yeah, I’ve been missing that feeling. Hoping to grit it out over the next few days.


When I stay open, all is possible.


Sometimes these blog posts are my own personal pep talks.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Moving Poems

How much do I love Moving Poems?

This is a perfect example of what happens when you put a poem into the world, and you're pleasantly surprised when it comes back to you.

Dave Bonta has taken my poem, "Prayer," and "The Ethics of Mothers" by Rachel Barenblat and combined them into one video. The images are striking, and I love the cosmic treatment at the end. Never envisioned my work in this way, which is both humbling and cool.

Also thanks to The Poetry Storehouse for giving my poems life after life.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. You know the drill.

This week, Oct 6-10, I’m guest blogging for Best American Poetry! I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts with a larger audience.

My first post: Welcome to the Poet Party


That being said, I’m doing a ton o' writing this week. I don’t think I can focus on poetry until the weekend. Between the blog post, a book chapter I'm writing (I’m a contributor), and grading, I’m spending a lot of energy—not as efficiently as I would like. I’m OK with that. In fact, it’s been challenging in a good way. Maybe I needed this surge in output to keep me motivated.


The time map is still in effect, but I’m a little off track. Again, if I can get all of my grading done, I should be fine. Much of my day is spent quelling the feeling that I have an overwhelming amount of stuff on my plate. The time map helps me keep it in perspective.

What's the first thing to fall off the list? Exercise, then poetry. *sigh* Hoping to get lots of writing time in this weekend. I'm still sleeping, that's the most important thing,


My baby boy became a pre-teen this past weekend, 11 years old. When the first nurse put his little body in my arms, I thought, “Who is this stranger?” Now, he’s a young man. I spend all this time getting to know him, an in a few years I have to let him go.


Short but sweet today. Have a great week!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Staying Open

My thanks to Nina Romano and Bridle Path Press for posting my article "Staying Open," as part of their From the Masters series. Here's an excerpt:

What this practice has taught me is to stay open, to not put so much pressure on myself. When I experience poetry—meaning when I read it, write it, share it or speak it—I connect myself to the world. It’s Whitman’s barbaric yawp from rooftops and hearing someone answer back. Poetry yawps back, says, “I get it. I understand you.”

Read more at Bridle Path Press. Their From the Masters series is terrific.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Confession Tuesday

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

This is the view of the waters off of Provincetown, MA, also known as Ptown or P-town.

Here's pic of two poets throwing shade. 

Joseph Legaspi and me. Photo by his husband, David. (that Captain America shirt is my favorite T-shirt. I'd wear it all the time if I could.)

I was in town less than 24 hours, but it was just what I needed to fill my soul.

Last week was a weird week. Not good or bad, just weird, and Wednesday was the culmination of all the weirdness. My favorite bracelet broke. I was being evaluated in one of my classes, which went fine but bring brings its own energy to the day. Then I locked my keys in a coworkers office, and to top it all off, my car wouldn't start. Just a strange, strange day. 

I first went to Provincetown to study with Marie Howe last July at the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC). I thought it was more hype than anything else. I mean, I live near a beach so going to the Cape didn't seem like a big deal. But being in Ptown with it's relaxed vibe and good energy did wonders for my writing. It did wonders for my soul. Marie says the waters around Ptown are restorative, and she's right. That good feeling I had last summer at FAWC lasted until March of this year, and then it was gone. I've been seeking it ever since. 

Fast forward to Saturday, when I left the weirdness behind and went to see my friends for a brief visit. As soon as I put my feet in the water, a part of me was home. In fact, the place Joseph and David rented was a stone's throw from FAWC. Thankfully, the words have come back. That part of me that wants to remain open and in communion with everything wants to write. There's a difference between wanting to write and making yourself write. So far, I've written three poems and three articles in the past 48 hours. 

I am not one to miss signs--I believe they are everywhere--and the whole of my being had been urging me to get back to Provincetown. I just didn't know it until I was there. 

With gratitude, I thank Joseph and David for my time with them, and for helping me restore my soul. What a gift! What a gift. 

My Time Map

Click to Enlarge

This is a time map. I'm in my fourth week of using it and I have to say it's helped me immensely.

A time map works in the same way a budget works to see where money is spent. I use a weekly grid to see how I can use my time more wisely. This is not a new idea. In fact, those more savvy in Excel can use colors and tabs and whatnot. I like the simple grid lines of Word.

At the start of the school year, I was feeling the potential for being overwhelmed by student appointments. And with a new book coming out, it's easy to see how writing time gets swallowed up. Writing is always the first thing to go. Why is that?

I've done time maps years before when the kids were much younger, but I was inspired by poet Jennifer Jean as she was looking for ways to make sure things weren't slipping through the cracks. I like this approach because it forces me to be a little more present in my schedule. I've also found out a lot about my habits. I wasn't sleeping enough, and writing was jammed between kid appointments and grading.

I'm four weeks into this and I know that I'm not reading or exercising enough. But my sleep has improved, and I'm more on top of things at work. Mass Poetry is gearing up, so I've plotted out time to get things done. The time map is flexible. I check it daily and shift items when something pressing comes along. Again, this is just a simple grid (I'm showing last week's time map), but it only works if I'm willing to abide by it.

Today, for instance, I'm working on blog posts instead of poetry. That's OK. I can find time later today or Thursday. Big picture? I'm taking care of my needs without completely ignoring all the other to-do's in my life.

Give it a try and let me know if it works for you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Confession Tuesday

(I don't even know what book this display is for. I just like Ella's big ol' head in the center.) 

Happy Tuesday, folks. Hope your week is starting out on a good note. 

Finally, things are beginning to level out. Fall has arrived. There's a chill in the air. The kids and I have found a groove to our school/work week. And, I feel as if I'm able to catch my breath--not that I'm any less busy. Well, it's either getting easier, or I'm better at navigating change. 


So I am on week three of using a Time Map. 

What's a Time Map, you ask? 

I've mapped out my Monday-Friday as a grid, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It helps me to figure out how best to use my time. If I was trying to figure out ways to save money, I'd figure out where I was spending it by creating a budget. Similarly, a Time Map helps me see where I have gaps in time, which I then fill with writing, or whatever else needs my attention. It's also helpful to see where I can fit in more grading. 

The Time Map is a fluid thing. If an unscheduled meeting pops up, or the kids want to do something I haven't planned for, it throws the entire day off. But, it's easier to see where I can make up the time. Something tells me I should post it so you can see what I mean. Will try to do that tomorrow.

Time Maps only work if you use them.


I am writing this post from Starbucks (yes, I budgeted the time in my Time Map).


Just picked up the latest Best American Poetry, guest edited by that genius Terrance Hayes! Over-the-moon happy for Terrance, Yona, and their beautiful family. 

I've enjoyed reading previous editions of Best American Poetry edited by Denise Duhamel and Mark Doty, so I'm looking forward to getting lost in the pages. 


I've starting working on the Juno poems. Thanks, Time Map!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014 Rona Jaffe Awards Ceremony

This past Thursday, I was privy to watch my good friend Danielle Jones-Pruett receive a Rona Jaffe Writers Award. The foundation and the prizes are exclusively in support of women writers. Six prizes were awarded this year to Olivia Clare, Karen Hayes, T.L. Khleif, Mara Naselli, Solmaz Sharif, and Danielle, of course. The ceremony on Thursday marked 20 years since the award has been given.

It was a wonderful event and, most important, it's the kind of award that encourages emerging writers in their pursuits. 

Like all of the recipients, Danielle has worked tirelessly on her craft, so I'm thrilled that she's getting the recognition she deserves. Her project will focus on a chemical company's lasting effects on her hometown in Alabama.

You can find some of Danielle's poems up at Apt and Cumberland River Review.

(Woo hoo! Atta girl!)

MEET THE PRESS: January Gill O’Neil in Conversation with Alison Meyers of Cave Canem

The kind folks at Best American Poetry published my conversation with Alison Meyers, Executive Director of the Cave Canem Foundation, and me. My thanks to Alison, and to Nin Andrews for all her help.

I attended the second Cave Canem retreat in 1997, shortly after its founding in 1996. The impressive part of the interview, for me, is the list of milestones since 1996. So many honors and accolades since then. Alison has been a huge part of the organizations success. 

If anything, read the interview to find out how Cave Canen got its name. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday folks. I am writing with from the Gulu, one of the local haunts in Salem (pun intended). The picture is of three of my poet friends who asked me to join them at their table, but I'm so tired and unfocused today that I'm electing to be by myself. I need some quiet time.

Tonight is our workshop night, so I'll see them there. 


The past few days I've been working on my reappointment binder. For those not in academia, this is a collection of materials, from syllabi to assignments to everything I did last academic year. I known this was coming since May, but, of course, I waited until the last days to get it all together. It's done, turned in, probably needs revisions because I'm new to how departments work, but it's done.

I'm celebrating with a bowl of chipotle sweet potato soup.

Needless to say, I haven't written much. But I'm a little bored of writing pieces based on free writes. My third manuscript was created because I had time to free write. 

What I have been recently is jumping back into the Juno Larcom research, also known as book #4. The poems are there, I just have to write them, and they are calling. Maybe they've always called to me, but I hear them now, louder than ever before. 


A writer friend of mine created a five-year plan for her career. She's published a few fiction titles; I wouldn't be surprised if she gets a movie deal someday. Many of us have financial plans, and life plans, so why not plot out the goals and the steps it takes to get there? I may be making my own five-year plan in the near future.

Mass Poetry Festival: Call for Submissions

Call for Proposals for the 2015 Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Dear Poets, Poetry Organizations, Presses, and Editors:

The Seventh Massachusetts Poetry Festival will be held May 1–3, 2015 in beautiful downtown Salem, Massachusetts.

The submission period for the festival is now open. You may submit your proposal here. 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:

• First-time festival presenters
• Poetry of place
• Cross-regional poetry
• Multicultural poetry
• Poetic forms (ex. Sonnets, villanelles, haiku, etc.)
• Poetry of work
• Poetry of witness/purpose
• Poetry of gender and sexual orientation
• Poetry in translation
• Poetry and the body
• Poetry and aging
• Poetry and the arts (theater, music, visual arts)
• Ecopoetry
• 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.

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

Visit the Mass Poetry Website.

Thank you for your interest.

January O'Neil
Executive Director, Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday folks!

Here's the cover to Misery Islands. Pub date is early November. Yahoo!


I will be reading at this year's Dodge Poetry Festival! WOO HOO! Good lord, I am over-the-moon excited to be at Dodge this year. I've been an attendee since 1996, so you can imagine my excitement to be included with this amazing list of featured poets. Feeling very humble as I type this. Wow!


Should I end my post now? What more can I say? New book, Dodge Poetry Festival--life is good.


Listening to U2's new album. Download it for free from iTunes! LOVE. IT. Five years is much too long between albums.


With so much going on, I've felt a bit out of sorts. That's what happens to me at the beginning of every semester. So I've been experimenting with ways I can get more time out of my day. Specifically, I'm trying to get more poetry out of my day and not let everything else fall by the wayside. Here's what i'm doing.

1. Time Map. Have I talked about this? I map out my day, from 5:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m. At one time, I was the queen of the time map, but I haven't used one in a while. My friend, Jennifer, is using now so she inspired me to start it up again. My life is one big grid now, but it works for me.
2. Allot enough time. A colleague of mine, who works with students on time management, says in order to do an activity well, you need 1.5 hours to get into a proper rhythm. So as I make out my time map, I'm looking at gaps in the week where I can devote large blocks of time to poetry, specifically the Juno project. Now, that doesn't mean I can't write poetry whenever I get a few minutes. But it helps to know that while I may not get everything done, I'm less likely to let things fall through the cracks.  
3. Sleep. I've been waiting up at weird times at night, but I'm trying to make sure I'm in bed on the early side. I try to catch up with sleep when I can; and nowaadays, I make a point of slowing down whenever I can.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Poetry Storehouse: January Gill O'Neil

The kind folks at Poetry Storehouse have posted some previously published poems of mine. There are audio tracks from me, and one or two read by others--which is pretty cool. You never know how your poems will be interpreted, so I really like their take. And then there's this:

Thanks to Othniel Smith for taking my poem, "A Mother's Tale," and adding visuals. Who knew my words would be highlighted by the great film actress Myrna Loy? Special thanks to Nic Sebastian for her creative spirit and love of the written word.

My page at Poetry Storehouse.

Also, check out all of the other poets. Check out poems by my friend Jennifer Martelli.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Almost Famous

This is a pic of my new Scrabble ring, next to my favorite bracelet. It's reads "Almost Famous." The bracelet I found at my favorite gifty-gift store. And even though it has a crack it in (which I tried to fix with wood glue--don't ask), I will never part with it. The ring the perfect. 

Thanks, Suzie!


The first week back to school was a bit rough. I went in to prep for the upcoming week last Saturday and found that my office door lock was changed. We've had a series of office moves this summer and door locks were changed to my surprise. I wasn't scheduled to move. Anyhoo, between that and just the craziness of starting new classes--and having my kids start school again--I barely slept this week. 

Today there are play dates (or "hang outs"--the preferred term among fifth graders) and and a sleepover. So I have declared Sunday as the day of rest in the O'Neil household. 


We had a good Mass Poetry Festival meeting this week. Lots of behind-the-scenes work to do. And many, many surprised to reveal later this month. 


All this to say that I'm trying to give myself a wide berth as I adjust to the schedule. I've been obsessed with the idea of balance, so much so I'm sure I need to write a separate post on it. 

For now, I have to get out of my bathrobe and into shorts so I can mow the lawn. It's supposed to be 90 degrees but rainy later. Ugh.   

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. Hope your first Tuesday in September was a good one. For those of us going back to the classroom, or with kids going back to school, remember: deep breaths. 

Ella. Nuff said.

I am in serious denial that summer is, for all intense and purposes, over. I mean, last Tuesday I was with my kids on a lake. No point even trying to pretend I was near a computer or thinking about a syllabus. 

It’s hard to focus on classes when was nearly 90 degrees today. 


The first two weeks back on campus are always hectic, but I'm looking forward to meeting my students. I’m just trying to be more mindful and about where I put my time, making sure I don’t let anything slip through the cracks. 


Because classes start tomorrow, I plan on taking advantage of writing when my students write. I did this during the last academic year, and though I didn't think much of it at the time, writing when my students wrote contributed to my focus. Most of my writing prompts last about 10 minutes. Since I'm teaching four classes, I have the potential to write at least two days a week, four times a day. Who knows how many drafts I'll get, but it's good practice for me, and good for my students to see me grind it out with them.


This afternoon, I was in a department meeting and I found myself writing a poem in my head. I didn't write it down but it took me six hours to remember the lines. Honestly, I'm surprised I could recall anything these days. 


Current reads:

Copia, by Erika Meitner
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

Saturday, August 23, 2014

'Because you know I'm all about that bass, bout that bass ..."

"No treble."


The kids have just come back from a weeklong vacation with their dad, and what's the first thing they wanted to do when  they arrived home? See their friends, of course. So I'm Starbucking this afternoon while they are having kid time. Can't say I'm sad about that, but it does feel weird. They'll be plenty of time this week to hang out before school starts--that's what I keep telling myself.

That pretty little chapbook is Afaa Michael Weaver's A Hard Summation,  just published by Central Square Press. This 13-poem collection details what it means to be Black and American, spanning the Middle Passage until now. It's a strong offering. Afaa's work calls me to go a little deeper with  my own.

Here's a review.


Poetry books I'm looking forward to reading, in no particular order:

City of Eternal Spring, by Afaa Michael Weaver
Copia, by Erika Meitner
Post Subject, by Oliver de la Paz
Citizen, by Claudia Rankine


Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday folks. If it's Tuesday, it's time for your confessions. We won't tell a sole. Really, we won't.

I'm a bit out of sorts this week. The kids are away with their dad. Meanwhile, I am trying to psych myself up for September, which means getting back into some sort of group. My whole body is resisting, but I have a few days to myself to envision the next few months,


I managed to write a poem for my workshop. It's the first poem I've written in weeks, and it's heavily influenced by the events of Ferguson, MO. This summer seems to be a season on loss. Every time I turn on the news, it's worse than the day before. *sigh* Here's hoping things get better soon.


Last night, I stopped at our local farmers market to pick up a few things: one small piece of salmon, one ear of corn, a quart of cherry tomatoes, and honey. Feels as if I'm shopping for a single person.

Dinner was delish!


I have this sudden urge to read Galway Kinnell's poem, "When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone." Of course, I can't find the book of the same name. Maybe I have lived a long time alone? Or too long with kids.


Short but sweet today.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blog Tour on the Writing Process

I've been tagged by the beautiful and talented Alexandria Perry to do a blog post on my process. Here goes!

1. What are you working on?

Hmmm. Maybe a better question is, “What am I not working on?” Besides prepping for classes and planning for the 2015 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, I am spending the last weeks of summer jump-starting two projects.

My third manuscript is begging for attention. In June, I arranged my poems into a kind of order. I wanted to see if I could get them to talk to one another—they’re not, not even on speaking terms. But, by beginning the process of arranging an order, I know what needs to be revised. I now have a working title, and I know what holes need to be filled. Now, I just need to do it. Ugh.

Also, there’s a project that I’ve had in the works for more than a year that. It’s a series of poems based the histories of slaves who lived in the town I live in now (Beverly, MA). The idea grew out of my need to know more about where I’m living now, where I'm raising my biracial kids in a world where President Obama is the only president they've ever known. A project like this requires time and research, so I have to figure out how to consistently work on this project. The progress will be incremental, but it’s still progress.

2. How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

This is an odd question. My first instinct is to say that’s for the reader to decide.

 Here’s the description for my second book, Misery Islands, which will be published this fall:

Misery Islands blends the geographical and metaphorical landscapes of family, divorce, and the choices we make to find out who we are truly meant to be. These poems navigate the waters of transition with exuberance and reflection, as O’Neil discovers new ways to make the ordinary extraordinary.
Again, that's for the reader to decide.

3.Why do you write what you do?

I write very much in the present, so I’m hoping the new projects I’m working on take me out of that mode. I don’t think a poet has to go far to find subject matter for poetry. The biggest thing is being willing to fail, and by fail I mean starting a poem or freewrite that may go nowhere. Every time I sit down to write, my whole body, my whole being is asking, "What am I willing to risk?"

I am happiest when I’m writing for myself, with no expectations or demands on the outcome. I'm comfortable writing poems that may never see the light of day, because that’s the writing I do for me. Of course, I’m thrilled when a line or poem I’ve published resonates with someone. But I write for me—I am my first, best audience.

4. How does your writing process work?

It changes each season/semester. And my process is certainly different from how I wrote two, five, even 10 years ago. Ideally, I try to write in the mornings before I’m fully awake, before the first cup of tea. But with two kids and a hectic schedule, I have learned to write anywhere—when my students try the prompts I give in class, or during the kids' baseball and Tae kwondo practices. Laptop or journal—doesn’t matter.

Sometimes I vent about not writing with on this blog or with poet-friends, but I try to keep it at a minimum. Insert butt-in-chair and write. There's no secret to writing. You just have to do it, and be prepared to bad poetry until you get to something good.

Next up: Carolee Bennett and Susan Rich:

Both are on vacation (and I haven’t officially heard from Susan, but I’m hoping she responds). When they post their responses, I’ll let you know. Hey, it's August!

Also, check out posts by Alexandria Peary and Laura Mullen.


Related Posts with Thumbnails