Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bits and Pieces

One word: kids. 

The beginning of the week started out extremely productive, then I got wrapped up in kids activities. Did not make too much progress on manuscript #3. Honestly, I'm so tired at night that by morning I don't want to write anything. As much as I want to stay focused, I can feel myself pulling back to enjoy the time with my family. Tonight is no exception with a sleepover in progress. 

I have managed to do a few po-biz things every single day, which feels immensely satisfying. 

The upcoming week should be a better one to write new poetry.


Today, I saw a musical written by my friend J.D. Scrimgeour called Only Human. It's a complicated plot, you can read about it here and here. Simply wonderful! Seeing it made me want to come home and write something ... anything. 


Earlier this week, I did an interview on WOMR-FM, 92.1, Poets Corner with Neil Silberblatt. Thanks to Neil for including me in his roster of poets. Here's the podcast:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Inspiration Point

Photo Credit: John Blanding, Boston Globe 

On Saturday, I was out with poet Margaret Young as she was working on her 30/30 Poetry Challenge for Tupelo Press. Coincidentally, a photographer from the Boston Globe spotted us under the honey locust and took our photo. Said he liked how we were framed under the trees with the sailboat in the distance.

This photo ran in the Globe's Metro North section on Sunday. Thanks and photo credit to John Blanding, Boston Globe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Summer! Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Confession Tuesday! Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

The Summer o' Fun has begun!

It's been a while since I posted a picture of the kids on my blog. I'm not allowed to say the "S" word in my house (school!). This picture was taken at one of our many rocky beaches in the area. The water was c-h-i-l-l-y! But it was nice and, more important, it's a preview into how I expect the rest of the summer to be: full of exploration and fun.

In a few weeks, we're off on a big adventure. But for the most part, with the exception of a few summer camps, it will be the three of us. Now that Alex's little league baseball season is over, our days have completely opened up. My hope is that we all get to do to the things we love. For me, that means spending time with my family AND writing.


I've been taking time for myself before 9 a.m. I like working in the mornings--that's when I'm the most productive. The kids are now old enough to pour a bowl of cereal or get a glass of OJ, so I'm not on call first thing, which is great! I've been able to cross a few deadlines off this list. Yahoo!

Of course, the rest of the day turns into to kidstown: play dates, baseball, bikes, ice cream, etc. But the hours that frame the day are mine.


Hello, Binders!


Still in revision mode with manuscript three, while gearing up marketing and promotion with book two. It's a weird but good place to be.


Kids are I are reading The Hunger Games series in our family summer book club. My son's obsessed with the movies.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Failure As an Option

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure. The Sam Beckett quote on my blog I take very seriously.

When we start out as writers, we have nothing to lose. We don’t know any better. We write what we know to a certain extent. There’s no formula for what will get us published. Then at some point, we have a little success: Our manuscript finds a publisher, an online journal publishes our first story, or a newspaper picks up our op-ed piece. And we’re OK with the uncertainty of putting our art in the world, at least in the beginning.

Then we try to repeat our success—that’s when the pressure begins.

Many successful writers make money on doing what works. Maybe they think of themselves as brands and put together well-heeled marketing efforts to cover all mediums—nothing wrong with that. For poets, repeat success means an meager income stream: residencies, speaking engagements, classroom visits, guest editorships, etc. But in order to challenge ourselves as artists, we must constantly innovate. In other words, in order to reach a new level in our work, we must risk failure.

I think failure keeps us from finding what we were meant to do. And failure is relative, isn’t it? I had a marriage that didn’t last. But I have two beautiful children, my second book or the way, and work in line with my values. None of that would have happened if I wasn’t willing to take risks. And the great part is that I can use it all--directly or indirectly--in my writing.

Starting a new project, something vastly different than anything we've ever tried, is not easy so I don’t want to minimize the effort. We've certainly seen enough authors create something that diverges from their trademark style or image—with mixed results. I applaud them. Those are the real risk-takers. They leave behind the familiar for new territory, while filling that creative well to set up the next big imaginative leap.

Once we feel it in our bones that failure is an option, we can dare to fail better.

We fail in order to learn. It is the fastest way to grow as a artist. But as a culture, we don’t spend enough time talking about failure. Heaven forbid we admit to what we don’t know. Maybe writers have it easy. I wouldn’t want to come to the page if I didn’t risk failing every single time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Artwork by Dan Sklar

Happy Confession Tuesday, folks. I had a post written but when I went to upload the draft, I couldn't find it. Oh well. I wrote it on the Blogger app, so who knows what happened to it.

I have not written one poem in June. Not one. And I'm OK with that. I have been blissfully working on my third manuscript. While the kids are in school a few more days, my focus has been on getting the book in some sort of working order. The process has been great for me. All of the poems are in a binder, which allows me to thumb through and make all the revisions while pulling poems for other projects. It also gives me a chance to remind myself which ones I have published and which ones would be good to submit. 

This book has a few holes, so I will write a few poems to bridge together the theme. But overall, I'm quite happy with the work. The goal is to have it in good shape by September.


Feels weird working on a third book when the second book is due this fall. At some point, I'll have to throw myself into marketing and promotion full throttle. But for now, I'm enjoying the pace of working on a loose schedule. Sure, there are other things I need to do. But for now, I'm happy to work on my projects for a change--without distraction.  


My hope is to pick up the Juno project in July, which will get me back in writing mode. For at least the first two weeks, I can see myself getting up early--before the kids wake up--to begin a project just as this. These poems require different hours. 


From my almost-nine-year-old daughter: "Mom, I'm writing my autobiography."


Wonder where she gets it?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Good Stuff

Here's a photo from my recent visit in NYC--Starbucks, of course. 

Not only did I get to read in Bryant Park, which was fabulous, I spent time with BFF Joseph Legaspi and his husband, David. So nice to spend a few hours with them. 


That was Thursday. I drove back on Friday morning to be on the WGBH's show Boston Public Radio with the beautiful and talented Jill McDonough. We were contestants on a new quiz, of all things! I was a little ball of stress the whole time. Good thing Jill was there to pull me through. We also talked about Poetry on the T and UMass Boston's recent contribution to the project. Very cool! 

Jill McD
Thanks to Jim Braude and Margery Eagan for taking it easy on us. You can check us out at the 1:30:30 mark.


Lastly, as if this week couldn't get any better, New England Review picked up two of my poems (thanks, C.Dale!). AND, a very cool poetry organization that sends out a poem a day is taking one of my poems. More to come. 

This has been a terrific week! Can't wait to see what's in store for the rest of June.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bryant Park

What a lovely afternoon this turned out to be. I'm in NYC after spending the afternoon in Bryant Park with Teresa Carson and Dawn Potter for the Word for Word lunchtime reading series. 

(L to R, me, Teresa Carson, Dawn Potter)

(Dawn Potter)

Traffic from Massachusetts to New York was brutal, but despite my late arrival the reading was terrific and the rain held off. The Reading Room now has this wonderful tent. 

The midday event and series is dedicated to 50th anniversary of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems, so we each read selections from this wonderful book. I had the good fortune to read "A Step Away from Them," which was cool because O'Hara mentions the poem takes place on a Thursday, among other reasons why it's a cool poem. Seemed fitting for the moment. Teresa read "Personal Poem" while Dawn read "Ave Maria." Great selections.

(After the reading.)

Reading in Bryant Park makes you feel as if you're reading in the center of the universe. So much chaos going on around you. I loved when passersby stopped to listen for a few minutes, and then moved on.

This may be my favorite part of this outdoor space: the ping pong tables!

Just a lovely, lovely afternoon. Thanks to Teresa and Dawn for including me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bryant Park Reading Room - Thursday, June 12

NYC Peeps! Join me for this way cool reading in the middle of Manhattan.
Bryant Park Reading Room
Thursday, June 12
12:30 p.m.
Bryant Park, NYC

Join CavanKerry authors Teresa Carson and Dawn Potter, and January O'Neil as we read from new and forthcoming poetry collections. 

Reading, writing, and literary happenings related to the written word—under the London Plane trees—in the open-air Reading Room. Located on the 42nd Street side  of the park. Look for the burgundy and white umbrellas.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Confession Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, folks. Share and share alike.

This past Sunday, my friend Cindy and I went to Todd Farm (I so want to say Todd's Farm), which is huge antiques and flea market in Rowley, MA. Their summer hours are 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. We did not go that early, but did walk around on a beautiful summer morning to see just about everything under the sun for sale.

It was my first visit, and I was not trying to buy anything. But I found this old mail holder:

It was a a drab olive green, which I liked but didn't work for my office. So I spray-painted it off-white and now it looks like this:

Cost of mail holder: $40. POW!

I should have painted it light blue, but I don't think the color matters all that much. I love it! Can't wait to fill it with poems, manuscripts, and stuff.


What you can't see is my hot mess of a desk, including bags of papers and bills that need to be sorted. That's on my agenda for this week. Hot. Mess.


Finally, I'm back in the flow. It came in a moment of clarity about a week ago. My kids will be in school only a few more days, so I need to get a few things done in a short amount of time. It's forced me to use my time wisely. Otherwise, I'd be on my bed watching The View every day.

So far, I have organized my third manuscript and put the poems in a binder so I can revise on-the-go easily. By the weekend, m'script 3 will be in great shape. I also need to write a few new poems to bridge together the theme. In the process, I have removed good poems that will better fit the next collection--the Juno poems.

Woo hoo!


I'm also back to working out and eating healthier. So I'm sleeping better at night.

Yesterday was Meatless Monday in the O'Neil household. We made three pasta dishes yesterday, two for dinner. The kids really enjoyed making dinner, especially my son who hasn't met a pasta he didn't like. Admittedly, I ate salads and pasta all day but craved steak the whole time. I'm still a carnivore at heart, just trying to eat healthier and get the kids interested in cooking. Seems to be working.

Mmmm. Steak.


If you're in NYC, come out to the Bryant Park Reading Room to hear Teresa Carson, Dawn Potter, and me read from our newest works. June 12 at 12:30 p.m. Be there or be absent.


I confess that I let my kids watch skits from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. And we're huge fans of "Tight Pants." I mean, we walk around the house singing the Tight Pants song. Here's the most recent version featuring JLo. Will Ferrell is our favorite, but JLo does have the tightest pants in all the land. No joke.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

99U: Brene Brown - Sweaty Creatives

I've heard Brene Brown talk about vulnerability and shame before, but in this 99U video, she shapes her talk to creatives (read: us). Y'know, those of us who have to be the most vulnerable space to create something new and innovative.

Special thanks to Cindy and Joseph for dusting me off a few weeks ago so I could get back into the arena again.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Next Stop on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour: Salem Harbor Station

For the record, I think this might be the most improbable and meaningful poetry tour stop yet.


Decommissioned Power Plant will be Powered by Poetry on July 2nd

Submission Deadline: June 27, 2014

The Improbable Places Poetry Tour, hosted by Colleen Michaels of Montserrat College of Art,  is seeking poems about the Power of Work and the Work of Power for a most unique reading opportunity. On July 2, 2014 from 7-9 p.m., the massive turbines of the iconic Salem Power Plant will turn silent and the hum of poetry will kick in. 

Approaching its fifth season, the Improbable Places Poetry Tour poetry has brought poetry to unlikely places such as bike shops, laundromats, and tattoo parlors on Boston's North Shore. We close out this season with the rare opportunity to experience poetry in an industrial space that will be open to the public for the first time. Footprint Power and Montserrat College of Art have been collaborating all semester to create art that documents the lives and work of the power plant employees. If you have a poem that speaks to the power of work or the work of power, we want to read your submissions.

Submissions can be sent to no later than Friday, June 27. If chosen, you must be available to read your work in Salem, MA on Wednesday, July 2, 7-9 p.m.

If you are interested in attending (where else will you have the chance to wear a hard hat, see an art exhibition, and tour vintage operating equipment all at one poetry reading?), you will have to preregister by emailing Please note that you will be required to produce a valid photo ID to enter the site.

For further details, please visit the Improbable Places Poetry Tour blog


Read more about the power plant's closing.  

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

M'Script #3

Here I am at the Salem Athenaeum trying to sort out poems for my third manuscript. There are 55 poems that I've whittled down from 80.

This is part of my process: to spread them out on a floor somewhere and attempt to impose an order (or to let an order emerge). If I had wall space, I would pin them up and stare at them ad nauseam. For now, I'll put them in columns to see where the holes are, bundle them up, and carry them around with me everywhere. Most likely, I'll write new poems to bridge the gaps.

I like to think that my poems are talking to one another, but today they seem to be arguing. I have a theme in mind, but I haven't figured out how to make it work exactly with the content.

These poems need lots of TLC. Some have found their way to journals and Web zines. Others are in need of revision. It just feels good to say that I'm working on my third poetry collection.  

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Confession Tuesday

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

I love this photo.

This pic, taken by the beautiful and talented Jennifer Jean, was from Mass Poetry's in-school day of poetry at Masconomet Regional High School. It was a terrific Friday event with nearly all seats filled. The students were open and ready to work, and we, the instructors, were blown away by the level of interest and talent. A good day of poetry all around.


Being on stage was an important moment for me--I could feel the energy shift toward the positive. A few weekends ago, I had received some criticism that caused me to step back and reevaluate a few things. In the grand scheme, it was a ripple. As the days progressed, I channeled my efforts into family, friends, and the work that matters. My life buoyed me, and that has made all the difference.

Writing the Maya Angelou article was an important part of the shift.

Lots of interesting projects and opportunities to collaborate popped up this past week. So if anything, I feel very grateful and open to more possibilities. I love when the universe calls. I'm listening, for a change.


"When people show you who you are, believe them."

--Maya Angelou


If I could describe this past weekend, I would call it kidtastic! Lots of kid-centric activities, including roller skating, little league baseball, and not one but two back-to-back sleepovers at our house. (Yawn!)  I'm still recovering.


This morning, I did an interview with Neil Silberblatt at Poet's Corner on WOMR, which will air in a few weeks (Thanks, Neil). And next week, I'm going to be on a news quiz show with Jill McDonough next Friday on WGBH (Oh, good lord). Will give details a little closer to the event.


One last story. A few months ago, I submitted poems to a journal I love. And, I heard back from someone one the editorial staff asking to clarify a title of one of my poems. I had submitted the poem with a typo in the title (Doh!). While I would love for my work to be published in this journal, I'm just blown away that the editor checked in. Most of the time, it seems as if submitted poems are read by interns. So it did my heart good to hear from the editor.


"When the universe calls you, listen."

-- January Gill O'Neil


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