Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Confession Tuesday

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

(l-r, Michael Ansara, Laurin Macios, Jackie Malone)

Today I had a meeting at the Mass Poetry offices. We share the space with other MassCreative-affiliated organizations. The building itself used to be a helmet factory, and Laurin (pictured in purple) tells me this was the "spray room," where the helmets used to be painted.

The new office space is just a sign of how quickly things seem to be happening for our little org. Just a few years ago I was a volunteer doing my best to make sure the first festival in Salem was a good one. Now we are running in-school Student Days of Poetry and the larger SDOP, we're sponsoring events, hosting reading series, putting poetry on the T in Boston, and planning major fundraisers--in addition to this very special festival we produce. Now, we have an office. Wow. 


Twas the night before AWP 
and all through the land
all the writers were packing
double checking their plans.

The schedule was posted 
on the website with care
with hopes that the attendees
would come prepared.


I could go on, but I'm stalling. I need to get packing myself. 

The next 32 hours will be a mad scramble before I hop of a plane to Seattle for AWP! So looking forward to this trip. Unlike Boston last year, I'm not on any panels and I don't have an agenda. I'm just looking forward to the sessions, the hallway conversations, the poetry chit-chat, the never-ending bookfair--all of it.   
Will post pics from the left coast as soon as I can. See you on the flip side.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Surviving AWP

AWP is just a few days away. After reading Kelli's AWP post, I wanted to add my own survival tips.

How to survive the mother of all writers conferences:

1. Check out the schedule BEFORE you get to Seattle. There’s just too much to do in a short amount of time. So save a little time by creating your schedule on AWP’s website and bring it with you. Or,

2. Download a pdf version of the schedule to your iPad or mobile device. The conference book gets heavy in your swag bag. Travel light when you can. Which reminds me …

3. Pack light. Save room in your suitcase for extra books, or get to a post office on Saturday and mail purchases to yourself.

4. Go to at least one off-site. Get out of the conference hotel and support your fellow writers. Or, go see the Space Needle and Pike's Place. Be a tourist for a while.

5. Bring a portable charger for your electronics. My mom gave this one to me for Christmas. No more sitting outside the book fare while waiting for my phone to charge

6. Bring a power bar, water, tissues, ibuprofen, and hand sanitizer. And if you need any of these items, track me down.

7. Master the two-minute hallway chat. Everyone shuffles from one session to another, so don’t tie up a friend with your long, boring story about the round-the-corner line at Starbucks. However, if you do want to extend the conversation ...

8. Be social. Spend a little time with the people you only see once a year, or once a day on Facebook. Speaking on FB ...

9. Don’t FB/Tweet/Instagram/YouTube/Pinterest/Vine every single moment. Because if you are too busy taking pics, are you really in the moment?

10. Be in the moment.

11. Buy books. Yes, the freebies are great, but poets and presses need our support. Don’t be cheap. That being said ...

12. Go to the big parties, because the drinks are free. However ...

13. Don’t embarrass yourself. You know what I mean. Keep it classy. This is AWP Seattle, after all!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Confession Thursday

Happy Confession Thursday!

I know, I know. It's been a busy week. Couldn't get it together in time for Tuesday. Ugh. Hey, if Kelli can do it, so can I!


The kids were out of town until yesterday, so I had my birthday weekend (and then some) to myself. While I missed Alex and Ella, I was grateful for the gift of time. It's good to have them back in the house.


School vacation week is great for kids, not so great if you still have to work--and I do. The last few days have been a perfect storm of work coming together. A "work vortex," if you will. So I'm in the midst of trying to get a lot accomplished before AWP. 

  • Finish m'script edits for Misery Islands
  • Finish Taxes
  • Upload Web content to Mass Poetry Web site
  • Collect photos and bios for the program booklet
And a lot of smaller tasks I need to get done.

I love my jobs. I love my family. I love all of these things I do. When they converge in the same week, however, I become an air traffic controller--all I want to do is land the planes. I do that well.

I'll sleep on my way to Seattle.


I just came from a great reading at SSU with Lexa Hiller and Greg Fraser. I was really impressed with both poets. In the Q & A after, Greg said (I'm paraphrasing):
When you finish a poem you think is terrific, or write a really great line of text, the universe expands a little bit. 
Isn't that a great thought? That when you create something, when you put your art into the world, you make the world larger. Better.

Maybe that's why AWP is worth the effort. I'm with my tribe, making the world a little larger.


That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Heart in Snow

Thanks for all of the birthday wishes on Facebook and Twitter! I had a great day yesterday. Quieter than in past years, but lovely nonetheless. FB makes birthdays overwhelming (in a good way).


I just took this photo of the heart in snow. Fresh snow. We're supposed to get a blizzard tonight. I live by the the coast, so we're expecting at least 8-12". I hate snow. I think we've had about seven storms in seven weeks.

Winter, I'm breaking up with you.


Early, I had brunch with a few friends at the home of Danielle Jones-Pruett (a.k.a. D-to-the-J-to-the-P!). She's a wonderful cook, fabulous host, and amazing poet. I am lucky to have the circle of friends that I do. We also workshopped a few poems. Seems all I want to write about is winter. Spring can't come fast enough.


Snow. Brunch. Poems. Prosecco. House of Cards. More snow. *sigh*

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Toi and Me

Last night it was my great privilege to hear Toi Derricotte read at Babson College as part of the Thompson Poetry Series.

I worked at Babson for 10 years, so I know how much effort goes into bringing poetry to a business school. The students had been reading The Black Notebooks and much of her poetry before the event. So when Toi stepped to the side of the podium and asked for the houselights to be turned up, she took the reading to another level. The reading became a conversion. As she read from a particular passage in The Black Notebooks, she asked the audience what they would have done in her shoes. I wish I could capture the essence of the back and forth. I can only say that there was no hesitation from the Babson students. It was an great discussion on race and choice--one that should happen more often in our global society.

After the book signing, I had a chance to chat and take this picture. Toi reminded me that we've known each other for nearly 30 years. 30 years! She was my first writing professor Old Dominion University, the one who got me hooked on poetry. She would say things like, "Go sit a sensory deprivation tank and write about the experience." Often, Toi would quote Robert Creeley saying, "Sometimes, you just have to make an ass out of yourself." (Done!)

Cave Canem, of which she is cofounder, is now a thriving community for black poetry. She is living proof that you can use your life for the betterment of others. That you can take pain and ugliness and turn it into art. And by sharing your story, you draw others in and become stronger. Well, we were all drawn in last night.

Thanks, Toi, for a transformative experience at Babson.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Confession Tuesday

It's Confession Tuesday. You know the drill.

This is the note on the door of my eight-year-old-daughter's room. Lovely. It's been that kind a week. Can't figure out if winter is making us crazy or what. Maybe it's me. 

There's a book out now called All Joy and No Fun, which I think describes parenting perfectly. I confess: the day to day is just tough sometimes. I can't wait until Ella has her own kids someday. (HA HA HA HA HA -- insert evil laugh here!)


AWP is a little more that two weeks away and I can't wait! I'll only be in Seattle a few days but I don't care. I'm just happy to get out of my space for a little while. 

When I first started attending the conference (New Orleans was my first), I went to as many sessions as possible. I was a grad student then, so my focus was MFA sessions, how to get poems published, how to make it as a writer, etc. Then, when I had enough poems for a book, I went to book publishing sessions, as well as the ones focusing on online communities. Now that my career is more settled, I go to discover new writers and see old friends. (And by old, I don't mean "no longer young.") 

Because AWP was in Boston last year, I worked much of the time; I didn't enjoy the experience very much. But this year, I'm going for myself. I really want to be blown away by a few new--or new to me--poets. I'm looking forward to those long-distance waves from friends across the book fair, the waves that say, "I know you're here, I'll catch up with you later." I like to go to a few off-site events, and then chatting it up at the hotel bar afterwards. And I love weighing my suitcase down with books and freebies. 

I know a lot of folks who find AWP overwhelming. Not me. I'm all in!


Current reads:

Maria Gillan: Ancestor's Song
Kelli Russell Agodon: Hourglass Museum
Andre Dubus III: Dirty Love

(Psst! Go pick up Hourglass Museum. It's really good!)


I've started writing Juno poems. It's slow going. Tomorrow, I'll wake up early to see what thoughts I can pull down from the ether before first light. My hope is to tap into something deeper, and I'm not sure if I can get there with so many distractions during the day. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beauty in Truth

This past weekend, I watched the documentary Alice Walker: Beauty and Truth. It is airing as part of the American Masters series on PBS.  Directed by Pratibha Parmer, who worked with Walked back in 1993 documentary Warrior Marks, an important documentary on female circumcision, this film expands upon the very public career of the author and activist.

If you get a chance to see this amazing retrospective on Walker's life and work, please do. There is more to her than The Color Purple. Much more--much of which I didn't know.

Below is a clip from the late Howard Zinn about his former student.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Confession Tuesday

We are waiting for the second of three storms to will dump nearly a foot of snow in New England. Fortunately, schools decided to close well in advance. I’m all in favor of hitting the reset button today. It’s nice to have a day off in the middle of the work week.

Of course, in a few hours, I’ll have to break out the snowblower.


My friend Dawn says I need to write an “I love snow” poem, noting my overall dislike of snow. While I have often said I like the idea of snow, I don’t like shoveling it. 


Recently, I've had few great conversations about writers going to the dark side. Much of the talk arose from the recent and untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, how artists do this strange dance with the darker sides of their personalities. How do you tap into it without letting you control it?

I haven’t come up with any answers, not really. But I know in my writing I can embrace it without letting fear or hate control me. Not easy, but some of my best writing has come out of entering those two cathedrals.


I may be stepping into the breach pretty quickly. For a year, I have stayed away from the Juno project. This is a poem project of mine about a slave and her family who lived in my town.  I just haven’t wanted to approach the topic. It is a difficult subject to write about, but I've been putting too much pressure on myself to complete something instead of enjoying the process. We’ll see what happens in February.

In the meantime, I have been writing and revising. I do have new poems but they’re weird. They just are. Time for something new.


I haven’t talked about Mass Poetry festival planning in a while, but preparation for the 2014 festival are going really well--not just for the festival planners and organizers, but for Mass Poetry as a whole. Much, much more to of this. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Uncool - Almost Famous

I was at Starbucks when the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death took over my Twitter feed. Immediately, I checked in with my lifelong friends Alex, Kristi, and Joseph to see if they had heard. It’s Oscar season, and for most of the years I’ve known them, we’ve done an Oscar pool. So I knew exactly how they would feel about Hoffman’s death.

Celebrity deaths are nothing new, and these days somewhat predictable. But every once in a while, there’s one that hurts. Hoffman’s death feels different, maybe because social media amplifies these situations. The immediacy certainly amplifies the outpouring of grief. It feels different because it feels personal.

Hoffman was 46, slightly older than me and my circle of friends. (I don’t think they would mind me recounting our group text conversation.) After confirming that the story was not a hoax, we just listed all the movies we had seen or were planning on seeing: The Master, Doubt, Capote, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Almost Famous, State and Main … that’s just a few.

I asked my circle what made Philip Seymour Hoffman so good. We agreed he had a chameleon-like quality. His acting seemed effortless. Then Alex added, “… the things in life that appear effortless require the most effort, and his acting seemed effortless.” In that, we could all relate. He was a presence, and he will be missed.

 "Be honest and unmerciful."

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Kibbles and Bits

It's 4:43 a.m. Can't sleep. So I'm up writing and listening to an older interview with Mark Doty on New Letters on the Air ( Download it on iTunes).


I've been thinking about the notion of process, and how it evolves. It changes according to where I'm needed most. This week I've been able to write in short spurts, an hour before class, 45 minutes at Starbucks before picking up the kids. On the days I don't write, I get in some exercise. So for now, the process is holding.


No poems in January--I blame the polar vortex for that. Instead of poems, my attention turned to getting my classes off the ground. But I was able to revise and send out, so the month wasn't a total loss. Although it feels like a lost month. Maybe this is the nature of process: adaptability.

My kids and I watch the show "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," a watered-down version of the Marvel Universe. Anyhoo, there's a phrase used over and over: "trust the system." I'm trying to trust the process.


Today's temp will be near 50 degrees. You know it's been a cold winter when 50 feels balmy.


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