Some things

Beautiful things have happened in my life, among them, I adopted a wonderful, 8 yo, blind, declawed, obese, black kitty. GET READY FOR THE CAT POEMS!


Also here is a new poem at Leveler: Meditation.

I have recently had poems accepted by: Rogue Agent, Slice, and Baltimore Review.

I have four readings coming up. Two are in April!

April 19th: I read at Penn Book Center with Irene Mathieu and Yolanda Wisher.

April 21st: I read at Big Blue Marble with a host of other ladies!

I don’t recall when the other two are…a bit further away. I will keep you posted.

The State of the Manuscript

That feeling when you’ve done a reading and someone comes up to you afterward and says, “I loved your poems! Do you have a book?”

And you falter and say–“N-…no. Would you be interested in the print outs of the poems I read from for $14? Do you have a stapler?”

And that goes over real well, but you’re left feeling inadequate. All the other poets have books. Some people even have more than one. With stickers on the front. That weren’t placed there by a schoolteacher friend who is trying to make you feel better about your lack of accomplishments.

So I have been working on a manuscript for a little over 14 years, and it is finally making the rounds like a car show model with a tray full of cheap champagne (or you know whatever).

I have gotten a few semifinalist and finalist placements out of the 11 places I’ve heard from (Crab Orchard Review, Brittingham/Pollack Prizes, St. Lawrence Book Award) as well as encouraging words from Copper Canyon (they are that friend who tells you look great in everything though) and BOAAT.

But my manuscript remains homeless, a mangy cur wandering the streets of West Philadelphia, looking longingly through fences at Boston Terriers on leashes, maybe baring its teeth a little.

In the 14 years my manuscript has spent being crafted, it has gone through several dozen incarnations. I think of it as emerging into several distinct phases over the last year in particular.

Phase  one–April 2016: Meeting with my poetry teacher Leonard Gontarek in a coffee shop, going over a thick stack of poems fresh from grad school. He gathered from my book I’d had a hard life. He recommended cutting two primary poems which amounted to reducing the page count from a lean 45 to a different weight class of 33 pages–chapbook territory. I went in thinking I’d be Mike Tyson and came out a hobo with an empty bindle but a right hook that had some promise.

Phase two: I cut the poems Leonard recommended. I cut more poems, I wrote more poems, I stopped making it a collection of “poems I’ve written I like” and started thinking of it more as telling a story. A memoir through poetry, ultimately. I divided it into 5 sections (this went about as well as when I wear horizontal stripes) and when Joe asked me what I wanted for Valentine’s Day that year I asked for a manuscript consultation from Sandra Marchetti (v. much recommend) to get a set of fresh eyes on the work.

Joe said yes, Sandy said yes, I sent her this fat book and got valuable feedback on endings, on ordering, on the thread of my mother which tied it together. There was one poem about my failed engagement and Sandy said, “how can you just have one poem on this massive subject?” so I took it out. At this point I think it was called “Everyone Love Me All the Time” and I am so glad I hadn’t started sending it out to presses yet, as had it been picked up (unlikely) reviewers would have had a field day with the title.

Phase three: I took Sandy’s line edits, cut some poems, wrote more poems, revised and reordered. I wrote a lot. A poem a week, if not more, thanks to the generative nature of Leonard’s workshop. I brought the manuscript back to him, two sections (color blocking more than stripes now) telling a story of my upbringing and my love with Joe, a conspicuously absent 8-9 years (reference the failed engagement) creating a massive hole in the book.

Leonard deemed this version a, and I started sending it out, in June of 2016. I had this hope that it would get picked up the first time it went out, had long conversations in my head about how humbling it was to have Graywolf accept my book without edits, or, how Crab Orchard would commission me to write a second and third on top of publishing my manuscript, now called, “Why My Mother is Still Afraid of Heights.”

Needless to say, this did not happen.

Phase four: In the midst of this rhapsodic fantasy, I realized that I wanted to write a poem about my failed engagement. I did. It was about 30 pages long. I workshopped it in Leonard’s group over several weeks and got wonderful feedback. I started sending it out as a chapbook, after making a pact with Elizabeth Hoover to trade chapbook manuscripts and enter them into a prominent chapbook contest. She was prompt and gave stellar feedback. I was late and sent her 30 wildly eclectic photographed pages with my scrawl in the margins. I should mention I have the handwriting of a prisoner who is only allowed crayons for the safety of the community. Elizabeth, I’m sorry.


My book began getting little responses here and there, “We liked it!” or, “We liked this other person’s book, here is a form email about why, Dear Writer!” and I began to revisit it staring at this 9 year gap in the loosely chronological arc, wondering what to do, what to do. I was a bit like a toddler trying to solve a puzzle with six pieces, holding the final piece, but in her mouth–it tastes good, but where does it go?

Phase five: I matched the puzzle piece with the gap in the puzzle. It felt complete. I sent the manuscript, now 72 pages, out to the most prestigious presses. This was a few months ago. I had created what would be known in the literary world as the first perfect first book. I spent several hundred dollars on submission fees, confident I would make it back and then some on royalties and prize money.

Phase six: I have this guinea pig named Jasper. He is 8.5 and skin and tumor and bones. But for a long time, he was really fat. Insanely fat. I brought him to the vet and they would say he had to go on a diet because he was morbidly obese and I would give him a blueberry because I thought it hurt his feelings. Anyway, my book was like that.

And today, I took out 14 poems. Added one, to complete the narrative arc of the mother that Sandy and Leonard had pointed out as so central to the book. I swapped poems’ order like partners at a square dance. I changed the title from “Why My Mother is Still Afraid of Heights” to “Why My Mother is Afraid of Heights.” Without you having read the collection I can’t explain why this is such a big deal, but it is, it’s the title of my book and has been since 2011, and I’ve been resisting it this whole time.

I sent it to six presses today, and am back in a land where I imagining conversations that start with, “the Nobel Prize for Literature…for me?

I am sure there will be a stage seven, eight, nine, ten, etc.

But today I have accomplished the wonderful achievement of lifting my own literary spirits, in a time of form emails and rejections from Sure Thing Journal. I feel so happy about writing the world’s best, most perfect book. I want to chronicle this feeling so I can reread it again when I get my next rejection.

So you know, in ten minutes. I kid!

God, I hope I’m kidding.



Several Points of Interest

Stirring published my poem “10,000 Islands,” which I wrote around 2012 and am so grateful to them for selecting.

My finalist poem for the 2016 Crab Creek Review Poetry Contest, “Sixteen,” is up on their blog.

I also had two previously published poems (“Even Though We Were Vegetarian” and “Jackpot” accepted for inclusion in “A Shadow Map: an Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault.”

My LEVELER poem goes up in the new year.

My book was not selected for the Brittingham/Pollak prizes, but I think it’s a good thing–probably would have gotten too big for my britches otherwise!

So I got this email

“…Although we have not yet determined a winner, I am delighted to tell you that your manuscript, “Why My Mother is Still Afraid of Heights,” has been selected from among over 900 submissions as a finalist in the University of Wisconsin Press’s Brittingham Prize and Felix Pollak Prize poetry competition. Your manuscript, along with the 30 other finalists, has been sent along to our outside judge for a final decision…”

Should know by January. Pardon me if I can’t stop freaking out before then. Professional!

Also,  I got an acceptance from LEVELER, and my poem will be appearing in January.

My poem “Small Talk” appeared in Day One. Buy it here for just $1.99!

Finally, I have a poetry reading on December 10th in Philly. Come!

Malaise Begins and Ends with “ME”

I update this blog every few months to apologize for updating it every few months.

Recent acceptances include:

My poem “Small Talk” being picked up by Day One.

My poem “My Father Requested Excommunication” being picked up by the Milk Teeth anthology.


Excitingly, the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award Reception & Reading took place this past October! Below are some photos from that event. Congratulations to our fabulous winner and finalists–it was a very special (albeit rainy!) evening. Their words were kept company and rhythm by the steady drip of a leak in the ceiling.


Reading: For my IL friends!

The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award’s Judge and Artist/Poet, JC Todd and MaryAnn L. Miller, will be giving a reading at Lake Forest Book Store on September 11th, from 3-4 pm.

MaryAnn L. Miller says the reading “is especially significant because part of our event will be presentation of our artist book FUBAR, which is on the theme of war, in particular, the war in Iraq. It features one of J.C.’s poems written from the point of view of a female air force physician tending to the wounded and dying. The images are prints made from monotypes I did in response to the poem.”

This is a must-see event for my IL friends.

These two create brilliance and beauty with everything they do.

The Winner of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award: Lisa Grunberger

Lisa’s winning poem, “Genesis: Beginning the In” is a poem that spans generations. Because the mother and daughter figures of the poem are so integral to its narrative arc, I asked Lisa to send me some photos of she and her daughter, Rachel, as well as Lisa with her mother. Love radiates from the photos, as it does from Lisa’s poem, which I’ll reveal in its broadside format after the jump.

Judge JC Todd had this to say of the first place poem, chosen out of over 500:

“Genesis: Beginning the In” kept drawing me back in appreciation of the organic ease of each distilled image opening into the next. Repeated readings deepened its resonance. This poem imagines the profound, non-linear recombining of cellular memory, personal remembrance and family history. Told through closely seen ordinaries of everyday life, it is a homage to the maternal legacy that passes from mother to child to child of child.

As a reminder to the purpose of the contest, it was a fundraiser held by SI/Rittenhouse Square, PA for their Live Your Dream Awards programEach year, this chapter of Soroptimist International gives a $1,000 cash grant to a woman who is head of her household, has experienced hardships, demonstrates financial need, and wants to go to school. A typical award recipient might be a domestic violence survivor who wants to become a social worker and help other women. It is an amazing program, and Lisa’s entry fee to the contest went toward this important cause, as did the entry fees of over 100 other folks.

In keeping with the spirit of the award, I asked the ten finalists, including Lisa, if they would tell me a bit about a woman they admire. Lisa had the following to say:

There are many women I admire and I am indebted to as a feminist and a writer, but I have to say that Barbra Streisand’s career and life (and, not incidentally, her refusal to get a nose job!) is an inspiration; she is a tough, sassy,  artist who I identify with as a first generation American woman who has always felt both inside and outside of mainstream culture.  Streisand has counteracted so many stereotypes of the ugly unfeminine Jewess; her passion and commitment to her art has been an inspiration in my life.  She is a strong woman who has redefined our culture’s understanding of what it means to be beautiful, feminine and powerful.   

I would be remiss if I kept going on about Lisa’s poem and the contest it won without sharing the final product with you, designed by artist and poet MaryAnn L. Miller. Please read on below to see how Lisa’s imagistic poem came to life in MaryAnn’s brilliant hands.

Continue reading

All Rise for Judge J.C. Todd

JC Todd-300dpi-1600 ppi

Credit: Mark Hillringhouse

Don’t you love it when you go to a party and the host starts out by apologizing to everyone for how messy her house is? I do! It makes me feel better about apologizing to you all about how belated this post celebrating Judge JC Todd, and her contribution to the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award. If you only have a vague recolection of such a contest, let me refresh your memory: It was a poetry contest held by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA with over 500 poems submitted. The proceeds of the contest went toward their Live Your Dream Award, which benefits a female head of household who has experienced hardships, demonstrates financial need, and wants to go back to school. A typical winner of the award is often a single mother who has experienced domestic violence, and wants to become a nurse or social worker.

When I came up with the idea of holding this contest, with its prize of a broadside of the winning poem designed by MaryAnn L. Miller, I knew I needed the perfect person to be judge. I also knew that the perfect person, without equivocation, was JC Todd.

JC was wildly supportive of my brief female and non-binary reading series, and is the type of person who lifts others up, both through her words, and through her actions. I met her first through the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway where she was a teacher and I was a merit-based scholarship student. Everyone was requesting JC to be their teacher in the line, and I followed suit. We worked together on the last day, where it was agreed by the group to do a “gentle” workshop, without teeth. I said I would prefer teeth. When workshopping my poem, JC was brilliant, kind, and then at the end said something quite accurately critical, and her teeth gave a sharp chomp, almost as though she were eating my mixed metaphor. I have been a fan of hers ever since (and often wish other teachers had a signal that they were about to bite into my poems).

I asked JC why she said yes to this contest, and what she enjoys about sharing a dynamic duo with artist and poet MaryAnn L. Miller, and she wrote the following beautiful essay. I hope you enjoy. Continue reading