Take Time for Your Own Writing and Support a Small Business

Photograph of a hand writing in a notebook.

Wherever you are, I hope that you are weathering well and staying safe and healthy during this pandemic. I’ve found it quite stressful, especially as my partner works in an emergency room. He takes precautions when he comes home, but I worry about him every day. For myself, I work from home regularly but I miss the days when I do go in to see my colleagues.

On the bright side, I’ve been getting outside for more walks than ever before (staying six feet away from everyone, of course) and have been especially grateful for Zoom, which helps me feel more connected to friends and colleagues than the phone alone does. In some ways, this physical distancing has meant that I reach out and connect with good friends even more than before.

If you are looking for some additional connection, please consider joining me for an online generative writing workshop. A new creative space called Create Art in Community just opened in Roslindale Square in February. I was delighted to connect with Gena Mavuli and to offer this course in her studio. As with many small businesses, closing has created some real difficulties for her–especially since it’s such a new business. She asked me to take the class online. We will use the five senses and other prompts to grow new seedlings in our very own garden of words. Feedback for these new first drafts will be exclusively positive. A few spots remain. Please consider signing up, to support your own writing practice and also a small, local business.

The two-hour workshop meets for four sessions in April: April 1, 8, 15, and 29. Cost is $165. Sign up here.

Some folks are intimidated by trying this new technology. If you’d like to learn how to use Zoom, I’m happy to give you a tutorial, whether or not you sign up for the class. It’s a great way to stay connected in this time of social distancing. Just comment on this message below, use my contact form, or send me a DM on Twitter.

No Poetry Readings for the Foreseeable Future

As of this evening, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 25 people and has restricted bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery service only. Even without these new restrictions in place, the strong recommendations over the last few days to practice social distancing (avoiding gathering places, keeping six feet between yourself and others in public) have caused the cancellation of most events in Massachusetts and environs. The situation is evolving rapidly and I’m sure people are getting their news from more current sources than this website. I hope it won’t be too long before we flatten the curve of this pandemic. Stay safe and healthy.

UPDATED Boston Area Poetry Readings and Cancellations as of March 2020

In the wake of the spread of coronavirus, public events are being cancelled left and right. Poetry readings do not tend to draw large crowds, so some events may go on as planned. It’s best to call ahead to make sure that a reading has not been cancelled.

If you are sick, please stay home. The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wash your hands thoroughly and often (as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice), to avoid touching your face, and to avoid contact with people who may have been exposed to the virus. The CDC has a list of precautions you should be taking.

These listings are current as of March 12, 2020.

Among the CANCELLED readings:

  • Mary Buchinger, Jennifer Markell, and J.D. Scrimgeour (3/13) in JP
  • A celebration of Stephen Jonas’s Arcana (3/14) at MIT Press Bookstore
    Charles North (3/16) at MIT
  • Katherine Hollander and Angela Voras-Hills (3/16) at Blacksmith House
  • David Ferry at Suffolk (3/17)
  • Christian Wiman (3/23) at Blacksmith House
  • Sara London and Nathan McClain (3/31) at Smith College (All Smith College Poetry Center readings are cancelled through the end of the semester)
  • Anne Carson (4/1) Harvard Divinity School’s Ingersoll Lecture – “will take place in fall 2020 on a date to be determined”
  • Joy Harjo (4/9) at Harvard
  • Paisley Rekdal (4/14) at Smith College

Daniel Bouchard writes the following in his latest email update:

Remember: colleges do not lose revenue when a poetry reading is cancelled but bookstores do. Keep MIT Press Bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, Grolier, Harvard Bookstore, Porter Square Books, Bedlam Book Café in Worcester, I AM Books in the North End, and so on healthy – drop by and buy some books or order something online.

Continue reading “UPDATED Boston Area Poetry Readings and Cancellations as of March 2020”

Generative Writing Workshop in Roslindale, Massachusetts

Photograph of a hand writing in a notebook.

Roslindale just welcomed a new creative space called Create Art in Community, and I’m excited to be offering a generative writing workshop there this April. Please join me for some exercises designed to get the creative juices flowing and encourage play with words. Both new and experienced writers should enjoy the class. All forms of writing welcome: poetry, fiction, memoir, or any combination.


Wednesday evenings, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Four dates in April 2020: April 1, 8, 15, 29


Create Art in Community, 11A Corinth Street, Roslindale MA

In the heart of Rozzie Square. Roslindale Village stop on the Needham Line Commuter Rail, multiple bus lines from Forest Hills. Municipal parking lot close by and free on-street parking.

Sign Up at the Create Art in Community Website

When the Horse Begins to Neigh on the Page: An Interview with Poet Eileen Cleary

Photograph of poet Eileen Cleary

Eileen Cleary seems to have found a way to clone herself. In addition to holding two MFAs from two different Boston institutions, she manages the Lily Poetry Salon and publishes the Lily Poetry Review. Her Lily Poetry Review Press will be publishing its first titles soon. She has studied with teachers near and far and seems to know everyone in the Boston poetry scene — and many on the national scene as well.

Eileen is a nurse and poet who earned an MFA at Lesley University and second at Solstice of Pine Manor College. She is twice a Pushcart nominee and has work published or upcoming in journals such as Naugatuck River Review, J Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, Solstice, and Sugar House Review. Her work has appeared as a Rainworks Installation in Newton, Massachusetts.

Her debut poetry collection, Child Ward of the Commonwealth was published by Main Street Rag Press in June 2019

Frances Donovan: What first brought you to poetry?

Eileen Cleary: I’ve always loved to read poetry. I had a sense that I could write it from an early age. But, I never wrote it seriously until I wrote a poem in response to unethical research on human subjects. I was a different person when I reached the end of that poem, and I could never go back to being a person who didn’t write poetry. 

Donovan: How were you a different person?
Continue reading “When the Horse Begins to Neigh on the Page: An Interview with Poet Eileen Cleary”

February and March 2020 Poetry Readings in Boston and Environs

Poetry to Warm a Mind of Winter: Photograph of a Cardinal on a Branch. Photo credit: James H via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.

I don’t know about you, but I’m aching for spring already. Here are poetry readings that will bring us in March, which is almost spring in New England. Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard for publishing these listings. Follow him on Twitter. I’ve also discovered Lori Desrosier’s site, which posts poetry news in Western Mass. And a series in Shelburne Falls not listed below called Collected Poets.

Of special note below:

  • Tamiko Beyer at home.stead in Dorcester
  • Carla Schwartz at the Old Manse and home.stead
  • Martha Collins at Arts at the Armory Somerville and the Brookline Public Library
  • Jericho Brown at Smith
  • Joan Houlihan in Hopkinton
  • Zara Raab in Newburyport
  • Daniel Bouchard’s MIT Reading Series

Continue reading “February and March 2020 Poetry Readings in Boston and Environs”

Unearthing Surprising Moments: A Conversation with Poet Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Photograph of poet Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Sarah Dickenson Snyder has written poetry since she knew there was a form with conscious line breaks. She has three poetry collections: The Human Contract, Notes from a Nomad (nominated for the Massachusetts Book Awards 2018), and With a Polaroid Camera (2019). Recently, poems have appeared in Artemis, The Sewanee Review, and RHINO. She has been a 30/30 Poet for Tupelo Press and was accepted both times she applied to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. One poem was selected by Mass Poetry Festival Migration Contest to be stenciled on the sidewalk in Salem, MA. Another was nominated for Best of Net 2017.

Sarah took some time to speak with me via email.

Frances Donovan: What first brought you to poetry?

Sarah Dickenson Snyder: The first time I saw a poem in a book and its intentional line breaks, I was hooked—I just loved how it looked. I was probably in 1st grade. I wrote and wrote even more when I realized that poems didn’t have to rhyme and that I could pour out a seemingly endless fountain of thoughts and memories. I ended up sending a stack of twenty poems to Bowdoin College as my college essay. 

Donovan: Did you study poetry at Bowdoin?

Dickenson Snyder: I took a few classes—there were only just a few in the English Department, certainly no writing classes at that time; I was a Religion major.

Donovan: Was there a particular poet whose work was really meaningful to you in those early years?
Continue reading “Unearthing Surprising Moments: A Conversation with Poet Sarah Dickenson Snyder”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Two, Third Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the second semester, I studied with poet Kevin Prufer. We spent the semester looking at narrative versus lyric poetry. This is the cover letter to the third packet.

Dear Kevin:

As you pointed out, the critical work in my last packet was a little thin. I hope I’ve redeemed myself with this one. It’s always possible to do more with grad school work, but I feel confident that I’ve given sufficient time and attention to James Wright’s and D.A. Powell’s work. I read your essay on Powell, and am glad that I did so after finishing my own paper. It can be difficult for me to approach a text with any kind of original thinking after reading another’s interpretation. I think you managed to say with more perspective and eloquence some of the things I was trying to say in my own paper. I especially appreciated the parallels the death-dancing German painting and Powell’s exuberant music. I hadn’t really paid attention to Powell’s exploration of spiritual redemption in Cocktails – especially in the Bibliography section – but can see it clearly in hindsight.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Two, Third Packet”

Ross Gay’s Wild and Sensual Poems

Ross Gay’s poetry is lush with sensual pleasure. He uses strong imagery, musical language, and an unusual approach to poetic line to achieve this lushness. He eschews punctuation in many of his poems, relying almost entirely on white space and line breaks to achieve his phrasing. I’ve tried doing some similar with my own work, but Gay commits himself entirely to this technique, forcing it to do the work of commas, periods, capitalization, dashes. In “to the fig tree on 9th and christian,” —the first in his latest collection, catalog of unabashed gratitude— his short lines stutter down the page, slowing the eye at points both expected and unexpected. With no punctuation and no capital letters, he relies on the reader to suss out where one sentence ends and the next begins. This elision works both in concert with and counterpoint to his line breaks. The opening lines rush forth with enjambment through three separate thoughts:

… probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a

Continue reading “Ross Gay’s Wild and Sensual Poems”

Rachel Zucker’s Unclear Narrative

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the second semester, I studied with poet Kevin Prufer. We spent the semester looking at narrative versus lyric poetry.


I’ve been approaching this semester with an alternating focus on the lyrical and narrative modes of poetry. But how exactly does one differentiate between the two? And is it even a valid dichotomy? As with the prose-poetry divide, the more one tries to define it, the more slippery it becomes. In an essay published in 2006, Tony Hoagland writes about “a widespread mistrust of narrative forms and, in fact, a pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative.” He also acknowledges the difficulty of defining the term: “Under the label of ‘narrative,’ all kinds of poetry currently get lumped misleadingly together: not just story but discursion, argument, even descriptive lyrics. They might better be called the ‘Poetries of Continuity.’”

Published in 2004, Rachel Zucker’s The Last Clear Narrative certainly demonstrates the zeitgeist Hoagland describes. At first pass, the title seems like a joke on the reader. Zucker’s language is disruptive, fragmented. It uses not only syntax but white space and idiosyncratic punctuation – all to skillful effect, but hardly the definition of what most people would call a clear narrative.

Continue reading “Rachel Zucker’s Unclear Narrative”