Hooray for Poetry Month 2015

Poetry Month is officially here and I couldn’t be more excited. There are tons of events happening throughout April in the state of Maine. Below I’ve posted a few links to help you plan your poetry pursuits.

I’m a huge fan of POEM IN YOUR POCKET day! April 30th is Brunswick’s Poem in Your Pocket Day (our Facebook page) and the open mic poetry reading that evening from 6:30-8:30 will be at Curtis Memorial Library. Come with a poem in your pocket and a song in your heart. I’ve been asked to read a few of my poems and my sons will be the MC’s! Look for my name tag and say hello!

This article from the Portland Press Herald, “A Rallying Cry for Poetry,” has this wonderful quote from poet Tony Hoagland:

“The joy of creativity should be part of every day. It’s part of what makes us human. It improves everything.”


Richard Blanco, known for his presidential inauguration poem One Today, will kick of Poetry Month events with a reception and reading at the Bangor Public Library. Tickets are free but required. Call 947-8336.
Read more here.

This year, Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair celebrates annual Poetry Day in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta. The event has traditionally been an invitation-only affair hosted at the Blaine House. This year’s celebration, sponsored by the Maine Arts Commission with assistance from the Maine Humanities Council, is free and open to the public on April 7 at 2:30 p.m.
Read more here. 

Maine’s Largest Poetry Festival is at the University of Maine Augusta. The University of Maine at Augusta will host the 12th Annual Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival on Friday evening, April 11th in Jewett Hall and all day Saturday, April 12th in the Fireplace Lounge of the Richard Randall Student Center.
Read more and see a schedule of events here.

As part of the Words Matter Visiting Poets Series: A Project of Maine Poetry Central and the Portland Poet Laureate Program, Tony Hoagland will be speaking and reading Thursday, April 16, at 7p.m. at University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall Auditorium in Portland, Maine. I was lucky to attend Richard Blanco’s similar presentation and the packed auditorium was a joy in and of itself.
Read more and get tickets here.

If you aren’t in Brunswick on April 30th but you have poetry that needs an audience check out some of these other great library open mic opportunities!

Portland Public Library

Rockland Public Library has events and contests all month.

Topsham Public Library

The University of Maine at Augusta will host the 12th Annual Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival on Friday evening, April 11th in Jewett Hall and all day Saturday, April 12th in the Fireplace Lounge of the Richard Randall Student Center.

There are tons more events that have been lovingly assembled on this PDF by the Maine Writer’s and Publishers Alliance.

The Academy of Poets commissions Chip Kidd for a Poetry Month poster each year. To get yours (either full sized or printable PDF) click here!

I made it to Round 2, Please Vote!

Dear, Readers. I have be absent but excusably so. I had some unplugged time last week while I traveled from health and yoga retreat, to a friend’s home, to the VCFA writing retreat (More about this later.) It was a week of emotional revelations and rejuvenation but through it all, I wrote poetry!

Yes, the March Madness Poetry Tournament continues and I’m still in the brackets. For round 2 I had the word “jam” and I’m up against, wonderful woman and Highlights editor, Marileta Robinson. What an honor. (She had the word “caricature.”) I hope you’ll take a look at our poems and choose your favorite.

(If you are not a good reader of subtext– I just asked you for your vote.)

Many of the commenters noticed that we both used “jazz” in our poems even though that was not a requirement. If you surf around the site you’ll see that this sort of collective conscious phenomenon happens time and again. Super weird!

Jam vs. Caricature

Please share the link widely on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Parents, please share with kids and teachers. Teachers, please share with students and other teachers!


Training event #1. Listen to Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco read his poetry.

On Monday I found out that I’d be an authlete in the Think Kid Think March Madness Poetry Tournament. I announced that I’d be posting about my training for said tournament. See original post. 

Training event #1. Listen to an amazing poet read his work.

Tuesday evening I attended the reading of Richard Blanco, Inaugural Poet extraordinaire. Mr. Blanco read at Merrill Theater in Portland, Maine in front of a huge audience. I’d say a packed house but there were a few seats left in the upper balconies. Check it out.


Mr. Blanco’s poetry was accessible, musical, and evocative. His reading techinque allowed me to close my eyes and imagine the words on the page, the line breaks, and how they enhanced the meaning and emotion of the poem. So, yes, I am a poetry nerd but more important, there was a whole room, nay, an auditorium full of poetry nerds, and artists, and other writers, and lovers of the same. One incredible, and incredibly wonderful community all gathered together to say, “Poetry is important to us. We value you, Richard Blanco, and the work you do.”

At the end of my evening, as I walked to my car, I happen to run into the poet himself. I introduced myself and complimented him on the reading. He was warm, and encouraging, and meeting him made a great night even better.  Training was never so joyful as it was tonight.

Watch Richard Blanco read the 2013 Inaugural Poem: One Today

Five on Friday: Happy 5773 Edition

If you missed it, last Wednesday marked the Jewish New Year. (Edited to add: Technically, Wednesday was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement after the new year, Rosh Hashanah a week before.) Civil, religious, or cultural, the new year gives us a chance to right our wrongs, wipe the slate clean, set goals, and get to work. Some of us need that more than others and therefore, I invite everyone to participate and take advantage of all new year celebrations.

For me, the holiday is not about sin but about what I can do to move the world (or my little piece of it) towards peace, good health, and prosperity through good-work and kindness. I see it as sort of a sliding continuum with goodness at one side and discord at the other. At the end of the day I can look back and see what things made the sliding marker move towards one end of the continuum or the other. I can make an effort to live in a way that skews towards goodness and helpfulness.

1. I’ve found this year to be especially challenging. As of this writing my husband has been away from home for a year. We expect him back from his Navy deployment in February. This week, a single-parent friend of mine told me, “What you’re doing feels hard because it is hard.” It is. I yell at my kids when they are not to blame. The house is often a wreck even though I feel that I should be able to manage it. Long distance relationships are wicked hard. Take everything that is difficult in your own marriage or relationship and then add 6,000 miles to it. Yeah. Not easy. Still, positive thinking– skewing towards goodness– is a good goal.

2. The summer found me submitting my YA manuscript to five agents. I was pleased to get notes from each of them with helpful feedback. I wish the notes had been “Yes, and…” notes instead of “No, but…” notes, but there are still some open doors there and many more waiting for me to knock. I am using the feedback in another round of revisions and hope to have the manuscript back out and about by November 1. (Public announcement of goal. *check*) This paragraph makes me sound like robot writer– get notes, make revisions, send it out again. However, the late summer and fall were emotional and filled with self-doubt. Of course, my current life situation was a factor. (see #1) I sat down a couple of times to write a big post about self-doubt and fear in art but just couldn’t do it–couldn’t bare my soul.

3. Because of #1 and #2, I found myself looking for “real jobs” again. I applied to a couple right away, got interviews and didn’t make the final cut. I subscribe to the everything-happens-for-a-reason theory and believe that right now writing and taking care of my family need to come first. I’m still looking (searching “Event Planning, Teaching, Writing, Public Relations” in all possible job search engines) but hope to find something that starts more towards January of next year.

4. I am not idle. On Saturday, the 2nd annual Children’s Book Illustration Symposium took place at New Hampshire Institute of Art. As the main event organizer, I’ve been knee deep in those preparations for a good six-eight months. The event was a huge success. We had about 60 participants, wonderful presenters, and new this year– portfolio reviews. Evals are still coming in but generally, the symposium faculty and attendants were all pleased.

5. Friends and family have been so important recently. I’ve found amazing support from friends in my town who have taken my kiddos for overnights, or invited us to dinner. My bookclub and writer’s groups have been irreplaceable. Mom and sister know that they might have to initiate the contact but that I’m so grateful to get the call.

For those of you who enjoy a capella, here is a parting song.

Member Monday: NESCBWI Fall Events!

The RA’s in New England have not been idle during the summer months. No… after the spring conference we all hunker down and keep planning events for you. Three events are on the docket in the next few months!

2nd Annual Children’s Book Illustration Symposium

The Illustration Symposium takes place on Saturday, September 29th from 9:30 to 4:30 and includes a snack and lunch. The event is a presentation of SCBWI in Northern New England (contact Northern RA, Anna Boll) and New Hampshire Institute of Art. Last year this event was “Illustrator Day,” but with its fancy title comes some extra bells and whistles. In addition to a keynote speech by Melissa Sweet, and an encore presentation of highly evaluated illustration workshops from our spring conference (from Anne Sibley O’Brien and Brian Lies), we’ve added in an exciting panel discussion about book production of Melissa Sweet’s ALA Sibert winning book Balloons Over Broadway. A designer from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the Art Director from Candlewick Press are also available for portfolio critiques. Book sale by Toadstool Books. Sign up today!

Overcoming Challenges: A Program for Writers and Illustrators

On Saturday, October 6, 2012, from 10:00 to 3:30, at the Eric Carle Museum in Western Massachusetts (contact PAL Coordinator, Melissa Stewart) four authors and author-illustrators will participate in a two-part program that addresses the challenges we all face as writers and illustrators of children’s book. A book sale and signing will round out the day.

Encore! 2012

On Saturday October 20, SCBWI in Southern New England (contact Southern RA, Sally Riley) will host ENCORE! 2012, a day with four writing workshops by faculty who received high evaluations at our spring conference. For this event, NE-SCBWI teams with the Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature (ASTAL) at Rhode Island College in Providence. The registration fee of $50 includes a continental breakfast and hot buffet lunch.

Whether you are a writer or illustrator living in northern or southern New England or in between, please take advantage of the amazing professional development opportunities provided by NESCBWI.

Children’s Book Illustration Symposium Poster!

Click through for registration, workshop description, portfolio critique information, schedule, and faculty bios!

A huge thank you to the design department at NHIA for this beautiful poster. Special thanks to Melissa Sweet for the images, Jim Burke, Illustration Department Chair, Ryan O’Rourke, and Lara McCormick.

Feel free to spread the word and the image. Tweet away!

Registration opens today for NESCBWI/NHIA Children’s Book Illustration Symposium

Note: This event used to be called “Illustrator Day.” SCBWI members you have dibs on registration for this event for a week. Also, this is my first time working with PayPal on a Google form so if anyone chooses those links for payment, could you leave me a comment telling me that it worked and sent you back to the form or (eek) didn’t.

NESCBWI and NHIA present
Melissa Sweet in
The 2nd annual Children’s Book Illustration Symposium

When: Saturday, September 29, 2012
Time: 9:30-4:30
Where: Emma Blood French Auditorium (The French Building) on the New Hampshire Institute of Art campus in Manchester, NH.

Keynote speaker: Melissa Sweet

The workshops:

“The Process, Challenges, and Rewards of Teamwork.”
Melissa Sweet, Author/Illustrator, Rachel Newborn, HMH Designer, Crystal Paquette, HMH Print Production Coordinator will discuss the teamwork required to publish the ALA Sibert Winning book Balloons Over Broadway. The panel will focus on the processes, challenges, and rewards of working with/and integrating two and three dimensional art.

“Color Your World”
As poet Lucille Clifton said, “The literature of America should reflect the children of America.” But in the 21st century, the children’s book field is not nearly as racially diverse as our society – neither in those who select, create and produce the books, nor in the books themselves. We’ll review some of the reasons for this reality, including some good news: research demonstrating that exposure to diverse children’s books can actually reduce prejudice. For the bulk of the workshop, Anne Sibley O’Brein will focus on what illustrators can do now, including exploring your own experience of race, creating characters from races different from your own, drawing racial differences (we’ll do some quick drawing exercises), supporting writers and illustrators of color, and choosing diverse books. Together we’ll imagine possibilities for creating books in which all of our nation’s children can see themselves reflected.

“How to Sell Your Book Without Selling Your Soul”
Brian Lies has had his books read on NPR, his Batmobile spotted at book signings across America, and his artwork used for public library summer reading programs. In this workshop, Brian will give you concrete marketing tools to become the best advocate for your book.

Portfolio Critiques:

We are introducing a limited number portfolio critiques at this year’s event. Critiquers (starred in the presenter list below) will be randomly assigned by the conference staff. Critiquers will use the SCBWI Illustration “gold form” to give feedback. Since the critiquer will not have the work before the symposium, we have asked them to give their first impressions regarding the areas on the “gold form” in a way they might if they were at the office, got a postcard that interested them, and took a first look at your online portfolio. The critique fee of $45 is not included in the symposium fee.

Registration Fees/Dates:

SCBWI Members, $70
Portfolio Critique, $45
SCBWI Registration opens Monday, August 27th. There are limited spaces available for portfolio critiques. Please register/pay early.
Payments may be made by check or online.

If you choose to pay by check, your registration is not confirmed until we receive your check. Checks should be made payable to: NESCBWI Checks should be sent to:

Denise Ortakales, Illustrator Coordinator
711 Shore Drive, Laconia, NH 03246
Those who choose to pay online will incur a $5 processing fee.

Click here for registration and payment, speaker bios, and a schedule of events.

Poem In Your Pocket 2012 Wrap-Up

This morning I opened my email to find this lovely note:

Thank  you very much for your good spirit and good work in the name of poetry this past week.  I missed the poem-in-your-pocket festivities on Thursday, but went to hear Wes McNair last night and enjoyed his readings and observations immensely.

What a joy to feel appreciated but a bigger joy still to have worked with co-organizers, Evie Katz, and Kathy Koerber, to bring something positive, and constructive to my community.

Throughout the week we brought poetry into the hearts and minds of over 100 neighbors.

Our events provided a stage and microphone for over 25 poets young and old, from those newly embracing the poetic form to professionals and professors.

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Events in the schools and libraries served students in grades K-8 and the high school librarians created a beautiful bulletin board for Poem in Your Pocket Day. All these numbers resulted in countless smiles and new friends.

If you are interested in volunteering to help with next year’s festivities, please contact me. annajboll at gmail dot com

Member Monday: NESCBWI Spring Conference Buzz with Joyce Johnson, Conference Co-Director

Here at Creative Chaos, the NESCBWI 2012 conference buzz is building. “Keeping It Real,” takes place from April 20-22 at the Sheration Springfield Place, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Today I’m happy to have Joyce Shor Johnson, Co-Director for the conference. She’s agreed to answer some of my questions about the conference and if you have more, please put them in the comments!

Hey, Joyce!

Springfield, Massachusetts is a new location for the conference. What did NESCBWI gain by changing venues?

NESCBWI gained space to expand our conference offerings. This year, we are able to offer more opportunities for manuscript and portfolio critiques, Agent Quick Queries and brand new opportunities to help improve your chances for advancement in the industry with Submission Strategy meetings and NetWit Social Media and Promotion consultations. The way the traffic flows in this space allows for more interaction among attendees and faculty and makes networking easy.

Since Springfield is a transportation hub, did that make editor and agent recruitment easier?

I don’t know about making recruitment easier, but it certainly makes transportation to and from the conference less complicated. Recruitment this year was more about fielding request to participate from agents and editors. They want to be here as New England holds these industry professionals in such high regards.

So now that we have all these great industry professionals, I see that NESCBWI is offering more critiques then ever before! Tell us about the walk-in, and other new options for critiques.

Yes, On-The-Spot critiques are a go. They are with Elizabeth Carpentiere and will be 3-5 pages for 15 minutes. You can sign up at registration. Also the registration desk will have sign ups for NetWit Social Media and Promotion consultations and other high demand bonus offerings. I’d say that this year, people should bring with them a large stack of business cards, the very polished first five pages of a completed manuscript or portfolio and their checkbook so they can jump on any bonus item opportunities they may arise.

We have Sara Zarr, and Harry Bliss as Keynoters this year. What other speakers can attendees expect?

Okay just so you know, we have AMAZING panels this year. Our Friday night Keynote is an Independent Editor Panel: What’s Going on in Children’s Publishing Today and How to Navigate It with Harold Underdown, Tamson Weston, Eileen Robinson, J.L. Bell and Lionel Bender. Kate Mesnner is presenting her TED talk, and there will
Keeping it Real After the Signing: Author/Agent Relationships with Vickie Motter, Jennifer Laughran, Stephen Fraser, Kate Messner, Chris Brodien-Jones, and Kristine Carlson Asselin. The list just goes on-and-on.

I love that there are so many intensive options this year: novels, picture books, nonfiction and illustration. I’ve even had other regions ask me how we do it. How do the intensives change kind of learning that goes on at the conference?

I think the intensive offerings elevate the level of our conference by helping writers and illustrators really dig into their crafts. The downside is having to limit it. This year intensives offerings were pretty much full within 36-48 hours. We were all shocked at this. Really, none of us thought they would fill up as quickly as they did.

The schedule is just packed with great workshops. At the national conference they used the Guidebook App so people could keep track of everything they have to do and everywhere they have to go – on their smartphones. Will NESBWI be using it too? How do attendees get it?

Funny you should ask. I have been working on the NESCBWI Guidebook app for a while now and it should be ready for unveiling any day now. There will be an E-blast and an announcement on the website. This app allows you to personalize your itinerary to your conference needs. it lists faculty, bonus items, and special interest groups. You can even post photos of your adventures at the conference.

What other conference related technology should members know about? Is there a Twitter hashtag people should use to tweet about the conference?

The Twitter hashtag is #nescbi12. I do urge everyone to make sure they use it. Technology is evolving so quickly, I think we will see many more people with ipads and other devices. I hope attendees will keep a lot the technology at bay so they can reap the benefits of being in a building with close to 750 people who are all like minded and work on their networking. This is a tremendous opportunity to get away from the social media and technology for a short time and immerse themselves in just being with other authors, illustrators, editors, and agents who think being in children’s publishing is the best thing ever!

I hear there might be some surprises in store for the conference. Can you reveal any clues?

I’m not ready to reveal the cool additions, but people should be prepared. Bring first pages, bring portfolio items. You just never know what additional opportunities might pop up this year. We are still working out some of the details!  I do urge anyone with a Cat In The Hat hat, to wear theirs.

It may be too early to ask, but can you give us a sneak peek into your thoughts for next year? When and where will the Call For Proposals (CFP) be posted?

The NESCBWI 2013 Conference is Word By Word – The Art Of Craft. The Call for proposals will go out June 1, 2012. You can sign up through NESCBWI’s Constant Contact email lists (if you haven’t already) to be included in the Call for Proposals. It will also be announced on the website and tweeted. The conference date is set for May 3-5, 2013 and will be at Sheration Springfield Place, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Thank you so much for visiting Creative Chaos, Joyce. Having been in your place, I know that the Co-Directors give up tons of their own time to basically create a college for the weekend. NESCBWI puts on amazing conferences all with volunteers. A huge thank you to everyone who plays a part in creating this incredible learning and networking opportunities for SCBWI members. Let the countdown begin… 17 days and a wake up! If you have questions for Joyce, please leave them in the comments.