May Poetry Retreat

With March underway, it’s time to start thinking about spring. I’m looking forward to doing a few poetry readings during the warmer months, and my creative juices always flow a little easier once winter is in the rear-view. If you’re looking for a writing retreat, I highly suggest the poetry retreat at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA on Saturday, May 11. The cost is only $25 and includes lunch and dinner, several workshops, readings, and reserved space to write and/or read. I’ll be one of the workshop leaders, most likely teaching a fun class on incorporating pop culture into writing. If interested, check out the RVSP form.



Summer Events/Readings

I hope that everyone is enjoying mid-summer! I’m going to be doing a few events around northeastern, Pennsylvania that I wanted to share. If you’re local, I hope that you can attend some of these.

Saturday, July 22 7 P.M.

Just Words: An Evening with NEPA Poets

Loose Leaf Pages Bookstore, Honesdale

I will be reading with Daryl Sznyter and Nancy Dymond.

Facebook event page here.

Saturday, July 29 9-3 p.m.

2017 Authorfest at the Dorflinger Factory Museum

I will be on a poetry panel in the morning and then selling books.

This is a free event and a means to network and meet other writers.

Aug. 4-5 Pennsylvania Writers Conference at Wilkes University

I will be on a panel entitled Pressing the Issue: Working with an Independent Press.

Our panel actually runs both days! Natasha Tretheway will give the keynote address on Saturday evening.

For more info or to register, go here.

So, if you’re in NEPA, there are a lot of literary events coming up. I hope that you can attend! Special sidenote: I really encourage people to shop at Loose Leaf Pages in Honesdale. Let’s give this new independent bookstore and tea house all the support that we can!


Writers’ Showcase THIS Saturday

The Writers Showcase Spring 2017 (1)-page-001


If you’re around the Scranton area this Saturday, I encourage you to attend the Writers’ Showcase. We have a fantastic line-up of authors who will be sharing their work. Here are their bios:

Amanda J. Bradley is the author of three books of poems: Queen Kong (2017), Oz at Night (2011), and Hints and Allegations (2009). She has published poetry and essays in many journals including Paterson Literary Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Kin Poetry Journal, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, and Poetry Bay. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School, and she holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She is an Assistant Professor at Keystone College outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Barbara J. Taylor has an MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her latest novel, All Waiting Is Long, is the sequel to her debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, named a “Best Book of Summer 2014” by Publishers Weekly. In addition to writing, Barbara has been teaching high school English for 30 years.

Al Manorek is an aspiring writer and poet originally from Shavertown. He is an active member of NEPA Creative Writers and the Game Chateau Writers. He enjoys performing at various local
open mics throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. He was drawn to writing at the tender age of twelve when he began writing short stories and poetry. He loves working as a Regional Substitute Teacher for Bright Horizons Family Solutions. He is an avid home brewer and professionally guest bartenders for friends in need.

Heather Harlen is the author of the Marina Konyeshna thriller series (Northampton House Press). SHAME, SHAME, I KNOW YOUR NAME is the second book in the thrillogy. Heather was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania and has coal dust in her blood, so this series takes place in the Wilkes-Barre area. She earned an M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teachies high school English in Allentown. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Hippocampus and Yoganonymous. Find out more at

Robert Fillman won the poetry contest at the 2016 Pennsylvania Writers Conference at Wilkes University and has been featured as a “Showcase Poet” in the Aurorean. Recently, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blueline, Chiron Review, Off the Coast, Pembroke Magazine, Spillway, and others. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate and Teaching Fellow at Lehigh University, where he also edits the university literary magazine, Amaranth, and runs the Drown Writers Series. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Melissa, and their two children, Emma and Robbie.

Authors will have books for sale, too!

Philadelphia Writers Conference and Interview

I don’t usually promote conferences and residencies on this blog because there are SO many of them, and it’s hard to keep track. However, I do like to promotes ones that are semi-local, and more importantly, affordable. I became aware of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference when my friend Uriah became a board member a few years ago. I dug in and researched the conference more, trying to see how it differed from the hundreds upon hundreds of others writers conferences that exist throughout the U.S.  Here is where I think it differs: its focus is multi-genre, with a heavy emphasis on bettering one’s craft.  It has several panels and workshops dedicated to craft. So, essentially, it is not just a place to pitch ideas to agents or hawk a poetry manuscript. Sure there is some of that, but there is also a lot of attention given to strengthening one’s skills. If you take the time to attend some of the workshops, you’ll leave with additional tools and ideas, not just business cards.

If you’re looking to attend something in PA and visit my favorite U.S. city (Philly), then check out the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can still register, too.

In the meantime, if you want, you can check out this video interview I did with Uriah, on behalf of the conference, as a means to talk about writing and poetry.

Some Thoughts on the Ph.D. and M.F.A. Debate

I had the opportunity to write about my experience getting a Ph.D. after an M.F.A. The article was published in The Write Life, a publication that is part of Wilkes University’s M.F.A. program. More and more, I have friends with an M.F.A. pondering whether or not they should get a Ph.D. in order to get out of adjunct limbo. My article goes into the pros and cons, including the tough job market for the Humanities. That said, getting my Ph.D. at Binghamton University was one of the most rewarding, enriching experiences of my life. It challenged me intellectually and allowed me to befriend other writers and academics that will probably be life-long friends and colleagues. With that said, there are serious considerations for anyone thinking about a Ph.D., including the job market. There are so few tenure-track positions, and openings attract hundreds of applicants. I feel fortunate for the job I have, but I always adjuncted at the institution prior to landing the job. I had other teaching experience, too.  For anyone considering a Ph.D., I want to stress the importance of getting work experience, including as a teaching assistant. I don’t advise anyone to take out debt to complete the degree because finishing it doesn’t necessarily mean a tenure-track job afterwards.

What’s Behind a Poem?

Recently, I got in a conversation with a friend about Donald Hall’s life and long career. This occurred after I blurbed her forthcoming book and drew some resemblance to her collection and Hall’s poetry, at least in her treatment of everyday subject matter and rural scenes. My friend then noted that Donald Hall, now 86, has stopped writing poetry and is only writing prose. In fact, his latest book is a prose collection, Essays After 80.

I had already known that Hall stopped writing poetry. Prior to the release of his latest book, he gave a lengthy interview in Poets & Writers in which he confessedthat he has stopped writing poetry and joked that it’s because he no loner has enough testosterone. Hall, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, did admit, however, that he keeps revising old poems. I still wonder to what end.

In an interview with NPR, Hall was more specific regarding his inability to write new poems. He confessed, “Prose is not so dependent on sound. The line of poetry, with the breaking of the line — to me sound is the kind of doorway into poetry. And my sense of sound, or my ability to control it, lapsed or grew less. I still use it in prose, but the unit is the paragraph.”

My writing process is similar, in that, for me, poetry often begins with sound and rhythm. I may have an image, but the structure of the poem is dependent on sound, especially the breaking of the line and the progression of the image or extended metaphor. I write and rewrite to stretch the language of a line and to play words off of each other for rhythmic effects.

In the same interview, however, Hall admits that he didn’t see the essays coming, but they did come. We can hope that new poems will come, too, but his statements regarding his inability to write new poems raises questions about what composes a poem and what is needed. Is it possible to still compose once the senses start to dull? Poetry is so dependent upon the senses and the structure is so reliant on sound that it seems inevitable the process will become more difficult with old age.

A Call for a Change in Habit and Routine

If you do a Google search about the writing process, you will find numerous articles that preach the importance of routine, habit, and discipline. Those are certainly important characteristics, and in any writing course that I teach, I begin by addressing the writing process. Specifically, I tell students that everyone’s process is different, but you have to find a routine that works for you. You have to show up and do the work, not expect inspiration to merely find you. It never works that way. Sometimes, I share this link/article with them about the routines of famous writers, everyone from Ray Bradybury to Susan Sontag.

I’ve had the same writing routine since college. More specifically, I write in the morning, often starting with journaling or a recording of dreams, and then moving to a draft of a previous poem or new poem. I either sit at my writing desk, in the bedroom, or at the dining table. I’ve had an affinity for writing at dining tables since college, when I had no other place to write because I shared a cramped apartment with three of my friends. In college, I developed the routine of writing in the morning, before my late morning/early afternoon classes. I hustled to finish drafts of poems or short stories before my afternoon and evening workshops. Beyond location, I have other specific aspects of my routine. I journal and write all drafts of poems by hand. There is something to be said about breath, rhythm, and writing by hand. Revisions are later done in Word, printed out, and then written over in pen, before revised in Word again. This is what works for me.

Lately, however, I’ve needed to clear my mind and sweep away some dead energy. I felt confined to a space. While routines and specific habits are important, so the writer gets in the habit of sitting down in a chair and showing up for the muse, there is also something to be said about breaking out of habit. For four days, I ventured to Cape May and used the time not only to see the town again, but also to write. In that span of time, I wrote seven new poems. n addition, I plowed through some books that have been stacked on my shelves for weeks, even months.There is something to be said about a simple change of scenery, and it doesn’t have to be a mini vacation. It can simply mean visiting a new cafe or walking through different parts of your neighborhood.

If you are stuck, try breaking the routine, at least for a day or two. Take the journal and laptop and go to a new cafe or park. Take a long walk through unexplored territory. It will help, trust me.

Some Advice on Writing Groups

My friend and fellow writer, Uriah Young, has an excellent post over at one of his blogs regarding writing groups. It’s worth the read, and you can check it out by clicking here.

His commentary regarding feedback, networking, and building support is sound  advice. I will admit that I don’t belong to a writing group that meets frequently, but I certainly have pillars of support that have fostered my writing throughout the years. Anyways, go check out his post!

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

If you’re looking for something new to read, one of my favorite new literary journals is Tahoma Literary Review, which publishes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The journal will soon release its debut issue, and you can already read about some of the contributors. It’s a rather impressive list. I also like the journal because of the blog posts the editors write every few weeks, which contain some of the most practical advice on writing I’ve read, especially for those first getting started. In the latest post, editor Kelly Davio stresses the importance of submitting work early in a submission period. This post stuck because because when a lot of journals and magazines open for submissions in September, I don’t always submit my work to them immediately. Kelly’s post is making me re-think that.

Here’s what she has to say about submissions, “When editors see a piece we simply have to have, we know we’d better grab it before it appears in another magazine’s pages. That means we often have few pages left in the issue by the last week or two of the submission period:, and competition that was already tough to begin with reaches cutthroat proportions. I sometimes have to say no to great poems when they reach me on the late side.”

She adds that for the first submission period, they received work from over 350 poets, usually five poems per poet. Of the poems, over 200 came in the last week, but the journal was already 2/3 full. Those statistics really put things into perspective, and when September rolls around and a flood of journals open for submissions, I don’t plan to wait. Send the work out there at the beginning of the period.

If you have the time, I suggest going back and reading some of the older blog posts, too. All contain useful information.

Sometimes You Just Have to Say No

The nonfiction journal Brevity has a great blog post about ways to avoid overbooking yourself as a writer. The guest author, Lev Raphael, admits that most young writers say yes to everything for the exposure. However, there is  a danger to that because committing to so many engagements pulls a writer from the daily work schedule. Raphael shares some useful advice he learned from another writer during an engagement at a Jewish Community Center. “It’s not just the day you’re there, she (the other author) said, if it’s only a day.  It’s the day before, getting ready, and then at least one day of re-entry into your regular schedule, sometimes more, depending on how complicated your visit was.”

Raphael also notes that writers should consider whether or not the gig will be fun or challenging, and whether or not the compensation, if there is any, is worth it. Raphael’s post made me reflect upon all of the writing engagements and readings I’ve done in the last few years, which has probably neared 100 or so. More recently, most of them have been worth it and have led to book sales and networking with different writers and literary communities. However, when I first started doing this, I said yes to everything. I’ve driven a few hundred miles round trip to read before five or six people. Looking back, I would have said thanks, but no thanks to some of those engagements. Like Raphael advises, guard your time and worry about the work first and foremost.  Research the conference or reading series. Make sure the drive or air travel is worth it.