Winning at Life with Poetry

As an optimist with an idealist streak, I believe that poetry can change the world, one reader or listener at a time. Today’s story is how I got to be a better version of myself, because of Poetry.

Yesterday I attended the 10th anniversary party for Living Poetry, my home base for poetry in NC’s Triangle. Despite the pounding rain that caused minor flooding in the area, about 20 brave souls gathered at the NC Botanic Gardens for lunch and poetry.  These annual gatherings always involve sharing poetry in some way. Earlier this year, I suggested to my friend Bartholomew Barker, LP organizer, that he and his co-organizers turn the event into a fundraiser,  (group expenses are primarily fees, some  printing costs and the party costs) by holding an Open Mic competition. Attendees vote for the winner, $1 a vote. They decided to go with it.

Two of the LP organizers donated copies of their poetry chapbooks as the prize for third-place. I chipped in a box of magnetic poetry tiles. The second-place prize was The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove. The first-place winner would receive The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, and all the “votes” (dollars) they had received. The remaining “votes” go to Living Poetry.

Out of habit, I checked Robert Brewer’s blog for the April 13, Poem-A-Day prompt before I left home. The prompt, “Write a view poem,” sparked an idea and I composed one during the drive over, which I scribbled down as soon as I got there. When it was my turn, I performed the two poems I had pre-selected pieces — one of which was a known crowd-pleaser — and this freshly minted poem:

The view today is grey skies and rain.
I hate driving in it; it’s such a pain.
I’m more than damp. I feel wet.
Please tell me if it’s stopped yet.
I’m done but for just one note.
I’m only here to get your vote.

Every poetry reading is a performance, or at least, it can be. Whether a poem is funny or serious, high art or doggerel, it is fundamentally entertainment.  Being a natural ham, I enjoy the performance aspect of poetry. Now I can’t say for sure if it was the quality of the work I brought with me, or the performance, but apparently, this is what it takes to win!

I can’t tell you how happy I am with this beautiful thesaurus with it’s 1000+ pages of definitions, word lists, and short essays by a wide variety of writers. You probably want to know how much money I won. Unfortunately, I never counted it.

Generosity is a core value, but given the financial realities of my life, I don’t generally donate money to causes. I do strive to be generous with people though, in terms of time, attention, and mentoring. That is until today! The applause and the beautiful thesaurus with cash tucked inside was exhilarating and inspiring! Bart brought the prize to me and had stepped away but I stopped him and said loudly, cause that’s how I do it, “OK, this dollar is for the vote I gave myself,” and peeled one off, “and these two are for a lottery ticket because I’m feeling lucky, and these go back to the pot.” And then I handed the rest back to him with more applause. I felt like a millionaire at a high-end charity ball! It was so much fun – I called four people when I left to tell them the story and to squeal about it all over again! By the way, I did stop to get a Powerball ticket for Saturday’s drawing. I did not win that one but it’s OK. I still have the immense satisfaction and connection of being a member of a thriving poetic community.


It’s Poetry Month Again!

It’s time again to celebrate poetry. Inspired by Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), the Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. This month we celebrate the legacy of poets and poetry for their contributions to our culture and lives. It’s also a great time to encourage people to read and write poetry.

I wasn’t always a poet, but when I stepped into the water, I never looked back. I’m lucky to live in a place where writers and poets abound. For me, poetry is always alive and well; so, it’s with great appreciation and gratitude that I have seen this annual celebration of poetry continue to grow. Now more than ever we need poetry.

If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ve heard me talk about the annual Poem-A-Day challenge. Honestly, I don’t know if he started the whole crazy thing, or if he’s just the most well-known proponent, but Writer’s Digest blogger, Robert Lee Brewer, has been encouraging (pushing and  prodding) poets across the country to write a poem every day during April for almost 10 years now.

For the last five years I’ve had varying degrees of success completing the challenge.  Last year was my most successful year with 30 poems written in 30 days.  It was rewarding and satisfying, but it wasn’t easy. Will I be able to do it again? Do I want to try? Frankly I’m undecided. But I couldn’t resist writing one today, April 1.  If you want to try your hand at this, check out Robert’s blog, Poetic Asides, for daily prompts. This is the poem I wrote to his first prompt:

For today’s prompt, write a morning poem. Maybe you’re a morning person, maybe not. Your poem can be about a morning. Or it can be set during the morning. And those who’ve done this before probably already know that I have no problem with you interpreting this as a “mourning poem.”


The twelve hour clock is as cruel as April
for the night dweller.
Did Airy know his Greenwich Mean Time
would be my undoing?

My eyes do not open until noon
with is neither a.m. or p.m.
The truest meridian is midnight.

Time is a state of mind.
Morning is when I make it.
Brunch is at always at two.
Where is my coffee?


Poetry in Plain Sight

The quest to become a published author can be difficult and arduous, and generally there is more disappointment then success. However, don’t let that stop you. The journey can be weird; there will be highs and lows. Do it anyway! Today’s post is one of those high/low publication stories, in which I appear as both the hero and the village idiot. Enjoy!

The picture accompanying today’s post is me, holding a poster of my poem, “Talk to Me!” (Full poem below.) The poster is from the Poetry in Plain Sight project which is a North Carolina initiative, launched in 2013, to bring NC poets and their poetry into NC public spaces. I’m honored that they selected my work. There are a lot of writers and poets in this state. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one. But don’t throw rocks. Especially if you’re in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. You might hit a window with a poem on it.

PIPS is run by the Winston-Salem Writers’ program in collaboration with the North Carolina Poetry Society and Press 53. Four poems are chosen monthly and displayed on posters in street-visible locations throughout arts districts and downtown areas in Winston-Salem. This year they expanded to Waynesville NC in the west and New Bern NC in the east.

I submitted in December 2017 and was notified by email in February 2018 that I would be in the March 2018 – March 2019 Poetry in Plain Sight program. I was told that my month was January 2019. The email also stated:

Details about upcoming Poetry in Plain Sight, Live! events are forthcoming. One complimentary poster copy will be given to each poet at the Live! event, or mailed after the event if you are unable to attend. There will be an opportunity to purchase additional copies.

So, I waited. And waited. And life goes goes on. Fast forward one year and I have a vague memory that I never heard from the PIPS folks. In the back of my mind I felt that I needed to do something but then the thought went away. Fortunately, after many years of being a member of the local poetic community, I finally joined the North Carolina Poetry Society. (Pro tip: Don’t wait to take advantage of resources like this organization in your local writing community.) In the NCPS February newsletter was a list of the poets appearing in W-S in February for Poetry in Plain Sight. Wait. What? Did I miss it? Yes! I missed the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to W-S (about 2 hours from where I live) to see my poem taped to a store window.

Disappointment lay upon me like the lead apron at the dentist’s office. I was also angry with myself and annoyed with the program. After a thorough search of my email I confirmed that I had never received notice of a live event, nor notice of where exactly my poem would appear. W-S is the fifth largest city in the state. Was I supposed to just drive around randomly? I will spare you the details of the email exchanges to focus on the bright and shiny end result. The poster arrived in the mail this week!

They spelled my name wrong.

I’m still going to frame it. In the meantime, here is the poem on said poster. Enjoy!

Talk to Me
Can we talk?
It’s not important
except that it is.
I want to talk to you
with speech, using sound,
and facial expression.
I want to punctuate my words
with hand gestures
instead of emojis.
Call me, anytime.
Stop by, or or we can meet.
I’m looking for conversation,
unplugged and acoustic,
live and in person.
Otherwise, the words pile up
like old paper backs
on over-flowing bookshelves.


The Business of Love


Today is February 14, Valentine’s Day. Fifty one percent of American consumers plan to celebrate this year, which is down from years past. However, those that do celebrate are spending more than they have in the past: $162 on average which is 13% up from last year. These statistics come from an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics; and were reported on the National Retail Federation website.

What does that have to do with you? Nothing, unless you happen to be an artist of some sort, and you want your art to be enjoyed, and hopefully purchased. Love, all human emotion, is what makes great art (literature, poetry, music and more). Get good at expressing love and you will find an audience.

My writing focus for the last several years has been poetry, and I believe that no one can call themselves a poet if they have not written a dozen or so love poems. It’s just part of the job. Will they all be good? Of course not! It would be great hubris to think every phrase that falls from one’s fingers is quality. But keep writing anyway! Sooner or later, something something will work.

I am not celebrating Valentine’s today, but I am celebrating the publication of my poem, Where is Love? in a brand new poetry anthology! The graphic for this post is from the cover of the book: Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love, edited by Claudine Nash, published by Transcendent Zero Press, available for sale on Amazon as of yesterday!

Whatever you are doing, or not doing today, I hope you find a little love and tenderness, and poetry, in unexpected places.

5 Random Pieces of Advice for Sensitive-Ass Poets

Greetings readers, writers, and friends. I hope February finds you well and busy with your projects. February is a short month but a busy one, with Love (coughFeb14cough) high on the list. Today, through the magical linkyness of social media, I discovered a blogger and poet by the name of Scott Woods and I might have have an unsubstantiated love-at-first-read-writer-crush. So rather than be all stalky and weird, I’m just going to share this great post – full of inspiration, motivation, and wisdom. Enjoy.

Scott Woods Makes Lists

I’ve been running a poetry show for almost two decades. It’s an irreverent bit of nasty business, but we mean well and want the best for the poets who come through the door. That said, here are five things you can do to improve as a poet today, from one of the most sensitive hearts running one of the most insensitive rooms around.

1) Shoot for More Poems, Fewer Back Rubs
My 12 year old niece can write a poem. It will be a bad poem, but it will be earnest, and will describe the world as she sees it, which as it turns out, won’t be as unique as she thinks it is. And that’s okay because she’s 12. If she wants to write poems to get attention, then she’ll get every head pat I have to give until my arm slides out of its socket and onto the…

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A Writer’s Ration

I’m a writer, not a mathematician; and I’m definitely not good with rationing. (One bag, one service, one sitting.) But here at last, someone has laid out a formula I can get behind.



writer checklistInspiRATION- 10%





CulminATION-10% (When you R through)


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Two weeks left!

I am, as many of you know, chronically late, so let me be the last to wish you all a Happy New Year! The good news is that there’s still two weeks left in January to give up or set aside your new year resolutions!

“What?! JeanMarie, that’s not very encouraging! That’s why I read your blog!”

I understand. And thank you for reading. I do want to encourage you and support you in all of your writing and life endeavors, today.  Today, let’s just work on the everlasting moment of now and let the year take care of itself.

Don’t be afraid to start something because you are worried about the result. Everyone has a different approach to their projects, but personally, my writing happens in the editing process.  Not quite as rare as a coin landing on it’s edge, but more rare than a horoscope coming true, it is a wondrous thing to get a poem just right the first time the words hit the paper. The other 98% of the time, it takes work.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sand castles. ~Shannon Hale

Take a deep breath and (when you’re done with this blog) write something down. A paragraph, a page, or perhaps, just a sentence. Congratulations. You have started!

In other news:

Today, January 21, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Americans as well as people around the world, honor this man whose life and words continue to inspire us.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward forward. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


In addition to this important remembrance, today is also Squirrel Appreciation Day. You can read more about it here:

You swerve to avoid a squirrel. Unknown to you, the squirrel pledges a life debt to you. In your darkest hour, the squirrel arrives. ~Unknown

I like squirrels because they’re clever, agile, resourceful and cute. They make me happy.  Find what makes you happy in life and have more of that.