Making a Manuscript—With My Support!

A Body of Work is a ten-week, online manuscript incubator where poets learn how to assemble and edit their first poetry chapbook. I created this course during a six month artist residency at the Jean Noble Parsons Center for the Study of Art and Science in 2012. Four years prior, my first chapbook had won a competition, judged by Fleda Brown, former poet laureate of Delaware, and since then I had also served on the editorial board of the small press that had published my collection, where I was able to work closely with many other authors to develop their work toward a publishable book.

I have been interested in the form of the book, and more recently, the chapbook, since college, when I supported myself in part by submitting my creative writing (poems and essays) to the prestigious Hopwood Awards, which required that you present the submission as a manuscript. I loved sitting on the floor in my student housing, figuring out how to make a cohesive collection. I usually used my prize money to travel during my summers. Twenty years later, I love sharing this process with other adults who have, in many cases, been writing since college and are finally ready to make their best poems into a first chapbook.

In this course, which begins at the end of January—I have 2-4 spots remaining—we look closely at how other chapbooks and books that we admire are constructed, and learn how to arrange our own poems into a shapely collection. We prepare two full drafts of a 10-30 page poetry manuscript; give and receive feedback from a peer; meet in live video classes; discuss key readings in online forums; and work one on one with the instructor, Holly Wren Spaulding, the author of two chapbooks, one full-length book, and numerous essays, articles, reviews and collaborative publications, to complete a project by the end of the course. Some participants go on to submit their work to poetry presses and contests, while others prefer to self-publish, usually enlisting independent publishing professionals in that process.

This course is appropriate for highly motivated writers who have been gathering poems for a while, and have at least 15-20 pieces that they believe might belong in a collection. More poems is always better as we start out with a draft of up to 50 poems. You can find out more information, and read testimonials on the course page.

During the 2019 session, I will be working on a personal project  in which I will create a new manuscript from fragments written during 2018, and using the Cento form as a guide. It it possible that this is a viable form for you, too?

If you are interested in this offering, please reach out via my contact page.

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Delicate Utterances. Marks on the Cave Wall.

Delicate Utterances. Marks on the Cave Wall

Artists present first of two collaborative works in Great Barrington this weekend


Great Barrington, MA. Lenox based artist Karen Dolmanisth works with found objects and natural materials to create site specific sculptures and drawings that combine physical movement  with an intuitive relationship to space and time. When Pioneer Valley poet Holly Wren Spaulding began collaborating with her two years ago, the process that emerged grew from their shared affinity with many of the same concepts, influences, and life experiences that have mattered to the artists independently, including John Cage, Yoko Ono and Buddhist practice. Their current process and project, ‘Still, Inviolate Center,’ will be on view this weekend at the Geoffrey Young Gallery in downtown Great Barrington with a live performance at 5:30 pm.


Holly Wren Spaulding and Karen Dolmanisth. Arts and Industry Building, Florence, Massachusetts. Photo by Candace Hope.


“I’m wanting to make a beyond-words gesture that says: from this place, I know that which is greater. It’s a ritual. A sacred act, like touching the cave wall,” says Dolmanisth. Spaulding, meanwhile, works from an archive of their conversations, co-experiments, and an exchange of materials and resources, distilling these elements into words and images imbued with the perspectives of two women who are creating work at the margins, surrounded by an overculture that continues to question the value of women’s voices, bodies, and experiences.


‘Still, Inviolate Center,’ incorporates Domanisth’s site specific, multi-media work with natural materials, water, and space, with selections from Spaulding’s ‘Lost Lexicon’ project, an extended series of compressed poems that imagine the voices of beings and places of a threatened natural world, and is presented in conjunction with MESHES, a group show 
featuring 2D works by John Clarke, Karen Dolmanisth, 
Dana Piazza and Sara Wallach. The first of two scheduled public performances will happen on Saturday, January 5, 2019, 5:30-6:30 pm at the Geoffrey Young Gallery, 40 Railroad Street, 2nd Floor, Great Barrington, MA. Free admission. Seating will be limited and doors will close once the program begins. Wine served. This is a 18+ event. Later in the month, Dolmanisth and Spaulding will present their second piece, ‘As Mountains.’


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Rituals to End the Year

I have a few end-of-year rituals that I’m looking forward to doing over the next few days. They include:

1. Rereading all of my notebooks from 2018 and discovering the unfinished poems, orphan lines, essays in progress, new workshop ideas, and passages from my reading that deserve further attention.

2. Reviewing the projects I completed and the ones still in progress as a way of celebrating what is underway and in the world already. I tend to forget so much of what I’ve done unless I pause to take stock, often by making lists.

3. Detoxing my digital habits. I took four days away from email and social media during the Christmas holiday and have just decluttered both my inbox and Instagram feed. Last year I stopped keeping my phone in my bedroom overnight and I’m recommitting to not looking at it after 8pm and before 9 am. That has been my usual practice for the last three years, but I slip up sometimes. Getting away for a proper break reminds me how much calmer I feel when I’m not under the constant (and usually erroneous) impression that something somewhere else requires my attention, even after hours.

4. Thank you notes. Yes, I do this because I was taught their importance by my mother, but I’ve also found that staying connected to the ways others are supporting and caring for me, helps me feel less isolated and more knitted into the fabric of the larger ecosystem. I’ve also discovered that gratitude really is an antidote to feelings of discouragement and spiritual fatigue, when they arise.

5. Burning what I want to leave behind, which we will do under the winter sky on New Years Eve.


I also enjoy making lists of the high points from the preceding year:

Most pleasurable and immersive reading experiences: The Neopolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante and Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad by Alice Oswald.

Most affecting movies: Call Me by Your Name, Moonlight, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

Favorite gig out in the world: Beargrass Writers Retreat, Greenough, Montana. Fire, mountains, fields, electric green moss, horses, and some of the best writers in the west were all present.

Best meal: My three day reunion on the coast of Maine with three other writers, with whom I went to the same fine arts high school. We are still here, still writing, still finding a way to make our art despite many formidable obstacles! Thank you Brit, Melissa and Laura for being my companions on this path.

Musical experience that most deeply restored my past to me: Dancing to my friend Michael Franti and his band Spearhead at the Green River Festival. Michael and I were involved in many of the same causes and protests, back in the late 90’s and early aughts. It had been over ten years since we had seen one another and it was profound to reflect on what had changed in the intervening years, but more potently, what remained the same in terms of our spirits, devotions, and characters. Plus: dancing under a summer night sky is something I need to do more of.

Deep and ongoing conversation and connections with other women who are self-employed, and support their families this way, continued to be essential to me this year. Our solidarity and mutual aid; our sharing of skills and insights about how to make our work as sustainable as possible, while always striving to be better at our art; our tender friendships as we become more candid about our actual experiences, all matter so much to me. Thank you Katey, Kate, Sejal, Sara, Astra, Suzi, Laura, Sarah, Robin, Sarah, Mary Kay, Amanda, and Melanie.


Happy New Year!


Still. Here. I’ve known these incredible writers since our days at the Interlochen Arts Academy together.

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Poems for the End of 2018

As we close the year, here are some of the poems that I’ve enjoyed and shared in recent workshops. Maybe they will find their way to your holiday table or inspire reflection as we cross the threshold of 2019.

A Note

by Wislawa Szymborska


Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up drenched in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.


by Adam Zagajewski

How unattainable life is, it only reveals
its features in memory,
in nonexistence. How unattainable
afternoons, ripe, tumultuous, leaves
bursting with sap; swollen fruit, the rustling
silks of women who pass on the other
side of the street, and the shouts of the boys
leaving school. Unattainable. The simplest
apple inscrutable, round.
The crowns of trees shake in warm
currents of air. Unattainable distant mountains.
Intangible rainbows. Huge cliffs of clouds
flowing slowly through the sky. The sumptuous,
unattainable afternoon. My life,
swirling, unattainable, free.
by Paul Celan
translated by Pierre Joris

To stand, in the shadow
of the stigma in the air.

for you

With all that has room in it,
even without

from Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

The Orange

by Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.


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Make some room for yourself, human animal.

This fall, I worked on a Personal Canon project with my Poetry Immersion students, in which we gathered the texts, inspirations, and influences that have shaped our progress, and informed our aesthetic and point of view, over the years. Connecting to one’s artistic lineage has a way of empowering future work.  And also informs future research and offerings. In the process, I’ve revisited many poems that I’ve loved over the years, including this one, by a 20th-century Polish writer in translation:


Demand it Courageously

by Julia Hartwig


Make some room for yourself, human animal.

   Even a dog jostles about on his master’s lap to

improve his position. And when he needs space he

runs forward, without paying attention to commands

or calls.

   If you didn’t manage to receive freedom as a gift,

demand it as courageously as bread and meat.

   Make some room for yourself, human pride and


   The Czech writer Hrabal said:

   I have as much freedom as I take.


I wish I could remember where I first came across this poem because I would provide the source for you.


The 2018 session of A Secret Life begins in just three weeks, on the Winter Solstice. I have only a few spots left if you’d’ like to participate. We’ll use this time to cultivate a private space, out of view of others, in which to dream up a project that we’d like to manifest during the coming year. This offering provides contemplative writing prompts and other creative exercises, a chance to meet up with other creative folks (not just writers!) via webinar, and a 1×1 coaching session with me. We’ll bring a close to this year, and give our attention to what we might create in 2019.

Personally, I’ll use this time and structure to go through my 2018 notebooks, transcribing anything that I haven’t already worked up into a poem, essay, writing assignment, or public offering of whatever kind. Then my annual manuscript incubator, A Body of Work, begins at the end of January, so I can look forward to revising the poems that have the most potential, into a short collection. As I write this I’m getting excited to see what emerges during the next two months! Want to join me?

More info about A Secret Life 

More about A Body of Work


Both of these courses will help you to make space and direct your attention toward creative projects and processes that matter to you, regardless of whether they involve a public dimension. Get in touch if you want to discuss whether this is the right thing, at the right time, for you.


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A Starting Point, A Pathway

We’re just a few days away from the December 2018 session of the 21 Day Poetry Challenge, an end of year ritual that results in many poems, passages and poetic fragments being written.

I create new writing prompts for each round of this generative course, and have been doing so quarterly for the last five years, so I’ve learned a thing or two about what sparks the creative responses in the Challenge participants.

As a starting point, we read a poem that I’ve selected based on a few criteria, including my sense that it belongs to the season we’re entering. In the last two years I’ve also begun to work with a loose theme, and this time we’re thinking about the INTERIOR. Interiority. Inner worlds. Inner life. Inside. Into. Within. The heart of the country. You get the idea.

I also choose poems based on my sense that they offer a starting point or pathway. A template, even. And then I show you what I see and suggest a way (or several) to begin.

As we read, we allow the words of other poets to rearrange our inner atmosphere a little bit. Here are some of the poets we’ll encounter in December:


Sejal Shah

Wislawa Szymborska

Diane Seuss

Rachel Zucker

Linda Gregg

Suzanne Buffam

Lorine Niedecker

Yona Harvey

Cynthia Huntington

Kathy Engel

Robyn Sarah

Nicole Sealey

Ursula K. Le Guin

Julia Hartwig

Matthew Olzmann

Oliver Bendorf

Raymond Carver

Abdul Ali

Ed Bok Lee

Chen Chen

John Freeman

Ilya Kaminsky

Stephan Burt


If you’d like to join us, registration is open until November 30. You can participate from anywhere in the world, as long as you have daily access to email.



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In Praise

I love this poem by Franz Wright. A good one for the first snow of the season.




There are a few things I will miss,

a girl with no shirt on

lighting a cigarette


and brushing her hair in the mirror;

the sound of a mailbox

opening, somewhere,


and closing at two in the morning

of the first snow,

and the words for them.


from The Beforelife. Knopf, 2002.


As I prepare to close down my computer for a couple of days, and make Concord Grape Pie, then join family outside Boston for a holiday feast, I’m thinking about which poem I will bring to share around the table when we take time to reflect on what we are grateful for, surrounded as we are with so much abundance.

A poem opens the space for contemplation and thoughtful expression in much the same way that prayer does, though it’s more inclusive. We can all listen to a poem, while some will resist a religious offering in this setting.

I’ve pulled together a few favorites, in case you’d find it meaningful to read something at your own Thanksgiving/Indigenous People’s Day table. I’ve also included a rain poem, for friends in California who are facing wildfires and smokey air.

Just click the title of the poem to be taken to reading:

Thanks, by W.S. Merwin
Rain, Kazim Ali
Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo
Thank You, Ross Gay


And this one, from one of my favorite poets, Lorine Niedecker:


As praiseworthy

The power of breathing (Epictetus)
while we sleep. Add:
to move the parts of the body
without sound

and to float
on a smooth green stream
in a silent boat




I’ve often been the one to suggest that we take a little time to name what we cherish and this poem creates an easy framework for such a conversation. What would you name as praiseworthy? I just made a list and I’m struck by how the most basic things, can feel so necessary and important to well-being; things like:

indoor heat; wool base layers; spiked snow tires; my beloved, Matt; my parents and siblings; candles; meaningful work; my teachers; rugs on cold floors; Kate, with whom I practice every day; political satire; real books; local produce; fresh flowers (even out of season!); hot showers; Edward Steed; flannel sheets; circles of supportive colleagues and friends with whom I’m learning how to live well and make work, despite everything; reading in bed before the day begins; my 9-going-on-10-year-old’s health; Castelvetrano olives; fresh air; letters and postcards; my secondhand winter coat; my upstairs neighbor, Christian, who is just as monastic as we are at this time of year; memories of Stephen, who died three months ago, and way too young; big, open views of undeveloped spaces; Lake Michigan; Elizabeth Warren; the moon; dancing; movies that move me to laughter or tears; Queen; salt; skin; eyesight; the tools that make it possible for me to connect across miles and time-zones; clean drinking water; sun; this moment; and the next. ..

Your turn now. What are you feeling grateful for right now? I know we live in a cynical time when it’s uncool to speak sincerely about what matters to us, but we tend to feel better when we do. Why is that? I think it has to do with reconnecting with substance and value. And maybe speaking truth rather than performing indifference?

I don’t know. I guess I see so much that needs our love and reverence right now, lest it be lost or no longer valued.


To notice and to praise is a form of protection and preservation.





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A Practice in Being Your Whole Self and Listening

I’ve learned so much in the last five years of hosting the 21 Day Day Poetry Challenge about how to coax and provoke and draw-out those who want to write more poems, and I’ve been paying attention to what you struggle with and need and secretly hope for so I can help you make the space, find your words, and experience sweet satisfaction in the process.

Here’s what I’m planning for the upcoming round of the 21 Day Poetry Challenge.  We begin December 1 (just two weeks from now):

You will still get a cozy email from me early each morning, with thoughts on creative process, a sample poem, and clear pathways to help you begin a fresh fragment, passage, or draft of a new poem. Also:

Live Video Workshops so that we can write together and commune in a warm and convenient place (ie. from the comfort of our homes).

Great poems. I take great care in selecting our readings and will include you in my ongoing effort to get to know more POC and queer voices. I love to find poems that provide clear paths to our own creative writing.

Live Q & A: a chance to ask questions and connect in an informal setting, via video.

Options: whether you want to “make space for a little poetry every day,” or “write a passage or fragment most days, but not always” or go all in, and “write something every single day until Winter arrives,” I am prepared to accommodate you. You will grow as a poet NO MATTER WHAT and also learn to resist those feelings of guilt or disappointment when you need to find your own pace with the material.

Peeks at my personal practice: it turns out that some of the September participants enjoyed knowing more about this side of things. I’ll continue to be candid and let you in on me being me.

Self-care for writers. We all need it. We really do. I’m not keeping these ideas to myself anymore because I can’t stand to watch you suffer as you do! To that end, expect me to bring in some thoughts on how to take care of your body and love yourself, while you do challenging things.

Coaching. I will still remind you that it’s not about getting famous or making money. We are making lives that include art, reverence, quiet, spaciousness, and inward attention. And I will still share my best suggestions for overcoming stuckness and creative inaction.

Feedback. You can still send up to three poems (or arrange to send more with me directly), and learn what I or my teaching assistant see, feel, and notice when we read your work.

Attunement to the Shift. I will still be there to guide you over the threshold into winter. It usually feels quietly momentous and special, as the Solstice should.

One of my teachers, Jennifer Armbrust, proposes that we give up “wrenching, forcing, pushing, efforting” because “we are finding our center, not our edge.” Consider that for a minute.

Now, how would you feel if your writing happened in a more humane atmosphere? One that bucks the traditional models of education where producing to institutional expectations and cramming is the norm?

What if our writing became a practice in being your whole self, and listening deeply, and being awake to the world, and feeling all the feels, but not getting overwhelmed with indecision and discouragement!?

These are some of the thoughts that shape my approach to this course.

Registration closes on November 30. Join me here.





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Words Toward a Manifesto of the Moment

What If

What if doing one thing at a time was fast enough.

What if we trusted that taking care of ourselves would have an equally positive effect on others.

What if we began with curiosity rather than opinions or certainties.

What if we re-found our kid-like sense of awe.

What if we lived by the credo that there’s room enough for all of us—and made room for those who need it. For everyone.

What if we trusted that generosity multiplies. That kindness begets kindness.

What if we forgot what we already know in order to be a beginner from time to time.

What if we tuned-in to our own hum. What would that sound like? How would we live? What kind of future would result?

What if we remembered what’s still wild—and defended it in ourselves, each other, the world.

*I wrote these questions in a notebook a few years ago and just came across them this morning. They seem apt on this Sunday before the mid-term election. And probably always.



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Using Process as a Portal + Works in Progress

I need different strategies at different times, but when I’m scattered or anxious (anyone else holding their breath in advance of mid-terms?) I’ve learned that I feel best when I dig down into creative work and let the process serve as a portal. I walk through the door of “doing” and enter a different imaginal realm. My gaze focuses. My nervous system settles. My body knows the moves. It feels good to work on a poem. To make small decisions and see how they improve my work.

Soon enough, I’m glowing with that lovely sensation that only comes from making something; that sweet rush of having written my way out of a rut.

I love revision because this is the part of the process where we take the uncertain, claylike material of our early efforts, including messy/embarrassing/bad ones, and transform them into something shapely and true. Something necessary and beautiful. To do this, I become the alchemist who understands how to transform base metals into gold.

Revision allows me to complete a gesture that begins when I make those first few marks on the page, probably without even knowing what they will become (if anything). Even so, I am interested in their potential. I treat this possibility as I would any other thing that matters to me.

Working through all of the stages of a poem or other piece of writing is a way of being present to whatever wants to come through my body and mind. These signs and signals require some translation and the act of revision is as much about word choice, form, and music, as it is about uncovering hidden messages and surprises. What did I mean? What could this be? It’s genuinely interesting and fun to see what emerges, and it feels POWERFUL to use my imagination in this way.

Even if you don’t already enjoy or feel confident in this aspect of CREATION, and maybe especially if you feel this way, I’m excited to share my process so that you can feel powerful and gratified, too.

I have assembled an archive of exercises and resources that will INSPIRE you to turn your raw *writing* into words that can matter and move other readers.

Works in Progress begins on Friday, November 2, with one clear step. After that, participants will receive a lesson every other day for ten days. At the end of the session, we’ll all meet in a webinar to talk about our progress and share what we’ve done. You can join me from anywhere in the world, as long as you have access to email and the internet. If you can give 30 minutes a day to your work, you will conclude the course with much stronger poems.


I know how frustrating it is to be surrounded by unfinished drafts, incomplete thoughts, and good intentions, and that’s why I want to empower writers to finish more poems.

First, this work means becoming present. It means not giving up, or disassociating, or manufacturing reasons it’s not actually important to you to treat your writing as something real. It means believing that your words are worth the effort and attention required to see them through to a final form.

Next, it requires some time.

Works in Progress
November 2-11, 2018


Lesson One: Bring in the Harvest
Lesson Two: Principles to Guide the Process
Lesson Three: Expand and Contract
Lesson Four: Resee and Rehear
Lesson Five: Prepare, Submit, Publish


*Live Q&A: Wednesday, November 7, 12:00 Noon (EST)
*Live web workshop: Saturday, November 10, 11:00 am-12:30 pm (EST)
(A recordings the sessions will be provided to those who are absent)


Enroll here:

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poetry matters. join the conversation.

join my community


poetry matters. join the conversation.

join my community