3 Ways You Can Help #njpoet

1.) First and foremost, if you enjoy reading my writing and/or following me on social media, and you can afford to do so, please consider making a donation to help us cover our hosting fees and other website expenses. No donation is too small. Every dollar helps. Every dollar is deeply appreciated.

2) Or you could buy some njpoet stuff, become a human billboard for the Internet arts! (Pardon my exclamation point.) In the end, purchasing most of our merchandise amounts to a $2 donation or less, but it is very cool when people email us pics for our Facebook Page.

Erica Manni

3a.) However, if you’re as broke as an adjunct professor, then the best way to help is to browse our 800+ posts and share your favorites on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIN, Tumblr, Digg, and StumbleUpon. Also, if you troll #njpoet on Twitter, retweeting to your hearts content, we really won’t mind.

3b.) And then tell others! Tell your friends, tell your family members, tell your co-workers—but maybe not your corporate bosses—to visit njpoet.com, read a few posts, retweet, like, share, and please do leave a comment. I love comments.

Thank you!

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog posting.



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Do you ever write fiction?: notes on reading #njpoet

A lot of the people I write about, ex-girlfriends, or random lovers, or former employers are often, are usually fictional mash-ups of several real-life people. Indeed, some situations, even relationships, are also amalgamations—fictional literary representations of several experiences that share a common, unifying theme.

This is how I’ve learned to avoid angry phone calls and emails from old friends, especially ex-girlfriends and random lovers, who insist—usually while screaming—that I delete a story about our shared memories, right now! Or how I’ve learned to avoid being called in for meetings with University Provosts, Deans of Students, or Directors of Writing Departments.

“The students are reading your writing. This is not good.”

“Tell all the truth,” advised Emily Dickinson, “but tell it slant.” Word.

So, often I write about a character, or as a character, named Sammy—a more compassionate, relaxed, often heart-achingly perplexed version of my real-life self. He is my Buddha-Nature, if you will, adrift in a rising ocean of American Samsara. I make Sammy do what I wish I’d done in the past, what I hope I’ll do in the future.

I also write about, or as a character named Tom, or Tommy. He doesn’t come around often, but he’s still there, channeling the worst of me, amplified and influenced by Vonnegut, Bukowski, and meditations about what my father would do.

Please do remember that this is a literary website, and not a strict diary. My aim as a poet is to polish and present the important themes, the relevant social and political issues that have shaped my past, and therefore my life. And my ultimate goal, following what I learned from Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, is always to produce a narrative that is interesting, easily digested, emotionally memorable, and worthy of sharing with others.

So, as you read, analyze, and obsessively pick through my writing, keep the astute literary analysis of my working-class mother in mind. After she read my poem about her miscarriage, about my childhood memories of the still birth of my first sister, my mom remarked:

“That was beautiful, Charlie, but that’s not exactly how it happened.”


3 Ways You Can Help #njpoet

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On the Phone w/ #njpoet

At a lecture, presentation, orientation, whatever, quietly speed tapping notes into a word-processing app on my phone. The speaker, or doctor, or professor mentions a book, an author, a seminal work, that heavily influenced whatever. Google search the title and bookmark for review, just as the powerpoint changes to a quote, some long dead genius gushing over the value of education, or art, or poetry, or whatever—not a bad quote. So, tweet, and back to notes, to the next slide, to bullet-points, but a text interrupts—a Twitter DM:

“Hi! I want to make a donation to your blog. I love it! Is there a donation link you can send me?”

Copy link. Paste. Reply:

 ”Thank you so much! And thank you for reading along!”


Bullet-points copied, another book mentioned, another author even more groundbreaking in the study of whatever.

Google search, book found, and, what’s this?—a lecture series given by the author, recorded at Yale, uploaded to YouTube, and bookmarked for after dinner. Word.

Three more slides. One more quote. Not as good. Not worth a tweet.

“And we’re done.” Exhale. “Thank you for coming. Enjoy your lunch. Thank you. Thank  you.”

On the way to the buffet table, a text from gmail—Paypal donation received. Notes synched, bookmarks synched—saved to my computer at home. Thank you, cloud.

And when I finally sit down with my colleagues, ready to relax, ready to eat my complimentary lunch, someone almost always blurts out something like this:

“I know this is none of my business,” they start off so strong, “but I think it was very rude of you to spend that entire presentation playing on your phone.”


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My Second Job Ever

He hired me to be the stock boy for his carpet store in Newark. Every Saturday, he picked me up in his Mercedes and drove me to perform whatever odd jobs needed doing.

Some days, I carried 50lb. boxes of marble tiles, hundreds of them, one by one up three flights of stairs to the third floor storage. Other days, I cut carpets to size in the dilapidated warehouse across the street.

The boss always paid for my lunch.

On slower afternoons, usually in the summer—the store had no air conditioner—we both sat at a desk outside the store, greeting customers and chatting with the cops, the prostitutes, and the locals who walked by all afternoon.

He taught me a lot about the art of human conversation, and gave me a lot to think and write about, my second boss—a friend of my mother who was really more like an uncle.

After my ten hour shift, he paid me $25 in cash, a near fortune for a fifteen year old boy in the 1980s, and I used a lot of that money to buy alcohol with my girlfriend—both of us deeply troubled children.

Sadly, I lost that second job about two years later. My boss died, massive organ failure brought on by diabetes—if I remember—and the carpet store closed.

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An Average Student

She wanted to know why she never knew I was so smart. We were in the same homeroom in high school. We fooled around at a few parties after graduation, and lost touch when she went away to college. She found her way to my website after we reconnected at the twenty year reunion. She spent a few hours reading before she called me.

“Why didn’t I know you could write like this back in high school?” she asked, before asking the broader question. “Why didn’t I know you were this smart?”

“You didn’t know,” I said, “because I wasn’t, because what you see as intelligence is the result of twenty years of obsessive studying.”

“I guess,” she said, not really buying it, convinced I was born with a gift, convinced I’d kept my secret from her all those years ago, like a secret identity, and she wanted to know what that reason could be. Why did I lie to her like that?

“Think of it this way,” I said, finally, after fifteen more minutes of tense discussion, “I couldn’t write like this in high school, but I really really wanted to. Then, in college, I got obsessive about it, as I tend to do.”

I laughed. She didn’t. Instead, she said she was tired and quickly got off the phone. That was the last time we ever spoke to each other.

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After my best friend died in 2010, I salvaged some artifacts from his apartment, one of which was his desk chair.

It was already battered when I accidentally tore one of the arm rests off moving it out of his place. Since then, I’ve been sitting on it every day, writing and reading and slowly wearing the tear in the upholstery into a giant gash of exposed cushion.

I was just going to duct tape it—yes, really—but the spring that held the chair back upright snapped last week. With a metallic ping the desk chair was transformed into more of a psychotherapy lounger.

“I think it’s time to let Sang’s desk chair go,” I said to Luz in a text. She replied with a sigh, and agreed when she saw the shape of the chair that night.

And so, this afternoon, I hauled it out, telling myself it was just a chair, and left it by the dumpster outside my apartment. Within an hour it was gone, loaded into a minivan some neighborhood kids told me.

“Some old guy took your chair!” the little boy yelled when he saw me, his sister standing next to him and pointing in the direction the minivan went.

“Well, I threw it in the garbage,” I said, “so it’s not my chair anymore, not that it ever really was mine, anyway.”

I smiled. Both of them smiled back the way children smile when you say something they’ve never heard anyone say before, and I went to gather my laundry, wondering with every step where Sang’s old chair was heading. My silly attachments.

Sang's Chair

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On War and Net Neutrality: for the @FCC

I hope on some random evening in the future the entire human species collectively comes to the same logical conclusion. I hope everyone of every race, ethnicity, age, creed, and gender starts saying to themselves, and to all of their online followers, in a sort of global unified voice:

“Whatever else happens on this planet, we certainly will not keep slaughtering each other. That’s for sure.”

And then, gradually, I hope the violence just stops. I hope the idea of using force to solve problems suddenly becomes globally repugnant to the point of being politically impossible.

Just imagine that.

It would be a genuine paradigm shift in human consciousness, sure, but what if solving problems with violence and war suddenly became as unacceptable as openly taking a shit in a grocery store aisle?

New philosophers who came of age online would preach the logic of people who grew up chatting with the entire planet every day.

“We’re one interconnected human family, possibly one interconnected human consciousness capable of billions of individual manifestations,” these philosophers will say.

Or a new discipline—a scientific life Philosophy—will teach:

“The global consciousness manifested by the Internet (my stab at Sci Fi) demonstrates our interconnectedness clearly. We are one interconnected consciousness. Killing others is killing ourselves.”

And then everyone just agrees, because by then it will be obvious. Imagine that. It could happen. I choose to have faith in that future. Why not?

But you know what, it definitely won’t happen if the FCC destroys the Internet. Stop it, you fools!

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My Neighbor Hates Himself

for @LiamPhuckall 

That’s not gossip, he quickly agrees with me whenever I say that. It’s not some secret. He carries his self-loathing around on his slumped shoulders.

He stops by to talk, to tell me his troubles, to confess his past sins, which never amount to much more than your average human twenty-something mischief.

In reality, he’s a highly intelligent, gentle, decent man. He deeply cares about other people, and he’s a gifted teacher. And in the end, I’ve done much worse than anything he’s ever confessed. I tell him that, and he just shrugs.

“You can’t change the past, man,” I say, every time he’s here, “but today is not yesterday. Forgive yourself, and try to do better in the moment.”

He is far from the only friend and/or colleague that I’ve had to convince, find myself in the process of convincing to make friends with themselves, to be on their own side.

Stop Kicking Yourself 101 seems to be my academic specialty lately. Irrational personal guilt is crippling a lot people in the United States—men and women, usually those with the skills to create real change in the country—and no one in our tiny-boxed corporate media ever talks about it.

Now, I wonder why that is. Let’s think about this for a few.

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Post-Traumatic Paranoid History

I drop her off at the train station every morning, this woman I love, the other half of the family, the business, the life we’ve been building since we met in 2008.

She gives me a quick kiss goodbye, a hug—“I love you”—and leaps from the car, computer bag dangling from her shoulder. She is already texting with her team at work. She walks with a confident stride, a businesswomen who doesn’t have any time for stupid bullshit.

I watch her enter the station, five days a week, where she boards her first train, takes her first twenty minute ride into the heart of 9/11, WTC, deep into my darkest memories of complete destruction and death.

Yet everyone, my friends, my family, especially my doctors want to know why I’m so god damn anxious all the time. And, I mean, are these people fucking kidding me? Let’s review, shall we?

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Word Crimes w/ Weird Al Yankovic


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Reading is Still Fundamental

I’ve always spent more time reading than writing, something that needs to be said more and more often to young writers these days, not that I believe in this very new academic distinction between reading and writing as fundamentally different skills. They’re not.

The most effective way to improve your writing is still to read for a few hours, and write for a couple of hours, every single day. It’s long, lonely, tiring, thankless work. But If there’s a shortcut to great writing more effective than decades of daily reading and writing practice, I’ve never found it.

This is not a popular notion in a fast food culture. Many writers I meet seem to think nonstop writing is the way to go. Some have argued that too much reading will somehow sully their original voices. Even young writers who hire me for writing education are often bewildered, sometimes even offended, when I want to sketch them out a reading list to start with. They just want to write.

But all artists need to internalize models, and all great writers are born mimics who eventually meld the voices of their masters with the voices of their lives—family and friends and lovers—to create a new-ish expressive voice, a voice rooted in everything the writer has ever read with care and attention, a voice expressing what this particular writer thinks and feels about our shared moments of history. If you want to write like that, I learned a long time ago, you must read until your eyes are sore. You must learn to read, think, and live your entire life like a writer.


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The Cashier at the Grocery Store

She apologized for being so slow, called herself old with a nervous laugh, which by any standard I guess she was—probably pushing 70, maybe 75. She picked up each of my grocery items, turned it in her hands to find the bar code, then struggled to scan it. On her third, or fourth, or sometimes fifth swipe across the scanner, the machine would finally beep. Then she’d drop the item in a bag, and repeat the process. She double scanned a few items, triple scanned one, and had to call the front end manager to delete the extra charges with “the key.”

So, I looked to the people on line behind me—three of them, restless and shuffling—for distraction, when one of them let out an audible sigh and started angry poking on his smartphone.

“I’m really sorry,” the cashier, this sweet old woman, said to me again with watering eyes. It was intolerable.

 “Ma’am,” I said, “you don’t owe me any apologies. Please just take your time.”

I wanted to say that, in my opinion, the entire society should chip in much more to support all of our senior citizens, so they can all retire comfortably and finally enjoy their lives. But she smiled, so I didn’t get political. Instead, I just talked with her.

We spent the next fifteen minutes laughing, bagging my groceries, and chatting about 70s television—mostly All In The Family—while the people in the line behind me damn near convulsed with impatient disbelief.

What the Hell is wrong with people lately?

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I’m Just Anxious

I’ve been practicing this thought exercise/meditation. Whatever physical symptoms pop up—stomachaches, pain in my muscles and joints, dizziness, headaches, nausea—I tell myself, over and over like a mantra: 

“You’re just anxious, man. You’re just anxious.”

And then I force myself to do whatever the physical symptom was making me second guess. I go to the gym, even though I feel like throwing up. I go to the party, even though my right hip is locked in a muscle spasm.

Whatever I do, I can not, I will not run to a doctor, nor will I research my symptoms on the Internet. I’ve seen enough doctors. I’ve had enough tests. And no, they did not miss something. And no, there is not something they forgot to check.

I am not about to die at any moment, and I am not sick. I am making myself sick. I’m just anxious.

(Because my best friend just dropped dead, massive heart attack at forty-three, and I’ll be forty-two in a week.)

I’m just anxious. I’m just anxious. I’m just anxious.

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