A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Happy Anniversary Living Poetry!


lplogo1One constant event in the month of January has been the Living Poetry anniversary party. Six years ago a poet Angelika Teuber who had moved down south from Philadelphia still hadn’t adjusted to life in the Brier Creek area of Raleigh after a year. So she decided to form a Meetup group around an interest she loved to see if anyone else out there shared her love of poetry. At the same time in a nearby part of the Triangle (Durham), I had an epiphany at the Fall 2008 North Carolina Writer’s Network conference that I wasn’t a mere writer or a failed novelist, that I was indeed a poet. I searched for different classes and groups to join, found Living Poetry, and signed up for the first meeting.

In the beginning, the group met monthly to read poems and talk about poetry. Some people were brave enough to bring their own poetry to share.Soon the group evolved and started to offer a feedback group, Sharing Creativity, where I got a lot of poems workshopped before I got into an MFA program. Somewhere down the line, I became a co-organizer and began to facilitate the monthly critique group. Farther down the line, I started helping out with the Monday Poetry prompts.

Living Poetry has grown since then to over 600 members, the largest group of poets in the Triangle. A lot of poets and lovers of poetry with every intention to find the time and courage to venture out to meet like-minded individuals and the faithful 20 or so who go to at least one event per month. We love the fact that we’ve become the one-stop shop for poetry in the Triangle (still trying to make that our tag-line) by keeping members aware of open mics, contests, publishing opportunities and creating events to socialize and share our work.

Being a part of Living Poetry has kept poetry alive in my life and has connected me to such great poets and poetry lovers. It’s hard to believe six years have gone by and we’re still going strong!


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Poet Resolutions 2015


Old typewriter with paperOf the five poet resolutions I made last year, I accomplished three:

  • Teach a poetry workshop: As I suspected, the Living Poetry co-organizers kept me on task. I taught a Revision Toolbox workshop in September.
  • Spend more time with poets: My last post showed that I knocked this resolution out of the park–VCFA Puerto Rico residency, AWP in Seattle, my last Cave Canem retreat, poetrySpark, poetry dates, and the NC Writer’s Network conferences, just to name a few.
  • Start a poetry project: I’m hesitant to even say that I started a project because that would make it real. But I can’t stop thinking about dark matter/dark energy. So far, I’ve written one poem that I consider to be part of the collection. I started one-on-one lessons in physics to help me understand the connections I want to make with outer space and earthly phenomenon.

I made an earnest effort on the other two resolutions as well:

  • Organize 1 out of 3 poetry readings: I organized the Science Cafe again in May, but completely forgot about my goal of organizing three.
  • Published 5 out of 6 poems: I was fortunate to have five poems published in 2014–all of which were solicited.

I’m not feeling particularly ambitious, so I’m sticking with three resolutions for 2015.

Six poems published: I was one published poem shy of this goal. But I haven’t written much since June, so I’m hoping this resolution will nudge me into the part of the cycle where I’m writing and submitting again.

Write at least three poems for my poetry project: I have a few ideas that need to find their way onto paper and this resolution will help me keep focused on the dark matters project.

Go to a poetry retreat or writer’s residency: I’d like to to find another retreat to have some undivided writing time. My poet friend Cynthia Manick seems to find one every year and keeps track with deadlines on her infamous spreadsheet.

What are your poetic goals for 2015? Feel free to share them in a comment.


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Poetry Dates


Tuesday nights have become my date night with fellow poet, Kelly Lenox. We hail from the same MFA program, though we finished 5 years apart. It was Kelly who first proposed the idea to met on a regular basis to exchange work. In the past, I participated in critique groups that met either face-to-face or via email on either a weekly or monthly basis. Often the quality of feedback depended on the people who showed up, how much time each person spent with the poem, and whether they were able to articulate something more than their like/dislike of a particular part of the poem.

The idea of a dyad exchange intrigued me because I knew Kelly was a good reader of my work and I enjoyed reading her work. Also trying to get 2 schedules to mesh is way easier than 4 or 5, even if you use Doodle. In the beginning, Kelly and I would either exchange poems for critique or read and discuss a poem that WOWed us. Recently, we added a few poetry-related events like going to NC State to see the inaugural poet Richard Blanco promote his new memoir and going to Two Writers Walk Into a Bar on the second Tuesday of the month to hear local poets and prose writers read their work. We’ve even had time to write from one of the Living Poetry Monday poetry prompts when we didn’t have anything to share.

Richard Blanco on poetry date night


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My Writing Process Blog Tour


Mordovia-Dizzy Gillespie-2000or2001I feel like all I do on this blog is talk about my writing process, so the opportunity to be a part of a blog tour only seemed natural. I was very happy to get the call to arms from my Cave Canem roommate during my first year, Cynthia Manick. The youngest of the four group of women who met in 2012, Cynthia always leads the charge to submit to contests and journals and magazines and writing conferences by her example. Once again, I am eager to follow in her footsteps because Cynthia’s work tickles your toes like Dizzy’s trumpet carved in gold.

What are you working on?

I’ve got a little less than two weeks until the next Cave Canem retreat, so I’ve been stockpiling ideas on my iPhone. I wrote two of my planet poems  while there, “Transit of Venus” and “To Earth, From Mars,” so it is very likely that another galactic poem will be drawn in by the creative and supportive force that surrounds the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg the earthmarsweek CC arrives.

With the summer hiatus for many literary magazines approaching, I can stop focusing on submissions and start thinking about doing a workshop. My poet friends are interested in revision, so I’ll spend my summer planning how to guide them through the process. Also, I’d like to start a poetry workshop series similar to the one I attended at Duke University in 2009–a brief discussion on craft or process, circling the table for critique, sending everyone home with a new writing assignment–so that means more research and more preparation.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

I write what I see and fully acknowledge the lens I have as a single, professional, Black female. I use extended metaphor quite often because I can say two things at the same time: what is on the surface and the message underneath. My friends have described my poems as “beautiful”, “feisty”, and “clever as hell,” which is cool when you consider the source. ;-)

anna-akhmatovaI’ve also been told by Russian/former Soviet Union friends that I write very Russian. I don’t know what that means exactly. It’s usually the poems with an undercurrent of pain and longing and strong imagery that makes them say this.

Why do you write what you do?

Because nobody else is writing it. Because someone else wrote it and it needed to be said again. Because someone else wrote it and it needed a response. Because the poem came through me and I didn’t have a choice. Because it is better on the page than stuck in my head.

How does your writing process work?

I use the “hunk of stone” method I learned from former North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers: begin with an abiding image, write a block Study Room in UNC Davis Libraryof text, then look at it until I see the shape of the poem. The distance between these three steps differs with each poem. I’m not in a regular rhythm of writing anymore, so the thoughts come out in drips and drops. Most of the time, I write on the bus commute to or from work in a notebook or in my Notes app if I can’t find a pen. Lately, I’ve been better using Google drive to store snippets of ideas for poems or first drafts until I’m ready to work on them. Writing occurs most often when I am still (on a plane/bus/train, in a meeting, at my work desk, in waiting rooms). Revision almost always happens in the Poet’s Gym aka the faculty study I borrow from a friend at the UNC Davis Library. It is a small space in a corner wing of the building with a sliver of a window where I keep some rations, a few totems, a blanket, and a sweatshirt.

Thanks for reading my post. Next up on the blog tour are two fabulous poets who will post on June 9th:

A. Anupama is a wonderful poet I met during my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I love her work because she brings her love of yoga, Indian cooking, science, photography, and nature to her poetry. Her blog, seranam, is as much a visual experience as it is a literary one.

Elizabeth Fields is a Cave Canem fellow who has been teaching abroad for the past year. I’ve been following her stumbles and successes in navigating a life in an unfamiliar, ancient, and astonishing land at A Poet’s Year in China.


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Getting into the Poetry Swing


baseball_pitch_132901After a conversation with my good poet-friend, Victorio Reyes at AWP, I’ve decided to get out of my publishing comfort zone. My usual strategy is to spend a lot of time reading and considering literary magazines before I submit, then narrow down to the 10 or so places that I think I have the best chance of getting published. I’ve had pretty good success with this method—6 publications last year when I submitted to 10 or 12, or about a .500 batting average.

Victorio suggested that I take broader approach–apply to the places I would typically rule out or right off for one reason or another. In fact, he follows the Matthew Dickman philosophy of having 50 pieces out there at any given time. This advice seems totally daunting to me because I feel have enough good poems for a chapbook (15-30 pages), but not a full-length collection (at least 48 pages).

 

 

The baseball equivalent of this strategy would be stepping up to the plate and taking a swing. Although, I’m definitely an outcome driven person, this new philosophy on publishing has had a positive effect thus far because it forces me to:

  • find new and different literary magazines where I can submit;
  • go deeper into my poem files to revisit and revise old poems; and
  • write more poems.

I don’t know if this approach will increase my success with publishing, but I’m willing to give it a shot.


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Poet Resolutions 2014


2014Of the six poet resolutions I made last year, I accomplished four:

  • Publish six poems: In 2013, seven poems were published
  • Share my poetry: April and November poems appeared on the blog.
  • Talk to more double life poets: This year I spent time with double-life poets and prose writers, including Tracey Gratch, whose poem I found while reading a scientific article for a work project.
  • Blend double lives more: In addition to listing poems on LinkedIn, I read a few poems during my birthday celebration at work. During the travel for the work project I lead, several people had checked me out and inquired about the MFA.

This year’s resolutions are not too different.

Teach a poetry workshop: This goal was on last year’s list, but I didn’t find the courage or time to do it. This year, the co-organizers of Living Poetry have mapped out a series of poetry workshops, including two workshops on revisions and publishing your work that I volunteered to teach/co-teach.  The LP organizers are good about keeping me on task.

Organize three poetry readings: Last year, I organized two poetry readings for the weekly Science Café at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum has agreed to making this reading an annual event. So now I have to find two other opportunities to organize a reading in 2014.

Six poems published: This goal worked last year, so I’m keeping it on the list. This goal requires me to write and submit, which is always the struggle as a double-life poet.

Spend more time with poets: When my work project picked up steam in July,  I had a more difficult time finding time to spend with poets. Sure I  helped to organize poetrySpark in September and was a featured reader at the West End Poetry Festival in October, but I barely saw poets in the last two months of the year.  So I think spending time with poets at least once a month is a good way to operationalize this goal.

Start a poetry project: I have no idea what this goal means or what it will look like. It may blend my love of science with my love of poetry. It may mean collecting work poems or poems by double-life poets. We’ll see!

What are your poetic goals for 2014? Feel free to share them in a comment.


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Sunday in the Office with Poems


For three straight weeks, I’ve spent Sunday afternoons in a small office on the 4th floor of UNC Davis Library. I’m thankful for this space and for my generous German friend who keeps the key to his faculty study in a place where I can find it. This is why America should maintain the trust of our German allies.

Typically, I spend about 5 or 6 hours there revising some poems, writing blog posts, researching literary magazines and book publishers or a little bit of all of the above. Yesterday’s goal was to assemble the 10-36 pages of poems that could possibly become a chapbook. Last week’s session whittled down the bulk of my writing to 43 pages, which completely covered the limited desk space. Then coffee arrived and chatting ensued, leaving the poems to talk amongst themselves.

Poems need this time to get to know each other, figure out how to arrange themselves, and decide whether to be part of the group. Forty-three pages became 27, including the four that called out to be revised in the middle of the process for a literary journal submission. Some of the poems in the Group of Twenty-Seven may not make the final cut. I see two distinct themes and about eight poems that bridge these ideas but are not wedded to either camp. And so the process continues.

The Group of Twenty-Seven

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