A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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The Power of a One-Day Writing Retreat


You get in your car with the mini-tote bag from the Strand stuffed with your wallet, cosmetic everything bag, your poet’s notebook, and lunchcedargrove—sesame salad, a Granny Smith apple, boiled eggs, and those addictive dark chocolate covered açai berry & pomegranate seed snack packs. You drive 25.7 miles from the heart of your urban life, passing a pasture of feeding cows, fields with odd-shaped and dilapidated houses, and a community store selling produce most likely picked down the road. Aside from the construction on Highway 86 that causes a patient backup of cars needing to continue down the only open lane, there isn’t much excitement in Cedar Grove—a perfect place for a one-day writing retreat.

Eleven writers wind their way down a gravel road on an old tobacco farm to get to the wooden cottage at the far edge of the property. For some, this time—9:30 AM to 4:00 PM on a Saturday—is the only time they have to dedicate to writing. You get three prompts to help you go where the writing takes you. And the writing takes you to the magical and the ordinary: grandfathers in spirit and vulture form, stuffed armadillos, the history that a hammock sees, a collection of boxes under a bed (not to be confused with clutter), your high school journal, your father’s journal, fancy dresses next to men in tuxes, inside the mind of teenager, and Botox.

You leave with a sense of accomplishment and community, and a strong desire to keep the writing going.


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Poet Heal Thyself


Wounded-heart-with-bandage

A research study of older adults in New Zealand demonstrated the power of writing in the healing process. The study assigned two groups to write about their lives. The first group was asked to write about a traumatic event, how they felt about it at the time, and to share thoughts and emotions they had never expressed. The second group wrote about their plans for the next day with no mentions of their feelings. The researchers took small biopsies of their skin and photographed the wounds to see how they were healing. After 11 days, the 76% of the people that hard written about their feelings had fully healed compared to only 42% in the other group.

This study completely fascinated me because it provided credible evidence of writing as a way to heal physical wounds. I know from personal experience that writing can heal emotional wounds. I started writing in late 2004, about a year after my father’s death in a car accident and the end of a 10-year relationship. Reading a book of poetry by Edna St Vincent Millay triggered the outpouring of emotions that I had kept to myself. Many studies have shown the benefits of writing for physical and emotional well-being. In fact, a recent article reported that Pierce Brosnan–Remington Steele and James Bond–is writing poetry to cope with the grief of his daughter’s death. However, writing about pain and grief doesn’t make you a poet; only when you aim to share that experience with others can your writing benefit the greater good. As James Baldwin once said, “your suffering means something only to the extent that people can attach their suffering to yours.”

In his craft talk at Cave Canem, Chris Abani posited, “all writing comes from an existential wound.” In his mind, wounds are not to be confused with suffering—to have a wound is not the same as being wounded. Abani believes that recognizing a wound is the key to opening up everything. The narrative of the wound becomes the story we’re telling—it is the driving force behind why we write. As poets, writing from a wounded place can bring more than self-healing. When our writing speaks from that existential wound, we can connect to others in a deeper way and be the catalyst for healing ourselves as well as our readers.


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14 Words, One Love


For the last week, I’ve been supporting my fellow double-life poet, Jodi Barnes, in her effort to collect 1,400 14-word love poems to distribute on Valentine’s Day. The first day, I wrote one poem, but since then I’ve written no less than three poems each day and as many as six! The 14-word challenge has been a great way to build up to a daily writing practice, strengthen the mind-paper connection, and focus on crafting concrete imagery.

I’ve written a series of poems, “to understand love / you must understand <blank>,” where I fill in the blank with an object or concept and then find seven other words that both describe the object and the idea of love. Here are some examples:

to understand lovegenes

you must understand genes

their endless patterns

uniting, splicing, reforming, reborn

to understand lovedogs

you must understand dogs

waiting by doors, tails wagging

in anticipation

to understand love

you must understand rings

encircling delicate fingerssaturn_false

and all of Saturn

to understand love

you must understand teatea

slow sips of honey

warming your hands

I haven’t counted them yet, but I have three typed pages of the “to understand love” series, and about six 14-word free form poems. Every evening I come home eager to prepare the next day’s patch of poems, and every morning I wake up excited to post what I’ve written and watch the number count creep closer to the goal. Most importantly, I am having fun while supporting a worthwhile effort to spread love throughout the Triangle.

Try your hand at a 14-word love poem by leaving a comment.


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Writing on the Road


I’m in week 2 of a 3-week vacation. The first week I had access to Wi-fi and blocks of time to pen this blog. Since then, I’ve been without immediate and instant Internet access. There’s a shared mobile Internet card and not enough time in the day to collect my thoughts. This morning, I’m headed to a elyunqueeco-hotel in the middle of a rain forest. From past experience I know that the wireless is spotty at best when it is available, but often shrouded by clouds that perch themselves on the top of the mountain, blocking out the satellite connection.

Whereas blogging has been challenging on vacation, writing has not. Puerto Rican journalist, Hector Feliciano advises us to treat writing as a form of exercise. If you do it every day, it is easy; the longer you go without writing, the harder your muscles have to work to get back into shape.

I have been building to a daily writing practice–jotting down ideas in the Notes on my iPhone, carving out three-minute poems, and using larger blocks of time to scribble in my notebook. Of course, writing on the road must be fed by reading. I’ve brought along the Kindle with several fiction and non-fiction books and 3-4 poems arrive every morning in my inbox. And the ideas keep flowing!


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Poet Resolutions 2013


2013-goalsIn my year-in-review post, I promised to share my resolutions for the New Year. Each one of these goals pushes me a bit outside of my comfort zone:

Teach a poetry workshop: Yes, I think I’m ready. I’ve toyed with the idea several times, but haven’t made the time to do it. Some of the ideas that come to mind are found poetry, erasure poetry, or maybe even a workshop on finding the journal that’s right for your work. Actually that last topic is not a bad idea.

Write a sonnet: To me, the sonnet is the pinnacle of poetic form. I love reading them, but have been very intimated by the thought of writing one because I’ve read so many good ones. But I do have one on my mental list of poems I need to write, inspired by Adrienne Su’s “Asian Driver”. It will probably take me the whole year to find the courage to write it.

Six poems published: Same number as last year. The over-achiever in me wanted to set the bar at 10 publications, but I’m going to try to get her to take it easy this year. Either way means I have to continue to Write! Write! Write! Submit! Submit! Submit! and that’s the part that pushes me.

Share my poetry: Last year I realized that publications aren’t the only way to share my work. I posted my April poems on Facebook, but took them down at the end of the month. The November poems are still up there, so that’s a step in the right direction. But to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I will start posting more poems to this blog, like “Winter Solstice.” Maybe I can make the Three-Minute Poem a regular feature.

Talk to more double life poets: I know they are out there. I read their work, but I don’t reach out to them. I want to feature their work and their creative process on this blog. I want to learn from them.

Blend double lives more: I started doing this when I updated my LinkedIn profile. I don’t know what this will looks like or how to do this, but I have a feeling it will be an interesting journey.

Let me know some of your writing resolutions for the New Year by leaving a comment!


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The Poetry Stacks


One of my favorite writing spaces in the Triangle also houses an excellent collection of literary magazines—UNC’s Davis Library. The 1st floor periodicals section is a labyrinth of metal shelves surrounded by over-sized chairs in soft yellow, green, and plaid hues. The room is flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the room. Every month or so I walk down an aisle and grab literary journals from their cold homes and carry as many as my arms can hold to a sunny spot by the front window.  (FYI – Such reading is best done with a dark chocolate mocha from Caribou Coffee).

Here is where I was introduced to the work of Adrienne Su, Victoria Chang, and Jan Beatty. Here is where I fell in love with Alberto Ríos’ “A Small Story about the Sky”, which inspired me to write a poem in response, “The Truth about Fire”

You’ve heard the story about the sky––/ how fire burned it black / and kept a little piece of blue. / If only the story were that simple: a fire growing into its power / and then the poor sky consumed/ by all those flames.

“After the First Shot” by Saeed Jones appeared in West Branch Issue 69

I am always surprised to see the work of poets I know.

And I make sure I bring quarters or dollar bills for the photocopier, so I can bring some of my favorites home.


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Poems Every Day


Conversation with my friend, J, in her kitchen on Wednesday night:

JH: How many poems do you read a day?

PT: Only two. Writer’s Almanac and the daily poem from Poets.org. I read those on my phone.

JH: That’s it?

PT: Oh wait! I changed my email settings for the Library of Congress Poetry 180 project. I used to get the weekly digest, but I get those poems every day. Or whenever the government sends them out.

J continues potting her winter bulbs.

PT:  Well, it does depend on the day. The American Life in Poetry poem comes on Mondays. And then on Wednesday, there’s the Linebreak poem. This week’s poem was great. Let me read it to you:

PT reads “The Centurion Divulges More

PT:  Oh yeah, I’ve got the Poetry Daily app on my phone. They post a new poem everyday, but sometimes I don’t remember to check and end up reading a week’s worth of poems on the bus.

JH: Is that it?

PT: Well, there’s always whatever poetry book I’m reading now.

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