A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

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The Busy Double Life

BUSY word on blue cubes

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I posted to the blog. The double life has been busy on both fronts. The non-literary work has consisted of starting a new project, being pulled on to side project, pitching in to help on another project, and closing out an old project. You know, the usual.

I knew the poetry side was going to get busy this time of the year. January through May is the time when the reading period for most literary magazines and journals are open. So during February and March, I submitted and looking for places to submit. Also, I had a planned trip to Seattle for the AWP Conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs). This is the largest conference for writers in the US. I went for the first time last year to Boston, and this year, moderated the panel, Uncovering Hip Hop Poetry. I was fortunate to be on the panel with some phenomenal poets who were also Cave Canem fellows: Tara Betts, Adrian Matejka, and Roger Reeves. The panel was the brainchild of my VCFA poet-friend, Victorio Reyes. It was an amazing experience even when the lights inexplicably turned off.

AWP has become more like homecoming—seeing people I knew from VCFA and Cave Canem, going to off-site readings, having breakfastphoto-19, lunch, or dinner to catch up. Of course, the best part is walking the exhibitor aisles to learn about new literary magazines and journals, getting books signed by your favorite authors (mostly VCFA faculty for me this time), and have important conversations about what type of poet I want to be. AWP definitely fulfills one of my 2014 Poet Resolutions to spend more time with poets. It also made me realize how much I miss my prose peeps too.

February was also a time for planning. The NC Museum of Sciences is hosting Earth Month in April, which of course is the same month we poets celebrate National Poetry Month. The activities start off with a poetry workshop I will lead and culminate with the third Poetry Scope readings of poems about science. That’s two more 2014 Poet Resolutions right there!

Looks like there are more busy months ahead.

Sharing an interview I did with Ian Bodkin of Written in Small Spaces where I talk about  my how I became a poet, my writing process, balancing the wissliterary and non-literary career, and functioning somewhere between Wally (Wallace Stevens) and Willy (William Carlos Williams).


Poetry in Plain Sight

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Winston-Salem Writers started a cool program this year where they put poetry on display in stores throughout the downtown area. My poem, “Something Missing,” was selected as one of four poems featured for the month of May. This poem has special significance to me because I wrote it on my birthday last year (April 12th) as part of the April Poem-a-Day Challenge and it is a poem about my father, a subject I have a hard time writing about. Here’s a link to the video of me reading this poem and two other poems, “Work Husband” and “Hold That Hot Potato.”


Lessons from a Writer’s Conference Virgin

I returned Saturday evening from my first professional conference as a writer. Along with 11,000 other poets and writers, I went to Boston to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference March 6-9, 2013. Because of my double-life responsibilities, I knew I couldn’t stay the whole time. So I made the most of Thursday and Friday at the AWP conference, which was more than enough time to be immersed in the atmosphere and move my poetry career forward.

Talk to AWP veterans: Patrick Ross, double-life creative non-fiction writer and soon-to-be-VCFA, alum, has attended the conference five years in a row! His pre-AWP post on his blog, The Artist’s Road, about recommended that attendees ask themselves three questions:

  1. What is it I most want to get out of this year’s AWP?
  2. What is the one thing I absolutely cannot miss?
  3. What is one area in which I want to grow as a writer?

For me the answers were: 1) ideas of how I could contribute to AWP as part of my professional development, 2) Cave Canem on-site and off-site readings, and 3) teaching and supporting other poets. These answers  guided the panels and readings I attended and increased my satisfaction with the two days I spent in Boston.

Read the panel descriptions: The  112-page AWP conference program could not be carried around with any modicum of grace. I relied a lot on the 20-page conference planner to decide where to be, but often, the title didn’t match the description. For example, I thought the “Engaging with Science: Poetry and Fiction” panel would give me practical ways to collaborate with science organizations, but it ended up being a reading of science-related work. Interesting, but I wasn’t going to learn anything new. Also, the panel descriptions list the participants, which is a great way to meet your favorite poets and get your books signed.

Bring your own books to be signed: If my Wednesday night flight had not been cancelled, I would not have thought to bring some of my own books with me. As a result, I got my copy of Native Guard signed by the author, Natasha Trethewey, the current US Poet Laureate. If I had read the panel descriptions before I got to Boston, I would have known to bring my Tracy K. Smith and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon books. I did bring my Yusef Komunyakaa book, but was too shy to approach him for a signature. Next time, I won’t be (at least I hope not).

Find a home base: For me, it was booth 314 in Exhibit Hall A, Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I exchanged the University of Tampa lanyard to one that promoted my MFA program, picked up my “Ask Me About VCFA” button, and had all the maple syrup candy I wanted. If I stood in place for five minutes, some VCFA student, alumni, or faculty member would inevitably wander by, followed by kisses and hugs and discussions about writing.

Have your business cards handy at all times: The one mistake I made was leaving my poet calling cards in the hotel after 6 PM. For some reason, I thought I was off-duty after dinner.  I’ve learned that there are more opportunities to network after the panel discussions end. The AWP conference has scheduled readings that end at 10 PM and after-hours gatherings until midnight. My VCFA poet-friend, Victorio Reyes, asked me to be his +1 for the by-invitation only VIP Reception on Friday night. Not only did I get to stand 10 feet away from the Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco, I met AWP President, Judith Baumel, and had a lively discussion with one of the new board members, David Rothman, about how I could contribute to AWP! Even though I left my cards I the hotel, I made sure to send follow-up emails and Facebook and LinkedIn invitations to people I met at the reception—lessons I learned from my non-literary career.


poetrySpark Weekend

After two months of planning, poetrySpark weekend is finally here! Here’s the run down of the schedule:

Thursday, September 13th

Living Poetry Organizers get their 17 minutes of fame during the Opening Ceremony @ Raleigh Amphitheater (7ish PM)

Spark After Dark hosts Erotic Poetry with burlesque dancers @ Kings Barcade (11 PM – 1 AM)

Friday, September 14th

Best of the Open Mic @ White Collar Crime (8PM – 10:30 PM) – Winner gets a Kindle Fire!

Saturday, September 15th

Poetry on Demand @ bazaar Spark in City Plaza (12 PM – 7 PM)

Youth Poets @ Morning Times Café (2PM – 4 PM)

Featured Readers Night has the six winners of the poetry contest + Sacrificial Poets, Terri Kirby Erickson, & Jaki Shelton Green @ The Union/Junction Salon (7:30 PM – 10 PM)

Sunday, September 16th

Poetry on Demand @ bazaar Spark in City Plaza (12 PM – 4PM)

Storytellers @ the Poetry on Demand Booth (3PM – 4 PM)

Hope to see you there!



This year, the Living Poetry organizers are spearheading poetrySpark! This Raleigh event is part of SparkCon, a weekend to showcase the creativity, talent, and ideas of the Triangle. I volunteered the two previous years at the Poetry-on-Demand booth, creating verses for passersby from $1 and a word of their choosing. As a co-organizer of poetrySpark, I’m helping to identify event venues, recruit readers, organize the Featured Readers night, and find a low-cost, high-quality printing vendor (i.e., the inmates at Correction Enterprises).

poetrySpark Open Mic photo by poet-photographer, Anna Weaver

If you live in the Triangle or don’t mind driving to Raleigh’s Warehouse District during September 13th  – 16th, then you should plan on attending one of our events:

  • Erotic Reading @ circusSpark After Dark (Thursday evening, 9/13)
  • Best of the Open Mic Contest @ White Collar Crime (Friday evening, 9/14)
  • Youth Poets Reading (Saturday afternoon, 9/15)
  • Featured Readers Night with former NC Piedmont Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green & Sacrificial Poets (Saturday evening, 9/15)
  • Poetry on Demand (Friday and Saturday, 9/15 & 9/16)

Right now, poetrySpark has a call for poets for the open mic and all reading events until August 15th at midnight. We also need volunteers for Poetry on Demand and at the events to help set up and clean up. Spread the word among the poets you know and love!

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The Poetry You Keep

I grew up hearing, “You are known by the company you keep,” as a parental warning not to mix in with the wrong crowd. But the flip side of that is being associated with fabulous people whose joys and successes are a reflection on you. First there was the Living Poetry Meetup group of poets in the Triangle. I am part of the core group of 4 organizers trying to get our introverted brethren to come to our critique groups, book clubs, brunches at Panera, open mics, and aroma creativity workshops.

When I decided to get serious about my writing, I applied to a low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Though the outcome of any academic program is the degree, the best part of the process was being in Montpelier where I could be a poet all damn day, night, and even in the middle of the night (with apologies to William Carlos Williams):

so much depends / upon

the empty / commode

made with cold / porcelain

glued to the tiled / floor

If it didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t believe that I could forge lifelong friendships with people I saw less than 30 days every year. That these very same people would start their own literary journals like 491 Magazine and Uhg and Ack and organize a publishing boot camp to help me send my poems out into the world.

In June, I attended the 17th annual Cave Canem retreat at the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg campus. Cave Canem is known as the home for Black poetry and boast such alumni as the 2010 and 2011 National Book Award winners (Terrance Hayes and Nikky Finney), the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (Tracy K. Smith), and the 2012-13 U.S. Poet Laureate (Natasha Tretheway). Talk about good company! But Cave Canem is more than just the famous faculty; it is about the fellows who scrimp and save to get there each year, people whose lives and talent inspires me to take risks with my own craft and speak from the underside of my soul.


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