A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Summer in Review


It’s been a jammed-packed 80 days since I last posted to the blog. It was only after this data guru did the numbers that I realized there was a balance between literary events and non-literary work that kept me busy the whole time.

June

  • Cave Canem Retreat (June 15-22). My third and final time at this retreat for African-American poetry. We had an awesome lineup of faculty: Chris Abani, Tim Siebles, Patricia Smith, and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon joined the founders, Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady. Not to mention the coolest graduation party ever.
  • Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I landed at the RDU airport and drove straight to the book club for this Russian poet.
  • Lead a poetry exercises as part of the Carrboro ArtsCenter Summer Reading kickoff event.

CC class of 2014

July

August

  • Picked up a few new books at a book swap.
  • LIT 101. A relatively new open mic at Francesca’s Dessert Café in Durham happens every Third Sunday.
  • Third Thursday Open Mic in Fuquay Varina. I’m only able to attend this event once or twice a year and couldn’t resist participating in the Red Dress contest.
  • Carrboro ArtsCenter sponsored a Maya Angelou tribute reading, where people shared their favorite poems in her memory.

summer books 2014

September

sparkafterdark 2013

Throughout the summer, I met four times for the poetry one-on-ones with Kelly, submitted to one poetry contest and one anthology, and signed the contract with Hyacinth Girl Press for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child, due in early 2015.

As a double-life poet, all poetic activity takes place on the backdrop of the non-literary career, which kept its own busy schedule:

  • 1 project that I led,
  • 1 project started in June,
  • 1 subcommittee started in September,
  • 19 days of working late,
  • 3 days working on the weekend, and
  • 1 report completed in September but that will be presented in October.

In the interest of transparency, most of the summer was filled with all kinds of activity on the personal side including:

  • 4 parties,
  • 3 weddings,
  • 3 houseguests,
  • 9 milongas,
  • 3 road trips, and
  • my first mammogram

charleston

And today, I give a workshop on revision, so I’ll have more to say about that soon!


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The Meaning of May


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And a bird overhead sang Follow,
  And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
  And the meaning of May was clear.

 

It’s been almost a month since the last post. The April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge left me very weary from writing poems – and in fact – from reading a lot of poetry. My first order of business was to bury myself in a novel, Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li. Also, I finally got around to reading books that have been on my shelf for quite some time: Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson and The Best American Short Stories 2006. Don’t get me wrong, I did write some poems that were commissioned for a birthday. I wrote five poems, sent four, the person liked two, and I printed one poem as the gift.

For me, May went by in one big fog. I spent most nights curled up on the couch, watching TV shows on Hulu or movies on Netflix. I didn’t have the energy to be creative or do much of anything else (my poor house). After so much output in April with writing poems and attending poetry events, the introvert in me needed an equal amount of solitude and sloth to balance everything out. The funny thing about not doing much is that life and creativity keep moving, even when the only thing I wanted to do was take a nap. For example, four poems from the April PAD Challenge found homes; one will appear in the upcoming “Knowing” issue of When Women Waken and the others will be featured in a future Come Closer post at Luna Luna Magazine. On May 1st, I granted Outrider Press permission to publish two poems in the next TallGrass Writers Guild anthology, “The Mountain.”

The stanza from Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem, “An Interlude” stood out because the meaning of May was clearly this: even when it looks like I’m doing nothing, something is still happening.

 


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What I Like About Winter 2014


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I’m finally back and settled into the family double life after spending 12 days in Puerto Rico. The first two days were pure relaxation at a resort hotel, but the remaining 10 days were filled with preparation and activities or the fourth VCFA Winter Residency. I’ve been to the island thrice for this residency, as one of the pioneering students in 2011, as a graduate assistant in 2013, and this time as the residency’s coordinator.

I tell you: being a coordinator is a big responsibility even if everything goes as well as it did for me this year. I had to think 1-2 days ahead to figure out what students needed to know this morning, that afternoon, later in the evening, and before they left. Every time we were all in a room or at a table together was my opportunity to make announcements or remind everyone of what was coming next and how they needed to prepare. It was a strange thing being on the delivery end of all those announcements. I am in awe of those at VCFA who must do this all the time and try to herd 10 times as many people.

Of course we had our bumps in the road—no graduate assistant, someone got lost on their way to a workshop, the whole group taking a non-existent shortcut to El Morro, a rained out sunset on the roof, someone who had trouble sleeping, and someone else getting locked in their villa, the tire pressure indicator mysteriously lit up on the way to the airport, the computer tablet that almost got left behind—but the group and I made it through. I found the lost student. We made it to El Morro after a beautiful walk on El Paseo. The sleepless student got Ambien from another student. Someone made the half-mile sprint down the hill to unlock the door. The tire pressure indicator went off as mysteriously came one. I mailed the tablet to the student who left it behind.

I love the intimacy of this residency because I get the opportunity discover a side of the students I don’t have the time or space to learn in at the regular residency. Within our midst we had a prison guard, a high school chess player, an only child living in Sweden, the owner of too many coffee cups, a retired psychotherapist, a karate student, a dancer, a camp counselor, someone allergic to b.s., a school bus driver, a poet who had never heard of a prompt until age 47, a recipient of a liver transplant, and the father of a ‘Brady Bunch’ six.

My third time in Puerto Rico was definite the charm, mostly because of the wonderful group of students, faculty and alumni who brought their open minds, adventurous spirits, writing talents, and complete selves on the trip.

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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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Poets Speak Out on the Connecticut Tragedy


Rock Me MercyIn the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut, I’ve found no words to express the sadness I feel for the young lives violently taken out of this world, the caring adults who tried in vain to protect them, and the families who now experience unspeakable grief and pain as a result of this horrible event.

Fortunately, other poets have. I’m sharing a few of the poems here:

Rock Me Mercy by Yusef Komunyakaa

Hi Mommy (my first haikuby wolfman  

 An Essential Journey Back to Light by Nicolas Cable

 Crumble Life Poem #48 by Christopher Poindexter


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When Life Happens


It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted on the blog, two weeks since Hurricane Sandy devastated the part of New York City where I grew up – The Rockaway Peninsula. Like many others in the Rockaways, my family did not evacuate this time. Last year they took shelter in Brooklyn after heeding the warnings about Hurricane Irene, who didn’t do much damage to the boroughs, opting to spread her flooding elsewhere. But as we all know now, Sandy was no Irene.

After waiting it out for 5 days and hoping the electricity and heat would return, my family found a hotel in Manhattan to spend the first weekend—a welcome respite from the disorder and cold. But as the Sunday checkout was approaching, the worry about where they would go to be safe and warm returned. By Tuesday things were settled, my mother and sister had voted, and they found a place to say in Brooklyn for the immediate future.

The situation in the Rockaways is still this: no power, no heat, no subway service. And by the look of this photo of the Broad Channel station—the stop that connects the Rockaways to the rest of Queens—it doesn’t look like the situation will change any time soon.

I couldn’t do much from North Carolina, but I did manage to check my mother’s AOL account and respond to the people who were concerned about her. I kept my phone beside me at all times in case someone managed to send out a text update before battery life expired. I followed Bob Hardt’s blog on NY1.com, an account of the Rockaway’s slow recovery.

In the midst of this I did write poetry—started the November Poem a Day challenge in fact—but that was all the writing my mind could handle. This week at work, I started writing sections of a report, which forced my brain to fire up neurons in Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, and started me thinking I needed to get back to this blog.  So here I am!


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City-Inspired Poetry


As a double-life poet, you have to find ways to keep yourself creatively inspired. It is so easy to let work and the rest of your life crowd the poetry out. Last week, I traveled to Chicago for a non-literary conference.  Although two of my work colleagues were there, we attended different sessions and kept our own company afterward. My first day in the city, I took an architectural boat tour with one colleague and her daughter. Afterwards, I found a place to eat outside. I was dutifully chceking Facebook when I heard this shuffling sound. I looked up to see the guard and watched as he made his way around the block. I didn’t think to take a picture, but I did manage to jot down this poem:

The sound of the shuffle precedes
His overhang belly with shirt
buttons stressed, but holding
his uniform blue in tact as the slow
waddle of his patrol rounds
the corner of Michigan Ave.

My time at the Adler Planetarium  also stuck with me. I’ve always been fascinated by the ideas of galaxies and universes far beyond this one. And I’m sure reading Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars re-ignited my interest in the planets and stars. After watching the planetarium show, The Searcher, I stuck around to ask the guy behind the booth about supernova. His explanation and the exhibit on the topic provided the details needed for this poem:

You were a red giant star
eons beyond your white-yellow hot,
destined to expand into oblivion.
I refused to let you go, kept orbiting
around you, drawing your energy
to fill myself like a helium
balloon—tethered to the whim
of your finger—swirling past
my limit to our beautiful
demise, this spectacular disaster.

And finally the explanation of dark matter next to the supernova display led me to this poem:

A Different Kind of Matter Altogether
Dark matter doesn’t
interact with light.
It is too dominate,
too heavy, too much.
This is Universal Law–
the lesson I  forgot
to learn because
I was too busy
trying to be
like everyone else.

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