A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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My Mother’s Child: A Chapbook


11402606_10206120537869576_2450195489782527196_oMy chapbook is finally here, My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press. In my last post, I promised to share the details of this amazing journey.  Although some of these poems were written almost four years ago and about 10 months elapsed from signing the publication contract to publication date, it’s really felt like a serendipitous labor of love.

  1. The Poems. I can trace the origins of some of these poems back to 2011 in my second semester at VCFA. I wrote other poems at two Cave Canem retreats, in response to a visual prompt at my weekly writing group, Written Word, and a workshop through the Raleigh Review. I know many of these poems started as hunks of stone scribbled in my notebooks while commuting on the DRX bus and were later revised during my times at UNC Davis Library (aka The Poet’s Gym). Six poems were previously published; five in 2013 and one in an anthology published in 2014.
  2. The Chapbook. Assembling chapbook is different than putting 3-5 poems together for a journal submission or workshop application packet. The poems have to speak to each other and belong together. After a year of submitting to contests for full-length collections and getting nowhere, I changed my strategy. When I sat down to look at all the poems, they seemed to separate themselves into two groups with a few bridge poems. Depending on the chapbook contest guidelines, I included more or fewer poems. I probably had 3 or 4 different configurations.
  3. The Contest. I entered My Mother’s Child into the Imaginary Friend Press chapbook contest in 2013. I liked this contest because it was specifically for anyone who did NOT identify as a heteronormative white male. Although I was a finalist for this contest, one of the judges, Margaret Bashaar, asked to publish the chapbook through her small press, Hyacinth Girl Press. This could not have happened if I didn’t enter contests and submit my work.
  4. The Cover Art. This amazing sketch was done by a local artist, Jolmar Millar (4th photo). I met Jolmar at a tribute event for Maya Angelou I emceed in November 2014. When Margaret gently nudged me about cover art, it took a while before I thought of Jolmar. And then when she came to mind, I didn’t have her email address. I emailed a mutual contact for Jolmar’s email address and the email went to spam. Then about a month later we were connected.
  5. The Publication Process. This process is no joke, and being a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. There comes a point where you have to let go. Having a wonderful publisher and layout person helps. I still don’t think I caught everything, so don’t be too hard on me if you find something.

Here’s an excerpt from a poem that started out as an image I couldn’t get out of my head while driving to a poetry-on-demand event at Cloer Family Vineyard in April 2012. The first draft was written at Cave Canem in June 2012.

What makes sense disappears
under straw hats,
this bizarre America,
where they pay
to return to rural
roots my people fled—
that second Exodus
to auto plants, steel mills,
city-hard streets—
so I wouldn’t
have to stand in sweat
tasting the dry,
salted past
on my tongue.– Stuff White People Like #132: Picking Their Own Fruit, from My Mother’s Child – See more at: http://hyacinthgirlpress.com/yearfive/mymotherschild.html#sthash.q08uIMgj.dpuf


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May Days


hs-2011-11-a-xlarge_300I had to rest up after writing all those April poems for the Poem-a-Day Challenge. It took 3-4 days before I could read the poems, and I have to say, I’m quite happy with the result. During the challenge, I can’t spend time with each poem because I’ve got to crank out another one. So having the time to step away and come back to what I’ve written helps me see each poem in a new light. There are quite a few that I want to work with so they can be sent out for publication this summer and fall.

With the true arrival of Spring, I’m getting out more. The NC Museum of Natural Sciences invited the poets back on the last day of April to write poems in response to a science talk about the Hubble Telescope. I also debuted some of the April poems at a Sunday brunch with the girls at the home of my tango friend and photographer, Katia Singletary and  at the Open Mic at Johnny’s Gone Fishing in Carrboro. I resumed my Tuesday poetry dates with the Two Writers Walk Into a Bar reading with Duncan Murrell and Liana Roux. The Murrell piece follows pyrotechnicians (yes, the people who set fireworks), so I can’t wait to go to Davis Library and read it in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Also, ahead this month—the release of my new chapbook, My Mother’s Child from Hyacinth Girl Press. It’s been an amazing experience working with this small press and I can’t wait to share the details of this journey.


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).

http://writteninsmallspaces.com/2014/01/18/episode-16-the-hunk-of-stone-with-pamela-l-taylorand-erica-wright-disguises-her-weaponry/


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Double the Life, Double the Accomplishments


 

UNC_PhotoAfter writing poems for 30 days, I had to shift gears to focus on the work side of this double life. In fact the work project I was leading was a constant in the backdrop of September’s poetrySpark, the November poem-a-day challenge, and poetry submission deadlines. As hard as I worked on my poems on Sunday afternoons in the office at the library, I worked equally hard–if not harder–in writing a report for work. And finally, it has culminated in a presentation before a state legislative committee on operational efficiency within the University of North Carolina system (check out the video clip from News 14 and the write-up on WRAL).

griefissueIn true double-life fashion, this work accomplishment is accompanied by a few poetic accomplishments: submitting a chapbook to two contests and getting two poems published in the Grief Issue of When Women Waken, including the Day 5 poem of the November 2013 PAD challenge.

Times like this is why I love the double life!


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Poet Beyond Work


securedownloadUnlike my favorite superhero, Spider-Man, I don’t hide my poet identity in the workplace. My colleagues have witnessed my transformation from just writing to writing poems to being enrolled in an MFA program for poetry to being a published poet. I have written several poems based on my experiences as a Black female professional and have started getting a few of the work-related poems published. So I’m ok with being a poet in the office.

Lately though, the word has gotten out beyond the safety of the cubicle walls. My LinkedIn profile and office website list the MFA in Writing degree next to the PhD. And now that I’ve transitioned to being a team lead, people outside of the office are interested in discovering my credentials. I can tell that people whom I interview have read my bio when they ask, “How did you go from being a statistician to poetry?

I’m guilty of spreading the word too. At the beginning of the project I mentioned to the agency that I was going out of town. Curious they asked where I was vacationing and in the interest of full disclosure I told them I told them I was going to a poetry retreat. Since then they have asked how it went and if there were poems they could read. I sent them a few links to what I have online, but it felt weird for people that I only know through my job to know about my poetry. I don’t hide it but I’m not used to being a poet and everybody knowing it. I think I need to get used to it.

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.”


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To Be or Not to Be. . .Separate


The fundamental question for a double-life poet is, “Should I keep poetry separate from my working life?” Wallace Stevens turned down an appointment as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard because he didn’t want to be forced to retire from his job as an executive at The Hartford. William Carlos Williams felt being a doctor and being a poet were “two parts of a whole” and often scribbled poems on the back of prescription pads.

I faced this question while updating my LinkedIn profile. It’s funny how the most innocuous tasks make you rethink your whole raison d’être. Anyway, it’s been almost a year since I graduated from VCFA, but that information wasn’t on the résumé. Neither were my writing and presentation skills mentioned anywhere and none of my recent poetry publications were listed. Isn’t my MFA important to me? I’ve only mentioned it in 10 of the 40+ posts I’ve written for this blog. And don’t I want to use my writing and presentation skills more? Start to blend my double lives more?

And then that ultimate negating phrase popped into my head, “Yes, but”

Yes, but what type of message is that sending?

Yes, but this is a professional website and poetry doesn’t fit.

Yes, but the poetry stuff and work stuff should be separate.

Adding this information was simple – selecting the school, degree, and year from the drop-down menu, typing the words,LinkedIn Profile “writing” and “publication” in the summary section, and copying and pasting the link to my latest publication. I mean, that’s what makes me unique, right? That I like to tell stories with data, that I like to write, that being a poet in a professional world, I wrestle with and simplify complexity, have a more acute sense of empathy, am creative, and can infuse life with beauty and meaning. And just like that, my poetry and non-literary career became one.

I look forward to the day when poetry and my non-literary career can peacefully coexist in my every day world and not just on my LinkedIn résumé.

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