A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

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Poems for King Pluto

Pluto's Frozen Heart. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Pluto’s Frozen Heart. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to write a poem in honor of the King of the Dwarf Planets—Pluto—as part of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences weekly Science Café talks. NASA Ambassador Shawn Bayle provided background about Pluto and the New Horizons mission that has been transmitting stunning images of the ninth rock from the Sun.

This event was the third time the museum had invited Living Poetry members to craft poems inspired by a science talk:

Pluto's Poetesses. Credits: Erin Osborn & Alice Osborn

Pluto’s Poetesses. Credits: Erin Osborn & Alice Osborn

I don’t think it was accidental that old King Pluto had four ladies scribing in his honor. He’s got that effect on women—ask Proserpina (aka Greek’s Persephone) and his largest moon, Charon, which is gravitationally locked in sync with Pluto’s orbit so that the two celestial bodies always face each other. Some other facts about Pluto and the New Horizons mission gathered from the talk and mentioned in the poems:

  • discovered by mistake by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 in search for Planet X presumed to exist beyond Neptune
  • first object identified in the Kuiper Belt
  • New Horizons took 9 years to get to Pluto; the gravitational boost from Jupiter reduced the time to get to Pluto by 5 years.
  • scientists discovered two of Pluto’s moons—Styx & Kerberos—after the New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006

I enjoy writing planetary poems already but especially at these events because I can hear similar threads in each poem while noting each poet’s unique voice. I’ll share an expert from my poem here, “New Horizons Meets Planet X,” but be sure to watch the entire talk on YouTube (poets start about an hour into the video).

Feed me your data in bits
and bytes as we shimmy
in front of Neptune to soak

up the sun. I don’t see any rings
around you, so maybe we can
make a new moon or two.







photo-2I hate to look at my schedule for the next few weeks but I can’t help it. I carry around a calendar in my head.
This week is packed–coffee meet followed by tango on Monday, practice session for a art salon on Tuesday, last poetrySpark organizer meeting on Wednesday, lunch meet on Thursday, and flying to California for the Labor Day weekend on Friday. Full days at work are the unmentioned yet unavoidable backdrop to the landscape of the upcoming week. September is no better–VCFA alumni gathering, a practice session for the art salon, a wedding, poetry book club, softball double-header (watching), poetrySpark, and a milonga–all before the 15th! And did mention the work project I am leading will be in the report writing phase and having to fly out to a professional conference in Austin, TX the morning after the art salon? And I know what you’re going to say, Pam, when are you going to have time to write, revise, and submit poems? I have no clue. September I will take a break from tango classes, though I don’t know if work or poetry expand to fill that void. We’ll have to wait and see.


Living the Double Life

“One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day, nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.” ~ William Faulkner

Often I feel disconnected from other poets who teach for a living, are freelance writers, or who have a job where they work with words, language, books, or images all day. My job taxes my analytical mind. I spend a lot of time in meetings, in the field gathering evidence, or in front of my computer processing information and data to identify problems and generate ways to solve them. My colleagues know that I am a poet, and send me links to poetry contests and articles about poets they happen to come across. They are used to it, having spent two years creating workarounds for my two-week stints in Vermont in January and July. They know I am “poeting” when they see my closed office door during the lunch hour. But I don’t expect them to understand anything about sonnets and I don’t try to steer the break room conversation away from “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Most poets I meet are full-time poets. They recognize what I do as important, but clearly unrelated to anything literary. Some can recount the litany of odd jobs they’ve had while they were finding their way to their first book or teaching position. But most let their eyes glaze over; they don’t understand how I can do something other than poetry all day and call myself a poet. Unfortunately, these are the same people who are editing literary journal and magazines, and don’t seem to relate to the poems I write about life at the office. Thankfully, my poet-friends are sympathetic to the double life because many of them have to carve out time from work and family to continue to do what they love to do.

I started this blog to be a place for poets with non-literary careers. The people, who like me, have both feet firmly planted in their careers and the poetry world. We have to work hard to succeed on both fronts and don’t want to have to choose between them. As much as I would love to live on poetry alone, I truly appreciate having a job that gives me the freedom and flexibility to pursue poetry. I don’t have summers off and my job wouldn’t pay to send me to the AWP Conference as part of my professional development, but I can afford to pay for plane tickets to writer’s weekends. And the 9.16667 hours in vacation time I earn each month can be used however I want, even for another trip to Puerto Rico.

So on this Labor Day, I wanted to express my gratitude for my other career, the one that allows me to live the double life.


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