A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 3


stamp_with_green_earthIt’s always good to get past the halfway point in the month. The end is near, and yet, I know the poems must keep coming. Some days I surprise myself–like the rhyme in Day 17. Other days, I go back to the photographs I have stored in my poetic memory. Several poems this week seemed to run out of my mind onto the page. Thank goodness I keep pen and pad in the car and in my purse, and sticky notes on my office desk when the words start to form. Often it feels like clouds gathering above on the verge of a downpour. Here is what the poem storms brought this week.

Day 14 (Prompt: If I Were <Blank>)

I’d still be black

but this time

desired

Day 15 (Prompt: Love/Anti-Love)

The heat of your breath

warms my skin and every

feign, flutter, fantasy stands

arm hair on end.

Day 16 (Prompt: Elegy)

On a throwback Thursday, I see a photo

of you dressed in 70’s cool–wide-legged

jeans and Kojak shades–standing in a park

with a stoic lean like that tower in Piza.

Day 17 (Prompt: Pop culture)

You’ll never see me move it round, wave

my big round mound fast, slow, up

and down like a flag to raise your salute.

Day 18 (Prompt: Weather)

The freeze will come overnight,

trap you below the thick,

clear surface for the longest

winter on record

Day 19 (Prompt: Color)

I inhale the sweet

sting of citrus

then strip skin

in one long peel.

Day 20 (Prompt: Family)

It was my father’s foresight

to insist on a family photo,

the photographer’s instinct

to seat him at center


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April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 2


aprilWeek 2 is a mix of themes and topics that are familiar and new experiences and observations gathered each day. Already I sense a common thread connecting the poems this year–transition. This week, there are fewer poet-as-narrator poems and more poems from the poet-as-observer perspective. These PAD challenges give me an opportunity to observe the how of my creative process:

  • how images, incidents, and feelings take root throughout the day and I can’t shake them until they are on the page
  • how poems start in multiple directions and then I have to work different threads simultaneously until one of them comes to an end
  • how sometimes I’m not sure if I pulled the right thread
  • how some themes require a return at a later date when I’m not in get-the-poem-out-and-go-to-bed mode
  • how some days I just need to get the poem out and go to bed
  • how I seem to be writing the same poem over and over again

And always it’s an interesting ride to see where each prompt takes me.

Day 7 (Prompt: Self-Portrait)

seated and upright

black stockinged feet

freed from black-heeled boots

dangled toes cozy up

to the heater’s warm hum

Day 8 (Prompt: Violent/Peaceful)

I overhear him tell you

he told you up front

that he lived with his mother

and worked at the college

but didn’t have a degree.

Day 9 (Prompt: Shelter)

The tour of her fiancé’s house ends

in the room filled with what’s familiar and hers–

what I will name the piano room,

what used to be the living room

of the house where our friendship grew.

Day 10 (Prompt: Future)

The climate will change as the clouds

swollen with the megapixels of our digital

lives can no longer hold everything apart.

Day 11 (Prompt: Statement)

Spring Has Arrived

And so has he to the same park bench

where he unfurls the morning paper

and feigns to read

Day 12 (Prompt: City)

You strive ever upward with a million

anonymous stories stacked between

the gravel and glass of high

rises stretched down Broadway.

Day 13 (Prompt: Animal)

She likes her dogs the way

she likes her men–large and long-

haired, happy to be at her feet.

 


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April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 1


Close-Up Of Fridge MagnetsWe’re already a week into National Poetry Month and so far I’ve been able to finish poems before midnight. This time, I decided not to post poems to the blog so that each poem has a chance of being published in the future. Instead, I will recap each week with the first few lines of my PAD Challenge poems using the prompts from Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides column on Writer’s Digest.

Day 1 (Prompt: Beginning/Ending)

Let’s begin at the end,
when you’ve already claimed me,
when I’ve given you the orchid
of my trust

Day 2 (Prompt: Voyage)

What do I take on this journey
that doesn’t bring back the past?
I want to travel light but even my lungs
feel burdened by air moving through

Day 3 (Prompt: Message)

We were a hit at the disco party
in that brown-orange-tan-rose
patchwork jumpsuit hip-bumping
down the Soul Train line

Day 4 (Prompt: Since <blank>)

Tonight you are dim light
peeking through a dark veil
of clouds, blurred and diffused,
as mysterious as Churchill’s Russia.

Day 5 (Prompt: Discovery)

We didn’t discover fire;
we made it
with our hands,
rubbing sticks.

Day 6 (Prompt: Night)

Most nights, the window’s reflection
is the only other black face I get to see


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Winter/Spring Reading List


photo-20I really ought to use my Goodreads account to track the books I am reading, but I often forget to do that. So here’s what I can remember of what I read from November to March:

  • Robert Pinsky, The Sounds of Poetry: The January book club selection.
  • Rosario Ferre, The House on the Lagoon: Suggested reading for the Puerto Rico trip.
  • John Williams, Stoner: One of my favorite Christmas gifts thanks to my favorite German-friend who lets me borrow his office space
  • Nicole Terez Dutton, If One of Us Should Fall: Won the 2011 Cave Canem book prize
  • Mary Ruefle, Cold Pluto: I picked this up at the used bookstore in Chapel Hill then gifted it to another poet-friend.
  • Stephen Dunn, The Insistence of Beauty: The February book club selection. I didn’t get to discuss the book, but it was a great selection.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Selected Poems: Yes, Lincoln wrote poems. It’s a slim volume.
  • Philip Levine, Breath: The March book club selection. I found the craft of the poems most compelling.

I’m also in various stages of the books I picked up from AWP: the latest books from my VCFA advisors—Ralph Angel, Your Moon and Leslie Ullman, Progress on the Subject of Immensity—and the new book by Cave Canem fellow and the new VCFA poetry faculty member, Jamaal May, Hum.

Then of course, there are the five books I checked out of the UNC Davis Library last weekend:

  • Maya Angelou, Poems: The April book club selection
  • David Levy, Starry Night: Astronomers and Poets Read the Sky
  • Robert Crawford (Ed.), Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science
  • Diane Ackerman, Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: Includes a lot of science and nature poems
  • Frederick Seidel, The Cosmos Trilogy

If you’re sensing a theme with my current reading list, you may be right. The science poems are screaming for me to make them into a project, so I’m doing a little research while I wait for the poems to show up.


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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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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).

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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