A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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My Writing Process Blog Tour


Mordovia-Dizzy Gillespie-2000or2001I feel like all I do on this blog is talk about my writing process, so the opportunity to be a part of a blog tour only seemed natural. I was very happy to get the call to arms from my Cave Canem roommate during my first year, Cynthia Manick. The youngest of the four group of women who met in 2012, Cynthia always leads the charge to submit to contests and journals and magazines and writing conferences by her example. Once again, I am eager to follow in her footsteps because Cynthia’s work tickles your toes like Dizzy’s trumpet carved in gold.

What are you working on?

I’ve got a little less than two weeks until the next Cave Canem retreat, so I’ve been stockpiling ideas on my iPhone. I wrote two of my planet poems  while there, “Transit of Venus” and “To Earth, From Mars,” so it is very likely that another galactic poem will be drawn in by the creative and supportive force that surrounds the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg the earthmarsweek CC arrives.

With the summer hiatus for many literary magazines approaching, I can stop focusing on submissions and start thinking about doing a workshop. My poet friends are interested in revision, so I’ll spend my summer planning how to guide them through the process. Also, I’d like to start a poetry workshop series similar to the one I attended at Duke University in 2009–a brief discussion on craft or process, circling the table for critique, sending everyone home with a new writing assignment–so that means more research and more preparation.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

I write what I see and fully acknowledge the lens I have as a single, professional, Black female. I use extended metaphor quite often because I can say two things at the same time: what is on the surface and the message underneath. My friends have described my poems as “beautiful”, “feisty”, and “clever as hell,” which is cool when you consider the source. ;-)

anna-akhmatovaI’ve also been told by Russian/former Soviet Union friends that I write very Russian. I don’t know what that means exactly. It’s usually the poems with an undercurrent of pain and longing and strong imagery that makes them say this.

Why do you write what you do?

Because nobody else is writing it. Because someone else wrote it and it needed to be said again. Because someone else wrote it and it needed a response. Because the poem came through me and I didn’t have a choice. Because it is better on the page than stuck in my head.

How does your writing process work?

I use the “hunk of stone” method I learned from former North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers: begin with an abiding image, write a block Study Room in UNC Davis Libraryof text, then look at it until I see the shape of the poem. The distance between these three steps differs with each poem. I’m not in a regular rhythm of writing anymore, so the thoughts come out in drips and drops. Most of the time, I write on the bus commute to or from work in a notebook or in my Notes app if I can’t find a pen. Lately, I’ve been better using Google drive to store snippets of ideas for poems or first drafts until I’m ready to work on them. Writing occurs most often when I am still (on a plane/bus/train, in a meeting, at my work desk, in waiting rooms). Revision almost always happens in the Poet’s Gym aka the faculty study I borrow from a friend at the UNC Davis Library. It is a small space in a corner wing of the building with a sliver of a window where I keep some rations, a few totems, a blanket, and a sweatshirt.

Thanks for reading my post. Next up on the blog tour are two fabulous poets who will post on June 9th:

A. Anupama is a wonderful poet I met during my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I love her work because she brings her love of yoga, Indian cooking, science, photography, and nature to her poetry. Her blog, seranam, is as much a visual experience as it is a literary one.

Elizabeth Fields is a Cave Canem fellow who has been teaching abroad for the past year. I’ve been following her stumbles and successes in navigating a life in an unfamiliar, ancient, and astonishing land at A Poet’s Year in China.


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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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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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Poet Resolutions 2014


2014Of the six poet resolutions I made last year, I accomplished four:

  • Publish six poems: In 2013, seven poems were published
  • Share my poetry: April and November poems appeared on the blog.
  • Talk to more double life poets: This year I spent time with double-life poets and prose writers, including Tracey Gratch, whose poem I found while reading a scientific article for a work project.
  • Blend double lives more: In addition to listing poems on LinkedIn, I read a few poems during my birthday celebration at work. During the travel for the work project I lead, several people had checked me out and inquired about the MFA.

This year’s resolutions are not too different.

Teach a poetry workshop: This goal was on last year’s list, but I didn’t find the courage or time to do it. This year, the co-organizers of Living Poetry have mapped out a series of poetry workshops, including two workshops on revisions and publishing your work that I volunteered to teach/co-teach.  The LP organizers are good about keeping me on task.

Organize three poetry readings: Last year, I organized two poetry readings for the weekly Science Café at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum has agreed to making this reading an annual event. So now I have to find two other opportunities to organize a reading in 2014.

Six poems published: This goal worked last year, so I’m keeping it on the list. This goal requires me to write and submit, which is always the struggle as a double-life poet.

Spend more time with poets: When my work project picked up steam in July,  I had a more difficult time finding time to spend with poets. Sure I  helped to organize poetrySpark in September and was a featured reader at the West End Poetry Festival in October, but I barely saw poets in the last two months of the year.  So I think spending time with poets at least once a month is a good way to operationalize this goal.

Start a poetry project: I have no idea what this goal means or what it will look like. It may blend my love of science with my love of poetry. It may mean collecting work poems or poems by double-life poets. We’ll see!

What are your poetic goals for 2014? Feel free to share them in a comment.


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Year in Review 2013


year2013

The biggest lesson of this year was Balance. The non-literary career demanded a lot of my time and attention this year and trying to maintain the boundary between my work and personal lives became more challenging. This year’s highlights reflects more accomplishments of both sides of the double life:

January: Attended the 3rd VCFA residency in Puerto Rico as grad assistant. Living Poetry‘s 4th anniversary party. Organized the 1st Poetry Scope event at NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

February: Wrote over 20 poems for 14 words of love. Transitioned to new role at work.

March: Attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in Boston. Won second place in Carolina Woman’s magazine for “Transit of Venus.”

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2013 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Wrote 1st commissioned poem for an auction to support Relay for Life  with two of my favorite Triangle-area poets, Anna Weaver and Tara Lynne Groth.

May: “Something Missing” selected for Poetry in Plain Sight by Winston-Salem Writers. Started 1st project as a lead at work.

June: Attended 18th Cave Canem retreat.

July: Traveled to Greensboro, Winston-Salem, & Asheville for work.

August: Wrote four poems during one-day writing retreat with Written Word. Organized the 2nd Poetry Scope event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

September: poetrySpark! Wrote my second commissioned poem for a wedding. Attended professional conference in Austin. Three poems published in Blackberry. Attended the first VCFA alumni gathering in North Carolina.

October: Completed draft of work report. Featured poet in Music and Poetry session of the West End Poetry Festival.

November: Wrote 30 poems for the November 2013 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Six years at job. Wrote my 3rd commissioned poem for an 86th birthday. Attended a one-day poetry workshop at the Raleigh Review.

December: Two poems published in the When Women Waken issue on grief. Received news coverage for work report.


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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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