A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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March: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion


march-lion1March was a busy time for me—this post is only the 4th one I had time to write this month. I did manage to blog about the most important things that happened in March: AWP and the six women writers that inspire my work.

But this month brought a lot of transition at work—moving into a new role where I lead projects and manage people. I am also spearheading a process to compile ideas for the next 15 projects we will complete over the next two years. I am no longer behind the scenes, but rather, have become a point-person to answer questions from my colleagues and do special projects for my boss, including being the staff support to the big bosses. We are also interviewing for four positions, so I spent a lot of time combing through 50+ applications packets to narrow down the few who might be my future colleagues.

I didn’t worry about writing in March because I knew I would need all that inspiration for April’s Poem-a-Day Challenge. But I did attend three open mics, including a new event at Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough. With little emphasis on writing, I decided to focus on reading a novel—The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht was chockfull of imagery and rich language, and had an intricate story line. I was so enamored by this book, I posted quotes as my Facebook status and convinced five other people to read it. I finished up Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Selected Poems by Sharon Olds, and Final Poems by Rabindranath Tagore and checked out several from my favorite library:

Of course with all that reading material for inspiration, two poems found their way out, “Childless” and “Bicycle.” Today and tomorrow, I’ll be working to edit these and other poems for March 31st submission deadlines and preparing my manuscript, Black.Woman.Professional, for submission to the Cave Canem  first-book award contest.

And I got word that my science poem, “Transit of Venus,” won second place in the Carolina Woman Writing Contest! Suddenly, I’m feeling a little Helen Reddy: I am woman. Hear me roar!


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Year in Review 2012


2012 YIR

I’m taking a page from the playbook of my poet-friend and blogging guru, Tara Lynne Groth of WriteNaked, and doing the hip thing: a post what I learned and accomplished this year.

What I learned is simple: Write! Write! Write! Submit! Submit! Submit! ‘Nuff said.

Now—on to the month-by-month highlights of 2012

January: Graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with my MFA in Writing.

February:  Participated in peer review with fellow VCFA alum. Made 2nd presentation for the job.

March: Worked like crazy. Not much else. :-(

April: Wrote 30 poems for April Poem-A-Day Challenge. Turned 40!

May: Attended Raleigh Review writing workshop with Dorianne Laux and Joe Millar. Made 3rd presentation for the job.

June: Attended 17th Cave Canem Retreat.

July: Launched this blog, Poet’s Double Life.

August: Attended a professional conference in Chicago, wrote poems, and took tons of photos.

September: poetrySpark! “Professional Disagreement” published in Mused: BellaOnline Literary Review.

October: Worked like crazy and got an “exceptional” annual performance rating. Attended a new open mic.

November: 29 poems for November Poem-A-Day Challenge. Five years at the job!

December: Three April poems published in the Best of Fuquay-Varina Reading Series anthology. “The Truth About Fire” accepted in Pedestal Magazine’s December 2012 edition.

I’m still working on my New Year’s resolutions for an upcoming post!


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One More Open Mic


Living Poetry is jumping into the Triangle area open mic scene with an Open Mic Workshop at Straw Valley Café. You might remember this is one of my favorite places to write—and now, it will be one of my favorite places to read.

The idea came out of poetrySpark’s Best of the Open Mic contest. Most of the poets had a good stage presence and delivered their poems in the allotted time, but there was one contestant who must have read the longest poem she had ever written. She went well beyond 5 minutes—more than doubled it in fact—and flipped the page not once, but twice during her stage time. This poet went so long, I had time to go to the bathroom and come back to my seat before she even finished. Needless to say, she didn’t win the contest.

If you’re a “page poet,” getting up to read in front of an audience may feel like torture. I know many good poets who rarely give public readings. In fact, the Featured Reader event was the first time three of the six poets selected by the judges had read their poems in front of an audience.  If you are not an experienced reader, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Pick a poem with audience appeal: That poem about your root canal may not be as interesting to others as it is to you (unless it is hilarious). Believe it or not, an open mic is a form of entertainment. People attend because they enjoy hearing poetry. Sometimes a poem that reads well on the page doesn’t translate well to the ear. That doesn’t mean you have to read fluff or avoid tear-jerker poems. Just be aware of which poems resonate with others.
  2. Know your poem: Read your poem before you step up to the microphone. Read it again. And then when you’re done—read it one more time. This step is particularly important if you are debuting a poem to see how people respond. You don’t have to memorize it (though the audience will be thoroughly impressed if you do), but the poem should be familiar enough so you can read it without stumbling over the words.
  3. Time your reading: Most open mic events have a time limit for each poet to read. Five minutes is enough time to read 2-3 poems (up to 25 lines each) and give the audience a little backstory for each poem. Having a good sense of how long your reading will take should help you feel more relaxed when you are on stage.
  4. Perform your poem (a little): Try to match your delivery to the poem. Be animated in your voice and use hand gestures if the poem is funny or lively. Be subdued if the poem deals with a difficult situation. Always, it is important for you to speak clearly and enunciate each word. The ear is not as forgiving as the eye and needs a little more time to process. Also, pay attention to your own punctuation—use commas, periods, and stanza breaks to pause, make eye contact, and of course, breathe.

Hopefully, you will overcome your fears of reading in public and join us for this event. If you don’t make it tonight, there are other open mic events on the horizon.


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poetrySpark Weekend


After two months of planning, poetrySpark weekend is finally here! Here’s the run down of the schedule:

Thursday, September 13th

Living Poetry Organizers get their 17 minutes of fame during the Opening Ceremony @ Raleigh Amphitheater (7ish PM)

Spark After Dark hosts Erotic Poetry with burlesque dancers @ Kings Barcade (11 PM – 1 AM)

Friday, September 14th

Best of the Open Mic @ White Collar Crime (8PM – 10:30 PM) – Winner gets a Kindle Fire!

Saturday, September 15th

Poetry on Demand @ bazaar Spark in City Plaza (12 PM – 7 PM)

Youth Poets @ Morning Times Café (2PM – 4 PM)

Featured Readers Night has the six winners of the poetry contest + Sacrificial Poets, Terri Kirby Erickson, & Jaki Shelton Green @ The Union/Junction Salon (7:30 PM – 10 PM)

Sunday, September 16th

Poetry on Demand @ bazaar Spark in City Plaza (12 PM – 4PM)

Storytellers @ the Poetry on Demand Booth (3PM – 4 PM)

Hope to see you there!


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Open Mics


The number one reason I don’t go to open mic events as much as I should is the driving distance from Durham.  The First Tuesday @ Open Eye is in Carrboro about 30 minutes west of Durham and the First Thursday @ the Royal Bean is 30 minutes in Raleigh–the opposite direction. The Second Thursday @ Flyleaf Books conflicts with my monthly board meetings for Triangle Tango (not that I attended regularly before). And then there’s the Third Thursday @ Lazy Lion Books in Fuquay Varina. I don’t even know how far that is from Durham. Plus, the event starts at 5 PM, which is really early for this double-life poet. I have gone to Amplified Voices @ Amplified Art in downtown Raleigh thrice this year, though not in consecutive months and not without crashing at with a friend who lives nearby.

You see, I work in downtown Raleigh and the last thing I want to do is stay close to work any longer than necessary. After the 40-minute commute on Triangle Transit I want to get home and relax a bit and not have to rush to figure out poems, what to wear, and what to eat on the way. But sometimes I do find the energy to go to open mics. It helps if there is friend visiting from Turkey who wants to hear some poetry. It helps if the open mic happens during or after the April Poem-A-Day challenge so there is a critical mass of poems to read.

Once I’m there I’m always happy to see my poet-friends, hear about their lives and what they’ve been writing. I’m always blown away by the person who musters the courage to read for the first time. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to step in front of the microphone and share a sliver of myself, to connect with others who have chosen this lifelong apprenticeship. Writing can be lonely and frustrating, but it feels good to know I am not the only one out there struggling to find the words to express everything I’ve held inside.

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