A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Year in Review 2015


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This year was truly a double-life year. The first half of the year focused on getting the chapbook out into the world. The second half of the year focused on getting a new job and moving to Massachusetts. One realization: big changes in one side of the double life means the other side has to take a backseat. Once the job opportunity showed up, I got busy with preparing my applications and for two interviews as well as saying a very long goodbye to the city of Durham. Admittedly, I started the year in a bit of a writing funk. Fortunately, the weekly poetry dates with Kelly and the monthly poetry book club buoyed the poetry career while I focused on landing that job. This year’s highlights reveal how I was able to keep my toes in the poetry world.

January: Celebrated Living Poetry‘s 6th anniversary party.

February: Wrote poems for 14 Words of Love.

March: Appointed to Durham’s Public Art Committee.

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Organized poets writing at a Science talk and wrote a poem about the Hubble Telescope at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

May: Made the final revisions for the chapbook.

June: Chapbook launch and party for My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press.

July: Attended VONA retreat in Miami for writers of color and made so many more wonderful writer friends. Organized a second event and wrote a poem for King Pluto at the Science Talk on at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Took the Five-Day Poetry Challenge.

August: Not much writing but I did attend the poetry book club for Charles Wright. Read a poem at the 2015 Gospel Expo fundraiser for Johnson C. Smith University.

September: Read at Two Writers Walk Into a Bar one year after attending the event for the first time. Interviewed by Scott Fynboe for the SAFTACast.

October: Attended the West End Poetry Festival.

November: Started sorting and organizing my books for the big move!

December: Made my final poetic appearance before moving to Massachusetts at Living Poetry’s Holiday Chocolate Open Mic. My Mother’s Child chosen as one of Sundress Authors’ Picks for Best Reads of 2015.

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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.


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Summer in Review


It’s been a jammed-packed 80 days since I last posted to the blog. It was only after this data guru did the numbers that I realized there was a balance between literary events and non-literary work that kept me busy the whole time.

June

  • Cave Canem Retreat (June 15-22). My third and final time at this retreat for African-American poetry. We had an awesome lineup of faculty: Chris Abani, Tim Siebles, Patricia Smith, and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon joined the founders, Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady. Not to mention the coolest graduation party ever.
  • Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I landed at the RDU airport and drove straight to the book club for this Russian poet.
  • Lead a poetry exercises as part of the Carrboro ArtsCenter Summer Reading kickoff event.

CC class of 2014

July

August

  • Picked up a few new books at a book swap.
  • LIT 101. A relatively new open mic at Francesca’s Dessert Café in Durham happens every Third Sunday.
  • Third Thursday Open Mic in Fuquay Varina. I’m only able to attend this event once or twice a year and couldn’t resist participating in the Red Dress contest.
  • Carrboro ArtsCenter sponsored a Maya Angelou tribute reading, where people shared their favorite poems in her memory.

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September

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Throughout the summer, I met four times for the poetry one-on-ones with Kelly, submitted to one poetry contest and one anthology, and signed the contract with Hyacinth Girl Press for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child, due in early 2015.

As a double-life poet, all poetic activity takes place on the backdrop of the non-literary career, which kept its own busy schedule:

  • 1 project that I led,
  • 1 project started in June,
  • 1 subcommittee started in September,
  • 19 days of working late,
  • 3 days working on the weekend, and
  • 1 report completed in September but that will be presented in October.

In the interest of transparency, most of the summer was filled with all kinds of activity on the personal side including:

  • 4 parties,
  • 3 weddings,
  • 3 houseguests,
  • 9 milongas,
  • 3 road trips, and
  • my first mammogram

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And today, I give a workshop on revision, so I’ll have more to say about that soon!


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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


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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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