A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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A September to Remember


As the government is shutting down, I am emerging from one of the busiest months for work and poetry. My last post gave a snapshot of my schedule for the first week of September and outlined all the events I had on the calendar. I had planned to take a break from tango classes and didn’t know whether work or poetry would fill that void. Now I know the answer—a little bit of both. Here are some of the highlights:

Blackberry Literary Magazine (Tuesday, September 1, 2013): This month’s issue diverged from the usual theme-related writing to display an eclectic mix of poems and fiction from African American female writers, including two of my Cave Canem poems and a work-related poem, “Sighting: Mother”, “There is a Graveyard in My Belly”, and “Tuesday Morning Rain.”

Tuesday Morning Rain

The VCFA alumni gathering (Friday, September 6, 2013): What a great turnout of prospective students, current students, and alumni at Nantucket Grill in Chapel Hill. It was good to connect and reconnect to VCFA alum and interact with other creatives. The only glitch: the name badges and promotional materials sent from Vermont to my work address didn’t arrive until Tuesday. Obviously, the US Postal Service doesn’t believe poetry and work should mix.

PT's VCFA badge

The Music-Shanks Wedding (Saturday, September 7, 2013): I was honored to be asked to write a poem for the occasion. The couple are filmmakers and the poem used The Wizard of Oz as an extended metaphor for finding love. “And by Good Glinda’s grace you stand today, with your brain, courage, and heart  in tact, those ruby-red slippers ready to click.”

Wedding poem

Poetry book club – ee cummings (Sunday, September 8, 2013): There were only two of us, but we spent the entire two hours reading and discussing selections from The Complete Poems of ee cummings, 1914-1962. We listened to cummings reading his work and winced because his voice was full of the Unitarian minister who raised him rather than the whimsical verse he wrote. This poem is my new favorite poem.

the sky was luminous

poetrySpark’s Spark After Dark Erotic Poetry and Burlesque show (Thursday, September 12, 2013): After a full week of writing a work report, I took the stage with 25 other poets and performers for the event that kicked off SparkCon. The standing-room-only crowd was an eager audience for “some dirty poetry”, and someone handed me a rose when I was done.

Spark after Dark

poetrySpark’s  Poetry on Demand booth (Saturday, September 14, 2013): What do you get when you take 9 poets and sit them in a booth to write poems in 3 minutes for a dollar a piece for over 4 hours? $167 dollars, that’s what! Plus some of the craziest words—triskaidekaphobia, kookaburra, honorificabilitudinitatibus, coprophagia, apotheosis, and smook (invented word for whipped cream). Fortunately, my colleague gave me a normal word as a prompt. Note: the spelling errors are hers, not mine. ;)

Swordfighting

Passion: A Salon of Music, Dance, Theater, and Cabaret (Friday, September 20, 2013): After another full week of writing a work report, I stood on different stage, this time for a three-minute “modern dance duet with a tango feel to it.” No one has posted pictures from the event, but we got a good pre-show write up in the Daily Tar Heel.

National Legislative Program Evaluation Society Fall Professional Development Seminar (Sunday, September 22 to Wednesday, September 25, 2013): Over 130 individuals representing over 20 states met in Austin, Texas for the annual meeting of legislative audit and program evaluation staff. And though we would like to believe that the sessions on retaining staff, using graphics, and tracking recommendation results were most memorable, what’s burned in our minds is the image of men kissing giraffes at the Texas Disposal System Exotic Game Ranch.  Even better, I got to dance tango with the Austin community on Saturday and Tuesday and add to my ever-growing collection of college paraphernalia.

Giraffe at "The Dump" Halloween at UT Austin

UNC Davis Library (Sunday, September 29, 2013): After a 60+ hour work week and the Living Poetry organizer’s meeting, I stopped by one of my favorite writing spaces in the Triangle (what I call the Poet’s Gym) to pick up three books by Rachel Wetzsteon, including her posthumous collection, Silver Roses.

Rachel Wetzsteon


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Poetry Scope: Another Success!


dp-globeLast Thursday, Living Poetry organized another evening of science through the lens of poetry for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The first event occurred in January and I posted about how the idea was born on the DRX bus ride from Durham to Raleigh.

Given my lessons learned from the first event, I decided to organize the second time around a little differently:

  • Broadened the “Call for Poems”: The first time  was a LP members only event so this time I posted the call for science-related poems to NC Writer’s Network and the NC Poetry Society. Two of the poets selected learned about the event from these sources.
  • Let the poets explain the connection to science: Adding this requirement to the submission helped me select a range of science topics, which (as I learned from last time) is what the museum folks like. This time the poems covered  cancer, cicadas, matter/anti-matter, thermodynamics, and Nikola Tesla.
  • Relished in my organizer role: Last time, I organized the event and read a poem, which meant I couldn’t relax or take pictures. This time I made a conscious decision not to submit. My work for the evening ended once the recording started. I was able to eat, drink wine, ask questions, and enjoy the poetry. Definitely doing that again.

The result of these changes was another successful event! Here is the video of the livestream and photos of the poets:

  • Anna Weaver
  • Claudette Cohen
  • Angie Kirby
  • Cherryl Cooley
  • Lisa Zerkle

 

Poetry in Plain Sight

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photo-1
Winston-Salem Writers started a cool program this year where they put poetry on display in stores throughout the downtown area. My poem, “Something Missing,” was selected as one of four poems featured for the month of May. This poem has special significance to me because I wrote it on my birthday last year (April 12th) as part of the April Poem-a-Day Challenge and it is a poem about my father, a subject I have a hard time writing about. Here’s a link to the video of me reading this poem and two other poems, “Work Husband” and “Hold That Hot Potato.”


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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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How Poetry Events Happen


Tonight, I will read my poem “Transit of Venus” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences as part of the weekly Science Café Talks. The actual planning for this event started in November, but the forces that brought everything together started way before that.

responsibilitytoaweLet’s go back in time to July 2011, the beginning of my last semester in my MFA program, when I was developing a lecture on poets with non-literary careers. I knew about Wallace Stevens and William Carolos Williams and was told about Wendell Berry. My list of poets was heavy on the testosterone side, so I decided to Google search for female poets I could include. I came across Rebecca Elson—an astronomer and a poet—found her collection, A Responsibility to Awe, at UNC Davis Library, and was reading it on the DRX (Durham-to-Raleigh Express) bus one morning. Back then, I preferred to sit in the back of the bus on the driver’s side. Next to me sat another regular DRX rider, a science professor at NC State, who leaned over and asked me about the book I was reading. Once I told him that the author was a astronomer, the conversation took off from there (he was a physicist).

Fast forward to June 2012—the transit of Venus viewing event at the Natural Resource Center, the newest addition to thetransitofvenus Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. I watched this historic phenomenon of the planet Venus crossing between the Earth and the Sun with tons of other people donning protective glasses on the rooftop of the adjacent parking lot, knowing none of us would be alive see the next occurrence in 2117. Two weeks later—the last day of Cave Canem retreat—I wrote a poem about it.

Fast forward again to November 2012—the morning wait for the DRX bus. I see my physics professor friend, who tells me that the Museum of Natural Sciences staff sent out a call for topics for their weekly Science Café talks and that he suggested a reading on poetry and science—Would I be interested? Well, of course! I’m only the co-organizer of one of the greatest poetry groups in the Triangle (I didn’t say that exactly, but it was close).  And the Living Poetry members did not disappoint. I sent out the call for science-related poems on the 13th, and two weeks later, I had over 50 poems in my inbox. I selected 10 for the museum staff to review and they chose five for the reading.

Bringing it home to today—January 24, 2013 at 7PM, Poetry Scope, an evening of science through the lens of poetry.


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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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poetrySpark!


This year, the Living Poetry organizers are spearheading poetrySpark! This Raleigh event is part of SparkCon, a weekend to showcase the creativity, talent, and ideas of the Triangle. I volunteered the two previous years at the Poetry-on-Demand booth, creating verses for passersby from $1 and a word of their choosing. As a co-organizer of poetrySpark, I’m helping to identify event venues, recruit readers, organize the Featured Readers night, and find a low-cost, high-quality printing vendor (i.e., the inmates at Correction Enterprises).

poetrySpark Open Mic photo by poet-photographer, Anna Weaver

If you live in the Triangle or don’t mind driving to Raleigh’s Warehouse District during September 13th  – 16th, then you should plan on attending one of our events:

  • Erotic Reading @ circusSpark After Dark (Thursday evening, 9/13)
  • Best of the Open Mic Contest @ White Collar Crime (Friday evening, 9/14)
  • Youth Poets Reading (Saturday afternoon, 9/15)
  • Featured Readers Night with former NC Piedmont Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green & Sacrificial Poets (Saturday evening, 9/15)
  • Poetry on Demand (Friday and Saturday, 9/15 & 9/16)

Right now, poetrySpark has a call for poets for the open mic and all reading events until August 15th at midnight. We also need volunteers for Poetry on Demand and at the events to help set up and clean up. Spread the word among the poets you know and love!

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