A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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Five-Day Poetry Challenge


Old paper grunge background - Challenge yourself

Five-Day Poetry Challenge – DONE!

The 5-day poetry challenge is a popular meme where you post one of your poems (preferably published) to your Facebook timeline then tag another poet to continue the challenge. Last week, I was double-tagged by poets Anna Weaver and Elizabeth Jackson. So in true double-life fashion, I decided to post two poems each day—one of my published poems around 9 am and one of my favorite poems about the working world around 5 pm.

I selected poems from the range of themes I tend to visit and revisit in my work:

  1. Work: “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals” from my chapbook, My Mother’s Child (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015)
  2. Love & Longing: “The Truth about Fire” published in The Pedestal Magazine in 2012
  3. Planets & the Universe: “To Earth, From Mars” published in Construction Literary Magazine in 2014
  4. Family: “At Night I Dream of Trains” published in the Grief issue of When Women Waken in 2013
  5. Tango: “If I Could Love You Like Tango” published in the anthology, …and love…(Jacar Press, 2011)

For the poems about the working world, I picked two of my favorites that I’ve posted to the blog before as well as a few poems that showed work and workers in a more positive light.

  1. “White, White Collars” by Denis Johnson, from The Incognito Lounge, 1982
  2. “Drone” by Wanda Coleman, from African Sleeping Sickness, 1990
  3. “The Gulf” by Brian Brodeur, from The Missouri Review, Winter 2010
  4. “Coming Closer” by Philip Levine, from What Work Is, 1991
  5. “Domestic Work, 1937″ by Natasha Trethewey, from Domestic Work, 1999

Here’s the last stanza from the Trethewey poem that always sticks with me.

She beats time on the rugs,
blows dust from the broom
like dandelion spores, each one
a wish for something better.

If you haven’t been tagged, start your own 5-day poetry challenge. I’d love to hear about it.


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Planetary Influences


Transit of Venus June 5, 2012, NASA/Goddard/SDO

Transit of Venus June 5, 2012, NASA/Goddard/SDO

One of the first poems in my chapbook that was published was “Transit of Venus,” which was inspired by the 2012 event that will not happen again until 2117. What I saw with my own eyes (black drop / crossing / the sun / dipping down / curving around / up again) is now visible in some amazing pictures from a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. I consider the Venus poem the first in a series of poems about the planets I intend to write. Last year, Construction Magazine publishedTo Earth, From Mars,” the second planetary poem, and I wrote “Pluto, My Brother” at my last Cave Canem retreat (back in my day there were 9 planets). My poetry-date partner, Kelly, says the Pluto poem is ready to send out, so I’ll be spending some time this weekend in the Poet’s Gym (aka UNC Davis Library) figuring out where it should land.

Photograph via Flickr by bluedharma

Photograph via Flickr by bluedharma

I love writing about the planets and other objects in the universe. They are like our distant relatives: made of the same stuff but existing in a different era. Poetry offers a unique way to consider the beauty and individuality of each body as well as explore the myths and folklore we project onto each globe. I’ve also written  poems about the spacecraft we’ve sent to explore other objects in our universe. My biggest challenge is *getting the science right* inside the poem. Often, the scientific terms are not accessible or pleasant-sounding to the average reader. It’s my job to make the connection between science and metaphor so that we can understand each planet on its own merit as well as how it relates to our own lives.

Tonight, I will get another opportunity to write about Pluto at the Science Cafe at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The talk will feature some of the stunning images taken of our dear *dwarf* planet from the New Horizons probe. I can’t wait to see what these new images inspire.

NASA Instagram photo of Pluto from New Horizons

NASA Instagram photo of Pluto from New Horizons

Chapbook Party!

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On Friday, June 26th, I had the launch party for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child. Thanks to my tango-friend Mariana, I was able to have the party at Terra Nova Global Properties new office in downtown Durham. And my friend Janet provided the food, decorations, prosecco, and the real champagne glasses.

 

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After a fabulous introduction by fellow Living Poetry organizer, Bartholomew Barker, I read a four poems from the chapbook and a few others I had written over the last two years. Many in the crowd had followed my April and November poem-a-day challenges and a few had never heard me read before. I’m so thankful to everyone who came out to support me and buy books.

This gallery contains 15 photos


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My Mother’s Child: A Chapbook


11402606_10206120537869576_2450195489782527196_oMy chapbook is finally here, My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press. In my last post, I promised to share the details of this amazing journey.  Although some of these poems were written almost four years ago and about 10 months elapsed from signing the publication contract to publication date, it’s really felt like a serendipitous labor of love.

  1. The Poems. I can trace the origins of some of these poems back to 2011 in my second semester at VCFA. I wrote other poems at two Cave Canem retreats, in response to a visual prompt at my weekly writing group, Written Word, and a workshop through the Raleigh Review. I know many of these poems started as hunks of stone scribbled in my notebooks while commuting on the DRX bus and were later revised during my times at UNC Davis Library (aka The Poet’s Gym). Six poems were previously published; five in 2013 and one in an anthology published in 2014.
  2. The Chapbook. Assembling chapbook is different than putting 3-5 poems together for a journal submission or workshop application packet. The poems have to speak to each other and belong together. After a year of submitting to contests for full-length collections and getting nowhere, I changed my strategy. When I sat down to look at all the poems, they seemed to separate themselves into two groups with a few bridge poems. Depending on the chapbook contest guidelines, I included more or fewer poems. I probably had 3 or 4 different configurations.
  3. The Contest. I entered My Mother’s Child into the Imaginary Friend Press chapbook contest in 2013. I liked this contest because it was specifically for anyone who did NOT identify as a heteronormative white male. Although I was a finalist for this contest, one of the judges, Margaret Bashaar, asked to publish the chapbook through her small press, Hyacinth Girl Press. This could not have happened if I didn’t enter contests and submit my work.
  4. The Cover Art. This amazing sketch was done by a local artist, Jolmar Millar (4th photo). I met Jolmar at a tribute event for Maya Angelou I emceed in November 2014. When Margaret gently nudged me about cover art, it took a while before I thought of Jolmar. And then when she came to mind, I didn’t have her email address. I emailed a mutual contact for Jolmar’s email address and the email went to spam. Then about a month later we were connected.
  5. The Publication Process. This process is no joke, and being a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. There comes a point where you have to let go. Having a wonderful publisher and layout person helps. I still don’t think I caught everything, so don’t be too hard on me if you find something.

Here’s an excerpt from a poem that started out as an image I couldn’t get out of my head while driving to a poetry-on-demand event at Cloer Family Vineyard in April 2012. The first draft was written at Cave Canem in June 2012.

What makes sense disappears
under straw hats,
this bizarre America,
where they pay
to return to rural
roots my people fled—
that second Exodus
to auto plants, steel mills,
city-hard streets—
so I wouldn’t
have to stand in sweat
tasting the dry,
salted past
on my tongue.– Stuff White People Like #132: Picking Their Own Fruit, from My Mother’s Child – See more at: http://hyacinthgirlpress.com/yearfive/mymotherschild.html#sthash.q08uIMgj.dpuf


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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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Poet Resolutions 2015


Old typewriter with paperOf the five poet resolutions I made last year, I accomplished four:

  • Teach a poetry workshop: As I suspected, the Living Poetry co-organizers kept me on task. I taught a Revision Toolbox workshop in September.
  • Spend more time with poets: My last post showed that I knocked this resolution out of the park–VCFA Puerto Rico residency, AWP in Seattle, my last Cave Canem retreat, poetrySpark, poetry dates, and the NC Writer’s Network conferences, just to name a few.
  • Start a poetry project: I’m hesitant to even say that I started a project because that would make it real. But I can’t stop thinking about dark matter/dark energy. So far, I’ve written one poem that I consider to be part of the collection. I started one-on-one lessons in physics to help me understand the connections I want to make with outer space and earthly phenomenon.
  • Published 7 poems: The goal was 6, but I was fortunate to have seven poems published in 2014; 5 solicited and 2 as part of an anthology

I made an earnest effort on the other  resolution as well:

  • Organize 1 out of 3 poetry readings: I organized the Science Cafe again in May, but completely forgot about my goal of organizing three.

I’m not feeling particularly ambitious, so I’m sticking with three resolutions for 2015.

Six poems published: I was lucky to publish one poem over of this goal. But I haven’t written much since June, so I’m hoping this resolution will nudge me into the part of the cycle where I’m writing and submitting again.

Write at least three poems for my poetry project: I have a few ideas that need to find their way onto paper and this resolution will help me keep focused on the dark matters project.

Go to a poetry retreat or writer’s residency: I’d like to to find another retreat to have some undivided writing time. My poet friend Cynthia Manick seems to find one every year and keeps track with deadlines on her infamous spreadsheet.

What are your poetic goals for 2015? Feel free to share them in a comment.


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The Meaning of May


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And a bird overhead sang Follow,
  And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
  And the meaning of May was clear.

 

It’s been almost a month since the last post. The April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge left me very weary from writing poems – and in fact – from reading a lot of poetry. My first order of business was to bury myself in a novel, Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li. Also, I finally got around to reading books that have been on my shelf for quite some time: Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson and The Best American Short Stories 2006. Don’t get me wrong, I did write some poems that were commissioned for a birthday. I wrote five poems, sent four, the person liked two, and I printed one poem as the gift.

For me, May went by in one big fog. I spent most nights curled up on the couch, watching TV shows on Hulu or movies on Netflix. I didn’t have the energy to be creative or do much of anything else (my poor house). After so much output in April with writing poems and attending poetry events, the introvert in me needed an equal amount of solitude and sloth to balance everything out. The funny thing about not doing much is that life and creativity keep moving, even when the only thing I wanted to do was take a nap. For example, four poems from the April PAD Challenge found homes; one will appear in the upcoming “Knowing” issue of When Women Waken and the others will be featured in a future Come Closer post at Luna Luna Magazine. On May 1st, I granted Outrider Press permission to publish two poems in the next TallGrass Writers Guild anthology, “The Mountain.”

The stanza from Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem, “An Interlude” stood out because the meaning of May was clearly this: even when it looks like I’m doing nothing, something is still happening.

 

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