A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

Poetry in Plain Sight

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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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April Poem-a-Day Challenge, Day 13


This poem was inspired by a photograph of the same name taken by Phil Freelon, whose exhibition, “Structure“, is at the Craven Arts Gallery in Durham until June 15th.

Networking

Fishermen-near-Accra.-Gha-001
All the wooden boats are docked
to start the day. Men and boys work
their fingers through the fine green netting
so fast the camera catches only lime blur.
The women watch—babies crooked
in hip creases—studying the way these men,
their men will provide. This is happy hour
in Accra, where no one makes a three-minute
pitch or pushes cardboard in your hand.

~Pamela L. Taylor © 2013


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After “One Love”


Last week on Valentine’s Day, over 2,200 14-word poems were handed out throughout the Triangle as part of the 14 Words, One Love event. I wrote over 40 poems in less than two weeks—and was ecstatic to learn we had surpassed our original goal by 800 poems!

And then I hit the wall. Runners often talk about the runner’s high—that rush of adrenalin that keeps them going during a marathon. The 14-word event definitely fed all the good poetic energy and reading and commenting on other people’s poems increased that positive vibe. That energy stayed with me throughout Valentine’s Day when I handed out poems to my office colleagues, distributed poems at an off-site meeting, and made special home deliveries to a few of my friends. But afterwards, I felt rung out like a worn rag. I couldn’t think about picking up a pen, let alone convincing my mind to conjure up an image to bring to life on the page.

That’s probably why it has taken two weeks to get back in the blog saddle. I had to re-group, feed the space that opened up after the “one love” was gone. So I turned to poetry books: first, to Rabindranath Tagore’s Final Poems, and then, to Sharon OldsSelected Poems. I spent time memorizing one of my favorite poems by Olds, “Topography,” which is now the fourth poem I know by heart (more on that later). Monday’s visual prompt for Living Poetry ended the drought.71752_518868581492385_1203357513_n

Danish “Heart Book”

Closed, it is a question
mark missing the finality
of the dot that holds
its fragile curve in place,
half of what it could be.

Opened, a great yearning
lives in the curlicue of each letter,
yellowed pages burdened by the black
ink of a centuries-old plea: for misery
to end and turn into good.

After that, two other poems I had jotted down in my journal and on my iPhone finally started to take shape on the page. Now I feel like I’m back on track.

Superheroes at Work

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I often say being a poet with a double life is a lot like being a superhero. Here’s a cool photo from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of some superheroes at their day jobs (maybe a few of them are poets, too!).

Window-washers from left, Mark Errico (Captain America), Jim Zaremba (Batman), Ed Hetrick (Super-Man) and Rick Boloinger (Spiderman) rappel down the side of Children’s Hospital on Monday morning, Oct. 22, 2012 as the crew of washers from Allegheny Window Cleaning Inc. rid the windows of the Lawrenceville hospital of grime. © James Knox

Special thanks to double-life poet and blogger, Jodi Barnes for sending this photo!


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Ekphrastic Poetry


For me, art is a constant source of inspiration. I walk through museums and galleries with a petite notebook and matching pen in my back pocket to catch whatever comes to mind. When I look at a work of art—be it a painting, photography, sculpture, or mixed media—I try to imagine myself inside the piece, either as the subject or the person observing the scene. For example, here’s what I wrote in response to this photo of fireworks:

Spark

Photo by Katia Singletary Art and Photography

One hand gropes
in the dark
and finds its match.
Now fingers intertwine
like stacked wood
transferring heat
from pressed palms
to wrapped arms,
pulling closer
and closer.
Then lips touch
and the miracle
of fire burns slow
through hips and toes.
Embers of shared
breath rise until reds,
purples, and golds bloom
and burst into fiery
chrysanthemums.

I like photography because a photo is literally a snapshot of a moment, which goes along with the narrative elements of the poems I write. Former North Carolina Poet Laureate, Cathy Smith Bowers calls this, “shining a light on a moment in time.”

Photo by Manish Ahuja

As a poet, I have complete freedom to choose which moment to feature. The unseen creatures are the focus of this haiku:

The receding tide
leaves sand crabs bare on the shore
Raucous seagulls snack

A good ekphrastic poem should be able to stand by itself—without the requiring artwork to provide the context. At the same time, the poem should complement the artwork, enhance the meaning of the scene beyond what you can experience just by looking at it. Here’s a poem inspired by the well-known painting, The Sleeping Gypsy (read the poem and then visit the painting).

The Sleeping Gypsy

And now she sleeps—
stretched—with her water jug
nearby and the moon standing
guard overhead. I’ve stalked her
wandering scent in the desert heat,
beheld her bedazzling garments
as if a rainbow wrapped its arms
around her dark beauty. The mandolin
silent, but still singing her deep
alto into my jaws, my paws. I long
to be that instrument—what she wants
near, what her arms can hold.

Special thanks to photographers, Manish Ahuja and Katia Singletary, for granting permission to use their work.


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Poetry Prompts


Last week was one of those weeks when my writing rhythm was thrown off by travel and late nights in Raleigh for work and poetrySpark.  When I can’t think of anything to write or haven’t written in a while, prompts are a way to jumpstart the creative juices.  Luckily, one of my responsibilities for Living Poetry is sending out the weekly poetry prompt. Every Monday on the ride into work, I have to figure out what the prompt is going to be—which means focusing my energies on thinking about what topic might possibly inspire me to write.  Here are a few of the prompts I’ve used so far:

skin * breath * night *  fireworks * the smell of mint

Recently, I started using a visual prompt on the 3rd Monday of the month. Last month, a photo in the UCLA Magazine inspired this poem:

Carbon Footprint

From the “Vegan Campus” article in UCLA Magazine: http://magazine.ucla.edu/features/the-vegan-campus/index1.html

I want to leave
something behind,
more than this poem,
this page, this pen,
a lineage beyond
what my fruitless
loins choose to bear.
In time, the mind purges
any memory too heavy
to carry. The soul
must be free to take
the next step without
a trace of regret.

Today, I sent out a photo from National Geographic. I’ll post the poem I come up with next week.


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Poet in the City: Chicago


It’s been one of those weeks again! From Sunday to Thursday, I attended a professional conference on the non-literary side with over 3,000 attendees from every state and a few international observers. I arrived in Chicago on Sunday and took tons of pictures on the architectural boat tour, but didn’t feel comfortable downloading the images on my work laptop until now. (I like to keep the careers separate. It’s the Wallace Stevens in me). After the tour, I took myself out to dinner at P.J. Clarke’s while I waited for the 8:20 showing of Beasts of the Southern Wild. (Believe me, the cucumber martini looked as good as it tasted, and the potpie wasn’t bad either). Wednesday was the only other day I had time to see the city. I walked from McCormick Place to the Adler Planetarium along the Lake Shore trail. Two miles and 40 minutes later, I was happy to sit in a cool, dark room and veg out in front of the stars. Chicago is such an inspiring place.  No wonder Carl Sandburg wrote a whole poem about it!  In my next post, I’ll share a few of my own city-inspired poems.

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