A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge, The End


2009 CalendarAs much as I love National Poetry Month, I always get to the point where I am DONE with writing poems. Unfortunately, I run of energy before April runs out of days. This year, I was mentally finished writing on April 25th, so I’m just happy to get all these poems done.

 

Day 27 – Looking Back

Red rocks reek of a time before
this river raged, when ocean waves kept the peace
with their rhythmic sway and the fish sang
lullabies through gaping mouths.

 

Day 28 – Matter/Anti-Matter

Apply heat to cause a burn,
a balling up into a rock-sized fist
of dust to be broken apart at will.

 

Day 29 – What Nobody Knows

She hadn’t moved away nor fallen
madly deeply for the Italian guy
from the housewarming party.

 

Day 30 – Bury the <Blank>

Seven years to get here, four more
to get the hang of the place
and bask in its bright orange glow.


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April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 4


ПечатьAs we say in the South, It’s getting down to the short rows! I’m at the point in the poem-a-day challenge where I don’t remember the poem I wrote yesterday because I’m so focused on finishing today’s poem and resting up before tomorrow’s prompt is posted. When my friends comment on poems I’ve written earlier in the month, I sometimes don’t remember writing it. The challenge keeps me in the moment of writing without the attachment that what I write has got to be good, finished, publishable, inspiring, <insert any other adjective here>. Which I guess, is part of the point.

Day 20 – My <Blank>

My eyes open before the early bird’s song
as if starting this job on the first day. After seven years,
I know the rhythm of this place like a child’s favorite lullaby,
can fall back in line like a soldier on his fourth tour.

 

Day 21 – What You Are (Not)

Born of the Atlantic
but I am nothing
like my mother.

 

Day 22 – Nature

The days grow long, my patience grows thin
The work you do to emerge from the ground is hidden

 

Day 23 – Historic

We call you by your first name as if we grew up
side by side on those red cushioned pews
in your daddy’s church

 

Day 24 – Moment

In the end, she did nothing
even though this was the time
she’d promised to do different.

 

Day 25 –  Across the Sea

A woman waiting
Her sister dying
Bleeding from eyes
Ears and nose.

 

Day 26 – Shakespearean Words

Courtship:
a frugal compromise
to end Lonely’s reign


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April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 2


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This year, I’m on vacation during the heart of the PAD challenge. I thought it would be difficult to keep up with writing, but I’m finding that my work routine (wake up at 6 am, shower, dress professionally, commute, interact with my colleagues, etc.) takes more energy than hiking 3-5 miles a day. Late mornings and long drives give the brain time to marinate on the prompt, even if nothing concrete is jotted down. Of course, having WiFi in the middle of nowhere helps.

Here are this week’s poems:

Day 7 – Love/Anti-Love

You were in love with love
even into your eighties, even after
dementia chiseled your wife
down to the unfamiliar.

 

Day 8 – Dare

swipe left for the ones
with photo after photo
of tattooed pecs
time spent working
the wrong muscle

 

Day 9 – Work

Except she’s not
no matter how hard
she tries to hide
the girlie parts

 

Day 10 – How <Blank>

Wait for the wind
to curve your edges

 

Day 11 – Seasonal

What matter the season
when the furnace of your body
heats my slumber, when you cool
to the touch of my cold soles?

 

Day 12 – Damage

A bruise is
break down of
cellular walls.

 


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April 2015 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 1


hands_with_plantOther than 14 Words of Love and my weekly poetry dates, I haven’t been writing much this year. National Poetry Month tends to increase my writing output when I take the poem-a-day challenge using prompts on the Poetic Asides blog. Like last year, I will post the first few lines of each poem in case I want to publish them later.

 

Day 1 – Resistance

Hope lies still
in the hospice bed.
Her once vibrant skin
ashen and gnarled
like washed out deadwood,
her eyes adrift in the sea
of colorless walls.

 

Day 2 – Secret

We may never know who looped a simple rope and hung it from a tree.

 

Day 3 – Machine

Lever
Simple machine
Press hard to reduce the load

 

Day 4 – Departure

At 5 am, the city shifts from graveyard
to day. The all-night clerk steps out
of the token booth the make room
for his replacement just as the passenger
with the uniform slung over shoulder
pushes through the turnstile.

 

 Day 5 – Vegetable

she’s everywhere
you look
wild and small
like a pin
ready to prick
your heart

 

Day 6 – Things-Not-as-They-Seem

You wake to an alarm
set by Ground Command
to keep your circadian rhythm
pegged to the Greenwich Mean.


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14 Words For Love – 2015


This is the third year of what has become a phenomenon—an outpouring of hope, kindness, empathy, or inclusion in 14-word packages. 14 Words For Love is the brainchild of my writ14-wordser-friend Jodi Barnes, who wanted to garner a few hundred poems to hand out to homeless, legislators, taxi drivers and teachers—anyone on Valentine’s Day. Of course, the poets and writers of the world exceeded that call in 2013 and 2014 and continue to show their love 14 words at a time this year.

What has become my 14-word tradition are the poems that begin “to understand love / you must understand <blank>,” a series of poems I started in 2013 where I fill in the blank with an object or concept and then find seven other words that both describe the object and the idea of love. Here’s one from last year:

tounderstand2014

to understand love / you must understand happiness / pure joy like a child’s / first snow (Image from 14wordsforlove.com)

These poems challenge me to think in metaphor, be concise, and practice concrete imagery. They’re also a great way to help out a friend, connect with others, and use poetry to heal.

I’ll share a few more from this year in the hope you’ll do the same:

I asked the cartographer
to draw a map to where
your heart is buried
This road has sharp bends
and lonely straightaways
but dead ends at your door
I've walked far
and have yet
to find you
but know
you are close
Where can I go to find
all the love I seek?
The mirror, perhaps?
to understand love
you must understand matadors
luring you in
before the final strike

You don’t have to be a poet, writer, or have a creative bone in your body, but you do have only 13 more days to join in!

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