A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 2


aprilWeek 2 is a mix of themes and topics that are familiar and new experiences and observations gathered each day. Already I sense a common thread connecting the poems this year–transition. This week, there are fewer poet-as-narrator poems and more poems from the poet-as-observer perspective. These PAD challenges give me an opportunity to observe the how of my creative process:

  • how images, incidents, and feelings take root throughout the day and I can’t shake them until they are on the page
  • how poems start in multiple directions and then I have to work different threads simultaneously until one of them comes to an end
  • how sometimes I’m not sure if I pulled the right thread
  • how some themes require a return at a later date when I’m not in get-the-poem-out-and-go-to-bed mode
  • how some days I just need to get the poem out and go to bed
  • how I seem to be writing the same poem over and over again

And always it’s an interesting ride to see where each prompt takes me.

Day 7 (Prompt: Self-Portrait)

seated and upright

black stockinged feet

freed from black-heeled boots

dangled toes cozy up

to the heater’s warm hum

Day 8 (Prompt: Violent/Peaceful)

I overhear him tell you

he told you up front

that he lived with his mother

and worked at the college

but didn’t have a degree.

Day 9 (Prompt: Shelter)

The tour of her fiancé’s house ends

in the room filled with what’s familiar and hers–

what I will name the piano room,

what used to be the living room

of the house where our friendship grew.

Day 10 (Prompt: Future)

The climate will change as the clouds

swollen with the megapixels of our digital

lives can no longer hold everything apart.

Day 11 (Prompt: Statement)

Spring Has Arrived

And so has he to the same park bench

where he unfurls the morning paper

and feigns to read

Day 12 (Prompt: City)

You strive ever upward with a million

anonymous stories stacked between

the gravel and glass of high

rises stretched down Broadway.

Day 13 (Prompt: Animal)

She likes her dogs the way

she likes her men–large and long-

haired, happy to be at her feet.

 


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April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge, Week 1


Close-Up Of Fridge MagnetsWe’re already a week into National Poetry Month and so far I’ve been able to finish poems before midnight. This time, I decided not to post poems to the blog so that each poem has a chance of being published in the future. Instead, I will recap each week with the first few lines of my PAD Challenge poems using the prompts from Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides column on Writer’s Digest.

Day 1 (Prompt: Beginning/Ending)

Let’s begin at the end,
when you’ve already claimed me,
when I’ve given you the orchid
of my trust

Day 2 (Prompt: Voyage)

What do I take on this journey
that doesn’t bring back the past?
I want to travel light but even my lungs
feel burdened by air moving through

Day 3 (Prompt: Message)

We were a hit at the disco party
in that brown-orange-tan-rose
patchwork jumpsuit hip-bumping
down the Soul Train line

Day 4 (Prompt: Since <blank>)

Tonight you are dim light
peeking through a dark veil
of clouds, blurred and diffused,
as mysterious as Churchill’s Russia.

Day 5 (Prompt: Discovery)

We didn’t discover fire;
we made it
with our hands,
rubbing sticks.

Day 6 (Prompt: Night)

Most nights, the window’s reflection
is the only other black face I get to see


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Winter/Spring Reading List


photo-20I really ought to use my Goodreads account to track the books I am reading, but I often forget to do that. So here’s what I can remember of what I read from November to March:

  • Robert Pinsky, The Sounds of Poetry: The January book club selection.
  • Rosario Ferre, The House on the Lagoon: Suggested reading for the Puerto Rico trip.
  • John Williams, Stoner: One of my favorite Christmas gifts thanks to my favorite German-friend who lets me borrow his office space
  • Nicole Terez Dutton, If One of Us Should Fall: Won the 2011 Cave Canem book prize
  • Mary Ruefle, Cold Pluto: I picked this up at the used bookstore in Chapel Hill then gifted it to another poet-friend.
  • Stephen Dunn, The Insistence of Beauty: The February book club selection. I didn’t get to discuss the book, but it was a great selection.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Selected Poems: Yes, Lincoln wrote poems. It’s a slim volume.
  • Philip Levine, Breath: The March book club selection. I found the craft of the poems most compelling.

I’m also in various stages of the books I picked up from AWP: the latest books from my VCFA advisors—Ralph Angel, Your Moon and Leslie Ullman, Progress on the Subject of Immensity—and the new book by Cave Canem fellow and the new VCFA poetry faculty member, Jamaal May, Hum.

Then of course, there are the five books I checked out of the UNC Davis Library last weekend:

  • Maya Angelou, Poems: The April book club selection
  • David Levy, Starry Night: Astronomers and Poets Read the Sky
  • Robert Crawford (Ed.), Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science
  • Diane Ackerman, Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: Includes a lot of science and nature poems
  • Frederick Seidel, The Cosmos Trilogy

If you’re sensing a theme with my current reading list, you may be right. The science poems are screaming for me to make them into a project, so I’m doing a little research while I wait for the poems to show up.


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Getting into the Poetry Swing


baseball_pitch_132901After a conversation with my good poet-friend, Victorio Reyes at AWP, I’ve decided to get out of my publishing comfort zone. My usual strategy is to spend a lot of time reading and considering literary magazines before I submit, then narrow down to the 10 or so places that I think I have the best chance of getting published. I’ve had pretty good success with this method—6 publications last year when I submitted to 10 or 12, or about a .500 batting average.

Victorio suggested that I take broader approach–apply to the places I would typically rule out or right off for one reason or another. In fact, he follows the Matthew Dickman philosophy of having 50 pieces out there at any given time. This advice seems totally daunting to me because I feel have enough good poems for a chapbook (15-30 pages), but not a full-length collection (at least 48 pages).

 

 

The baseball equivalent of this strategy would be stepping up to the plate and taking a swing. Although, I’m definitely an outcome driven person, this new philosophy on publishing has had a positive effect thus far because it forces me to:

  • find new and different literary magazines where I can submit;
  • go deeper into my poem files to revisit and revise old poems; and
  • write more poems.

I don’t know if this approach will increase my success with publishing, but I’m willing to give it a shot.


Sharing an interview I did with Ian Bodkin of Written in Small Spaces where I talk about  my how I became a poet, my writing process, balancing the wissliterary and non-literary career, and functioning somewhere between Wally (Wallace Stevens) and Willy (William Carlos Williams).

http://writteninsmallspaces.com/2014/01/18/episode-16-the-hunk-of-stone-with-pamela-l-taylorand-erica-wright-disguises-her-weaponry/


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What I Like About Winter 2014


photo-18

I’m finally back and settled into the family double life after spending 12 days in Puerto Rico. The first two days were pure relaxation at a resort hotel, but the remaining 10 days were filled with preparation and activities or the fourth VCFA Winter Residency. I’ve been to the island thrice for this residency, as one of the pioneering students in 2011, as a graduate assistant in 2013, and this time as the residency’s coordinator.

I tell you: being a coordinator is a big responsibility even if everything goes as well as it did for me this year. I had to think 1-2 days ahead to figure out what students needed to know this morning, that afternoon, later in the evening, and before they left. Every time we were all in a room or at a table together was my opportunity to make announcements or remind everyone of what was coming next and how they needed to prepare. It was a strange thing being on the delivery end of all those announcements. I am in awe of those at VCFA who must do this all the time and try to herd 10 times as many people.

Of course we had our bumps in the road—no graduate assistant, someone got lost on their way to a workshop, the whole group taking a non-existent shortcut to El Morro, a rained out sunset on the roof, someone who had trouble sleeping, and someone else getting locked in their villa, the tire pressure indicator mysteriously lit up on the way to the airport, the computer tablet that almost got left behind—but the group and I made it through. I found the lost student. We made it to El Morro after a beautiful walk on El Paseo. The sleepless student got Ambien from another student. Someone made the half-mile sprint down the hill to unlock the door. The tire pressure indicator went off as mysteriously came one. I mailed the tablet to the student who left it behind.

I love the intimacy of this residency because I get the opportunity discover a side of the students I don’t have the time or space to learn in at the regular residency. Within our midst we had a prison guard, a high school chess player, an only child living in Sweden, the owner of too many coffee cups, a retired psychotherapist, a karate student, a dancer, a camp counselor, someone allergic to b.s., a school bus driver, a poet who had never heard of a prompt until age 47, a recipient of a liver transplant, and the father of a ‘Brady Bunch’ six.

My third time in Puerto Rico was definite the charm, mostly because of the wonderful group of students, faculty and alumni who brought their open minds, adventurous spirits, writing talents, and complete selves on the trip.

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Poet Resolutions 2014


2014Of the six poet resolutions I made last year, I accomplished four:

  • Publish six poems: In 2013, seven poems were published
  • Share my poetry: April and November poems appeared on the blog.
  • Talk to more double life poets: This year I spent time with double-life poets and prose writers, including Tracey Gratch, whose poem I found while reading a scientific article for a work project.
  • Blend double lives more: In addition to listing poems on LinkedIn, I read a few poems during my birthday celebration at work. During the travel for the work project I lead, several people had checked me out and inquired about the MFA.

This year’s resolutions are not too different.

Teach a poetry workshop: This goal was on last year’s list, but I didn’t find the courage or time to do it. This year, the co-organizers of Living Poetry have mapped out a series of poetry workshops, including two workshops on revisions and publishing your work that I volunteered to teach/co-teach.  The LP organizers are good about keeping me on task.

Organize three poetry readings: Last year, I organized two poetry readings for the weekly Science Café at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum has agreed to making this reading an annual event. So now I have to find two other opportunities to organize a reading in 2014.

Six poems published: This goal worked last year, so I’m keeping it on the list. This goal requires me to write and submit, which is always the struggle as a double-life poet.

Spend more time with poets: When my work project picked up steam in July,  I had a more difficult time finding time to spend with poets. Sure I  helped to organize poetrySpark in September and was a featured reader at the West End Poetry Festival in October, but I barely saw poets in the last two months of the year.  So I think spending time with poets at least once a month is a good way to operationalize this goal.

Start a poetry project: I have no idea what this goal means or what it will look like. It may blend my love of science with my love of poetry. It may mean collecting work poems or poems by double-life poets. We’ll see!

What are your poetic goals for 2014? Feel free to share them in a comment.


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Year in Review 2013


year2013

The biggest lesson of this year was Balance. The non-literary career demanded a lot of my time and attention this year and trying to maintain the boundary between my work and personal lives became more challenging. This year’s highlights reflects more accomplishments of both sides of the double life:

January: Attended the 3rd VCFA residency in Puerto Rico as grad assistant. Living Poetry‘s 4th anniversary party. Organized the 1st Poetry Scope event at NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

February: Wrote over 20 poems for 14 words of love. Transitioned to new role at work.

March: Attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in Boston. Won second place in Carolina Woman’s magazine for “Transit of Venus.”

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2013 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Wrote 1st commissioned poem for an auction to support Relay for Life  with two of my favorite Triangle-area poets, Anna Weaver and Tara Lynne Groth.

May: “Something Missing” selected for Poetry in Plain Sight by Winston-Salem Writers. Started 1st project as a lead at work.

June: Attended 18th Cave Canem retreat.

July: Traveled to Greensboro, Winston-Salem, & Asheville for work.

August: Wrote four poems during one-day writing retreat with Written Word. Organized the 2nd Poetry Scope event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

September: poetrySpark! Wrote my second commissioned poem for a wedding. Attended professional conference in Austin. Three poems published in Blackberry. Attended the first VCFA alumni gathering in North Carolina.

October: Completed draft of work report. Featured poet in Music and Poetry session of the West End Poetry Festival.

November: Wrote 30 poems for the November 2013 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Six years at job. Wrote my 3rd commissioned poem for an 86th birthday. Attended a one-day poetry workshop at the Raleigh Review.

December: Two poems published in the When Women Waken issue on grief. Received news coverage for work report.


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Double the Life, Double the Accomplishments


 

UNC_PhotoAfter writing poems for 30 days, I had to shift gears to focus on the work side of this double life. In fact the work project I was leading was a constant in the backdrop of September’s poetrySpark, the November poem-a-day challenge, and poetry submission deadlines. As hard as I worked on my poems on Sunday afternoons in the office at the library, I worked equally hard–if not harder–in writing a report for work. And finally, it has culminated in a presentation before a state legislative committee on operational efficiency within the University of North Carolina system (check out the video clip from News 14 and the write-up on WRAL).

griefissueIn true double-life fashion, this work accomplishment is accompanied by a few poetic accomplishments: submitting a chapbook to two contests and getting two poems published in the Grief Issue of When Women Waken, including the Day 5 poem of the November 2013 PAD challenge.

Times like this is why I love the double life!


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Back to Business


opensignThe end of the government shutdown coincided with the end of writing a report for work. Now I have more time to turn my attention back to the business of poetry. Like any job—double life or otherwise—some tasks  you love and other tasks you tolerate as necessary evils. For me, submitting work to literary magazines and contests is  on the necessary evil side of things. It’s a lot of work for little (if any) reward and the process is never-ending:

  • Search for places to publish
  • Read published work to get a sense of how my work fits
  • Read and re-read submission guidelines
  • Print out potential poems to submit
  • Read, revise, and tweak selected poems
  • Order selected poems
  • Re-re-read submission guidelines
  • Prepare submission packet (cover letter/bio and poems)
  • Submit packet (and payment, if required)
  • Hope and pray

Last year, I focused on getting individual poems published and was successful. I’m still working that angle and adding chapbook contests to the mix. I have quite a few poems, but not all of them are ready for prime time. So selecting 10-30 of my better poems for a chapbook seems less daunting. Here are the chapbook contests on the horizon:

  1. Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Prize (10/31): co-sponsored by Tupelo press; 20-36 pages judged by Mark Doty 
  2. Coal Hill Review (11/1): co-sponsored by Autumn House Press; 10-15 pages judged by Michael Simms
  3. Minerva Rising Chapbook Contest (12/1): themed contest, “Daring to be the Woman that I Am;” 12-15 pages judged by Rosemary Daniell 
  4. Imaginary Friend Chapbook Contest (12/15): open to anyone who doesn’t identify as a straight, white male; 12-20 pages judged by Shane McCrae, Ching-In Chen, Margaret Bashaar, Noel Pabillo Mariano, and Ayshia Stephenson
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