A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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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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Happy Anniversary Living Poetry!


lplogo1One constant event in the month of January has been the Living Poetry anniversary party. Six years ago a poet Angelika Teuber who had moved down south from Philadelphia still hadn’t adjusted to life in the Brier Creek area of Raleigh after a year. So she decided to form a Meetup group around an interest she loved to see if anyone else out there shared her love of poetry. At the same time in a nearby part of the Triangle (Durham), I had an epiphany at the Fall 2008 North Carolina Writer’s Network conference that I wasn’t a mere writer or a failed novelist, that I was indeed a poet. I searched for different classes and groups to join, found Living Poetry, and signed up for the first meeting.

In the beginning, the group met monthly to read poems and talk about poetry. Some people were brave enough to bring their own poetry to share.Soon the group evolved and started to offer a feedback group, Sharing Creativity, where I got a lot of poems workshopped before I got into an MFA program. Somewhere down the line, I became a co-organizer and began to facilitate the monthly critique group. Farther down the line, I started helping out with the Monday Poetry prompts.

Living Poetry has grown since then to over 600 members, the largest group of poets in the Triangle. A lot of poets and lovers of poetry with every intention to find the time and courage to venture out to meet like-minded individuals and the faithful 20 or so who go to at least one event per month. We love the fact that we’ve become the one-stop shop for poetry in the Triangle (still trying to make that our tag-line) by keeping members aware of open mics, contests, publishing opportunities and creating events to socialize and share our work.

Being a part of Living Poetry has kept poetry alive in my life and has connected me to such great poets and poetry lovers. It’s hard to believe six years have gone by and we’re still going strong!


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Poet Resolutions 2015


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

  • 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.

I made an earnest effort on the other two resolutions 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.
  • Published 5 out of 6 poems: I was fortunate to have five poems published in 2014–all of which were solicited.

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

Six poems published: I was one published poem shy 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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Year in Review 2014


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If I had to pick a word to describe this year it would be Cycle. In 2013, I spent a lot of time focused on writing and sending out publications, which culminated in 7 published poems. This year, I fell into a poetry funk after June and didn’t write much. What surprised me was that I wasn’t too worried about not writing. After finishing my MFA, I was so concerned about not writing at the same level I did when I was in graduate school. But I quickly realized that creating 4-5 poems a month was a ridiculous writing schedule and settled into a more reasonable writing rhythm. The thing with rhythm is that it can change. And it should change to make things interesting.

Even though my writing slowed down, I still managed to keep poetry a part of my life. Toward the end of the year, I made a conscious effort to go back to the basics—poetry events, workshops, and open mics—because I always get inspired when I am around other poets and hear their work.  This year’s highlights reveal much more poetry in my life than I thought had been there.

January: Returned to Puerto Rico for the 4th VCFA residency as the Graduate Coordinator. Living Poetry‘s 5th anniversary party. Interview with Ian Bodkin’s Written in Small Spaces.

February: Wrote more poems for 14 words of love. Guest Poetry Editor for When Women Waken’s Power Issue. Moderated the panel, “Uncovering Hip-Hop Poetry” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Seattle.

March: First time I attended the Poet’s Café @ Gather in Cary.

April: Wrote 30 poems for the April 2014 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Coordinated three poetry events at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences during Earth Month, including a Poetry on Demand booth and poetry based on a Science Talk.

May: Organized the third Poetry Scope event featuring poetry about science. Wrote a commissioned poem for a birthday, Camellia. Three poems featured in Luna Luna Magazine.

June: Attended 19th Cave Canem retreat, my third and last time.  Wrote at the Poetry on Demand booth at the Chatham Farmer’s Market.

July: First poetry date with Kelly Lenox. Conducted a 10-minute poetry workshop to kick off the Summertime Reading Series at the Carrboro ArtsCenter. First time I attended the LIT 101 open mic at Francesca’s Dessert Café in Durham. Published in When Women Waken’s Knowing Issue.

August: Attended the informal tribute to Maya Angelou at the Carrboro ArtsCenter. Signed the contract with Hyacinth Girl Press to publish my chapbook, My Mother’s Child.

September: First poet to read at this year’s Spark After Dark during poetrySpark! Led a poetry workshop, Revision Toolbox. First time I attended Two Writers Walk Into a Bar, a reading series featuring poetry and prose writers.

October: Attended the NC Literary Hall of Fame induction and the West End Poetry Festival. Saw the Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco at NC State. Guest Poetry Editor for When Women Waken’s Delight Issue.

November: Emceed the tribute to Maya Angelou sponsored by the Friends of the Orange County Public Library, Friends of the Carrboro Public Library, the Friends of Chapel Hill Public Library, and the Friends of The ArtsCenter of Carrboro. Attended the North Carolina Writer’s Network conference in Charlotte.

December: Wrote a poem for friend’s graduation.


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Poetry Dates


Tuesday nights have become my date night with fellow poet, Kelly Lenox. We hail from the same MFA program, though we finished 5 years apart. It was Kelly who first proposed the idea to met on a regular basis to exchange work. In the past, I participated in critique groups that met either face-to-face or via email on either a weekly or monthly basis. Often the quality of feedback depended on the people who showed up, how much time each person spent with the poem, and whether they were able to articulate something more than their like/dislike of a particular part of the poem.

The idea of a dyad exchange intrigued me because I knew Kelly was a good reader of my work and I enjoyed reading her work. Also trying to get 2 schedules to mesh is way easier than 4 or 5, even if you use Doodle. In the beginning, Kelly and I would either exchange poems for critique or read and discuss a poem that WOWed us. Recently, we added a few poetry-related events like going to NC State to see the inaugural poet Richard Blanco promote his new memoir and going to Two Writers Walk Into a Bar on the second Tuesday of the month to hear local poets and prose writers read their work. We’ve even had time to write from one of the Living Poetry Monday poetry prompts when we didn’t have anything to share.

Richard Blanco on poetry date night


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NC Literary Hall of Fame


photo 5

On Sunday, one of my favorite poets was inducted into the NC Literary Hall of Fame–Jaki Shelton Green. I first met Jaki when she was Poet Local for Living Poetry. Back then, she was the first ever Piedmont Laureate, so it was a coup to get her to drive from Mebane to chat with relatively unknown poets on a Sunday afternoon. From that point on, Jaki and I forged a friendship, which I value immensely. Although she has faced the adversity of losing a child to a tragic accident and suffered from an illness that affected the use of her hands, Jaki remains committed to sharing her worldview through poetry. Her poems are a mix of Negro spiritual, ancestral incantation, conscientious objector, and mother wit. Here’s an excerpt of her poem, “i know the grandmother one had hands” that appears in her 2005 collection of new and selected poems, Breath of the Song.

i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always inside
the hair
parting
plaiting
twisting it into rainbows
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always inside
pockets
holding the knots
counting the twisted veins
holding onto herself
lest her hands disappear
into sky
i know the grandmother one had hands
but they were always inside the clouds
poking holes for the
rain to fall.

This year’s other inductees included Betty Adcock, Ronald Bayes, and Shelby Stephenson. Congratulations to NCLHOF Class of 2014!


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Summer in Review


It’s been a jammed-packed 80 days since I last posted to the blog. It was only after this data guru did the numbers that I realized there was a balance between literary events and non-literary work that kept me busy the whole time.

June

  • Cave Canem Retreat (June 15-22). My third and final time at this retreat for African-American poetry. We had an awesome lineup of faculty: Chris Abani, Tim Siebles, Patricia Smith, and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon joined the founders, Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady. Not to mention the coolest graduation party ever.
  • Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I landed at the RDU airport and drove straight to the book club for this Russian poet.
  • Lead a poetry exercises as part of the Carrboro ArtsCenter Summer Reading kickoff event.

CC class of 2014

July

August

  • Picked up a few new books at a book swap.
  • LIT 101. A relatively new open mic at Francesca’s Dessert Café in Durham happens every Third Sunday.
  • Third Thursday Open Mic in Fuquay Varina. I’m only able to attend this event once or twice a year and couldn’t resist participating in the Red Dress contest.
  • Carrboro ArtsCenter sponsored a Maya Angelou tribute reading, where people shared their favorite poems in her memory.

summer books 2014

September

sparkafterdark 2013

Throughout the summer, I met four times for the poetry one-on-ones with Kelly, submitted to one poetry contest and one anthology, and signed the contract with Hyacinth Girl Press for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child, due in early 2015.

As a double-life poet, all poetic activity takes place on the backdrop of the non-literary career, which kept its own busy schedule:

  • 1 project that I led,
  • 1 project started in June,
  • 1 subcommittee started in September,
  • 19 days of working late,
  • 3 days working on the weekend, and
  • 1 report completed in September but that will be presented in October.

In the interest of transparency, most of the summer was filled with all kinds of activity on the personal side including:

  • 4 parties,
  • 3 weddings,
  • 3 houseguests,
  • 9 milongas,
  • 3 road trips, and
  • my first mammogram

charleston

And today, I give a workshop on revision, so I’ll have more to say about that soon!

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