A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.


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The Start of Summer


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Boston harbor skyline

Summer in New England has started early, a small favor considering winter outlasted its welcome. Summer for this double-life poet means the beginning of Summer Fridays—working nine-hour days from Monday–Thursday with Fridays off. I plan to use this time to jumpstart a manuscript (yes, I said the m-word), a full-length collection of poems.

I ran into a fellow Cave Canem poet, Kyowa Fagin Maples a few months back at the NOLA Poetry Festival. It was a treat to see her since neither one of us knew the other was attending. Kwoya had been my mentor at my first CC retreat back when she was pregnant with twins. Now, she has three children age six and under and a forthcoming book, Mend (University of Kentucky Press). Of course, I asked her how she managed to work on a manuscript with three kids and husband. She told me how, in order to get over the fear of starting a manuscript, she created a Word document, named it manuscript and started to write her poems in the same document. She made a schedule to write two poems a week (!). Not all of her poems were good, but some of them were worthy. She didn’t worry so much about whether the poems hung together as a collection; she figured they would because the poems were temporally linked.

Ever since I heard Kwoya’s story, I thought I could use my Summer Fridays to work on my manuscript, to finally say that I am writing toward something. I still don’t know what the title will be, but I know that the common thread is me. Lately, I have been writing a lot of poems one of my oldest poet friends and Living Poetry founder, Angelika, would call the poems of love and longing. I say ‘lately’ as if I haven’t been writing these types of poems since before I started calling myself a poet. At today’s Four Chairs & a Bench I made a start: I created a Google doc, titled the document Manuscript, and copied and pasted 29 poems.

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May-pril then June


Since I’ve started working at a college, I’ve noticed that April & May become one long month. It’s the mad rush after Spring Break to get in those last one or two meetings of the academic year before students and (most) faculty leave for the summer. May-pril is the reason I could not commit to writing poems every day for National Poetry Month, but instead posted photos of 30 poems I loved. Here’s the Day 30 poem, From Space to Time by Carolyn Rodgers.

day 30 from space to time

“From Space to Time” by Carolyn Rodgers

In May-pril, the work life requires all of my time and attention. This year is a little more intense because I’m trying to leave room for writing and poetry events while keeping up with the NBA playoffs (#CUsRise ☘️). Last weekend, I went to the 10th annual MassPoetry Festival where I attended readings by Cave Canem executive director, Nicole Sealey (see her poem on Day 16) and fellows Lillian Yvonne Bertram, Curtis Crisler, Chanda Feldman, Brionne Janae, and Kamilah Aisha Moon. On Sunday, I caught the tail end of the panel about building community through the poetry cleanse and participated in a panel with fellow VCFA alums—Victorio Reyes Asili, Greg Hill,  Lauren Banks-Killelea, and KT Landon—to share our experiences at a low-residency MFA programs with people trying to figure out if such a program was right for them.

I look forward to June and the return of Summer Fridays. I plan to use that time to write (and do errands and restart my yoga routine and eat at my favorite breakfast places in walking distance). Until then, I’m going to try to enjoy the Spring weather as we countdown to commencement on the 1st.

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April in NOLA


Last weekend, I met the Margaret Bashaar, editor and founder of Hyacinth Girl Press the micro-press that published my chapbook. It was the first time we had met in person and she had heard me read the poems from the chapbook. Margaret submitted a proposal for a panel reading from various HGP titles at the New Orleans Poetry Festival. I told her if the panel got accepted, I would “make it work.” In actuality, it was harder to find a flight for a decent price and reserve accommodations than it was to take time off from work.

For the reading, I selected poems from the chapbook that I do not normally read— “Peaches and Pound Cake,” “Why I Stopped Mentoring White Women,” “There’s a Graveyard in My Belly,” and “Transit of Venus”—in addition to the one poem I love to read, “Twenty Questions for Black Professionals,” which was, thankfully, the poem my editor wanted to hear. I also read three new poems I’ve written in the past year that have received the polishing after they’ve been through the weekly critiques over Skype. Although I was on the ground less than 48 hours, I got a chance to meet and hear some great poets, take in the street art on St. Roch Avenue, eat beignets at Café du Monde, have a Bloody Mary & gumbo at Stanley, and visit Marie LaVeau’s House of Voodoo before heading back to the airport.

This week’s poems were a combination of poets I wanted to make sure I included and poems that jumped off the page (or the screen) when I was reading them.

Day 23: The Abandoned Valley by Jack Gilbert 

Day 24: The White Ones by Langston Hughes

Day 25: from Citizen, VI [My brothers are notorious] by Claudia Rankine

Day 26: Facing It by Yusef Komunyakaa

Day 27: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Day 28: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Day 29: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by Amiri Baraka 

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April is a Marathon


A sea of Boston Marathon Runners

122nd Boston Marathon through Brookline

Massachusetts is one of four states that observe Patriots’ Day (or Patriot’s Day if you live in Maine) commemorating the Battles of Lexington & Concord. This state holiday is also known as Marathon Monday when runners wind their way through 26.2 miles of Massachusetts from Hopkinton to Boston. Now that I live Brookline, it’s a 3-minute walk from my apartment to Mile Marker 23 on the marathon route. Even with miserable weather, I felt it was my civic duty to cheer the runners on. 

This week, I decided to be more deliberate in the poems I chose to post, all Black women poets, most with a Cave Canem connection.

Day 16: Object Permanence by Nicole Sealey

Day 17: When Your Small Form Tumbled Into Me by Tracy K. Smith

Day 18: Incident by Natasha Trethewey 

Day 19: Summer by Robin Coste Lewis

Day 20: Given to Rust by Vievee Francis

Day 21: Hash Marks by Nikki Finney

Day 22: To Be In Love by Gwendolyn Brooks

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Birthday Week


Screenshot on Thursday, April 12 at 4:12 am

April is my favorite month of the year because I celebrate my birthday. When I lived in North Carolina, I was known to take 2-10 days off and plan something grand like skydiving or hiking through three National Parks in Utah. Now that I work at a college, my birthday falls in the second half of the semester where we rush to get everything done before students and faculty scatter across the world for the summer. I can’t take vacation like before, but I can still celebrate all month. For my birthday, people were kind enough to buy me dinner, cook for me, join me at a Celtics game, dance with me, send me lovely cards & gifts, and wish me well via phone calls, Facebook messages, and texts.

That April is also National Poetry Month probably means I was destined to be a poet. It’s been great to share a photo of a poem that I love every day. People are being introduced to and reacquainted with the poems and poets that have touched me over the years. As the NYT article on Tracy K. Smith implies, poetry can certainly be the cure that ails us at this moment.

Here are the next 7 poems:

Day 9: A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay

Day 10: Waiting by Yevgeny Yuvtushenko

Day 11: Harlem Dancer by Claude McKay

Day 12: Twenty Questions for Black Professionals by Pamela Taylor

Day 13: For Grace, After a Party by Frank O’Hara

Day 14: Angina Pectoris by Nazim Hikmet

Day 15: I, Too by Langston Hughes

 

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Happy April!


Spring in Boston is errant piles of melting snow, crocuses and daffodils bravely stretching their heads into the crisp air, and trees with bare limbs looking like legions of ladies in sleeveless tops.

Today, I held the third Four Chairs & a Bench writing session—two poets and two novelists made for a bit of balance around the table.

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Four Chairs and a Bench April Session with Kali, Kiril, Nancy & Pam (who is bad at taking selfies)

Instead of writing a poem every day, I am posting a poem that I love every day via Instagram. Here are the first eight poems.

Day 1: “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton

Day 2: “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black” by Cortney Lamar Charleston

Day 3: Absence by Pablo Neruda

Day 4: “You will hear thunder” by Anna Akhmatova

Day 5: Heart to Heart by Rita Dove

Day 6: I Ask My Mother to Sing by Li-Young Lee

Day 7: Morningside Park by Wanda Coleman

Day 8: Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

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Four Chairs & a Bench


From the first time I saw the apartment in Brookline, I knew I wanted to buy a long table and host quiet Sunday afternoons with writers heads bowed in our notebooks and laptops, the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards and jazz in the background. Today, I finally got my wish.

Five people seated around a table smiling, laptops and notebooks open during the first writing session for Four Chairs & a Bench.

Four Chairs & a Bench – January 2018

Special thanks to Daniel, Laura, KT, Nancy, & Sofiya for being the first five writers at the table. I already have all the seats at the table reserved for February.